The Dresden Fillies: False Masks
Written by: psychicscubadiver
Edited by: frieD195 and Silentcarto
Story Image by: wyrmlover
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.
Definitely a classical style, Twilight Sparkle thought, examining one of the few columns left standing in the ruined castle. But is it late or early classical? She had given her letter to Luna’s sending two days ago, but she knew that a response would take time. So to pass the time until Dresden showed up, she’d been studying the ruins of the Castle of the Royal Sisters.
Currently, Twilight was trying to date the palace, most of the records of its completion having been lost to the sands of time. True, she could have just asked her mentor, but what fun was there in having the answer handed to her instead of solving the question herself? Twilight had just decided that the style of fluting most closely matched that of the early classical period when a startled, distinctly non-equine yell caught her attention. He’s here! she thought, shoving the reference book back into her saddlebags.
Twilight hurried down the old stone staircase and rounded the outer wall to reach the waterfall that marked the Way. She paused as she pushed through the last curtain of vegetation, pressing a hoof to her mouth to stifle a giggle. Beside the waterfall’s pool, Dresden was sitting on the ground, seemly having tripped over a large pack at his feet. He didn’t notice her, though; his attention was entirely focused on the small dragon he was dangling at arm’s length by its tail. A small dog circled Spike below, sniffing and panting happily.
Spike, despite being suspended upside down by a creature several times his size, seemed unfazed. Instead he chattered away, thrilled to finally meet the ‘alien’ who had helped save Equestria from the return of the Nightmare.
“This is so cool!” he gushed. “I mean, it’s so awesome to finally meet you. Everypony’s already told me so much about your adventure last time. You are such an amazing guy! You got possessed by the Nightmare, kicked it out of your head, joined forces with the Elements of Harmony and finally destroyed it once and for all with a huge fireball! That’s totally epic!”
Dresden was a little overwhelmed by the attention, if his uncomfortable frown was any clue. Twilight suspected he hadn’t been expected such a warm welcome. “That’s enough, Spike. You’ll have plenty of chances to talk to Dresden later.” Her purple aura surrounded the baby dragon and brought him back to the ground, pausing slightly to flip him right side up. He scowled at her, but she ignored it in favor of greeting their guest. “How’ve you been, Dresden?”
He chuckled and used one hand to push himself back onto his feet. “Not bad. Not good either, but hey… that’s life.”
Twilight frowned. He seemed tired, and not just physically. What could have happened to him? He looks so much older since the last time I saw him.
Dresden stretched, some alarmingly loud cracks and pops coming from his back. “But I’m here because you called, so what’s up? I couldn’t tell if something bad was going down from the letter, so I brought the big guns just in case.”
Twilight curiously examined his ‘big guns’. He’d brought back his staff, and with it a thin cane with a strange handle. There was a small dog sitting by his feet, its tongue lolling out as it panted. It acted like a puppy, but it was already more than half the size of any dog Twilight had ever seen. His pack, which was big enough for a foal to use as a tent, bulged with who-knew-what. Then she noticed the bleached, presumably human skull hanging from his belt and barely repressed a shudder of revulsion. And as if that wasn’t weird enough, Twilight had the unsettling sensation that it was somehow watching her despite its empty eye sockets.
Come on, Twilight. Think positive, she told herself. Maybe… humans engage in ancestor worship. That makes sense. And Dresden just wants me to… ugh… ‘meet’ one of his forefathers. So much for thinking positive, but it was the best explanation she could come up with. The skull was just flat out creepy, but she was polite enough not to say anything about it.
“Ewww. Is that a real skull? That’s just flat out creepy.” Spike, of course, was not as inhibited.
Dresden chuckled and addressed the skull. “You hear that, Bob? He thinks you’re creepy.”
“Spike,” Twilight said in a sweet, slightly strained tone, “Why don’t you go and get Mr. Dresden some tea and snacks?” Spike gave her an innocent smile, but Twilight wasn’t buying it. “Now, mister.” She glared until Spike sighed and shuffled off to their campsite.
Dresden cracked his neck with a grimace. “Nice kid. He’s a lot more energetic than I remember, though.”
Twilight frowned. “The last time you were here he was unconscious the whole time.”
“Like I said. More energetic.” The wizard grinned, and Twilight had to wonder if every human had such a strange sense of humor, or if Dresden was considered just as odd in his own world.
Twilight smiled anyway. Strange jokes or not, it was nice to see Dresden again. “I hope I didn’t make you worry. There’s nothing wrong; the letter was vague just in case it was intercepted or lost. The real reason you’re here is because the Princesses are holding a ceremony in your honor. I think they want to award you a medal.” Dresden’s mouth dropped open slightly and he flushed.
“Actual appreciation? Wow. There really is a first time for everything. But why’d they wait almost a year to do it?” He shrugged. “Is the bureaucracy around here really that bad?”
Twilight frowned. “Almost a year? Dresden, it’s only been two months since you left.” Unless years were much shorter in his world, he wasn’t making any sense. That didn’t seem to be the case; all of his other units of time seemed to match up with the Equestrian standard.
Dresden raised both eyebrows and pondered that for a moment. “Two months, huh? Well, that’s interesting. Almost twelve months have gone by in my world.” Twilight stared at him in shock, but the wizard appeared to be calculating something and didn’t notice.
“Really?” Spike cut in, his eyes shining. He’d returned with two cups of tea and a plate of cookies while they were talking. “So we could take a week’s vacation in your world and only one day would pass here? That would be awesome!”
Dresden shook his head and took a cup of tea. “I doubt the time difference is that constant. It’s probably more like a pendulum, with the imbalance moving back and forth, but keeping the worlds more or less in sync. At least, that’s how it works between Earth and the Nevernever. I’d have to study the time dilation for a while to tell you for certain.” He set down the cup and grabbed a cookie, breaking off a chunk to give to the small dog.
Twilight finally found her voice. “But that’s not how time works at all! It’s a linear progression. You can’t just distort the flow like that.” The power requirements alone for a spell of that magnitude left her boggled.
Dresden chuckled. “The first step to true wisdom is finding out how much you don’t know. Not only does it happen, it’s entirely natural. Well, supernatural, but the point stands.”
Twilight shook her head. It was astounding how much was out there that she had never even suspected. One of the greatest benefits to having Dresden back would be a chance to actually spend some time discussing his magic and world. The Princesses, Luna especially, had given her a few tentative lessons on the Nevernever, but they had focused mainly on the underlying mechanics. To be honest, she was as eager as Spike to hear about the creatures and places Dresden had seen. But that would have to wait for later.
“We’ll have plenty of time to discuss that later, but there’s something we need to do right away. Would you take off all your clothes, please? I’ve got a surprise that I think you’ll like.” Dresden’s eyes went wide with shock, and he started choking on his tea.
At the same time, the eyeholes in the skull on his belt flared to life. The formerly motionless bone suddenly animated and shouted, “Now we’re talking!”
Twilight shrieked and leaped back from the… the… whatever it was, suppressing her instinct to telekinetically smash it against the nearest rock. Cookies flew as Spike threw the tray and ran, screaming about ghosts. The dog chased after him, barking happily as they vanished into the ruins. Dresden coughed a few times, trying to clear his throat, while Twilight stared down the unnatural skull at his belt. She held a shield spell and three different kinds of energy blasts at the ready. If necessary, she could destroy the skull without harming Dresden. Hopefully.
“Damn it, Bob!” Dresden shouted past his coughing fit. “Ten minutes. We’re here less than ten minutes, and you open your damn mouth! Why the hell did I believe you when you said you’d behave?”
Twilight stared at the human as he chided the… talking skull, her ears burning from his language. It’s a skull. It’s talking! some part of her brain gibbered. How can a skull talk?!
Whatever the answer, Dresden didn’t seem surprised by the sudden disruption to Twilight’s world view. Again. He didn’t seem to be on friendly terms with whatever it was, but at least he wasn’t treating it as something hostile. Twilight hesitantly released her magic and took a small step toward the wizard.
“Come on, boss! She was coming on to you so hard, I couldn’t help it. I’ll be good for the rest of the trip, I promise.” Its voice dropped, and one orange eye light winked. “But have you reconsidered your policy vis-à-vis ponies? It sure sounds like she’s open-minded.”
Twilight wasn’t sure what the skull was talking about, but it sounded rude and a little dirty. Dresden’s flushed and horrified expression seemed to confirm as much. She cleared her throat noisily. “Umm… Dresden, what is that?”
Dresden gave the skull one final glare and sighed. “Twilight, it is my utmost displeasure to introduce Bob the Skull. He’s a spirit of air and intellect that serves as my assistant. He’s also a pervert of the lowest class and apparently can’t keep his mouth shut when he should.”
“Hey, now.” The skull replied in a hurt voice. “Just because I appreciate the finer sex as much as possible doesn’t make me a pervert.”
“No,” Dresden retorted, “but what you say about the ‘finer sex’ does. And that’s not even mentioning what you did the last time I let you out of your skull.”
“Everyone at that sorority was a consenting adult and the alcohol was just as much to blame as I was.”
“Stop bickering!” Twilight shouted over the argument, her glare flicking between Dresden and the skull. This visit was already turning out to be even more… interesting than she had expected. “Dresden, what is a ‘spirit of intellect’ and why is it a talking skull?”
Dresden raised his hands defensively. “Settle down, kid. Remember demons? Bob’s the flip side of that coin. He comes from the Nevernever, but instead of being focused on negative things like pain and death, he’s obsessed with knowledge. And, unfortunately, sex. The orange light is his actual form; the skull is just what he lives in.” Dresden lifted the skull so Twilight could see the tiny symbols carved into it around all of its orifices. She didn’t recognize them, but she could feel the subtle power they held. “Like all spirits, Bob’s made of pure magic, so he lacks a physical body and free will. Right now I own the skull, so he has to obey me. Mostly I use him as a research assistant. He knows more about magic and the supernatural world than even senior wizards of the White Council.”
Bob snorted. Or at least he somehow made a sound to that effect. “More like anyone short of the Archive. Credit where credit’s due, sahib.”
Twilight watched the orange lights in the eyes track her as she moved back and forth. “That’s… amazing, actually. Where did you get him?”
Dresden hesitated for a moment, his expression conflicted, but Bob chuckled. “Now that’s a story,” the spirit began. “You see−”
“Don’t say a word, Bob.” Dresden bit out, his eyes dark.
Bob glanced at him, somehow managing to look surprised. “Really? I mean, it’s been almost two decades since Justin−”
“That’s an order,” Dresden said calmly. Too calmly – lacking his usual jovial attitude or even the fierce anger she’d seen in him when Spike was kidnapped. Instead, he almost sounded bitter. Obviously, Dresden’s past wasn’t something he was comfortable discussing.
“Well,” Twilight said, trying to change the subject. “That’s interesting, but I just asked Dresden to undress. This won’t work right if he’s wearing clothes. What’s the big deal?” In fact, why is Dresden wearing so many clothes anyway? She had deduced that humans lost heat easily because they had no fur, so Dresden had preferred to wear them to avoid a chill even in late spring. And granted, the time difference meant that it was Spring again back in his world. But it was summer in Equestria, and the day was very warm. Not to mention the sweltering desert he had hiked through. Yet, he wore not just a shirt and pants, but that strange coat as well. Curiouser and curiouser.
Dresden blushed and coughed while Bob leered at her. “I don’t think I mentioned it before, but for a variety of social and environmental reasons, humans have a nudity taboo. We don’t usually get naked except for bathing and, er, mating. I don’t know why you need me to strip, but the way you phrased it…”
It took Twilight a moment to process. She’d never heard of such a thing as a taboo against nudity, but then the full meaning of his statement hit her. She blushed deeply, her lavender coat turning fuchsia as she tried not to stammer. “You mean what I said sounded like…” She trailed off unable to finish the sentence.
“An invitation to get down and dirty with Harry?” Bob chuckled. “You bet your sweet flank it did.”
Twilight wondered if anypony had ever died from embarrassment. Even if her blush wasn’t terminal, it was taking up valuable blood her brain could have been using to figure a way out of this. She tried visualizing a few comforting equations to calm herself, but something about the way Bob stared at her as she concentrated just made things worse.
Dresden came to her rescue at last. “I figured that wasn’t what you meant, but hearing it surprised me. So, why do I need to be in the buff?”
Twilight held back a sigh of relief, and tried to focus on her original purpose instead of her mistake. “Well, I mentioned your medal ceremony, right?” He nodded, and she continued. “It would be public, of course, and the Princesses still don’t want anypony to know about humans or your world.”
Dresden raised an eyebrow. “So you’re going to cast an illusion directly on me this time?”
“Not quite.” Twilight said. “You’re going to be the center of attention, and the chances of an illusion failing under close scrutiny are too high. So instead, I’m going to transform you into a pony. The change should be painless, and it will wear off naturally in about a week, though I can dispel it at any point. I need you to take off your clothes because they would probably be destroyed… in the…” She stopped. Dresden was staring at her in mix of doubt and apprehension. “What’s wrong?”
“You want to turn me into a pony?” He sounded dubious, as though hoping he’d misunderstood her.
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Yes. Is there something wrong with that?”
“Yeah, it’s extremely illegal where I’m from! Second Law of Magic: Thou shalt not transform another.”
Twilight boggled. Again. “Wha— why? I’ve been through Magic Ethics class, and they never said there was anything wrong with transformation!”
Dresden shrugged. “According to the White Council, there is, and I’m not in a hurry to get a second offense.” He grimaced. “They’re not a real forgiving bunch.”
Bob laughed. “Harry, I think she’s a little outside of the White Council’s jurisdiction. Twilight’s not a human – hell, she doesn’t even live in the same world. And even if the Council still wanted to be pissy about it because you were involved, how would they ever find out? Unless you ring them up and start spilling secrets, they’ll never know it even happened. Just admit it, you big pansy. You don’t want to get turned into a pony.”
Dresden bristled at the insult. “Hey, I’m pretty darn attached to my current body. It’s not being a pony I object to, it’s changing at all.”
Bob grunted in disbelief. “Uh huh. What about the case with the werewolves? You used that Hexenwolf belt to transform without any hesitation. You just don’t want me telling anyone what a pretty pony you make.”
“That was a life or death situation! Totally different.” Dresden snapped back.
“Werewolves?” Twilight asked.
“There wolves. There castle.” Bob said in a strange accent, then laughed.
Harry just rolled his eyes. “Are you going to do that every chance you get?” he asked the skull.
Twilight shook her head. She needed to stop getting distracted and keep things on topic. “Then will you let me?”
Dresden frowned and crossed his arms. She tried again. “We can’t have the ceremony or show you around Ponyville if you don’t.” His frown got deeper. “It would mean a lot to me and all of my friends if you did.” The wizard remained silent. Twilight hesitated, thinking about his last visit, and at last an inspiration struck her.
Twilight widened her eyes, sniffed softly and stuck out her bottom lip slightly. “Please, Mr. Dresden?” He had repeatedly given in to Fluttershy’s pleas when nopony else could convince him. Twilight hypothesized he was extremely susceptible to perceived vulnerability. Or in more simple terms, he couldn’t say no to a mare in distress. She watched the resistance in his eyes crumble into dust and had to hold back a small cheer. Another theory confirmed.
“Fine,” he sighed, “But Bob, you’re never allowed to tell anyone about this. Ever. That’s an order.”
The skull snickered, but said nothing. Twilight smiled; finally everything was going according to plan. She checked the position of the sun and was pleased to note they hadn’t even used up all of the time allotted for ‘unexpected delays’ built into her schedule. “Follow me, then.”
Twilight’s horn glowed, and with a little effort, she levitated his pack into the air. She was surprised by the weight; had Dresden really carried this much across the Way from his world?
Luckily, it was a much shorter trip to their campsite, and Twilight didn’t even break a sweat bringing all of Dresden’s possessions with her. She set down the pack carefully and examined the circle she had etched into floor of the castle. It occupied a single block of stone, since Twilight had found that the ring needed to maintain integrity to be functional. The cardinal points had symbols carved into them, the result of mixing her own ideas with what Dresden had taught her of his own magic.
Dresden knelt and examined it. “You made a magic circle? Complete with focal symbols?” He sounded a little surprised.
Twilight grinned, happy to show off the results of her latest studies. “Yes, after you explained the concept to me, I did some research on them. Turns out their use was once widespread, but they slowly fell out of favor as unicorns began to specialize their spells. Just using a circle improved the efficiency of my bigger spells by an average of 33.4 percent.”
Dresden frowned in what looked like confusion, but motioned for Twilight to continue. “The symbols at the edges of the circle are something of my own design. They act as substitutes for concepts I would normally have to visualize and concentrate on while casting the spell. Now they’re already embedded into the magic’s matrix by visualizing the concepts while I carved them into the stone. I read about Clover the Clever doing something similar, so tried my hoof at it.”
Bob whistled, and Twilight visibly suffered a moment of cognitive dissonance trying to understand how. “Now that’s impressive. Not only has she trained her whole life doing magic with only pure mental constructs, but she’s actually creating her own symbols to build props from. Give me five weeks to teach her, and I'll bet she’d kick your ass to the curb, sahib.”
Dresden laughed. “Bob, I wouldn’t give you five minutes alone with her. I really doubt she wants the mental scarring that comes from learning with you.” He turned his attention from the skull to Twilight and grinned. “But you seriously came up with this on your own? Way to go, Twilight!”
Twilight grinned in response, trying not to preen. Nopony liked to hear boasting, even if she did feel like she’d just earned the title of The Great and Powerful Twilight. “Thank you very much. I wanted to get it done in time to show you, but it’s not really that impressive. Just a little applied research.”
Dresden nodded and sighed. “All right, let’s get this over with, then.” He set down his staff and started tugging at the glove on his left hand. Twilight watched curiously. She didn’t remember him wearing that two months ago. He finally got the stubborn thing off, and Twilight was unable to hold back her shocked gasp.
His hand had been cooked. There was no other way to describe it.
The flesh was melted and warped as if the extremity had been made of wax and twisted into a new shape before being allowed to cool again. His fingers twitched slightly, as if incapable of any further motion, and she realized with a start that she hadn't seen him use the hand since he arrived. The damage was clearly more than just skin deep. Whatever had happened to Dresden, it had hurt him deeply.
“Your hand,” she choked out, “it … it’s …”
“Hideous?” Bob suggested. Twilight glared at him, but Dresden made a placating gesture.
“It’s okay. It has that effect on everybody; that’s why I normally wear the glove.”
“But what happened?” Twilight asked. “Who did this to you?”
“It’s the price I paid to exterminate a scourge of vampires. We got the bastards, though.” He frowned. “Most of them, anyway. It was worth it.”
Twilight couldn’t understand, couldn’t imagine what he had gone through. “But you lost your hand!”
Dresden sighed and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. “My world is a jungle, and humans aren’t anywhere near the top of the food chain. But that’s why we fight. It may not be pretty, but it’s our world and I’d defend it to the death.” He gave her a sad smile, and Twilight tried to smile back. Satisfied, he turned his back to her and resumed stripping. Twilight watched, mulling over the pain in his eyes, and what his latest battle had cost him.
He’s a warrior; what did you expect? she asked herself. That he’d never get hurt? She had read stories of vampires, of course, but that’s all they were: stories. It was hard to believe that creatures like that actually existed in Dresden’s world. The concept of evil wasn’t foreign to Equestria, but such a raw expression of it was.
“Twi? I’m done,” Dresden announced, interrupting her thoughts. Twilight blinked and realized that the wizard was already standing in the middle of her circle. He had lost his shirt, pants and thick boots, revealing skin that was slightly paler than his face or hand, but still just as smooth, except a small, thin patch of hair in the center of his chest. His feet, she was interested to note, were similar to his hands, but obviously modified to a bipedal gait. Instead of being round, they formed a long, misshapen oval terminating in five tiny – and probably vestigial – digits. His legs were well-muscled compared to his arms, and Twilight found herself idly wondering how their musculature differed from that of a pony, given his upright stance. Oddly, there was one piece of clothing he hadn’t removed. They looked like pants, but they were much shorter and made of a very thin material.
Twilight examined the strange garment. She couldn’t help but wonder what exactly its purpose was or why it was covered in little yellow smiley faces. “You know those probably won’t survive the transformation process, right?”
Dresden nodded. “That’s a price I’m willing to pay. The boxers stay on.”
“Trust me; we’ll both be happier this way.” There was some booing from Bob, but by mutual consent both wizard and unicorn ignored him.
They stared at each other for a moment more before Dresden spoke again. “The boxers stay on.” He crossed his arms, his glare clearly daring her to disagree.
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Fine. They’re your clothes. Just don’t complain to me afterwards.” Her horn began to glow as she focused on her spell, and inside the circle, Dresden shut his eyes. Even with her special preparations, this enchantment wasn’t easy. She needed to change Dresden at a fundamental level, and only the fact that he was willing even made it possible. It would have helped if she had been able to practice this, but since humans were in short supply, she only had theory to go on.
She grunted as she felt her will collide with the wizard’s natural resistance. He was a fortress, his essence stubbornly entrenched in bedrock a mile deep. But if he was a rock, her spell was the ocean. Little by little she changed him, eroding one point, building upon another. In a vague, distant way, she could feel him stirring uneasily at the alterations, but he restrained himself and she continued unimpeded.
The whole process only took a few minutes, but within the haze of magic, it felt like hours to Twilight. Finally, everything was done, and with one last surge of power she finished the spell. There was a flash of light brighter than the sun, and even through Twilight’s eyelids the world went white. Hopefully Spike hadn’t been watching them, or he might have been blinded.
When no cries of anguish were forthcoming, she heaved a sigh of relief. Slowly, she opened her eyes and found that the world was slightly out of focus.
She rubbed them with her hooves, blinking until her vision cleared. Thankfully, it didn't take long. When she could finally see again, though, her jaw nearly hit the floor. Some remote part of her mind was relieved that nopony else was present to witness her reaction.
Where Dresden had stood, a tall, lithe stallion now inspected himself. He was almost the same height as Big Macintosh, but instead of the heavy body of a farm pony, he had a runner’s build. Lean muscles lined his body, rounding out an otherwise angular frame. Set between his curious but cynical eyes was a horn longer than that any unicorn she’d ever seen. His coat was velvet black, contrasting with his ice-white mane, and his fetlocks were unshorn. As Twilight’s eyes traveled over his body, she sternly told herself that it was just to check that the spell was complete and nothing more.
But there’s no reason I can’t enjoy what I’m seeing, right? whispered one treacherous part of her mind before Twilight could silence it. On her second pass, Twilight began to notice smaller details. His irises were orange-red, with glints of yellow when the light caught them, like he had glowing embers for eyes. His front left hoof was scorched and cracked, though standing on it didn’t seem to trouble him. His abdomen held scars as well, faint white lines and ragged circles that stood out against his dark coat. Dresden spun himself in a slow circle as he stared at his new body, and finally all of his twisting and turning made the ‘boxers’ slide off his rear end, exposing his flank and the cutie mark emblazed upon it – a silver pentacle.
The loss of his final garment did not go unnoticed by Dresden.
“Don't look!” he yelled in a voice that was only slightly higher and smoother than his original. The former human rose quickly on his back hooves and tried to cover himself with his forelimbs. Unfortunately, his new form was decidedly quadrupedal, and with his ‘boxers’ still around his ankles, he overbalanced, and tumbled over backwards.
A startled moment of silence was quickly broken by gales of laughter from Bob. Dresden shot the skull a dirty glance, but he couldn’t do much more to stop the spirit. Twilight sighed and levitated her friend back into a standing position. “Well, let’s get started,” she said briskly. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, both culturally and physically. Oh – one more thing, though. The Princess wants you to go by a pseudonym during the ceremony, so I thought you could just use one of your other names.”
Dresden raised an eyebrow. “What did you have in mind?”
Twilight grinned, thrilled that everything was going so well. “I thought we’d call you ‘Blackstone’.”
The onyx unicorn glanced at his coat and gave a smirk. “Well, if the horseshoe fits.”