I ignored the tiny bit of me, probably some package of flight instincts, that was screaming ‘Ahhhhh, I’m-going-to-die!’ in the back of my head, and instead started layering as many shields over myself as quickly as I could.
It was a trick I’d done before. Layer enough of them, and make the shields thin but flexible, and you basically end up with this mix of a bouncy-ball and a person sized hamster ball.
Not the most dignified way to travel and near impossible to control… but it sure beats a broken neck.
I’d already been given quite a bit of momentum from my first, half-formed shield shattering like a wineglass in a tumbler-dryer, so I hit the first wall so hard it drove the air out of my lungs despite the padding.
I just barely managed to keep the spells together as I for a few horrible moments got turned into the Ping-Pong ball from hell. Up, down, left, right... holyhell, I think I even demolished an entire small clothing store by bouncing around in it for a bit, but it was simply too hard to tell with the world a blur.
Stars and stones, it actually took my battered mind a minute or so to realize when the world went from a blur because of speed, to being a blur because my eyes simply didn’t want to focus.
“...Get up, Harry,” what sounded like a young girl I should have recognized told me firmly. “Those twits can step through the Nevernever as if it's a freaking revolving door and they can track you; there is no way it’s over this easily…”
I’d been so turned around, I hadn’t even been feeling the snow under me, until some started melting into my mane.
Hell's bells, I hadn’t even noticed I was on my back at all, until I felt that bit of cold wetness.
“Wise advice, godchild,” a melodious voice I would have recognized anywhere murmured happily down at me; making me go from shell-shocked to ‘oh crap’ in ten blinks flat. “Perhaps you should head it, before the would-be godling returns with her current crop of chosen?”
I slowly raised my head, and tried to look around as politely and non-wide-eyed as I could.
A fairy and my godmother Lea may be… but she was the old school type fairy, and of Winter at that.
Let us say that Disney usually didn’t go into things like having your brains half leaking out was no excuse for bad manners to an actual fairy, and leave the Adult’s Only rated version at that.
Groggily, I lifted my head a bit higher, ignoring how odd it still felt to be that limber, and looked around.
Nothing. Not even first-response yet, and barely a sound except a couple of blaring alarms.
“...Godmother?” I swiveled my head (and ears) slowly around, but I didn’t even see as much as footprints in the snow around me. “...Lea, you there?”
Again, nothing. Not even a laugh on the wind, or a tiny whiff of perfume, or any of the other cute little ‘was she really here?’ hints.
Not that any of that was Lea’s style; she preferred the rather pants wetting ‘poof, just gone’ variant of exit... but it really wasn’t her style either to just do a tiny little social call.
I’d just rubbed my forehead a bit with my hoof, when I froze.
Was that it? Lea being slightly pissed I’d given Winter the slip without even toasting about the ‘clever ruse’ with her… but this her tiny way of saying that seeing me sucker-punch a demi-god was amusing enough that things would be balanced between us, as long as I gave her a ‘call’ really soon…?
I took a few precious moments to rest my head in my hooves and give off a groan. Freaking hell, how can I have grown teats and still not get women?
Still, now was not the time for sticking my head neck-deep into that nest of vipers.
I’d just barely gotten on my hooves, when these cornflower blue flashes appeared near where I’d whipped Luna’s ass.
A lot of cornflower blue flashes.
And there was only really one thing the platoon of pegasi could have been.
All stark white for some reason, with golden barding, and with blue ‘broom helmets’ of that type that haven’t been in style since the Roman Empire, plus some strange hybrid of horseshoes and gauntlets and greaves; they all but gleamed in the light to the last.
As one creature, the soldiers flared their wings, and stood in formation; clearly thinking they were an impressive sight...
There was only really one reaction to seeing something like that.
So I started laughing my pretty little tail off.
Let me tell you this much.
I could have crapped out better gear. Hell, give me a chewed stick and a couple of hours, and I could have probably enchanted armor better than that as well!
I saw some of them hesitate; one or two even going as far as to back off a step or two.
The only idiot with a grey pelt and a white plume wasn’t deterred, however, and glared at me as he stepped forward. “Lady Fluttershy,” the twit ordered me,” you are under arrest for high treason against the crown of Equestria.” The Chief Twit flared his wings in a way I’m sure must have been terrifying to whatever cave dwelling knuckle-dragger his mother must have kissed once upon a time. “Come quietly, or we will be forced to subdue you.”
I had to wipe a tear away, before I could tell him off. “Kid, I do not recognize the authority of Equestria or its crown; I am an American citizen, and intend to freaking stay that way” I ignored the rather unprofessional, angry murmur from some of the ‘men,’ and instead snarled and pointed at Chief Brush-head. “Counter-offer: You and the rest of this under-geared, unarmed squad of fools go crying home to big mommy wide-load, and I won't break the lot of you so badly, your own moms’ won’t recognize you. Deal, kid?”
The whole squad went wide-eyed, as if I’d just told them babies are delicious, or something.
Chief Brush-head tried to make his clown costume proud, and lifted his head to bark orders. “Men! She’s not cooperating! Take her al-!”
The invisible beam of force from my hipposandal took him in the chest about there, sending him flying as sure as his wings.
I’d held back quite a bit as to not break the first rule, since I wasn’t totally certain these twits counted as mortal or not… but the stallion still took off as a fat clown launched from a canon. I’m not sure if that armor of his had some enchantment that really didn’t like my spell or not, but the twit flew nearly a hundred feet before crashing into a parked car.
Aside from the car alarm and the stallion now screaming from inside the ruined interior —a ragged and distressingly human scream, at that— you could actually hear the soft clink as I put my hoof back down on the frozen sidewalk.
“Children,” I chided the ‘soldiers’ with a wide smile and a friendly voice, just to increase the creepy factor, “I have quite literally faced armies of monsters. I have fought —and killed permanently, I might add, immortals so dark and twisted that they would make your lieges crap themselves and flee in fear.”
I fought down a smile at quite a few flickers of sheer terror on what was probably the more green recruits.
“So go blow hot-air somewhere else, unless you intend to actually fight me.” I reared up on my hind legs, and pulled my blasting rod; both acts clearly both confusing and worrying the ‘soldiers.’ “Oh, and I’d go check on your ‘superior’ back there before he bleeds out.”
It seemed the grey/white color scheme was a higher rank than white/blue, because one of the other stallions started shifting to colors as I watched.
Seriously, how big a bull’s eye can you paint on your officers’ backs?
The idiot with the shiny new battlefield promotion took one look at his coat, gulped… and actually surprised me by earning it. “...L-L-Lady Fluttershy,” the kid managed with just a tiny stutter, “please, we know you are not well; stand down, and you will receive treatment.”
Had to admit? Been a while since I’d seen competence in any of the minion hordes; it’s strangely rare, for some reason.
“Kid, your mistress —and that line there, just all but told me, that as far as this ‘Equestria’ is concerned…” I tapped my chest with my blasting rod. “...I’m nothing to you, but this ‘Lady Fluttershy’s’ bad dream Luna and gang would really like their friend to wake up from. I go with you, and all the things that make me me gets erased like yesterday’s shopping list.” The wet behind the ears officer flinched as I wiggled my rod at him. “Last warning, kid; one little guy that’s been up shit creek without a paddle to another: Fuck off now, and you get to do it under your own power.”
Not certain how a face covered in fur managed it, but the kid went waxen. Just standing there, one ear on and eyes on me, the other ear swiveled back towards the still screaming stallion he’d just replaced.
“Hell, you’re outgunned, have met far greater resistance than you’d expected, and you’ve got wounded. Nobody with even half a clue about tactics would fault you for a tactical retreat...”
The kid’s eyes went even wider. You could all but read on his helmet how tempted he was to go for that option.
“And to risk falling so, so far away from home, at that,” I mercilessly continued. “You stand your ground here, and you won't even fall under your own sky, and nobody will know you even tried…”
Sadly, it seemed I had a patriot on my hands. Instead of dejection or anything like that, this near fire lit in the naive kid’s eyes. “Stallions! Remember, she doesn’t know what she is doing! For Equestria!”
I shrugged, as the kid and his ‘soldiers’ thundered towards me. “Oh well, I tried…”
Moving my wings in small circles, and feeding enough magic into them that they started to glow blue gently, I shouted my spell. “Vento servitas!”
It seemed I’d scarily enough under-estimated how good pegasi wings were for wind and water spells, because the effect was near instantaneous.
I’d expected a strong wind, yes... but instead, the whole street turned white as this localized typhoon tore through the snow. I barely heard a few surprised screams over the howls of the wind plus a few loud clangs and thumps, but otherwise the world in front of me just went white.
Holy hell, did I do that…?
I shook myself out of the small moment of awe, and jumped into the air instead. This temporary white-out was a nice side-effect, but it would hinder me as much as these ‘Equestrians’ if I stayed here.
It seemed a bit counter-intuitive with pegasi chasing me, but I went for the sky. These idiots had showed no ranged capabilities, and in combination how even a simple levitation from me had melted the Equestrian magic goddess' flipping mind, it actually seemed the safer choice.
Anypony gets close to me, and I’d be able to (hopefully) non-lethally blast them with some wind, and simply continue to do so until I reached the safety of Demonreach.
And barely had that fool-proof plan passed my mind, when the world sent me a curve-ball to test it.
About half a dozen new flashes appeared in the white below me.
“...What the…?” I heard a male voice mumble, before barking a command. “Guards, report!”
I tried not to smile too smugly, as the only answer the new prick got was a few screams and whimpers.
Again, silence, with just the odd scream and groan to punctuate it.
“...Rainbow Dash, can you do something about this snow?”
I don’t know why or how, but the deep melodious woman’s voice saying that name made something coil within my stomach.
I shook my head to clear it of the mass of cobwebs that had sprouted from nowhere, and silently glided over to a nearby roof.
“...Wha…?” A raspy voice, presumably this Rainbow Dash, answered in confusion, only to near instantly turn furious. “Fuck you! You drag me straight out of a courtroom on live television sprouting some bull about a mad chaos god, and now you expect me to help you?! After you’ve ruined near damn any chance I had of making things right again?!”
A loud clang of metal against metal rang out, and the —presumably, stallion from earlier hissed out a wince even I heard.
“Go get mounted by a grizzly!” Dash shouted out, before seemingly running blindly through the snow-fog.
“Shiny!” The other mare shouted, seemingly so intent on whoever ‘Shiny’ was, that Dash got at least a little of a head start.
And the girl was fast, even on just two legs and with her front-hooves in handcuffs she was out of the snow-fog in moments. I’m not sure quite how she did that with all the snow and ice around, but somehow she managed a sprint that would have done an Olympic gymnast proud.
I recognized her as soon as that sky blue pelt and that rainbow of all darn ‘colors’ mane popped out of the white; even with glaring orange prison clothes on there simply was no mistaking the wunderkind from New York that had done the impossible at exactly the wrong place and time.
I leaned over the banister as far as I dared, trying not to disturb the snow as much as possible. “Psst! Up here! Quickly!”
The girl didn’t even stop. She just glanced up at me, hesitated for a moment on seeing… ugh, another pony, seemed to come to a split second decision on seeing that I was actually clothed…
And then she crunched down into a slide, and jumped up to me.
Stars and stones, I think I even heard the asphalt crack under her.
The girl landed panting but on her hooves, as I just sat there slack jawed for a moment.
Dash paused for a tiny moment to shoot one of the smuggest darn grins I’ve ever seen my way, before shaking her head and crouching down. “...You also on the recruitment list for these nudist bastards?” she whispered hotly my way.
I snapped out of it, and gave her a grimace and a nod as I hushed her.
“They’ve got these… gemmed necklaces they use to track us somehow,” the girl urgently whispered my way. “I know it sounds crazy, but I almost lost them in Hell’s Kitchen, but that Cadance bitch just teleported in front of me and held me against a wall until her goons showed.”
I nodded absently, trying to see through the cloud of snow. “I know,” despite the situation I couldn’t stop a slight smile, “apparently in my ‘last life’ I was an extreme doormat, so these twits thought they would only need to show up and ask me nicely. They even showed me ‘my element,’ as they called it.”
The gleam of hope started dancing in Dash’s eyes. “You got yours?”
I sadly had to shake my head. “No, that creep Luna still has it…” I gave the girl a predatory grin she actually flinched slightly from. “...but she’s also got two broken wings, so I don’t think she’s showing for a while.”
Dash almost let out a low whistle, but just barely stopped herself in time. “How’d you do that?” The mare mimed throwing a punch as well as she could with her hooves bound. “I clocked the pink bitch straight on the lip a few times while she was holding me, but she barely stopped…” The girl did her best take on air-quotes with her hooves locked in front of her. “...’trying to get me to see reason.’”
I don’t know why, but something made me go for the truth with this girl. Like there was a tiny voice on my shoulder telling me I could trust her, or something.
“...Look, short version? I’m a wizard, and no, that’s not a joke.”
Dash looked doubtful for a moment… but then she just looked down at her blue hooves, and shrugged. “...Not the craziest thing I’ve heard this year.”
A small chuckle forced itself out of me, before I got serious again. “I’ve got some things we can try to muddle their trail... but you need to trust me, and we need to get away from here before the cops arrive…”
Dash frowned. “...Why?”
I did another grimace. “That Luna girl screamed worse than a banshee; I don’t think you could see it with the snow, but this whole street is near totaled. SWAT is probably only a few minutes away, and I’m not sure if they can do more than piss these twits off...”
Dash grimaced again. “...Fine, but one condition.”
The girl took a deep breath, and looked me square in the eye; her jaw set hard. “Once were done, you act as my witness that I did everything to get away from these freaks, and you go with me to explain that once I turn myself in.”
I vaguely felt my jaw fall, and I just barely got my eyes away before a soulgaze started. “...Have to admit, kid, wasn’t expecting a promise to get you to the fuzz.”
Dash glared down at the street, now slowly getting visible again, and surprised me by growling through gritted teeth.
The mare took a deep breath, and forced herself to calm… but her face was still set hard, and she wouldn’t quite look at me. “...Look, I saw you recognize me.”
I let out a neutral grunt in confirmation. “...Yeah, New York, I’ve heard.”
Dash twitched guilty, but gave me a stiff nod. “...I can give you the full version later, but…” To my surprise, the girl actually blinked away a few tears. “I swear I was just trying to see how fast these new wings if mine could go, and suddenly there was this rainbow cone in front of me. I thought I’d just gone too fast and started hallucinating from too many lateral Gs, or something!”
I hushed her sharply, but it seemed the Equestrians’ were too busy doing damage control to hear us.
Dash looked guilty for a bit, but pressed on in a lower voice. “I was this close…” The mare held up both hooves, holding them just an inch apart with her face twisted into a mask of rage and regret. “...to getting a deal; no unsupervised flying for the next ten years and being NASA’s pet freak for the time so they can figure out how the fuck I’d gone supersonic like that, and I’d be acquitted!”
My eyes went wide. Damn, that was some deal… given the circumstances, at least.
Dash snarled, and just barely stopped herself from slamming her hooves down on the roof. “...I was even going to get food, board and pay for it.”
I couldn’t quite stop a wince at how dejected the girl looked.
I hesitated… but if there was ever a girl needing a vote of confidence, this was it.
So I reached into my duster, and pulled out my blasting rod. Dash went still, but I just waved for her to turn around. “Wings first, and we need to run if they sense this, got it?”
Dash hesitated, but turned her back on me.
Not sure if it was just no other standard solution working or that she’d shown good behavior, but all Dash’s wings were bound up with were a pair of those one-use plastic cups that SWAT uses.
“...What’s your real name, kid?” I asked gently but firmly. “I’m going to take for granted that calling you Dash gives you as much a headache as Fluttershy does to me.”
‘Dash’ let out a small wince. “...Nemo. Nemo Schwartz.”
I raised an eyebrow in tandem with my blasting rod. “Now there’s a name I don’t think I’ve heard that often…” It was seriously overkill for that particular spell, but with a murmur of “Flickum bicus.” one of the cups melted open with a small flash of flame and a puff of black smoke. I saw how Da- Nemo twitched a bit and went wide eyed, but to her credit she remained mostly still.
“Your folks’ Jules Verne fans?” I asked absently, as I did the other cuff.
With an almost lewd sigh of relief, Nemo stretched as far as she could without being seen over the banister. “Mom likes the old comic strip. You know, ‘Little Nemo, the dream master?’”
I nodded absently as I put my rod back. “Harry Dresden.”
Nemo froze mid cat-stretch. “...Damn, small world.”
I felt my ears perk without my input.
But Nemo just waved me off, and sank down again; seemingly not caring —or given pegasi insulation, not noticing the snow. “One of the goons putting pressure on the trial from the White Council’s side was less of a twat than the others, and mentioned your name; told us you might be a good start for getting the basics on magic minus the attitude, but mom couldn’t get ahold of you in time for the trial.”
I balked for a moment at hearing the name of The White Council being thrown around so blazingly by a non-practitioner, but with a shrug I just pressed on. “...Yeah, my phone’s been all but glowing red-hot since this pony mess started. Sorry, kid, probably just missed her.”
Nemo gave me a slow nod, clearly looking me over. “...You a member?” Absently, the mare scratched at her throat. “Because I’ve met a few, and most of them were a bit too… medieval for my taste.”
I took a deep breath, and just blurted it out. “...Not gonna lie, kid, I’m a Warden.”
Nemo twitched, and froze on the spot; one hoof still resting against her neck.
“My two cents, though? I’ve met monsters, —both figuratively and literally, and they as a rule don’t even bluff about turning themselves in; let alone to mortal authorities.” I slowly extended a hoof, and patted her on the shoulder. Honestly, it was like bouncing it on a slab of rock, but if it was from just muscles or her being that tense, I couldn’t tell. “You’re not going to make many friends among the old school hard-asses by being magical in public, let alone on your level... but from what I’ve seen so far you seem to be on a good path. You keep trying to make things right, and sooner or later you’ll catch a break.”
It seemed the statue impression had been a combination of the two factors, because although Nemo relaxed… I can’t say she turned what I’d call soft. “...Magic? Really?”
I gave a small shrug. “I’ll skip the lecture for now, kid, but it’s possible you’ve got a real knack for kinectomancy —the magic that deals with energy and movement, that is.” I glanced over to the banister, and the three story drop on its other side. “Only way I can think of that allowed you to pull that jump off, at any rate.”
And the sonic boom, of course… but I think that had weighed enough on her mind without a reminder from me.
That, and Nemo was still looking a bit uncomfortable. For some reason, she kept glancing back at her wings. “...Really?” Slowly, she flexed the wings, not taking her eyes of them. “That’s magic?”
Now that made me perk my ears.
“Because it feels as if I just… have these giant batteries inside these things.” For emphasis, Nemo flexed her wings again. “And if I concentrate ju~st right, I can make that energy flow to other parts of me, and make myself go faster or stronger. Does that make sense?”
I let out a slow breath, and gently put my hoof on her shoulder again. “...Nemo, it usually takes a year or so for most apprentices just to feel magic properly; let alone kinectomancy on that freakin’ level…”
Nemo froze a bit, but I squeezed her shoulder tight before her ego could run rampant.
“Make no mistake that is damn impressive…” I made my voice both as firm and as kind as I could. “But you’ve basically figured out how to mix rocket fuel in your backyard, and you’re pouring it into your breakfast cereal because it makes such funny sizzling sounds.”
Nemo jerked under my hoof, and softly went urk.
“If it makes any difference, that’s the bad news,” I continued gently. “The good is that if you haven’t ended up in an emergency ward bent into a pretzel from the forces involved by now, you’ve probably figured out a good ‘mixture,’ to continue the metaphor.”
“...So,” Da- Nemo asked in a careful voice, “I’ve figured out how to juggle chainsaws and that’s impressive, but I should leave the battle-axes in the armory for now?”
Despite the mood and place, I couldn’t quite stop myself from snickering slightly. “Close enough,” I gave her shoulder an extra pat, “just be really damn careful going forward.”
Nemo nodded, and turned to me with a thoughtful expression. “...Thanks.” The girl hesitated, and smiled a bit bitterly. “...Kindest words I’ve heard for months, so… Yeah, thanks.”
I fought down the shiver that tried to tie my tail into a knot.
Nemo blinked a bit at me, only to wince as realization dawned for her. “...Oh, right, you got that as your… you know.”
I pretended not to notice how my hoof was shaking slightly, and just waved her off. “I’m not going to go around kicking kittens just because these twits can’t take a hint; don’t worry about it, I got that it was a compliment.”
Nemo flashed me a smile that frankly would have lent her front-pages for all the right reasons, had the world simply been a fair place.
I moved on to looking over the normal cuffs. I didn’t recognize the exact model, but they looked like normal police cuffs to me. “...I might be able to get these off, but it’s going to be flashy and probably a bit painful. Unless we need to, I think going for the normal hacksaw might be wiser.”
Nemo frowned down at her cuffs. “...Can you do that ‘flickum’ something again?” A bit slowly as to not rattle the chain, Nemo pulled the chain tight. “You do that on a link, I do my thing, and snap? You think that will be quiet enough?”
I perked my ears. There were still a few screams and groans of pain, but aside from a lot of hooves shuffling around things seemed to be quieting down; for good and ill.
The banister beside us seemed like it normally served as the outside patio of some type of rooftop cafe, or something. There were some leftover new year's decorations and similar all around, and I could see tables stacked under the snow.
Carefully, as to not be seen doing it, I leaned down and dragged myself closer to the edge; scraping a tiny hole so I could look down on the street, and hopefully not be seen doing it.
Yeah, a tall order with pink hair and a yellow pelt against white snow, I’ll freely admit that.
And I’d seemingly done a number on the soldiers. Luckily, —for me just as much as them— I saw no fatalities, but there were quite a few wings and legs pointing in sickening angles.
It seemed some type of medical team had been teleported in, about six ‘plain’ ponies, and they were currently offering first aid to the stricken.
It wasn’t much; just getting the soldiers stable, and dragging them in front of the ‘pink bitch’ Nemo had talked about. As soon as they reached her, she would simply lower her head to them, and the soldier disappeared in a flash of blue.
Honestly, from how the overgrown girl looked grief stricken it was as if I’d gutted them all, not broken a few bones. Heck, the commanding officer I guessed to be this ‘Shiny’ even had a hoof on her shoulder for support.
I slowly scooted back, putting a snowball into the hole just to be sure. “I think they’re too distracted by the wounded right now.”
Nemo nodded grimly at my words, and put forward her hooves and the cuffs.
I held my blasting rod just an inch or so from the central link. “We only get one shot at this; they notice, and we need to fly.”
My only answer was another grim nod.
“I’ve got a…” I hesitated, unsure how much to say about Demonreach to a mare I’d just met. “...heavy duty shelter out on this unmarked island out on Lake Michigan. A sanctum.”
Nemo, clearly having lost track on what city she was actually in, balked slightly.
“I pull all the doors and shutters closed there, and God himself would need to knock darn politely to come in... but I need to get there first to disable some things. Follow me, and let me land first; got it?” I waved the runed blasting rod a bit for emphasis. “And I’m not talking about any new age bad vibes crap; you land there first uninvited by me, and you might be driven literally mad by the rather cranky guardian spirit of the place.”
Nemo started laughing… until she saw the look on my face.
I pulled in a bit of power, and concentrated on the center-most link. “Infriga!”
Probably a bit of more irritation in that spell than what was strictly necessary, because the link and its neighbors turned stark white, and the target of my spell even crumbled slightly even before Nemo started pulling.
With a ‘clink’ Nemo pulled the metal link apart as if it had been tissue-paper; this wide-eyed look of wonder on her face I had to admit was rather neat to see.
“And you don’t even remember that magic is meant to be a warm and wonderful thing, do you?”
I jumped to my hind legs, and swung my rod towards the voice.
Scowling at me with a face that just screamed ‘disappointed mom,’ Princess Cadance was standing on the other side of the small roof as if she’d sprouted there.
I glanced down at the street, where another Cadance was still standing there with her minions. An illusion…?
“Fuck off, girl,” I growled at the Cadance closest to me. “I’ve got no quarrel with you, but I will not become some puppet in my own skin.”
At my side, Nemo gulped, and went into what looked at first glance like a low-grade karate stance.
Cadance, however, mostly balked at my choice of swear.
“Last warning, or I’ll do to you what I did to that Nightmare Moon creep.”
For just a moment, there was a streak of flame where Cadance’s mane should have been.
Then just like that before Nemo or I could do more than twitch, it was gone.
What. The. Actual. Fuck?
Cadance took a deep breath, and visibly forced herself to remain civil, but I could see some extra creases near her lips and eyes from (barely) hidden disgust.
“Oh,” I purred her way, “and you call me or my new friend here for that matter, those fucking names again after we’ve told you and the other stuck-up freaks how it hurts, and I’ll see it as a mental attack, and retaliate accordingly.”
“So, since you’re my friend…” I continued in the same ‘friendly’ purr, my rod not even wavering from her heart. “... Well, it isn’t very nice of a friend not to remember what a friend wants her freaking friends to call her… Right?”
For what felt as one of those moments that lasts far longer, Cadance hesitated. “...Fluttershy, you and Rainbow Dash are not well. Please, let us help...”
I half turned my head to Nemo, keeping Cadance in my peripheral. “You feel under the weather, kid? Because the pastel colored end of the world as we know it and the darn song aside, I feel rather fine.”
“Well, I think I’ve got a slight depression and some anger issues…” Nemo snarked without missing a beat. “...but that’s kinda normal when two idiots ruins all your chances at rebuilding your life, isn’t it?”
Cadance frowned, and did a quadruped version of squaring her shoulders. “Dash, we saved you from that place. Now, I don’t know what false charges w-”
“I did a sonic boom by accident while learning how to fly,” Dash interrupted, face utterly unreadable. “I killed sixteen people, four of them children, and maimed dozens more. You know, because my new body didn’t exactly come with a freaking manual.”
Suddenly, a lot of small sounds from down the street simply… went away. Even the screams and winces.
“And I was a day —if not hours, away from getting a deal that would have allowed me to make things at least partially right again.” Nemo narrowed her eyes at Cadance, who was just standing there stunned as the other mare ranted coldly her way. “Except there’s apparently a whole dimension filled with incompetent, sheltered bastards out there that don’t even consider that anypony may have ever actually done something genuinely wrong....”
“Don’t waste your breath,” I gently told her, not taking my eyes of Cadance. “I tried to convince that Nightmare Moon nag earlier that four goddesses should be able to easily kill one god, but she wouldn’t even humor the point…”
Cadance shivered so hard, I saw a few downy feathers drift away from her wings.
I couldn’t quite keep some disgust out of my voice, as I continued. “Apparently, that Discord bastard they want us to deal with is mentally handicapped or something, and thus ‘innocent’ because he can’t see that his ‘playing’ with the mortals actually hurts people...”
Nemo’s eyes nearly plopped from her skull in shock. “WHAT?!” Ignoring Cadance completely, she turned my way. “Can’t you just enchant a sniper rifle, or something?! Boom, headshot, and problem solved!”
I rolled my eyes, as Cadance went similarly green as Luna had. “Apparently, the Elements are a much ‘nicer’ and ‘friendlier’ solution…” I glared at Cadance. “You know, if you ignore how it has failed four times already.”
Glaring, Nemo rolled her shoulders. “Hey, Princess Pink, or whatever the name was?”
Cadance fluttered her wings in annoyance. “Cadance.”
“Whatever,” Nemo said disinterestedly. “Still, you’re supposedly a love goddess, right?”
Cadance frowned at the words. “...I am the alicorn and princess of love, yes.”
“Why not make Discord love so much and so hard, that his heart would break if he as much as swats a mosquito?”
The world… went silent.
I swear, I don’t think any of the ponies down on the street were even breathing.
“...What?” Cadance forced out, her face ashen and waxen mask.
“It’s within your powers, right? Make him love the entire world so, so much, that to even scratch a rock within his sight will make him burst into tears.” Seemingly out of old habit, Nemo started counting on a hoof; taping the edge of one against the other as if she still had fingers there. “It’s non-violent, keeps the twit alive, keeps everybody else alive, and it will even increase the amount of love in your world by the some tiny margin…”
Nemo didn’t get further than that, before the Cadance in front of us winked out in a sparking cloud of magic, and the one below us loudly started emptying her stomach.
I’d grant the kid this much; she had some good instincts for when to skedaddle. Hell, Nemo was actually in the air before me with a few moments margin.
And then… something utterly wrong and terrifying happened.
Not as much as a shout in anger to stop. Just… nothing.
Nemo gritted her teeth, and shouted back at me. “Keep going! She’ll jump us the moment we stop!”
You run and run, and run… and as soon as you stop…
There it is, behind you. Waiting with dripping, crimson teeth.
I’ve killed a couple of things like that, and sadly, at best survived other things like that. Nasty, nasty buggers.
Honestly, I think I liked these Equestrian twats less and less for every moment that passed.
I pulled ahead a bit, keeping as quick a pace I dared without tiring myself out.
Nemo had this look to her. This really strange one, it actually took me a few minutes of flying to put a name to.
Bored… and excited.
Like a sprinter that hadn’t been able to run for all of winter, but suddenly could at least do a jog without breaking something thanks to all the ice.
I guess it’s hard to find excitement in a measly hundred miles an hour or so, when you can go over Mach freakin’ one.
Still, she made no protest about the speed we were holding. I guess she saw the wisdom in pacing ourselves for now.
I took it as a sign we were getting closer to Demonreach, as Nemo’s fur started puffing out to the point she was nearly a flying Tribble.
She stopped mid-air, staring at the island below us as if she was looking into hell itself. “...What… is this place?” Nemo shuddered, and hugged herself as tightly as she could without locking her wings to her side.
“I’ve named it Demonreach,” I explained in my best calming voice, while trying not to sound as if I was talking with a scared cat. “I'm not going to lie; it’s not a good place, but it’s not a bad place either.” I hesitated for a moment, unsure how much I needed to say. “It’s a place of power, and that prickling in the back of your neck can probably tell you of what type.”
I softly patted my own chest, while Nemo stared at me like I’d gone mad. “It started as one of those: ‘Better me, than them’ things. As long as I’m the master of this place, nobody else can claim and misuse it or its dark energies; that type of thing.”
Nemo frowned, and looked down over Demonreach; eyes lingering especially at the rotting town. “...This is… what, a freaking hellmouth, or something?”
I fought down a laugh at the reference. “...Not that far off… but sorry, I just don’t know you enough for details.” I slowly swept my hoof over the dead town. “This is the dangerous end of knowledge, Nemo. Need to know level… and I’m sorry, but you don’t right now.”
I got stared down, Nemo’s eyes just missing mine in the type of way that hinted that she’d really had to do with real practitioners. “...Fine,” she said absently, once more looking down towards the town, “so what can you tell me?”
I didn’t even bother hiding the sigh of relief; I had not been looking forward to this bit, and it had gone far better than I’d hoped. “This place has something called a ‘genius loci.’ Cliff notes version: The island itself has a spirit and will, and Demonreach is not a people person.”
And understatement of the century goes to…
Nemo had been doing far, far, far better than most ‘normals’ dropped head first into the weird side of things… but I’d apparently hit the threshold for one of those ‘Are you insane?’ type stares.
I took a deep breath, and waved my hooves in the air as I tried to explain. “Look, not to brag, but this is the type of high-end magic stuff quite a few wizards go their whole lives without even seeing, let alone try their hands on. This is the really, really simplified version, but I did something called a sanctum invocation here; basically I impressed the spirit enough that he serves me, and sees me as his master.”
Nemo kept shifting between frowns, as if she could make enough funny faces at the problem for it to go away. “...So, you have a pet island. And it doesn’t like strangers, or other landmasses, but presumably it can bark really loud, if anybody —or thing, it doesn’t like comes too close…?”
I hesitated for a moment. “...Actually, that’s a decent summation.”
For a few moments, Nemo just hung there in the air, frozen except for her wings as she simply stared at me.
Then, with a groan that seemed to come from the depths of her very soul, she slowly put her head in her hooves. “...How in all the hells can that not be the freakiest thing I’ve heard this month…?”
I simply couldn’t resist. “‘Said the pegasus mare with the rainbow on her head and butt, as she and her wizard compatriot hovered over the spooky island of doom...’” I snarked her way in my best narrator voice.
Nemo froze midair, to the point she dipped down nearly ten feet before she remembered to start flapping again.
And before I could even react, she was on my, nose pressed against mine and hoof on my duster. “HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT THING LOOKS LIKE?!”
I nearly drove a hoof into her stomach out of instinct, before I got it. “...Dude, I was talking about this…” I said, poking the closest lock of rainbow mane. “Not those freaky butt tattoos.”
Nemo blinked my way. “...Oh,” she mumbled out and scratched the back of her head, as a honestly rather adorable blush started creeping over her cheeks. “...I’m sorry; I’ve… had a bad year so far. I jumped to conclusions.”
I gave her a slow nod. “...I get it; I’ve had years like that.”
I got a glare for that. “Have you? Really?”
I just snorted at the hard voice, and pointed down. “Do you really think the weird and nastier corners of the world were easier to face without wings to fly away really fast with…?”
With my lips a line, I pointed back towards Chicago, where some of the more optimistic lights were just about starting to wink on; visible only at this altitude and the whole eagle-like vision pegasi seemed to have probably helped as well.
“You think that all those horrors starting to be forced out of the shadows were any easier to face, just because people were certain they didn’t exist?!”
I guess I must have been snarling a bit nastier than I thought, because Nemo flinched away from me. Hard enough she even drifted a couple of feet back since we were both hovering.
I forced myself to take a couple of breaths, and smooth my face out.
“...I’m sorry, it’s just…” Nemo drifted off, her eyes now locked on the prison clothes. “...It’s just been a draining year. I get… tetchy.”
I gave a slow nod. I guess the kid had heard a ‘sympathetic’ ‘Oh, how horrible! Me too!’ one too often; from people that thought they were being kind, but whose ‘horrible year’ had been their favorite soda disappearing from the stores, or something.
Nothing quite like sympathy from somebody without a shred of perspective to rub salt in the wounds, no matter how well meant it may be.
“...Look,” I said in a kinder voice, “I’m not sure if this will work, but I’ll land, and try doing a introduction with a couple of extra ‘pretty please’s in it. Probably won't work, but might make Demonreach give you a few less megawatts on the death glare, at least…”
I got a blank thousand yard stare for that.
What could you do, but shrug at something like that? “Hey, man, what can I say? My life gets weird.”
“...You know what? Fine, fine, fine…” Nemo groaned again, and put a hoof on her face, waving me off with the other. “You just go sing with all the colors of the wind, or whatever, and as long as it disables whatever bad mojo landmines you’ve seeded this place with I frankly don’t care.”
I rolled my eyes as I stopped hovering and instead went into a circling dive.
You’d think somepony that had grown a tail and broken the sound barrier under her own power during the last year would be a bit more receptive to the supernatural… but eh. At least she was onboard with that I could do strange things, even if she wasn’t completely sold on the explanation ‘it’s magic.’
I came in a bit too quick, and actually slid a bit on the loose snow of the clearing I’d picked to go down in.
And then I nearly had a heart attack, as nothing happened.
Zip. Nada. Diddly squat.
“Alfred!” I did not scream like a little girl. “A circle around me and the other pegasus now!”
Don’t ask me how, but for a moment the whole clearing… twitched, for lack of a better word. Snow rippled, the trees bent as if in a storm that only lasted a moment…
Like I’d somehow snuck up on the whole island.
Something I’d not even felt suddenly cut away, as this curtain of pure light just appeared around the clearing.
I fell down onto the snow, just barely turning a scream of agony into a wince through clenched teeth.
Nemo… was not that lucky. She fell, like a screaming lodestone; seemingly in too much pain to control her descent.
I fought back the pain, for long enough to flop over onto my back. Lifting my shaking hoof, I just barely managed to get a spell out. “V-Veni c-che!”
I didn’t stop to watch if Nemo landed properly, but I felt the spell take hold, as the local air got wiped into slowing her descent, if nothing else.
I not so quietly went back to writhing in agony. It felt as if there was a damn branding iron against my…
I fumbled with my duster and shirt, nearly tearing the latter as I pulled open my clothes… and my eyes went wide, as even the pain got pushed aside by a cold dread.
A whole mess of cornflower blue sparks danced over my chest, as the Element of ‘Kindness’ started fading into view; the necklace warping and twisting from silver and ruby-red to gold and six-year old girl pink as the illusion on what I’d thought my pentacle amulet got cut off from its caster.
Stars and freaking stones, I hadn’t even felt the difference in weight. When the hell did that Cadance girl even do that?!
I didn’t even bother feeling for a clasp… but ironically that turned out to be the right call, since the thing turned out to somehow not actually have a chain; instead, it felt as if the darn thing was literally sticking to me somehow.
Worryingly, the thing didn’t offer protest as I tore it off…
But the damn spot of my pelt it had been resting against, it glowed golden, even if only for a second or so.
For a couple of minutes, I simply… couldn’t do anything, but sit, stare, hug myself and shiver as the so-called holy artifact slowly wound down; going from near blazing with this horrible pink light that seemed to try to reach into me and flip switches, and all the way down to what seemed to be ‘just’ a few glimmers without light to cause them. Not even feeling the island again, whatever the damned necklace had done to disrupt that link, made me feel better.
My hoof was shaking even as I traced my neck with it. Hell’s bells, how long was that thing sitting around my neck…?
And where the hell was my actual pentacle necklace? Not only did it have a rather potent power to it that I had no idea how to replicate, something that could cause untold damage in the wrong hands…
I felt this strange mix of emotions. Anger enough my heart was just short of bursting into flames… but this empty hole of dread simply sucked all the fire away before it could enkindle anything.
...and it was also near the only thing I had left from my mother.
My eyes didn’t quite see, as my hoof tightened on the base of my neck, and all I seemed to be able to see was this red film, as I snarled down at the so-called artifact.
I wouldn’t even pass a DNA test with her anymore, and they dare take one of the few last precious things I have of her?! As this cruel little trap, so I would go hide in my hole, and not even notice my mind rotting before I was back to ‘normal,’ and just came trotting back to them like a good little minion?!
They. Will. Burn.
If I had any doubt about the intentions of these ‘Equestrians’ being anything but a pretty veneer of sparkles over rancid bullshit, they died in that moment of righteous fury.
A groan of pain made me snap out of it, and focus instead on the downed Nemo. She’d gone down head first it seemed, but thanks to the snow all that might never recover was her dignity from how her rump was sticking straight up in the air.
I actually had to pause for a moment not to laugh my ass off. It looked like somebody had taken a giant felt toy, stuffed it into prison clothes just to be asses, and left the whole thing in the most compromising position they could.
Dark humor, sure, but I’d simply not expected the sight and got a bit mentally blindsided for a few moments.
Another groan from Nemo made me snap out of it, and I hurried over to her. It was disturbingly easy to get the necklace off her once I’d dug her out… even if seeing Nemo’s fur glowing bright blue in a similar way as mine had was strangely disturbing.
Unceremoniously, I threw the thrice damned bit of bling after my own; the two ‘artifacts’ landing together in the snow with an expensive sounding ‘clink.’
“Alfred, please put up a second circle around those… things,” I asked, only letting out a small sigh of relief as another pillar of light erupted around the Elements. “Thank you, and please take away both of those things and seal them. Use two of the heavy duty cells and keep them separate; if these things are capable of even a thousand of what Twilight claimed they are I don't want to take any chances.”
The entire central pillar flared so brightly it hurt to look at, and once it winked out of existence... so had the two necklaces seemingly done the same.
Aside from two small holes in the snow, and this feeling as if a sliver of ice I hadn’t even noticed before had been plucked out of my heart, not a single sign of the two Elements remained.
I took a few moments to shamelessly plop down in the snow, and take deep breaths.
Safe… for now, at least. With the ‘super-circles’ Demonreach could put up around us, and those damn bits of bling in cells made to hold dark gods, we were about as safe as it was in my power to make us.
And if we could get just a kilometer or so further to my shed and tower, we’d literally be as safe as my power could make us.
“...Ugh,” I groaned out, head in my hooves, “I just had to jinx it, didn’t I?”
I just barely caught a wide-eyed Nemo slowly moving a hoof towards the circle in time.
“Don’t touch that!” My shout made the girl twitch back with a guilty look on her face. I frowned slightly, and continued at a slightly friendlier volume. “It’s a circle against both the physical, the spiritual, and magic” I pointed at the upwards flowing river of light. “Anything not of the island —or tied into it like me, gets disintegrated.”
Technically, that was a gross oversimplification… but I’d been doing magic for near my whole life, and I still couldn’t quite wrap my head around about how most of Demonreach actually worked.
Then again, that’s sadly almost a given when you stumble onto one of the great works of the freakin’ Merlin himself.
Honestly, the more I learned about this place, the more amazed I was that I hadn’t blown myself up that day I went for that sanctum invocation.
Myself... and half of the damn continent.
I tried not to smirk, as Nemo slowly scooted over to me until she was near pressed against my side; not taking her eyes of the circle.
“...Really?” Slowly, as if she was worried the walls would just snap closed, Nemo waved a hoof. “Just zap, and gone?!”
“Had to walk through one once; didn’t even have time to feel my clothes go poof before I was through.” I felt a chuckle force itself out of me, as I looked down on my own snout. “Guess it won’t be quite as cold if I ever need to do that again, huh?”
“...Hate to admit it, but part of me can’t get enough of this flying thing-y. Almost worth it, just that one thing.” Nemo let out a grunt, and all but glared at one of her own hooves. “Think I could have done without the permanent mittens, though.”
My mind flashed back to those horrible first days, when I not only had to use my freaking mouth for everything since my hooves weren’t up to the task…
But I had the just wonderful bonus of a wizard’s perspective on ‘spontaneous’ transformations, and kept wondering when my mind would rot away; warped into something new, terrible and broken by my new form.
I was still on some level actually reeling against that, actually. It was… as if the ground had opened up under my feet, and somehow a flock of bluebirds or something had carried my skyward just as I thought I was dead.
Things like that just… don’t happen to me.
Hell, with my rotten luck? The only way I’d ever do a duet with robins, or whatever Disney crap you care to mention, was if the things were infected by some eldritch horror from beyond the stars, and trying to lure me into a false sense of security before exploding in my face…
I let out a sigh, and closed my eyes for a bit.
Wonder if I could get away with dyeing myself green, slap an illusion on that darn mark on my hip, and just spend a month or two sipping drinks on Hawaii? You know, without being jumped by cybernetic ghoul ninjas, or whatever the next shade of horrible my life was going to throw my way.
Of course, I’d have to get my pentacle back first from an (admittedly allegedly from one of her own allies) love goddess with an agenda, something I was half certain would involve me and/or her laying bleeding on the floor…
But still, details.
Knowing my life, gory and terrifying details that would give me nightmares for years… but still.
“...So,” Nemo asked, still all but hip against hip; something I couldn’t seem to find a good complaint about, despite this nagging feeling that I should have, “how long can you keep this up?”
“Actually, this is all Demonreach… I just gave the command.” I couldn’t stop a rather dark chuckle as I swatted lazily at the ground.. “So the question should be: ‘How long do you think you can get by on snow and frozen weeds?’”
Nemo’s face went into this frankly adorable O of amazement, only to be traded for a frown. “...You’ve actually tried that?” She waved at the ground. “Grass, I mean?”
I gave her a long, hard look. “...You’re joking, right?”
My companion in weird crap gave a shrug… with her wings. “Hey, perhaps you had a steak dinner nightly when your life got turned upside down and fuzzy, but I’ve got a mom whose dad was a vet.” A slight blush crept over Nemo’s blue cheeks, and she wouldn’t quite look my way. “Let us say that I got a nutritious and balanced pony diet... and grandpa is getting socks this damn year no matter how nice and glossy my damned coat got.”
I quickly put a hoof over my mouth, and I think I just barely managed to not sound as if I’d spontaneously coughed up a lung.
“It wasn’t bad, per se, but it was a bit like eating slightly crunchier health cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner…” Nemo did a grimace wide enough I swear I saw her colon for a moment. “...for two weeks or so, until the first autopsies and studies started leaking to the public. Then I got to eat people food again.”
I gave off a grunt. Kinda came with the territory when supernatural crap on this scale happens… but even a low-ish global death toll wasn’t exactly good news.
We kinda fell into a lull after that; just sitting there and looking at the river of light all around us.
“...Shouldn’t we get going?”
“Eventually,” I answered. “But right now we’re safe, and we don’t need to go quite yet. Might as well take a breather, right?”
Nemo let out a grunt, as I waved at the circle.
“Besides, if we’re lucky they wrote us off as ‘practically fixed’ and stopped following us…”
“But if we're unlucky, another damn squad of wannabe centurions might be outside there right now?” Nemo groaned, and ran a hoof through her disheveled mane. “What the hell, can’t they get a new batch of ‘chosen’ if it was apparently so damned easy the first time…?”
I rolled my eyes. “Apparently, that first coincidence studded evening was destiny…”
Nemo and I both gagged in unison.
Nemo however started frowning as soon as she leaned back. “...By that ‘logic’ didn’t that Nightmare Moon go batty and suffer for a thousand years, just so…” Seemingly to make certain she didn’t mean we we, the girl made air-quotes. “...’we’ could have a first ‘epic’ battle set to easy mode…? You know, without splattering five seconds into it?”
Susan’s face flashed before my mind’s eye again… only to be followed by Marcone. Shiro… and Nicodemus. Kirby… and Shagnasty.
And so, so, so many good men and woman I’d see die… only for evil bastards to smile, and waltz on to their next kitten eating contest.
“Kid,” I growled as the snow crunched in my ‘balled’ hoof, “if I thought destiny existed, I’d spend the rest of my life killing the bastard.”
I took how Nemo flinched as a sign to cut down on the venom in my voice. What can I say? That, and how the spot of snow I was glaring at started bubbling didn’t exactly scream that I was handling things well.
“...Sorry,” I grunted her way, as I closed my eyes and scratched absently at this sudden itch in my hips, “I’ve just seen too many good people die, while the bastards just walk away without even breaking their stride.”
I heard Nemo’s fur and clothes rustle, as she nodded slowly at my words. “...You think they’re… not bluffing?”
My ears perked slightly at the way she said it; this strange mix of near pleading and utterly mortified.
With her hip against mine it was easy to put a hoof on her shoulder, despite my eyes being closed. “No, no I don’t.”
Almost absently, Nemo put her own hoof on mine. “...Why?”
I took a deep breath, and just said it. “Because I’ve seen it a dozen times over. Some monster of the week gets ahold of a couple of stupid teenagers, or similar, and tells them it can turn them ‘special.’” I felt my face twist into a grimace of disgust without my say-so. “The long lost friends’ angle is new, but the rest? Text-book. We actually go with them, and at best we die quickly; at worst, we still die… but something lives on in our bodies to hunt for more ‘Element bearers’ or whatever the racket actually is...”
I heard Nemo gulp slightly.
A sigh forced itself out of me, and I simply had to shake my head in disgust. “Hell’s bells, twenty five years? That’s enough time to raise a generation, let alone a freaking army…” I waved my free hoof vaguely in the air. “Hell, it’s enough time to research how to bind the creep from scratch even for me, let alone a nation of mages!”
“...Yeah,” Nemo mumbled out, “hate to admit it, but that makes sense…”
I felt something cold snake down my spine, and I couldn’t help but give the girl a suspicious look as I re-opened my eyes. “...Hate?”
Nemo looked slightly insulted. “Look, I don’t know what your experience with wizards and magic is… but mine has been this line of old relics that barely know what an automobile is; near all of them petitioning to get me the chair now that they can’t sneak around and just behead ‘warlocks’ anymore…”
Guilt flickered over my face. “...Sorry.”
Nemo ignored me, but her face softened as she continued. “...To be frank, that Celestia girl was a breath of fresh air.” Nemo looked sad, and thumped herself on the chest with her free hoof. “Got this good feeling from her, you know? This politician vibe, sure, but one of those that actually give a damn.”
I gave a half-hearted shrug. “Haven’t met her… Yet.”
“Guess I was just having smoke blown up my ass.” Nemo just let out a deep sigh. “And that ‘concern’ was probably more about the complications from where I was, than my actual —heh, case, huh?”
“Yeah, probably hard to brainwash somebody into a somepony while they’re under constant police and media watch, I’d wager...”
Nemo shivered, and I’d bet it had nothing to do with the snow.
“...They kill anybody to spring you?”
I got another shiver as part of the answer. “No. They had a squad of unicorns, and those used some type of glowing blasts to stun everybody…” Nemo frowned slightly. “I think I saw two-three of them go down to police fire, actually; no idea what’s up with that armor but it doesn’t seem to do much against bullets.”
I nodded slowly, feeling the weight of my revolver in its pocket a bit clearer. “...Good to know.”
So for now at least they were actually trying to back up the ‘pacifist’ crap they’d been sprouting? Good info.
“I got this nut-case named Twilight Sparkle as my recruiter...” I raised my free hoof to almost as high as it would go. “Nearly twice our size, very, very purple, and with more screws loose than a full conference of the watch repair union. You’ve met her?”
Nemo thought it over, but eventually slowly shook her head. “...No, but that Celestia snake kept mentioning her; something about how much she’d missed us all, and how relieved both Celestia and her was to have ‘finally found their friends.’”
This time, I joined in on the shivers.
“Worst bit?” Nemo continued with a grimace. “She had this big, bright, utterly genuine smile on as soon as she even was in the same room as me. Except when the name Nemo or what I’d done came up, if you follow.” I don’t think she was an actor or anything, but Nemo faked a decent take on ‘utterly crestfallen.’ “Like that, just slightly better hid.”
“...You think they actually believe their own bullshit?”
Nemo spread her arms and wings in a wide shrug. “Beats me.” The mare let her various limbs fall to her side. “No offence, but I was a freaking waiter in my mom’s cafe before all this weirdness; it’s all a bit beyond me.”
“A cafe?” I raised an eyebrow. “In Manhattan? High stake town for that type of business…”
Nemo’s eyes unfocused and this soft smile bloomed on her lips. “...Mom’s one of those self-made hard-asses. I work for her in the family business until I’m thirty, and she’ll pay for my degree.”
I just barely stopped my wince in time, but Nemo’s smile still vanished. “...Of course,” she hesitatingly continued while scratching the back of her head, “that was before all this pony crap happened. Think my five year plan might just need a few adjustments.”
I pulled the dejected girl into a hug, and Nemo didn’t struggle.
“...You know...” Nemo mused after a few minutes of silence. “I think I’ve gotten more hugs during these last months than the rest of my life.”
“To be fair,” I said gently, adding a few extra pats on her back for emphasis, “from what I’ve heard you’ve needed quite a few more than average.”
I think a few of my internal organs went squish as Nemo tightened the hug. The small death rattle of an urk from me made her loosen it just as quickly, though.
“Ye gods, kid, and I thought I have a regiment.” I fidgeted a bit to get feeling back into my everything. “What exactly do you lift? Cars?”
Nemo forced out one of those ‘well, yeah, but now you won’t believe me’ laughs.
I dropped it, and focused on my link with Demonreach instead.
Alfred Demonreach —as the joke had unfortunately stuck, was a very old, and very powerful genius loci, and possess among other things, something called Intellectus.
Basically, ‘he’ simply Knows all that has to do with the land he inhabits, and as long as I’m on Demonreach’s soil I get to share in that. It isn’t quite being omniscient since I need to concentrate on specifics for it, but it has still saved my bacon a couple of times.
The number of wasps? A hundred and ninety two; all queens still in hibernation.
One car, to my amazement… Although I had to admit, an old plastic toy bobbing in the flotsam on the north-west beach seemed a bit pedantic to actually count as such.
“...Harry? What’s wrong?” Nemo asked urgently, as I went rigid in her hooves.
And five necklaces, sadly none of them my pentacle I’d asked in the hopes of. The two Elements somehow straining against their cells. A string of pearls only held together by a thin line of rust inside one of the abandoned houses…
And another damn Element from the amount of magic it was putting out, sitting around a neck just outside the door to my damn cottage.
I ignored Nemo, instead closing my eyes and concentrating. “...We’ve got company,” I murmured, making her tense. “Two women, one man, and a mare near my cottage; with another mare and… something down by the dock.”
Nemo started asking something, but I just held up a hoof and hushed her, as I concentrated.
“...The one by my cottage is a normal pony, but I can’t get a grip on just what the mare and the thing by the dock is.”
And ‘thing’ was a good word for it. All I got from Demonreach was this vague sense of something there… and what seemed to be a hole in the island’s magic.
The pocket of no magic wasn’t moving, or anything… but call me cynical, it sounded like bad news.
“...You a psychic as well?”
I almost laughed from how incredulous Nemo sounded. Pony princesses from another dimension? Fine. Turning into a pegasus mare? Eh…
But psychics?! Oh, the horror!
Granted, I’d never actually met one of those, but still.
“No,” I explained, “I can ‘ask’ Demonreach things, but it’s a bit…” I searched for words for a bit, not wanting to show my whole hand quite yet. “...binary yes or no answers, and I need to do it in the form of thinking in concepts and images.”
I opened my eyes just in time to see Nemo frowning at the circle around us. “...Could it be any of the rarer pony variants? Those weird see-through ones, or those poor ‘mer-mare’ bastards?”
I frowned, and ‘pinged’ Demonreach with every variant I’d heard and could think about.
But ultimately, I just had to shake my head. “...I have no idea. I think they’re powerful, though.”
At least that was the only idea I had for why the dark well of power —the combined magical ‘body heat’ of every horrible monster, dark god, and Outsider imprisoned within Demonreach, seemed to have not only grown slightly, but it had these… streaks of warmth and light in it, for lack of better words to describe it.
It was as somebody had poured bleach into an overgrown pond; not enough to purify the whole thing, but enough that there was patches of ‘clean’ water.
Frankly, it freaked me out. I’d never dared to draw on that power… but sensing it shift like that?
It was like having your friendly neighborhood bomb range suddenly stop going boom, and instead there was this horribly pale light coming from the general direction.
A bad, bad sign, in other words.
“...So?” Nemo let go of me with one hoof, and waved it at the circle around us. “Can’t you just ask nicely, and have one of these death circles spring up around ‘em?!”
I freed myself from her, and tried to calm her. “Yes… but I have a few allies that just might fit the bill…” I passed my hoof back and forth between us. “You know, especially with the weirdness lately.”
The bristle in the back of Nemo’s neck didn’t quite go away, but it lowered a bit.
“...So, yeah... I’d rather not cleave any of them in two by friendly fire, ‘kay?” I jerked my head towards my cottage… and my ‘guests.’ “That, and I’m kinda infamous in the freak side of things; it’s damn low odds even for my crazy life... but might be some poor schmuck that’s in the same seat as us, and has run for the only port they could think of…”
Nemo frowned slightly.
I frowned a bit myself, before continuing. “Granted, having heard of me and Demonreach, while not having more potent contacts or sure hidey-holes to run off to sounds like a rather narrow band of people... but it’s not impossible.”
I got a long, hard look for that as Nemo detangled herself from me. “...You can throw crap like the words ‘my pet island’ around and you claim you're a magical small fry?”
I got the oddest feeling of being glared at from all directions at once. “One; it’s more of a partnership to use ‘normal’ words for it.”
The ‘glare’ didn’t quite go away, but at least it faded quite a bit.
“Two; not to brag, but in raw magical power I’m probably in the top hundred —if not top ten outright on a good day, but only counting among the sane and mortal crowd, not the creeps that have gone the contracts in blood for a power-boost route, and crap like that.” I ignored how Nemo’s eyes went wider, and instead pointed a wing-tip at the circle. “And that doesn’t mean jack-squat when some of the dudes in even my Rolodex remember a time before those disturbing iron horse thingies made the womenfolk go all wobbly in the knees.”
“...What, you actually own a Rolodex? What are you, like, fifty?”
“Yes,” I snarked while rolling my eyes, “truly that was the most important part of what I just said…” I let out a small sigh, and straightened up. “My point was, that there are a lot of dudes, gals and even things out there that have a hundred if not a thousand fold my experience, and that counts for a lot.” I mimed the karate stance Nemo had taken earlier. “I’m no yellow belt, but I know I’m no black belt, either. That type of stuff.”
Nemo went serious, focusing like a hawk even as I let my hooves fall. “...You’ve done martial arts?”
I gave a shrug. “A bit.” I reared up and cracked my back, before falling down on all fours again with a dark chuckle. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve made crap teeth over the years, just because they all expect a wizard to stand there on the sidelines and scream ‘magic missile!’ all night.”
My companion clearly had to do a double take. “...I’m sorry, Harry, but I swear my inner six year old dies a bit whenever you say something like that.”
I stuck my adorable little tongue out at her.
I’d expected a ‘faked’ cutesy induced heart attack, or something, but Nemo instead gave me this really odd look. Slowly, she glanced around, and whispered at me from behind her hoof. “OK, it’s just you and me here and nobody around to judge so I’m just going to swallow my pride and ask; how much do you cheat, and what elder god do I need to ritually blow to get the same deal?”
At first, I was simply offended. This girl didn’t think there was any way for me to look nice without dark powers? Really?
This soon shifted to wry amusement. Oh, ha, ha, Harry, somebody finally outsnarked you! Oh, the humoristic horror…
But then… I actually registered the pleading puppy-dog look.
And let me tell you, not only do ponies do puppy-dog eyes really damn well, but Nemo seemed a master of it at that. This slight tremble to her lips. Ears drooping. Head just slightly slouched, while still looking at me…
Honestly, I near got scientifically inaccurate diabetes on the spot.
“I’m sorry,” I said, hoof raised to shield me from the adorable horror. “I just got lucky on the die roll; I don’t have anything special like that…”
“...You’re not just saying that to stop me from doing something?” Nemo pleaded, somehow making me hear the damn tremble to her lip.
“Look, Nemo,…” I told her as kindly as I could. “...my old master owns a farm, and his version of making apprentices appreciate the wonders of magic sorta involves manual labor and tending to horses until you can barely stand the sight of the countryside.” I felt my cheeks heat a bit, as my eyes drifted to my rather disheveled looking locks.
I have no idea why, but unless I near cut it daily it likes to sneak down all the way to near the ground as soon as I’m not looking.
Pretty and feminine, as much as that last attribute might give me mixed feelings? Oh my, yes.
Unhealthy in my business with all the grabby nasties I face? ‘The cow goes: Moo. The pony goes: ‘Hey, I’m being typecast here!’ And the long-haired wizard goes: ‘Argh, my face!’’
I slowly lowered my hoof. Nemo had stopped giving me the cutest little death-beam, but the way she was just sitting there and biting her lip with a heavy blush was near just as bad.
“So I could show you some better things to use on that pelt then just combs and one-dollar soap... but now is really not the time.”
Nemo let out a deep gasp. “I DO NOT USE ONE-DOLLAR SOAP!”
I took a moment to wipe the spittle off my face. “...But you still use human soap, right?”
Nemo freeze mid righteous indignation; wings flared, hoof pointing, snarling, and everything.
“Because that is mostly tweaked towards working nice and safely on skin…” Gently I tapped my rather furry cheek, as I saw this light dawn in her eyes. “And well, we don’t have quite as much as we used to have of that, now do we?”
Slowly, Nemo all but deflated until she was standing there normally… if looking rather sheepish. “....Well, fuck,” she swore softly while scratching the back of her head. “I had not thought of that, I must admit.”
“Tell you what…” I told her kindly, trotting over to give her a pat on the shoulder. “We get out of here, and there’s this evil luxury spa that bribes me with membership. How about we go there, and cost them a lot of money by forcing them to run out and get a few groomers, shall we?”
Nemo titled her head and frowned with one eyebrow near breaking free from her skull; clearly thinking: ‘...Did I just hear that sentence right?’
“It’s a money laundering operation slash hidden brothel for the local mob disguising as this luxury gym and spa,” I explained, making Nemo all but flicker between this ‘O’ of understanding, and looking mortified. “So… yeah; evil spa, filled with dastardly minions with wicked belly-rubbing powers, and everything.”
For a long while, Nemo just sat there and stared blankly at me. “...Huh,” she finally mumbled out once she’d processed what she’d just heard, “and I thought New York was weird nowadays…”
I just smirked slightly.
With a huff, Nemo looked away; rubbing absently at the cuffs still around her fetlocks. “Look… this is a bit personal and I don’t think I’ve talked with anybody about it…” The blush on her cheeks deepened a bit, as she glared at her prison uniform. “But I used to be one of those human noodles; six feet, two inches and still barely ten stone while soaking wet.”
I felt my eyebrow raise as I couldn’t help but look over the equine amazon in front of me.
Guess I wasn't the only one that had gotten a few ‘stats’ reshuffled, but still, slightly odd to actually hear.
“I don’t want to sound like a species and gender Quisling or anything…” With a barely held back and near manic grin, Nemo flexed her… well, whatever the biceps but with equine anatomy are really called. And have to admit, how I could see the muscle flex even without her sleeves rolled back was kinda impressive. “Can you blame me for finding all this and wings an upgrade to that?”
I felt my own wings twitch slightly from having been still too long. “Sure,” I deadpanned outwardly, “just with the tiny side effects of drawing the attention of the most adorable inter-dimensional empire, dick-loss, having to hold every conversation from here to eternity with peoples’ crotches…”
“Fine, fine, you have a point…” Nemo grumbled and waved me off, before taking a breath and continuing. “My point was that until I screwed up and Pretty Pony Princess Sparkle Butt showed, I didn’t exactly cry havoc from the rooftops over my dinky little dagger having been traded in for a jeweled chakram…”
My eyebrow rose a bit. “...’Jeweled chakram?’ Really?”
Nemo frowned, and did a so-so gesture. “Eh, fine, that was a reach… but still, sounds a bit classier than scabbard, right?”
I did a grimace and tried not to think about that.
And if I pretended really hard, I might not even have noticed how my tail had twitched up for a second or so.
Nemo’s eyes lingered on the circle for a bit. “...I’m rambling,” she said, before squaring her shoulders and sighing. “Just… thanks for taking the weird question seriously, instead of laughing or doing the ‘mysterious magic ways of the wizard’ crap.”
I gave a ruffling shrug her way… but I had to admit, there was a tiny smile on my lips as I did so. “You’ve had something strange and invasive happen to you…” Almost on their own accord, my eyes drifted down to the giant yellow blob of fuss my nose was nowadays. “...Would be stranger —and less healthy I might add, if you hadn’t reevaluated a few things about yourself.”
Nemo blinked slowly my way. “...You OK?” She waved her hoof between herself and me. “With the mare thing, I mean?”
I opened my mouth…
And promptly closed it, unsure what to say.
“...Said it yourself, right?” Nemo waved at the circle. “We’re safe right now, and… Well, not sure if you’ve had anybody to talk about this with.”
Slowly, I sat down in the snow again; rubbing at my temples. “...It’s… mixed; some good, some bad, and… I honestly don’t know what to feel on the whole quite yet.”
To her credit, Nemo didn’t try any emotional blackmail, or anything.
She just sat there, and looked at me; waiting for me to continue.
“...Tell you what?” I told her as I got up, somehow just barely keeping the smirk off my face. “If I’m showing you how to tend your mane properly later, we might as well go the whole hog and talk about our feelings while doing it, right?”
Slowly, Nemo more or less went through a second metamorphosis, as her cheeks lit up red enough to near serve as a lantern.
“It’ll be fun!” I explained with a big smile in a sing-song voice. “We’ll do each others’ hooves. Talk about boys…”
Nemo froze slightly as I reached into my duster, and pulled my gun. “Crush our enemies, drive them before us…” I continued in the same sing-song tone, as I flipped the massive revolver open to check the bullets. “...and once we’ve heard the lamentation of their stallions, we’ll make s’mores!”
With a click and a nervous laugh from Nemo, I closed the cylinder before stuffing the revolver back into my pocket. “Why, I think I even have these darling little pink ribbons that would go with our furs and my war-paint! It is the twenty-first century and a girl needs to have standards, after all!” I got serious and waved a hoof at the circle. “Seriously though, Nemo, you’re ready? We might need to make a break for it depending on what company we’ve got.”
With a blank expression, Nemo rubbed her face with a hoof. “...Dear lord,” she muttered, “I think my inner feminist and what was left of my masculinity just fragged each other…”
I let out a snort. “But seriously,” I nodded to the sky, where the sun was slowly slipping out of the top of the circle, “we’re burning daylight, and I don’t know about you but I never got lunch. Might as well greet and/or stomp whoever’s here, cobble something together and face the dread Sesame Street Empire on a full stomach, right?”
I got a dirty look, but Nemo frowned as her eyes got drawn to the glowing circle again. “...You sure you aren’t getting just a bit overconfident, Harry?”
I gave a shrug. “Don’t get me wrong; that illusion on mind altering necklaces was a nasty combo, and I’m going to do my best to repay that —after I’ve beaten where she dumped my pentacle, out of that Cadance creep…” I frowned a bit, and turned away from Nemo, instead looking on the circle. “...Not to give you the wizard shtick too heavily, but I’ve fought and killed things that would make that overgrown little filly go catatonic from horror on the spot.”
“...Normally I’d call bullshit…” Nemo said slowly, as she nervously shuffled from hoof to hoof a bit. “...but since I’m being glared at by the island we fled to, to escape a legion of flying nudists lead by living Hasbro toys…” Nemo paused, and let out a soft wince. “Yeah, I think I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt after this crazy day.”
I chuckled a bit, even as I drew my blasting rod; hobbling forward on three legs in a half-assed compromise of speed, stability and being able to still use the darn thing. “You ready?”
Nemo answered by closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. I didn’t even have to as much as focus my magical senses to feel what she was doing, at least with the circle cutting off the random magical background noise.
Honestly I’m not certain exactly what she was doing to herself, but it felt more or less as if a thundercloud had taken hu- equine shape and was just standing around for some reason.
“Careful, kid,” I told her. “Not sure if you’ve noticed yourself, but to anybody actually trained in or capable of sensing magic that ‘spell’ of your’s is about as subtle as a gay pride rally in a nunnery.”
To my surprise, Nemo twitched a bit, before glaring me down suspiciously.
Only then did I realize that might have been a bad choice of words to tell a man turned mare with rainbow hair. “Sorry,” I waved at her rather unruly mop, “wasn’t meant as a dig. ‘As subtle as an ‘accidental’ paper fire in a politician's office’, then?”
I think I ruffled a few feathers —literally and metaphorically, judging from how Nemo’s wings had gone slightly ‘fluffy;’ for lack of a better word— but with a grunt and a stiff nod my apology seemingly got accepted.
“...OK, you ready?” I asked and got another nod, so I turned to the circle. “Alfred, please lower the circle.”
With barely a glimmer of wasted power the circle of light just winked out; there one moment and gone the next as if a switch had been flipped.
Letting us hear the screaming.
I immediately felt the bits of my mane on my neck rise up. It was one of those long and ragged things from somebody in utter agony, something that just never gets easier to hear no matter how often you’ve heard it.
But something was… off. It wasn’t actually coming from any one direction despite there being only one woman screaming; instead, it was as if the very air was screaming.
I felt the bottom of my stomach drop as the token did the same.
Or the magic.
Twilight! No, no, no…!
My rod disappeared down into the snow as I groaned and clutched at my head; fighting down this feeling of having just had a railway spike jabbed from temple to temple.
And I still did better than Nemo, who just crashed down into the snow.
Hadn’t been expecting it so I hadn’t had time for any of the more impressive mental tricks for dealing with pain... but I guess all that practice over the years still counted for something.
I gritted my teeth and stumbled over to Nemo.
It seemed as I wrenched her upright that Nemo was something of a —horrible pun intended, one trick pony; because aside from that body boost thing of hers she’d crumbled like an old lady that had gone up against an heavy-weight champion.
Granted, your average person can go their entire life and survive without any special mental defenses just fine —magical or otherwise, but it was a rather glaring sign that this girl had no formal training.
My ears perked slightly, as the horrible ‘sound’ started dying off, but I was focused on the girl in my arms. “Hey, Nemo?” I asked gently, as I patted the tearstained fur on her cheek. “You OK?”
Nemo groaned and stirred, mumbling something I didn’t quite catch.
That the only words I caught were “No, Twilight…” made my skin and the inside of my skull crawl as if both were filled by ants, however.
I pretended not to have heard and instead have her another shake. “Nemo! Wake up!”
Nemo’s eyelids fluttered open, and I quickly averted my own eyes.
I did not want a soulgaze given the current situation.
“Ugh…” Nemo groaned out, only to do a double take as soon as she could focus. “...Harry,” she asked in a scared voice so low and soft I barely heard it, “why are you crying?”
I blinked, only then noticing how my vision was slightly blurry. With a shaking hoof I reached up, and it came back near soaked in tears from just touching my fur alone.
“...I don’t know.”
We got knocked out of our little moment of dread, as the whole island shuddered as if in a quake.
Nemo jolted clean out of my arms as Demonreach’s ‘voice’ boomed out, seemingly from every everywhere; making the snow, soil and plants vibrate in harmony with it.
“LOYALTY AND KINDNESS HAVE ESCAPED.” For the tiniest moment, there was the closest thing an island could do to a frustrated growl in the air. It sounded somewhere halfway between rocks rubbing together and an angry dog big enough to fit right into a Godzilla movie.
And just like that before my fur could even puff out in a proper ‘oh crap’ moment, it was gone.
“...I CANNOT HOLD THEM.”
For a second or so, I couldn’t process what I’d just heard. “...What?” I near whimpered out.
“THE LINK TO THE BEARER OF MAGIC AND MAGIC WAS NEARLY SEVERED BY THE LESSER CIRCLE. IT IS BEING REPAIRED AND BOLSTERED AS WE SPEAK.”
I vaguely heard Nemo’s jaw drop near clean off. “That was a lesser circle?!”
I hushed and waved her off; focusing instead on what Demonreach was telling me.
As soon as I did, I Knew things.
Two titanic crystals deep within Demonreach, each the size of a small skyscraper and capable of holding things like elder gods or even outsiders…
I gulped slightly, trying not to have my eyes plop from my sockets from how wide they got.
Now nothing but gravel and shards that some type of —I kid you not, rainbow colored magic danced and burned all over them. And I swear I recognized that damned magic, despite never having actually seen the type in my entire life.
The two ‘necklaces’ themselves, now seemingly having shed that guise and instead blazing with power like two stars; one red, one pink, with both of them being slowly but surely being ‘pulled’ towards the surface through the soil and rock as if by some invisible force.
Straight towards me and Nemo. Freaking hell, the two things, whatever they really were, even hit a slab of granite about the size of my old, dearly departed car, and just ground through it without even slowing.
I let out a breath I hadn’t even realized I’d been holding in a low wince. “...The damned things are coming for us.” I didn’t even bother digging for my rod. Instead, I conjured a quick wind that made the thing fly to my outstretched hoof. (As well as kick up quite a bit of snow and make Nemo twitch in surprise, but whatever.) “Fuck subtlety; we need to make a break for my cottage and raise every damn bit of defenses we can.”
I saw Nemo hesitate and frown at me; probably over just how I knew that by just squinting for a few moments.
Then however, she just shrugged it off, and drew in breath and power for that ‘spell’ of hers. “Right,” she said with hard eyes, “and those people you sensed?”
I hesitated for just a moment… then I drew my gun with my other hoof. “I sensed another one of those Elements.”
Nemo’s eyes went wide.
“If whoever it is tries to stall, we’ll go for guerrilla tactics and make a run for my cottage, OK?”
Nemo frowned a bit, flexing her wings once from irritation. “...Guerrilla tactics?”
“Try to go for wounding blows; then they’ll have to waste time and energy to stop to care for wounded, instead of just leaving dead behind.” I hesitated again, as those deep purple eyes filled with sadness from my office earlier flashed through my mind…
Then I pulled back the hammer on my revolver. “Let me do the talking, but if they even hesitate on letting us pass we need to make a break for it.”
Nemo went slightly waxen. Not sure again how fur managed it, but the girl even paled a bit. “...You sure we need to go that far?”
I fought down a shudder, and risked meeting her gaze for just a moment. “Nemo… I’m going to trust you with this, but the reason this island is a big deal is because it’s a magical prison, and a high security one at that.” I looked away, and pointed my rod at the ground. “And whatever those —possibly quite literally, thrice damned things really are, they broke out of cells made for dark gods as if they were tin foil.”
Nemo tensed and went wide eyed.
“And given that they intend to rewrite our brains for something, we need to get behind more active defenses.” With my lips a grim line, I pointed my rod at her wings. “Or do you want something wearing your skin to walk away from this? Something that knows everything and everybody you know, to go hunting for things to fuel whatever the real Equestrian agenda happens to be?”
Slowly, as if her throat had suddenly become too dry, Nemo gulped.
No! Twilight and the other Princesses would never do something like that!
I let out a groan and almost dropped my gear again. “...And I need a bit of peace and quiet to deal with this damned headache before the show really starts.”
Nemo hesitated again, how she’d rather been left in her warm, safe cell all but written with sharpie on her forehead.
To the kid’s credit, though, she squared her shoulders and drew in more power; the prickling at the edge of my senses rising as a few bluish-white sparks of static electricity even started dancing through her feathers, hair and fur.
She bit back a wince even as she started moving. “Right, let’s go.”
And with some type of cross-dimensional empire and twisted shards of magic itself hounding us, Nemo and I set off; flying low in between the trees in what would hopefully be a good mix of speed and stealth.
My fucking life, huh?