Dark Horse — A Five Score Tale From The Dresden Files

by Lord Of Dorkness

06 — ...Couldn't Put Harmony Together Again

“Nobody kno~ows, the troubles I’ve se~en!” I lifted my hand to my face, and let out a mournful bleat from the party-horn I was holding. “Nobody kno~ows, how lonely I’ve be~en!”

Oh, Harmony, Harry, please stop! You sound like a cat.

“I do~on’t actually know, the lyrics of this so~ong!” Another bleet cut the night, like a thing-y slashing through another thing-y; adding the perfect accent to my dirge of everlasting sadness. “Something, someth~hing, parko~our!”

In heat and on fire.

“Nobody kno~ows, the movies I’ve se~en!” Bleet. “Nobody kno~ows, in how many burning houses I’ve be~en”

...Oh God, I said the f-word! For fuck’s sake, Harry, why do you ever only listen when I say the thrice damned f-word!?

I paused my reminiscence when I felt the energies of the world shift, this subtle but insistent cold note added to the myriad notes of the night; a cold note I was perhaps one of a handful of mortals in the whole world to know the meaning of.

It was now Halloween proper, and for one day only, as the world of the living and the dead drew the closest they would be for a whole year.

For the little kiddies, it —hopefully, meant a day of candy, parties and scares; a safe but harmless thrill.

For adults… Well, if one was a cynical man, you could say that the same held true. The candy just had a buzz to it, the parties last longer, and the worst scares would be coming tomorrow once the masks come off.

For the immortals, dark gods and similar, so vast and terrible in power that only on this day their powers becomes pliable enough to add to? Well, there would be parties, masks... but those two things sure wouldn't end in lies about ‘I’ll call.’

And for one lonely if currently happily buzzed wizard, dangling his feet of the (What’s Up) dock to his island sanctum; watching the stars over Lake Michigan, and doing his best to be grown-up about his friends having other things to do?

“Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me…” I drifted off, taking a swig of the open whiskey next to me.

Happy birthday, dear Harry! Happy birthday to you!

Might have been the glimmering stars, the mild night —or the whiskey for that matter, but the small ditty actually made me feel better.


Sure, sucked everybody else was out of town with their own things… but eh. I’d live.


Thirty nine years old… Ye gods and little fishies, have to admit with how many anthills I’ve kicked in my day I didn’t think I’d get that far.




> the smell of chocolate and cotton-candy. I turn, and smi- <

“...Hello, Discord! Do you want some te-...”

> screams, both pony and animal <


> snap of talons as he grins wickedly <

“Nothing personal, my dear! Things around here have just been far, far too dull…”

> run run run run run run run run run run run run run <

“Oh, so close! Bye, bye!”


Augh, my bucking head…

Augh, my fucking head…

...Wait, what? What the hell just happened?

...Wait, what? What in Tartarus just happened?

My head felt like it was filled with cotton candy, and there was this weirdly insistent prickling pain on my hip; as if the skin there had been asleep for so long it had gone completely numb somehow without me noticing.

I was a bit more concerned with the lapping waves above my head, however.

“WARDEN, PLEASE DO NOT KILL YOURSELF AGAIN.” Alfred’s massive fist swung around, and unceremoniously but surprisingly gently dumped me on the dock proper.

With a grunt I did my best to untangle myself from my own limbs and duster, but it seemed I’d overdone it with the whiskey. Somehow I’d gone from ‘comfy bit of buzz’ to ‘oh God, I’m never drinking again’ without passing go, let alone getting two hundred dollars for my troubles.

...Wait, haven’t we done this already? All this seems oddly familiar...

“Right, right…” I mumbled with a mouth that suddenly felt like I’d been gargling rubbing alcohol, only noticing how much my hand was shaking when I dragged it over my face. “What the hell happened?”

For a few long moments, Demonreach towered over me silently, his ember eyes burning unblinkingly as the spirit looked me over.

“...THERE IS A STRANGE STAIN ON YOUR AURA.” Demonreach lifted one hand from out under his cloak, and pointed at my hip. “IT APPEARS BENIGN, IF ODD; I HAVE NOT SEEN ITS LIKE BEFORE THIS DAY.”

I did a double take and frowned at that.

Still frowning and trying to ignore the sludge my mind felt like, I stared at the end of the dock where I’d almost gotten a rather chilly autumn dip.

“...I think...” I mumbled, rubbing at the ‘stain’ that thankfully was feeling better if tender as hell, “...that I got ridden by a Nightmare, or something. I did fall asleep for a moment right here in the open while drunk, after all.”

He did look as annoyed as a walking bunch or roots and soil may, but I got what sounded suspiciously like a grunt of acknowledgement from Alfred.

Seemed to be the most logical explanation. Nightmares —capital N to distinguish them from just bad dreams I might add, were a nuisance but mostly harmless; the spiritual and dream based equivalent to mosquitoes.

They sweep in, give your aura a nibble, and aside from some exhaustion you’d be right as rain the same day. Sure, dreaming you are being chased through an endless high-school locker room in the nude by a whole squad of mutant cheerleaders wanting to devour you with their gaping, slime gushing mouth vaginas…

 I glanced over to the now over-toppled and near empty bottle of whiskey… and decided that perhaps that was for the best.

Still, dreams like that aside, the only thing notable about Nightmares is that they can —admittedly with some difficulty, bypass thresholds; making them one of near only a handful of malevolent spirits with that ability.

But then again, since: A, a simple dream-catcher solves that problem, and B, they are a nuisance that ability is not much more than a rather nasty bit of trivia. Nightmares are simply too fickle and self-absorbed to command or even control properly. They’re just an large bit of ego, a stomach and a voice going ‘Me! Me! Me!’

Heh, I’d pay to see Luna’s face on hearing that…

The more I thought about it though, the more a Nightmare seemed to fit. The damn dream was already a quickly fading blur to me... but I remembered running and running quicker than I’d ever done in my whole life, this big ugly monster somehow keeping up with me no matter what I did.

I fought down the shiver racing down my spine with a grimace, and shakily got to me feet.

I clutched at my head and nearly toppled over. I guess it was a given for one with balls big enough to hunt on Demonreach, but the Nightmare must have been a big and old one given what a dozy of a ‘nibble’ I’d gotten.

My head was starting to pound and my limbs felt like they’d been wrapped in lead… but the strangest thing was my hips. Honestly felt as if somebody had taken fine sandpaper and rubbed me raw; two spots about the size of my hands so tender even my pants rubbing against them felt rather uncomfortable.

I waved Alfred off, and started stumbling towards the shed. “Think I’ll be OK with some sleep… Still, thanks for the save.”

Pausing only for a tilt of his head as acknowledgement, Demonreach winked out of existence; there one moment and gone the next like a pizza near little folk.

It was almost pitch black and with the buzz still in my head the trek would normally been rather nightmarish, but my link with Demonreach made it a rather pleasant if dark stroll instead.

It wasn’t much my little stone shed, — Even if it would be a long, long time before I’d be able to make anything better myself as far as wards go. — but at least it was warm and dry.

Pausing in the doorway, I frowned a bit, my eyes drawn to a small shelf in the far right corner of the room; it’s rather strange mix of contents barely visible as a slightly darker spot in the gloom.

It was safe, warm… but was it really something I could call a home without wincing?

Oh, Harry…

I fought down the sigh that wanted to give out, and just closed the door quietly behind me instead.

I did do my best to be quiet even when undressing and slipping inside, also doing my best not to sound like a gigolo that had gotten the wrong script when my pants came off.

Heh, reminds me of when I got my cutie marks… Kinda doubt that’s what happened now —the whole you being human thing, but I could barely sleep for a week; my plots were that sensitive…

A flash of cyan eyes in the dark, gleaming like a cat’s but far too large for any mortal feline made me react in moments. “Fuego!” I screamed, tearing my arm free and sending a wave of fire towards t-

“...You OK, Harry?”

I blinked, my head feeling like felt.

I looked at my outstretched hand, fingers spread as if I’d been about to cast a spell.


I quickly looked around, trying to figure out what just had happened.

The mother of old apprentice, Charity Carpenter, snapped her fingers in my face; almost making me jump clean out of my skin. “Earth to Dresden.”

“Stars and stones, I thought I’d slept better than that…” I shook my head, and slapped myself gently but firmly on the cheek. “Sorry, sorry…”

Charity gave me a worried look, but seemingly decided that it was just me having something distracting on my mind. “So,” she said, as she walked over to the other end of the kitchen, and started brewing us some coffee, “you said you need Molly for something…?”

I rubbed the bridge of my nose with my right hand, the leather of my glove honestly rather cold and refreshing as I made a mental tally how I’d gotten here. I’d gotten drunk, had a weird dream, and freaked out about…


Ah… right, that’s why I was stalling.

I let out a deep, deep sigh. Me and Charity were on much better ground nowadays… but there was still this part of me cringing at telling her I’d been pranked by a brownie, or something.

Kinda like USA and Russia. Sure, the two nations have come a long road from the Cold War… but you’d still hardly have a line at the embassies with diplomats playfully slapping ‘kick me’ signs on each others’ backs.

I folded my hands on the kitchen table and with a groan, decided to just get it over with. “...Some spirit or something have slapped a pair of really girly tramp-stamps on my hips…”


Charity made a noble attempt at it… but a throat-clearing doesn’t make you spill water all over your apron.

I scowled a bit, before pressing on with a sigh. “...and I need some help poking the thing.”

Charity clearly barely stopped this huge grin as she half-turned my way. “...Poke it?”

“Highly technical arcane jargon.” I wiggled my wrist as limply as I could. “Almost like a ’flick,’ but I’d need a live chicken, two figs and three jugs of lard for something that complex.”

In the corner where I wasn’t allowed to see her in that dream logic way of knowing there’s a monster but your every instinct insisting not looking over there means it won’t eat you, Luna rolled her eyes.

Oh. Oh~h, horse apples.

With great gusto, I didn’t give the creepy stalker the finger and some more fire to the face. I did not however give her a death glare while not using every trick in the book I know to fight off her suggestions.

...Yeah, Luna has never quite gotten what this ‘ask nicely thing’ the mortals bother with is. I’ll grant this annoying twat moonlighting as her that she got that much right...

“Stop struggling,” the alicorn that doesn’t exist didn’t command, her head held high in royal command. Her eyes near burning and shoulders set with cold fury.  “I am the Mistress of Dreams, and I will know just how fair Fluttershy was twisted into such a monster.”

“Monster, huh?” I did not snark back to the mare that didn’t exist. “So, how’s getting to keep your hooves working out for you, Stumpy?”

A sound like rasps being rubbed together did not fill the air, as nobody gritted their teeth. “I’d be more grateful if your pet abomination knew the meaning of kindness...” The not there alicorn raised her hooves, two slowly green pulsing lines seemingly filled with thin, freshly sprouted roots encircling her cannons. “Or for that matter, anesthesia!”

“Oh, go cry me a buck-ing river.” Luna went googly eyed from ‘shock at my callousness,’ making the whole dream waver a bit. “Two clean, quick cuts and you receive magical healing in minutes! I’ve had parties end in worse!”

The dream all but disintegrated into this formless mist as if a nuke had gone off just ‘off stage.’ Somethings kept a bit of color for a few moments, like the dark brown of the fresh coffee or the flower pattern on Charity’s apron…

But only for a moment or so, before Luna shot to her hooves, snarling like a beast. “YOU DARE MAKE LIGHT OF MY PAIN AND WOUNDS?!” The twit bellowed, making the scene totally disintegrate; leaving nothing but howling winds and mist underneath a moon far too bright and big. “EVEN IF YOUR ABOMINATION HAVEN’T CORRUPTED MY LEGS SOMEHOW, IT WILL STILL BE DAYS BEFORE I’VE HEALED FROM SUCH A CRUEL BLOW!”

I gave the entitled idiot a even glower. “Days, huh?”

The mist blurred and moved oddly, as I got ‘up’ from my now non-existent seat.

I went for the nads, and with an effort of will took my current shape.

Sans clothes. Heck, been a few years since I fought in the nude last time. Might as well see if whatever cosmic force like seeing me fling fireballs in the buff can be bribed with a freebie, right?

The mist just stopped in its tracks; the wind driving it wilting in tandem with the expression on Luna’s face.

I did a lazy cat-stretch just to rub it in, the healthy amount of lean muscle on my frame making my skin and pelt ripple.

And more importantly, the moonlight gleaming of the near webbing of scars I’d built up over the years.  Some small, some large. Some shallow and fading nicely, others going so deep that I’d carry them for decades —or outright centuries given a wizard’s lifespan.

Heck, even with keeping my eyes fixed firmly on Luna’s horrified mug, I could see some of them. A rather nasty looking web of silvery lines all over my muzzle courtesy of a whole swarm of pixies with box cutters I’d had a literal run-in with a few years ago. They hadn’t been quite as bad while I was human (Or male, for that matter. Darn double standards.) but with how my face had twisted and stretched as a pony, it near made me look like a slasher-movie villainess in the ‘right’ light.

Didn’t bother me personally, but I’d still added dabbing ‘em with some yellow dye into my daily routine. Didn’t take much more than shaving used to time wise and it let people talk with me without flinching.

Hell’s bells, I’d never, ever in a thousand years actually say so out loud... but on a good day? I’d go so far as to say I actually liked what I saw in the mirror now. Sure, I could have done without the little girl pink… but there was just something amusingly twisted about looking down and seeing a mix between The Muppets and some type of valkyrie themed issue of Playboy magazine.

Not that Luna seemed to share my thing for tiny but fierce wo- females with battle-scars. If anything, the larger mare looking like she was moments from throwing up; one hoof clenched over her muzzle, and everything.

“Well, you know how kittens can get, right?” I deadpanned with a crooked grin, pointing straight at Luna with my right hoof.

On noting how the flesh gleamed almost like yellowish melted plastic even in the moonlight all the way to my knee, Luna actually went wide-eyed and took an involuntary step back.

“And don’t even get me started on those cuddly little puppies!” I snarled, letting both my hoof and the fake grin fall. "Why, a meek little animal handler can’t possibly handle such vicious beasts all on my own!”

“...What… What did this to you?” Luna forced out from behind that hoof, her earlier anger seemingly utterly subsumed by pity slash horror.

“Things like you, your boss and your minions, except they were evil and competent.” I plainly said, making Luna do a total one-eighty into snarling with her teeth bared. “Things with better gear. Better training. A greater sense of tactics and strategy.” I wrinkled my nose, and waved my hoof in front of my face. “A superior grasp of dental hygiene…”

Luna started racking up her dentistry bills again, even as I started stalking around her; willing myself dressed in full gear between one step and the next, staff on my back and everything.

“I’m going to be blunt, Luna.” I dictated nonchalantly while walking, making her freeze from my tone. “By my standards? Nightmare Moon sounds as if she was rather cute and cuddly. You are just a joke in poor taste.”

Luna spluttered so hard, I’m fairly certain she was just short of swallowing her own tongue in shock.

“That Dread Lord Disco, or whatever it was?” I rolled my eyes but kept walking. “An idiot with more power than brain cells. You know what happens to that combo in a real world with real monsters?”

I smacked my hoof down with a loud ‘clop,’ making Luna twitch slightly. “Would have been squashed flat, killed and had his power drained to the last drop years ago.” I let out a snort. “Oh right, according to Ms. Sparkle that actually happened, but you were dumb enough to give the twit his power back.”

Luna squared her shoulders —wings quite clearly forced to stay down I might add from how they strained at her sides, and snarled at me. “Do you even have any idea what horrors you are proposing?! To lose one's magic like this is one of the most horrific fates that may befall a pony!”

“Oh, you mean like what happened to ninety-nine dot nine percent of all Five Score victims considering how rare magic is among humans?” I chipperly countered, making Luna balk again. “You know, including those that died before the curse wore off…?”

The freaking moon dimmed, as this haunted look flickered over Luna’s face.

“Just imagine it,” I continued in a chipper voice. “Never again feeling the ground beneath one's hooves…

“...Stop it.”

“The air between one's wings…


“Or you know…” I paused, literally and metaphorically, for long enough to flash the mare a cruel smile. “Dying without ever seeing —let alone feeling those thingamajigs again.” I tilted my head in mock forgetfulness. “What were those things called? Butt emblems, or something, right…?”

I’d expected more, louder shouts, but Luna just shuddered once, and went still; head hanging and staring at the ground.

Had to admit, it made me relent.


“Now, I’m not gonna lie; I’ve done some things I’d rather not have…”

Luna’s head jerked up, and her eyes narrowed my way. “Like whatever trickery have granted you your twisted mockery of magic?” she growled at me.

I got up on my hind legs and pulled my staff off my back in the same motion; tapping the same against my neck as I rolled my eyes. “Su~ure, call me a fraud. I’ve never heard that one before.” I muttered, continuing walking.

“...A fraud?” Luna deadpanned, clearly not believing what she was hearing. “No mere fraud would have caused this!”

I tensed as I felt the dream shift, but all that happened was that four giant viewing screens appeared behind Luna.

Or perhaps I should say ‘memories,’ because no mere screen would have made you sense them in such clarity… Well, not just by looking at them, at least.

Oh my…

They all depicted mostly the same thing; some sort of throne room carved impossibly from one giant crystal. All in violet-blue stone, including the seven thrones, except for a golden circle with a white starburst on it which the thrones sat in a circle around.

Now that made my eyes narrow. It’s a lesser known part of being nobility, but historically speaking there was a lot of mojo attached to those type of positions… and I’m not just talking about creepy confidants that die hard. ‘The King and His lands are one’ had not been considered a metaphor back then, but a truth as solid as…

Well, the throne itself.

And six such overly serious chairs, all in a circle like that, arranged in a star pattern and with what was clearly a bunch of cutie marks branded into them? The later something I’d only seen so far in high-importance stuff, like the finery around Luna’s neck and the Elements?

Yeah… this was so clearly some type of heavy-duty ritual chamber to the point a blind apprentice could have seen it; even without the near breeze of magic flowing from those memories alone. I couldn’t tell for what purpose it been forged just by looking at the images, though, I’d grant Luna that much forethought.

Still, at least it was proper magic as I recognized it, and not that disgusting magic ‘puree’ I’d felt in ‘Equestria.’ Small favors.

It seemed the images were some type of inspection for damage, burned into Luna’s memory in vivid detail…

Or you know, at least that was what I was meant to think.

The first stop was some type of dual throne; one slightly smaller than the other, as if made for a king and queen. I couldn’t tell who the smaller and less important seat belonged to, but the taller one had Twilight’s cutie mark near the top of the tall back rest.

Aside from the two-for-one aspect, though, they were the least interesting otherwise. They were just… worn, dusty and covered in cobwebs. Nothing more, nothing less, they just looked abandoned in all four windows. Like scratched up old chairs nobody bothered throwing a tarp over before the house itself got abandoned.

With a heavy sigh repeat so perfect from all windows it near must have been mental editing on Luna’s part, the image lurched slightly to the left.

I hadn’t seen it myself yet, but I recognized Nemo’s mark from description; a cloud with a rainbow thunderbolt coming out of it. And the first three were just dull and dark, as if the stone of the throne hadn’t gotten enough polish…

But the last one, what I guess to be the latest memory? Ho boy. There really wasn’t an actual throne left; just this tiny stump of crystal near the ground, barely visibly, and a vaguely throne shaped storm cloud hanging over it. A cloud wreathed in, I kid you not, rainbow colored lighting. You could even smell the ozone and magic from the discharges in the air.

And yes, it did look about as strange a mix of badass and utterly silly as you can imagine; like as if somebody had let their six-year old give suggestions for the cover of a metal album.

Interestingly, it seemed Luna herself hadn’t quite been able to tear herself from the sight, because there was a moment of hesitation in that last window. Not much, just a moment or so, but enough that the windows visibly desynced.

interestingly as well she didn’t actually continue to the left, but turned right instead…

Hesitating for a moment in all four memories, as if there was something further to the left she didn’t want to but needed to look at.

Now, call me a hard boiled cynic, but I had a sneaking suspicion that last, ‘worst’ one would have three butterflies on it.

Call it a hunch.

Luna’s little POV passed over Twilight's and Whoever-Don’t-Care’s thrones, and settled on one with three red apples on it.

Again, not much change between the first three… but for clean around the opposite reason compared to the others I’d seen so far. The throne itself looked like as if H. P. Lovecraft and H. R. Giger had somehow shared a wet-dream. The really freaky thing was that the crystal itself looked perfectly healthy, near radiant even in the last image..

But it was totally infested with creatures that looked like a mix of a two-inch purple-black worm and a freakin’ barracuda judging from the jutting teeth and beady little eyes. None of them seemed to break the stone surface of the throne, but you could hear how they happily gnawed their way through the thing; like beetle larvae in an otherwise healthy tree.

“Interesting…” I murmured just under my breath, a bit too lost in the moment than was probably really healthy. “Some sort of spiritual or semi-demonic symbiotes?”

“Those things are not symbiotes!” Luna snapped at me, annoyed enough that the pictures wavered for a moment.

I waved a hoof lazily at the last picture. “Parasites don’t strengthen their hosts, Luna. Kinda in the job description…?”

And the rather graphic ‘maggot filled’ aesthetic aside, that seemed to be exactly what was going on. I’m not quite certain what had changed, but the last picture? Not only did the crystal of the ‘Apple’ throne sparkle worse than a Suck Court vampire, but the thing had grown as well.

Strangely, not as much as a flipping micron in height judging from Luna’s ‘memories.’ The thing was still exactly as high as its mates, but had bloated for lack of a better word until it was nearly twice as wide; making the thing’s surface look almost like a carefully polished geode rather than the cut stone that ‘should’ have been there judging by Twilight’s throne.

...What the frick has Applejack gotten herself into? Oh well, looks like she’s alive, that’s the important bit.

Apparently mildly disagreeing with my opinion on astral taxonomy, Luna grinded her teeth again and ignored me.

Drumming my staff against my neck, I shrugged and started stalking the other way; keeping my attention on Luna and her little holiday video.

If she wanted to waste the whole night ‘appealing to my better nature,’ or whatever? Letting me get a full (ish) night of sleep, and a whole day to get back home and behind an actual threshold slash circle?

Didn’t look like this would stay peaceful once her point was made given how Luna was scowling my way… but a mare may dream of getting a few soft balls thrown her way, right?

The images started to shift to the next throne over, but Luna scowled a bit deeper; losing enough concentration that all four images flickered and almost winked out. “Would you stop strutting around like a minotaur that had an unfortunate encounter with an ant-hill?” Luna’s wings fluttered slightly, seemingly from annoyance, but got quickly forced back against her sides. “My back hurts just looking at you.”

“Yeah, right…” I droned and walked on, rolling my hips and flicking my tail to and fro a bit extra just to be an ass.


You would not believe how conflicted I felt about being able to play the femme fatale card give the amount of times it had been thrown my way...,

Glarf! Mnao?! GHAAAAA!

And the worst bit? I was good at it. Like, seriously, the entire bar falling silent because she walked in levels good at it.


Then again, the reason I could pull that card was a whole life time as a dude; sadly helped by incorporating several bits of horse body-language I tried not to think too hard about. Wings slightly puffed out, as if I was just barely holding back one of those ‘wingboner’ things as I’ve heard them called. Tail raised just enough to be visible through my jeans and duster, lazily snaking side to side in tandem with the roll of my hips.

...Buck me, and just to mess with Luna of all ‘ponies?’ At least the worst is over w-

And all of it crowned with a cocky smile that told anybody within eyesight, that yes, I knew who’s the prettiest darn mare in town, and I don’t mind at all if the whole city stared.


Admittedly I had no clue what I’d actually do with a metaphorical catch at the moment, but man could I fish.

And the thing was, I wasn’t only drawing on mundane experience in the art of seduction. Not that I’d ever been crass enough to go for love potions, and similar. (Except that one time with that lust potion, but a spirit of decadence, perversion and trashy romance novels made me do it.)

But I’d gotten a long and probably quite literally soul scarring education in this particular art over the years; as a bystander sometimes, but mostly a target.

Vampiresses of all Courts, except the Jade one that I’d never personally encountered. The stomach churning wrongness of the Black Court; little more than rotted corpses with burning, haunting unlife to them. The false warmth and life of the now extinct Red Court, hiding the ever thirsting monster underneath those masks. The terrifyingly subtle seductive pull of the White Court.

And that was just one of quite a few different flavors of horrifyingly twisted inhuman femininity… if not what I’d call sex appeal in any way I’d ever personally care for in the Black Court’s case.


All the way from the frightfully undying grace of the Lords and Ladies of the fea, ‘down’ to savage allure of a quite literal she-wolf I’d met once many years ago.

I stomped down on that thought hard; doing my best to make the drumbeat of ‘me, me, me, sexy, sexy, sexy’ swallow it all up.

I’m not sure if I hesitated for just a moment in my strut or if something shifted in the dream, but Luna frowned a bit deeper my way.

Anyway, the point was that I did not lack in inspirations to draw on when it came to acting as if I was Helen of Troy’s fuzzier cousin courtesy of Poseidon; a mare with a face that had launched a thousand young men into thinking rather uncleanly about buying a saddle.

But yeah, I’m not sure if it was just my dirty mind and male-ish perspective granting me special insight, me slowly tapping into some ‘grace’ or power specific to pegasi…

Or perhaps I was just overthinking things, and I was ‘simply’ now a mare with ‘cute’ colors, in quite decent shape, and with enough confidence that people notice. Not everything needs be some grand conspiracy of the cosmos itself, after all.

Still, me strutting around like something from a really weird mix of a farmer’s almanac, an Arcanus manual  and the cover of Leather Vixen’s Monthly was having a clear effect on Luna.

...Wait, how did you know about Leather Vixen’s Monthly?! That one only got published in Prance, an-

The particular effect was disgust in Luna’s case, yes, but still a quite decent distraction.

Glurk. I mean, ahhhh!

For just a moment Luna’s form flickered, and I didn’t need any other confirmation on why then how her cheeks were near glaring red like brake lights. “Would you stop defiling my friend’s body like that, you corrupted mockery!”

Snarling, Luna slammed her hoof down, seemingly making the dream snap into almost crystal clear focus from anger and force of will alone.

Once more, the memory windows flickered back into existence again.

There wasn’t anything special about the throne crowned with three sapphires.. and somehow it still gave me the creeps worse than the one filled with worms. Not much had changed between ‘versions,’ but there was just this falseness to that shine; like a piece of glass that had been intentionally dolled up to look like a diamond.

It did make me notice something far more interesting, though. Luna was warping the dream somehow, making it so that she kept facing me no matter how far I walked.

Not even a flicker of movement or glimmer of magic to it; as if a law of reality as fundamental as gravity in this dream was that I couldn’t walk around her.

I kept walking anyway. On some level that type of concentration simply had to cost Luna something, and I was willing to bet enough concentration to keep up my silly strut that trick cost me less than Luna’s did for her.

If nothing else thanks to Demonreach. I have no idea how she slipped past those wards even in a dream, but it had to have cost Luna something.

“So, do go on,” I smirked at Luna, “Because unless I missed one of those ‘virtues’ I sure do hope you're saving the worst for last, and it being me…” My smile, even faked as it was, melted away like an ice-cube under the administrations of a flamethrower. “Because I’ve met a certain bastard that fit the descriptions I got of Pinkie Pie to a T, and if I’m a ‘corrupted mockery’ there are no words for what she has become.”

For just a moment, I actually made headway, even catching a glimpse of the side of Luna’s waxen face as the whole dream flickered again.

But just for a moment, then everything did that ‘snap into focus’ thing again.

Luna raised her head high, the stars in her mane and tail burning cold. Cold enough in fact, that they actually looked like real stars, instead of the almost cartoony glimmers of light they resembled ‘normally.’

“What is she to you?” Luna ordered, her voice nearly as cold and distant as those stars of hers. “I demand you tell me at least that much.”

I gave a small shrug, and just said it. If the thing that broke into my dreams and started making demands want me to twist the knife, who am I to refuse?

“Gentleman Johnny Marcone —Lady now I guess, is the local kingpin,” I told her, just like that, making Luna’s ears slick to her skull in an instant. “Drugs. Protection. Flesh. The other type of flesh. Any organized crime that happens in Chicago happens under her sway, with her being given a cut… or not at all.”

Something darted over Luna’s face, but it was gone so fast I couldn’t say what.  

“If she was to somehow ‘disappear’ the entire local underworld would devolve into infighting and chaos.” I stopped, tapping my staff against my neck and giving the ‘alicorn’ a long, hard look. “There would be an outright war in the streets, as the local underworld reestablishes its pecking order.”

Luna gulped down something, but remained still otherwise.

“And of course,” I continued half-interestedly, “that’s the mundane side of her operations. Marcone’s been doing her darndest for near a decade now to muscle in on the freakier side of things, and that was before he gained any magic of her own…”

Was it hypocritical of me to near happily whinny that last line out?

Yeah. Not going to deny that.

Did it also still leave this wonderful tingly sensation of near pure schadenfreude at the bottom of my stomach to imagine what Marcone must have gone through thanks to her own metamorphosis? With all that implied in ambitious underlings, doubting supporters, figuring out her totally new horrific powers and relearning how to pee without getting your hooves wet?

Stars and stones, yes. Not sure about my heart, but my grin sure grew two sizes even just thinking about it.

That’s mean, Harry… even against Marcone.

I let out a happy little sigh, and started strutting again. “Anyway, short version; utter bastard that’s been on my hit-list for years, but she’s got just barely enough redeeming features that the actual monsters keep piling up faster than I can kill them all.”

This frankly adorable gleam of hope lit in Luna’s eyes on hearing ‘redeemable features.’

My good mood gone, I just growled the words out. “Her word’s the type of solid you can near slap a foundation and build a house on, and anybody or anything touch a child in her domain and it’s the last mistake they ever did before ‘mysteriously’ disappearing.” The words tasted like ash in my mouth, but grant the pink she-devil her dues, and all that. “Of course, since you’ve apparently pissed on Marcone’s hooves in front of all her men badly enough that she ran to me for aid, she’s probably already planning your comeuppance for that slight.”

The spark died as quickly as a firefly versus a Gatling gun.

“If you turn out to be fake, she’ll probably just leave you to rot in my care, and spin-doctor the heck out of the situation. Marcone’s ruthless and unforgiving, but she always plays the long-con; first and foremost.” I gave Luna a long stare, filled with as much contempt as I could. “Why risk poking something that’s safely locked away for the next couple of eons anyway, right?”

At the mention of being locked away for eons, the whole dream shuddered as if a miniature earthquake had just happened.

I could guess why —be it a true reaction or just staying in character, but nothing of the sort shown on Luna’s face.

“Now, if you turn out to be for real, Princess?” I let out a low whistle. “Now then, girl, you’ve done goofed.”

Interestingly, Luna actually looked nearly as annoyed at being chided so informally, as my blatant strutting.

That was soon replaced with a look of horror, as I continued though. “Because if you are this near ancient semi-horror by Equestrian standards whose innocence is but a distant memory... then Marcone is going to skin your entire country alive.” I stopped and held out my front hooves, and mimed shaking something. “She’ll just grab the entire country by the hooves, and shake Equestria out like Scrooge McDuck smelling a 1913 Liberty Head in some poor bastard’s pocket.”

That ‘what is the mortal fool babbling about?’ look flickered over Luna’s face, but she hid it quickly.


She didn’t actually explode until I —of all darn things, cocked my hip. “WOULD YOU STOP THAT, YOU PERVERTED MOCKERY?!” Luna bellowed, voice turned up to eleven again as she stomped the ground.

For just a moment as the ground and mist quivered I saw something gleam on Luna’s cheeks.

But had those tears been willed away… or there? This was a dream after all.

“IS IT NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU TO DEFILE ALL FLUTTERSHY STOOD FOR,” Luna continued bellowing, sunk down into a four-legged variant of a combat stance, “BUT HER BODY AS WELL?!”

I just stood there, that one hoof still on my hip. Just watching the snarling mare that had forced herself into my dream; sitting in the very center of it like some would-be spider.

“For a bunch of nudists you Equestrians are real prudes,” I tilted my head, letting out a genuine hum. “You know, Luna, I’m honestly not sure how to feel about that. Most things around here thinks gluing rhinestones all over their bodies, offering power for one's firstborn and then spreading their legs is being subtle.”

If nothing else, the threat of the week being prudes was an interesting change of pace. I’ll grant it that.

I didn’t think it was possible to pale and blush at the same time… But then again, not only a dream but on fur as well, so I guess there was a rather decent chance mojo was involved somehow either way.

“...Firstborn?” Luna choked out, her voice for just a moment trembling in sync with the shiver that swept her body. “Did you say… firstborn?”

“Told you I’ve fought things like you before, but evil and competent at it…”

I decided to take a calculated risk, and turned; adding a flick of my tail to make it seem like just a foolish insult. Only thing I got for keeping my senses on high alert was an eyeful of the whole dream twisting around in a stomach churning fashion, space warping without actually moving to bring me face to face with the annoyed Luna.

“Oh, and is being your sister’s virginal little high-priestess really supposed to be the highlight of an entire lifetime?” A moment of —quite literally, darkness flowed over Luna’s face; like a shadow with a will of its own darkening her features on me hinting her sister was the big mare on campus. “That Fluttershy girl smacking all of your sister’s problems in the face for her was okay-kosher, but the ‘same’ mare being able to say cock without stuttering before age forty is somehow beyond the pale, why…?”

I was NOT a virgin, little Miss I-Know-More-Spells-Than-Sex-Positions. I just don’t like crowds.. staring at me.

Luna’s left eyebrow twitched once, the rest of her expression unreadable.

Certain it had nothing at all with my butter face dribbling words more fitting for a cheap sex-line. Still, pop-culture references, sex positions… Whatever works, right?  

“Oh, grow up. I just said ‘dick.’ You know, one of those things half the population have? I growled out together with an eye-roll Luna sucked in an angry breath, but it got replaced with splutters as I continued. “It’s not as if I described how to do a rusty trombone in lurid detail.”


With a sound halfway between a water balloon popping and popcorn being stepped on, Luna went wide-eyed and spluttered on her own spit.

...Harry, there are certain things you simply do not even say to a fake alicorn. That? That was one of those things.

“Oh I’m so sorry,” I said with total sincerity. Honest. “I thought I was talking with the grown-up ‘alicorn’ of all dreams, not Count Von Count’s hick cousin with the buck fangs all the boy muppets found too creepy to kiss “ I faked a happy gasp. “Oh, is that how it works? You do all the scary, dark and troubling things a country needs to run, and your big, shiny sis gets to do all the fun, glamorous things the enforcer may only dream about?”

Luna had mostly been looking annoyed, but on me finishing she went rigid. “...You don't know what you are talking about,” she forced out, in that tone that told me for certain I was on to something.

“Oh please, even with the cliff-notes version I got from Twilight I got a good enough grasp of where you sit in that would-be Legion of Doom of yours; dead last, and that’s counting ponies like Sombra, Chrysalis and Mane-iac.” With a big grin I held up a wing with three ‘fingers’ raised. “She got that many more sentences than you did, by the way!”

Granted, Luna’s one sentence had been ‘And then, thanks to the Elements, we restored Luna to her true self’ after near five minutes of Nightmare Moon this, Nightmare Moon that; all mixed in with general if brief info about Equestria.

Still, if Luna didn’t care about her own alternative self’s accomplishments to count her existence let alone the deeds themselves I certainly wouldn’t bother.

“...The Mane-iac is a comic-book villain,” Luna gritted out between her next dentist bill. “She doesn’t even actually exist.”

“Now, Celestia, and Cadance on the other hand…” I mimed a flapping mouth with my wing. “Why, Twilight would barely stop name dropping how close-knit she is with the rulers of Equestria!” Still grinning widely, I swung my staff of my shoulders and leaned against it. “Give it another century or five, and she might actually be allowed to have a nice shiny opinion of her own!”

Luna opened her mouth to snarl something, but the words seemingly died in her throat as I let all pretense go and hissed out my own next words at her.

“And I’m sure as long as doesn’t dare rock Celestia’s throne and it’s cutesy enough, Twilight might even be allowed to keep that opinion.” I lifted my staff, and swept it over the mist and moon tinted wastes surrounding us. “And if not, I’m sure the royal enforcer can just come creeping into her dreams and make her see ‘straight’ again, right?”

For a single moment, I saw doubt. I'm certain of it.

“I mean, a dark mare, twisting the minds of all who oppose her? Surely it must be right and proper if done for the eternal glory of Equestria!” I threw my arms out wide, and channeled my inner Emperor Palpatine into a cackle, pointedly ignoring the crack of thunder that somehow happened behind me. “The Harmony shall last… Forever!”  

With a gasp and face twisted in outright horror, Luna stared in slack jawed disbelief at me and my cackling.

“Troubling thing, isn’t it?” I continued in a more conversational voice. “Just how quickly and to the point listening to the little demon on your shoulder is compared to the angel, I mean? Half a freaking day trying to politely tell you and the other cartoon rejects to politely go away, and it’s twisting a dagger in your heart that actually gets the point across...”

I paused for dramatic effect.

“Nightmare Moon.”

With a scream of frustration and her eyes welling with tears, Luna fired one of those adorable little stun-blasts my way. The glowing mass of cobalt-blue magic near as large as my dearly departed Volkswagen Beetle.  

I didn’t even bother with a shield, I just hoisted my staff and flicked the spell aside; the runes on the wood for a moment blazing with blue flames as the focus did exactly what it was made for.

Manipulating magic.

Yeah… you don’t use pure magic in combat, let alone against a trained wizard. Not unless you have a thing for getting your knees melted in half with what’s technically your own power. You might as well try destroying a machinegun nest by airdropping enough food, water and ammo that the weapon’s team drowns in the stuff.

A growl forced itself out of my mouth even as the mass of magic impacted the ‘ground’ with nothing more than a loud ‘fizzell.’ Kinda like a giant discharge of static-electricity, nothing more.

In other words, I was being toyed with; as if I was nothing but some waif in a slasher movie. You know the one; the blond —Shut up about my fur color if you want to live.— ditz of an airhead that dies first.

And frankly? It was starting to piss me the fuck off. Even the freaking Red Court had taken me seriously as a threat, and half of their modus operandi had seemingly been collective ego stroking about how much better than humans they were. ‘Yes, Lord Slobber, truly we sun-shy bat demons are superior to the worthless kine. Fna-fna-fna!’ ‘Oh golly gee, Lady Viscera, we are surely the best bits of slimy kindling around! Fna-fna-fna!¨’

You’re one to talk, Miss Opera Cape.

With a scream of frustration and her eyes quite literally glowing white with power Luna sent another stun blast my way; seemingly thinking that her poor marksmanship and my baton twirling practice having nothing whatsoever with each other…

I felt my ear twitch without my input even as I swatted the new wad of magic away from myself. Stars and stones, even if I was just some delusional  con-mare without a shred of actual power, we were fighting in a dream.

Thing is, I’ve met some beings with actual claims to godhood. The spoiled brat with a few shreds of power crying in front of me? Because somebody had dared to call her out on what a stupid twat she’d been years ago?

“HAVE AT THEE, THOU…!” I’m not quite certain what Luna called me, or even in what tongue actually. Whatever it was left a thin trail of impossibly black shadows in the air as she charged at me, though.

Vogon poetry on the beauty of the word ‘Belgium’ and glimmering tears filled with the same glaring starlight as her furious eyes —something my inner magic geek was drooling at just the sight of I might add, both trailing behind her, Luna charged at me with her horn aimed square at my heart.

Never, ever believe somebody that tells you that herbivores are harmless —Not that ponies are anything but omnivores, but I digress.— and that only carnivores are scary.

A tiger, a lion or a bear may hunt you if it’s hungry and desperate enough. But most of them have ‘learned’ by now, that humans are on the whole simply too annoying prey to be worth the effort.

A hippo, a buffalo or for that matter, a wild horse? Now there’s a list of foul-tempered beasts that will happily stomp you into the ground, and keep jumping on the bloody shreds until you can’t even look at them funny anymore.

Kinda makes how so many supernatural nasties keep going on about ‘prey’ this, ‘mortal’ that regarding individual humans while terrified of how the whole ‘herd’ might fall on them rather darkly ironic, doesn’t it?

Anyway, speaking of the two-ton hippo substitute thundering my way, I’d rate Luna’s charge a weak if solid three point five on the ‘oh crap’ scale. A decent enough try for a beginner and the eyes were a nice touch, but it simply didn’t measure up to stuff like a bear demon (6,2),  plant monster (5,3) or that one nightmare I had once of Butters wearing only a thong while grinning at me. (Ahhhhhhh!)


A few options flickered through my mind. A blast of ice on the ground, turning Luna into a flailing tangle of limbs. The old standby of fire to the face, doing more or less the same stuff but with some extra crispy ‘alicorn’ on top. Call on the wind, and letting Luna’s speed and bulk do the rest...

Of course, since this was a dream and I’m not an idiot that forgets something that important, I just went for the easy way and slammed my own hoof down on my hip so hard it whistled slightly.


Sadly, I had forgotten I hadn’t exactly gone to sleep wearing my duster, and awoke feeling as if I’d gotten branded right over my right butt emblem.


And even as I hissed out a breath and bit down on my pillow not to wake the entire block, I could hear Luna screaming at me; fading quickly in tandem with my half-awake state, but still audible.


Luna’s litany devolved into that would-be Black Speech again, making the shadows of the small guest room dance and darken even as her voice faded into nothingness.

Ugh, why can’t we ever get a fun crisis to save the world from? A giant marshmallow man in need of a good roasting, a nice calming bunny stampede, or something...

I just laid there for a while, ignoring the taste of stale if clean linens mixed with dusty feathers in my mouth. Trying to fight down the pounding headache I’d woken with, the tiny steelworker in my head hammering away tirelessly in a symphony of ‘owie’ in cohort with my mark.

The worst bit? It felt as if I’d just run a marathon, not gotten any actual sleep. Not only that but I had this sneaking suspicion that was a feature, not a bug, of whatever creeptacular bit of oneiromancy ‘Luna’ had tried pulling on me.  

Maybe, just maybe, I’d underestimated the two-ton care-bear wannabee.

No, you don’t say. An alicorn being strong at the special talent that let them ascend in the first place? Pure madness.

A soft knock came from the door, jolting me out of my funk. “Harry, I heard a commotion.”

The tone told me as clear as if the words had been stapled onto the rest that: ‘and unless I hear why or some really convincing snoring in the next five seconds, the room you’re in gets turned to goop.’

“We need to wake up Nemo,” I spat out once my brain got in gear; sadly together with enough feathers the pillow was probably a lost cause. “Dream shenanigans, quickly.”

The door to the room opened a crack and something slapped the lights on, adding another fresh point to my list of agonies as my eyeballs seemingly caught fire from the feel of it.


I did my best try at throwing up an hoof and not do an Dracula impression.


“...Carlos,” I forced out, hoof and wing still draped over my face against the cruel light, “I know I’m asking a lot of you right now, but please, the light’s hurting my eyes.”


There was a long, long pause. Long enough I had some rather distressing mental images flash through my mind; mainly ranging from ‘extra crispy horse-bird’ to ‘who smeared all this yellow-pink goop all over what’s left of the walls?’

Eww. And stop that, Harry, Carlos’ is a friend.

Of all the possible responses I didn’t except a half-amused snort and the lamp clicking off. “Why don’t you go wash up a bit while I wake Ms. Swartz and act the gracious host?” Carlos turned, and stopped in the doorway. “Don’t want to be rude, but I think you need it.”

I hesitated, before taking a cautious sniff of my own barrel just under my wing. I didn’t hiss and recoil or anything, but yeah, I needed a shower. A whole day of running about and fighting while wearing my duster plus a restless night had really given me a decent start on a ‘au de paddock’ type fragrance.

Ugh… I swear Harry, I ever —somehow, get a body of my own again, the f- OK the first thing I’d do is hug you half to death, then I’d have a rather long and stern talk with you that there’s more to personal hygiene than pet-store supplies and cold water...

“Sure,” I said while forcing my wing against my side again, blinking in the harsh light from the corridor outside the guestroom, “sounds like a plan. Just shout if you need me.”

Stopping only to tell me: “At the end of the hall; can’t miss it,” Carlos set off,

I was a bit distracted however, my ears intrinsically tracking the sound of heavy combat boots on linoleum as he left. It was rather subtle, but with how silent the house was I could actually tell the difference compared to —say, the much thinner and less padded sole of a sneaker.

Had Carlos even slept himself… or stayed awake, just in case the Laws of Hospitality wasn’t quite enough?

Intellectually it made sense. I’d seen first-hand how badly a territory could suffer without a Warden keeping —quite literal, things in line, and Los Angeles is nearly as big a crossroads of the world as Chicago. Bigger even in some ways thanks to the presence of Hollywood; there is simply no way a place may be a fulcrum for so much hope, dreams, fear and heartache, without that translating into some serious level mojo.

And where there is serious level mojo, there’s serious level creeps trying to do seriously creepy stuff, needing a serious boot to the head until they stop.

So, yes, it made total sense for Carlos to be ten different shades of suspicious. Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean the cute and cuddly Technicolor horsie on your doorstep politely asking to get in aren’t actually demons there to eat your face.

I let out a deep sigh, forced down the part of me that wanted to punch the nearest wall clean in half, and instead started fumbling around after my clothes.

But no amount of my rational side insisting I would have been leaning just as heavily on the Laws of Hospitality if some strange pony creature had shown on my doorstep… Well, it simply didn’t kept my heart from insisting something dull was grinding itself inward between my shoulderblades.

Oh, Harry…

I cheated a bit and just throw on my duster; deciding that a minute or so of the Stranger Danger look was preferable to fumbling on my clothes just to take them right off again.

Three new limbs, with all that implied in tailoring and daily fidgeting. What basically amounts to mittens sans thumbs but with tactile-telekinesis that been a bother and a half to learn in its own right.  The wonders and horrors of figuring out how to get a bra on and off, but in first-person this time around. All that darn fur and feathers, both needing me to relearn how to groom myself near from scratch...

All in all, it was kinda like going through puberty all over again, except I’d gotten that old wish for more chest hair fulfilled monkey-paw style.

Snrk. You know, Harry, the local trend right now is for ladies to shave. You could always try that instead!

Draping the rest of my clothes over my back in a way that was as undignified as it was effective I actually got my ass in gear and got going.

Stopping in the doorway I fought down a hiss at the daystar Carlos seemed to have installed in the ceiling instead of normal lamps.

“It burns~s us…” I murmured, before actually forcing my head out from under my wing, and stalking off; one wing half-unfurled and scraping softly against the wall since I didn’t quite trust my eyes at the moment.

I heard Carlos footfalls stop for a moment, presumably on hearing that sound, but I pretended not to notice.

Speak of the Devil, Carlos had an… interesting (if at the moment to me retina searing) approach to dealing with the anti-tech field any magic practitioner have to wrestle with. Instead of most wizards way of doing things ye olde way, Carlos had actually laid out his whole house in a half-decent attempt to have his Phenomenal Cosmic Power cake, and actually eat it too with a side of modern amenities.

He had electricity including lights… but near only in the form of these heavy-duty fluorescent light fixtures you normally see in warehouses and similar; stuff as cheap and easy to replace as it was ugly if efficient. At least there were also these bronze sconces with tealights on the walls, but sadly only in the main rooms.

Heck, I’d been surprised as hell to see that he even had most of the ‘standard’ appliances. A fridge, a stove, even a small TV; all standing in their own dedicated magical circle made from copper and carefully inlaid on the floors and even benches.

All in all, walking through Carlos’ house felt a bit like walking through this really strange mix of a heavily used ritual ground and somewhat more classier than average Walmart. It wasn’t a bad feeling as such, but that strange, strange mix of arcane and mundane felt a bit odd even to me.

I didn’t even try to hold in the sigh of relief as the door clicked closed behind me, plunging the room into blessed, wondrous darkness.

Yeah, eyes near freaking dinner plates in size and a type of light source even hu- we humans ourselves find glaring at times? Not a pleasant combo even at the best of times. Personally I’d started avoiding the darned things like the plague when possible.
With a rather surprisingly solid sounding click the deadbolt slid into place as I locked the door. Safety door on the bathroom? Huh, how about that…

I shrugged of my clothes and duster unceremoniously onto the floor, and just stole a few moments of peace leaning against the cool surface of the door. Or sat thanks to the whole semi-quadruped thing, but whatever, not important.

But then again, wasn’t that the central problem?

The Second Law of Magic: Thou Shalt Not Transform Another.

Not only is it fiendishly difficult to the point trying it is more likely to tag the first Law (Thou Shalt Not Kill), but the mortal mind simply isn’t meant to bend and twist like that. You do it to yourself without splatting like a beetle in a microwave, and your mind actually protects itself instinctively.

You get turned into —just as a random totally implausible example, a pale yellow pegasus mare of all things, and you have the glorious prospect of your mind tearing itself apart as a square peg gets slammed through a round hole again, and again, and again until it does fit.

Yeah. That’s the —heh, Sword of Damocles that’s been hanging over anybody in the supernatural community and afflicted with this pony crap. And trust me, the knowledge of the collective magical expertise of all mankind and various assorted monsters being somehow wrong does not actually make you any calmer when there’s a pony staring back at you from the mirror.

The best theory I’d heard so far ‘how’ was that the initial curse ‘just’ left those emblems; which in turn somehow integrates itself with your magic and uses that to make your own body warp itself.

If so, it was a loophole bordering on genius, an idea so clever it might actually revolutionize the entire field of transmutation…

But good luck proving that it since the reaction of near every wizard actually afflicted had been to take one look at the cartoony scribbles on their hips —me included, muttering ‘darn open-bracket insert name of local trickster spirits here closed-bracket, and…

A shudder swept through me, and nearly made me slam both my wings into the door-frame.

Well, dispelling what seemed like a minor if harmless curse.

“Enough lollygagging,” I muttered to myself, as I pushed myself to my hooves and the memories as far down as they’d go.

Four days and not as much as discomfort, my currently non-existent foot.

“Flickum, flickum bickum…” I murmured with a wave of my hoof, putting far less energy into the spell than normal since I didn’t quite trust my strength right now.

A bit extra oomph compared to what you are used to when you're punching a creep from the other side of the room? Oh, neat.

A bit extra, unexpected oomph when you’re lighting candles in your friend’s house? Less neat.

I saw the creature's eyes first, slitted and gleaming an almost salmon colored pink as the candles flickered to life. Long, gleaming fangs visible even with her mouth closed a close second.

Naturally, with such a foul fiend in such close proximity there were only one thing to do.

“One!” I half-shouted in my best faux Romanian accent, pointing a hoof at her. “One silly vampire! A-ha! A-ha! A-ha!”

“Oh my God, Dresden!” I distantly heard Nemo shout in half-awake annoyance, slightly muffled through the walls. “You are such a dork!”

I turned my head, the grinning mare in the mirror doing the same. “One! One cranky stick in the mud! A-ha! A-ha! A-ha!”

I actually heard the muttering…

And just on the edge of hearing, a small sigh of relief.

It stung a bit, but I couldn’t quite find it in me to blame Ramirez. The entire White Council was still healing from the war with the Red Court…

I gave the mirror a big, toothy grin; not quite sure how to feel on seeing how nice and shiny my pair of fangs looked.

And my new exciting shade of freaky coming with a bat mode that comes and goes, near on random? Didn’t exactly help me with being the black sheep and I didn’t even want to know what the rumor mill was making of the combo of it, me being the only ex Winter Knight still breathing and how I’d put the kibosh on the ‘old’ vampire top-dogs..,

Still, there’s far, far worse things to end up than a fruit-bat based ‘vampire.’

“Seriously…” I muttered to myself as I actually got into the shower. “...what drunk even thought up fruit-pires.

Could be worse, I guess. With how little actual biology seemed to matter with this pony stuff, I could have ended up a vampire watermelon.

Oh, I had that once! Nice and salty, but a bit mushy.

My stomach let out what was almost an outright growl, telling me as plainly as the hunger-cramps themselves I hadn’t eaten for almost twenty-four hours.

I fought it down. and started lathering up instead. Just enjoying

A nice, long —for once warm and sans preening even, shower. Some breakfast. A quick Way back to Chicago. Get my staff back, just in case. Grab some chalk and slap a couple of decent circle around Luna. Do the same for the other ‘alicorns’ for good measure. Stop whatever shenanigans the rest of ‘Equestria’ were planning out on Demonreach. Grab some takeout. Interrogate the ‘Princesses’ after they’d been sweating for a bit. Take a nice nap after they try to make ‘Fluttershy’ see reason, and try again later…

And no sooner had I dared to imagine I might get a softball served my way for once, when Ramirez started shouting for me.

“Dresden! Come quick!”

I stiffened, my head slowly sliding down to glare at the near coating of lathery shampoo I’d half worked into most of my fur; deep enough it would take a couple of solid minutes to get it out… and itch like a mother in an hour or two if I didn’t.

“Really? Really, really?” I groaned out to nobody in particular. “I’m going to have to save the world from the cuddly equine menace with itching powder in my pants? That’s the twist this time?”

I swear, sometimes it feels as if my destiny is being dictated by a sadist that wants me to suffer. And the twat gets bonus points every time it’s in an absurdly silly, humiliating way, as well.

“Harry!” It came again, from Nemo this time. “Shit has hit the fan! You can make yourself sparkle properly later!”

With just a single forlorn look back and a sigh, I turned off the shower and stepped out. “I get no respect…”

I hadn’t felt any magic gathering or being used except the whole bunch of circles that filled Ramirez's house, so I took a gamble by leaving my duster and gear behind. Instead, I grabbed a pair of towels and did my best to rub myself dry as fast as possible.

Oh, and I tried not wincing at what I saw in the mirror as I wrapped up with another towel. My mane and tail both looked like a cotton-candy stand had exploded. Tufts sticking out and streaks of white all over my pelt where the shampoo hadn’t quite come out. Oh, and even outright suds still clinging to the membranes of my wings.

All that, and I was also dripping wet bordering on soaked from how I'd tried —bad sadly not quite managed, to wash myself off in a hurry. Frankly, I looked as if I’d tried flying through a car-wash going full blast, just thankfully minus any hot wax.

Two quick flaps towards the mirror quickly —if slightly messily, took care of cleaning of my wings and the lit candles, at least.  

I felt a pang of guilt at leaving the bathroom in such a sloppy state. Just felt wrong, given how big a limb Carlos was going out on to actually invite me in while I’m doing this involuntary Elvira: Mistress of the Dark impression of mine.

Granted, right now it was more a ‘Madam Mim With A Flu’ impression as far as threat-levels go… But still, it’s the principle of it; you don’t mess up somebody else’s stuff slash house when you’re their guest.

My eyes still stung on opening the door, but at least thanks to the candles it wasn’t outright blinding anymore. I heard what sounded like either a tv or a radio —near panicked babbling with strange sounds in the background I might add, and set out towards it.

My ears flattened to my skull, and I’d frankly put both hooves over them if it wasn’t for holding up the towel around my barrel. I’ll say this much though for the combo of moving fast, cement floors and hooves; you’ll never be accused trying to sneak up on people.

Now, deafening them, on the other… well, hoof. That you’ll probably get plenty of.

I found my way to a small TV room of all things. Have to admit, it was one, if not the, last thing I’d expected to see in a wizard’s house, but the odd layout probably wouldn’t make sense to anybody but one.

Just past the door and clear of the walls was a small, if modern looking, camping TV; sitting on a small student desk and hooked up to a car battery hidden away underneath, sitting on the floor.

Speaking off, the whole contraption was protected against the ebb and flow of ambient magic by a circle. An unbroken hoop of copper, about two feet across and inlaid into the floor itself.

I felt a pang of pain in my heart on seeing it. I’d used the same idea, if slightly larger in my old lab.

I shook my head and fought the feelings down. Judging from the screams and shouts coming from that TV, now was not the time to wallow in self-pity over the nice place I used to own.

Know that feeling…

Carlos was sitting in a old, well-worn leather recliner, his lips a line and dark eyes glued in on the TV in a glare; a far cry from the near constant lazy grin my memory wanted to project there. I’d heard through the grapevine he’d been wounded bad a few years ago against the Fomor, but aside from the jeans and t-shirt he’d thrown on hanging off his frame a bit more than I remembered he seemed well on the way to recovery.

I’d only expected one person more in the tiny room, but I’d apparently been wrong. Nemo, now in a —I kid you not, rather badly modified burlap sack smelling strongly of old potatoes wasn’t alone on the ratty old, flower-print couch.

I’d seen bigger stallions, but not many and none of them pegasi. Crude jokes about how that phrasing could be interpreted aside, he looked like an athlete of some sort; not as muscular as Nemo even counting the sex-divide, but with some clear muscle definition…

Then again, I’d seen einherjars —post-dead warriors given another shot at downing more of those disgusting protein shakes and monsters, with less muscle on their frames than Nemo somehow managed to pack while still looking quite feminine. So probably not a fair comparison, that one.

It was a bit sad given the six months into ‘Pony-Gate’ thing, but supply and demand being what it is meant that Nemo’s ‘attire’ wasn’t even that bad by current standards; especially for a pegasus. A whole new, rather flexible body type to design clothes for was bad enough to shuffle around production lines for, but two extra limbs needing holes for tiny, tiny percentage of an unknown market was something of a mercantile deathknell. People like me, Thomas and —ugh, Marcone —with access to and financially capable of hiring tailors I mean, were in the clear minority, while most in our horseshoes simply had to make do with whatever scraps of cloth they could beg, borrow and steal that would fit.

You know, unless you went with ‘fuck it, I’ve got a pelt now’ approach. Like the dark grey, almost charcoal grey, stallion with the navy blue windswept mane, and that somebody quite cruel had duct-taped four stacked coke-cans and two small crenshaw melons to.

“Dresden,”  Carlos growled at me, voice fiercer than I’d ever heard it, “is there a special reason you're drooling like that over my niece?”

Cruel to me, that is. Although judging from that ‘niece’ perhaps he’d d- agree with me.

Cheeks burning, I forced myself to look away from the equally blushing stu- stallion. “...Soor-” I stopped, slurped up the, uh, mouthful of drool, and tried again. “...Sorry, it’s been… six rather long, lonely and... confusing months for me.”

I swear the last, tattered remains of my man-card died in an small splutter of beer and motor oil on forcing myself to put emphasis on that ‘confusing.’  

Still, judging from how Carlos blinked at me and let out a far less harsh sounding “Oh,” it did the trick.

Then of course, just to make my wonderful day complete, he tilted his head and ripped out my heart with ten little words. “I thought you and that Murphy woman were getting serious?”

To Carlos’ credit, he realized what he’d said about half a second, judging from how quickly and tightly he zipped his lips together.

“Yeah, we were,” I growled out. “Then one day, I pulled a Loki minus the eight-legged wûnder-foal, and Murphy isn’t exactly into lesbian bestiality.”


My mind ground to a halt, and I gave Nemo a blank look.

“Bestiality is when you romantically love and slash or like to fuck an animal,” Nemo offhandedly explained in a chipper voice, making Carlos’ niece start slowly turn crimson. “Xenophilia is when you love and slash or like fuck a strange, exotic person; like ponies, aliens, foreigners or people that unironically love country-music.”

“...How do you know that?” Carlos’ niece blurted out. “By the stars, why would you know that?!”

Despite my mind skipping gears like mad trying to follow the strange turn the conversation had turned, I frowned a bit. ‘By the stars?’ Hell’s bells, who actually swears like that?

Nemo also titled her head at the odd phrasing, but ultimately shrugged it off. “Come on, can’t blame a girl for having a vocabulary, right?” Nemo chuckled softly, as she leaned back into the couch with a sly grin. “Then again…” she winked at me, “everypony knows Rainbow is an idiot that can’t say any words longer than ‘Won-der Bolt-s,’ let alone actually spell stuff like q-u-i-s-l-i-n-g, or explain stuff like ‘The Revolutionary War.’”  

My blood ran cold, as Carlos’ ‘niece’ blinked, and frowned in suspicion and disapproval towards Nemo. “...Quisl-ing? What is that, a variant on tatzlwurms?” His rather distinct cyan eyes that hadn’t seemed important just a minute ago, staring down Nero so intently that their ‘owner’ missed Ramirez going rigid for just a moment. “It sounds unpleasant, at any rate.”

“Quis-ling,” Nemo corrected, not as much as a feather ruffling as she started lying her pretty little head off. All with a smile on her face so wide, warm and genuine, that it wouldn’t have looked out of place on an nun after a blood drive for orphaned kittens. “It’s a type of obscure Norwegian cheese.”

Interestingly there aren’t many things in the supernatural world that lies. Not outright, at any rate. Sure, quite a few things will happily wear your mother’s face —literally or metaphorically, keep their bloody claws hidden behind their back and tell you ‘cute’ little innuendos about how special dinner will be tonight…

But ask them to say that two plus two equals Pi, and… Well, they’ll know the jig is up and hurl themselves at your face, but you won’t get told even such an obviously false statement.

There are exceptions, of course. The White Court is (in)famous for their use of subterfuge and cats-paws to further their plans. While on the other end of the ballpark beings like the fey and demons literally cannot lie; it is simply a thing beyond their ability to do on the same level like flying by willing it is for a human.

Of course, being able to do something and recognize it being done to you are two totally different skills.

And most immortals —even without being able to outright sense untruths and crap like that, have been lied to so many times that it’s a futile effort. You might as well try to pass of a bit of glass as ice to an Eskimo fridge salesman.

I’m not certain if waitering has gotten that cutthroat nowadays, if Luna was distracted enough by puppeteering Carlo’s poor niece over such a distance…

Or she might have been bluffing, playing along for now to gain an advantage later. Either way, aside from that disapproving frown that now looked far too familiar, Luna remained silent, ‘her’ eyes now locked onto the TV.  

...OK, I simply don’t know what happened to her, —or if that’s even a real pony for that matter… but that thing isn’t Luna. She’d never do something this cruel.

How in hell had she even done this? Luna was locked away in the strongest magical prison on the planet, half the country away, and she’d still somehow reached out and possessed somebody?

If she had that type of power, why not just reach into mine or Nemo’s minds, and just start layering commands like the warlock she’d turned out to be? Why grab some poor kid we’d just more or less stumbled across?

Was it some type of spell that only had an effect on stallions, perhaps? Had Luna wormed herself into his dreams like she’d mine, but not having any training in magic the poor bastard had thought it just a pleasant if weird dream until too late?

I shook my head, and forced myself to look away, as if she wasn’t a threat.

Frankly, all my instincts were screaming at me to just go for the sucker-punch. Just slam Carlos’ cousin into the nearest wall, wrestle him into a circle…

I just barely stopped myself from gritting my teeth audibly. And if that didn’t actually work, at least offer him a far faster death than having his mind torn to shreds by that blue-black bastard.

I tensed as I saw Carlos’ niece lean forward. “...Uncle, are you alright?” he asked, in a surprisingly gentle voice. “You're really pale.”

Had to admit, I blinked.

Carlos hesitated and forced a ghost of a grin, but there really was no hiding how his naturally tanned face had gone the color of month old toast; sickly white with a tint of unhealthy green. “...I’ll be fine,” he chuckled out, the sound utterly false even as he pried his fingers of the recliner. “Just the arm again.”

I pretended to just walk over to check on Carlos, but I kept my peripheral on his niece.

And I got ‘rewarded’ with seeing the kid give off this smile that would have warmed up the whole room all by itself, if it wasn’t for the icy claw the circumstances made squeeze around my heart. “‘kay,” he chirped out, his for a moment brilliantly scarlet eyes near instantly frosting over with cyan again; as if somepony had squirted a whole container of antifreeze into a fine wine. “Just say so if you need any help.”

Was that it? Those same ‘suggestions’ Luna had tried on me, but on somebody with no experience or magic to recognize what was happening? Somehow making them last into the waking world, and used to —relatively, gently guide Carlos’ niece into serving as her eyes and ears?

A frown passed over my face before I could stop it. If so there might still be hope for saving him… but I had no doubt it would go from suggestions to outright orders the second we called Luna out.

So not only would we need to move forward with the type of care normally associated with nitroglycerin and roller-skates, but I’d need to get two other people in the same room to reach the same conclusion without tipping off Mr. Time-Bomb.

I stopped by Carlos’ side, resting a hoof on the headrest of his recliner. For the moment I passed between him and his niece, the death glare I got said it all: Did you do this?

I gave a single, tiny shake, as if I was just getting rid of of hair from my eyes. It stung a bit, but I couldn’t quite blame him for ‘asking.’ “Arm?” was what I said out-loud, though.

Carlos hesitated for several seconds, giving me one of those ‘wizard’s glares’ where you don’t quite look the other person in the face.

Then with a deep sigh, he rolled up the sleeve on his left side. A second or two passed where I simply couldn’t quite process what I was seeing

Nemo, I and even what I’d bet was really Luna in that moment let out a gasp each.

Carlos’ left biceps was just… gone. No scar or anything, but it was as if somebody had taken a giant ice-cream scoop and dragged it across his humerus.

“You’ve fought any of the Fomor’s pets yet, Harry?” Carlos asked, for the moment staring absently at his arm as he…

Well, technically he actually flexed it —somehow, but you’re not supposed to see the outline of the bone under the muscle. He sure hadn’t been showing it and I’m no healer… but I doubt that arm could have lifted a full coffee-cup, let alone a staff.

“Listens-To-Wind help you with that?” I heard my own voice ask on near autopilot, feeling a pang of mortification that I’d actually recognized that soft feminine sound as such even while distracted. “The almost no scars thing, I mean?”

Yeah, now and then, when he’s had time.” Carlos’ brown eyes darted over to my right hoof, hanging by my side, and nearly as quickly away again. “And what’s your excuse? I thought you and he’s on friendly terms?”

“The war with the Reds.” I  gave a shrug, absently running the side of my wing over my cannon; the thick scar-tissue and leathery membrane scraping together in a not totally unpleasant feeling way. “By the time the line was mostly clear, the normal physical therapy had started to kick in. Just didn’t feel right to ask for mostly aesthetic reasons when the arm still works, you know?”

“...Why not?” Carlos’ niece growled out, leaning forward with eyes totally cyan again. “This ‘Winds’ is a healer, right? Why hasn’t he healed both of you?!”

I hesitated for a second, but I couldn’t figure out a dodge in time for it to not be suspicious. “...Magic healing doesn’t work like that; you can’t just slap ‘heal critical wounds’ on somebody and call it a day.”

I hadn’t quite kept what was almost an outright hiss out of my voice, and the kid recoiled (eyes again momentarily scarlet).

Not quite the way I’d wanted that to go, but it killed the conversation at least.

“If it did,” I growled, forcing my wings down against my side again, “there’d be quite a few more wizards left.”

Mr. Time-Bomb slash Luna didn’t seem to have anything to add to that, so we drifted off; the only sounds the cacophony coming from the mostly forgotten TV.


I heard the two others give out ‘Huh?’s, but I just winced.

“Got twenty,” Carlos smirked out as he rolled down his t-shirt sleeve again, “but alas, twenty-one got me.”

“Octa-kongs, last year” I said after giving a nod, lifting my towel slightly and sticking my leg forward. It had gotten smeared a bit in my transformation, but you could still see a pale semi-circle on the side of what was now my rear cannon. “Took them down, but their handlers gave me this nifty fifty-caliber piercing; free of charge.”

If it was one sight I doubt I will ever be used to, it is a pony going googly eyed. There’s just something utterly if subtly horrifying seeing an living creature look almost but not quite like those morbid squeezy toys with rubber eyes. “Fifty?” Nemo squawked out. “What the hell were they shooting at you with? A freaking machine gun?!”

“No, actually,” I nonchalantly said as I put my leg down again.

Nemo blinked. “So... what a sni-?”

“They used two and fired in volleys to wear my shield spell down.”

The room fell silent except the TV again. Even Carlos that had seen me in action a few times raised an eyebrow.

“Scout’s honor,” I solemnly said, raising my free hoof to my heart. “Besides, if I’d made that up, it would have contained less bulky, slimy squid-men with overcompensation issues, and more nubile, young stripper-ninjas with beer-cannons and pizza-shurikens.”

Nemo and Carlos let out a few, weak chuckles at the joke.

Mr. Time-Bomb and Luna interestingly enough, just muttered “Pig,” with an eye roll my way, the crimson and cyan for just a moment mixing into an luminous violet; all without either one of them seemingly noticing.

So… that’s what happen if Luna gives one of her ‘suggestions’ and the poor kid actually agrees wholeheartedly with it? Troubling, since I’d bet that moment of synergy felt just as good as trying to fight her off would feel hellish.

And that type of instant, mental feedback? Hell, Luna didn’t even need to mind wipe the poor kid; she keep up that slow, steady drip of rewards and punishments, and Carlos’ niece would be eating out of her hoof ‘willingly’ in no-time.

Honestly, the more I learned of ‘Equestrian’ magic and what passed as ‘exemplars’ in that ‘country...’ the more finding a hacksaw and getting myself four, shiny, new, fluted backscratchers seemed tempting.

“Speaking of mammals that squeal horribly when they die,” I said, pointing at the TV were a cackling, serpentine shape had just streaked past the news-camera, “what do we do about tall, dark and hopefully inflammable over there?”

Yeah, I was pouring it on thicker than Brian Blessed doing Hamlet in Klingon.

In my defense though, Luna using a innocent bystander like this was pissing me the fuck off. Having to play along with this twisted charade instead of just punching the bitch in her face? Near doubly so.

Fake or real… didn’t matter anymore. If this was what lengths Luna was willing to go to get her ‘Elements’ back, I simply couldn’t keep throwing soft-balls to try get her to back off.

“...Perhaps,” Mr. Time-Bomb mumbled, eyes a dull cyan, “you’re the Bearers, right? Can’t you find the… Elements, somehow?” A hollow looking smile that didn’t reach the kid’s eyes twitched into life on his lips. “That could work, right?”

Yeah. Forget the kid’s gloves coming off, the knuckledusters were going on.

I distracted myself by paying a bit more attention to the newscast… even if that was almost as hard as hearing Carlos teeth gind next to me.

The actual news-anchor had seemingly decided to flee long ago, but the cameraman —who deserved some sort of medal for it, be it post-crisis or posthumously— was still standing, filming and trying to make sense of the calamity going on.

According to the ticker it was, surprise, the same city me and Nemo had skedaddled from yesterday, San Francisco. You couldn’t have told from the pictures coming in, though.

It was… pandemonium, no other word for it. Utter, utter chaos; as if some twisted and surreal landscape painting had burst into reality.

Cars, melting into puddles and then laying there bubbling; frying like giant metal eggs on a road. Houses just floating up into the sky as if they’d become giant novelty balloons.  

And everywhere, people were screaming and running. Or barking hysterically and hopping like frogs. Or baaing, and slithering away like snakes in a way that made my back hurt just looking at them. Or quacking, and splashing like fish air-drowning, but without the horror actually ending that quickly.

I had to tear my eyes away from the screen for a moment.

Seeing two fire-hydrants chasing a lit barbecue while letting out squelching ‘barks’ just isn’t something even being a wizard will prepare you for.

This was what those four idiots consider an innocent? This was somebody —Oh right, humans somehow don’t count, so somepony actually worth saving?

There had to be something I was missing, some reason Cadance had seemed so desperate to have things end ‘properly’ with the Elements being used on this creep.

But what? Power, perhaps? The flying pipe-cleaner of ultimate destruction just one, big, annoying, excuse for assembling the Friendship Planeters ‘again?’ The real goal being having The Elements of Harmony up and running again with a minimum of questions? If the over-glorified friendship bracelets have even ‘only’ what they showed on Demonreach, that was a lot of power to be tempted by.

An issue of faith? As far as I’d been able to tell, this ‘Harmony’ stuff was the closest I’d seen in Equestrians to religion. If so, me, Nemo and Marcone would be kinda like as if the pope had found out the three wise-men had been reincarnated... and now proudly bore the names Moe, Larry, and Curly. Not an excuse, of course, but would explain why there was such zeal in slapping us out of it.

Or just simple, plain desperation? Runaway ace-in-the-hole or mustache twirling a-hole; either way it seemed the Equestrians’ had about as much control over Discord as a paper-crane thrown into a fire-tornado.

The ‘draconequus’ —even if even I thought that a rather cumbersome and silly way of saying something so already pant’s filling as ‘pony-dragon hybrid,’ had according to the ticker been at large for about four hours, and downtown San Fran looked like one of Dali’s fever-dreams.

If the number was right… just how would it look in areas where the prick had had twenty five years to play?

And the scary thing was, if the Elements really are the level of potent they seemed… it wouldn’t even matter. Because I’ve seen holy artifacts in action —and unholy ones but that’s beside the current point, and the stories barely do them justice. Rancid water becoming rose water. Entire armies of monsters recoiling from holy radiance. My own pentacle, with glorious light allowing me to find my keys in even the darkest of night…

Anyway, it depends on the artifact, of course, but them being purifiers tends to be rather universal. My pentacle (and Belief in Magic as a force of and for good) probably wouldn’t do much more than protect me and a small area from further corruption —if that, while something major like one of the Swords of the Cross might actually outright… well, purify the whole area.

In the right hands, of course. Belief and all that.

I frowned slightly as a thought crossed my mind; The Elements of Harmony.

What if that wasn’t descriptive, but literal?

That’s the thing normally at least, you see. For Magic, you need to Believe with absolute certainty that what you are trying to do will happen, or it simply won’t work. You can draw in power until the cows come home and start grazing right on whatever field your exploded head is now smeared over, but unless you have that Belief what you're trying to do is the right and proper thing to happen the spell will just fizzle out.

(It’s why combat magic is so relatively rare, even not counting the First Law. Believing that making some fire to warm your house is one thing, to set somebody’s head on fire another. Granted, the field of evocation had gotten quite an upswing thanks to the war with the Red Court, but it was hardly a common specialty even so.)

With Faith it’s far subtler and trickier. You have to Believe in something, draw power from that and try to project it in the right direction. Doesn’t need to be a god, or anything of the sort..., even if they can make the process go far smoother if they think you deserve it.

I myself for example —as I joked about earlier, use my pentacle amulet and my Belief in Magic. To me, Magic is the force of Life made manifest. The joys, the sorrows, the ups, the downs, the good and the bad. I think I may have used the same example already, but there’s more magic in a child’s first laughter, for instance, than most wizards may ever even dream of conjuring up.

And to me, my pentacle, gifted to me by my mother and the only thing I’ve got left of her, is a symbol of that. A five pointed star in a circle, representing the five elements of Water, Earth, Fire, Air and Spirit; all bound in a perfect circle, a symbol of hu- eq- mortal will.

Power, but balanced with restraint. The way a wizard should strive to act.

Absently, I felt my hoof ‘close’ over the thing; the magic of my own grip thrumming softly against the magics of the pentacle itself. The silver, a symbol of both purity and how easily tarnished it is in its own right; feeling almost alive and electrified against my magic while still being just cool metal to my frog. An echo of strange warmth, as the same effort of will that allows me to ‘grip’ things caused a few motes of light to dance over the pentacle’s surface. The enchantment of the ruby in its center —one of the strongest of its kind I’ve seen and my mother’s finest work; a thing of such terrifyingly subtle power it scared even me sometimes— stirring at my touch, but not truly waking without further command.

And yeah, I hadn’t even taken it off in the shower. Or while sleeping, for that matter. Doubt I will anytime soon, at that.

It was just… well, mine. A tiny, tiny sign that, yes, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden and all his choices, good, ill and ugly actually had happened. That my life had amounted to something more than some… stain on the world’s best doormat and her sparkling record of perfectly perfected perfect perfection.

...Oh, Harry…

That my life, my magic, were both still… well, mine. My face may be gone. My voice may be gone. My eyes may be gone… But the bastards couldn’t take my life unless I let them. They can’t take my choice unless I let them. They can’t erase my past like some bad dream, unless I let them do so.

In a twisted sort of way, it was more or less exactly the same thing as the mess I’d gotten into with Mab. Yes, that Mab; the fairy Queen of Air and Darkness. It was just that instead of trying to paint things in the bleakest of all lights and that no matter what I would become a monster… it was sweetness and light, and doing their darndest to make me feel as if any future were I wasn’t their ‘friend’ would be me ending up a monster.

Strange how things stay the same, sometimes. This time I was simply being smacked over the head with the carrot, instead of being tempted with how easier things would be for me If I played ball and my ‘mistress’ could downgrade it to just a mere stick.

In some ways it made it easier, and in other’s far harder. I’d just had to try to do my best, and hope I can live with myself after that. Like always.

It would just have been slightly easier if that hadn’t involved punching cuddly pastel ponies in the face.

Some things just feel wrong no matter the reasons why, you know?

Speaking of wrong, it felt like I'd almost been on to something, but gotten sidetracked. Ironically, I couldn't afford that right now, with 'Luna' glaring between my shoulder-blades.

Hopefully it wasn't anything important.

“I think…” I slowly said, noticing how ‘Luna’ had barely taken ‘her’ eyes off my pentacle, seemingly seeing it slash me as the bigger threat despite the things happening in the newscast. “...we should start planning for a General Akbar.”

Nemo’s ears perked up, and from the gleam in Carlos eyes he got it too.

Mr. Time-Bomb —who I really should get the actual name of, and by extension Luna just looked irritated and confused, though. Then again, looking is the easy bit.

“Grab every advantage we can,” I continued, “call in every ally we can, and hit the creep with every trick, artifact, weapon, spell and dirty limerick we can muster, I mean.”

“Absolutely not!” Luna, judging from the poor stallion’s eyes exploded at me, going so far as to flutter of the couch. “We need the Elements! They are the only thing that can stop Discord!”

I hesitated, but there was really only way I’d reacted normally. “Why?”

Mr. Time-Bomb glared at me, eyes cyan and looking as dull as dishwater.

“The prick’s strong, I’ll grant him that… but so’s about a dozen other beings I can name; and Mr. Oh-So-Subtle over there…” I waved my wing at the TV, wherein a house had just turned to fudge and starting crumbling apart in a sticky, brown flood. “...is currently waving a giant sign around, screaming: ‘Look at me~e!’ and pissing all over the feet of the local horrors.”

The room (TV, bla, bla, bla) fell silent again.

“Discord is not the actual threat here. The actual threat is in a few hours away, when every dragon, fey, god, warlock, immortal, wizard and who even knows what else shows up for the giant free-for-all to stomp the idiot that is tap-dancing on the mortals.I lifted my wing, and did a throat slitting gesture with my dew-claw. “And once enough magic starts flying around it won’t actually matter if the winner was there to just stop him or kill him and eat his heart for power; San Fran —if not outright the whole west-coast, is going to be the next Atlantis anyway.”

“...And if Discord comes out on top of that pile?” Nemo asked in a low voice.

 “I don’t know.” I gave a shrug. “I don’t know enough about him to even guess.”

...He’s not going to make it. Discord has never been good at fighting, he’s more of the trickster type.

Luna balked,  opening and closing ‘her’ stolen mouth a few times, but no sound came out.

Sadly, we kinda got distracted.

Because I got proven right.

To open a gate is tricky business. They are after all a portal between the real world and the spirit world. It’s actually part of the standard wizard package, one of the things you need to know to claim the title, I mean, but it is one of the more complex spells on that list.

Still, they’re nifty if dangerous. Thing is, the spirit world and the real world overlap, but not in a one to one ratio. Take for example some nice, quiet forest glade. You enter the spirit world of that and it connects to an equally nice, quiet forest glade in the Nevernever.

Of course, ‘nice’ and ‘quiet’ are quite relative terms. Might not actually be any forest as we hu- mortals would see —or even be able to survive, one. Giant crystal reeds so sharp touching them will bifurcate you instantly. Mushrooms dripping with liquid cyanide. Massive meat trees, drowning the ground beneath them in showers of boiling blood every time the wind shifts.

But still, in some twisted fashion it’s going to be a reflection of that bit of the real world. Quiet. Nice. Glade.

But take a few steps out of the glade and in among the ‘trees.’ Suddenly, the formula has become: Quiet. Nice. Thicket. 

See where I’m going with that? You open a gate there, and you’ll end up somewhere in the real world that’s a nice, quiet thicket. Like some dark corner of the amazon. Beneath the shadow of Kilimanjaro. Or any other place you care to name, really.

Actual travel time: a few minutes. Actual distance traveled: up to and including hopping continents.

Not going to lie, being a wizard is kinda awesome sometimes.

Still, there are other dangers, of course. Most of the time you can get a feel for the ‘vibe’ of an area, and if you’re stupid enough to open a Way in the abandoned old insane-asylum where vagrants keep disappearing without a plan... you kinda deserve what’s coming for you.

That’s why the Ways, e.i. the mapped, safe-(ish) paths are so valuable. You know what you’re doing, and you can have breakfast in Paris, lunch in Tokyo, afternoon-tea in London, dinner in Sydney, and finally rent a room in Rome to nurse those aching hooves and stomach of yours.

(Not that I went a bit crazy in the period I thought my mind was about to rot from the inside from my metamorphosis, and did a few crazy experimental things I’d normally never do, or anything. That would be cra~azy.)

Oh, but the real heavy-hitters? They don’t actually bother with any of that. They just punch a hole clean through exactly where they want to go, and step on through. And although it wasn’t totally impossible that somebody ambitious knew a Way to what used to be middle of a city with nearly a million people in it… didn’t quite seem likely, even without interference from all that chaos around.

Except it wasn’t a somebody, or even a something.

There were eight of them, all causing quite a bit of stir from the cameraman and the poor bastards that hadn’t been able to run in time.

What looked like the tip of a gladius, cutting through the air as if it had been only the side of a tent with this horrible tearing noise. Like if somebody was sawing through a sheet of copper with a butter-knife, but actually succeeding.

A flowing, golden curtain, suspended in thin air; horribly glaring light from behind it outlining a vaguely human shadow, coming closer and closer at a brisk pace.

By a now abandoned cafe, the air was… folding, for lack of a better word. As if somebody had taken an arc of frozen air, and was folding and refolding it, the seats and tables twisting and changing around it as if you were trying to look at them through a prism.

A patch of blocky, flickering static, just hanging in the middle of the road as if somebody had left an old but somehow invisible TV-screen laying there. Growing thicker and thicker at the center, as if something was erasing that part of the world to get through.

A doorway, made from three bolts of lightning, two of them stuck in the sidewalk with the third bridging them; forming almost an ‘arc’ of thunder.

A small cloud, as thick and black as soot. A curtain of rain was falling from it, but whatever the liquid was it didn’t actually spread over the ground, and it glowed silver like moonlight over a frozen lake.

A huge, ancient looking double-doored iron gate, just standing in a shattered display window as if belonged there. Utterly unadorned except for a degree of polish that bordered on mania; if it wasn’t for the innumerable coating of scratches the thing would have shone like a mirror.

And finally, the one so far I’d recognized and made my heart skip a beat. Part of a nearby wall was just eroding away; huge clumps of wood falling inwardly ‘down’ into a dark void, like dirt into a hole.  

And here I were standing over three hundred miles away. Only a wet towel on, covered in slowly drying shampoo, and with my staff quite literally across the continent.

Oh, and for help I had a friend that would probably be crippled for life if I gave him a too hard high-five, let alone dragged him along into heavy combat. His semi-possessed ‘niece’ without —to my knowledge, neither combat nor magic training. And a promising but raw sorceress that might one day be a powerhouse, but right now only knows how to punch things really hard.

Well, it sure took this case a while to reach my usual standard on what counts as ‘oh crap,’ but I can’t say it disappointed when it actually got there.

Really only felt like one way to sum it all up.

“Hell’s bells,” I groaned out, burying my head in my hooves, “what did I do in my past life to deserve luck this bad?”

“Well, technically,” a chipper voice came from behind me, “luck and chaos are often considered part of the same domain, and we did allegedly kick Discord in the metaphorical nuts that one time…”

“Nemo,” I growled out without looking up, “you are not helping.”