• Published 4th Mar 2012
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The Dresden Fillies: False Masks - psychicscubadiver



Sequel to the Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends. Everyone's favorite wizard returns to Equestria.

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Chapter Twelve

The Dresden Fillies: False Masks

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

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

Chapter Twelve

The neat and tidy little kitchen was wrecked. The table had been broken in half, there was a hole big enough to swallow my fist in the wall, the sink had been turned into a small fountain, and there was a rubber chicken imbedded in the ceiling. I’m not sure how that last one happened, but I’m willing to bet that Pinkie was to blame. Luckily, I was in much better shape than the furniture. The worst I’d gotten was a bruise from the kick that started the fight. My shoulder was sore, but I’d had worse. Usually a lot worse.

I’d also like to point out that I had neither destroyed the house nor set it on fire. With my track record for property damage, confining the destruction to one room was actually pretty commendable. I doubted anyone else saw it that way, but I didn’t really care. At the moment, I was engaged in a standoff.

“I know you know where Twilight is, Bon-bon.” My eyes narrowed to slits and I saw a line of sweat break out on her forehead. Her eyes flickered from her devastated kitchen back to me. “Right now I’m only annoyed, but if you don't tell me what I want to know, I’ll get angry.” I put my face only inches away from hers and stared her down. “And you won’t like me when I’m angry.” She lowered her eyes and tried to flinch away, but I had trapped her good. It wasn’t the most subtle or flexible spell, but a straightjacket made of hardened air makes for a decent prison. It wouldn't have been much good against most of my foes; the monsters could smash through it and anyone magic-savvy could dissolve it, but in this case it worked just fine.

“Don’t you hurt her! Don’t you dare!” Lyra had gotten the same treatment as Bon-bon, and I had added a circle around her to prevent any magic use while she was immobile. Her voice was muffled and dull thanks to my spell but still understandable. The conspiracy theorist had jumped in on Bon-bon’s side as soon as the fight started. She couldn’t hold a candle to Twilight, or even Rarity, but subduing them without hurting either one, or Pinkie, had not been fun.

“Blackstone isn’t going to hurt anypony.” Pinkie said trying to reassure the bound unicorn, and herself, I suspected. “This is all just some big misunderstanding!”

I shook my head slowly. “Not in the slightest, Pinkie. Bon-bon knows where Twilight is; she’s a member of the Order Triune.” Pinkie gasped, her mane flying straight up as though she’d been electrified.

“That’s crazy!” Lyra shouted. “You’re crazy!” Bon-bon didn’t say anything, but her eyes darted nervously back and forth.

“Really? Even though she attacked me first?” Her sudden charge had taken me by surprise, but Bon-bon obviously wasn’t much of a fighter. Going one-on-one with me was a bad plan, even with that lucky first shot. I had expected her to run, or at least try to fake innocence.

“You scared her!” Lyra retorted, as if assaulting someone who looked kind of scary were a completely normal response. It was becoming clear that the mint-green unicorn was somewhat divorced from reality when it came to her roommate.

I rolled my eyes. “Then why won’t she say anything? If it’s so crazy, why doesn’t Miss Bon-bon speak up?” I gave her a gimlet stare. “Is it because you’re afraid I’ll realize you slipped that memory charm into your mouth?” Bon-bon tried to shake her head no, but the binding held her fast. Lyra continued to deny everything, and Pinkie tried running interference again, but I tuned both of them out.

I was missing something; Bon-bon’s behavior wasn’t adding up. She had to know that even with Lyra’s help she didn’t have a prayer of overpowering me, but she had stuck around to fight anyway. If she had left while I was distracted by Lyra, I’d have given her even odds of escaping. I'd have found her anyway with a tracking spell, but I doubt she knew that. And even if she had thought they could take me, she had to know it was a lost cause now. But she still hadn’t used the memory charm between her teeth. Pansy hadn’t shown any hesitation. What was holding Bon-bon back?

I scowled and Bon-bon flinched again. She was afraid of me, but not enough to start talking. The frustration was enough to make me feel like screaming, but despite her refusal to talk, I didn’t want to hurt her. I’ll dive into a fray and dole out justice like nobody's business, but I’m a hot-blooded fighter. Seeing violence done to somebody who can’t hit back makes my temper flare. Violence against a helpless woman or child? That makes me reach for my staff and start murmuring phrases that can crush skulls.

Is that chauvinistic? Probably, but I don’t give a damn.

The only game I was left with was intimidation. My normal glare and threats weren’t working, though so I suppose it was time to up the ante. “Pinkie!” I barked startling everypony else in the room.

“What?” She asked in surprise.

“Do you think you could leave and return without anypony noticing you?” Bon-bon began to sweat as she realized I was sending Pinkie away, but that was only my opening move.

“Sure,” Pinkie said, confused, but happy to help.

I grinned. “Thanks. Would you bring me Bob?”

The pink mare frowned. “But I thought you said−”

“I know.” I interrupted. I couldn’t let her give away that Bob was mostly harmless. “But this is a special occasion. I’m going to need his help.”

Pinkie shrugged. “Okie dokie lokie. One express Pinkie delivery, coming right up!” She left the kitchen in a hop. I waited and watched my captives without saying a word. Speaking would have ruined the moment. Instead I let the fear sink in.

Eventually Lyra broke the silence. “Who’s Bob?”

I chuckled darkly. “I think you mean ‘what is Bob?’.” Lyra waited for more explanation, but I didn’t oblige her. The stillness in the room stretched unpleasantly as their imaginations went to work, suspecting the worst.

Any cop who has done interrogation knows that patience is the key. You didn’t try to scare anyone; you let the target scare himself. I'd have preferred it if Bon-bon had been the one asking the questions, but I thought I could work it this way too.

Lyra tried again. “What is Bob?”

“He’s a … spirit of sorts that I keep inside an old skull.” I replied casually. Bon-bon shuddered visibly at those words and I wondered if I had struck a nerve. I kept going. “Normally, I don’t let him out, but since Bon-bon isn’t talking, I’m going to need his help to find out what happened to Twilight.”

Lyra bristled again at the implication that her roommate was any less pure than the driven snow, but morbid curiosity, and a large dose of fear, killed her angry response. “What do you mean his ‘help’?”

“You’ll see.” I promised, giving her a smile that couldn’t have belonged to anybody sane. Lyra’s eyes widened and she fell silent, the fear settling in. I had to work not to grimace. It wasn’t fair that I had to scare her to get to Bon-bon, but it was necessary for now. Besides, Lyra might have been scared, but Bon-bon was terrified. Her ears were twitching uncontrollably, her body jerked back and forth as she fought against my spell and her breathing was fast and shallow.

I mimed a yawn and rose to leave, careful not to look at either of them. Bon-bon’s eyes tracked me like a mouse watching a cat until I had left the room. Once out of their sight, I quickly moved through the living room, almost tripping over a chair that had somehow been knocked over. Bon-bon had her back to the kitchen’s other door, which was also outside Lyra’s field of vision. I circled around to that door, opened it, and slipped in a softly as I could. On two legs I can move quietly, especially for a guy my size. On four legs I was less skilled, but Bon-bon’s breathing was loud enough to mask any mistakes I made.

The plan was to sneak up on Bon-bon and give her another scare. I was certain she’d crack with just a bit more pressure. However, I was almost directly behind her, just barely out of Lyra’s sight, when Bon-bon did about the last thing I expected. She started talking.

“I’m sorry, Lyra. I’m so, so sorry. I never meant for this to happen.” Her voice was low and frantic, slurred by fear and the charm she still had in her mouth. I could understand her, but just barely.

I stepped back, curious to hear what she had to say. Did she really think I had just left them alone? I guess so, because Lyra was equally unconcerned about the possibility of being overheard. “Don’t apologize, Bon-bon. This isn’t your fault. I’m the one who let that crazy freak into the house. Please don’t cry.”

Bon-bon made a sound that was equals part sob and laughter. “It is my fault. If it wasn’t for me, he never would have come here. I-it’s true; all that stuff I told you was nonsense is really true. And I always denied it because I’m a member of the Order.”

There was a note of wonder in Lyra’s voice as she replied. “Wait, all of it’s true? Humans and faeries and Bighoof are all real?!”

A fit of tearful giggles from Bon-bon followed her question. “Oh, Lyra. Only you would ask that. We’re trapped by a dark sorcerer, he’s about to feed us to his demon after it rips what he wants to know out of my head, and you want to know if faeries are real.” She smiled, and some of the fear cleared from her voice. “All of it. Except Bighoof. That really is just an urban legend.”

Lyra didn’t laugh with her, and the silence between them quickly became uncomfortable. I rolled my eyes. I had been hoping to overhear something useful, or failing that at least get a cue for a good entrance. Still, I might be able to salvage this. I was about to say something when Lyra’s voice cut the air like a knife. “And you lied to me.”

The silence that followed her statement was sharp-edged and brittle as a shard of glass.

“Three years," she said desolately. Her cheerful energy and eccentricity was gone, leaving nothing but emptiness behind. “I’ve roomed with you for three years and you lied to me each and every day. I trusted you.”

Her voice was quiet and halting, but she didn’t let herself stop.

“I thought you were my friend.”

Bon-bon flinched, but Lyra didn’t sound angry.

“I thought you cared about me.”

She didn’t even sound bitter.

“Was it all just a lie?”

She was only hurt.

It took all of my self-control not to step out and comfort her. I had known her for all of about three hours, but that didn’t matter. She was in pain, and it killed me to see her like that. I know what it feels like to realize the person you thought you knew had lied to you. That someone you had always trusted wasn’t who they pretended to be.

Ebenezer McCoy was one of maybe three people I respected enough to call ‘Sir’ and mean it. He was everything I thought a wizard should be. After everything that went wrong with Justin, he taught me what magic was supposed to be. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered he was the Blackstaff, the White Council’s secret assassin. Whether or not he worked for the ‘greater good’, there was enough blood on his hands to make Jack the Ripper’s look clean by comparison.

I hadn't wanted to get back up after I learned that, but Mouse had helped me laugh, helped me remember that I had something worth fighting for. Even before I had decided to keep him, he’d been there for me. But who would be there for Lyra? Pinkie was gone, and I’d already made myself into the villain. But, dammit, she needed somebody.

“No, it wasn’t.” Bon-bon replied. “I was supposed to watch you and keep you from finding any evidence about us. It was never part of my mission to be your friend, but that’s the part that meant the most to me. I know I lied to you, I know I kept things from you, but it’s not because I didn’t care. It’s because I couldn’t tell you.”

Lyra stared at her roommate, hope and confusion warring for control of her expression. “You couldn’t?” Anger made a surprise appearance, taking out both of the previous emotions, and leaving her with a scowl. “And why not?

“Because I took an oath, Lyra. I promised to protect Equestria from darkness, to keep the ancient secrets and to uphold the Order. I can’t tell anypony. If the Princess ever found us, she would banish every member without hesitation.”

“And you thought I’d turn you over? After all of my theories about Princess Celestia?” Lyra was back to confused, but there was an undertone of pain in her questions.

Bon-bon shook her head, or tried to at least. “I never thought that, but it didn’t matter. I swore on wind and water, on stars and stones, on sun and moon to never tell anypony. A promise from the heart has its own kind of magic, Lyra. ‘Should an oath-breaker never make amends, she is seldom met by pleasant ends’. My grandfather taught me that.”

Interesting, I thought, nodding in agreement. In the supernatural end of things, words are binding, sometimes literally. The Fae, for instance, are physically incapable of breaking their promises. They’re masters of squeezing through loopholes, no matter how small, but the letter of their agreements are ironclad. The same is true of wizards, to a lesser degree. Not that we can’t go back on a deal, but karma’s a bitch, and she’ll come back to bite you in the ass. It doesn’t take much more than a couple rounds of oath-breaking for a wizard to find his powers reduced to a shadow of their former strength.

“Oh,” Lyra replied her voice small. “Then, why tell me now?”

Bon-bon sighed. “Because you deserve to know, because I’m tired of lying to you, and because I don't think I'm going to see another sunrise.” For a moment her posture sagged in defeat, only her binding keeping her upright, but then she straightened herself. Steel entered her spine and fire entered her voice. “And I’ll make you this promise, Lyra, from the bottom of my heart. No matter what happens to me, I swear that you’ll live through all this. No matter what he does.”

I almost missed the lead in, but thankfully Lyra was speechless for a moment afterwards. Pausing only to wipe away a couple of manly tears that had somehow leaked out, I stepped out from behind my cover. I was still behind Bon-bon, but now Lyra could see me. She had been blushing, but her flustered expression evaporated the instant she saw me. Bon-bon didn’t have enough time to notice the change in her roommate before I leaned down and asked in calm, non-sinister tone. “No matter what? Do you really think that’s something you can promise?”

If Bon-bon had been a fan of fatty foods, I think she would have had a heart attack right there. She stopped breathing, her body went ramrod stiff and her pupils shrunk to the size of pins. I wasn’t sure how to perform CPR on anything other than a human, but after several seconds without her chest moving I almost dropped my spell to give it a try.

“You,” she whispered, all of the fear she had been holding at bay rushed back in. She began to fidget with the memory charm still between her teeth and her speaking became more slurred.

“You!” Lyra shouted.

“Me,” I agreed.

“You can’t. Not her, please not her.” Tears filled Bon-bon’s eyes and she started begging.

I kept my face as stony as I could make it. I hated this, but I needed that information. And it finally looked like I was going to get it. I turned my neutral expression into a glare. “Tell me where Twilight is and I won’t hurt anypony.”

Bon-bon returned my glare with one of her own, but she didn’t quite dare to raise her voice. “Of course you will. That’s who you are. That’s what you are.”

I all but rolled my eyes. “Do you want me to make a promise from the bottom of my heart, too?”

“That won’t fool me. I know you traded your heart for a demon’s gift.” Bon-bon didn’t quite sneer, but she came close.

I blinked. That was actually a bit intriguing. It was possible that she was being poetic, but somehow, the way she said it made me think she was being literal. Still, I didn’t have time to go off a tangent, no matter how interesting. “Then what would you trust?”

She paused, seemingly surprised by how reasonable I was being. I lowered my brows into a scowl as she hesitated, hopefully making up for my sudden lack of villainy. She flinched, but managed to stammer out. “T-there’s only one thing I would trust from you. You’d have to swear by the sun, the moon and your own magic.”

“What?” Lyra asked, blinking. “How's that supposed to make him trustworthy?”

Wow, thanks for the compliment.

Bon-bon’s eyes darted toward the unicorn as she spoke. “You’re not the only one who knows a few ancient secrets, Lyra. He’ll be bound by that promise. Demonic magic is ruled by words, and creatures like him have to hold to an agreement or their own dark powers turn against them.” She looked at me, still shaking, but there was a spark of defiance in her eyes. “So, are you still willing to make that promise?”

My eyebrows rose for a fraction of a second, but then I smiled. The info I wanted in exchange for something I would never do anyway? Perfect. “Deal. So long as you tell me everything you know about Twilight’s location, I swear by the sun, the moon and upon my very magic not to harm Lyra in any way.”

Bon-bon eyed me cautiously, perturbed by how readily I had accepted her demand. She thought for a moment then frowned. “Or for any creature or spirit under your command to harm her.”

“Or anything under my command to harm her.” I agreed.

Bon-bon stared at me, still trying to figure out any way I could weasel out of our deal. “Or using your magic to imprison, control or influence her.”

I rolled my eyes and parroted her. Still she hesitated. Frustrated, I growled, “Do we have a deal or not?”

At last she nodded. “We have a deal.” There was a finality, a certain power, to the words that most people wouldn’t have noticed, but to my senses it was clear as day. I grinned widely, letting any pretense of threat drop to the wayside.

“Great. So where are they keeping her?”

Bon-bon’s eyes turned sad, and she looked past me, speaking to her roommate. “I’m sorry, but this was the best I could do. Good-bye, Lyra.” That comment didn't seem to follow, but then I saw her jaw muscles tighten and I realized what she was doing. My promise had been based on her telling what she knew. The memory charm would erase all that, and when she told me nothing, she’d technically be fulfilling her part of the bargain and I’d still be bound by my end.

Some distant corner of my mind was impressed by how she’d played me. I’m not the cleverest of guys, but I’ve pulled fast ones on things that have centuries of experience tricking people. That corner, however, was only a small part of me. The rest was caught somewhere between shock and outrage. But my growing anger was spoiled before it could gather any steam.

Bon-bon was crying.

Her mouth was shut and her jaws were clenched, but she hadn’t finished biting down. There had been no flash of light or sudden burst of magic. She hadn’t used the memory charm. A sob escaped her and she spit out the tiny chip of wood. It would have worked better without my spell bouncing it back into her face, but as a gesture it was clear enough. I stared at her in confusion; she’d gotten the best deal possible without calling my bluff. Why had she thrown it away?

Lyra stared as well, seeming to forget me in her concern for Bon-bon. “What was that? What were you about to do?” Bon-bon just broke into fresh tears.

Rather than leave the question hanging, I answered it. “It was a memory charm. If she had broken it, it would have erased all of her memories, preventing me from getting any information out of her. I’ve already seen one pony do it without hesitation. I don’t understand why she didn’t.”

Lyra glared at me again before turning her attention back to Bon-bon. “Is that true?”

“Yes,” Bon-bon choked out. She raised her head, meeting Lyra’s eyes, her own still watering. “Never give anything to the enemy, never reveal the Order, and never leave a trace. I was supposed to use that the moment he caught me. But I couldn’t.” She drew in a shaky breath and blinked away her tears. “I couldn’t forget you, Lyra. These last three years have been the best of my life. I … I … I love you.”

Lyra all but melted at those words and burst into tears of her own. “Oh, Bon-bon! I love you, too!” She spoke in a rush, far more cheerful than anyone trapped inside a binding spell and magic circle had any right to be. “All this time, I thought it was only me. I had hoped, but I never really believed…” She trailed off giving a small chuckle. “When did you realize?”

Bon-bon blushed. “The night my gran-gran died and you held me while I cried. S-she was everything to me and you were the pony I needed. The only pony that could make everything right. That’s when I knew. You?”

Lyra smiled. “From the moment we met. Why else would I have been so eager to room with somepony I didn’t even know?”

Bon-bon blushed again and giggled.

Meanwhile, I felt incredibly awkward and mildly annoyed. I’m not going to pretend that I make the greatest villain, but I’d damn well like to think that when I intimidate somepony, it leaves an impression. Apparently not, since the two lovebirds were sharing a happy chat as though they were holed up in the confines of some romantic café. The only reason they’d got so far into this conversation undisturbed is because the strange confession had caught me by surprise. In hindsight it sure as hell explained the way Bon-bon had been acting, but for that first minute I was gaping like a fish.

Shock and awww only lasted so long, though.

“Fan-frigging-tastic. Everypony loves everypony. What I would love to know, though, is where Twilight is. We have a deal, candy ass, and you’re damn well going to live up to it.” I was seriously peeved, and I used every inch of my, admittedly reduced, height to tower over Bon-bon.

“And you'll hurt her if she doesn't?” Lyra challenged.

I felt a headache coming on. I had them both dead to rights, but some ridiculous, irrational defect in her brain told Lyra they still had a chance. I’d already taken them in a fight, and at this point if I got mad there wasn’t a damn thing they could do to stop me. Not that the thought seemed to have occurred to the mint-green unicorn. I wondered if any of my enemies ever felt this way while fighting me.

“Of course he won’t, silly!”

I jumped almost half a foot in the air. Pinkie hadn’t been kidding when she claimed she could move unnoticed. Holding on the tattered remains of my dignity, I sighed and rubbed a temple with one hoof.

She was still chattering away though. “Don’t let that grumpy face fool you, Blackstone’s a good guy! He’d never hurt you. I mean, you guys did that whole ‘battle’ thing and all he did was tie you up!”

The light was starting to dawn in Lyra’s eyes, even though Bon-bon wasn’t convinced. I sighed again. “Thank you, Pinkie. I almost had the info, until you arrived.” I know she was just being herself, but sometimes that was more than enough to be annoying.

“You’re welcome!” she beamed, my sarcasm bouncing off her happiness without even leaving a dent. I was glad she was having fun, but right then her positivity was giving me a headache.

“Wait…” Lyra said, beginning to put the pieces together. Bon-bon made a plaintive expression, silently begging her girlfriend(?) to stay quiet, but Lyra ignored her. “You mean that whole thing was an act? You were just bluffing?”

I shrugged. There wasn’t any point in denying it. “Yeah, that was a bluff. I wanted Bon-bon to tell me where they took Twilight, and I didn’t think appealing to her better nature would work. I already told you they’re convinced I’m Obsidian.”

“Because you are!” Bon-bon yelled, glaring daggers at me. “Don’t try to pretend you’re innocent after everything you just did.”

I snorted and locked eyes with her. It was time for a gamble. “I’m pretending to be innocent? You screwballs have spent all day trying to kill me, kidnapped one of my friends and then you expect me to play nice? News flash, I am going to get Twilight back and you’re going to tell me where she is.”

Bon-bon’s eyes narrowed further, and she didn’t turn away. “And what makes you think that?”

I could feel the magic beginning and I braced myself. “Because I’m not Obsidian, and I can prove it.”

“How−” she began, but then the Soul Gaze started and her mouth just stopped.

………

I was still in the kitchen.

It wasn’t exactly like the kitchen I had just left − this one wasn’t wrecked, among other differences − but it was obvious that what I was seeing now was based on the homey little room I had just been in. Bon-bon’s soul was … cutesy, if that’s the right word. There were matching salt and pepper shakers, a little napkin holder shaped like paired hearts, a cuckoo clock hung on the wall right next to a framed picture of Lyra and Bon-bon on a small Ferris wheel.

I frowned, and peered around the room for a second look.

Everything was a little out of place; a picture of an old mare with thick spectacles slanted to one side, the clock was slow by a couple minutes, and a few other things were just a bit off. The room wasn’t messy; in fact, the whole place was squeaky clean, but there was a sort of casual disorder that comes from having a busy life and no time make the place perfect. All in all, it didn’t look like the soul of someone who belonged to an ancient order of nutcases. It looked like something straight out of The Brady Bunch; the kind of atmosphere that came from a dedicated homemaker.

The only thing that didn’t fit that otherwise idyllic image was a thick padlock on the pantry door.

It was a heavy-duty lock, old and slightly discolored, but still more than capable of keeping the cookie jar safe from the kids... or a hungry bear. I mean, forget bolt-cutters, this thing looked like it could take on a welding torch and win. Thankfully, I didn’t even need to try breaking it. The lock was already open and the door was ajar.

I hesitated before reaching to open it, uncertain what I would find. For all I knew, she had literal skeletons in her closet. I went ahead anyway. Curiosity may have gotten its share of cats, but wizards are a bit tougher to take down. The hinges squealed like a stuck pig, and I had to tug hard to get the thing to move. Inside was a surprisingly normal pantry. Row upon row of small canisters, bottles, and jars full of leaves, powders and liquids sat on neat shelves thick was dust. The smell hit me next, bitter herbs and sharp spices mingled with old dust and faint incense. I took a curious sniff, trying to identify some of the scents, but all they did was make me sneeze.

The sudden wind stirred the dust up, revealing a label on one of the nearest bottles. The precise handwriting on it said, ‘Nightshade’. Picking up another, I saw it was labeled, ‘Curare’. I scanned the nearest shelf seeing some names I recognized, Slumber Shroom and Hemlock for instance, but for every jar I recognized there were a least a dozen more unknowns. I looked at the unassuming pantry with new eyes; there were hundreds of containers, all of them lined up in perfect, sterile rows just waiting to be used.

But Bon-bon didn’t want to use them; she despised her abilities and locked them away with all her strength. It struck me suddenly that even though her hatred for me was based on ghost stories and paranoia, its real strength came from somewhere much closer to home. She had all but left behind her shadowy skills and duties, but now she’d been forced out of her comfortable niche. She’d been forced to face the lies she’d told and the past that she wanted to forget.

Bon-bon hated me because I had stomped into her ordered life and broken her illusion of normality.

………

I snapped back to the real kitchen with a twitch, still seeing the poison pantry in my mind. Interesting as that had been, seeing Bon-bon’s soul hadn’t been the point of the exercise. It had been the cost.

I had met the earth pony’s eyes so that she could see my soul, but that’s where I was gambling. My soul was not pretty. I’ve never seen it myself, but the reactions of the people who have tell me that few enjoy the experience. Most people go white and get nervous, like someone who just realized the dog next to them is really a wolf, but some have more extreme reactions. One man dropped his weapon and panicked, screaming that he didn’t ‘believe in Hell’. Hopefully, good or bad it should convince her I wasn’t Obsidian. The real question is whether she would fear me less … or more.

Bon-bon raised her eyes to me and spoke in a hushed, awed tone. “Y-you.”

I nodded. “Sorry, but I needed to show you that. I told you I’m not him.”

The cream colored pony shuddered. “No, you’re not. You’re a man of iron and blood, stone and fire.” Her eyes lost focus as though she wasn’t seeing me anymore, but instead something within her own mind. Still, she spoke, “touched by darkness, but not overcome by it. Beaten and damaged, but unbowed. Unrelenting in word and deed, in thought and creed. You would lay siege to Tartarus itself if that’s where Twilight had been taken.” She snapped out of her trance, and her eyes watered.

Her voice fell to a whisper and I had to lean in to hear any more. “And all because she’s your friend. Because you would do anything to keep her safe. Because you care.”

There was a silent moment where everyone in the room held their breath. Lyra stared at Bon-bon and me in confusion, but Pinkie was nodding along as though she understood perfectly. Bon-bon broke the silence, her voice and expression becoming determined. “I’ll help you get her back, Blackstone, on two conditions: you can’t tell either of the Princesses, and you can’t hurt anypony.”

I blinked. That was … interesting. I thought she might cough up the information, but I had never expected her assistance. The conditions made sense, though, assuming she wanted to help me without ‘betraying’ the Order. I paused a moment, thinking it over. So long as I got a clause for self defense, I didn’t see any trouble accepting. I nodded and released the spells holding Bon-bon and Lyra. “You’ve got yourself a deal.”

The two of them promptly fell over, and I winced. I probably should’ve said something first. Lyra didn’t stay down long, though. She pushed herself upright and hurried over to Bon-bon, nuzzling her gently. Bon-bon returned the gesture, and for a moment the two just held each other softly before sharing a small kiss. It was a sweet, touching moment, so of course Bob had to choose that second to open his mouth.

“Nice. Thanks for the invite, Boss. Getting to watch two lesbian ponies get frisky is well worth the trip.”

I groaned and turned to find Bob peeking out of Pinkie’s saddlebags. After that business with the Soul Gaze I’d forgotten that Pinkie had gone to get him. Great. He shouldn’t have just spoken up like that, so either she told him I’d been planning to show him to Lyra and Bon-bon, or the opportunity to be a pervert was just too strong to resist. Pinkie just giggled and pulled him out.

“Don’t be silly, Bob. If they want some time together we wouldn’t watch. That’d be rude! Believe me, Mrs. Cake already had a long talk with me about that.” I grimaced, trying desperately to ignore the implications of that, and turned back to apologize for Bob.

Bon-bon’s expression was more or less what I had expected: anger, disgust, and some mild horror. Lyra, however, didn’t even seem to have noticed what he said. “Is that what I think it is?” she asked breathlessly.

I frowned. “Only if you think he’s a loud mouth that needs to get his non-corporeal ass kicked.”

Lyra’s shook her head, her eyes shining. “No, I mean, is that a human skull?”

Pinkie grinned, and jumped in before I could answer. “It sure is. I told you we should have an ancient secrets club! You know all kinds of neat things, Bob’s full of eldritch knowledge, I’m me, and Blackstone−”

“Isn’t ready to share any secrets just yet,” I cut in, glaring at both Pinkie and Bob. I shudder to think what those two could do if they teamed up. Getting Lyra involved in that equation didn’t seem like a winning idea either. “Go to sleep, Bob. We’ll hold a meet-and-greet later. Right now, I want to know what we’re doing to get Twilight back.” Bob grumbled, but his eye lights winked out. Not that this even slightly reduced Lyra’s wide-eyed interest in him.

Bon-bon nodded with a serious frown. “Yes. It’ll be difficult, but I know where they’re holding her and how to get in. The real problem will be getting there without being noticed. The Order is going to have ponies watching the library and trying to find you.”

She was right. So long as they had me under surveillance, surprise was impossible. If Bon-bon wanted us to do this without hurting anypony, we were going to need some serious stealth. Not to mention I’d have to ditch the guards Celestia wanted to babysit me. An idea sparked in the back of my mind and I felt myself smiling.

“Hey Pinkie,” I said, “have those royal guards arrived at the library yet?”

“Yep, a whole squad of ‘em.” Pinkie replied, playing ‘keep away’ with Bob’s skull much to Lyra’s frustration. Bon-bon looked worried at the announcement, but I just smiled.

“Good. I’ve got a plan, but I’m going to need a little help.”

………

The door slammed into the wall with a bang like a gunshot. I walked – strike that, strutted – through the door of the library like I owned the place. Pinkie followed me with her normal bouncing pace, keeping Bob hidden in her saddlebags. The main room of the library was full of soldiers, and all of them instantly focused on me, tensing for a fight. They were a mix of huge earth ponies, buff pegasi and large unicorns. I was beginning to sense a trend in Celestia’s choice of guards.

I stared at all twelve of them with undisguised contempt. “If I was one of the ponies trying to hurt the Elements, all of you would already be dead. Way to go, guys.”

All dozen guards glared at me with an intensity that told me the barb had sunk deeply. They saw their position here on the sidelines under the command of an unknown like me as an insult. From the descriptions I’d been given of Equestria, I figured soldiers were rarely needed. This bunch felt like they were missing out on one of their few chances to shine, and I had just tweaked their collective nose. They wanted action and they didn’t like me. That combination was going to work beautifully. Isn’t making new friends fun?

One of the pegasi, a scarred, cobalt blue bruiser that practically breathed menace, straightened from a fighting stance to what I think was the equine version of ‘at attention’. He lifted his foreleg to salute, but stopped midway, the limb never touching his dull pink hair. Something told me he’d done that intentionally. “A pleasure to meet you, Mister Blackstone. I’m Blue Surge, a Lieutenant of the Air Combat Elites and I’m the officer in charge of this group. I’d like to thank you for your civilian assessment of our readiness. I’m certain you would have done a better job defending the Elements if you had actually been here.” He raised one eyebrow, and continued in a condescending tone. “It’s a shame you were too busy to show us the proper way.”

There were a couple sniggers from the peanut gallery, but I acted as those I hadn’t heard the sarcastic tone in his voice. “Damn right I would have. The only reason I wasn’t here is because I was counting on you screw-ups to keep a lid on things while I did some investigating.”

There was no laughter at that. Instead Surge’s voice tightened with carefully restrained anger. “Really? And did you find anything useful, sir?” The glares intensified, but I ignored them with impunity.

“I found out where they’re holding Twilight.” I said casually. “Do you think that might just be useful, scooter?” About half of the jaws in the room dropped, but Surge managed to limit his reaction to a mere widening of the eyes.

“Really!” Rainbow cheered exploding from her hiding place behind a door down the hall. The rest of the girls and Spike followed her out, having obviously been eavesdropping on the conversation. Rainbow was doing triumphant loop-de-loops despite the crowd. “This is great! What’re we waiting for?!”

Surge cleared his throat noisily and Rainbow frowned down at him. I could tell they’d already butted heads, and I doubted either of them had enjoyed the confrontation. Surge ignored her in favor of questioning me. “Are you certain of this information?”

I nodded. “Absolutely. My source is certain the entrance is hidden in the lowest cave on Dragon Mountain. I just came back to gear up and grab the girls before heading out and knocking the place over.” Rainbow began to cheer, Applejack got a dangerous grin, Rarity smirked, Spike looked both worried and determined in equal measures, and Fluttershy started nervously playing with her mane. Then I added, as if it was an afterthought. “Oh yeah, do you guys want to come too?”

Surge, however, was not having any of that. “None of you are going anywhere. The mission is clear that you are to remain here and assist us in defending the Elements in case of an attack. You do not have the authority to leave.”

Applejack snorted. “The hay he doesn’t. The Princess put him in charge of lookin’ for Twi here in Ponyville.”

The large pegasus refused to back down. “And now that he’s found her, he needs to back off and allow the professionals to handle the situation. We are trained for this and he is not. If Mr. Blackstone is so certain of his information, then we will scout out the target and report back if he is correct.”

“You bastard.” I hissed, not bothering to hold back my anger. “I’m going and you can’t stop me.”

Surge smirked. “You’d be surprised. Privates Hammer, Prime, and Short. Front and center!” Two earth ponies and a unicorn stepped forward and saluted. “Stay here and make sure Mr. Blackstone and the rest of the Elements don’t leave. Restrain him if necessary.” The three saluted and Surge turned to leave, the rest of the guards forming up behind him.

“You can’t do that!” Rainbow shouted. “You think these three could stop us?”

“I think,” Surge replied over one shoulder, “that none of you would assault soldiers who were only following the lawful orders of their superior officer, but if I’m wrong, feel free to correct me.”

He didn’t get any answer to that.

“Good. Now don’t worry, we’ll have Twilight rescued and back home before you know it.” Then with the beating of wings and the thunder of hooves the guards took off. Applejack and Rainbow were still outraged, but I had to work to keep myself from smiling.

“These bozos think they can hold me?” Rainbow muttered. “The minute I’m outside they’ll be eating my dust.”

“I hear you there, Dash.” Applejack agreed.

“Oh, stop it, you two.” Rarity said. “The last thing we need to do is go off half-cocked. I’m certain a little charm would go a long way toward convincing those guards to work with us instead of against.”

I chuckled, and lowered my voice to a whisper. “Not quite what I had in mind, but c’mon. I’ve got info I didn’t share with Lt. Bluey that you need to hear.” I eyed the remaining guards, but since they weren’t watching me with suspicion, or watching me at all really, I doubt they’d heard.

Instead I started herding everypony towards down the hall, only pausing to nod to Pinkie. The pink pony took her cue with a giggle and wandered casually over to our guards. “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie! I know you three are supposed to keep us here because Major Meanie ordered you to, but we shouldn’t let that cause any hard feelings.”

“Er… no ma’am. No hard feelings at all.” Hammer, or maybe Prime replied.

Pinkie gave a comical sigh of relief and wiped some invisible sweat off her brow. “Good, because I love making new friends, and it’d be super awesome-tastic if we could all be friends!”

A squat pony that I suspected was the one called ‘Short’ looked confused, but willing to play along. “As long as everypony follows the Lieutenant’s order I don’t see why not.”

Despite various protests, I almost had everypony out of the room. I had just enough time before leaving to see Pinkie give them a perfectly genuine smile and pull a bag of brightly colored sweets out of her saddlebags. “Great! Say, do any of you like candy?”