• 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 Six

The Dresden Fillies: False Masks

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

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

Chapter Six

Twilight fidgeted as she sat in the empty waiting room, accompanied only by years-old copies of Equestria Today, Ponies, and the hideously misnamed magazine that was neither a digest nor aimed at readers. There wasn’t a single magical or scientific journal in the whole room. She had checked. Twice.

She sighed heavily and tried to still herself. There wasn’t anypony else in the room, or even a receptionist at the counter, but there was no way of knowing when somepony would come through the door that lead into the examining rooms. She was on good terms with Colgate, but they weren’t close enough for Twilight to treat this as an informal occasion.

Not that she would have anyway. Dental hygiene was a serious business. Not everypony thought so, but then not everypony had gone their whole life without getting a single cavity. Twilight flinched slightly as she remembered that and started fidgeting again, trying to find the nonexistent sweet spot on her bench. Her no-cavity streak was actually the cause of her nervousness. She feared breaking her perfect record far more than any drills, needles or other implements that Colgate would need to fill the cavity.

At least, that was what she told herself.

Twilight was just in the middle of calculating her average sugar consumption per periods between teeth brushings over the last two months when the door opened up and Colgate stuck her head out.

“Are you ready, Twilight?”

Twilight jumped, a little startled. The office had been so silent that the sound of another pony’s voice was surprising. “Sure,” she replied, trotting over to the door. She passed through and found that the rest of the building was just as quiet and empty as the front. “Where is everypony?”

Colgate shrugged and let the door to the waiting room close behind her. “You’re my only appointment today so it seemed silly to tell anypony to come in for just one patient. I kept the schedule light because I’ve got to leave as soon as we’re done.”

Colgate gestured to one of the chairs while she donned a surgical mask. Twilight settled herself into the seat and reclined it. She was never really comfortable in this position, but then, what pony was? “You’re leaving?”

“Yes. I’m going back home to Canterlot for a while. Not sure when I’ll be back, actually.” The dentist sounded unhappy, maybe even worried, about whatever she had to do. Twilight thought about pressing her for more information, but she quelled her curiosity. Personal matters were none of her business.

“But,” Colgate continued more cheerfully, “I’m here now, and we’ve got some teeth to look at.”

Twilight stretched her mouth open and tried to keep her tongue still as the blue unicorn examined her mouth. For the first few minutes it was the same as always: small talk from Colgate that she wasn’t expected to respond to, some poking around with a small mirror and probe, but then everything went horribly wrong.

“Uh-oh.” Colgate said, her words muffled by her mask. “Looks like we’ve got something here.”

Twilight’s heart began to pound. “Whagh uoo meme by ‘sumting’? Sumting bahd?!” Colgate withdrew her tools, more out of fear of losing them than anything else. Twilight sat up and looked her in the eye. “Give it to me straight, doc. What is it?”

Colgate hesitated, obviously uncomfortable in pushing her patient any further, but with a sigh she gave in. “It’s a cavity.” She raised her fore hooves in a gesture to forestall any panic. “But it’s just a small one. I think we caught it just in time. If I’m right, it hasn’t penetrated the enamel yet. I just need to do a little drilling, and we can patch it right up. It won’t take more than thirty minutes, I promise.”

Twilight slowed her breathing and steeled her nerve. She had known this day would come. She had known that, one terrible day, all her preparations would be for naught. Yet knowing something and living it were two very different things. A cold sweat broke out on her brow despite her best efforts.

The patient’s reaction wasn’t lost on her dentist. “There’s nothing to worry about, I promise. In fact, if you’d like, I know an anti-anxiety spell that works as a pain killer, too. I’ll need to walk you home afterwards, but I guarantee you won’t feel an ounce of pain during the procedure.” She solemnly placed a hoof over her heart. “Dentist’s honor.”

Twilight hesitated for a moment. Drugs and herbal medicine were more reliable than spells when it came to medical procedures. Magic tended to vary not just according to the power and ability of the caster but their condition and emotions regarding the patient. Twilight almost objected, but she stopped herself. Colgate was a professional; treating her like anything less would be an insult.

The scholar nodded her assent, but couldn’t help wincing when she felt Colgate’s horn touch her temple. The spell was complex, and the dentist took her time preparing it. Twilight was at once both grateful that Colgate was willing to take her time and do the spell correctly, and silently cursing every second of rising tension. But she held herself in check and carefully lowered her defenses. It was difficult in her current mental state, but Colgate’s spell was a delicate one. If Twilight didn’t suppress her innate resistance there was little chance of it succeeding.

Then a surge of power registered to her arcane senses and the spell took hold. Twilight shook for a second and closed her eyes. When she reopened them, the world seemed to have changed. Everything was distant, unimportant. It felt as though her mind had been partially disconnected from the rest of her. Her thoughts were moving slower, too; their hurried pace turning into a leisurely stroll. Twilight turned to Colgate and felt herself say, “It’s a bit strong, isn’t it?” The words were mildly slurred, but somehow she found that she didn’t really care.

Colgate gave her a sheepish grin in response. “Sorry, it’s a new spell, so I’m still getting the hang of it.” Twilight tried to frown, but there was no real anger behind the expression. While, yes, she had played a Charm Test Dummy for Colgate, she couldn’t honestly claim that she had never done the same thing to anypony else.

Colgate quickly changed the topic. “So, I didn’t know you had a coltfriend, Twilight. Is he an old flame from Canterlot?”

That, at least, struck a chord, and Twilight had to cover her startled expression with a fit of coughing. The blush that colored her cheeks, though, was impossible to hide. “You mean Dre− Blackstone?!” That had been close. She needed to watch herself. Fortunately, Colgate didn’t seem to have noticed the slip.

“No, I mean the other handsome stallion you brought back to the library with a load of camping gear.” Colgate winked and nudged the prone unicorn. “Were you two having a little getaway in the forest together?”

Even through the haze in her mind Twilight understood the implications of Colgate’s question. Her blush turned crimson in response. It wasn’t difficult to see how it may have looked to her. Hopefully, it had been too dark for anypony else to have seen what she had been carrying when they entered Ponyville or the rumors would already be flying.

“N-no. Nothing like that. We’re just friends, colleagues in a way. We were researching the ruins left from the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters.” Twilight sighed. “Not that I’d turn him down if he ever asked me on a date, but I don’t think he feels that way about me.” Wait. What did I just say? Not that it wasn’t true, but she hadn’t meant to share that with Colgate.

Twilight was too busy composing her thoughts to notice the long silence on Colgate’s part. After a moment the dentist spoke in a teasing tone, “So where did you find him anyway? I don’t remember seeing him at the university.”

“I’m not surprised. Blackstone never went to any university.”

Colgate looked curious. “Really? I would have thought an archeologist would have studied at Canterlot or at least Manehatten U. Is he self-taught?”

Twilight groaned and internally cursed herself. She searched for a proper explanation but the harder she thought the more her mind seemed to cloud. Twilight was facing the wrong direction to see the glow of Colgate’s horn or the intent expression on her face.

Better to say something than nothing though, right? “He’s not an archeologist, just interested in the castle. You know, details on the Princesses, old magic and such. I’ve been studying with him and some of the things he knows are just fascinating. Most of his abilities are a little violent for my tastes, but I still wouldn’t mind learning some of them.”

“So is he actually more powerful than you? I thought you were one of the strongest unicorns around, given that you’re the Element of Magic and the Princess’s protégé.”

Colgate sounded worried, so Twilight hastened to reassure her. Her speech was a more slurred than it had been a few minutes ago, but she didn’t let that slow her down. “Nah, if you’re talking pure magic we’re about equal. The difference is a matter of experience and training and because he’s actually from outside our −”, wait I can’t say that, “I mean from, uh, outside Equestria. He’s a, umm, foreign pony.”

Colgate was silent for a minute, and Twilight’s feeling of dizziness shortly increased. It felt like she’d entered that semi-delusional state that came from one too many nights of long studying and not enough sleep. She giggled softly and wondered just how exactly Dresden’s spell let him cross into the Nevernever. Celestia had refused outright to teach her that magic just yet, and Twilight had reluctantly seen her point. Still, she had a decent idea of the mechanics after her mentor’s explanation on the nature of the Nevernever. Maybe I could do it if …

Colgate coughed softly, interrupting the strange calculations and wild theorems Twilight had been playing with. “So what kind of magic is his special talent? You said it was kind of violent?”

Twilight nodded. “I don’t know what his cutie mark means if that’s what you’re asking but if I had to guess, I’d say battle magic. He specializes in channeling energy, although given that he seems to mainly use it in an explosive manner, waves of force, gales of wind, torrents of flame and other such things, my opinion may well be justified. In fact, he fought all six of us to a standstill during his last visit.”

“All six of us?” Colgate echoed, her voice confused. Then understanding and horror dawned on her at precisely the same time. “You mean he was equal to the combined power of the Elements of Harmony?!”

Twilight giggled again. “Not like that. You make him sound like some sort of demonic archmage.” She paused, reflecting in a dazed sort of way. “Which I guess he kind of was there for a while. But we zapped him with the Elements and now everything is hunky-dory again!”

Twilight rambled on talking about how Dresden had used the power of Harmony to destroy the demon that had possessed him, but Colgate had already fled the room to send a hurried, almost panicked, message to the rest of the Order.

Twilight continued, completely oblivious to the fact that her audience was gone and that there seemed to be strangely little dental work going on for a trip to the dentist. Eventually she reached the end of her monologue. “…and that’s the story of everything that’s happened since Dresden came back for his medal ceremony. So what do you think, Colgate?” In the silence she realized she was alone in the room. “Colgate?”

There was still no answer. Twilight thought about standing up and finding her dentist and confronting her over this outright dereliction of duty, but the something told her that wouldn’t be a good idea. Probably the intense vertigo, though the shaky knees might have had something to do with it, too.

Instead she just raised her voice. “Colgate! Paging Dr. Colgate! Get back here before I change from patient to impatient!” Twilight giggled again, partly at her joke, but mostly because she could hear the clatter of hooves as Colgate rushed back to the examining room.

Colgate came back in, her mane ruffled and a forced smile on her face. “Sorry, about that Twilight. Somepony knocked on the door so I left to answer it. Did you say anything else about Ob− uh, Blackstone while I was gone?”

Twilight narrowed her eyes and pouted. “Why are you so interested in him?” Colgate broke out in a cold sweat as Twilight pointed an accusing, though wobbly, hoof at her. “Are you looking for a new coltfriend, hmm? Because he wasn’t very impressed with you last night.”

The dentist forced herself to calm down, breathing deeply. Twilight didn’t know her real interest in the matter. But then a puzzled expression crossed her face. “What do you mean he wasn’t very impressed?”

Twilight lowered her hoof and shrugged. “He glared at you out the window when you left and asked a couple of questions about you at dinner.” Colgate’s face grew pale, the blood draining from it. Twilight failed to notice. “I asked why, but he wouldn’t say. He just mumbled something about you acting funny.”

Twilight turned to her dentist and glared. “But none of all this talking is getting my cavity filled. I’m as desensitized to the pain as I’m gonna get, so let’s have at the evil little thing.” She flopped back into the chair and opened her mouth expectantly.

Colgate took her time in coming over and some distant, unimportant corner of Twilight’s mind noticed that she was no longer wearing any of the proper hygienic gear for an operation. Instead she was holding a cup of something in a shaky telekinetic field.

“Actually I think I might have made that spell a little too strong. If you drink this it should reduce the effects a little.”

Twilight almost refused it outright. Mixing magic and herbal remedies was always a chancy undertaking. But the dizziness was still getting worse, and her mind was starting to ache. She eyed the light green liquid warily, and glanced at Colgate. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Colgate nodded. “I’m more certain now than ever.”

Twilight drained the cup in one quick gulp.

………

“So what do we do now?”

“I dunno. She ain’t movin’.”

“Maybe we should poke her with a stick?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Sweetie Belle said. “Opal wouldn’t like that.”

The three fillies stared at the snoozing cat, weighing their options. Apple Bloom was worried that Rarity, and more importantly Applejack, would be mad at them. Sweetie Belle was more worried about what Opal would do to them if they interrupted her nap. Scootaloo had simpler problems.

“I don’t see any good poking sticks. Do you think somepony already took all of them?”

The earth pony and unicorn gave their friend a matched set of skeptical looks. “Who’d take a buncha sticks, Scoots? Do you know anypony that crazy?”

Scootaloo opened her mouth to reply, but she was interrupted when a pink pony tangled up in climbing ropes dropped out of the tree above them. “Was somepony talking about me?” Pinkie asked, her saddlebags stuffed with sticks.

The three fillies teetered on the edge between shock and laughter. Pinkie pulled herself out of the mountaineer’s apparatus with an audible ‘pop’ and grinned at them. “Because my ears were burning and that means somepony’s talking about ol’ Pinkie Pie.”

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle started giggling, but Scootaloo was still confused. “What do you need all of those sticks for? “

Pinkie winked at her. “Bob may have passed the one stick test, but to get the Pinkie seal of approval, he needs to go through the ultimate trial. The hundred stick gauntlet!” Pinkie turned and trotted off, as though that explained everything, and the Cutie Mark Crusaders hurried to follow her. Not that this was potentially any less dangerous than what they had been about to do, but it was almost guaranteed to be more entertaining.

“Wait!” Sweetie Belle yelled trying to keep up with the happily bouncing Pinkie. “Who’s Bob?”

“Oh, he’s nobody.”

Apple Bloom was confused. “Don’tcha mean ‘nopony’?”

Pinkie shook her head. “Nope, he can’t be a nopony, because he’s not a pony.” She paused and frowned. “But if he’s not a pony does that make him a ‘nopony’ by definition? Does my denial of his existence supersede his lack of ponyhood?” She stopped suddenly and sat down, and the Crusaders piled into each other trying not to run into her. Pinkie stroked her chin with one hoof and nodded.

“Bob is both a nobody and a nopony.” She turned around to find the three fillies sprawled out in a dog pile. “Come on! We’ve got to get to Rarity’s shop. I promised Blackstone I’d show him how to get to Fluttershy’s house.”

Scootaloo dug herself out from underneath her two friends and dusted off her coat. “Who?” she asked.

Pinkie giggled. “You three are starting to sound like Owlowiscious. Blackstone is a new pony in town. He’s getting an outfit made at Rarity’s. I’d love to stick around and tell you more, but I’m running short on time. I don’t even have all of the decorations for his ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ party yet.” Her hair drooped slightly. “I may even have to cut a few corners on some of the baking to get it all done in time.”

The Crusaders pondered that for a moment while they followed the bounding earth pony. The tiny gears in their heads began to turn, and all three of them reached the same conclusion at about the same time. Scootaloo raced ahead of her friends and gave Pinkie her best grin. “What if we showed Blackstone how get to Fluttershy’s?”

Pinkie grinned and her mane poofed out to its full volume. “Could you really? That would help out so much!”

Apple Bloom cleared her throat. “But ya know, that would take some hard work right there. Such hard-workin’ fillies deserve a little somethin’ fer their trouble, don’t they?”

The party pony eyed the filly carefully. “Well played. I’ll pay to the tune of three cookies of your choice.”

Apple Bloom shook her head. “I dunno. That’s sounds like an awful lot of walkin’ fer one cookie apiece. How ‘bout three apiece?”

Pinkie gasped. “That’s highway robbery and you know it! I won’t go higher than four cookies.”

Apple Bloom looked at her pleadingly. “I’ve got three hungry fillies to feed and you’re offering me only four cookies? I thought we were friends, Pinkie. A friend wouldn’t give me anything less than eight cookies.”

“Six cookies, and I don’t tell any of your sisters about you three trying to earn your cutie marks in extortion. That’s my final offer.”

“Deal!” All three fillies chimed.

“Well then, later gators! I’ve got a party to plan and cookies to bake. See you at the party tonight!” Pinkie leapt in the air, yelled ‘Meep, meep!’ and dashed off at pace that would have broken a lesser pony.

The Crusaders watched her go, then erupted into chatter so loud that none of them could hear their own words, much less what anypony else was saying. In the end they managed to get organized and trotted back to the park to find their transport.

Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle piled into the small wagon, singing a little nonsense song about what kind of cookies they would get. Scootaloo joined in now and then, but mainly she focused on getting her wings revved and ready to roll.

It was ten minutes, four verses, a heated argument, and four revised verses later that the Crusaders finally arrived at Carousel Boutique. Sweetie Belle marched up to the door, but stopped when she noticed that the sign had been flipped from ‘Open’ to ‘Closed’.

“Why’s she closed?” Apple Bloom asked. “Pinkie said Mr. Blackstone was here.”

“Well, somepony’s in there. I can hear talking.”

All three fillies fell silent, an act that would have amazed anypony who knew them, and pressed their ears to the door to listen in.

“Must you be so rough?” That voice was unmistakable. Rarity sounded like she was wincing, and Sweetie could just imagine the face her older sister was making.

A response came from a gruff, male baritone. “Sorry, but I don’t have a lot of practice. Just have a little patience, I’ll improve.” The stallion, probably Blackstone, sounded frustrated.

Rarity huffed, and the Crusaders could tell she was frustrated as well. “You can start improving now. Don’t just shove it in forcefully, line it up carefully and move gently.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll try it your way.” Then his voice rose to a shout and they could hear an exasperated anger in it. “And I swear to everything holy that if you don’t stop giggling, Bob, I will make your miserable little life a nightmare.”

Three pairs of eyes went as wide as saucers. The mysterious Bob was here, too!? There was a brief scuffle to see who could open the door first, and all three of them burst into the room trying to spot the elusive ‘nopony’.

Instead they found a tall, black unicorn holding a needle and spool in an orange-red aura. He was sewing a strange pattern into a long coat. The crusaders stopped and stared for a moment. Not only was he using a thick, black thread, one that Sweetie knew wasn’t for decoration, he was sewing the odd shapes into the coat’s lining where nopony would even see them. Rarity was watching him with concern from several feet away, just on the other side of a blue ribbon on the floor. The band of fabric lay in a wide circle around the weird stallion and the mannequine he was working from.

The black unicorn reacted quickly, his body tensing, and his horn charging with power as the door slammed open. For a brief moment Sweetie feared he was going to turn them in toads − or worse, bugs! − but when he saw it was only three little fillies he seemed to relax. Rarity reacted somewhat more melodramatically.

“Goodness, Sweetie Belle! There is no reason to treat the entrance to my Boutique that way. And didn’t you three see the ‘Closed’ sign? I’m in the middle of a very important session with Mister Blackstone.”

Sweetie Belle cringed. Interrupting Rarity when she was with a client was one of the shop’s cardinal sins. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were less than daunted, though. “But we heard Blackstone yelling at Bob!”

Blackstone’s eyes narrowed with suspicion and Rarity’s expression twisted in disgust. The stallion stepped over the ribbon, and Sweetie Belle felt a strange sensation, almost like a soap bubble popping. She didn’t have long to consider the feeling, though because Blackstone was towering over them. All three fillies stared up at him; he hadn’t looked that big just a few seconds ago. Rarity stood beside him, more distraught now than she had been when they had crashed through the front door only moments before.

Blackstone fixed the three of them in place with a piercing stare. “And how did you three hear about Bob?” The tone wasn’t angry, but something told Sweetie that they had better have a good answer for him. She wasn’t the best filly in her class when it came to magic, but even she could feel the power that radiated off the sharp-edged mage. Twilight was the same way when she was angry, and to a lesser extent so was Rarity, but there was something very different about this stallion.

“P-pinkie Pie. She mentioned him,” Sweetie Belle stammered.

“Of course she did,” Blackstone sighed, an annoyed expression settling on his face. His eyes stopped flickering like smoldering embers, calming down to something brighter yet more tired. Somehow, without moving an inch, he stopped looming and became just a tall, thin unicorn again. Sweetie looked him over, confused by the transformation. He was still just as big and strong, so why wasn’t he scary anymore? He glanced down at them. “Can you tell me what she said about him?”

“She said he’s a ‘nopony’!” Scootaloo said, eager to join in now that he’d stopped being so intimidating.

“That ain’t what she said,” Apple Bloom cut in. “She said he’s a ‘nobody’!”

The two of them seemed spoiling for a fight, and Sweetie was about to turn the impending brawl into a free-for-all by reminding them that Pinkie had really said he was a ‘nopony’ and a ‘nobody’ when they were interrupted by a chuckle from Blackstone.

“That’d be him, all right.”

Rarity looked relieved and gave the three Crusaders a warm smile. “Thank Celestia. But where are my manners? Girls, this is Mister Blackstone. He is my friend and a friend to the rest of the girls as well. Blackstone, these adorable little miscreants are my younger sister Sweetie Belle,” Sweetie Belle remembered just in time to curtsey as she was introduced, “Applejack’s sister Apple Bloom…” Apple Bloom stuck her hoof out in unknowing imitation of her older sibling, and Blackstone shook it with a small smile. “And their friend Scootaloo.”

The orange pegasus was staring at the black unicorn in mild confusion, her gaze alternating between his neck and flanks. After her introduction she spoke, “Why does your necklace match your cutie mark?” Sweetie and Apple Bloom glanced in surprise at Blackstone’s backside, and the small unicorn wondered how she could have missed something like that for so long. Hanging around the stallion’s neck and emblazoned upon his flank was a silver star made of overlapping lines contained within a circle.

“Didja get it for gettin’ your cutie mark?” Apple Bloom asked. Sweetie Belle didn’t think that was likely. She’d never heard of a pony getting jewelry that looked like their cutie mark before. Rarity had said that the Element of Generosity looked like one of her diamonds, but that was different.

Blackstone snorted. “I’ve had this my entire life. If anything, my ‘cutie mark’ is based on it, not the other way around.” The necklace certainly looked old enough, the silver tarnished from age and scarred by hard use. It resembled its owner in a lot of ways; both of them were strange, sturdy and just a little disfigured.

“Your whole life?” Scootaloo asked doubtfully. “Who gives jewelry to a baby? Especially a colt?”

Blackstone rolled his eyes. “It’s not jewelry. It’s a pentacle, a tool for channeling magic and casting spells.”

“Wow! I don’t know anypony other than Twilight who’s got anything like that!” Sweetie said. She wished she had something that made magic easier. “Who gave it to you?”

Blackstone’s ears folded back slightly, and his voice turned cross. “It was a gift from my mother. Now, sorry to cut your game of twenty questions short, but I’ve still got some work to do on my coat.” The black stallion turned away, his posture tense, and stepped back into his circle of ribbon.

Rarity winced as he took up his needle and thread again. “Are you certain I can’t help? You’re doing very well given your lack of … expertise, but there’s always room for improvement.” Sweetie was surprised that she was letting Blackstone alter her clothes at all. Normally she’d have a fit if anypony else laid a hoof on her designs. Not that she’s too far from one right now, Sweetie thought watching as her sister’s left eye began to twitch ever so slightly.

Blackstone shook his head, focused on his work. “Sorry, I’ve got to do this myself. Not only do you not know the spells I’m putting into the coat, but you don’t know any of the symbols I’m using to tie it all together. Don’t worry, I’ll be done in another twenty minutes, tops.”

“But we promised Pinkie we’d take you ta Fluttershy’s!” Apple Bloom said.

Blackstone frowned and his expression turned skeptical. “Really? She’s too busy to come herself? What, was there a pastry emergency down at the bakery?”

“Pretty much,” Scootaloo chimed in, “how’d you know?”

The black unicorn just stared at them a second more before sighing in defeat and turning back to his work. But Sweetie heard him mumble something that sounded like, “These life-forms appear to be immune to sarcasm, Captain.”

Rarity ignored his odd reaction and gave the fillies another smile. “That’s wonderful that you three were willing to help her out. That was very kind of you.” Sweetie’s smile became a little forced at that, but Rarity was still talking. “Let’s see if we can get Mr. Blackstone to let you live up to that promise.”

“You know, I’m literally five feet away. I can hear you talking about me.”

Rarity gave him a sidelong glance. “That was rather the point of it, darling.”

Blackstone snorted, before using his teeth to clip the end of one thread. “No dice. I’m not any good with kids.”

“Then it’s a good thing we aren’t goats.” Sweetie said, grinning up at him.

The black unicorn chuckled. “Okay that one was decent, I’ll give that to you.” He paused seeming to consider something. “I guess you three could show me the way, but you’ll have to wait’ll I’m done.”

Rarity sighed. “I suppose that coat is a lost cause by this point. Still, at least promise me that you won’t do anything to the waistcoat once I’ve finished it.” Blackstone opened his mouth to respond, but Rarity cut him off. “And that you will come to the spa with Fluttershy once Mouse is cured.”

“I don’t do spas.” The stallion grumbled, but there was a hint of desperation to it. Almost a plea.

“You do now. “ Rarity told him. Blackstone’s shoulders slumped, and it was all the Crusaders could do not to laugh at him. There might have been a few giggles, but for the most part they managed. Sweetie didn’t think Blackstone noticed.

“Can I ask you a question, Mr. Blackstone?” Apple Bloom said.

“You just did,” he replied. He was facing away from them, but Sweetie Belle thought she could see the curve of a smile return to his face.

“That ain’t what I meant,” the farm filly declared, pouting heavily.

The black unicorn chuckled and nodded. “Sure, but I can’t promise I’ll give you a straight answer.” The statement made the three more curious than ever. Who was this strange stallion? He’d shown up out of nowhere, but Rarity, Pinkie and apparently all their friends already knew him, even though they’d never mentioned him before. The whole thing was more mysterious than one of the Hardy Colts novels, and now he practically told them up front that he was keeping secrets from them.

All of a sudden, the three of them had even more questions, but Apple Bloom managed to get hers out first. “What kinda special talent does that there magic tentacle represent?”

Blackstone turned to look at them, horror and resignation warring for control of his expression. A ghostly chuckle echoed around the room, seeming to come from nowhere. The Crusaders squeaked in fear and huddled together, trying to spot just where the sinister sound was coming from. Rarity looked up from her work with a scowl of disapproval, but otherwise seemed unperturbed by the evidence that her boutique was haunted.

Blackstone was kneading his forehead with one hoof, muttering angrily. “Why the hell does this happen so damn often? Somebody up there has got to be having a laugh at my expense.” His voice rose and he addressed the room. “One more time, Bob. Just once more and I’ll give you to Pinkie Pie and tell her to go wild.”

The laugh cut off with a grumpy harrumph, and the three fillies slowly loosened their grips on each other. Blackstone cleared his throat, bringing their attention back to him. “It’s a Pentacle, not a tentacle, Miss Bloom.”

“O-okay.” The small earth pony said. She glanced nervously around the room and asked in a whisper, “Is Bob a ghost?”

“Nope.” Blackstone said with a finality that clearly spelled the end for that line of inquiry. He turned back around, picking up needle and thread again. “Next question?”

“So what does your pentacle mean?” Sweetie asked.

“Not sure. If you take the most general meaning it would be magic, but there could be more to it than that. The pentacle represents the five elements bound by will.”

“Like the Elements ‘a Harmony?” Apple Bloom interrupted. “There’s six of ‘em, not five!”

Blackstone shook his head. “No, I’m talking about the five basic elements.” The Crusaders shared a glance, but none of them betrayed any sign of recognition. Blackstone tried again. “You know, the forces of nature.” They just stared at him. “The five areas of magic upon which the entire universe is founded?”

“Ohhhh,” Sweetie Belle said, nodding her head. “Now I get it.” The other fillies nodded with her, apparently sharing in her realization.

Blackstone snorted, and gave them a flat stare. “No, you don’t.”

All three of them shrugged. It had been worth a try.

The black unicorn continued talking, suddenly reminding them of Twilight Sparkle as he lectured. “The five elements are Air, Earth, Fire, Water and Spirit, and all forms of magic are based on at least one of them. Sometimes the connection isn’t obvious, like entropy magic being based on water, but it’s there. Each of the five points on a pentacle represents one of those elements, and the lines that connect them are the harmonious flows between them. The circle is a symbol of control, the containment of magic within the will of a practitioner. Although, in all honesty, I have no idea just what my ‘special talent’ is, nor do I really care.”

His explanation had produced a couple of discreet yawns, but his last sentence immediately grabbed the Crusaders’ attention. “What do you mean you don’t care?! Your cutie mark is one of the most important things a pony has. Everypony knows their special talent, it’s what makes you you.” Scootaloo shouted.

Blackstone continued working, seemly unconcerned by their distress. When he finally responded, his tone was skeptical. “That’s ridiculous. Last time I checked, everypony here has free will and the ability to do what they want. Pinkie works as a baker even though her talent is partying, Twilight pulls librarian duty despite her mark having diddly squat to do with books, and Rarity is a seamstress, not a jeweler.” He grinned as he pulled the needle through another loop. “To steal a line from another wizard, ‘It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities’.”

The sudden truth and depth of his response floored the fillies. They sat back on their haunches in silence, considering his words of wisdom.

For a grand total of five seconds.

Then they were more than eager to give a rebuttal, all of them at once. It lasted a few minutes, mainly consisting of various repetitions of four key points: Easy for him to say when he already had a cutie mark, and they’d worked really hard to earn their own, and their special talents were going to be awesome, and they’d already waited too darn long to get them. Rarity ignored them with practiced ease, and Blackstone managed to tune them out after a while, too.

Without attention their rant slowed to a crawl and finally collapsed into silence. A minute or two of precious quiet followed while they watched Blackstone work.

“So what’re you doin’ anyway?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Enchanting my coat.” Blackstone replied. “If I’ve done it right, this thing will be rip-proof, fire-proof, water-proof, magic-proof and bullet-proof.”

Rarity turned to look at him quizzically. “What was that last one?”

“Magic-proof,” he repeated. Sweetie Belle didn’t think that was what he had actually said, but he was already rushing into the rest of his explanation. “Though magic-resistant would be more accurate. The symbols hold most of the power, but I’ve poured magic into the thread as well, reinforcing and focusing the patterns’ energy. It should, emphasis on should, be as strong as chain mail.”

“That’s amazing!” Sweetie exclaimed.

Blackstone gave a short laugh at that. “It’s a just a quick jury-rig. I’ll be lucky if it survives more than a couple of sunrises. Give me some time and the proper materials, and I’d show you three some enchantments worth getting excited over.”

“Then why did you make it?” Scootaloo asked, blinking in confusion.

The dark unicorn hesitated for a moment, then shrugged. “I’m just more comfortable with a little insurance.” When that statement was met with puzzled looks, he added, “Not everypony likes me.”

Sweetie wondered if that addendum was supposed to make sense, or if he was playing with them again. She didn’t have long to ponder though, because Blackstone pulled the needle out one last time and announced, “Done.”

“As am I.” Rarity replied, holding up a thick, black band on which five silver rings were sewn. “It’s elastic, so it should keep your rings held firmly in place.” She stepped through the circle of ribbon and carefully fitted it onto one of Blackstone’s hooves. Then she levitated a black bag filled with something roughly spherical to his coat and tied it on. “And there’s that,” she said with no small amount of distaste in her tone.

“So can we go now?” Scootaloo asked. Blackstone was interesting and all but he couldn’t hold a candle to the thought of freshly baked cookies. Both of the adults in the room ignored her outburst.

“Hurry along to Fluttershy’s,” Rarity said, “and don’t forget your promise. I’m going to finish your waistcoat, then talk to Aloe and Lotus about your manecut.”

Blackstone sighed, then straightened his shoulders and gave her a bow like a fencer who’s met his match. “Rarity, thou art a beauty most cruel and terrible.”

The white unicorn laughed gently and gave him a mock curtsey in response. “You flatter me most dreadfully, my fine gentlecolt, but I think you should get going before your charges become too impatient.”

Sweetie pouted, an expression mirrored by her friends. They weren’t impatient! They were just ready to go while certain other ponies were busy being silly. At last, Blackstone and Rarity said their good-byes and he followed the Crusaders out of the Boutique clad in his new coat. Sweetie thought it was way too hot to be wearing something like that, but Blackstone didn’t seem to mind it.

They’d just left the building when Apple Bloom spotted Miss Cheerilee and waved at her. Their teacher looked their way and started to wave back, then suddenly paused with a stunned look on her face. Breaking out in a bright grin, she crossed the road to say hello instead.

“Good afternoon, girls. What are you three up to, today?”

Apple Bloom swelled with pride. “We’re showin’ Mr. Blackstone how to get ta Fluttershy’s cause he needs to…” She stopped, and turned to the black unicorn. “Why are we going there again?”

Blackstone cleared his throat. “I want her to take a look at my dog, Mouse. He’s not feeling well.” His voice and expression were odd; both of them polite but guarded. Sweetie wondered why he’d talk like that, but then it hit her. They hadn’t introduced them yet!

“Oh yeah! Mr. Blackstone, this is Miss Cheerilee. She’s our teacher. And this is Mr. Blackstone, Miss Cheerilee. He’s Rarity’s friend.”

“Charmed.” Cheerilee replied, her eyes sparkling with curiosity. “If you don’t mind me asking, though, are you Rarity’s friend or…” She left the sentence hanging and the Crusaders tried to figure out what she meant. They didn’t have much luck.

Blackstone, however, seemed know exactly what she meant. He coughed and averted his eyes. It was hard to tell because of his dark coat, but Sweetie thought he was blushing. “I’m just a friend. My old coat didn’t fit anymore, and Rarity was kind enough to accept a rush order for a new one.”

“She did a wonderful job.” Cheerilee agreed, looking over the coat and its wearer with unabashed interest. Though, she did linger more on the unclothed portions than the coat itself, much to Blackstone’s embarrassment.

“Yeah, and Blackstone entranced the coat, too. We had to sit around while he was sewing and putting spells in it and everything.” Scootaloo offered.

“That’s enchanted, dear.” Cheerilee corrected gently, before turning to Blackstone with a smile that looked almost … hungry. “You must be quite accomplished at magic then. If it’s not too much trouble, could I ask you to come by the schoolhouse sometime this week and give a lesson? I’m afraid we don’t have many magic teachers for our little unicorns. Any help you could provide would be invaluable, Mr. Blackstone.” She leaned forward ever so slightly as she spoke and the object of her interest grew ever tenser as she did.

Blackstone was at a loss for words for a moment, but eventually he managed to speak. “I’m afraid I won’t be here in Ponyville for very long, but I’ll see if I can spare the time.”

Cheerilee’s smile grew wider and she flicked her tail, drawing attention to the sway of her hips as she turned to leave. “I hope to see you soon, then, Mr. Blackstone.”

Blackstone managed not stare, but it brought a blush to his cheeks that even his coloring couldn’t hide. He sighed in relief as the schoolteacher left them. Until he noticed the huge grins of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. They had finally gotten the gist of their teacher’s conversation, and found Blackstone’s discomfort nothing short of hilarious.

“Awww, do you like Miss Cheerilee?” Scootaloo teased, between laughs.

“Not any of your business, short stuff.”

Sweetie gasped and her eyes lit up. “Do you want to be her special somepony?”

“That’s enough.”

“Are you two gonna get hitched?” Apple Bloom asked, still shaking with laughter.

Blackstone gave them a look, and replied scathingly, “I don’t know. Are you three going to pick up on a hint delivered with anything less obvious than a sledgehammer?” He began to stalk away angrily, muttering as he went. “I doubt you bunch could figure out the meaning of ‘subtle’ if you had a dictionary.”

He moved in the direction of the market place, ignoring just about everything and everypony in his path. The Crusaders hurried to catch up with him, but he had a head start and much longer legs. They were just outside the market when the three fillies finally reached him.

Blackstone stopped outside of the busy bazaar and frowned down at the winded fillies beside him. His eyes betrayed a flicker of concern, and he waited for them to get their breath back. Sweetie sat up and wiped the sweat off her brow. She turned around, planning to give Blackstone a piece of her mind for leaving them behind, but instead she gave him a scream of terror.

Blackstone spun to face the huge, heavy cart. It was the kind of vehicle that would have taken two stallions the size of Big Macintosh to pull, and it was bearing down on them at a breakneck pace with a sickly yellow glow, likely the evidence of a spell gone wrong, surrounding its wheels. There was a gasp from the marketplace crowd as the cart closed the scant distance.

The Crusaders were frozen in terror, and only one thin unicorn stood between them and certain destruction. Blackstone’s eyes flashed with a terrible anger, and his horn erupted into furious light. A lime green shield flared to life, surrounding the Crusaders even as Blackstone cast his spell.

Forzare!” he bellowed, slamming his right hoof into the ground in front of him. There was a crunch unlike anything Sweetie had ever heard, and before her eyes the cart was destroyed.

No, that didn’t quite capture what had happened. The cart had been about ten feet from turning them into pony pancakes when it was slammed to the ground by an invisible force so powerful that it turned the heavy-duty vehicle into kindling and made a shallow crater in the street beneath it.

The barrier surrounding the three trembling fillies vanished, and they, along with everypony in the market, were stunned into silence.

The faint smell of sulfur hung in the air as Blackstone inspected his hoofiwork. “Oops. I might’ve put a little too much into that one.”