• Published 29th Apr 2014
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Pathfinder Ponies - terrycloth

Twilight Sparkle. Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy. Applejack. Pinkie Pie. Rarity. Sure, these names mean nothing to you now, but once these fledgling warriors join the Pathfinder Guild and become Adventurers, their destiny awaits!

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Getting Away with the Loot

It took more than twenty charges from the healing wands to cure the burns and stab wounds from the fight, but luck was on the side of the fey, and nopony was actually dead. That meant that with magical healing, it only took a minute or two for almost everypony to be conscious and more or less healthy. The exception was Twilight, who had to be hogtied and added to Macintosh’s load, since the leucrotta’s unfulfilled Suggestion didn’t seem likely to go away anytime soon.

With the remaining diamond gnolls cowering in the mine, the party had all the time they needed to smash and burn everything. They broke the massive millstones, which would have to be magically mended or replaced, ruptured the tank full of unprocessed blue mud and let it run off into the stream, and shattered the water wheel. They even breached the dam.

When they were done, they loaded the crates of finished weapons into a liberated mine cart – it wasn’t quite as effective without a track, but it was far better than trying to carry them on ponies’ backs. As they dragged themselves and their confiscated loot back up onto the pathway that led along the gorge, there was nothing left behind them but half a dozen burning buildings – and the mine itself, of course, which they hadn’t touched.

“Reckon we should finish the job?” Sergeant Macintosh asked, looking back at the mine.

“Nope,” Applejack replied. “We almost bought the farm back there. I know, I know,” she said as he started to reply, “maybe there’s nothing left but a bunch of wimpy archers and miners who won’t fight, but on the other paw, maybe there’s something else. This haul should see us sittin’ pretty even after we pay for Rarity, so I’m in no mood to press my luck.”

“There’s three more drakes,” Pinkie Pie said, uncharacteristically subdued. Her wounds had been healed, but she kept glancing at Rarity’s wrapped body. Of all of them, she’d been the closest to death. “If they catch us on this path, we’re toast.”

“Ash,” Fluttershy said, her pink wings shivering.

Rainbow Dash scowled. “Yeah, we need to get out of this canyon, but how? We can’t just abandon Mac and Twilight, but there’s no way in Tartarus that I’m going to be able to lift them.”

“Ropes and pullies,” Twilight said.

“It wore off already?” Pinkie Pie asked, perking up.

“No, I’ve still got to go back to the mine and meet all my friends, but I can’t do that if we get burned up, can I?” she said, smiling. “All you need to do is untie me, and then fly up and drop these ropes down to haul up Sergeant Macintosh. He can use his own strength, if you find something to loop the rope around to act as a pulley. Remember lubrication!”

“We’ve got other ropes,” Applejack said.

Twilight frowned. “Okay… yes… but the ropes you tied me up with are the very best ropes. You should really let me go, and use these ones!”

“Yeah… not gonna happen,” Rainbow Dash said. “Come on, let’s find a good spot to haul them up, and get the hay out of dodge before the drakes come back.”

It wasn’t easy, but they managed. There were no really good places to scale the wall of the gorge anywhere near, but after stripping Macintosh of his armor and other burdens, he was able to climb to a spot where he only needed to be lifted about a hundred feet straight up, with a wall to brace against. By working together, with Pinkie Pie using a potion to temporarily boost her own strength, they managed to do it. The rest was simple – Macintosh had no trouble hauling up Twilight, Rarity, and his own armor, and with the help of the others even managed the cart full of loot.

As they were catching their breath at the top of the gorge after that grueling ordeal, they took the chance to look around at the unfamiliar terrain. Across the gorge were the wide sweeping plains of the zebra lands, while on this side, only half a mile away, the rocky hills were swallowed up by a dense forest, the northern limb of the Murky Woods that surrounded Drow territory. The forest hid any view of Bright Valley, although they knew enough about local geography to guess that the great city lay beyond it.

As they were taking in the view, everything was peaceful and calm. The smoke from the burning mine rose gently into the sky, glowing in the setting sun, and the only other movement was a V-formation of three large birds, heading their way from northwards up the gorge.

“Oh, for the love of apples!” Applejack groaned, as she spotted them. “Everypony, toss everything in the cart and let’s skedaddle. The drakes are on their way.”

Setting out immediately, the adventurers managed to get under the cover of the trees before finding out whether or not Applejack’s paranoia was justified, which was probably for the best. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie, who had some training in wilderness survival, managed to find a sheltered cave near a stream where they would be able to rest the night without much risk of discovery, even if the drake-riders had spotted them and sent a patrol to search the forest on foot.

However, it wasn’t any patrol, or even any forest creature, that threatened them as they rested from their day’s work. As Rainbow Dash stood guard during the midnight watch, the sad cloth-wrapped bundle sitting near the pile of the party’s gear – Rarity’s body – started to stir, as if something was moving around inside the wrappings.

Rainbow Dash scowled, and sliced open the wrappings with her claws. “Okay, little guy. It’s pretty impressive for you to sneak in past me, but nopony gets to chow down on my friends, no matter how hungry you are.” She licked her beak. Speaking of hungry, a midnight snack would hit the spot, even if it was just a raccoon or something.

It was not a raccoon. As the bindings loosened, Rarity’s corpse lunged at Rainbow Dash, smacking its hooves onto the griffon’s shoulders and, with eyes aglow, croaked, “Sooo… hungry…”

Dash found herself unable to move, or do anything but stare at the rotting face of the ex-zebra as its fanged maw hung open, inches from her throat. Before it could do anything else, Sergeant Macintosh tackled the creature off the griffon and held the corpse down against the cave floor.

Applejack and Pinkie Pie had also come awake at the creature’s attack, but stared uncertainly as it squirmed in the large pony’s grip.

“Oh no oh no oh no, this is terrible!” Pinkie Pie said as she realized what had happened, holding her hooves to her face. “If she’s undead then she can’t be raised!”

“Well then, what are we supposed to do?” Applejack asked, eyes wide in shock.

“Feed me…” croaked the creature, who stopped struggling against Macintosh, as his grip was sure and his strength much greater. Instead, it coughed, hacking up black mucus and rotting bits of flesh, and then said in a tone much closer to Rarity’s voice in life, “I’m so… hungry… dearest Pinkie Pie, please, feed me!”

Pinkie Pie squeaked. “Rarity?”

The creature nodded. “I seem to have clawed my way back to the land of the living, even if I’m not… quite myself. I’m so hungry… and judging by Rainbow’s state, I seem to be some sort of ghoul, which means I need flesh.”

Pinkie Pie shook her head rapidly. “You can’t have my flesh!”

“Oh, it doesn’t have to be yours,” said Rarity, or the creature claiming to be her. “Anypony’s will do.”

A brown shriveled lump thumped to the floor in front of her muzzle. “There,” Applejack said, “Eat up. We’ve got two carnivores in the group, so our trail rations have a bit o’ meat in ‘em.”

“Ugh,” Rarity said, around a mouthful of meat as she hungrily devoured the piece of jerky. “So salty. Applejack, how can you stand to eat this? If you’d just let it rot properly…”

“Uh huh,” Applejack said, nonplussed. “So, if Mac there lets ya go, are ya gonna behave?”

“I’m still very, very hungry,” Rarity said, squirming a bit.

“Yeah, me too,” Rainbow Dash said, stretching her legs a bit as she shook off the paralysis. “Why don’t you stay here with the sergeant, and Applejack and I can go track down a midnight snack?”

The late night hunt was tiring, but the woods were full of game, and both hunters managed to return with something. Applejack snuck up on an owl that thought it was the hunter instead of the prey, while Rainbow Dash managed to bag an entire deer, breaking the buck’s leg in her initial attack and then dragging him to the ground and tearing out his throat.

The deer in the Murky Woods weren’t fae, but it was still quite disturbing to watch such an equine-seeming creature being torn to bloody shreds by a hunger-mad zebra ghoul. Applejack and Twilight (awake now, and finally free of the leucrotta’s Suggestion) were quite shaken by the sight.

Eventually, with most of the deer devoured, Rarity’s hunger subsided.

“Oh, thank you my dears. That was quite heavenly,” she said, daintily cleaning herself with a prestidigitation cantrip. Macintosh had been unable to force himself to stay and watch her feed, and was outside vomiting into the stream.

“Not the word I’d use,” Twilight said. “I see you can use magic, does that mean you’re still yourself?”

“Mmm hmm,” Rarity replied. “Only free-willed undead retain the abilities they knew in life. Of course, my alignment might have changed…”

Pinkie Pie giggled.

“…but I can assure you that my goals align with yours as much as they ever did, my dear. I don’t even hold a grudge for the way you ensured my demise.”

“That was –“ Twilight narrowed her eyes. “It wasn’t intentional. I thought you could prepare a spell without being so obvious about it. I didn’t train with wizards.”

“That much is obvious,” Rarity replied. “Hopefully we can fill in the other holes in your training without getting anypony else killed.”

“Anypony else would have been wearing something more protective than cloth. I don’t suppose being an unholy abomination lets you dress appropriately for combat?”

“Okay you two, back off,” Rainbow Dash said, putting herself between them. “Yes, Twilight Sparkle’s terrible plan got Rarity killed, and then she murdered Sparky and dumped his bones in the river so we wouldn’t have to worry about him coming back –“

“She did what?!” Rarity screeched.

“And yes, she was too stupid to notice the giant freaking Leucrotta staring at us through the window, and got herself mind controlled which almost got the rest of us killed.”

“Are you going somewhere with this?” Twilight scowled.

“I’m just saying it’s no reason to fight.” Everypony nodded – albeit after a second’s pout in the case of Rarity. Rainbow Dash grinned, and continued. “It is a reason to give her a smaller share of the loot, though. Maybe take the 5000 gold we were going to spend on raising Rarity, and divide it among the rest of us, who didn’t get anypony killed?”

“That sounds fair,” Rarity said, grinning a toothy grin. “For my death. But didn’t you just say she almost got the rest of you killed as well? Not to mention poor Sparky. Why don’t we set aside the next 35,000 gold that Twilight Sparkle would have earned?”

“Yeah, I like that idea,” Rainbow Dash said. “Then we won’t have to hold a grudge, because she’ll have paid in full. Everyone agree?”

Applejack nodded. “An extra pile o’ cash for not being a damn fool? Sign me up.”

“No!” Twilight shouted. “I don’t agree! Even ignoring the part where you’re focusing on a single incident, you’re completely ignoring everything you did wrong and placing all the blame on me!”

“I… um… I don’t agree either,” Fluttershy said. “Twilight’s one of the strongest fighters we have – the only reason that we almost died because she was mind controlled was because she wasn’t there to fight with us.”

“I’m with ‘shy,” Macintosh said, having returned to the cave, a little green around the gills and being quite careful to keep his eyes averted from what was left of Rarity’s meal. “It ain’t right.”

“His vote doesn’t count,” Rainbow Dash said. “He’s not one of us, he’s just Fluttershy’s mount.”

“Well, Rarity’s vote shouldn’t count because she’s not even alive!” Twilight retorted. “She might be more or less the Rarity we knew, but like she said – her alignment changed. She’s forced to be evil and selfish, and we owe it to her to shield her from her worst impulses until we can change her back.”

“Okay, this is getting silly,” Applejack said. “Let’s just keep it simple. One creature who talks, one vote.”

Pinkie Pie grinned, and reached into her bag.

“No puppets,” Applejack added. As Pinkie Pie pouted, she pointed out, “You get to cast the deciding vote anyway, sugarcube. Everyone else went and we’re tied.”

“Oh!” Pinkie Pie said, smiling, then screwed up her face as she gave it careful thought. “Hmm...”

“You know that if you decide I have to work for free, I’m not legally required to continue to adventure with you all, right?” Twilight said to the three who’d voted against her.

“So don’t,” Rainbow Dash said, pointing a claw at the cave entrance. “The door’s right there.”

“No,” Pinkie Pie said. “I vote no.”

Rainbow Dash scowled, “Aww, come on! Really?”

“Really, Dashie! Do you really want to be in a group where we have to scrutinize every little thing each of us does for whether or not it was good or bad or smart or stupid, trying to figure out what went wrong because of bad luck and what was poor planning, until after every fight we have to sit around for hours arguing over every little thing and putting a gold piece value on each decision, and carefully keep track of what every piece of treasure is worth so that we can work out just how much it counts towards our totals, until we’re all dreaming every night about numbers and abacuses and go insane and start babbling incoherently and get tossed in the loony bin and then everyone blames the whole thing on Rainbow Dash for coming up with the idea in the first place?” She paused, and took a breath. “Because I sure don’t.”

“A very wise decision, Pinkie Pie,” Twilight Sparkle said, smiling sweetly.

“Fine. Whatever. I don’t even care,” Rainbow Dash said, flopping herself into a bristly ball of fur and feathers.

Applejack shrugged. “The important thing is we all stick together. A little discipline wouldn’t hurt, but we’re all adults.” She glanced at Rainbow. “More or less.”

Twilight turned to Rarity.

The ghoul smiled. “I’ll think of some other way for you to repay me,” she said. “But we can table the matter for now.”

The rest of the night passed uneventfully, and in the morning they emerged into the light of day, feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. Twilight managed to quickly sew together a cloak for Rarity out of some spare blankets, to help conceal her condition. Her offer to reinforce the cloth with armor plates was rejected, as it would interfere with spellcasting for much the same reason as any other armor.

The day’s travel through the Murky Woods was actually quite pleasant. There was much game and few predators, and no monsters to speak of, this northern section being so close to civilized lands. Once they stumbled across a small dirt road, progress was fast even with the cart, and every hour or so they’d pass a small village nestled among the trees.

“I didn’t realize so many ponies lived in these woods,” Twilight said. “If the zebras are planning to invade, the ponies here might be in trouble. We should give them some of the weapons we captured to help them defend themselves.”

“You mean ‘sell’, right?” Applejack replied.

“I don’t think villagers have that much money,” Rainbow Dash said. “We should just wait until we get to the city. Plenty of merchants there.”

“They don’t have the money, but they do have a pressing need for armor and weapons,” Twilight said. “We can’t just abandon them in the face of a full-scale invasion!”

“I really don’t think giving a bunch of peasants some spears is going to make them less likely to die if the zebras invade,” Rainbow Dash said. “They should just stand back and leave the fighting to the professionals.”

“Besides, it’s not like being conquered by zebras is some terrible fate,” Rarity added. “Even for ponies. Why, my best friend is a pony!”

Pinkie Pie giggled. “That I am!”

“You ponies are terrible!” Twilight snapped. “Don’t any of you think of anything but your own selfish desires?”

“Uh… are you having the same conversation as the rest of us?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Twilight ignored her. “Rarity at least has an excuse. She’s forced to be evil!”

“And what forced you to be such a giant pain in the tail?” Rainbow Dash asked. “I know you’re not some namby pamby paladin of the Sun Queen, or you’d be a lot more useful.”

“She worships the Moon Princess, sugarcube,” Applejack said. “Haven’t you been paying attention? Protecting villages like this is what she’s all about.”

“But usually the Moon Princess is about protecting the weak, not encouraging them to fight for themselves,” Fluttershy said. “Maybe she’s a little confused?”

“This isn’t about my duty to my goddess,” Twilight said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

“If it was the right thing to do, it’d pay better,” Rainbow Dash replied. “That’s, like, basic economics.”

“I’ll pay for it!” Twilight said. “Or, I mean, we can use my share. A sixth of these weapons are mine.”

“You mean a seventh, right?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“Macintosh doesn’t get a share, he’s Fluttershy’s mount,” Twilight explained. “But anyway, some of these weapons are mine, and I can do whatever I want with them, including giving them away to villagers.”

The others stared at her. “So… just how much of your share were you planning to give away?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“Well, if we estimate the number of villages between here and the city, we can divide my share by that number and know how many to give away in each spot,” Twilight replied.

“So, all of it,” Applejack said, peering at Twilight closely. “Are you feeling all right, sugarcube?”

Fluttershy’s eyes went wide, and she quietly cast a spell, peering closely at Twilight Sparkle, and then at the rest of the party, before finally focusing on the cart full of weapons. “Eep!”

“I’m fine,” Twilight said. “I’m just trying to make sure that this windfall gets spread as widely as possible. It isn’t fair to try to keep it all for ourselves.”

“It’s cursed!” Fluttershy squeaked quietly.

“I know that selling it is the most efficient way to spread it around to people who can use it once we’re inside the city,” Twilight continued, oblivious, “but I think we have a chance to do some real good here.”

“Twilight, stop!” Fluttershy said, flying around in front of her. “You’re under a spell!”

Twilight laughed nervously. “Don’t be silly! I’m not under a spell. The leucrotta’s spell wore off hours and hours ago, and we haven’t run into anypony else since.”

“It’s the blue metal! It’s cursed!”

Twilight froze, one eye twitching.

“I’ll get my rope,” Applejack said.

As it turned out, that wasn’t necessary. While Twilight Sparkle may have been charmed by the metal’s curse, making her want to distribute the blue metal as widely as possible, it wasn’t a strong enough compulsion to make her attack her friends, or even steal from them.

Applejack got out her rope anyway. “I don’t care if you think you can resist, sugarcube, I’m not takin’ any chances.”

“Make sure to gag her, too,” Rainbow Dash said. “The charm’s definitely strong enough to make her talk. And talk. And talk.”

With Twilight bound and gagged, the party made quite a splash as they passed through the city gates, into the great metropolis of Bright Valley, the second-to-last bastion of the pony race, whose capture had marked the death knell of the resistance against the Empire. When even such a stubborn foe was treated with respect and honor after being overrun – and only a minimal amount of looting and pillage – Dream Castle and the remaining minor outposts had sued for peace, accepting the Empire’s demand for an unconditional surrender.

This made the city, officially, a symbol of peace and cooperation between creatures of all species and alignments, and as long as one stayed to the central thoroughfares and markets, the illusion could be maintained. Orcish guardsmen led patrols of armored ponies to maintain order, and merchants were able to go about their business unmolested.

There were, however, parts of the city to which one should never travel. The goblin slums, the temple quarter, the back alleys of the entertainment district – and, if one was not an orc, the government plaza. All eyes were on the fey as they made their way past the sparse crowd of orcs and hobgoblins towards the city’s Mage Tower, to report on their findings about the cursed blue metal, and to ensure that it was properly disposed of.

“So you’re here to turn in some cursed items,” droned the bored orcish clerk in the lobby.

“And get our friend un-cursed, if that’s okay with you,” Fluttershy said quietly. “And, um, if it’s not too much trouble, we’d like to get paid for the cursed weapons and armor. Please?”

The clerk raised an eyebrow.

“You see… we’re Adventurers,” Fluttershy said, “so we’re responsible for our own equipment? And we were really really counting on this money.”

“We need better equipment to help us help you help us help ourselves!” Pinkie Pie explained.

“We only did this job because we thought we could sell the stuff we got from the mine,” Rainbow Dash said. “It’s not our fault it’s cursed.”

“That’s right,” Applejack said. “We could have just gone and sold it anyhow, but we came here because we knew you’d do right by us.” She narrowed her eyes. “You will do right by us, right?”

“Uh huh,” the clerk replied. He opened a drawer and handed over a dozen pieces of paper covered in blanks to fill in, boxes to check, and large blocks of fine print. “Fill out these forms, and we’ll consider your request for compensation.”

“And Twilight?” Fluttershy asked.

The clerk rang a bell, and a pair of ogre guards arrived. “We’ll make sure she’s taken care of,” the clerk said as they grabbed the bound and gagged unicorn and carried her off into the depths of the tower.

Without Twilight to help them, it took the party almost an hour to fill out the forms, after which they were escorted by the ogre guards into another waiting room on the second floor of the tower. Refreshments were served – delicious and exotic, but only because of the minor illusion layered on them to make them appealing. After far too long spent waiting, Twilight entered the room in the company of another unicorn, this one wearing the robes of an archmage. She seemed cheerful enough, although an examination with Detect Magic revealed that rather than remove the curse’s enchantment, the archmage had merely layered a stronger enchantment over the top of it.

“Your friend has given me a full report on your activities,” the mage said, his voice tense. “I understand that one of you died in the line of duty?”

Everypony looked at Rarity, who sighed and stepped forwards, reaching up with a hoof to draw back her hood. “I’m afraid I can’t really explain how it happened,” she said. “But after I died, my soul simply refused to pass on to the afterlife – it was like there were tendrils of darkness rising from the ground, coiling around my legs, holding me in place. The whole world was bathed in darkness, fields of tentacles sprouting from every surface, but passing through those still living as if they weren’t even there. To my bare spirit, their touch was cold and painful. I tried to take refuge from them within my own flesh, only to find it permeated as well. I blacked out, and when I awoke… I was like this.”

“You were conscious?” Twilight Sparkle asked.

Rarity nodded. “I almost wish that I hadn’t been. If I still needed to sleep, the experience would likely give me nightmares.”

“Then you understand why you are to tell no one,” the archmage replied. “That goes for all of you.”

“Of course, magus!” Twilight replied brightly. The others mostly shrugged or nodded.

“The boundaries of this world are failing –“ the archmage began.

Pinkie Pie gasped. “Like that book!”

The archmage motioned for her to continue.

“We found a book that let anypony open a portal to the plane of elemental smoke!” Pinkie Pie explained. “You didn’t even have to be a wizard. I bet it never would have worked if the world’s walls weren’t thin!”

The magus sighed. “Ah, yes. We’ve run across those as well. I’m afraid it’s too late to keep that a secret, but please avoid calling attention to them. The last thing we need is another invasion by the smoke creatures.”

“Another?” Applejack asked. She was ignored.

“It is the spontaneous animation of the undead that is of greater concern. Your friend here is very fortunate to have kept not only her mind, but her sanity. Most of the dead are not so lucky. We have been doing our best to relocate the corpses to places where they can do no harm when they arise, but sooner or later the word will get out, and I fear that it will cause widespread panic.”

“So what do you need us to do?” Rainbow Dash asked. “How can we fix this?”

“You can’t,” the archmage replied. “From you, we require only silence. Take other work, and pretend that your friend is still alive, or was raised by some unholy ritual. Twilight Sparkle will be in charge of enforcing this decree.”

“Of course, magus!” Twilight replied, smiling happily. “If any of them talk, I’ll report them to the proper authorities!”

“If any of them talk, kill them,” the magus ordered. “And kill anyone they talked to, as well.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide, and her ears folded back against her skull, but at last, she nodded to acknowledge the order. “For the Empire.”

“Do not think me ungrateful,” the archmage said as the horrified and indignant adventurers stared at him and Twilight. “See the clerk on your way out, and you will be compensated for your efforts so far. But this matter is above your level, and will be handled by those more capable.”