• Published 4th Sep 2014
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The Freeport Venture - Chengar Qordath

Sunset Shimmer must evade spies and face off against pirates and bounty hunters as tries to establish a new life for herself after leaving Celestia and Canterlot.

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The Winning Move

I’d barely even closed my eyes before a small hoof shook me awake. “This one is sorry, but the Shimmer mare must wake up at once. The pirates are almost here.”

I don’t know how much sleep I actually managed to get, but it wasn’t enough. If anything, I was even more tired than before. That didn’t seem fair at all. I guess I’d gotten enough sleep for my body to settle down, work all the adrenaline out of its system, and start shutting down to rest and recover, but not enough to make any significant progress on said recovery.

Every single part of my body was sore. There were obvious points that were sorer than the rest, like the wound on my side, but all of that faded into a general tired ache. Even my eyes were sore. What was the deal with that? My eyes hadn’t done anything strenuous enough to make them sore, they’d just spent a lot of time looking at stuff. Even my mane and coat felt bad on account of all the dried up salt-water from my little dip into the ocean.

I groaned and rolled out of bed, grumbling a bunch of words that I probably shouldn’t be saying around a young and impressionable child who seemed to look up to me. “Sorry, shouldn’t have said that in front of you.”

Kukri blinked, then shook her head and grinned. “This one appreciates the thought, but it would point out that it lives on a ship full of sailors. It hears far worse on a daily basis.” The smile didn’t last very long, though. “It has heard many such words in the last two hours especially. Captain Weyland has advised this one to abandon ship and swim for shore, but it is not confident that it could make it to safety. It would rather place its faith in the Shimmer mare.”

Oh Celestia. The kid and all the other ponies on the ship were counting on me to pull off a miracle and get them out of this mess. Which was a problem, because I didn’t think I had any miracles left in me. I groaned and stretched out my limbs, then tried a quick little cantrip to get a feel for how my magic was doing. The results were not optimistic. I was feeling a little bit better now that I was up and moving around, but my whole body had this kind of weak, rubbery feel to it. It kind of reminded me of a run-down, barely functional train; everything was in more-or-less working order as long as it didn’t push too hard, but everything would fall apart the instant it had to do more than the bare minimum to function.

That wasn’t going to be enough to deal with all those pirates. Mome’s ship was fire-resistant enough that I couldn’t guarantee I could actually burn it, especially not when he would probably be expecting me to try something like that. I should’ve gone with Weyland’s suggestion and just burned the ship down to the waterline the instant it came within range. Sure, it was fire-resistant, but that just meant I needed a hotter fire. I could manage that without too much trouble under normal circumstances, but I wasn’t wild about my chances when I was so worn down that it hurt just to stand.

Ugh. Hindsight’s always perfect. Thinking about what I should’ve done differently wouldn’t accomplish anything. Unless rethinking my past actions could get me out of my current mess, there was no point in dwelling on them.

Great. Instead of beating myself up for things in the past, I just needed to come up with some way to beat a ship full of pirates and two battle golems, when I would probably pass out if I tried more than one or two major spells. Easy.

Kukri frowned up at me. “The Shimmer mare does not look well. This one wishes she had more time to recover, but the captain wants her on deck as soon as she is able.”

“Right, got it.” I trudged over to the door, wincing every single time one of my hooves hit the deck. That’s the worst thing about being so utterly tapped out: even an ordinary thing like walking to the door hurts. I decided not to use my magic on the door. A bit of telekinesis wasn’t a big drain on my magic, but every little bit counted. I could have one of the sailors carry me on their backs if need be, but I couldn’t get anypony else to cast spells for me.

I shot a look back at the young changeling, who was staring after me with a troubled frown. “The Shimmer mare is strong enough to defeat the pirates.” It sounded like she was trying very hard to convince herself of that fact. “The Shimmer mare will return once the fight is over, and this one will make her more food, then let her rest. Then she might make a new ice sculpture for this one.”

“Yeah, of course.” I wanted to sound reassuring, but I think I was too worn down to actually pull it off. “Just stay below deck until the fight’s over. And if things go bad—”

“That will not happen,” Kukri insisted stubbornly. “The Shimmer mare promised.”

Her belief in me was touching, but it was hard not to look at the ugly facts. “Yeah, I did. But just so I’ll feel better, can you promise that if things turn bad, you’ll jump out a porthole and swim for the nearest friendly island?”

Kukri’s ears drooped, and she stared down at the deck. “This one promises it will do so.”

“Alright. Good.” I gave her a quick pat on the back. “Stay safe, okay? I’ll find you once the fight’s over.”

Kukri worried at her lower lip, slowly and reluctantly turning towards a hallway that led down into the depths of the ship. “The Shimmer mare promises she will return?”

Again with the promises. And another one I couldn’t be sure I would be able to keep, either. There are a couple tricks a pony can use to get extra power when they’re completely tapped out, but none of them are especially nice. I could tap into my life energy and pull off a spell that would smash Metal Mome’s ship into kindling, but ... well, there’s a reason that particular type of spell is called a death curse. Ponies need their life energy to live. Needless to say, that wasn’t my Plan A.

I dragged myself up onto deck, covering my eyes as I stepped into the setting sun. There was probably something symbolic about that, what with my name being Sunset and all. Whatever the symbolism was, I was too tired and had too many issues on my plate to actually worry about it. Maybe it didn’t really mean anything at all.

More importantly, I could see the Granite Heart bearing down on us. The ship’s sails had some holes in them, and even my untrained eye could see they weren’t set up ideally, but they were catching enough wind to send the pirate ship in our general direction. The Venture had managed to get about half of its sails up, but that wasn’t enough to get us moving with any kind of appreciable speed.

“There you are.” Captain Weyland trotted over to me. The slump in her shoulders revealed her exhaustion even more than her foreboding tone, and her mane looked decidedly ragged. She gave me a quick once-over, then summed up her conclusion in three words. “Well, we’re feathered.”

I met that remark with a dry look and drier sarcasm. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

Weyland grunted and waved a hoof at me. “I’d say it’s a fair assessment of our chances. You were our last hope of getting out of this, and right now you look like a stiff breeze would knock you over.”

Well that’s what I felt like, so it was fitting that I looked that way too. Still, I had my pride. “Don’t count me out yet. I did get enough sleep to manage something. I just need to come up with a brilliant plan that’ll let me single-hoofedly take out an entire ship full of pirates and two golems, and do it all with only a single spell.” I took a look at the approaching Granite Heart, measured its speed, and did a bit of guesswork. “And I’ve got about ten minutes before they get here, I’d say. Plenty of time.”

Weyland closed her eyes and slowly nodded. “If you come up with something, do it. If you don’t ... might be best if you don’t let them take you alive. The rest of us will probably just be sold into slavery, but you tweaked Mome’s nose—and in front of his own crew, no less. Not to mention being a Council agent. He’ll want to make an example out of you.”

There was a cheery thought. So, I had ten minutes to come up with a way to beat a ship full of pirates that had already beaten me when I was fully rested and had the element of surprise. That didn’t sound very doable.

No, I couldn’t afford to think that way. I needed to calm down and rationally analyze the problem. It’s just like Celestia always told me in our training exercises: there’s always a solution. It could be messy, dangerous, or unpleasant, but there was always a way to solve the problem. I just needed to find it.

So, let’s start with what exactly I was dealing with. The Granite was faster than us and had us outnumbered. Unless I could find a way to slow them down, they would board us. I could try and sling long-range fire into their rigging, but I didn’t like that plan. It was so obvious that Mome would have to be an idiot not to expect it, and I wasn’t sure I could manage enough accuracy and power to hit from really long range. I would have to place my fireballs very precisely, and that meant letting them get way too close.

That would be a last resort, then. The Venture’s crew also knew a bit about how to handle themselves in a fight, so that was something. But the pirates still had a huge numerical advantage. I’d probably thinned their ranks a bit with my attack—I might not have killed any of them, but some of them would be too hurt to go for a second round. Plus they’d lost some in the raid on the Venture’s rigging, but the Venture crew had taken comparable casualties, and the pirates could afford to lose crew a lot more than we could. One of the bad things about being outnumbered three to one: our losses hurt a lot more.

So it had to be me who turned the tide. Well, I had managed to cow the crew at one point. Pirates aren’t fanatics—they know they can’t have their booty, wenches, and grog if they don’t survive the battle. They’d give up if I hit them hard and fast, even if it was just a bluff. That’s the big difference between a ship full of ponies fighting for their lives compared to ponies that were just fighting for money. We didn’t have the option of turning around and living to fight another day, but the pirates did.

Once again, I had to assume Mome would anticipate that. Puzzle’s briefing had already warned me that he used the golems as his shock troops for the initial boarding, and I had no reason to expect he’d do anything different here. I needed a way beat them. With a single spell. When every spell I had to play with hadn’t been enough before.

There had to be some way to pull this off: Celestia taught me that there’s always a solution to your problems. The obvious solution was to go after Metal Mome. He controlled the golems, so without him they would probably go inert. That might be enough to send the pirates packing on its own, since anything that could knock out their two biggest heavy hitters would have to be intimidating. If I could do that and still maintain some appearance of still being able to fight, I just might win it.

The problem was how to get to Metal Mome. He’d learned his lesson from our introduction; no way he would let me get close enough to him while he had a working protector golem. I could try the old fake surrender ploy, but I couldn’t see him falling for it. At best, he would slap a suppression ring on me as soon as I was in range. At worst, he’d take off my horn before bringing me up for the obligatory gloating. Or just have the golem step on my head, then gloat over my corpse.

So I couldn’t pull him out, and I couldn’t get myself to him. Great. That left the golems themselves. They still had the weakness of that connection to Mome, but I had no idea how to exploit it. For that, I would need to understand how the connection worked. I could think of a dozen different ways he could be managing it, most of them requiring different solutions to block. I couldn’t even research it; nobody but Mome knew how it worked, since it was his (and presumably his mother’s) unique spell.

And yet, the more I thought about it, the more certain I was that this link was the key. If I could just figure out how it worked, I could turn this whole fight around. I could just throw some raw force at the link and disrupt it, essentially throwing out so much random noise they couldn’t hear his voice. However, that would just be a temporary solution. It might buy me enough time to get to Mome, though. Assuming I had enough strength left to attack him after I turned off both his golems for a bit.

Ugh. If only I knew more about how this worked! Then to hay with disrupting the connection, I could outright subvert it. That would be a nasty surprise; turning his own golems against him. But there was no way I could do that without knowing how the link worked, and that was something only Mome knew.

It kept coming back to that, didn’t it? The information I needed to turn this whole fight around was locked up inside Metal Mome’s head. I didn’t think he was stupid enough to let it slip if I tried goading him, either. Only an idiot would tell their opponent what their biggest weakness was in the middle of a fight to the death.

Maybe I could try to get him talking for a bit? Distract him for a couple minutes while I took a closer look at how his link worked. It still had the same problem, though: it relied on Metal Mome being too much of an idiot to realize what I was doing. Any plan that’s dependent on your opponent’s stupidity to work is rather fundamentally flawed.

My contemplations were abruptly interrupted by a filly-sized hoof poking me in the shoulder. I turned and frowned down at Kukri. “You’re supposed to be below decks, little one.”

The changeling shook off my rebuke. “This one is aware of the Shimmer mare’s wishes, but it realized something important.” Kukri reached into her saddlebags and pulled out the ice sculptures I’d made for her. “This one realizes the Shimmer mare needs more magic. She can take the magic from these, if it will help her.”

“Oh, Kukri...” To hay with it, I pulled her into a quick hug. “Thanks for the offer, but you can keep your hammercuda and the others. There’s only a little magic in them, and I can’t just absorb it back anyway.” Any techniques for absorbing magic were almost always classed as black magic anyway. No surprise, when one of the ancient evils locked away in Tartarus was some monster who’d become super-powerful by eating everypony’s magic.

I looked down at the little changeling in my forelegs, then over at the rest of the crew. None of them had signed up for a life-or-death battle. Weyland was right that she’d known the risks when she accepted the contract, but this was way more than that now. All these ponies were innocent, and they could all die if I didn’t stop Metal Mome.

That’s when it all clicked into place for me. There’d been a solution sitting in my hooves from the very start of this whole situation, one that I’d quickly identified and just as quickly dismissed. And for good reason; I didn’t like that solution one bit. But weighing it against the lives of Kukri, Weyland, and everyone else on the Venture ... Yeah. There was no contest.

I let go of the changeling and quickly tracked down the captain. “I have a plan. Clear the deck, I don’t want anypony dying. We’ll need to let them approach and board before I can spring the trap.”

Weyland let out a relieved sigh, and a bit of the weary resignation that had been hanging over her faded away. “That so? Sounds good. What kind of trap did you have in mind, and how can I help?”

“Not much you can do, really.” I thought about that for a moment, then shook my head. “Well, maybe a show of force after I spring the trap. It might not be necessary, but it would do a great job of intimidating the survivors and making them back down.

“Got it.” She frowned curiously at me. “So how will we know when you’ve sprung your trap?”

Despite the choice I’d just made, I couldn’t help smirking at the question. “Trust me, you’ll know.”

Five minutes later, the Granite Heart pulled alongside the Venture. By this point, the deck was completely clear, other than me. It made quite the contrast to the pirate ship, which had all hooves on deck, most of them yelling and brandishing their weapons. Weyland had thoughtfully left me her telescope so I could get a good look at them. The pirates themselves still looked pretty battered and bruised from the treatment I’d given them a few hours ago. But they weren’t the ones I was worried about.

The golems were both out on deck, waving their huge weapons around just like they were any other members of the crew. I was pleased to see that the one I’d damaged had been patched together with some hasty field repairs, and its sword had been more-or-less hammered back into straightness. The patch job was probably far weaker than the original material, but it seemed functional. Probably a weak point, though. Not that it would matter to me.

Mome was right there with his two golems, whipping his crew into a frenzy that probably would’ve been pretty scary for your average merchant. He had discarded the outfit I’d charred to bits in favor of something fresh, but his new wardrobe was every bit as gaudy as what he’d had on before. I’m no fashionista, but even I know that a bright orange jacket is not the sort of thing anypony should wear. The sapphires worked into the jacket were of greater interest to me, since I was willing to bet that meant he had a fresh set of protective charms on himself. The previous set had only been enough to protect him from one hit, but that was better than no protection at all. Too bad for him that he didn’t have any charms to protect against my new plan. He’d probably decked out with gems to block fire and ice.

Once the Granite Heart got close enough, the crew hurled over grappling hooks and started pulling the two ships together. Now was the moment of truth; if Mome sent his pirates over first, I would be in trouble. I could definitely make them pay for it, but numbers would tell eventually. If he came over first with the golems, I had this fight in the bag.

The waiting was the worst part of it. Since Mome’s ship was smaller, I lost view of it once they started grappling our ships together. I could’ve moved closer to the railing to get a better look at them, but that would put me just a bit too close to the pirates themselves. The last thing I needed was to poke my head over the rail and have some anonymous crewman put a crossbow bolt between my eyes. That would be a fine way to end this whole fiasco.

So instead I waited. I’ve never been a fan of that, but nothing’s worse than waiting to find out your own fate. That feeling of helplessness to change your own destiny, knowing that whether or not this whole mess would end up killing me was entirely dependent upon somepony else’s choice. Anything I tried to influence Mome’s final decision could easily backfire on me, so that was out. It would be just my luck to try something that should force him to use the golems, and have it end up persuading him that his crew could handle me.

Still, I was cautiously optimistic. It seemed a lot more likely Mome would throw the golems at me first. They’d worked wonders on the first match, while I’d handled his crew pretty easily. He would do the smart thing and use the weapon that had already beaten me once. Or at least, that’s what I told myself. But what if he’d anticipated that I might’ve found a way to beat his toys? Then he might send the crew in, or just try to swarm me with golems and crew both. Or what if he just decided to punch a couple holes in the side of the ship and salvage the cargo from the wreck? The water in most of the archipelago was probably shallow enough for divers to reach the bottom without too much trouble.

The more I thought about it, the more nasty scenarios I came up with. I just had to hope that Mome wouldn’t use any of those tricks. I didn’t think it was likely he would, but I bet he hadn’t been expecting to see Princess Celestia’s personal student coming after him like a common hitmare.

I let out a relieved sigh as the ship lurched, and several tons of metal hauled itself over the railing and onto the Venture. Mome and his guardian golem were a bit behind the first one, which closed in on me menacingly. It didn’t go for the kill yet, though. Mome might be smart and dangerous, but he did suffer from one critical flaw: he just had to do a bit of showboating.

The guardian golem shifted its shield slightly to the side, letting Mome just barely poke his face out from behind the huge shield without exposing himself. He took one look at me, and that predator’s smile was back on his face. “If you don’t mind me saying so, lass, you’re not looking so hot. Feeling a bit under the weather?”

“I guess you could say that.” I bounced on my hooves, rolled my shoulders, and cracked my neck. Might as well let him think I was gearing up for the more of the same with his automatons. “You gave me a pretty good fight, but I’m ready for the rematch. And this time, I’m gonna win it.”

“Oh, you’re going to win it, are you?” He chuckled from behind his implacable bodyguard. “That’s a bold claim for a mare who’s run herself against the reef.”

“I might not be a hundred percent,” I conceded, “but I don’t even need to be ten percent to beat you. After all, you’re just a two-bit criminal whose mother stole a couple magical toys.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that.” He gave his guardian golem a pat on the leg. “I can’t deny that my mum might’ve given me a head start, but I took her designs and ran with them. These are the most advanced golems on the planet.”

I scoffed at the claim, even though I wouldn’t be shocked if it was true. Gotta have that pre-battle banter and posturing, after all. “If your golems are that great, why aren’t you selling them? You would probably make ten times what you’re pulling in as a pirate.”

“Oh, I’m sure I’ll sell them one day.” He shrugged. “Once I’ve finalized the design, and I start getting a bit old for the pirate’s life. I’m sure the free notoriety of using my boys to become the most successful pirate on the high seas won’t hurt sales at all. If you think I could make ten times what I make as a pirate, I say you’re thinking too small. I plan on becoming the richest being in the world. Once Equestria, Zebrica, and Gryphonia get a gander at what my golems can do, they’ll give me the keys to the treasury.” He grinned up proudly at his guardian. “They’ll be putting my name in the history books, lass. ‘Metal Mome, who revolutionized the field of warfare by introducing new war golems that were faster, better, stronger, and free of all those pesky ethical issues and any urge to possibly rebel against their master.’ Maybe your fancy Princess Celestia will give me a set of wings to thank me for revolutionizing magical warfare.”

I snorted at his final declaration. “Out of all the stupid things you’ve said, that one definitely takes the prize. You think you’re some kinda brilliant genius? You’re nothing more than a pathetic momma’s boy. I mean seriously, who names their pirate ship after their mother?

Mome scowled, looking far more pissed off than I’d ever seen him before. Which probably just proved that he really was a total momma’s boy. “You’ll want to think very carefully before you have a go at my mother. Otherwise, this whole experience could just get downright unpleasant for you.” His sword golem advanced threateningly to emphasize its master’s point.

“Oh, I’m so scared. What’re you gonna do, go tell mommy I was mean to you?” I decided to close the banter out and get down to business. “Though as long as we’re on the subject, tell me something. Did your precious mommy ever tell you anything about the Universal Code of the Magi? I'd imagine she would’ve, seeing as she became a fugitive for breaking it. And there’s one particular section of it that’s especially relevant to our current situation.”

The sword golem advanced to within striking range. Good thing I was already planning on making my move. “If you've got a point, lass, best be getting to it quickly. And for the sake of everyone on this ship, I’d suggest you end your talk with a surrender. Might make me merciful.”

No, it wouldn’t. Still, I cut to the chase. “The part of it that concerns our current situation is section three, paragraph twelve: ‘When faced with an immediate threat, an Equestrian Magus is authorized to preserve the lives of innocents by any justifiable means.’” I licked my lips, and steeled myself for what was coming next. “Any justifiable means,” I repeated, before delivering the most important part. “That’s a pretty open-ended clause. It can include all kinds of things. Even dark magic.”

Mome’s eyes widened, and he quickly ducked back behind his golem again. Not that it would do him any good. Shields are great for blocking against physical attacks, but I wasn’t going after his body. I wanted his mind. Everything he knew about his golems, starting with how his link to them worked, and how I could take it over or disrupt it.

I’d never been trained in using dark magic, of course. Celestia would never teach me anything like that. She was too much of a paragon to ever teach her student how to use magic that was illegal and immoral.

However, what she had taught me was a whole lot about how to defend myself against dark magic. I had been planning on joining the Mage Corps before I’d started down the path to princesshood. For that matter, a princess ends up doing a lot of what the mages do, just on a larger scale. Mages take on the lower and mid-level threats, while a princess deals with the monsters and warlocks that are too big for normal ponies to handle.

In any case, one of the dirty little secrets of the Mage Corps is that mages who hunt down warlocks are, statistically speaking, the most likely demographic in all of Equestria to eventually become a warlock. Even more than criminals. Most of your petty thieves and thugs stay far away from dark magic, since it’s a good way to catch the attention of the warlock-hunters—not to mention the punishment for using it is way more severe than the penalty for just about any crime short of murder.

One of the first rules of any sort of magic fight is that knowledge is power. The more you know about how your opponent’s spells work, the better your odds of winning. The whole reason I was resorting to using dark magic right now was that I didn’t know anywhere near enough about how to beat Mome’s golem-control spell. So when your job description involves fighting ponies who use dark magic, you have to know a fair bit about how dark magic works.

Now, I’m not saying warlock hunters run around flinging dark magic all over the place or are even trained in how to use it. Maybe an example will help explain exactly what I mean: if you’re fighting a necromancer, you need to know all the rules of necromancy, so you know the best way to stop his zombies, skeletons, ghosts, or whatever. Once you know all the steps a bad guy has to go through to create an undead, it’s not too hard to do them yourself.

Or for something a bit more relevant to my immediate situation, let’s talk about mind magic. Celestia never taught me how to invade or attack another pony’s mind, but she did teach me a lot about how to stop somepony else from getting into my head. A lot of that training consisted of telling me every single dirty trick a warlock could use to try and break past somepony’s mental defenses, so I would know how to beat them.

So while she might not have taught me how to cast any mind-attacking spells, she’d given me enough about how they worked that I could fill in the gaps for myself with a little creativity. The end result was a bit clunky and relied mostly on brute force, but it should get the job done.

I imagined my attack as a pure spike of iron will, driving straight into Mome’s mind. Mental combat is all about willpower. What made getting into another pony’s head so difficult and dangerous was that, at the end of the day, we’re all the masters of our own mind. Unless there’s a huge power disparity, it’s just about impossible to simply break into the mind of somepony who has been trained to resist mental manipulation. Thus, most mental combat techniques revolved around either frightening and overwhelming your opponent enough to make them panic or using misdirection and trickery to keep them from realizing you were in their brain. Since being sneaky wasn’t an option, I had to go with the direct approach.

As soon as I broke into his mind, I flooded it with every single emotion I could think of that would throw him off his game—fear, confusion, despair, and resignation. A cocktail which should hopefully convince him that there was no point in trying to fight me, so he might as well give up. That was part of why I’d told him I was gonna use dark magic on him; the more nervous and off-balance he was, the easier it would be to push him further. It was just a pity I didn’t really know enough about him to hit any specific bad memories or anything else that would give the spell a personal touch.

If he’d been trained, he probably would’ve recognized that I was trying to force outside emotions onto him and tried to resist me. Given that we were working inside his brain and I’d never done anything like this before, he probably would’ve succeeded too. Thankfully, he didn’t have the training to keep a cool head and block me. After all, his mother hadn’t been a proper magus, just a research assistant to one. She probably didn’t know how to defend herself either.

I pushed, and he started cracking. Still, a guy doesn’t become a leader of a bloodthirsty band of pirates by being a pushover. He might not have had any training, but Metal Mome was a pretty strong-willed individual. His attempts at resistance were weak and uncoordinated, but I was pretty new to this too, and he had the massive defender’s advantage. I needed something more to push him over the edge into the sort of utter despair that would break him.

I took a chance and hit him with some specific mental images, letting him know exactly how this would go. I would break into his head and steal every single bit of information I could find on his golems. Sure, the link spell was my main goal, but as long as I was there I might as well pick up the rest of it. Then I would turn the golems on him and his crew and kill as many of them as it took to force a surrender, starting with Silverhorns.

Then came the real kicker. I would turn Mome over to the Council, and they would execute him, then dump his body into some isolated stretch of the ocean. He would rot there, completely forgotten by everypony. Even me. He dreamed of changing the face of the world, and I showed him a future where nobody would even know his name. Not just death, oblivion.

It was a big risk. Sure, some ponies crack when you show them that kind of nightmare scenario, but a lot of times it can have the opposite effect. Just think of any adventure novel where the bad guy has the hero down and beaten, then makes the mistake of gloating about all the evil things he’s going to do once the hero is dead, which inspires a nice burst of heroic willpower that turns the tide.

Considering I’d resorted to using dark magic, there was something oddly fitting about realizing that the comparison cast me as the villain of the piece.

Thankfully, Mome wasn’t an adventure hero, and this was no Daring Do novel. He broke, his resistance crumbling and giving way to helpless despair. I had free run of his mind, and true to the dire prophecy I’d just showed him, I proceeded to take everything I wanted: the link spell, how to use the golems in combat, and everything else related to them too. Sure, I might not need to know all the maintenance procedures for a war golem just to use them for one fight against his crew, but I might as well keep them around after the battle. They were pretty useful things, after all.

I was going to have a look around and see if there was anything else in his mind worth taking, but as I shifted away from the information about the golems I found nothing but a chaotic jumble of disorganized memories and a whole lot of random noise. I had no idea what was going on, but whatever it was, it could be dangerous. I already had what I needed, and staying in Mome’s mind any longer just to see if he was enough of a cliched pirate to actually have a chest full of buried treasure wasn’t worth the risk. I pulled out.

Once I was out of Metal Mome’s mind and back in my own, I realized what had happened. Mome himself was lying on the deck, convulsing madly. He was frothing at the mouth, and his teeth had clamped down so hard that he’d bitten off the tip of his tongue. No wonder his mind had turned into a complete mess.

That was one of the other reasons mind magic was classed as dark magic. Sure, respecting the sanctity of another’s mind was important, but there was more to it than just that. The thing about going into somepony else’s mind was that the brain is an incredibly complicated and incredibly delicate piece of machinery. What I’d done was pretty much the equivalent of smashing down the door to somepony’s house and tearing the place apart looking for anything worth stealing. I’d caused all kinds of damage in the process of getting the information I wanted.

Metal Mome would survive the battle. When I took him back to Freeport, the Council would stick him in a special facility for mentally damaged ponies. He would spend the rest of his life completely incapable of eating, walking, or managing his own hygiene. He was barely even alive at all, save in the strictest biological sense. Killing him probably would’ve been a mercy, but the Council would probably like him better as he was. A dead pony was just a martyr; a living vegetable was a constant reminder that there were severe consequences for defying the Council’s will.

That was still in the future, though. At that moment, all that mattered to me was that I had the information I needed. I used Mome’s golem spell, quickly establishing a link to the two automatons. It felt very weird, having the sudden awareness of two other entities pouring into my thoughts. The information provided by the spell was fairly crude—just a general rundown of their current position and status, and a link to transmit back simple order to the golems’ virtual intelligence.

From what Mome’s memories told me, the golems didn’t have anywhere close to enough brainpower to actually make any decisions. The VI he’d equipped them with was only enough to understand and execute basic instructions. Mostly so the controller could just tell them to walk instead of sending out a long, complex set of detailed instructions on how exactly to put one foot in front of the other. I have to admit, there was an elegant simplicity to the design.

I didn’t have much time to admire my new golems, though. Silverhorns the minotaur vaulted over the side of the ship with several more pirates in tow. He immediately rushed to Mome’s side, grabbing him and trying to stop the convulsions. It didn’t work, and Mome kicked the minotaur away. He whirled on me and pulled his crossbow. “What did you do to him, you whorse?!”

I smirked at him. “The real question you should be asking yourself is, ‘what am I going to do to you?’”

Silverhorns was still standing by Metal Mome, which put them both right next to the golem that had been guarding Mome. In perfect striking distance. I sent the order through the mental link. Golem, take down Silverhorns.

An instant after I gave the order, I realized my mistake. Metal Mome hadn’t programmed his golems with things like mercy and restraint in mind. He was a pirate, not a pacifist. Before I could countermand the order, the golem brought its halberd up and slammed the blade down right between the minotaur’s horns. One chop was all it needed. Silverhorns fell to the deck, and he would never get back up again.

Sure, I’d talked with Puzzle about how we would probably need to deal with Silverhorns to keep him from coming after me for revenge, but that was just talk. It’s one thing to say I might need to kill him, it was another to see a golem under my direct control smash his skull in.

I didn’t have time to freak about that, though. Not when there was still a whole ship’s worth of pirates to deal with. Considering my only chance of intimidating them into submission was to frighten them with the fact that I controlled Mome’s golems now, the last thing I wanted to do was let slip that I didn’t have perfect control over them after all. I might have Mome’s memories of how to run the golems, but I wasn’t used to mentally directing a pair of huge automatons. I wouldn’t have anywhere near Mome’s skill with them until I had more experience. The magic required to keep the link running was miniscule, but dividing my attention between myself and two golems was going to take a lot of getting used to. That was probably why he only ever actively attacked with one of them, while he kept the other on defense.

So I kept up the bluff. Right now it was better to look guilty than weak. I drew myself up to my full height, which probably wasn’t all that impressive in my current bedraggled state, and glared at the rest of the pirates. I sent my golems two quick instructions, and the guardian walked over to my side while the sword-user bransished its weapon the rest of the pirates. I tried not to flinch when I saw the blood on my protector’s halberd. It would’ve ruined the image I was trying to project.

Right on cue, Weyland and the rest of the Venture’s crew came out of hiding, armed with whatever weapons they could find. I was right, she did know when the right time to make her move was. I took a deep breath and addressed the pirates. “Alright, here’s the deal. Metal Mome’s golems are mine now. Your captain is down. Your first mate is dead. So as far as I can tell, you have two options. You can surrender, and we take you back to Freeport and turn you in. If you cooperate, the Council might even go easy on you. You were just following your captain’s orders, and you were probably scared of being killed by his golems if you refused.”

I let that thought hang in the air and threw a significant look at my golem and its bloody halberd. I had to fight down my gorge for a moment before continuing. “The other option isn’t nearly as nice. You know how nasty Metal Mome’s golems are, and what happened to your first mate. And we all know that if you’d won the fight, you would’ve killed or enslaved everypony on this ship. I don’t think anypony would complain if we showed you the same amount of mercy. Your choice.”

The pirates wavered at my ultimatum, but didn’t quite break. They might be scared, but they weren’t quite to the point of surrendering yet. Maybe they were thinking they could still win the fight, or maybe they were considering their chances of abandoning ship and swimming for one of the nearest islands. Whatever the case, they needed an extra push if I wanted them to surrender. I sent the sword golem at the nearest cluster of them and had it lift its sword up over its head as if it were about to strike.

The pirates threatened by the golem flinched back, and their weapons clattered to the deck. Pretty soon the rest of them followed suit. A couple of the one near the back still ran for it, but I let them go. I didn’t have any way of chasing after them anyway.

Weyland sent her crew over to collect the pirates’ weapons and take them into custody. I wasn’t sure how we would run the two ships with just the crewponies she had on the Venture. In all likelihood, we would have to draft some of the pirates to help run the Granite Heart. A bit dangerous, but so long I had the golems to keep them in line it should be a manageable risk. The pirates wouldn’t try anything as long as they were certain punishment would be swift and lethal.

“You did it!” I blinked as Kukri scrambled out of the cabin, running up and hugging my leg. “The Shimmer mare has kept her promise and saved everypony on the ship! This one was afraid, but it never should have doubted her.”

“Yeah, I did.” I returned the kid’s hug, and for a moment everything felt fine. Then I saw the blood on my golem’s halberd. Metal Mome lying on the deck with a blank, lifeless look in his eyes, his coat soaked by Silverhorns’ blood.

A wing slapped me across the back, and I looked over to see Captain Weyland Doo smiling for the first time since I’d met her. “Nice work. I thought we’d had it for a minute, but you came through for us.”

“Yeah, sure.” I knew I should probably be celebrating with the rest of the crew, but I just didn’t have the heart for it.

The captain must’ve picked up on what was bothering me—the fact that I was still staring at Mome and Silverhorns probably gave it away. Her voice dropped down to a low whisper. “Don’t bother yourself over them. They were thieves, murderers, and worse. They got what was coming to them. I’d call that justice.”

Yeah, I suppose they did. It’s not like I’d done all those things to them for fun. Mome would’ve killed or enslaved everypony on the ship if I hadn’t stopped him, including me. And Silverhorns probably would’ve rallied the rest of the pirates and gone down fighting if my golem hadn’t dealt with him. The traditional penalty for piracy was execution anyway. Using dark magic on Mome wasn’t nice, but it had been a matter of simple survival. Better to use dark magic on one murderer than let him do terrible things to every single innocent pony on the ship. That was written into the magus code itself. Everything I had done was right. I had saved everyone on the ship.

So why did I feel so dirty?

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