• Published 25th May 2015
  • 638 Views, 51 Comments

The Sword of the Helpless - albedoequals1



Brownie Sundae is a simple mercenary. She does her job and keeps her promises. All she wants is to find employment that won't leave a bad taste in her mouth, but when gods and devils conspire to create havoc, what can one pony do?

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Chapter 1: Death Grip

Deepcrag, the underground capital city of the Dwarves, frequently hosted examples of the many other peoples of Everglow. The Dwarves were master miners and craftsmen, and enjoyed highly profitable trade arrangements with several other nations.

An earthbound pony mare stopped at an intersection to consult a hoof-drawn map. She was very plain, for a pony; her blonde mane and brown coat were so unremarkable as to make her blue eyes stand out, and her brand of destiny was a generic canyon with a river in it. She put the map back into her saddlebags and was about to continue walking, when a dark-grey griffon landed in front of her.

“Excuse me, ma’am, can you direct me to the First National Bank of Deepcrag?”

The pony looked curiously at the griffon. “As it happens, I was just on my way there myself. It’s down this street a ways and then up a block—“

“Cool, I can just follow you then.” He noticed that the pony was wearing a very used-looking greatsword that was a couple inches longer than her body. “Are you a mercenary too?”

“Too?” The pony looked closer at the griffon and saw he was wearing a shortsword and some kind of leather armor.

“It’s okay, the notice said they wanted to hire four guards, so we don’t have to compete with each other. My name’s Shadow Claw, what’s yours?” He held out a claw.

The pony looked at the claw, but didn’t offer any gesture in return. “I’m Brownie Sundae. What makes you think we’re the only candidates for the job?”

“It’s just a boring bank guard; there’s not much excitement in that. What’s that parcel on your back? It’s plate armor, right? You must be pretty professional to have your own set of plate armor.”

“It was my grandfather’s, and it’s not a full set; the greaves have all been lost one place or another and the helmet got ruined by an axe-wielding troll.”

As they approached their destination they could easily recognize the bank; even on a street lined with impressive buildings, the Deepcrag First National Bank was an architectural spectacle. They also saw what were clearly other mercenaries entering the bank. Brownie quickened her pace and soon reached the door. Her heart sank as she saw the number of applicants forming a line in front of an officious dwarf seated behind a massive desk. She had nothing to lose, so she added herself to the end of the queue.

Shadow Claw quickly caught up to her. “Hey, what’s the rush…oh.” He ruffled his feathers in irritation. “Dangit, I hate waiting. Maybe we should go look somewhere else.”

“Speak for yourself. I spent my last copper on the lightning rail ticket to get here; I need this job.”

Shadow grumbled but stood behind her.

As she waited for her turn, Brownie inspected the other people in line. To her surprise, there were no dwarves at all. Every person applying for this job appeared to be an alien like her. Her attention was drawn to the front of the line by raised voices. The dwarf behind the desk and the human at the front of the line seemed to be angry at each other about something. After a few moments of squabbling the human abruptly stormed out of the bank.

“Next!” the dwarf called, loudly enough to be clearly heard over the background voices in the room.

As time dragged on, more and more applicants left the room in various states of dissatisfaction. Brownie began to wonder what the job must be like to discourage so many. Finally, she found herself at the front of the line.

“Name?” the dwarf asked flatly.

“Brownie Sundae.” Brownie tried to stand up as straight as she could with the sword still hanging off to one side.

“The responsibilities of this job are as follows:” the dwarf recited, “Greet cheerfully every person that enters the bank through your assigned door, remain standing for ten hours a day and prevent any thieves or hostile persons from harming customers or leaving the bank until they have been arrested by law enforcement officials. Are you able to meet these requirements?” He peered through thick glasses at Brownie’s abused equipment.

“Yes, sir,” Brownie replied.

“Heh, aren’t you going to tell me about your mighty deeds or how you’re over-qualified for this job?” He waited for a moment and when there was no reply he continued, “Compensation will be 1 gold piece per week plus free medical insurance covering only injuries received in the line of duty.”

Ah, that explained it. The rest of these mercenaries undoubtedly thought they could earn several times as much anywhere else, and most of them were probably right. Brownie, on the other hoof, was trapped. She didn’t even have the money to look elsewhere unless she took this job. “I’m your mare.”

* * *

After a week of working as a bank guard, Brownie began to suspect that many of the humanoid applicants had refused the job as soon as they heard the requirement to stand for ten hours. Even as a quadruped, her joints were quite stiff after a day of standing by the door and faking a smile to everyone that went past.

The bank had hired four guards altogether, including Brownie and Shadow. The friendly griffon had made it his personal mission to come up with nicknames for all of the other guards. He was posted on the opposite side of the door Brownie was guarding, so he had ample opportunity to test out his ideas on her.

“Hey, Blondie! How’s life treating you?” he said when a lull in customer traffic gave him a chance to stop greeting for a moment.

“My name is Brownie, and you know that,” she countered without looking at him.

“Aw, don’t be a wet blanket. I already have nicknames for the other two.” He pointed at a halfling. “He’s ‘Pint’,” he shifted his claw to indicate a unicorn, “and he’s Spike, get it?”

“I don’t like being called ‘Blondie’. Welcome to the First National Bank of Deepcrag,” she said to an elderly dwarf. “Besides, it’s not any shorter than ‘Brownie’.”

“That’s not the point,” Shadow protested, “it’s like bonding. Welcome to the First National Bank of Deepcrag. Wow, you’re big.”

The antean that Shadow had just addressed gave him a wilting glare.

“Whoa, uh, I meant, you’re the picture of health, sir.”

As the equine giant continued into the bank, Brownie watched him suspiciously. “I heard some of the customers talking about a gang of bandits that included an antean,” she told Shadow in a low voice.

“Come on, Brown, are you saying that all anteans are bandits?” He polished the hilt of his short sword with a wingtip.

“He’s carrying a really big sack.”

“Maybe he’s going to make a large withdrawal.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Brownie turned her head so the hilt of her sword was touching the side of her face.

“Relax, pony girl. One antean doesn’t make a gang. Welcome to the First National—“ Shadow was cut off in mid-sentence by a club to the head.

Brownie snatched her sword in her mouth and drew it as quickly as the long blade would allow. The unicorn magically wielding the club spun around and tried to hit Brownie as well, but she blocked the blow with her own weapon. The shock of the two weapons colliding almost wrenched the sword out of her teeth, but she managed to keep her grip on it.

Meanwhile, inside the bank, a purrsian and a human had already killed the other two guards. The antean kicked the large counter with both hind legs, smashing it to splinters. Tellers fled in all directions leaving the bandits free to approach the open vault unchallenged.

The unicorn bandit swung his club rapidly, leaving no opening for Brownie to swing her ungainly weapon. She protected her head with her sword, but received several new dents in her armor. In frustration, she lunged forwards and knocked the pommel of her sword against her opponent’s forehead. The unicorn yelped and dropped his club, reaching up with both forehooves to protect his sensitive horn. Brownie jumped back and swung the business end of her sword with lethal finality.

Shadow Claw appeared to be conscious, but very dazed. “Wha-, who, whassappening?” he asked lucidly.

“’Dey’re ahacking da hank!” Brownie said around a mouthful of sword, “Hel’ me s’op ‘em!” And with that, she ran inside.

Two of the three remaining bandits had gone into the vault, apparently trusting the unicorn to deal with the front door. The human had been left to guard the vault door, but his attention was mostly inside the vault. By the time he saw Brownie, she was already swinging her sword. His scream alerted the other two and they came rushing out of the vault to find Brownie still pulling her sword out of their associate.

Before she could react, the antean spun around and kicked her in the chest. The impact lifted her off her hooves and sent her flying across the room to land on a desk that broke under her weight. Her armor had softened the blow, but now the huge dent in the chest plate was restricting her breathing.

She jumped to her feet and held her sword up in a defensive posture, but the antean had followed her and kicked her again, this time right in the mouth. The pain was so intense that she momentarily lost her vision and hearing.

When they returned, she found herself lying in a pile of broken wood further across the room. She couldn’t tell what had happened to her face, only that everything above her neck hurt. Her mouth and nose were full of blood and she couldn’t feel or move her jaw. She tried to spit out the blood in her mouth but all she could manage was to let it dribble out. In her peripheral vision, she saw the two remaining bandits approaching.

She struggled to her feet, gasping for air, and looked around desperately for anything she could use. The antean stopped in front of her and grinned evilly. The purrsian next to him held up a serrated dagger and started to move towards Brownie.

“Shadow Strike!” Shadow Claw dropped suddenly on the purrsian’s back and the two of them rolled around on the floor, trying to strike a lethal blow with their weapons. The antean turned his head to look at the two winged cats, distracted for just a moment.

Brownie jumped onto his back and wrapped her forelegs around his throat.

The giant bucked and thrashed, trying to throw off his equine passenger. With each bounce, Brownie could feel fragments of bone moving around in her ruined face, but she just squeezed tighter. In desperation, her foe threw himself backwards into walls and furniture, but she moved her head to the side and let her armor take the pounding. Finally, the massive juggernaut staggered to a halt, dropped to his knees and rolled over, unconscious.

“Brownie, are you okay?” Shadow asked idiotically. Apparently, he had beaten his enemy too. That was good.

Brownie’s senses faded as the adrenaline in her system dissipated. She stared mutely at Shadow for a moment before she lost consciousness.

* * *

When Brownie awoke, she found it much easier to breathe than it had been before. The feedback from her senses was confusing at first, but she gradually deduced that most of her head was wrapped in bandages. She felt like there was a pipe in her mouth, at least, she hoped it was her mouth. It had been obvious that the damage to her mouth was extensive, but she had no way of knowing what had actually happened. She tried to call out, but with the pipe in her mouth she could only manage an animalistic grunt.

“Oh, she’s awake,” said a dwarfish voice, “tell her friend he can come see her.” She felt a pair of hands fussing with the bandages on her head. After a moment, a turn of bandage was removed and her eyes were unobstructed.

The speaker appeared to be the same elderly dwarf that she had greeted on his way into the bank…however long ago that had been. “I’m glad you made it,” he said with a smile, “You saved my life, and I wanted to thank you personally.”

Brownie’s mouth was still full of pipe, so she just nodded.

“I’m doctor Grimli Coldhands. Your heroics in the bank were quite a sight; you were as stubborn as any dwarf,” he said in a tone that made it sound like the ultimate compliment. “That monster did a number on you though. I’ve got good news and bad news, which would you like to hear first?”

Brownie gave him what she hoped was a wilting glare.

“Oh, right, sorry! Very well, I’ll mix them up. Your entire muzzle was shattered when that horse kicked you. I was able to reconstruct your nose and extract all of the bone chips from your face, but I was unable to save your teeth or jaws. You may have noticed the pipe in your mouth. That’s to hold your mouth open so you can breathe while your nose is healing.”

Noticing that his patient’s expression had changed to one of shock, he quickly continued, “The good news is that I know a smith who makes prosthetics, the best in the whole dwarven nation, and your employer has agreed to cover the entire cost. Don’t you worry, we’ll get you fixed up so you can’t even tell the difference.”

Brownie let out a sigh. There wasn’t much else to be said.

“There’s someone here to visit you.” The doctor opened the door, letting in a familiar griffon. “I’ll leave you two alone.” He smiled at Brownie and closed the door behind him.

After a long and awkward pause, Shadow finally spoke. “So, uh, I’m glad you’re not dead.”

Brownie nodded.

“You were amazing. I have a new nickname for you.”

Brownie rolled her eyes.

“I think you’ll like this one. All the dwarves are going on and on about how you wouldn’t let go, so I think we should call you Death Grip. Isn’t that great? Everywhere you go, people will know you as ‘Death Grip, the merc that never gives up’. It’ll be great publicity; you won’t have to take lame guard jobs anymore, you can do anything you want if you have a cool merc name."

Brownie patted Shadow’s head with a forehoof.

* * *

A few days later, doctor Coldhands brought his friend, Kiln Ironbelt to visit Brownie. The smith was an eccentric dwarf that talked all the time, but usually to himself. His peculiar manner made it hard to tell if he heard what was said to him, but after several visits to measure Brownie’s face, he presented her with a masterfully crafted set of adamantine jaws and teeth. The surgery to install them was a team effort between the doctor and the smith. Brownie was sure that dwarf magic figured into the process somewhere, for when they were done she could not tell where her own bone ended and the new prosthetic started.

“Those are guaranteed for life, or 500 years, whichever’s longer,” the smith said with pride before abruptly turning on his heel and slamming the door behind him.

“Kiln’s a strange one,” Grimli observed, “but there’s no person, living or dead, that can match his knack for animal parts.”

“He even preserved the sexy shape of your face,” Shadow teased. “Well, let’s see you grin.”

Brownie self-consciously parted her lips to show two rows of jet-black teeth. “Thish will take shum getting ushed to,” she said.

Author's Note:

If you liked the first chapter, you can probably skip the following information and never miss it.
Elements of this story are borrowed from David Silver’s Ponyfinder Campaign Setting which is an expansion for the Pathfinder roleplaying game (it’s okay, he said I could). This story is intended to fit with David’s stories A Dangerous Sparkle (ADS) and The Apple Falls Far from the Tree (TAFFFTT).

If you are not familiar with Pathfinder, good. I am trying to avoid depending on the game mechanics, and I intend to describe all the monsters, so you shouldn’t need to know any of that stuff to enjoy the story. If you are familiar with Pathfinder and notice I got something wrong, it was probably an intentional change to improve realism or tension.

If you are not familiar with Ponyfinder, all you need to know about that world follows:
The world of Everglow is inhabited by pretty much every conceivable fantasy creature. Intelligent humanoids include humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, gnomes, orcs, and goblins. Intelligent quadrupeds include dragons, griffons, cloven (goats), phoenix wolves (wolves with an affinity for fire), purrsians (winged cats), sun cats (non-winged cats), and 14 subspecies of ponies. Everglow ponies are born with a brand of destiny (cutie mark), and it’s up to them to figure out what it means. The dominant faction in Everglow is the pony empire, but many of the other races have their own countries as well and most enjoy good relations with each other. The pony empire was founded by an earthbound (= earth pony) sorceress who became an alicorn and is now called Queen Iliana. At the time this story takes place, she is over 200 years old. Everglow’s technology lags approximately 500 years behind Equestria. There are water wheels and primitive firearms, but they have no non-magical electric devices or steam power. Dwarf magic sometimes resembles technology, but it is mostly a mystery to the other residents of Everglow. Everglow has a pantheon of pony, cat and griffon deities, who will be described if and when they impact the story. The deities are similar in power to Discord and the alicorns, but they hold themselves mostly aloof from the mortal realm.

For those of you that have read David’s stories, this story starts about three-and-a-half weeks before A Dangerous Sparkle. If you have not read either of David’s stories, that shouldn’t matter. There will be a few references to events that occur in ADS, but nothing very important.

Edit: The first part of this chapter has been changed to improve pacing, but the information in it should be the same.