• Published 25th May 2015
  • 636 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 6: Welcome

After two more days of rest, Brownie was feeling better than she had in a long time. She wasn’t sure how much of her speedy recovery was due to Zecora’s potions and how much was just the way ponies were in this world, but she tried to be appropriately grateful for the zebra’s ministrations.

Brownie attempted to wash her tunic, but the blood stains did not come out completely. Still, she decided to wear it for Shadow’s benefit. Zecora declared her healthy and they left her with a promise to pay her back someday. Brownie insisted on carrying both swords and her bundled-up armor in addition to her saddlebags.

Once they were out of earshot of Zecora’s house Shadow commented, “I hope everyone in this world is as nice as Zecora.”

“That seems unlikely,” Brownie countered, “but I’m glad we met her first.”

“I wonder why she talks like that.”

“No idea.”

“So, what’s our next move?” Shadow asked casually.

“I suppose we find an inn and see if they’ll take our money so we have somewhere to stay. We should also try and find Miss Pie, since we’re planning to go to her party. I still find it hard to believe that she throws a party for every new pony in town.”

Brownie gave Shadow a sideways glance. “Um, how long since you became a wandering adventurer?”

Shadow laughed nervously. “Uh, would you believe a month?”

Brownie looked straight ahead. “Yes I would.”

“Ouch. Am I really that clueless?”

“Y—“ Brownie caught herself. “You just seem very new to the whole idea.”

“Well I left home when I turned eighteen, and went straight to Deepcrag because it was as far away as I could get. How about you, how long have you been working as a mercenary?”

“About seven years.”

Shadow looked skeptical. “I guess I can’t judge age in ponies; I would have guessed you were about the same age as me.”

“I’m nineteen.” Brownie braced herself for the inevitable follow-up question.

“But that would mean you started when you were twelve! Didn’t your—“ Shadow stopped when he saw the muscles in Brownie’s face tighten.

“Go ahead, say it.” Both of them had stopped walking and Brownie was staring fixedly at a singularly uninteresting point in the road.

“What happened to your family?” Shadow asked quietly.

Brownie sighed. “Zecora was right: I’m paranoid, but I have a good reason. When I was growing up, we were always pretty close to penniless. A few weeks after my twelfth birthday, my father went on a trip and told us that he had found a great job that would bring in lots of money. We were all very excited, but when he returned, he brought back a gang of purrsians. To our horror, his big money-making plan was to sell my mother, my brother and me into slavery. My brother decided to fight, and I joined him.”

Brownie sniffed. “When the fighting was done, my brother, my mother and my treacherous father were all dead.”

Shadow gaped in horror.

Brownie took a deep breath. “I had always looked up to him, and if I couldn’t trust him, who could I trust?”

“Who killed him?” Shadow asked, dreading the answer.

“I did.”

Shadow felt ill. “I…I can’t even…how did you get past that?”

“I had to eat, so I started working as a mercenary myself. It was hard to get jobs as a foal, but I managed. I never had too much time to think about it, and it kind of faded over the years.” Brownie wiped her runny snout with a forehoof.

Almost as an afterthought, she kicked Shadow in the knee. “That’s for making me cry."

“Before my knees get permanently lumpy, are there any other topics I should avoid?” Shadow asked with grim humor.

“Nope, you now know all of my secrets. Everything I’ve been hiding for the past seven years I just told to a random griffon that I’ve known for less than four weeks, one of which I was unconscious for. I must have lost my mind.” She started walking again.

“Well you are a pony.” Shadow sidestepped Brownie’s vengeful hoof. “Okay, topic change. We should see about getting you something else to wear; your tunic looks like you were mauled while you were wearing it.”

The pony rolled her eyes. “You have spider juice all over yours.”

“Maybe we should seek out a clothier,” Shadow suggested, “although, given the typical attire in this area, that might be a doomed quest.”

Brownie nodded. “You may be right about that.” She stopped walking abruptly. “Whoa.”

Shadow stopped next to her and they both gaped in astonishment at the multi-acre scar in the middle of the forest. “What could have done that?”

The ground for miles in every direction was blackened and heaped into unnatural piles, almost as if multiple explosions of unimaginable size had been detonated all over the area.

“That’s where Twilight had a smack-down with Tirek,” said a cheerful voice from in between them.

“GAH!” Brownie and Shadow yelled in unison. They jumped away and turned to see a pink pony with a very unkempt mane and tail smiling innocently at them.

“All this is from one duel?” Shadow asked as soon as he had recovered.

“Yes indeedy. Twi totally had him on the ropes until he cheated and used us as hostages.”

“Princess Twilight Sparkle?” Brownie asked. “Would that make you Pinkie Pie?”

The other pony nodded vigorously. “That’s me, the bestest party pony around.” She put a foreleg over Brownie’s withers and pulled her close. “You must be Brownie, ‘cause you’re brown!” She wrapped her other foreleg around Shadow’s neck and pulled him against her other side. “And you must be Shadow Claw. I owe you guys a party, are you busy later?”

“Um, how much later?” Brownie asked warily.

“Say, ten minutes?”

“We were kind of hoping we could go get something more presentable to wear first,” Shadow protested.

“Ooh, you should totally talk to Rarity about that!” Pinkie asserted and started leading them down the path with a leg still draped over each of them. After a few steps she released them and adopted a peculiar pronking gait.

Pinkie filled the rest of the trip to Ponyville with idle chatter covering a wide array of topics. Brownie tried to listen for useful information, but after a while she gave up and tuned out the cheerful barrage. Shadow was either interested in the conversation or better at pretending than Brownie was.

“…and that’s how Equestria was founded,” Pinkie concluded as they reached the outskirts of Ponyville. “That’s Rarity’s boutique right over there. Tell her I sent you.” She tipped them a wink. “Seeya at Sugarcube corner at five!” With that, she suddenly ran off at full speed. By the time Brownie turned to look, she was already out of sight.

“Five what?” Shadow Claw wondered aloud.

“I think she meant five o’clock,” Brownie speculated. “I don’t have a timepiece.” She looked around the town and spotted a large clock tower. “It’s, um, not quite noon now.”

“To the clothier?”

“Lead on, moneybags.”

“Hey!”

They made their way to the decorative building Pinkie Pie had pointed them towards. Shadow pushed the door open, ringing a small bell that hung above it.

“Coming!” called a mare’s voice from the next room. It sounded to Brownie like the proprietor was trying a little too hard to sound friendly.

“Welcome to Carousel Boutique, where everything is chic, unique, and magnifique!” As the white unicorn came into view from behind a curtain, her eyes rested for a moment on each of her guests. She took a second look at their armaments and recognition washed over her features. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Rarity. Are you the two who saved my dear sister from those dreadful timberwolves?”

“Yeah, that’s us,” Brownie admitted. She couldn’t help but notice that even the clothier was wearing nothing. She glanced around the room and saw several elegant and lavish dresses displayed on pony-shaped stands. Are those called ponikins? she wondered. Her attention was drawn back to the other two creatures in the room, who seemed to be having a polite argument.

“I insist, darling!” Rarity was saying, “It’s the least I can do for such heroic persons as yourselves!”

“We can afford to buy our own clothes,” Shadow protested, “Tell her, Brownie.”

“Huh?” Brownie said helpfully.

“See, she doesn’t mind,” Rarity interpreted. “Please, darling, it would make me very happy.”

Shadow looked helplessly at Brownie.

“Um, nothing too fancy, right?” Brownie said tentatively.

“Whatever you say dear,” Rarity said with a wink. She levitated a tape, notepad and pencil from a nearby desk and started taking Shadow’s measurements.

* * *

Brownie and Shadow watched in amazement as Rarity whipped another garment off her apparently-magical sewing machine. When Shadow had subtly asked about the machine, Rarity had told them that it was perfectly ordinary and ran on electricity. The adventurers individually came to the conclusion that it must be dwarf magic.

When each of the outfits where finished, Rarity led them to a privacy screen to change, baffling them further. Rarity had mostly respected their request for plain clothing, but it was clear that her work was of much higher quality than could be found most places in Everglow.

As Brownie came out from behind the screen, she saw that Rarity was using her magic to sort through a collection of dresses hanging in a closet.

“It occurs to me, darling,” Rarity said innocently, “that since you’re going to a party tonight, perhaps you’d like to borrow one of these?”

Brownie looked at the dresses dubiously. “Do ponies normally wear dresses to Pinkie Pie’s parties?”

“Well, no,” Rarity admitted, “but you’d look fabulous regardless,” she added hopefully.

Brownie shook her head. “Thank you, Rarity, really, but I’m just not that kind of pony; I would just end up ruining it. Thank you for these lovely outfits.”

Rarity offered to dispose of their old outfits, but Brownie declined, saying that they would be useful next time they were planning to get into a fight. After thanking Rarity again for their gifts and asking for directions, they made their way to Sugarcube Corner, which turned out to be a bakery.

As they approached the store, Shadow noticed that the interior was dark.

“It looks like there’s no one there,” he observed.

Brownie rolled her eyes. “I hope they’re not planning to surprise us or something dumb like that.”

“How could they? Pinkie Pie already told us when and where the party would be.”

They walked into the darkened bakery.

“SURPRISE!” shouted several dozen voices.

* * *

Brownie had to admit, Pinkie Pie could throw a pretty amazing party. She had resisted all attempts to get her to dance or play party games, but Pinkie seemed to be placated by Shadow’s participation.

Brownie was happy to stand by the food table and talk to anypony that happened by. This position also gave her a good view of the closet they had stashed their weapons and armor in. She didn’t really believe any of these party-goers would want a sword, nor be brave enough to steal one, but she felt better knowing.

Over the four hours of party so far, Brownie had had a chance to speak to all five of Twilight Sparkle’s core group of friends, which several of the other ponies referred to collectively as the “Elements of Harmony”. Twilight Sparkle herself was a no-show, to Pinkie Pie’s obvious disappointment and Rarity’s less-obvious embarrassment. All of Twilight’s friends had assured her that Twilight’s absence was unusual, but that Brownie should not take it as an insult. A farmer named Applejack had suggested that Twilight had probably just gotten so absorbed in a book that she lost track of time.

Brownie tried to learn as much about the new dimension as she could without revealing anything about herself. Contrary to her previous assumption, these ponies were highly advanced; the room was illuminated by a silent, odorless glass device that was activated by a switch that was all the way across the room. A pony who called himself a “railroad engineer” had spent the better part of an hour describing the finer points of steam power, which apparently had something to do with using hot water to move things. Brownie didn’t want to reveal herself as an interplanar invader, so she pretended to understand until the pony got bored and went to bother somepony else.

As some of the guests began to leave, Brownie looked for Shadow. He seemed to be in the middle of a game based on performing precise operations while blindfolded. As Brownie settled down to wait for him, some movement on the edge of her vision drew her attention.

A wispy trail of purple smoke drifted in through an open window and pooled on the floor. The partying ponies backed away from it, leaving an open circle in the middle of the room. The smoke heaped itself into a mass half again the size of a pony, then suddenly dissipated, revealing Princess Luna.

Most of the ponies present bowed reflexively, and Brownie decided it would be wise to follow their example.

“Behold, We have come to join with you in…FUN!” the night princess declared in a loud and authoritative voice. She looked around at the intimidated ponies with a stern expression for a moment. Then her face relaxed and she smiled slightly. “I jest. Please continue. I am just here to speak with the guests of honor. Miss Sundae, Mister Claw, please follow me.”

Brownie and Shadow followed the princess outside, and with a sudden flash, found themselves at the top of the clock tower they had seen earlier. Luna’s magic unhooked the giant bell and set it aside, allowing them a better view of each other.

“I trust you have found Ponyville welcoming and safe,” Luna said.

“Yes, your majesty. It’s very nice,” Shadow agreed.

“I mean no disrespect, highness, but I doubt you brought us up here just to ask our opinion of the town,” Brownie said.

Luna quirked an eyebrow, but nodded. “Just so. I heeded your warning of an alien monster in our realm and informed my sister Celestia. She decided to relay the information to her former student, Twilight Sparkle. However, Twilight did not respond to my sister’s missive, and she was not present at her castle this evening, nor Miss Pie’s party.” Luna’s brow furrowed. “I am afraid that we have become somewhat dependent on Princess Sparkle’s bravery and intellect in crisis situations.”

Brownie narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Why are you telling us this?”

“You are mercenaries, are you not?”

Brownie and Shadow both nodded.

“Our traditional approach in these situations is to send Twilight Sparkle and her closest friends to investigate, but without Twilight’s stabilizing influence, her friends are…unpredictable, to say the least.” Luna’s expression suggested that there were multiple stories behind that statement. “I am telling you this because I want to hire you in their place.”

Shadow gaped.

Brownie frowned. “If you want us to go fight that monster, I’ll have to admit that it’s far out of our league.”

The alicorn shook her head. “I do not want you to fight it. Indeed, I would prefer that nopony fight the monster. However, until Twilight Sparkle can be contacted, our primary line of defense is unavailable. We need more information. Therefore, I want you to track this monster, find its lair and discover as much about its intentions and capabilities as possible. Are these tasks within your area of expertise?”

Brownie nodded slowly. “I do have some tracking experience, but don’t you have local ponies you would trust more?”

Luna smiled slightly. “You are very perceptive, Miss Sundae. In truth, I do not trust either of you. You have shown yourselves to be quite dangerous and I know nothing of your past. However, you also showed great valor when you rescued the foals, and I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Consider this mission a test of character.”

“Would you want us to make regular progress reports?” Brownie asked.

“The most convenient and secure method for us to communicate is through your dreams,” Luna said. “Now that we are acquainted, I will be able to reach you wherever you are.”

Brownie looked to Shadow, but the griffon shrugged noncommittally. She turned back to Luna. “We’ll do it.”

Author's Note:

Not even grumpy mercenaries can escape Pinkie Pie. Best get it over with.