• Published 25th May 2015
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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 7: Perfida

The two mercenaries spent the night at the Ponyville inn and left early the next day, once again wearing their heavily-used Everglow garb. Their first stop was Zecora’s house. The zebra was outside tending her garden when they arrived.

“It’s good to see you two again. What brings you back to my domain?”

“Hi, Zecora,” Brownie greeted her, “could you point us in the direction of that clearing where you first met us?”

Shadow answered Zecora’s raised eyebrow by saying, “We’re on a secret mission. It’s really hush-hush.”

Zecora smirked. “The clearing where I found you then is straight that way, beyond that fen. If you go that way beware and exercise the proper care; the forest near the path is mild, but over there can be more wild.” She gestured for them to wait and went inside, returning shortly with what appeared to be a vial of swamp water. “This is what I used before, to help replace your blood with more. I hope you do not get so hurt and put to waste all my effort.”

They thanked her and set out in the direction she had indicated. Shadow remembered enough of the reverse trip that they were able to find the clearing after a half-hour of walking. From there, it was a simple matter to locate the cave. They inspected the cave carefully and even touched the hilt of the magic sword to various places on the cave walls, but there were no interdimensional portals to be found.

“Oh well, it was worth a try,” Shadow sighed. “I guess we have to find the demon now.”

Brownie walked slowly across the cave entrance, staring intently at the ground and occasionally sniffing the plants. Halfway across, she stopped and pointed a hoof at the ground. “What do you think, is that him?”

Shadow looked at the footprint. “Well, it’s big and clawed. It certainly could be.”

Brownie sniffed the footprint, then sat down hard and broke into a coughing fit. After a few seconds she gasped, “That is literally the nastiest thing I have ever smelled; it has to be him.” She looked around until she found another footprint and started walking along the trail. “The only thing we have to worry about now is if it decided to fly.”

They followed the trail for a few miles before, as Brownie had feared, the trail vanished. Shadow flew above the trees to look for any landmark that might give a hint to the creature’s destination. When he came back down, he reported seeing a mountain range in the general direction they had been traveling.

They decided to continue in the same direction to see if they could find more evidence of the demon’s passage. As they continued along the same heading, they occasionally found broken treetops and other hints that they were still on the right path, but no more footprints.

A few hours before sunset, Brownie suddenly clamped her forehooves over Shadow’s beak. “Listen!”

In the sudden silence, both adventurers could hear a distant voice crying. Brownie gently released Shadow and motioned for him to stay quiet. Shadow glowered at her, but did not speak.

They crept toward the sound as silently as Brownie’s armor would allow. A furlong further they emerged into a blackened clearing. The area appeared to have been cleared by a fiery explosion. Fallen and charred trees pointed away from the center of the clearing and all smaller shrubs were gone. The wailing that had originally attracted their attention had subsided to sporadic sniffling sobs.

Shadow slowly placed one claw on Brownie’s shoulder and pointed with the other. She sighted along his leg and saw a patch of short red fur over the top of one of the fallen trees. The patch of hide was rising and falling in time with the sobbing. Brownie nodded at Shadow and started crawling closer. They reached the opposite side of the log without alerting the sobbing creature to their presence.

Brownie pointed at Shadow. He stared back without comprehension. The pony rolled her eyes and pointed at the griffon’s talons, then at her own hooves, then at each talon on one claw individually. Realization dawned on Shadows face and he held up a claw.

Three…two…one… They jumped over the log at the same time, each drawing their weapon as they jumped.

The creature on the far side resembled a pony mare at first glance, but it had small horns, cloven hooves, black, leathery wings and a naked tail with a tuft of black fur on the end. She screamed and covered her head with her forelegs. “Mercy! It wasn’t me! I’m nobody! Please, don’t kill me; she said I could live! I surrender!”

Brownie and Shadow relaxed a little, although they kept their weapons pointed at the peculiar creature. As she got a better look at their wretched prisoner, Brownie realized that she was probably not a significant threat; one of her leathery wings was pinned under the log and most of her right foreleg was missing. Judging from the raw and jagged stump, the injury was recent.

Shadow tried to calm the distraught creature by talking to her. “Easy, we’re not here to hurt you. Lay still, we can help you.”

Brownie sheathed her sword and braced her back against the log. “Shadow, I’m not going to be able to move this by myself.” However, even as she said that, the log moved. With a confused look on her face, she heaved against the root ball as hard as she could, and the multi-ton log rolled over.

The black wing folded itself tightly against its owner as soon as the log was no longer pinning it, apparently undamaged.

Shadow turned to their sniffling charity. “What’s your name?” He got no answer, and Brownie signaled him to step back.

They both walked a short distance away from the quivering cripple and Brownie said to Shadow in a low voice, “Did you notice her brand of destiny?” He hadn’t, of course. “It’s an open book supported by an upturned hoof. I’m not sure where, but I’ve seen it before.”

“Let’s ask her,” Shadow suggested and walked back to the red ponykin. “Hello, who are you?”

She raised her head, but looked straight past Shadow and stared at the magic sword Brownie still carried on her back. “No! I’m not ready to die!” she screamed, “She said I could change!”

“Hey!” Brownie yelled back, “We’re not going to kill you! We’re the…we’re working for the good guys!”

“Brownie, I think she just wet herself. Maybe you should tone it down a bit,” Shadow said.

Brownie thought for a second, then unstrapped the magic sword and set it aside. “There, see? Not going to kill you. Now please calm down and tell us your name.”

The cripple continued to sob for a while longer, but eventually subsided into occasional hiccups. “I’m Perfida,” she said at last.

“Hello, Perfida,” Shadow said, “nice to meet you. I’m Shadow Claw, and this is Brownie Sundae. What happened to you?”

Perfida hiccupped again. “She did this to me.” She pointed at her brand. “I’m evil, so evil, but I never knew until she told me.”

Shadow and Brownie exchanged confused glances. “Perhaps you could tell us the whole story,” Shadow prompted.

Perfida sighed and tried to rub her eyes with her right foreleg, apparently forgetting it was gone. She stared at the stump for a moment before repeating the attempt with her left foreleg. “I am…was…a succubus. You would call me a demon. I tortured and murdered so many people I lost count. I did every evil thing that came into my head and that was the sum of my existence.

“Then one day, a pony with a monocle appeared to me and said, ‘Now you know,’ and I did. I knew I was evil and vile and deserved to die. I wanted to kill myself but I was too afraid. I tortured myself with my own guilt until the pony returned. This time she said, ‘There is a way to escape, if you are willing.’ I told her I would give anything except my very life to escape this torment. She smiled at me and said, ‘You are mine now,’ and gave me her mark.

“There was a feeling like I was being torn in half and I woke up on the material plane. I saw a cave and crawled into it to hide, but it was occupied by a horned devil and its minions. When it saw that I bore her mark it commanded the other devils to slay me. I fled, but they caught me here and struck me down. I should have died, but She shielded me from their blows and from their sight.

“When I saw that you bear Tirai’ilbeleg,” Perfida gestured at the sword Brownie had set aside. “I thought you must be a holy paladin, come to end my evil ways. The sword accused me in my head, and promised to rid the world of my evil.”

“Tira-what?” Shadow asked.

“In Common, it would be called the Sword of the Helpless.”

“Oh, is that what it is?” Brownie said, “I suppose that’s why we can’t draw it; we’re not helpless.”

“You misunderstand,” Perfida elaborated, “the Sword of the Helpless was forged to empower those who would protect the helpless from evil creatures like me.”

“Where—“ Shadow started to ask, but was interrupted by a disembodied laugh. “Who’s there?”

The laugh continued, as if an invisible person had just heard the world’s funniest joke. Suddenly there was a white flash, and rolling on the ground in front of them was the strangest creature any of them had ever seen. He appeared to have one limb each from a lion, eagle, goat and dragon, one horn, one antler, a scaly tail with a tuft at the end, and a single snaggletooth protruding comically from his upper lip. “That’s just priceless!” the creature chortled, “I never thought she would do it!”

Shadow opened his beak to respond, but Brownie blocked him with a hoof. “Don’t respond to the Unspoken; he will draw you into a trap.”

“You seem to have me confused with someone,” the creature said with an innocent expression. He made a show of clearing his throat. “Hello, I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance. My name’s Discord, what’s yours?”

“You expect us to believe there’s more than one animal part mashup wandering around?” Brownie said with a frown.

“There are at least two,” Discord asserted, “Obviously, you are thinking of my distinguished colleague in Everglow. If you look closely, you will see that we are nothing alike; charming fellow that he is, I am clearly far more handsome.” He put his clawed foot on a rock and gazed into the distance. His jaw seemed more pronounced than it had been a second ago.

Suddenly, Perfida’s eyes glowed white and she spoke with a different voice. “There you are! Your juvenile tricks have created more trouble in a day than I have seen in a century.”

Discord slapped his face with his lion paw. “I’m not the one you want. Hang on, I’ll get him for you.” He reached sideways and his claw disappeared into thin air, and then reappeared dragging a very similar creature back with it. “You want the Unspoken. Say hi, Unk.”

The consciousness controlling the pony succubus glared at the Unspoken. “Did you know what the result would be when you challenged me to give this wretched creature a conscience?”

“Of course not Lumi, that would spoil all the fun!” the new mix-up responded.

“Nonetheless, you are the loser and will abide by the terms of our wager. Do as you promised.”

“I was just getting to that, sheesh,” he said petulantly.

“See that you do.”

Perfida’s eyes returned to normal and she gasped, “Oh, it was her!” then promptly fainted.

Discord offered the Unspoken a fist bump which his counterpart returned.

“If you’ll excuse me,” the Unspoken said, pulling a red fez out of nowhere and plopping it on his head, “I have a bet to pay off. When you get to the cave, be sure to—“

Discord clamped a claw over the Unspoken’s mouth and shoved him roughly back through the invisible hole in the air. “Spoilers!”

He looked around conspiratorially, then cupped his mismatched hands around his mouth and whispered, “I know what you two are. I can’t mess with the ponies in Everglow because of all the rules, and I can’t mess with the ponies of Equestria because I’m ‘reformed’.” He made exaggerated air quotes and grinned evilly. “But you are neither in Everglow nor of Equestria; keep me entertained or I might have to liven things up.” He pulled out a large cardboard box and added, “I’ll be watching you.”

He pulled the box over his head and crouched down so he was completely hidden by the box, then the box vanished, leaving nothing behind but empty air.

After a minute of stunned silence, Shadow looked at the unconscious Perfida and said, “While she’s out, what do you think would be a good nickname for her?”

Brownie sputtered incoherently for a second before finding words. “Are you suggesting we take her with us!? She’s a demon and a murderer; she told us herself!”

“She said she was sorry,” Shadow protested.

“She is also clearly unstable. Are you trying to bring us into the middle of a dispute between the gods?”

Shadow thought for a moment. “She’s crippled and alone, and if we leave her here, she will probably die.”

“But—“ Brownie protested, “if we…we don’t…this isn’t…argh!” She spun on her front hooves and bucked a fallen tree with her rear hooves as hard as she could. The charred tree broke into two halves and tumbled across the clearing. Brownie flopped down on the ground with a growl and pulled on her ears with her forehooves.

After a moment, she was calm again. “You are the worst mercenary ever, and I’m the second worst.”

Shadow winced, but nodded.

“I’m not ready to trust her; how are we going to keep her secure?”

Shadow looked in his pack. “Well, I have some rope?”

* * *

“Brownie, she’s waking up.”

“Great, you talk to her.” Brownie bent her hind legs, slanting her back and allowing the bound Perfida to slide off onto the ground.

Perfida tried to speak, but realized her muzzle was tied shut.

“So,” Shadow said, “I think we owe you an explanation.”

She shook her head and sighed.

Shadow looked hurt. “Here’s the thing, we don’t know you; for all we know, you like to murder folks in their sleep – you did say you were a murderer. But,” he added with emphasis, “I want to believe you when you say you’ve changed, and we didn’t want to leave you all alone.”

Perfida looked at Shadow with hope-filled blue eyes.

“Ugh, I feel like a monster!” Shadow reached forwards and untied Perfida’s mouth. “Here’s the plan: we’re going to keep you close, and any time we can’t watch you, we’ll tie you up. We’ll protect you and feed you, but we can’t trust you.”

The demon pony nodded. “It’s more than I deserve, thank you.”

Shadow untied her wings and legs as well, then stood back and watched her warily.

Perfida stood slowly and pointed slightly off to one side with the stump of her right leg. “There’s a cave over that way. I saw it when I was trying to escape. It’s big enough to provide shelter for all three of us.” She looked to the others for approval and then started hobbling in that direction.

On the way, they passed a bend in a river. “You should take a bath while we’re here,” Brownie said.

The demon made a face. “I hate water.”

“As long as it won’t actually harm you, it would be good to get rid of that smell.” Brownie explained tactlessly.

“You scared me, okay?” Perfida said, but reluctantly complied. She soon returned, dripping wet and looking thoroughly miserable.

Brownie already had a blanket ready for her. “You should probably shake before you put this on.”

“Shake? I’m already shiv-iv-iv-ering,” Perfida said with chattering teeth.

“Like this.” Shadow helpfully demonstrated how to shake. “It gets the water out of your coat.”

The succubus attempted to imitate his example, but she overbalanced, and with only three legs she was unable to catch herself. “Eep!”

Shadow and Brownie helped her up and wrapped the blanket around her.

“Were you something else, you know, before?” Shadow asked.

“I used to be a biped,” Perfida answered, “I didn’t turn into a pony until I was sent to this plane.”

“What about your leg?” Brownie queried.

“That was Her doing. When she branded me, she took my arm. Well, most of it.” She waved her stump.

Brownie’s eyebrows shot up in sudden realization. “What do you, uh, eat?”

“When I was a biped, I ate the same things as humans.” She considered for a moment. “If you don’t count draining their life force.” Oblivious to the queasy faces of her companions, she continued, “Now that I’m a pony, maybe I eat what ponies eat.”

“That would be a lucky break,” Shadow said with a smirk. He made a sweeping gesture with a talon to indicate the whole forest. “Behold: what ponies eat.”

“We’re herbivores,” Brownie clarified, “but not very picky ones.”

Perfida sampled some grass and chewed thoughtfully. “Hmm, maybe.” She pointed with her stump. “There’s the cave.”

Brownie and Shadow decided that they would need to take turns watching regardless of whether Perfida was trustworthy or not, so they left her unbound. Almost as soon as she lay down, she was asleep. The pony and the griffon quietly discussed their plans for the next day for a short time and then Brownie went to sleep while Shadow took the first watch; it was time to talk to the princess.

* * *

Brownie found herself standing on the same starry platform as before. “Princess Luna, are you there?”

“I am here, Brownie Sundae.” The night princess strode into view from nowhere and stood in front of the earth pony. “Do you wish to make a report?”

“Yes princess. We found some footprints and followed them for part of the day before we lost the trail, but we think we’re still on the right path because we found somepony that was running from him.”

Luna cocked an eyebrow. “Do tell.”

“We found her bawling her eyes out in the middle of a burned-out clearing. She told us a tale about how she used to be a demon, but she reformed and was sent here. She claims that the monster sensed her reform and tried to kill her, but she escaped. We don’t trust her, but we’re watching her closely, and if she is telling the truth, she could be a very good source of information.”

Brownie watched Luna’s face for any hint of what she was thinking, but the alicorn maintained a passive mask. Brownie continued, “Unfortunately, if she can be believed, it means that the monster is completely evil and is gathering an army of other monsters.”

The princess scowled. “This is a grave development. I realize that the danger for you and Shadow Claw has increased significantly, but so has our need for information. I do not ask this lightly, but are you willing to continue the mission? We must know for certain how great a threat this creature poses.”

Brownie nodded. “We’re still in. Hopefully, our new…acquaintance will be able to steer us away from some of the danger.” She paused. “Have you been able to contact Twilight Sparkle?”

Luna’s scowl deepened. “No, it is quite concerning. She has always been punctual and communicative in the past, almost obsessively so. However, that is not your concern. We are already considering our other options, and will let you know when it impacts your mission or personal safety. Was there anything else, Miss Sundae?”

Brownie shook her head. “No, princess.”

Luna nodded stiffly. “Sleep well, then, and good luck,” she said, and vanished.

Author's Note:

For the Pathfinders in the audience, Perfida is an oracle. For extra irony, she is a formerly chaotic-evil demon who just became an oracle of a lawful-good deity. I'm sure this will work out just fine.