• 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?

  • ...

Chapter 9: The Great and the Powerful

Barely ten minutes after he left to get Brownie’s discarded gear, Shadow returned, grinning like an idiot. “Maybe it’s the air here or something, but I have never felt so good,” he declared. “I just flew twenty miles in ten minutes, and I was carrying your junk on the way back. Here, by the way.” He gave her the bundle.

“You’re a pretty useful guy to have around,” Brownie admitted.

“That’s what my mother always said.” Shadow’s smile slipped a little as soon as he said that.

“What’s wrong?” Perfida asked.

“I left my family rather suddenly. I wonder how they’re doing without me.”

“Ah.” Perfida tried to look sympathetic. “I have no idea who my family was or what happened to them.” She looked at Brownie expectantly.

“All dead,” Brownie said, succinctly. She started putting her armor back on.

“Okay, point taken,” Shadow sighed.

“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to belittle your problems,” Brownie said. “Maybe when we’re done here we can find a way to get back to Everglow, then you can check on them yourself.” She fussed with her armor for a few more minutes. “Okay, let’s get this over with so we can all go home.”

“I don’t want to go home, if it’s all the same to you,” Perfida said. “No demon in its right mind would.”

Brownie shrugged. “Okay, let’s get this over with so we can all go wherever we want.”

“As a group?” Shadow asked hopefully.

Brownie looked pointedly at the demon. “Maybe. I’m still not sure what kind of group we are.” She glanced at the sun and started walking.

“Wait, Brownie,” Perfida said, “the cave is that way.”

Brownie looked confused. “We were heading East-Northeast before.”

“That is East-Northeast, the sun here is weird,” the demon explained.

“What do you mean ‘weird’?”

“It’s not moving at a constant speed; it should be lower in the sky by now, but it seems to go faster near the horizon and slower near the zenith,” Perfida expounded.

“What could cause that?” Shadow enquired.

The succubus shrugged. “I don’t know, someone moving it, perhaps?”

“That’s stupid,” Brownie said, and started walking in the correct direction.

* * *

As the sun was rapidly setting, the forest began to be noticeably sparser. Just as the sun was reaching the horizon, the group emerged from the forest onto a dirt road. On the far side of the road was a flat, dirt plain bordered by a rocky ridge.

“Is that it?” Brownie asked, pointing at the ridge with a forehoof.

Perfida nodded. “The entrance is somewhere along the base of that ridge.”

“It’s getting dark. I don’t think it would be a good idea to try and get in there now. We should camp at the edge of the forest, where there’s still some cover.” Brownie found a flat spot and took off her saddlebags. “Who wants to get firewood this time?”

“We should play rock-paper-scissors to decide,” Shadow suggested with a sly grin.

“I’ve never heard of that,” Brownie said, “is it a griffon game?”

“I think it was originally invented by humans.” He held out both his talons in front of the mares to demonstrate. “It’s quite simple; this means ‘rock’, this means ‘paper’ and this means ‘scissors’. Paper beats rock, scissors beat paper, and rock beats scissors. You count to three and pick one at the same time as each other, and see who wins.”

Brownie lifted an eyebrow. “I think you’re forgetting one crucial detail.” She held up a hoof.

“That would be ‘rock’,” Shadow said with a smirk.

Brownie was about to protest again, but Perfida spoke first. “That looks like fun, can I try?” She batted her eyelashes innocently.

“Alright! Loser has to get the firewood, deal?”

“Deal.” The demon sat on her haunches to free up her foreleg.

“Ready? One, two, three!” Shadow held his claw out flat. “Paper beats rock.”

“And scissors beat paper,” Perfida agreed.

Shadow looked closer at the hoof in front of him and realized that the succubus had spread the two halves of her cloven hoof. Scissors. This wasn’t part of the plan. “Uh, it’s traditional to play to best two out of three, just to make sure it’s fair.”

“Of course, that makes sense,” Perfida said with a knowing smile.

“One, two, three! Rock beats scissors…but two rocks makes a tie.”

At Shadow’s insistence they continued to match wits in the time-honored finger game, but even with only two of the three options available to her, the succubus won or tied every single time. Finally, when Shadow was asking for best twenty-three out of forty-four, Brownie called the game.

“I think you should go get the firewood now, Shadow.”

“But…” Shadow just stared at the confidently-smiling bat pony. How did she do that, he thought, was she reading my mind?

“Of course not,” Perfida said with a huge grin, “that would be cheating.”

Shadow sputtered incoherently and pointed at Perfida accusingly.

“I think that’s fair turnabout for challenging a hooved creature to a finger game,” Brownie declared, although she looked quite uncomfortable with the revelation as well. “Just stallion up and get the firewood before it gets completely dark.”

Shadow walked back into the forest, grumbling. He had hardly traveled ten yards before he noticed a light ahead. He quickly returned to the others and all three went to investigate.

In a clearing next to the road, they found large cart that looked like it doubled as a mobile home. It was decorated with stylized representations of various heavenly bodies as well as sweeping lines that seemed to indicate movement. The overall effect suggested the owner was a high-profile expert on the arcane. In front of the cart, a blue unicorn with a nearly-white, blue-tinted mane was sitting by a campfire. She was wearing a purple cape with a star pattern on it and a pointed hat with a similar design hung from a hook on the cart.

As they reached the edge of the clearing, the unicorn jumped up like she had been stung. “Who goes there?” She looked quickly around the edge of the clearing until she saw her guests. “Do you seek an audience with the Great and Powerful Trixie?”

“Um, maybe?” Shadow said. “Is that you?”

“Do you think we could share your campfire?” Perfida added. “There’s safety in numbers.”

“You are wise to seek aid from Trixie,” Trixie said as she looked appraisingly at the motley group, “but how can Trixie know you are trustworthy?”

“You can’t,” Brownie admitted, “but you’re safer keeping an eye on us than letting us skulk around in the woods where you can’t see us.”

Trixie seemed to be alarmed by the inference. “Trixie has introduced herself to you, now you must introduce yourselves to Trixie.”

“I’m Shadow Claw, this sexy filly is Brownie Sundae…”

“Shadow!” Brownie protested.

“…and the winged tripod is Perfida.”

“Okay, I lied,” Perfida responded, “that is annoying.”

“Why are you out in the woods, Trixie?” Brownie asked.

“The Great and Powerful Trixie is a traveling magician, famous throughout Equestria for her talent and charisma. Trixie just finished a highly successful series of performances in Dodge Junction and is traveling to Canterlot.” Trixie glanced at the group’s equipment. “Trixie is also a fortune-teller. She can reveal the outcome of your quest, for a modest fee, of course.”

“Hmm, how would we know you’re not just making it up?” Shadow objected. “Can you prove you’re a fortune teller?”

Trixie smiled. “Very clever. You hope to gain a free show by feigning suspicion.” She pointed to the ground in front of her with a hoof. “Very well, Trixie is feeling generous.”

Shadow whispered in Perfida’s ear, “See if she’s another mind-reader,” and walked forward with false confidence. He sat in front of Trixie and waited expectantly.

Trixie placed a hoof on Shadow’s head and looked at his face. “Hmm, you have traveled far; you are not from Ponyville. Are you from Canterlot? No, farther…much farther. You have come from outside of Equestria. In fact…you are not from this…world!?”

“What!? How could you know that!?” Shadow asked incredulously. He looked to Perfida, but she just smirked and shook her head.

Trixie beamed. “A magician never reveals her secrets.” She continued to hold her hoof against his head. “You came to this world by accident...it was your fault, and you are…worried…that your marefriend will get hurt again—“

“Stop! Stop! I don’t want to hear any more!” Shadow scrambled away from Trixie’s hoof in a panic. “You’re just guessing! You don’t know any of that stuff!”

Brownie caught him as he tried to pass her. “Easy, Shadow, don’t freak out. Trixie doesn’t know everything.”

Perfida tried to applaud, but then remembered that she was missing a leg and used her wings instead. “Bravo, Trixie, Bravo. I don’t think I could have done any better.”

Trixie’s smile slipped a little. “Trixie is the most talented unicorn in all of Equestria; no secret is hidden from Trixie.”

“Second-most talented, you mean; you still consider yourself inferior to Twilight Sparkle.”

Trixie gasped and closed her eyes in concentration. “Do not try to read my mind; I have trained in the art of mental defense.”

Perfida turned to Shadow. “She wasn’t really reading your mind; she was just making good guesses.”

Trixie scowled but did not deny it.

“But how did she know all that stuff?” Shadow asked, still obviously distressed.

“You told her. Every time she made a guess, the truth was written all over your face.”

Trixie was looking hard at Perfida. “You really can read minds. Have you ever thought about a career as a performer?”

The succubus quirked an eyebrow.

Trixie hastily added, “Trixie could provide you with a low-pressure job as Trixie’s assistant. You could assist me with my act in exchange for the chance to study under an experienced show mare.”

Perfida laughed lightly. “Maybe later. My goddess has ordered me to help these people with their quest, and I owe her so much I daren’t refuse.”

Trixie looked at Shadow again. “Is this a great and glorious quest? With the approval of the princesses?”

“Okay, look,” Brownie said, “rather than wait for you to wring the details out of Shadow, I’ll just tell you, okay?” She grumbled to herself and continued, “A huge demon—“

“Devil,” Perfida corrected.

“…found its way into Equestria at the same time as Shadow and I did. Princess Luna hired us to find it and spy on it so she could decide what to do.” She pointed at Perfida. “She’s just along for the ride.”

Trixie looked simultaneously overjoyed and terrified. “Princess Luna sent somepony beside those six on a mission to save the world,” she said to herself, “this is your chance, Trixie, there may never be another.” She stood up very straight and levitated her hat onto her head. “The Great and Powerful Trixie will aid you in your quest,” she said in a loud and dramatic voice.

“Uh-uh,” Brownie said, shaking her head, “one passenger is plenty. Luna just hired the two of us, and we’re not splitting the reward with anypony else.”

“I would do it for free, gratis!” Trixie said with a hint of desperation, “You will need a powerful spellcaster like Trixie. How could an earth pony and a griffon hope to deal with demonic magic?”

“Infernal, not demonic,” said the succubus.

“We’re not going to ‘deal’ with it,” Brownie said, “we’re just going to look at it.”

“How will you avoid detection without Trixie? Behold: invisibility!” As she said this, Trixie vanished in a puff of smoke. A voice from where she had been standing said, “Diversions!” and a tube hanging on the cart fired a flaming ball that flew above the trees with a shriek and exploded colorfully.

“Shush! We don’t want them to know we’re here!” Brownie said, trying to find the invisible magician by feel.

Trixie reappeared in front of her. “Please, Brownie Sundae, I need to do this. Give me a chance to prove my worth?”

Brownie groaned and tugged on one of her ears with a hoof. “Shadow?”

“No more telling my secrets?” he asked timidly.

“Trixie merely meant to prove her talent, but Trixie can occasionally get carried away. Will you accept Trixie’s apology?”

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it,” Shadow said, avoiding Trixie’s gaze.

By now, it was almost completely dark, but the moon was visible above the trees. An awkward silence hung over the group in the wake of Trixie’s apology.

Brownie’s ears twitched. “Did anypony hear that?”

The others strained their ears. A moment later, they all heard a distant voice screaming.

“It sounds like a colt,” Trixie observed.

The voice yelled again, much closer. A second voice joined in as a shadow passed quickly in front of the moon. The group caught a glimpse of a bat-winged silhouette that was certainly not a pony.

“The monster has kidnapped a couple of chicks, I mean foals!” Shadow said fearfully.

Trixie gasped, “I know those voices! They were my most faithful fans!”

“What are we going to do?” Perfida said, looking at Brownie.

Brownie looked around and saw that Shadow and Trixie were also looking at her expectantly. She bit her lip. “We have to go rescue them, and then we can call Luna.”

Trixie extinguished her campfire with a quick spell and went inside her cart. A moment later, she emerged wearing a bulging satchel and locked the door behind her. “Trixie is ready, let’s go.”

Brownie started walking briskly in the direction of the ridge and the rest of the group fell in behind her.

“Why do you talk like that, Trixie?” Shadow asked.

“A commanding stage presence is essential for the successful performer. Would you expect an amazing spectacle if a magician said, ‘Hi, um, I want to show you something kind of cool.’? Of course not. However, when she says, ‘Come and witness the incredible feats and incomparable magic of the Grrreat and Powerful Trrrixie!’ you know that she is a professional.”

“What was that thing with the ‘r’s?” Brownie asked with an irritated grimace.

“That was trilling; it makes the speaker seem more cultured,” Trixie replied in a tone that suggested Brownie was the only sapient creature ignorant enough to not already know that.

“Shouldn’t we be trying to be sneaky?” Perfida said nervously.

Brownie looked over her shoulder and saw that the succubus was watching the sky and her ears were twitching in all directions. “Are you okay?”

Perfida grinned sheepishly. “Heh, these pony ears are weird huh? Always wiggling around, and stuff.”

“They do that when you’re nervous or scared,” Brownie explained. “You don’t have to stay with us.”

“I’ll run away when I’m good and ready and not before,” the demon replied with a forced smile. “Luminace has given me healing magic, and you guys are going to go get yourselves hurt, so I had better be with you.”

“Can’t argue with that,” Brownie said grimly.

* * *

It was nearly midnight when they reached the base of the ridge. Perfida’s peculiar heritage gave her better vision than the others in low light, so she took the lead to search for the cave entrance. Finally she stopped and pointed with a wing. “There.”

They crept up to the entrance only to find it blocked by a crude but sturdy door.

“That’s new,” Perfida noted. “Hang on, I’m going to try something.”

Before anyone could respond, the succubus’ body turned hazy and dissipated like smoke in a breeze. A moment later, while the party was still staring dumbfounded at the place she had been standing, a scraping sound came from the other side of the door. Brownie and Shadow reached for their weapons, but the door swung open to reveal Perfida, once again corporeal.

The demon smirked. “Do come in, we haven’t had guests in ages.”

“Dude, that’s creepy,” Shadow observed.

“Seriously, hurry up. We don’t want to get caught in the doorway. I’ll close it behind us so they don’t know they have company.” Once the party was inside, she closed and barred the door behind them.

Trixie stuffed her hat into her satchel and illuminated their surroundings with her horn, revealing several tunnels. “Can you tell which way the foals are?”

Perfida closed her eyes in concentration. “I’m sensing intelligence…over there…and over there.” She concentrated a little longer. “This way, I think.”

They followed Perfida in single file as she crept through the tunnels. She held up a wing to block the others and peeked carefully around a corner, then quickly pulled her head back. “They’re in there,” she whispered, “and there’s only one barbed devil watching them.

Brownie quietly drew her sword and looked at Shadow and Trixie. “Ready?

Author's Note:

No time like the present to rush into danger with no plan.