• Published 20th Oct 2015
  • 6,366 Views, 156 Comments

Freeport Venture: Auction Night - Chengar Qordath

Sunset Shimmer, magus-for-hire in the corrupt city of Freeport, attends a high-end auction where a dangerous book of dark magic is being sold off to the highest bidder.

  • ...

The Competition

Once I agreed to the job, everything fell into place pretty quickly. So quickly that it was obvious Strumming had been setting things up before she’d even asked if I would take the job. That irked me—I didn’t like the idea that she’d just assumed she could win me over. Granted, a chance to remove a major threat to Freeport’s safety and earn a big sack of money in the process was a pretty tempting offer. I consoled myself with the thought that maybe she hadn’t been specifically planning for me, but just laying the groundwork for whoever she recruited to be the EIS’s patsy.

I thought about checking in with Puzzle, just to let him know what was going on and get his take on the situation. However, in all honesty, I wasn’t too bothered when I found out he wasn’t at his house. A part of me wanted to handle this job on my own. It wasn’t like I needed Puzzle holding my hoof and guiding me through every single aspect of every job I took. And I could definitely handle Strumming all by myself.

Maybe that was a bit prideful; I’m sure Puzzle would say so. But to hay with it, there’s nothing wrong with having a bit of pride.

Soon enough it was time for the auction itself. Naturally I dressed for the occasion, buying myself a brand new magus robe made of pure silk. One thing I’ll say for being a magus, it makes fashion nice and simple. Which was probably a good thing, since I would probably be the poorest pony at the auction. Not that I was poor by any objective scale, but all the other attendees were ridiculously rich. Fortunately, I managed to stick the EIS with the bill for my new robes. They were definitely necessary mission equipment if I wanted to blend in. If only I could’ve convinced them to cover my trip to the bookstore, too...

Just how rich everyone else attending the auction was became quite clear once I arrived at Goldtalon’s auction house. The place reeked of casual wealth in a way that reminded me of the mansions nobles owned in Canterlot. Though after a moment’s reflection, I realized that was probably exactly what the owner wanted: when you’re selling stuff off to the super-rich, your shop should make them feel at home. The massive tapestries, the huge vaulted ceilings covered with highly detailed frescoes, and all of the walls done in high-quality marble that Goldtalon must have paid a ton of bits to have shipped all the way out to Freeport. He might as well just put up a gigantic sign that said “I am incredibly wealthy, and thus definitely the social equal of any of my potential clients.” Though considering what I’d done with my tower, I was reminded of the old saying about those who live in glass houses. Especially since obsidian technically was glass.

Goldtalon had several guards posted at the entrance, but they let me in without any trouble. I’d expected them to at least stop to confirm my identity or ask to see the invitation Strumming had obtained for me, but presumably they just knew me by sight. I guess their boss didn’t want any of the guests feeling harassed by all the security. Though that would make it far too easy for a changeling wearing my face to slip in—unless Goldtalon had something set up to prevent that. A quick magical scan confirmed that the auction house had extensive magical defenses. Which only made sense, considering he sold expensive things to spellcasters.

Naturally, the defenses were strongest on the auction floor itself, since that was where all the goods being sold off were on display. I was impressed by how subtle all the spellwork was—it certainly wouldn’t stand out to anyone who wasn’t a magical expert like me. I suppose that was part of Goldtalon’s high-class appeal; too much obvious security might make his clients feel like he was treating them as potential thieves.

I quickly scanned the room for Goldtalon himself. Introducing myself to the owner of the establishment was only polite, after all. Fortunately, he stood out from the crowd.

Goldtalon was a large, portly gryphon swaddled in enough silk to make at least two new sets of robes for me. His outfit was a particularly rich shade of indigo, and he was wearing enough jewelry to put a Canterlot diva to shame. His head-feathers were worn long but slicked back, and an obsequious smile never left his face.

At the moment, he was chatting with a pair of unicorns. The white stallion in the nice suit and monocle was obviously Fancy Pants, and I presumed the pink-maned mare hanging off his side was his requisite arm candy and/or trophy wife. Fancy was holding up a bust of Duke Clearheart the Crooked, casually looking it over and presumably commenting on its quality.

Since Fancy was also on the list of guests I wanted to check out, I saw no reason not to handle both tasks at the same time. I trotted over to Goldtalon, plastering on the best charming smile I could manage and offering him my hoof. “Master Goldtalon, thank you for the invitation. I must say, I would’ve come to your auction house much sooner if I’d known just how exquisite your goods were.”

The gryphon turned to me, smiling broadly and throwing open his arms. “Ah, if it isn't Freeport's magus.” To my surprise and considerable discomfort, he hugged me and kissed me on each cheek. “It’s wonderful to finally have you as a guest! I’d been hoping you would do me the honor of gracing my home with your presence. And I must say, you’re far more beautiful and charming than I’d heard.”

“Er...” I took a moment to shake off my surprise at his rather enthusiastic greeting. “Well, considering the goods you had on offer, I knew I couldn't miss it.”

He chuckled, which made his paunch quiver quite a bit. “Excellent. If I had known I needed to put better goods on display to pull you out of your tower, I promise I would’ve done so months ago, when you first arrived on our lovely islands. Now then, I can show you several goods that I think you'll be quite interested in.”

“That so? I'll look forward to seeing them, then.” I shot a casual look at the other two ponies. “Once you’re done with them, of course. I would hate to interrupt more than I already have.” I feigned a quick double take at Fancy, pretending to recognize him. “Wait ... Fancy Pants, right? I believe we met at the Gala last year.”

Fancy had been in the middle of polishing his monocle when I spoke, and quickly put it back on, turning to me with a polite smile. “We did indeed, Miss Shimmer.” His arm candy didn’t deign to respond to me, instead frowning at me and sniffing haughtily.

Goldtalon looked between the two of us, grinning jovially. “Ah, you two know each other, then? Wonderful! I hadn’t realized my humble auction would also allow two old friends to renew their acquaintance. And it saves me the trouble of introductions.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t presume to call Miss Shimmer an old friend,” Fancy demurred. “We only met in passing at the Gala. I believe the princess was making a point of introducing her to all the guests that evening.”

“She was.” Not one of my favorite evenings. Any pleasure I derived from the fact that Celestia wanted to show me off to Canterlot’s nobility had quickly been outweighed by the sheer mind-numbing tedium of the Gala itself. After the tenth time Celestia introduced me to some minor lordling, the novelty had worn off.

Fancy looked me over, then chuckled. “After the Gala, I certainly never imagined we would meet in a place like this. Life truly does take us in unexpected directions.” He glanced back at his arm candy, then waved her forward. “Miss Shimmer, I don’t believe you’ve met my paramour. This is Fleur De Lis.”

Unsurprisingly, Fleur had the accent to match her name. “Enchanté, Mademoiselle Shimmer. You were Princess Celestia's student, non?”

Despite everything that happened between us, I was still proud of the fact that Celestia taught me. “The one and only.”

Fleur looked down her nose at me and let out a haughty sniff. “Not so.”

“Now now, dear Fleur,” Fancy gently chided. “Miss Shimmer has been out of the loop for a while. You can hardly expect her to be up to date on the latest court gossip when it’s been nearly a year since she was actually at court, can you?”

“What court gossip?” My eyes narrowed, and I frowned at both of them. “What are you two talking about?”

Fleur ignored my question, keeping focused on Fancy. “Are you sure, mon coeur? I would have thought she at least kept abreast of the news from her old home. And everypony’s been talking about how Princess Celestia has been looking for a new student...”

A new student? A new student?! I took a deep breath and tried to calm down before I caused a scene. “No offense, but those rumors are ridiculous. Celestia has no reason to go looking for a new student.”

Fleur fixed me with a politely condescending look. “Well, you would know the most about her educational methods, no? Nonetheless, she has been spending a lot of time looking in on the School for Gifted Unicorns.”

“She always does that,” I countered. “It’s called Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.” Of course, I’d always assumed that the main reason she stopped by the school so often was to check up on my progress and make sure all my teachers were doing a good job. But that was just more proof that she wasn’t trying to replace me, because she wouldn’t do that.

“As you say,” Fleur conceded with a shrug. “Nonetheless, the talk around court is that she's been keeping an eye open for new talent. Asking professors about their best students, looking over the list of applicants for the next school year...”

Despite my best efforts, my teeth started grinding. It was completely ridiculous. There was no way, no way Celestia would ever consider replacing me.

Fancy gently cleared his throat. “Now now, my dear, I’m sure it can’t come as too much of a surprise to you. After all, it’s been nearly a year since you ... graduated.” He left just enough of a pause before that word to make what he actually meant clear. “Teachers do eventually take on new students once the old ones complete their education. It’s the natural cycle. It’s only natural for ponies to move on. It reminds me of what happened to Princess Cadance. Her magnanimity in the face of what she went through in recovery is ... worthy.”

“Recovery?” I had a feeling I knew exactly what they were talking about, but I didn’t want to believe it. “What recovery?”

“Don't you remember?” Fleur asked airily, before her eyes narrowed. ”You burned her.”

“So the rumors say, at least,” Fancy continued. “I’m not entirely certain I believe them myself, but the whole mess did provide no shortage of gossip. The new princess badly burned, when Princess Celestia’s star pupil is known to be a talented pyromancer. And then there was your rather unexpected departure from the city the day after Cadance’s injuries. It’s only natural the rumormongers would try to connect the two events, despite Celestia’s claims Cadance’s injuries were the result of an unfortunate accident.”

That was ... technically true. I hadn’t meant to burn her as badly as I had. I hadn’t meant to hurt her at all, just scare her a little. And she certainly hadn’t been burned badly enough to require an extended ‘recovery’ afterwards.

Fancy politely cleared his throat. “Regardless of the circumstances surrounding her injury, Cadance moved on.” He turned a curious look my way. “As, it seems, have you. I must say, I certainly didn’t expect to meet Princess Celestia’s former student in a Freeport auction house of all places. Especially considering the fact that some of the goods being offered for sale are ... not of the sort she would approve of.”

I glowered at him and tossed back the obvious question. “Well if some of the stuff for sale is so bad, why are you here?”

Goldtalon stepped in, clearly trying to defuse the budding confrontation. “My friends, my auction house is world famous. I bring in rare and valuable objects from every corner of the map, and my clientele is equally as prestigious and varied. Whether it’s Equestrian nobles, the honored Magus of Freeport, or a respectable captain of industry such as Marius, all are welcome here.” He paused, then chuckled loudly. “Well, so long as they can afford my prices, of course! And like any humble merchant who has prospered, I sell those goods that are in demand, even if certain parties think those goods are ... problematic.”

“Which is precisely why we are here,” Fleur cut in. “Fancy and I will make sure that some of the more powerful items do not fall into ... shall we say, questionable hooves.”

“Well said, my dear.” Fancy smiled and pecked his paramour on the cheek. “As I’m sure you’re aware, several of the items for sale belong in the Sealed Repository. I have every intention of purchasing them and then turning them over to the Royal Magi to deal with as they please.”

And no doubt rake in the political capital that would come from such an accomplishment. I knew enough about Canterlot court politics to be suspicious of anypony who claimed to have altruistic motives. Turning in the Black Codex would net Fancy a ton of prestige, not to mention the Mage Corps would owe him a huge favor. And in High Society Canterlot, favors were a far more valuable form of currency than bits.

Fancy turned back to me, his polite smile still firmly in place. “Now that I’ve satisfied your curiosity, Miss Shimmer, might I ask you to return the favor? I would certainly like to know what brings you here.”

“I would think that would be obvious.” My first instinct was to scoff at him, but I restrained the urge. Better to keep things friendly for as long as possible. “First off, I’m a magical adept and Goldtalon deals in magical goods. Secondly, I'm the Magus of Freeport. Considering the sort of things Goldtalon sells, it’s part of my job to keep an eye on him.” I turned to the auctioneer and nodded. “No offense intended, of course.”

“I quite understand,” the gryphon answered graciously. “And of course, I am more than happy to cooperate with the Council and its agents if they can prove that something sold at my auction house was used to break the law.”

Fleur let out a loud, haughty sniff. “So, you call yourself the Magus of Freeport, non? Curious, since you never earned the title before you left Equestria.”

Goldtalon chuckled and shook his head. “Ah, I think there’s a been a misunderstanding here. As she noted, Miss Shimmer is a Magus of Freeport. That title was given to her by the authority of the Council, I assure you. And given her accomplishments since her arrival in the city, I think she’s quite earned the title.”

“A Magus earns their title through hard work, dedication, and service to the rest of ponykind,” the trophy declared proudly. “It is not an honor that should be passed around like a party favor. You do not deserve to call yourself a magus, but it seems that honorable titles are also for sale in this city of cutthroats and thieves. Though given what you did to Cadance, perhaps it is no surprise you are at home in this place.”

To hay with keeping my temper under control, nopony is allowed to talk to me like that. “Nag, if you insult my city one more time, we're going to have a problem.”

“I say now!” Fancy stepped between us, glowering disapprovingly down at me. “Are you threatening my paramour?”

“No.” I stepped forward, glaring daggers at the stuck-up mare. “Now tell her to back off and keep her gold-digging mouth shut, or I'll rip her horn off and shove it up her plot.” I gave it a moment to sink in. “That was a threat. See the difference?”

Fleur’s horn lit up, and I immediately prepared to counter whatever spell she was planning to use. She hadn’t formed a proper spell yet, but I was a bit surprised by how well she’d focused her energy. It was enough to make me wonder if the future trophy wife had some teeth.

Before I could find out, Goldtalon quickly interposed himself between the two of us. “Please, everypony, there is no need for any unpleasantness.” He turned to me with an easy smile. “We're all here to enjoy the evening, and for you to give me preposterous sums of money for priceless items. The only arguments we should be having are bidding wars.”

I took a calming breath and reluctantly backed down. I was here to do a job, and picking a fight with some stuck-up nag who was just asking for a lesson in humility wasn’t part of it. Though I might classify it as a bonus. “Fine. I won’t start any trouble. It would make me a terrible guest in your lovely home, Goldtalon.”

“I would hate for my lovely mansion to suffer the same fate as the Glimmer home.” He chuckled and waved at one of his large and no doubt expensive tapestries. “Rumor has it you can be quite destructive when somepony tries to fight you.”

“The thief did most of the structural damage, actually,” I reassured the gryphon. “If I’d been responsible, it would’ve burned down, not collapsed.”

“Something I am sure is a great comfort to the house’s owner,” Fleur sniped. “That is another thing a true magus learns: how to control their power so they can capture a single thief without leveling buildings in the process.”

Fancy gently put a restraining hoof on his arm candy’s shoulder. “That's enough, my dear. We’re here on business, and coming dreadfully close to causing a scene.”

Fleur closed her eyes and nodded, leaning into her sugar daddy’s touch. “Yes, of course, Fancy. I should not lower myself by arguing with such a mare.”

Goldtalon pointedly cleared his throat, and Fleur at least had the decency to look slightly abashed. “If I might be so bold as to make a suggestion, perhaps now would be a good time for us to mingle a bit more? I am sure Fancy has others he would like to speak with before the auction starts, and I know several of my guests are eager to be properly introduced to Magus Shimmer.” I grinned at the slight stress he put on my title.

“Now then,” the gryphon continued. “Fancy, if you like, I believe I see Sweet Roll, the owner of Freeport's largest sugarcane island, over there by the Scrolls of Troxus. I'm sure he would love to speak with you.”

“Ah, thank you quite kindly.” He offered his foreleg to Fleur. “Shall we, my dear?”

“Yes, mon coeur.” The mare shot a final withering look my way. “I think I would quite enjoy some civilized company.”

As the two of them trotted off, the auctioneer turned to me. “And perhaps I could show you a few of the items on auction today, Magus Shimmer?”

“That sounds great.” Getting a chance to look at the Black Codex before the main event would probably make my job a little easier, and I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing what else he had to offer. After all, I was getting a nice big reward from the EIS once this job was finished.

“Then by all means, allow me to give you the grand tour.” He extended one of his talons to me, then slowly set it down when I didn’t take him up on the offer. “Now then, was there anything that you’re specifically interested in, or shall I just use my own judgement? I like to think I know what my clients want.”

I saw no reason not to get straight to the heart of things. “Well, the Black Codex is certainly an intriguing item. After all, the conventional wisdom is that the book is just an old mare’s tale. Normally I would dismiss anyone claiming they could provide a copy of it as a two-bit con artist, but given your reputation that’s obviously not the case.”

“But of course not,” he reassured me with an easy smile. “I assure you, I have several experts who assist me with validating the authenticity of any goods I offer for sale. I had an accredited expert on rare books who confirmed its age and that it matched known descriptions of the Codex, as well as a diviner who was able to determine that no magic was used to forge it. I even had a few of the simpler spells tested to ensure that they functioned. I can of course give you their names and credentials, or even introduce you to them. Naturally, they’re both attending the auction in case anyone has questions.”

He led me over to a glass display case, containing what could only be the Codex. I was a bit surprised by the book—I suppose I’d been expecting something a bit more dramatic. The Black Codex wasn’t bound with equine skin, the pages used normal ink instead of blood, and there was a distinct lack of skull-shaped decorations. It just looked like an ordinary, unremarkable book of the sort that would look right at home on my bookshelf. After a moment’s reflection, I realized that was probably the entire point—for it to blend in. Considering the EIS burned every copy they could get their hooves on, it only made sense.

Goldtalon chuckled, waving towards the book. “A remarkable little piece of history is wrapped up in this unremarkable-looking book. The book itself was begun by the infamous warlock Hidden Facts and several of his acolytes, though work on it continued for many years after his death during the Equestrian Civil War before it was declared complete. The Equestrian Magi naturally outlawed the book as soon as they learned of its existence, which of course means that finding an intact copy is quite the coup.”

“I bet.” I was more than a little curious about just how he’d pulled that off, though I was pretty sure he would just tell me one his buyers got lucky and stumbled across it. Odds were he bought it from some clueless sap who had no idea what he was holding, and said sap probably wasn’t paid a tenth of what Goldtalon would make selling the book tonight. Merchantry is a cutthroat business, and speaking of cut throats... “Aren't you worried about selling off something that dangerous, though? I mean, the Codex is full of spells that have no real use beyond causing pain and suffering.”

Goldtalon shrugged away my concerns. “It's hardly the most dangerous artifact I’ve ever sold. And to be quite honest, most of the spells within are no more dangerous than the contents of any war magus’s grimoire. A bound elemental spirit is quite a bit greater of a threat than a mere zombie, and draining the life out of someone is no worse than setting them on fire or impaling them using telekinesis. The Codex doesn't even cover the more advanced spells, so in many ways it’s less dangerous than some of the ‘legitimate’ books on combat magic.”

I’d heard Goldtalon’s reasoning before, back when Celestia had given me lessons on Magical Ethics. While there was merit to the idea that magic’s morality ultimately derived from how it was used—murder is still murder no matter what spell you use to do the deed—my own experience with dark magic had given me a slightly more developed view. Bending and breaking minds, raising the dead, stealing life and magic from others ... it was all too easy to abuse, and way too tempting. I didn’t trust myself with some of the things dark magic could do, so I certainly wasn’t going to trust anyone else with it either.

With that thought firmly in mind, I threw a question Goldtalon’s way. “What if someone uses the spells in that book to hurt others? Don’t you share some responsibility?”

The gryphon answered with an uncaring shrug. “I have no control over what my clients do with their private property. Would you hold a merchant responsible if the kitchen knives he sold to a married couple were used in a murder? No, you would blame the one wielding the knife.”

“What you’re selling is a lot more dangerous than kitchenware,” I countered.

“But the same principle applies,” he maintained. “Once I sell one of my goods to a client, I have no more legal claim or responsibility than any random citizen on the street. Would you forbid me from selling an old, enchanted spear because it’s still a weapon?” He pointed to another display case, which held a plain, undecorated knife. “How about the dagger used to assassinate High Queen Livia XXII? Purely of historical interest, but the blade is still sharp. Or perhaps the scrolls of the great alchemist Chausiku? His apprentices killed each other for years after his death over who would possess his secrets.” He smirked and placed a talon on one of the statues dotting the walls. “I'm sure if you got inventive, you could bludgeon to death someone with this art piece. All it would take is enough strength or a good spell.”

Dammit, I was getting steamrolled. I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise; his response seemed so well rehearsed that he’d obviously had the question thrown his way before. I still didn’t agree with him, but I didn’t think arguing the point would accomplish anything. I certainly wouldn’t change his mind, so all I was likely to accomplish was pissing him off. “Right, I see what you mean. I suppose I was just wondering if you're worried that selling a book full of dark magic might draw out the wrong sorts.”

As if summoned by those very words, a tall, skeletally thin brown gryphon stepped forward. He smiled at both of us, though the expression never quite reached his eyes. I recognized him from the photograph Strumming had shown me; Marius was even wearing the same fancy brown suit-and-tie combo. “Might I ask what sorts would those be, my dear magus?”

Goldtalon immediately turned to the other gryphon and pulled him into the same sort of hug he’d subjected me to. At least he was consistent. “Ah, Marius! My old friend! So good to see you again.” He waved me forward. “This is Magus Sunset Shimmer's first visit to my auction house. She seems to be enjoying herself thus far, but it seems that she isn’t aware of just how respectable all my guests are.”

Considering Goldtalon was talking to an infamous cult and warlock facilitator, he certainly had an interesting definition of ‘respectable.’

Marius turned a dry smile on me, and took a moment to adjust his tie. “Suffice to say, magus, the sort of riff-raff who would try to cause problems simply aren't invited. And ... well I’m sure you’ve noticed the rather formidable magical defenses guarding this establishment. It would be most unwise for anyone to attempt to steal the Codex. Or anything else in Goldtalon’s vaults.”

Well, that gave me one useful piece of information. After I got the Codex, I was probably safe until I left the estate. If Marius or anyone else wanted to steal it, they would probably assume it would be a lot easier to rob me than it would be rob Goldtalon. Sure, I was a magus, but I didn’t have a small army of bodyguards or the best wards money could buy.

The merchant nodded along with Marius, chuckling. “Of course, of course. I only market to the highest clientele. Quite simply, the vast majority of people can't afford my prices. And really, I am wealthy enough as it is. To be honest, half the reason I sell my goods is to have an excuse to invite so many notable beings into my home.”

“And the other half is because you do love to take our money, even if you don’t need it.” Marius smirked at the auctioneer. “Not that I am bitterly complaining about your prices. While yours are almost always higher than I would like, I never felt that I received a poor value for what I paid.” He shifted his attention to me, cocking his head to the side. “It will be interesting to see how you bargain, Magus.”

“I do like to introduce new elements to these auctions now and again.” Goldtalon cut in. “It keeps things interesting. Certainly I enjoy the company of my regulars, but it's nice to bring in new up-and-comers like the magus here who are hungry to prove themselves.”

“I am looking forward to seeing her in action.” Marius smiled and offered me one of his talons. “I have heard quite a few things about your work, Magus. I must say, your defeat of Metal Mome showed ... promise.”

I tried not to shiver at the reminder of what I’d done to the pirate captain. My first real experiment with dark magic, and one I’d rather not repeat. Or be reminded of. And certainly not praised for, especially by someone who specialized in training warlocks. It was more than a little unsettling to think he might be looking at me as a potential recruit. I barely managed to force out a polite, “Thank you,” though I couldn’t bring myself to shake his talon.

“You're quite welcome.” He looked me over, then nodded to himself. “I would enjoy properly making your acquaintance, once this auction is done. Perhaps we could arrange to have tea together some time in the next few days? There are a great many things we could discuss about possible future endeavours.”

“I’ll see what my schedule looks like,” I answered noncommittally.

“But of course.” The facilitator turned his attention back to Goldtalon. “Well, if there is nothing else, shall we get to it?”

The auctioneer glanced towards one of the large, ornate clocks. “Yes, I suppose it is getting a bit close to time for the main event.” He politely bowed to both of us. “If you two will excuse me, there are a few things I need to attend to before we get started. The usual last-minute preparations. I'm sure you understand.” We both let him know that we did. “Excellent! Best of luck at my establishment.”

“But of course.” Marius glanced my way, then smiled dryly. “And best of luck to you, Magus. I hope you do add a bit of fire to the proceedings. I have found that auctions can grow a bit ... dull.”

“You’re in luck then.” I smirked. “Usually when there’s complaining about me, it’s because I made things too interesting.”

True to Marius’s words, most of the auction was fairly dull. I didn’t really care who got a dagger used to assassinate an old queen or a statue of somepony who died two thousand years ago. I suppose I should’ve been watching how everypony handled the bidding to try and get a sense of who they were and what strategies they used, but what was the point? Since the EIS was covering my bids, I had access to the entire royal treasury; nopony was gonna beat me in a bidding war.

Besides, everyone else here was probably trying to figure me out too. And I didn’t like the idea of anyone getting inside my head and finding out what made me tick, which was why I pulled out one of my old journals and put the finishing touches on a new spell I’d been working on for the last week or so. I didn’t look up once, no matter how heated the bidding got.

I didn’t even take my eyes off my notebook when Goldtalon brought out the Black Codex. The auctioneer cleared his throat and began introducing the item. “The Black Codex, a tome of magical lore long thought to be—”

Without even breaking stride on jotting down my notes, I calmly declared. “Ten million ducats.” Jaws dropped, and everypony’s eyes turned to me. I continued to pretend none of them existed. Sure, I’d dropped a gigantic bid, but it’s not like the money mattered to me. After all, the EIS was going to be paying for it, and if anything making them pay extra counted as a bonus. I could just imagine the chewing-out Strumming would get when she hoofed that bill over to her bosses.

Goldtalon certainly didn’t seem to mind, even though I’d interrupted his speech. I suppose offering him eight figures was enough to offset his miffed pride. I was a little surprised nobody questioned my ability to pay that much, but I guess exclusive super-expensive auctions don’t ask about that—they just assume you’re good for it. Like restaurants where the menu doesn’t have any prices. Or maybe Goldtalon was hoping I couldn’t pay so he’d have a massive debt to hold over my head. He was probably rich enough that having a unicorn with my skill and power owe him a huge favor was worth losing a few million bits. “Very well then, Magus Shimmer has opened the bidding at ten million Freeport Ducats. Would anyone else care to offer another?”

Fancy Pants grimaced and reluctantly shook his head. I guess the Canterlot gentleman adventurer didn’t have enough cash on hoof to outbid me. The auctioneer’s gaze then turned to Marius. The other gryphon said nothing, but the cryptic smile on his face was answer enough. I suppose he’d decided it would probably be cheaper to hire someone to kill me and steal the book from my collection than it would be to outbid me. Hay, maybe Fancy Pants had decided that too. Fancy might look like a prim and proper gentleman, but so did Marius, and he was a warlock who worked to set up black magic cults. And even if Fancy was as much of a good guy as he claimed to be, I knew first-hoof that good ponies could still do nasty things when they convinced themselves that they had no other choice, or the greater good required it.

Goldtalon rapped the gavel on his podium. “Very well! The Black Codex is sold to Magus Shimmer for ten million ducats. Now then—”

The Codex vanished in a flash of light as I teleported it away, the book landing neatly on top of my journal. I closed the journal, then put both books away beneath my robes. With my business finished, I saw no reason to stick around any longer. If Marius or Fancy were planning anything, the last thing I wanted to do was give them any time to set things up. So without another word, I rose to my hooves and headed for the door.

Author's Note:

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James Miller
Jeffrey Martin
Justin Emery
Steven Ilten