• Published 17th Nov 2016
  • 3,953 Views, 3,102 Comments

The Mask Makes the Pony - kudzuhaiku

Flicker Nicker has joined the Rat Catcher's Guild. He's rather good at it, but wants to be better.

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Chapter 2

The return to headquarters was unremarkable. Having completed his task, Flicker didn’t expect praise for just doing his job. He knew that he would find out what Mister Chandler felt soon enough. It was enough to know that he had done a good job and had finished everything expected of him. He had purged the infestation, which was the enjoyable part, and he had done the cleanup, which was the work part.

Pushing open the door, he entered his room, and heard a meow. He stopped for a moment and looked down at the hairless, mutant monstrosity looking up at him. Spud, an apt name if ever there was one, appeared to be the nightmarish offspring of a housecat and a bulldog. The cats, bred by the Rat Catchers, were hairless, there were stubs for external ears, they had thick, leathery skin, and were downright psychotic when dealing with rodents. They were smart, far smarter than regular cats, and were bred to resist disease, fleas, and parasites.

Spud opened up his bear-trap like mouth and made his feelings known. “Meow?”

For lack of anything else to say, Flicker replied, “Meow.”

Purring, Spud rubbed around Flicker’s legs for a moment, then returned to sunning himself in front of the narrow window. He lay on the sunny patch on the stone floor and his purr sounded more like a steam engine’s rumble. Standing near the door, Flicker inspected his room, looking for anything that might get him scolded.

Everything was just as he left it, neat, clean, and tidy. His bunk was made, Spud hadn’t messed it up, and there wasn’t much else in his room, other than a training dummy in the corner, a rack with a few wooden swords, and a trunk filled with his few belongings. Flicker had a simple, uncluttered life.

These were the difficult times, the time when he wasn’t working and he didn’t have schoolwork to do. He rather liked working, or at least having something to do, and he detested boredom. He wasn’t dumb, but he was the first to admit that he lacked imagination and creativity. There were books in his trunk and he could pass the time by studying, which he decided to do.

Just as he took the first step towards his trunk, there was a knock upon the door, and then the door opened. Flicker paused, turned his head, and waited to see who was entering his room. The door was pushed open wide and the tall, looming figure of Asterius, the minotaur maiden that was the butler entered. Tilting his head back, Flicker looked up at her. She dwarfed him and he remained in total awe of her.

“You are wanted in the conservatory,” Asterius said in her peculiar accent. It sounded as though she had said conservatree.

“Hi there, Asterius.” Flicker Nicker, raised on a farm in the provincial town of Ponyville, was still mystified when he met one of the other sapient species. He had known her for quite some time now, but remained in awe during every encounter they had. Every part of her was of interest to him, from her horns, to her hands, to her hooves.

Reaching down, the mighty minotaur extended one finger and pressed it into Flicker’s nose, booping him. He went cross-eyed just as he always did, fascinated by her hand as well as her finger, and as he stood there, frozen by the boop on the nose, the minotaur maiden made good her escape, smiling as she departed.

Not only was she the butler, but she served as Doctor Sterling’s nurse.

The glass roofed conservatory served many purposes, it had books, it served as a study, it had a telescope that could be peeped through, and was typically used as a comfortable meeting room, like right now. Flicker stood just inside the door, a little nervous, a little hesitant, worried that he might upset the guild’s most generous patron.

Doctor Sterling was sitting in a high backed paisley upholstered chair, sipping on a rather large snifter of brandy. Wick Chandler stood near the corner window looking out, and Night Light, the guild’s patron, stood looking at Flicker Nicker, who was frozen, his ears drooping, standing just in front of the doorway.

“Don’t be nervous,” Night Light said in a soft voice, trying to reassure the timid colt. “Do come in and be comfortable. I understand that you did very well on your test today.”

“Sir, I do my best,” Flicker replied as he stayed right where he was.

Smiling, Night Light lifted his head. “I understand that you are very methodical and thorough. You are quite good at what you do and you are trusted with a tremendous amount of responsibility for your age.”

“Sir, I am only doing my job. Flattery is not required, I get paid for the services I perform and that is more than enough.” Flicker shuffled on his hooves as his tail swished around his hind legs. He blinked his pale blue eyes, tossed his head back to get his dark blue mane out of his face. “I am pleased that our guild’s patron is happy with my performance.”

Night Light, who glanced at a box sitting on a nearby table, stood there for a moment, one eye narrowed, and that eye’s eyebrow arched in a manner most dignified. “I didn’t come to flatter or to praise—as a matter of fact, I’ve come as a gift horse.” The middle aged stallion chuckled at his own joke and then turned to face Flicker once more.

Sitting in his chair, Doctor Sterling poured another glass of brandy, as he had finished his current. He too, turned to look at Flicker, and he made a gesture with his hoof for the colt to come into the room and have a seat.

“He’s too much like you, Wicked,” Night Light said to the pony staring out the window. “I do believe that his disadvantaged upbringing has left him humble.”

Pulling a pocketwatch from his frock coat, Wicked, as he was known by his friends, eyed the time, slipped the pocketwatch back into its pocket, and began to walk towards Night Light after turning about. “Aye, ‘e’s ‘umble, a’right. Now, Nighty, I’m right curious about the contents of that box.”

“Patience, old friend.” Night Light smiled as Wicked approached and he too, beckoned for Flicker to come closer. “Come here, I have something for you. A dear friend has been working on it for quite some time. I got the Heliophant himself to craft this for you.”

Flicker, afraid of offending the guild’s patron, shuffled forward in a slow and cautious manner. These were educated stallions, wealthy sorts, and he always felt so out of place among them. He felt crude, unrefined, and self conscious. One day, many years from now, after much self improvement, he might feel worthy, but today was not that day.

He would make himself worthy, however.

“Doctor Sterling has nothing but good things to say about you, but he did mention that you have a little trouble with magic.” Night Light’s brows furrowed as his nostrils flared, and the middle age stallion looked Flicker in the eye. “This is nothing to be ashamed of, so please, don’t be upset. I have something that might help you. Open the box, young Mister Nicker.”

Feeling ever more self conscious, Flicker wished that he had his mask. He was in a room with giants, stallions that he worshiped, respected, and desperately tried to emulate. Doctor Sterling, in particular, was his idol. Mister Chandler was his master, the pony that had given him all of this, a chance at a better life. As for Night Light, well, Night Light, as a patron, paid for all of the things that Flicker could not yet afford and he funded the guild as well.

He owed Night Light a great deal and had no idea how to make it up to him.

Licking his lips, Flicker stood at the edge of the table, looking at the well crafted box. The box itself was an exquisite masterpiece and no doubt cost a small fortune. Flicker thought of just about everything in terms of bits, as bits were very, very important to him, bits were near and dear to his heart, as it would be his bits that paid for his little sister’s higher education when the time came.

A few blue sparks flew from his horn as he pulled the box closer to him, the box, though small, had heft to it. The wood and brass were high quality stuff, not cheap, chintzy garbage. Flicker appreciated sturdy things, things like his mask, his armor, and his sword.

It took a few attempts, his telekinesis was clumsy, but he undid the ornate brass latch that held the box closed. Hesitating, he stood there, feeling awkward and insecure. He hadn’t even opened this yet and he felt that this was too nice a gift. The box alone was too much and whatever might be inside could be a king’s ransom.

The lid opened without a sound on perfect hinges and Flicker peered inside. He saw… a stick. It was a nice stick and it was laying on a bed of cushioned black velvet. Something about it made his horn prickle and he wondered what it was. Fearing that he might be ungrateful, he turned to look at Night Light and cleared his throat so that he might speak.

“Thank you.”

“It’s a wand.” Night Light’s voice was a gentle whisper. “I can tell that you’ve never seen one before and that’s okay. Think of it as a tool of your trade. It will help you focus your magic and allow you to cast some spells that you might otherwise not be able to cast.”

This left Flicker curious and he looked at the curious little stick lying on a bed of velvet. The wand was covered in carved symbols and he could feel the magic coming off of it. It had a lumpy knob at one end and at the other there was a brass capped tip. Reaching out with his magic, he lifted it, and when his magic touched it, it felt as though electric current flowed through his body, but in a pleasant way.

“The Heliophant grew the tree that made that wand, he carefully trimmed off a branch, and then he crafted a wand from it after curing the wood and doing whatever it is that he does. Mister Teapot is one of the most extraordinary unicorns I know and his knowledge of magic is matched by few. But he is like you, young Mister Nicker, in that he isn’t very magical, as far as unicorns go. He has found other ways to adapt. Let this be a lesson for you, Mister Nicker.”

Too overcome to say anything, Flicker nodded as he held his wand up to examine it.

“Changes are coming, and I want you prepared.” Night Light looked troubled and his ears angled over his face. “While I would never speak ill about the rat catchers, I will say that many of them are older and set in their ways. Big changes are coming, and you are young—this is an asset. You will learn and adapt to these changes as they happen, as we transition into something new.”

“Changes?” Flicker asked in a subdued whisper.

“This guild is the best equipped to deal with contagion and disease. This has been true for centuries.” Night Light’s head bobbed with a solemn nod. “Princess Luna feels that the Rat Catcher’s Guild is most suited for becoming a force of disease control. Not just with rats, mind you, but dealing with outbreaks as they happen. Hoof in mouth disease, rabies, parasitic infections, there is no finer fighting force against that which is most capable of bringing our great society down.”

Flicker considered Night Light’s words and gave them thought, as he had some doubts.

“It was your mentor, Doctor Sterling that convinced Princess Luna of this,” Night Light added.

Oh, Flicker thought to himself, if Doctor Sterling thought this was a good idea, a good direction, then it had to be. Any and all sense of doubt slipped from Flicker’s mind and he nodded, his thoughts now untroubled. If he needed to learn more stuff and adapt to new job conditions, he could. For a second, he glanced over at Doctor Sterling, and there was an almost fanatical gleam in his eyes. He wanted so very much to be just like the good doctor.

“You’ll also be getting a new roommate, Lad. We’ve found quite a find, ‘e’s a fine lad that can smell disease and ‘e’ll be ‘ere soon. Earth pony by the name of ‘Ennessy Walker. You’ll be showin’ ‘im what to do and I’m planning to send you all on a trip to a little community north of Applewood. There’s been an outbreak and the Las Pegasus branch of our guild is too overwhelmed to deal with it.” Wick watched as Flicker spun his wand in the air and the old stallion smiled.

“Oh dear,” Doctor Sterling muttered to himself, and then he let out a fierce ‘harrumph.’ He finished off his brandy, smacked his lips, and set his glass down on the wooden table beside his chair. “The train will be here soon. I need to go and fetch young Mister Walker. Flicker, you’re coming with me.”

As Flicker placed the wand back inside of its box and closed the lid, Night Light had one final thing to say. “Flicker, I expect good things from you and I know that you won’t let me down. This wand is an investment in your future. There is only one thing I ask for in return.”

“And that is?” Flicker asked in a subservient, subdued voice.

“You must pass your candle exam this time!” Night Light replied as the colt before him let out a groan. “No excuses. I know for certain that you have it in you and if necessary, I will come and help you study. No more failing, and that is final. Are we clear on this issue?”

Ears drooping, tail sagging, Flicker had trouble looking Night Light in the eye. “Sir, I will do as you ask. Thank you for giving me a chance to prove my worth and thank you for the wand. I will not let you down.”

“Flicker, my dear colt, you have already greatly exceeded my expectations…”

Author's Note:

Spud. :twilightoops:

Spud needs fan-art.

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