• Published 28th Jan 2017
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The Tome of Faust - DungeonMiner



In the age of Equestria's founding, the world is not at peace. Dangers wait at every corner, and the shadows of the old world wish it dead. And yet in all of this, one pony just wants to live a normal life.

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Chapter 15

Mouse thought long and hard about the pale pony and his book.

He thought about trying to make a living in Canterlot again. He could try to find a new, honest job in town, and it would keep him from getting too close to the town of Tall Tale, which just so happened to sit two days journey South of Vanhoover. Canterlot could have provided something, he knew the could.

The only thing that stopped him from staying was the ridiculous number of guards that were flooding the streets the morning after he killed the Warden. So instead he hired the newly arrived cart, and began riding for Vanhoover at a quick pace.

It was only natural then that his thoughts turned to Vanhoover. Mouse knew little of the city, but from what Cut Purse said, getting a job wasn't going to do difficult. The only issue was that free lodging and board was two days away, for the low price of becoming a contract killer, tempting him with the idea of safety and revenge.

Bit how long until the guards caught wind? How long until the country-wide ponyhunt led them to his door? He had heard enough stories about ponies that thought they were safe, only to open their door one day to a large squad of guards eager to arrest their quarry. The pale pony said that he wouldn't help the guards catch him, but he wouldn't help Mouse keep the Feathers off his back unless he joined their little cult.

And what if news already spread? Mouse had heard of ways to get messages to cross massive distances, and he was sure the guard had at least one of them. They could have sent a bulletin ahead, the guards could already be on high alert. He’d have no way of knowing until he got there, and then the guards would already be at the advantage.

And then came Tall Tale.

Free shelter. Free food. A well paying job.

By Luna did it pay well.

Mouse thought back to the coin purse that appeared on his nightstand while he slept. The only mark on the bag was the tiny note tied around the bag’s mouth that simply read “Your pay.” Beyond that, the only thing of note was that the poor thing was almost stuffed to bursting. When he finally opened it, Mouse found it filled with gold, silver, and copper bits. It came to four hundred and fifty days wages we he finally counted it out, and he was doing his best to breathe easily as the bits spilled onto his hoof.

Mouse had felt no regret when he killed Pad Lock. The Warden had deserved every wound and more. Yet as he took that bag, and felt its heft in his hooves, he almost felt guilty for taking the blood money.

Almost.

Mouse sighed. Why was this so difficult?

Every part of him wanted to defy the pale pony and his book. He wanted to be honest. He wanted to live a peaceful life, one free of the guards breathing down his neck. That's all he ever wanted.

Yet more than a year's worth of bits for ending the life of scum had definitely made him second guess that. Not to mention that his safety was guaranteed, and all he had to worry about was the next life he was going to take.

It just left such a bad taste in his mouth.

Everything he wanted, gone. You might be able to disappear from thieves, especially when one of them is covering you from the inside, but assassins? Assassins would hunt you down and kill you just to keep you silent.

Still, wasn’t death worth the chance of freedom?

Mouse thought about this all the way to Vanhoover. It was a terrible question, one that he rolled over and over in his mind. The old stallion that raised him had made his stance on these kind of risks clear.

“Never try to escape unless you are sure that you will survive. The time will come when you can leave, but it will mean nothing if you wind up dead because you were impatient.”

Still, the chance at an honest life. He was already free, all he had to do was take it.

“Ah, but it’s not just the assassins you need to worry about.”

That was true. Again, the guards could be after him. How long until the birds made their way to Vanhoover? What then? On the run, hiding in the wilderness for weeks? Months? Years? No, no that fate was not his. If he could choose anything, he would at least choose not to run. He was not some common bandit to be forced on the lam. He was better than that at least.

Still…

Mouse thought long, and hard, but when he finally, finally stepped off the cart, he knew what he decided. He didn’t like it, but it was his decision, so with a final sigh, he gathered his bag, and immediately began to head south, toward the small town of Tall Tale.

Tall Tale was a mining town. The mountains that it cradled the small collection of stone buildings were filled with gems, and no doubt owed by another unicorn lord that had come to the frontier to make his fortune.

Earth pony and unicorn miners walked the streets, and crates full of gems went to carts to be traded away. A handful still went up to the manor house set up on one of the smaller mountaintops, to be enchanted, no doubt. Pegasi moved the carts about, teams lifting them wholly into the air to carry them across town.

The town was alive and working, not really what Mouse was expecting for a home of assassins. Still, he kept his eyes open for the pale pony and his book as he walked through the village.

“Quite scenic, isn’t it?” a voice asked beside him, and Mouse almost wasn’t even surprised when he turned to see the pale pony standing beside him. “There’s an incredible peace to this place. Beauty casts the greatest of shadows.”

“So you’re going to throw it into chaos?” Mouse asked.

“Eventually, not yet. There’s still more to do. Still more death to sow,” the pale pony whispered. “For now, it is a bounty to be enjoyed. A summer before the endless winter, or so our employer thinks.”

Mouse raised an eyebrow.

“This is not autumn, but spring, and life is yet budding in the earth. Frost may cling to the dew-covered grass, but the tree has not yet bloomed...” the pale pony muttered, before he turned his attention back to Mouse. “And here you are.”

“Yes...here am I, after being blackmailed into it,” Mouse nearly growled.

“Blackmail?” the the pale pony asked with a smile. “There was no blackmail. No threat. Not from us. No, the threat is from beyond, hidden by shadows and time. Only on the pages of knowledge are those secrets seen, but clarity must be sacrificed for comprehension.”

Mouse blinked.

This wasn’t how he remembered the pale pony. The last time they spoke, he had been clear, concise, and could practically dance around Mouse in a conversation. The stallion next to him barely could hold on to this conversation. “Are...are you alright?”

“Is anyone?” the pale pony asked, before walking ahead, down the alleys of the town.

Mouse watched him go, before he finally sighed and followed. “So where are you taking me?”

“The home of shadows, death, and ghosts,” he replied, heading for the mountains.

Past houses, down alleys, across streets, Mouse's guide walked past them all, quickly passing out of the town, and making their way to the empty wilderness, where the gems and metals were processed. They skirted around the smelters, the sluices, and stamp mills, making their past the processing grounds and to the mountains proper.

No one saw them. Between the evening shadows of the mountains, and the worker’s eagerness to head home, Mouse and his guide may as well have been invisible.

“Where are we going?” Mouse asked as they began to climb the mountainside.

“Home, little nail, home.”

“Nail? My name's Mouse.”

The pale pony ignored him, but continued to lead him up the mountain until finally they reached a peak. A small outcropping of stone stood between two sheer walls, both nearly cliffs with only a steep climbing path as the way up from the town.

Mouse groaned as he finished the climb, pulling himself onto the outcropping with a final grunt, before he began to gasp for air.

“Are you well, Brother?” The pale pony asked.

“Just winded…” Mouse gasped. “Give me...a second…”

“We cannot wait much longer,” he said, pointing to the setting sun. “Celestia will sleep soon, and the beasts of the mountain will waken, famished from their sleep.”

Finally, Mouse stood. “Alright, I’m ready.”

The stallion nodded, and crossed the outcropping, before walking through the stone, passing through it like a ghost.

Mouse blinked, before he hesitantly followed. He passed through the illusionary wall, doing his best to hide his surprise, before his eyes locked on the corridor in front of him.

Carved from the living stone, the corridor stood with smooth walls and perfect corners. Flagstones that seemed to be carved into the ground formed five hooves in, marking the inside and the outside in a single, undeniable line.

Yet this was nothing compared to the door.

Carved from black stone, the monolithic door sat flush with the mountain wall. A massive skull, carved from perfect, white marble, stared at him with ruby eyes, and crossed daggers were engraved into the surface beneath the skull.

The pale pony stood before the door, and spoke. “Spirit, answer me.”

The rubies began to glow, throwing the corridor in crimson light, before an ethereal figure formed before them. An earth pony took shape before them, a young mare who whimpered as she appeared. “Why? You took my life, why must you rouse me from my sleep? Why?”

“Spirit, I wish to enter,” the pale pony ordered.

The spirit groaned in pain, but spoke again. “Every night it takes you. You may try to escape, but will suffer. Then it will last forever. What am I?”

“Sleep,” the stallion answered before the door opened, and the ghost whined as she was kept on the earth ever longer.

“Follow, Mouse, follow or leave her to suffer.”

Mouse balked at the thought, and slid inside, where the door shut behind him.

He was surrounded by darkness, before an unseen mechanism lit a set of gemtorches above him. The room was thrown into harsh light, and harsher shadow as the red, magical light streamed down from above.

“This way, lifetaker,” the pale earth pony said, before he led Mouse deeper down the hall, before taking a sudden left. Blinking at the revealed passage, Mouse followed quickly behind, until they finally came to a large chamber.

They stood on a large balcony that hung ten feet off the bottom of the chamber. Red tapestries hung from the walls, depicting blades, blood, and a strange, creature that Mouse had never seen before.

Five ponies milled about beneath them, but they all quickly noticed their entrance. “Dearest family,” the pale pony said as he stood at the railing, “we have a new member!”

A pegasus from below leapt up, wings spreading to catch the air as he climbed up to the balcony. The navy blue pegasus with a deep blue mane, and a keyhole over crossed daggers on his flank glared at Mouse. The pegasus circled him once before speaking. “So why did you bring him, Oracle? What has he done?”

“It’s not what he has done, but what he will do,” the pale pony said with a smile.

The pegasus took one last look at Mouse before shrugging. “If you say so.”

The others began to move, climbing the stairs to inspect this new arrival. Two mares and two stallions all joined them, staring at the new pony with careful eyes. A unicorn mare glared from squinting, harsh eyes, while the pegasus mare with a quiver on her back looked him up and down.

The earth pony stallion nodded as he came around, before another pony gasped. “What? What is this?!” the unicorn stallion asked, getting everyone’s attention. “Oracle, Oracle, did you get him for me?”

“What are you talking about, Ghoul?” the pegasus stallion asked.

“Look!” the unicorn named Ghoul said, as he threw Mouse’s cloak back over his back to reveal his flanks. “He has no cutie marks!” Ghoul cried, joy on his face, before he pressed his face against Mouse’s bare flank. “It’s perfect! A pure, immaculate canvas upon which I can spread my art!”

Mouse pulled away, trying to put as much distance as he could between himself and the pony called Ghoul.

“Alright, alright, lay off,” the pegasus mare said. “You’re going to scare the little guy.”

“The art I shall paint upon that flank!” Ghoul wailed in artistic ecstasy. “The tales I will be able to spin!”

“He’s just excited,” the earth pony said. “I, meanwhile, am just happy to see another pony in service to the Void.”

The archer mare rolled her eyes. “And he can be a bit of a zealot,” she said, pointing to the earth pony.

He said nothing in return.

“Now, now, not yet…” the pale pony, Oracle, said. “Somepony still needs to die before he can join our family.”

There was a collective nod of consent, and Mouse quickly felt uncomfortable between the group of ponies. “W-who has to die?” Mouse asked.

“The old body must die that the spirit may soar,” Oracle said as the other ponies pushed him forward, “You must be put to the sword, so you may put the sword to others.”

Mouse didn't really like the sound of that idea. “So I have to die? Honestly, I can't say I’m all in favor for that. Could we try something else.”

“You’ll be fine,” the blue Pegasus grunted.

“You say that…” Mouse began.

“Be silent,” the other earth pony growled. “Have some decorum before the void.”

That didn’t put him at ease, either.

Funneled down the stairs into a separate chamber, Mouse soon found himself staring at an altar surrounded by crimson banners and low-burning candles. The door was shut behind them, and Mouse was soon left standing in the center of the room, before the altar.

Oracle stood on the other side of the altar, like a preacher in a temple, and nearly yelled as he began to speak. “Behold, we stand before the Void, waiting to bring this new pony into our fold. He has signed the contract, and sealed the covenant, there is but one thing that remains. To join our family, the he was must die, and a new pony will be born. Stand now before us, pony doomed to die, stand and be judged!”

Mouse was really starting to hope this was all symbolic.

“Speak your name into the Void,” the earth pony demanded.

“I...I am Mouse,” he answered back, deciding that answering the professional killers might be the better idea.

“You are no longer. The pony you were is dead,” Oracle said, before a puff of smoke erupted against the altar, and a mare, emaciated and delirious appeared on its surface. “With the death of this pony, your name, your family, and all your connections are rendered unto the Void. You will have a new name, and we shall be your family, you will need no connections but those you make in blood.”

A single dagger, with a long, wickedly curved blade appeared over the altar. “The time has come for you to be reborn, but a life costs a life, and blood must be spilled.”

Mouse was getting really, really uncomfortable.

The dagger floated down, hovering over the mare who barely seemed awake. “The first lesson of the Void is that existence is pain and destiny. Beyond your purpose in life, there is only suffering. The first tenant of the Void states that to kill is to bestow mercy. Look now, one called Mouse, look at your victim and see her suffering.”

Mouse looked down at the mare, who groaned as she stirred on the slab before him. Her ribs were visible beneath her fur, and her lips were cracked and dry.

“See her pain, and release her. Be reborn in her death,” Oracle cried, screaming with the passion of a crazed evangelist.

The dagger laid itself down in front of him.

“Release her,” Oracle demanded. “Release her, and take your rightful place.”

Mouse stared down at the mare, and tears began to form as she became more lucid. She writhed as some unseen agony forced her to roll into a ball.

His throat was dry, and he felt the eyes of the other assassins on his back. Biting his lip, and sweating, he slowly picked up the knife.

She whimpered, before looking up at him.

Mouse looked her in the eye.

She stared back, on the verge of weeping.

Mouse gulped, gripping the dagger in her hooves.

Her cracked, and bleeding lips parted, and she whispered a single, broken word.

“P-pl-please…”

And Mouse brought the blade down, ending her suffering once and for all.

“And so the pony known as Mouse is dead. In it’s place is a new creature, an apparition of death itself, a spirit of murder and vengeance. Now, there is only the pony that shall forever be known as Ghost.”

Mouse, or Ghost rather, had been led to a bed as quickly as possible. He didn’t remember getting to it, he was too busy remembering the horrified look of the mare as he stabbed her heart to really pay attention. Yet, it seemed Luna was forgiving, and his dreams were pleasant.

When he finally woke up, he had almost forgotten what he had done the day before.

Almost.

Pushing the image of her pleading eyes away, the pony now known as Ghost wandered out of his room, and into the main chamber that he saw the other day.

There didn’t seem to be anyone there, but the tables were full, and the hearth was warm and crackling.

Taking a few, tentative steps forward, he approached the table to find breads, fruits, and pastries waiting for him, along with tankards filled with a light, morning ale. The plates and dinnerware were silver, and a rich, red tablecloth was draped across its length. Mouse, or Ghost, whichever, walked to the table with perhaps slightly more caution than was necessary for approaching breakfast.

The food did not make a move to attack.

Taking that as a sign that it was perhaps safe, Mouse closed the rest of the distance, and carefully picked up an apple.

“So there you are,” a voice said, nearly causing Mouse to leap out of his skin.

He spun, trying not to draw his daggers, as he saw the pegasus mare with the bow and quiver on her back. “It’s good to see you, brother.”

“I’m...I’m sorry, I just...I just didn’t think I was going to be an assassin when I started this.”

“That’s what Wraith said,” she told him, moving past Mouse to grab a tankard.

“I’m sorry, Wraith?”

“She’s the unicorn that hates everyone,” she replied. “I’m Specter, one of the best archers in the world, and I dare you to prove me wrong.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Mouse said.

She chugged her drink, swallowing mouthfuls in seconds. She slammed her empty tankard down, and sighed happily.

Mouse waited.

She looked over at him. “What you want me to introduce everyone?”

“It’d be nice,” Mouse admitted.

She rolled her eyes. “Well you’ve already met Ghoul, he’s got this weird art thing going on. You know who Oracle is, he kind leads us, tells us who we’re killing and stuff. There there’s Demon and Phantom. Phantom’s a good guy, easy to get along with. You’ll like him,” she said, before she reached for another tankard. “Demon on the other hoof, he’s a nutjob.”

“I’m noticing a trend with the names.”

Emptying her second drink as fast as her first, she nodded. “Yeah, Oracle like his drama, and his metaphors. That could be because he’s going crazy though.”

“Crazy?” Mouse asked, slightly concerned that he sold his life away to a madpony.

“It's his book,” she explained. “Lets him read the future or something. Also turns his brain to mush, but that's his choice.” She grabbed another tankard, and drank it at a much slower pace. “Look, I can tell you everything there is to know about our little ‘family,’ but really you’re just going to have to learn for yourself.”

Mouse nodded. “Right...right…”

She took another swig of her drink before rolling her eyes. “Oh quit being a baby about it. Look at it this way, if anyone’s annoyed you back in the ‘world of the living,’ as Oracle calls it, then you'll finally have a chance to get ‘em back.”

Mouse nodded, “I guess.”

Specter nodded. “That's better, now quit picking at the food and eat something before Demon gets in here. That earth pony could eat us out of house and home if he wanted to.”

Mouse muttered a thanks under his breath, and quickly began to stuff several apples into this magical bag.

“Oh, and Ghost,” Specter said, breaking the silence between deep gulps of her drink.

He looked up at her.

“Welcome to the family.”