• 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 38

As rain poured down, Golden wondered how long it would take for her to sink into the mud. It beat against her armor with a staccato ping! Mouse had led them to Manehatten, specifically approaching the north bank of the river, on the other side of the gate. Unfortunately, the storm threatened to swallow them whole if they weren’t careful.

More than once, Mouse had to warn them to move slowly, as he swore that ponies swearing to the Horn were nearby. Keeping that in mind, they gave the city a wide berth, though crossing the swollen river did present a few difficulties until Maple used one of his runes to cut a path through.

Still, this left them cold, wet, and walking trudging through mud as the continued around the city.

“Why are we here again?” Maple asked. “I mean, the city is there, so anypony we’d be looking for should also be there, right?”

“No, we’re looking for someone else,” Mouse said.

“Who?” Maple asked over the roar of the storm, which began to howl, as though insulted by the presence of these ponies.

“You’ll know him when you see him,” Mouse responded.

“What?”

“Don’t worry, kid,” Golden responded. “You’ll get used to that.”

“Well, if he’s here, then where is he?” Maple asked. “You told me he’s not a Runecaster, so he has no reason to be out here, not that there’s a lot out here anyway.”

“No, he’s here. We just need to find him,” Mouse said.

“Who?” Maple asked.

Golden smiled, and gave the young stallion a push. “You’ll find out. Don’t worry.”

Thunder crashed above them, rolling over the plane, drowning out the sound of the rain for a moment before it returned in full. The mud pulled at them, the river roared, and the rain tried to beat them down as it sapped their strength.

“We’re almost there,” Mouse shouted, as the storm threatened to drown him out. “We’re almost there!”

Lightning flashed over as the storm turned harder, pouring down with rain as a nearby tree exploded from the strike, lighting on fire where it stood.

“Over here!” Mouse yelled, as he led them further north, across the large, nearly empty field. “Here! It’s here!” Another lightning flash revealed a doorway, standing still, yet unsupported. “This way, get inside!” Mouse yelled again, opening the door to reveal a soft, warm light.

Quickly the others rushed inside, where a nice, dry, and warm hallway met them. The hallway seemed paved with large, square tiles. Each tile appeared perfectly cut, and lay perfectly flat. The walls stood perfectly straight, and the beams that supported it even grew without knots or flaws. The bays, covered in a beautiful, if simple, wallpaper, almost seemed to watch them enter, as light warmed the room from somewhere that the gathered ponies could not see.

“Where are we?” Maple asked, as he closed the door.

“A wizard’s home,” Mouse said simply, before he took off his cloak. “Take your cloak off, and be polite. He’s old, crotchety, but if we play our cards right, he’ll help us.”

Golden had already taken her helmet off by the time Mouse finished giving his order. Taking only a moment to adjust her wet mane, which clung to her forehead despite her efforts, she followed after the thief-turned-oracle, leaving Maple to take the rear.

“Well, if we’re trying to be polite, shouldn’t we introduce ourselves?”

“He already knows we’re here, which is why we aren’t sneaking about like thieves,” Mouse said.

“That’s...comforting…” Maple said, before Golden sent a glance his way, and stopped to let him catch up.

“Look, I know what it feels like,” she said as she joined him. “I know it feels like we’re walking blind into a fight we know nothing about, but this is the third time Mouse has done this, and so far, he’s gotten me out safe every time. I trust him to get us through this one.”

“You do?”

“Well, I mean, why not?” Golden replied. “He’s done his job, many times, and led us to safety each time. He’s watching out for us.”

“Yes, but...but we don’t know if he’s going to…” he faltered, the words just on the tip of his tongue.

“He does,” Golden replied, “and so far, that’s been good enough.”

The sound of a roaring fire grew louder as they walked down the hall, along with the snapping pops of firewood. It sounded like a nice, comfortable hearth fire that would dry out her coat, and warm her of the storms chill. She smiled at the thought, and wondered if they were about to meet the old wizard in a large, overstuffed chair by the fire. It made the old pony appear gentle in her mind’s eye, a kindly old stallion caught up in his books, yet, as they turned the corner, they were not met with a kindly old wizard and his fireplace, but rather a being of living flame.

Golden reached for her sword, and Maple began to raise his Runestones, but Mouse simply bowed before the beast. “Greetings, my name is Mouse, and these are my companions, Officer Golden Shield, and Runecaster Maple Leaf. We would like to speak with the master of the house over some incredibly vital information.”

The flaming figure, to its credit, appeared just as shocked as Golden and Maple. It’s clawed hand slowly relaxed, and the sound of the roaring fire quieted as it glanced between the three ponies.

And then it stared at them.

They looked at each other for a long moment, letting the silence drag on as they tried to figure out what to do with each other, before the flaming figure held out a clawed hand up, pointing further inside the building. The meaning was clear, even more so when Mouse nodded and began to walk forward, that they were to follow.

The creature led them through the maze of corridors, past rooms filled with laboratories, libraries, and large empty rooms, whose purpose Golden could not quite grasp. They moved forward, carefully, before walking up a flight of stairs, and into a small, round room. As Golden stepped inside, a number of things fought for her attention, the first being the mess. The whole room was filled with disheveled furniture, books splayed out across the floor, and candles that were nearly burned down to stubs.

The second most notable thing about the room was the window that opened up to a moonlit sky, overlooking a mountain vista as light, wispy clouds drifted by. This struck Golden as notable simply because that’s not what the sky looked like outside right now.

Finally, the third most notable thing was the unicorn in a blue, star-covered cape with bells sewn into the hem.

“Are they gone?” he asked.

The elemental made the sound of a campfire, before Mouse spoke up. “No, sir, we haven’t left. We have more important things to discuss.”

The wizard in the robe turned, and glared at Mouse. “Do you now?”

“That’s why your summon brought us here.”

“About what?”

“The nature of magic and politics,” Mouse responded.

The wizard raised an eyebrow. “I detest politics.”

“All the more reason to talk about them, unless you want them to shape what magic does without your say.”

The wizard glared again, before turning to the summon. “You’re dismissed.”

The fiery form nodded, before it seemed to sputter out of existence.

The wizard then quickly cast another spell, and a set of chairs and a table appeared on the side of the room. “Have a seat, please,” he offered.

Mouse nodded, and graciously accepted the offer, and was soon followed by the others as the wizard took a seat across from them.

“I assume you know who I am?” the wizard asked. “There’s hardly any other reason you would be here.”

Mouse nodded. “You are Starswirl, a powerful, yet mostly unknown wizard back in Unicornia.”

Starswirl nodded. “Then I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage.”

“I am Mouse, a pony in the Service of the Founders,” he said, before holding out a hoof to Golden. “This is officer Golden Shield, also working with the Founders, and finally, this young stallion is Maple Leaf, a Runecaster.”

Starswirl’s ears perked at that. “A Runecaster?” he asked, undisguised fascination filling his voice. “The same runecasting that requires the life-force of nearby plants, animals, or ponies to power spells?”

Mouse turned to Maple.

The earth pony blinked, before nodding, as though suddenly realizing they wanted him to answer. “Y-yes, sir. That’s what I do.”

“And yet you don’t seem to have suffered any negative effects,” Starswirl noted.

“No, sir. I feed my stones plants rather regularly. Flowers, wild bushes and weeds, mostly.”

“Fascinating.”

“And now for the less than fascinating part, I’m afraid,” Mouse interjected. “From what I understand, you were having some trouble in Unicornia, is that correct?”

The wizard sat straighter. “My larger concern is that there are few ponies willing to fund my research, yes. Mostly because the Unicornian nobility is more concerned with inane studies such as changing the color of mana, and commissioning two-bit hacks for thousands of gold pieces. So yes, I suppose you can say have been having some trouble.”

“Then I don’t need to tell you the opportunity Equestria has opened for you,” Mouse said simply.

“Would I be here, if it didn’t?” Starswirl asked. “More importantly, why are you asking me about the opportunities Equestria presents?”

“Well, it should speak for itself that Equestria is an ideal place to study magic. The nobles here are new money, and they have more practical needs for magic. You can offer those, and it allows you to dig deeper into your research. Everypony wins, right?”

“That is the case, but that doesn’t answer my question,” Starswirl noted.

“As it so happens, however, this arrangement is now severely at risk.”

“What makes you say that?”

Mouse leaned forward slightly. “As it so happens, a number of ponies are trying to take over Equestria as a vassal state for Unicornia.”

Starswirl blinked at the news. “Are you certain?”

“Very certain, sadly.”

“Hm.”

“That brings us to why we’re here, Mr. Starswirl,” Mouse said. “We want your help in making sure that this doesn’t happen.”

“You wish to turn me to war,” he said, narrowing his eyes.

“We wish that you continue your work,” Mouse replied, “and the best way to do that is in Equestria.”

“I could simply move,” Starswirl said. “There are other countries that I can work in.”

“You could, but we both know that neither of them will offer the same opportunities as Equestria.”

“Nonsense,” Starswirl replied, “I’ll be able to study magic wherever I go. It is innate in unicorns, after all.”

Mouse raised a hoof toward Maple. “All magic?”

Starswirl glanced over at the young stallion.

“The fact of the matter is, quite simply, that Equestria offers you chances unlike any you’ve had before. It’s rich in crystal, strange, magical creatures, and other kinds of magic that have yet to truly be discovered. Just imagine the breakthroughs you could make here.”

The wizard didn’t answer.

“Mr. Starswirl, we don’t need an answer, or promise of help yet. You have a little less than three weeks to decide. You just need to be at the Darkwood forest when the enemy appears. There should be a legion from Canterlot arriving around that time, so you can walk with them if you lose your way. All we ask is that you think about it.”

Starswirl nodded. “I’ll think about it, on one condition.”

“What?”

Starswirl smirked. “I want to work with the colt here, learn some Runecasting myself.”

Golden frowned the second she heard that. He was trying to weasel out of it, to study the one thing he can’t have anywhere else. Mouse has to know that, right? He knows this old pony’s just trying to get his way.

“Of course you can,” Mouse said.

Golden tuned to him.

“Really?” Starswirl asked, his tone sounding superior and smug. “You’re just going to give me what I want?”

“I’m giving it to you, because you are my friend,” Mouse replied. “That’s what Equestria’s about.”

Starswirl cocked his head, now more confused that the pony he was negotiating with knew exactly what he was doing, and let him get away with it. “Very well, thank you, I suppose.”

“I would only ask that you would continue to extend your hospitality that we might wait out this storm.”

Starswirl sighed. “I suppose it’s the least I can do for a friend.”

Starswirl eyed the Runestone, carefully touching it as though it might explode at any given moment. Or at least, that it might go off and begin sucking the life out of him. So far, it had appeared fairly innocuous, a simple carving in a simple stone, until he began measuring the magic that radiated off of it.

The stone appeared as a small star beneath his gem of magic detection, shining so bright it almost blinded him. The power in it was simply undeniable, and what's worse, it was definitely stronger than most spells he had seen many a unicorn cast. The shame in knowing that this young colt could out-cast many wizards he knew would be devastating back home.

Strangely, it’s what made the runestones all the more fascinating. At the cost of the life energy around them, even a novice of the craft could radically increase the power output of even the simplest spell. Starswirl thought that it might even be a simple price to pay for a such an increase, if not for the horror stories he heard of Earth Pony witches bringing famine, and sucking the life out of unsuspecting victims.

“And these runes are safe?” Starswirl asked.

“Until I activate it,” Maple replied. “Once I do then it will have to recharge.”

“And that’s when it takes the life out of the world around it?”

“Yes, I can slow it down a little, but if I make the spell too powerful, then there isn’t much I can do about it.”

“Fascinating,” Starswirl said. “I assume this means that most of the stories about witches then are just tales of those who let their spells become too strong?”

Maple nodded. “I’d have to assume so, I’ve never met them, but it’s what would happen if they tried.”

Starswirl laughed. “Well, at least it’s nice to know the unicorn’s aren’t alone.”

“What do you mean?” Maple asked.

“Oh, there are hundreds of tales of wizards that try to shrug off their mortal limitations and play around with the natural order, and so on,” Starswirl explained. “Honestly, there are enough tales and warnings about becoming an evil wizard you could fill a library wing with them.”

“Why?” Maple asked.

“Oh, for the same reason, Young Maple,” the older wizard said. “Magic is inherently powerful, and as a result, dangerous to those who don’t understand what surrounds them.”

“Life?” Maple asked.

“Magic, yes,” Starswirl answered. “Life is magic. Everything that happens around is magic. A lie is the simplest Illusion magic, a craftspony is a Transmuter, a campfire is the basis of all Destruction, a growing flower is practicing the same Creation magic as the greatest healer, and he who summons stories from the mind is a Conjurer in their own right. Life is magic, and yes, it is powerful, but that’s what makes magic special.”

“That’s only five schools,” Maple said.

“Hm?”

“Grandpa said that there were six schools of magic.”

Starswirl blinked. “Well...Your grandfather was a well educated pony, then, I must say,” he said before turning back to face the young Earth pony. “The sixth school is Friendship, and though I do think that life is magic, I’m still unsure if Friendship is in fact a school on its own, or a mix of the other schools.”

“So is it not a school?”

“It’s up for debate,” the wizard admitted. “Of course, because magic is so strongly controlled in Unicornia, most ponies aren’t even aware that there are schools of magic, much less that there’s an argument of the validity of one of them.”

“Well, that’s a reason to keep helping Equestria, isn’t it?” Maple asked.

“Yes, I suppose it is, isn’t it?” he muttered, before turning back to the Runestone. “You know, at its core this is basically an advanced form of enchanting. Crystal items use a very similar method of casting spells, they just take much longer to recharge on their own.”

“Do you think maybe that crystals can make runestones safer?” Maple asked.

“Perhaps, I think it’s more likely that rune carving can make crystal enchanting more effective,” he said, before he turned to face Maple again. “Thank you, Maple. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

“Well, I guess that was the point, wasn’t it?”

Starswirl nodded. “I suppose it was. Why don’t we go to bed. I think it’s late enough.”

“Well, Mr. Mouse,” Starswirl said. “You have somehow managed to convince me to help.”

They stood outside of the ornate, seemingly free standing door sometime around noon. The storm from last night had completely passed them by, leaving only the drying mud as the only sign that it passed through the night before. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved,” Mouse said.

“Yes, well, if we’re going to make Equestria a place for all kinds of magic to be studied and accepted, then one of the first steps would be to ensure that the country still stands by the end of the month.”

Mouse nodded and smiled. “To say the least.”

“Now, where did you need me to go?”

“The Darkwood Forest, two weeks, and three days, give or take any time you would need to set up.”

Starswirl nodded. “Very well, I suppose that gives me enough time to prepare myself. Maybe shave.”

Mouse shrugged. “I’m not sure you should. You look rather distinguished with a beard.”

“Now, now, Mr. Mouse, flattery is not the way to end this meeting.”

“Of course,” Mouse responded. “Thank you, though. I know this is no small thing to ask of you, but Equestria will not survive without your help.”

“I gathered as much,” the wizard said, before sighing. “Will I see you at the battle?”

“Perhaps,” Mouse said. “My team and I will have a greater task to complete that day, but it’s possible.”

“Well then, I hope I see you there alive.”

Mouse nodded. “I wish the same,” he said, before he bowed and backed away.

Starswirl nodded, and did the same, stepping back into his home, all the while rubbing the formidable beard on his chin.

“Alright,” Mouse said, once the wizard had stepped inside. “We’re doing a good job. After this, we need to convince one more group of ponies, before we go to war.”

“What do you mean?” Golden asked,

“We’re going to start on some Horn stings soon,” Mouse replied. “We’ll be hitting some cult hideouts, and tearing them to pieces.”

“Great, that’s the best news I’ve heard all day,” she said.

“Um, Mr. Mouse?” Maple said, bringing attention back to him.

“Yes?”

“I...if I didn’t cove, then Starswirl wouldn’t have come, would he?”

“I don’t know,” Mouse admitted. “What I do know is that, because you came, he’ll help protect Equestria.”

“Hm…” he muttered.

“You’ve helped him, Maple,” Mouse said, pausing a moment to look back at the young stallion.

The young Runecaster looked up, surprised by the sudden statement.

“You’ve helped him more than you could possibly know.”