• 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 41

The cave was dry, and very obviously lived in. Between the candles that dotted the natural hallways and the light spells carried by the two unicorns, Mouse had plenty of light to lead them down into the depths. Again his supernatural knowledge of the place as he led them unerringly down the tunnel unnerved Golden slightly, but she once again set it aside for the mission.

Finally, they came to a new chamber, one whose walls were smooth cut by magic, and lit by magic light, the three of them found themselves staring down a large crowd of cloaked ponies, all of whom meandered in front of a giant altar. On either side of the stone table, statues of large, and presumably noble unicorns, each marked with the five pointed star that the Oath had claimed as their own, reared up as two sentinels, no doubt celebrations of the unicornian form. Behind all of those, a crown sat etched into the wall, and Golden had to hazard a guess that it served as a nod to the Golden Revolutionaries that served in the Horn of the Mystic Oath.

Golden looked around the room carefully, before Mouse motioned them to follow him with a tilt of his head. Golden and Wraith followed wordlessly, moving to the side of the room as the unicorns in attendance continued to mill about the room.

“We’ll need to keep an eye on the altar,” Mouse said. “They’re going to read a passage from the Tome later on as a part of Baron Jet’s attempt to figure out a way to harness it fully.”

“And we’re just going to let them read it?” Wraith asked.

“The pony who will be reading it isn’t going to take much anymore. He’s read from it too many times,” he said. “He’ll go mad before the end of the night.”

“So what’s our plan?” Golden asked.

“We let him read the book, he’ll go mad, and then we grab it while they’re distracted.”

“Good,” Wraith said. “Nice and easy.”

The trio watched as more ponies began to file into the room, whispering to each other in hushed tones. Golden watched them carefully, trying to determine which of these ponies would give her the most trouble, when Wraith whispered to her.

“Are you watching that old stallion in the corner?”

“The one who looks like he’d faint if he held a blade too high?” Golden asked. asked.

Wraith smirked. “He’s probably the most dangerous pony in here. That’s the thing with unicorns, especially mages. The older they are, the more spells they know. You can’t trust what they look like.”

Golden already knew that, and that old pony was very high on her list of ponies to watch. Still, she nodded her thanks anyway, feigning ignorance to please the assassin. Wraith had warmed up a bit to her since their first infiltration mission together in Vanhoover, and Golden wasn’t going to be rude when she was legitimately trying to be helpful.

“Alright, I’ll watch him, but you need to watch the big guy in the corner. Just because we’re surrounded by cultists doesn’t mean all of them are mages by trade.”

Wraith nodded to that, slowly agreeing.

They kept watch of their respective ponies as they waited in the chamber, before one pony stood at the head of the room. “Brothers and Sisters, I do hereby call this meeting to order.”

The rest of those gathered quickly quieted down, and took their places in the room, the older ponies finding seats, while the others found the best place to stand.

Golden, Mouse, and Wraith stayed next to the wall.

When the shifting stopped, the pony behind the altar continued. “Welcome, honored Brothers and Sisters. Before we begin in earnest, we have a number of announcements to get through.”

Half of the gathered ponies groaned, while the other half hushed them.

“The first order of business is recognition of Brother Garnet, his efforts in finding a new meeting spot after the latest sting of murders that those thrice-cursed fools that have come against us.”

The unicorns booed, and the pony at the altar raised a hoof for silence. “Yes, we mourn them all, and we shall avenge them. Our next announcement is news from home. The so-called ‘Queen’ Silver has raised taxes in Unicornia once again, and once again earned the ire of a number of the nobles that still remain. If she continues to rule like this, we may gain allies in the nobles when we march to liberate our home and place Queen Gold back on the throne.”

Golden sighed. She really wasn’t prepared for listening to this. Sure if they had some actual intelligence she could listen into, then at least she could feel better about this. Instead she listened to the itinerary, nearly falling asleep as they continued.

Just when she thought she would be able to take another moment of it, the pony behind the altar spoke again. “Now, finally, my brothers, we shall read from the Tome!”

Excitement sparked through the crowd, and new life flooded both the cultists, and Golden’s attention.

“No, no!” a cry came up from a side room, and all eyes went went to the passage just hidden behind one of unicorn statues. “I can’t do it again!”

An older unicorn was dragged into the room, carried by two large ponies. Golden watched, shocked at their treatment of one of their own as they brought him close to the altar, and opened the Tome in front of him.

“Please, no! I know too much!” the pony whimpered, before his head was all but shoved into the book.

The pages began to flip on their own accord, and the pony screamed as his mind filled with more knowledge than it could take. Golden frowned as she watched, and idly wondered if Mouse had to face this pain when he read the Tome.

Mouse stepped closer. “Almost time. Be ready.”

The reader gasped, as his head came up from the book, and his eyes wildly looked about the room. “We...we have an intruder among us.”

The crowd gasped in surprise, and eyes went wide as they began looking around between them. Golden did not gasp, though her eyes did go wide now that their cover was very nearly blown. Her body tensed, and her eyes quickly went to Mouse, waiting for a signal.

Mouse looked just as surprised as her. “Tha...I didn’t…”

“We need to find these intruders!” A voice called from the crowd of ponies.

“Find them! Burn them!” came the answer.

Almost immediately, the unicorns were whipped into a frenzy, looking this way and that for anypony that they did not recognize. Hoods were torn back, shouting echoed in the small room, as everyone began pointing hooves and searching for the prophesied imposer.

“Stay close,” Mouse whispered. “We need to get the book and get out.”

“Okay, but how? If we make any move for that book, we’re going to be shot with so many spells we could pass for an enchantment gem,” Wraith whispered back.

“I don’t know, give me a second to think and keep those ponies off our backs.”

Mouse’s mind raced as he thought. He had to come up with something.

Why didn’t he remember this? How could he have not seen it? How did he not prepare for this? How did he not know the reader would find them?

The book was on the altar, in front of the whole room, easily noticeable by every single cultist present. Even his invisibility spell wouldn’t get it away. They’d notice the moment he disappeared, and even then, they’d notice the book lift off the table before it slipped under the spell’s aura.

Could Wraith grab it? Her spells were mostly Destruction based. Unless he wanted her to light the Tome on fire, he wasn’t sure it would help any. Golden wasn’t much in the way of help either. Sure, she was incredibly capable, but the second she grabbed anything with her hooves or mouth instead of the magic she didn’t have, she’d be outed as the intruder.

He had to come up with something!

A distraction, maybe? But who would distract? He could, but if they caught him in the tunnels, then it didn’t matter. Fireballs tend not to care if the flesh they burn is invisible or not. If he stayed in the room, then they spread out and find him quickly. He did have his magic-eating knives, but those would only do so much good against so many different spells being cast at once.

He glanced across the room. Ponies were starting to make their way closer, pushing and checking each other as they tried to find the intruder. They’d be on him and the others within seconds.

Maybe he could try and oust one of his companions? It would gain trust, and get enough eyes on the one that they wouldn’t notice the other slipping to the back. It could work, especially if he called out Golden, but there were too many ways it could go wrong. What if they jumped the guard, sure she was tough, but not take-on-forty-cultists at once tough. If he tried Wraith, then she might be able to defend herself against spells, but Golden was not in the physical position to move for the book. They’d see her, or at least had a much higher chance to.

Eyes were leveling on the trio.

Time was up.

He stepped forward, and opened his mouth to speak, before he was suddenly shoved forward, where he went sprawling into the crowd. “You! You’re the intruder!”

Mouse turned, and looked to see Wraith glaring down at Golden, who glared back with equal venom in her eyes. “Me?” the disguised guard asked back. “I certainly don’t recognize you.”

Mouse blinked as the two mares began screaming at each other, each tearing the hood of the other as they did. It took him perhaps a second longer than it needed to, but he realized what they were doing.

They were using the plan he didn’t get to explain, and more importantly, they were the distraction. Mouse took one last look at the ponies around him, before slinking into the crowd.

Golden glared down at Wraith with all her fury, or at least, all her fake fury.

Sure, actually lying made he uncomfortable, but glaring and yelling was her bread and butter as a guard. "There ain't a pony here that knows you!"

"Me? I bet six good bits that nopony here knows your name!" Wraith growled.

"Of course they do! They know my name, and they know that no one here can question my loyalty to the true crown!” Golden said.

The crowd looked between the two, trying to discern which of the two was the proper member.

“So you say, but I don’t think anyone here even knows that you’re loyal to the crown. We don’t even know who you think the true crown belongs to!”

Golden chanced a glance into the crowd, searching for Mouse. “Can you believe her?” she asked as she looked. “She says you don’t know me! Me! After all the work I did for you? She says you don’t know my dedication to the cause! My sacrifices!”

The moment she said it, she knew she went too far, she could see the ponies in the cave were not quite buying it. They were more confused than embarrassed that they did not recognize her, and the latter was fading faster than the former, turning it all into a suspicious glare.

“Methinks the mare protest too much,” Wraith said with a growl.

“You can’t seriously take her word over mine, can you?” Golden asked, her eyes fluttering to the altar for a second which now sat empty. “I can’t believe you! Honestly! You’re going to let her lead you astray so easily?”

Wraith must have seen Mouse grab the Tome as well, because her next move shocked everyone in attendance.

Golden felt the horn on her head go slack and flop to the side of her face, knocked aside by Wraith’s magic. “I think that’s all the proof we need.”

The unicorn cultists were still in shock when Golden moved, plowing her way through the line of confused ponies, before bursting out into the tunnel. She galloped up the tunnels, hoping that she knew the way, only for Mouse’s voice to whisper in her ear.

“You need to stick to the left, but then take the third and fifth right!” he said as they ran up the halls together. “Here’s the book,” he said, before it appeared in front of her. “I’ll keep them off your trail. Just go!”

She ran, following his directions to the letter, left, left, right, left, right, left, left. She ran into a door that she didn’t remember, but charged past it, nearly blowing it off its poor hinges. As the wood splintered, she pushed through, taking one more left, and finding herself staring down a long blade.

“Goldy?” Cut asked, lifting his knife.

“I’ve got the book!” she cried. “We need to go!”

“Right, rendezvous point, this way!” he said, before he led her down the mountain, and away to the meeting point that Mouse had forced every member of the party to memorize. A small clearing surrounded by the mountains waited for them, along with a small campsite that Storm had prepared beforehand.

“Get in the tent,” Cut said, “and hide the book, I’ll watch to make sure that no one gets close.”

Golden nodded, before she slipped in, and only just realized as she laid down how heavy she was breathing. She gulped down the air, trying to slow it down despite her body craving nothing more than to breathe as deep as she could.

A few minutes passed, and slowly, very slowly, her heart calmed, and she found herself alone in the tent. Just her, and the Tome. The thought of the book brought her attention back to it, and she carefully set it before her to get a good look at the treasure that Mouse had taken.

A simple, brown volume with a strange cover sat before her. A white silhouette of divine figure, having both wings and horn, stood against an auburn field on its front. Before the figure of the goddess was an inkwell, and a quill, waiting to write a tale unlike any that came before.

She stared down at the book, whose cover felt cool to the touch. Again, she found herself wondering what Mouse had seen when he first read this book. What secrets did he see? What knowledge did he find? What could she learn if she opened the book?

She carefully opened the cover, where a blank page met her, and then turned the page to the next blank sheet. So far, nothing, no great big mystery of the universe answered, nothing, just blank pages.

And then she turns the page again, and blinks in surprise as it joined a story mid-way.

“The dungeon was his home, and he had lived here for as long as he could remember. He had learned quickly here, among the thieves, revolutionaries, and outlaws, how to be unseen, if only long enough to grab their food and run.

“The din of the prisoners was almost deafening as Mouse slipped into the next cell block, climbing up onto the single wooden rafter beam that crossed them. His hooves barely made a sound, and certainly not one that could be heard over the prisoners as they paced their cells or played card games.”

Golden blinked, before slowly realizing that this story was about none other than Mouse himself. She moved to close the book, but the pages kept flying by. His secrets, his thoughts, his time with the dragon, and the egg, his comforting words for the young colt that had been so hurt, all appeared before her.

She tried to stop it, even as it threatened to bury her in all of his thoughts and intentions. She saw the injustices against him, how every time he tried to do something, it fell apart around him. She felt his frustration as he was denied every chance, and the constant burning desire to live a normal life hit her again and again.

She reached for the cover of the book once more, pulling at the pages as yet more flooded into her. The spurning of everyone around him, his deep regret at killing Cedar, his betrayal of Strom, everything, pouring into her, hitting her in the gut each time.

The book finally slapped shut, and it stopped. She was alone again, only her and her thoughts, no one else’s. She released a shaky breath, and stuffed the tome into a bag, just so she wouldn’t have to look at it. She sighed again, and tried to calm her breathing once more, when the sound of rustling leaves caught her ear. She tensed, reaching for the short blade that hung under her clock, when Maple burst into the tent.

“Ms. Golden! Ms. Golden are you alright?” he asked.

“I’m fine, Maple, we made it out, that’s the important thing.”

“Did you get the Tome?”

Golden nodded. “Yes, Yes we did,” she said.

“Then we did it! Mr. Mouse got us what we need again!”

She smiled. “Yes, yes he did.”

“Let’s go get the others!”

“No, no!” Golden said. “We need to stay here, and wait for the others to get back.”

“Yes, we need to stay,” a new voice said, as Mouse shimmered into existence. “The others will come to us.”

“What about Wraith?” Golden asked

“She’s coming,” Mouse said. “She’s actually leading the ‘search’ for us right now, and it’s going to take her a while to slip away. Still, the important thing is that we have the Tome, the baron cannot ignore us now.”

Golden nodded, and they stood just outside the tent, watching for any sign of their party members.

As the minutes turned to hours, the rest of the team waited for the last two ponies to arrive. Storm was the first to return, after Cut went to retrieve him from his post, just so that the searching cultists would not find him. After a few more hours still, Wraith finally arrived, smiling wide and confident that the ponies had been sent on such a wild goose chase that they would not find any trace of the team being there that night.

Finally, as dawn began to crest over the mountains, the party began to move, heading back to the closest Shadowgate, with their prize in hoof.

Baron Jet would have to come after them now, and Mouse merely nodded as the plan slowly came together.

Or, at least, he hoped it was coming together. Instead, his head rang with a simple, terrifying truth. The Tome did not prepare for today, either he had forgotten it, or the Tome just hadn’t told him the whole story. He tried to comb his memory, tried to find some sign that he just made a mistake, but nothing was coming to him.

Did the Tome fail him? Did it refuse to give him everything, or did the answer just slip away? Was it his fault, or was Seyella turning on him again? Or maybe reading the Tome made you invisible from the Tome? Which was it? What was going on?

Was the plan even going to work?

He sighed as they stepped back into the sanctuary. It was only going to get harder from here.