• 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 42

“The Tome is now ours,” Mouse said before the gathered ponies, “and that means that Baron Jet is going to be chasing us with a vengeance.”

“I should hope so,” Cut said. “This work wouldn’t be worth it if we didn’t have an army coming down on us.”

Maple nodded. “So, what are we going to do in this fight?”

“Hopefully nothing,” Golden said. “The plan is that the army is there to sap ponypower away from the Baron so he has to come after us alone.”

“Or mostly alone,” Wraith agreed. “Being able to hire an army is definitely one for the Baron’s greatest weapons and resources. Assuming he won’t have a team, or at least a personal bodyguard with him would be a dangerous thing to do.”

“The more important thing is that we are going to tie up what resources he does have, and limit them as we go forward,” Storm added. “From there, we can work on securing the book and taking out the Baron without having to wade through an army to get there.”

Mouse looked between them all.

“We have been paying some attention,” Golden said with a smirk.

Mouse shook his head. “Yes, as you’ve said, we are going to be luring the Baron away from his army with the express purpose of limiting his resources. The important thing is where we’re doing that.”

“I don’t like how you said that,” Cut said, as Mouse unfolded a map.

The map revealed the area around the Wilderness Shadowgate, a hold over from the assassins to help plan maneuvers out near the eastern edge of the Darkwood Forest. An “X” sat over a specific spot in the forest, and Golden could only assume it marked the castle of the alicorns, because, really, it’s the only notable thing in the forest. “We need to stop him before he gets here.”

“Why? What’s there?” Cut asked.

“The castle of the alicorns?” Storm asked.

“Alicorns?” Cut repeated.

“Didn’t we tell you about that one?” Golden asked.

“No!” Cut said. “You met actual gods, never said a word, but the moment my military career comes into play you let everyone know? How are you this bad at relaying information?”

“We were kind of on our way to the next job, Cut,” Golden said.

“I told the others,” Storm said. “You just weren’t here when I did.”

“Well glad to know you were thinking of me.”

“Back to the map,” Mouse said, getting their attention. “This is the castle, but most importantly beneath it is the Tree of Harmony.”

“That’s the thing that the Baron needs to get to rewrite history, right?” Wraith asked.

Mouse nodded. “We are going to have to do everything we can to keep him from reaching this point.”

“So we kill him before he gets there,” Wraith said. “Not a problem.”

“Sadly, it will be a bit of a problem,” Mouse said. “One of the things I know beyond any doubt is that the Baron will be bringing a very powerful team of ponies with him, including knights and mages. They are going to be a problem, and we will have to deal with them first.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have some incredibly convenient insight on that team, would you?” Storm asked with a smirk.

“Sadly, no,” Mouse said. “I don’t even know how many are going to be there.”

“Well, that’s useful,” Storm grumbled.

Mouse nodded. “Sorry, but that’s what I have.”

Storm blinked, and hesitated a moment. “I...I think that’s the first, sincere apology I’ve ever gotten from you.”

“Truly dark days,” Mouse muttered.

“There’s the sarcasm,” Cut said. “Ya almost had us worried, there.”

“In all seriousness,” Mouse said, as he looked across the table. “I am sorry, the coming days will be hard, and I need to give you every tool I can, to prepare you for that. But I can’t. I don’t have everything we need and…”

The others waited and watched him as he stood there.

“This will be dangerous,” he said finally. “Incredibly dangerous. Some of us will not survive this fight. I don’t remember who, anymore. It could be you, it could be me, it could be all of us, but sompony will. All we can, and must do, is stop Baron Jet before he gets to the Tree.”

Another long moment stretched across those surrounding the table.

Cut nodded. “Well, if nothing else, this sounds like my old jobs. Let’s get ready. Storm, what do we need to pack for the Darkwood?”

Storm groaned. “I’m going to have to go shopping.”

Mouse dropped a large sack of coins on the table. “Get everything you need.”

“Sincerity, and now Generosity?” Storm asked. “You’re starting to worry me now.”

Mouse shook his head. “Just go ahead, and get the supplies. It’ll give me a little time to break down and plan what we all have to do.” Without another word, Mouse stepped away from the table, and disappeared into his room. With Golden watching him every step of the way.

Mouse sighed as he stood with his head against the wall. Slowly, he brought his head back, and then back to the wall. He felt the cold stone against his skull, and prayed it would help clear his head.

Storm didn’t deserve to die on this mission. Storm was a good pony, the leader of the Darkwood company, and dedicated to helping ponies with various needs and jobs. Ponies depended on him, needed him. His noble bearing and example for the community meant that he simply couldn’t die, not now.

Cut didn’t deserve to die either. Sure, Cut was a criminal, but he was only a criminal to better help the country of Equestria. He used to be a war hero, and still could have been, if not for the fact that he went into hiding to work in the shadows. He still had so much good work to do, and cutting it short would only hurt the world. He couldn’t die, he definitely couldn’t.

Maple didn’t deserve to die. The boy was too young. He hadn’t had the chance to make his mark on the world. He hadn’t had a chance to work at his dreams, success or failure. He had so much promise and potential still in him. Maple could still harness the power of the runes and lead ponykind forward into a new future of magic. There was so much he could still do, he couldn’t be one of the ones who die.

Wraith didn’t deserve to die, either. Yes, she was a murder, but the poor mare’s thoughts had been so twisted. The truth about herself that she did not know still burned in his head, as fresh now as it had been when he read it in the Tome. She could be redeemed yet, better than he could, definitely, and all it would take is the right step. She could become a great teacher, mage, or spy if she so desired, she had so much good she could do. It would be a true, unshakable tragedy is she passed.

Golden certainly couldn’t die. She was a guard. An upstanding member of society, and for once, Mouse thought the two actually belonged together with her. She didn’t beat those below her, and she protected the weak. After all, that little colt they saved together wasn’t the only pony she helped. She had to be the only good guard that Mouse knew, and he knew enough that he still considered himself an expert on the matter. She had to live, had to.

That left him.

He was a victim-turned-criminal. He had his shot at an innocent life, and he squandered it. He wasted every chance he had, and had so little to show for it. A few magic daggers, and the thanks of a Princess he barely helped were the most valuable things Mouse had earned in the past half a year of work, but that was it. If anyone deserved to die, it was himself by far.

But he knew his path. He knew what he was. The nail for the horseshoe of the soldier, who won the battle, who won the war. The nail that “for want of,” everything fell apart. He had to hold, or everything around him fell apart. Equestria needed him to live.

Still, someone had to die, and as he brought his head back to the wall again, he still found himself hoping that he’d be the one to do it.

He slowly pushed his head into the wall again.

“You know, I’d think keeping my head clear was more important than digging a hole in the wall with your horn,” a voice said behind him, and he turned to see Golden standing in the doorway of his room.

“I don’t know if it’s worth it,” Mouse said.

“Oh, come on,” she said. “You’re not one to be moody.”

“Moody?” he asked. “We’re going to die, Golden. At least one of us is, and I’m the one leading us to that. I have the weight of at least one of us over my head, and you’re calling me moody?”

Golden shrugged. “You’ve held that weight before. Wraith has, Storm has, Cut has, I have when I’ve gone on my rounds. The only one I think who hasn’t had a life weigh on them has to be Maple, but he’s still young. We all know what you’re thinking, and personally, I’m glad you feel like this about it, but you need to straighten up and be a commander.”

“What are you talking about?” Mouse asked.

“I…” she began. “It’s the best way I know how to put it. A commander always feels the weight of the lives of those he’s responsible for, but he has to send them out. He faces the oncoming battle without a single worry on his face. He can’t afford to show the worry, he can’t let his men worry about him when they have so much they still need to do.”

Mouse allowed himself a smirk. “So what? I should lie then? I thought you prefer it when I’m honest?”

“It’s not...lying. It’s keeping your mind clear until it’s too late. It’s not letting yourself make things worse. We know you’re worried, and well, most of us can take it. Maple can’t though. The poor kid is terrified. The rest of us know what it’s like to get ready to sacrifice our lives. We’ve done it before, and we’re here now doing it again. But if you keep acting like this, I don’t know if Maple’s going to make it. You need to be strong for him, if nothing else.”

Mouse went silent.

“Maple needs you to stay confident, if only so that he can pretend that he can do it.”

Mouse nodded.

“We need you to be a commander, Mouse. Not matter what the cost that you’ve seen.”

Neither of them spoke for a while, until finally, Mouse nodded. “Alright, alright. For Maple, then.”

Golden nodded and smiled. “For Maple.”

The team stepped out of the Shadowgate, and found themselves standing on a hill just north of the Legion that Commander Hurricane gathered. Cut instantly recognized the camp’s layout as the classic Pegasopilan method, and quickly directed Mouse and the others to the Principa in the middle of the camp.

As they made their way down the hill, and approached the fortified camp, Mouse led the team of ponies down, walking proudly with his head held high. Sure enough, just as Golden had said, it had a rejuvenating effect on the team, and every pony in the team matched his posture, with a confident grin on their faces. Even, and especially Maple.

They were met at one of the small, fortified gates, and recieved a little resistance from the guarding ponies on watch. Despite that, however, they managed to make their way in, and walked down the main road to the tent that served as the headquarters. The tent was furnished with a table, some chairs, a brazier, and a map that the Commander was pouring over.

The Commander looked up, and nodded. “Decanus Wind, good to see you.”

“Commander,” Cut replied.

“Well, according to our Immunes, there is, in fact, a force of nearly three thousand ponies from Unicornia, through Queen Gold refuses to admit they are hers. In her defense, the army is not flying any Unicorninan banners and they don’t seem to have any knights, but this still isn’t going to be an easy fight.”

Cut nodded. “That matches the description of the force we collected. The private army of a noble that has been living and working here in Equestria, Baron Jet.”

“He’s one of our nobles?” Hurricane asked.

“At least he wanted us to believe he was,” Cut explained. “More likely, he still owes most of his allegiance to Unicornia.”

Hurricane nodded. “So the Queen’s making a push while trying to avoid political backlash, smart.”

Cut nodded again, deciding that explaining the difference wasn’t work the time or effort. “We have an additional piece of intelligence, Commander,” he said. “We understand that a number of Sappers mean to infiltrate the camp while you are engaged with the enemy.”

Hurricane looked up from the map. “Do you know how?”

Cut shook his head, and approached the map, before pointing at the West side. “Only that they mean to come in from the Darkwood.”

“What do they want to accomplish there?” The commander asked.

“We don’t know, but, I am requesting permission to take my team and deal with them, sir.”

The Commander looked up at him. “You think the sappers are that dangerous that the camp guards cannot take them?”

Cut nodded. “My sources say that they will be armed with powerful artifacts, and mages. You will have enough to worry about, as will the camp guards, without having to worry about a fireball from behind.”

Hurricane fronwed. “Very well, you may go, and may Ventus give you speed.”

Cut nodded, “The fury of the Storm go with you,” he answered back.

“I will let the Quartermaster know if you need to stock up on supplies or rations.”

Cut nodded. “We have that covered. But a place to sleep the night would not be unwelcome.”

The commander nodded. “There’s a spot by my tent that hasn’t been taken up. It’s supposed to be for my praetorium, but there’s no time for building a proper house there.”

Cut nodded. “Thank you, that will be more than enough.”

The party nodded, before stepping out of the tent, and back in the large open area next to the Commander’s tent, unmistakable by its size and the large banner that hung from the rainfly of the tent. “We have the time, right, Mouse?”

“One night,” Mouse said. “But we’ll have to leave at midnight to catch them in time.”

Cut nodded. “Then at the very least, we’ll get ourselves rested before we run into the night.”

“Still not sure it’s a good idea,” Storm said.

“It’s the best one we have,” Golden said.

“Agreed. Still don’t think it’s a good idea.”

Without much fanfare, they set up their tents, building a shelter to take care of them for the afternoon. Cut went to the bread ovens that had been built with packed dirt that once came from the ditch that surrounded the wall of wooden stakes around the camp for warm food, and Golden spent a few coins getting her armor touched up in the workshops across the main road that ran along the north-south line through the camp.

Just as he finished setting up the second of three tents, Mouse swore he heard something. “You’ll be alright, kid,” Wraith’s voice said. “The Darkwood is nothing compared to magic, and we have enough between the two of us.”

“But...I mean, my magic is really dangerous,” Maple said.

Mouse peaked around the corner of his tent to see the unicorn hovering over the young stallion’s side. Maple’s face was a mess of nerves and barely-contained panic, and Mouse suddenly became very aware of the brave face he was putting forward.

“All magic is dangerous,” Wraith said, offering her own unique brand of murderous comfort. “Anyone can walk into a tavern and ignite the whole thing with a fireball. That’s nothing new. The only difference between what I can do, and what you can do, is that you need to be careful with what gets eaten.”

“I know! That’s the problem! I don’t know if I have enough life force to keep my runes charged!”

Wraith shook her head. “Kid, we’re going into the Darkwood, you’ll have so much to leech off of that if you’re using anything other than the surroundings, you’re doing it wrong.”

“I...really don’t like the term ‘leech,’” he muttered.

“You’ll be fine, Kid, don’t worry about it.”

Mouse backed up out of sight, before moving back forward and around the corner. The moment he came into view, Maple saw him and his face slipped back into a mask of confidence. Almost as if he hadn’t been on the verge of a breakdown a second ago.

“How’re the tents?” Mouse asked.

“Ready, sir!” Maple replied with gusto.

“Good. Now get ready for some sleep Cut will be back with the bread any minute, and then we need to get to sleep.”

“You got it.”

Mouse nodded, “And Maple?”


“You’ll be just fine, we’ll be there for you.”

Maple hesitated, before nodding. “Yes, sir.”

As the young earth pony disappeared for his evening preparations, Mouse turned to Wraith. “Keeping him ready?”

“Trying to,” Wraith said. “He’s trying not to appear nervous, but I can tell he’s anxious. I’m trying to bring him back down again, so the mission isn’t endangered.”

Mouse nodded. “I know. You did a good job, too. He’ll be there when we need him.”

“I know he will,” Wraith said. “I’ve been around him long enough to know what he can do. He’ll be there for us.”

Mouse nodded. “He will,” he agreed, before checking the sun’s position. “Get some rest, Wraith. We’ll need to be fresh for tonight.”

She nodded, before ducking into her tent. “Yeah, yeah. Goodnight.”

A few miles away, Luna stood on her balcony, looking out over the East, where the smoke for the campfires rose over the canopy of trees. She sighed as she watched the smoke lazily drift into the sky, knowing full well that this was the army Mouse told them he would raise.

They’d be going to war soon. Pony would fight pony yet again, and blood would be spilled. Meanwhile, Luna would be here, letting them go to war without so much as raising a hoof to defend them. The smell of death would reek across the forest and the plain, and she was sure that she’d be able to smell it from here.

She dropped her head to the railing. How had this gotten so bad? She was supposed to be a guardian of these ponies, she was supposed to protect them, and here they were, about to go to war on her doorstep. They were going to go to war, and all she was going to do was watch.

Well, she’d watch them at best. At worse she’d leave them all to die, running in the face of their battle like a coward.

“Sister,” Celestia said behind her. “We need to leave. Our time has come, and we must leave.”

“Must we, Celesita? Must we leave?”

Celestia rolled her eyes. “Luna, don’t. Don’t fall for this foolishness. It’s not our place to interfere.”

“Oh, of course not, Celestia,” she replied. “We weren’t meant to help protect ponies and guide them into the future.”

“Luna, we’re not leaders. We were not made to be leaders. We were made to get them set up, and then we must be on our way.”

“Of course, Celestia, of course,” she muttered back.

“Now, you need to get ready. We will be leaving soon, for the last time.”

Luna sighed. “I know. I know," she grumbled, before looking out back over the trees to the drifting smoke.