• 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 6

Another night, and Mouse had one more job for Cut Purse’s boss. The money had been good, as promised, and for the second time in his life, Mouse had a full belly. All he had to do was keep the money so it would stay that way.

It was three weeks since Cut had brought him in, and despite his initial misgivings, Mouse had found himself taking to dirty work like a fish to water. Between his own talent, and the time he spent standing on street corners, the job was becoming oddly routine.

He'd get up, eat breakfast, prepare himself, eat lunch, wait for Cut and the others, and then eat dinner once the job was done. Every job only got better as he went on, with the work he had to do becoming easier and easier with all the practice he was getting.

Now if only he enjoyed it.

Cut simply smiled, said that Mouse was doing well, and he kept whispering good things into the Boss’ ear.

But he still wanted an honest living.

"At least I'm not the one stealing anything," he thought, "I'm just making money, I'm not hurting anyone."

A part of him sad it was a sad excuse.

Tonight’s job was a rich pony’s house. A manor on the edge of town that had at one point stood alone before the rest of the town began to grow around it. A handful of buildings stood around it now, along with a street that ran across what was once a lovely front yard. Now, the whole building looked simply out of place.

The whole thing belonged to some lesser Unicornian noble that moved to Equestria to climb the new social ranks or something like that. Still, he was the target, and he was going to be meeting a rather unfortunate set of events after losing a good chunk of cash to a random theft while he was out of town.

Mouse almost smiled at the thought.

He didn’t know why but the thought of taking the bits of the especially wealthy made him smile. Cut Purse said that, technically speaking they were the only ones worth robbing, mostly because they had the most stuff to take. Everypony else was small time.

The only problem Mouse could see, was that when you take the food from the biggest inmate, they tend to be a bit rough about getting it back.

But, this wasn’t his fight. He was just here to make sure the guards didn’t break up the prison fight before it got going.

The shadows hugged him and his cloak, and he debated whether or not to whisper a prayer to the goddess of the night like Cut Purse and the other thieves offered.

He decided against it. Instead he focused on the darkness around him, keeping an out open for any suspicious “birds” that might come down to the streets and stick their beaks in places where they don’t belong.

The thieves had just climbed up to the top of the small mansion the noble had built for himself, and they were quietly working at the hinges of a very nice glass skylight.

There was a clang that echoed in the night, like a crowbar hitting the ground.

He glanced up to the roof. “Cut?” he hissed in a heated whisper.

“Don’t worry about us, Mouse. These ponies know what they're doing. Just keep your eyes and ears open,” Cut said from above.

Mouse fidgeted, but kept his watch, staring out into the street from his vantage point in the nearby alley. A single lamppost lit the street, with its single, tiny flame that the lamplighter had lit hours before casting a faint, red light across the cobblestone.

But there was not a sound.

That was the problem with the guard. Since almost all of them were pegasi, they very rarely made the noise that Mouse was used to. Yet another problem with the enclosed, tight confines of the prison that he lived in for most of his life.

Not all of the pegasi flew everywhere, but enough of them did that it was a problem.

Keeping his eyes open for any low-flying guards, Mouse scanned the street once more, watching the inky blackness for any sign of the golden glint of light hitting the armor of the guard.

Another silent ten minutes passed, and still, there was no sign of anyone approaching.

And that was...somewhat odd.

Normally he would have seen someone. At least one guard should have walked past by now, honestly. Something must have happened to put them so far behind in their patrol.

He had to wonder what though? In all of his experience, whenever the guards ran into a problem they usually just called more guards in.

Of course, things worked differently out here, and Cut took every opportunity to insult the guards and their incredible incompetence.

“The Birdbrains wouldn’t know gold from a birdsticker if we didn’t stab them with them,” he’d say. “They’re only good when they already got you as guests, but out here? Dumb as posts.”

Another moment or two passed without a noise or even the slightest hint of movement.

They should’ve been here.

The thieves were already inside, no doubt looting the place, so he couldn’t voice his concern, and perhaps that made the silence all the more maddening.

Where were they?

This made no sense there should be some guards somewhere.

He sighed. Why was he even complaining? This was good for him and the thieves, it mean that things were going to be easy. This meant a clean a getaway as possible. It mean that there would no issues. It was exactly what they hoped would happen.

A glint off the roof across the street caught his eye.

Mouse blinked, before his eyes focused on where he just caught the light.

A moment passed.

Movement.

A shape, little more than the curve of a golden helmet, caught the silver moonlight as it moved across the roof, almost hidden by the short wall that surrounded the flat roof.

That...that was a guard.

That’s a guard!

Right there!

He turned his gaze upward, searching for any other sign of the gathered guards, and slowly came to a horrifying conclusion.

The mansion was surrounded.

It was a trap.

He froze in the darkness, staring up at the roofs where armed pegasi lie in wait, ready to pounce on the thieves as they exited.

And Mouse knew he’d be caught with them.

He’d be taken back, back to the jail to rot in the prison all over again.

He...he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t go back now, not after tasting freedom for the first time in his life. He couldn’t go back to that darkness.

Mouse took a careful step back, and held his breath.

He needed to get away. He couldn’t get caught here.

He couldn’t.

A glance back at mansion, where Cut Purse and a team of thieves worked, gave Mouse pause. They were completely oblivious to the ambush that had been set around them.

And, more importantly, Mouse’s only chance at a salary.

He hesitated, waiting a moment while he was still covered by darkness.

He couldn’t...couldn’t risk prison. Couldn’t leave them.

He grit his teeth.

And he ran.

Back down the alley, and up the three crates that thieves had carefully set up only hours before. Up the first, then the second, over the third and on the roof.

Cursing under his breath all the way, he ran to the skylight. The thieves left it open, for a quick getaway, and Mouse used that to his advantage as he dived into the building.

He was met by the most expensive rug he had ever seen. It almost swallowed his hooves, and silenced his steps, as he suddenly found himself surrounded by finery he had never seen before in his life.

Gilt vases and fine silver flanked the hallway while fine paintings and rich tapestries hung from every wall. Decorative, unicornian swords and a coat of arms also hung from the wall, breaking long stretches of royal purple wallpaper and as a general filler for any empty space that could possibly inhabit the walls.

Mouse shook his head.

No time.

He had to warn Cut Purse and the others.

He snuck down the halls, almost running down the way as he silently swept through the top floor. He kept his ears open, searching for any sign of Cut Purse and his thieves.

The chink of silver on silver caught his ear.

There.

He slid down, following the sound before he found them. Cut stood in the back, while the other two dug deep into their ill-gotten gains, chuckling as they threw candelabras and silverware into their bags.

“Cut!” Mouse hissed. “Cut!”

“Mouse?” Cut called, surprised at the unicorn’s sudden appearance.

“It’s a trap!” Mouse hissed. “The guards are outside! They’re hiding on the rooftops!”

“Luna’s Breath!” Cut swore. “I knew this was too easy!”

“So what do we do?” One of the thieves asked, holding his bag in between his feathers.

“Hang on,” Cut said, “Let me think.”

“What are we gonna do?” The other asked.

“I said, let me think!” Cut growled.

All eyes were on Cut as the silence he ordered stretched longer and longer in the darkness of the mansion.

And then his eyes landed on Mouse. “Alright, I have a plan. You may not like it, but it’s a plan,” Cut said, before grabbing and emptying the bags of loot at the thieves’ hooves. “Grab some pillows,” he ordered, and one of the thieves disappeared into a nearby room.

“Alright, Mouse, here’s the plan. You’re not going to like it, but you’re going to take these bags, we’re going to stuff them with pillows, and you’re going to run for it.”

“What?”

“You’ve been promoted to decoy,” Cut said.

“What? No! No! I didn’t sign up for that!” Mouse yelled.

“Mouse—” Cut began.

“No! I’m not going back to prison!”

“Mouse, listen,” Cut said softly. “Look, I don't want to tell you what to do. I don't like telling ponies what to do. I'm asking you to do this, and if you help, I swear I will help you. Trust me, you’re too good for us to let you rot. If you get caught, we’ll get out, I promise.”

Mouse stared at him, eyes wide and terrified.

Cut gave him a soft smile. “Trust me.”

Mouse didn't want to trust him. He didn't want to go back to the cavern-like prison of the Canterlot jail. He wanted to get out, he wanted to run for the hills.

But Cut just smiled and stared at him with his big, brown eyes.

Mouse was three steps away from a window. He could jump out that and be better of. He could even try and convince the guards that he was turning them all in. That could work, couldn't it?

But Cut kept staring.

Mouse cursed Cut to the deepest pit of Tartarus.

How on earth that pony ever convinced him, he would never know. He held three bags worth of “loot” and stood poised in front of the skylight while Cut stood behind him, giving him instruction. “Once you’re not being followed, then head back to your shack. I’ll meet you there. If you’re not there by sunrise, I’ll assume you’ve been caught, and I’ll get you out.”

“Assuming you don’t get caught.” Mouse thought bitterly.

Whatever else Cut had to say was merely a buzzing in Mouse’s ear as he stared out into the darkness just beyond the skylight, where who-knows-how-many guards waited for him, eager to drag him back to those black depths.

He shivered at the thought.

Yes, the image of his old cell did hold some not-unwelcome familiarity, but he didn’t dare go back, not when freedom was such a sweet fruit. He couldn’t go back, not now, not ever.

“Ready?” Cut said, derailing his thoughts.

“As much as I can be…” Mouse muttered.

Cut smirked. “You’re a good stallion, Mouse. I’ll see ya soon.”

Mouse sighed.

“Now go!” he yelled.

He leapt through the open skylight, breaking out into the night sky with the bags following him in his magical grasp. At the same time, the other two thieves burst through the front door, each running in the opposite direction as Mouse took off, leaping to a nearby, empty roof, before he turned and ran for Canterlot proper.

Or at least he thought it was empty.

He nearly slammed into a guard that hid beneath the ledge, but he did feel and hear his hoof smash into the pegasus’ helmet.

Clang!

He hit the roof running, and galloped for the edge.

“You two after them! The rest with me! Catch that unicorn with the bags!”

He didn’t look back. He just ran.

He leapt to the next house, rolling down it’s slanted roof before hitting the cobblestone street.

Mouse booked it, running with the decoy bags even as pegasi took to the sky, following after him like a swarm of angry bees.

He ran, and ran, legs pumping as he tried to escape the guard. Yet, with every step he took, he couldn’t help but think about how Cut was back at the manor, waiting for the coast to be clear, with all the cash and loot ready to sell.

How did he ever get talked into this?

He careened around the corner, hoping beyond hope that he could get the five blocks away that Cut gave him before he could lose the bags and hide.

Just five blocks.

He felt the cobblestones shake as a pegasus landed dive-bombed him.

Mouse yelped, but ran on, the fear of the dark cells he had known for so long pushing him to run faster and faster still.

The fluttering of feathers filled his ears, and Mouse just barely ducked beneath yet another guard eager to bring him down. The pegasus spun as his hooves dragged across the cobblestones, his shoes sending up sparks as steel met stone.

Mouse, in answer, took a hard left. He dived down another alleyway, weaving through the crates and boxes that had been pushed out of the streets. An armored guard slammed into the alley wall as he tried to follow, but the others took the corner with ease. Still, it was a precious second of breathing room.

“Stop in the name of Founders!” One of them yelled, as if it would make a difference.

Mouse took the next right, heading downtown with all the speed he could muster.

Pegasi flew overhead, more guards were behind him, and walls to either side. He could only go forward, and then, to his horror, even that was cut off.

Another pegasus stood before him, a staff in his hooves, with a glowing red crystal at it's head. It flashed, and a translucent wall of energy the same color of the gem stretched across the alley, blocking it off.

Mouse screeched to a halt. He turned, to run back the only way he could, only to find that the guards had him blocked.

His blood ran cold.

No.

No, he couldn't.

He couldn't go back.

No! No!

He tried the wall, trying to climb the rough stone and wood on either side of the alley.

His hooves couldn't get purchase, and he fell back to the ground with a crash.

A hoof slammed into his chest, and he felt the smile of the guard as they stared down at him. “And now we have you thief,” the captain said, before he motioned to two other guards with his wing. “Get the bags.”

Mouse groaned, and he could feel tears begin to grow on his face, before a habit built on so many years began to push them back.

“With all the goods you have, we’ll be able to put you away for a long time.”

And all hope left him.

Mouse was met by a cold, dark, and familiar cell.

The captain was not happy to see that the bags of gold were nothing but couch pillows, and on the way into the prison, he lambasted the staff-wielding pegasus for wasting a spell crystal on a decoy.

Nevermind the fact that this same captain had ordered the majority of their force after that same decoy.

And so, Mouse earned not a small amount of ire from the captain, and was back in an old, familiar cell which seemed to mock him at every turn.

“You thought you could leave, did you? Thought you could be normal, huh? No, this is where you belong.”

And so, he sat, in the darkness he had tried to escape.

It was almost worst this way, now he knew the world out there, he knew it was tough, but still far better than anything these four walls had to offer. And he was stuck to these four walls. He couldn’t even move this time. There was too much attention on him, changing cells would only get him into more trouble for now.

It was over.

It was nice, he supposed, to see the sky at least once before he was back forever.

Then again, he could use same way out he took the first time.

Assuming it wasn’t guarded now.

Oh, what was the point? The surface didn’t want him. He couldn’t make it out there, he could hardly get a job out there, this was where he belonged, forgotten in the darkness. This was his fate.

The jangle of keys caught his attention. Did the guards make another arrest?

A part of him wished that it was Cut and the others. Then they’d join him in his renewed incarceration, when the pony in question stepped in front of his cell.

It was Cut, smiling as he stood next to a scowling guard who begrudgingly worked the lock with a set of keys. “Hey, Mouse, how was your stay?”

Mouse blinked as the guard opened the cell door.

“You know, you really have to stop taking ponies’ couch cushions,” Cut told him, “You’re going to get in a lot of trouble one day.”

Mouse stood, and Cut smiled.

“Then again, bail for pillow theft is pretty low so…”

The guard growled. “Just get out of here.”

Cut smirked. “Come on, Mouse let’s get you home.”

Cut smiled all the way back to Mouse’s little hovel, even as the sun began to rise on the horizon. “You’ve done good, Mouse. Very good. In fact, at this point, I think you can join our flock.”

“Look,” Mouse said. “I’m flattered, but—”

“What? Worried about time in the guest house? Cause the flock’s got the pull to keep you out. That’s the point.”

“Cut, I—”

“Just listen, Mouse, just listen,” Cut interrupted. “You come in, you get 20% of whatever you take, we get you out of the guest house, and home every night, and you get proper place to stay. A proper bed, a real roof, and hey, we’ll even set you up in a different city so the guards won’t be after you all the time, how’s that sound?”

Honestly, all the distance he could put between himself and that prison the better. “Cut...Cut I don’t know. I just…”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” the short stallion offered. “The first visit to the guesthouse working for us is always the worst. Give it a couple more, and it’ll be easier that a vanilla creme pie.”

Mouse sighed.

“Here, your pay to cheer you up,” Cut said, tossing a couple of gold bits his way.

Mouse looked into the shiny, yellow coins, but stayed quiet.

“Listen, Mouse, you may not think it, but we did well tonight. With what you did last night, the whole operation was saved, if that’s not talent, I don’t know what is. And I know talent. There is not a pony in my branch that I didn't hoof pick, and each and every one of them is a brilliant thief. I did not pick you on accident.”

Mouse looked up at him.

“If you hadn’t rushed in and let us know, we’d all be in the guesthouse without a bit to our names, you made the whole mission worth it. You were the most important pony on the team tonight.

"This is it, Mouse. This is your luck changing," Cut continued. "You just happened to see the guard, you get in without raising the alarm, and you manage to lead them out long enough that we can do our job. Does that sound like the same luck that you had when we first talked? The luck of a pony whose only chance at employment burns down?"

Mouse said nothing.

Cut sighed. “Look, take the day off and think about it,” he said, handing Mouse a small note. “If you’re interested, follow those instructions. I hope to see you there, Mouse. You’ve got too much potential to let this job go.”

And Cut stepped away, leaving Mouse and his house alone for the night. Mouse stared down at parchment and coins.

Well...it was nice to think that he did make the whole mission worth it.

Even if the whole thing was absolutely insane.

You realize that you are catching on to the secret of success. It's just a matter of concentration.