• 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 8

The creak of the cart’s wheel was the only sound Mouse heard for the past day and a half. It squeaked and groaned under the weight of the cart, as it was being pulled by one of the two cart drivers.

He was heading east, toward the city called Baltimare.

“You’ll love it,” Cut had said. “The birds are lazy, the merchants are rich, and it's as far away from the Old World as you can get without having having an island to yourself.”

Mouse hadn’t seen it yet, nor did he see any signs of rich merchants and lazy guards. The only thing that he really saw in abundance was thick undergrowth and even thicker forests. A pair of mountain peaks stood just north of the dirt road, the only feature that Mouse could see beyond the canopy of the trees.

The forest, the Greenwood, according to the driver that sat on the bench at the front of the cart was one of the two natural borders that surrounded Baltimare. The other was the Quicktrot river which emptied into the Horseshoe Bay.

The Bay, of course, was what made Baltimare as successful as it was, despite how isolated it was. Ships could come and dock, and find safe harbor. The only other harbor on this whole coastline was the channel between the island of Manehatten and mainland.

Mouse had no idea what either of those were.

So, with trade along the coast, and the Quicktrot river which reached far into the mainland, Baltimare became the place to transport large, heavy goods from Manehatten to the inland without having to use massive caravans that could be waylaid by bandits.

Again, Mouse kinda understood. What was important, though was that there were bandits that wanted what was coming through the city, and as a thief in the gang, he would get the first shot at it.

The driver went on to talk about many other subjects that Mouse wasn’t completely able to understand, when he noticed something. It had been slowly growing to a while now, a scent on the air that he only just now recognized.

His sniffing was noticed by the cart driver. “Can you smell it, boy? Can you smell the sea?”

Mouse wasn’t sure. It smelled somewhat salty, but the only smell he had ever known water to have was the stagnant musky odor that clung to still, algae filled ponds.

Luckily, he didn't need to answer. “Spoke, Spoke, it’s your turn,” the pony pulling the cart said.

“Already? It seems too soon,” the stallion on the bench said.

“You always say that, now get down here,” the other stallion said, before they switched pullers, stopping for a grand total of ten minutes before they continued on again, moving down the road.

Mouse stayed silent.

Supposedly the cart was supposed to be full of passengers, but Cut had sent a little extra money for the cart pullers so Mouse wouldn’t have to wait. The drivers didn’t mind too much, though, the less they have to pull the better.

Of course, Mouse wasn’t happy about how this “Spoke” pony was so eager to talk.

“Sorry about Spoke,” the other driver whispered as he took the bench, “we joke that he doesn’t know that speaking and wheel spokes are different things.”

Mouse barely got the joke, and didn’t even smile.

The other stallion didn’t seem to mind, though, and they continued on, flanked by wilderness on either side. The forest deadened any sound other than the creaking of the steel-tired cart wheel, which occasionally buckled as it hit holes, ditches, and muddy puddles in the road.

“We’re almost there now,” the driver said as he watched Spoke pull. “Another hour and we’ll be there.”

There was a break in the trees ahead, as a sudden, sloping hill lead down to the coast, and Mouse blinked at the sight before him. A massive, white-sailed ship sat docked in the water, with a banner waving proudly from the tallest of its three masts. A unicorn head, a pair of wings, and a lush field all shared a portion of the flag, each set apart from each other, but united on the same flag.

Beside the ship, and dwarfed by it, were buildings, large wooden cranes, and smaller river boats that were slowly paddling their way upriver to the far side of Mount Canterlot. The Buildings were cheerful little things nestled so close together that there was not a space between them. Each house was painted in yellows, blues, and light shades of pink, narrow but deep to allow for more houses to be closer to the docks.

Mouse was surprised to see that most of the houses seemed finished. There were not as many wooden buildings as there were in Canterlot, preferring instead brickwork and mortar. Mouse would not understand it was the money that ran through this little city that brought its success for another few days. The merchants of Baltimare held sway in this frontier town, with a power that stretched back to Canterlot.

What Mouse did understand, was the beauty of the sea.

Beyond the town, beyond the docks and cranes, there was the infinite expanse of the ocean. White glinted off the distance waves, and the deep blue shone proudly across the horizon, stretching until it reached the edges of his vision.

And then the cart bounced, and the sight disappeared behind the trees once more.

Mouse blinked.

“First time seeing the sea?” the driver asked.

“Um, yes…” Mouse admitted.

“Well, be careful,” the driver warned. “As a wise pony once said, ‘The sea has never been friendly to ponies. At most it has been the accomplice of their restlessness.’”

Mouse wasn’t really sure what that meant.

The rest of the trip went by in silence until they finally drew into the city proper. Once they passed into the city the sounds of the sea filled the air. The cries of seagulls, sailors and the creaking of ships filled the docks, and the inland city was filled with cries of local merchants hawking anything from food to clothing.

“Alright, sir,” the driver finally said as the cart slowed to a stop. “We’re here.”

Mouse dropped from the cart and hit the cobblestone streets. He looked around, searching for the pony Cut told him to get in contact with. He had perhaps a second, before a large, green stallion bumped into him.

“You Mouse?” the big pony asked in a rough voice as Mouse spun to see him.

“I am,” he confirmed.

“I’m Big Sap, our mutual friend wants me to give you the tour,” the big pony said simply. Big Sap was most certainly a large pony, one of the largest Mouse had ever seen. His legs were built like stone columns and his face was as hard to read. His brown eyes were constantly squinting, and his brow was so furrowed that those same eyes were constantly cast in shadow. It was like he was constantly staring into the sun.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Mouse said.

“Good, come on,” Sap said before leading Mouse down the street.

The houses were kinda strange, as far as Mouse knew. They didn’t have the eaves that he had seen on every other house, and the face that was flush with the street were filled with windows, four sets that reached all the way to the peaked roof.

“It’s not bad, right?” Sap asked. “It’s only thirty years, and already this place has more class than Canterlot.”

Mouse nodded.

“It helps that we’re not growing all the time, I suppose, but it means you can’t sucker the new arrivals like you could back there.”

“Sucker them?” Mouse asked.

“Yeah, you know, the whole building tax con?” he asked.

Mouse shook his head.

Sap looked confused, or possibly angry, for a moment, before he grunted. “Oh, right, you’re new.” He sighed as he turned to face the road again. “There’s Cut for ya, sending me the new guys all the time, making my job hard.”

They kept moving, getting deeper into the city and further and further away from the brilliant merchant homes on the dock. The shining, brick buildings gave way to seedier, wooden shacks that languished in darkness and shadow.

Which was impressive, given that it was noon.

Eventually, they came to a squat building with a roof that looked like it was moments away from caving in with a sign out front that read “The Highwayman's Alehouse.”

“Welcome home, Mouse,” Sap said as they stepped inside to the tavern.

The main room was dark, lit by a handful of candles that did nothing to warm the atmosphere. Shadows clung to the corner, almost hiding the tables and chair that seemed scattered throughout the place. A mare stood behind the counter, cleaning what looked like to be the only glass in the place before her eyes glanced up at the new arrivals. “New guy?” she asked.

“Yup,” Sap answered.

“Alright, well here’s the deal, new guy,” she said staring him down from behind the counter. “Your people make my job hard. I don’t hardly get any customers, so the first rule, is don’t steal from whoever comes through my door, ya got it?”

Mouse nodded.

“Good,” she said, before she went back to her glass cleaning.

“That’s Pale Ale,” Sap said, pointing in the mare’s direction as he led him toward the back of the tavern. “She’s not one of us proper, but she’s part of the gang. Like a cousin or something, extended family, that kinda deal.”

Mouse nodded, following as they moved down a flight of stairs into a stone cellar. “Watch carefully now, you’re expected to know this on your own,” Sap said as he pushed a brick in the wall. A section of blank wall next to the brick slowly opened, revealing a secret door. “This is our headquarters,” he said simply.

The secret passage lead down into darkness, down a set of stairs into a large chamber. It was lit by a brazier and a hundred candles, all spread throughout the room. They stood on tables, crates, anywhere and everywhere wax could collect.

“We use this room for whatever, really,” Big Sap said. “Storage, parties, whatever.”

Two ponies, a pegasus and earth pony, moved a crate inside from a tunnel to the room, just as Sap was talking. “Oi, Shade, Dusk, whatcha got there?”

“Last box of Blackglass, sir,” one of the ponies said. “The only one that couldn’t fit in with the others.

“Crack it open!” Sap said, smiling. “Let’s see the produce, eh?”

The pegasus smiled as he produced a crowbar, and pried the crate open, to reveal a carefully stacked pile of panes of what seemed to be purely black glass. Sap smiled as he pulled a pane out, and shattered it against the edge of the crate.

Dusk, Shade, and Sap all grabbed a shard, and sliced it across their legs where Mouse suddenly realized a worryingly large latticework of scars crisscrossed across their flesh. As the black glass touched blood, it disintegrated, transforming to dust right before Mouse’s very eyes. Sap smiled as the glass did it’s work, and his features softened. His smile became more warm and inviting, his eyes widened slightly, just enough that the light in the shone merrily reflected merrily, making him seem calmer, wiser, and friendlier all at once.

“Go ahead and grab one, Mouse,” Sap said, smiling. “Only big shards now, we don’t hire junkies.”

He had seen the ponies in the prisons that used black glass. They were desperate, smashing the shards over and over again to get the smallest pieces they could, their bodies a mess of scars, old and new, as they cut themselves over and over again to get the same high they used to until they literally bled out on the floor of their cells.

Mouse shook his head. “I’ll pass,” he said.

Sap narrowed his eyes and frowned, before grabbing another shard and handing it to Mouse. "I insist."

Mouse blinked, surprised by the sudden viciousness in his voice, and took the shard.

Sap's face then softened, and he nodded. “Alright, I hope you enjoy," he said, before leading Mouse away. "So as you can probably guess, the other big advantage of living in a place like Baltimare, is that we have a working sewer system and all the room to expand.”

Sap led Mouse through the whole complex, bedrooms, dining rooms, training rooms, all hidden away in clean, dry cisterns that were once built to reduce the chances of floods. Now that they had been blocked off, and were now being used almost exclusively by Sap’s gang.

Within the hour, Mouse had a decent grasp of the whole complex, but as Sap led him to his own bed, he turned serious. “Now Mouse,” he said, trying to harden his gaze even as the Blackglass kept his face relaxed. “Cut says you’re good, but I don’t know that. I don't know if you're lucky either. So before I let you off to rob the merchants blind, I’m going to need you to prove your loyalty.”

Mouse did not like the sound of that. “What am I doing?” he asked.

“Distraction for now.”

Mouse really didn’t like that.

“If you get caught and you're lucky, or good, we get you out. If not, you’re on your own, alright?” Sap asked.

Mouse sighed. “I get it, I can do that.”

“Good, we’re moving out tonight. Do what you want until then.”

By the time nighttime came, Mouse was beginning to get nervous. The idea of spending even a night in another prison was terrifying. The idea of having his freedom taken from him again tore at his soul, and the only reason why he wasn’t digging his hooves in against the whole idea of being here was because Cut did get him out of the Canterlot Jail.

There was no reason to believe that Sap wouldn’t likewise get him out if he did the job. It didn’t make sense for Sap to simply abandon him, leaving him to rot in the deepest, darkest dungeons, locked away from the sun, rivers, trees, and apples. To be torn away from the world and forgotten in the darkness.

He released a shaky breath.

“I’ll be fine,” he told himself. “Just do what they want, and I’ll be fine.”

It’s like cut told him, he reminded himself, he’s a part of the family now. The family takes care of itself.

He forced himself to steady his breath. He had to focus.

He was sitting on the roof of one of the seaside houses, not the one being cased, but the one directly to the left. A team of two ponies, a pair of unicorns, were working on the target house. They started by unlocking the highest window from the outside with a simple telekinesis spell, and slipping inside.

They were good at it, they dropped down and got through the window in a little more than a minute, long before the guards patrolling the streets and docks below.

Mouse kept watching the glowing stone at his hooves. The spell on it would last exactly twenty minutes, and once the light on it dimmed, Mouse would have to make his move and get the attention of as many guards as possible. The unicorns inside, neither of which he knew, had their own stone with its own spell, and once theirs went out, they would leave.

It was all very synchronized, and Mouse was certainly impressed with it all. It had a touch of professionalism that the Canterlot branch simply didn’t have. In fact, he could almost close his eyes, and pretend that it was a real, normal job.

Almost.

He sighed, before he checked the street again, watching the passing guards, trying to guess which of them would be the lucky guard to catch him tonight. There were pegasi everywhere, hovering across streets and docks and floating between ships. So far, none of them flew over the houses, though Mouse wasn’t sure why. Where else would thieves and miscreants be?

Although, if it kept him from being found, Mouse would not complain.

And then he blinked.

Was that…?

He slowly leaned forward, leaning up against the short crenelations of the house to stare down at the street below. A single, earth pony mare, dressed in armor walked down the streets, a torch held aloft in one hoof as she hobbled.

Mouse blinked as he looked at her. Unless he was mistaken, that was the same exact mare he met earlier, the first night he was working for Cut. What was she doing here? Why wasn’t she back in Canterlot? What happened?

He watched her as she moved, her downtrodden step and her determined face.

It was a look that Mouse was very familiar with. It was the look of a pony that didn’t want to be here.

His stone began to dim. It was almost time to make a distraction.

But now, now he had a plan forming. His magic grabbed the little stone, waiting for it to die, and let it hover next to his side as he continued to wait.

The stone grew dimmer.

He waited.

Dimmer still.

He slowly raised the stone.

It went out.

Using every ounce of his magical might, he threw the stone, letting it ring against the mare’s armor as it slammed into her. “Oi!” He yelled, screaming at the top of his lungs as the eyes of the mare and several other pegasi looked up at him. “Sarding guards! You’re too slow to catch me!”

The bait worked surprisingly well, and guards from every section of the street turned to him. There was a beat, and the the guards yelled. “Get him!”

Mouse ran, up and down the peaked roofs of the houses, crossing from one to another before finally hitting the street. He grabbed rope they had used to climb up from the sewers and leapt down, sliding down the rope before landing hard.

“He’s over here!” One of the pegasi yelled as a team of three of them dived at him from the building.

Mouse ran, heading down the inland street leading the guards after him and away from the sewer grate that they had used to approach the house. His legs were pumping, and Mouse once again hated this plan and everything it stood for.

The open street provided no cover, and no place to hide as he ran. Pegasi were gaining on him in the air, moving just faster than him as they flew above the cobble stones. Still, he would make good time, he knew it. He would be able to take the next turn and—

Thwip!

He pulled his head left out of sheer reflex as a crossbow bolt passed by his face.

It was so close it cut a hole in his cloak.

He ran left, taking the next street, before he saw, too late that he had been led into a trap. Pegasi were flying over the houses, blocking off the street ahead of him.

Just like that, everything went wrong.

With guards ahead of him, and guards behind, he had nowhere to go. The buildings were too close for alleys of escape. He was trapped in that one instant, and he knew it.

It was over just like that.

He looked back, where pegasi and the earth pony mare were closing the distance.

It was too soon. The guards were too close to the case.

If one of them were caught, he could kiss his freedom goodbye forever.

He had no choice.

He ran for the oncoming guards, switching directions in a second as the whole Baltimare Guard bore down on him. They rose spears and crossbows, ready to cut him down if he started a fight.

He was close now, seconds away from impaling himself on their weapons, when he ran towards the buildings he jumped, hitting the wall and leaping off the side.

He wasn’t sure how he got past the line of guards, he had actually closed his eyes as he flew through the air, the only thing he was sure of was that he landed on the cobblestones, and the guards were somehow behind him.

There was a second, and honest second, where everyone had stopped to stare at him.

Although, that could have been Mouse’s imagination.

Then he ran, heading back up the street as crossbow bolts followed after him.

Another left, and he was heading inland, further from the docks and closer to the seedier parts of town. He had to keep going, had to keep running so the guards couldn’t catch him.

A right. A left. Another right. Left. Left again.

They were so close.

They were just behind him, cutting over buildings and getting in front of him at every turn. He wouldn’t be able to keep this up much longer.

He took another left, coming around the corner, when an armored hoof connected with his face.

He spun, landing hard on his back as the earth pony mare stared down at him. “You’re not getting away this time, Shorty.”

They bodily dragged to the Baltimare jail.

He had resigned himself to this fate, he would just have to go to jail, for the good of the gang…

It was what he was doomed to.

He was pulled to a small building by the dock. They pushed him into a small holding cell, and Mouse waited to be pulled away into whatever dungeon they had planned for him.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited still.

This was taking far too long.

In fact, he knew this was taking too long.

He got up from the little cot against the wall, and moved to his barred door. “What’s taking so long?” he asked.

The guard at the desk glanced at him. “What? Your sentence? You’re here until we let you go.”

Mouse blinked. “This is the prison?”

The guard gave him a look.

Mouse couldn’t believe it.

This was it. An above-ground, ten by five foot room that was less than fifteen feet from the outside. This was the Baltimare prison.

No, no it wasn’t a prison, this was a house with a barred room. He could leave anytime, it wouldn’t be any challenge, one, maybe two locks and he was a free pony.

Mouse walked back to his little cot, and sat, unbelieving that this was the worst Baltimare had to offer.

He finally smiled.

This was the kind of luck he could live with this.