Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 213

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Chapter 213

The train ride had quite a bit of trouble with accommodations. I myself am considered slightly too big to be on a train here. Alex... would be literally impossible to fit without something breaking on the train or on her. With a bit of quick... retrofitting, I’ve managed to clear out the coal cart and she can... stand in it. Too wide to sit in the relatively puny compartment... but at least it lacks walls and a ceiling.

I figured I’d take the caboose so she wouldn’t be practically alone on the trip. And I thought ponies gave me weird looks. Alex is like a total pariah right now. “You holding up... er, holding on okay there, Alex?”

“Yeah. It’s a little cold... which is weird, ‘cuz the sea didn’t feel cold, and the ocean’s pretty cold, right?”

“Totally freezing. But then, you are aquatic and wet all over. You’re probably fine with water temperature, and now that you’ve got wind rushing past you at a hundred miles per hour, you’re cold from being soaked.”

“I don’t feel very wet...”

“Yeah well... you know that’s an interesting question. If a fish was smart enough to contemplate it, does he see himself as wet, or normal the way we equate dry as normal... or does he still consider his... sorry, shutting up now.”

“Actually, I’m feeling a little dried out. Like, y’know, dehydrated?” she pauses for a moment, her bug-like mandibles working on air, “I’m really thirsty now.”

“Okay, seems you prefer wetter climates. You seemed fine in the swamp, but now that you’re on regular old country roads you’re drying out... Is it an emergency, or do you think you could last another twenty minutes? I know a lake in Ponyville you could dip in if you can make it that long.”

“I’ll be fine, I’m just got really thirsty when I thought about the word ‘dehydrated’. Y’know, like when you talk about an itchy nose, and then your nose itches?” Alex says, idly scratching her nose. My own nose begins to itch, but I’m too lazy to move my arms. Luckily I have a solution to both problems. I had to put all the coal in the coal car somewhere so I opted for that little compression trick. So now I have a floating black marble scratching my nose for me. Truly I am a warrior to be feared.

The train ride is uneventful and looking at Alex she doesn’t really look like she’s dried out, but we do get to Ponyville before issues arise. “So... welcome to Ponyville. You’ll fit in okay, but that’s mainly because we’re all a little... quirky around here.”

As if on cue, Pinkie A pops out of literally nowhere and greets us in her normal, very-excited way.

“Yay! You’re back you’re back you’re back, you were gone forever! Omygosh the town is, like, twice as boring when you’re not around! Who’s this? Is she nice? How’d you meet her? What’s her name? Wh-” I cut off Pinkie’s excited babble but one thing does kind of stick out for me. Usually Pinkie would just be asking Alex this... but she seems like she’d rather get the answers from me... kind of odd... oh well.

“Pinkie, this is Alex. She’s the human we went to find. She’s going to be staying here with us until we find a better place for her and she’s gotten more comfortable. Everything’s a bit new around here for her and all. Anyway, we should probably convince all the ponies that she isn’t going to eat them.” I think for a minute. “I know you guys are technically prey animals, but why do you guys always jump to the conclusion that a big creepy thing is going to eat you the first chance it gets?”

“Idunno. I think it’s just ‘cuz it’s so much fun running and screaming!”

“Yeah, point there. Anyway I figure there’s nobody better to give Alex a tour of the town. Don’t want her feeling like this place is a huge mystery maze.”

“Okie dokie lokie! Let’s go!” With Pinkie’s energy and... eagerness, we get to pretty much all the notable landmarks in town, though I suggest the lake first for Alex’s sake. “And the last, and best place, you need to know is Sugarcube Corner! It’s good for parties, and cake, and party cakes, and balloons, and party balloons, and-”

“She gets the idea, Pinkie. Let’s go get her situated. We need to find a place for her to stay and all.”

“Right-o, Anthony! Ooh, she could stay at- well, she might be a little big for that... she could go to-! Er, no, same problem. She could... uh...” Pinkie sits back on her haunches, looking a little worried. “Where could she stay, Anthony? She’s as big as a house!” Pinkie waves at Alex, who is leaning down a little to look at a single-story-tall house’s roof.

“No idea, but this is why the ‘superhero’ plan wasn’t a good choice. Where are they all gonna stay? There needs to be a place for everyone to be safe and such. The only place that comes to mind is the Everfree, but we wouldn’t want her getting lost.” I pause to think for a bit. “Y’know what? Let’s go see Clark. As I said, he’s the man with the plan. Give him a few minutes and he’ll come up with a temporary solution.”

“Why not have her stay in the Everfree? Just, like, on the edge. The forest isn’t so dangerous here, and she’s bigger than pretty much anything other than the dragon somewhere in there.” Clark says, standing inside Fluttershy’s cottage. He hasn’t come out, and he’s dripping wet, probably from a shower or bath. At least he has a towel around his waist.

“Yeah, but... well as long as she doesn’t wander too much she should be fine until she gets used to the place. The next thing on our tasklist would be getting all her known powers written down and such. But that can wait a bit. Alex, you think you could sleep in a forest for a few nights?”

Alex’s mantis-arms twitch a bit. “Well... It looks like the only place possible. I don’t really have much of a choice do I?” Oddly, she doesn’t seem too perturbed by this thought, in spite of her tone.

“Well the other option is sleeping outside in town like I did, but given your reception, I’d say you should probably avoid sleeping next to the schoolhouse.”

“So forest it is then.” Alex shrugs.

“Yeah... It’s not that far, you can see the edge right over there. I’m tired and I’m gonna relax for a bit. I’ll be at the library.”

...whose interior has about a centimeter of dust on everything... And the smell gives revived meaning to the phrase ‘musty old books’. Guess Spike not being around really does end up with the place practically shutting down. And it’s so quiet... and boring... Oh screw it...

I head to Sugarcube Corner and sit down, the other two Pinkies expressing their very excited and loud delight at my return.

“So I’m bored and need something to do. Any ideas?”

“Go to the spa?”

That actually sounds really nice, but... “Eh, maybe tomorrow. I feel like doing something.”

“Oooh, we still have that game of Ogres and Oubliettes on hold!” Pinkie α says, “I’m pretty sure everypony else should be able to play in a few minutes, though I haven’t seen Clark much so I don’t know about him or Fluttershy. They don’t seem to leave her house much.”

The other Pinkie gasps. “Maybe they turned back into vampires!?”

I facepalm. “Clark never was a vampire, and he seemed pretty normal when I saw him.”

“Are you sure?”

“If I wasn’t, he’d have a stake through his heart... and stomach, and face, and both arms and knees right now. Anyway, moving on, sure that sounds good to me.”

“Yay! Okay... uh... I think Applejack said she’d be available for whatever at about three. Or was that Rarity?”

“Wait... Spike’s not here, what about him?”

I shrug. “We can come up with an in-story excuse. He can just get caught up with us, I doubt he’d mind that much.”

“Welllllllll okay... so it should still be about... thirty minutes until everypony’s ready for absolute sure.”

I sigh. “So how are we going to spend the time?” The Pinkies get quiet, which is odd “I’ll just... eh, I’ll think of something.”

Finally, everyone -minus Spike of course- is here and done with their daily work. Pinkie gets all our character sheets and the dice and everything else from her usual place, thin air. The less I question it, the less my head will hurt.

“Alright, so we’re all ready. Let’s git this show on th’ road!”

“Indeed. This is a lot more interesting than the last time I tried.”

I shrug. “Homebrew is always best when you have a good GM. So we’ll have an excuse for Spike not being here and not playing his character.”

“I really hope Twilight gets better...”

“Well that killed the mood... ‘Shy’s right though, we did kinda just leave her there...”

I sigh again. “I know, I know, but this game is long overdue so let’s get this thing going and we can worry about Twi later.”

Everyone agrees, and we all get set up.



Alright, so you begin packing up the camp. You have time to discuss while doing so, such as about the upcoming adventure.

“So, exactly why would a group of muscle-headed bandits want you Dame? I mean, there’s the obvious ‘ransom money’ deal but they looked like they wanted to kill you, and I can tell you right now that damaged goods don’t sell too well.” I lean against the tree, still sitting in the shade of my spot where I single-handedly took down a giant minotaur with a leaf and some wooden needles.

“I can only assume they were sent by... the Count.”

... Rarity, why am I hearing about this now? You’re supposed to tell the GM this kind of information. Gah... I can work with this. Continue.

“The Count ruled the land I came from, and my father is a vassal. But the Count wishes to marry me, though I don’t love him!” Dame Benign swoons, a hoof to her forehead.

“So marry him, get his money, and stab him in the face until he dies when nobody’s looking. Free money.” I offer.

Dame Benign looks disgusted at the offer. “A lady like myself would never stoop to such a level!”

“But you’d pull a specially-crafted sword on a group of bandits who want to bash your skull in. By the way, if he’s a count, why hire bandits? If he’s important enough to have an arranged marriage with someone like you, he’d at least have the gold to hire trained mercenaries.”

“Well, I assume he thought I would just be another pretty face, with no combat training. ‘Tis too common for young noblemares to ignore the finer points of combat.”

“Yeah, sure. Anyway, let’s go get that treasure and hope he doesn’t send more lackeys after you.” I wave the group forward a I continue along the path to where the map, supposedly, points to.

You all set out, your camp packed up. Barely two minutes in, however, Sir Spike requests a momentary time out to use the bushes. Sounds like an ooze being pulled at high velocity through a reed-pipe get your attention, followed by shouts about burning and terrible pain.

“I say we leave him. Anyone who disagrees will be given a pair of amethysts each to shut up and agree with me anyways.” I comment, moving along. “If he can’t figure out what should and shouldn’t be eaten, that’s his problem.”

“Unless he’s being eaten!” Pinkasel cries out, lute at the ready.

I thought it was a banjo.

Pinkasel pulls out her lute, guitar, drums set, banjo, and harp, just to show the GM. And thus did the bard go off the deep end.

I roll my eyes. “If you want to deal with him, fine. I’m following the map... as far as I can tell at least.”

Sir Spike stumbles from the bushes, looking extremely discomforted, and rather green in the face. “I- I don’t think I’m well.” he states.

“Neither do I.” I reply. “Go back to town and catch up when you aren’t going to explode.”

“No way is he heading off all alone! We’ll just have to keep an eye on him, and hope he gets better before we get to the stronghold.”

“Ah think it was a castle.”

“No, it wasn’t, it’s a-”

“We have no idea what it is, the map is awful, but it’s the best lead we got. Whatever it is, there’s something worth having there, and that means I can probably get some good coin for it. Now are we going or not?”

The group grumbles, but accedes. Gildenmane and Dash continue to argue over whether it’s a stronghold or a castle.

Makers forbid it’s neither, the way they are going at it. So the way is rather uneventful. It seems like the bandits coming out of nowhere is the only surprise for us. I scan the way ahead of us for anything that might look out of place. “Gee, it sure seems like nothing is going to attack us...”

Okay, that didn’t work, we’re in the clear. We keep walking on, nothing more than birdsong and a gentle breeze following us.

And keep walking. It’s almost a day away, but I can’t help but feel like we’re being watched.

Nope, that doesn’t prompt an attack either.

“Well, at least this will be easy.” Still nothing. Maybe I can try the ultimate way to trigger an encounter. The team being distracted. “So Benign... if that’s all the Count is willing to throw at you, you think he doesn’t wanna marry you anymore? Not worth the trouble?”

“Oh, I doubt that was all he’ll send. There’ll likely be more powerful foes down the road, metaphorically speaking.” Dame Benign takes a moment. “Oh, and please use my title. I am a full Dame, after all.”

“Metaphorical is right. This road is emptier than a leper’s head. So Dame, what do you think he’ll send? Maybe next time it’ll be a kitten. Would certainly be harder to take out.”

“Ooh! I love kittens!” Gandaliel says, shoving herself between the Dame and I. “Oh, sorry, what were you two talking about?”

I shrug. “The fact that apparently our resident noble isn’t worth more than the price of a few muscle-brained bandits. I mean they made a decent pit trap, but really? Turning your back on me? How stupid can you get?”

“Likely, they saw you as nothing more than a fellow common brigand.” Dame Benign says. “Thankfully, you’re our uncommon brigand.”

“I’ll have you know that the art of stealth and assassination is not something any standard bandit could accomplish. Subterfuge is refused for the tactic of bludgeoning. That’s what makes me different. I’m a thief. If you lose something, you wouldn’t know it was gone until I was halfway across the kingdom. Bandits would rather smack you until you can’t stand. Hardly subtle. No skill, no art, no tact.”

“Eh, I ain’t seein’ a difference.” Dash comments. “Anyways, what’s taking us so long? We’re just walkin’ and walkin’... ugh.”

“To fix both of your comments, want to try taking me on? I assure you I’d split your belly like an old woman’s purse before you drew your blade.”

“Pfft, nah. We’re in a group, and groups don’t fight.” Dash says, dismissively.

“Haven’t seen many ‘groups’ of lowlives then, apparently. So we just keep walking and wait for a landmark to tell us we’re heading the right direction.”

“Well, it looks like the place is at the end of this long road and turn a left and then turn a right and then go up a pointy rock!” Pinkasel says, walking along on her rear hooves as she holds the map open ahead of her. Wait... I had that in my bag.

I swipe the map back. “Give that back... bard.” Okay, I don’t have a very effective insult. Not a big deal. “So yeah. We take a left at the first turn...”

“And then a right and then an up!” Pinkasel says, once more holding the map.

I inhale to respond but deflate. “Just keep it...”

“Onwards!” she shouts gleefully.

The continued walking begins to grind on the party, Gildenmane and Dash beginning to become very heated in their argument. I really want to yell at them, but Gildenmane’s entire body is beginning to crackle with electricity, and so is Dash’s.

“What was that about fighting in a group? I mean if you blow each other up, I’m fine with it as long as you keep it away from me.”

“You got the map, An- Zilferen. It’s a castle, right?” Gildenmane says, more of a command than a question.

“No way, he can clearly see that it’s a-”

“Actually, I have the map!” Pinkasel says.

“Yeah, but I saw the map enough. The ‘pointy bit’ is either a cave or a mountain, so you’re both wrong. Now shut up before someone ends up on fire.”

“Actually, dears, it might be-”

“Can we stop to rest, please? all this arguing is making me tired.” Gandaliel says plaintively.

“Sure.” I sigh and sit down. “At this rate we probably aren’t going to get there today anyways.”

The whole group comes to a halt, settling in a vague ring around our packs, pulling some rations out to eat.

“Hey Dash, you thirsty?” I ask, rather bored.

“Yeah, why?”

“Got something for you. Ever had mead before?” I hand her a different flask, this one marked as mead, but clearly taken out of a separate pouch than my fake ‘ale’ flask.

“Uh...” Dash takes a moment to check her character sheet. “No?”

“Made with honey and grain. Try some.” I pass the flask to her.

She takes a hearty swig of the drink, before gagging. “Argh, it tastes like cough-” she suddenly stops moving, staring into space for a second. Then, she collapses forward, snoring before she hits the ground. The rest of the party looks shocked and horrified.

I look around at the rest of my group. “What? I hadn’t tested it on pegasi before. She’ll wake up in a few hours... probably.” I poke Dash a few times. “Nah, she drank half the stuff, she’s out for three hours right now.”

The group groans. “Now we’ll never get to the castle!” Gildenmane says, exasperated.

“It’s not a castle. And we weren’t exactly making brisk progress anyway. Fine... I’ll wake her up.” I take a reddish, powder out and sprinkle it on Dash’s face then cover her mouth. Her snoring forces her to inhale quite a lot of the powder. “This is dried, ground pepper. Either she’ll wake up, or have trouble breathing, which should wake her up anyway.”

Dash suddenly sits bolt upright, screaming. Her face is red, and the full view of her mouth includes seeing that her entire mouth is inflamed. After almost half a minute of non-stop screaming, her eyes roll back up into her head, and she passes out.

“Okay... didn’t expect that. Still, lesson learned: My sleep-cure dust isn’t a perfect recipe yet.”

“I believe the phrase to use, dear, is ‘No duh’.” Dame Benign says, softly.

“Yeah... but worth a laugh. Anyway, since we weren’t really getting anywhere earlier and we definitely aren’t now... what do we do?”

“Well, we’ve been walking for hours...” Gandaliel says, yawning. “Maybe we should rest again. It wasn’t an eventful day, but I’m okay with that.”

I roll my eyes. “Of course the druid likes it boring. Seriously, this is taking forever. I’d probably be there and out with the treasure by now... Whatever the treasure is.”

“Well, That’s assumin’ ya don’t need any magicin’ done along the way.”

“I don’t see why I would, unless I get hungry and need someone to poof me up a sweetroll... That said, if you’re so good at magic, why’d you rush at that minotaur like you were a barbarian?”

“Uh... cuz ah used Bear Strength afore chargin’?”

“Then he must have been stronger than a bear because all of you got whooped.”

“Ah kinda forgot ah can cast it on others. Ah’ve been a lone adventurer for a long time.”

“Still, what would I really need magic for? I have my gear, my skills, all I have to do is not be seen and I’m in and out in moments. I’m rather good at being seen and then forgotten, too.”

“And iffen’ ya come across a magical trap?”

“Magical in what way? As an archmage you should know that magic isn’t exactly a simply-described thing.”

No, Applejack, you can’t borrow a dictionary just to sound smarter in-character.

“Ah’m more of a home-trained kinda mage, y’see.” Gildenmane says, nodding sagely.

“Wonderful. So what do we do now?”


“In the middle of the day?” I sigh. “Fine, nothing better to do.” I get up and carry my stuff to a tree by the roadside, whose shade I use to mask the sun’s glare as I prepare to nap. After a few minutes, I start to drift off into my nap. At least it’s a pleasant day, and this’ll give Dash time to recover.

I wake up to the sound of screaming, and sit up, blinking to clear my vision. Looking around, I expect to see the group having sort of fallen in on itself and everyone doing crazy stuff out of boredom. But taking a look, I see a large, caterpillar-like shape with some kind of tentacles growing from its front end assaulting Dame Benign, whose eyes are wide and staring, but the unicorn noble is completely limp.

I walk up to the creature, being very careful to be as silent as possible. The creature doesn’t turn towards me so it seems I still get the first strike. Now where would I stab it to hit a vital organ?

Taking a chance, I grip my push-dagger and punch it into the creature’s back around where it’s spine would be if it had one. However, the small dagger barely scratches the creature, and it begins to bonelessly twist around towards me.

Thinking quickly, I leap back and climb up the tree I was sleeping under, hoping the higher vantage point would give me time to rethink my tactics. Looking around, I see that my decision to sleep well away from the rest of the group has left me unaffected, but all except Pinkasel are presently limp and unresponsive. The Bard is presently perched in a tree, and was the one who yelled earlier.

I make some hand gestures towards the bard, silently indicating that she should try distracting it somehow.

“What? I don’t speak hands!” she yells. Thankfully, this has the effect of making the caterpillar-centipede thing turn towards her instead of me. This time, I get a good look at its eyestalks. If they’re anything like anything else with eyestalks, that’s a weakpoint.

I take a few moments to aim, and launch a few wooden darts, aiming to get them in the back of its eyes.

Most of the darts miss, but that’s why I threw more than one. One of them does hit, and the creature makes an abominable screeching growl and it begins to flip around again towards me, Dame Benign still in its grasp.

On one hand, I could just stay here in the tree. I mean, if it wanted to get me, it would have to drop Benign, and also get close to me with those tentacles. I retreat into the leaves of the tree and move to another branch. I can’t see the creature anymore, but it also can’t see me.

It screeches again, and I hear a gnashing noise. A cautious peek reveals that it’s snapping a set of ugly, toothy jaws together, like a shark in desperate need of a dentist. The creature then proceeds to take a large bite from the relatively narrow tree’s trunk, tearing out the wood and spitting it to the side.

I decide that this tree isn’t going to hold out with the way it’s creaking, so I look around for another hiding place. Unfortunately, the nearest hiding place is on the ground, the large creature having overturned a couple of rocks in its hurry to attack.

Well... not much choice anymore. I leap from the tree and land on the ground, not far from the rocks. Unfortunately, the sunlight revealing me means my ‘escape’ was not unseen by the creature. I leap behind the rocks, but it’s clear I was seen doing so.

The monstrous invertebrate screeches and begins turning, lashing its tentacles towards me, dropping Dame Benign in the process. Well... that’s actually rather helpful if I can manage my next move... but the creature has to move first...

With a shocking speed, it begins squirming towards me, tentacles flailing.

Moving quickly, I dash from behind the rocks and circle around. Clearly seen, but that shouldn’t be a problem if I have a few more seconds. I toss some of my pepper powder it’s way. It might not work, but if it does do something, it’s better than not trying anything.

I don’t bother to keep watching to see if there was any effect, relying on auditory cues as I work on getting Benign’s special sword off her hip. The sword’s grip is designed for teeth, and awkward in my hand, but I can wield it well enough. Thankfully, it’s a light blade, or there’d be no chance of this working.

I wait until the creature’s tentacles get close enough before slicing at it. If the sword is as good as she claims this should do some damage.

The flailing tentacles close in on you, and your speedy movements lop off three of its eight limbs. One, however, strikes you across the face, leaving a tingling swathe in its wake. Almost instantly, half your face is completely numb.

With my face being practically insensate at this point, I have to hope I’m fast enough to do this before I lose the use of my arms as well. I feign another swing with the sword and, as the creature reacts, I drop the sword and circle around it.

The creature reacts with a bout of slowness, but grabs the valuable sword before hurling it across the road, where it clatters on the rocks. No, Rarity, I still won’t duel you. You need to find another way to contest someone else’s actions.

The creature turns to face me again, but I have my punch-dagger drawn again, and give a quick horizontal swipe along it’s eyestalks before it’s gaze settles on me, though the tentacles do get dangerously close to hitting me completely.

The creature shrieks and dodges the knife-strike, but is no longer advancing. In fact, I think I might be able to get it to retreat away if Pinkasel can join me. “I don’t know what you can do in a fight, but inspirational music isn’t going to hurt this thing. What else can you do?”

“I have my trusty banjo!” she yells, leaping from the tree with it held in her hooves. Somehow. Either way, she smacks several tentacles away from me in the process, though the numbness in my face has begun to spread down my neck. I also can’t seem to move my right eye anymore, or even close it.

I fight the numbness and focus on landing my next swipe, using Pinkasel’s distraction as a chance to actually grab one of the eyestalks which I cut off, leaving the creature shrieking in pain, having lost the eye I had hit with a dart. The creature begins backing away, Pinkasel and I menacing it until it turns tail and begins running in earnest, shortly before I feel my right arm go numb.

“I’ll... resume my nap, now.” I figure I’d rather try to calm down from the fight rather than keep worrying about my arm. It doesn’t seem like it would be permanent and I feel rather exhausted. Closing my right eye isn’t an option, though so I just cover my face with my left hand.



“Alright everyone, there’s your first taste of real combat. You should be glad Anthony’s character woke when he did, or you’d all be Carrion Crawler meals-to-go.” Clark says, leaning back in his chair.

I shrug. “Yeah well, I didn’t expect Clark to literally just have nothing happen if it wasn’t leading up to something.”

“Well, how else am I to break your party? I literally needed to sit back and narrate a peaceful walk through the woods, and you guys fell apart.” Clark chuckles, a momentary evil look on his face. Dash grumbles something about spending the last hour of the game not getting to play.

“We’re put in a game where we can do whatever we want within reason, and you expect me to be civil?” I ask. “I’m pretty sure everyone here knows me too well to think otherwise by this point.”

Fluttershy speaks up, “But why was Applejack and Rarity paralyzed right away?”

Clark shrugs. “Well, when folks might hear something, the GM should always roll in secret. And, I’m sorry to say, neither of those two nor you rolled well enough to hear or smell it coming, and even Anthony missed it. He just got lucky because Pinkie screamed.”

“Welcome to the big leagues, guys.” I say. “I said this would be challenging if Clark GM’d. And compared to the last game I played, this is way better.”

“Yeah, just be glad I haven’t had you guys meet Rocks.”

“Who’s Rocks?” Dash asks.

“He’s a stone elemental. If he falls on you, you die. He lives on mountains and goes surfing down the slopes.”

“Heh. Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies.” I chuckle.

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