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Secrets of Black Sands: Libraries of Saddlelon


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Later that day, in the room she'd rented ...

Ancient ponies that had written languages wrote down everything that they thought was important.  The more important it was, the more permanent the media inscribed.

Prayers to the gods to ensure an easy trip to the afterlife.  Incantations to keep evil spirits away.  Glyphs to gather and shape the magic that flowed all about them.

All available and waiting for anyone that could read them (assuming, of course, 'brave adventurers' and 'intrepid treasure hunters' didn't destroy the buildings first !)

The spell Tongue Twister was setting up was primitive.  Crude.  And about as subtle as a slap upside the head.  It could easily show the direction of the magic's matching source, but not the distance.  It was not very efficient, and far more energy escaped into the aether than into the spell - in fact, the only reason she even had anywhere near enough power to cast it was because she'd been loaded up with dark magic !

She'd drawn a large circle on the floor with a four-pointed star within in a single line while chanting in a language unheard for 1200 +/- 50 years, then emptied a bag of ball bearings in its center.  Sitting nearby, she closed her eyes, took a few deep breaths, then extended one wing into the center of the circle.

From comparing one society's beliefs about magic with all others, TT had concluded two things were needed : a way to gather the magic that flowed through Equestria, and a way to shape it so it actually does what you intend.  Many societies had magic, and many different ways of using it.

The unicorn way was to gather the magic, use their ego and will to shape the power, then use it to beat the universe into submission !!

What Tongue Twister was doing was the exact opposite : allowing the magic to flow, without trying to guide it, or wanting it to go one way or another, or even hoping it worked.  No expectations.  She literally removed herself from the equations and let the dark magic within her reach out to its original source. 

The ball bearings began to twitch, then rolled in tight orbits until they formed a straight line.

"She's that way, sir." she stated to Sombra once she used her compass to get the bearing of the line.

A quick trip outside and a check of the compass told her which way to look.

Off in the distance were the ziggurats of the Palace of Thought.

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Deep breath...then another.....Alright, good.

It's not like this was the first wringer she found herself in. It wasn't even definitive end of her plans here. But Hou had to admit, Twister put her into situation where she had to choose.

Cornering Shuren like that, was something worthy of respect....

And something that brought sorceress ire.


"...Lesson one. Basic, fundamental methods...." she muttered, as dark aura spring to life around her. "...Are usually two-way street."


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Tongue and Sombra didn't even manged to go ten meters, before Shuren's counterattack hit the pegasus.

It wasn't really harmful.....In fact despite everything, Hou was still too invested into corrupting Twister body and spirit as her little 'pet project' to really harm her. But she could hold her in place for a while.....

And make it unpleasant while doing it. Not unlike well known 'Evil Eye' set of curses. But without actual eye contact.


It came without warning. A sudden pressure falling on her mind, body and soul, simultaneously. Outside,Twister looked fine, still upright, still blinking, and still breathing. But if one could feel like she did, they could experience how hard suddenly everything became. Her heart was filling like it was wrapped by a set of chains, preventing it from doing it's job. Her blood, dens, and moving through veins and arteries at seemingly glacier pace. Her lungs and diaphragm, heaving with effort, as if they were weighed down by whole Canterlot Castle. All of this sense - fooling illusions. And yet all of those signals were enough to turn her legs into unmoving pillars.


Twister's mind was whole other matter.  It was like a steel fortress - unbowed, unbending, unbroken. Shuren's dark magic could all but siege it, unable to break those mental defences. in fact, most of the magical energy sorceress was expanding, was used to keep Tongue's mind from regaining control of the body.....


And yet....it was less  spent magic then she anticipated. As if this great wall had to weather pressure from both inside and outside.....Curious.


Twister's soul meanwhile...here chances was evenly matched. Like two equal rikishi, grappling with each other. Neither gaining an advantage, but neither getting ground either.


Hou held no false hopes. She knew that in mere moments, Sombra will come to help his guide with his magical counter-counterattack. She had....seven...no...five minutes top before her attack is repelled.


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


It was this concentrated state that Dox found his colleague in. The white mare didn't stop her assault - apparently skilled enough to keep it going while multitasking. Shuren' noticed the latest book that Hei brought.


"It better be this one. We have been traced..." she said, before clarifying. "...or rather, I have been traced. That little squirrel is even more resourceful then I gave credit for. Right now I am holding them in place, and borrowing her sight but...at this distance, I can only buy few minutes doing so." she explained.

"Hei, you have to finish here without me." she asked. Not only the changeling had to make all the important notes, he and his minions had to clean after the search, to obfuscate what information they were searching for.

"I will be bait and stall them further. Doing so in person will be more...efficient..." Hou said before cutting herself short. Fighting in city was not battling in uninhabited woods. She will have to limit herself, and she will start with less then half of her usual energy at best as well. Converting souls to mana took time. Meanwhile Sombra will start almost fresh, and had an ally who can serve as the distraction.


Without word, Hou reached into her pocket space and hoofed to Dox book she took from Xuanwu Temple. Then - after a moment of hesitation - the golden scarab depicting  disc, ripped out of the cover of the said book. That and....

"...Just like in Maretonia." white unicorn mused, while she hoofed to Dox an enchanter earring. Close or not, keeping in touch was vital. And this little trinket allowed just that. And not first time either, just like Hou mentioned.  The second earring, matching first one, was already clipping around Hou's own ear.

"...I have three minutes to prepare. For Dark Preservation, do what you can...." she said, while trotting to female bathroom. Sorceress didn't had to mention for changeling to make haste. Shuren knew she didn't had to.


Because they were caught by surprise, Hou's toolset was limited. She slowly relived as much tools as she could from her pocket space. It was all she could do under the circumstances.

Twelve throwing daggers made from ghostly white metal. A jian 'sword'. Vial of her favourite tool. Four small soul gems. Three pellets with highly compressed 'tear gas'. One scroll of pre-cast support spells.

"...Let's do this...."


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


If they weren't occupied by Hou's magical attack, Sombra and Twister might notice that compass needle stopped pointing to palace of Thought, instead snapping to their right...


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


"Crowd. Good, very good. How nice for some spectacle to happen today." sorceress mused, now perched on corner nearby souq, setting sun behind her back. There was more then one way to teleport, and one minute was especially easy, if you had a waypoint in the form of your own magic present at the destination. It was way less flashy too...

Of course she could not afford to keep Twister in place anymore. Instead she needed to formulate a new plan. Oh? Wasn't there some show happening? A concert. Shuren could see a respectable gathering of ponies and other creatures, waiting or a songstress...

"It would be a shame if...all this audience starts to panic...." she mused to herself and Dox alike, crushing three of four soul gems while doing this.


Normally summoning was crude and inefficient, unless one took much preparation. Drawing summoning circles took time, maintaining the connection required much energy, and spawning  more then one familiar from portal while maintaining control was difficult.


How convenient that all of those sticklers could be brushed aside, by throwing some souls as offering into the mix!


Three circles, one for each gem, and each in range of hearing. One on the roof, one on the wall, and last one in dark, damp alley. A panther resembling....things...started to crawl from the circles, responding to the sorceress call. Not creatures of flesh and blood, but of negative emotions and darkness....Almost like umbrum, amusingly enough.


"Terrorize, hurt, maim...but not kill...No, let the panic last as long as possible. You can only rip Fallen King to shreds, if you able, that is...." she ordered dozen of 'panthers' that managed to come so far.

"Now, citying a clever playwright..." she straightened herself, brandishing her 'jian'. "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war..." Hou said, as she sicked demonic 'felines' on concert the pair that was hunting her, and audience alike.



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The unicorn could hear her manager repeating the words 'two minutes'. She rolled her eyes every time. She was getting annoyed by the constant pressure- by the continuous nagging to get out on the stage and start singing to all her fans that came out that day. That hot.. miserable day. The pink mare really was about to start singing and dancing to these ponies in the middle of a heat wave, getting all sweaty herself. She was wearing clothes too, which made her feelings worse. 


Finally when the time came, she walked out onto the stage. A bunch of ponies stamped their hooves onto the ground erratically, their excitement filling the air. Being able to see the pop queen herself made them excited. Bellissima fed off of this energy. It made her cocky, self absorbed. She couldn't help but love the attention, though. They were all cheering her name as she levitated the microphone to her mouth. A small smirk lifted the side of her mouth as she raised her hoof to wave at her fans. She was already sweating. Her heart was beating too. Maybe from over exertion. It was hard to focus on everything around her. She had to be perfect. 


She didn't notice the black shadows encompass her stage until it was too late. Before then, she began to speak loudly to her small audience. "I thank you all for coming to my show! You guys have no idea how much it means to me to see you all here, even in this heat," she said with a smile, trotting around the stage. "I am so very grateful to see all your beautiful and handsome faces. It's really an honor." She had to milk her time to make it seem like she loved her fans. She really didn't care about them.


The mare then introduced her first song, "Ain't it Fun". The music started to play in the background as she started, darkness surrounding her stage. Her eyes were closed, unable to see the terrifying presents that was bestowed around her. 


"I don't mind

Letting you down easy, but just give it time

If it don't hurt now then just wait, just wait a while
You're not the big fish in the pond no more
You are what they're feeding on


So what are you gonna do
When the world don't orbit around you?
So what are you gonna do
When the world don't orbit around you?" 


She sang proudly, dancing around the stage. She was an amazing dancer, as she took classes since she was a filly. Her moves were always on beat with her uptight music. 


Sadly, she didn't notice her fans start to worry about the shadows. They were running around, fearful of what was to come. Bellissima still didn't notice, as her belting got louder. 


"Ain't it fun?
Living in the real world
Ain't it good?
Being all alone"


Her fans started to scream in horror. Bell's ears perked up, thinking they were screaming for her. She couldn't help but smile as she sang, continuing to let the music fuel her body. She was relaxed, eyes closed. 


"Where you're from
You might be the one who's running things
Where you can ring anybody's bell and get what you want
See it's easy to ignore trouble
When you're living in a bubble


So what are you gonna do
When the world don't orbit around you?
So what are you gonna do
When nobody wants to fool with you?"


The screams got louder. Now, they were a little frightening for Bell. She opened her eyes, her pupils growing small. 


"Ain't it fun?
Living in the real world
Ain't it good?
Being all alone?"


She whispered her lyrics, then came to a sudden stop. She was absolutely horrified. What was going on? Her instincts finally kicked in as she ran behind the curtains, looking for her manager. "Sweet Tune? Sweet Tune where are you? There's a catastrophe outside!" The mare was screaming now, her heart was racing. What do you do in this situation? 


She sprinted everywhere looking for him, finally losing hope and jumping off the stage and onto the outside. She was soon caught, a bunch of demonic felines all around her. She fell to the ground dramatically, covering her head with her arms. "Please.. please.. Don't hurt me! I've never done anything wrong! I- I-" She began shaking. If only she knew some spells to get her out of this situation. But right now, she was all alone. 

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"Did you really think you'd get away with that stunt ?" the Abomination smirked at the immobilized Tongue Twister from inside her mind.

"Nope.  This is pretty much what I expected to happen."

"Say what ?"

TT had to focus for a bit - even thinking was like trying to walk through thick tar.  "It was a very crude ritual.  Predates the unicorn's codification of magic.  I'd have been greatly surprised if she DIDN'T notice me pulling on her with her OWN magics."

"Yeah, whatever." the Abomination replied dismissively, "The misery you are feeling now is but a tiny fraction of what her wrath can inflict !  If you want it to stop, all you have to do is give in.  Submit to her superior might and will.  Sacrifice who you are to become what she tells you to be.  Accept that you are a nothing compared to the eternal glory that is Hou Shuren."

TT smirked (with some effort).  "And why would I do that ?  I have endured far worse than this, and did not yield.

Thanks to that Dreamslayer, I know what it feels like to be torn apart and eaten !  It was the second worse thing I've experienced, and outlasted.  This - ranks third."

"Third ?  What was first ?"

"Not telling.  You'd just try to dig it up and throw it at me again."

"True.  But no matter.  You cannot last against Hou's might forever.  Sooner or later, your defenses will crack.  She has broken far greater than you !"

TT sighed before starting to repeat a Neighpalese mantra : 

"All is illusion.
Illusion is nothing.
All is nothing.
From Nothing, all arose.
To Nothing, all shall return."

Abomination thought nothing of it at first - but then noticed it was getting darker and colder in TT's mind as other voices joined in one by one.

"What are you doing ?"

"Oblivion Loop." Tongue Twister replies, "When trapped in a harmful illusion, shutting everything down and starting fresh really clears the old noggin.
Since I can't trust what my senses are telling me at the moment, I'm just going to shut out what they're telling me.

At least until something from the outside 'wakes' me up.  Or I get too bored to continue.  Whichever comes first ...."

After an unknown period of time, Tongue Twister woke up.
She was still in the marketplace, near the set up stage.
There was screaming.  And Saddle Arabians running about for some reason.
She noticed the shadowy 'panthers' stalking about.

"What fresh madness is this ?" she groused to herself when she noticed an Equestrian unicorn mare surrounded by those shadowy felines.


Normally, the best thing to do would be a swoop gain altitude, swoop in, grab the victim, then fly off and up to a nearby safe rooftop.


But with her wings of alchemic mercury, she couldn't fly any more.  So that effective idea was out.


So she did the next best thing : get a good running start, then use her wings to push upward suddenly, catapulting herself twenty feet into the air.


Then landing with all four hooves on the skull of one of the panthers, using her weight, speed and gravity to slam its head into the ground.


"WHAT THEY HAY ?!  This isn't fur !  There's no bones !" she noted before yelling "MOVE !!" to the unicorn mare while motioning over her shoulder (with one shadow down for a moment, there's a gap.)

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It felt like it was about time that they finally caught up to where Hou Shuren must be, if not close to it. It looked to be a busy day when they'd arrived, with something going on further on. A stage, perhaps some sort of performance. Sombra had little idea of what it was and he hadn't had a chance to really investigate further before Tongue Twister had simply.. frozen up.

Without much of an idea of what was happening, beyond traces of Hou's magic upon something- perhaps the darkness that she unleashed upon Tongue Twister back at their fateful reunion- Sombra tried to see what he could do about it, dark magic curling around his disguise's horn under the hood of his white garb before his attention was pulled away by the mayhem that erupted. Dark, feline shapes, and the screams and hoof-beats of fleeing ponies.

He sucked in a breath through his teeth in a hiss and shifted his focus onto those nearest him, intent on trying to blast away any that might have tried to threaten him and Tongue Twister- who seemed to finally come to her senses, if not just simply released now that whatever damage was done, already off to help somepony in need.

It figured that Hou would pull something like this, to slow them down a little more. His tail lashed and he moved ahead towards the stage, where most of them seemed to have originated from, keeping any magical retaliations against the shadowy beasts to simple shots of magic. He didn't want to alarm anypony by pulling off anything else than he already was- they were already panicked enough.

Somewhere ahead, he thought he could hear a mare screaming in the mayhem.

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  • 3 weeks later...

They still haven't noticed her. Good. Ironically, for being an 'umbrum' , Sombra wasn't good against those skulking in the shadows.


Of course 'He wasn't a fool' Shuren thought as she squinted her eyes. As much as she hated the wasted potential he represented, and his loathsome...apathy for most of things.....when it came down to purely intellectual exercises, he was very quick stallion. Her stealthy approach right now wasn't a best method of dealing with him right now - it was a only approach Hou could take at the moment, in her exhasuted state. For his limited toolbox and her repeatedly degrading him during their last encounter in Whitetail Woods, Sombra was one of few creatures alive that wasn't an alicorn, capable of lasting more then two minutes against her. At full strength. Right now? Right now he would roll over her in direct confrontation.


No.... Hou had to rely on her wits, and his ignorance of things outside of Equestria to outdo the fallen king....


Which was problematic too, since Tongue Twister - being apparently very knowledgable mare - was a perfect partner for the warlock to alleviate that weakness, being a walking exposition piece for him. She could also at least distract sorceress if things get more physical the Shuren wanted. Right now Hou's only hope was that the pegasus (That was apparently altered somehow. She had to investigate who toyed with her experiment later) will be kept bust by the shadow beasts - and if not, that her degree of knowledge hadn't covered Neighpon and Long Guo obscure (from Equestria's point of view) mystic arts....


When Sombra was walking towards the stage, she was already on the top rail, clad in illusions of her own.

A slight nudge of telekinesis and...one of massive stage reflectors was sent falling from the rail, straight onto Sombra's head. Of course, alert, he dodged it easily....straight into the spot she expected he would.


For Hou has already thrown a pearl white kunai. It's colour - a result of being dipped in the sap of white, moonwillow tree - a perfect tool for dealing with various shadow yaoguai....capable of pinning and hurting them them even their immaterial form, and forcibly making them corporeal...And well...Sombra's skill-set was close enough to logically work against him too! Each dagger held power for but one cut, but each of these cuts would destabilize his control over his shifting power. Five cuts would probably enough to shut down his shadow-form completely for a dew minutes....


And this will be long enough for Hou to pummel the fallen king and snap his neck!

'For a 'Seeker of Knowledge' you certainly are ignorant of your weaknesses, Sombra!' the white mare thought. That what happened when you drew knowledge from only one place - it became rigid and stale.

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The king chose to be careful, considering the crowd of ponies that was steadily beginning to thin as they ran away from the stage just ahead of him. He wasn't quite sure how to handle the shadowy felines otherwise, but at least he could manage something to rid himself of their presence.


His tail lashed behind him as he looked around, scouring the area for any sign of Hou or what sort of disguise that she might choose to take to elude him. This was likely all just a big distraction to get her further away from him, to hold him and Tongue Twister up for a little while.. Even in his disguise, the use of this magic would have given him away to her if she was still around to observe him.

Overhead came the metallic creak of something moving, and Sombra got a glimpse of it before it fell his way: it was one of the stage lights, and he threw himself out of the way of it as it came crashing down. He deftly landed on his hooves, his eyes already up and searching the stage by the time that white blade came whizzing by, slashing a cut into his shoulder. Sombra hissed at the sting and started off again to keep himself moving just in case any more came; he only considered a quick, momentary thought about what could have possibly been on the blade. He at least knew it had come from somewhere from the stage itself- somewhere up high, perhaps, judging by how the stage light had toppled. It could have simply been a result of the mayhem, but Sombra wasn't willing to consider it coincidence.

The shadows cast by the upper part of the stage's supports began to writhe when he focused his magic upon them, and exerted power to start trying to tear it apart. He wanted to draw out Hou one way or another- either her or her meddling lackey.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Tongue Twister watched the shadow panthers, trying to figure out WHAT they were.  Psychic projections ?  Manifestations of rage ?  Thaumic constructs ?  Certainly not illusions !

She didn't know, couldn't guess, but decided that for the moment it really didn't matter - they could be solid enough to do damage.  They didn't seem to harming any pony, but that could change on a whim !

"This is comic book villainy 101 !" she noted to herself, "'If being pursued, endanger some bystanders, and escape in the chaos !'

It's White Tail Woods all over again !  Except THIS time, there's a crowd.  Which means the local law is going to show up soon and Start Asking Questions.

At best, they'll delay us for a few hours.  At worst ?  Days, maybe months, depending on the legal system and how much behind-the-scenes influence Hou has here !"

The only way to figure out Hou's next move would be to ask about in the libraries to see what she's been reading.  


Only problems are that she was in disguise, and this is a BIG library !  We'd have to search through every list of every book retrieved BY EVERY STALLION AND MARE PAIR DOING RESEARCH AT THE TIME !  


And even then, there is no guarantee we'd uncover the pattern of what she and her friend were looking for; we'd be more likely to either find someone else's research/plot, or go off on a random tangent.

Given her centuries of experience being covert, it would be near impossible to pick up her trail by any means.  This will be quite a challenge ...

"But as uncle Legbreaker says : 'if someone slams a door in your face, find a nearby window and fly in !  Or a nearby wall and smash through with brute force !'

Or the Caballeron Routine.  Why expend effort when you can just hold back and let that adrenaline junky Daring Do find the temple, neutralize all the traps, defeat the guardian and get the McGuffin ?  Then just mug her as soon as she exits the temple !"

She noticed that Sombra was battling somepony with his shadows.

"Sir !  This battle is a completely pointless waste of time !" Tongue Twister shouted to him, "It might be best to get out of here and regroup before the local law arrives !

They could make things - complicated !"

Especially with an Equestrian celebrity in the fracas ....

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  • 1 month later...

"Gads !  I haven't felt this frustrated since I was a filly !" TT grumbled to herself, "Is there TRULY no way to win here ?!  Or even get a draw ?!"

She took a deep breath as she recalled the last time she felt this way :


She was just nine years old.  Her parents had just moved to Manehattan months ago.

She was playing 'Find the Princess' cardgame with her mom on the kitchen table.

It was a simple game : two jokers and a princess card were placed face down on the table, then their positions scrambled.  All she had to do was keep her eye on the winning Princess card.

It was a simple game, but
WIN !!

No matter how hard she tried, or how determined her attention, she always picked the wrong card !

"You know, a pegasi's greatest strengths are bravery and determination." her mother Shady Dealer stated, "Look at Somnambula.  A sphinx terrorized her village, and she alone strode forward to deal with it.  She was willing to do what had to be done !

But, sometimes, that determination can be a bad thing.  Your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness."

TT merely glowered up at her.

Shady picked up the cards.  "How many cards are in my left hoof ?" she asked.

"Two." TT replied, "You picked up a joker, then the princess card with your left."

Shady tossed one card from her left hoof facedown upon the table.  "What card is that ?" she asked.

"The princess card." TT replied.

"You sure about that ?"

"Yes !" TT groaned and rolled her eyes, "The last card picked up is ALWAYS the first card tossed !"

"You sure about that ?" she asked before showing TT the card she was still holding - it was the princess card.

TT looked between the card in her mom's hoof and the one on the table.  She flipped it over - it was one of the jokers.

"With just a little practice at sleight of hoof, I control what card gets tossed first." Shady stated, "You were watching the wrong card the whole time.  And no amount of hard work or determination or 'can-do !' attitude  would've helped you win.

Your determination could have cost you every bit you had, if we'd been playing for money."

"You cheated me ?!" TT squeaked (as young fillies are prone to do sometimes).

"Yes.  Because I was trying to make a point." her mom Shady Dealer replied as she took out the rest of the deck, put the three cards away and started shuffling the deck, "Not everypony is nice.  Not everypony plays fair.  And sometimes, the only winning move is to walk away.

Calm down.  Maybe get a new angle on the problem.  Or see what is really going on." she finished as she spread the whole deck out face down on the table.

With a flick of a wing feather, she flipped the cards over in a ripple.

They were perfectly ordered.  Every suit in sequence.

TT looked at the cards, pondering just how improbable it would be to order cards by shuffling them.  "I never really had a chance of winning, did I ?"

"Nope !" her mom replied with a smirk as she gathered up her cards, "And THAT is why  'Find the Princess' is illegal !  It is not a game, it's a con !"

TT thought for a moment.  "But how do you know when to stick with something, and when to walk away ?"

Shady sighed.  "That - is a difficult question.  You need a good and accurate idea of what there is to gain and lose by continuing.  Sometimes you'll guess right; sometimes you'll guess wrong.  All you can do is keep doing what works, abandon or  change what does not."

TT snapped out of the flashback much calmer than before.

"We're going to have to find some other way to figure out where Hou Shuren went." she mused to herself, "I'll have to assume she covered her tracks far too well for anypony to have any chance of discovering anything here.

Q : Why is something always in the last place you look ?

A : Because as soon as you find what you're searching for, you stop looking !  IF there were a way to detect the residual energy of her magic when she moved the books via standard unicorn telekinesis, all we'd have to do is look for the book with the greatest remaining energy, since that was the last thing she looked in !  


But I have no idea WHERE in the library she was looking, and this place is HUGE !  And the longer it takes to look, the weaker the residual becomes.  Guess wrong, and the signal is gone before we even had a chance to find it !

Not sure if there is a spell like that.  Or if I would be 'allowed' to cast it even if it did exist.

The only bit of good news is that there aren't that many places to go from here."

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  • 1 month later...

Tongue Twister looked around, and decided that something should be done about those shadow panthers.  She didn't know what, so she called in some help.

She sat down, closed her eyes,  and then tented her wings around her as she entered a meditative state.

The shadows around her stirred, then flowed together into a large translucent pony beside her.  It was easily twice her size, with sharp teeth and eyes that glowed green.

It looked around, then hung its head and sighed heavily.

"You manifested me in the material realm for this ?" she asked, gesturing vaguely at Hou's constructs, "A complete waste of effort.  Yours and mine both !"

"Meh.  Had to see if I understood Neighpalese tulpamancy well enough to use it.  Seem to." TT replied, eyes still closed to maintain her trance.

The entity quirked an eyebrow at TT.  "I know you're still burning off that dark magic, but why like this ?"

"Just doing what dad says."

The entity tilted its head and looked at Tongue Twister.  "You will have to be more specific." the entity stated, "Dad - says many things."

TT smiled.  "If it seems like the world needs you to do something, but refuses to provide even the slightest hint of a suggestion of a clue as to what, do something stupid !"

The shadow entity growled and glared at Tongue Twister as it darkened.

"We didn't mean that you are stupid Zagzig." she stated, "Just the solution to this situation.

So, while you're here, would you mind dealing with those shady creatures ?  Please ?"

Zagzig quietly mused for a few moments.  "Oh, very well." Zag replied cheerily, "I could use a snack !"

Zagzig extended her massive wings and gently waved them as they went vertical.  Then the gaps between the feathers extended as the feathers became longer and wavy - within moments, Zagzig had eight long tentacles extending from her back where her wings once were.

Some of the writhing tentacles ended in a needle-sharp point, some ended in razor-sharp blades, and some ended in what looked like claws or mouths.  

And they shifted between their various forms at random as they lengthened to nearly sixty feet long each.

Zagzig hunkered down, bracing herself to be nearly immovable.  Then looked around slyly, tail waving in wide figure eights, and grumbled "Hmm - eenie.  meenie.  mynie.  DIE !"

Her tentacles lashed out at all shadow panthers simultaneously.  They were either impaled, cut in half lengthwise, or grabbed, swung overhead and smashed down upon another shadow panther.  

She unleashed the barrage twice more.  But oddly, the only things damaged were the shadow panthers - Zagzig's tentacles passed through material objects without disturbing them in any way.

For being a mental construct composed of psychic energy, she couldn't affect material objects.

Creatures made of magic, on the other hoof, were quite susceptible to her attacks.

Zagzig sat back on her haunches, opened her mouth and prepared to consume all the freshly liberated magical energy before Tongue Twister spoke up and said "We wouldn't do that.  Those were Hou Shuren's constructs.  They can't be good for you.  Or anybody."

"I don't even get a snack for my troubles ?" Zagzig replied.

"Those 'snacks' could have been made with soul energy.  Hou can do that sort of thing.  Probably."

"All the more reason she needs to be stopped !" Zag' replied, "The one who took the skies from us is probably nearby !  We should hunt her down before she gets away !"

"What would be the point ?" Tongue Twister asked, eyes still closed in meditation, the feathers of her liquid metal wings interlaced, "This is just a repeat of White Tail Woods.  She has an accomplice.  Hou is causing trouble here to give him time to get away.  Technically, she's already won, and there is no point in fighting a battle that has already been lost."

Zag groaned.  "This is all going to turn into a standard Equestrian Drama Story, isn't it ?  The Big Bad Evil will accomplish their goal unimpeded and in secret.  They will attack 'from nowhere', effortlessly slapping down all who oppose them with unstoppable might.

Then, when all seems lost, at the very last moment, Harmony's Chosen will pull a miracle out of their backsides and save the day !  Right ?"

TT sighs.  "Most likely."

"But didn't we join that organization to PREVENT that sort of thing ?" Zag continued, rubbing the bridge of her muzzle with a hoof, "To put a stop to evil threats before they caused drama and excessive property damage ?  'To stop a big problem, stop it when it is small' ?"

"Yes.  But we don't have the authority or ability to actually do anything." TT replied flatly, "We're a first level scholar character squaring off against a ninety seventh level omniclass fighter/bard/rogue/mage/cleric/paladin/monk/alchemist/necromancer with attack bonuses over five times our hit points !


We'd have a better chance winning a punching contest against Cyttorak, or pinning Cthulhu in a wrestling match !"

Zagzig thought for a moment before shrugging and stating "You always were an optimist.

So, what now ?"

"No idea.  We could just pick a direction at random, and head off that way until we run across them.  We'd put the odds of THAT working at about one in three hundred sixty.  Oddly, the best chance we might have !

We could talk to the librarians and other patrons, but with no idea of who we're asking about, or even IF we're asking the ones who might know something, any success would be from dumb luck.  I'd put the odds at about a hundred thousand to one against.

Plus Hou has spies and servants everywhere.  Good chance that any information we got would either be a wild goose chase, or lead to a death trap."

"Well, at least a death trap or a wild goose chase would be something to do !

And doesn't she consider us some kind of experiment ?" Zag inquired, "Would Hou terminate us for being annoying, or just put us into a dangerous but barely survivable situation to see what we're capable of ?"

TT shrugged and sighed, since she knew that her successes depended NOT upon how hard she worked, or how clever she was, or even the roll of a dice !  All that mattered was someone else's whim.  Succeed or fail ?  Live or die ?  She had absolutely NO say in any matter that concerned her !

"Later then !" Zag saluted before fading out of existence. 

Tongue Twister struggled to her feet as her wings sort of flowed around her, tucking themselves under a cloak.

"Well, THAT was intense !" she stated to anyone that could hear, "Anyone for some cider ?  I'm buying !"

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  • 2 weeks later...

TT humming 

🎵 "Shades of night are falling and I'm lonely
Standing on the corner feeling blue
Sweethearts out for fun
Pass me one by one
Guess I'll wind up like I always do
With only
Me and my shadow
Strolling down the avenue
Me and my shadow
Not a soul to tell our troubles to
And when it's twelve o'clock
We climb the stair
We never knock
For nobody's there
Just me and my shadow
All alone and feeling blue" 

Nondescript hotel room, sometime later ...

"Well, THIS is an annoying situation !" TT groused to herself as she rummaged through her saddlebags, "The game is severely rigged in Hou's favor.  And she can't win, lest Equestria suffer.  Eventually.  At least STAR knows about her.

By the 'rules', as the Hapless Messenger, my job - and the right to be involved - is over and done with.

What did mom say at times like this ?  'If you do not like the rules, change the game !' "

TT found what she was looking for : Mnemnosine's Circlet.

Considered by many 'in the know, powerful magic users' to be a piece of junk, it could only look a few weeks into the past - for a total of one hour, once a month.  No color.  No sound.  And it absolutely will NOT reveal the perpetrators of any sort of criminal activity (mainly to ensure the circlet isn't too overpowered or overtly useful).

So it will not show you who broke into your room and stole your wallet just a day ago, even if the other conditions are met.

As a  final insult, it could only be used by somepony with unicorn blood (since unicorns could cast a spell far more useful and effective than what the circlet could provide, it made having the artifact even more pointless).

Magic is many things.  Such as the ultimate cheat.  And riddled with loopholes for those clever and twisted enough to look for them.

So Tongue Twister carefully balanced the circlet on one hoof, then gave its edge a quick push to start it spinning while singing the Neighpalese chant to activate it - being the daughter of a unicorn meant that she is technically of unicorn blood.

With absolutely no idea of what disguises Hou and friend were using, there was no way to search for them specifically.
So instead of looking for any secretive activity, she merely searched for any ponies quickly packing up and leaving the library a few minutes before she and Sombra got close - nothing specifically criminal about that, right ?  Then wrote down what books and scrolls they'd been reading.

"At least we'll have some clue what Hou was looking for." TT noted to herselves, "Now we just hope we can figure out where she's headed.  And maybe  get ahead of her and disrupt her plans a bit."

She caught the spinning ring before it fell.  It had provided some help - the LAST bit of help she could get from it for another month.

"Once more unto the breach !" she mused to herself as he headed for the grand library to track down Hou and friends' reading material ...


After hours of reading through the texts Hou and her accomplice had been reading, TT deduced that the most important pieces of the puzzle were in the book that they'd taken from the library.

Now the question was : how to get that information.

The library MIGHT have another copy of the tome.  Not wanting a rare, one-of-a-kind book to be damaged or stolen, librarians have been known to have copies made and put on the shelves, keeping the rare originals in special rooms with very limited access.

And if it was a popular tome that many ponies were looking for, having several usable, high quality copies to lend out would make everypony's life that much easier.

Or, more likely, a local researcher has a personal copy of the pages relevant to their research.  That way, they could mark their copies up with notes and suggestions, and no one is knocking on their door every half hour yelling "HEY !  You done with that book yet ?  Other ponies are doing research too !"

And THEY are not forced to go knocking on somepony's door and yelling "HEY !  You done with that book yet ?  Other ponies are doing research too !"

"The book was on the pre-dynastic history of the region.  Specifically rulers." TT noted to herself, "So now I just need to find somepony who might have used that book enough to have notes or copies of pages made !"

After a quick look at a local map, she headed out, looking for the professor's offices.

For if there was anypony around here that MIGHT have what she was looking for, it was one of the instructors in the ancient history of their own lands !

Edited by NiktoBarada
Keepin' the thread necromancy goin' ....
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  • 2 weeks later...

"Thanks for seeing us on such short notice Professor Masud." TT stated to the distinguished pale grey Saddle Arabian in his rather cluttered office.

"Oh, think nothing of it !" he replied, "Always glad to help a scholar from our neighbors to the north learn more about our long and illustrious history.

What sort of help are you looking for ?"

"We just need to know what was in a copy of  'Demographics and Civil Discourses of Pre Dynastic Saddle Arabia, volume five'.  Would you have some notes available ?"

Masud thought for a moment.  "I have been teaching a class covering those subjects twice a year for decades, so of course I have a rather extensive collection of notes.

But would it not be easier to wait for whoever borrowed the book to return it ?"

"That may be a problem, sir." TT answered before glancing back to make sure the door was closed, "The book was taken out by an ancient sorceress of Long Guo looking for something hidden in your lands.  We don't know what she's looking for, but it can't be good for anypony, so time is of the essence.

Besides, we doubt she'll be returning the book before she's unleashed whatever it is she's planning.  Or even then !"

"Hmm.  That - is a most interesting and troubling story.  Are you perhaps speaking for some organization that handles this sort of thing ?"

"Yes.  We are Agent Garrulous Gadfly, of H.E.L.P.P. - the Whole Equestria League of Pony Protection." Tongue Twister began her spiel, "We try to stop big threats while they are still small enough to handle with minimal fuss."

Masud looked at her for a few moments, before looking confused.  "Does not 'whole' start with a 'W' in Ponish ?"

"Yeah, but we're a secret organization." TT replied furtively, "We're kinda flexible with the acronyms."


... Ohhhhkay then.  You said you needed notes from volume five ?"

"Yes sir."

Hours later, all that Tongue Twister could piece together is the book mentioned the Twelve Kings many times.  And many, many locations long forgotten - if not mythological in the first place.  She needed Masud's help to translate a few pages, for her knowledge of languages was vast, but not infinite (it had been years since she'd worked with pre dynastic hieratic, and there were hundreds of symbols.  Many that looked very much alike.)

She'd cobbled together a rough map of Sites To Investigate, and figured out the vectors to get to them.

As the sun began to set, Masud waved goodbye to her as she started off into the Great Desert, following his directions to start.

"It is fortunate Mistress  Shuren warned me about that mare." Hasud thought to himself as he watched Tongue Twister head out, "Had I not known of Miss Twister's skills, I would have believed her story.  And tried to tell her one she would have seen through.

I do not know why Mistress Shuren wants that one alive, given it would be so easy to arrange an 'unfortunate accident', but that is not my concern anymore."

He headed back to his office and began putting away all his notes.  "But now, she is headed off into the middle of the Great Desert.  If she is any good, she'll figure out something is wrong in a few days.  Then it will take her a few days to recover before setting out again.  That will give Mistress Shuren an insurmountable lead to her final goal."

After nearly an hour of walking, TT was well out of view of the city.

According to Masud's directions, she should turn left about eighty five degrees.

She turned to her right ninety two degrees and put on her Winged Slippers (an oddball magic item she got from her dad's shop the last time she visited his shop).


Once she derived the CORRECT bearings, she took off with a running start, and she was soon airborne, staying twenty feet off the ground, running on a temporary cloud that existed only long enough to support her.

High enough to avoid ground-based threats, yet low enough to see ground-based landmarks.

"That STAR training is really paying off !" she mused to herself cheerfully, "I can maintain this pace for hours if I have to !"

"Ah.  I was wondering why you lied to Masud about being unable to translate those texts." the Abomination started in, "You were giving him an opening to lie to you."


"I wasn't lying." TT answered, "I AM a bit rusty at reading hieratic.

But not THAT rusty !

I thought that by asking for his help, his pride at being a scholar and an instructor would make it more likely he'd agree to help !  Who would pass up a chance to do some REAL good in the world by using their skills and education ?

But once he told me the wrong directions, I knew something was up.  So I decided to play dumb and let him think he fooled me.  You'd be surprised at what ponies let slip when they think they have an advantage over you !

Besides - I'm on a mission here.  AND I'm dealing with Hou Shuren.  I don't trust anyone anymore."

TT managed to keep going for seven hours before she had to return to the ground and take off the shoes - being a 'defective' artifact, they had to 'rest' two hours for every hour of use.

She made camp near a weather worn group of stones that used to be the door to a tomb.

After a few hours sleep, she lit up a lightstick and carefully threaded her way in.

The place was a mess - there were scrolls laying about everywhere, boxes had been smashed, sundry items had been scattered about, and the lid to the sarcophagus was leaned up against the far wall.

Tongue Twister peered inside the sarcophagus to look at the mummy.  It had been placed back in the stone coffin face down and upside down !  Some of its wrappings had been slashed and torn off in a few precise places.

The unmistakable signs of a looting.

"Well, looks like you're about half a century late !  Nothing of use to find here !" the Abomination taunted, "Care to waste even more time heading for another tomb that has most likely been looted as well ?"

"I'm looking for information, not gold, gems, or artifacts." TT replied as she carefully took pictures of where everything was before she put the mummy back the way it belonged.

"WHY are you doing that ?!" Abomination asked as she jotted down some notes.

"*I* am a professional !  I'm doing this the CORRECT way !" TT replied to the entity in her head, "This is a predynastic tomb.  Nearly impossible to find one in any condition; this is better than most.  After all this is over, I'm going to have some ponies come here and do a PROPER excavation."

After saying a few words of remembrance, she put the lid back on before reading the inscriptions.

"Her name was Meresankh.  She was a bureacrat in pre dynastic Saddle Arabia." she noted, "From the style of the hieroglyphics, from the Broken Kingdom period.  She may have been alive during the reign of the Twelve Kings."

"And all of those scrolls were her work ?  Was being entombed with them a reward ?  Or a punishment ?"

"... I - do not know." TT answered as she picked one at random and unrolled it.

 "Tax forms." she noted as she took yet another one.  "This one is an assay for one of the properties of Theth-Ka.  An inheritance from his grandfather ... ink blotch ?"

She looked at the scroll more closely.  That blotch was NOT a mistake - it looked like somepony had first tried to scrape the name off, then covered it with ink.

She checked a few of the other scrolls, and of those that mentioned him, they too had the name of Theth Ka's grandfather obliterated.

"I've heard of this.  A very rare punishment  - Erasure from the Scrolls of Eternity.  Every mention of the punished one's name anywhere in the kingdom will be obliterated.  Any statues depicting them will be destroyed.  For a culture that revered being remembered, Erasure was the harshest punishment they could inflict.

But you'd have to do something truly vile and unspeakably horrible to earn such a fate ..."

TT mused for a bit.  "That does sound like the sort of pony that Shuren would be interested in finding !  

She has a Remembrance Stone.  I suspect it probably does more than record memories.  So either Theth Ka's grandfather made the thing, was the first to use it, or knew more about how to use it than anypony.

So she's probably down here in Saddlelon trying to find, well, whoever he was.

Any information on the grandfather has most likely been destroyed." she finished with a sigh, before realizing something, "Unless it was sealed away where nopony would ever find it.

Like inside a sealed tomb, full of death traps and ancient curses.  After all, if nopony can get to the name, it essentially does not exist !"

She looked through the scrolls.  They gave very details descriptions of everything Theth Ka owned.

Now if she could just figure out what the landmarks reported in the land surveys were referring to, she'd know where Theth Ka's tomb probably was ... !




It took a bit of effort to convert a room at the inn she was staying at into a dark room, but she was surprisingly successful.  TT had taken as many pictures of the ancient tax forms as she could, figuring it would be better to work somewhere more comfortable.

She'd figured out the locations of the sites she'd visited, wrote them down and sent them to the Saddle Arabian Department of Antiquities - the sites were THEIR history, so they deserved first chance at discovering what else was in them.

The table was covered with maps and reams of notes as she tried to figure out where Theth Ka's tomb might be.  

She was squinting at an old map when she noticed the light from the lamp seemed a bit blue.  She looked up at it and noticed the glow around it.

"Wait a minute !  That's a unicorn's telekinetic aura !" she managed to note before everything went black ...

Tongue Twister struggled to her hooves, shaking her head to clear out the cobwebs before she looked around.

"What am I doing out here in the middle of the desert at night ?"[/i] she noted as she looked out upon the endless dunes, "And when did it get so late ?  The sun was just setting the last time I looked !"

She checked her saddlebags.  They were empty.  Were there supposed to be items in there or not ?  


She didn't know.

She tried to think.  She'd been doing - something somewhere.

And why was everything blurry ?

She reached up and felt her face - she wasn't wearing her glasses.

"Not THIS crap again !" she screamed as she realized she'd been hit with a memory altering spell or two, for why else would she be out in the middle of the bucking desert at night with NO supplies of any kind and without her glasses ?

A malevolent smirk crossed her muzzle as she sat down to concentrate.  "Good thing I took precautions against this very sort of thing !" she mused, "Now let's see how well that Memory Vault I had dad get for me actually works !"

She clutched the saddlebags to her chest, focusing her attention on the pearl hidden inside a hard to notice seam.  It was one of a perfectly matched pair - its twin was in an ugly statuette currently hidden in a drawer back in her dad's curio shop .  Any memories forced out or altered in her mind were copied into the Vault in their original state before the memory screw spells could change them; the Memory Vault enabled a way to reset memories to what they were before they were altered or erased.

The memories flowed back and took their rightful place in the stream of consciousness : 
* she'd noticed the latern change color - a unicorn had grabbed it to momentarily distract her.
* then a Narcolepsy spell struck.  It reduced muscle tension in her body to zero.  She didn't have the strength to open her eyes, or even wiggle her ears.  Essentially, her body was asleep, but she was fully aware of everything going on around her !
* from what she could hear, there were two stallions ransacking the room, taking items off the table she'd been working at.  Then they rummaged through her saddlebags and took everything in there !
The Circlet of Mnemnosine.  The Wandering Eye Gem.  The Squealer's Stone.  The Winged Slippers.  The Florilegium Mischiefii.  Her notes and journal.  Even her glasses - ALL TAKEN !

"As a mere civilian, she isn't worthy to even have items as crappy as these !  Where do you think she got the silly idea that she could be anything more than a hostage, victim or useless bystander ?"

"Probably read one too many spy novels."

* Teleported to the middle of the desert, where one of them blasted her with a memory erasure spell.  They took the opportunity to teleport elsewhere while leaving her there, knowing it would take a minute or two for her to recover.

Her jaw tightened as her blood began to boil with rage.

"THOSE ARROGANT DUNG STAINS TOOK MY STUFF AND LEFT ME OUT HERE ?!" she screamed as the black on the bottom third of her legs began to writhe, then expand and envelop her in black flame.  Her nightmare form is NOT an alicorn - tall like one, but has mercury tentacles instead of wings, and instead of a horn had what looked like a bone helmet covering most of her head.  
As the flames dissipated, six orbs formed from the smoke still swirling around her.

Then opened like six, cat-like eyes, looking in six different directions at once.  Sometimes blinking to teleport elsewhere at random.

"ALL RIGHT UNIVERSE - IF THAT'S THE WAY THINGS HAVE TO BE ..." she sighed as she powered down immediately.  The Nightmare Mode effect dissipated.  Like she'd done nothing at all.

"... so be it.  I'm tired.

I'm going home." she muttered as she turned and started walking in circles to calm down.

"You're quitting ?  Where's that limitless optimism you were so proud of before ?"

"Dead.  Optimism is no match for reality.  I had no chance of stopping Shuren.  Or even slowing her down.  Or figuring out what she was really up to.  It was stupid to think that anything I - or anypony else - did would make any difference at all.

It's like the bard said : 'Life is but a walking shadow.  A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, then is heard no more.


Signifying - nothing.'

At least somepony has my notes on where Shuren was snooping around.  Maybe somepony more competent, more important or more relevant than I will find them, since it's not my fight anymore.


Doubt it ever truly was."

She sighed as she looked out upon the expanse of sand, trying to decide which way to go.

"They probably just picked a direction at random, then teleported as far as they could see, then to some location they knew." TT deduced, "That way, I'd need an hour or so to get back.  Assuming I could spot town from out here.

Assuming, of course, that I could see over these dunes !  If I could still fly, it would be easy enough to gain enough altitude to look around !"

"Is that why they took your glasses ?  To give you trouble finding your way back ?"

"No.  My glasses were a graduation gift from my parents.  They had some minor enchantments on them.  Those goofs simply took everything with a touch of magic about it."

"Wait - you had nearly half a dozen minor magic items in your possession ?   Have you been hiding your light under a bushel basket this whole time ?"


"WHY ?!"

"Using them would draw attention and glory away from the More Important Ponies.
And THAT is something that is Simply.  Not.  Done !"


Abomination slaps own face with hoof.

"WHY ?!"

"I am a Nothing.  I am not allowed to do anything useful or important when other far more Important Ponies are around."

She smirks.  "But since there's nopony else around, the restriction is moot !

First Path of the Way of the Nothing : Glorious Irrelevancy.  Since nothing I do will ever matter, I can do anything I want !

First things first : getting back to town.  I really need to see where I'm going, so I'd best put my glasses on !" she said before rummaging around in her mane, and retrieving her glasses.

"?!  Weren't those taken from you ?"

"Yep.  They're cursed with the Bad Penny hex - I literally can't get rid of them !  I could throw them away" - she tosses them without looking - "and they'd come back !" she said before reaching into her mane to retrieve them and put them on again.

Realizing she'd still need some height to see around the dunes, she shaped her alchemical mercury wings into three pillars and stretched upward as far as she could safely - thirty feet. 

She stopped for a moment to concentrate, before tapping the left side of her glasses three times.  The tiny runes engraved in the frames lit briefly and granted her telescopic vision.

"Pretty neat, huh ?  These glasses grant any vision enhancement effect I can imagine, for up to five minutes, three times a day.

Oh look !  There's a town right over there !" she stated as she shifted her wings back to their normal shape, then headed towards what would be (to unenhanced vision) the barely discernible lights of town.

"Hope you like prison." the Abominatin chuckled, "Shuren warned the locals about you and Sombra.  Your faces are on some local wanted posters !"

"So ?  I am not worth the effort to arrest."

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