Scootaround was dragged into a cage, along with several other young fillies and colts. The cage was constructed as a separate chamber, and it was over crowded. The stench of unsanitary living conditions reeked the tightly enclosed area, and the heat of many warm bodies packed so close together was oppressive. The cage rolled shut, and the light went out. All inside remained silent as the guards walked away, shutting another door outside of the caged area. There were a few murmurs as the other ponies fumbled about to get a good look at the newcomer.
"Hello?" said Scootaround, quietly. She felt rather depressed and alone at the moment, despite being closer than she'd ever want to be to about thirty other fillies and colts. The fact that her hero and mentor was gone had hit her hard. She felt lost, and unsure about how to proceed. The way Dr. Do had looked at her...
"You speak Equestrian?" inquired a feeble voice, not far from Scootaround. A thin colt pushed through to get closer to her. The other children were very cooperative, all of them assisted to make it possible to move.
"Yeah," said Scootaround, "...and Carpathian." she looked at the others, and was unable to make out distinct features. The light was out, and the darkness did not allow her to see much other than blurry shapes and outlines.
"I know a little bit,” the colt replied. "I can translate for you. What's your name?"
"Scootaround," answered Scootaround. The colt looked about him and spoke in the native tongue so that the others could understand. They nodded their heads. The colt turned towards Scootaround, talking quietly.
"How did you get here?" he asked, almost in a whisper. Scootaround leaned her head in, and answered in a quiet voice, getting the hint that quietness and secrecy were the way in this gang of prisoners.
"I was with Daring Do, an archaeologist from Equestria," Scootaround said. The colt paused, tapping his chin.
"What is an archaeologist? I don't know the word..." said the colt, sounding confused. Scootaround realized that she would have to help the colt with some of the larger words, since her language was not his first.
"A pony that studies the past. Dr. Do finds artifacts in a lot of places around the world."
"Really old things. Usually they're really important to history."
"Oh, ok," the colt said. He thought for a minute, and then relayed the messages to the others. There were several murmurs of interest from among the other children.
"Dr. Do and I got stuck on this island since out captain ran ashore. We must've gotten caught in a bad storm. I didn't now, since I was asleep," explained Scootaround, "Dr. Do and I came up here looking for the captain, as well as the ivory idol that was stolen from the tapirs." When her last statement had been translated and relayed, the others let out a small gasp. There was some shuffling, and a small tapir child came towards her from the edges. He looked up into her eyes meaningfully. Scootaround could make them out by now, as her eyes were adjusting to the darkness. The tapir spoke to the colt, who nodded. He turned to Scootaround.
"He says that the idol is very important," said the colt, "it protects the village from the harm of the evil curses. If it's here..."
"The village is a wreck. Dr. Do and I were gonna return that idol. We even found it... but Dr. Do got all grey and started acting mean, like the other ponies in that cult." Scootaround said, grimacing. The colt relayed her message, and the tapir seemed confused. He spoke to the colt again, and this time the colt paused, as if he too was confused.
"You mean she found it? I don't get it then, how was she... corrupted? If she truly believes in the protector phoenix, then it should have kept her safe from Bloodhorn's spell." Upon hearing this, Scootaround shook her head.
"He took it away. Plus, he didn't cast a spell on her. He forced her to drink something nasty and green..." said Scootaround. The colt translated once again, and received another message in reply.
"He says that the potion can't be blocked, but Bloodhorn's spells can. Only if the beholder truly believes in the power of the phoenix. If there's doubt, it won't protect," the Colt translated, "Scootaround, listen to me. We have been like this for almost a month. I don't know where Bloodhorn came from, but he was not one of us islanders. but now, all the adults have been transformed. Us kids are the only not-crazy ones here. Our own parents don't recognize us. They make us perform physical labor by day in the mines, and keep us in here by night. If there is any chance you can help us out..."
Scootaround looked pained. She knew that it would be the thing Dr. Do would do. She had always been right there, ready to help and defend the oppressed. On one of her trips, they had stumbled upon an elderly mare getting harassed by some young punks in the street. Dr. Do had taken out her cattle whip and grabbed one forcefully by the leg, and gotten the others away from the lady. Dr. Do had gone on to explain to Scootaround that injustice of any kind should be met with relief if it was in her power to do it. Scootaround thought about her situation. She wanted to live up to the examples left by Dr. Do. What could she do to help?
Frustrated, Scootaround swept her hat off, rumpling her dark mane. She didn't know where to start. Here she was, kept inside this cage by a lock. By a lock. Scootaround looked into her hat, which had landed on the well-trampled soil on the ground. Tucked underneath the brim was a small twisted piece of metal. It was her lockpick, which she had carried with her since the days she roamed the streets of Carpathia. She looked up at the others, who had been watching her the entire time. A grin came to her face, much like the ones she had often exchanged with her friend Dr. Do.
"I've got an idea," she said.
Scootaround's unlocking device worked. She landed as quietly as possible outside the cell, her knees bending to absorb the impact and keep her hooves from making a loud striking noise. She wasn't quite sure where the guards were, or if they were even posted. Unfortunately, she had little to no idea of where she was going.
The filly turned to her left. She left the door of the pen open, saluting the other foals. They would be able to get out themselves if they wanted. Scootaround exited through the door that the larger ponies had gone through, coming into a different area. Everything was dark, though a fracture in the ceiling allowed a small amount of moonlight in. She looked at the area. Like the temple chamber, it was expansive, but this one was cut into the rock. Large machinery was present, and laid strewn about like a miniature factory line. Great machines were dormant for the night, and not a single soul was in sight as far as Scootaround could tell.
"What is this place?" whispered Scootaround to herself as she carefully made her way through the deserted rows of machinery and rock piles. There were grinders, conveyors, picks, and great metal carts. She was inside the center of a mining facility. The filly adjusted her newsboy cap, and peered through the rows of machines. Was this even the right way to be going?
Scootaround didn't like the feeling of the mine. It felt too eerie, being completely deserted. She looked up, and saw a ladder that led to a ledge carved into the rock face, connecting up with another chamber. Scootaround decided that if she was going to do something, she was going to need to find that idol. And to do that, she'd have to hook up with the larger chamber.
The filly stood at the bottom of the ladder, placing a hoof onto the lowermost rung, and hoisting herself upwards. She placed one of her back hooves on the lowermost rung, while moving her front hooves a few spaces upwards. She continued in this manner, working her way up to the top of the ladder. Had she been an earth pony or a unicorn, she might have felt dizzy at being up high on a wobbly ladder, but as a pegasus who happened to have good balance, Scootaround was able to keep her nerves under control and reach the rock ledge.
Scootaround stepped through the door that had been carved into the rock wall. She could see that it expanded into another vast chamber. It was darkened, and she could hardly see. The young filly stepped into the chamber, looking upwards at the great pillars, looking over at the fountain, and at the altar. Yes, this was the same chamber she had been in before. She looked about again. She had to find the ivory idol. In the back of her head she remembered the location had been to the left of the altar, when she had been facing it. She tightened her cap, and headed off in that direction.
Only to be stopped by a tall, slender unicorn with a mean-looking eye and black iron rings around his legs. Bloodhorn stood above Scootaround, who backed away quickly.
"Little Filly, I do not think you realize what your place is." said Bloodhorn, picking up Scootaround with his magic. She struggled, but was powerless against the levitation. The tall unicorn stepped through the archway, back into the mine.
"You see, we do not force you foals through the chaos conversion rites. That is only as a last resort. Instead, you continue in the roles expected of you. That includes running all this. You see those carts, Little Scootaround?" said Bloodhorn. Scootraound kept her mouth quiet, and only glared at the stallion.
"That will be your job tomorrow morning," he said, "I want you to shovel the rock chippings into the carts, and send them off. Think you're up to it?" Again, Scootaround refused to cooperate with the pony that she knew was truly evil and corrupt. He wasn't grayscale, he wasn't altered. This was how he really was, a manipulative and cruel bastard.
"Insolence will not be tolerated, foal," said Bloodhorn, suddenly cross. "I've been informed that you escaped from the holding area, and attempted to free the others. This has been contained, but we will not tolerate it! One more act out of you and foal or no foal, you're getting the chaos rites! Understand?"
Scootaround felt terrified by the volume and bass of Bloodhorn's voice as he berated her. She only let out a scared squeak, and nodded her head.
"Good!" Bloodhorn exclaimed. "It's off to the pen where you belong!"
The morning arrived all too soon. For Scootaround, that meant the discovery of just how cruel the cult could be. She blinked in the dappled sunlight coming in through the holes in the ceiling, and yawned. She felt a little better now that she had rested, but something was still amiss. There was something very wrong going on, and she could feel it.
It was then that a loud CRACK pierced the air, and Scootaround felt a stinging pain on her shoulder. She looked up to see a mean-looking mare looking down on her with a look of disapproval. Scootaround didn't recognize the mare, but she could tell that she was one of the corrupted members of the chaos cult.
"You lazy little filly!" barked the mare, glaring down at Scootaround, "All the other fillies and colts are hard at work and you're lounging around?" Scootaround winced as she hear another cracking sound and felt another smarting pain as the pony brought a whip against her. The whip looked nothing like the one belonging to Dr. Do. It was black, and had a leather strap on it rather than a linked chain like Daring's. Scootaround got onto all four hooves immediately, and exited the chamber. It was apparently empty of all the other foals who had been inside of it the night before, and they were all at work.
Scootaround was led to an area near the mine carts that she had noticed the previous night. The mare pointed at the with on hoof, and Scootaround could see several other foals loading the cart up with pieces of rock that came by on a conveyer.
"You load them up! No funny business!" the pony growled, cracking the whip in the air for emphasis. Scootaround jumped, and got right to work alongside the other foals. She picked up a chunk of jagged volcanic rock as it came by on the belt, and dropped it over the lip of the cart. She wasn't quite tall enough to be able to reach all the way over the top, but she was able to push rocks up and over into the cart. The mare watched her work for a few minutes, before trotting off to do something else. As soon as she was out of sight, Scootaround heard a quiet voice next to her.
"She used to be one of those kind ones that'd never hurt a fly," said the voice. Scootaround jumped, and turned to see who had spoken. To her surprise,she was working alongside the colt who had been nice enough to translate for her the previous night.
"They.... get turned into pretty much the opposite of what they were before. Only meaner. A brave and bold stallion turns into a lazy brute that forces his load off on others," the colt explained. He did not stop moving the rocks as he spoke in a quiet voice, so as not to be seen slacking off. Scootaround understood it to mean that at any time they might be watched, so she quickened the pace.
"When do they let us take a break?" asked Scootaround, looking at all the working fillies and colts. It seemed unfair. There were very few adults even lifting a hoof, except where it was physically impossible for a foal to do the work. The majority was handled by forced foal labor.
"They don't," said the colt, wincing under the weight of a more hefty chunk of rock. He grunted, and heaved it up into the cart.
"Well actually, they give us three minutes at midday to feed us. Nothing special, just what we need to keep our bodies healthy enough to keep going. And they watch us like hawks, too."
Scootaround saw that the cart was full, and pushed against one end of it. It wouldn't budge more than a couple inches, but then the colt joined in in pushing, and it slowly began to move down the track. Once it had enough momentum he motioned for her to let go, and it took off, lining up in queue with the other carts. A fresh one came in from another track to take its place, and the process continued.
"I'm Charlie, by the way," said the colt, "Charles Hoovefrey. You said your name was Scootaround?"
"Yeah," said Scootaround, pointing to her wheel cutie mark. "I've got good balance on stuff with wheels."
"Cool, cool," the colt said. More rocks came down the conveyor, and they set to work loading them into the cart. By the time an hour of this grueling labor had passed, Scootaround thought that her legs were going to fall off. Her muscles were tired of lifting and sore, and she thought she would surely go mad. It was then that she got a glimpse of Dr. Do.
Dr. Do was up on the area where Scootaround had tried escaping through the night before. She stood still, surveying what was going on. She wore no pith helmet, and no vest. Scootaround wasn't surprised about the no-vest part, as it had been shredded when Dr. Do attempted to escape the spell Bloodhorn had used to drag her along. It was odd to see Daring without her signature helmet on, almost as odd as it was to see her grayed out and standing around with an evil smirk on her face.
"That the one you came with?" said Charlie. Scootaround nodded, a saddened look coming over her face. Charlie had been about to say something about the hopelessness of their situation, but seeing Scootaround in such a state of despair gave him a change of heart. He held his comment back, and instead looked back at Daring as he continued to load rocks.
"What was she like? You know, before all this..." inquired Charlie, breathing heavily as he saw a very large chunk of stone. Scootaround turned, and helped him lift it up and over the edge of the mine cart. The loud clanging noise it made as it landed was barely audible over the ambiance of the mine machinery being run all around them.
"Well..." explained Scootaround, "She was a brave pony. She'd go off into dangerous places and risk her neck in the sake of knowledge. Her name wasn't Dr. Daring Do for nothing."
"Yeah," said Charlie, nodding. His brownish mane was matted and overgrown, and when he shook his head like that he had to move it out of his eyes again so he could see what he was doing.
"She's also very nice. She's got the biggest heart of anypony I know. She found me on the streets of Carpathia. I was a little imp, a thief, an orphaned street-rat. She took me under her wing."
"Wow," Charlie said, grimacing. "So she's your hero and your mentor? That must be tough."
"It is," said Scootaround, pausing for a moment. She was getting a crazy idea, one that would probably not work, but crazy enough to attempt.
"Hurry up and pick up the pace, Scootaround," warned Charlie. "Don't want to let anypony see you slacking off."
"Right, right," Scootaround agreed, biting her lower lip. She swung around and grabbed a sizeable chunk of rock and hoisted it into the mine cart. Charlie looked at it, leaning up against it. The rusty mine cart left a mark on his pale green coat.
"This one's about ready," he said, They worked together to send it on their way.
"Say, what time do we get a break?" asked Scootaround. "For lunch and stuff..."
"In about twenty minutes," Charlie answered. "They don't have a clock, but that's my gut feeling. Why?"
"I have an idea," said Scootaround, "I'm gonna try something when we break for lunch."
"You're not the first foal to try to start something," said Charlie, shaking his head. "They force you into their cult early if you start trouble like that."
"Oh, I know," said Scootaround, "Actually, that's what I want them to try to do."