Orion was waiting for Artemis and Flicker as they stumbled out into the fresh air of the dusknight. They coughed, having grown too used to the isolated air of the storm cellar.
"Having fun, you two?" He snickered. Obviously, Mishap had told him of what happened down below in the cellar. Artemis turned red again.
"We were just chatting and enjoying a snack, nothing more." Artemis returned stiffly. He shifted his gaze for a quick glare at Mishap before continuing. "Anyhow, what's the big deal? Why'd we have to meet up here if you're going to send the other two to the ruins before us?" Despite his feelings of embarrasment, Artemis' basic instincts as a scholar and insquisitor kicked in.
"Actually, the real reason we came here is to throw the shadowguard of our scent. Autumn found out the other day while snooping by some shadowguards that they're getting suspicious of our movements the past couple days. I figured that if we sent her and Charger up ahead to distract them, we could rendevouz here and meet up with them safely at the ruins." Orion raied his eyes at Artemis, giving him the 'tell me later' look.
"Oh, my. Do you think they're watching us now?" Flicker glanced nervously towards the clouds, trying to spot any that seemed out of place.
"Nah, they've probably lost interest and went back to doing whatever they do in those guard towers up there." Orion gestured to his watch. "We're running out of time. We better get moving if we want to get to the ruins in time. Oh, and Flicker?" Orion looked over to her while her wings were spread. "No flying. From this point on, we can't risk having the shadowguard spot us. We're going to have to hoof it out."
Flicker guiltily closed her wings against her body. "Alright, Orion. But would you mind telling us at least what we'll be doing in the ruins?" Artemis and Mishap murmured their agreement.
"I'll explain on the way, we've got no time to lose." At that, Orion started up the gravel path towards the mountains. Artemis, Mishap, and Flicker all glanced at each other before starting up the path, each wondering what could possibly be eating Orion up so much that he was in this much of a hurry.
Meanwhile, at the ruins:
"Ugh, this is SO. BORING." Autumn kicked at some rocks for the millionth time. Gazing at the shrouded moon, she thought once again of how she could be doing other things right now instead of being on a dangerous, risky treasure hunt in the middle of some broken down ruins. Like drinking hay shakes with her other girlfriends at the cafe they loved to frequent.
"Don't do that, it ruins my concentration." Nearby, Charger had assumed a Zen stance and was breathing slowly in through his nostrils, exhaling deeply through the mouth. He appeared calm and completely void of all emotions.
"Typical Charger," Autumn muttered to herself. She couldn't remember a time when Charger actually expressed happiness or joy. His face was constant, unmoving like the face of the mountainside she must have examined countless times while waiting for the rest of their friends. "You know, the least you could do is be a conversational partner, ya hear? A gal like me gets lonely after a while..." She sighed, resigning herself to doing nothing and set her plot on the ground, tired of standing all dusknight.
"That girl gets tired of things so easily. The least she could do is not complain since she offered to help despite her busy schedule." Charger thought to herself. "I admire that she's such a giving pony, but she lacks patience. Perhaps I could give her some lessons in Zen after this crazy business is over." Withdrawing back into his meditative state, Charger slowly became aware of vibrations heading up the path towards the ruins. He snapped his eyes open. "They're here."
"Finally! I can hardly wait to get this thing over with." Autumn stood up with a groan, legs sore from all the kicking and standing she had done in the past hour or so.
Orion lead his friends up the path to the ruins. "...so when I came across the gold coin, I knew there was treasure to be found. I'll bet there are some magical artifacts that weren't caught in the Purge a century ago. If we can dig 'em up, we can do all sorts of cool stuff with them."
"Like what?" Artemis, of course, was doubtful of the existence of these magical artifacts. He of all people knew the thoroughness of Nightmare Moon's purge through written accounts passed down through the ages and the difficulty of finding even the simplest magic scroll on the black market.
"Uhh, I don't know, like magic stuff? Come on, bro, I thought you knew this."
"Thank you for the wonderful explanation, Captain Obvious." Artemis face-hoofed. Sometimes his brother could be a real pain.
"Come on, you two, we can't be getting at each other's throats already! We're not even there yet." Flicker's voice seemed to calm them both down.
"Yeah, guys. Any more arguing and you're going to attract the entire shadowguard here!" Mishap said this half jokingly, but nopony missed the implied warning in his words.
Orion shook his head. "You're right, Flicker. I'm sorry, Artemis."
"Apology accepted, brother. Now let me at these ruins." Artemis rolled up his imaginary sleeves and head straight to the first wall he could see.
Flicker decided to explore the east side of the ruins with Mishap, and together they uncovered a lot of interesting artifacts such as old frying pans and strange statues made of a mysterious metal. However, they quickly ran out of things to do.
"Hey, Flicker." Mishap called out to her from his side of the east half, turning over rocks to see if there had been anything he missed earlier.
"Hmmm? What is it, Mishap?" Flicker looked up from a vase that she recently uncovered. It's craftmanship was beyond comparison with any of the vases she saw in Ponyville, and wished that she could take it back home with her.
"Take a look at this." Summoning up some magical energy, Mishap converted all the rocks around him into butterscotch rock candy. "Pretty neat huh? I figure it'll be useful whenever we need a snack. Want one?"
"Thanks, but no thanks, Mishap. I have no idea where that rock has been, and it's probably not safe to eat something that used to be a part of some ancient ruins. I appreciate the gesture though. " Flicker smiled warmly at Mishap before returning her gaze to the other relics she had found.
"Suit youself." Mishap stuffed his mouth with candy and moaned in pleasure as the deliciousness of butterscotch permeated itself all over his taste buds. "Mmmm. That's good stuff, rock candy." He continued shoveling more of it into his mouth as he lay on his back, trying to figure out if it was safe to play any pranks on his dear friends.
While Flicker and Mishap explored the east half of the ruins, Artemis tackled the entire northern section by himself. It was covered in an amazing amount of mysterious runes that he was not familiar with, and he was determined to decode the meanings behind the messages. "Hmmmm. These markings don't match any of the markings recorded in the omnibus. Interesting..." Artemis took out his field kit from the saddlebags and began work on identifying the runes in hopes that he could glean some meaning from them. He hardly noticed that Autumn had walked up behind him, engrossed in his work.
"Hey, Artemis." Autumn flashed him one of her dazzling smiles. If there had been a competition for best smile in ponyville, she would have won it.
"Oh, erm. Hello, Autumn." Artemis glanced up distractedly from his paper covered in various calculations and hastily scribbled words, many of which were scratched out. "What can I do for you?"
She glanced up airily. "Oh, nothing. I just figured that even when you're working, you'd make more of a conversational partner than Charger over there."
Artemis glanced over at Charger. While he didn't deny that Charger was a great friend and completely trustworthy, its true that his stoicism seemed a little over the top at times. "I can't say that for sure. I'm swamped trying to even figure out which era these inscribings came from." He turned back to his calculations when Autumn sat down next to him. Her body was so close to his that he could smell the scent of flowers on her mane.
"Mind if I watch?" Autumn asked with such sincerity that Artemis couldn't refuse, regardless of how embarrassed he was to be in such close proximity to a girl.
"Ah, uhm...sure. Just try not to get to confused when you look at my calculations." Artemis quickly looked down to hide the fact that he was blushing for the umpteenth time that day. "Today is just not my lucky day," he thought. "As soon as we get done with this crazy adventure, I'm reading that scroll that teaches one how to be less awkward around girls, confound it." As he continued his work, however, these idle thoughts were pushed aside and replaced with various facts on history and runes.
Autumn gazed at her friend while he worked. While it was true that Artemis was a little bookish for her tastes, there was no denying his attractiveness. His scholarlyness lent him a certain charm that was rare to be found in stallions today, which is what had attracted her to his circle of friends in the first place. While she now appreciated the comadarie of the others, she still would have preferred to spend time with Artemis alone so that they could get to know each other better. She noticed that Artemis' tongue was stuck out, much like how children would stick their tongues out in times of intense concentration.
It was such a cute expression she could almost feel herself growing red, and she turned away when she realized she had been staring too much. "Whats gotten into you, Autumn? Get a hold of yourself. It's not like you LIKE him or anything? Why are you so embarrassed?" Even with this internal peptalk, she couldn't bring herself to look at him again and instead focused on the drawings on the walls. For images that could have been inscribed thousands of years ago, they seemed pretty fresh. She appreciated the intricacy and beauty of the designs, which mainly featured the stars and moon. "This gives me new ideas for that artist's block I've been having." She mentally filed away the images to later use in the future and returned her gaze to Artemis, who was still busily scratching away at his notepad.
Orion shifted through the only standing structure left in the ruins while Charger stood guard outside. He grunted in frustration as he carefully made his way around the room, examining it in a gridlike pattern like Artemis had taught him in the past, but to no avail. The room was completely empty of anything interesting except for a small stone table that sat in the middle of it. There was a stone half sphere set into the stone that appeared to be large enough to fit a fairly large apple. Orion pondered what the table could have possibly been used for when he stumbled over a raised section of the floor with his front hooves. Somehow, he had missed the hidden door in his first survey of the room. After attempting to lift it to no avail, Orion called out to Charger. "Hey Charge, would you mind coming in here for a bit? I found a secret door in the floor, but it won't budge!"
Charger entered from the front opening, and together they muscled open the door, unkwowingly triggering the first of many magical security systems placed to stop ponies that were a little too curious from finding out the contents of whatever was down there.
"Hey, did you hear that?" Orion, spending so much time around his brother, had a higher perception of magic than most non-unicorn ponies.
"Nope. Must have been your imagination." Charger peered down the opening in the ground. "Looks like a long way down."
"Pfft. I fallen further in my colt years than this. I just wish I had a glow-lamp." Orion also peered down the darke opening. "You think there's anything down there?"
"Probably. Most ponies wouldn't bother trying to dig underground unless they're really trying to hid something." Charger glanced at Orion. "Mind if I stay up here? I won't be much help to you without a rope or a ladder. It'll be much easier if you just fly down there and explore by yourself."
Orion was about to protest before he realized two things. One, that he would have appeared cowardly if he insisted on having somepony else accompany him into the dark, creepy hole. Two, Charger was right. Without a rope or a ladder, there wasn't anyway for an earthpony to make their way down there. At least, not safely.
"Alright, wait here if you like. I'm going in." Orion jumps up and flys down into the tunnel, but the suddenly flies back up and pops his head out of the hole. "If you hear my danger whistle, send somepony down to help me, alright?" Without waiting for a response, Orion hurtled back down into the dark.
"Will do, Orion." To Charger, it didn't matter if he was speaking to the actual pony or just air, as long as the words had been said. He took up a guard position outside the hole, watching diligently for anything that could go wrong topside. Nopony, however, was prepared for what happened next.
By the time Orion had gone back from his spelunking adventure, it was nearly turning darknight. If they didn't hurry, the shadowguards would catch them and force them to work in the quarries for breaking curfew. He coughed violently and gestured for some water, with which Charger readily complied. After quenching his thirst, he said angrily "Nothing! Not a hidden chamber filled with magical items, or even a vault filled with gold! Just a bunch of wine caskets, for Celestia's sake!"
"That's a shame. You had been down there so long I thought you found the motherload or something." Charger shook his head. "It's getting dark. We really need to get going if we don't want to get caught by the shadowguard."
"Alright, lets gather up the others." Orion and Charger ran out of the structure and went to tell the others that they were going to leave. They didn't notice a small alarm pulse that was being sent from the spire on top of the structure heading for Ponyville's nearest ShadowLegion outpost.
Getting Flicker and Mishap to leave was pretty easy, seeing as how they had run out of things to do hours ago and had resigned themselves to playing Tic Tac Toe. The hard part was convincing Artemis to leave his precious runes.
"Come ON, Artie! We really got to leave now if we want any chance of slipping back into Ponyville without alerting the guards!" Orion used his most persuasive voice in his efforts to get his brother to leave his ancient drawings.
"You don't understand, 'rion! I've finally figured out what these symbols are! This is the alphabet for the legendary moonscript, a language used by a civilization that predates ours by thousands of years! This wall contains the last surviving full alphabet of sunscript we're ever likely to see! I must copy it down for the future generations." Artemis quickly scribbled more characters into his notepad, but it was doubtful that he would finish in time.
"Argh, brother! Come off it! We can come again some later time, but we really have to leave now! You're putting the rest of us in danger with your eggheadedness!" Orion reached over Artemis' shoulder and took his notepad.
"Hey! Give that back!" Artemis tried to grab back his precious notes unsuccessfully, as Orion took to the air to keep it away.
"No! Not until you say that you're going to leave with us now! Our lives will be endangered if you continue doing this!" Orion glared at his brother. "You know I'm right, you're just too thick headed to accept the truth!"
Artemis glowered at his brother while realizing the truth in his words. "I suppose you're right," Artemis agreed grudgingly. "But at least let me copy down this one last character. It could be key to helping us translate ruins in the future."
"Fine. But ONE character. The rest of us will be waiting at the path back down the mountain. Don't keep us waiting. And hey, bro," Orion jabbed Artemis' shoulder. "Be safe, alright? I wouldn't want to lose you after putting up with you for all this time!"
Orion quickly flew back to the head of the path where Mishap, Charger, Flicker, and Autumn were waiting.
"Are we finally going to leave?" Autumn asked nervously. She hated the look of those shadowguards and had no intention of encountering one willingly.
"Not yet. Artie's going to copy down 'one last character' and then we'll be on our wa-" Orion was interrupted by the sound of hooves charging towards them.
"I did it! I finally have a copy of the moonscript alaphabet as well as some wall engravings as well!" Artemis waved around the notes in his mouth triumpantly before placing them back in his saddlebag.
Autumn groaned inwardly. She REALLY hoped that she didn't like Artemis - sometimes his bookishness was unbearably annoying. "Can we finally get a move on? I plan on taking a long bubble bath when I get back home." Autumn tossed her mane in the wind and shivered a bit. Since the sun no longer shone in Equestria, the night winds carried as much bite as one might expect in the northern regions of Equestria and the lands beyond, where nights could bring temperatures down to freezing.
"I second that motion. Not the bubble bath part, because you know, that's totally uncool." Mishap also shivered in the cold.
"Alright, alright! Lets get moving then!" Orion, as he moved to lead the group off the mountain, noticed that Artemis had stayed near the end of the group where Flicker was. "Coincidence? I think not. I'll have to ask him about how he feels about her when we get back. Knowing him, he's probably head over hooves but doesn't have the guts to confess," he thought to himself.