Daring Do: the Legend of the Algae Photis
by Wanderer D
Chapter 3: Background
Equestria, Serpent River, Badlands
Note: I will, in the interest of future dealings with our XCOM allies, remove the names of security-sensitive individuals, as knowledge of their counterparts in Equestria runs the risk of affecting the perception of any who could potentially read this.
It's been a full day of travel by boat downriver through the badlands towards Klugetown, a small city at the very southern end of the Bone Dry Desert, right next to the coast. I had heard of Klugetown before, mostly relating to imports from Abyssinia, but my history books talk about a place that has traded hoofs, claws and paws in ownership for several centuries.
As academically intriguing as documenting the floral, faunal, geographic, environmental, and thaumatic discrepancies with the pony lands has been, I haven't been able to fight the anxiety that comes from Daring's revelations this morning.
What worries me the most is this almost willful ignorance coming from Celestia, ignoring the threat of war to this extent. I've seen what it can do… and so has she, through centuries of ruling. And yet, she chooses to ignore that and worse, keep people—her little ponies— ignorant of the lurking danger.
I understand that we ponies tend to panic at the drop of a hat, but ignorance? For someone that has so much accumulated experience, she sure acts naive sometimes. She might be confident that the Abyssinians and Mount Aris (whoever they are, information is sketchy) can together hold back this Storm King, but if they lose, what do we risk? What guarantee do we have that he will stop there and not threaten Equestria?
It makes me wonder: Is this what Commander [REDACTED] had to deal with twenty years ago, telling the governments of Earth about the alien menace only for them to wilfully ignore the threat beyond sending some soldiers and token financing?
And how did that end? With that world's [REDACTED] dead taking down a spaceship, the Commander captured, most of XCOM on the run, and their whole world at the mercy of the Elders. Isn't this what would have been the eventual fate of Equestria if Cadance and Shining hadn't managed to magically save us all at the same time?
Nightmare Moon, Chrysalis, Discord… now the Storm King? What else is she ignoring or pretending will be solved on its own? Three of those she was well aware of. What new enemy from Tartarus will I have to defeat with my friends because she didn't prepare for a negative outcome? I love Celestia with all my heart, and she is a wonderful, amazing pony and an inspirational, knowledgeable teacher, but… wishful thinking or ignoring things doesn't solve everything. We can't rely on Spike's lucky stumble to save the day, or on a random unicorn outwitting ancient evils every time.
Perhaps my time on Earth has made me cynical, but I know that other leaders deal with as much as she does, if not more, and they know not to ignore threats like this. I hope I'm wrong. I hope Celestia has agents in these other countries, keeping tabs on things so nothing like the wedding happens again. I hope she has a plan. I hope.
I'm already missing the girls. Even if they're naive and all they could do is tell me that things will be okay… I'm starting to think that's an important thing that I might have forgotten. Maybe I should re-read my friendship journal.
And I still hope… I hope I'm worrying too much. I hope we don't live to regret things we could have prevented. I hope the girls are fine and they'll forgive me for leaving them behind. I'm not the pony I used to be… and it hurts me as much as it hurts them.
I should go talk to Daring, maybe I can learn more of what is coming.
Princess Twilight Sparkle
Daring Do sensed Rainbow Dash's presence just as the other pegasus walked up to her. Even if she had used other creatures' help during her adventures, it was still difficult to figure out how she felt about having others along for the whole ride. Or was she the one along for the ride?
Ugh. She hated working with others, but she'd never let them be the heroes of her story.
"Hello, Rainbow Dash," she said, pushing her thoughts away, "what's up? Here to ask me when the next book is coming out? Because it'll take some time."
Rainbow Dash chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of her head. "What? No! I wasn't going to. I mean, we're doing all of this, so uh, I don't suppose you brought your typewriter with you?"
"I did not."
"Figures," the Wonderbolt hopeful said, sighing. "That's too bad, but really, what I wanted to say was thank you for doing this. It means a lot for all of us."
Daring glanced back over her shoulder. Twilight was out of sight, probably either studying or planning, and Galahad was currently occupied teaching a griffon wrestling technique to Alejandra. Tala was probably standing guard somewhere out of sight. How an armored breezie could look intimidating rather than hilarious was probably a question best left for another day.
"So what's the story with Alejandra? She doesn't really fight much like a griffon."
Rainbow Dash's smile became forced. "Oh, does she? I hadn't noticed!"
"Huh," Daring Do deadpanned. "And here I thought you were friends with a few." She looked at Rainbow Dash straight in the eye. "So the Battle Princess has been fairly tight-lipped about the whole thing. At least directly, but let's see what we already know, right?
"First, she has a friend who is a transformed Blood Witch. If that was somewhere in Equestria, this would be a well known fact by everycreature. Blood Witches don't tend to care if they're noticed.
"Second, Twilight and Alejandra are both military trained. Which is unusual because Twilight is the Princess of Friendship, at least officially, and the griffons don't really have an army... since two centuries ago. And before you say it, no Galahad is not army-trained."
Rainbow Dash squirmed in place, looking around the boat as if trying to figure out a way to get out of the conversation.
"Third, and kind of obvious, but, "Alejandra" is not really a griffon name at all, is it? She also happens to look, sound, and even acts like an aged-up version of Gabby. They don't behave like siblings, or mother and daughter either. If anything, they're kind of awkward with each other. It's endearing, but odd.
"Fourth," Daring continued, smirking at Rainbow Dash's cringe, "some of them talk about, and are comfortable with, the concept of war as a matter of fact. I expect this from Galahad to a degree, and sure, Alejandra could be his apprentice and also be more worldly, except that she's really not as good at claw and wing combat as she should be… but I definitely would not expect that from the Princess of Friendship, and certainly not from a breezie either.
"And last, but not least, you are not that comfortable with the concept. I see you flinch every time I bring it up. You're brave, but you act like I would expect regular ponies to do so. It's not that you don't understand the concept, but you're squeamish and anxious about it. And it's not just from my books and me kicking supremacist flank."
"I really can't tell you without Twilight's—"
Daring Do was impressed. She hadn't even heard her get close. And for that matter, neither had Rainbow Dash—if the chromatic contrail heading straight up was any indication. She tore her eyes away from it and looked at Twilight. "I was asking Dash about what's really going on with you and your crew."
Twilight sighed. "Are you familiar at all with Starswirl the Bearded?"
Daring rolled her eyes. "Not nearly mythical enough for me, but yes. I've heard of him."
"Not nearly mythi—" Twilight screeched, "Do you know who he is?! He's the father of spellcasting! A legendary hero and sorcerer who banished monsters, created new spells, figured out a decidedly flawed version of time travel and—" she gritted her teeth. "It's not funny!"
"You're just such a nerd." Daring Do laughed. "I can totally see your mom in you."
"Right." Twilight narrowed her eyes, before clearing her throat. "Well, he— created an artifact that allows you to travel between worlds. Princess Celestia's adoptive daughter used it to cross into another dimension several years ago. That whole world is going through a losing war against really powerful enemies. I was stuck there for a few months and came back with some friends… the portal… adapts your nature to fit the environment."
Despite herself, Daring was impressed. "So you're… you've been to other worlds… and that's where…" she signaled with her hoof at the others.
Twilight nodded. "It's a secret for now, although I hope once the war on Earth is over, I can open relationships with the Earth government, but for now, if it were to become public knowledge, it would start a panic."
"So what does she look like back in her world, then?" Daring asked.
"Bipedal," Twilight said, "similar to primates, but not covered in fur, their faces are also smoother than a gorilla or chimp, or even an orangutan. They wear clothes out of necessity originally and now out of cultural taboo. Opposable thumbs, small eyes, females have mammaries on their chests."
"Oh yeah, and they don't reproduce through eggs," Rainbow Dash added helpfully and with no small sign of pride. "Laetitia explained it to me one time when I uh… was curious."
"Right," Twilight said, evidently choosing to ignore the latter part of the statement, "mammaries. As in mammals."
Daring bit her lip, glancing at her sailors who were non-the-wiser, entertained as they were by the training match between Alejandra and Galahad. "So why does Alejandra look so much like Gabby?"
Twilight sighed. "She's her counterpart. They have their own version of Rainbow Dash there, as well as several other ponies and creatures I know. As far as we can tell, there was some sort of temporal interference between both worlds. Probably because the statue was damaged by alien weapons and didn't start a thaumatic repair cycle until it was used again twenty years later."
"Huh, I wonder if I have a counterpart there too."
"Maybe," Twilight shrugged. "If she wasn't killed."
Daring felt a chill down her spine. "Right. How bad is it? Really?"
"Millions died during the invasion," Twilight said gently, her eyes straying to follow the river coastline. "And in the years after as well. Cities are abandoned or infested, free settlements are always at risk, and the new ADVENT cities are under total militaristic control… it's very bad."
"And on top of that, they need to deal with a Blood Witch that has been active for over three years." Daring could see how much the statement bothered Twilight, but she needed the Princess to understand that not everycreature could be saved just because they were still alive, so to speak. "What will you do if you can't save them?"
"I'll do everything I can for Sunset and Laetitia," Twilight said, "even if they die, I will at least know I put it all into it."
Rainbow Dash put her hoof on her shoulder. "If anypony can do it, Twilight, it's you."
Twilight's frown lessened and she slowly smiled, looking up at Rainbow Dash. "Thanks. I'm glad you have faith in me."
"Of course!" Rainbow Dash replied with a grin. "You're the Battle Princess, after all!"
Twilight shook her head.
"So, anything you wanted in particular Princess?" Daring Do asked after a moment. "I get the sense that you had some questions for me."
Twilight nodded. "I do, and it's about—"
"Twilight," Tala interrupted, fluttering down to land on the princesses' head. "We're being followed."
"What?" Daring asked, leaning over to look behind them. "I don't see anything on the water."
"Not the water… in the sky," the breezie said, pointing upwards. "It's dark and metallic, and has been with us for at least half an hour."
"I'll go check!" Rainbow Dash said, before she was tackled by both Twilight and Daring.
"They don't know we're onto them," Twilight said, getting off of Rainbow's back, followed soon after by Daring. "We'll keep an eye out… prepare. We need to keep this advantage from them."
"We don't know who they are either," Daring said. "it could be just an airship following the river down to Klugetown."
"Whoever they are," Tala pointed out, "they have maintained the same altitude and speed since they caught up to us."
"Come on," Twilight said, "let's go inside and plan what to do in case of an attack."
"Welp! There's definitely a Princess on that ship, alright!"
"See?" Ahuitzotl said, a serrated grin splitting his face. "I told you I could make it worth your while."
"The Storm King will be pleased by this," Tempest Shadow said, her eyes reflecting the red lights of the instruments. "It's not often that an Equestrian Princess leaves the safety of their little country."
"Yeah, yeah," Ahuitzotl growled. "She's a princess and all that, and you can have her and everycreature in that boat… but Daring Do is mine! This will be the last time she sticks her nose into my business!"
"So why is this princess out of her castle, huh?" Grubber asked, jumping from the seat next to the window to walk up to them. "Shouldn't she be like, having tea parties and eating cake?"
Tempest Shadow glanced at Ahuitzotl, who glared right back. "I have no idea! I just know that they helped Daring Do destroy my plan! And that was the last straw! She will rue the day she eve—"
"Yes, yes, we know," Tempest interrupted, rolling her eyes. "You have been repeating that for the last day."
"So what's the plan, boss?" Grubber asked. "Are we going to get the drop on them now?"
Tempest walked forth to the floor window that allowed them to look straight down to the clouds below, where, through the occasional gap, she could see the boat below. "No. Let's wait a little more until most of the crew is asleep. Then we strike."
End Chapter 3