by shortskirtsandexplosions

And the Dire Deluge

        Daring's hooves scraped roughly across coarse stone, and the sharp pain woke her up from a temporary blackout. She tried screaming, but all was bubbles and madness. Her eyes darted left and right, but were useless against the dark depths. Following the churning sensation in her ears, she kicked and thrashed until the sound grew louder.

        In a wet burst, she once more broke the surface of the stream. She gasped for breath, only to sputter in chaotic spasms. Daring flung her front legs up and felt the grinding surface of the tunnel's ceiling blurring above her. A warm trickle of liquid rolled down her forelimbs, causing her to jolt. She was bleeding.

        The pegasus ignored the sting of the fresh cuts on her hooves. Treading water, she thrashed left and right, feeling for the walls of the flooded corridor. Her ears rang with the splashing currents. At last she paddled her way to the edge of the deluge. The whipping cobblestone wall stung to the touch, but she embraced it nevertheless. She needed to find a corner, a ledge, a partition—anything.

        After having her head doused once or twice between the waves, she finally latched onto something. It was a niche in the wall where the mortar crumbled and allowed a stone to fall loose. She hung onto it with one hoof, her lower body flailing along with the currents. Her teeth chattered as she struggled to bring her opposite limb to her front shirt, feeling numbly for the pocket that held her enchanted shard. At last, she slid the rock partially out and wheezed into it.

        She almost wished she hadn't done that; a pale blue beam glittered off dark waves violently rushing towards her in a tumult. She saw how dramatically the waterline was rising along the wall to her left, and it almost made her vomit. She tried pivoting around to see where the current was traveling in such a terrible hurry, when something floated straight into her and collided with her soaked muzzle.

        Daring was in too much shock to flinch. She merely aimed her chest at the object, and her light illuminated her upside down pith helmet, bobbing in the water as it was constantly being pushed into her. Not realizing that she had lost it, the mare nevertheless grabbed the thing and plopped it back onto her skull. Squinting, she once more made a study of the currents.

        The shard's enchanted light illuminated multiple paths. The tunnel split at a fork, branching off into three streams. She was grateful to have had this moment to pause and navigate, or else her body might have been battered blindly against the sharp rock partitions. After a near minute of looking, she saw that the water rushing down the rightmost path was travelling the fastest. She judged that wherever the river was going, the chamber beyond that point was the deepest, largest, and best choice for having breathable air.

        She couldn't stay anchored for any longer; the water was rising up to her chin. She took a deep, deep breath... then plunged.

        Daring's world turned into a sudsy dreamscape, illuminated by pale blue beams of enchantment. Streams of muck and dirty debris floated past her ruby eyes, but she paid them no mind. With deliberate, frog-like strokes, she threaded her way along with the current, kicking and kicking so that she took the rightmost past. To her shock, the water dipped, surging down what she could only flimsily make out to be a steep series of granite steps. She wasn't entirely sure she wanted to descend this deep into the sunken labyrinthe, but it was evidently no longer her choice. She lost control and flipped once or twice, her nostrils leaking a stream of bubbles. She was losing air even before she knew that she was losing air. Her vision spun; she glanced up for the surface of the rapids, but she was flowing too swiftly... flailing too wildly to make sense out of anything. What was more, the light was going out. Daring Do mentally cursed herself for not thinking to give the shard another quick breath for this part of her trip. All she could dwell on now was the sharp, knifing pain as her lungs began to quake for a gasp. She aimed her chest up, and finally caught a glimpse of a bulbous pocket of air. Above the stream was a cleft of rock hanging low from the ceiling. Her rear limbs met the ground, and she bucked hard, shooting herself up like a rocket.

        With a spray of water, Daring Do pierced the churning waves. She flapped her wings without thinking, giving her the elevation she needed to leap up and grab the cleft with two strong hooves. There, she dangled, her body shivering as the water beat against her legs and tail, gradually rising up her thighs, her flank, then her waist.

        She panted and panted for breath. Once her lungs were filled, and only then, did she decide to rekindle the dying light. She hung from one limb—quivering all the while—and used her other forelimb to raise the stone to her lips. She exhaled on it several times, increasing the luminosity to a blinding scale. Once the rock was burning hot, she slipped it back into shirt's pocket. It nearly scalded her skin, but now was no time to worry about that. The water was up to her shoulders. She took a breath of her own this time, filled her lungs to the breaking point, and finally let go of the rock cleft above.

        As soon as Daring let go, she lost all sense of direction. She spun and spiraled like a tiny barrel in the stony esophagus around her. Thankfully, her shard shone like a miniature star, glowing with unmatched radiance. As a result, she could see the chambers through which she was submerged and tumbling. Her ruby eyes darted left and right, and she spotted several sharp obstructions ahead. The mare was throttling towards another series of thin tunnels; she could see their bone-shattering frames from miles away. She kicked to the left, aiming herself down the closest tunnel that hugged the chamber wall. She no longer took stake of where she might be going and why; she simply needed to survive. Threading through the corridor was a tight fit, and she curled her body into a fetal position to allow clearance. The current sped even faster as she roared through the stony capillary. Her lungs quaked while the pony's body somersaulted and somersaulted again. With a spray of bubbles, she sped through to a large chamber of sorts, only it wasn't a chamber. She saw fish darting left and right. Shrimp, plankton, and skittering minnows flew past her upside down gaze. Her eyes caught the bubbles from her own pent-up breathing tubes sailing towards a dimly-lit destination, and she pivoted her hollow body to face it. Far in front of her, a giant screen of glittering light and color danced in a nebulous spectrum full of green and greener hues and it beckoned to her as she kicked and thrashed with trembling pinprick hooves against the blackening shadows in her peripheral vision with each whimpering tremor that came from her imploding lungs in anticipation of the felicitous surface that now quivered ten feet and five feet and two feet and two inches away from her eyes her face her nose her mouth...

        She broke through the surface, flinging her muzzle open in an inverse scream. Only a quarter of her lung's capacity refilled before she sank again. Her numb limbs kicked to life, and soon she was thrusting with renewed vigor, breaking the surface once more as she paddled and treaded water in desperation. Soon her struggles became less urgent, for more and more oxygen was being funneled deliciously through her organs, and she now lay back, bobbing slowly across the remarkably placid surface.

        Once the blood stopped rushing through her head, she became aware of the bizarre senses surrounding her. The surface of the pond was viscous and slimy. She heard insects buzzing past her flicking ears, and the air smelled of algae, mildew, and moss. At last, her eyes fluttered open, and all she saw was branches, branches, and more branches. Adjusting her pith helmet, the pony treaded upright in the waters, getting a good look around.

        She was floating in the center of a vast swamp, with lily pads and cattails and razor-sharp reeds lining the edges of countless islands where gnarled trees stood rooted, their many-many branches threading so densely through one another that they almost entirely blocked out the sky. Croaking frogs and buzzing cicadas scratched at Daring’s ear drums as she splashed and paddled her way towards the closest shore to her. At last, she trudged up a muddy embankment, crawled until she was on solid dirt, and collapsed outright. Her pith helmet slid forward, shading her eyes from the mosquitoes swarming around to inspect this fresh new source of heat.

        After several minutes, Daring wheezed and began stirring. She crawled ashore and limply laid herself against the trunk of a brown tree covered in green algae. She felt her coat itching in several places by multiple bug bites, but she wasn't in the position to complain about them.

        She was alive. She was soaked, battered, and even bloodied—but alive. In a numb haze, she glanced at her forelimbs, spotting two or three deep cuts where her hooves had been dragged against the flooded walls. A sigh escaped her lips, and she examined her shirt's pockets. The shard was still in place—so was her glasses case. As for the compass...

        She pulled the thing loose, unclasped it, and looked at the arrows within. She found that she was currently facing southwest. Daring felt a twitch to her ears. Gulping, she closed the compass shut, stood up on wobbly legs, and trotted around the tree until she was facing east once again.

        From there, the little pony quietly and slowly made her way across the submerged mounds of swampy vegetation. Her path was a sidewinding one, leaping over shallow ponds, wading through deep trenches, and scaling multiple logs in her sluggish attempt to continue her journey. Every now and then, she would glance up. The thin slivers of sky that would dare to peek through the branches were orange, tinged with a blood-red color. She had to guess that it was approaching evening, for the sun was setting. As the thick leaves and bushes around her started conducting choruses of crickets, she fully realized how much time had passed.

        Daring Do was exhausted. When the thought of resting struck her mind, she in no way protested. She set up camp on a particularly large island, nestled in the center of three spreading trees. Halfway through building a campfire, she felt a few drops from above. Grumbling, she abandoned the fire when it was half-lit to create an impromptu shelter. Her expert hooves only took thirty minutes to accomplish this task. With use of multiple leaves and lily pads, along with several straight branches for a framework, she constructed a flimsy lean-to and propped it up over herself.

        It was just in time; a steady downpour began. The rain blotted out whatever sight she could make of the stars above. Between the spreading tree branches and her humble "shelter," Daring remained remarkably dry. She only wished she could say the same about the fire.

        The campfire lasted ten minutes at best, but was soon reduced to a smoldering pile of ashes. Daring shivered in the lingering cold of night, brought upon tenfold by the continuous deluge. She stripped of her green shirt completely and laid it over herself as a blanket. The mare had succeeded in drying it by the fire before this uncomfortable night began, and for that she was grateful.

        Hours limped by. Daring couldn't sleep. It wasn't the discomfort of the moment that bothered her, nor was it the still-lingering sensation of having almost drowned. Her weary eyes remained locked on the eyeglass case in her grasp. She flipped the thing open, staring at her reflection, then snapped it shut. Just as soon as the clamshell container was closed, she opened it yet again, gazing at the mare with the monochromatic mane who looked back.

        Every time she closed the container, she would open it again. On every occasion, it was her own face, unchanged, unwavering, unmistakably alive. She tried closing her eyes, but every time she surrendered to the darkness, she felt as though she was somewhere far away, somewhere lonesome and forsaken, with something roaring in the distance, receding, like waves, or the tearing of paper sheets in the wind.

        With a gasp, Daring's eyes shot wide open. She saw twitching ruby pupils in the container's mirror. A whimper escaped her lips, its loathsome sound lost in the pitter-patter of rain all around her. At last, with more courage than it took to survive drowning, she shut the container close one last time. She hugged it to her chest and curled into a fetal position beneath her shirt. Her breaths came in rapid bursts, far too panicky for a pony trying to fall asleep.

        Daring didn't invite slumber. She didn't invite anything except shivers. When the moldy, rain-swept swamp around her blurred into obscurity, she closed her eyes, as if turning her head away from something indescribably ugly—unimaginably frightening beyond it. She buried her face in her forelimbs and clenched her teeth. When the first sob came out, it was in a burst, like powder exploding from the muzzle of a gun. She quieted it with a labored breath, as well as the second and third salvos. At last, she found her equilibrium, and her weeping became a gentle thing, like the rippling of pondwater beneath dragonfly wings around her.

        Daring sniffled. Daring shuddered. Daring cried. And somewhere in the midst of it all, as her mind hovered between labored breaths, slumber found her, and her dreams were a place far less dire.