"...I'm afraid that the Neigh York Archaeology Foundation simply cannot support this new expedition of yours, Professor Do..."
With a gasp, Daring's ruby eyes flew open.
Loose islands of rock floated in the void, their blacker-than-black outlines illuminated briefly by branching lightning.
Then all was dark again.
The mare shivered. Her gaze darted left and right.
A thin veil of purple nebulae hung over a bleak environment. Stone and jagged rock stretched around her while the horizon rolled over and over itself.
She moved her limbs, only to discover that she was lying on her side. The floor felt cold, smooth, like obsidian glass. When she stood up, she could only tell she was upright from a flash of lightning illuminating the shadow of her slender body.
Her fuzzy ears twitched as thunder rumbled across the formless skies. When the noise finally reached her, it carried with it the haunting semblance of structure:
"...What's gotten into you lately? What's with this obsessive need to make a blind trek east? The Scientific Quorum of Field Study is most worried..."
Daring spun around, panting, hyperventilating.
All was stone and chaos. Not a single shape was to be seen, aside from the jagged horizon of sundered rock. There wasn't even enough gloss along the surfaces to afford a reflection.
Daring Do was alone.
She was always alone.
She trotted limply forward, her numb hooves taking a serpentine path through the craggy spires. She was beyond exhaustion, beyond pain, beyond balance.
"...Speak to us, Professor Do. You've been rather quiet lately. Please, explain all of this behavior. Just what was it that you discovered in that ancient library during your last expedition...?"
Daring stumbled. She fell forward, and her right side grazed a throng of rocks. She fell to her knees, trembling all over. Her tourniquet had torn loose, spreading shattered feathers wide, exposing her injury to the battered universe. She felt streams of blood trickling out, and when she opened her eyes, she couldn't help but gasp.
Goblets of red levitated in front of her, bouncing and conjoining together in the static air. Trembling, Daring raised a hoof forward, staining the tip of her forelimb with her own blood. She gazed up at the sky, and as her eyes focused past the floating bloodstream, she once more saw mountains of rock twirling in the ether.
"...What was in that strange book that you found...?"
Daring plunged forward. She gasped, flailing about, trying in vain to flap her wings. Her body twirled against bands of lightning ripping past her in opposite directions. Her body hurled towards the nearest plateau of rock, accelerating like a tan missile.
She landed softly. Daring's body stiffened, and yet it wasn't shattered. She blinked as she felt herself standing upright on what was previously the bottom of a floating platform, as if all she had done from one chunk of stone to another was take a simple step.
Twirling about, Daring gawked at the landscape, at the blatant randomosity of everything. She gnashed at her teeth and wrung two hooves through her monochromatic mane. With a seething expression, Daring ultimately fumbled through the pockets of her tattered shirt, ripping out her compass and clutching it to her fuzzy chest as if it was a worry stone. Gulping, she flipped the thing open and gazed at the arrows.
The compass rose spun constantly, like a buzzsaw threatening to break off its hinges.
Slamming the thing shut, Daring hugged it again while staring skyward at another flash of lightning.
The thunder hissed down at her:
"...This is it, Professor Do. I'm afraid the Foundation didn't pay me for enough gas to fly you any further..."
Trembling, Daring limped ahead, navigating a steep ravine flanked by ragged teeth of rock. With each crevice that she passed, the echoes of thunder rolled on through, shaking her to her bones with their combined resonance.
"...Are you sure you're gonna to be safe on your own, Miss? This is No Mare's Land, Professor. There's been no recorded expedition east of this territory..."
Daring paused to rub her forelimbs. The temperature dropped with each step she took. The cold heart of the abyss digested her with each forlorn glance she gave the environment.
Lighting flashed, casting shadows of the jagged rocks over her like demon arms. She stifled a whimper and fell prone to the rock face, curling into a fetal position.
"...Well, if you insist. Just don't die alone out there, Professor Do..."
Daring gnashed her teeth, clenching her eyes shut as the shivers intensified.
"...Don't die alone... Don't die alone..."
She covered her forelimbs as the first of many quiet sobs threatened to burst from her lips. The glossy stone below collected a puddle of trickling tears.
"...Is she serious? Who doesn't like to read a bang-up tale from time to time...?"
Daring gasped; her moist eyes flew open. She sat up like a startled cat, her ears twitching as she shot an anxious glance across every square inch of the ravine.
"...Why, a good book is almost as magnificent as silk pajamas on a Sunday morning..."
Panting, Daring galloped in the first direction that the lightning revealed to her. She sprinted down thin chasms, over craggy mounds of gravel, and along steep embankments of stone.
All was desolation and darkness beyond the rumbling of thunder. At last, Daring stood upon the precipice of a twirling plateau, gazing into an array of floating mountains that hung like pebbles floating across a purple pond's surface.
"...Yeah, I love reading! And my head isn't even close to the shape of an egg..."
Daring's breaths came in quick bursts. Her muscles tightened, heating up and chasing away the cold as she perched upon the edge of nothingness. With a heavy grunt, she leapt off, spiraling through the strobing heavens with fearless ambition.
She somehow uprighted just in time to land all four hooves upon a tiny, spinning rock. Wasting no time, she leapt again as soon as she saw another plateau. Balancing on it, she jumped and jumped again, leapfrogging her way from jagged platform to platform as a large granite shadow loomed against the lightning ahead.
"...Reading is for everypony, Rainbow Dash..."
Daring shrieked, losing her balance upon the last crack of thunder. She shot forward, mindless and weightless, her ears still aching with the haunting words as she reached a tiny rock's outer edge. The mare struck the stone hard; all of the oxygen evacuated her lungs. Nevertheless, she clung to the knifing surface—dangling—and ultimately fought her way to even hoofing.
Coughing through blood and sweat, she stood up straight and reached into her pocket. Pulling out her eyeglass container, she looked upon the stained surface. Her name was completely gone, and in its place was a phantom phrase, a series of words she knew yet didn't know, that she felt yet couldn't feel.
Something inside Daring's face twitched. A frown scowled across her muzzle, ending in an angry hiss as she spun her whole body and flung the personal heirloom deep into the gaping nothingness. Lightning splashed together, consuming the shard from both ends, and the resulting blast wave flew vaporously into Daring from afar. The stone platform beneath her shattered, and she was flung—terrified—into the shadow of the looming granite mountain beyond.
The darkness consumed her just like everything else. She embraced it this time, for somehow she knew it would be a welcome respite from all the thunder:
"...I think you'd like Daring, she's a lot like you: adventurous, fierce, and undeniably, unquestionably..."
With a shuddering breath, the adventurer hugged herself and sailed into the rumbling continent.