Brownie saw the cable out of the corner of her eye and bit desperately at it. She missed once and quickly tried again. Her adamantine teeth slid along the cable with a screech. She bit down as hard as she could and their fall gradually slowed to a stop a hundred feet below the edge of the chasm.
Shadow’s unconscious body started to slide out of Brownie’s hooves, and she quickly added her rear hooves to the grip. Her neck and jaw muscles screamed in protest, but relaxing was not an option. Far above her, she saw her would-be murderers looking over the edge with the lantern.
A few seconds later, she heard something whiz past her ear. As a second object flew by she realized she was being shot at. The distance and angle were making the shot tricky, but Brownie had nowhere to go. No, that wasn’t quite true; she could go down. There was no way she could climb back up the cable with Shadow’s weight, but if the cable went all the way to the bottom…
While she was still considering her options, the archer above finally got lucky. The bolt missed Shadow’s head by less than an inch, striking Brownie’s left flank hard enough to penetrate her armor. Her scream was stifled by her mouthful of steel cable.
She relaxed her grip on the cable and began to slide down it. As the cable slid through her teeth, it gave off bright sparks that burned her lips when they hit. Every time the cable brushed against the side of her face, it left a burn. Blood from the arrow wound ran down her leg and threatened to destroy her tenuous grip on Shadow.
Just when she thought she could not hold on any longer, they hit the ground with a thump. Brownie lost her grip on both Shadow and the cable. That was fine, they had made it. She lay on her side for a moment, savoring her unlikely victory.
Above her, the distant lantern was a barely-visible pinpoint of light. After a moment, it disappeared. Brownie spat out a mouthful of steel shavings and carefully felt her teeth with her tongue. They didn’t have so much as a scratch; they were hardly even warm. If she got out of this alive, she was going to have to send Mr. Ironbelt a really nice card. Maybe a basket of fruit too.
With the lantern gone, the darkness was absolute. Brownie could not even easily tell up from down. When she tried to get up, she suddenly remembered that she had been shot. After she had steeled herself against the pain, she managed to stand, although her left hind leg seemed to have no traction. Probably blood, she thought.
She fumbled around in the dark, trying to find Shadow. When she finally bumped into him, he groaned. “Shadow!” she whispered. Wait, why was she whispering? She carefully spoke in a conversational tone of voice, “Shadow, are you okay?”
Shadow mumbled something incoherent.
“Shadow, please wake up. We’re in really big trouble, and I’m just about played out.”
“Mmm…Blondie? What’s happening?”
Brownie was so relieved to get a response that she didn’t even notice Shadow’s slip up. “I’ll give you the short version. You got poisoned by a spider and while you were asleep, three other adventurers stole the items we found and threw us into the chasm. I grabbed onto the cable to slow our fall and now we’re on the bottom.”
“Oh dear. Do we have any torches left?” He started feeling around, trying to find Brownie. “I can’t even see you and it sounds like you’re right next to—Eww, what’s…is this blood? Yours or mine?”
“It’s mine; they shot me.” Brownie said matter-of-factly.
“What!? Are you…how bad is it?” Shadow sounded on the verge of panic.
“Shadow, stay calm.” Brownie tried to keep her voice steady. “I need your help. We have to find a way out of here. I think I still have my tinderbox and one more torch, but I don’t think I can find them and use them in the dark. You have talons, you should be able to do it, even in the dark. They’re in my right-side saddlebag.”
“Okay, um, pardon my reach.” He carefully felt around until he touched Brownie’s armored rump. “Sorry, it’s the only way I can find your bags.”
“Don’t worry about it, so long as you—“ She broke off with a sharp hiss as Shadow accidentally bumped the shaft of the arrow buried in her flank. “Other side,” she said through clenched teeth.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to! I found your bag, hang on.” Shadow rummaged for an infuriatingly long time before finally finding what he was looking for. In contrast to the total darkness, the sparks from the flint and steel were blinding. When Shadow finally lit the torch, both he and Brownie had to look away and squint while their eyes adjusted. Shadow looked back first. Brownie heard him gasp. “Oh, Brownie! You look horrible!”
Brownie considered making a sarcastic retort, but couldn’t seem to summon the ambition. Instead, she surveyed the damage herself. The arrow had sunk several inches into her flank, even after punching through her armor. She didn’t think it had reached anything vital, but she had already lost enough blood for it to soak her left haunch and leg and start pooling on the ground. As the heat from the torch stung parts of her face, she realized that she also had some burns from her stunt with the cable. Her right forehoof still hurt as much as before, but she didn’t think she could do without it anymore.
“Do you want me to pull the arrow out?” Shadow asked tentatively.
“No, better leave it in,” Brownie said with a grimace, “with as much force as it took to drive it in, you wouldn’t be able to remove it without causing…more damage. I have a healing potion; that should slow the bleeding, as long as I take it easy. Hopefully, I can get to a doctor that has tools for removing arrows.”
Shadow sat on his haunches, holding the torch with one talon, and rummaged in Brownie’s bags with the other until he found the healing potion. “Um…”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got it,” Brownie said. She pulled the cork with her teeth, spat it out and then grabbed the vial with her lips and raised her head to pour the contents down her throat.
Through the hole in her armor, Shadow could see her flesh close tightly on the shaft of the arrow. The burns on her face also lessened significantly. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it might be enough to get her out of here alive—assuming, of course, that there was a way out of here.
He looked up the cliff they had descended. He could probably fly up there, but there would still be spiders and the adventurers that had attacked them to deal with. Shadow knew he would stand little chance against them by himself. Even if he managed to escape, Brownie would probably die before he could come up with a way to get her out of this hole. That left one option. “Forward, then?”
“Forward.” Brownie began walking shakily across the floor of the chasm.
Although the bottom of the chasm was only a couple dozen feet across, even the steep slopes of the walls meant that the gap at the top must be several hundred feet. Brownie was walking towards a tunnel entrance in the side of the chasm. The hole looked like it had originally been the middle of a tunnel that was sheared in half by the event that had formed the chasm. Shadow continued to hold the torch in one claw. Even walking on three limbs, he was able to easily keep up with the wounded pony.
They hobbled along in silence for a few minutes before Brownie stopped.
“Are you okay?” Shadow asked.
Brownie stood with her legs spread apart and continued to look straight ahead. “Don’t worry…I’m just…catching my breath.”
“Of course, take your time.” Shadow looked around the tunnel. “Do you see a light up ahead?”
Brownie peered down the tunnel. “Maybe. It couldn’t be daylight…this deep…could it?”
They waited a little longer for Brownie to catch her breath, and then walked towards the light. After several minutes of walking, they still hadn’t reached the source.
“I don’t think it is daylight; it seems too blue,” Shadow observed. “Still, I don’t think we need the torch anymore.”
Brownie nodded and the griffon extinguished the torch. “I think I see a door in the side of the tunnel,” she said.
A hundred feet further they found a hole cut in the tunnel wall. They stuck close to the wall as they approached. Brownie quietly drew her sword and Shadow readied his bow, silently counted to three and jumped into the doorway with his bow drawn.
He held the pose for several seconds and then relaxed. “It’s okay, there’s no one here.”
Brownie sheathed her sword and followed him into the room.
The room was roughly circular. Arranged around the walls were carved frescoes depicting the defeat of various evil creatures. In the center of the room was a pedestal on which rested a sword with an intricately decorated hilt and scabbard. The sword was as long as Brownie’s greatsword and appeared to be the source of the light they had been following. The hilt was glowing dimly, but the blade was glowing so brightly that the light was passing through the scabbard with enough intensity to make the room as bright as day.
Shadow stared at the sword in a daze. “Do you suppose that’s the sword the note said to not worry about? It doesn’t look cursed.”
Brownie looked around the room at the frescoes. “It looks like these pictures are all about people using this sword to fight monsters.” She limped up to the pedestal and gave the hilt an experimental tug. The sword moved when she pulled it, but the scabbard came with it. “Huh.” She used one hoof to hold the scabbard and pulled on the hilt again, but the sword and scabbard seemed to be inseparable.
“There’s some kind of writing on the pedestal, but it’s not a language I know,” Shadow said.
“It’s Sylvan,” Brownie said, “I’ve hardly ever seen it written, so I may have this wrong. I think it says something like, ‘This is the big sword that protects the weak. You can use it if you are…nice. Um, use it for seeing in the dark, no wait, lighting the dark, well something like that. It’s a door, or gate, or something, that locks up the…bad…things. And someday it will carry someone to…' I don’t know that word.” She blushed at Shadow’s raised eyebrow. “Sorry, I can speak a few languages, but the only language I’m any good at reading is Common.”
“Well if that is what it says, then I gather neither of us can actually use this sword,” Shadow speculated, “but we can still sell it; it looks pretty valuable.”
He reached up and lifted the sword off the pedestal. As he did, the glow dimmed dramatically to barely enough to see by. An unnatural roar sounded from behind one of the frescoes. “Uh oh.” He tried to put the sword back, but the glow did not return.
“Grab it and run!” Brownie shouted and began limping back to the tunnel.
Shadow slung the sword over his back by a strap on the scabbard and flew out the door. He joined Brownie as she took cover behind the doorway, and just in time. The wall of the room exploded in a shower of rock fragments as big as a pony, revealing a terrifying creature.
It stood fully nine feet tall and had wings sprouting from its back that spread half again that distance. The creature was vaguely humanoid with spiky red flesh, clawed limbs, a barbed tail and many horns on its head. It carried a chain with spikes all along its length.
The monster roared again and swung its chain against the pedestal, smashing it to rubble, then it rushed out of the room and down the tunnel, fortunately in the other direction from where Brownie and Shadow were hiding. For a few moments they heard it stomping along the tunnel, then there was a bright flash and silence.
The pony and the griffon stayed frozen in place for a full minute before Shadow whispered, “I think it’s gone.”
“We should follow it,” Brownie said with an audible tremor in her voice.
“WHAT!?” Shadow clamped both talons over his beak as if to catch the shout before it could get away. “Why would we do that!?” he hissed in a loud whisper.
“Two reasons: First, did you see that flash? Maybe there’s a magical way out of here up ahead. Second, we released that monster. The sword was obviously holding it here somehow, and when we took it, we broke the spell.”
Shadow noticed that Brownie had passed up a great chance to point out that it was Shadow that had removed the sword. “What can we hope to do against that thing?” he protested.
“I don’t know, but we have to do something, even if it’s just warning everypony.”
“I’m sorry I dragged you into this mess; this is all my fault.”
Brownie leaned against the wall and sighed. “It’s my fault too. I broke my own rule; I trusted those other adventurers.” She stood up straight and started walking down the tunnel. “If we get out of this alive, we should set aside a day to yell at each other for being stupid.”
A few hundred feet past the room they had found the sword in, the tunnel came to a dead end. The dim glow coming off the magic sword illuminated the back wall enough to show that its appearance was constantly shifting.
Brownie walked right up to it and scrutinized it closely. It looked almost like the rock was partially see-through and another scene was visible behind it. In fact, when she concentrated on one detail, she thought she could see a tree.
“This has to be where he went, I think there’s a way through the wall.” She put a hoof on the wall, but it felt like solid rock. With a pained grunt, she reared up on her hind legs and put both forehooves on the wall. “Maybe there’s some sort of button.”
Shadow came and stood next to her. As he did, the magic sword on his back lightly bumped against the wall. Suddenly, Brownie fell through the wall as if it was thin air. Shadow reached forward to try to catch her and also fell through. There was a moment of disorientation where they felt like their bodies were growing and shrinking at the same time, then they were dumped on the ground in another cave.
Brownie looked up and was overcome with relief. Less than twenty feet away, the cave opened onto a lush forest. Sunlight filtered through the trees, and birds could be heard singing all around.
“We’re out!” Shadow gave voice to both their sentiments. “We made it!” He looked over his shoulder, but there was no sign of the portal they had traveled through. The griffon helped Brownie to her hooves. “You look a little different, sort of rounder and more colorful.” He glanced down at the arrow still embedded in her side. “I’ll fly above the trees and scout the area. Don’t worry Brown, I’ll get you help.” As he said this, he flew out of the cave and up above the trees.
Hovering in place, he rotated slowly, soon locating a village just a few miles away.
“Shadow.” Brownie’s voice sounded like she was holding her sword in her mouth, and there was an urgent edge to it.
Shadow flew back down to ground level to find Brownie in a clearing facing three enormous and vaguely lupine creatures that appeared to be made out of random bits of wood. “Whoa, easy fellas,” he said, attempting to placate the monsters, “can’t we discuss this?”
The three wooden monsters leapt at Brownie. She dodged partially behind a tree and swung her sword in front of her, smashing one of her assailants into a scattered pile of unconnected parts. The other two split up and went on either side of the tree, but Shadow pounced on one and Brownie hit the other with her backswing.
Shadow looked with satisfaction at the scattered pieces of wood. “Hah! That was easy.”
“Look.” Brownie pointed her bandaged forehoof at the wood, which had started to glow green and slide across the ground to form three piles.
“Hmm, that could be a problem. Oh I know! Fire!” He got out the tinderbox and the half-burned torch.
At this moment, they heard several voices approaching. From the sound of them, they were oblivious to the danger. Brownie tried to yell a warning, but she was out of breath from the fight with the creatures and her voice did not carry far enough. The speakers came into sight around a bend in the path and Brownie’s eyes widened with horror. “They’re foals!” she gasped.
The magical monsters had completely reassembled and now they turned their heads towards the newcomers. There were three pony fillies, an earthbound, a unicorn and a pegasus. All three were naked except for matching red-and-gold capes and none of them seemed to have noticed the deadly peril right in front of them.
Without thinking, Brownie ran towards the wooden wolves. Her sword smashed the first before they noticed her, but then the other two turned and attacked. One seized her barrel in its jaws, crushing the wind out of her but failing to penetrate her armor. The other sunk its teeth into her neck. She thrashed about in their grip, trying to reach either one with her sword.
Suddenly, both of them dropped her and howled in pain. She looked up to see that both were ablaze, and Shadow was swinging a lit torch at them threateningly. They tried to flee, but only took a few steps before the enchantment on them dissolved and they were reduced to burning kindling.
Shadow burned the broken one for good measure and then ran back to Brownie. The bite wounds in her neck were bleeding freely and the arrow wound had reopened as well. The three fillies stared in horror for a moment, then at a signal from the earthbound pony in their group, they turned and sprinted into the forest.
Shadow paid no attention to them; he was focused on trying to find anything in his pack or Brownie’s saddlebags that he could use to stem the bleeding. He pressed pieces of cloth against the wounds, but they just soaked up the blood and did little to slow it. Shadow glanced at Brownie’s face, but she just stared back at him with grim acceptance. “Please don’t die,” he begged, “this whole mess is my fault; I should be the one that gets hurt.”
The three fillies came running back leading a zebra in a long, hooded cloak. As she approached, she produced a jar full of a brown powder from under her cloak. Shadow moved to defend Brownie, but the zebra said, “I am not here to cause you strife, with luck I may yet save her life. This powder is the cure she’s needing, it gives new strength and stops the bleeding.”
Although taken aback by the odd speech, Shadow nodded and stepped aside. Brownie lay still as the zebra carefully shook some of the powder into each of her wounds. Shadow and the fillies watched anxiously from nearby as the zebra held her hooves over Brownie and said something in an unknown language. Brownie felt her pain fade away, and with it, the only thing anchoring her to the waking world.