"A.K. Yearling! Wakey wakey, eggs and cornflakey." My eyes fluttered open. I was on the bed covers, snuggling the latest Daring Do book. Still clad in my poncho and hat.
Was I really that tired when I got here? I didn't feel sick anymore. Guess I just needed some rest. Don't have to visit Doctor Redheart after all.
Okay. Time to visit the Golden Oaks Library. Been looking forward to seeing those Walter Trot first edition books. Maybe accepting a tip from an unmarked letter wasn't my best idea ever. But it does make an excuse to see Rainbow Dash again. Who am I kidding? I bet Rainbow Dash and her friends are always being bothered by fans every day, whenever they're not out saving Equestria.
I can't believe Ponyville only has one bed-and-breakfast run out of one changeling pony's home. You think with Princess Celestia's apprentice and her 'secret' daughter both living here, that there would be herds of ponies visiting.
Oh right, breakfast. There's a unicorn mare wearing a stereotypical Prance maid uniform, holding the breakfast tray out towards me. June Bug didn't say anything about room service.
She politely places it down in front of me. "Thank you."
She doesn't leave as I eat. I guess she wants to take the tray away when I'm done. Her name tag reads: 'All-Giving.'
The eggs and flakes were delicious, right out of a fantasy.
"My compliments to the cook."
It really was a good meal for something so simple. My family's kinda-sorta maybe upper-middle class. We're from Fillidephia.
My father and uncle are archeologists. Dad loves telling a story about being caught by some deer while in the middle of an archeology dig. Apparently, the deer thought he was a spy and had to escape; just him and a few other prisoners before getting back to Equestria.
Dad never saw what I liked about Daring Do. He couldn't read a book through without laughing out loud at how many 'creative liberties' were taken. I liked them all the same.
Me? Well, nothing much. I'm part of a book club. I get along well with the others in my club, but, I'm not as close I'd like to be.
My cutie mark? Magnifying glass and book. No, I'm not a detective. Some ponies with a magnifying glass are good are finding objects. I'm good at finding and collecting rare books, and even rarer passages and notes, but I'm especially good at finding obscure texts and literature, and at diving through information in general. I once spotted a fake copy of an old script my mother was going to buy for the library, but I could tell it was roughed up on purpose, recently, to LOOK ancient. I more or less work at Mom's library.
I spent the night of Princess Luna's return locked in my room hugging my books, thinking the world was going to end. I've never spent so much time outside in the sun when Princess Celestia returned. Then the Princess said she had to make the day shorter to keep the clocks and calendars straight (much to a LOT of protests, mine included).
Discord...he made me Daring Do, and trapped me in the story...except without any of Daring Do's athletics or encyclopedia-like know-how of archeology. I died. Only for the story to start again, only things changed every time so it didn't matter how often I did. And the 'exercise' I got running for my life 'reset' too.
The Elements of Harmony saved me from that meaningless Tartarus.
I didn't even look at my Daring Do books, I threw them out. 5o many ponies needed help, I let others have therapy before me.
Then came Princess Gaia. My mother is still upset that ponies wouldn't have written anything more inspiring than 'See pony run,' at the time and Dad doesn't like how ponies' only interest in archeology would be digging in the sand box.
But Princess Gaia was possessed, like Princess Luna, none of what she did was her fault. And even if it was? She saved me. I spent Gaia's Day with my family running, jumping, flying through the jungle she made for us wearing Daring Do's hat. She even had her pets give my books back.
I remembered what made me love Daring Do, what made me admire her, why I wanted to be like her.
Uh, yes I'm on Princess Gaia's newsletter, PLEASE don't tell my parents.
I feel proud of myself for writing down everything I saw happen during the changeling invasion outside my hotel room, which was a lot, I had a great view of things. It's one thing to read about Daring Do punching out bad guys, it's another to see ponies fight bug monsters in a battle. Newspapers paid me a lot of bits for my notes.
I still wanted to write a book from my own experiences during the wedding incident (which weren't much beside observing a few big fights, but that was more than most of Equestria).
When I finished eating and got on four hooves, All-Giving said. "There's no graceful or easy to say this, Miss Yearling, so sorry in advance. An evil curse (yes, those exist,) has changed the world into a place worse than Tartarus. Everypony thinks this is how the world's always been. We have irregular heroes working to fix the mess, but that won't help any ponies who die in the meantime. We need all the help we can get, but the new rules of the world say things always turn out badly. We need Daring Do, whose rules say she can win no matter what the odds. We need you to become Daring Do."
I had a new morning plan worked out.
-5 Minutes laughing at the joke.
-3 Minutes thinking the maid was crazy seeing she was serious.
-30 minutes in denial after looking out the window and taking one step outside my room.
-10 Minutes hearing about how the Princesses and Equestria's heroes were now monsters.
-3 minutes blaming All-Giving for this.
-1 hours crying on my bed hugging the pillow and hiccupping with All-Giving stroking my mane.
"I'm sorry. The last time something like this happened, the ponies involved were a lot more...straightforward-thinking. You're a lot more skeptical than they were."
"Last time?!" How many times had this happened?!
"Shhhhhh, it'll be okay little pony, I promise. If you could remember the last time the world changed you'd be happy it did. I wish I had my Parents' voice, that would make this much easier. But there's so much that needs doing."
"Who are you?"
"If you promise not to tell anycreature, I'm the creative spirit."
I didn't see any horns or wings. "Are... are you an Alicorn?"
"Uh...kinda sorta not really. But it's a lot nicer hearing you ask that than the last creature who did."
"Who...who was that?"
"That's not important. This is your story, not mine."
"Everypony has their own story."
All-Giving clapped. "That's a good answer!"
I blinked. "But...you didn't ask anything..."
"Kinda sorta one of those implied questions. But...experience has shown bringing something from the Land of Legends into the real world can backfire...but that you know that truth, it means you really are the right choice."
"But...but why ME? I...I just don't want others to laugh at me. I'm...not that physical. I'm... I'm just Miss Jane Doe, I'm not a superhero..."
She put a hoof on my shoulder. "Let me tell you a story, Miss Yearling: long ago, a magical land was in trouble from Tirek himself...a brave pony named Firefly flew across a rainbow to another world, and came back with help...the help she brought was no superhero, she was just a simple farm girl. But she had the HEART of a hero...and in the end, that was all that land needed: somepony willing to do what's right."
"...But...how...how does that work?"
She chuckled. "Being a hero isn't just having superpowers or magical artifacts, those are TOOLS. Being a hero is about having the HEART of one. I'm just giving you a tool your heart already knows well how to use."
"I...I think I understand."
"The hardest part was figuring out how to explain all this to you, I don't have The Voice, like my parents. And my little brother kinda destroyed my family's reputation in Equestria, so that was out."
"Who is your little brother?"
"A spoiled brat and a bully who likes to say he's just doing what comes natural." Seeing the repulsed face I made, she continued, "My family's not all bad. One of my Cousins is the Lord Of Colors, if you meet a bunch of colorful talking frogs, that's him."
I had a feeling I was never going to get to those Walter Trot books. I had to ask, though, "Is Rainbow Dash going to be okay?"
"She will be okay. But...be prepared if you meet her. She'd been made...not herself. At all. Be ready for a fight."
I shuddered. Reading a fight, and watching a fight was one thing, but being in one? Against a friend?
"It must be horrible for the Princess, her daughter being turned into somepony awful." I shuddered again. All-Giving said the Princesses, THE PRINCESSES had been turned into something bad. If they had been, then what about my family? I felt alone.
"...And again, that's why we chose you."
I blinked, looking to her. "Huh?"
"...A selfish pony wouldn't have stopped to think about somepony else when their life had been turned upside down. You still asked about somepony else...and if there's one thing a hero isn't, it's selfish."
I blushed. "...Thanks...You know a lot about heroes, don't you?"
"I am the Creative Spirit after all."
"If you're the creative spirit, then, can't you just imagine up Daring Do to save the day?"
"That might be possible with the new rules in play...but she'd be bound by the hundreds of alternate character interpretation of her. Is she secretly a thrill seeker who doesn't care she's robbing ancient resting places? Does she just fight monsters and have a cool hat with no personality? A mare who was deeply hurt in the past and can't trust anypony? Daring Do needs a real heart."
"So you don't need me, you need my heart?"
"Your heart IS you, make no mistake."
"You said before if I remembered the last time the world changed, so, if I become Daring Do, that means I'll stop being me? I'll become Daring Do like in the books?"
"No. You'll become Daring Do as she is in Equestria, there's a big difference. If I made Daring real, she'd be subject to everypony's interpretation...but if you're her CORE, she'll be what YOU are, because you'll be her...There is a big chance this could make your family and book club safe, Yearling."
I blinked. "There is?"
All-Giving nodded. "Each 'story' in this place has a bubble that runs on its rules. That draws ponies into it the story NEEDS. Daring Do needs a backstory, and if you imagine well enough, you might be able to protect those precious to you. Rainbow was targeted, your family wasn't."
"Can you imagine a role for your family?"
"...My dad would be Daring Do's father, the one she learned from...my uncle too."
"GOOD! Keep going!"
"...And my book club, Daring has a circle of contacts to get information... those contacts have to be somewhere safe."
She clapped her hooves. "Great! Great choice!"
"But... am I erasing WHO they are to make them fit roles in a story?"
"Ah, but don't forget, this is YOUR story we're writing here," she explained, giving a smile. "You're putting them into BLANK roles that logically exist but don't have major characterization! The characters will be written to suit them, not the other way around! We're using YOU as the core for this. So as you wish it, so shall it be."
"You sound like a genie."
"I'm actually working with a potential goddess on those, but that's neither here nor there. Daring Do as she's written now doesn't have much life outside her adventures, and her adventures always hit the ground running. So YOUR life won't be grandly effected. In fact, given how often ponies complain about her lack of backstory, you're probably doing some fans a favor."
"Or tick them off by jossing their fanon."
"Well to be fair, if this happens, Daring Do's history will ALWAYS have been what you make it."
"...If I'm going to be the real Daring Do, will the books still exist?"
"Do you WANT them to still exist? Genuinely with your heart of hearts?"
"...Yes...me and too many ponies love them, if I just erased them, it'd just be sad."
"If it's important to you, it will be important to the new Daring Do. She'll find SOME way to make sure her story is told."
"It feels...cruel that Daring Do's author would go from being the world's most cleverest fiction writer to a plagiarist or biographer. 'Twilight Velvet' doesn't deserve that."
"Hmm, good point...but there are things that need to change from real life to fiction. Things that a confident secret keeper with a history of novel writing might be willing to help with as an editor...and I promise that if that's not enough, I'll do my best to inspire her new works to the best of my ability."
"Except I'll be Daring Do...just like I was when Discord trapped me in those books."
"Wrong! You'll have everything Daring Do has! Her knowledge, strength, skill. And you won't be TRAPPED by the story, though you will have to follow its rules… at least, until the world is cleaned up, they'll be a part of you."
"If you can do all this… can't you teleport me out?"
"This system in place doesn't consider mere mortals to be much of a threat, least of a 'nobody' like you. If I performed such a miracle, they'd know instantly I was here. And we already lost my big brother's avatar."
I frowned at her then. "You set this up so I had no choice but to become Daring Do if I wanted to escape."
"I had no idea actually. I was hoping the Bed and Breakfast would remain safe and alone since Junebug herself is as much a 'nobody' to them. This part was actually bad luck."
"Who is 'them?'"
"I literally can't say. Sorry. Also, you don't meet the criteria to heal the world on your own. Again, sorry. Trust me, if you did, it would mean everypony would need to busy protecting you instead of you protecting others. Sorry."
"So even if I become Daring Do, I can't be the one to save the world like she should?"
"Do you care more about saving the world than saving lives that'd otherwise be lost?"
I admit, I wasn't expecting that question.
"There are who CAN save the world and are working their hardest. You CAN just wait it out, no harm will come to you while you're here, and I'll provide all the comforts of home. And you'll return to your normal, safe, sane life once the fate of the world is decided. Should evil triumph, I'll see you live out your life in peace in this one room unmolested with all the books you want. And if things go their worst, you can be taken to a universe where none of this happened, and you continue your life as was."
I didn't even think about it. "...If I can help. Then I'm going to."
"Happy to hear!" Then she frowned. "But be forewarned! If Daring Do is real, then all the other characters in her stories' cast must also be equally real. This is truth."
It struck me like lightning what she meant. "Ahuizotl."
"There'll be leeway...but essence of what's written must remain true. Like artifacts, and the Tenochtitlan Basin. The villains might become MORE realistic, things regularly get toned down for younger readers."
"Ahuizotl'll be busy hurting ponies while I'm busy helping them. Or all the time I could've spent saving lives will go towards us fighting each other. It's pointless."
"No. There's lot of REAL artifacts you can find that could HELP ponykind... Like Meadowbrook's Eight Enchanted Items, a lot of Starswirl's lost treasures, and a lot of stuff from the Age of Wonders. And many formally FICTIONAL artifacts as well."
"Aren't there Nine Enchanted Items?"
"When the world's fixed there will only be Eight. The Ninth was created out of the collective belief of a herd of ponies with a very distorted view of reality. Point is, there are a lot of GOOD artifacts you retrieving would make the world BETTER after this whole mess is done."
"But Ahuizotl and the other villains in Daring's rogue's gallery… "
"Daring Do is the Batmare to his Jester, he's not about to let the other baddies this world spawned do her in. And take a guy like Dr. Caballeron: he's only in it for the bits. And if the world is destroyed, there won't be any bits FOR him to make. So there are various ways you can win the villains over to your way of thinking."
"...Who would be made INTO THEM though?!"
"They'll be imagined out of thin air?"
"Oh, if we did that they might become empty vessels for...a cousin of mine who LOVES seeings things turn out for the worst. So when a place in reality opens up,
noponies will rise to fill in those spots. Those who inhabit Nowhere. A lot of them jumped to fill in the roles of what happened here. Good or bad, doesn't matter to most, so long as they get to be again. You becoming Daring Do in fact is part of giving one of them a chance to be."
I barely understood one or two words of that. We were clearly getting into cosmic multiverse technobabble territory. "Uh, okay?"
"Oh, and one thing to remember in your heart of hearts: when those new beings come into being, they'll retroactively have always existed, and gain a real past to explain WHO they are. Like Ahuizotl will probably turn into an ancient evil released from a pyramid or something...but their FUTURE is still in flux...just because their CURRENT role is to be the villain, doesn't mean they're STUCK with that. For all of them there's a chance to save their soul. A niece of mine needs to learn that."
"That's good..." And at least I wouldn't have to learn how to be Daring Do.
“So girl, are you in?"
I look outside, at the sketches on dirty pink world that had replaced the world I remembered. Perverts, psychos, and monsters. When I tried to step outside my room, I'd felt dirty, no, like something was pulling inside me, to make me something depraved and degenerate, and loving every moment of it. It scared me out of my mind and I fell back in while All Giving checked me over nine times to make sure it hadn't stuck. Everything Equestria, we ponies weren't supposed to be. It was like a dung heap, attracting worms. And my family, my bookclub, everypony, thought this was things were SUPPOSED to be? This was how things SHOULD be?
It made me want to crawl under my bed and just wait for it to be over. But everypony out there...all those ponies who didn't HAVE a bed to hide under...how many were going to never-be-heard-from-again?
"How do I become Daring Do?"
"It's not just you becoming Daring Do."
"You're going to have lots of ponies become Daring Do?"
"No. Only you, and
somepony else, together will become Daring Do. You'll still be A.K. Yearling, but at the same time you'll be Daring Do. Everything you have stays with you, but you'll become more."
"Wait, 'together become Daring Do?'"
"Ever read Dragon Egg Z?"
"No. I hate Manega."
"Oh. Well, you and a rather special
nopony, fuse to become Daring Do. But basically, Daring Do becomes your secret identity since you want to hold onto who you are. That's one way to look at it. You join together because this way what you HAVE isn't getting REMADE, only joined together. You'll even get some nice puzzle solving skills out of the deal."
"An egg and flour can become a cake. But then it won't be an egg and flour anymore," I said.
"Think of it more like the materials of this building," she explained, trotting over to a support beam. "You're the supports, the core, the part of it that holds it all up and together. This
nopony will be the paint, walls, and everything else bonded to that. You can still tell what they once were, they haven't lost what they once were, but combined into a house, they're so much more than before. The pieces of a puzzle, they're all still there. Even if they're joined together."
"So I'll have voices in my head?"
"No more than any other ponies does."
"So won't this other pony cease to exist?"
She already doesn't exist. You'll be GIVING HER existence by joining with her."
"...Remember how you asked if this happened before? This pony is someone who...couldn't be saved one of those times it happened. We saved the universe, but ponies like
her lost WORSE than their lives...So with this, you'll give a lot of ponies a new life."
I stood stunned in silence. Digesting what I'd just been told. All those years I've lived, there were times I wondered if I existed, or it would matter if I didn't exist. And thinking back to how horrible it would be if that wish was granted.
"...Promise me." I said. Summoning up every bit of sternness I could remember reading Daring Do having. "All those ponies you just mentioned? When this is all fixed. You'll get them their lives back. If she can helped then they can be helped too!"
She's unique! She was able to hold onto something, or an impression of something the others couldn't. I've only seen one other Shadow in all of creation do that!"
"But it's not fa-"
"Don't say those words, for the love of My Parents don't."
That look in her eyes...
"...I'm sorry...believe me, I would if I could. I SINCERELY TRULY WOULD if I could...but I can't. These beings are HALF a soul, the Shadow, a husk...the light that used to be in them is now in somepony else. Born again into the world, and to do what you ask of me when be to rip all those lights from the ponies who have them now to give them back. The end result would be the same: shadows of SOMEONE...You're right it isn't fair, but the universe can only be fair for life, not fair for EACH life."
I frowned. That look on her face told more than anything she said. "...So...the closest these things can ever come to life-"
"-is to be granted a new one, like the ones who are going to become Ahuizotl and the other characters in Daring Do's story. As a bonus, I can make the books the author has imagined but not yet written work too to give a few more, but that's the best I can do."
"...I'll do it. I'll become Daring Do."
"Then we have a binding contract."
All-Giving pulled a rug away to reveal a trap door that she opened. I saw inside was a giant spiral staircase made out of frozen ash, surrounded by an absolute blackness. The air was drawn TOWARDS it, like a vacuum, I felt the warmth sucked out of the room. And I felt an irritation, like my existence was disrupting the peaceful nothing within.
I saw the transparent image of a pony, more like a colored shadow, crawling out of the trap door. She was white earth pony mare. She had a yellow, purple and pink stripped mane and tail, light blue eyes. And her cutie mark, was a magnifying glass over a puzzle piece.
I moved to help
her up the last step, but All-Giving stopped me. "No, this is something she WANTED to do, she has to make the last step herself."
I watched as the living shadow pony pulled
herself out of the trap door with one final heave.
The shadow pony looked around, and her 'eyes' zeroed in on me.
Her voice was like the echo of a recording. Like I was listening to a message being played across a huge canyon.
"When the others jumped through the cracks that appeared, smelling existence on the other side, holes to fill...you said I could have a true existence, a real life again, my light back, if I reached the top. None of my friends could even follow me when they tried, I couldn't even carry any of them with me when I tried. This is why isn't it? It was calling to me."
"You hesitated when the others rushed in, why? Anything is better than Nothing," All-Giving said like it was part of a ritual.
"What I smelled on the other side, was less than nothing, it was the opposite of the world I lost. I'd rather be zero than a negative number. I'd rather spend forever lurking in the frozen castle of Shadow Narnia than become a part of that mockery."
All-Giving spoke. "A normal shadow couldn't have made it, I've only seen one other shadow hold onto their sense of self like you.
Puzzlemint of the lost Age of Dreams, if you join with Awkward Kindness Yearling of the Age of Harmony, you must give up the last of name 'Puzzlemint'. But you and Awkward Kindness will become a hero to protect the lives of ponies...and this world can be made beautiful again." She looked at me. A part of me feeling like I was looking at an old friend...no, like a twin sister. Why did a part of me feel like I knew her? She sighed. "So in the end, I do what happened to Rainbow Dash to another pony. If I existed, I'd feel guilty right now."
All-Giving's horn lit up and made us look right at each other. "Don't you know it's rude to speak to somepony in third person when they're in the room? SPEAK to each other. You have to ACCEPT each other, or this won't work."
As you can guess, we started at one another awkwardly for a few moments.
"...Hi, I'm Awkward Kindness Yearling..."
"I WAS Puzzle mint... Her birthday was in October. Her favorite flower was lilies. Her favorite color was yellow, like the sunshine. Her favorite word was 'jolly.'"
All-Giving sighed. "Talk about what you want, what you have in COMMON."
"I like looking for old books...finding things others might miss and making sure they're treated well..."
"I like finding hidden things too...solving puzzles..."
"Solving the mystery of something long forgotten?"
"Finding out something no one else can?"
"Wanting to go on journey, collecting all the pieces."
"Feel the jolly excitement of finding something new?"
"The lightness inside when all the pieces come together."
"Especially if you have a jolly friend to share it with?"
"Who listens as you explain the big puzzle?"
"Even if they don't jolly understand everything you say."
"Because you're so caught in the puzzle that your words get left behind."
"And when you hear about somewhere new, you jolly love reading about it, because it's like being there yourself."
"When you read a story of a far away land, you can't help but wonder what it'd like to be there...so you go there, even if it's just in your mind."
"But a tiny part of you wishes to go there for real, even if you've never left the land that's your home."
"Picking up those little details nopony else notices. Even when a mystery stops being a mystery when you solve it."
"You have the jolly NEED to solve it. Even if..."
"Even if...you aren't going to like..."
"What you find...and the answer might scare you."
"You still have the need to know...to discover. To solve it."
"Pity. You have a will to survive, a desire to know, and a mind that thinks. But you're not on the list. Sorry Puzzlement."
I gasped out loud, my head swimming. That was...
"That was...That was your memory?"
"That was our memory."
"I told you their lights were born as new ponies," All-Giving said.
Puzzlemint, her life, just gone, all because she 'wasn't on the list?' And I was supposed to take what was left for her to power up myself?
"Even if...even if you're in nowhere-land...isn't it...important at least you remember what I can't? If we become Daring Do, won't it all vanish?"
"There is a part of us that will remember what is most important...And besides, there's a much better keeper of memory than a Shadow..."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll answer that," All-Giving said. "Some ponies who might be a little crazy, or maybe too sane, recovered memories of the old world...and a public park was built outside Ponyville as a mock town. Suffice to say, before the world was turned into a horror story, it could share that world's spirit...but none of that is going to matter if the world stays a torture-sicko's dreamland."
I blinked, looking at her. She looked...sad. "...You sound like that park was important to you."
"...I'm the Creative Spirit, destruction was one of my brothers' thing...I liked that world. And I promised somepony I'd make sure
her stories were remembered by somepony. And I know they would be if that Park continues to exist...I'd have made sure of it with a little inspiration." "Storybelle?"
I breathed in deep. I was going to join with a me from a former life and become Daring Do...and... "I won't just become plain old YK Yearling when everything is fixed will I?"
"No. What you and
Puzzlemin t are going to become, is going to be here to stay. When the world is fixed, it will be as if Daring Do had always been."
"That includes me?"
Was I scared? Yes, very. But heroes were scared all the time. I wanted adventure. And I would get it. No more safe days in the library. No more safe visits to the book club. I'd be busy surviving cursed tombs and unearthing magical items that were likely buried for a very good reason.
I'd chatted with Rainbow Dash about Daring Do being real, I'd argued how good it'd been if the heroes were real, I came here for good books and good friend, not save the world but here I was.
"Let's not drag this out anymore. Let's do this."
"Ball's entirely in your court here, miss. I've just set the stage. Welcome
Puzzlemint home, that's all you need to do."
We locked eyes. "...I welcome you home, Puzzlemint."
She hugged me. I hugged her. I folded my wings around her, bellowing my poncho.
"Thank you, Awkward Kindness."
A light inside me shined.
All-Giving held her hooves out and every Daring Do book from the first to the last manifested around us in a circle. The pages flew out and encircled us like a cocoon. I hugged Puzzlemint tighter, she felt, familiar, painfully so. I felt like she was an old house I'd left abandoned and didn't even notice. The light inside me...inside us, shined brighter as I felt us...we...we began to...overlap.
The books were pushed away by a shockwave of force from inside us. All-Giving was right. We wouldn't be the Daring Do of anyone's preconceptions but our own, not even that of the author, Twilight Velvet. We would be the definitive version.
And together, we would never be afraid of the dark.
I felt my old world fade. I felt Puzzlemint as the barriers between us crumbled, and my light filled her as we became one pony.
I was on the train to Canterlot again, but now I was smirking to myself as Rainbow Dash and I chatted about the Daring Do books, not realizing the author and title character herself was right next to her. I remember slipping into my costume and joining the battle of Canterlot Castle after Twilight and her friends had entered. I remember showing up as AK Yearling at the reception, not introducing myself (I almost never let my picture be taken, another way I kept people from connecting me with Daring Do), happy to make a friend without fan gushing.
I remember chatting with Twilight Velvet before the wedding, worried sick about her after the city was on 'lock-down'. And the hushed warm talk we had at the reception. Twilight Velvet's daughter having no idea her mother was the editor and publisher of Daring Do, her mother's quirky romance novels being more known to her foals. Or the secret keeper of the genuine article.
It felt like two pictures in mind, one fading away. I remembered broken bones, bruises, cuts, burns, puncture wounds, and any other number of first aid emergencies I had to take care of myself in the middle of nowhere.
I remembered Ahuizotl's claw marks on my back from our first fight. Escaping with the Sapphire Statue by the skin of my teeth unlike my book. I remembered Ahuizotl accidentally being set loose from an ancient 'temple' that'd actually been his prison by an archaeology dig, instead of us simply having always been causing each other trouble.
I remember my disgust at Caballeron seeing ancient artifacts as just a quick way to a fat pension. And the ringing of his jaw as I slammed my hoof into his face. I also remembered knowing him for a bit in the past before envy and greed got the best of him.
I felt so many days in the library fading away, replaced by days slogging through the hot humidity of the jungle, stepping around poisonous snakes, but feeling suffocated if I ever stayed in any one place for too long. Especially anyplace indoors. A nasty experience in a cockatrice nest. I also recalled a few times meeting a pony in a fez with a blue tool shed that seemed able to appear anywhere (including the desert). Hadn't I been organizing the shelves at mom's library that day? No, of course not.
My muscles toned and strengthened, now the body of an experienced adventurer and not a shy bookworm. But if anything my mind got better, not worse. Like I had a second lifetime spent solving puzzling questions.
Hidden texts for forgotten treasures and never being heard from again if I misguess an ancient puzzle.
I felt SO ALIVE!
I saw a pink jewel in my mind in a gold setting, in our mind. Shaped like a book. And before our eyes, we saw it change shape. It changed shape into a purple compass rose.
The feeling of a tingling on my flanks surrounded by books faded, replaced by discovering myself surrounded by the outdoors.
Whatever I was forgetting, I felt like it didn't matter anymore and would just make me crazy. This wasn't part of me being replaced. This was all of me being reborn.
I heard All-Giving's voice, "A being of fantasy made real, I never thought I'd see this...thank you for what you've already done for me and all I know you will do for everypony...thank you... May you be the hero you're meant to be. Maybe this is what your cutie mark truly meant all along."
The light died down, hidden, but far from gone.
I didn't see All-Giving anywhere. I felt that it would be a waste to look for her. I considered trying the front door again out of the bed-and-breakfast, but I had a feeling that might not go so well. Junebug didn't seem like a bad changeling, but I had a feeling deep inside that said trying to get out of this place from the inside could get messy. I didn't mind a good fight, but unlike some of the fanfics of me, I didn't leap into every situation kicking flank.
I wondered how All-Giving expected me to just find ponies who needed help. Maybe my 'adventure sense' that always seemed to lead me in more or less the right direction would me (it was actually more simple deduction and educated guessing, but 'adventure sense' sounded cooler, Velvet said.)
From what I saw outside, it might be trouble NOT to find ponies who needed help. And if MY rules from my books applied instead of some B-horror style sicko flick...I wasn't going to let some Equestria spanning curse stop me from helping ponies in need.
I opened the window, feeling brave. Not fearless, there's a difference. There was no sludge being force-fed into my soul this time.
It was a longer drop than yesterday. Like I'd rented a top room on the Spire of Babbling. Well, that's what wings were for. I left some bits on the table and a note to Junebug, then took off my cloche, shawl, and glasses, and stuffed them into the pockets I discreetly 'borrowed' from the Doctor that one time. My hat and jacket were in place in a flash (I had lots of practice), showing off my compass-rose cutie mark. If Dad thought the stuff in my books was laughably implausible, he'd think I'd jumped the shark on this one.
I looked the window at the clouds below, and the sketch pink landscape, I seemed even further up than before. It was weird, I just now noticed how much me and this room clashed with the rest of the world.
Alright Daring Do, let's do this. I dove down like a bolt.
- Rule of Nature = 'Metal Gear Rising' -
I left the cluster of buildings at the top behind in an instant, floors speeding past me. Stone gargoyles tried to take a bite out of me as I passed and flying buttresses twisted into claws that tried to grab me. I kept my wings folded and my nose pointed down.
The gigantic tower changed to random styles as I flew down, but always at precise intervals of floors. Each style more outlandish and clashing than the next.
Arrow trap shooting out from the building; I dodged them, spinning wildly as I saw beams of light begin to form around me, shot out from the tower. I didn't know what would happen if I hit one but I knew it wouldn't be good!
I saw an armored pair of none-too-friendly welcoming committees waiting for me at the ground floor, looking all too ready to greet me. The best fight is the one not fought my old teacher told me. I spread my wings, tilted up my nose and away I went.
Of course then they'd start sending up going-away presents since I wasn't coming down to meet them, but I managed to dodge them all without a wing getting blown off. NOT getting grounded again! Learned my lesson after the Sapphire Statue! Just because I can be a hero without flying doesn't mean I wanna! I felt myself pushing through something, I didn't see what, but whatever it was, I swear it felt like it was made to keep things out rather than keep them in!
I dared turn around for a split second, but saw the insanely tall tower already fading into the fog like it was dissolving out of existence! I didn't have time to ponder this enigma when I heard a pony scream, and saw a fleeing orange pegasus mare. She had green eyes with eye shadow, pierced ears, and purple and pink mane done in pigtails. Her cutie mark was a paintbrush swirl.
And she was being chased by one of Princess Luna's night guards...or what could have been one...he had glowing red eyes, big fangs, and pale fur. And I saw another waiting to catch the mare as she flew away from the first. And another appeared in any direction she flew.
I knew these were cursed ponies and I mustn't finish 'em, but I still had'a play rough to save'er!
I did a flying dragon kick right at the one waiting to catch her pursuer's jaw, sending him spiraling away. She stopped in shock. Not good! I flew past her and landed my hoof on the nose of another bat pony chasing her. I took her hooves (yes, I felt a pulse). "Come with me if you want to live!"
What? I'm being the hero, let me have a little bit of fun!
"Now I know I've gone crazy. I'm being saved from vamponies by a Daring Do cosplayer."
"Less chatting, more flying!"
The bat ponies looked confused about what they were supposed to do as I flew as fast as possible. Then I felt my foreleg nearly be pulled out of its socket! The orange Pegasus mare looked at me scared. It was like a wall in the fog I couldn't see was pushing her back. Okay. Not happening. Forget it.
I took her hoof in both of mine and flapped as hard I could.
"It's no use!" She screamed.
"YES IT IS! Fly as hard as you can!"
"I can't escape!"
"YES! YOU! BUCKING! CAN!!! I'm not giving up! AND NEITHER ARE YOU!!"
Buck this, I might not be THE hero of this WHOLE story, but darn it if I'm not going to be the hero of this girl's!
She flapped as hard as she could...it looked like her wings were going to fall off...I saw the crazy bat ponies coming closer, like magnets drawn to her.
Then there was like a 'pop' and everything rippled, her, the batponies, everything, and we tumbled to the ground a lot closer than it was a second ago.
No bat ponies. But I did see a schoolhouse. The pegasus mare with piercings looked around, like she expected the vampire ponies to appear any second.
"You're...not gonna turn out to be a vampony out of nowhere too?" She asked.
"No." I said gently then helped her up. "Now come on, let's get you somewhere safe."
"There is nowhere safe in the world."
"Oh, yes there is! Follow me." I led her along to the schoolhouse, it was as good a place to look as another, making sure I stayed in the lead while keeping her close to me. If it turned out to be haunted or something I'd MAKE it safe! At least the place seemed to not be that sickly pink color. Not quite old Equestrian colors, but a whole lot closer!
New threads of fate appeared in existence, a light shining waiting for a shadow to adhere itself, calling out to those who were empty shadows in the Kingdom of Oblivion.
Those shadows that had belonged to those with hearts that had been aligned to those like these manufactured threads of fate...only possible because of the consistency of wet paper reality had been reduced to, all scrambled for the prize. And it was a rare prize indeed. It was so rare that THESE shadows got a fresh existence that called for a black heart.
And one mighty juggernaut stampeded through them all. The world had become a dark place instead, and he and darkness shared a symbolic relationship. None stood in his way.
The shadow of the criminal zebra, Zeb, was turned into a shadow pancake. The shadow of the genie-like wizard Arabus was crushed into a shadow basketball and tossed into the crowd of lesser scum behind him. The shadow of Grogar was twisted into a shadow pretzel and tossed into the jaws of a Tatzlwurm.
The shadow of King Lavan was dragging along, ceasing the juggernaut's progress, pulling him back to take the lead for himself. Until he was hammer blowed from behind through the ice, the black ocean underneath, and down through another layer of black ice into a deeper layer of the Realm of Nothingness.
A twisting bolt of shadowy magic tore the Shadow of the Witch Queen Lilith apart, scattering her pieces, each one crying out in an imitation of frustration and disappointment. Her children's shadows were stomped into the ground beneath the Titan's hooves without pause. Squirk's shadow had its tentacles stuffed into its mouth, then dumped into the black ocean. The shadow of Crank leaping after the shadow of his master.
The shadow of Zeb, against all odds, continued to wiggle along unnoticed in spite of being crushed flat, as the rest of the horde was culled. The shadow of the Bray who had served Grogar when he'd been defeated by Megan inched along a much slower place, caution with powerful ones engrained into Bray's family from centuries of natural selection.
Bray's shadow inched closer along with the shadows of other villains who'd been ultimately subservient to greater monsters. The juggernaut was slowed down in a brief titanic battle with a nothing-machine build by the shadows of the Gizmonk siblings: Gonk and Glouda.
The shadows of the three Raptorians tried to fly overhead, only for their leader to get swatted away like a fly over the horizon. The nothing-machine was torn to pieces, and the shadows of the gizmonks stomped on.
Zeb's shadow inching along still unnoticed, and being stepped on nothing doing worse to it.
The shadow of Tirek stood triumphant, erased along with the countless other evils form history and existence when Starlight Angel and her friends had created the Wish Spell, creating the paradise of the Age of Dreams. The shadow entered the world, claiming its prize. No spurned love of the night. No conquest. No greed.
Only hatred for King Leo, the king of the seaponies and mereponies, who had had him disowned and dismissed and banished and then sealed away where he had been banished to. And a hunger and thrill for destruction that filled every inch of his being. A desire to tear the world asunder for the sheer rush that accompanied it.
It didn't matter if it was causing a cataclysm over the whole world or simply the little valley he'd been imprisoned in, so long as he could enjoy watching something burn.
And the thrill of the cat-and-mouse games with one annoying pegasus he'd dismissed as one dismisses a fly when he first awoke into modern Equestria. A thrill that had grown to an obsession. An absolute refusal to let her perish in any way but the one he himself desired.
And Zeb's shadow, determination and perseverance rewarded, inched across the 'finish line' to claim the 'consolation prize'. Really not all that different from himself before. Which was the point. As with Tirek's shadow, again they had been similar already.
Zeb's love for wealth, and lack of scruples about how he got it, be it with things or people (not that there was a big difference between the two), congealed well with the role of a pony willing to sell ancient treasures to the highest bidder. And then politely leave said highest bidder to the hero on his tail while he escaped with a sizable bag of bits.
As for the shadows Bray and the Raptorians...caution and patience was also rewarded, and once again, their roles echoed themselves...serving a slightly higher disease on the world, even if he was only in it for the money.
Daring Do felt a shiver. She looked around, not spotting anything. Whatever it was, she'd face it with courage, for the sake of Rainbow Dash, her family, Princess Gaia, Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, her friends, everypony. She was a hero after all.
'That's why I published my adventures, to inspire ponies' heroics. Not just that first one Twilight Velvet found or to pay the bills. Velvet was sure surprised when she found out.' Daring Do smiled to herself. 'If I'd risk my life to save relics...why wouldn't I for ponies more valuable than old statues? No dungeon today, but a pony saved, and I'm not stopping here.'