The Riddle of the Sphinx

by Cold in Gardez

The Sphinx (Contest minific)

Daring Do leapt through the stone archway as the passage collapsed behind her. Air displaced by the falling rocks pushed her, and she shot from the corridor like a dart ejected from a blowgun. For a long moment gravity went away, and there was only the sensation of wind ripping at her feathers in the dark, and then she met the stone floor again.

She came to rest on her side. Blood tinged the air, riding atop the dank scent of dust and stone and ages that clogged her nostrils. She coughed a little cough, and marvelled that her ribs were still intact.

Ow. Ow. Seriously, ow. Half her hide felt raw, but at least she was in one piece. She rose with a quiet groan. It was dark, and she fished a flare from her saddlebag and gave it a twist. Brilliant red light burst from the tip, blinding her for a moment.

The room was wide, dozens of paces across. Massive stone blocks made up the walls, and she could barely see the ceiling, so high was it. Dust, undisturbed for years, swirled with each breath, and the floor all around was littered with countless white sticks that crunched beneath her hooves—

She froze. Not sticks. Bones.

Hundreds of bones. Thousands. A graveyard worth of bones, all scattered on the stone floor. A scream tried to crawl its way out of her throat, and she choked it back down.

And then something broke the silence. A voice like a god’s, so loud it shook her chest and rattled the bones strewn all about.

“Well, that was interesting,” the thunderous voice said. “I’ve never seen a pony enter that way.”

The air moved again, and a tremendous form fell from the ceiling. It landed with a crash in front of Daring. Wings the size of sails stretched out, cupping the darkness, and a leering face craned over her. Shark’s teeth in a pony’s maw, borne on a lion’s body.

“It’s been years since I had a visitor,” the sphinx said. She smiled, and sparks dripped from her jaws. “I’m glad you came. I’ve been lonely.”

“Oh, um…” Think, think! “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Daring Do, and I was actually just looking for the exit when I—”

“The exit!” The sphinx’s grin split her face nearly in half. “You’re in luck. It’s just behind me, up those stairs. Can’t miss it.”

“That’s great.” Daring Do sidled slowly to the right, nudging away the bones in her path. “Well, then I’ll just—urk!”

A paw the size of a dinner plate crushed her to the floor. Sharp bone fragments dug into her skin, and she struggled for breath beneath the sphinx’s terrible weight.

The pressure eased after a moment, though the paw remained. “Oh, why the rush? Surely you can stay for a bit. Not long, I assure you.”

“Right, right!” Daring gasped. “A riddle, isn’t it? You have a riddle for me?”

“Ah.” The sphinx’s grin faded, and she gazed at the bones all around. “Yes, a riddle, and then I’ll eat you. That’s how it goes.”

“Or… maybe I’ll get it right and you’ll let me go?”

The sphinx snorted. Furnace air and ashes seared Daring’s face. “All the long centuries leave me in doubt. Very well then, mortal, have your riddle.” She leaned back, tall and imposing as a statue, and spoke.

“What do sphinxes want?”

To eat ponies. The words were on Daring’s lips, about to fly, when something bade her pause. She glanced around at the mouldering bones, and the darkness, and the monster towering above her.

Lonely. Was that it? Worth betting her life on?

The paw pressed down. Claws bit into her hide. “Well?”

Daring gulped. “They want somepony to answer their riddle. So they don’t have to eat them.”


The paw lifted. The sphinx jerked her head. “Up the stairs. Enjoy your freedom.”

Daring stumbled to her hooves. She dusted herself off and slowly edged toward the passage, her eyes never leaving the sphinx. The monster never moved; its gaze never lifted from the faint smear of blood where Daring had lain.

Daring paused. She could hear the air moving through the stairs. She could smell the desert above. It was just moments away. She could already taste the sunlight.

Instead she stopped. “Say, uh…”

The sphinx turned to regard her. Its visage was like stone.

“You, uh, wanna come with me?”

Silence again.

And then the sphinx smiled.