• Published 16th Feb 2012
  • 13,671 Views, 840 Comments

What Would Daring Do? - CommissarAJ



There are two types of ponies; those that read love stories and those who write their own...

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Ch. 2 - The Mare with No Name

Chapter Two: The Mare with No Name

As far as expeditions went, this was arguably the most boring one that Daring Do has had to endure since being forced to watch the ancient Incolts recite the Hymns of Glorious Sacrifice...all eighteen hundred verses. At least the Incolts had the common decency to give Daring a last meal before preparing to sacrifice her to their sun god. Could be worse, she supposed; she could be buried up to her neck in research notes or marking poorly written research papers from her undergraduates back at the university. Having endured nearly half a year without a single, tangible lead, Daring Do had pounced on the first invitation sent her way. The fact that it had been sent by her long-time colleague from the Canterlot Royal Museum of History, Scribble Scrolls, was just a bonus.

“You brought me out here for this?” Daring remarked with staggering disappointment. While true that Daring Do had fallen into her profession for both adventure and academics, it was difficult for her to hide the sense of disappointment when she discovered that her expedition was little more than a dig site in the middle of the Mohoofe desert. She consoled herself with the fact that a dreary excavation would at least be free of her usual brushes with death, with whom she had become so acquainted with that they were on a first-name basis.

“Well, not every expedition can be a perilous trek through the jungle, eh Daring?” quipped the old pony standing by her side. In the halls of a museum or at some quaint sidewalk cafe, Scribble Scrolls would have been as unremarkable as a white-painted wall, but out in the desert, amidst the sweltering heat and dusty hills, he stood out like wings on a mule. His pudgy frame and gray, thinning mane belayed a life long kept away from the arduous side of archeology and made him the polar opposite to Daring Do. But the two enjoyed a mutually-beneficial relationship; Daring brought in the artifacts and Scribbles passed on all leads and expedition notices her way. Travelling was typically outside his interest and expertise, but at least he tried to dress for the weather; albeit, a white blazer and a wide-brim straw hat did little to alleviate the heat for him.

“I suppose not, but it looks as though you’ve got everything under control, so why bring me in?” Daring asked as she motioned towards the excavation site. A team of mules, donkeys, and local ponies were already hard at work and had cleared out a section of the desert measuring several metres in each direction. Clearly Scribbles didn’t need her to find the site nor clear the entrance, and there was no point to bringing her in if all she was going to do was stand around watching a bunch of mules toil under the desert sun.

“Because I figured you, of all ponies, would want to be present when we unearth the Amulet of the Equilla,” Scribbles replied as he dabbed the sweat from his brow for the hundredth time that hour. The smug smirk across his lips was because he knew that alone would pique his colleague’s interest. Normally Daring would have made more inquiries before heading out to an excavation site, but she had been so eager for an excuse to get back to the field she would have agreed to digging up clay pots. The mentioning of their prize, however, made Daring’s opinion take an about-face.

“For pony’s sake, why didn’t you say so sooner?” What annoyance she might have felt for having been kept in the dark for so long had been easily overpowered by the new surge of elation. A sense of professionalism was the only thing that kept Daring from bounding about the dig site with glee. She knew full well the old stories behind the Amulet of the Equilla; it was said to have been brought to these barren lands by the ancient knights of the Order Equidae. According to legend, it was carried west by the order during a great crusade, worn by their greatest champion for it conveyed an aura of inviolability. The fact that the amulet was later buried alongside the knight after the crusade’s failure made it obvious that it possessed no such protective properties. Nonetheless, it was a relic of considerable value and prestige, making this the sort of excavation that would make an archaeologist famous.

Now that Daring Do knew what was at stake, the project became a great deal more fascinating. The actual excavation was still as entertaining as watching lichen grow on a rock, but the prize at the end was worth enduring any stretch of idleness. Alas, her boredom now had a friend to keep it company - impatience. According to Scribbles, they had at least another day’s worth of digging before reaching the burial site, which meant that Daring now had to find other things to do to keep herself occupied, lest she desired to grab a shovel and assist.

Having thoroughly drenched his handkerchief in sweat, Scribbles decided to was due time for him to find some place shaded to rest for the remainder of the day. “Word of caution to you, Daring, best you keep your distance away from that pony there,” Scribbles commented. The old stallion directed Daring’s attention to a pony that stood out amongst the collection of toiling workers. It was clear that aforementioned mare was no worker - the heavy leather duster she wore and the rifle slung over her shoulder were evidence enough. Clearly she was keeping watch, as her eyes carefully panned across the excavation site at regular intervals, stopping only briefly when the wind kicked some loose strands of her blond mane into her face.

“And who the hay is that?”

“To be honest, I don’t actually know,” he replied with an unhelpful shrug. “The locals keep calling her ‘Blondie’ and seem to be borderline terrified of her, and she doesn’t speak much to me. All I know is that she was hired to ‘watch over things.’ But she ain’t very friendly, and if it weren’t for my work notes, she would’ve booted me out of here weeks ago.”

Perhaps if Daring hadn’t been so excited for the prospect of the Amulet of Equilla, she would have felt a bit uneasier over the notion of a hired gun watching over things. Though the original letters didn’t state, it was obvious by this point that the expedition wasn’t entirely under Scribble’s control. Some rich, financial backer had his hoof in the pot and the blond-maned pony was there to ensure his collection of the profit. Daring hated expeditions like those; with rare exception, most of the ‘financial backers’ she’s ever met were rich, ostentatious snobs who were more interested in profit than history and academics. It was like bringing an accordion on a safari - excess weight and a lot of unnecessary noise.

*****************************

Thankfully for Daring, while the excavation site offered in little in terms of stimulation, the Mohoofe desert that enveloped the site offered more than ample opportunities to explore. Her knowledge of the area’s history was spotty at best; most of her work took her to the far reaches of Equestria, while the excavation site was a two-hour jog to the nearest pony settlement. It wasn’t as though the place didn’t have history, it was just not ‘pushing the boundaries of the unknown’ that Daring was used to; digging in the Mohoofe desert was like digging in your own backyard.

The Mohoofe desert offered its own source of beauty to the unfamiliar eye. The valley stretched out before Daring like a vast sea of green and brown until it met the mountains far in the distance that seemed to almost ‘wall in’ the desert. The sky above was absolutely spotless, save for the occasional bird circling above in search of an afternoon snack. And the hot desert air was perfect for flying, providing a gentle updraft free of crosswinds and turbulence. For Daring, there was never a better invitation to spread one’s wings and take to the sky. And Daring’s desire to explore quickly rewarded the pegasus. It was only a short flight before something peculiar in the landscape caught her attention and diverted her course. Amongst the foothills of the valley, some rocky outcroppings had caught the mare’s eyes. As she swept in for a closer look, she could see that a nook nestled against a ridge-line had been decorated with rocky mounds and crude, wooden monuments.

“These are clearly not pony-made,” Daring Do thought as she landed amongst the mounds. There were more than two dozen of them, each carefully constructed lined with stones and wooden carvings. A few were slightly larger than Daring, but the vast majority were huge compared to the pegasus. In the center of them all was a large wooden construct erected atop the largest of the mound, adorned with tapestry, horns, and animal skulls, all of which had been bleached and worn by the passage of time. “Simply extraordinary.”

This was clearly the work of native inhabitants. Judging by the various skulls and horns used, along with the pattern in which the mounds were arranged, Daring would wager that she had stumbled across an ancient burial site. It was certainly not as grand as the ones that she was used to exploring but the lack of natural resources available to the ancient inhabitants would have made more grandiose temples grossly impractical, if not outright impossible.

As Daring continued to poke and prod around the site, her ears piqued at the sound of hoof steps behind her. Her instincts, normally attuned to avoiding incoming arrows from angry locals, compelled her to spin about in a hurry, and she discovered that she was no longer alone. Standing only a few metres away from her was a heavy-set, horned creature - a buffalo, if Daring’s memory served her correctly. She also recalled being told that all the buffalo in the area had been scared off, but that information had also come from a rather boisterous army-pony with whom she had the misfortune of sharing a train cabin with on her ride out to the Mohoofe. In retrospect, that was probably all part of his failed attempt to impress her.

“Well hello there,” Daring called out. No reason not to be civil, she figured. Alas, either she said something wrong or waving one’s hoof was considered a threatening gesture because the buffalo simply ran off without a word. “Or good-bye, I guess.” While an odd reaction to behold, it was vastly preferable to the usual ‘chase after with spears and clubs’ that was commonplace in her dealings with indigenous populations.

Daring decided to think little of the incident in order to resume her study of her surroundings. However, a few minutes later, she once again caught the sound of approaching hoof steps. This time though, before she even got a chance to turn about she heard a voice bark out, “What in the hay are you doing over there?”

Now that was more like the greetings she was used to getting, and thankfully in a language she understood. What was less encouraging, however, was the source of the voice - it was the nameless mare that Scribbles had warned her about earlier. With her brown leather duster and the dull, orange hue of her pelt providing some camouflage against the Mohoofe desert, it was no surprise that Daring hadn’t noticed her approach until she was practically on top of her. Emerald green eyes glared harshly at the pegasus, partially concealed by the brim of the stetson she wore.

“Just looking around,” Daring answered innocently.

“You blithering nincompoop, get out from there!” She could see why Scribbles had advised avoiding the earth pony - five seconds in and she was already barking orders at her like she was Queen of the desert. And there were few things in the world that Daring disliked more than being ordered around, especially by some hoof-dragging dinohippus. Since arguing with a heavily-armed pony was a risky proposition, Daring reluctantly complied and flew over to the mare. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” the nameless mare scolded.

“Didn’t you just ask that a second ago?”

Daring could see the brief flash of frustration cross the other mare’s face. It would have been barely perceivable were their eyes not already locked with each other. “Y’all must be Daring Do, right?”

“I see my reputation has preceded me,” Daring replied, flashing a cocky grin.

“Yeah - for causing trouble wherever you go,” the rifle-totting mare replied. “Boss warned me ‘bout you. He said to keep an eye on ya.”

The nameless mare motioned for Daring to follow as she started a slow trot back to the excavation camp. It was apparent that the mare had specifically come out this way to drag Daring back to camp so the pegasus followed along, flying close to the earth pony. “Who is this ‘boss’ anyways?”

“Didn’t that egghead friend of yours tell you nuttin’?” the mare remarked incredulously. “Mr. Moneybags is paying us a heap of bits to find that there amulet and Ah intend to deliver it to him by week’s end.”

“Wait, you mean it’s not going to a museum?”

“A museum? Ha! Are you kidding?” The earth pony chuckled as though the very notion were some big joke to her. “Those dust-collectors wouldn’t pay a tenth of what Mr. Moneybags is paying me. If you want to see it in a museum, Ah reckon y’all ought to talk to the boss after this is done. He might be willing to loan it out. Ah’m just here to do mah job and get paid.”

While Daring couldn’t argue with the fact that a museum’s finder’s fee was often pittance compared to what a private collector offered, it was the principle of the matter. An artifact, a piece of pony history, belonged in a museum for the public to see, not in some private collection sealed away from even the light of day. But arguing with the nameless pony was futile at best since she was little more than hired muscle and had all the decision-making capacity of a pencil.

It was a relatively quiet walk back to the camp site. Thrice Daring attempted to fish a name from the mare but had been met with stone-cold silence each time. Eventually Daring just settled on calling her ‘Blondie’ like all the others did; the mare seemed to respond to the nickname well enough. She could see why the locals would be anxious around the mare. Everything about her screamed ‘cold-hearted killer’: a heartless, scrutinizing gaze; a stride of calm, composed confidence; and a tone that seemed to challenge you to just try and oppose her. Daring would have been more appreciative of having such a capable pony on her side were it not for the fact that the earth pony’s loyalties and motivations were inevitably going to put the two at odds.

As the desert sun continued its relentless thermal assault, the nameless mare reached into her coat and pulled out a waterskin and held it out in offering to Daring. The pegasus was taken by surprise at the offering, but she wasn’t so prideful as to turn down a friendly offer. The cool water trickling down her parched throat was a welcomed relief, far more than she had anticipated. “Thanks,” Daring said as she gave the waterskin back. “I was told all the buffalo in this region were no longer a threat. Was I misinformed?”

“A bit o’ both actually,” Blondie replied nonchalantly before taking a swig from the waterskin. “The buffalo originally in this area are gone, but they’re nomadic and another tribe has moved in to fill the void. These ones are a might bit more...ornery. At least Ah managed to get you you outta there ‘fore one of them buffalo saw you.”

Those last words, unfortunately, made the pegasus stop dead in the air. “Uh-oh,” she muttered.

It took Blondie only one look at her anxious expression to realize what it meant. “Please tell me the next words outta yer mouth ain’t ‘a buffalo saw me.’” Since the nameless mare did not want to hear those words, Daring was left with absolutely nothing to say, allowing only her silence to convey the message. Blondie’s face dropped with a frustrated sigh. “This is why Ah hate you eggheads! Ain’t got a lick of sense in ya!”

Before Daring could say anything in her defense, such as pointing out that no pony had warned her about venturing outside the camp, but the nameless mare galloped off at full speed towards the camp. Since keeping pace with Blondie would only result in more insults and profanities hurled in her direction, Daring resumed her casual cruising speed back to camp. By the time she caught up with Blondie, the camp had become consumed by a renewed fervor. Every set of hooves was digging with complete disregard for typical archaeological procedures.

“Hey! Be careful with those picks, you could damage the outer walls!” Daring shouted. Unfortunately her voice was lost amidst the sea of shovels and picks and their clangs, tacks, and scrapes. The only one that heard her attempts to restore some semblance of diligence was the nameless standing only a short distance away from her.

“No time for careful now, Daring,” Blondie spoke up. “Once those buffalo hear about your little frolic on their sacred turf, they’re gonna come over here and make things very uncomfortable for us. Ah reckon we’ve got about two or three hours to get that amulet ‘fore we’re up to our haunches in browncoats.”

And here Daring was thinking that this excavation was going to be free of angry mobs. At least it wasn’t going to be boring. There were few things in the world as motivating as the threat of getting trampled under a tonne of rampaging buffalo. As selfish as it sounded, this new development only amplified her enthusiasm; enthusiasm that was soon capitalized on by the nameless pony as she pushed a shovel into Daring’s hooves.

“Go help,” Blondie ordered.

“I beg your pardon?” Daring replied with a cocked eyebrow. “I don’t think so. I need to conserve my energy for when I head into the tomb.”

“Listen, pegasus,” the pony spoke a stern, harsh glare, “there are two types of ponies in this world right now: those with guns, and those that dig. Now start digging.”

“Well, since you put so politely...”

*****************************

With one final collective groan, the mules pushed aside the last slab of stone blocking the entrance to the tomb. As far as tombs went, this was one of the least impressive that Daring Do had seen; it was little more than a hole in the ground covered by couple of heavy slabs of sandstone. But like a present on Hearth’s Warming Day, it was what was inside that was most alluring, and even though Daring was winded from shoveling, she did not hesitate to trot down the stairs into the unknown.

Armed with a freshly-lit torch to light her way, Daring proceeded into the bowels of the earth. The air inside the tomb was dry and stale, but it was a refreshing change from the blasting desert heat. Her hoofsteps echoed down the stairwell, which led Daring to a large antechamber. Much to Daring’s disappointment, the antechamber was as bland as the entrance - it had been hastily chiseled out from the earth, the marking from the tools adorning the walls even after so many centuries. The only part of the chamber that had been given any attention in its carving was the large vault-like door before her, which was adorned with carvings of ancient knights and kings.

“Hmmm...there appears to be some kind of locking mechanism on this door,” Daring pondered as she examined the door more closely. At the very center of the door was a carving of a lion’s head with its maw opened wide. Upon closer inspection, Daring could see some kind of slot in the mouth, as if to fit some kind of keystone. “There must be a key somewhere,” she muttered with a pensive gaze.

“Got’cher key right here!” the familiar but unwelcomed voice of the nameless mare butted in as she shoved a bundle of TNT into the lion’s maw. “Ah’d take cover if Ah were you,” she added as she lit the fuse using Daring’s torch.

Daring couldn’t hide her disdain or disapproval as she let out a frustrated sigh and said, “It’s like taking a barbarian to an art gallery!” But with the burning fuse quickly closing in on the explosive payload, Daring had no choice but to retreat back to the safety of the stairwell. One hoof-shaking blast later and the pair had a new doorway into the main burial chamber. “You’re an idiot,” Daring snapped as the pair stepped out of the stairwell. “You could’ve brought the entire place down on top of us!”

“But Ah didn’t,” the impatient mare replied with a whimsical tone as she trotted past Daring. Words could express the degree of the pegasus’ frustration. What did she do in a past life to have the universe drop this mare onto her lap?

The burial chamber itself was rather small but what it lacked in volume it at least made up in beauty. Four pillars, carved into ornate armoured stallions, surrounded a massive stone casket. It casket itself bore an extensively detailed carving that Daring recognized as the heraldry of the Order Equidae. Even without the amulet, Daring would have loved to have taken the casket back to Canterlot and put it on display in the Royal Museum.

“Right, let’s crack this nut open, shall we?”

“No explosives!” Daring hastily shouted as she pushed ahead of the nameless mare.

“Oh, fine,” she grumbled in disappointment.

“Now help me get this thing off,” Daring instructed as she moved into position next to the casket. Explosives risked damaging the amulet but there was no chance that the pegasus was strong enough to get it open on her own. However, just as Blondie was about to join her, a loud commotion echoing from the entrance stole the mare’s attention away. Neither was certain what they were hearing. It sounded like a waterfall initially, but considering they were a hundred miles from the nearest source of water, that was a ridiculous conclusion to reach. However, it grew in intensity, becoming more akin to a passing train, even knocking the dust from the walls as it began to shake the foundation of the tomb.

“Oh crabapples, they’re already here!” the blond-maned mare cursed loudly as she turned about and raced back to the entrance.

“Wait! I can’t-” It was too late. The earth pony had already bolted out of the tomb, leaving Daring alone with the three-hundred pound stone slab separating her from her prize. A few futile shoves proved that it was far too heavy for her to move on her own so the pegasus had no alternative but to find extra muscle elsewhere.

Sadly, upon exiting the tomb, Daring discovered that while extra muscle was easy to find, the overabundance of it now threatened the entire camp. As Blondie had feared, the buffalo had arrived in full force and were stampeding wildly throughout the excavation camp: trampling tents, knocking over carts, terrorizing the workers, and destroying all of their equipment.

“This is all yer fault!” Blondie was quick to lob accusations at the pegasus and for a second it looked like the earth pony was going to vent through frustrations through physical means. However, while it would be ultimately satisfying, there were far more pressing issues to address.

“Well you’ve got a gun, why don’t you start shooting?”

“Brilliant plan, egghead! Why don’t Ah just strap a huge sign to mah head saying ‘biggest threat right here’? We need to get out of here before we attract too much attention.”

“It’s going to take more than angry natives to stop this pegasus,” Daring insisted, a hint of her boastful arrogance shining through. “If you just help me get the casket open, I can grab the amulet and fly to safety.”

“An even better plan except for the part where Ah can’t fly! And Ah ain’t sticking around a second longer just so you can fly to freedom with the goods.”

The measure of pig-headed stupidity was enough to stun the pegasus momentarily. She couldn’t fathom that for all the tough talk from the mare, the moment a little bit of trouble showed up she was willing to cut loose and run for the hills. She would’ve argued further, but a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye drew Daring’s attention to an oncoming buffalo. Both mares were quick enough to jump out of the way, if only just barely, but it adequately demonstrated the level of adversity Daring was up against. Perhaps a strategic withdrawal was in order, she thought, as she noticed that the nameless mare was already sprinting across the camp. The blonde-maned pony dodged and weaved adeptly through the stampeding herds, even vaulting over a couple when left with no room to evade. Daring had to admit it was a rather impressive display of agility, even if fleeing was still misguided in her opinion.

The pegasus decided that if Blondie wasn’t going to stay and help, then she was going to have to go with the alternative - the high explosives. Sadly, the only explosives she knew of were the ones being carried by the nameless mare, leaving Daring with no choice but to chase after her. Flying safely above the stampede, Daring searched for the blond-maned pony, but the rampaging sea of browncoats made it difficult to find her quarry. After flying a few circles overhead, she caught sight of a flash of orange and yellow that could only have belonged to the nameless mare. Elation turned to panic, however, when she saw that the pony was sprawled unconscious across the desert floor. As she flew in to help, Daring noticed a bundle of TNT laying on the sand nearby that must have been knocked out of the earth pony’s possession when she got hit by a buffalo. In theory, she only needed the explosives, not the mare herself. Daring would have weighed the pros and cons more thoroughly, but she noticed that a buffalo was on course to trample over both the nameless mare and the explosives.

With only enough time to save one, Daring knew there was no justification for leaving the pony to her fate. Even if she disliked her attitude, no pony deserved to trampled into jelly. Swooping into a high-speed dive, Daring Do snatched the earth pony just moment before the buffalo stampeded through. But the sudden weight from dragging the mare jerked Daring downwards, and caused her to crash into a headlong tumble. After several spins, bounces, and crashing into an overturned cart, Daring Do pulled herself out from under the mare in a desperate attempt to find the bundle of explosives. Alas, there was no sign of it. With all the sand being kicked up by the stampeding buffalo, the explosives could’ve been highlighted with a giant pillar of light from Celestia herself and Daring still wouldn’t have been able to spot it. With rampaging natives running in every direction, Daring knew that he best chance at making it through this ordeal was to bunker down and wait out the storm.

Thankfully, the overturned cart that she had crashed into moments ago offered the exact kind of protection she needed with its steel-lined basin. The pegasus carefully lifted the back-end of the cart up and dragged it over so that it was sheltering the nameless mare and herself. Unfortunately, it was a rather tight squeeze beneath the cart and Daring was uncomfortably sandwiched up against the still unconscious earth pony.

“Nothing I can do now except wait this mess out,” Daring thought with a quiet sigh. The rumble of hoofsteps around her echoed within her new steel confines like a heavy rainstorm upon a tin roof. All she could do now was pray for the end to come quickly, and for Blondie to not wake up in the meantime.

*****************************

After what felt like an eternity stuffed inside an oven, the rumblings and tremors ceased, and Daring slowly emerged from beneath the cart. It appeared as though all the buffalo were gone, having left satisfied with thoroughly demolishing the excavation site. Daring breathed a sigh of relief and pushed the cart aside; very rarely had she felt so glad to be back in the heat of the desert sun, which just so happened to beginning its decent towards the horizon.

A soft groaned suddenly came from the awakening earth pony behind her. “Ughh...what happened?”

“You got blind-sided by a half-tonne buffalo,” Daring replied non-chalantly.

“And what are you still doing here?”

“Aside from saving your flank?” Daring said with no hint of hiding her amusement at the fact. “I’ve still got an amulet to grab.”

“Now hold on! Just wait a second,” the still-dazed earth pony said as she tried to get back to her feet. Her head was pounding, and her side ached from where the buffalo had hit her; her attempts to keep pace with Daring only resulted in the pony falling face-first into sand. Since the pony was in no danger of being pounded into a paste, Daring had no qualms about leaving the pony where she lay and proceeded back to the tomb.

There was still the issue was getting the casket open but Daring figured that with enough time and effort, she’d be able to find a way to get it open. If nothing else, the nameless mare would eventually follow her into the tomb and they’d be able to open the casket together. With the buffalo threat gone, Daring was under no pressure to hurry along.

“Amulet of the Equilla, here I come,” Daring thought in a sing-song tone. The thought of recovering the artifact left her with a bounce in her step as she descended into the tomb. She hadn’t had an expedition this easy since the time she recovered the Tomes of Donkeyotay from the tyrannical courier’s office that refused to release the package to Daring until she paid the extra shipping fees.

However, the cheer in the voice and the bounce in her step vanished the second the stepped into the burial chamber. The ornate, intricately carved stone casket had been blasted open, its stone slab cover shattered into a dozen pieces across the floor, and the characteristic scorch marks of high explosives were plain to see on the stone fragments.

“Nononono! This can’t be happening,” Daring muttered in a half-panic as she raced to the casket’s side. Alas, denial could not change reality - the amulet was gone. Somepony had beaten her to it. She let out a frustrated cry before knocking a loose piece of stone across the room. The amulet was gone, and she couldn’t even take the stone cover back as a consolation prize.

“What’s all the commotion?” came the nameless mare’s familiar voice. Though still woozy, she had been able to make it down the stairs without another pratfall. “And Ah thought you said you didn’t want no ‘splosives.”

“The amulet’s gone!”

“Whaddya mean ‘gone’?” The pony, her mental acuity coming into focus at the mention of ‘gone,’ raced over to the casket and shoved the pegasus aside. Upon seeing the interior of the casket, her face dropped. “Where’d it go?”

“Somepony else must have taken it while I was stuck babysit your unconscious flank!” scolded the bewildered archaeologist.

“Are you implying that this is mah fault?”

“No, I’m out-right saying it’s your fault!” she said with an accusatory prod of her hoof.

“If y’all had let me use the explosives like Ah had wanted to-”

“If you had stayed and helped me open the casket like I wanted to, we wouldn’t be in this mess!” Furious did not even begin to describe Daring’s mood and were it not for the fact that other pony was still very much armed and dangerous, she would’ve expressed her angry in a language the barbarian would’ve understood.

“Well, whoever took it couldn’t have gone far. And there’s only one town within walking distance,” Blondie explained.

“Finally something useful from her,” Daring thought. “Then if we hurry, we can hopefully catch up to them.”

However, just as Daring was about to set off, a sudden blow to the back of the head sent her tumbling into darkness. When Daring came to moments later, she found herself laying on the cavern floor back in the antechamber, and, much to her chagrin, had been bound with rope. One length bound all her hooves together while a second prevented her from using her wings. And the most aggravating fact of all was the sight of the blond-maned pony standing only a few feet away, idly performing a final check on her rifle as if waiting for the pegasus to regain consciousness.

“Wh-what is the meaning of this?” Daring demanded.

“Sorry Daring but Ah can’t let you go racing on ahead and taking that amulet all fer yourself,” the pony explained with a smug smirk. “Besides, tracking down thieves is mah territory. You’d just get in mah way.”

“I saved your life!” Daring barked as she struggled in vain against the ropes. To save a pony’s life only to have them turn around and thump you on the back of the head was one of the most heinous forms of treachery.

“And Ah am a might appreciative of that miss,” the mare replied, sounding genuinely sincere in her thanks. That sincerity, however, was lost upon the raging pegasus. And as if to accentuate her gratitude, the mare walked up to the rope-bound Dash and gave her sweet peck on the lips. “Y’know, yer kinda cute...for an egghead.”

Daring wasn’t certain if she should be insulted or flattered by her remarks. Either way, she continued her futile attempts to break free from the rope. “You can’t leave me here like this!” she shouted once more.

“Oh quit yer belly-aching, you’ll be fine,” the nameless mare said as she began to walk away. When she reached the stairwell, she took out a small knife and left it on the ground. Daring knew she could crawl over and cut herself free with the knife, but with the blade on the far side of the chamber, it would take forever to shimmy across the floor. She’d get free, but not before the other pony got a significant head-start on her.

“Get back here!” Daring continued shouting in vain. “How dare you leave me like this, Blondie! BLOOONDDIEEEE!” It was too late, though - the mare was gone. “Stupid kiss!”

*****************************

“She kissed Dash?” Applejack’s voice snapped Dash out her reading trance. The pegasus glanced upwards and saw her friend standing in the nearby doorway.

“Come again?” Rainbow quipped.

“Y’all said ‘the mare walked up to the rope-bound Dash’ and gave her a kiss.”

Dash’s eyes widened upon the realization that her friend had caught the Freudian slip. Her only saving grace was that Applejack appeared too drowsy from being awoken in the middle of the night to notice the rising blush on Dash’s face along with her horrified expression. If Applejack had noticed, she made no comments or reactions to that effect.

“N-no! I said ‘the rope-bound dashing mare,’” Dash insisted in her attempt to put a lampshade over her embarrassment. “It’s called poetic language, Applejack. Lots of writers use it.”

Rainbow Dash prayed that her explanation was enough for the other mare, who only stared blankly in response. She couldn’t tell if Applejack’s squinting eyes were scrutinizing her or merely a result of her being too tired to keep them open. Either way, after a few agonizing moments of silence, Applejack simply let out a hefty yawn. “Whatever,” she muttered in a half-hearted response. “Just try to keep it down, okay? Some of us are trying to sleep.”

Applejack groggily trudged back to bed, all the while wondering when somepony was going to teach Dash how to use internal monologue. She figured Dash was probably right about the whole ‘dashing mare’ thing. In her half-asleep stupor, her ears and mind were probably playing tricks on her. All the more reason to get back to bed. And what would it matter if Dash was imagining herself in the story? If anything that should be taken as a positive sign that she could become so engrossed in a book given that only a few weeks ago she considered them the antithesis of being awesome.

“You’re just imaging things, Applejack,” she mentally sighed as she crawled back into bed. “Besides, why would she ever be interested in a boring ol’ earth pony like you?”

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