• Published 27th Jul 2013
  • 5,316 Views, 208 Comments

Scale - shortskirtsandexplosions

Daring Do goes on an epic quest full of danger and peril. Her goal: to cross landscapes, to scale boundaries... and to transcend herself.

  • ...

And the Gargantuan Guardian

Daring flapped both wings and shot herself backwards. The giant pony golem's forelimb ate its way towards her, closing the distance between the automaton's metal hoof and her fragile dangling legs. Unable to outfly the swing, she pulled her wings in tight and simply fell. Daring dropped out of range of the robot's punch just milliseconds before it plowed into the building face behind her.

The air filled with steam and glass. Daring landed and immediately broke into a gallop, speeding past the massive length of the lumbering creature. She barely outran the cascade of crashing shards filling the street behind her. Skirting the edge of the crater where the creature had emerged, the explorer spread her wings and took to the sky. A rear leg bucked through the air with a ripple of thunder. The skyscraper before her exploded, its fifth to seventh stories being devoured in a massive hole made by the iron-wrought hoof.

As the building buckled under its own weight, Daring had to bank hard to her right to avoid the collapse of twenty full stories of steel and mortar. Through the rising dust of the spectacle, she spun around in time to see the golem's burning muzzle charging through the clouds like a metal demon. Its eyes flickered with red torchlight as the robot's nostrils reopened with whirring apertures, expelling a condensed burst of scalding steam.

The boiling jets flew at Daring like bone-white bullets. She gnashed her teeth while dodging and juking the blasts. The mare smelled burning steel from the steam bursts making contact with the skyscrapers behind her, literally melting the concrete through to their foundations. She barely had any strength left when the golem's head reached for her, its gaping jaws hissing with mad hydraulics. Daring kicked off the gearheads operating the hinges of its mouth. She flew sideways like a tan comet, landing with little grace on the street before rolling against a fallen bed of powdery rubble.

With lumbering thuds, the ten-story golem turned around to face her. Its every limb groaned from the automaton's agonizing weight, and several joints spat loose gusts of skin-bubbling steam. To Daring's shock, it didn't immediately charge her. Instead, it flung about its tail: a prehensile length of metallic fibers, at the end of which was a bulbous disc fitted with an array of brass pipes around the black circumference.

Breathless, Daring squinted at the curious tail-end being lifted high above street level. Suddenly, it aimed towards her, and the brass pipes spat out tongues of burning flame. The disc then rotated like a napalm buzzsaw, and the metallic stalk of the tail shot the infernal weapon straight at Daring's prone body.

With a shriek, she dove to the side. The sidewalk and street corner behind her melted, as if the robot's burning tail was a hot knife slicing through butter. The metal creature's weapon retracted and shot out again, this time lashing deep into the skyscraper above Daring and raining debris down on her petite figure. She outran the mess as best as she could, hopping at random to scale shattered newsstands and the steaming shells of inflamed stagecoaches. Through this chaos, the tail swung immediately into view, its burning disc rotating towards her like an out-of-control comet.

Daring's ruby eyes twitched. She noticed a dark hole in the streetside to her left: a subway entrance. Without a second thought, she dove straight in, her body gliding just underneath the burning tail's next swing. Her green shirt was singed in spots and her coat hairs curled up from the heat, but she was alive. Wheezing from the smoke and dust, she swiftly twirled down the elaborate stairwell, descending into the comforting darkness of the city's subway.

Soon, it became too dark to see an inch in front of her. She pressed herself up against a cold wall somewhere and fumbled for her glowstone. It took her the better part of a minute to summon a breath full enough to enchant the shard to life. All the while, booms and cracks of thunder rolled through the concrete abyss. The golem was somewhere directly above, stomping angrily through the streets in search of its elusive prey. Daring wasn't about to give it any satisfaction.

At last, she exhaled fitfully against the glowstone. The pale spotlight illuminated a tight chamber leading several feet forward, where a turnstile lay bright and abandoned. All along the walls, tiles of plaster fell loose from each tremor that the robot's hooves produced above. As the rumbling grew duller and duller, Daring wiped the sweat from beneath her pit helmet and trotted forward.

There was no longer a steadiness to Daring's canter, but rather a fitful twitch that broke the solid tone of her echoing hoofsteps. She hopped over the turnstile and descended another row of stairs. As her spotlight swam across the rattling tiles, she came upon the darkest chasm yet. Blowing on her stone to increase the illumination, she found that she was on the edge of the subway tracks. She looked left and saw nothing. She looked right and saw an abandoned train, halfway submerged through the tight tunnel that would have carried it towards another district of the city.

Daring had lost all of her bearings. If she was to take one of the tunnels, then she would very much want to know where she was headed. So, with a steady breath, she reached deep into her shirt's pocket for her compass—

The ceiling above blew apart as a giant metal hoof slammed down before her.

Daring fell back on her flanks, ruby eyes wide with horror. There was a gust of hot air as the hoof retracted back into the surface world from whence it came. Daring's helmet was blown off as she scooted backwards in fright. She tilted her chest up to shine her light through the fresh new hole.

The ceiling broke again, this time directly above her. Hulking slabs of concrete devoured her light as they fell on top of her.

With a grunt, Daring rolled to the side, barely escaping the cave-in. She covered her gray mane as a vomitous spray of pebbles and metal bits rained all over. Hyperventilating, she eventually looked up and saw her hat lying just inches away. She reached for it—

A hoof slammed down again, pulverizing the pith helmet to dust, along with the entire edge of the tracks. Daring was too busy being tossed across the subway from the concussive blast to bother with screaming. She slammed backwards into the rear of the parked train, then slumped down to the ground, collapsed over the rattling subway rails.

The automaton roared from overhead. Daring could spot its gaping maw from a pulsating light source. As the seconds shredded by, that same light grew bright red and hot. With a twirl of shadows, the robot's tail shot down. The flaming disc on the end of it swept left and right across the claustrophobic domain, blindly seeking pony flesh to sear to smoking ribbons.

Daring sweated bullets as she hopped up, spun around, and galloped straight down the nearest tunnel. The golem must have somehow sensed her movement, for its burning disc swam along the length of its prehensile tail, spitting flames as it surged after her. A long swath was sliced across the train, and each car crumpled and exploded like silver firecrackers, chasing the pony with mammoth sprays of glass and shrapnel.

Daring gritted her teeth, headbutted through the raining debris, and spread her wings. She outflew the burning appendage and shot down the tunnel, her glowstone illuminating the winding intestine of brick and concrete ahead of her as she otherwise flew blind.

The disc ceased its pursuit. Daring assumed that it was because the tail had reached the ends of its metallic rope. Nevertheless, she glanced back in mid-flight, having to squint past the shadows of her wind-swept mane. The subway tunnel behind her was pitch black, the most inviting color she had seen in ages.

Glancing ahead, Daring accelerated, hoping to make it to the next station and take to the clear skies. However, as she glided along, the earth rumbled louder and louder all around her. Her fuzzy ears twitched at the woesome sound of thunder rolling behind her, above her, and then directly before her. Dust fell in a solid curtain about twenty meters ahead, and when the realization of the moment hit the hapless mare, it was already too late to do an about-face.

With a heavy bass roar, the golem's jaws burst down through the subway's ceiling and lunged at the pony. The hole it smashed in the street was remarkably huge this time, and through the sundered layers of concrete Daring could spot starlight. Before the creature's metal muzzle could devour all of her perspective, Daring darted courageously ahead, twirling to avoid the thing's mouth as she threaded through the thin space available between the hole and the monster's razor-sharp earlobes.

Out of the corner of her eyes, Daring spotted the electrocuted sight of the caged book. It almost distracted her too much to notice the next swing of the golem's tail. She spun out of the way of the burning disc, but was slapped across the spine by the elastic metal stalk. Exhaling in pain, Daring flew sideways through the dusty street, struck the edge of a seventh-story balcony, and fell down like a sack of potatoes.

Somewhere during the plunge, she got caught in a flapping length of fabric. The ripping material slowed her fall somewhat, and she landed across the back of a stagecoach with a minor thud instead of a bone-splitting crunch. As the creature lumbered about several yards away to her right, Daring tried getting up, only to find herself encumbered with the large blanket. Upon close inspection, she discovered that she was actually wrestling with a scarlet banner, specifically one bearing an orange sun emblem.

Gasping, she looked up and to her left. Just twenty yards away stood the courtyard with the statue of an earth pony stabbing a bastard sword into a concrete dome. The steel of the weapon reflected the glint of the adventurer's glowstone from afar.

Before the wheels in Daring's head could turn, she heard the grinding of giant metal hooves. To her right, the ten story golem had reoriented itself. It expelled angry wisps of steam as it stormed towards her, one hulking hoof after another.

Kicking and thrashing, Daring finally disentangled herself from the banner and flew to her left. Seconds later, the golem charged over the stagecoach, smashing it to metal and wooden slivers. Daring struggled to flap her wings against the reverberations in the air caused by the pursuing monster's heavy hoofstomps. Nevertheless, she managed to gain some altitude, and she flew directly over the earth pony statue in a desperate attempt to get away from her foe.

Suddenly, a different kind of thunder boomed through the air. Daring couldn't help it; she stopped and turned around in mid-hover to observe the source of a pained groaning sound.

The golem had slumped to a stop just yards before the courtyard. Bolts of electricity were inexplicably bouncing outward from the caged book on its skull. Daring's eyes followed their dramatic blue arcs, and she noticed that every single tongue of lightning was shooting into the concrete dome beneath the earth pony statue.

The eyes of the stone equine lit up. Something about the electrical energy triggered a mechanism inside. The statue's front hooves spread apart, and almost immediately the concrete dome spat the bastard sword loose. Daring watched, dumbfounded, as the blade shot up and out of the sphere like a steel slice of bread from a sunken toaster. As it clattered several feet away on the edge of the courtyard, Daring bit her lip. She glanced at the golem, then back at the sword.

The electrical bolts stopped dancing. As if coming out of a dizzy spell, the giant metal automaton shook its muzzle, stood up straight, and resumed galloping after Daring.

Holding her breath in tight, Daring suicidally flew straight for the hulking robot.

With a bombastic roar, the creature swung its iron-wrought forelimb at her. She ducked past it as it smashed a storefront to bits. Flying low past the thing's thrashing tail, she landed on the courtyard and tried picking the bastard sword up in her hooves. It proved too heavy a thing to do easily... or at least swiftly. As the golem reared about and bore down on her, she resorted to biting onto the hilt with her mouth, her teeth scraping against the rounded pommel with the sun emblem. She took off, her body flying sideways from the weight of the blade. She nevertheless veered around a tail-slash and dove madly towards the creature's skull.

Her hooves landed, scraping against the iron rivets as she struggled for an even stance atop the monster's head. The ears made hideous ringing sounds as they sliced through the air, the serrated tips of the lobes attempting to slice her skull off.

Daring wasted little time. She spat the hilt out of her mouth, spun the whole blade until its tip was aiming down, then—mimicking the earth pony statue—she sliced it through the leftmost slit positioned within the frame of the metal cage. The steel length grazed the electrified book, but the magical tome remained intact. With a pulse of bright blue light, the blade fastened in place, becoming one with the bulbous metal cage. Steam erupted from every crevice along the monster's plated hull, filling the air with a sound not unlike the screaming death of boiled crustaceans.

There was no time to celebrate; the creature reared its metal skull back, flinging Daring off like a loose tick. She spun in the air, uprighted herself, and immediately bolted east, flying straight down the starlit trench of looming buildingfaces, all waving with the banner of a crescent moon. As she predicted, the monster was not far behind. It chased mindlessly after her, stomping deep craters into the ground and unearthing panels of sidewalk with every bound.

Daring Do was exhausted, but at least now she had her head in the game. The adventurer kept her breaths evenly apart, allowing her lungs to expand and contract comfortably as she soared towards her goal. In spite of the sweat and the heat of the moment, she was focused; the puzzle was unraveling itself. At some point or another, it always did.

Something flickered in Daring Do's peripheral vision. Against her better judgment, she looked right. Her blood ran cold as a blue figure flew alongside her, streaking against window gloss and starlight. The reflection looked back, winked with an evil grin, and made a throat-slitting motion with its hoof.

Just then, the temperature of the air heated up violently. Daring twirled and flew upwards without looking back. Two jets of hot steam flew past her, melting a balcony off its foundation so that it fell noisily to the sundered streets below.

The pursuing golem fired more and more jets of scalding mist. Daring jerked left and right in mid-flight to avoid the blasts, until ultimately resorting to a sharp climb. She ascended several stories, looking down from the summits of the skyscrapers blurring by her.

Below, the automaton's eyes flickered. It vented steam out from its sides as its stomping hooves somehow accelerated. Then, before Daring's twitching eyes, the hulking beast galloped left, smashed a path sideways up three rows of building faces, jumped off, hopped off a skyscraper to its right, and used it as a collapsing springboard to launch itself like a metal mountain at Daring.

Suppressing a shriek, Daring dove low. She dodged the monster's jaws, but now the full weight of the creature was bearing down on her. Both equines fell, plummeting twenty stories in naked silence. Daring's hooves scraped the ground, and she kicked against the asphalt, giving herself a boost as she spread her wings and prepared for the inevitable.

When the monster slammed back down into the street behind her, the sheer force of its impact sent a wave of energy rippling out in every direction. When the blast wave hit Daring, she caught as much of it as she could in her feathers, using it to propel herself ahead like a sailboat. It was anything but graceful; she flopped around an arena of shattering windows before pinballing off a storefront and rolling to a bruised stop against an overturned wagon.

Daring sobbed in pain, but heard nothing... nothing but ringing. She felt trickles of warm blood coming out of her ear canals. Her eyes opened, piercing the fog of pain that encompassed her. Something loomed ahead, a dull and gray blob. After a blink or two, the statue of a pegasus stabbing a sword into a gray dome came into focus. Daring dragged herself ahead with her forelimbs, then stood on quivering hooves. When hearing returned to her ears, she wished that it hadn't, for the guttural roars of the golem were almost upon her.

The robot's thick shadow washed over her figure in the starlight. Bolts of electricity shot overhead, threading into the statue. The stone pegasus' hooves parted, and the bastard sword shot out at a forty-five degree angle.

Daring could smell rust and burning napalm. Coiling and uncoiling her limbs, she sprang forward like a tan grasshopper, barely avoiding the golem's lashing tail as it burned through the concrete. Flying up, she forward-flipped and snatched the sword's hilt in her mouth. The emblem of a crescent moon glistened in her peripheral vision, and she used it as encouragement as she spun widely in the air, galloped sideways across a building face, and jumped towards the lumbering golem's head.

The tail's flaming disc intercepted her. Grunting through her teeth, she twisted her neck and miraculously deflected the weapon once... twice. Sparks flew from her blade, and so did Daring, plummeting past the robot's attack and landing firmly on the creature's skull. With heroic grace, she propped the sword into the rightmost slit of the book's cage and stabbed it in deep.

The tome brimmed with bright blue energy. The metal monster roared, swinging its tail up like an angry scorpion's. Daring dodged the blow, but in so doing she forgot about the golem's flicking earlobes, and one of them grazed her shoulder, ripping through her shirt and spilling blood. Daring shrieked in pain, and the next time that the golem tossed its head back, she wasn't prepared for it. Her body flew for several feet before smashing through the wide windows of a fourth story office building. She tumbled against a series of desks and cubicles, wincing from multiple cuts and glass slivers across her sensitive skin.

Two bright red spotlights pierced the dusty confines of the office. Daring's moist eyes flew open as she gnashed her teeth.

The golem's head was bending down to peer through the shattered window. Rearing its metal neck back like a cobra, the automaton roared and plunged mercilessly into the body of the skyscraper. Both the floor and the ceiling of the fourth story buckled at once, sending waves of debris flying at the prone pegasus. She flew up from tsunami of desolation, ultimately using it as a boost, flapping her wings and slicing through the narrow space of collapsing steel girders that was afforded her.

Daring emerged into a street full of flames and chaos. Metal chunks rained down from every direction. She dodged them the best that she could, all the while trying to bank southwest in order to soar down the final path: a street lined with red banners of twinkling starlight. With her eyes on the goal, she couldn't see the glint of shiny metal soaring at her from her right, glistening with a gasping blue face.

The shard slammed into Daring at full force. She couldn't hear her own grunts from the sickening crunch of her wing muscles ripping down the middle. When she struck dead asphalt below, it was almost a welcome reprieve from the knifing pain that was soaring all through her right side. She rolled onto her left haunches, howling to the stars, tossing her mane back in white-hot agony. After her breath was sucked back in, she curled into a fetal position, tossing a spastic glance towards her right wing. The thing hung in tatters, blood dribbling off the crooked and bent feathers.

From beyond the crimson outlines of her wound, the metallic foe loomed, its steaming plates coming into focus as it bore down on the lamed flier. Hissing in agony, Daring tumbled onto all four hooves and limped ahead, feeling blood leaking and squirting out of her with each bounding gallop. Instinctively, she jumped several times, only to remember in mid-lunge that her right wing had been reduced to a scarlet rag.

The street shook and split underneath her. Each successive step grew more perilous than the last. There was no outrunning the monster on hoof; it would overtake her in no time.

Hyperventilating, Daring flashed a look to her right. She chose a building—any building—and immediately sped towards its front entrance. A blue face in the glass door gaped at her in faux shock, but she headbutted the panel open and stumbled on through, limping her way across the marble-floored lobby. Chairs rattled and chandeliers swayed overhead. The red light of the automaton's eyes followed swiftly, making shadows bounce along the fringes of Daring’s agonized senses. With a resounding smash, the monster stomped after her, charging through the ten stories above as if they were made of tinfoil.

Daring desperately outran the cacophonous wave. Chunks of tile exploded behind her hooves; clumps of plaster and ceiling insulation rolled after her gray tail hairs. She reached the center of the building, its central pillars falling like oak trees on either side. The dense heart of the skyscraper was finally slowing the automaton's charge, but it mattered little. Daring sprinted forward, not stopping until she ran into an opaque dead end.

Whimpering, her eyes darted feverishly about. She saw a stairway and ran towards it without a second thought. She burst through the door with her good shoulder just as the frame crumbled. She galloped up collapsing steps, jumping from one teetering plank of concrete to the next. When she reached the third floor, she saw a hint of starlight, and she burst through to the adjacent corridor. Only one path led away from imminent collapse, and it was a window pane exposing a narrow alleyway beyond. Daring kicked the window open, perched atop the fire escape, and leapt desperately across the thin alley. She landed on the opposite building's window ledge, dangled, then pulled herself up just as the skyscraper behind her imploded completely.

Opening the window, she collapsed through, somersaulted, and limped back up to her hooves. The whole building shook as its sister fell the full length of its battered thirty stories. At some point, the weight of it must have collided with that building, because Daring could feel the entire floor shifting forward as its walls tilted back. Doors shattered into wooden splinters while the ceiling panels bulged and split.

On a whim, Daring hung a left, tumbled down a series of steps, and spotted the glossy hint of a marble-paneled lobby. Jumping down a whole story, she landed on the bottom floor, and fled towards the closest series of glass doors she could find. She emerged upon a side street, full of tables and benches that were falling over from the tremors echoing throughout the entire city. She was barely half a block away when a gigantic explosion rippled across the streets, shaking the asphalt loose. She looked backwards in mid-limp to see two... three... four entire buildings sinking down into the earth. In the center of this dusty cloud of destruction was the thrashing metal figure of her nemesis, rearing its sparkling skull as it roared in frustration. Its flaming tail jerked around in wide circles, shining a spotlight across the rubble in search of a wounded pegasus.

Sweating and bleeding, Daring looked for the first niche she could find. She ducked in between the crook of two tall apartment buildings and slumped down to her haunches, panting for breath. She wasn't aware of the tears streaming from her eyes until she felt them dribbling onto her knees. She breathed—more like hissed—into her glowstone, summoning a faint light. It was enough for her to examine her injury by, though she didn't want to.

The pony's right wing was struggling to dangle in either direction. It was obviously a compound fracture, and Daring didn't even know where to begin with it. Hearing the distant roars of the metal monstrosity, she realized she couldn't afford to decide where to begin... or if to begin at all. Nevertheless, she grasped the hem of her shirt in the crook of two hooves and pulled in opposite directions. Thankfully, the material was aptly soaked with sweat, and it split down the middle, allowing her to rope loose two lengths of jungle-green cloth.

She looked around and found a pile of debris thrown loose from the destruction a few blocks away. From this, she found two strips of bent metal, both of which were roughly the same length. Utilizing them and her strips of cloth, she formed a very basic tourniquet, just enough to hold her wing joints in place and nothing else. It felt as though it weighed a ton, and she could feel her torn muscles throbbing with each heartbeat.

Nevertheless, there was no waiting in one place. She sensed the bright crimson swaths of the monster's tail looming closer and closer. Soon, she would be in the golem's spotlight, and she couldn't afford a long-distance sprint—not anymore.

Daring didn't waste any time with fumbling for her compass. She had grown accustomed to the city's skyline after so many flyby's. With an esteemed guess, she headed south and away from the creature, limping down alleyways and past immense skyscrapers as she searched for the courtyard with the final statue.

Minutes bled by, as did her injured wing. She felt her right side gradually going numb, but it didn't stop her from rushing ahead, stumbling through shadowed spaces with abandoned dumpsters and shipping crates. So long as the monster didn't know where she was, Daring had the upper hoof.

But even this was about to change. With a deafening roar of thunder, the sky lit up with a red beacon. Daring's pained ears twitched to hear an unearthly crunching sound echoing everywhere in all directions. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw the hulking golem literally climbing up the southern face of a fifty-story skyscraper. The robot perched somewhere below the stalk of the building, rotating its tail about as it shone its spotlight across the roofs, spires, and summits of its towering neighbors. The crimson light bled through spaces between buildings, illuminating every nook and cranny that lined the streets.

Inevitably, the monster's face froze as its torchlit eyes pulsated. Daring Do knew, deep down inside, that the mechanical beast had somehow seen her. Sure enough, with a resounding roar, the automaton retracted its tail and leapt south from the skyscraper, knocking it back into its sibling so that an entire block collapsed like titanic dominoes. The destruction spread further as the golem leapt and bounded its way from rooftop to rooftop, sending thick shards of concrete flying every which way. Soon, the shadow of the beast would be looming over the pegasus once again.

Daring gulped a whimper down her throat and galloped swiftly ahead. To her surprise, she almost instantly broke free from the alleyways and emerged upon an open street. Six lanes afforded an aura of silver-sweet starlight to dip down and illuminate every rigid shape, including that of a stone unicorn stabbing a sword into the topmost slit of a concrete dome.

The felicitous sound of rippling banners resonated above the pony as she galloped forward and stood behind the unicorn statue. Daring chewed anxiously on her bottom lip, looking at the blade stuck in the frozen pony's grip. Wincing from the pain in her right side, she nevertheless climbed up the tail and flank of the statue, mounting it from behind as she wrapped two hooves around its horn and fought, struggled, and strained to pull the sword loose.

No success.

Buildings exploded in successive clouds of dust and debris. Daring looked up to see the thunderous approach of the angry golem. Squeaking beneath her breath, she tugged and tugged on the sword's hilt again. No matter how hard she tried, the star-emblemed pommel did not budge.

A blur of blue rippled before Daring. She looked down. Across the glossy steel blade, a sapphiric muzzle smirked up at her. The reflection winked a ruby eye, then tilted its head up, as if looking through itself at the incoming threat.

As the courtyard shook viciously around Daring from the golem's approach, she took a deep breath, her tan face taking on the same glaring expression as the alien reflection. She relaxed her lower muscles, never once losing her firm grip of the sword's hilt. In such a calm fashion, she awaited her fate, and her fate bore down on her with steaming limbs.

Leaping from the last line of buildings, the robot equine landed a hundred feet away, forming a ginormous crater in the asphalt. Metal nostrils snorting, it grinded its hooves and charged like a mammoth rhino. Windows shattered and benches collapsed from the ruthless tremors.

Daring stood her ground. Her eyes reflected the torchlight set within the golem's iron-wrought skull, as well as the lunging forelimbs that flew down to crush her to a pulp.

At last, bolts of blue electricity shot from the cage atop the monster's ten story high skull. The energy streams flew into the concrete dome below Daring. On command, the unicorn's hooves let go of the hilt, but Daring's never did.

Thus, when the sword shot up, so did Daring. She and the blade flew skyward, becoming one with the stars, lost from the golem's sight as it tried in vain to smash her propelled body, only to catch pure air instead.

When the sword reached the apex of its launch, Daring spun herself sideways and bit onto the hilt. Then—bearing the pain through her clenched teeth—she shot her one good wing out. Hanging off the weight of the blade, she twirled left in a wide arc, swirling circles around the confused golem until she landed expertly on its skull.

At that point, it was all over; the robot just didn't know it. Its ears lashed at Daring, but she covered herself with the blade, spun in a circle, nicked their serrated tips off, and then aimed the tip of the blade into the topmost slit of the caged dome. With a growling shriek, the pegasus stabbed the final sword in. At last, all three blades criss-crossed around the tome. Their steel bodies absorbed the electrical energy, and the book itself dulled, its pages becoming fragile and moth-eaten. The chains holding the tome in place shattered completely, as did the entire cage for that matter.

With a creaking groan, the monster spontaneously collapsed. The sheer motion threw Daring off and onto the courtyard, along with the shattered bars that once made up its skull-cage. Among the many metal bits that tumbled past Daring's wincing body, one wasn't metal at all. Daring gasped, for the book sat naked just a few feet from her. She scrambled towards it and spun the cover around: "Daring Do and the Gargantuan Guardian."

Through her peripheral vision, she saw the monster groaning and straining to get back up. Its lantern eyes came to life, as did its flaming tail.

Ravenously, Daring launched her muzzle into the thick of the book's pages, ripping its paper heart out with gnashing teeth. As she did so, the world stung with something akin to a crack of thunder. Every building rattled on its foundation, adding to a spiraling vibration that swam into the heart of the metropolis, ultimately settling beneath the quivering frame of the downed automaton.

The creature's tail fell limp. Its lantern eyes danced one last time, and soon it was rearing back on its spine, several plates popping loose as plumes of steam burst randomly out of its cracking hull. Its limbs stretched straight, steel girders popping out of the hooves and embedding into the ground like tree roots. Its metal mouth opened towards the heavens, and suddenly it was vomiting loose a cluster of brass pipes, ribboning swiftly skyward like a magical beanstalk. Along the length of this industrial stalk of madness, several platforms mushroomed out, shooting metal beams down towards the sundered city and adding to the spontaneous megastructure that was blossoming before Daring's eyes, growing out of the gut of the defeated monster.

As this new and epic tower rocketed towards the stars, the world grew dark beyond the veil of Daring's heavy eyelids. She heard the cacophonous cannon shots of the remaining buildings falling one by one. Like a house of cards, the entire city was being reduced to rubble around her. Red banners flew in tattered streaks, like frightened bats, and disappeared beyond the fogginess of her exhausted consciousness.

There was nothing left in this world or the last that was capable of surprising the pegasus. At least, that's what Daring thought. It was something of minor comfort, lulling her into the sweet darkness as she collapsed limply to the uneven concrete, hugging the tattered bits of the tome to her chest as the pain finally dwindled to nothing. There was a flicker of something blue, like a laughing face shining off her eyelids, then everything was blissfully colorless.