• Published 27th Jul 2013
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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.

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And the Space Spire

Daring Do couldn't remember a time when she wasn't lonely.

Even now, as tingling feathers of pain floated around her like lazy electrons, Daring huddled alone in the darkness, mesmerized by the sheer vastness of the murky depths.

The world always had a habit of unfolding before her, like a bed of tangled laundry fresh from the wash, growing more and more fragrant with each inch her little foal limbs climbed across it. The secrets behind every mountain, every ocean, and every continent held bigger and bolder treasures, tantalizing her, leading her forward into adulthood, with the crest of one golden horizon promising yet another brilliant landscape beyond.

And then, one day, a day like any other, that lustre disappeared. The world no longer rolled or rippled like golden silk. Something knifed through it, knifed through her, shredding everything in one tearing motion, tickling her ears with the heartless hiss of sepulcher sighs. When she discovered that such cold breaths belonged to herself, she stopped, and yet she didn't.

In a way, her life accelerated, aging and plummeting in one singular direction, something chosen at random, like following the only light she could constantly depend on, and even that was wavering. Each dawn greeted her like a firecracker, and the echo died with each hour of the decaying day, darkening to her rear as she pressed on forward, trotting and galloping and flying east without looking back.

The world stopped being the world, and instead turned into something else, something different, something twisted, yet painted with all of the mesmerizing colors of the previous facade. It was hard not to get jaded by so much clutter, epic or not. There were less and less things to mourn with each passing day. The continents were growing thicker, yet emptier, like so many heavy books with so few words inside that were still worth reading. Even the titles were growing less and less discernible. Daring struggled to so much as see her own name, until she ultimately gave up on reading altogether. She was far-sighted, after all.

All the pony could do was rip and tear, and the world kept on splitting, dividing itself perpetually in half before her. By speeding down the shrinking hole, Daring was going everywhere and yet nowhere at once. And deep down into the depths of the abyss that she had made, the pit she couldn't escape nor desired to, she found one breath, a lonesome one, and it had only one wish, one dare:

To go deeper.

Daring plunged, and she shouldn't have been surprised that the fall would eventually brake her. The pain magnified, waking her to a foggy world of twitches and tears. She inhaled sharply, wincing like a pregnant mare from the agonizing waves coursing through her right side. She sat up, rubbed her eyes, and stared at her tattered wing. The haphazard splint had fallen loose overnight; disgustingly bent feathers spread over a pair of flimsily wrapped metal planks. Much of the blood had dried up, but it was obvious she had lost a lot of it overnight. She pondered if her need to eat or drink was somehow related to her need to respirate, but it mattered little. She was alive—painfully alive—and that torture-induced slumber did nothing to settle her pulsating nerves.

Daring ripped off more strips of cloth from her shirt and used it to tie her wings tighter to the metal spokes. She wanted to sob from the pain, but held it in. When she was done, she barely had a shirt left. It was more of a tattered green cape than anything else, and she kept wearing it solely for having pockets to hold her compass, glowstone, and eyeglass case.

Eventually, she finished her task. The pain lingered, but it was gradually numbing, thanks in small part to her having reset the wingbones as best as she could. Catching her breaths, Daring stood up straight, reaching up for a pith helmet that wasn't there. Fidgeting, she pulled loose her eyeglass case. The bifocals inside had gained two new fractures from the recent battle with the golem. She ignored it and glanced instead at the mirror inside the lid of the case.

The reflection was nowhere to be seen. Daring saw nothing but twinkling stars beyond a gray soup of looming mists. Curious, Daring looked up, gawking at her surroundings for the first time since she woke up from fitful slumber.

There was no city left. There was barely even a single hint of the skyscrapers that had filled the landscape like a dense concrete forest before. All that was left was a thick sea of gray rubble lying around Daring Do in dry powdery clumps. A brisk wind blew over the plain in random bursts, kicking up dust and sediment but otherwise affecting little. Squinting towards the distance, Daring tried to make sense of the dull horizon, but it was difficult to discern anything from the immense shadow looming over her.

The pegasus blinked, then looked straight up. At last, her jaw dropped in awe as she took in the source of that shadow. The tower that had begun sprouting out of the golem's dying body when she collapsed was still there, and sometime during her slumber it had morphed into an impossibly tall superstructure.

The stalk was comprised of a twisting assortment of brass pipes and cyclonically interweaving steel bulkheads. On occasion, shallow platforms jutted out of the tower, flimsy and porous. Daring also spotted randomly sprouting copper antennae and jagged spokes of red rust. At some points, the diameter of the tower's stalk thickened, revealing dense cages of superfluous bars that formed spiraling patterns around themselves before closing up once more. Aside from two or three dozen paper-thin support struts running forty-five degrees from the ground to the lower lengths of the stalk, the enormous structure ran lonesomely towards the heavens, like a straight and narrow radio tower of absurd proportions.

As hard as she squinted, she couldn't see the summit of the tower. It wasn't that clouds were obscuring her vision; aside from a thin mist, there was nothing to block a clear view of the night's sky and the glistening stars beyond. The tower was literally a needle piercing its way into space, dwindling boldly beyond the perceivable vanishing point. How the stupidly slender thing didn't somehow collapse from its own weight or topple from the relentless winds blowing at it, the mare was powerless to guess.

With a shudder, she tore her eyes away from the eerily looming megastructure. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out her compass so that she might continue the next leg of her trek. The rose rotated, settled, and pointed her east. Daring blinked, curiously following the path of the arrow in question. It led somewhere beyond the tower. Daring Do knew that she had undergone a great deal of duress, and her body was still coping with both pain and a severe case of disorientation. Regardless, a part of her could have sworn that the golem's body—and the tower in turn—had somehow sprouted north of her.

Ultimately she pocketed the compass away and trotted over the gray sheets of rubble, heading east along a path that took her past the very base of the megastructure. As she strolled along in close proximity to the tower's foundation, she noticed that there was no sign left of the ten story automaton whose bowels had given birth to the otherworldly stalk. In a way, this was something of relief to Daring, and she breathed easier once the image of the tower had vanished altogether from her peripheral vision.

Ten minutes into her stroll, Daring shivered from the chilling winds. Glancing left and right, she felt overwhelmed by how uniform and desolate the flat plains of compacted rubble looked. Gazing out for miles, she saw no discernible hilltop, mountain, plateau, or any other sort of dramatic change to the overall topography. Perhaps it was her weary imagination, but she felt as if there was a point where the horizon completely dropped out from the perceivable world, and that horizon seemed strangely closer than what the veteran explorer was used to. Her mind played tricks, filling her with the sensation of trotting atop the very summit of a gray dome possessing shallow, sloping edges.

Reluctantly, Daring Do came to a stop. She stood in place, her tan brow furrowed. Her confusion out washed the waves of pain still throbbing in her right side. Almost instinctively, she reached for her compass yet again. Popping the case open, she glanced at the compass rose, then let loose an audible gasp.

The thing was pointing in the exact opposite direction. East was behind her.

With a quivering expression, Daring trotted slowly around, all the while staring at her faithful guide. The compass remained pointing in the same direction, and the east arrow was positioned exactly along the path from whence she came, straight pass the base of the stalk.

The mare felt her heart beating straight through to her throat. On nervous hooves, she trotted back, retracing her steps, watching as the needle wobbled with every shift of her limbs, but otherwise stayed stubbornly pointed in the same direction. She arrived at the megastructure's stalk once again, brushing past it like a mailpony might casually approach a post box. Then, as she passed it, the compass twirled dramatically like a spinning top.

Daring froze, as did every blood vessel in her body. As the compass rose rotated to a stop, everything became clear. The east needle was pointing at the tower.

She lifted her eyes to gawk at the structure. Then, with more or less grace, she trotted a full circle around the thing. It frightened her just how little effort it took; if she didn't know better, she would have imagined herself orbiting a perfectly innocuous lamppost, or maybe a flagpole or a spreading oak tree or just about anything but an impossibly tall tower breaking through the veil of the heavens.

All the while, her eyes twitched at the phenomenon that she was witnessing. The compass kept rotating so that its east arrow was constantly, perpetually, and faithfully pointed at the heart of the megastructure looming before her. Daring felt her spine grow cold, as if freezing from the inside out. She stopped and looked at the west horizon behind her—only it wasn't the west horizon, or was it?

The mare was familiar with the concept of not being able to tell up from down; not once did she think she'd ever have to live it. It left her feeling vulnerable. With no cardinal directions to judge anything from, she was the very definition of powerless. She might as well have not had a cutie mark to begin with.

Stifling a foalish whimper, Daring hugged the compass to her chest and clenched her eyes shut. It took her several minutes to compose herself, to not feel as though she had suddenly become a puny flea crawling atop the round handle of a pale gray broomstick, lost in some forsaken starlit ether. When she reopened her eyes, they were moist, but determined. She stared up at the absurd tower, for suddenly it's many bars, spokes, and shallow hoofholds looked indescribably inviting.

With a shudder, Daring prepared once again to do the unthinkable. She pocketed the compass into a pocket of the flimsy neckerchief that her shirt had become, and then she crawled up to the base of the tower like a cat preparing to scratch a narrow post. When she touched a hoof to a row of vertical pipes, the coldness made her jolt. She felt her heart beating, so she threw herself into the motions, wrapping here forelimbs around any beams that she could find, scaling the stalk with as much grace as she could afford. Almost immediately, she could feel the dangerous kiss of the gusting winds, and her feathers twitched, sending a torturous stab through her right side. She paused to weather the pain, hissing through her teeth. Mentally, she reminded herself to leave her wing muscles alone. There was no flying away from this if she were to fall; she might as well erase all concepts of it from her already beleaguered mind.

In patient silence, Daring Do climbed the tower. It proved to be an awkward exercise at first, for the manner in which the beams of metal jutted out of the stalk appeared to be completely random. But, as her climb continued, the pegasus realized that the structure was essentially giving her a hearty cornucopia of handy things to latch onto. The trick was finding a swift and safe path through it all to ascend. She did so with extreme caution initially, weaving her way through cages of bent bars and wobbly antennae. But, as the minutes bled into hours, she increased her pace, not because the task was becoming easier, but rather its tedium was turning into something more manageable, almost even boring.

As a matter of fact, it swiftly occurred to Daring that this was ultimately going to be a severe task in endurance. This came to light with each passing hour, as she glanced down on a fitful impulse, only to see that the world below her had shrunk to a distant sheet of flat gray streaks, all swirling around her as if the bottom of the megastructure was actually rotating, whimsically stirring a shallow bowl of oatmeal.

Daring Do was fearless about a lot of things, the most essential of which was heights. If she couldn't afford to sail for miles above sea level, carried through the clouds by her naked wings alone, then she might as well have hung her archaeology doctorate out to dry.

But this—this was different. She was rapidly climbing up an unimaginably tall structure with no summit in sight. What was more, she was lame; her right wing was utterly useless. One slip of the hoof, and she would plummet like an anvil to the gray butcher's slab below, where she would surely be reduced to something too flimsy to be called "paste."

Daring gnashed at her teeth. She clung now to the tower as if it was a mother's coat. Her head pressed closed to the intricate, insane pipework, just short of nuzzling it. After several deep breaths, she clenched her jaw and resumed her climb, thrusting herself upward with swift, determine tugs of her upper and lower limb muscles.

To her delight, the tower—for as tall as it was—didn't sway a single inch in the intense winds. To her chagrin, however, there were still intense winds. They came in momentary spurts, their frigid gales rippling her mane and tail hairs, threatening to blow the strands straight off their roots. Every so often, she would have to pause, gripping tightly to the mess of metal planks and bars as she waited for the tempests to take their toll.

In a way, it was an inviting sensation, for it eased the throbbing pain in her right side. But such consolation was small. As soon as the drafts dissipated, Daring still had a long way to climb, if even there was something to climb to.

It was perilous looking down, but it was almost just as worse looking up. Everytime Daring tried to squint towards the zenith of her ascent, she saw nothing but the straight and narrow stalk of the tower gliding off into eternity. If there was a ceiling to this mess, it was so far away that she couldn't see it, or perhaps it was not there at all. She pondered over what sort of a cruel and malicious joke it would have been for a path to have been assigned to her, and yet with no perceivable destination.

It didn't help that every time Daring gazed at the stalk above her, it felt to her weary mind as if she was looking upon some sort of inverse horizon. She saw the world as a cylindrical mess of desolate skies all bleeding in a circle around her, and the stalk was the axis upon which the whole universe spun. If she stared too hard, she might go dizzy, and plummet backwards into the oblivion that she knew awaited her below.

The only substance she had to go by was the stars. They twinkled ahead of her, always in sight, always keeping a uniform shape and design. As the pipework and the metal mesh along her ascent constantly changed and morphed, the stars—at least—stayed the same. They became liken unto companions to Daring, and they accompanied her throughout the long haul.

And indeed it was a very, very long haul. Daring knew she had been climbing for an extraordinary amount of time; she simply couldn't tell because there was no change to the daylight. As a matter of fact, it wasn't exactly day or night. If nothing else, Daring could describe the sky hanging around her as perpetual twilight. The heavens hung in dull blue silence, and the stars never hid away or grew any brighter. The pony had long lost the desire to eat, drink, or sleep, so as far as Daring could tell, she was climbing the tower for longer than just a dozen hours. Time rattled together like brittle stones in the bottom of a glass jar, and soon she could no longer measure the rate at which minutes, hours, or even days passed by.

At one point, the comprehension of this alarmed her. She clung to a flimsy platform, somewhere above a cage and below a jutting array of antennae. She had nothing else to mark the moment by. Looking down, she knew the earth lingered below, but all she could make out was a splotch of gray haze, like the faint hint of clouds beyond clouds beyond even more clouds.

Daring's mind spun in circles, attempting to calculate the situation at hoof. Her ascent was steady, albeit slow. She guessed that she was crawling up the tower at the rate of two miles per hour at best. Assuming that she had actually only climbed for no more than twelve hours, then that meant she would have scaled twenty-four miles in less than a day. The troposphere only existed no further than eleven miles from the earth's surface.

Daring wondered how she was even able to breathe. She felt heavy winds and blistering cold air currents, but it was nothing like the unlivable conditions of the stratosphere. On top of that, she knew in her gut that she was going at this for far longer than twelve hours, or even a day. As much as she dreaded the thought of it, she somehow knew that she had been climbing for the better part of a week.

She felt the strong urge to throw up. Blood pumped through her arteries, adrenalized by confusion and panic. Her mind spun just like the compass had paradoxically done far below, ushering her into this frightful venture to begin with. Taking even breaths, she closed her eyes, calmed her nerves as best as she could, and proceeded to do the only thing that made any sense whatsoever at the moment: she continued climbing.

There were times when Daring felt as though she had become one with the tower, as if she was some sort of mechanized unit that was being magnetically pulled towards a nebulous source beyond the vanishing point. It was a queer thought, but one that helped her, in that it kept her hooves clinging faithfully to the metal spokes at all times.

Even that was becoming a frightfully tough venture. Hunger and thirst probably had no meaning, and time itself had vanished from her consciousness, but the mare was still closely acquainted with her senses. And, at the moment, she was starting to lose every one of them. Brought on by the constant tug of gravity, the chilling kiss of the cold winds, and the numbing strain of constant hoofholds, every feeling in her body started to dwindle. Soon, the only thing that held any meaning was pain, specifically that which torturously throbbed through her right side. Apart from the stars, it was the only constant companion to her agonized sojourn.

At some point, days or weeks or perhaps even months into the climb, Daring paused for a much needed respite. This was difficult at best; the widest platform she could find only afforded her less than eighteen inches of wobbling porous metal to perch on. Nevertheless, she planted her rear hooves against it and squatted, clinging to a jutting brass pipe, nuzzling it like a parent's fuzzy fetlock.

Her gray tail danced like a windsock. She couldn't feel it anymore—her scalp and her mane hairs even less so. The shirt was struggling to stay bound around her neck, and it was a miracle that her glowstone and other belongings hadn't plunged to the depths below.

She glanced down at the surface world in question, but could see nothing but lingering grayness, like a sea of spoiled milk churning onwards into infinity. Daring was literally stuck in limbo, clinging to a taut metal tendon between two halves of nothing. The sensation wasn't half as eerie as it was disgustingly familiar.

One sniffle, and the pony's face contorted. A second shudder, and her muzzle caved in completely, grimacing as a tear ran down her cheek, followed by another. She clenched her eyes shut and burrowed her face into the emotionless pipework, crying quietly into the spaces where no echoes would return. She clenched her teeth hard together, shuddering as the urge to hyperventilate ripped through her like an embalmer's knife. When she allowed herself to breathe, everything came in and out of her like merciless gunshots. She bit her bottom lip until it bled, and that finally magnified the pain from her shattered wing. Daring focused on this, drawing it out of her insides like venom from a snake bite. Slowly, the pony's sorrow morphed into anger, and it fed a spark hidden deep inside the darkness that she had known all her life, because that colorless void was the only thing she ever had the affordability to call a "friend."

When her ruby eyes reopened, they were as hard as sharp rocks against a crashing sea. She reached blindly forward and pulled herself up the metal intestine, scaling the rafters of eternity, for it was all she knew how to deal with the end and the beginning of everything, like bookends that had always encapsulated her life, but needed to be spread apart, torn through and exposed, now and forever.

The next length of tower metal that Daring scaled was done so at a feverish pace. She nearly slipped once or twice from the sheer perspiration coating the ends of her hooves, but the stabs of fright only urged her to accelerate further. Eventually, she was leaping from hoofhold to hoofhold, practically throwing herself up the tower in ruthless defiance of gravity. Her vision blurred and refocused, brought upon by the pulsating throb of the blood vessels in her eyes.

Maybe it was her distorted vision, or perhaps it was some deep and innate desire for an end, but Daring swore she saw the hint of a black shape looming lonesomely within the fabric of starlight above. She could make out something solid and round, like the blooming petals of an enormous flower.

Soon, she couldn't make out anything at all, for the world around her was darkening. For so long, there was the faintest hint of an atmospheric haze about the place, but soon even that vanished, replaced instead by stark black inkiness within which the stars swam, constellations that were now brimming all around her, as if whatever semblance of an earth there was underneath Daring vanished altogether, dropping into a bottomless void that always was and yet never was.

How many days, weeks, or even months did it take Daring to get here? She couldn't tell; she could only climb. Thus, it was with complete and utter surprise that she found herself staring into the glossy outline of a scorpion.

The adventurer did a double-take, her serious face scrunching up into an adorable expression of utter confusion. Her ruby eyes blinked. With her hooves hooked over a separate dangling antenna, she leaned her body forward, squinting up close to what turned out to be a sheet of polished granite built into the stalk of the tower. It was a plaque, complete with dark lines engraved to form the rough image of a scorpion.

But it wasn't just some mere illustration. There were dots formed along the engraving, bulbous points that the arachnid design roughly followed. The pony's mind ultimately clicked forth an explanation: it was a star pattern. However, as hazy as her knowledge of astrology was compared to her archaeological gifts, she couldn't recognize it as Scorpio. The arrangement of stars were vastly unique, which appropriated a radically different pose to the scorpion's claw and tails than that which the pony was familiar with. Her only conclusion was that this was supposed to be a different constellation altogether—but... one that didn't exist?

She was so engrossed in thought that she didn't notice the floating blue muzzle until it was laughing at her from beyond the plaque's glossy surface.

With a shriek, Daring's hooves slipped and she fell back. Her left wing shot out, flapping, balancing her body for a few heart-stopping seconds. Then, with a grunt, she lunged forward and clasped onto the metal antennae again. She hung there, limp and panting, until she summoned the strength to launch an angry glare at the granite plate.

The reflection smiled, waving playfully at her. As it's giggling head tossed mutely back and forth, Daring noticed something. She blinked, then squinted harder. Indeed, there was no hint of gray left to be found in the reflection's flowing mane. From bang to bang, the figure's hair shone with every color of the rainbow, from red to yellow to green to blue to violet. For something so unkempt, it was remarkably beautiful, and it shone off her tail as the figure spun about and soared out of view of the scorpion plaque's reflective surface.

Daring gasped, jolting from where she hung off the tower. She looked to her left and above, instinctively following the movement that the blue figure had made. Before she could punish herself for such a blatantly stupid gesture, she saw the sliver of something reflective just forty feet above her and towards the far end of the cylindrical stalk.

Curious and breathless, Daring scurried up. She roped her way through a bush of metal bars and past an erratic array of porous platforms. At last, she made it to the level where the silver of reflective material still glinted in the starlight. Propping her rear limbs atop two crooked pipes, she stared evenly with the plaque.

The engraving depicted a slithering snake, its scaled body intertwining about a mess of tiny stars, with a large one positioned at the serpent's head. These designs were not alone; a smirking blue face had been waiting patiently, its ruby eyes matching Daring's own.

The pegasus blinked curiously, hanging before the plaque in silence.

The blue figure lost the waiting game. Rolling its ruby eyes, it suffered through a cute yawn, gazed at Daring with a bored expression, then pointed directly up. With a flurry of blue feathers, the reflection shot heavenward.

Daring tilted her head up. She saw another plaque, this time fifty feet up and slightly to the right. She climbed briskly, as if afraid the sapphiric phantom would somehow be gone before she got a chance to reach her next destination.

When she reached the plaque, she saw the image of a bear rearing up on its hindquarters while stretching two savage paws up to strike some unseen foe. Once more, it was nothing at all like Ursa Major, Minor, or any other constellation Daring could recall. She looked at the constellation illustrated across the granite surface, then glanced behind her at the stars hanging all around. She could spot no discernible pattern from the cosmos wrapping around her and the tower.

When she glanced back at the plaque, she again nearly jumped. The reflection was there, leaning a lethargic chin against its hoof. Upon noticing Daring's attention, the figure smirked, spun circles with its other hoof, then floated gently upwards.

Daring took this as a far softer invitation than before. She crawled towards where she saw the next plaque, however much more slowly this time. She found that the blue figure in the reflection was keeping an even pace with her from granite slab to granite slab, as if the two of them were no longer alone but rather scaling the tower together, working towards each destination in tandem. In such a fashion, Daring came upon several more constellations, each marked by seemingly random creatures: a dragon, a sea serpent, a pair of wolves, a hydra, and a lion.

One plaque, however, made her pause, so much so that the blue reflection had to swim back and tap silently against the other side of the slab, frowning with utter impatience. Daring couldn't help it, though, for the plaque's stars were mapping out the rough outline of a winged pony, a pegasus, much like herself. A nervous knot formed in the base of Daring's throat.

When she resumed climbing, she was startled to bump her head into something. With a grunt, she rubbed her scalp through her mane, then looked directly up.

There were no stars to be seen; the sky was utterly black. This startled the breath completely out of Daring Do until she came to realize something: she had reached the bottom of a grand, circular platform. Looking out at both ends from where she hung, she saw where the field of bright stars completely ceased, as if running into a blacker-than-black shape that loomed over the explorer's fuzzy ears, or the entirety of the tower's stalk for that matter.

Chewing anxiously on her lip, she glanced down at the plaque. The blue figure was there again, smiling mischievously as it pointed "up" and "up" and "up" before flitting off in that direction. Fumbling, Daring hung onto the stalk with one hoof and felt directly above with another. Her hoof struck cold, dead metal. The underside of the structure—whatever it could have been—was beset with many rungs and vertical antennae and loose pipes that jutted into the pegasus' blind reach.

She huddled there in the dark shadow of the unexplained, attempting to wrack her brain. Then, with a heavy wince, she remembered her glowstone. She pondered if she had indeed been climbing that tower for weeks. If so, perhaps it could have explained her sudden absent-mindedness.

Not wasting anymore time, the pegasus grabbed the glowstone from her shirt's pocket and breathed into it. A pale shine glinted off a glossy black ceiling looming above her. Daring shone the light around, and she discovered with mixed relief that the round structure stretched no further than a hundred feet in diameter. Whatever the thing was—a platform or a floor or a dome—it was almost anticlimactically small. She wasn't about to complain, however, because judging from the hanging forest of metal rungs and pipes stretched all across the thing's underside, there was only one way to make her way to the edge.

Gulping, Daring breathed onto the glowstone one last time, pocketed it into her raggedy shirt, and began flexing her forelimbs. Still clinging her rear limbs to a mess of antennae positioned below the "pegasus" plaque, she boldly reached out—practically lunging into the black air.

Her hooves slapped over a pair of dangling pipes, and her lower half swung loose. She shrieked, a little too girlishly for her own comfort, but ultimately found herself dangling with relative security from the tower's looming ceiling above. Taking deep, even breaths, she timed her muscles with the swings of her body and flung her left hoof out, followed by her right. In such a daredevilish fashion, the pony monkey-climbed her way from rung to rung, pipe to pipe, antenna to antenna.

She resembled a brown beetle crawling upside down across the underside of a blooming black daisy. She only wished that it felt quite so charming. An entire eon's worth of vertically climbing the epic tower was only now starting to take its toll on her, for this was the one and only true test of Daring's upper body strength.

The fact of the matter was: she had gone beyond exercising for this. The days and days of agonizing ascension had only weakened her, and she could feel her shoulder muscles starting to buckle and tear. Her entire body shook, and she felt as though she could slip at any second.

Panic wracked through her body. Her wings flexed and unflexed on instinct, which only made the situation worse on account of the horrid pain. Hyperventilating, she twisted completely around, deciding to crawl back towards the stalk from which she came. It was then that the pegasus truly, truly had a reason to shriek.

The stalk was gone. All of the pipework, all of the metal framework, all of the intestines of copper and steel—even the granite plaques with their cryptic constellations—had completely and utterly vanished. She was clinging to the underside of a black, black disc floating loosely in the cosmic ether. And yet still, gravity bit at her hooves, making the blood in her aching limbs bubble and spurt.

Daring Do suppressed a whimper. Gritting her teeth past an onslaught of cold sweat and terror, she pivoted around, almost slipping twice as her doubly numb hooves struggled to cling to the flimsy rungs above. One forelimb at a time, she swung herself towards what she perceived to be an edge to the suddenly floating platform. Each movement was made in spastic little jerks, lacking the grace of a true adventurer. Daring didn't care; she fled towards the dark, upside-down horizon like a frightened child, swinging as swiftly as her pulsating hooves could carry her. Her glowstone was starting to dim; she felt like she would end up falling into that ravenous void of stars forever.

At last, she reached the end, and she didn't know quite what to do with herself. She had only one rung far enough to cling from and yet somehow get within reaching distance of the platform's edge. Defying all odds, she wrapped the crooks of both hooves around the one metal pipe. Then, with nostrils flaring, she let loose a long growl for fortitude, then let go of one hoof. Hanging from a single limb, Daring twisted around, and acrobatically re-gripped the rung with her free leg so that she was dangling in such a way to pull herself evenly with the platform's edge, facing it.

This next step she performed with a psychotic burst of energy. She wasn't entirely sure how her body was capable of doing it, but she vaguely recalled flinging herself upwards with both forelimbs, like a leaping orangutan. Somehow, her hooves caught the edge of the platform, and to her immeasurable joy, the metal surface was thin enough to afford her a hoofhold. Not wasting any time with thinking twice about her luck, she eagerly pulled, tugged, and ultimately hoisted herself up on what turned out to be even ground. As she did so, her body was assaulted by a pale light, forcing her eyes to squint.

She didn't reopen them immediately, but rather she stayed there, lying on her back, feeling immeasurable relief as blood circulated back to her exhausted extremities. For once, gravity afforded her a chance to relax, and she relished every second of it, murmuring soundless prayers of thanks to the cosmos looming above.

At last, the pegasus sat up, opening her eyes to take in the nature of her surroundings.

What Daring saw nearly made her jaw fall all the way back to the unseen earth below.