• 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 Hellish Heavens

The round metal platform floated amidst a black fabric of stars, and situated in the very middle of this platform was a round seat, a sunken throne of sorts, affixed with a pair of thick levers about half the size of an average pony. Surrounding this seat was a ring of brightly shimmering stones, numbering eleven in total. Each lit stone possessed a different emblem, each matching the "constellations" that Daring had seen engraved across the plaques during her last three hundred feet of climbing the now-nonexistent tower to get there.

Daring paced across the platform until she stood in the center of the bright stones. A pale glow also emanated from the sunken seat in the middle of the platform, and it shone with otherworldly luster across the glossy surfaces of the slabs and their various engravings. Daring paused to look at the familiar images, spaced apart seemingly at random: a lion, a sea serpent, a pair of wolves, a dragon, a scorpion, a bear, a snake, a pegasus, and a hydra. However, she did take notice of two emblems on the platform that she had not seen before during her climb up the tower. One was that of a moth, a stone that seemed to be glowing particularly brighter than the rest, and the other was the illustration of a book.

The coat hairs on the back of Daring Do's neck stood on end. She immediately scampered towards this last stone and slid onto her knees to examine it closely. Unlike the other ten slabs, the book emblem was not glowing. Furthermore, the chiseled lines didn't appear to possess any deep, starry points to suggest that the book represented a constellation of any kind. It was simply the outline of an open tome, as inviting and as insulting as ever to Daring's quivering eyes.

The mare flared her nostrils and stood up, rubbing her chin in thought. She glanced repeatedly between the dull book and the ten bright stones. Twirling around, she once again studied how equidistantly spaced the slabs were from the seat in the platform's very center.

Inevitably, she trotted towards the throne. Her curiosity outweighed the throbbing pain of her wing as she knelt down and gazed at the seat closely. The chair was plush, with velvety cushions that didn't appear to belong there, surrounded by so much garrish metal and marble. Daring Do's eyes traveled along the pair of thick metal levers situated directly in front of the throne.

The explorer had always been surviving off of impulse, and this case was no different. Easing her aching limbs, she slid down into the seat, wincing a little bit in expectation of an uncomfortable sensation. However, as Daring sat down upon the plush throne, she was relieved at how perfectly it fit her, as if she was the only pony in the universe that this contraption was built for. She flexed her lower limbs, feeling as they reached all the way towards the bottom of the alcove in which she was positioned. From the pony's perspective, the surface of the platform was at about shoulder height, and she could look about in three-hundred-and-sixty degrees to see all eleven of the lit and unlit slabs facing her.

Next, Daring focused on the levers in front of her. She slid one hoof out, then the other. Nervously, she felt along the metal rods until the crooks of her forelimbs fit snugly around the grips at the end. She did nothing at that point; she simply felt the apparatuses at her disposal. Just like the chair, they were seemingly built to her individual specifications.

Daring's ruby eyes traveled up. She noticed for the first time that the chair was currently facing one slab in particular: the stone with the constellation of a moth. From her perspective, both levers appeared to frame the image, and the moth engraving glowed considerably brighter than the rest of the slabs.

The adventurer sat there, suspended in the womb of utter silence, letting the inky seconds limp by as she tongued her lips in thought. With a deep breath of resolve, she pushed forward on the levers.

Nothing happened.

With a raised eyebrow, she tugged at the levers, attempting to yank them left and right.

Again, nothing happened.

Stifling an annoyed growl, she pulled back. Both levers gave way at once with a rattling of gears, forcing the mare to gasp in surprise. She flew back into her seat, shuddering from the pain in her right wing. As her agonized vision came back into focus, she saw the slab in front of her fluctuating. With the sound of ringing bells, the bright image of a moth dimmed, its lights draining completely from the starry engraving situated before the pony's seat.

Simultaneously, something was happening in the heavens. Daring Do looked up, and her jaw dropped in surprise.

Several of the stars had clustered together and were moving about... flitting about... flapping about the heavens. A nebulous array of cosmic light had come to life, and it was darting lazy, playful circles around the black horizon of the circular platform with almost childish whimsy.

Daring turned and stared as much as her position in the seat would allow her. While the giant, glowing "moth" continued its erratic pattern, a strange thought struck the mare. She turned back to look at the stone with the insect's engraving on it. The slab was as dead as a grave marker, but there was something else of interest. The cosmos situated just above the stone—directly in front of Daring from where she was seated—was completely devoid of stars. It was as if a giant black swath had been sliced in a perfectly vertical fashion from the majestic horizon, turning that portion of the sky into beautiful, barren nothingness.

Curious, Daring leaned to her side in thought. Without meaning to, she had yanked the left lever aside, and almost immediately the sunken seat rotated left with a dull grinding noise. Daring gasped, watching fitfully as she passed the image of a lion, a pegasus, and a pair of wolves. Panicking slightly, she yanked the left lever back into an upright position. The revolving seat stopped on a dime, and once more everything was quiet.

She sat still, fidgeting, watching as the starry image of a moth fluttered above her. Chewing on her lip, Daring stood up in her seat and looked behind. The slab of a book rested, and there was something different about it. Immensely curious, Daring experimentally twisted the right lever aside. On command, the seat rotated to its right, grinding on otherworldly gears. She waited as it slowly spun one hundred and eighty degrees. When she was at last facing the slab with the book, she yanked the right lever upright. The throne froze, facing the book.

Leaning forward, Daring studied the slab from where she sat. Indeed, there was something different about the book's engraving: it glowed ever so slightly now. It was very hard to tell from the combined light of the chair, slabs, and stars, but a smidgen of dimness has funneled up into the surface of the stone, crawling across the lower lines of the tome's engravings like tiny luminescent ants.

Not one to waste time, Daring gripped the twin levers tighter and thrusted both of them forward towards the book engraving.

Nothing happened.

Remembering how the moth constellation was "freed," Daring yanked both levers back. She was immediately punished by the cacophonous sound of cracking gears. Fearing that the platform might buckle and explode, she swiftly tossed both levers back into their upright positions. She sat there, panting, glaring at the book with angry eyes.

After a few seconds, she calmed down, and she allowed her thoughts to pierce the present moment of frustration. She looked over her left shoulder, once again catching the stars of the moth dancing amidst other stars. After a minute of heavy contemplation, Daring looked over her right shoulder, this time glancing along the many glowing faces of slabs. At last, she yanked the right lever aside again.

The chair rotated right, gliding her perspective slowly across the galleria of constellations. When, at last, she stumbled upon the image of a scorpion—like she had seen earlier along her climb—she slid both levers upright. As the throne stopped, she took a breath and yanked both instruments forward, straight at the scorpion.

The slab in question lit up brighter than the others, as if it somehow knew that it had been "selected" by the machine.

Daring paused. She looked to her left, catching the fluttering moth in her peripheral vision. Then, in one methodical motion, she yanked both levers back.

The scorpion emblem pulsed brightly. With the sound of bells, all light wormed out of the engraving entirely. Daring watched as the sky before her shook and shifted. With giant arachnid limbs of gas clouds and swirling galaxies, an enormous scorpion crawled out of a niche in the sky. It immediately hung a left, skittering across the glittering canvas of night, until it found its way to where the moth was innocently perched. All it took was one swing of its barbed tail, and the moth was punctured down the center. Several stars quivered, then faded. One wing at a time, the moth dissipated, vomiting its gases into the ether beyond the pony's frame of vision.

As the constellation completely died, Daring heard a loud noise. She flung a glance behind her, only to find that a beam of bright blue light had shot out of the top of the moth slab. The pulsing pale beam sliced towards the heavens, piercing some unfathomably distant spot where no stars dared to shine. The sudden illumination almost made up for the blackness that was left in the moth constellation's absence, but it was hard to tell from all of the motions that the ravenous scorpion was making as it cavorted across the heavens in the insect's absence.

Daring eventually stopped staring at the infinitely stretched beam of blue light. Glancing back at the scorpion slab, she noticed that it was as dull as the moth stone had been just seconds ago. While her ears twitched with the sounds of distant thunder, Daring yanked left on her levers, forcing the chair to rotate slowly in that direction. She passed slab after slab, until she at last faced one in particular: the snake engraving.

Stopping the throne there, she flung both levers forward. The snake lines lit up brightly, their starry points shivering with anticipation. Holding her breath, Daring yanked both levers back. Almost immediately, a vertical panel of bright scaley stars coalesced above her view of the slab, then slithered around the heavens until they found the scorpion. With one savage thrust, the serpent sunk its fangs into the arachnid, crumpling its cosmic carapace before gobbling the thing whole.

Daring heard a crack of thunder to her right. She glanced over and saw the scorpion slab shooting a pale blue beam skyward, joining its insect sibling's as it stabbed the heavens. The sound of thunder intensified, and for a moment there, Daring thought that some horrid thing or another was coming to life from beneath the surface of the platform.

However, as the rumbling continued, intensifying to a frightening degree, the pony realized that the sound was coming from directly above her. She tilted her head up, staring straight into the zenith. Her breath left her as she caught sight of something glowing, something burning, something... falling.

The twin beams of light weren't stabbing; they were attracting. Whatever possessed the stones to shoot their energy into the sky was also commanding them to tug something towards the lonely platform floating in the heavens, and it was tugging the object at a dramatically increasing rate. Daring couldn't tell whether it was a meteor or a comet or something worse. Furthermore, she didn't have the affordability to tell, for she knew that she was now stuck in some sort of infernal race against time.

She looked all around, craning her neck feverishly. At last, Daring saw the "book" stone. She rotated the platform towards it, noticing as she came about that the slab with the tome engraving was glowing a bit brighter than before. Unleashing the scorpion on the moth and the snake on the scorpion was evidently having some sort of inexplicable effect.

On a whim, Daring flung both levers at the book, then yanked them back. Again, she was punished with the ear-splitting sound of disagreeable gears. Grunting, she relaxed the levers and tried to ease her panting breaths. The rumbling grew louder from above, and she felt a faint vibration running through the grips of her instruments.

Standing up in her seat, head darting around, Daring studied each slab fitfully, one by one. She eventually settled on the image of a bear. Rotating around, she came to a stop before it, then activated the stone with both levers. The slab dissipated, giving way to an alternative ursa constellation that rolled loose, roared, and stomped its way across the cosmos until it snatched the serpent up in its jaws and tore it to starry strips. The sky blackened even further, replaced only by the snake's stone shooting a bright beam into the distant object above.

Daring's ears shook from the vibrations, but she didn't let up. Rotating slowly, she gazed at each of the slabs until she settled upon the image of a lion. She threw both levers at it, then yanked them back. Her breath left her in a gasp as the gears inside the platform rattled angrily, just like both times with the book.

The pony's face grew pale with panic. She looked in disbelief at the lion engraving, then glanced to her sides for other options. She saw the image of a pegasus and decided to take her chances. Rotating towards it, she gave the roaming bear-of-stars a nervous glance, then activated the equine engraving.

Again, the machine refused to work. Daring Do cursed under her breath, her heart racing with each bass reverberation that swam down from the plummeting object. Fidgeting, she looked around, then studied the dull image of a bear once again. Her mind struck a placid note, dreaming up images of coniferous forests and snowy hilltops and animal tracks. Then, with a knowing breath, she rotated the seat around until she faced the engraving of two wolves. Flinging both levers forward and back, she activated the slab.

With success, the engraving dimmed, and the stars gave birth to twin canines who howled before sprinting in opposite directions across the heavens. They came together on either side of the bear, launching themselves at its legs and flanks, tearing it to nebulous bits. A beam of light shot victoriously into the air, announcing the bear's death, but Daring wasn't wasting any time. She was already coming to a stop in front of the lion, activating it with careful jerks of her lever.

The lion roared to life, leaping across the black chasms in the sky until it ripped through the throat of one wolf and slashed open the intestines of another. As it bathed in the starry blood of its prey, Daring lingered once more on the image of a pegasus. She chewed on the edge of a tan hoof, glancing fitfully every now and then at the "book" slab. The engravings that made up the tome were halfway lit, though she could barely see from how much the platform was starting to vibrate.

The meteor up above was screaming closer and closer. The air heated up as Daring swiveled the chair around and round. At last, she settled upon the Hydra. With twin levers, she brought it to life. The creature with many heads lumbered around the darkening horizon, much too slowly for Daring's comfort. Nevertheless, its multiple snouts snatched up a separate leg of the lion and ripped the poor feline into quarters, spilling cosmos up into the ether along with a beam of bright light.

It was getting hard to spot the constellations from the sheer brightness of the sapphiric columns all around her, each of which pulled and tugged on the malevolent shard above with greater intensity. Nevertheless, Daring spun, flinging both levers at the sea serpent and then flinging them back.

The gears rattled, refusing to budge. Daring grunted, slapping the instrument panel in frustration. The pain of her impacting hoof was nothing compared to the ache of her eardrums, for the meteor was only a few hoofball lengths away now. The entire platform lit up with crimson light as Daring fumbled over the nature of her latest error. She looked at her last available options: the sea serpent, the dragon, and the pegasus.

Fitfully, she rotated once more towards the equine shape, but somewhere between the heated air and the deafening thunder, she changed her mind, instead deciding to roll past it until she fixated on the dragon. She flung the levers forward and back. Success: the dragon flapped its glimmering wings and swept briskly over the dark sky, snatching the hydra up in its talons before eating its eight-chambered heart out.

The air was heating up to a hellish degree, almost melting the tourniquet off of Daring's injured wings. Sweating profusely, she swung towards the sea serpent, all the while keeping the pegasus curiously in her peripheral vision. When she next activated the slab, a gigantic leviathan burst out of the starry depths, snatching the dragon easily in its jaws and splashing back into the rolling darkness.

By now, all was fire and insanity. The seat was starting to steam in a foggy circle around her. It burned her to remain seated, so she perched on the edge of the cushion with the tips of her hooves, gripping the levers in spite of their scalding touch. Gritting her teeth, she swiveled once more towards the pegasus, watching as bright humps of the sea serpent flickered and splashed all around her and just beyond the penumbra of the falling meteor's blight.

Daring's heart stopped. She gnashed her teeth, her tears evaporating as soon as they came loose. Living up to her name, she brazenly abandoned the pegasus engraving, spinning the chair on what was left of its gears towards the brightly-lit book, and activating it instead.

For half-a-second, she hung in nervous silence, but then the tome's engraving drained blissfully. The stars unfolded like a giant manuscript, sucking everything out of the remaining heavens with the power of an enormous vortex. The sea serpent had nowhere left to swim; it thrashed and writhed in panic as it was ultimately swallowed up by the book. Daring couldn't see the starry clusters closing from all of the flames and debris shooting down from above, but by this time she had already swiveled the chair towards the pegasus and flung the levers about before they could snap off their hinges.

The final beams of light shot towards the sky, enveloping the incoming meteor in a cocoon of blue energy. She couldn't spot what was happening to the pegasus engraving, but it no longer mattered. In a world without stars, she was the constellation, and she flung herself out of the seat with renewed purpose, darting across the red hot metal platform towards where she last saw the book slab.

She was rewarded for her faith, for the stone had opened like an enormous nutshell. A book lay on its side, and its cover was already catching fire from the heat of the moment. Daring barely saw a title before singe marks overcame it: "Daring Do and the Hellish Heavens." She flung the book open, but she didn't even have to shred the pages apart this time. She simply sat there and held the open novel overhead, allowing the descending heat to burn its pages into brittle ash.

As it did so, the book exploded in her grasp, firing one final beam of powerful blue light into the heart of the falling stone. Just meters before it could have crushed the pony into a pulp, the meteor exploded. Daring shrieked, for she was caught up in the catastrophe, flying amidst the remaining shards of a metal platform and an alien mountain. All gravity was gone, along with direction and meaning.

With no stars left, the only place Daring had to go was everywhere and nowhere. The sheer terror of the moment washed over her, but she was no longer drowning in it. Instead, she curled that darkness around her like a duvet and allowed her eyelids to mimic the emptiness that the universe had stripped out from underneath her hooves.