• Published 27th Jul 2013
  • 5,300 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 Desert of Desolation

Daring was hot, sweaty, and miserable; she barely noticed.

Her first four hours through the desert were spent leisurely, or as leisurely as she could afford, with the pegasus adventurer gazing left and right as she alternated between trotting across the shifting dunes and flying over sporadically dispersed scraps of metal. The sense of awe that overcame her upon seeing those rusted ruins was too intense to shrug off, and Daring found herself gliding in literal circles over one piece of half-submerged structure or another.

Chunks of abandoned machinery were lying everywhere. No matter how many rolling hills of sand Daring scaled, she found more and more of the materials dotting the landscape. Some of the pieces were destroyed beyond repair, yielding nothing but scraps of sundered plates with the rivets spilling loose in the amber sand. Others were eerily intact: giant cogwheels, broken pistons, bent levers, and crooked conveyor belts. Daring even once flew along the spilled length of massive chains, each link four times the size of her body, as they roped on and on for hundreds of meters.

All the while, a bright golden sun baked her from above. Unlike the swamp, this desert punished with a dry heat, and Daring would travel for miles without realizing the extent to which she was being sapped of strength. Thankfully, there were enough pieces of scrap to cast a shade, and she sat herself beneath them every other hour, squatting on folded legs as she recollected her breaths as well as her senses.

At some point, around noontime, Daring relaxed beneath a pair of enormous gears leaning against each other along the southeast edge of a sloping sand dune. From where the mare sat, she scanned the horizon, trying to make sense of the enormous spires shooting up like missiles of rock. They were unlike any mountains Daring had seen, and the shadows that they cast from the roaming sun were otherworldly and slender, like rigid black tentacles knifing coldly across the nebulous orange world.

The desert was not the same in one blink as it was in the next. Daring watched steadily as curtains of sand rose and fell, being blown across the arid realm like a second skin. She concentrated on a specific section of landscape, witnessing heaps of rusted chain—hidden just half-an-hour ago—become exposed to the glittering sunlight as the dune they were sunk in rolled south, blown to obscurity by a wayward wind.

Whatever could have made those gnarled intestines of forsaken junk, the pegasus was at a loss to speculate. She cast her thoughts off with a shrug of her wings, focusing instead on the clamshell eyeglass container that she was rolling over and over in her hooves. She lost count of how many glances she took at the mirror, at her reflection, at the three colors that dangled off her brow like an alien brand. She examined her tail hairs with equal vigor, and again the yellow and green and blue hues flickered to her.

She looked back at her tail without the aid of the mirror; her hairs were just as gray as the day she was foaled. The mare's nostrils flared. She closed the container with finality and moved to drop it back into her shirt's pocket.

Something about the slender little box stood out, stabbing her in her peripheral vision. Curious, the mare squinted at the box, her eyes focusing on the name plastered across the silver surface: "Professor Do – ... Institute for ...."

The pony groaned. She ran a hoof over her face and shook her head, as if overcome by a dizzying sensation. Once more, she glanced at the container. She saw her name, but the words after the title were fuzzy for some reason, like they had been etched out by the swamp water and snow and sand that had punished Daring for hours throughout her journey.

It's not as though she absolutely had to see the words on that box. Daring knew that she taught classes at the Neigh York Institute. She knew that she had a professional doctorate in History and Archaeology. However, the more she tried looking at the box, the more it made her dizzy, sick even. Rather than throw up, Daring pocketed the container away, and left her troubling thoughts like she left that shady spot, with a gallop that broke into a swift flight, sending her east against the warm winds.

As the sun sloped towards the western horizon, Daring threaded past the bizarre, thin spires of stone that she had previously gawked at from a distance. Up close, the formations turned out to be even stranger, with stone diameters so thin that the mare couldn't comprehend how they stood against their own weight. As she flew past their eastern sides, she found possible explanations as to why. The spires were attached to other similar steeples of rock. Bridges of taut metal chains and iron plates fused the mountainous shards together, so that they resembled a series of enormous poles connected by rusted telephone wires.

Daring looked to her left and right, to the north and to the south, and she saw that the horizons were chock full of jutting formations—hundreds of them—and every single one connected by thin bridges of metal reinforcement in various degrees of decay and disrepair. She even had to duck low to dodge a dangling structure or two. At one point, she slowed her flight, hovering fixedly around a series of interconnected spires, awed at their decrepit complexity. Daring spun around, and she felt as though she was in a forest of shattered earth. Some civilization at some point in time must have gone through an extraordinary amount of effort to patch it all back together, like amateur surgeons trying to sew up a horrendously gaping wound.

Daring flew east again, this time gazing straight down as she passed over a series of thin ravines sandwiched between the jutting shards of rock. She saw more machine parts there, bent levers and rusted gears, all collecting thickly in the steep canyons. The chunks lay randomly on their side like giant-sized coins having rattled slid down between a wall and a couch. These chasm junkyards were untouched by sand, guarded as they were by the jutting spires all around them. Daring dipped low enough to closely skim a trench running from west to east. Here, she spotted loose, threadbare conveyor belts and oxidized nuts and bolts the size of cattle.

Gaining altitude once again, Daring cleared a final wall of spires, and felt herself blinded by a deep valley of smooth, polished granite. She squinted her eyes against the reflected light of the sunset, and as her vision cleared, she realized that the horizon ahead of her was completely flat, save for one rigid shadow emerging in the east, dozens of miles away. She judged that it must have been a structure of sorts; something of extreme importance, even though the enormous distance between her and the edifice obfuscated its true scale.

She slowed her flight to look behind her. Not only had the jutting spires stopped completely, but they formed a nearly perfect wall that stretched in a curved fashion from the north to south, bleeding far beyond the visible vanishing point. The pegasus' jaw dropped as she realized that the jagged mountains must have been the edge of some unbelievably huge crater, and she was just now entering the body of such an epic circle.

Curious, Daring flapped her wings harder and harder. She ascended, flying above the misty clouds that stretched over the desolate world, reintroducing her to comfortably cool air as she took a grand survey of the landscape. To her amazement, she detected a noticeable curve in the wall of spiked peaks. Even at her height, it was impossible to see how far the spires went, but it was obvious to her that they formed a nearly perfect ring around the landscape she was now entering. Yet again, in the center of this arid nothingness, Daring spotted the single structure. It was a tall six-sided monstrosity, looming like an black tumor in the middle of so much brown wasteland.

Taking a deep breath, Daring dove steeply towards the flat earth below. She anticipated a warm blast of air to welcome her back to sea level; instead it was cold as a grave. She realized that the sun had set so far that it was currently below the line of mountain peaks to the west. For miles, she glided in the dim penumbra of the dying day, and when she reached the edge of the afternoon's last light, the golden rays had at last dwindled.

The desert after dark was like a bone-chilling kiss. Daring's wings were getting numb just trying to keep herself aloft in the frigid air. She needed a place to land and take shelter for the night. With chattering teeth, she surveyed the black world beneath her. Shadows shifted against the desolation, and she detected the hint of rigid shapes. Descending upon them, she could smell rust in the air. Her hooves landed on glacier-cold rock, and she trotted anxiously towards the structures. She discovered in the blossoming starlight what appeared to be a hollow box of sorts, half-collapsed, as if having landed from an enormous height. She pondered if something had somehow tossed it there, as it had tossed every single piece of machinery spread all throughout the forsaken wasteland.

Nevertheless, she found a niche between the earth and a slanted wall of the metal machinery. There, she lay down, trying to warm her hooves. She had lost all of her flammable materials during her ordeal in the mountaintop temple, and the only thing of use at her disposal was the enchanted glowstone in her pocket. So, desperate for anything that might bring the feeling back to her limbs, she held the thing in between both hooves and breathed on the little blue shard.

When it lit up, it nearly blinded her. Daring hissed in pain and surprise. After a few blinks, she realized that the stone wasn't the only thing glowing. Curious, she glanced around, seeing that the glow was spreading away from her in all directions like moisture from an overturned bucket. It took her a minute or two to realize that it was the sand itself that was glowing, colored with the same pale blue aura as the shard, as if the enchanted rock had magically sparked the sediment to life somehow.

What's more, the glow had a warming sensation to it. Daring spotted pinpricks of light, brighter than the rest, nestled in the sand like seeds waiting to bloom. When the dust blew in the wind, it made effluent bands of swirling sapphiric light, spiraling through the air like wayward comets.

Curiosity overwhelmed her weariness, and eventually Daring stood up, holding the glowing shard upwards in the crook of her hoof. As she waved the enchanted rock around, the luminescent sand spread even further, eventually taking on a shifting path that swooped north, then bent eastward in a formation that was far too deliberate to be natural.

Furrowing her brow, Daring took wing and slowly flew over the landscape, waving her shard left and right like a flashlight. More and more dust caught "aflame" before her in a wide, rolling band. It occurred to her that she must have ignited some sort of leyline hidden within the desert, something that was waiting for an ingredient such as her glowstone to come back to life. As she slowly exposed the hidden path in gentle sweeping motions, it swam like a snake east, coasting up and over the dunes and threading through fallen chunks of rusted machinery.

For hours, Daring followed the glowing path, quietly marveling as it rivaled the tranquil shine of the nebulous stars hanging overhead. She felt for a moment as though she was flying between two cosmic spheres, with a milky river of lazy stars carrying her towards some fateful dreamscape.

It wasn't long before she noticed shimmering bands in her peripheral vision. Gasping, Daring looked to her left and right. More and more lines of enchanted dust were converging on her path, ignited by the proximity of her stone as she flew closer to whatever destination was looming dimly ahead of her. She flew higher to get a better look at the phenomenon, discovering an interconnecting web of dusty bands, like cold blue octopus limbs coming together for some otherworldly purpose.

At last, she reached what must have been the destination, judging from how brightly the intersecting bands of sand shimmered against the dark of night. Like pale blue shark fins emerging from the depth, a village of concrete slabs shifted into view. The enchanted sands glimmered off their pallid surfaces, as if they were made of moon dust, perfect for catching the shine of a passing meteorite. Daring touched down before them, her hooves sinking into the glowing dust, her skin tingling from the luminescent powder settling all around her.

She stood stock still, curiously observing the veritable graveyard of a town that had appeared in the middle of that onyx wasteland. After a few minutes, she trotted forward, her ruby eyes darting across the shifting floor as she saw the sand dancing in response to each of her hoofsteps. Eventually, she rounded the nearest structure, discovering another, far taller slab of concrete standing straight like a tombstone in the center of the abandoned settlement. The monolithic wall was curved, and Daring was just then facing the bent side. She trotted around until she met up with the concave end, and there she spotted something that contrasted with the rest of the bizarre landscape.

A lean-to of petrified wood stood within the starshade of the curved slab, erected countless eons ago, or so Daring estimated. Splintery bits of weathered oak hung loosely off the edges where the porous beams met, with bent nails doing their damnedest to keep the whole mess together. She was afraid to even breathe on the thing, or else the whole shack might fall apart.

Nevertheless, with brave steps, she trotted forward, ducking under a loose rafter or two as she waved her enchanted shard into the interior of the windswept hovel. The sand that made up the floor lit up in swirling bands, filling the tiny niche with a pale glow. She saw the remnants of a chair, a bookcase, two cots, and several wooden containers. All of the boxes had fallen into utter disrepair over the centuries, and she had every reason to believe that there were more trunks and crates at that location once, but time and desert wind had swept them out from under the shade of both the wood and concrete.

Daring's nostrils flared. In blank thought, she found herself peering into a dusty corner of the lean-two. She fixated on a patch of sandy floor for over a minute, at first not knowing why she was doing so. Then, as she snapped out of it, Daring discovered that she was staring at a half-crumbled soup bowl. Not long after that, she realized why she was staring.

The mare wasn't hungry, not even remotely. As she brought a hoof up to rub her belly, she realized that she couldn't even remember the last time that she craved food. Had it been days? Weeks? Months?

The pony tongued her cheeks and the roof of her mouth. She opened and closed her jaws several times, pursing her lips.

She wasn't thirsty either. She hadn't eaten or drank anything because she had no desire to, no need. She remembered sleeping, or at least having tried to sleep, and even those were hectic experiences at best, something hounded by fitful visions of bodies in the darkness, accompanied with voices, laughing and cheering and giggling voices. Did Daring even manage sleeping at all? Did she even dream? Was she dreaming then?

Daring trotted in a full circle, waving her enchanted stone around, studying the way in which the ethereal bands of light spun cyclonic patterns in the sand beneath her. Everything was too fantastical to be real, but before Daring could panic, she came to realize that she knew nothing more and nothing less, and that was what had carried her for such a grand distance to begin with.

With a determined expression, Daring clenched her jaw, pivoted until she was facing east, and marched straight out of the dark enclosure. Accompanied by serpentine bands of enchanted dust, she continued trotting towards the thick black horizon beyond. The darkness didn't last long, for her bold trot pierced straight through it, splitting the empty vacuum in two as she continued her restless sojourn. There was no sleeping, no resting, no dreaming; only the trek.

As she walked along, she passed by more and more pale concrete slabs. They rolled past her like skeletons in black mist. They almost outnumbered the rusted heaps of junk that had been dotting the landscape up until that point. She paid both sights little mind, instead allowing herself to be mesmerized by the luminescent waves of powder streaming alongside her. The mare managed a weak smile, stifling a chortle as she likened the phenomenon to flaming schools of fish, or glowing dolphins that darted up and down just beneath the surface of the rolling brown dunes.

After two hours of lighting her way across the bleak night, Daring came upon a clearing of gray walls. Here, another settlement stood, made completely out of wooden shacks and crooked one-story structures. She spotted the age-worn scraps of canvas tents, as well as remnants of shattered wagons and collapsed chariots. The site suggested an expedition of sorts, abandoned for a purpose so dire that it filled the air above the place with a chill that persisted to that day.

For the first time in minutes, Daring paused, catching her breath as she glanced at the building closest to her and chose to enter it. The glowing sand wafted up against the structure's surface, but it did not follow the pony. The building had a thick wooden foundation, which partially explained why it hadn't collapsed like so many of the other lean-tos she had stumbled across.

Inside, she saw a table, remarkably well preserved, with a fallen pair of metal lanterns scattered like rusted eggshells across a series of faded maps and sheets of paper with sun-worn hoofwriting.

Wasting very little time, Daring galloped up to the table, propped her glowing shard on the corner, and began furiously rummaging through the sheets and sheets of cartographer notes. She found several leaflets illustrating the same basic shape, that of a thick ring of mountains surrounding a black, hexagonal figure located in the very center of the enormous crater. Within the body of this circle, placed at sporadic intervals, were curved hash marks, all of which formed the rough outline of layers upon layers of concentric rings.

Daring raised an eyebrow. Curious, she fished through more and more scraps of old, moth-eaten sheets. At last, she came upon a rather large map plastered to a wooden backboard. Turning the thing over until its compass rose presented itself legibly to her eyes, she finally got a true sense of bearings. Whoever had drawn the map had done so with meticulous detail, regardless of the less-than-luxurious circumstances that must have beset the weary cartographer. While Daring studied both the outer circle and the central hexagon, she was most taken back by three points—sketched in bleached red—located in the south, northeast, and northwest portions of the inner crater.

Daring rubbed her chin in thought. Her eyes wandered down towards the bottom of the page. Several words had been sketched across an ornate legend, but only one line of characters was produced in faded, red ink. She pulled her bifocals out of her eyeglass case just long enough to read the words: "Key Leylines of Animation."

The pony placed the map back down onto the table. She may not have felt hungry or sleepy, but it didn't change the fact that she felt unbelievably tired. Daring needed to think, and in order to think, the explorer had to pace.

She trotted back and forth in elliptical little paths across the interior of the shack, her hooves clopping dustily against the creaking wooden floor. She speculated on the meaning of the three points, and of the label attributed to them.

It was about twenty minutes into her obtuse attempt at a brainstorming session when the pale light spun the shadows of the room in a merry-go-round glide. Daring jerked, startled, then relaxed upon realizing that her wing had knocked over her glowstone positioned on the edge of the table. She picked it back up, breathed against it to give it more glow, and pondered pocketing it back up in her shirt.

In the middle of doing this, however, the adventurer froze, for she noticed something about the map that was lying before her. In answer to the proximity of her shard and its glow, the map had... changed somehow. She crept closer to the table, waving the enchanted rock directly above the map. She realized that a fine coat of desert sand had been fused with some of the cartographer's brushstrokes, and they caused the three highlighted points to glimmer. What was more, a solid ring of arrow-sharp points could now be seen, and they glittered in such a way as to imply a counter-clockwise movement around the central hexagon.

Daring blinked. After a few seconds, her teeth formed a wicked grin. She snatched the map up off the table, gripped it in her muzzle, and bounded out into the darkness. The glowing sand lit up once more in her presence, but she plowed through it, stretching her wings out and gliding southeast as swiftly as she could.

Gaining altitude, she coasted over the starkissed landscape. Having separated herself and her glowstone from the earth below, the sand had ceased glowing altogether, dimming into black obscurity along with the rest of the world. She wasn't entirely lost, however. Due east, beyond a crooked line of shark-toothed peaks, the faintest glow of morning light loomed. She used this as her guide, positioning it to her left as she flew southward in a gentle glide.

At last, between the rising sun and the indicators of her map, she found the south point within the thick of the crater. There, amidst a throng of sharply jutting concrete partitions, Daring found what looked to be an obelisk of sorts, jutting over a hundred feet out of the dark brown sands. The smaller concrete structures formed tiny rings around it, which struck the winged adventurer as a delicious piece of irony.

Touching down, she planted her hooves against the shifting sands. A fine dust kicked up around her in the morning haze as she approached the base of the tower. The obelisk was almost perfectly cylindrical, and it appeared to be constructed out of dense, smooth ivory. Fine lines were etched along the surface of it, forming three sloped curves that spiraled their way up the grand height of the pallid stalk.

Daring trotted slowly around it, squinting to catch a better sight of the outer shell in the blossoming sunlight. At last, she spotted a single imperfection within the smooth surface. There was a hole, a notch of some sort, and it rested within the northern side of the tower, twenty feet up and directly facing the large black structure that loomed in the center of the gargantuan crater.

Immediately, Daring floated up towards it. She narrowed her eyes, studying the size and depth of the notch. At last, she pulled the glowstone out from her breast pocket, sizing it up to the hole. With only a little bit of hesitance, the pegasus slid the shard so that it fit snugly inside the miniature partition.

Nothing happened.

Daring scratched her mane. With a gasp of intuition, she took a deep breath, leaned forward, and exhaled her entire lung's worth against the enchanted rock.

The shard glowed, and that glow spread as easily through the tower as it did through the sands beneath her. Daring witnessed bright lines rivering out from the notch like electric octopus limbs. The wind immediately surrounding the tower died down, and the air tasted like cold steel and melted ice. Upon hearing a rumbling sound, Daring nervously clutched the shard and tried pulling it loose. It wouldn't budge. She tried yanking at it with both hooves, but gasped in alarm; the shard was sinking into the cylinder.

The pegasus watched with bulging ruby eyes as her trusty rock disappeared entirely within the body of the obelisk. After a few seconds of stillness, the entire cylinder lit up—strobing with effluent blue energy. As if in response, the sand around the base of the obelisk caught aflame with blue fury. There was another rumbling, and something shifted in the corner of Daring's eyes.

She spun one hundred and eighty degrees, then froze upon seeing the multiple slabs of concrete shifting, jerking, then sliding smoothly through the dunes of sand. Like pale sailboats, they swam opposite circles around the body of the tower, growing faster and faster in momentum. At first, it looked as though they were simply churning the sand into liquified paste, but as the slabs started rotating even faster, approaching impossible speeds, the sand lifted up on its own accord, floating like a magical bed canopy over the dark black bedrock beneath.

Daring chewed on her lip, floating higher and higher to avoid the rising waves of sand. Then, just as the bizarre situation was starting to overwhelm her, another crack of thunder rolled through the tower. Daring watched as a beam of mana light shot straight down, pulsed into the earth, then rocketed northward like a bright blue torpedo. The sands caught fire, rippling in a northeasterly curve, arcing counter-clockwise around the body of the huge black structure in the center of the crater.

The mare didn't waste two breaths; she darted quickly after the runaway beam of light, darting left and right while fountains of glimmering sand were tossed into her face. As she rocketed over the exploding sediment, she flung a glance behind her and saw that it wasn't falling down. The dust levitated ever-upwards, sliding towards the sky like reverse molasses, not once losing its glow.

Daring panted, putting every effort into flapping her wings, trying her best to catch up to the submerged missile of light surging ahead of her. The path it took was furious, but also extraordinarily lengthy. It swam in between dormant slabs of concrete wall and pillars, slowly animating them as it passed by, so that they shifted in concentric patterns around the hexagonal monolith in the heart of the valley. All around her, the grand crater was coming to life, set ablaze by both the rising sun and the enchanted sand in equal turn.

It took the better part of an hour, but the glowing wave of mana reached a structure positioned in the northeast, and so did Daring. A tall pillar, much like the cylinder down south, stood boldly against the horizon, casting a shadow across the dead sands in the brightening dawnlight. Daring watched as the luminescent line of sand soared directly into the foundation of the tower. To her mute astonishment, nothing happened, at least not at first. She caught the faintest hint of glowing lines traveling up the body of the tower, but nothing outright significant. Even the sand immediately around the tower was too lazy and dormant to levitate like the veritable mountains own south.

But then, something pulsed halfway up the body of the pale stalk. Daring saw, and she immediately flew down to levitate beside it. What she found was a tiny notch, facing southwest towards the hexagonal structure, and it was precisely there that her very own glowstone slid out.

She reached for it, gripping it with two hooves. Suddenly, she stopped, studying the faintly glowing aura around her. Then, with a knowing expression, she leaned in and breathed a new wave of life into the enchanted rock.

Just like the first one, tributaries of bright blue light wormed through the body of the tower. The shard slid back in, pulsing as it shot like a comet down into the earth. This time, the sand surrounding the concrete slabs practically exploded, lifting high into the sky with such force that Daring was nearly knocked unconscious.

Catching her balance, Daring dove down, piercing wave after wave of enchanted dust that pelted her figure. When she emerged, she saw nothing but blackness. It was only after her vision came into focus that she spotted shapes sliding and grinding against each other. Beneath the carpet of sand, now lifting above her like rain clouds, she spotted an endless array of rusted black discs, rotating in opposite directions around each other and simultaneously around the structure in the crater's center. There was no bedrock beneath that desert; instead there were countless layers of panels that spun around one another like some infernal piece of onion ring clockwork. The concrete slabs were merely the pale fin-tips of enormous black blades protruding at random intervals from the larger discs rotating around each other.

As Daring glanced up from this revolving phenomenon, she saw what she once thought was a desert: now a slowly levitating swath of sand, all glittering and alive with otherworldly enchantment, powered by a lone mare's single breath. She had to veer left and right to dodge broad curtains of loose sand, or else risk becoming one with the tapestry of burning dust all around. Daring diligently chased the beam of manalight, curving around the north bend of the crater.

Anticipating the light's path, she shot directly west, skirting the northern face of the black metal hexagon. Glancing to the left, Daring spotted large hanging plates of rusted iron, looming dull and brown in even the brightest beams that the sun had to toss at it. While the black and pale fins swam circles around the crater's center, churning up dust like an enormous taffy machine, the hexagon remained perfectly still, like the dead relic that it was.

Daring's attention once more focused straight ahead. It took about forty-five minutes of speedy flight, but she made it to the northwest target: a stalk of pale concrete identical to the first two. She levitated down and waited at a notch aimed towards the black hexagon whose shadow was now wafting over her. As the glowing sand and light arrived, her stone slid out. She breathed on it, but just as quickly snatched the thing loose as her life-energy shot into the spiraling bands etched into the tower.

Immediately below, the sands shook and lifted up like smoke from a cannon. Daring was prepared for it. She held her breath, covered her face, and pressed her body tightly to the shimmering cylinder before her. When the sand blew past her, her body nearly went airborne. It took a great deal of strength and determination, but she remained anchored in place. She waited several seconds before giving into her lungs. When she breathed, the air was cold, like night over the desert. She looked up, squinting in expectation of a bright morning sun. She wasn't awarded with such.

The sands were lifting up, up, and up, blotting out the light of day. Daring watched in awe as the glowing sediment coalesced in the air, forming a solid dome. Her ears popped, for the pressure in the air was shifting. Things had become unbelievably noisy. She looked down to see that the concentric bands of black discs were spinning far too fast to measure. As if that wasn't enough, the air whistled with the sound of black bodies whizzing towards and past her like bullets.

Daring gasped. With a foalish squeak, she pressed her back against the body of the tower, using it as a shield while various chunks of shrapnel zipped past her body, nipping at her coat, skin, and mane. She curled up into a little pony ball, protecting her body, all the while casting fitful glances at the crater around her.

As the sandy ceiling afforded only a sliver of light from beyond the horizon, Daring spotted the shapes of countless metal bodies floating out from the jagged mountain ranges surrounding the crater. They came from all angles, filling the air with blackness, an apocalyptic murder of crows. Some massive magnetic attraction pulled them towards the center of the crater, and as they all reached the center, the center reached back.

With a groaning noise, the hexagon began rotating clockwise—slowly at first—then with greater speed, revolving with energy unheard of for a monolith of that size. Then, like an enormous flower, the hanging iron plates lifted up, unfolded, and spread out majestically. Before Daring's breathless gaze, the hexagon became a dodecagon, with layers upon layers of vertically placed platforms extending above and below her. Each of these stories became a factory floor, to which the metal pieces flew, landed, and joined together, forming structure and purpose for the first time in millennia. The sound of groaning metal gave way to clicking springs and clattering gears. The world was suddenly a submerged masterpiece of clockwork antiquity, magnified even more as the solid dome of enchanted sand levitated down, freezing in place over the entire circumference of the crater, sealing the outside world off with a massive clap of continental thunder.

It was almost noon, but the world was blacker than death. Even with her glowstone shimmering at its brightest, Daring could only tell that the mechanical monolith was moving from the sheer sound of its infinitely spinning parts.

Entombed in the magically transformed belly of the desert, Daring had nowhere else to go but into the onyx heart of the matter. So she did, flying briskly southeast and approaching the abyss with a goofy smile.

She couldn't think of anything else to bless the situation with.