• Published 16th Jun 2016
  • 7,042 Views, 98 Comments

The Riddle of the Sphinx - Cold in Gardez

Daring Do encounters a legendary monster, and a terrible test, deep beneath the earth.

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The Sphinx (Contest minific)

Author's Note:

This is the 750-word version originally written for the June Writeoff minific competition. It's really only worth reading if you want to see how it evolved.

Daring Do leapt through the stone archway as the passage collapsed behind her. Air displaced by the falling rocks pushed her, and she shot from the corridor like a dart ejected from a blowgun. For a long moment gravity went away, and there was only the sensation of wind ripping at her feathers in the dark, and then she met the stone floor again.

She came to rest on her side. Blood tinged the air, riding atop the dank scent of dust and stone and ages that clogged her nostrils. She coughed a little cough, and marvelled that her ribs were still intact.

Ow. Ow. Seriously, ow. Half her hide felt raw, but at least she was in one piece. She rose with a quiet groan. It was dark, and she fished a flare from her saddlebag and gave it a twist. Brilliant red light burst from the tip, blinding her for a moment.

The room was wide, dozens of paces across. Massive stone blocks made up the walls, and she could barely see the ceiling, so high was it. Dust, undisturbed for years, swirled with each breath, and the floor all around was littered with countless white sticks that crunched beneath her hooves—

She froze. Not sticks. Bones.

Hundreds of bones. Thousands. A graveyard worth of bones, all scattered on the stone floor. A scream tried to crawl its way out of her throat, and she choked it back down.

And then something broke the silence. A voice like a god’s, so loud it shook her chest and rattled the bones strewn all about.

“Well, that was interesting,” the thunderous voice said. “I’ve never seen a pony enter that way.”

The air moved again, and a tremendous form fell from the ceiling. It landed with a crash in front of Daring. Wings the size of sails stretched out, cupping the darkness, and a leering face craned over her. Shark’s teeth in a pony’s maw, borne on a lion’s body.

“It’s been years since I had a visitor,” the sphinx said. She smiled, and sparks dripped from her jaws. “I’m glad you came. I’ve been lonely.”

“Oh, um…” Think, think! “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Daring Do, and I was actually just looking for the exit when I—”

“The exit!” The sphinx’s grin split her face nearly in half. “You’re in luck. It’s just behind me, up those stairs. Can’t miss it.”

“That’s great.” Daring Do sidled slowly to the right, nudging away the bones in her path. “Well, then I’ll just—urk!”

A paw the size of a dinner plate crushed her to the floor. Sharp bone fragments dug into her skin, and she struggled for breath beneath the sphinx’s terrible weight.

The pressure eased after a moment, though the paw remained. “Oh, why the rush? Surely you can stay for a bit. Not long, I assure you.”

“Right, right!” Daring gasped. “A riddle, isn’t it? You have a riddle for me?”

“Ah.” The sphinx’s grin faded, and she gazed at the bones all around. “Yes, a riddle, and then I’ll eat you. That’s how it goes.”

“Or… maybe I’ll get it right and you’ll let me go?”

The sphinx snorted. Furnace air and ashes seared Daring’s face. “All the long centuries leave me in doubt. Very well then, mortal, have your riddle.” She leaned back, tall and imposing as a statue, and spoke.

“What do sphinxes want?”

To eat ponies. The words were on Daring’s lips, about to fly, when something bade her pause. She glanced around at the mouldering bones, and the darkness, and the monster towering above her.

Lonely. Was that it? Worth betting her life on?

The paw pressed down. Claws bit into her hide. “Well?”

Daring gulped. “They want somepony to answer their riddle. So they don’t have to eat them.”


The paw lifted. The sphinx jerked her head. “Up the stairs. Enjoy your freedom.”

Daring stumbled to her hooves. She dusted herself off and slowly edged toward the passage, her eyes never leaving the sphinx. The monster never moved; its gaze never lifted from the faint smear of blood where Daring had lain.

Daring paused. She could hear the air moving through the stairs. She could smell the desert above. It was just moments away. She could already taste the sunlight.

Instead she stopped. “Say, uh…”

The sphinx turned to regard her. Its visage was like stone.

“You, uh, wanna come with me?”

Silence again.

And then the sphinx smiled.

Comments ( 41 )

This is interesting. All the ideas are here, but it's too compressed. The 3000 extra words did the story good. :twilightsmile:

Why is the cover pic Elesh Norn? I'd recognize that hat and flayed flesh anywhere. I'm pretty sure the sphinx isn't supposed to be the pure embodiment of Lawful Evil, so it's a little jarring.

You already know I like this story, but because I know writers live on comments -- you've got some great imagery here. I am jelly.

7309686 Same; Elesh Norn's big ol headdress/face/scary porcelain mask really put me off


I sometimes like to re-imagine my MtG art with ponies, and the Elesh Norn was stuck in my head. And since I needed a picture of a sphinx, I figured, "Why not combine them?"


Oop, fixed. Thanks!

7310468 How did that sphinx get in the story without at least two plains and five colorless mana?

In all seriousness, very captivating and interesting. I'm a sucker for riddles sometimes.

7310592 I knew I wasn't crazy. That's the head of Elesh Norn herself.

I will be quite pleased if Daring Do ends up being a dinner date for the sphinx... emphasis on the 'dinner' part... :pinkiecrazy:

7310312 Answer: My cat, Lucky. He's weird that way.

Sphinx: :applejackconfused:

Very nice. Fav'ed. :eeyup:

I thought this was a Silent Hill story. Looked at the cover art and thought that was a Pyramid Head pony!

7310930 Not at all. I would not mind reading a sequel exploring there growing relationship.

Elesh Norn?

731100 Ha that was my first thought to but I guess not although a new phirixea mlp crossover would be

Oh, hey there, Elesh Norn.

7311237 Thank god I wasn't the only one.

Hello Elesh, i played with you at french rites)

Maybe, but look at that fuzzy-Wuzzy sphinx and say you do not want to read more of her and how she deal with them foolish mortals?

Is there going to be a sequel??

*stares at the cover-image*

... Elish Norn? *backs away*

7311790 Meh. It would detract from the ending, which was exquisitly done, as well as the emotions conveyed, but the concept itslef I feel like would be very interesting to explore. Course, I never thought that a movie like Now You see Me could have a sequel, but someone is trying anyway.

I was expecting maximum over nope of compleated ponies. Got a cute twist on an old legend.

I rather liked it.

short but sweet.
Now I want a sequel about ponies meeting the sphinx


As the other comments have probably already made clear, the Sphinx's art was inspired by this lovely character.

Her name is Elesh Norn, and she's a villain from Magic: The Gathering. I wouldn't be surprised if Elesh Norn herself was based on Pyramid Head though; she's designed to elict a lot of the some horror vibes.


7318164 Ah, well alright then.

As with any work of Cold in Gardez, simply beatiful. Great fic.

Why does the cover art look like a ponified Elesh Norn form MTG?

7318228 wrote "I'VE BEEN STUNG BY F**KING BEES!"

You should not have pissed off Taylor Hebert then.


Not bad. Not your best, but I enjoyed it, right up until the ending. It just felt anticlimactic.

I reviewed this story as part of Read It Now Reviews #84.

My review can be found here.

Awesomely, amazing story, great job!!! :twilightsmile:

Any chance of a follow-up to this? Maybe something involving Jocasta meeting Luna and/or Celestia? :pinkiehappy:

Amazing! Loved the atmosphere, and how the Sphinx was portrayed ^^

An excellent MLP twist on a timeless scenario :twilightsmile:

I've always liked your stories and this is no exception. I did have a different mindset going into this because of your cover image though. I kept expecting to see some reference or something to say this sphinx was in fact Elesh Norn the whole time and Daring Do was as good as dead. But there's no dark tag ^^;;

But either way, the story is solid. Once of those pieces that should totally be narrated. Thanks for writing this awesome piece of fiction ^_^

This is such a cool little story! I might end up snagging this and making it the end of a one-shot D&D dungeon at some point... (for private use of course, and crediting you at the end even so)... but then watch the party get a TPK when someone blurts out the wrong answer to the riddle at the very end, after surpassing a full tomb's worth of traps and monsters.

But really, such a heart-warming little adventure! Love it.

Interesting tale. I like the riddles too. Makes me wonder if the Sphinx in the show was also cursed.

Huh, really interesting take on the whole Sphinx idea.... I like it!

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