• Published 3rd Jan 2017
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Daring Do and the Secret of the Sunken City - 8686



Years ago, Daring Do discovered an ancient city, and a strange lock she couldn't open alone. A while ago she met Rainbow Dash. Now it's time to go back and uncover the secrets she once had to abandon.

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2: Two For One

Dawn was still an hour off when the overnight express arrived into the peaceful village of Ponyville. The train chuffed into the station amidst a racket of squealing brakes, lurching ponderously to a stop whereupon a long puff of steam billowed forth from the locomotive with a great serpentine hiss.

The thick vapour cleared slowly as a bassy-voiced, mutton-chopped conductor blew a whistle and announced, “Ponyville, folks! This is Ponyville!” at far too great a volume for the hour. Doors thudded open and from the carriages stepped half a dozen travel-weary ponies, their hooves clumping hollowly on the platform’s wooden floorboards as they wended their way towards the station’s exit and home.

One such stallion, perhaps looking less fatigued than most of his contemporaries, found himself joined in step by another passenger. A mare wearing a low-brimmed cloth hat, shawl, and a thick-rimmed pair of stylish spectacles.

“Excuse me, sir?” she asked upon reaching his side. She pulled a hardbacked book from her saddlebag and, concealing much of the cover behind her hoof, directed the gentlecolt’s attention to the main point of interest – a blue-coated pegasus. “I’m looking for this pony.”

The stallion regarded the image for a long, quiet moment, and then met her gaze as though waiting for more. Silence persisted.

“She’s called Rainbow Dash,” prompted the mare.

“Eeyup,” the stallion said, agreeing.

“Uh... okay. Do you know where she lives?”

“Eeyup.”

The mare waited for a moment, but when no further information was forthcoming a little scowl creased her brow. “Can you tell me?”

The stallion nodded and raised a hoof, pointing out over the train-tracks. Yonder, a distant large, tall cloud hovered as a black shape in the night air, its edges reflecting the silver light of the crescent moon. Like a miniature palace, it hung low over a quiet meadow just beyond the town limits. Rainbows flowed in streams from a number of points near the pinnacle and pooled at the base, though without the sunlight to refract through them they were dimmed, their colours muted and greyscale.

Still, impressive and quietly beautiful. It must look stunning in daylight.

“Thanks,” said the mare, looking back with a doff of her hat to mark her gratitude.

The stallion nodded a single, deep nod, and then began trundling away towards the exit once more. A nice enough fellow. Rugged and handsome in the traditional sense, if a little quiet. He bore a red coat and a ginger mane that was of a shorter cut, and...

...and is the description necessary? Guy’s probably not going to figure in the story after this point. Describing him now would imply he’s significant or expected to return. Don’t want to mislead the audience. Come on, Yearling. Basics.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, looking towards the cloud, the mare started trotting.

When she was sure she was far enough away from the station she removed her shawl and spectacles, and replaced the cloth hat with one that was ivory-coloured and of an altogether sturdier construction.

* * *

Cloaked in deep, black shadows fitting more comfortably than any clothing, the mare stood motionless at the foot of the bed. For an entire minute she subjected her blissful, oblivious quarry to silent scrutiny, the soft sounds of continued snoring proof enough that her intrusion had gone unnoticed.

A frown crept to her brow as she gazed upon the slumbering pony, noting the little dribble of drool that had started to seep, undignified, from her mouth. This was her then. This pony, whom she barely knew, would be accompanying her. Doubtless she would share in secrets that she had no guarantee she would keep. It was even possible, if unlikely, that they may even have to put their faith in each other. In some ways the predictable certainty of betrayal by a lowlife-for-hire was preferable to this; to not knowing how far you could rely on somepony. And this was that somepony. Right there in that bed: Drooly McSleepface wearing a set of silly, cutesy turtle-slippers, snoring without a care. Not some nebulous, aspirational entity anymore. Real. Flesh, blood, and flawed.

Deep breath.

With care she stepped up to the side of the bed, the black shadows shifting and sliding over her coat more smoothly than even the lightest silk. She raised a forehoof high, ready to rouse the lethargic pony with a firm smack. Yet before she delivered the blow her eye caught on the nightstand, noticing a tall glass half-full of water. Seeing it, she stayed her hoof and lowered it.

Instead she picked up the glass and, in a smooth motion, poured the contents onto the face of the snoozing pegasus. The cold water splashed and spattered and garnered an immediate reaction of shock, horror, light coughing and a little splutter. As the cyan pony rapidly came to terms with consciousness the instrusive mare leaned in close, locked her gaze with a hard, piercing stare and spoke in a low voice, thick with threat.

“Can I trust you?”

Her only reply was a few seconds of sniffly-splutters followed by a distant, “Whuh...?” as the sky-blue pony seemed to have trouble extracting herself from sleep, in spite of the rude awakening. After a moment she seemed to regain a little more sense and her eyes focused. “D... Daring Do? What’s going—?”

“Can I trust you?” pressed Daring, not losing Rainbow Dash’s stare for a second.

Rainbow Dash blinked blearily. “Well... yeah,” she murmured, as though it were obvious.

Daring nodded a slow, careful nod and considered Rainbow’s reaction at length. Ponies were generally honest after suffering a shock and she was still half-asleep even. Surely most unlikely to have formed a coherent deception. Still, a long way from there to ‘trust.’ After yet another agonising mental debate, she spoke again.

“I’m headed northeast to the Mustang Mountains, and I need another set of hooves. Are you in?”

A long, slow blink and a very lethargic stretch preceded her reply. “Ad... advenchure?” the other mare slurred. Sleep, it seemed, was not going quietly.

“Uh, sure. Big adventure. Tons of fun.”

Rainbow Dash seemed to relax, her expression falling into something similar to recognition and she gave a slight, knowing nod. “Totally going on an adventure with Daring Do...” she said absently as her eyelids fell closed. She raised her head slightly from her pillow and her lips formed a slight pucker – to Daring’s surprise and chagrin.

Raising her foreleg again, this time she gave the Rainbow-maned sleepy-head a solid – though not especially hard – cuff across the chops. It seemed to bring her far more to her senses than the water.

“Ow!”

“What do you think you’re doing?” demanded Daring.

“What? Normally when I have this dream, this is the part where we...” Dash trailed off as she rubbed her obviously painful cheek with a hoof, and in doing so seemed to come to some kind of realisation. “Not a dream?”

“No.”

She rubbed her cheek for a few more moments before finding the most appropriate words for her situation: “Uh-oh.”

Daring’s brow folded into a heavy, annoyed scowl. Not for the first time she found herself racking her brains, asking herself if this was really her best option. And... not for the first time... she came to the conclusion that yes, sad as it may be, it really, really was. She rolled her eyes and decided to move right along. “Are you in or not?”

But, alas, Rainbow Dash still seemed to be having difficulty coming to terms with... well everything, as she carefully wiped her face with her hoof.

“Why am I all wet?” she asked.

With a sudden surge of annoyance, Daring felt her teeth clench. This wasn’t how she had envisaged this playing out. She wanted a quick ‘yes’ from the other pony and for them both to be on their way. Instead she was being drawn into pointless dialogue and answering obvious questions of the kind that killed the pace and would be instantly eradicated from any first draft. “I threw your water on you to wake you up.”

“And then you hit me...?” Rainbow asked, as though trying to piece together her memory of only a minute ago.

“Ugh. Yes.”

Rainbow Dash seemed to consider this for a groggy moment. “That wasn’t very nice,” she concluded.

“Mare-up and get over it.”

At last Rainbow shook her head roughly, left her covers and clambered out of the far side of her bed. The thick cobwebs of her rudely interrupted sleep appeared to clear, though her breathing now came a little deeper than was normal for a relaxed pony. “Okay. Okay. So Daring Do is actually in my house, and she wants me to go with her to...” she looked up. “Sorry, where?”

“The Mustang Mountains,” repeated Daring with a note of growing impatience.

“...To the Mustang Mountains. I... am being asked... to go on an adventure with Daring Do!” Confusion slowly, finally gave way to comprehension. Excitement followed on its heels. “This is so awesome!”

“So you’re in?”

“Totally!” enthused Rainbow. Sleep, it seemed, was but a distant memory already and in moments she had transformed into a bright and alert mare. The pace at which she’d gone from zero to full throttle was impressive, and probably a little worrying if thought too hard about.

Never mind. Daring had the answer she wanted and that put a little spring in her step. One major obstacle overcome. She started to turn towards the window, flexing her wings. “Great. Come on and let’s get—”

“Lemme just round up the rest of my friends, and we’ll get going.”

Daring blinked in surprise, then turned back to give Rainbow Dash a frown. “No. No friends. Just you. I need one assistant for when we get there and that’s all.”

“What? Hold on, you can’t expect me to come with you on a totally awesome dangerous adventure... by myself!”

Daring raised her eyebrow. “Why not?”

“Because no-one’s gonna believe me when I tell them! I gotta have somepony to back me up!”

The eyebrow fell and Daring frowned again. “Tell them they can read abo—”

“Is there gonna be fighting?” asked Rainbow eagerly, “‘Cuz Applejack would totally be up for this!”

“There isn’t going to be any fighting,” groaned Daring. The idea was to reach the city and be done with it before Caballeron arrived. He could pick the bones out of what she left behind.

“What about weird monster-creatures?” continued Dash, undaunted, “We’d need Fluttershy for that. Or tribes of hostile war-ponies? Because Pinkie Pie could totally partify* them. And Rarity could... uh... Rarity... Rarity...” she mused with a thoughtful frown. “Oh! Disguises! She’d do the disguises,” Rainbow finished with a self-satisfied grin.

Daring’s face was thunder. “No!” she growled. “I told you, I don’t need any other ponies. The more ponies there are, the slower we’d move, and we’re on the clock as it—”

“Twilight!” cried Dash. “We gotta take Twilight with us!”

“Are you even listening t—?!”

“She’d never forgive me if she found out that Daring Do invited me on an adventure and I didn’t even tell her about it. She can’t miss out on this! She’s like your biggest fan! Even bigger than I am!”

“Lots of ponies claim to be my biggest fan,” said Daring coldly. “I didn’t come here because I needed a fan, I came because I just need a pony to come with me and do exactly what I tell them, and, ideally, for them not to try and get me killed while they’re doing it. It’s not complicated and unless you think it’s beyond you, then we’re leaving. Now.” She extended her wings and prepared to take flight through the window.

Behind her, caught in her peripheral vision, Rainbow Dash sat neatly on her haunches and didn’t move. When Daring inevitably looked back she discovered a faint, level frown on the other mare’s face. Not angry as such, but quite determined. “I’m not going without Twilight,” she said.

Daring brought a hoof to her face and rubbed hard. This was fast escaping her control. But when she tried to fix Rainbow Dash with her best angry stare – a well-practised glower that could stop a henchpony in his tracks at twenty paces – she found it unusually ineffective. Rainbow Dash simply sat there with her brow half-knit and her expression resolute.

Daring gave a long, exasperated sigh. “Does your friend have wings? We gotta move quickly which means we gotta wing-it. We can’t afford the delay, so unless your friend can fly, and more importantly keep up, there’s just no point.”

“She can fly! Sort of.”

Sort of?

“Well, she’s got wings and technically she can use them. I mean... it’s not ‘flying’ by my standards but she can fly.”

From beneath the brim of her pith helmet Daring regarded Rainbow Dash’s expression carefully, sizing it up as a wild animal might appraise a territorial rival, searching for any hint of weakness in her determined frown; any chink that might indicate she was open to persuasion. She clearly wanted to come, but it seemed that that desire wasn’t enough to dislodge her from her obstinate position. And as hard as Daring looked, there was no hint of concession in those eyes at all, and they never once broke her gaze or looked away.

An impasse, it seemed, but Daring was in the weakened position. If she didn’t secure the services of an accomplice there was no point in continuing the venture at all. But she had nowhere else to turn and thus she was in a corner. Only two paths to choose between, and one of those led back to her cottage, to Pygmy-Goat mundanity. “This friend of yours. Twilight. You’re really not going to agree unless she comes too?”

Rainbow shook her head, her determined expression unmoved. “Sorry.”

Another sigh. “Is she at least a fearless adventurer with a thirst for intrigue who laughs in the face of danger?” asked Daring, rather optimistically it had to be said.

“Uhhh... she’s kind of an egghead.”

Wonderful.

Her mouth curled into a grimace. Once again the mental debate raged. Now a whole new set of variables was in play. A third pony, with uncertain motivations and a pre-existing relationship with her new volunteer. One that doubtless trumped the fragile, temporary alliance she was cultivating. The danger there increased ten-fold. Was it still worth the risk?

I have to know what’s behind that mechanism.

I’m so going to regret this.

“Okay. If you can convince her, she can come. But if she doesn’t agree to, we go without her. That our deal?”

Rainbow Dash smirked. “Deal!”

* * *

The ice-cold water left the glass and splattered heavily over Twilight Sparkle’s face, drenching mane and coat alike.

“Rainbow Dash? I don’t think that was necessary,” said Daring.

“Huh? Why not?”

“She was already awake.”

Sat at her reading desk engaged in a little pre-dawn research, Twilight had been most surprised when the two pegasi had burst in through her bedroom window – one of them with notable enthusiasm and the other wearing a resigned grimace. She had been about to ask what was going on when Rainbow Dash had spotted the glass of mineral water from which she’d been sipping and, without warning, had snatched it and thrown it over her. Now, dripping wet and with a slick mane, she regarded her friend with an unamused – though not especially surprised – pout. “Rainbow? This had better be good,” she growled. She wiped her face with her hooves and used magic to wring the water out of her hair.

“It is, it is!” insisted Rainbow Dash, unable to keep the smirk from her face nor the snickers of almost-laughter from her voice. With great effort, she composed herself. “Twilight? Daring Do is going on an adventure to the Mustang Mountains! And she needs our help!”

“She does?” inquired Twilight.

“Totally! You and me... are going on an adventure... with Daring Do!” enthused Rainbow Dash. “It’s like a dream come true! Except totally not a dream. Trust me, I already checked.”

Stood a little way behind Rainbow Dash, outside the conversation, Daring Do’s nose wrinkled and her mouth became a tight line. She cast her restless gaze around the room for something to do as she endured overhearing the half-truth of Rainbow’s summary explanation. The multi-coloured mare’s boundless energy was starting to grate already. She was surprised that she had managed to forget just how much of it there was.

To her credit though, Twilight Sparkle was quicker on the uptake than her sleepy-headed friend had been. The purple mare put on a thoughtful expression, turned, and used her magic to levitate a book from a nearby bookshelf – of which there were an abundance – to a desk not dissimilar in size and shape to Daring’s own back home, placing it open atop the volume she had been absorbed in. The new book seemed to be an atlas and the page she flipped to showed the mountain-range in question – a circle of mountain peaks surrounding a shallow valley, far to the northeast of the continent. “Hmm. The Mustang Mountains are pretty remote. They’re almost as northerly as the Crystal Empire, and I don’t know of any cultures that have lived in that particular region. There shouldn’t be anything out there.”

Daring found her thin-lipped grimace relaxing into a small smile, which surprised her just a little. Twilight Sparkle, then: well-read, analytical, skeptical. Impressive. She found herself warming to her. A little.

“Trust me, there’s something there all right,” Daring said, turning to her. And when Twilight raised her head from the book, Daring saw it in her eyes. Curiosity. That burning thirst for knowledge that she recognised so very well indeed.

“Well, if Daring Do is asking for my help, it’s not like I’m going to turn her down,” said Twilight as a friendly smile spread across her lips.

She wasn’t actually asking for both of their help, but Daring bit her tongue. She squared her shoulders and cast her gaze between the two ponies before her. This was it then. Both ponies, or neither. She had already concluded that ‘neither’ was no use at all for her purposes, and while ‘both’ presented unprecedented levels of risk... if she kept her wits about her and watched them both like a hawk, she could manage that risk. So... she would give them the benefit of the doubt. She would assume they could be taken at face value, for now. But at the slightest hint of deception from either of them; the first sign of a betrayal being planned, she could bail on them. Even if that would mean ultimately failing in her mission, she would be able to console herself that she had been right not to trust them.

Nothing like starting an adventure with a positive attitude, huh Yearling?

Drawing herself up, she spared a quick look at the paling, pre-dawn sky beyond the window and then back to her two new... 'partners.' They both seemed very pleased about something, smiling warmly and broadly at each other, and her. Whatever. “Okay, here’s how this works. I want to be away at sunrise, which means you’ve both got about an hour to pack whatever supplies you need. You’re gonna need food, and it’s gonna be cold. I’d rather not risk being seen and mobbed in town, so I saw a small glade about half-a-mile north of the village on the way over here. Be there before the sun clears the horizon.”

Suddenly Twilight’s smile vanished and she cried out. “Only an hour? I’m going to need more time than that for research. I... I don’t even know which books to pack! Spike!” she called towards the next room.

“Twilight,” groaned Rainbow Dash. “You can’t worry about research or packing books! This is a real adventure. With a real adventurer! The answers are out there...” she said with a note of wonder that was slightly put-on, “Not in a book!”

“The answers are always in a book,” harrumphed Twilight. “And if they’re not, it’s only because the book hasn’t been written yet.”

“Whatever, I gotta go find this one super-important thing. I’ll see you there!”

“One hour, or you get left behind,” warned Daring.

Rainbow Dash gave her best devil-may-care grin and saluted, then made use of the window and sped from the castle.

At that moment, from the next room, a small purple-scaled and green-spined dragon slouched in, dragging his feet and rubbing his eyes, trailing a small blue blanket behind himself. In the nook of his forearm he carried a small white doll with purple hair – a coat and mane combination that Daring found familiar in the vaguest, most distant of senses.

“I’m awake. I’m awake. I think,” said the dragon. He raised his heavy head and finally noted the other pony in the room, dropping his possessions in surprise. “Whoa. Guests. Twilight, you didn’t say.”

“Spike, no time,” said Twilight. “I’m headed north with Daring and Rainbow Dash, and I’m gonna be gone for a couple of days. Take care of Owloiscious and ask that Fluttershy checks in on Tank. And if you’re having one of your boys-nights-in while I’m gone, clean up after yourselves! It took me forever to get the Big McIntosh-shaped dent out of the couch, and I’m still finding popcorn kernels everywhere! Right now though I need your help in the library looking for anything we have on the Mustang Mountains. Come on!” She turned and galloped through the door, and her hoofbeats echoed long down the corridor. Hanging his still-weary and somewhat bewildered head, the dragon began to trudge after.

“Sir?”

No reaction.

“Excuse me, sir?” Daring tried again.

The dragon looked up. “Huh? Oh, you mean me? Sir, huh? I could get used to that...”

“You’re her... butler? Footman?”

The dragon frowned and folded his arms. “Let’s go with ‘oldest and most loyal friend’.”

“Sorry. No offense meant.”

“Well you did give me the Sir, so none taken.”

“You’ve known her a while then?”

“My whole life.” The dragon gave a considered pause. “Literally, my whole life.”

Daring nodded, then raised her gaze to the open door through which Twilight Sparkle had galloped in her hasty exit. “She always like this?”

He grinned and gave a faint, throaty chuckle. “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”

Another pause. “She trustworthy?” she asked, looking back at him.

The dragon blinked and looked up, this time with deep sincerity. “Oh yeah. Absolutely.”

Daring nodded again. “Okay.” She took another deep breath and finally turned for the open window. “Look... don’t let her spend too long searching in there. She’ll just be wasting her time. Trust me, I spent years looking in library after library and found zilch. Make sure she eats something and that she’s not late. I can’t wait around.” She hopped onto the windowsill, stretching her wings and spreading her feathers wide.

“Wait,” called the dragon from behind. “Twilight... she called you Daring. You... you actually are her, aren’t you? For real? You’re Daring Do.”

Daring looked back with a faint, melancholic sigh.

“Sometimes.”

She spread her wings, and was gone.

* * *

*Partify. A verb, used similarly to ‘pacify’, but where the reduction in hostilities is achieved solely via the medium of parties.