• Published 13th Nov 2017
  • 1,043 Views, 20 Comments

Sunset Shimmer and the Last Trial of Daring Do - ChudoJogurt

Sunset Shimmer has nightmares. Trapped in the memories of her past adventures, she can't quite return home. There is only one creature in all of Equestira who can help her. Make her good and nice again, but how far will Sunset have to go to find her?

  • ...

And in a Raging Ocean's Fury

The pyramid was collapsing around us, and with every second chances of being crushed only grew. Frantically, I scanned the giant room, hoping against all hope that there was another door or a latch I have missed.

Green tensed to my right, like a loaded spring. Irrationally — impossibly — my racing mind wandered to marvel at her. Her breathing level and unlabored. Her eyes calm, with not a trace of panic, her body still, with not a twitch of her muscles. She knew no fear, and the only thing you could glimpse in her form was the perfect readiness to act at first chance.

"Get ready, princess," she commanded, her steady voice cutting both through the rumbling of the breaking temple and my rising panic. "Ahuizotl will open the path. We just need time".

Time… that I could provide. I summoned my magic — as much of it as I could hold, last specks of Daring Do’s goop burning off in wisps of smoke on my horn and my green aura seeped into every crack and crevice of the hall, holding the building together with nothing but my own magic and will. The pressure of the massive weight on my horn nearly threw me off my hooves. I swayed, staying upright by no more than a miracle.

It would win us seconds. A minute at best. Gritting my teeth I hoped Ahuizotl did, in fact, have a way out of this.

He stood up again in the pool, making no attempt to run and ignoring the falling rocks like one would ignore annoying flies. Slowly, he raised his forepaws, dripping the blood from the cut into the pond and the world shuddered as the power rose. Not just a spell, not even magic - the raw, capital-P Power made manifest, making my own magic ripple and flux like a soap bubble caught in a gale. The pool responded, the water turning black and deep, stone mechanisms hidden within whirring and churning when the bottom of the well turned into a ladder leading down.

Ahuizotl dove into the water with sudden, unexpected gracefulness, not making a single splash, and the pool that before was barely up to his ankles has swallowed him whole.

I was too busy with my magic, trying to hold the structure together, my horn burning with the energy I could hardly control. Here and there the stones would still fall, despite my effort, making the floor shake and fountains of debris fly through the room with deadly speed, as I was trying to make my way to the well, feeling my way without taking eyes off the crumbling roof.

It was Green who grabbed me in her hooves pulling me through the room while dodging the deadly bits of the stone and any obstacles on the ruined floor. I only managed to draw a large breath before the both of us took the plunge into the well - not a second before the giant stone column smashed into the well, sealing the exit and leaving all of us in night-total darkness, only barely lit by the rare lights from above.

The chill water braced me, burning against my skin like fire, and then abated just as quickly. I tried to get my bearings in the cold and the darkness of the water, holding my breath as long as I could, the pressure in my chest growing and growing, as I struggled to figure out what to do. My lungs burned with a cruel fire; diaphragm ached to draw anything, anything at all into my lungs, and still there was no way but down, no escape, only cold and darkness and death.

Just when I’ve finally thought my head and chest would split wide open, Green Glow hit me under the ribs, a light jab so quick and light I barely felt it, forcing the air out of my lungs. I panicked and tried to inhale the water around us — only to discover that I could. The cool, soothing liquid filled my lungs, causing no discomfort. I breathed. In and out, water nourishing my lungs and extinguishing the pain of asphyxiation just as if it were air.

Ahuizotl did not turn to our commotion as he made his first steps down on the ladder.

“I may be a shadow of what I once was, deposed and dethroned.” Under water, his voice became deeper, reverberating. More powerful. “Still, I am the Lord of things Drowned and Drowning, Prince of the Deeps, little pony mine. You took my coin, and you’re my creature now - you will not drown lest I will it so.”

That made me frown. I wasn’t sure I liked being anyone’s creature but Celestia’s. But then again, I didn’t like drowning or being crushed more, so I decided not to raise a point.

“Breathe, pumpkin.” Green Glow advised, the permanent mocking laughter in her eyes, before diving deeper.

I did just that, marvelling at the feeling of water filling my lungs, cold and heavy, yet entirely breathable. Then I shrugged and followed her down, the cold water refusing to buoy me up against every law of nature.


The stairs, roughly hewn in an infinite stone and encased in stone on every side, seemed to go on down forever, disappearing somewhere far in the darkness beneath. The way behind us closed by the massive weight of the fallen temple, we could only make our way down - a sombre procession in the greenish fog of the water, only barely lit by the turquoise glow of my magic.

We walked for hours, and soon the only thing I could concentrate on was pushing through the water, one step at a time and maintaining the steady light of my horn.

The tunnel walls around us expanded, then expanded again, and it was only after a while I have realised that we were no longer in a cave or a passage, but rather under the open sea, so deep that even far up high I could not discern the surface. Schools of fishes and sea creatures have joined and crossed our procession for a while, before disappearing and being replaced by creatures stranger and stranger as we made our way into the deeps, the power of the Elder keeping us from the cold and the pressure just as it did against lack of air.

And to this day I still remember that moment when I raised my head and my breath caught in my throat — not through Ahuizotl's power failing, but at the sight that I beheld.

Down there, where the infinite ladder had reached its end, there was a giant dome of pearly-white light. Like an enormous soap bubble stuck underwater, it shimmered with a soft white glow, glimmering rainbow playing across its translucent border, and within it, like within a snowglobe, was a city lighted by the magic crystals and schools of fluorescent fish, sprawling miles in every direction.

Another legend that I only half expected to be true, only mentioned in the rarest, oldest books I could find. The-City-Under-The-Waves. Our next destination.

The city sprawled much further than the dome, crude stone houses and coral towers marking twisty, circular streets. Well-lit by the soft shine of the schools of glowing fish and magic light of pearls and gemstones embedded in the walls of the buildings, it seemed empty — windows closed and doors were barred before we would approach, and while out of the corner of my eyes I could see vague shadows following us from afar, they scattered before you could properly see them, quick and mercurial underwater.

At the border of air and water, separated by the dome of thin pearly magic, we stopped, and Ahuizotl stretched his paw to touch it.

Water around it moved and swirled, turning black and red, circling around his fingers, as if longing for his touch, and at the same time towards it another layer of magic rose, angry buzzing of sharp white light, stinging and sparking at the point of contact, the dome suddenly at war with itself, unable to decide whether the Elder was its master or enemy.

"Come out, come out, little ponies," Ahuizotl said, without raising his voice, unthreatened by angry magic lapping at his paw. "Or I will huff, and I will puff, and I will bring your little dome down."

I don’t think anyone has actually heard his him, but his threat was not without an answer — the moment he finished speaking our hosts-to-be descended from above to greet him.

There were three of them. Seaponies — clearly, their lower halves ending not with the hind-legs but with a large fish-tail with a wide fin they used to manoeuvre deftly in the water. They had no fur or coats — instead their bodies were covered by mute monotone scales of pink, blue or yellow that seemed to shine with the reflected light of the dome. With their soundless hovering in the water and their shining scales, they looked like ghosts more than creatures of flesh and blood.

Their retinue followed, coming out finally in plain sight behind and surrounding us — the guardsponies. A dozen or so, with same fish tails and same muted colours, clad in the armour of fish scales and silver, each armed with a strange lightning-bolt-shaped spear and girt with a wide belt, a horn made of a spiral seashell clipped to it.

The spears they pointed at us, and their weapons sparked with electricity, like an overcharged thunder-cloud.

I felt uneasy, sliding closer to Green — I had no idea how my spells would work underwater, and fighting a dozen seaponies that surrounded us did not seem like a good way to find out.

And then, just as suddenly as they appeared, the three main seaponies spoke.




They spoke over each other as if competing who would speak first. Their voices were soft, almost singing, three of them overlapping and adding to each other until they’d settle in a harmony to produce an actual complete sentence in an almost unison.

“You are not welcome here, under the sea.”

"So there is still of Voice of the City. And still you remember me, little ponies." There was smug satisfaction in Ahuizotl's tone. “Then you know you have to let me in. This is my right.”

"We remember," the seaponies sighed, "Memories passed through the darkness of time."

"Well?" Ahuizotl demanded, "Am I to stand at your doors, like a beggar in wait for his pittance? My journey was long, and my servants are tired."

The seaponies glanced at each other, trying to come up with a decision.




The pearls on their pendants glowed with soft white light and their voices reverberated in strange harmonics, the vibrato making my fur tickle and my bones hum with subtle magics. The buzz of the pearly wall grew quiet, finally accepting Ahuizotl's touch and letting his paw through.

The Elder nodded in satisfaction, and took a step forward, parting the sparkling white veil as he did. We followed — Green, then me, the shimmering aura of the dome leaving all the water outside and drying my coat instantly. Outside of water, in this bubbly of dry land, I instantly felt both heavy and light - no longer needing to push through the viscous liquid, but neither supported by it.

The seaponies did not stay behind, floating in the air, just as they did in the water, still forming a silent guard around us as the nacreous film of the dome covered them instead of just letting them through. I looked at them curiously as I trotted, trying to figure out the magic that let them float in the air just as they did in the water.

"The Mother-Pearl" the seaponies answered my unvoiced question, touching their medallions, each adorned with a single pearl in unison and looking up towards the centre of the city.

"It protects."

"It nourishes."

"It keeps us safe."

"Drowner." They scuttled ahead, abandoning me to ponder their reply and swirling around Ahuizotl instead. "What leads you to our abode?"

"I came for what is mine," he answered curtly. "I want it back."

Their voices scattered again into three overlapping sing-songs.

“The old treasure.”

“The token of magic.”

“The coin of stone.”

“Yes. You cannot deny me, fish-ponies. You owe me that — and more.”

They scurried faster in the water, fins wagging side-to-side in sudden unease. "Why would you take your gift from us, Elder? Did we displease you? Have we given offence?"

"It was not a gift, pony." Ahuizotl snapped. "It was a loan. A lien of my power, until you build your own. It is mine, and I wish it back, and I have no need to explain myself to you."


The stone of the city was white and pink marble, ancient, pre-princess era masonry and architecture. It rose around in weightless towers and spires gilded in intricate patterns of electrum and copper, all spirals, and waves, much like pegasi linear script. The buildings were beautiful and magical, glowing with waves of crimson heat and energy they drew out of the seabed and stored in the gently shimmering crystals in their walls.

Sealords and sealadies, the high nobility of the underwater city, powerful enough to warrant their bit of pearl-magics floated through the air, while craftsmares and guildstallions, the sigils of their crafts on their collars, floated through the channels. Occasionally they would stop and stare at our unusual procession, before being ushered quietly along by the guards or the glance from our guides; the menacing electric sparks of their spears hurrying those that still tried to linger.

Some of the streets and walls of the city were now turned into channels instead, belting the city in concentric circles and thread by radial rivers flowing from some unseen origin in the centre. Eels swam in them, not quite like their surface relatives — eyeless, dark creatures, used to the eternal twilight of the underwater city. Sparks of electricity zapped in long, branching arcs between them when they swam next to each other, making the water bubble and the air smell sharply of epsom and ozone.

There was a pattern to this city, a purpose. It did not grow as the cities of ponies usually do — a house or a smithy or a tavern at a time, its growth was not slow and haphazard, a building added here, a thoroughfare rerouted there, one structure torn down to make way for another. Unlike the crude buildings of sandstone and granite caves under water, every building here was planned and considered, changed and adapted over time and came together, seamlessly blending the pink coral and the ancient white marble into a singular machine of thaumarchitecture. The whole city was a monolithic whole, from the smallest of fountains to the highest spire of gold rising in the center of the city to touch the zenith of the pearly dome.

The building that we were presented with was not high by the city’s standards, but sturdy and wide. The columns and enfilades looked menacing, the doors were wide enough to handle crowds, and thick columns held up the flat roof above the entrance. It looked official and it smelled of dust and mould — in short, it was nothing like a house or hotel I would expect. The seapony trio guessed my thoughts, answering again before I asked.

"Our hospitality is not an oft-practised art. Rarely a traveller comes to the shelter of our city. This is but a place of memories. From the time..."

"Of light."

"Of stars."

"Of air."

"It is the best we can give."

Surprisingly, that actually explained it - the building was a museum. It must have been more than a thousand years old, maintained by the seaponies since before the city was lost to the depths.

The servants were already swimming to and fro, carrying the trays of food and drink, bedsheets and blankets, silks and candelabra and every other amenity conceivable.

"Our talk is not done, seaponies—" Ahuizotl warned.

"Long was your road Elder,” the seaponies interrupted him, “and tired are your servants. Be our guest. Drink our wine, eat our bread. Rest for the day.”

“I’m good.” Green said to no one in particular “Take your time.”

I tried to follow suit, and stand a bit more upright and look a little less like I felt. I don’t think I was very successful.

”Please, Drowner, give us time for council." the seaponies asked. "Let us honour you, tomorrow at the turning of the clock."

“A banquet.”

“A celebration.”

“A feast.”

"Then we shall talk and the debt will be settled."

“Tomorrow.” Ahuizotl conceded, and waved his paw releasing both us and the seaponies from his side, and retreated to claim his room.

I went to follow, but before I could, the sea-pony three have barred my way, swimming around me in circles, almost touching me with their finned forehooves and tails. I stopped, and threw a glance at my companions, unsure what's going on. Green Glow was there — somewhat unobtrusively leaning against the jamb of the door and watching the seaponies with wary suspicion. I relaxed a bit, knowing that she had my back.

“You bear his mark on you. His hunger in your blood.” they sing-sang suddenly, in their melodic voices.

I had no idea what that meant.

“The foal-napper.”

“The monster-maker.”

“The Mage.”

That hardly clarified things.

“We weep for your fate, little unicorn. And we weep for the world should you reach the end of the road he would mean for you.”

Ominous did not even begin to describe it, but I had a feeling that if I tried to get an answer, I’d only end up more confused. While I tried to figure out something to say to that, they scattered, up and away, leaving me to once again scamper after Green, who was already walking away.

I caught up with her just by the door to the bedrooms, and before she disappeared into the room of her own, she nodded to me.

“Nice work today, princess. You did good.”

And that passing, indifferent praise has almost made the whole of that crazy day worth it.


I was dead on my hooves when we entered the town, but now I couldn’t sleep. Turning and tossing on my bed, I yearned for respite, yet every time I would close my eyes, memories and doubts would assail me like hungry ghosts. What was I doing here? What would I do if we lost? What was even worse — what would I do if we won? Was I even on the right side?

The shakes were lurking underneath my skin, and I could feel another spasm just around the corner. If I closed my eyes, if I let the maelstrom of doubts and thoughts drag me to the bottom of the memory, dredging up the horrors of what was and what could have been…


I tried to breathe right, just as Green had shown me — deep abdominal inhalations, thinking of every breath I took, but I could not maintain it forever. The drowsiness would overtake me, and I’d lose my concentration, and then I’d start the next circle of self-flagellating questions that I knew had no answer.

Something pulled me out of the bed, and I shrieked and jumped up, ready to shoot magic in any direction… but it was just Green, who has somehow barged into my room.

She gave me another of her looks, the type that made me feel self-conscious and defensive.

“Get outta bed, princess. We’re going for a night out on a town, and you’re buying”

“Shouldn’t we be sleeping?” I ventured, “There’s a lot happening tomorrow.”

“Oh please,” she scoffed dismissively, “I could hear you brood from the next room. You’re not getting any sleep tonight, and I’m heading out either way.”

I shrugged, trying to look cool, however belated my efforts may have been. “Sure, I’ll go.”


We moved down the streets in a brisk trot, past the towers and the channels, Green leading me with some kind of supernatural homing instinct towards the most decrepit and darkened part of the town. Past the shining towers of pink coral and white marble, past the stone houses lighted by the magical gems, to the wall of the dome, where the hair-thin film of the pearly white light separated us from the Deeps, eager to reclaim what was theirs.

I stopped there, appreciating the sheer scale of the magic needed to hold the sea at bay. Beyond this hair-thin pearly wall, I could almost feel the pressure of miles and miles of water above us, hungry to reclaim what belonged to it, only contained by the power that was once Ahuizotl's to command.

Back in the Canterlot castle, you cannot help but feel like a foal compared to the immortal alicorn Princess. But Celestia is kind and gentle, keeping her power well-hidden, and it is easy to forget that she is not just a pony. That she is not mere flesh and blood and magic.

Here, against a wall that covered a city against the whole mass of the ocean, I have realized for the first time how truly small I was — I was not a foal in the land of adults, I was but a mote of dust in the world were titans roamed. I tried to breathe, but the air felt heavy and thick, and I felt weak in the knees...

"Come on,” Green’s voice ripped me out of my reverie before another shake could claim me. “This side is all tourist-traps and high-brow frou-frou stuff. The real deal is underwater."

"Are you sure we can go in without Ahuizotl?" I glanced sideways at her, only to discover that she was not there, but instead has stepped just behind me. “With that pressure, we’d be squished in seconds.”

"I know one way to check..."

Before the sense of her words had dawned on me, I felt a buck to my hindquarters, pushing me through the pearly wall head-first into the water.

Instantly braced by the coldness of the sea, I squealed from the sudden freeze, releasing a dozen tiny bubbles of air and flailing around like a total spaz, but, other than the humiliation of her little prank, I suffered no damage - the power the Elder has given me still held.

Green Glow followed me, ignoring my glare.

"Lighten up, pumpkin. Ahuizotl did not take away his power or his coin — when he does, you'll know.”

Following Green with long, loping strides in the semi-weightlessness of the underwater slums, I finally understood the method to her navigation, the pattern that seemed to dominate the city, despite the underwater architecture of it. For all it's strangeness, it was not that much different from the Baltimare harbour I spent my time in not so long ago.

The city grew darker as we progressed further into the underwater parts of it, leaving the shine of the pearly dome behind. The water was murkier, diffusing the increasingly rare magic light, and the buildings were no longer white with marble and electrum, but absorbed the light instead with the dirty-grey coral and black granite, casting long shadows with the angular, broken shapes of the roughly crafted houses.

Before long, apparently finding the thing she’d been looking for, Green stopped and pushed on some door, I would not even notice was there, and strolled in, confident and relaxed, as if she spent her every evening finding nigh-invisible holes in the walls of hidden underwater cities.

I followed her — what else could I’ve done?

And the seapony tavern looked the same as any cheap place I'd ever been to.

Granted, it was in an undersea grotto, and not in the conventional building, and instead of chairs, it had hammocks strewn haphazardly between low tables. But it still had all the tell-tale signs of a dirty tavern: The smells of salt mixed with the aromas of badly cooked non-food and the acidic undertone of cheap alcohol, the patrons that gave us evaluating glances with a corner of their eyes - the almost reflexive appraisal of whether we were prey to hustle and bully or predators to avoid, and the servile-yet-slimy proprietor, floating behind a roughshod counter.

A haven of normalcy in a city of aliens, a bit of comfort. I felt tension I didn’t know I had started to release me.

"You're buying, pumpkin," Green reminded me, choosing a table and a hammock of her own. "Hope you can afford it."

I rolled my eyes. Yeah, I could afford the drinks.

In every world I've been to, every race and every creed accepts gold as the means of payment: such is the power of the shiny over the mortal minds. Even if the seaponies were not very likely to accept Celestia’s paiza, I still had plenty of bits I gambled up before leaving Baltimare. Certainly enough for a night out on the town.

The City Under The Waves was no different than any other place in that regard - the barmaid was by our table even before my gold had touched its stony surface, eyeing the metal greedily despite the unfamiliar mint. In return for several coins - a rip-off, I’m sure - she issued us two strange implements, full of warm, bubbling liquid. They looked like some weird cross between the Saddle Arabian hookah and alchemist's worm-pipe made of crudely baked clay and verdigris-covered brass.

Fiddling in my hammock, I took a careful drag from the pipe. Oxygenated water, sweet taste of some fruit, not unlike wild strawberries, and alcohol. It didn't kick the same way hard cider did, but instead, the taste tickled at my throat,making me feel relaxed and the walls of the cave wobble around me.

I giggled and went for another pull.

Green settled in the hammock next to me, taking her own pipe-drink, and gave me one of her looks. "So spill, little princess."


"Why are you here? What gets a nice little filly to go out and join the Big Blue's little merry band of misfits?"

"Same as others, I guess," I tried to deflect the question, hiding behind my own hookah.

"Horseapples." She shrugged off my non-answer with a wave of her hoof. "Those brain-dead little critters would follow any whiff of power. Don't kid yourself, pumpkin, you're nothing like them."

"What about you, then?"

"Gotta keep busy." She shrugged. "A power must serve a goal, and this is as good as any other. But you're stalling, little princess." She leaned closer to me, and I couldn't help but stare into her eyes, the burning emeralds of pure green flame, my lips and throat suddenly dry, despite being underwater. I needed another drink - badly. Luckily that was in ready supply. "Tell me."

"I... I want something. Something nopony else can give me," I said, finally. "Something old, and powerful. It's the only thing that can fix me up."

"You mean your little shaking?"

I nodded, unwilling to say any more.

"Just one last score, and you're done? Go back to whatever prissy little castle you came out of and be a nice little filly?"

I would've nodded again, if not for the dripping sarcasm in her voice.

She took her own pipe to her lips, and let the awkward pause drag out.

"And, tell me then, little princess..." she asked finally, "what will you do at nights?

It was not what she said. It was how she said it. Her level, deliberate, voice; the subtle inflection in her tone, that thing, that glint of the mad, insatiable hunger I saw in the bottom of her eyes — it hit me right upside the head, and I remembered.

The nights... creeping through the woods, sharpened steel sliding through the cloth and leather that covered it, spells humming like freshly made lightning, muscles taut and nerves stretched. Running in mad dashes and desperate sprints, heart racing like it wants to escape my ribs, thump-de-thump-de-thump pulsing in the ears, insane rhythm of a mad drummer. Pure undiluted joy, a high like a wave, like a tsunami that drowns you, scrapes and bruises, tired muscles and stretched ligaments, pain like pleasure, pleasure so sharp it could just as well be pain, blood on your flanks in red and yellow, yellow and red, and you laugh, because you're alive, because you have won, with steel and fire and magic and will.

What will I do that could equal those nights?...

I felt the metallic taste of copper, where I bit the stem of the pipe, crumpling the metal as I teetered on the edge of another shake.

"You don't know me..." I said finally, the warm drink and cold water holding me steady. "I'm not like that! I'm..." a good pony I wanted to say, and yet the words would not leave my muzzle.

"I've fought you, and you've fought me, little princess, and there was no place for a lie in the fight we shared. You enjoyed it."

"No, I didn't!". How could somepony normal enjoy fighting and hurting other ponies? I certainly was nothing like that. I was nothing like her.

She relented, moving back to her own hookah.

"Deny it if you wish, but we are of one blood, you and I."

I wanted to tell her that she was wrong - but all the easy words of denial felt hard and trite and empty. I said nothing, opting to hide behind my drink instead, fleeing the conversation and my own thoughts.

"Fine," Green waved her hoof, letting go of the conversation. "Why don't you ask me something for a change?" she offered.

"Really?" I looked at her suspiciously. I would never have expected her to offer something like this.

"One question." She cooled down my enthusiasm "Ask me anything, little princess."

That was so unfair! I had so many questions - about her magics, about her knowing Daring Do, about the things she did to me and for me...

"Why..." was all I managed to say before my voice broke. It was enough for her to guess my meaning.

"Why do I help you, little princess? Why do I ask you those questions, tell you the rules?" She exhaled the pipe-drink through her nostrils, the smokey water curling around her muzzle. "Maybe because you remind me of myself when I was young and stupid. Maybe because I am basically irrational. Or maybe because you have potential, and there is no greater treasure for a teacher than a good student."

“You’re a teacher?” I couldn’t help but ask. I’ve had many teachers, and not all of them taught academics, but she — she was like none I’ve seen.

She looked at me, almost insulted by my look of disbelief. "I’ve a degree in Foal Development."

“You - a teacher?” I tried to imagine her in the classroom, drawing up letters for the foals. Mind boggled.

"Yep. Fully credentialed."

"With this?" I looked down her flank at her cutie mark, the green sorcerous flames, that seemed to animate when the subtle currents of the underwater city tickled her short fur.

Almost despite myself, I reached out and touched it. Unnaturally warm even under water, it burned my hoof with the heat of her body.

She shrugged. "Burned hoof teaches best… and speaking of lessons - there is one coming up now."

Turning my head left and right I finally figured what she was talking about. A bunch of seaponies were... they weren't doing anything. Not yet. But the way they moved, the way they looked... I knew what was going to happen, and my heart beat a touch faster.

"Somebody shined a bit too much coin." She teased, though without much reproach. "And the little princess forgot to look around."

There was a table-full of them. Most of them stallions, all getting to that point where pleasantly tipsy becomes aggressively drunk. One of them - a bigger one, his scales the colour of copper, said something looking our way, and the whole table exploded with snickering laughter.

Green's answer made me giggle again into my pipe, and the stallion grew so red, I thought he would have an apoplectic fit on the spot. He floated up from his hammock, and the whole bunch of them drifted towards us.

I ran quickly through my mental arsenal, lining up the spells for the fight. My usual choice of fire or wind was obviously out, but there were a few spells I was just itching to try out underwater—

"Do you want to have at it, pumpkin?" Green asked as if offering to share a dish. "It is your fault after all."

"I.. no!" No, I did not. It was not what I wanted, not what I was. I shook my head forcing myself to extinguish the spells that I already half-assembled, squashing angry, sharp thoughts in my mind like bugs.

"Suit yourself." She jumped out of her hammock, landing softly in front of the tan seastallion, and the cloud of seaponies fell apart, surrounding her. They had the numbers and were in their own element. Swimming around Green in circles, like sharks around their prey, they probably thought themselves scary.

Only the copper-scaled stallion floated in one place, hovering over Green.

“You want to repeat that, little mare?” he tried to stare down Green Glow

“Don’t… don’t hurt them too much,” I asked her weakly. Despite myself, I could not help but feel the anticipation of the inevitable fight tying sweet knots in my belly.

“Don’t worry, princess,” she scoffed, “I’ll be downright gentle...”

Something glinted in the stallions forehoof, while she was turned to me. A thin steel needle — a weapon meant to slip easily in the water, and before I could raise my voice in warning, it found its way between Green’s ribs, burrowing into her side. A small cloud of blood smoked from the wound, colouring the water red.

She moved. Not a flinch of pain or surprise, but a subtle flex of her abs, trapping the knife, the thick muscles like fibres of a wooden statue. She looked back at the stallion that tried to cut her, with a slow, heavy gaze, and flicked her ear in irritation.

And only then, when the dull incomprehension in his eyes gave way to fear, she began to move.

Over time, I would hear a lot of comparisons for fighting. Some would liken it to ballet, others - to speed chess. Morons. Real, life-or-death fighting is nothing like an art or a game. It’s nasty and brutish, and more often than not it’s over before anyone has time to process what is going on.

What she did though, was as close to poetry in motion as I’ve ever seen, when she moved slowly under water, pushing through it with brute strength. It was like a dream of somepony fighting, a beautiful nightmare you don’t want to wake up from. She powered through their haphazard strikes and panicked defences like they weren’t even there, her long legs coiling around the attackers, always hypnotizingly-slow under water, always just faster than them, just in the right place to grab and to twist and to crush.

Strength. Endurance. Grace.

The magic of the earth ponies, more potent than the highest sorceries of Canterlot.

I wanted to join her. I wanted to run away. Instead, I took another drag from my pipe, letting the tingling, itchy sensation settle deep in my chest, and watched until it was over.

Giving the last look to the floating bodies of the unlucky stallions, she stretched - the familiar languid motion, like a muscular wave from the snout to the tips of her hooves, dumping the excess energy of the combat into the ground. I could almost feel the pulse of the energy as it dissipated, and Green was once again as calm and nonchalant as she was before, switching instantly from the predatory intensity of combat to relaxation of the girls’ night out.

She threw a coin on the counter - old gold, one of Ahuizotl's coins, in a wide, lazy arc of glinting metal in the silence of the tavern.

"Are you alright?" I asked. Even knowing her unnatural vitality, I could not help but worry about the stab she took because I distracted her.

She glanced down at the no longer bleeding mark. "I'm fine. It's just a scrape". She stretched again, testing out her body. "The flesh shall serve the will. Come on, pumpkin. We have a pub crawl, which means you gotta crawl!"

And so we crawled. Pub to pub, watering hole to watering hole, all ramshod and rickety, grimy and dodgy, and it was glorious.

We pinned the tailfins on the seaponies - a game much more fun when you're tipsy - and she taught me to move without seeing, whispering advice into my ears, and the warm water of her breath tickled my coat. We tried drinks, exotic and impossible in the surface world - some weird and amazing, some that were awful and probably would make me go blind if I inhaled any more.

And on the way back Green bought me a snow-cone — a little gesture of affection, strange for the usually abrasive mare. It tasted like no fruit I've ever tried, sweet, tangy and tart, and I ate it while we walked back to our rooms.

“Want to join me?” she asked, opening the door to her room. “I don’t have any coffee, but I did stash some Griffinstonian brew.”

“No, I’m beat…” I answered before the full implications of her offer hit my alcohol-addled, sleep-deprived brain, “...oh.”

She raised a single eyebrow, and I gulped, my gaze trailing on her cutie mark perhaps a touch longer than was strictly necessary. “Err. Uhm. No, I… err, yeah, totally beat, ehheh. Rain check?”

She laughed her deep velvety laugh, and turned away, swishing her tail side-to-side just wide enough to make me regret my decision, before disappearing into her quarters.

“If you change your mind, little princess, my door is always open.”

I stared dumbly at her half-closed door, my mind finally catching up with my mouth.


Why did I say no? For all that she scared me and pushed me and made me think those thoughts I wanted to lock away and never think, still I liked her. Not just liked - I liked her liked her.


I made my way into my room and bed - my cold, empty bed.


If only I would’ve said what I've wanted…

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Her taut muscles, pressing into my body…


...her black lips, feverishly hot…

"Oh, I'll be downright gentle, little princess..."

I closed my eyes.


Sleep has claimed me, as soon as my head had touched the pillow, and though I would not remember what I dreamt of, it was definitely not a nightmare.


Seated on a terrace of the central palace, high above the city, we had the perfect position to see the whole city respond to the first note sung by the Voice of the City. The same three seaponies, pink, and yellow, and blue, hanging in the air, shining with the power of their pearly magic, they sang a single note, three voices as one.

The sealadies and sealords invited to the dinner followed, adding their voices to the song, then the servants and the stewards in their liveries, and the song grew and spilled ever onwards.

Beneath, in the streets and channels of the city, everypony who heard the call stopped what they were doing, like Saddle Arabians responding to the call of the mu'addhin calling the loyal to the midday rest. But instead of resting, the seaponies who heard the call floated up in the air, sparkling with the auras of the Mother-Pearl and added their voices to the song, passing the call further on, and turning a single note into a thousand-voiced symphony. Horns of the guardsponies joined to the melody, and the wind, subtle and circular rose throughout the city, moving the stale air and ringing the tinkly bells hanging off every house and above every channel.

The music they made was an unearthly, fractal melody that folded into itself with infinite voltas and reprises, a wordless tune turning into a song in a language I did not quite know, and yet could understand.

It spoke of the memory preserved through the darkness of the time, of loss, and of the love of the seaponies to that city of theirs. Love that was above their love for the stars, and the air and the sun, the love that endured for a thousand years and would endure forever, even after the stars would fall from the sky, even when the air would be exhausted, even after the sun itself would burn out and be extinguished.

The city shone in response to their song, love of the city to its ponies made manifest. Towers and gems and channels released the magic they stored in shimmering mists. From every corner it rose, strands of pure energy in every colour of the rainbow, gathering into the centre of the city, where beneath us, hidden in the depth of the palace like a treasure in the folds of the lotus, the Mother-Pearl slept.

As the mists disappeared into the palace beneath us, so did the seapony song grow to a close, the same way it started. Silent grew the wind and the bells. Horns stopped their calls. The seapony auras extinguished as they lowered into the channels of the city, and only one, endless note remained, still held by three voices becoming one.

Then, silence reigned.

In that silence a spark was born, a pulse of magic like reverse lightning rising from below along the golden spire, in a single rolling wave of such immense power, that it made my horn tingle, and the sparks of static crack along my coat. The white-golden wave of it climbed to the top and touched the dome that kept us from the ocean.

It wobbled, the whole structure contracting and expanding as if taking one gigantic breath. The top of it opened in ripples to let out a bubble of air, and let the water in instead. It fell with a thunderous, deafening roar, a brilliant waterfall in every color of the rainbow, along the spire spilling into the terrace-like reservoirs that made up the palace and rushing further down along the channels of the city, filling them again with water, powering the seapony machines, turning their waterwheels and feeding their steam engines as it went ever down.

But I no longer cared, because the seapony servants, released from the song, had finally brought in the food. I've had ample sleep after last night's diversion, my hangover was over and now I was ravenously hungry.

Dozens of tiny platters were brought by a cavalcade of servant ponies and thrown across the table — dishes of seaweed, plankton and krill grown in the water and darkness, the strange fruit of the sea, unknown oin the surface world, the fishes I could not even try to name, and like the rarest of delicacies — a dozen red apples on a golden platter in the center of the table, eyed hungrily by every seapony in the room.

The Sunken City spared no expense on welcoming the Elder

The Voice sat down, their nacreous auras dulled to the normal shine of the protective field and nodded, signalling the start of the meal. The company — me included — fell to with gusto, the servants weaving in and out to keep the tables filled with food as fast as it was consumed.

Unlike most of us, the seapony trio picked at their platters daintily and Ahuizotl not at all, too busy conversing with each other. The Elder’s impatience shone through in every gesture of arrogant demand, while the Voice kept their muzzles as still as masks.

"You eat fish, little princess?" Green distracted me from my vicious attack on the nearest plate. She herself didn't follow my suit, picking only seaweed and other plants out of her dish.

"Yeah." I dunked the nearest slice of fish into some sort of black jelly-like sauce and dug in. It was deliciously salty with just the right amount of sour. "My mum loves all sort of exotic foods and travels a lot, so we're always eating Neighpanese or Mustangolian when she's home. Love the stuff. You gonna eat that?"

She pushed the plate towards me without a word.

"Here." I threw her an apple in return — that seemed the thing to do after yesterday’s fiasco. "An apple for the teacher.”

"How sweet." her tone was neutral, but I could sense her amusement. ”Might just have to keep you after school.”

"This is some good stuff." I attacked the new dish to cover the nascent blush of embarrassment. I hoped to see any hint of distaste on her muzzle out of the corner of the eye as I bit into the flesh of another undersea creature, but she gave me no such satisfaction. "I should totally ask for a recipe — I'm pretty sure she never tried anything like thi—"

"Give me what's mine, you little shrimp! What I've once given, I can also take away."

Ahuizotl’s roar cut our chatter short, his fist slamming into the table and making silverware shake and jump up.

"No, you cannot," The seaponies sang, unperturbed by the Elder lashing out.

“You are diminished."

"... broken."

"... but a shadow of what you were."

"Without the coin, you don't have the strength. Else you would not need it in the first place"

Ahuizotl growled, baring his teeth, but did not contest the notion. Then, suddenly, he smiled.

"True, I do not have the strength. But you swore to me once, when you came grovelling for my power to save your pathetic little city, and those oaths still ring true. It would not take my full might to call upon those words."

It was now sea-ponies time to stay silent.

"What was it that you said to me then, when my power was still great, and my brothers still roamed the earth?"

He stretched his forepaw over the table as if dowsing for the very roots of the city.

"'By the foundation of the City,' your mothers swore to repay your debt..."

The earth convulsed.

"'By the hearth and the mortar,' your fathers gave your oath to me..."

The buildings groaned and shook, plates cracking and silverware falling off the tables.

"'By the walls and the halls'..."

Ponies screamed behind the halls, and the pearly dome outside bent and wobbled.

I watched Ahuizotl summoning the Deep magic, the kind I did not know even existed in Equestria, and it was as if I saw him for the first time. Now, beneath the veneer of old greed and jealousy and hatred, behind the cracked facade of the kingdomless king, you could almost guess the power he has been once. A cunning magician and a fierce foe, magnanimous to his allies and terrifying in his vengeance. An almost rival to my Princess.

The seaponies folded like so much wet seaweed.




"We honour our oath, Elder. Great was your gift and your favour, and great is our debt, but there is another to whom we owe just as much."

“Who would dare to claim that which is mine!?”



"DARING DO!" Ahuizotl’s roar interrupted the third seapony, when said pegasus flew up on the terrace.

"Looking to make the Voice into a full barbershop quartet?" Daring Do quipped, landing on the floor. "They could use a good baritone, if you ask me."

I looked at her grimly, as she joined our table. Daring Do, who began to stuff her face immediately, as if without a care in the world, did not follow us here for idle amusement. She was surely aiming to foil our plans, to stop Ahuizotl again. Stop me.

The images of our last fight replayed in my mind, and I wondered if, when the time would come, I'd be able to do what I had to.

“She also lays claim to the treasure you seek, and she also has a right to it,” the seaponies concluded, ignoring the hero’s little quip and Elder’s interruption alike.

"What possible claim—” I could see Ahuizotl’s paw dig into the heavy goblet he held, as he battled his temper. He was almost successful, keeping only barest of hints of rage in his voice. “—could she have that surpasses mine, ponies?"

"She has given our treasure back to us."

“Our protection.”

"Our magic."

"The Mother-Pearl."

Everypony touched their pearls with their forehooves, looking down, where beneath us the Mother-Pearl was hidden.

"When it was stolen, she has found it. Returned it back to us."

“YOU WHAT?” I lost my voice for a second at the absurdity of what I’ve just heard, shouting out of turn and jumping up to the pegasus, hanging over the table and getting right in her smug, grey, nonchalant stupid face. “You had the Treasure of the Sea in your hoof, the key to every underwater magic EVER, the artefact of impossible power and the best you could do is throw it in a lake?! Do you have any idea what magical advancements could be gleaned from that thing? What could be done with it!?”

She pushed me away with her hoof and shrugged. “It was not mine. It was theirs.”

I had no words. This was beyond idiotic, beyond treachery even. To have such treasure and share with no one—!

“Do not war, guests of the sea. Tonight we ask for truce," the seaponies chimed from the sidelines.

I sat back, still seething, unable to let go of the thought of what I could’ve done with an artefact of such power. That righteous, self-absorbed… chicken! Next time I would not go so easy on her, if only in revenge for all the scientific advancements not made because of her “generosity”.

"A promise was made."

"A reward was promised,"

"An oath was sworn."

The seaponies continued, once I was done with my outburst.

"Any one thing the hero demands would be granted."

"And I want the coin, Zoti." The fabled adventuress stuck out her tongue at Ahuizotl. "Nyah."

"As you see, Drowner, we must needs to…



"...take counsel—"

"Ponder all you wish, ponies," Ahuizotl said, in a low, heavy tone, his paw mangling the bronze of his glass as if it were wet clay. "Meditate to your little hearts’ content, but do it quickly, for I have been promised an answer today. And choose wisely, lest you think you can cheat me out of what is mine with no consequence."

He reclined back in his chair, his final words leaving his threat hanging in the air, and making seaponies look down upon their plates in silence.

I too have returned to my plate, but the exotic foods did not seem as enticing any more, and as the anger of my outburst abated, the cold feeling of fear replaced the barely sated hunger in my belly.

"Eat, pumpkin." Green poked my side with her hoof under the table when I failed to notice the plate she moved towards me. "You'll need your strength."

I followed her advice, though now the food now tasted bland and there was no more joy to be found in teasing her with my choice of dishes. I picked slowly at the greens and the fishes, more playing with the food than eating in the oppressive silence of the room until...

"Such is our decree."



The three seaponies rose from their seats to announce.

"Two have laid their claim. Both have the right and none can we deny. Thus we open our treasury to you. Take that which you desire most, and so let your desires be sated and your claims satisfied.

"One thing you'll take."

"... desire you'll see fulfilled."

"... dream you'll have come true."

"And nothing more, or you'll be forfeit."

"We want the same thing, so why would I chance for what is rightfully mine?" Ahuizotl shrugged nonplussed. "I have no time for petty games."

Finally, Daring Do stopped stuffing her face and leaned back away from the table, patting her belly with her wing. She burped loudly in satisfaction, the uncouth lout.

"Heard at least one of you has a taste for gambling." She winked at me. "How about a round of double or nothing?"

Ahuizotl steepled his fingers and raised his eyebrows, inviting the hero to go on.

"I get your coin and it's mine to do as I want. The debt of the City is cleared, and you leave these ponies alone."

The Elder snorted in derision. "And if I win? What do I get then? Other than what belongs to me already." A wave of a bitten apple in his tail-paw underscored his sentiment.


Everypony stared. I сhoked, my frantic coughing resonating in the sudden silence like a badly tuned flugelhorn.

"Any trap, any trial. Your choice. Like good old times, eh?"

Ahuizotl reclined back in his seat, pondering.

"I do love my death traps,” he admitted. The tips of his claws touched slightly as he mused. "And the reward is most worthy."

The crunch of the apple he bit echoed through the terrace, as everypony waited for his decision.

"So be it then," He finally declared, reclining in his seat and picking up his misshapen glass to salute to Daring Do. "Let the City be witness to our deal."

I let out a breath I did not know I was holding. A fair contest was way better than a fight.

"So be it," the seaponies echoed Ahuizotl's words. "Both of you we shall hold to your deal."

"So, how are we doing this?" Daring Do asked, all business-like. Waiting until last possible moment, she snatched the last apple right from under the Elder’s paw and tossed it to one of seaponies at the table.

"Tomorrow, while the water flows, the entrance is open," the seaponies declared. "As it was promised, any one thing will be yours for the taking. But there are the protections even we can't disable easily."

"Only the few may pass"

“Only the Voice of the City sings inside"

"Only we are allowed"

"The first challenge shall be the Drowner's to pass. The second - Nightwatcher’s. If one should fail, the fallen shall be forfeited and the other may try. Should both fail, our obligation will be done.”

I looked at the Elder. That was not what was promised initially — there was no talk of challenges and guardians, but the Elder just rolled his eyes and waved his forepaw to allow it. The principal agreement has been reached and there was no sense in pushing the seaponies any further.

Especially, I guessed, since he would not have to do anything himself.

“Tomorrow then.” He threw the mangled glass onto the table and stood up. Green followed suit.

“Tomorrow.” Daring Do fluttered from her own seat as well.

The seaponies rose wordlessly from their seats, and the servants opened the doors for us. The dinner was done, the show was over and the answer seaponies promised Ahuizotl has been given.


“Come on, little princess, time to go. The seaponies are about to sing.”

She pulled the pillow from under me, dumping me half-awake on the floor.

"Green!" I shot up. My neck, bent out of shape while I slept popped and cracked, shooting a lance of pain along my spine. "I wanted to talk to you..." I tried to collect my thoughts muddled by sleep. "About, you know. That thing. The other night?"

I wanted to catch up with her, yesterday, after the dinner, but she slipped away right after the meal and wasn't anywhere I could find.

Unwilling to go out by myself and afraid to go out bother the Elder with the question, I spent the day stalking around the museum studying the ancient carvings and statues, until I fell asleep in an armchair by the door — an idea that now bit me in the back with a vengeance, as every movement of made my spine crack and pop.

“Not now, pumpkin. Don’t want to be late.”

“But I—”

Under her glare I withered, my thoughts falling apart like a badly stacked house of cards.

“Go.” She pushed me towards the bathroom. “Five minutes.”

A quick wash and panicked scrambling to get my cloak and saddlebags, my mane wrestled into a semblance of shape and my neck popped straight, I was ready and willing to follow her in under three.

We followed - without talking - the shimmering auras of magic flowing above every street to the palace. The seaponies sang. The crystals shimmered. The magic flowed, making my horn tingle and itch. It was as beautiful as the first time I’ve heard it, but I could not help but wonder if those who lived in the city eventually grew tired even of this ethereal beauty.

Ahuizotl sat wrapped in his cloak on some sort of monstrous seat meant only for him and waited. Deep in his thoughts, his tail-paw played idly with his golden necklace while he watched the plain bit of wall with unfocused eyes, peering somewhere deep beyond and below the stone with the same glance that seaponies had when you mentioned the Mother-Pearl.

It was there, I guessed. Some sort of treasury or vault beneath the palace, protected by the traps and guardians that we were to overcome. The Mother-Pearl would be there. So would the coin, and I could not even venture a guess what other artifacts and wonders.

Once again the song ended, and the soundless discharge of magic ran along the spire and touched the dome, making my ears pop with the colossal magnitude of power involved. The water rushed along the waterways of the palace in rainbow waterfalls.

The seaponies descended from their air, settling around us on the roofs and balconies. They looked like the stars falling from the dim twilight sky, shrouded as they were in their glimmering magic auras.

The Voice of the City were the last to join us, surrounding us and the Elder.

“The water flows, Drowner,” they said in their musical unison. “The first gate is yours.”

A gate? I saw no—




The three seaponies sang, their voices taking the familiar peculiar overtones. Some invisible mechanism groaned and shook within the wall, fed by the seapony magics and the water flowing through it.

A gate slowly opened in what I thought was a seamless stone wall.

I couldn't quite figure out what was inside at first. It looked like a tangle - scales and canines, slithering and twisting like a knot of snakes, each as big as the quarray eel. A reptilian body, sleek and small, shining dull colours of copper and brass, interlaid with steel chains that tied it to something within its den. Tiny legs, that seemed alien on the creature’s frame, but sharp and deadly, glistening with green ichor….

“A hydra!” Ahuizotl noted with amused surprise.

An old one too, each of its dozen necks as wide as the tree trunk, each maw big enough to gobble a grown pony in a single bite. A dangerous creature — single-minded, almost impossible to cause any lasting harm to, poisonous to the last blood cell, and nearly as vicious as it was dumb.

“I remember, in the days past,” Ahuizotl continued to no one in particular, “It was just a minotaur with an axe. You’ve stepped up, little ponies.”

He stretched his hand to stop Green before she jumped at the challenge and stood up, his cloak dropping behind him.

“But if you think this is an obstacle for me, you are sorely mistaken.”

He walked towards the hydra, his words growing louder and angrier with every step.

“You think I am a has-been. A broken creature, a shadow of the past. Nothing but few old debts and promises, a usurer, withering over lists of ancient favours long since gone stale, a beggar with his paw outstretched. But I am Ahuizotl the Drowner, Prince of the Deeps, little ponies, and it is past time you remembered what I am.”

He stopped, halfway into the arena, waiting for the beast, and rolled his head, his joints clicking, ancient gold glinting and shining in the rare light.

The hydra roared and charged, its tiny legs carrying its cluster of heads with surprising speed.

Ahuizotl lifted his eyes to stare at the creature, and power, slow, thick, and tangible rose around him like a tidal wave.

The beast shivered and slowed down. A twitch ran down its scales, a wave of seizing muscles bulging out its skin. It stumbled as if forgetting which way its legs move, waving all the necks in chaotic tangles.

Slowly, like a centuries-old tree, it fell on the ground by the Elder's feet with a great thunderous crack of its skull against the stone.

There, under his unrelenting gaze it rasped and spluttered, coughing up splashes of water, twisting and scraping at the earth, and then with a few last agonizing convulsions, it finally grew still.

Ahuizotl turned away from it, slowly. His eyes glazed across Daring Do, still full with the pressure of the power he had summoned. Her skin shone with an eldritch blue light in response — a lining of runes I couldn't recognize underneath her grey coat, and she did not so much as sniffle, for all the Elder's might.

They stared at each other for a second before he released his power with an irritated growl.

"Don't worry, little fishies." The sight of seaponies pale under their scales when he looked at them has improved his disposition somewhat. "I have not broken your little toy. The creature will survive — and it will remember me. As should you."

“So we will, Drowner.” The seaponies’ muzzles were bloodless, their voices — quiet and even their preternatural harmony almost faltered for a second.

“The water flows, Nightwatcher.” They turned to Daring Do. “The second gate is yours.”

It was the sealords and sealadies — the onesclosest to us, their chokers and earrings shining with gold and gemstones — who had to sing this time, a twelve-fold harmony of voices, resonating with the magic gems inside.

The gate pushed outwards, opening up the wall of the castle and lighting up crystals beyond the hydra’s den, revealing a corridor below, wide and long and full of metal.

Just as the lights of the crystals turned on, it groaned with the tension of metal on metal and began to move. Giant cogwheels, pendulums, and springs moving like an inside of a clock some crazy watchmaker lined with sharpened steel and jagged glass. Axe-like pendulums swung in every direction, spears pistoned across the hall, and every tile of floors, walls, and even ceiling was lined with a blade, spike or sharpened needles of steel or crystalline glass, all rotating and shifting. It was not just a random bunch of blades - there was a pattern to it, just like a clockwork or a puzzle box, islands of temporary safety, still in the deadly chaos.

The whole room, at least as large as regulation hoofball field, was one huge whirling deathtrap.

Even Daring Do whistled with respect at the sight and looked at it almost wistfully.

We moved closer, taking our places to observe - again Ahuizotl in the centre, the servants moving his chair as he walked, Green and me by his side, and the seaponies according to their rank and status all around us. The elevation of the corridor allowed us to see deep into it, to watch every move Daring Do would make.

At first, she was confident. Almost lazy. She'd stand on the temporary safe spot, an instant of calm in the sea of blades and spears and watch the swinging pendulums and spring-powered scythes with her head turned sideways, counting and studying. Then there would be a simple step, or a weightless jump, steel swishing so close to her coat she could've used to shave the tuft off her muzzle.

She was dragging out the time, waiting for the water to run out, and the seapony machines and contraptions to stop along it. The door would then close and the Elder would have to waste another day, waiting for the seaponies to sing again. That, however, was before she had missed her mark.

She did not miscalculate, she did not slip — she just hesitated, at the last instant before the jump, the slightest give of her rear-left leg.

I can only imagine what she was thinking, in that fleeting moment when she knew that she would land on the edge of the whirling buzz saw instead of the safety of the firm stone, but she made her decision instantly, whether right or wrong. Her wing unfurled, adding a single flap to get her to safety. A single flap, a single moment her wings were open, and the swinging pendulums clipped her.

Just barely. The five-ton weight only touched the last inches of her alulas, as she twisted her body into muscle-rending corkscrew between two traps, but it was enough to send her into a spin and take her of course. From that point there was no more lazy precision, no careful calculation, only raw, desperate speed and nigh-impossible agility as she jumped, tumbled and spun, slipping and regaining her footing, jeopardy to jeopardy, danger to danger, navigating the labyrinth with nothing but pure reflex and nigh-blind luck.

She made it through.

I sighed with relief.

Bruised, battered, bleeding from dozens of cuts and abrasions, Daring Do was alive, pushing with the last of her strength on the bar that held the door open.

Silence was deafening.

All could hear the gnashing of Elder's teeth before he reluctantly clasped his paws in silent applause. And as everypony stomped on the ground, cheering the hero's hard-won victory, I could not hear the falling water anymore.

The last trial — for us, and for Daring Do — would have to wait another day.

It took all of the seaponies now, both the Voice and the nobles to sing the note that opened the path to the final gate. The clockwork trap moved around us, folding onto itself and retreating into the walls, revealing the third gate beyond.

Unlike the steel and copper of the traps, or seamless white masonry of the palace, the third gate was rather crude - no more than a dolmen of barely cut stones, adorned with nothing but uneven writing burned into the granite:

Treasures unequaled within me lie and everything you ever wanted is here.

Pleasure destroys the best in mare; Truth destroys the worst.
If you have goal above happiness, then enter, otherwise let rest.

“The Labyrinth.”

“The Treasury.”

“The Heart of the City.”

The seaponies not-quite-explained.

“Any one thing you may take. She who gets to the coin first shall be the one take it.”

“So, Ahuizotl, how are you in a foot race?” Daring Do finished bandaging her cuts and bruises and was back to being her annoying cocky self, trying to get a raise out of the Elder. She mock-flapped her wings. “I’ll give you a head start.”

“The little princess will do it,” Green said before the Elder could answer. Her hoof poked my side, so as to leave no doubts as to who shall be Ahuizotl’s champion in the last trial.

“A unicorn racing the pegasus?” I protested, “Isn’t that a little unfair?”

“It is not the fastest who comes first,” the seaponies answered. “She who has…”

“...the strength...”

“...the will...”

“...the desire...”

“..shall be the first to reach her prize.”

I stretched my hoof towards the gate, and a spark of power shocked me like static.

“Tomorrow,” the seaponies said. “When the water flows.”


I stayed at the mouth of the labyrinth long after everyone has left, feeling the draft of the strange power that came from it, and trying to divine the meaning behind the strange warning on the gate.

“You think too much, little princess.” Green appeared out of nowhere behind me, as was her habit. “That’s your problem.”

I glared. It was not very effective.

“Come with me, pumpkin. I’ll show you a secret.”

“What secret?” A promise of secrets was definitely a distraction I could use.

“Now if I told you,” She said, sounding awfully smug. “It wouldn’t be a secret, now would it?”

I snorted and followed her. The creepy arch and the creepier message could wait until tomorrow.