• Published 1st Jun 2019
  • 1,591 Views, 103 Comments

The Tomb of the Nameless Evil - Klamnei



Sidestory to Fecundity. The Elements of Harmony and Maud Pie struggle to learn the ancient secrets of Mount Everhoof's most deadly cave.

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Part 1 - Ice and Strife

The Tomb of the Nameless Evil

Part 1 - Ice and Strife

You’ve no idea how dangerous that cave is, Miss Maud. You want to know how far we got before the corruption levels shot up? About as far as that patio table over there. I had my thaumic scanner out the whole time—the levels were green one second, then all the way in the red. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Look, I can tell you’re set on this, but at least listen to me on this: If you really are related to an Element of Harmony, get them to come with you. Not just your sister or whatever; ALL of them. Those earrings of yours might save you from the corruption, but whatever’s causing it was around before the three tribes. You’re going to need all the help you can get to stop it...

...if it can be stopped at all.

  • Doctor Chalcedony, sole survivor of the Everhoof Geomancy Expedition (EGE)

“It shouldn’t be far!” Rainbow Dash scanned the frigid slopes of Mount Everhoof. The weak sun reflected off her enchanted helmet and made the etchings glimmer. “Keep an eye out for a big ol’ crack in one of these shelves!”

Twilight Sparkle strengthened the wind barrier around their party. Sombra’s magic signature was easier to track the closer they got. “Okay!”

The snowy cliffs and rocky crags of Mount Everhoof were like a vertical wall to their right. Twilight, Maud, Rainbow, and the other Elements of Harmony were like a prismatic comet as they ascended; their Rainbow Power allowing them to fly and carry Maud with ease. The mysterious corruption clinging to the mountain fled before them, but it came flooding back soon as they passed.

“There.” Maud's ears glinted with teardrop jewels reminiscent of the Elements. “That’s the outcropping.”

Twilight looked. Sure enough, a jagged opening partially concealed by an overhang was coming into view. Corruption pulsed from it like the fetid breath of a hydra.

“Yeesh!” Pinkie made a face. “That cave needs its mouth washed out!”

“And me without my grease soap,” Applejack said.

“Goodness! I feel like I just drank a mug of black tea!” Fluttershy shivered as her Element strained within her like a dog on a leash. “What’s going on?!”

Rainbow laughed. “Feels to me like our Elements are getting psyched! It’s time to do what we do best!”

Rarity pursed her lips. She studied the looming crack in the wall, the powdery snow blowing across the ledge in sheets. “Maud, does that overhang look natural to you?”

Maud followed her gaze. “No. The rock striations indicate the use of powerful acids and arcane concussive force. Circa Pre-Equestrian Era, by the looks of it.”

Five pairs of eyes blinked.

“Someone was trying to hide this cave from prying eyes," said Maud.

“Ohhhhhh.”

Rainbow chuckled. “I didn’t realize all that gem hunting had taught you a thing or two about caves, Rarity! Don't tell me that's the real reason you wanted to come along!"

Rarity stared at her. “Do you even know what happened to the last group that explored this cave?”

“Does anypony have a weird chilly feeling on their tongue?” Pinkie smacked her lips a few times. “I didn't even HAVE any peppermint!”

“That means we’re getting close,” said Twilight. “Hang on!”

The group touched down in a gentle arc. The ledge was surprisingly large for being so concealed, the majority curving into the cliff like a smoothed-out bowl. The cave itself was smack in the shelf’s center.

Twilight took a moment to double check all her active spells. Pocket dimension: check. Wind barrier: check. Six Breathe-Easy spells: check. Six Element Endure spells: check. She was the odd mare out for those last two, but alicorns didn't need such things. “Alright, this is probably overdoing it, but I want to test something.”

Twilight closed her eyes. She centered herself like she’d been taught, ignoring the clink of her friends’ armor, the Element of Magic burning within her, the contamination oozing on the edge of her senses. She searched for the familiar steady light of an ever-burning candle.

The air shimmered, and then…

FWOOM!

A wave of magical heat erupted from Twilight. The colors of her body morphed into bright whites, reds, oranges, and golds. The sigils on her legs and wings glowed with prismatic light, and her mane and tail became plumes of holy fire. Her eyes now shone like kaleidoscopes, constantly shifting and blazing with the Element of Magic.

“Better?” she asked.

Rainbow wolf-whistled. “Always said you were hot."

“Hoo-wee!” said Applejack. “There’s a new combination!”

“And a positively radiant one!” Rarity held out her armored legs. “You've gone from a cool winter to a warm summer!”

Twilight smiled. “That ‘chilly feeling’ is a mix of the cave’s corruption and three leylines that intersect in this area. Ponies have been studying it for a long time, but all we know is it has an elemental attribute of water—ice, in this case.”

“Super-duper neaterrific! ” Pinkie zipped around Twilight. “You’re like… like… ultra-mega-Rainbow Power-fied! Do you ever get a fever? What’s the toughest thing you’ve ever melted? Do you need to use oven mitts? Can you breathe fire like Spike? OH, Maud-Maud-Maud! Look at Twilight! Isn't she awesome?!”

Maud spared Twilight a glance, then returned to examining the shelf. “Obligatory 'playing with fire' joke.”

Rainbow and Fluttershy snorted.

Twilight snickered as well. “I was thinking I’ll stay at a low simmer from now on. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on the Element Endures—Pinkie, that's just my mane. You don't need to keep batting it like a cat."

Applejack made to put her hoof on Pinkie's shoulder, but then stopped. “Erm, ya miiiiiiight not wanna stay lit like that all the time, Twi. Even that ‘low simmer’ is melting everything around ya.”

It was true. Twilight had already made short work of the nearby ice and snow, with the puddles of water now following suit. The air around her was wavy and pure, the tongues of her ardent fire licking the uneven stone.

“Technically I'm ablating everything, but I digress.” Twilight returned to her normal Rainbow Power form, then reached into her pocket dimension and passed out everyone’s belongings. “Here. I've enchanted our belongings to be fireproof, as well.”

“I love it when you think of everything.” Rainbow took her pack and strapped it on. “Make sure you keep your Elements going, alright everypony? This is some nasty crud we’re dealing with.”

The fierce wind howled around Twilight's barrier while they made ready. Maud began calibrating her geomancy instruments, Fluttershy checked the ground for tracks and other oddities, Rainbow kept an eye on the weather, Rarity took note of small details, Twilight cast a myriad of spells, and Pinkie monitored her ‘Pinkie Sense’ like a hawk.

“How far to Sombra’s doohickey?” Applejack asked Twilight. “I hope this gunk ain't makin' it hard to tell."

Twilight clicked her teeth. "No... I can tell just fine. It’s two miles directly beneath us, at the very bottom and center of the mountain.”

Everyone stopped.

“Two… miles?” said Rainbow.

“Technically, the ‘bottom’ is far deeper," said Maud. "The Himaneighyas are all fold mountains, and their orogenesis suggests—”

“How can this cave extend over two miles?!” Rarity gaped at the entrance, her Element pulsing and making her mane shine all the brighter. “Is the entire mountain hollow?!”

Fluttershy spoke up. “Maud did say this area was altered by somepony. Maybe…?”

One by one, all eyes turned to Maud.

Maud, to her credit, took the question seriously. “We don't have many surviving records from the Pre-Equestrian Era. I doubt the entire mountain is hollow, but it's possible that kind of magic existed back then."

Applejack turned to the snowy tundra below. “The Pre-Equestrian Era was when all this was lush and green, right? Before the windigos came?”

Maud nodded. "A lot of ponies believe this place is linked to them somehow. It's just that nopony's been able to get near enough to check."

Rainbow rubbed her hooves together. “Ooooh, I love a good adventure-mystery! This is gonna be fun!”

Twilight wasn’t sure ‘fun’ was the right word for it. “Don't get complacent. Cadance said our coming here denotes a fixed point in time, which means time is too dense for most kinds of temporal magic. I can't use my Time Snap spell to undo any mistakes."

Rarity fiddled with her neck guard. “Could you explain what a 'fixed point in time' is, by the by? I'll admit my eyes glazed over at that part.”

There was a murmur from the others at this.

Twilight paused. “I don't know if now's the best time for a crash course on temporal theory—"

“It can't be THAT complicated!" said Pinkie. "Maud and I sense future stuff all the time!"

Yet still, Twilight hesitated. She traced the glowing sigils on her legs, the bright colors shifting in time with the ones on her wings. “I... suppose can give a quick rundown of time paradoxes in relation to Starswirl’s First Law of Causality—”

Rainbow cleared her throat.

“Really quick, I promise!” Twilight stood up a little straighter. “The long and short of it is there’s a varying value of probability that influences space-time. We interpret it as 'cause and effect', but it’s actually a very, very, very complicated equation that’s always going on ‘behind the scenes’. The value is too obtuse for most to interpret, but we know it always has, always is, and always will return a nonzero value. If it wasn't, the future wouldn't always be turning into the present, the present wouldn't be turning into the past, and the universe wouldn’t exist."

The stares she got were as blank as a new chalkboard.

“Time either works or it doesn’t; there’s no in-between.” Maud said without looking up. “In other words, altering a fixed point in time would simultaneously break the past, the present, and the future. We know that time works, so that means anything that would contradict this is impossible."

...

...

...

“Is... that a fancy way of saying we're destined to be here?” said Fluttershy.

“There’s no such thing as—” Twilight cut herself off. “You know what? Sure. It’s destiny. The point I was trying to get at is we shouldn’t take any chances, okay? If anything at all looks suspicious from hereon—and I mean ANYTHING, we give it a wide berth.”

“Wide berth, eh?" Rainbow grinned. “Missing your sister already?”

Twilight ignored that. “Anyways, there’s one more thing I want to talk about before go in. This… isn’t going to be fun, but it's the right thing to do.”

She looked past all of a moment, towards the snowy horizon and the glint of a familiar weather barrier. “As you all know, team of seven from the Crystal Empire came up here two years ago. Only one of the members returned, and this place has been quarantined ever since. The other six are presumed dead.”

There was a collective wince.

“We know the accident happened shortly after entering the cave.” Twilight pulled out a metal box the size of an urn. "Something caused the corruption to surge without any warning, overwhelming their precautions and driving them mad. The only reason even one got away is because they'd been out here on the ledge."

Applejack’s face was grim. She could see the box was etched with spidery arcane runes glinting in the light, the instructions for its use listed on the side. “I've seen those containers before. ‘Dustboxes’, think they're called.”

Twilight sighed. “The standard recovery protocol is four steps: Secure, sanitize, disintegrate, collect. Securing will be the hard part due to the leylines, but magic should be able to tell when we’re close to one of them. I have enough boxes for each missing member.”

Rarity examined the dustbox. Its silvery metal surface was cold and reflective, her empowered form staring back at her. “I'm not sure how to feel about there being 'protocol' for things such as this.”

Rainbow tossed back her longer mane. “Better than winging it, right?”

“Are you picking anything up right now?” Fluttershy asked Twilight.

Twilight shook her head. “I’ll say something if I do. That's all I wanted to say; it's Maud's show from here on out.”

All eyes turned to Maud. She looked up from her hoofheld scanner, regarding the cave entrance with hardly a twitch of her lips.

“Woohoo! Big Sis in charge!” Pinkie hopped around her. “Ser Pinkamina Diane Pie, reporting for duty! Let's check out som—what’s wrong?”

Maud’s eyes had widened a fraction of an inch. She pointed to the mouth of the cave, where a set of fresh hoofprints led a short ways into the cave… only to vanish without a trace.

Rarity felt a chill. “Those weren’t there a moment ago.”

“N-No,” said Fluttershy.

Twilight squinted. She made a quick alteration to a scanning spell before casting it again. She couldn’t get a read on the magic signature, but did detect the scrambled eddies of a familiar portal magic...

“Scratch that, one more thing.” Twilight lowered her chin. “Remember our anti-changeling exercises?”

A swirling circular portal opened on the other side of Everhoof. Neighsay, clad in winter gear and saddlebags, tumbled out and landed spread-eagle on the windswept ledge, gasping. He was enshrouded in a neon green aura, but this aura flickered out soon after his portal closed.

Neighsay panted for breath. His head was throbbing, his heart thudding in his chest. He’d thought to get in while the Elements’ backs were turned, but then he’d heard a strange WHUM. An oily magic had swept over him that he couldn't get a read on before going dormant again...

Neighsay gulped. He swore they were still reaching for him—frigid tendrils covered in countless fanged maws. Time had slowed to a crawl as they shrieked out his name, but suddenly, the screams had been drowned out by a flare of rage.

“How?” The last threads of Chrysalis' empathic trap faded from Neighsay's psyche. “That doesn't make any...”

The wind and stone didn’t answer. He stared up at the sky in silence, his head aching and the snow blowing over him. The rage had made him see red and heard nothing but drums in his ears. A soft, silky voice had reminded him those disgusting glowing freaks were right behind him, and he’d made to whirl about...

“I forgot she'd even cast that on me.” Neighsay made a face. “Gone now…”

The sun disappeared to dunk the world in gray. He was standing at a crossroads, but what lay down either path was unknown. The color drained even more around him as the minutes passed.

“Blast...” Neighsay sprang to his hooves and tore open a portal with nary a thought. The interference from the local leylines might’ve made normal spells difficult to cast, but his medallion was infused with a greater power. He took a deep breath, made sure his scrambler was still working, then jumped through to return to the western slope.

He reappeared on the higher up ledge he’d been spying from. He peeped out to make sure they—

“!!!” Neighsay staggered as the corrupting magic slammed back into him. “Y-You’re kidding… even o-out—AHHHH!”

Spiders. The ground was a literal carpet of them, some larger than his head. Their thick webs were spun across the sky like a ceiling of death, the very clouds shriveled and drained like dessicated husks. The entire mountain was a living nightmare of mandibles and dead eyes, countless numbers scurrying up and down the cliffs.

Neighsay’s scream rent the air. He made to leap off the cliff, but his legs were caught in sticky webbing. A legion of nightmares started scurrying towards him, their sharp, hairy legs prickling his skin.

“N-NO!” Neighsay bolstered his will and mentally SHOVED the magic back. It tried to worm its way back in, but he shouted and struggled with the evil power. The spiders faded one moment only to—

“He's above us,” said Maud from below. "On the ledge.”

Neighsay froze. Sure enough, he saw Maud looking straight at him. He noticed her ears were shining with a strange light.

“Rarity!” said Twilight.

Suddenly, a pair of immense telekinetic auras enshrouded Neighsay. They would've gotten him easily, but the magic was strangely sluggish. Neighsay flung himself back with herculean effort and broke line of sight.

“Scissor snips!” Rarity stamped her hoof. “These leylines!”

Suddenly, Pinkie’s nose started wiggling, followed by her left-front calf itching.

“Uh-oh.” Her eyes flicked all about. “U-U-Um...! I don’t know this one!”

“Never mind!” Twilight’s horn flared brighter, then brighter still. “Everyone, grab hold!”

“My instruments can’t withstand—” Maud began.

Applejack's lasso shot out, snared Maud's saddlebags, and yanked them off into a snowbank. Maud was then grabbed just as Twilight's magic rose to a whine.

Meanwhile, fending off the corruption was taking up almost all of Neighsay's concentration. “I can fight this off—I HAVE to! I just need to keep moving…”

He whirled about and ran for the cliff wall, a portal opening up before him—

FLASH!

“WAH!” Neighsay tried to dodge Twilight and the others, but an ice patch made his maneuver go awry. Instead of sidestepping all of them, he crashed headlong into Maud and knocked them both into his portal.

“MAUD!” Pinkie yelled.

Rainbow made to pursue, but the portal had already closed. “Ohhhhh, no.”

“Hang on!” Flames danced in Twilight’s eyes. “I doubt they went far!”

Neighsay and Maud appeared back on the shelf in front of the cave. Clamoring voices above floated down to them on the slicing wind as they tripped over each other. Maud landed hard on her side in front of the cave mouth while Neighsay landed in the snowbank by Maud's saddlebags. His impact knocked open the flaps and spilled out Maud's instruments.

Neighsay and Maud's eyes spun in their sockets. A stab of pain brought Maud around first, for without Twilight's wind shield, Mother Nature was free to torment her newly-pierced ears.

Maud winced and pinned her ears back. She got up while starting to retreat from Neighsay, making sure to keep him in her earrings' range of influence. She watched and waited without saying a word.

Neighsay opened his eyes. The first thing he saw was Maud's geomancy equipment scattered in front of him, their silvery polish sticking out amidst the gloom. He couldn’t help but admire their quality and make.

"I suggest you don't move, Chancellor," he heard Maud say. "For both our sakes."

Neighsay sneered. He spotted Maud in his peripheral, her glowing ears sticking out like a sore hoof. “Young mare, I certainly hope this isn't YOUR Petrum-4X thaumic mineral spectrometer just sitting out in the snow."

Maud blinked several times. “You... know what a spectrometer—”

“What kind of geomancer are you?!” Neighsay lifted the instrument with care. “I ought to have a word with your higher-ups! Is this how you treat government property?”

Maud's expression didn't change. "Technically, that's not government property." She gestured to the instruments. "I had to purchase this equipment myself—"

The spectrometer bounced off Maud’s head with a BONK!

Neighsay dashed to Maud as she fell like a sack of potatoes. He concentrated on a Tear of Laughter, his magical grip sluggish, but still delicate.

“Consider yourself fortunate, stupid girl," he muttered. “Not everypony would bother with the fastener...”

He pilfered the earring and held it up to his face. It’s glow cleared his mind and chased away the shadows, giving off the same energy as the Elements of Harmony. It wasn’t nearly as strong, of course, or even as strong as her other earring for that matter—

“Wait...” Neighsay compared the Tear to its twin. They'd been equal in strength but a second ago, but his had grown weaker the instant he’d claimed it. Curious, he put it back on Maud's body to see what it would happen. The earring resumed its original strength immediately, but again, taking it away made it a shadow of its former self.

Neighsay bit his lip. Slowly, his attention turned to Maud’s other earring—

She’d certainly have no qualms about doing the same to you. She doesn’t care you’re trying to save Equestria; she’s part of the problem, just like her sister. She’s only useful as food, so if you’re going to do anything, you should take her earring, open a portal to the hive, report to the Queen—

“NO!” Neighsay's eyes flared with neon green light. “dAMn YOU, stUpID bUg! GEt oUUuuUT... Of MY hEAD!”

Why would you show this worm any kindness? Why are you even here at all for that matter? Your orders were to find a Sombran artifact, weren't they? The Queen won't be happy you've disobeyed, but maybe if you bring her this mare—

“ERRRRRRGH!” Neighsay shoved the Tear in his bags and stumbled forward. The venom of Queen Chrysalis was like acid, every independent thought causing him agony. It was doubly painful if said thoughts were openly hostile. “I… DOn’T… sERvE FREAKS!”

You belong to the Queen. You would do anything to make her happy, anything to fulfill her plans. You would lay down your life if she asked. You're an extension of her will, not meant to think or question. Open a portal to the hive so you may take this girl to Her. She may prove useful.

A cracked, stilted laugh escaped Neighsay. “i’M wINniNg, LoveSUcKErrRrRrr~” The glow faded in his left eye... then returned, only to repeat in his right eye. “GOn-N-N-n-NA s-S-S-sTop thoOOoOsE... gLOwINg TRaitOrS! tHEn... YOU!”

The cave entrance was like a gateway to some hellish world. Searing, white-hot pain punished him for every insolent step, but the punishment may as well have been a badge of honor. Nothing was going to stop him; not her, not the Elements, not
his smoking saddlebags—

Smoking saddlebags?

“AHHHH!” Neighsay yanked out the Tear. It was hot as a smoldering coal, vibrating in his grasp and whistling like a kettle. His portal medallion had also been in that pocket, and pulling it out revealed it to be in a similar state. The saddlebag had almost been burned clean through.

“What…?” Neighsay could feel the energy Chrysalis had infused into his portal medallion clashing with the Tear. Both items were calming down, but even held apart they—

CLICK!

The heavy, stifling weight of a dimension lock made Neighsay's legs buckle. Pupils shrinking, he looked up to see Twilight and the others zooming towards him from the ledge above. Rarity's horn was glowing bright, and Twilight was charging a follow-up that made her shine like a beacon.

“Cat and mouse it is.” Neighsay stuffed the magic items in opposite pockets, cast a darkvision spell, then sprinted into the cave. Rarity’s forcecage formed a millimeter behind him as the persistent whispers of Chrysalis chased after him, his mad laughs vanishing into the darkness.

“Consarn it!” said Applejack. “He’s a slippery one!”

“I missed?!” Rarity said. “I thought I had him!“

Twilight landed and cast a simple scan on Maud. "She’s just dazed, Pinkie.”

Pinkie noticed what her sister was missing. “HEY! That poopy jerk took one of her earrings!”

“We gotta go after him!” Rainbow flared her wings. “Changeling spy or not, he’s not here to sightsee!”

Twilight bit her lip. She took a proper look at the entrance before them: The opening was narrow, the interior was uncharted, and teleporting inside would be limited since this was her first time here. She didn’t want to admit it, but Neighsay actually had a chance of—

Fluttershy cocked her head. “Twilight?”

“Ergh! Rainbow’s right!” Twilight grabbed Maud’s things and had everyone line up behind her. “He’s a threat to Equestria AND himself! We can’t leave him be!”

She gave them all darkvision, cast one or two more wards, then whirled about as they all rose into the air. The familiar power of the Elements wrapped around them like a blanket as they stared into the unknown.

“We’ll go as fast as we can!” Twilight led the charge. “In we go!”

The entrance was cold, uneven, and haphazard. It was a steep descent across the length of two hoofball fields, and the rough, sloping ceiling was etched with patterns like malformed faces. Years of erosion had formed open pits among the treacherous ledges, with patches of cloudy ice partially covered from the drifts of countless storms.

The first thing Twilight noted was the air. It had an acrid edge like burnt plastic, but worse. The stalactites and stalagmites were like massive monoliths perched on fragile ledges and weak parts of the ceiling, the smallest of them size of an adult pine tree. Neighsay’s passing had caused flurries of powdery snow to fall from these formations like dust, but his hoofprints were still visible until he’d out-ranged the dimension lock.

Twilight kept her eyes peeled. The corruption was stronger here, but not what the late science team had reported. She wasn’t picking up anything indicating pony remains, either—

“STOP!” Pinkie reached for Twilight. “DON’T—”

WHUM

A strange sound rattled through Twilight’s body. An oily magic swept over her, but it passed her over like she wasn’t even there. It then swept over the others—

ZZZZTTTT

It happened in the blink of an eye. The empathic energy swelled, swelled… swelled until the chamber was saturated in an ice-blue haze. The girls didn’t even have time to gasp as Twilight’s greater wards were shattered like cheap glass. Hatred and fear clawed at their—

FWA-KOOOOOOM!

Light. Pure, blessed harmonic light, spectacular as the sun and just as radiant. The Elements of Harmony filled their bearers with such power that the girls' zealous cries echoed through the chamber. Ardent magic exploded from them in a prismatic ring that made the walls, floor, and ceiling quiver. The nearby snow was blasted away in sheets to reveal more cloudy patches of ice, and the evil haze evaporated in a blink like it was never there at all.

Then, there was a grinding and shifting of stone.

Twilight’s eyes widened. From the monstrous faces above them, a flurry of polluted-looking frostbolts was flying at them! Each carried that same oily feel of magic, and while said oiliness was cleansed upon drawing close, the frostbolts themselves...

“LOOK OUT!” Twilight erected a shield at the last second. Ice pelted them from all sides in a spray of blighted hail that ate into the forcefield like acid. Twilight grit her teeth as volley after cruel volley hammered them, cracks forming around—

FWOOM!

Holy fire met dark ice. The shield defrosted as the the next volley sizzled to nothing. Twilight's flames blackened and scorched the surrounding rock, cloudy ice patches ablating in noxious hissing plumes.

“Pinkie!” Twilight pointed to an icy bend below. “Get us there!”

Pinkie flew forward. Her precognition screamed with throbs, twitches, itches, and more; so much that she could only react on instinct. The deafening din of falling rocks and whizzing magic raged on as she dodged falling stalactites and toppling stalagmites, sailed over jagged outcroppings, and zoomed over pits filled with serrated edges like sawblades. The things she couldn’t avoid were negated by Twilight’s fiery shield.

“What IS this place?!” said Fluttershy.

“They’re followin’ us!” Applejack pointed to an icy salvo hot on their heels. They'd gotten through the hellstorm and out of the deadly room, but not even rounding the bend had shaken them off. “Can we melt ‘em?”

“We’ve got bigger problems!” said Rainbow. “Look!”

They came into a long, low-ceilinged passage leading down. More of the twisted mouths were in here, each spewing tons of hex-laden snow to create a foul indoor blizzard. The pallid storm was so intense the girls could barely see.

“Still wish you’d come alone?!” Rarity snapped at Rainbow.

“Snark later!” Twilight’s flames burned hotter. “Go, Pinkie!”

Pinkie veered and took them along the right wall. Sprays of frigid mist belched from murder holes as they drew near, more frostbolts spiralling from the gruesome heads to home in on them without fail. The Elements roared within the girls as the tainted snow and icy salvos evaporated... but it wasn't long before the liberal use of fire presented a new problem.

“It’s all ice!” Applejack gestured beneath them. Indeed, the entirety of the passage was frozen over, and the slushy, tainted water absolutely reeked. “It’s—ulk—some kinda swamp river!”

The odor rose up like a unholy thermal. The girls were coughing and retching in seconds, each breath becoming a battle against somersaulting stomachs amidst a relentless storm. Their supply of fresh air was dwindling fast.

“Rainbow...!” Twilight's concentration was flagging. The forcefield flickered a moment, the snow only repelled by Twilight's intense heat. “We need—hlp—my fire! You have to…!”

Rainbow got the message. She pulled back her wings and took aim, Twilight making the necessary modifications to their shield. A white corona formed around Rainbow, the runes on her armor dancing and lines of ivy glowing bright. Crackling energies crisscrossed her body, her multi-colored feathers vibrating and buzzing with rising force. Twilight's magic funneled the gathered power into the shield like a conduit, and as soon as Rainbow clapped her wings together...

KRA-KOWWWW!

Lightning lanced across the room in a blinding burst. Chunks of snow-covered rock and ice shattered like brittle glass and sailed every which way to pelt the shield like bullets. The superheated bolts expanded the air with a deafening roar and mighty shockwave that could be heard and felt even outside the mountain. Rainbow's eyes glowed with bolt after fearful bolt exploding from the shield, the vomitous stench evaporating in a flood of ozone.

Twilight coughed. She rubbed the dots from her eyes and scanned the narrow slope. Ash-gray snow still covered everything, but she did notice there was less snow than there was a second ago. She looked where the lightning had struck the wall and saw several of the face carvings had been destroyed.

“Break the heads!” Twilight said. “Hurry!”

Rainbow, Twilight, and Rarity handled the far wall with volleys of lightning, fire, and force missiles. Applejack and Pinkie took the close wall with empowered earth pony kicks while Fluttershy carried Maud. It was arduous and slow, but they managed to prevent the snow from turning into an avalanche behind them.

But good as that was…

“What kinda of dark magic IS this?!” Applejack forced back a fresh gag. “It's even in—ugh—this nasty ice!”

“Hey, Fluttershy!” Rainbow fanned out her wings. A second later, her gleaming feathers were thrumming with electricity. “Remember this from flight camp?”

Fluttershy’s eyes widened. "Oh!" She scrunched up her face and fanned her wings. It took her a bit longer, but eventually, her feathers started crackling to help freshen the air. “Phew, those leylines are really bothersome, aren't they?”

“You’re—CRUNCH—telling me!” Pinkie said between kicks. “I tried to warn—CRKKKK—Twilight about that haze—BAM—but by the time my—WHACK— knees wobbled, it was too late!”

A rancid, slushy slurry splashed over their shield as Rarity's force missiles smashed a trio of carvings. “That haze was no accident! There was some kind of magic before it went off!”

"Then how—" Applejack stopped and bucked the wall HARD. A ripple of earth pony magic travelled through the wall that caused eight statues to implode. “Neighsay get through it?!”

“I don’t know!” Twilight shouted. “This magic is ancient! I can’t even tell how it’s working through the leylines, let alone its parameters!”

“Doesn't matter," said Rainbow, eyes still glowing bright. "We're gonna bring it all down. We might be the only ones who can!"

Fluttershy thought of the dustboxes. “She’s right. We can't let anypony else die!”

“Including us, preferably!” Applejack’s mane was like a windsock as they flew on. “We gotta think of a better way to get through this!"

Twilight swallowed hard. "Whatever’s powering these heads must be inside them, but I don’t know what's setting them off! Maybe if I knew that...”

Rarity had a thought. She muttered some soft words amidst her arcane assault, her horn now thrumming with a second spell. “Give me a moment."

Twilight did a double-take. "Rarity?”

“You—rgh—heard me!” Her aura shone brighter… but then faltered. “We may all be getting stronger from this—mmph—Rainbow Power business, but unlike some of you—COMEON—I’m still having growing pains!”

The others exchanged glances, but said nothing.

Rarity struggled to weave her spell while the others covered her. They smashed, melted, zapped, and purified their way down the slope until they neared the black expanse of a deep, crooked shaft. Twilight sensed freshly-scrambled shreds of portal magic at the rubble-strewn edge, the sound of putrid water hitting stone hinting—

FLASH!

Rarity’s spell flew up the hill like a sparkling sapphire ghost. Seconds later, eerie glowing shapes appeared behind each of the faces, said shapes trailing all the way up like a runway. Most of them broken save for the ones still spewing snow.

"Hey!" Pinkie pointed. “It’s like a rave!”

Twilight’s lips parted. “Your gem finding spell... WAIT! Those aren’t gems! They’re crystals!

Rarity smoothed back her mane. “And unless I'm mistaken, I believe that means we need Maud.”

Twilight’s thoughts whirred. Her knowledge on geomancy was limited to vague ideas, basic concepts, rudimentary theories, and broad generic terms. She could tell the eddies of magic in the faces had the same oily feel as everything else (the magic signature felt like a thick sludge) but that was it.

“We'll have to wait til she wakes up." Rainbow’s eyes flicked to Maud, who was still down for the count. "We gotta keep going after Neighsay!”

“Before he gets turned into a jerk popsicle,” Applejack muttered.

That snapped Twilight out of it. “You’re right! Rarity, prep a disabling spell; anything you can cast fast! C’mon!”

They flew down the waterfall and followed the thawing river. The striations in the walls were like a historical record of the erosion, the path always following a specific layer of stone. Their surroundings were a blur of grays, browns, and dark blues until the shaft became a slope again, twisting and turning while the ice veered to disappear into the rock. They continued down the twisting descent until it opened up into a yawning canyon with gargantuan stalactites dangling high above.

"Oh, my..." Fluttershy shrank to the back of the group.

Pinkie noted that the stalactites looked like a leviathan’s fangs. "Notttttt a very friendly place, is it?"

"You're just realizing that now?" Rainbow said.

The canyon itself was immense. The pursuing frostbolts had melted off by now, and the lack of any more made the group confident enough to venture out into the expanse. They steered clear of the wall this time and flew down through the open air until they spotted a narrow stone bridge spanning the gap.

Twilight narrowed her eyes. She'd noted there was a debris-laden path down the cliff, but her spells weren’t picking up anything—

“There!” Rainbow pointed to the other side of the canyon. “I see him!”

Twilight did a double-take. Sure enough, Neighsay was on the ledge opposite the bridge below. His dark eyes bored into them as he took a defiant stance.

Rainbow sneered. “Leave this one to me—"

“WAIT!” Pinkie grabbed her right as she was making to jet away. Less than a heartbeat later, a swirling tear in space opened up right where Rainbow had been about to fly.

"Oh, that little..." Applejack clacked her hooves together. "So it's gonna be like that, is it?"

Rainbow gulped as the portal sealed itself. "I hate smart bad guys..."

They saw Neighsay scoff and put out his horn. He started making for a low-hanging opening in the wall before they could recover.

"RARITY!" Twilight yelled.

Rarity fired a silver ray. Twilight matched it with a prepared spell of her own, the twin spells spiralling in a corkscrew towards Neighsay. Both attacks struck him square in the back...

...and revealed they'd attacked an illusion.

"Oooooh!" Rarity stamped her hoof. “He's making us look like foals!"

Twilight narrowed her eyes. Either Neighsay was more clever than they realized, or the changelings had taught him some things. “You need line of sight to open a portal!” She started sweeping the cliffside. "Look around! He's here somewhere!"

They’d come to a stop a hundred yards above the long stone bridge. Said 'bridge' was as narrow as a balance beam, so there wasn't any area to hide upon it. The cliff they’d descended appeared empty, and the opposite side had little in the way of ledges. There was nothing but open expanse to their left and right, and as for the bottom of the ravine, well... they couldn't see it. They didn't think anything of it at the time save for that corruption welled up from the blackness like an intangible writhing mass—

“Another new combo!” Pinkie’s body started shining brighter. “Ooooh, AND my Element's getting all tingly! I’m not sure what a lower back sting combined with a double inner ear itch means, but I think it's beneath us!”

Lead pooled in Twilight’s gut. Reluctantly, she turned her scanning spells to the darkness beneath them. She immediately picked up something foul, nasty, cruel, but most of all, BIG. Long-dormant magics were weaving together before her eyes to form the most bizarre pattern she’d ever seen. It shouldn't even work at all according to the known rules of magic!

Then, while she and the others were staring down into the abyss... something stared back.

Cold, sullen eyes opened within the void. First five eyes, then eleven, then thirty-three, eighty-nine… Countless and ever-shifting, the eyes floated and rippled on top of a dark, viscous, bubbling goop. Gibbering mouths gurgled in a dissonant chorus like the wails of the damned. Even worse, more eyes and mouths were constantly forming only to then burst like great cysts and splatter everywhere.

Fluttershy’s voice was oddly calm. “That... is not an animal.”

"YA THINK?!" said Rainbow. Her eyes were glowing again, her Element SURGING with power. “I don't think it's even alive!”

Rarity's face was gaunt. “Kill it with fire... LOTS of fire!”

Pinkie scratched her head. “Anypony else feel like singing for some reason?”

The only thing Twilight felt was numb. The aberration was a stain upon creation; like a legion of damned souls blended into pustulous glue. She wouldn’t be able to move at all if not for the Element of Magic. “I… I-I think... Rainbow’s right! It's some kind of alchemy golem!”

“Golem-shmolem, it's WRONG!” Applejack’s aura flashed as slime droplets sprayed their shield. “We gotta take it out!”

The ooze began to swell. It churned and heaved as it filled up the pit, its vast, roiling mass quickly enveloping the stone bridge. It continued to grow while shrieking and bellowing at them all the while; some of its voices young, some of them old, some male, some of female. Soon it loomed over the girls like the shadow of death, now making ready to crash over them like a dark tide—

SPLORTCH!

Twilight brute-forced it down with pure telekinetic force.

“UGH!” Bile rose in Twilight's throat. "Whatever you do, do NOT let it touch you!”

High above the action on an outcropping amongst the rime-caked stalactites, a pale-faced Neighsay watched his pursuers through his stolen telescope. He grew more and more pale as their brilliant aura revealed the abomination.

“Stars alive...” Neighsay covered his mouth. “What is—AHHH!”

A grimy frostbolt whizzed by his face. He dove for cover as more followed, all of them plummeting into the canyon with blinding speed. He dared looked up and saw they were coming from carved faces similar to the ones he'd seen on the way down.

“What...?” He could sense magic being activated, dark, vile, and familiar. “I thought they were just decorations! Are they some sort of—”

Familiar?

Neighsay frowned. A second and third salvo erupted from the open mouths to sail past him like before. A fourth and fifth did the same, as did a sixth and seventh. Nothing he did caused the missiles to target him, so at last, he peered over the edge to see what they were targeting.

“The Elements...” Neighsay squinted at the girls. No matter how fast they moved, no matter their evading, the frostbolts followed until they'd dissipated on their fiery shield. Puzzled, Neighsay reached for his telescope for a better view.

“What did they do?" he muttered under his breath. "I swear to Platinum, if this place has some kind of defense system and they set it—”

His hoof froze in mid-air.

“Starswirl’s beard...” Neighsay looked back the way they came. “Those noises... the tremors...”

“I’d say Twilight’s the MVP for this adventure so far!” Pinkie's voice was barely audible over the hiss of melting ice. “Any other nominations?”

“I nominate YOU to focus!” said Applejack.

The air was filled with whooshing, squelching, and popping. The golem kept trying to engulf them at every opportunity—chasing, charging, surprising them with tendrils, spraying them with vapor, and splattering them with pustules. It’s insane babbling frayed their nerves and clawed at their resolve. Twilight pushed it back every time it cornered them, but its vile magic made her want to hurl.

“Why on earth are we just flying around?!” Rarity called over the din. “The Elements want us to attack!”

“I ain't so sure!” Applejack’s voice had a faint echo, as well. “The cuckoo-crud’s super-strong here! They might just be keepin' us sane!”

Either way, it was hard to deny the power on display. The Elements thundered with a strength none of them had ever seen—resonant, vibrant, and circulating through all of them like a river. They could feel their own Elements’ power as much as the others, the relics working together to boost each other even more.

“This thing is absolutely saturated with the corruption!” Twilight had them fly up from another attack. “It must have been feeding off it!”

Suddenly, the muck undulated and heaved. It surged forth in a mass of of swirling, seething faces, reaching out with dripping, fang-laden tendrils—

WHOOSH!

A wall of wind sprang up at Rainbow’s command. It merely halted the slime at first, but then the air strengthened into a tempest with a rushing roar. Tons upon tons of goop were pancaked against the wall with a shuddering SPLAT!

“I'm with Rarity!” Rainbow’s mane shimmered with power. “Let's give it all we got!”

The remaining slime gathered into a tsunami behind them and charged. It was a tireless machine, a hideous construct bound to its mysterious primeval instructions. Its decaying wails were muted by the howling wind as—

“Get behind me!” Twilight delved deeper into her own magic. Her aura shone brighter, the air around her shimmering like a mirage. Her flaming mane and tail became like clouds of thick, seething plasma; raw arcane energy flowing off her like steam.

Twilight opened her mouth with a sound like a bellows. The goop was reaching for them again, heedless of the magenta light shining in Twilight's throat.

FWSSSSSSHHHHH!

Fire and force flowed from Twilight’s mouth. The stench of charred rot filled the air as the slime’s ran headfirst into a devastating, immolating cone. Twilight struggled with its mass at first, but then her aura became brighter still...

SMACK!

The burning slime was hurled against the cliff. Cracks spread from the impact with bone-breaking force, stone fragments the size of boulders flying everywhere.

“Eeeeeeeee~!” Pinkie clapped her hooves. “Talk about a power couple! Twilight and Dashie, awesome as can be! K-I-S-S—”

“COULD YOU NOT?!” Rarity grabbed some of the boulders in a flash. She hovered them before front of Applejack and Pinkie and flank-checked them to the front. “Here! You’re both—ergh—earth ponies; make with the earthing!”

Pinkie’s eyes lit up. She grabbed one of the cart-sized rocks… and the instant she did, a small bit of her Element’s power flowed into the boulder—

“WHOA!” She flung the now-vibrating rock with all her strength. It got caught in Rainbow’s tempest and barreled towards the slime.

BOOM!

“Oh-HO!” Applejack took a rock of her own. The same thing happened as she bucked it into Twilight’s flames, exploding with a searing flash of harmonious light.

“Keep 'em coming, Rarity!” Applejack reached for another boulder. “You lob, we’ll serve!”

The shifting faces withered among Twilight’s blaze and Rainbow’s gale. Its maddening voices fell silent with gurgling moans, but the slime itself remained. Nevertheless, Twilight and Rainbow kept it pinned while Applejack and Pinkie threw volatile rocks.

Neighsay shuddered from his hiding spot. “Mutants, the lot of them...” Frostbolts obscured his view, but he could see half the slime being immolated while the other was caught in a wind tunnel. Glowing rocks were also being flung that somehow combusted on impact, but he couldn't tell if they were hurting the slime or just annoying it.

“This isn’t the artifact,” Neighsay murmured. “That thing’s nothing more than another hazard of this place… l-like, the world’s ugliest guard dog.”

But that still didn’t answer his other question. He looked back up at the faces and tried to scan the nearest one. The interference made everything fuzzy, but there was definitely something he recognized—

A faint odor tickled his nose. His skin prickled with sudden heat, hotter and hotter until it stung at his eyes. Looking back down, he saw the rain of frostbolts was being vaporized by a swiftly-ascending—

“THERMAL!” He erected a shield just in time. Superheated air from enveloped him with a muted WOOMPH, the surrounding ice and rime melting first to water, then a cloying, dreadful vapor. The heat hit the ceiling and thawed the stalactites with a horrible gagging stench.

“What—hlk—IS…?!” Neighsay jumped through a portal before he was overwhelmed. He emerged on a barely-wide enough ledge three-quarters down the chasm... only for the slime’s corruption to him like a baseball bat.

“This—hack—cave…” Neighsay’s head was pounding. His stolen Tear couldn’t stop the sudden clawing panic and rage-filled whispers. Filthy changeling lies poisoned his ears amidst shallow pants that were swallowed by the struggle below. The residual heat from the nearby shimmering column melted every bit of ice it touched... but yet this ledge remained frozen for some reason—

"That medallion..."

The hairs on Neighsay's neck stood on end. He whirled around, but all he saw was his own icy reflection. He could swear the ice had been cloudy before, but now it was clear and smooth. His image stared back at him with featureless, ghastly blue eyes that weren't his own.

"Show it to us."

Vaporous breaths coiled around Neighsay like a fog. The grim blue light stole warmth from everything in the area, from both him and the air. It warded off whatever was contaminating the ice, but a distant part of Neighsay was screaming, his ears and muzzle numb from sudden cold.

The doppelganger motioned to 'their' left saddlebag, waiting.

Neighsay couldn't resist. Shivering, he reached a sluggish hoof into the indicated pocket.

“I can’t tell if we’re doing damage or not!” Rainbow had merged her wind with Twilight’s arcane flames to create a magical firestorm. Applejack and Pinkie were throwing larger and larger explosive rocks, the result now a colossal elemental tornado spinning tight and fast within the chasm.

“I’m guessing not!” said Applejack. She and Pinkie had been timing their throws so the slime stayed scattered, but it kept trying to reform. “Any other ideas?”

“Oooh! Oooh!” Pinkie waved her hooves. “Have Twilight teleport it to space!”

“She can barely—greh—touch it at all!” Rarity said.

“More lightning?” Fluttershy asked.

“Kinda busy!” Rainbow called over the beat of her wings. “It'd have to be you or Twi!"

Fluttershy scrunched up her face. “U-Um, well… I’m not sure i-if—”

“Hang on!” Twilight said between fire breaths. “I want to try something! There’s a chance—"

SKREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

A noise like rusty nails on a chalkboard ripped through the canyon. There was a surge of tremendous pressure, then a rush of intense cold that snuffed out Twilight’s flame pillar. Suddenly, the twisted stone heads above fell silent as their inner crystals snapped like hot metal in a quench tank.

SSSSSSsssssssss…

The slime creature ceased struggling. A final well-timed boulder consumed it in a spectacular blast. Whatever Twilight had been planning was forgotten as the golem was consumed by equal parts earth, wind, and light.

At last, the slime completely lost cohesion. The corruption and rancid stench eased, leaving the girls alone with the cold and howling winds.

Twilight’s lips parted. It was like someone had just... pulled out the primary string holding a rug together. The construct was now nothing but harmless glop now whirling about amidst—

One of Twilight’s wards pinged.

“STOP!" She gestured to the tornado. "Bring it down! GENTLY!”

Neighsay came around to realize his face was less than an inch from the overly-cold wall. He didn't recall moving so close, but he could tell his right forehoof was pressing something against the ice. Something cold... so cold that it—

“BURNED!” Neighsay wrenched his hoof free. The doppelganger was gone, the ice was again cloudy... but the ledge was still cold as before. His medallion fell to the ground with a dull clink.

“Oh, no… P-Please, please no...” Neighsay levitated his medallion. The item was no longer gold, but deathly blue. It radiated the same potent chill as the doppelganger, a cold so great Neighsay could barely stand to inspect the modified spell matrices.

“What...” Neighsay glanced up at the twisted face carvings. “Their magic is... it's the same as the magic Chrysalis extracted from her throne! B-But that means—”

His legs almost gave out from under him.

“No...” The world spun around Neighsay. Pieces of the puzzle fit in place one by one, each one flooring him over and over. He didn’t even realize the panic and the whispers had vanished for some reason. “Is this how Sombra—oh, GODS! Is this why Chrysalis wants…?!”

His mind was caught in a traffic jam. His suspicions were just that and nothing more, but the mere possibility made him hyperventilate. He sank to his knees and shuddered amidst a rain of rubble and ash.

“This has to be a coincidence.” Neighsay looked to his pursuers. He saw they’d managed to defeat the golem, but whether or not that was a good thing... “If Chrysalis searched as long as she did and barely found a thing, there's no way they could know.”

Although knowing Twilight Sparkle, they could certainly find out. It looked like the heat had stopped the frostbolts for good, and Neighsay could now see the bottom of the chasm was a dead-end. The only way forward was the path on the other side of the bridge.

“My medallion...” He could hold it so long as it didn’t touch his skin. The enchantments looked to still be intact, and the strange power Chrysalis had infused it with was… well, freezing, yes, but also replenished. He glanced over at where the doppelganger had been.

“I can’t tell if this is serendipity or zemblanity.” He wracked his brain a little longer, but all he came up with was conjecture. “No matter. So long as I stay ahead of those bumbling girls—wait, what the devil are they doing now?!”

“Mare.” Applejack gestured to the pelvis, then a horn beside the metal canteen they'd recovered. “Unicorn.”

A charred, chipped skull floated in Twilight’s grip. It looked exactly like the plaster models from health class—same eye sockets, same nasal cavity, same amount of teeth and same outline of the jaw. Its forehead was completely caved in.

“How dreadful,” Fluttershy murmured. “Not the burning, I mean! You had no way of—”

”Extenuating circumstances, r-right?!” Twilight said, her wings fluttering. “I-I mean, she… was gonna get cremated either way—s-sort of. I’m sure her family will understand we didn’t mean to d-desecrate her remains! Ponies are perfectly rational when it comes to things like this, r-right? oh Celestia of course they’re not they’re going to hate us they’re going to think we defiled the body on purpose and they’ll never forgive us and I’ll have to live with the guilt forever what do we dO WHAT DO WE DO WHAT DO WE—

Rainbow pulled Twilight into a fierce, anti-freakout kiss.

...

Pinkie sidled over to Rarity and whispered, “I-N-G.”

Rarity’s cheeks turned pink. She looked away as Twilight melted into Rainbow’s embrace.

Applejack cleared her throat. “This might sound harsh, but anypony with half a brain on 'em has gotta know retrievin’ anypony outta here isn't a cakewalk. If the family take issue with this, they can keep mourning an empty grave.”

Fluttershy played with her colorful mane. “I’m sure it won’t come to that. I think they’ll be more relieved to finally get some closure, right?”

Applejack looked away. “Celestia knows we can’t give ‘em much else.”

Rarity cleared her throat. “We are in something in a hurry, are we not? The interference isn’t getting any better, but I should be able to manage a Disintegrate spell if I have a moment. Stand back, dears.”

She actually accomplished it quicker than they thought. Whether Rarity was warmed up or she was acclimating to the leylines, a thin green ray shot from her horn seconds later to start crumbling the brittle bones to dust. She then moved to the ashes, and last of all, the skull. Rainbow was still busy applying ‘Egghead Anti-Freakout Measures™’, so Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie left them be and watched Rarity work.

And while everyone’s backs were turned (and Rainbow and Twilight’s eyes were closed) a sizzling portal opened on the other side of the bridge. Neighsay crept quickly and quietly as he dared through the rift and continued on the path, which led into a great fissure and around a bend. He opened another portal once he was in the clear and resumed rifthopping to widen his lead.

“All done!” Rarity beamed. “You know, I’ve found transmutation spells to be a snap ever since that Inspiration Manifestation business. Perhaps more good came out of that debacle than I thought.”

“Ohhhhhhhh, no,” Pinkie said. “No more evil books for you, missy! Your magic kooky fanciness spree almost doomed Ponyville!”

“I did call it a ‘debacle’, didn't I?"

“So, are we gonna talk about that freaky junk that happened right before the slime fell apart?” Applejack asked. “Cause I’m prettttttty sure that’s what did it in.”

Rarity turned to her. “Any thoughts?”

Applejack snorted. “All I know is that noise was somethin’ straight out of a ghost story. Got real cold for a sec, too.”

Fluttershy looked up at the ceiling. “It did make the ice stop. Maybe it was good?”

Rarity shook her head. “There hasn’t been a single good thing in here. Golems, dark magic, ugly sculptures, and hidden traps at every turn? It’s like this place is some kind of—”

“Tomb,” said a familiar voice. “That explains a lot.”

Everyone jumped, including Rainbow and Twilight.

“MAUD!” Pinkie gave her a hug. “Oh, thank goodness!”

Maud remained stoic as ever. “Please say you brought my tools.”

Twilight untangled from Rainbow. “Are you alright? I should’ve been more careful—”

“It seems Doctor Chalcedony was right." Maud wasted not time in examining their subterranean surroundings: from the stalactites above to the stone bridge below. "I was wrong to protest you all coming."

Rainbow put a hoof behind her head. “Yeeaaaah… what she said.”

Rarity rolled her eyes. "I suppose that's as close to an apology as we can expect."

“We saw a geo-thingy in the walls!” Pinkie told Maud. “It was burping nasty ice at us through weird faces! There were even more of them above us, too! We need your rock smarts!”

Maud blinked several times. She looked up at the ceiling again, her lips parting ever-so-slightly. “Vibranocite…? Or maybe arcane agate… probably circulated through the grid by now… could track the frequency… though the power source—”

“Hate to interrupt ya,” said Applejack. “But if this is some kinda ancient, booby-trapped tomb, that’s all the more reason to find Neighsay before we get all science-y. We think he’s hidin’ around here somewhere.”

Twilight froze. She did a search for shreds of portal magic, and sure enough, on the other side of the bridge...

“Erm…” Fluttershy watched Twilight do a double facehoof. “I think we might be too late.”

The lump on Maud’s forehead throbbed. “If the traps are connected to a geomancy grid, I might be able to disable them before they activate. I’ll do what I can on the go, and hopefully, we can learn who made all of this."

Rainbow couldn’t help but laugh. “A mysterious tomb, a forbidden treasure, and a bad guy on the run? Daring Do, eat your heart out!”

Author's Note:

No, Rainbow. You're not in a certain Daring Do adventure. I don't even know if that takes place in this universe.