• Published 10th Jun 2021
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Celestia Goes West - DungeonMiner



Retirement has not been kind to Celestia. Pushed by boredom, she disguises herself as an average pony, and she heads west. Unfortunately, she's picked up a traveling companion that was not a part of the plan.

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Chapter 6

Marble sighed.

He’d been stuck in his cabin for the past few days now, only coming out when he absolutely had to for food or as the guest speaker of one of the professors’ lectures. Every surface of the room, meanwhile, suffered from his extended stays inside.

The chest of books he had brought on board lay open, and its contents lay spread across the room. Everywhere he looked, he had some book lying open. Each one referencing a page that spoke of the Tenochtitlan tribe.

Like the Lusitanpec tribe, the Tenochtitlan ponies were earth ponies, though they possibly had a solid tilt to Proto-Celestiansim with their sun worship, unlike the Couatl-worshipping Lusitanpec. This singular religious difference caused such a cultural split that left both parties with a predisposition to justifying every war they had as a holy war, especially when religion had nothing to do with it.

His own studies with the Lusitanpec ponies left Marble with more than enough knowledge on the Tenochtitlan tribe, though viewed in the lens of their great arch-enemy. Still, using his reference material, he began putting together an image of what the Tenochtitlan looked like.

The Lusitanpec described them as sun-loving heretics, with a love of fire and all things that burned. Unfortunately, he had no evidence to discredit this description, and the one source he had from the Tenochtitlan viewpoint was that he had made many references to “the Great Flame of the Sky,” which had some basis in fact. The Tenochtitlan ponies were also described as cowardly raiders, which probably meant they managed to hit an undefended location on more than one occasion and ran before the Lusitanpec could retaliate.

This evidence suggested that a tribe with some form of an army could bring against the Lusitanpec militia and strike hard and fast before retreating into the wilderness. A religious people dedicated to fire and the sun, but one that did not use fire in their attacks. That aspect of the Tenochtitlan ponies fascinated Marble. Most fire cults reveled in the flame, but the lack of any evidence of burning their enemies offered a strange new side to them. Perhaps they saw fire as too holy to use as a weapon?

Marble wandered back to the one Tenochtitlanian source he had and read it over once more. But, unfortunately, he skipped the part about the Tenochtitlan warriors retreating from an unseasonable storm that they claimed the Lusitanpecs caused before he read the passage he was looking for.

“The enemy was not worthy of the Light. So they hid in their homes of stone and darkness before bringing their swords to bear.”

Yes, by the sounds of it, they thought that fire was too good for the Lusitanpecs. They insisted that the Holy Fire would not touch them in their darkness. The fire was sacred and needed to be guarded and cherished, not to be used in something as vulgar as war.

Fascinating.

Marble checked the time.

11 am. He needed to go. Marble had a lecture he needed to be present for. Dr. Bones scheduled him as a guest speaker for a short class on properly exploring a temple. Marble ran to his bathroom real quick and stuck his mane under the showerhead before slicking his hair back to stick to his neck.

That was all the preparation he had time for, and he rushed out of his cabin. He flapped his wings, covering the distance as fast as he dared before he broke up onto the upper deck.

The university students already sat in their seats on the two dozen folding chairs that the captain had stored somewhere. Dr. Bones stood in front of all the chairs and gave him a nod before pointing at an empty seat in the front row.

Next to her.

Why was she sitting there? Why had Doctor Bones set that mare into that seat? Was she going to open her mouth and spout more unsubstantiated claims about how ponies used to live their lives thousands of years ago? Would the amazing Sunny Smiles reveal that the Tenochtitlan tribes had a fully functioning steel production industry? They just refused to use it because they didn’t like the aesthetic?

Marble took the seat and didn’t look at Sunny, who at least returned the favor. They sat together in silence as the lecture began.

“Hello, class,” Dr. bones began. “Today’s subject is rather serious and will deal with the most dangerous part of this expedition. We did talk about this earlier in the semester but considering that I do not want your body to come back to Equestria in the ship’s freezer, we’re going to go over this again until you’re perfectly clear on how to proceed in a temple like the one we’re visiting.”

The students seemed to pay a little attention to the treat, but that wasn’t a surprise. College students had a tendency to believe themselves invincible. Facing them with the reality that they could very quickly die going into the ruins was typically met with a surreal sense of dissociation.

“First,” Dr. Bones said. “You may remember what I have said about the Daring Do books. While the actual findings presented by A. K. Yearling are total fiction, including finding the long-lost descendants of lost civilizations, the traps she has written about are completely and totally factual, actual, and deadly. Most of you consider the paperwork of archeology to be the boring sideshow to a life filled with adrenaline and danger, but the truth is you don’t have all the answers. Daring Do can figure her way out of every trap and pit because her author knows the way out. You, I, and the rest of the ponies actually going down into the depths of these ruins do not. This is not a laughing matter, and it is not to be taken lightly.”

Dr. Bones continued, using a speech she refined over years of teaching to get this singular point across. Marble himself heard it a few times, and each time she only got better at the delivery. First, she went into the gory details of how painful being buried alive in sand was, drowning with the added benefit of the sand rubbing your insides raw for the minutes you still had of life. Next, she spoke about the vicious poisoned barbs of dart traps which, if you somehow survived the poison that forced your muscles to contract until you seized yourself to death, would tear at the skin as you removed them. The Doctor began to talk about a crushing trap but trailed off. Nevertheless, the effect was pronounced and sold itself.

The students fell silent.

“Luckily for you,” the Doctor continued, “we have a few experts here today to tell you what to look for.” She motioned toward Marble and Sunny. “Mr. Marble Venture has been diving into ruins, temples, and tombs for nearly a decade and has continued to stay alive despite the danger. Ms. Sunny Smiles, on the other hoof, is a member of the Royal Conservation Committee and is very skilled in wilderness survival. Both of these experts will be speaking to you today to get you ready for your first expedition.”

Marble gave Sunny a side glance, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“First, we’ll have Ms. Smiles speak. Ms. Smiles?”

The unicorn nodded and stood, taking the podium. “Thank you, Dr. Bones,” she replied.

Marble raised an eyebrow. This wasn’t his first time speaking in front of students. However, this was the first time he had to share his speaking time. The fact that he had to share the time with none other than Sunny Smiles was something else.

“Hello fillies and gentlecolts,” Sunny said. “The jungle is a dangerous place, between the dangerous plant life, the natural hazards like quicksand or pitfalls, diseases carried by insects, or even the dangerous fauna that lives high in the trees. As a conservation committee member, I’ve had to spend years learning magic for identifying certain plants and animals. For this reason, I have a few essential tips for you as you begin making your way into the middle of nowhere.”

“Oh, this should be good,” Marble thought to himself, and he shifted on his seat.

“First and foremost. Do not do what I am going to do. I’m about to begin an expedition deep into the jungle by myself. Do not do that.”

Marble blinked.

“Always travel the jungle in pairs, do not going anywhere alone. Second, bug spray is everything. Getting a tropical disease and dying from it days later is not a good way to go out. If you want to make it back in one piece, the fewer things biting you, the better. Third, do not get into any water that you can’t see the bottom of. The number of predators that can live in even a shallow pool of water is staggering.”

Marble didn’t hear the rest. He still couldn’t believe her first words. Sunny was actually going out into the jungle? She was going to brave a wilderness that the native ponies feared? Was she actually out of her mind?

He watched as she continued her speech, her short list of tips turning to a somehow compelling monologue on how life was incredibly precious and deserved their attention as they moved forward.

Shortly after, she finished a round of applause, and she quickly sat back down as Dr. Bones retook the stage. “You’re going into the jungle alone?” he whispered to her.

“Yes,” she replied quietly. “That’s why I’m here.”

“You’re going into the wilderness? With what?”

“A machete and some magic.”

“That’s it? Are you crazy? It’s dangerous out there!” he whispered in a hiss. “The weather isn’t even controlled out there! You could face flash floods or—”

“I’m aware,” she responded. “Now you’re being called up.”

Marble glanced at her for a moment longer before he stood up to make his own speech. He smiled for the students as he stepped up and began to give the talk he’d always had. Go in large groups, use a long pole to check for pressure plates, check for sacred symbols, and so on, but the entire time, he couldn’t think of anything other than the fact that Sunny Smiles was going out into the jungle.

Why, by Celestia, would she do that?

Marble finished his talk, handed the podium back off to Dr. Bones, and excused himself to his room.

He couldn’t let her do this. He couldn’t let Sunny rush off to her death in the jungle for who knows what reason? Nothing in there wasn’t worth dying alone in the middle of the Celestia-forsaken jungle, probably sinking in quicksand before being eaten by a jaguar or something.

“Why...why should I care? She’s a grown mare, isn’t she? I’m not in charge of her. Sunny can make her own decisions. If she wants to run off and jump into a flash flood, then she can do that.”

That’s crazy! That’s a mare’s life on the line. How could he just let that go? How could he let a mare just march off to one of the most painful and avoidable suicides he’d ever seen.

“She’s a professional,” his mind argued. “She’s probably done this kind of thing before. So if she goes out, then she’s probably prepared for this kind of thing. Besides, you’ve gone into all these temples and lived.”

Temples were made to be used and lived in. Ponies worked there. Yes, actual wild nature had no way around it. It wanted to kill you, and it had a thousand and one tools do that. It could send hydras, jackalopes, yetis, trolls, chupacabras, bugbears, and more. And those were just the things that wanted to actively hunt you down, not to mention the other hundred natural obstacles in her way. There’s a difference between a primal but civilized building compared to the untamed wild that was only barely under control after the entire history of ponykind.

“She’s done this before. She just admitted that she’s been spending years heading out into the wilds like this before. She’s capable.”

Because capable ponies never make mistakes. When they’re alone with nopony to help her?

Marble didn’t answer that. He couldn’t have an answer for that.

He glanced around his room, with the books scattered around the room.

“This place is a mess,” he thought to himself, changing the subject in his mind.

His mind didn’t respond, and he began to pick up the books, collecting himself as he got ready for another day.

---☼---

Rolling Ivory looked around the table and smiled. They finally, finally had enough room that they could move around the table. They can get up, walk, and set down snacks and everything without having to squeeze past each other.

Luna, likewise, was a fantastic host. She used masking tape to mark down arrows to show everyone where to go for the table, restroom, and everything else. The table was cleaned up with a marked place for everypony that was supposed to come, and she even brought a cup filled with pencils, erasers, along with plates and mugs to enjoy snacks from.

The Lady herself was beaming ear to ear as she watched the other ponies slowly file into the library. Luna’s sheet was ready, her borrowed dice lined up in a row, and an actual drinking horn and what Rolling hoped was a prop greatsword.

Caramel sat next to her. Rolling told him that he was in charge of helping Luna learn how to play, but the earth pony wasn’t terribly concerned, considering she read the entire rulebook. The others, however, were starting to worry her.

The soon-to-be party would have five members, including Luna, and the other three members were staring up at the ex-royalty with more than a bit of trepidation.

Probably because of the greatsword.

Rolling mentally shook her head and decided that she’d try a more familiar start to ease everypony in. “Okay, that’s everypony, so we’re going to start.”

The five ponies all straightened as Rolling began. “The town of Hopesedge sits on the frontier of the kingdom of Ungular. Far away from the Queen’s stranglehold of power, the creatures here find themselves able to eke out a living despite the corruption of the law. However, the real draw of Hopesedge is the tower, not two days away. Nopony knows how old the tower is. It was here before the town. Nopony knows who built it, and nopony knows why. The only thing that is known is that the tower houses two things in excess. Treasure, and Danger.”

Rolling glanced around the room. Luna was eating the whole thing up with the glee that only a new player could bring, while the others were slowly warming up to the game. “All of you,” she continued, “have made your way here with the promise of gold relief under the Ungularian law and find yourselves converging on the Last Regret alehouse.”

“Are we starting in another tavern?” one of the ponies asked.

The others groaned.

“A tavern is a perfectly good place for creatures to meet! It was basically the only thing to do!”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “Thou art not...wrong, per se, but I feel like that statement is perhaps a tad simple.”

“Ooh, getting called out by the alicorn!” Another pony said, egging her on.

“Sundance, I swear I’ll kill your character,” Rolling said. “He’s in the tavern right now. What’s he doing?”

She,” Sundance, the golden-brown earth pony, said, “is licking her paw.”

“Okay, are you going to describe her?”

Sundance nodded. “Luckstep is an Abyssinian, sitting at a table and drinking some ale. She has a holy symbol of Lady Luck attached to a silk belt around her waist, and she’s just casually sitting there.”

“Okay,” Rolling said before she pointed to Ivory Sunlight, the only other mare, at least until Luna arrived. “What are you doing?”

She smiled. “Hercule Goldclaw, a griffon with golden-yellow feathers, slams his way into the tavern and walks in. His brassed armor shines like gold and—”

“Are you playing another paladin?” Caramel asked.

“Hush,” Ivory said. “He takes his seat down at the bar and asks for something to drink.”

“Great, Platinum?”

“After Hercule walked in,” Platinum Dare, the pegasus of the group declared, “a large figure, trying to slip in like he’s trying to hide, finds a seat to sit down in the corner, fidgeting with his fingers the entire way. As he happens to be seven feet tall, it’s fairly easy to determine that he’s a minotaur, dressed in fine robes with a set of glasses perched on his nose.”

“And what’s his name for my notes?” Rolling asked.

“Brightflame, just Brightflame.”

Rolling wrote it down before pointing to Caramel. “Go.”

“Shadesong Swifthoof has been in the tavern the entire time,” Caramel said. “He’s been sitting on the opposite side of the tavern than Luckstep, right?”

Sundance nodded.

“Yeah, he’s been sitting on the opposite side of the tavern from her, messing with some cards. He’s waiting for someone to come over and play with him, smiling the whole time. He’s a pegasus, so he’s flipping cards through his feathers. He’s obviously a more charismatic type, but he also looks like he’d run from the table the second the game doesn’t go his way.”

“Great, and Luna?”

Luna smiled wide. “Entering through the door of the tavern steps a unicorn with a coat as black as the night that birthed her and a mane as white as lost innocence. She carries a massive blade on her back and a frown that seems cut from stone. She walks into the tavern and orders a drink.”

The other ponies at the table blinked. “Um...wow.”

“That, that was a little edgy, if you don’t mind me saying so,” Sundance said.

Luna furrowed her brow. “Edgy? What dost thou mean by that?”

“Caramel, explain to Luna,” Rolling said before turning to the earth pony. “As it turns out, Luna has told me about her character, and she’s actually going to be just fine. You have to remember that she’s been behind on her media for the past thousand years. She’s used to shining knights being the hero all the time. She’s trying to go for something new, but she’s just late to the party.”

“Wait,” Luna said. “Dost thou mean that a hero that appears as a villain is a story that has been done many times in this day in age?”

“Sadly, yes,” Rolling said, “but I am fascinated to know where you go with it.”

“Oh, I see,” Luna said.

Rolling frowned. She was starting to lose the royalty; she needed to move quickly, then. “The bartender offers you a drink and asks for a gold piece.”

“A gold piece?” Luna asked. “For a single drink? Is he mad?”

“‘Taxes are high,’ he responds in a gruff voice,” Rolling said as she gathered her minis. “Before you have an opportunity to argue further, a screeching voice interrupts you. You turn to see a goblin at the door, demanding your coin. Roll initiative.”