Series 2) Daring Do and the Caballeron Chronicles by AlmanacPony
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Book 2 of the Caballeron Chronicles

Daring Do is breaking.
The loss of her mentor and lifelong friend, the betrayals of those close to her, and the many trials that she has endured start to weigh on the soul of our intrepid hero.
Is our hero in any shape to save the world?
Can she even save herself?

Daring Do and the Tenochtitlan Prophecy

 


 

The Amulet of Atonement glinted in the light of the sun. The beams of Celestia’s Sun shone through the window and struck a prism of magnificent colours dashing across the walls as the magical device hung there in the mares hooves. The golden mare had her hoof wrapped in a cloth as she held the chain of the item. Even the chain couldn’t be touched directly.

The Amulet of Atonement, the Unicharm, and many other names had been given to this device, many of them stricken from records and ponies memories. It was a powerful device. It had the ability to magnify the innate capabilities of any pony that wielded it. Unicorns would have immense magical power, Earth Ponies would become enormously strong, and Pegasus would move faster and more powerfully than before. She was sure that by wearing it there were many other natural skills it would be able to enhance, like maybe it would alter Pegasus cloud magic to even greater heights. Maybe it would allow a single Pegasus to rain a thunderstorm down on her opponents. Such a power was tempting…too tempting.

But that’s what the Unicharm did. It was temptation.

Everypony wanted power.

It was natural.

Power to control was the biggest prize for everypony, no matter how noble they thought they were. Whether it is the control of their own lives, of their own fates, or the lives and fates of others, even if their desires were entirely selfless, the desire for power to save somepony else, it was all just the thinly veiled desire for power and control.

And that’s just what the Unicharm offered. The Amulet of Atonement. Atonement was the key. The power to take back mistakes, the power to set things right, the power to become a better pony. It promised so many things, it promised the power to change lives. And while a pony may wear it, and try to use said power for the greater good of Equestria, inside, it would do evil work.

The Amulet of Atonement was temptation in raw form.

It was with this in mind that Daring Do, the intrepid adventurous mare that she was, ignored the screaming in the back of her head, and placed the Amulet in the vault along with the other dangerous items littered therein.

She was tempted of course. A voice screamed in her head about how easy it would be to stop Ahuizotl’s plans with that amulet, about how she could find ALL the artefacts ever hidden, and keep them away from those that might sell or abuse them. She could solve so many problems, save so many pony lives.

But the cost was too great, the cost of herself, and her own soul. Through her the Amulet would weave a great evil, and corrupt her from the inside out, taking her down a dark path that she could never escape from.

Closing the door to the vault, Daring Do locked the Amulet away, and left.

*

The brightness of the sky outside seemed blinding at first to the young mare.

Young.

It was interesting that she was still considered a young mare, even though she felt many years older than she actually was. Many years of worry, heartache and difficulty had put her body through the wringer, and these days she ached all over, her reactions were slow, and she was beginning to wonder if it wasn’t going to be time to retire soon.

It was an interesting and appealing though, even if it was in vain. Entertaining such an idea lasted for less than a minute before the mare chuckled to herself and shook her head. She couldn’t possibly stop when the world needed her, and she was starting to get the feeling something was coming on the horizon, and the world would certainly need her again.

“Daring.” A voice called out happily from nearby. It was the light-hearted voice of Cloud Zapper, a grey stallion from the Royal Guard Inquisitors. The Inquisitors, as he’d explained it to her, were a regiment of Royal Guard that were not confined to the Castle or protection duty of the Princesses. They were a bit like detectives and investigators, used as a patrolling unit that took down threats before they could pose a problem for the Princesses empires. Every Guard variation had an Inquisitor section. Inquisitors were noted as different by the slight alterations to their armour. While a standard Royal Guard wore a coat dye as a sign of unity and solidarity among the ranks, an Inquisitor was encouraged into their uniqueness, allowing their natural coat to be shown, as well as their own mane. The helmets of Royal Guards often sported fake manes in the standard Mohawk guard style, whole this was removed for Inquisitors so their own mane could flow freely from the top of the helm.

Daring looked Cloud over now, he was in full armour and his own blue and white mane cascaded down one side of his face in an attractive style that showed just how long it had gotten in these recent months together.

“Hey Cloud.” She greeted, smiling to him.

“You put away the Amulet?” He asked her immediately, his smile not at all softening the irked feeling that fluttered through the mare. The LEAST he could do was ask how she was rather than worrying about the Amulet.

“Yes.” She answered him. “I’ve put it away in the vault.” She sighed, looking around her.

Clopsdale University was one of the largest Universities in Equestria; it was also, academically, one of the best. Daring Do had learned her trade from here, under her mentor at the time, Bravely Blue. A steadfast mare of great ability that was sadly no longer with her, the circumstances around her death were still the stuff of nightmares for the golden mare.

“Daring, are you alright?” Cloud asked, his voice of concern breaking through her reverie.

“Oh, y-yes. I’m gonna go visit Caffeine.” She said, turning and trotting away, leaving Cloud standing there. He watched her go, shrugged and turned away, taking off into the air.

The Pegasus mare entered the local housing area and went to door number sixteen. Raising a hoof to the door, she was about to knock before something seemed to grip her in her chest. Only a few weeks ago, Caffeine had been in something of a magical coma, unable to be awoken except by a vial of antidote that Ahuizotl had. For a short time there, she had been terrified she’d lose him. Gulping softly she knocked steadily on the door, almost hoping he wouldn’t answer, but of course, he did.

The door opened and the gentle smile of the Caffeine Kick met her worried face. He had a brown coat with a blue and grey two-toned mane. Aboard his nose sat a pair of glasses that were big and yet suitable for his stature. He usually wore a vest, but it seemed he’d recently come from the shower, if the state of moisture on his coat and mane were anything to go by. He also looked tired.

“H-hey…I just wanted to see how you were.” She said softly, feeling a little self-conscious.

Before everything had went to hell, he’d talked her into going on a date with him, and it made things now feel very awkward. She cared for him, but…she wasn’t sure it could be anything more.

“I’m fine, just been resting like the doctor ordered.” He sighed, stepping away from the door and letting her in. He trotted to the side of the room and picked up a towel, working on his mane before wrapping it around his shoulders.

The apartment he had was that of a typical bachelor. This front room contained and exercise trotting machine, a several bookshelves filled with books and odd assortments. There were a few items of clothing strewn about, though it wasn’t dirty or anything, just typically untidy as most stallions places were want to go.

“I…I heard you were considering going back to teaching?” She asked, not entirely sure HWERE she had heard it, probably some random conversation picked up at the cafeteria.

“Yeah.” He sighed. “Only because the boredom here is killing me.” He smirked, looking over his shoulder.

There was an awkward silence between them that seemed to span several minutes as neither knew quite what to say to each other.

It was a sigh that broke the silence. It was from Caffeine, and he looked…defeated.

“You’re gonna give me a speech, aren’t you.” He said softly, though despite the structure of the sentence, Daring had a strong suspicion it wasn’t meant as a question. “You’re gonna start telling me how you have too many enemies, and what happened to me is the exact reason you don’t have a special somepony.” He said, turning to her.

Daring’s voice had caught in her throat, she couldn’t refuse his accusation. It was true.

“It’s not me, it’s you right?” He asked dryly, before shaking his head. “Sorry, I guess I’m a bit tired.” He said, the bitterness in his voice having left and seemed to be replaced with sadness.

“Don’t worry.” He began, giving her a light chuckle. “I figured that date was a one-time thing anyway, can’t blame a guy for trying.” He said, turning away and walking out of the room.

Daring turned and left, closing the door behind her, fighting tears that threatened to break free from her eyes.

She had cried far too much recently, and now every time the tears threatened to break free, she just felt full of shame. Shameful that she wasn’t stronger. She hadn’t cried in years, and it felt like majority of the time she’d spent ‘saving the world’ from Ahuizotl had been spent in a dream…all until that last time. All until she had lost Bravely Blue. It felt like all her strength had gone that day, and now it just felt like she was drowning.

Forcing her face into a mask of apathy, she walked out of the building and into the courtyard, over the path, round the building and back into the front of the University. She needed to lose herself for a while.

Heading back to her own dorm, Daring Do sought out her research materials, deciding to do a little reading. Not on anything in particular, but research for the sake of research.

*

Her reprieve was a well sought one. She dove into the books and breathed in their musty old scent that always felt slightly comforting. Not having a particular mystery to solve, she decided to dive into the research of the item she had procured in the ruins of the Terrifying Tower. Looking over the box that sat on her desk, she tried to find any markings that might give way to what was inside. It seemed unassuming, the outside was a simple wooden nailed shut box that to any other pony wouldn’t be spared a second glance, but when it was touched with hooves, it felt like it would hum, and sometimes, it would feel a little warm. Daring Do thought back to when she had found the box, buried in the rubble of the dark place where all her nightmares had been born. That island where she had…

No, now was not the time to think about that. She needed to focus on something else. She brought up her research notes, there were archaic descriptions and designs covering the many scrolls and book pages she was perusing, all pertaining to protection spells.

Magical research wasn’t exactly alien to her, as many old objects of the past, that she had uncovered, had some level of magical property to it. But this box was different. She had tried to open it, first with hooves, then teeth, and then a crowbar, but it just wouldn’t. It didn’t even budge an inch no matter how much she tried. Daring had to assume it was magically protected, and whatever was inside, was far too important to be let out. And that alone might have been enough to dissuade any other sensible mare from trying further to reach those hidden contents, but this was Daring Do. She wasn’t about to give up just because something might be dangerous, that would be like being defeated. Also...the curiosity was eating her up inside.

The books referred to several spells that might accomplish the kind of sealing magic that had been implemented with the box, but that fruit seemed to come bearing problems of its own. Every single one of those spells were very high quality, nothing the average unicorn would be able to disentangle. This meant Daring Do would need a specialist.

She knew just the pony.

“You’re going WHERE?” Cloud Zappers voice was loud enough to echo in the small courtyard outside of the University. Students milled around them, giving them furtive glances as they hurried to their respective classes.

“I’m going to the Crystal Empire.” Daring repeated herself, rummaging through her packed saddle-bags, making sure she had managed to pack everything she would need. She had.

“And why are you going alone?” He asked, looking somewhat annoyed at the news that she was leaving. His expression was one that made her feel irritable; she didn’t feel she deserved any animosity for wanting to go on a trip.

“Because I have friends there that…might get awkward if you were with me.” She said, looking anywhere but right at him.

It wasn’t like it would be a huge problem. But she and the pony she was heading out to see had some…history.

The day was then spent deal with Cloud Zapper telling her all the reasons why he should come along. It was an irksome and round-table sort of conversation where when he couldn’t make one point stick; He’d fall back to another. She was starting to get annoyed just by him being there. So it was with a level of relief that she spread her wings that evening and headed off. She wanted to arrive at night, it would be easier that way, and she was more likely to find the pony she was seeking, off duty.

The soft vibrations of the train rattled under-hoof as Daring Do looked out the window at the passing countryside. Her tickets into the city had been procured by her friend Melody Hollow. Melody was a traveling Cellist, and through her journeys had become quite adept in procuring travel arrangements and incognito establishments to stay in. She was usually the first person Daring went to whenever she needed to get into towns or cities without being seen or recognised. And this particular situation did call for those talents.

Daring Do had first seen the city a year ago and to this day could still stare and marvel at the gleaming towers for hours.

The city was unlike any other. Beautiful tall spires of the palace towering high and mighty, scraping and spearing the clouds with the backdrop of mountains to add to the grandeur.

The centre of the city was the Sacred Heart, a magical gemstone of unknown origin that gave a magical protection to the land. The buildings, no matter what material they were made out of, were rapidly crystallised, and fortified against dark magic’s. Likewise, any pony in the city when the Heart would release magical bursts of energy (which it did around once a day), or simply who lived in its vicinity for too long, could become a Crystal pony themselves. This didn’t change the ponies too dramatically, simply added a crystalline sheen to their appearance and gave them extra protection and resistance from dark magic’s, which considering their proximity to certain nasty areas, was quite welcome.

The train slowed down and pulled into the station, and Daring Do padded out in disguise. She was wearing a shawl and glasses, a common disguise that she liked to adorn as it made her look a tad more elderly than she was, and so also had the benefit of ponies underestimating her.

Stepping off the platform she trotted off. Glancing at a note that Melody had given her, she began searching for a particular address. Melody’s note directed her to a cheap hotel about a mile from the centre of town. It was nice, out of the way, and quite inconspicuous, just as she liked it.

The inside was sparsely furnished, adorned in colours of burgundy and sallow with a smell that suggested it could use with a bit of a wash down.

“Yes?” The clerk asked curiously as he looked up. He was a blue coated stallion with a white bushy beard. His facial hair was all he had left, his head being quite bald of any mane.

“I have a reservation.” She said, passing along her information. He checked his records to make sure she was telling the truth, nodded and hoofed over some keys.

Daring Do trotted up the stairs after that, found her room, closed it and walked into a room that could only be described as ‘grungy’.

But it would do.

The bed was at least moderately comfortable, so she placed her saddlebags down and laid herself into the duvet, needing to take a minute to relax herself. Tomorrow she was going to head up to the palace, but not to see the Prince and Princess, no, she would be heading round to the barracks in the hopes of meeting a particular pony there.

If all went well, she’d finish her work in less than an hour after arriving there, and manage to be on her way back to Clopsdale before Cloud could grumble anymore about her leaving. But considering the pony she was here to see, she knew that hoping for it to go ‘well’ was likely not going to happen.

Closing her eyes, breathing in a deep breath and trying to relax herself, Daring Do let her mind wander and sleep to slowly take her.

“I taught you everything, Diane.” The voice called out from the darkness. There was a rushing sound, a grunt, something slamming and the feel of pressure on her body, like somepony had tackled her.

“That’s going to cost you darling.” She heard, it was the same voice again, buried within the darkness, from a point in her past. It was a voice she knew well, a voice that incited a deep pain to flare in her chest, but for the life of her…suddenly she couldn’t remember the name of the speaker.

And that hurt more than anything.

“You’re stupid!” The words lashed out, seeming disjointed, like they were pulled out of context of a longer sentence.

“One day I shall die!” The voice sounded in pain suddenly, distraught, like she was terrified. “I won’t let that happen to me!” It screamed, the scream sending terror through her as she tried to frantically chase down the voice. To stop it from doing whatever it was going to do.

There was a pinprick in the darkness, a singular spot of light that rose before Daring, and she pushed towards it with all her might. It felt like she were wading through syrup, trying to push through this great barrier of pressure and the closer she got, the brighter the light got, and even when it burned her eyes she felt like she still needed to reach it.

“BEATRICE!” Daring Do screamed at the top of her lungs as she shot up from her bed, her hooves extended as though to try and grasp something in the distance. She had almost reached the light, she had touched it for just a moment, and she could tell something beyond there was something she needed…but as quick as that feeling and realisation came, it also left her, her memory of the dream dimming as she sat there shivering on the bed. There was the soft patter of something against the blanket, and she looked down to see a few wet spots caused by something that had dripped onto the blanket. She reached up to her face and found her cheeks soaked with tears.

She hadn’t even realised she’d been crying.

*

The city was beautiful.

With every tap of her hooves, the cobbles below her seemed to almost sing in low hums as they vibrated from the impact. It was known as the “Musical Path” by some of the locals; it was the main street that led towards the palace in the city.

There are few places like the Crystal Kingdom in the lands, both far and wide. The shining buildings reflected Celestia’s Sun in beautiful kaleidoscopic rays that caused every street and alley to dance with light. It was truly breath-taking, and Daring had a hard time thinking of anypony able to ever get used to it, just by living here. She wasn’t sure she could live here and grow numb to such beauty, and she hoped that in her travels and adventures, she would never become numb to such beauty in the future.

The Palace, if at all possible, was even more of splendour. Pink and yellow in design, its gorgeous spires touched the sky and every brick was inlaid with jewels and precious stones.

Trying not to become too transfixed, the grey-scale maned mare moved her way around the gorgeous building and travelled along its outer path, leading round to the other sides where the barracks and guards were kept.

There, training in the courtyards, were the Crystal Guards.

Shining examples of military might, the crystal ponies donned gorgeous silver armour that gleamed and sparkled like their coats. She watched from the side-lines as they trained, sparred and combatted each other, keeping them in the peak of physical ability. It was certainly quite…interesting sight.

Forcing herself to stop staring at the sweating stallions, she moved on.

The Crystal Guard had modelled themselves after the Royal Guard, adopting their regimental disciplines and sections, as well as some coordination ideals. For example, while Royal Guard Militia wore gold and dyed their coats variations of white and grey, the Crystal Guard in turn, wore silver armour and dyed their coats a gorgeous lilac that complimented the silver very nicely.

Daring made her away beyond this area, and headed for one of the local offices.

“Hey you!” The voice of a young stallion called out, making Daring halt in her movements and supress an irritated groan at being stopped.

“What are you doing back here?” The stallion asked authoritatively -even though his voice didn’t suit the tone- as he approaching her from behind.

Daring turned to greet him and was met with a familiar face.

She was met with kind blue eyes, a flowing white mane that wasn’t quite tucked properly beneath its helm, and a shiny crystal blue coat, adorned by the intricate silver armour of the Crystal Guard.

Dhey.

No last name that she could recall, no understanding of where the first name came from. He had introduced himself as ‘Dhey’, and she had accepted that readily. His name was his business. They had met last year on an adventure, back then he had been this awkward and shy colt that wasn’t sure on what to do with his life, but at the insistence of Daring Do had promised to join the Crystal Guard. It looked like he’d actually done it.

“Dhey?” She asked curiously. Her eyes ran over him before something struck her that didn’t before. His coat was blue…this in itself wasn’t remarkable, except that it SHOULD have been dyed lilac.

Both the Militia and Aerial guard of the Crystal Guard would have to dye their coats lilac. The only ones that didn’t were the Mystic Guard, and the Inquisitors. The Mystic Guard wouldn’t be right as they were always Unicorns and were given slightly different armour and Dhey was a Pegasus, but the Inquisitors…

An Inquisitor was what Cloud Zapper was in the Royal Guard. And like the Royal Guard, an Inquisitor could wear his or her (as they allowed female Inquisitors) normal colour coat and show their cutie-mark. They could also have their mane showing underneath their helmet, not out of the helmet like the Royal Guard, if only because the Crystal Guard helmets were designed without a fake mane, and instead had a solid Mohawk as part of the metal design.

Dhey stood before her with his mane showing and his normal coat on show, which meant he was either an Inquisitor now, or had just lazily not sorted himself out for duty that day. She suspected the later, after all, Inquisitors were not applied for, they were CHOSEN. A pony had to show exceptional talent and capability to be chosen as an Inquisitor, and to her knowledge, Dhey had only joined the Guard a year ago, the chances of him proving himself to such an extent already were slim, especially as she remembered how shy and nervous he used to be.

“You know me?” He asked, looking at her curiously, his brow at an angle as he studied her. It was an inquisitive look and she found it a little cute on the young stallion. She pulled down her shawl and removed her glasses, letting him see her grey-scale mane and red eyes.

“Daring?” He asked with his eyes wide. She probably should have expected what happened next, but didn’t.

Dhey hugged her, launching himself at her, wrapping his hooves around her and almost picking her up. For a stallion that was around the same size as herself, he had proven surprisingly strong; she could feel the muscle under his coat where he had once been soft. His training had certainly defined him physically.

She pushed herself away.

“Yeah, good to see you too.” Daring chuckled, scratching the back of her neck with her left forehoof. “You seem to be doing good for yourself.” She remarked, waving a hoof in gesture.

He seemed to puff up at the compliment, unable to keep a slight cute and happy wriggle of his hindquarters from showing.

“Eyup.” He said, practically beaming. “I’m an apprenticed Inquisitor now.”

Daring felt her eyes widen in surprise as she looked him over again.

“Inquisitor? That happened fast? And here I thought you’d just been lazy and forgot the coat dye.” She smirked.

“Hey, I was never THAT bad.” He remarked indignantly, looking slightly offended, which in turn caused Daring to chuckle.

“And yes, I’m an Inquisitor now, sort of, apprentice, they needed more and I showed promise so…they erm, assigned me to another Inquisitor to oversee my training on the job.” He said, trying to make it sound grander, when Daring could plainly see it was a trial run. But as desperate as the Crystal Empire might be to fill their Guard Ranks, she knew they would never have picked Dhey unless they were sure he could do the job. So she was proud of him all the same.

“Well I’m glad.” She said, smiling warmly at him.

“So…what are you doing here?” He asked curiously, raising a single brow.

“Oh!” Daring exclaimed, feeling stupid for forgetting the reason she’d come here in the first place. “I’m here to see…Shamrock.” She said, finishing the sentence with a nervous laugh.

Dhey’s face fell at the name.

“Really?” He asked, his face deadpanned.

“Y-yeah.” She said, her hooves shuffling nervously on the ground.

Dhey looked thoughtful and nodded.

“Follow me.” He instructed. He turned and began walking in the opposite direction to where she had assumed Shamrock would be. Daring shrugged and followed anyway, figuring he’d know where she needed to be better than she did. She wasn’t exactly well versed in the layout of this place.

They walked for only five minutes before reaching the outside of some offices out back that were close to the Aerial barracks.

“She’s in here.” Dhey informed, looking remarkably nervous. “I’m…I’m gonna go in and try to remove all sharp objects before you need to go in.”

Daring nodded readily. “Th-thanks, I’d appreciate that.”

Dhey cleared his throat and straightened himself before heading through the door. He closed it partially, slipped inside and the sound of muffled voices could be heard. There was a little rustling.

“Where are you going with my spear?!” A female voice called out as Dhey suddenly rushed out of the room with a spear in his maw.

Daring gulped and took that moment to step into the room. The mare she came to see was stood behind her desk, looking both confused, and shocked…that is until her eyes fell on daring.

“You.” She said, deadpanned, her eyes wide and the room suddenly seemed very quiet.

“Erm...yeah, it’s me. Hey Shamrock, I...I was wondering-AAHH!” Daring ducked rapidly as a quill shot over her head and buried itself in door by its sharp tip.

“N-now Shamrock…listen to me…we can talk about this.” She stuttered and yelped as a paperweight flew through the air. Daring had to dive out of the way rapidly as it struck the wall with enough force to embed there and stay there. She looked at it with her eyes wide.

“Are you crazy?! That could have killed me!” She said, jumping to her hooves.

“GOOD!” The mare shouted and Daring’s eyes widened, her ears dropped and her heart felt like it was going to jump out of her throat as the entire desk the mare had been behind was suddenly hurled through the air at her.

This could have gone better.

The room was a mess, both the mares inhabiting it were on the floor with their backs to walls, staring at each other and panting. A soft sheen of sweat made Daring’s own coat glisten almost as much as the pony in front of her’s did naturally.

“Are…we done?” She asked, breathing heavily, worried that the answer might be a no. She wasn’t sure she would be able to dodge anything else. She found herself eternally grateful they Dhey had taken the spear away; she made a mental note to thank him somehow later, probably with a pastry of some kind.

“Yeah…we’re done.” The mare said after an awkward silence. Despite her words, every time she glanced at Daring, her brow furrowed and she looked almost ready to start throwing stuff again. And each look twisted Daring’s gut inside with a twinge of fear.

The mare in front of her was Shamrock Luck. She was a Crystal Pony of course, and a Unicorn. She had a white coat and a stark green mane with a singular purple streak spreading down one the left side that ended at the bottom of her tresses. Her eyes were a heterochromic mismatch, with the left being a lime green and the right being a purple that matched the strip of her mane. Otherwise, her frame was pretty average. It only held the basic definition of a mare that kept in shape, but wasn’t the kind of body one would often associate with a Guard, though that was likely due to the nature of Guard that she was.

Shamrock Luck was a member of the Mystic Guard.

Her armour was a light blue rather than silver, but otherwise designed pretty much the same as the others. Though Shamrock wasn’t wearing her helmet and Daring couldn’t see it around the office.

“So.” The mare began, slicing through the silence that had filled the room like an uncomfortable haze. “What can I do for the great Daring Do?” She asked, mockingly.

“Do I really deserve that?” Daring asked with a sigh.

“YES.” Shamrock suddenly shouted. “You broke into our stores, stole several Crystal Empire relics, lead a dangerous band of mercenaries into the palace and ruined my favourite outfit!” She stomped a hoof in exclamation.

“It’s not like you were really gonna wear it again, since when were you into dresses?” Daring asked reasonably, knowing the mare preferred either no clothes or armour.

“I WAS ON A DATE!” She demanded. “I’m supposed to be Lucky, it’s my special talent, but somehow, destroyed my dress permanently, ruined my date, undermined me in front of the other guards, and left me with so much paperwork I’M STILL HAVING TO FILE SOME OF IT!”

“Now there’s no need to exaggerate…” Daring’s voice dwindled to nothing and her ears fell as Shamrock pointed to a fallen ‘IN’ box that had been on the desk that was still quite full of papers. The ‘IN’ box was affectionately titled ‘Last Year’s Daring Do fiasco’. Daring decided it might be best if she didn’t speak after that.

There were a few more moments of pregnant silence before Shamrock sighed. She picked up the desk telekinetically and placed it where it was supposed to go. She began tidying the room, her lime green shroud of magic placing things where they were supposed to be.

Daring eeped slightly when bits of plaster rained down as the paperweight was pulled from the wall, scared for a moment that it might be thrown at her again. Shamrock glanced at her as she held the heavy objects, and her gaze narrowed. Daring could almost HEAR her mentally considering it. But thankfully, the mare just placed it back on the desk.

Feeling the mood of the room turning from a hostile environment to a more docile one, Daring let out a relieved breath she didn’t realise she was holding.

“So,” she began, righting a chair that was still on its side before sitting down.

“What do you need?” Shamrock asked, her voice the picture of civility as though she hadn’t just been destroying the room trying to kill the intruding mare.

“I need your help.” Daring said the words at a careful pace, needing to seem contrite so as not to upset the mare again. At the mention of such a request, Shamrock’s brow could only rise.

“My help?”

Daring nodded, hoping she could make this situation work, even if Shamrock’s voice was sceptic.

“I have a box.”

“A box?” Shamrock asked with a deadpanned expression.

“Yes, a box.” Daring confirmed, nodding her head.

Shamrock raised a singular brow.

“Fair enough.” The Crystal Unicorn said, letting out a breath and clapping her hooves together with a thoughtful expression. “And what’s in the box?”

“No idea.” Daring replied, biting her bottom lip. “Okay, let me explain.”

“Please do.” Shamrocks voice took on a slight hard edge, making Daring Do nervous.

“Alright, look, it has some magic on it. I can’t open it, and I was hoping you could help me?”

Daring Do had no idea if she was explaining herself properly, but she was certainly doing her best. Shamrock, for her part, simply sat in silence for the moment, seeming to consider the proposition.

“Did you steal this too?” Her accusation was punctuated with her narrowed gaze, it was a look that made Daring puff up slightly in indignation.

“You make me sound like a thief!”

A thud cut off her rebuttal as a large file was slapped onto the table from a draw. Shamrock opened it up and cleared her throat.

“Two counts of archaeological theft from Cloudsdale.”

“I had to.” Daring began explaining. “It was being hunted down by the Mercenaries of the Five Stars. They would have used its powers to control all the volcanoes in Equestria.”

“Two counts of archaeological theft from Aerie-”

“That was to keep it from the Brothers of Necromancy-” Daring hastily interrupted.

“-as well as one count of vehicle theft.” Shamrock finished, glancing up at Daring whose sentence was cut short and she began to sweat.

“I…I returned it?” Daring attempted with a nervous smile.

“Yes you did…in three pieces.” The guard said flatly, her face looking unimpressed.

Daring had no explanation for that, and seemed to visibly deflate.

“Five counts of theft from an Inquisitor armoury near Appleloosa.” Shamrock continued, seeming unperturbed by Daring’s increasing depression.

“We needed gear; there was a massive war raging in the San Talomino Desert.” Daring mumbled in excuse.

“Didn’t return them, did you?” Shamrock glared before looking back to the file. “Let’s continue. We have three theft counts reported by the dragons in the Badlands, one in Baltimare, another vehicle theft in Manehatten, and of course there was that theft a year ago right here in the Crystal Empire.” She said, glancing up and narrowing her eyes at that one, a look that made Daring gulp. “And lest we forget to include,” she continued, looking back to the folder. “The Canterlot theft from the Royal Tombs.” Her words fell heavy on Daring’s shoulders. “Where you desecrated the body of ancient royalty.”

Shamrock’s eyes narrowed darkly at that, and while Daring had already given up trying to explain away each situation brought up, this was one she wasn’t even going to broach. It was too close of a situation to her heart, too tightly coiled around the darkest pits of her despair, and for a single moment…Daring almost felt broken again.

But it was only for a fraction of a second before the Pegasus mare pulled herself together again, crossed her hooves and huffed.

“Yeah well, each and every time I did those things, it was to save Equestria from something nasty.” She said, turning her nose up at the Unicorn.

Shamrock’s expression, for her part, had softened slightly around the edges. The way she gazed at Daring showed she had caught that single moment of frailty in Daring Do, but like Daring, her concern seemed to only last for a moment. But it was long enough for her to make up her mind.

The heavy folder snapped shut.

“Yes, well, such a fact is the only reason you are permitted to walk around, rather than being thrown into a dungeon.” The mare sighed, leaning back, her hooves rubbing her temples as though she was feeling quite stressed. “Fine.”

The single word had Daring’s ears perking up.

“Fine?” The adventurous mare asked, hoping she wasn’t mishearing.

“I’ll look at your box, and help if I can. But the Mystic Guard and myself is not your ‘go to’ shop for your magical solutions.” She glared. “This is a one-time thing.”

The room was dark and forbidding, with the surrounding walls lined with mirrors.

“What are the mirrors for?” Daring asked curiously.

“Shh.” Shamrock hissed, sitting near the centre of the room with what seemed to be a complex design inlaid into the floor. The very centre of the room was taken up by a small bowl of water.

“What’s with the symbol on the floor? I didn’t think archaic designs were used by Unicorns anymore.”

“SHH.” Shamrock hissed more sharply. The box was slowly placed on the water, and despite not seeming like it would be buoyant, it floated anyway, barely causing a ripple in the surface of the water. It stayed there for a moment before the water seemed to start reacting. It vibrated for a moment before a bubble rose in the surface, then another, and another, before suddenly the water began bubbling as though it were boiling…no…there was steam rising now.

It WAS boiling!

Shamrock’s eyes were wide.

“Is that meant to be happening?” Daring asked curiously, a trace of worry touching her tone of voice.”

“SHUT UP!” Shamrock barked in reply before her horn began to glow. The lime green of her magic wrapped around the box and sweat furrowed her brow. She seemed to be struggling with something, grunting with the effort. It was almost ten seconds later when a flash of light erupted and patterns began to spiral through the air from the box. But they didn’t dissipate; they crisscrossed and created intricate patterns that wove together in a kaleidoscope of colour. Shamrock grunted before a singular line of the patterns began to glow with her signature lime green before it snapped away, and everything else seemed to suddenly fall apart. Everything stopped.

It was quite anticlimactic really, but the lights stopped and her magic stopped and the boiling stopped. The box even stopped floating, singing down into the water with a thud as it hit the basin.

Daring stood there, watching Shamrock pant as she sat there, still leaned over the basin, though she looked like she was about to throw up.

“Are you alright? Is it done?”

Shamrock didn’t answer, she just nodded. She telekinetically lifted the box from the water and laid it at Daring Do’s hooves.

“Here.” She grunted.

Daring looked from her to the box, and then back to her.

“Are you alright?” She asked with concern, looking over the mare with a worried expression.

Shamrock Luck just scowled, at the question, shaking her head.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She slipped into a corner and picked up a glass of water she had placed there ready. Lifting it to her muzzle she drank with loud thirsty gulps, downing it in little more than three swallows.

“You look like you just went five rounds with a Minotaur in a wrestling competition.” Daring Do remarked, noting how Shamrock’s mane looked slightly messed up now as though it hadn’t been washed in days, and how the sheen of the mares coat showed she was visibly sweating.

“It was a Complexion spell.” She grunted.

Daring looked a little lost at the vague explanation. “Complexion? As in…beauty and…stuff?”

Shamrock shook her head and sighed.

“Complexion spells are what we call multi-tiered complex spell weaves.” She sighed.

Daring stared at her for a minute before shaking her head.

“Nope, still lost. Pegasus over here, remember.” She said, smiling apologetically at the Crystal Unicorn.

She sighed. “Imagine a single spell like a single thread. Alone its basic, does the job you need it too, but it can be broken. A multi-tiered spell is what it’s called when a skilled Unicorn weaves many spells together like layers./ Like taking another string and binding it around the first one, and then another, looping them through each other, until you don’t really have just a piece of string anymore, you’ve bound them into a strong rope. Many layers making up one thing.”

This explanation made a little more sense to the adventurous mare, who nodded in understanding.

“And this is difficult to undo?” Daring Do asked, simply out of curiosity. It was never a bad idea to learn something new.

Shamrock nodded in reply. “You can’t just tug on it and hope it’ll break. You need to unravel it. But if there are lots of spells, that can take a very long time.”

“But you did this in like…a minute.” Daring chuckled, smiling. “You must be pretty powerful, I’m glad I came to you.

Shamrock smiled a little but shook her head. “No, I’m not that powerful…just Lucky.” She said, the word bringing a warm smile to the mares face.

“Lucky?”

Shamrock chuckled. “This is where the rope analogy falls a little short, because magic also has shatter points, like rocks or gems do. Individual strings that are used as simple binding, really easy to break spells that are small and hidden throughout the weave that keep the rest of the big spells together. Very difficult to find and distinguish, especially if there are a LOT of big spells. But if you can find them and break them, then there’s nothing holding the other layers to each other, and the entire spell just unravels.” She chuckled.

“Ah.” Daring began, getting to grips with the situation finally. “And you just happen to be ‘Lucky’ enough to find those threads.” She grinned; it was a grin that Shamrock quickly shared.

The Crystal Guard mare seemed to suddenly realise they were having a moment of ‘friendship’ and ‘bonding’ because it was less than a second later that she was clearing her throat and standing a little taller and less casually than before, and also suddenly not meeting Daring’s gaze.

“Yes well, I’ve done what you asked; I would like you to leave now.” She said simply.

Daring cocked her head curiously, unperturbed by the change in mannerism.

“Don’t you wanna see what’s in the box with me?”

Her offer seemed to make the Crystal Unicorn hesitate for a moment before shaking her head.

“Considering your track record I think I’d prefer it if you opened it up somewhere out of the city, I’d rather you didn’t blow up a building.”

Daring sighed. “You make it sound like that happens a lot.” She grumbled.

Shamrock’s gaze deadpanned. “Do I NEED to get out your file again?”

“I’m gone.” Daring said, smiling sheepishly as she picked up the now unsealed box. She noticed that strangely it seemed to have gained a significant amount of weight, and while she could lift it with a single hoof, it might be a strain if she needed to lift it high or for long periods of time. Obviously one of those entwined spells had been something to lighten its weight. The urge to open it right there and then struck the mare, but she managed to resist and packed the unopened box into her saddleback before rushing to the door. She stopped just short and turned back to The Crystal Guard Unicorn.

“Hey, thanks for helping me.” She said with a smile. “And…for not arresting me.”

Shamrock didn’t say anything, though her facial expression and bodily mannerisms made Daring feel like the mare was between either saying she ‘shouldn’t worry about it’ and ‘leave before I change my mind’. Either way she felt it would be less awkward for them if she left. So she did, exiting the door and spreading her wings, flying away from the barracks, offices and Shamrock, away from the Crystal Palace and back to her hotel room. She’d need some rest for the journey back. It had been a fruitful visit, and who knew, maybe she’d gained a begrudging friend.

Daring Do stared out of the window at the passing countryside. The dull rumble of the engines and the vibrations under-hoof were all hallmarks of the travel, and sensations she had gotten used to over many years. Contrary to popular Earth Pony and Unicorn belief, a Pegasus didn’t just fly everywhere…that would be exhausting. One might as well ask an Earth Pony to run everywhere, or a Unicorn to teleport the entire distance. So instead she took the train, her eyes watching the countryside as it whizzed by at high speeds, sighing softly to herself.

Her mind drifted, wondering about what she had seen and complexion spells. The amount of time and effort and work that had went into creating such a sealing spell must have taken a lot of power. It was a massive task to undertake to protect such a small box; which only made the adventurous mare’s heart burn with curiosity even more.

What WAS in that box?

There was only one way to find out.

Rummaging around inside her saddlebag, Daring Do found the box and brought it out, once again noting the increased weight compared to how it used to be when it was sealed. Taking furtive glances around to make sure no pony was watching, Daring Do opened the lid a single crack.

A glow of golden light rushed out that was warm on her face, a glow that made the mare squint slightly before her eyes grew accustomed to what she was seeing.

There, within the box, lay a golden ring of large size. It was large enough to be hooped around a pony’s head if needed to be carried in that way, the gold was beautifully reflective, and upon closer inspection, appeared perfectly smooth. Daring had expected inscriptions or some sort of ancient language ingrained along the signs that might speak of forebodings to come, but it was completely blank and clean. Just a ring, sitting there, bathing in a strangely warm glow.

Daring was just reaching into the box to bring out the ring for a closer inspection, when the train suddenly lurched. She eeped and looked around before a screeching sound was heard and the train lurched again, this time violently. The world seemed to be shifting slightly for her eyes, but her brain understood. The train was being derailed.

Daring Do snapped the box shut and threw it into her saddlebag, holding onto the seat as the world began to spin. Looking out of a window her eyes widened, a cliff was nearby, and they were going to topple over it!

She gritted her teeth and held on for dear life, until her ears pricked up at a sound among the cacophony of screeching metal.

It was the screaming of a foal.

Daring reacted instantly, lurching herself from her seat, the world now on its side so the floor became a wall and the seats stepping stones. She galloped over them confidently; a Foal was ahead of her, hanging from his failing seatbelt, about to fall down. The window across from him had shattered in a shower of glass, and if he fell, he would fall right out of the train onto the scraping rocks below.

The seatbelt finally broke, the foal screamed and the poor colt began to fall. Daring spread her wings and launched herself, catching the colt at the last moment, tucking into a ball and landing in a nearby seat as the world suddenly became weightless.

They’d gone over the edge and were now airborne.

The colt screamed in Daring Do’s arms, the world span and suddenly they were falling, she fell out of the train struck a rock, but despite the pain that lanced up her spine, she kept herself curled around that foal, desperate to keep him safe. They landed on the ground with a thud, the sound of screeching metal slowly dying out.

Everything seemed still for a moment.

Daring Do didn’t move. She stayed where she was and kept herself curled around the foal. For now she felt numb, though her back felt like it was sticky, but considering the ground was dry that likely meant the sticky substance was coming from HER. It wasn’t a thought she wanted to have so she shoved it from her mind rapidly as the colt began to stir.

Slowly and gently, she began to straighten herself out, carefully testing the waters of movement to make sure she wasn’t going to get any spikes of pain. From what she could tell, she’d hurt her back badly, and a cold feeling was spreading along her spine, but if she could move, then she wasn’t TOO badly damaged.

“Are you alright?” She asked softly, the colt stepping back, shaking and nodding, tears in his eyes. “Good.” She said gently, a breath of relief escaping, coupled by a hiss of pain that shot up her spine.

“Ouch…that’s gonna hurt in the morning.” She began, grunting as she forced herself to her hooves, shaking slightly.

“What happened?” The colt asked, his small voice punctuating the silence. It was a good question, Daring had to admit.

She looked up at the wreckage, seeing the train on its side at the bottom of this cliff, bent metal and broken windows now dominated the husk of the train as it lay there, battered and damaged, but at the very least, mostly intact. Considering the nature of the crash, Daring had half expected it to be on fire, she was very glad it wasn’t as there were still ponies strewn about. The ponies from the train were groaning, majority of the laying on the ground where they had landed, but while some looked hurt, thankfully, there didn’t seem to be any void of movement. So there didn’t seem to be any fatalities.

“Were your parents on the train?” She asked the foal curiously, to which the colt nodded in reply. She nodded and picked the colt up, placing him on her back, gasping at the slight pain where he sat. The colt gave a whimper.

“Y-you’re bleeding!” He said, staring down at her back where a nasty cut had begun to bruise purple.

“D-don’t worry about it. I’m fine.” She answered softly, trying to give him a reassuring smile. They began walking towards the other ponies, looking wherever they went for the foals parents, taking note that some ponies seemed badly injured and others had managed to get away unscathed, but otherwise, she was pleased to see they were all still alive. It was a miracle really; she’d have expected more damage from a crash like that.

What HAD made them crash anyway?

Her thought was cut off by someponies yell nearby.

“Light Sprint!” The voice was female, coming from a mare that ran up to her and quickly took the colt from Daring’s back.

“Mummy!” The foal squealed happily, hugging his mother around the neck with all hooves, as though he couldn’t possibly hug her tight enough. A stallion ran up too.

“Oh thank Celestia, Thank you so much, you found him.” The stallion ranted, hugging the colt and his wife closely.

“She saved me, mummy.” The colt said happily, Daring smiled kindly at his words, and the grateful look the mother gave her. She nodded to them both, and made to tip her pith helmet, until she remembered that she wasn’t wearing it. She’d left it back at Clopsdale, anticipating the need for a disguise while traveling. Getting into cities was all nice and easy, but for a celebrity such as herself, it was nicer to go unnoticed. It allowed her to actually get some work done.

“You keep the little guy safe.” She instructed the family, smiling at them warmly. “I’m gonna go find the driver, maybe he can shed some light on what happened.”

Heading off to do just that, she walked the length of the train and turned walked around the end, finding the stallion that had been driving the train leaning against the side, panting, and his hat skewed on his head and his right hind leg looking hurt.

“Are you alright?” She asked, padding up to him.

“Yeah.” He grunted. “I think it’s broken.”

She looked at the leg and nodded, thinking he might be right.

“What happened?” She asked, trying not to sound accusatory.

“Ugh.” He grunted, holding his leg with his fore-hooves. “There was something on the tracks, and then a flash of light and suddenly we were flipped.”

Daring looked him over. It seemed like he was telling the truth, and it didn’t look like he had a reason to lie.

“What did you see on the tracks?” She asked curiously.

“It was some big blue thing.”

Daring Do’s heart stopped for a moment.

“Big blue thing?” She asked hesitantly.

“Yeah.” He sighed. “Big thing, walked like a monkey on his knuckles.” He grunted. “Blue, with lots of teeth, and a long tail.”

Ahuizotl.

Everything seemed to go cold for Daring Do. She sat there in shock, looking around. She looked up at the train and jumped, flapping her wings and grunting at a spike of pain that almost made her fall back down. But she managed to hold her altitude and fly a bit up; looking down at the train she saw something on the door of the train’s driver compartment. She glided down and landed on it, her hooves making a metallic thud on the side trains upturned side.

Claw marks were embedded deep into the metal.

Daring traced them gently with her hoof and then looked around; trying to find any sign of her nemesis. Her ears pricked up, listening for any sign that he might be close. Her gaze narrowed as her eyes ran across the forest edge that sprawled out below us. The cliff they had fallen down fell at a forty degree angle, so they had rolled a little ways to the edge of a forest that had lined the right side of the track. Now the tree’s stood like sentries, closing them in from all sides, warding off any escape. The forest was dark and anything could be hiding within those trees. It was a notion that unsettled her.

“Everypony needs to get out of here.” She said softly.

“What?” Asked the voice from below her, the voice belonging to the train driver, his voice tinted with worry. Daring hadn’t really expected him to be able to hear her. She turned to him now.

“Everypony needs to get out of here, now.” She said firmly.

There was a sudden roar from the forest, and the shaking of trees, as something began approaching.

“NOW!” She cried out as the tree’s suddenly burst open, and a giant Hydra suddenly erupted from the treeline with a rope around its neck. And there sat on its back was Ahuizotl.

Daring’s heart jumped into her throat and she turned to make sure everypony was running. Many were screaming, but thankfully at the corner of her eyes she spotted the couple and their little foal, managing to get back on the tracks. They were all running down the tracks, heading where the train would have stopped if its journey hadn’t been so violently interrupted.

Besides Ahuizotl, out of the forest, also emerged his pets. The Lynx, Cheetah, and panther rushed out, clawing and yowling at any ponies that couldn’t run fast enough. Daring galloped to help.

Her hooves struck along the metal of the side of the train, and when she got close enough, she dived. Her wings spread for a moment, only to push back, giving her extra speed as she hurtled towards the Cheetah. The beasts claws were raised, his yellowing teeth bore as a mare laid beneath him, cowering and squealing for help.

Daring Do was but a blur, striking the cheetah hard and bowling him into the floor, rolling with him, her hooves slipped under and launched. The cheetah flew hard and struck a tree, falling down with a soft thud to the ground.

“RUN!” She shouted to the mare, watching as she scrambled into a gallop.

Daring Do turned back to the aggressors and yelped, diving out of the way as a head full of jaws leaned down and snapped at her.

The Hydra had four heads, a light brown body of scales with a yellow stomach. The faces were all smiling with jagged jaws and narrowed eyes with malicious intent. How Ahuizotl had gained the aid of such a beast she couldn’t fathom.

“Greeting’s Daring Do.” His melodic voice called out with a mirthful cackle following his words.

“What do you want Ahuizotl?!” She called out to him, backing away as the panther and Lynx slowly encroached ever closer. The cheetah had shook off the dazing attack she had dealt him and joined the fray once again, now standing beside the other animals, slowly approaching Daring Do with murderous intent in their eyes.

“Why Daring Do, I want your help.”

His words confused her, and also made her terrified. His cackle rang out with villainous intent.

Daring Do hung from the room upside down. Her wings and hooves were tightly bound to her body with rope that wound around her tight midsection. The world swung back and forth as she hung there, making her feel slightly queasy, and all the more irritated.

Ahuizotl stood there watching her, his face in a wide grin.

“Is this the part where you try and kill me?” Daring asked, her eyes narrowing.

“Usually yes.” Ahuizotl shrugged, his paws behind his back in an almost dignified manner, his pets beside him staring at her like she was a meal they would soon get to feast upon.

“But…?” She asked curiously.

“I need your help.”

“You said that already.” Daring retorted, her eyes narrowing more in mistrust, struggling in her binds. “How is tying me up gonna help you, other than, ya know, getting me out of the way?”

Ahuizotl sighed.

“I have bound you, my dear, because you would otherwise not listen. And I really need you to listen.” He said sternly.

“I don’t trust you.” Daring remarked, struggling all the more in her bindings.

“You do not trust me to do anything good, but I have not said what I need you for is nice, my dear.” He chuckled, his baritone voice vibrating around the chamber they were in.

He had brought her to this underground temple; Equestria was full of them, filled with ancient buried cities and archaeological wonders.

“Do you like this place?” He asked, gesturing around them. Daring do was hanging from the roof; the walls were lined with hieroglyphs and ancient writings that she didn’t quite recognise.

“What do you want from me?” She demanded, glaring daggers down at him, wishing she was free so she could wipe that smirk from his face.

“How good is your ancient Equestrian?”

Ahuizotl’s question confused her, making her wonder what it was he was getting at.

“Pretty good, I mean, it wasn’t but I’ve been studying more.” She answered carefully.

“I have uncovered something, a prophecy my dear.” His grin spread across his face eagerly, and Daring Do’s heart somehow dropped into her stomach, despite gravity trying to lodge it in her throat.

“Ugh.” She grumbled. “Not more prophecies.”

Ahuizotl could only chuckle.

“I thought you enjoyed relics of the past, my dear, and how they could grant things of great worth to those that wield them.” He said, his mirthful grin starting to seriously tick the mare off.

“From my experience, they are never worth the price they take.” Daring said softly, her voice cracking slightly before she could stop it.

Ahuizotl’s ears pricked up when he heard it.

“Oh my.” His voice was soft and gentle, as a chuckle began to escape his lips. “Is the mighty Daring Do feeling sore about something?” He turned to her, his gaze narrowing and a mischievous glint got caught in his eyes…it was a glint that made what felt like a stone in her chest grow three times the size.

“Shut up.” She said, trying to sound threatening, when all she could manage was to croak the words out as though she were breaking.

“Is something keeping you up at night, dear? You do seem quite tired, not at all as capable as you used to be. Tell me Diane, where is your fire?” He asked, his voice almost sounding concerned, where it not for his ever present grin.

Daring tried to turn away, refusing to look at him, but suddenly something gripped her mane and turned her head forcefully, she yelped in pain and saw he was using his prehensile tail that had a paw on the end of it, holding her and forcing her to look the ape-like beast in the eyes.

He seemed to study her for a moment, staring into her eyes before finally letting go of her mane, sighing softly.

“The mighty Daring Do is broken.” He said it as though it were a simple fact, and a saddening one at that.

“I’m not broken.” She demanded, or at least tried to. The words came out small, and she wasn’t sure they were true.

“There is no joy in defeating an opponent that is already beaten.” Ahuizotl said firmly, sighing. “But, perhaps you can still help me.” He moved to the back of the room, and came back with some tablets. These were not solid gold like the ones about Queen Serra and the Alicorn’s objects; instead these were solid silver, gleaming under their light dust and dirt that scattered over their surface. But neither the dust nor the dirt could diminish the glorious sheen that made them glimmer in the light of the nearby torches.

“I shall not ask you to read them; I will simply tell you what they say.” Ahuizotl said, his voice seeming almost…kind. And Daring Do hated it. He was looking at her like somepony might a wounded animal.

His voice cleared and Ahuizotl began to recite:

“Beast of primal hue,

Lay the ground to ash.

A gathering of rings,

Two forces that then clash.

The winner not yet shown to eyes,

But the one that seeks it most.

Power over many lives,

A strength that none can boast.

Eight centuries long,

A blazing heat,

The ground in burning brand.

Rings and Shields,

An Empress Heart,

Tenochtitlan be the land.” His voice ended, and his face grinned for a singular moment before it fell and he sighed.

“Do you understand it, Diane?” He asked, still speaking softly.

“No I don’t.” She said, managing to summon a little strength while he had been reciting, so her voice no longer wavered so much.

He cocked his head at her and nodded.

“You still have at least some fire in you I see, good, I like that. I will need that.”

He padded over to her and with a swipe of his tail paw, the rope was cut and Daring suddenly fell to the ground with a yelp and a hard thud. She was still bound though, so she was by no means free, just no longer feeling the blood rush to her head.

“The prophecy speaks of the Rings of Scorchero.” He said gently, leaning down, looking at her, his accent giving his words a slightly melodic sound to the way they were spoken. “It speaks of the Shield of Razdon and of the Ketztwctl Empress. It speaks of an ancient power, to extend my life eight centuries…me, personally. I am of primal hue, I am its beast. I am destined for this Daring Do, and I need you to help me achieve it.” He said softly, reaching out, his right paw stroking the side of her face in a kindly, yet all out creepy sort of way.

“Why would I ever do something like that?” She said, her eyes narrowing.

“Because,” he began softly, sighing gently, his eyes burning into hers. He leaned in close, his breath caressing her ear as he spoke words that tore open a chasm within Daring Do. Her eyes widened, her breathing stopped and a single tear rolled down from her left eye as his words burned right through her soul.

“I know how to save Bravely Blue.”

Daring Do walked out of the cave in a daze. She could have flown, but she needed the walk. She stepped one hoof in front of the other; one, two, three and four. And then again, one, two, three and four. And again, one, two, three and four.”

She just walked.

The world passed her by and the day turned to night by the time Daring Do reached Clopsdale, she climbed up a hill and made it onto a carriageway, crossing without looking if it was safe to cross, and jumping the railing on the side, heading in a straight line for the university. When she finally reached the outskirts of the University, somepony shouted, and there was a flutter of wings. A glint of gold appeared in her peripheral and a Pegasus landed nearby.

“Daring!” Cloud Zapper called, rushing up to her. “Are you okay? There was a train crash and some ponies said you were on it. Everypony seems safe though, apparently you saved them.” He said, looking like he was happy at the news. “Don’t worry; I made sure they were all okay.”

She didn’t answer him, she looked at him, but she couldn’t quite see him. It was like he was far away from her, and she were looking from behind a glass wall at the world. Here…but not quite here.

“Daring?” The Royal Guard Pegasus asked, looking concerned that his friend was being distant. She looked banged up, her mane was a mess, her clothing was torn in places and she was looking at him as though…no…she was looking THROUGH him.

She turned away from him and began walking, heading for the dorm.

“Daring.” He said, trying to catch up. “What’s wrong? Talk to me.”

“Not now.” She said, the first words she had spoken, and her voice felt cracked and damaged from the attempt to speak.

“What’s wrong?” He asked, reaching out for her shoulder. The moment he came into contact with her, she seemed to freeze before it was like there was a snap in her eyes.

“LEAVE ME ALONE!” She screamed violently, turning rapidly and bucking her legs out hard. She struck Cloud Zapper in the chest hard, his eyes widened and he flew back, striking a wall. Where it not for his armour, that could have done some serious damage. As it was, he was winded and panting, looking up at her.

Daring stood there, panting, her eyes wide with streaks that said she’d been crying raw. She looked down at herself, looked horrified for a moment before rushing past him, galloping as fast as she could to her room.

She was feeling tight chested, there was a rushing in her ears, and nothing made sense. She felt like her body was being broken again and again with every breath she took.

Daring Do charged into her room and slammed the door shut hard, locking it before she backed herself into a corner. She was shaking, hugging herself.

Something caught her eyes; to her left was her pith helmet. It was the helmet Bravely Blue had given to her; it was the symbol of her adventures, and her life.

Diane Daring Danger Do reached for that helmet, and looked down at it, before pulling it to her chest.

Her mind drifted back to when she and Bravely Blue had first met, that first day at the University.

*

Diane Do looked up at the University of Clopsdale. The large buildings of classic Edmaredian style seemed to almost brim with knowledge that the filly could scarcely contain.

No, she was not a filly. Not anymore, now she was a Mare. Now she had responsibilities, and stuff. Now she had a real future ahead of her.

Her chosen subject had of course been Archaeology, she could have chosen some other minor subjects but she wanted to devote every inch of her time to this singular pursuit. Her teacher, she had heard, was the exceptionally experienced R B Ravenhoof. He was supposed to be one of the best in the business, and the chance to learn from such a figure had Diane almost dancing on the tips of her hooves.

Walking into the main building and heading to the classroom, she passed a notice board with big letters on it.

‘NOTICE TO CLASS 4B OF ARCHAEOLOGY’

That was her class, so she padded over to it, wondering what the notice was about, and if it was important.

‘Class 4B of Archaeology. A change in tutor is required due to the unforeseen and sudden retirement of R B Ravenhoof…’

Diane felt her stomach sink as she read the words, and her drive to rush to the classroom significantly dwindled.

Sighing to herself, the grey-scale maned mare decided to read on in case it had any other relevant information.

‘…Fortunately, the position of tutor has already been filled at short notice by the esteemed B B Blue.’

B B Blue? Daring had no idea who that could mean. She turned and headed towards the classroom, finding the door open and waiting for her.

She peered inside.

It was lecture designed, with a stage at the bottom and rows upon rows of semi-circular pews above for students to sit at and take notes. It was just as she imagined a University classroom to be. Many students where already there, some of which bustling about the place in tides and droves, each with friends and chatting merrily about something or other, but it wasn’t the students that made Diane stop. It wasn’t the vibrant air of learning, or the array of coursework books on shelves that lined the walls just waiting to be perused by curious minds.

It was a single mare behind the desk at the bottom where the teacher would sit.

She had a yellow-golden mane, dazzling blue eyes and a blue coat of sky colour. Atop her head sat a pith helmet, beige and bound in green fabric, her rump sporting a silver compass topped with a deep crown.

B B Blue. Beatrice Bravely Blue.

Her foalhood idol.

Daring remembered that at the time, it had taken every ounce of will she had to try and control herself, but a young Diane was brash and eager to please. The young mare, barely more than a filly galloped down steps and right up to the blue mare.

Bravely Blue for her part was simply sat there, perusing over some paperwork that might have something to do with the first lesson of the school year, but stopped immediately and looked over at the little one that stood nearby. Well, not so little, Diane at that age had been a tad short for her age, the little Pegasus half a head shorter than Bravely Blue at the time and held a look in her eyes that told of youth and future promise.

“Can I help you?” Bravely asked, her voice filled with a motherly concern.

“Omygoshohmygoshohmygosh!” Daring squealed, practically dancing up and down on the spot. “You’re Bravely Blue!”

Diane dropped her saddlebags and began emptying them rapidly, pulling out five books, stacking them on top of each other.

“I have ALL your books, and I’ve read them like, a bazillion times, and I’ve followed all of your adventures. I made a scrapbook!” She announced happily, bringing out red leather bound large book and slapping it onto the desk, with Bravely Blue giving the overactive fan a startled look. The book was opened and it was filled with newspaper clippings, and many mouth written notes from Diane herself. There were also pictures of her as a filly, dressed in makeshift adventure gear and badly cut out and taped to pose her alongside Bravely Blue.

“See this one?! This is where you faced that Hydra to get to the Fortress of Emanzipal, and this one is where you saved that town from that tidal wave that was summoned by the King of Amac run Doh!”

Sometime during this tirade and emotional fan-worship of Bravely Blue, the blue mare’s gaze had softened and she was smiling a little, like she was lightly amused.

“And this one,” Diane continued, “is a picture of me, when I faced off an entire pack of Timberwolves. I didn’t win; I got hurt and fell down a hill and into a hole.” She explained, giving a sheepish smile. “But the hole turned out to be an underground temple, I found this coin though, that was solid gold and had cool writing on it. And that’s when I got my cutiemark, see?” She turned excitingly, showing off her hindquarters and the star based golden compass that adorned her flank.

Bravely Blue seemed quite interested in the cutiemark, regarding Diane with curiosity. Daring let Bravely Blue look for a moment before she seemed to remember something else.

“OH! I want to give you something!” She dived into her bag again, rummaging around before coming out, producing a box. Diane pushed the box towards Bravely Blue who studied it curiously.

Bravely Blue glanced from the box to Diane, the little mare’s face bright and expectant. Bravely Blue sighed softly and slowly opened the box, her eyes widening at the contents.

It was a coin.

Golden and worn from age, but no less gleaming, and covered in ancient scripture that Diane couldn’t read, but Bravely Blue seemed fascinated.

Bravely Blue closed the box and looked thoughtful, turning to her fan.

“What is your name?” She asked curiously.

Diane felt silly for not having mentioned it before.

“I’m Diane…Diane Do.”

Bravely Blue nodded and smiled. “Well then Diane, to face off a pack of Timberwolves is a very brave thing indeed. Brave or silly.” She said softly. “You must be quite daring.”

Diane giggled. “Daring is my middle name.” She smiled before her face fell. “I mean that literally, not dramatically.” She quickly corrected, feeling her cheeks glow with a light flush.

Bravely Blue could only chuckle, smiling at the little one.

“Daring Do.” She smiled. “A fitting name for an adventurer.”

They were words that made Diane’s heart more than any wind or spread wings ever could.

“And a good adventurer.” Bravely Blue began, reaching up and taking off her pith helmet. “Needs a good hat.”

Diane gasped as the pith helmet was sat upon her head, barely able to fit.

“Consider it a trade.” Bravely Blue said, smiling. “You’d best take a seat.”

Daring Do nodded rapidly. It was the best day of her life, and she had never been happier. It was the start of a new lift.

It was the start of a beautiful friendship between mentor and student.

It was the start of Daring Do.

*

It was at these thoughts that the present Daring Do no longer felt like Daring Do. She felt like that little filly once again, barely an adult mare. Barely anything more than little Diane.

It was at these thoughts that Diane Do broke.

The End


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