Perquisition - act of searching for someone or something.
~119 years ago~
Nopony knew what had happened. All they remembered was a bright light.
They had no memories of their pasts, yet all the ponies were somehow able to recognize friends and family without any trouble. Thousands upon thousands of ponies had all been brought to the same place.
All of them could see a grand castle at the top of a hill. Made of a peculiar stone, the intricately-carved patterns that entirely covered it emitted a faint glow. Around it was a surrounding city which seemed to be of similar architecture that could easily be compared to the likes of the castle, but still different; it did not share the same glow. The city was vast, but all the buildings-- including the castle --seemed abandoned. The ponies were scattered throughout the city.
They had no idea where they were, how they had gotten there, or why they couldn’t remember anything. Everything was so unclear, they were scared and confused. Some of those ponies tried to use the confusion as a means of grabbing power, and soon the different groups were in the middle of a power struggle, each of them trying to gain an upper hoof over one another. Few were willing to give up on the chance of ruling an entirely new society.
Some ponies had been running around the city scavenging. If things were about to get bad, they wanted to at least have supplies and tools to be ready for whatever may happen. Many of them started competing, hoping they could get to whatever could be found first. Things escalated quickly.
Just as the city-wide chaos was about to reach its peak the castle started glowing a bright pulsating light, with much more intensity than before. Unlike the previous glow it had been giving off the entire time, it seemed almost alive now.
Everypony ceased with whatever they were doing. Those fighting calmed down, the ones arguing became speechless, and the ones hiding finally showed themselves. For a few moments the chaotic city was about as quiet as it had been before the ponies arrived.
As soon as the bulk of the pony folk had gotten to the glowing castle, the strange radiant glow stopped just as suddenly as it had begun. Most of the ponies started rubbing their eyes while trying to adjust to the sudden change in light.
No pony had any idea what had just happened, but everything seemed so calm after this event. All who had seen the glowing castle could feel the same thing: tranquility, peace and control. Those that had not had the chance to glimpse it themselves were easily composed by their acquaintances that had seen the light.
Many of them had quickly decided afterwards that they couldn’t let this get out of control again, that they all would have to cooperate if they wanted to thrive in this new world.
~118 years ago~
The pony folk had settled in the abandoned city, even if all the buildings seemed to be meant for beings of easily twice their size, barely being able to operate the doors and only just able to make use of the simple rock furniture inside the buildings.
On the outskirts of the city were vast fields with the odd mountains as long as the pegasi’s eyes could see. Earth ponies had used these fields in order to quickly adapt their farming techniques for the sake of growing crops and supporting everypony. Surprisingly, they did not understand how they had been able to farm properly. Regardless, just as the earth ponies would do this, the pegasi would provide everypony with suitable weather for their crops while maintaining the sun as needed. The earth ponies, as well as the unicorns, who were not suitable for farming had instead taken up other crafts inside the city, everything from blacksmithing to health care.
A few leaders had eventually been elected, acting as a council.
~117 years ago~
Life had gotten a lot easier for the ponies. With no memories that bound them to the past, they all looked to the future instead. Crops were prospering, and an economic system had been introduced and was already working quite well.
The council turned their attention from the flourishing city to the unknown; stretching far beyond the range of the city. Because their new society had finally started to be able to self-maintain, the council instead started considering other matters that had been put on hold.
“What is this world?”
Pegasus scouts had been sent throughout the world to explore, to see if anypony or anything else could be found. When they began to return, all the scouts had to report were odd structures spread as far as the eye could see, no matter where they looked. These structures varied from being bigger than mountains to simply being as small as a tomb entrance. They all shared a similar architecture, described as being very much like the city they now lived in.
From vast fields to mountains, dense forests to deserts, these buildings had been found, their shapes as varied as their locales.
So it was decided that the Explorer’s Guild was to be started; qualified ponies that had proven themselves would be sent out to these ruins to explore. And in the case of mazes, to create detailed maps.
~81 years ago~
Many scouts had reported finding unusual structures over the years, not like most of the ruins they had normally found. Among one of these odd findings, one of them had been a set of four towers, a few weeks’ trot from the city, in the middle of a giant field.
The council and the Explorer’s Guild had known about locations like these for a few years, and had come to the decision that it was time for these to be explored.
~80 years ago~
Around a hundred ponies, all from different occupations had been chosen for this pilgrimage. They were being sent to build one of the first outside settlements and to create a new life for themselves there, but to also serve as an outpost for the city.
Along with them, a few hoof picked explorers from the Explorer’s Guild were sent with them; with the purpose of exploring the mysterious towers that had been found in the area. These guild explorers had their own apprentices that went with them, and that would one day take over their master's work.
The town now known as Fourtow, based on the four towers in its vicinity, has served its purpose well. While there have been many other new settlements, some even bigger by now, Fourtow was probably one of the happiest towns. The ponies living there had a very easy life compared to those in the capital, now called Ever City.
Out of the four towers, only three had ever been explored, their complex insides gradually hollowed out over the years.
The fourth had been explored, but there were still parts that hadn’t been seen yet.
That would change soon.
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW and LysanderasD for helping me with editing and making my story readable. If you liked it, please leave a comment, they’re probably the biggest source of encouragement I’ve yet to encounter. Don’t forget to rate!)
Sketch was impatiently tapping her hoof, getting increasingly irritated while waiting at the town gate. Counting all the bricks in the wall next to her again did nothing to help the boredom building up inside of her.
"Hundred and two... hundred and three... hundred and four... hundred and five... ugh, sometimes I wonder why I even put up with him!" Sketch groaned. She'd been waiting at least an hour every time they were supposed to go out on a mission, and considering the amount of times they'd gone out of town to work, that made an impressive amount of hours wasted.
She gave up on counting the bricks, having already done that over and over whenever she had to wait for her friend. She undid the knot in her mane to let her bright yellow hair fall down over her dark green eyes, only to re-do the ponytail properly using her hair band. This effectively gave her two ponytails, counting the real one as well. She did this once more and decided that bored her too.
Looking for something to pass her time she glanced over the town behind her; it was a town of around two hundred ponies, earth ponies, unicorns and pegasi, all living in the same town since around eighty years back when it was founded. Surrounding the town was a brick wall, tall enough for even the pegasi - who usually flew around just above the buildings - to be bothered by it. It kept the ponies living inside of it safe from the less than friendly animals and creatures that roamed outside.
She pulled out her work-in-progress from her saddle bag, a map book filled with all sorts of scribbles and drawings of the surrounding area. She flipped a few pages until she got to the current: a tower that loomed just south of the town, outside the wall. Her eyes turned up to see the tower, off in the distance. An enormous dark green tower, it was about half the width compared to its height and it was already rivaling the surrounding mountains in the area. It had what looked like windows all over it, but if seen from close enough, it would be clear that they were all just stone decorations, like imprints, not actual openings into it, the single entrance to it being at ground level. The tower itself was only one out of four similar ones, all spread out in a different direction of the town she lived in. They all more or less looked the same; the only major differences were the cracks that had been formed on the older towers. Bits and pieces had been falling off for a couple of years, but compared to the insides they were in good shape.
Turning her head back down to her book, she flipped halfway into it, bringing up maps of the current tower; each map was for a single floor. Every map detailed the mazes in an easy to understand way. They had notes added all over, each one pointing to different objects in the rooms, explaining what had to be done to get the mechanisms working, and more importantly, which ones to avoid.
She flipped a few pages and stopped at map twenty-eight, her current work in progress. She'd spent a few days trying to get the layout looking good enough, so anypony could quickly take a look and figure out which direction would be the best choice. But she had already run out of material to work with, and needed to start exploring once more to complete the floor map.
When she flipped back a few pages to take a look at and get absorbed into, her ears twitched as she heard heard the sound of galloping hooves, steadily becoming louder as she listened. Her view raised until she could see the form of a blue pony running her way. After sighing heavily while letting her book slide back into her saddlebag, she prepared herself so she could be ready to show her disapproval for having waited so long, again, to the approaching stallion.
"Again! Without fail you always manage to show up late whenever we're supposed to get working again!" Sketch scolded the pegasus while staring him down.
Kickbolt gave off a weak smile while brushing away sweat from his silver mane. "Sorrysorrysorry!" was all he managed to blurt out between his breaths.
Sketch dropped her head in disappointment. “What are you, five? Act like a stallion for once! You know, one that can manage to get here in time!” she exclaimed.
"You know I can't leave until I'm done preparing! And I finally got this new gear in from the Main City! I just had to check if it would all fit before I could leave," the marine blue pegasus pointed to the saddlebag he was carrying, which was bigger than usual.
Sketch just glared at him. "Again? You ordered a new contraption from the Main City? Did you forget what happened last time with that claw-horseshoe that was supposed to give you ‘increased agility’ while handling objects?" she reminded him bluntly.
Kickbolt turned his head away in embarrassment as he remembered how the horseshoe he had ordered last time worked out. It was supposed to help him handle objects without having to use his muzzle to grab everything.
"Uh, yeah, they sort of accidentally grabbed the ground and locked in place while we were trying to escape from those goblins in the tower," he mumbled. "But Sketch, this isn't the same! Promise! Which is even why I had to go out of the way to see if this thing would actually fit this time, I’ll show you what it is when we get there," said the pegasus.
Sketch was doing everything in her power to try and see things from his point of view, but it wasn't working, not to mention he always had a similar excuse for being late, and it was rare for him to actually bring something new along for him to try out while mapping new areas. "Whatever, as long as I don't have to save you, you're the one that's supposed to protect ME! Besides, you know I can't stay mad at you for being the most forgetful being in existence," she teased. "You even forgot to fly again! Seriously, you're a pegasus and whenever you're in a hurry you suddenly forget how to use your wings and always end up using the slower path that the rest of us earth-bound ponies have to use. If you only knew how many of us wished we could just fly to where we wanted to go."
Kickbolt, who had only just stopped blushing for being reminded of the claw-incident suddenly flushed red again. "Only because you yell at me for leaving you behind whenever we're in a hurry!" he affirmed to his protection.
Sketch covered her face with a hoof and sighed. "That's only when we're moving together, and when we’re actually running from something.” Kickbolt turned his head away in shame. “Why would you not fly for trying to get somewhere in time?" was all she could muster; she was quickly growing tired of this conversation and wanted to get a move on already. "Fine, whatever, that's how you are and how you'll always be, an overly energetic colt that can't be bothered to think things through twice.” She started walking to the gate, when she noticed Kickbolt was still sitting on his haunches with his head turned away.
Sketch turned back to face Kickbolt, drawing his attention. “Now can we PLEASE get this over with? We're so close, I just know it!” she uttered while her frown was slowly turning into a smile at the change of topic. “Our masters already covered half this tower before they left it to us, and if it's anything like the other three towers, there's only thirty floors, and we're on twenty-eight!" her eyes were almost glowing at this point, trying to imagine what could possibly be at the top. "The other three towers were in such bad shape when they were getting explored, and apparently all the top floors were left in ruins. We can only hope that the same won't have happened to this final tower," she reminded her friend.
Kickbolt opened his mouth to ask. "Uh, so, tell me again, how come this tower never got explored earlier? It's in the best shape compared to the other three but no one bothered to check it out?" his silver eyes widening.
"Fine! I’ll remind you yet again! Because it’s not like you don’t ask this same question every other time we go in there... I'm surprised you actually remember to check out all those weird gadgets you order from the Main City," she teased him. But after a few moments she decided to answer, "It wasn't until our masters started doing this that the fourth tower had finally opened up. They could never figure out the reason, but apparently it was always closed until the other three towers had gotten fully explored. Logic dictates that something in them triggered that made the fourth tower available to us, but nothing like that was ever found. Either way, it's up to us to get this tower done, we're already so close!" she squealed happily, already having forgotten about her earlier frustration with Kickbolt.
He nodded, happy to not be the subject of her anger any longer, readying a new argument. "Well yeah, let's get it done then! Or it’d be up to the alternative to get it done." He waited for Sketch's reaction.
Sketch, having turned to begin walking again until she heard the first few words which caused her to immediately stopped in her tracks. "No way am I letting her near this work! The guild is expecting me to finish mapping the tower; I've already spent way too much time doing this to let it all slip away. The amount of points we'd get for finishing it would let us go wherever we would want to! Speaking of which, we need to discuss that soon," Sketch pointed out while stomping angrily.
Kickbolt trudged up to her while smiling. “But, won't we need a unicorn in the group if we're going to other places? The only reason the guild even lets us do this by the two of us is because of you, and you know it."
Sketch turned her head away to avoid showing her smile, but her coat already flushing gave it away before she had a chance to cover her face with a hoof.
Kickbolt chuckled for a moment before continuing. "There hasn't been a mapper as good as you in this town ever since it got founded and you know it! Even the guild master said so!” He motioned at her flank. “Heck, your cutie mark even proves that you were born for this, you’re not called ‘Map Sketch’ for nothing!" he exclaimed, referring to her cutie mark showing an outspread scroll with a compass lying on top of it.
Sketch turned her head back around, still smiling after having tried composing herself. She pointed at Kickbolt’s cutie mark, sporting a lightning bolt shaped like a horseshoe. “Well if it weren’t for you protecting me, they wouldn’t let us go at all.” Sketch nodded her head and cleared her throat. "But you're also right about the unicorn, there's no way the guild will let us do any more exploring as long as it's the two of us, the only reason we're actually allowed to explore the tower is because it's probably so similar to the other three that's already done with, so they know what to expect of it. Doesn't make it any easier though, we run into more monsters and traps than we'd like and I'm sure some unicorn magic could probably help every now and then. I mean, you won't be able to fight off everything we come across, now will you?" she batted her eyes at the bigger stallion while ending the sentence.
Kickbolt sighed openly while staring intently at the green mare for a moment.
Sketch continued before he said anything. "Come ooon, I don't really want anyone else to butt into this. Besides, there are no available unicorns that are actually willing to do this sort of thing, unless the Main City ends up sending some new candidates or something, and last I heard they just sent some to another town, meaning they're fresh out for now anyway."
He smiled as a he realized an opportunity to turn this around, "Well then, too bad we won't be able to keep on doing this once we finish this tower."
"I suppose, I could use a break anyway from doing this," she yawned, lazily waving a hoof in front of her face.
"Then some other group would just end up having to explore the good places instead of us, because you obviously can't be bothered," he implied, trying to sound sarcastic.
Sketch's dark green eyes shot up at this. "No way! I already told you I am not letting her do my work!" she almost yelled out. "Now come on, we need to get a move on already if we're gonna get this done anytime soon! Do you know how much time we've already wasted because of you!?" said Sketch as she suddenly grabbed his tail with her teeth and started pulling him towards the gate. His face already getting dragged along the grass before he had a chance to do anything about it.
When Sketch suddenly stopped pulling his tail, he took the opportunity to turn around to walk for himself, only to see the reason for why Sketch had stopped pulling.
Sketch was standing face to face with a purple unicorn mare with a pink and white mane. On her flank you could see a contract for a cutie mark. Or rather, face to neck, seeing as the lavender mare was rather tall, and how Sketch was shorter than the average mare.
"Map Sketch," the purple unicorn said with a cheeky voice.
"Brdgwrd." Sketch had responded, not realizing she was still biting down on Kickbolt's tail, quickly spitting it out and once again attempting to say her nemesis name as cocky as she could possibly muster. Seeing how she already failed, the second try was her last shot at maintaining her honor. "Pledgewoorgh-," was all she could get out before coughing violently because of the long hairs that had ended up stuck between her teeth from pulling Kickbolt, which she accidentally had inhaled.
"I still cannot honestly see what the guild master sees in you, eating tails of your teammates instead of actually doing your job. You're only lucky you two get to work with the tower instead of actually having to explore new places like us.” The purple mare sneered down at Sketch. “You already have the finished maps of the other towers, so this last one is practically done for you!" she taunted while turning away to proceed to keep her head higher than usual, if only to annoy Sketch further. "We just came back from the plains to the east, that area is now finished and we'll finally get the points we rightfully deserve from guild. Maybe now we will have enough to actually get away from ponies like you for a while."
Sketch was finally gagging the last hair out of her throat, and proceeded by glaring daggers at the purple mare's neck instead, not being quite able to see her eyes. "Pledgeword." She finally got it out with a disgustingly dripping voice.
Pledgeword finally looked at Sketch directly. "Oh, so you can speak," her voice sounding even cheekier than it had before.
Sketch lifted her head to properly meet Pledgeword’s face. "Just because the other three towers are already done doesn't mean this last one is easy, not to mention they’re nothing alike. You haven't actually been inside it so you couldn't tell the traps apart from the door opening mechanisms." Their eyes finally met, followed by Sketch kicking dirt.
As the two rivals proceeded to attack each others with words, Kickbolt shared a forgiving look with those of Pledgeword's teammates, all of them being painfully aware of how the two mares behaved whenever they met. One of them was a light orange pegasus mare with black mane and an old telescope for a cutie mark. Their third teammate was an earth pony, a colt, at least that's what Kickbolt had always assumed; seeing as how he was almost as small as Sketch. He had a grey coat with a light brown mane, and his cutie mark was a toolbox.
The two's eyes met with Kickbolt's and gave him a tired look back. While none of the three had any issues with each other, Sketch's and Pledgeword's constant bickering wasn’t exactly wanted. The two that had just returned were tired from their trip along with Pledgeword and had expected to finally get home and rest. Not to stop at the front gate and watch their team leader starting fights with every pony that was unfortunate enough to stand in her path. Their group leader always ended up talking down to others whenever she got the chance, particularly so in Sketch's case.
"Whatever! We're going already!" Sketch declared, having had enough of the quarrel already. "Come on Kickbolt, it's your fault we're not even there yet!" she continued, only to bite his tail again to start pulling him away from the town gate again.
Pledgeword turned her head away with a huff and continued walking into town, followed by her two teammates that were hanging their heads from the exhausting four days they'd been away.
"I can walk myself, thank you very much!” the blue pegasus responded, fluttering his wings to fly up above Sketch, pulling her head up and finally forcing her to let go of his tail. He’d probably complain more often if he wasn’t so used to being pulled around by Sketch.
Sketch fumed, "You're the reason we're not even there yet, so no complaining about the methods used to get you moving!" her nostrils flared. "I hate that mare!" her voice almost shaking from anger. "I can't believe she's almost caught up on us with points, I don't even know HOW she could become a mapper?! Much less how she's actually able to keep on doing it. I mean, her cutie mark is a contract! How does that even work when exploring?!"
Kickbolt landed lightly next to her to stop Sketch from continuing her rant. “I always just assumed she’s good at getting things done whatever it is, sort of like making a contract and making sure everything works out like planned.” He rolled his eyes.
Sketch ignored this and just kept on stomping away angrily.
Not much else was said during the short journey to the tower south of the town.
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW and LysanderasD for helping me with editing and making my story readable. If you liked it, please leave a comment, they’re probably the biggest source of encouragement I’ve yet to encounter. Don’t forget to rate!)
The tower was quite a view to behold. Although most ponies living in the town had gone to see it from a closer perspective, few had actually dared to go inside. When actually up close, it was hard to imagine anything actually being that size if one weren’t looking at it directly. Any mountains that could be seen off in the distance across the fields felt like simple hills in comparison.
The duo was standing outside the entrance, which was easily several times the size of a normal doorway, usually only twice the height of a normal pony. They were going through their saddlebags to make sure the final preparations were finished for what would hopefully be last their last journey inside.
“So I should probably show you what this new thing I got from the main is,” Kickbolt said, almost giddy with anticipation.
Sketch could already feel the weight in the pit of her stomach. Whenever her pegasus partner had something new to show her, it always ended up with less than optimal results.
“Please just be careful,” she said. “I don’t want another automatic saddle-mounted-lantern again,” she continued while covering her mane. “When you took that thing out last time you almost ended up bald!”
“Don’t worry! I promise, I actually thought things through for once, just like you asked!” he responded with a smile on his face. Sketch said nothing, but gestured for him to go on.
Kickbolt started rummaging in his saddlebags and pulled out two boxes, and placed them on the grass between them. “You know how I never get any use out of my wings whenever we end up in a tunnel or tight area and we’re locked in combat? I think this might finally give me an edge in those situations,” the pegasus said, and started to open one of the boxes.
Sketch finally gave in, intrigued in whatever it was for once, knowing that Kickbolt would probably bring it out despite her warnings. While she couldn't deny the fact that they could use whatever help they needed, Kickbolt had a tendency to over-complicate the best solution with these things. “Fine, as long as it might actually help us... wait... are those blades?!” she bellowed. Staring down into the open box, she could see a set of fine golden blades molded into a metallic harness. “Seriously, what are you thinking?! You always end up hurting yourself in some way with everything you bring with you, and now you’re planning to do so with actual sharp objects?” the mare yelled at him, stomping furiously with her hooves for emphasis.
Kickbolt faced Sketch, wearing a stoic expression, having prepared several arguments in advance. “I know what it looks like, but let me just show it to you nice and calmly and then explain the purpose for it, before you make any quick assumptions about how I’ll end up cutting my own throat?” he asserted quickly.
She just focused on him with worried, angry eyes.
Kickbolt took this opportunity to take the harness out of the open box and started mounting it to his left wing. When done, it had effectively given his wing gold tinted knife-like feathers instead of his normal marine blue ones. “See, it’s pretty much a pegasus battle harness; with this, I’ll be able to use my wings in actual battle if needed! And look, the way the blades are placed I can also use them to deflect incoming attacks too!” he proceeded to strike a few poses and slashing an imaginary enemy by flapping his wing in a way to cut anything in front of him.
“So you think strapping sharp objects to your body is a good idea? I’m pretty sure you can figure out what my next question will be,” Sketch said while eyeing the blades carefully, wincing whenever he gave them a test-attack.
Kickbolt fixed his wings comfortably, easier said than done with the new harness. “I know, what if I cut myself?” he answered, having already seen that coming from a long way. “There are two reasons that won't happen, mainly because the blades are curved upwards away from my actual body, not to mention they’re not really pointy, they’re meant for slashing. Secondly, if you look closer, you’ll see that the harness also covers the vulnerable parts of my body that could end up getting cut by these blades!” he responded with a confident smirk on his face.
“While I have to admit it does seem more... well... useful than the other things you’ve brought... it also seems more dangerous. I just don’t know... oh alright, fine.” She sighed heavily. “But you have to swear that you won't let those things get near me!” Sketch ended while shaking her hoof at the knifes, as if to push them away without touching them.
Kickbolt looked amused. That went way better than I hoped! he thought. “You know as well as I do that I would never hurt you... intentionally at least,” he chuckled. “I’ll be careful,” he reassured her. “Now help me get the other harness on!” the blue stallion finally let out with glee on his face, pointing to the other unopened box between them.
Soon enough, he was wearing two golden wings on top of his normal ones dark blue ones, giving them a few test flaps until he finally took a short experimental flight. “These things are really light too! While they’re making it a little uncomfortable to fly, they’re not really making it harder,” he said while landing with a light step next to Sketch, his final wing flaps causing a slight breeze in her mane.
“Well, I checked the list, and I think we got all the provisions we need, among other things,” the mare added. “You finally ready to do this?” Kickbolt nodded eagerly, ready to give his new harness a field test.
The two of them finally started walking into the massive entrance of the tower.
The inside of the tower was a huge circular and bright room, but only a small part of daylight was getting in through the main entrance.
Sketch and Kickbolt walked further into the room, they exited the last of the daylight they would see for a few days, while instead entering the green glow given off by the many emeralds adorning the elaborate insides of the tower. “This lighting never gets old. It makes the entire tower feel so much more... more... more-” Sketch slowed down while trying to come up with a fitting description.
“Mystical?” Kickbolt interrupted as he walked past her.
Sketch’s eyebrows furrowed as she trotted up to speed with Kickbolt. “I was going to say mysterious, but mystical will do.”
Along the wall opposite of the entrance there were three smaller entrances, still larger than the usual door openings they’re used to, but compared to the main entrance they looked normal enough. Next to the third opening there was a red ribbon hanging. Without saying anything the duo walked straight into the third passage. After only a short moment of walking they came upon a split, with a red ribbon conveniently hanging on the left side of it. Kickbolt glanced at the second ribbon while walking by and let a question float out into the air, “Who was it again that came up with this ribbon system? I never got to use something so simple back in in the Main City.”
Sketch felt partially insulted by not having been faced directly when asked the question. “I’ll have you know it was the original explorers that came to Fourtow that started using it!” she quickly retorted. “And don’t you dare call it simple! This method has been invaluable to the original masters, the masters taking their place and all other explorers that have ever been in the area!” she said while kicking up more dust than she should have been. “It’s not our fault we don’t have an unlimited supply of magic stones...”
Kickbolt replied nonchalantly, “Well, I always did enjoy the marker stones. Both effective and simple!”
“And what do you call the ribbons then?” she spat out. Kickbolt chuckled. “So how did those marker stones work, anyway?” she asked, curious about this other method that was preferred in the Main City.
“Easy! You leave a magical marker that activates whenever anypony walks close, showing the desired message.” Kickbolt’s teeth showed with a smile as he was happy to lecture Sketch not once, but twice the same day. “You could either just leave a short message, or verbal messages in some cases - though that would use up the magic stones more quickly. That and simple arrows pointing the way.”
Sketch blinked a few times in the green glow while staring at the pegasus before following him again with her head lower than usually. “Stupid ribbons...” was all she muttered under her breath. I wish we had more magic stones, she thought.
After following the paths of the red ribbons for a short while, past a few turns and twists, they finally came to long set of stairs circling its way up the tower. Just as they were about to start walking up them, there was a low growl came from somewhere behind them.
Kickbolt’s ears twitched in response to this and quickly paced back again to place himself closer to Sketch. “Did you hear that?” he asked with a low voice.
Sketch waved a dismissing hoof, as careless as ever. “Relax, it’s probably just some stray animal that wandered in here. You always assume the worst at the first sign of anything bigger than a field mouse,” she replied jokingly.
“Yeah, silly me,” he muttered. “At least I consider anything smaller than a dragon a possible threat as well,” he countered with an annoyed look on his face.
The stairs had big flat steps, the height difference between each one was only a few centimeters; they assumed it circled all the way to the top. Kickbolt was finally relaxed again. “Did we end up putting up anything other than yellow ribbons last time? I only remember almost walking into traps all the time,” he laughed nervously as he recalled their last visit, making Sketch wary.
“Well we did find that one thing that might open the door if we can figure out how to make it do anything, so there was a blue ribbon for that... let me check the book,” she answered while pulling out her map book for consulting.
They’d already passed quite a few openings as she consulted her book; the doorways were decorated with varying colored ribbons like green or yellow ornamented ribbons outside, most doors had simply nothing but a lone passage leading further in.
Sketch had gotten up the page for floor twenty-eight and started counting yellow markers. “One... two... three... four... five... yeah, you were able to ‘find’ six different traps, I’m still surprised you managed not to actually get hurt by any of them,” she remarked. “One spike trap door, two spikes in the wall traps, two trap doors leading down to the floor below and one of the oh-so-classic ‘wind breaker traps’,” she pointed out, the last words making Kickbolt blush, as he was the one that usually ended up activating the traps by accident.
“Why would anyone ever consider making such a pointless trap anyway? All they do is blow old smelly air through those weird pipes!” the blue stallion exclaimed while covering his face, trying to abstain from getting any redder.
Sketch snickered a while before replying. “Beats me. My current theory is that they used to be filled with some sort of deadly gas, but over the years the gas must have leaked out and been replaced with air. The smell they leave really makes for awkward situations though,” she giggled while trying to hide it by covering her mouth with a hoof. “Anyway, I don’t think we usually end up running into any more traps than that, so you might have just cleared them all for us on this floor, besides that we only found that weird box with the levers. Since we couldn't get it to do anything I think we should see if we can find any clues as to how to get to the next floor,” the green earth pony finally ended.
“Well then, lead on!” she uttered.
The last time they had explored the tower, they had managed to get to the twenty-eighth floor and rather far into it. They’d had to finally give up for the time being, forced to return to town to rest and restock their supplies after finding what looked like a huge rectangular shaped stone placed in the middle of a giant circular room. Besides the topside of the stone, all the sides had two levers pointing out. Finally, the top side of the box had a, what Kickbolt had explained, as after flying above it to get a better look, ‘a thingy,’ Much to Sketch’s frustration, as she herself was unable to see what was on the top side. They had spent some time considering what to do, until they had decided they would need more supplies, and needed to continue exploring the floor until anything could be done.
As they finally reached the top of the stairs circling all the way up, they found themselves facing a stone wall, placed in the middle of the stairs, blocking anyone ascending any further. Instead they turned to the final door opening available to their left, and walked in.
Having already explored most of this floor already, Sketch took the lead. By using her sense of direction along with the maps she had drawn, she eventually brought them further than they had ever been before. “Okay, your turn,” she said while grabbing her canister of water for a drink after all the stairs and walking.
Kickbolt quickly took the lead, shrugging his newly bladed wings in preparation for whatever they could end up encountering. He slowly started walking forward, cautiously making sure to check all the surfaces for any unnatural markings, such as holes or odd lines, which would be dead giveaways for traps.
Behind him, Sketch had her book out. In the emerald glow she was slowly making notes of the passage they were taking, making a rather crude map compared to her other work that she would later on improve to fit with the rest of her work.
Kickbolt suddenly stopped. Sketch wasn’t ready for that, resulting in her bumping into his flank, dropping the pen she had in her mouth to the floor.
“Ow, what’s going on? You can at least say something before you just stop like that!” she growled while picking the pen back up.
He ignored her, his ears started twitching while listening. He was turning his head back and forth as if looking for something. Sketch recognized this behavior and quietly stepped to the side.
Kickbolt suddenly jumped to the flank-side of Sketch, now certain of which the direction the threat he had detected was coming from.
After staring down the hallway for a moment, he seemed to lighten up a little until he finally said, “Not much, I think there’s only one. Follow me closely.” Sketch said nothing, knowing her companion would easily be able to take care of the minor threat. After all, he always did.
After going back a short distance it finally came into view, a short stubby creature with two arms reaching down to the floor, standing upright and being an almost sickly dark green color, was standing near one of the corners they had passed earlier. There was a yellow ribbon indicating a trap further in. In one of its hands, the goblin was holding a small grey object.
Kickbolt let his wings relax when he saw it. “Good, it’s one of the dumb ones! I could actually use this for some testing!” he exclaimed with a content voice. He flexed his wings, readying the blades.
“Just don’t mess with it too much.” Sketch sounded annoyed, getting distracted from what she wanted to do was a mood killer.
Kickbolt slowly started approaching the stocky creature, now clearly being able to see that the object in its hand was a sharpened stone.
“Wow, I think it actually got a rock as a weapon, I’m surprised, normally these ones just charge in bare handed.” He chuckled to himself, but then he noticed something dripping from the creature’s palm. “Wait, it’s bleeding already?”
By now he was close enough to give the goblin reason enough to attack, giving of a low growl while attempting to hit Kickbolt, by swinging its rock-wielding arm in an incredibly awkward angle.
The pony quickly moved one of his new bladed wings in between his face and the attacker, deflecting the rock with ease.
“I think it actually sharpened that rock, must explain why it’s bleeding from its hand.” Sketch said, standing next the stallion by now.
“How does a sharpened weapon explain why it would be bleeding?” he asked.
“I think the rock is basically a sharpened blade, except it never had the foresight to stop sharpening the blade to actually give it a hilt,” she explained to him with a flat voice.
“I told you they were stupid.”
Sketch groaned. “Can you at least hurry? We have work to do!”
The goblin was clutching the bladed rock harder now, wounding itself further, more blood dripping even faster on the rock floor. It growled and tried to stab the stallion once more, who just as easily as last time was able to deflect the blow.
He turned his head to Sketch after pushing the goblin away with one of his wings. “Hey Sketch, what trap is down there?” he asked, pointing his hoof to somewhere behind the goblin.
“Oh, I think it’s a trap door leading down a floor. Why?” she responded while taking a few steps back, guessing what’s about to happen.
Kickbolt slowly started to grin as the goblin was moving in to attack once again. “You’ll see in a second.” He turned around, leaving his rear open to the goblin, but before it had time to react he had already bucked it in face, shooting it down to around halfway into the hall. It landed on its back but quickly got up again and growled at them.
“Their resistance to injuries always surprises me. Or they just don’t care about getting hurt,” she noted. “Also, good idea with the trap.” She gave an amused look to her partner, having been right with her assumption.
The goblin, now furious for getting kicked in the face, started running as fast as its stubby legs would let it. It only got a few steps until something beneath it clicked, opening a trap door. It started falling down to the floor maze below while shrieking, and what oddly enough sounded like cursing, until the trap door finally reset itself with a heavy clunk.
“What, so no ‘slashing’ with your awesome new weapon?” Sketch queried her friend with a smirk.
Kickbolt looked away, trying to avoid eye contact. “I thought it had already bled enough, with that sharpened rock and all,” he said. His face was actually turning slightly pale at the thought.
Sketch sighed. “Right well, let’s keep going then. Come on.” They turned back around to return to the path they were already working on. After walking back to where they had left, they took their original formation with Kickbolt in the front, slowly walking forward and checking for potential traps, and Sketch in the rear, mapping the area as they covered it.
Whenever they got to an intersection, they would first put up a red ribbon to show the path they took. In case they would end up circling back, Sketch would look at the map-in-progress and deduce the most probable route they should be going in order to find something. After having circled around a few times, putting up ribbons wherever needed. Slowly but surely Sketch was able to put together the paths taken into a map they could use to easily check where they would need to go.
“Still no traps, huh?” Kickbolt said to break the silence from having circled around a few times, both of them working on routine. “I guess that means you were right about already having found them on this floor,” the pegasus said in a slightly cheery voice.
“Maybe, but we could just be lucky,” she replied. “For all we know the next corridor we take could have ten traps in it,” she mocked, trying to scare him.with a voice trying to instill fear.
Kickbolt immediately turned around and whimpered, “Don’t! Please don’t jinx anything! Things were going so well!” he cried out.
Sketch pretended to be slightly shocked by her partner's sudden reaction. “Wait, really? You’re superstitious about that sort of thing?” the earth pony asked with a sly grin on her face.
The stallion cringed. “Why do we have to do this every time?” he said with a depressive tone. “All I’m asking of you is to not mention anything about possible bad things happening.”
She chuckled. “Sorry, guess it’s just routine that we do this every time we go into this tower.”
“But it’s actually happened a few times, and you know it...” he finally ended, his voice quivering.
She said nothing, but only smiled slightly to herself, recalling how the pegasus would always panic at the thought of anything unusual regarding traps.
Afterwards, Kickbolt was going at a considerably slower pace. Sketch used this opportunity to make a few extra notes in her map book, taking some extra time to adjust some of the more shaky lines she’d accidentally made from simultaneously walking and drawing, and from occasions, stumbling across some of the uneven rock surface.
Eventually, after walking down a corridor from one of the hallways, they finally reached what looked like a dead end, but instead of just another of the emerald studded walls, it had no gems at all to give off any light.
“That’s weird, let’s take a closer look,” Sketch remarked, as they slowly approached the curious dead end.
Kickbolt, hesitant after their last conversation, said nothing and slowly approached the last wall in the corridor while simultaneously checking for any final traps.
“Let’s see... it’s a bit dusty, but I think I can make out some markings?” The mare tried to lean up to what she thought was the markings to blow off the dust, but she was barely too short to actually get close enough to do so, ending up just blowing until her face turned red. “Do you mind?” she asked with an annoyed voice, panting.
Kickbolt had been looking at her, chuckling for a moment. Then he cleared his throat, trying to get serious. “Stand back then, I’ll flap my wings to blow it away,” he requested of Sketch, trying to make sure she wouldn’t be in close vicinity of his blade-mounted wings while flapping them.
She took a few steps behind as requested and took out her book to check for something; she wanted to confirm one of her suspicions. After a few seconds of analyzing her current map she noted, “I think there might be another room behind this wall, looking at the map I’ve made so far. There’s still a big empty space that we haven’t been able to find a way to yet that should be just in front of us,” she said while pointing at the void space on her map in progress.
Kickbolt wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he reared up on his hind legs and started flapping his wings hard a few times to blow off the dust from the markings. The resulting dust cloud took a few minutes of angry waving from Sketch to settle, not liking the fact of getting dust all over her notes. After several apologies and coughing fits from Kickbolt, he leaned in a bit closer to see more clearly in the green light. “It looks like... some symbols? No, wait... are those huge buttons maybe?” he asked, while pointing at the lines surrounding each of the four symbols in a square shape.
Sketch walked back up to get a closer look at the markings, “Maybe, I guess,” she replied while writing something down in her book, only to stop to get rid of any dust still residing in it before continuing. She raised her head to take another look at the wall. “So, what do these look like to you? This one looks like three spikes, doesn’t it?” she said, referring to the symbol on the far right. “Oh and this one next to it looks like... more spikes, but sideways?” Sketch said with a quiet voice, turning her head while thinking.
Kickbolt looked at the two left symbols. “This first one looks like, I think... a door?” He moved his head on to the second one. “Hey, can you tell what that is? I can't make it out.”
Sketch leaned in closer to Kickbolt to get a better look, “It looks like a cloud or something?” she frowned while thinking.
“I don’t get it, what are we supposed to do here? We have four weird symbols stuck on giant buttons on a huge weird wall,” he sighed, trying to understand.
Sketch thought back to the original box they had found in one of their earlier visits. “I don’t think this is related to the box with those levers attached to it, and I don’t remember seeing anything like this over there, so I think this is a puzzle on its own,” she discerned. “What if... these are the traps we’ve seen on the floor?”
“You mean... the trap doors and the spikes?” he said with a puzzling look on his face.
“Right! I think it actually fits, we’ve seen four types of traps on this floor, and these 4 symbols could each be meant for one of them! The three spiked picture could be the spiked trap door, and the other one with the spikes sideways could be the wall-spike traps!” she cried out with excitement.
Kickbolt was catching on, leaning in closer. “I get it! So then this one must be the trap door, and this last one with the cloud must symbolize... gas? For those ones that don't work anymore I guess?” he assumed.
Sketch nodded. “Right, one for each type of the traps on this floor. And remember what you said about these symbols looking like buttons with the squares around them? I think we’re supposed to press them. Question is, what are the ‘rules’ for pressing them?” She examined the wall closer, looking for any further clues. She scowled as she was unable to find anything.
“By rules you mean what order or whatever to get this working? The only thing I can think of is that there’re six traps on the floor, you even noted down how many of each, didn't you?” he asked her.
“Hmm...” Sketch thought for a moment, alternating between looking at the wall and in her book. “We’ve already been to most of this floor already by now, the only places we haven’t checked out are the occasional corridor in the end of a few hallways, by looking at the current mapped progress, and it looks like they’d just lead to dead ends either way.” She closed the book and looked up again. “I think I know what we can try.”
Kickbolt froze. “Try? You want to just try something?” he blurted out. “You do know what could happen if we do something wrong here!” he said with a firm voice.
“W-Well...” she stuttered. Her explorer nature wasn’t a careful one, but adventurous. She felt no reason as to having to clear out every single detail before proceeding, if she saw a way to do so.
“Exactly, you have absolutely no idea HOW many things could go wrong!” he almost shouted in her face. “I say we go back and check out those last areas for further clues, maybe even go back to the box, before we do anything.”With this he turned around and started trotting back the corridor back into the hallway, as if only to get away from the wall. He started rummaging in his saddlebag to pull out a blue ribbon to place at the corner to indicate a point of interest.
Sketch however, used this window of opportunity to attempt to push the buttons. But with her small body she couldn’t quite reach up to them. It pained her to have to abuse her book this way, but her curiosity was getting the better of her. She really didn’t want to go back and check what she knew would be dead ends, when it was possible that a whole room lay behind this wall! She grabbed one end of the book with her teeth, leaned up against the wall with her fore hooves, and finally slammed it into the first symbol, the one with the trap door, twice. She quickly followed that by proceeding to slam it into the next button once, the symbol with the gas cloud.
By now, Kickbolt had finally noticed what she was doing, and started galloping back into the corridor. “What are you doing?!” he shouted, trying to hurry back to stop her from getting herself killed.
He was only halfway down the corridor when Sketch had repositioned herself to reach the last two symbols, using her book to start slamming into the buttons again. The one with the spikes coming from the sides twice, and then finally, once into the spiked trap door symbol.
Just as she slammed it into the final button once, Kickbolt had bit her tail and quickly pulled her back, flapping his wings to get her away from the wall as quickly as possible.
He had only managed to pull her a short distance when the wall started tumbling towards them; Kickbolt reacted to this and started pumping his wings to the point of his new battle harness almost falling off.
They had only barely gotten far away enough from it to avoid getting crushed by the huge ornamented stone wall. As the dust was settling around them, the pegasus finally let go of the mare’s yellow tail, only to slump down to the ground with exhaustion, breathing heavily.
Sketch grinned. “See? Nothing to it,” she giggled.
Kickbolt was too busy wheezing and panting to reply properly. “I hate it... when you do... stuff like that...” was all he managed to squeeze out of his tired lungs.
“Works, though,” she said with a content voice. “Now come on, there’s a big room up ahead!” she sang out with delight.
Kickbolt tried to groan, but was too busy panting for it to be noticed.
Sketch was hopping her way into the newly discovered room, always happy to find places not meant to be found easily. “This looks like the box room we found before, doesn’t it?” she noted with excitement. “There’s even a similar box in the middle, see?”
Kickbolt, not being as frisky as the mare, after having to overexert himself just a moment ago, sagged behind her. “I don’t know... it looks the same, but aren’t those levers pointing into different directions?” he pointed out. “That other one looked as if no pony had actually touched it.”
Compared to the other stone they had encountered in their earlier visit, this one did look the same, but instead of all the levers being neutrally aligned, this one had them pointing either up, down or in neutral position. The green emerald light seemed slightly stronger in this room, if only to make it easier to look upon the stone.
“I guess, yeah. Could you take a closer look at the topside of this thing? And please give me an actual description of what is it this time, and not just a ‘thingy’!” Sketch demanded while leaning in her head closer to the pegasus, if only to make it clear that is was she wanted.
Kickbolt ignored the last part and started flapping his wings, using the massive space in the room to actually fly freely for a moment. “Nothing, there’s nothing on the top of this thing!” he exclaimed. “And these levers don’t look the same either; they’re actually part of this stone, instead of looking like they’re sticking out of it.”
Sketch was already scribbling notes in her book, having brought up the ones regarding the other box they had found earlier, to compare the information, quickly coming to a conclusion. “I think this stone is the answer for what to do with the other box,” she explained. “I think all we have to do is use this as a reference as to how we need to move the levers on the first box.” She continued to write notes, making a simple drawing showing which lever would be either up, down or in neutral position, until done with all eight of them.
When she finished, she gave out a long yawn after letting out her breath she didn’t even realize she had been holding while drawing the figure.
Kickbolt landed next to her took notice of this. And he suggested, “Maybe it’s time we take a break? I think it might already be nighttime.”
Sketch knew he was probably right, and complied, knowing well enough about the problems they’ve ran into before simply because of pushing themselves too far. She rummaged in her saddlebag until she finally pulled out a simple mattress to lie on, and some carrots to nibble on while she could fine-tune the map so far.
Kickbolt quietly walked back to the fallen wall entrance of the room and stood there for a while, listening for any possible creatures out in the hallways. His eyes slowly tracing the path down back to the hallway they had been in earlier. After standing there a few moments he deemed it safe, and came back to joined Sketch on his own mattress he pulled out. He took out some apples to eat. After munching the last of his first apple, he started taking off his battle harness to examine it after the test run with the goblin earlier, bringing out a piece of cloth to polish it.
“I have to admit, you might actually be right for once with those wing shields,” she said while chewing on a carrot.
Kickbolt turned his head around to face Sketch. “They’re blades, not shields. They just happen to also be good at defense and not only offense.” Inside, he was almost crying from happiness, finally having gotten a gadget that Sketch for once approved of.
“Well, either way, sorry I yelled at you earlier today about it.” Her head turned away in remorse. “But you know why I did.” She turned back to face him. “By now, you usually would have lost at least half of your feathers!”
Kickbolt took out a bite out of another apple while polishing the blades. “No worries, it’s not like you didn’t have every right in the world to assume what would happen,” he said sarcastically, some apple juice dripping out of his mouth as he spoke.
“Don’t expect me to always apologize to you about that sort of thing,” she laughed, which quickly turned into another yawn. “I think we should get some rest.”
“Right, go to sleep then.”
Sketch raised her head to eye her friend with a concerned look. "You should really try and sleep some, too. I could stay watch once in a while."
Kickbolt furrowed his eyebrows. "I can't let you do that, we both have our parts to do here, and this is one is mine." Sketch wondered for a moment how she could convince him otherwise, just once, until her attention was brought back to her book. She knew Kickbolt refused to ever rest properly while they were out of town; he would always force himself to half-sleep if anything just to make sure nothing would happen. They’d talked about it before, but she knew this was one of the things she probably would never get him to listen to.
She put away her book and ate the last of the carrots, getting ready for some rest.
Kickbolt alternated between looking at her and the passage past the fallen wall. This went on for a few hours until his eyelids got too heavy for him in the dark green glow. Being the one that had to do all the physical work wasn't helping either. You know I can't let you get hurt, was his final thought as he drifted into uneasy sleep against his will.
“Okay, that lever should be pulled up!”
Sketch was directing how Kickbolt was supposed to move the levers in the original box room. She had tried to herself, but her light body couldn’t even get them to be pulled down, much less push them upwards, which took the larger pegasus a lot of force to actually get it moving.
Kickbolt was sitting on top one of the huge stone levers and grabbed it with his hooves, and then started to beat his wings furiously to pull it up. He grunted and groaned as he tried to force the lever to move as Sketch cheered him on from below.
“Come on! You almost got it!” she yelled with a cheery voice. “A little more!”
It was slowly moving into place, the rasping of the stones moving against each others could clearly be heard as Kickbolt did his best to fight against both gravity and friction at the same time.
The lever finally pulled into position, letting the pegasus slump back down to the floor for a moment of rest, landing next to the harness he had taken off prior to starting to move the levers.
“How many... more?” he asked while collapsing to the ground.
“Only one, and it needs to go down... unless I’ve accidentally been reading the drawing I made upside down, then all the levers are supposed to be in reversed position,” she said while turning around her book for emphasis.
Kickbolt let his head land face first into the ground, and gave out a quiet sob.
“Relax, I’m kidding, I’m pretty sure that’s the last one and that I’m reading my book right,” she comforted him with a forgiving voice.
Kickbolt rolled over to face her. “How come I always have to do all the heavy work? It’s not fair!” he wheezed while wiggling his legs in the air at the same time.
Sketch looked up from her book and snorted. “Stop acting like a foal, you’re bigger than me. So you get to do all the fun stuff!” the mare laughed jokingly. “Now get that last lever in place already, we’re on a roll here!”
As he finally regained his breath, he took flight to get above the final lever. He kept going as high as the ceiling let him, until he quickly dived and landed on it hooves first to put as much weight as possible on it.
Kickbolt smiled as the final one was in place, realizing he was finally done, gliding back down to the ground in a wobbly path.
Sketch looked around the room, expecting something to happen, after a few moments she turned back to her friend. “Sorry, but gonna need you to fly back on that thing. I think whatever is on the top of it is the final key to getting done with this floor.
He moaned loudly, clearly showing what he thought about her idea, but flew back up as asked in an even shakier pattern due to exhaustion.
“So, what do you want me to do with this... thingy? I have no idea what it is,” Kickbolt panted down to Sketch, being too exhausted to bother thinking clearly.
Sketch frowned. “How do you expect me to know? I don’t even know what it looks like! Can’t you press or activate something? she yelled back up, eager for something to happen.
Kickbolt took a hard look at the apparatus. “It’s not a button or anything, but more like a lever sticking out, except part of it is hollow. But it doesn’t look like it’ll bend anywhere either; it also has like a ball on top of it... I have no clue what to do with it!” he yelled down again.
Sketch couldn’t grasp his explanation. “Did you try touching it?” she asked with a curious tone.
The pegasus hesitated, but slowly reached out one hoof to poke it. “Well, here goes...” he quietly reassured himself as he gave it a very light prod.
It slowly started humming, tip of the apparatus started glowing red, the new light conflicting with the usual green glow inside the tower. Kickbolt flew back down as quickly as he could with his already tired wings to the mare he was supposed to protect, getting ready for any movements.
After a moment, a familiar rumbling started in the distance. After a few minutes it stopped again. The two ponies sighed with relief.
They were done with this floor.
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW and LysanderasD for helping me with editing and making my story readable. If you liked it, please leave a comment, they’re probably the biggest source of encouragement I’ve yet to encounter. Don’t forget to rate!)
The way was open.
Sketch and Kickbolt had just returned to the stairwell to proceed into the floor before the next-to-last. The massive stone slab that was in the middle of the stairs leading up had been pulled to the side, giving free passage for anypony wanting to ascend higher.
“I can’t believe it! We’ve almost made it to the top! We might actually get to the top! No one ever got to the top before!” is what Kickbolt thought Sketch said, trying to understand her unusually quick speech.
“Whoa, calm down, Sketch!” Kickbolt said while bringing up a hoof in front of her face to keep her from rambling any further.
Sketch backed away from his hoof only to keep talking freely. “But we’re almost at the top! Nopony has even gotten to the top to one of the towers! the top floors were all destroyed!” Her speech slowed to something more comprehensible as she added. “How can you not be excited?”
Kickbolt just shrugged his wings. “Because if one of us doesn’t stay calm we’re probably screwed.”
The sound of their hoofsteps resonated throughout the recently-opened staircase. To think, Sketch wondered to herself, nopony’s ever been up these stairs before...
Kickbolt opened his mouth to ask Sketch something. “Do you know what’s usually at this point?” he asked with a nervous tone. “I mean, at the floor before the last one.”
Sketch had studied the reports on the other towers enough to be able to answer. “I can guess,” she said as she walked up in front of Kickbolt and raised her hoof to make motions. “All towers have thirty floors, and they all consisted of different mazes along with puzzles on some floors required to get any further.” She continued, “However, nopony could ever get anything from the final rooms; they were always just a pile of rubble.” None of her hoof motions made any sense, but that didn’t stop her from keep doing it. “Seeing as we so far have had more or less the same pattern here as the other towers, this next floor should be pretty similar to the one we were just on!” she ended with an unusually big grin on her face.
Kickbolt rolled his eyes. “All I asked about was the next floor, not the history of the towers.”
As they slowly circled up around the middle section of the stairs, the steps suddenly ended. Instead, the floor was flat again while leading up to a single passage blocked by a stone slab similar to the one from earlier, except this one was made to fit the door perfectly. On their left was an open passage, leading into floor twenty-nine.
“I guess that’s the entrance to the final floor...” Sketch said while staring at the closed door with longing eyes.
Kickbolt was already heading for the newly opened passage. “We’ll then, let’s get a move on. We’re on a roll!” he yelled, followed by Sketch quickly trotting up after him, eager to get the final door open.
Sketch caught up to Kickbolt, but instead of stopping behind him as expected, she kept on running past him, into the passage leading to floor twenty-nine.
“Sketch, wait!” Kickbolt shouted after her, his voice echoing lightly into the long hallway. “What are you doing?” He began to gallop, trying to catch up to her. “That’s dangerous! What if you run into any traps?”
She just turned her head around slightly to answer him, still running into the hallway. “Don’t worry, there’s never any traps until new corridors show up!” she said as she kept on trotting.
“That’s not good reason not to be careful!” Kickbolt yelled back as he finally caught up to her, only to bite down on her tail hard enough to get her to stop.
Sketch tumbled forward, banging her chin on the stone floor. “Owwgh!” she moaned rubbing her chin. She turned to glare at Kickbolt as she asked, “Was that really necessary?” She got a scowl in reply.
Sketch realizing what he was angry about, tried to apologize. “Sorry, I guess I got a bit too carried away,” she said in a quiet voice. Sketch was usually the mind of the duo, but whenever she got the opportunity to explore something unknown, she usually stopped thinking about the consequences. Like how much she wanted to get done with this floor so they could move on to floor thirty.
Kickbolt sighed heavily as he walked up to take the lead again. “You really need to be more careful sometimes,” he slowly muttered. More aware of their surroundings now that he had caught up, he came to a sudden realization.
It was a lot darker than usual, and this hallway was a lot longer than the entrances to new floors normally were. He could hardly see the entrance they had used, and there were still no new hallways to walk into. Usually it only took a few meters before they had to start deciding on which way to go.
Just as he stopped to tell Sketch what he noticed, there was a loud rumbling from far behind them. The entrance into the passage was closing; a previously unseen stone block was slowly sliding down from the ceiling at the entrance, sealing them in.
“NO!” Kickbolt screamed, as he started galloping towards the entrance, frantically searching for a way to stop it from closing.
Sketch hadn’t realized what was going on before Kickbolt’s outburst. When she looked back to the closing entrance she just stared at it. Her dark green eyes shrinking to the size of small dots in fear, now understanding what she had done by mistake.
The door finally slammed shut as Kickbolt got close to it, not that he could have done anything to prevent the massive stone from sealing the entrance.
They were trapped.
Kickbolt frantically started searching the door and the surrounding walls for something, anything that could open it again, to no avail. There were no inscriptions, no symbols, no buttons, and no levers. Nothing.
Sketch quietly walked up behind Kickbolt, and opened her mouth to say something, but was unable to decide on what.
Kickbolt, being unable to find any signs or any indications that the door could be opened again, turned around to face Sketch. “We’re stuck...” he said, slumping down against the wall and slamming his hoof down on the floor.
“I-I... this... nothing like this has ever happened... I’m so sorry!” Sketch stammered out. “I never expected this floor to be that different compared to all the earlier ones, it never happened in the earlier towers!” Her eyes began to tear up. She looked away from Kickbolt as she began to cry.
He put on a brave face. Things were looking bad. He knew they didn’t have any option but to go on. “It’s okay, we’ll just have to check what's at the end of this corridor, to see if there’s anything to open this door.”
Sketch lowered her head, afraid to face him directly, and just nodded anxiously as she tried to cover up her own sobbing. She knew that this was her fault - because she wasn’t careful enough they were both in danger now.
As they turned around to walk into the corridor again, the emeralds usually giving off light everywhere in the tower were becoming fewer and fewer the further in they went. After a while it had become almost too dark to see. Their pace into the dark slowed considerably; not being able to see clearly made it less safe to go on normally. Sketch brought out a lantern from her saddle-bag that she hoofed over to Kickbolt, who was walking in the lead. After lighting it, the pace picked up again.
Sketch tried to say something, but still felt horrible after what had happened. “I umm... just in case the lantern isn’t enough, I have some illumination stones too.” Her sobbing had stopped already, but that didn’t make her feel any better.
“Good to know!” Kickbolt replied through the lantern he was holding in his mouth, trying to sound less gloomy than he actually was. Sketch noticed this.
They kept walking into the dark corridor, counting less and less gems that helped light the way the further they went in. After a while, the flickering from the lantern became more obvious due to the dark; there was almost no light at all aside from it.
They kept on walking, slowly. They couldn’t risk any more mistakes now that they had no way out in case of emergencies. The clopping of their hooves from walking on the stone pavement became almost painful to hear - they were used to it, but here, alone and trapped in the dark, the sound was unbearable.
Then the echoes from their walking died out. They had finally reached the end of the extremely long corridor. The flickering light from the lantern stretched out as far as it possibly could in all directions in front of them; they could see nothing after what they think was a few meters.
“How come it’s so dark?” Kickbolt asked, the light from the lantern jumping around as his jaw moved.
Sketch pulled out one of the illumination stones she had in her bag, ready to use it if needed. “I don’t know... there are usually always emeralds giving us light no matter where we go in this tower,” she pondered. “Wait, what’s that? Are those emeralds?” She pointed off into the darkness. There were two small green lights coming from the darkness, although the right one was significantly larger.
Kickbolt squinted, trying to make out exactly why they were in such an odd position in there out of all places. “Looks like it, but I don-” THUMP. He was suddenly interrupted by a loud noise.
Sketch started looking around in a panic. “What wa-”
Kickbolt quickly took a few steps forward while scanning as much of the darkness as his eyes allowed him to. While he still had time, the pegasus made sure that his wing-harnesses were both strapped on correctly so no time would be wasted when he had to react.
THUMP. It was getting louder, as if closer.
“The emeralds... they’re moving!?” Sketch cried out, just before getting interrupted by another THUMP.
The two emeralds that were earlier seen off in the distance were slowly moving up and down, while accompanied with the loud noises.
Sketch grabbed the illumination stone with her teeth and concentrated, it slowly started glowing, tendrils of light making their way into the darkness.
Faster and faster the glow from it started brightening up the entire chamber, not giving off light directly, but instead making everything nearby give off a small light of its own, making any other light sources redundant.
Their eyes shrank in immediate terror; they could now clearly see what was making the noise.
“A GOLEM?!” they both cried out at the same time.
The massive stone creature was about four times higher than they were, and was closing in on them with heavy steps. Its short legs made it hard for it to move around its massive body, but it had spotted the ponies and was lumbering towards them. It opened what looked like a mouth below its oddly shaped eyes and let out a rumbling sound, almost loud enough to make the entire room shake.
“What do we do?! We can’t go back, that thing could just follow us in and trap us!” Sketch screamed, on the verge of crying. She turned to see Kickbolt, looking for guidance. But he wasn’t standing next to her anymore. He was already flying towards the golem.
Kickbolt could freely use his wings in the massive room; he gained speed until he finally planted all four hooves in the middle of the golem’s forehead, trying to kick himself away from it with as much force as he possibly could. It barely even flinched.
It let out another rumbling sound as it tried to swing its long arms at Kickbolt by rotating the entire mid-section of its body. The wide angle it swung them at let the limbs easily gain enough velocity to rival the pegasus’ speed.
Kickbolt, surprised by the sheer force in the golem’s arms, just barely avoided them by ducking underneath the swinging arm, followed by gaining some distance between himself and the creature to dodge the second one.
Sketch was running around on the floor, analyzing the golem for any possible weaknesses. They had learned about many different creatures they could encounter while exploring. While they never expected to actually see a real golem, they knew the basics about them. Every golem had a unique weakness, something that it tries to hide or defend, but could be exploited to defeat it. Sketch knew this and knew she had to find it while Kickbolt was distracting it.
Losing interest in the pegasus that had annoyed it, it looked down to Sketch who was near the wall, and started moving towards her.
Sketch quickly tried to run along the wall to get around it, not wanting to get trapped. She was fast and had a lot of endurance as an earth pony, but the golem’s incredibly long arms could easily reach her from far away. It still wasn’t quite close enough though, and Sketch was gaining distance.
It let out yet another rumbling sound as it slowly raised both of its arms, only to slam them down into the ground resulting in small quake, but enough for Sketch to lose her balance while running and fall.
Kickbolt landed on top of the head of the golem and started slashing his wing-blades furiously at the emerald eyes. The green glow wavered slightly from the blows, but the gems themselves were unscathed.
While the golem was getting distracted by Kickbolt again, Sketch quickly got up to flee from the approaching enemy before it had a chance to reach her. Just as she was about to circle around the golem, all the lighting in the room vanished at the blink of an eye. The illumination stone’s effect had ended. With their eyes unadjusted to the dark, they couldn’t see anything. Sketch quickly started wildly rummaging in her saddlebags for another magic stone to give them a fighting chance.
With the sudden darkness, Kickbolt launched himself from the head, trying to get away from the constructed beast. “I can’t see! I don’t know where I’m going!” Kickbolt yelled as he was flying blind, trying to avoid flying into anything while staying away from the golem.
Sketch let out a muffled yell from inside her saddlebag. “I’m working on it!” she retorted as she finally found a magic stone she hoped was an illumination one within her saddlebag. She grabbed it and concentrated. It slowly started glowing as she looked up to see the two glowing emerald eyes following something to its left.
It let out another loud rumbling noise as it rotated its mid-piece, causing its arms to spin around quickly. Kickbolt, being unable to see what was happening, just barely dodged the arm by chance as it swooshed through his silver mane.
But he wasn’t able to avoid the second arm shortly afterwards. It slammed right into his side. Luckily his wing was positioned in a way so his harness took the direct hit for him. Even so, it still winded him and crashed into the ground hard.
Sketch could hear what was happening, but she still couldn’t see, the magic stone not having taken effect yet. Suddenly she could see something, a slight green glow coming from the behind of the golem’s right leg. It was only visible for a few moments until the light caused by the magic stone took effect, immediately outshining it.
The illumination stone had finally taken effect. “KICKBOLT!” the mare shouted after spitting out the now worthless stone out of her mouth.
His harness that had taken the hit for him had blades falling off of it; Kickbolt himself was lying on the ground whimpering. His vision was quickly fading out.
The golem had its eyes set upon Kickbolt, who was quickly losing focus. It opened its mouth again to rumble loudly while moving towards the vulnerable pegasus.
Sketch quickly started running up behind it. With its attention turned to Kickbolt lying on the ground she could move around freely. There was no time to spare.
It was getting alarmingly close to Kickbolt; just a few more steps and it would be within range to hit him again.
Sketch was right behind the golem by now; she recalled the glowing spot behind its right leg. With no other options she turned around and attempted to buck the location as hard as she could before the golem would move the leg out of reach again.
As her two hind legs connected, it let out another rumbling noise. But instead of the low ones it had been making before, it was making a deep - but louder - noise, over an even longer period of time than it had before, this sounded as if it was in pain. When Sketch turned around to prepare herself for whatever reaction the golem would have, she could see for a moment how the stone surface around the place she had bucked had cracked, with pieces of the rock falling apart. Right before the golem turned around to face Sketch, she could see something moving inside of it, something pulsating.
The golem was turning its massive body to keep its newly found weak spot protected. It looked down to Sketch as it swung one of its arms to send her flying, but she was able to dodge the clumsy attack with relative ease by jumping backwards thanks to the adrenaline pumping through her veins.
With Kickbolt knocked out, it was her alone versus the giant monstrosity. “It’s now or never...” she whispered to herself as she dashed in between the legs of the golem. She quickly picked up one of the fallen blades from Kickbolt’s harness. With the knife between her teeth she got behind it to prepare for her attack.
It tried to move its leg away from her, to no avail. It was too clumsy and slow to effectively escape her. It let out another rumble not unlike the earlier one when it first got hit on the leg, except that this time it was an entirely different tone, one that could be compared to screaming. It was afraid.
Sketch had finally gotten to a position where she could clearly see the open ‘wound’; inside of it was a green heart, which looked organic to her, unlike the rest of the body. It was pulsating fast, each thump spreading some of the green glow that lingered across the room a few seconds before it just vanished, only to be replaced with more of the green light. With the knife between her teeth she lunged forward.
The golem finally let out a rumbling sound unlike any of the others. This time, it started as if it was screaming, but the tone became lower and lower until it finally stopped.
Sketch had stabbed the heart, which was now a piece of crumbling stone that was falling apart. Along with this, the golem was losing its balance and eventually fell over. The green light from both the heart and the eyes had faded completely.
It was dead.
Kickbolt opened his eyes. There was a sharp pain on his right side. “Ow!” he let out quietly.
“Relax, I think you only broke a rib along with your wing.” Sketch mouthed as she was using Kickbolt’s own wing-harness to splint the broken bones, along with bandaging around his chest.
Kickbolt, still not sure what had happened, quickly started getting up to look around, only to get pushed back down by Sketch before he got a chance to see anything clearly. It was dark, but apparently Sketch had brought back the lantern left by the entrance of the room to give them some light now that the illumination stones’ effect had worn off.
“Calm down! We’re safe! And you need to let me finish bandaging you before I can let you move around.” She kept on bandaging his broken wing; the harness around it had all the golden blades removed to make it easier. “Just after it knocked you out, I was able to find the weak spot and kill it,” she said while motioning towards the massive pile of rubble not far from them.
“Are we still trapped?” he asked while gritting his teeth from the pain as Sketch tightened the final bandages around his wings.
“There, all wrapped up!” she said with a smile on her face. “I’m not sure actually, there was a sound as if the doors back in the corridor was opening again, but I couldn’t just leave you here alone while checking it out,” she explained while helping Kickbolt stand up again. “Can you walk?”
“Yeah, don’t worry. I think it’s just my wing that’s in really bad shape if anything,” he replied while trying to shrug his right wing, only to regret attempting to do so due to the pain. “Besides the wing, there’s only this ache from the rib I guess.”
Sketch picked up the lantern with her teeth. “Well... let’s go then!” she said, only to pause for a moment to continue. “Slowly, right?” she said with a sheepish grin.
Kickbolt chuckled. “Yeah, slowly.”
“Too bad about your harness though, most of the blades on the right wing either fell off or got bent out of shape. I think I was able to collect most of them though,” Sketch told Kickbolt.
“Don’t worry about it; I’m just glad we made it out of that okay. Besides, I have spare blades back home.”
As they walked back towards the way they had first come, the emeralds covering the walls slowly started reappearing until Sketch was finally able to put away the lantern.
Sketch squinted, looking into the distance of the hallway. “Is it...? YES! The door is open again!” she happily let out. “Defeating the golem must have triggered it!”
As they finally reached the stairwell again, Sketch turned around to look at Kickbolt’s damaged wing again. “We should get back to town for now, get you looked at or something.”
“No buts!” she quickly snapped.
“The final passage is open.”
Sketch stared at him for a moment before she turned around to see what he saw. The final door that stopped them at the top of the stairwell was now wide open, showing yet another, but much smaller staircase behind it that led almost right up into the tower.
Sketch’s mouth hung wide open until she realized what she was looking at. “It’s... open? What did we do to open it?” she asked herself quietly. “Was it the golem, too? Was defeating that thing the actual way to get us both out of there and open this door?” she quickly asked while turning to Kickbolt.
“I don’t know... but... do you want to go in?” he slowly let out.
“What? But you’re hurt! We don’t know what’s in there!”
Kickbolt shook his head. “I’m fine, don’t worry. And you said it yourself so many times already... we’re so close!” he said while motioning to the newly opened door. “I know you want to, as long as we’re careful I’m sure we’ll be fine,” he said calmly.
Sketch hesitated to answer, they were so close now, but Kickbolt was hurt because of her recklessness. “I... I want to look... but...” was all she could say before Kickbolt interrupted her.
“No buts!” he let out with a grin. He started walking towards the new steps behind the door, leading directly up.
Sketch followed close behind, feeling torn. One part of her knew she should have tried harder to convince Kickbolt to return to town... but her curiosity was getting the better of her. They were here! Floor thirty!
As the two of them slowly walked up the much smaller staircase, neither of them said anything. Holding their breaths in preparation for what could be up ahead.
They were only a few steps from reaching the top, what looked like a new room was just in front of them. This is the moment they had been trying to achieve; to see what is at the top of at least one of the towers.
They walked into the circular room, much smaller than any other place they had seen within the tower, only to see-
“NOTHING?” Sketch let out with a disappointed tone. “There’s nothing here?!”
They looked around; all that really stood out in the room was a sort of pedestal in the other side.
Sketch slumped down against the floor, speechless.
Many silent moments passed.
Kickbolt eventually opened his mouth to say something comforting, but never got the chance before all the emeralds lighting the room started glowing brighter and brighter, grabbing both of their attention. He quickly positioned himself closer to Sketch. “What’s going on?!”
It was getting hard to see, the light was forcing their eyes shut. “I don’t know!” Sketch responded.
The emeralds begun resonating, along with the light that was blinding them, it was getting hard to hear anything as well. Kickbolt and Sketch clenched their ears shut from the pain beginning to form in their skulls. Their brains felt as if they were getting scrambled from inside out.
Then just as it was about to get to its worst, the process suddenly reversed. First the noise filling the room started receding, and then the lights as well, until it was as if nothing had happened.
“Are-are you okay?” Sketch asked Kickbolt with a shaky voice, almost unable to keep her balance.
He nodded. “What the heck was that? My ears are still ringing-” He stopped. His jaw dropped as he spotted something.
“What?” Sketch quickly asked. “Are you okay? Maybe you’re hurt worse than I thought after the golem! We need to get you some medical attention!” the mare continued to ramble, unaware that he was actually looking at something.
Kickbolt lightly shook his head while pointing one hoof off in the direction he was staring. Sketch eye’s followed the gesture.
There was a pony lying on the pedestal.
Sketch and Kickbolt stood there speechless, both of them staring wide-eyed at the creature on the pedestal. After a few silent moments, Sketch leaned forward to get a closer look.
“I-I don’t... what?” she uttered. Both of them still staring at the newly emerged pony that was just lying there, either unconscious, asleep or dead.
Kickbolt took a few steps forward, slowly placing himself in front of Sketch just in case. “Do you think... he’s alive?” he asked.
Sketch raised her head to try and get a better look without getting closer. After a moment she noted, “I think he’s breathing.”
Kickbolt slowly approached the unicorn stallion to get a better look, stopping when he was only a few steps away. The unicorn was bigger than himself, and the coat was a deep dark red color. Upon seeing it, Kickbolt froze on the spot. The mane was dark orange, hanging slightly over his eyes. But compared to Kickbolt’s own long hair, it seemed almost short.
But something was still wrong.
“I don’t think he’s hurt or anything, just... just not awake?” Kickbolt finally said after a few minutes of silence. He leaned closer to the stallion bit by bit trying to examine him, until he finally could see what stood out. With a puzzling look he finally turned his head back to Sketch. “But... he doesn’t have a cutie mark?” Both ponies blinked for a few moments before saying anything else.
Sketch shook her head while collecting her thoughts. “No cutie mark?” Sketch wondered, walking up to Kickbolt to get a closer look herself. Sure enough, the mysterious stallion didn’t have a cutie mark. “Do you think we should help him? Maybe he can tell us what’s going on.”
Kickbolt was wary, but couldn’t just deny help to someone, even if that someone could be a potential enemy. He gave a slight nod as he moved up to the unicorn to check if the stranger truly was asleep - or worse. Readying his one good wing while slanting his left side forward, he poked the stallion with his hoof.
“Mmfwrrfgh...” the stranger groaned, putting both Kickbolt and Sketch on the alert.
The pair briskly traded a glance with each other, both nodding. Kickbolt leaned his head down to the ear of the unicorn. “Uh... hello? Are you okay?” he said in a slightly louder voice than when he normally spoke. Before waiting for a response he quickly took a few steps back just in case.
The unicorn slowly blinked himself awake while giving off a long yawn. His orange eyes giving off a few tears while straining to see. When the yawn finally ended his eyes suddenly shot open. He quickly raised his head and started to move around in a panic until he apparently lost his balance and fell sideways to the ground. His breathing was rapidly getting heavier and faster. He frantically looked around the room. Finally his eyes finally locked with those of Kickbolt who was standing just a few meters away with his left wing pointing a few blades in the stallions direction.
Sketch hurried up to Kickbolt’s side. “Relax, calm down! We want to help!” she offered after deducing that the unicorn had less of an idea on what was going on than they had, based on his reaction. “Do you know where you are?”
His eyes shifted between Kickbolt’s wing blades and Sketch’s comforting eyes for a moment until he finally shook his head after swallowing hard. “I-I-I... I don’t... I-I don’t understand...” was all he could get out before he started hyperventilating and trembling while lying on the hard floor.
Kickbolt and Sketch traded looks again for the third time. Sketch’s hard glare coupled with a few nods towards the blades got the message to Kickbolt that his weapon wasn’t helping the situation. The pegasus hesitated but eventually retracted them. “Uh... sorry about that, I just can’t be too careful considering where we are...” he apologized while his eyes trailed off. This seemed to help in calming the red unicorn down, if only a little.
Sketch took the opportunity to speak up. “It’s okay. You’re safe. Do you know where you are? How you got here?” she tried saying in a calming voice.
The unicorn stared at her for a moment before trying to speak up again. “I-I... I don’t r-r-rem-remember...” he stuttered. After a few seconds he took a few deep breaths. “I d-don’t know w-whats going on!” he continued more clearly after having settled himself.
Kickbolt, seeming more at ease now, shrugged his one good wing before opening his mouth to ask. “Do you know your name?”
The red stallion seemed to ponder for a moment. “I-I-I...” was all he said before he shook his head. “I d-d-don’t remember... a-a-anything... I’m sorry,” he said while shuffling uncomfortably on the floor in an awkward position.
“Memory loss?” both Kickbolt and Sketch said in unison, which seemed to alarm the unicorn slightly.
Sketch shook her head, clearing her mind. “First things first,” the green mare announced. “Are you alright? You’re not hurt, are you?” she asked again. The unicorn’s trembling eased slightly. He avoided her eyes, and after a few moments he shook his head.
Kickbolt took a step forward and asserted himself, bringing the attention back to him. “Well, can you stand up then?”
The unicorn looked at Kickbolt, and then back to Sketch, observing their bodies and postures. After another few moments of awkward silence he eventually started moving again, slowly getting up on his legs, one at a time until his odd positioning over the legs caused him to lose his balance and fall back down again. Tears forming in his eyes as he tried to speak up. “I c-c-c-cant... I don’t know h-how to,” he cried, tears rolling down his face. Sketch and Kickbolt took a moment to absorb the information, unsure what exactly he meant by not knowing how to stand.
“I’m sorry, what? How can you not know how to stand?” Kickbolt questioned him in a surprised tone.
“Kickbolt, shh! He’s obviously upset!” Sketch quickly hissed.
“Sorry...” he said while turning his head away in shame.
Sketch walked up to the unicorn and nudged him, temporarily stopping his sobbing. “Uh, are you hungry maybe? I have some leftover carrots if you want them.” She pulled out one of her carrots and placed it in front of the unicorn.
He lifted his head, still sobbing lightly. When his eyes caught the carrot he slowly leaned his head closer to give it a sniff, deciding it was edible. After a quick test munch, the rest of the carrot was greedily devoured.
“Whoa. You might want to slow down or you’ll end up choking!” Kickbolt exclaimed, after which he pulled out one of his apples. “I never liked carrots that much, but I got some apples if you want to try,” he said as he reached into his saddlebag. He brought out one of his apples to share. He placed it on the ground and carefully nudged it so it rolled up to the unicorn.
Using the same procedure as before, but much quicker, the unicorn gave the apple a sniff, then a test munch followed by gobbling it up. “T-T-Thank you...” He gave an apologetic look, turning his eyes towards the wall next to them instead of facing them directly. “I didn’t r-r-realize I w-w-was hungry,” he said. After finishing the apple he turned back to face the pair. “Um...” He stared at Kickbolt with his orange eyes, his lips trembling as he eyed towards Kickbolt’s saddlebag.
Kickbolt chuckled as he took out another apple. “At least you have a good taste in food.” Sketch just rolled her eyes while Kickbolt hoofed over a second apple. The unicorn grabbed the fruit as it rolled towards him and snapped it up.
“So now that you’ve eaten, wanna give this whole standing thing another go? You just gotta make sure to keep your legs separate.” The pegasus showed by example. “It’s easy! Just try and do what I do,” he educated the unicorn while trying to show how he moved his own body from lying to standing position. As he was bringing himself up again he felt his chest ache, causing him to grit his teeth.
The unicorn slowly tried to replicate the same movements Kickbolt had done, mumbling something to himself while doing so. He smiled as he managed to stand and keep is balance.
He stood a bit taller than Kickbolt, much to the pegasus’ displeasure. “Wow, Sketch. Now I know how you feel around other ponies,” Kickbolt said. This was quickly countered with a prod from the earth ponies hoof into his broken wing, causing him to yelp.
“D-Did I do anything w-w-wrong?” the unicorn stammered, confused as to what was going on.
“No, it’s just Kickbolt being Kickbolt,” Sketch replied with a flat voice. “Anyway, as you just heard, that’s Kickbolt,” she said while motioning her hoof dangerously close to his wing again, almost making Kickbolt step back in fear of being poked at again. “And my name is Map Sketch, but everyone just calls me Sketch.” She walked up closer to the unicorn, trying to be friendly rather than just comforting.
“I-I-I’m sorry... I-I don’t r-remember my n-name,” he responded while lowering his head. “It’s w-weird... I don’t recall anything - not even how t-to move normally, b-b-but I can still talk just f-fine?” he said while slumping down his posture a bit, almost losing his balance. Wrinkling his forehead while trying to rectify himself, he managed to regain his balance. Nobody spoke as the unicorn lost his balance again. Both Kickbolt and Sketch were eager to encourage him, but they thought it was best to remain silent.
Sketch finally opened her mouth to respond afterwards. “Aside from the stuttering problem you seem to have, you’re talking just fine.” The unicorn reacted to what Sketch said by giving off a depressed look. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for,” she apologized. “So... what do we call you?”
“You want to name a fully grown stallion?” Kickbolt retorted.
“What, you want to just keep on calling him ‘him’ and ‘you’ or ‘unicorn’?”
“Then I propose Crimson!” Kickbolt replied with a huge grin on his face.
Everypony just stared at Kickbolt for a moment before Sketch spoke up again. “You just came up with that?” she queried, while eyeing him suspiciously.
“Well I’d be lying if I said I just randomly made it up. I mean, he’s red!” he affirmed while motioning towards the unicorn.
“Um...” the unicorn tried to speak up. “Crimson... I-I-I sorta l-like it.” His earlier depression seemingly vanished, now smiling again.
Kickbolt was beaming again. “I’m starting to like this guy!” he exclaimed as he placed a leg over the unicorn’s back on pure reflex. To both the explorers surprise, the unicorn’s smile grew as Kickbolt did this. They expected some sort of negative reaction from him.
Crimson’s face lightened for the first time, until he started shuffling his hooves uncomfortably as he realized another problem. “So... how d-do I w-walk?” he asked while looking down on his hooves uncomfortably, lifting separate legs one by one. He tried to move forward by moving his two fore legs in an unusually long step, but not moving his hind legs at all. This resulted in him standing stretched over the ground just barely able to keep his balance.
Kickbolt stifled a laugh. “Uh, hold on there,” he said while helping Crimson up again by pushing his flank, forcing in his hind legs to the correct position.
Sketch blinked. “Here, I’ll show you,” she finally replied, followed by her walking around slowly to show how she moved her legs to get around. “Just try and do what I do. You basically want to move both your legs on one side of your body right after each other, then you switch to the other pair of legs.” She began walking around in an exaggerated manner, taking ridiculously big steps, forcing attention to her leg movement.
Crimson nodded, ready to give it a try. His first few steps were wobbly, and slow; he had to think about every step he took before actually doing it to ensure no mistakes were made. Kickbolt walked next to him He had been biting his own lips the entire time, but when he was starting to gain speed as he got used to the movements, his face showed relief instead of anxiety. The echoing sound of his hooves hitting the stone floor gradually became faster and, after a few minutes, he seemed to have gotten used to it well enough to walk around at normal speed.
Sketch spoke up when she thought his walking had become good enough, which incidentally was around the same time he bumped into Kickbolt, causing Crimson to apologize quickly while Kickbolt chortled. “Maybe we should consider heading back to town, considering the... circumstances. I think it’s starting to get late, too. If we hurry we might make it back before it gets too dark.” Crimson tried to move around to face Sketch, but seeing as he hadn’t gotten the hang of turning just quite yet, it took a bit longer than they liked.
As he finally could face her again, he stopped moving around. “B-back t-to where?”
“To the town we live in, and where we came from before coming here,” she said while pointing towards the lone staircase leading out of the room. “Uh... you really don’t remember anything, do you?” she asked as she frowned.
Crimson’s eyes immediately dropped to the floor. “I... I’m s-sorry, n-n-no.”
Not wanting to spend anymore time waiting for awkward moments to pass, Kickbolt took the liberty to speak up. “Well, we have several reasons to get back to town, bumping into you here just gave us another one!” the blue pegasus chuckled nervously. “It’s a bit to walk, so we might as well get going.” Crimson nodded.
“W-well, lead on then,” Crimson said.
Kickbolt and Sketch started walking ahead of him to show the way, but they only managed to get a few steps down the stairs before getting knocked off their hooves by a great red form that was tumbling down, knocking anypony in its way with it. Luckily this particular staircase was rather small compared to the other ones, and rolling down it went rather quick. Well down at the bottom of it, three ponies were lying groaning in pain from the rough journey down.
“A-a-a-apparently I can’t walk on stairs...” Crimson said, lying with his legs tangled with the other two ponies who were busy figuring out what just happened. “Sorry,” he squeaked with such a high tone that sounded almost humorous compared to his normal deep voice. Sketch and Kickbolt grumbled something as they got their legs sorted out and got back up, and finally helped Crimson back up again.
“S-so I can be good at a-a-anything?”
Sketch pondered for a moment before answering. “Well, technically, maybe.” Her eyes looked at his bare flank, missing its cutie mark. “As I said, you’re... a bit peculiar. Normally we get our cutie marks when we’re young. For you to be an adult and not have one is what’s weird.”
“So you d-d-don’t know if I will be able t-to get one, I s-see,” Crimson said, his earlier curiosity regarding cutie marks seemingly killed. “B-but you also m-mentioned magic? How d-d-does t-that w-work?” he asked while turning to Kickbolt after taking a careful step down the stairs.
Kickbolt thought for a moment, unsure how to answer. Scratching his head with one hoof while murmuring to himself, until he finally came up with a good answer. “Basically, most unicorns can use their horns to do magic.” Content with the simple explanation, he nodded before continuing. “I’m not sure how-”
“W-wait... horn? I h-h-have a h-h-horn?” Crimson interrupted. “Where d-d-do I have a h-horn?” he asked quickly. Kickbolt just stared back at him while motioning towards his head. “What, w-where?” Crimson asked again, as he jerked his head around as if looking for a phantom was stalking him.
“On your head! Your head!” they chanted together while trying to keep their voices from drowning in laughter as Crimson kept fanatically looking for something just barely out of his vision no matter where he looked. Sketch finally cleared her throat, and raised a hoof to point directly at it. “Your horn is on your forehead,” she giggled.
Crimson flushed a brighter red than his usual color. “...t-t-that explains it.” His eyes crossed as he tried to look up his own forehead, past his orange mane hanging over his eyes. “So I c-can use m-magic?”
Kickbolt wiped away a tear from his eye before replying. “You might be able to, but we’re no unicorns, so we couldn’t say how.” He raised his silvery mane to show his bare forehead. “If you haven’t noticed, I’ve got wings instead. I’m what you call a pegasus,” he said while giving his left wing a few lazy flaps. “Normally I can fly, but just before we found you, my right wing got injured.” He turned his head to look at his bandaged wing instead. “That’s another reason why we’re heading back to town now, I need to get this looked at.”
“So how how m-much f-f-further is it?” Crimson asked. “We’ve b-b-been walking down these stairs a while n-n-now,” he continued while taking another step down.
Sketch moved in closer as if she had been a few paces away. “Well, we’re almost at the bottom of the tower now, and it’s taking a bit longer than usually because...” She trailed off, not wanting to blame Crimson directly for being slow.
“Because I c-c-can’t walk down these s-stairs normally?” Crimson answered, as he took yet another careful step down. “I’m s-sorry...”
Sketch quickly responded, “No! Don’t worry about it! I’m sorry I just said that.” She nodded apologetically.
Crimson gave a weak smile. “It’s o-okay. “
Sketch continued, “Well, at the end of these stairs it’s a short walk to get out of the tower, and after that we’re almost back at Fourtow, where we live.”
Crimson nodded slightly, and then examined Sketch a bit closer, he couldn’t help but notice her lack of both a horn and wings. “So... forgive me f-for asking, but w-what are you? I’m an unicorn, and Kickbolt is a p-p-pegasus...” Crimson raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, I’m an earth pony. We’re pretty much really durable,” Sketch simply said in a quiet voice.
Kickbolt turned around and rolled his eyes upon hearing this. “Well, there’s more to earth ponies than that,” he said hastily. “They’re the only ones that can manage crops. If anypony else tries to, the plants just wither and die after a while.” As he ended the sentence he was looking directly at Sketch. “But this earth pony here couldn’t grow a weed even if she tried to!” he ended while giving a wide grin.
Sketch stopped walking and turned to face Kickbolt with a frown. “Well, normally pegasi can manipulate clouds.” She was now staring down Kickbolt’s toothy grin with her own sly smile. “Even more importantly they can use the clouds to control weather. But this pegasus here isn’t called Kickbolt for nothing!” Kickbolt’s grin quickly died out. “As soon as he even touches a cloud, lightning shoots out all over the place! He’s even been prohibited from helping the weather ponies, having been declared a hazard!” Kickbolt was now glaring at Sketch, who was quite happy to gaze back with the same intensity. Both of them kept on narrowing their eyes further the longer they stared.
Until they broke out in loud laughter simultaneously as they started walking again towards the end of the staircase.
Crimson, as confused as ever, stood only a few paces behind them. “I-I-I... w-what?” he stuttered before continuing after the couple. Kickbolt was patting Sketch’s back while still laughing, and Sketch was trying to stifle her giggling with her hoof brought up to cover her mouth.
They were finally outside the tower. The clear night was making it easy for the moon to help them see in the dark as they made their way to Fourtow. The morning dew gathering on the grass reflected the moonlight as it swayed back and forth in the gentle breeze.
“So as far as I know, most unicorns are capable of using any type of magic. Assuming they’ve studied for that particular magic,” Sketch explained to Crimson as she tried to gather her thoughts about unicorn magic. “Unless your cutie mark represents some talent that your magic could be associated with, that would usually let you use that type of magic without any training. Other than that, all unicorns can use a few basic types of spells, like telekinesis or a light spell.”
Crimson nodded furiously, intrigued by the concept of magic. “So I j-just concentrate on say, m-making a l-l-light?” he asked.
Sketch scratched her head. “Beats me. You’re the unicorn, you tell me.”
Kickbolt shrugged his one good wing. “You might as well give it a try as long as we’re just walking.” He raised his head as if trying to look over the hills in front of them. “The wall for the town should be visible any moment, and from then on it should only take us around half an hour to reach it.”
Crimson blinked a few times as he thought about what to do. He closed his eyes and clenched his jaws as he concentrated for a moment. His walking slowly came to a stop as he tried to use magic. Sketch and Kickbolt halted to see what he was doing, giving him a moment to try. His jawline kept getting more tense as he tried harder to produce something - anything - from his horn. He planted his hooves in the earth as he took a lower posture, putting more effort into it.
Sketch and Kickbolt could see sweat forming on Crimson, whatever he was doing wasn't easy. They backed away a few steps to give him some space, unsure of what exactly to expect.
Crimson tried to reach into something he only now could feel was there, it was faint, but definitely there. Magic. It felt as if it was a part of him - a part that longed to awaken - and reaching out everywhere around him for as long as he could hold it. How had he not felt this before? He tried to grab it, move it, control it, commanding it to do what he wanted, make a light. It resisted, as if without the proper way of telling it what to do, it wouldn’t listen. It warranted a few orange sparks from his horn, but he was too busy to notice this himself. It did give Sketch reason to “Ooh!”, which he was unable to pick up on as well. Maybe if he tried it a bit differently...
Sketch could feel something by now as well. The same faint feeling whenever magic was cast nearby. It almost gave her goosebumps. Kickbolt could feel his feathers getting itchy, he tried to shrug it away but they only got ruffled instead, making them even itchier.
Crimson tried to focus on this new sensation through his horn. He could feel it flowing around him, with him, inside him. The long grass around him started swaying against the wind by an unseen force, the dew drops lifting into the air.
Kickbolt noticed the flying droplets. “Uh, do you think he knows he’s doing that?” he whispered to Sketch while nodding towards the floating water puddles, slowly growing by the merging drops.
Sketch shrugged casually. “I’m guessing that’s just the effect of too much unfocused magic. I don’t think he knows how to use it,” she said.
Crimson could imagine it, his horn lighting up the entire night all by itself. He tried to envision this as he focused the magic through his horn one final time. Unlike his previous attempts, he could feel something in his horn now, it was a small tickling feeling.
As Crimson finally opened his eyes to see how much he had accomplished, he managed to see a few single sparks flying away from the tip of his horn. “D-did you see th-” Splash. When he stopped concentrating the water gatherings that had collected around him all fell to the ground, drenching him as the liquid splattered all over. “W-w-water? Huh? What h-happened?” he quickly asked as he shuffled around, trying to see the reason for him getting wet.
“You levitated the water dew from the grass. When you stopped concentrating it all came splashing down on you,” Sketch replied as she was rummaging in her saddlebag. “Here, you’ll freeze like that.” She threw a small blanket over his back. It didn’t do much, and Crimson was already starting to shiver from the cold breeze. “We need to get you back to town, you can’t stay out here like this.”
“D-did you see the sparks?! I did m-magic!” Crimson spluttered, not caring that he was freezing his own hooves off. “I can’t b-believe I even made the w-water float t-t-too!” He grinned while hacking his teeth from the cold.
“There were a few sparks, but no actual light, sorry,” Kickbolt said, “but Sketch is right, we need to get you indoors now or you’ll just end up sick or something.”
Crimson was too busy giving off a goofy smile for himself at his own accomplishment to bother thinking about the cold.
They had hurried the rest of the way to Fourtow, or at least, tried to. The combination of Crimson not being able to properly gallop yet along with his body quickly getting colder had made it harder for him to move. They had made it to the town gate, and Crimson had already dried but was still shivering.
Sketch brought up a hoof to Crimson’s forehead, she shuddered upon touching it. His body temperature felt alarmingly low. “We really need to get you inside.” She turned to Kickbolt. “Can you take him to your place? It’s closer. I’ll see if I can get something from my house to help.”
Kickbolt nodded quickly.
Crimson himself didn’t really pick up any of that, he was too busy admiring the buildings: the simple wooden structures with hay for roofs, the lovable architecture, the cute little windows, the quaint shadows watching him from afar.
He blinked. They were gone.
Kickbolt nodded towards their left as Sketch was running off in the opposite direction. “Come on, it’s just around the corner,” he urged.
Crimson opened his mouth to mention what he had just seen, but not before feeling his own legs buckle away under the weight of his body. “I-I... uhh.” His vision started blurring.
He fell to the ground as he could see stars forming in front of him. Stars, and an alarmed Kickbolt standing next to him.
The sunlight was reaching in through the window. Over the hours it slowly made its way up to eye level of the sleeping unicorn. He groaned himself awake. Irritated by the annoying light that burned his poor unadjusted eyes as he opened them.
Crimson was lying in an unfamiliar bed. He felt a bit too warm so he tried to kick the blanket off, until he felt a sudden coldness rushing through his body. He decided to snuggle back in for now.
Now decently comfortable again, he observed his surroundings. His eyes widened with interest as he looked over all the oddities around the room. Everywhere he turned there were strange devices ranging from copper colored helmets with even smaller contraptions attached to it, to odd saddle-bags with even more things stuck on it. They looked like small spider arms. What caught his eye first was the gold painted harness with mounted blades hanging from a wall next to the door, with one of the ‘wings’ roughly buckled while missing a few blades. He focused his eyes as he tried to recall why it seemed so familiar...
The loud wheezing caught Crimson by surprise. He yelped quietly for himself and quickly looked down from the wall to see a blue pegasus lying on his back on a mattress, giving a few lazy kicks into the air as he mumbled something while apparently dreaming.
The snoring had been at the same time as Kickbolt when he was talking to himself in his sleep. He wasn’t the one snoring?
He leaned up slightly to look into the other room, only barely being able to glean anything past the doorway. He could see Sketch’s bright yellow hair hanging over the edge of a sofa. She turned around in her sleep while groaning, showing her face. Her drool encrusted face. She accidentally kicked down a pillow while giving a few loud smacks with her mouth as if she had been eating something. This followed by opening her mouth as she...
...snored really loudly across two rooms.
Crimson smiled. He wasn’t sure exactly what had happened - his memory being a bit hazy, and he didn’t exactly feel very good right now, but he couldn’t help but feel safe. He decided to let the two explorers sleep in, assuming they were the ones that had helped him into bed. He couldn’t help but think that was a trivial matter by now.
He continued to look around the room and all the wondrous things that adorned it. If he hadn’t been feeling so woozy, he would have walked right up to take a closer look at each and every one. He felt an urge to test everything to see what they do. His eyes kept on wandering until he finally noticed something that was within his reach, without even having to leave the bed, standing on the night stand next to him.
It looked like an alarm clock, except it had no numbers or anything that would make it look like a watch, besides the shape of it. One thing that did stick out was the big red button on top of it, calling out to him to be pressed. He slowly brought up a hoof to it...
And stopped. He pulled his hoof back when he realized that he knew things now, things that seemed very obvious. He took another look at the ‘alarm clock’.
That looks like a timepiece.
He knew what it looked like. How did he know what something he’s never seen before looks like?
He shrugged. Things that didn’t make sense now would probably do later when somepony could give him some answers.
His eyes were fixated at the ‘alarm clock’ again, the red button seemed so alluring. His hoof moved closer to it yet again. He touched it, just barely, enough to feel it under his hoof, all that was left was to apply pressure on it to activate the whatever-it-was. He braced himself and pressed the button.
That’s it? He thought with a disappointed face, having expected more from the strange device. He sunk back into the bed while turning his head around for anything else to keep him distracted.
He blinked. Was it still doing something?
He quickly turned around to face the device again, unsure what was happening but still happy something was.
It wasn’t moving, but there was a faint clicking sound coming from inside of it. He stared eagerly upon it waiting for something to happen.
The sound became more frequent now, slowly picking up the pace between clicks. He could swear that it was starting to become louder too.
The sound from it wasn’t so slight any longer; it could probably clearly be heard by anypony in the room by now. Getting worried that it might wake up the two explorers who were still sleeping, he tried to shut it off again by pressing the button on top of it again. Nothing happened.
Crimson grabbed the clicking device to try and muffle it with the bed covers; it was starting to get obnoxiously loud.
Whatever he had started, he was unable to stop it. He was begging it to stop whatever it was doing while throwing every bed sheet available to him over it to try and quiet it down. Doing so had no effect.
It was loud, as if he standing inside a clockwork store and every single clock was sounding about ten times louder than normally. He briefly wondered again how he could have thought about such a comparison without truly knowing what a clockwork store was, but he was too busy turning the bed upside down to do something about the clicking.
Just as he was about to hide it under the mattress he was lying on, he could see Sketch standing in the doorway, staring in his general direction with dark baggy eyes.
Sketch slowly slouched up to Crimson while looking at nothing in particular, just staring in the direction that was in front of her all the time, all while navigating around Kickbolt lying in the middle of her path -- who was still sleeping -- without even looking where she was going. When she got up to Crimson she slowly moved her eyes to actually look at him for the first time since entering the room.
Crimson grinned sheepishly while holding out the device wrapped in bed clothing to Sketch.
She nonchalantly slapped the device out of his grip. It fell down on the floor without Sketch ever taking her sleepy eyes off Crimson and, without actually looking where it had landed, she stomped at it with one of her hind legs heavily. The sound of glass breaking could be heard beside the clicking as she did this.
Sketch was still staring at Crimson who was grinning sheepishly as self defense. She blinked, slowly.
“S-sorry...?” Crimson said while laughing nervously.
Sketch responded with another sleepy blink of her eyes before she turned around to head back to her couch.
Kickbolt finally started to blink his eyes open as Sketch started to towards the door - past him. He yawned heavily. “Good morning everyp-Oof!” His greeting was interrupted by Sketch kicking him in the stomach before proceeding to the couch. He rubbed his belly while blinking to adjust to the morning light. After a moment he turned to Crimson who was still sitting in the bed, trying to figure out what had just happened.
Kickbolt sleepily yawned again before asking, “Did you wake her up? She can be a bit grumpy if you wake her.”
“T-that’s used to wake you up?”
Kickbolt shrugged nonchalantly while biting into an apple. “Whaf can I shay? I’mf a heafy shleeper,” he said while chewing, swallowing afterwards. “What’s wrong with sleeping in when in the safety of my own home?”
Sketch sighed. “If you only tried to sleep properly whenever we’re out exploring you wouldn’t be sleeping like this,” she said. “That’s the first time it’s ever waken me up, I swear if I ever have to use that thing to wake you up again I’ll just bang it into your head!” she continued to rant, glaring at Kickbolt while bringing up a hay sandwich to bite into.
Kickbolt leaned closer to Crimson. “Told you she’s cranky when woken,” he whispered.
“Why n-not just use a normal alarm c-clock? And isn’t it... uh... b-broken now?” Crimson asked.
Sketch continued to glare at Kickbolt, who didn’t seem to care. “Because they’re not loud enough to wake him. He had to get that thing specially ordered. The problem is that it has to be manually activated since it’s not actually a watch. So unless he wakes up by himself, that’s the only way to get him up.” She frowned. “And it’s not broken, I think. That’s actually how you turn it off. They do break every now and then by turning them off. A pretty big design flaw if you ask me. Kickbolt even have dozens of the infernal things over in that box,” she ended, pointing towards a tattered old crate lying under a table.
Kickbolt continued to eat his red juicy apple instead instead of listening to Sketch’s ranting. He gave one of the apples to Crimson. “So how do you feel? You had a pretty bad fever all of yesterday. When you first collapsed I had to pull you here to my house. You’ve been asleep for almost two days!” Kickbolt said.
Sketch nodded. “I was able to get the doctor to come and take a look at you, he said you’d be fine with some rest, so we’ve been here watching over you since then.” She pointed to a bucket of water with a rag hanging from it next to the bed. “We had to keep your fever down most of yesterday before you started getting better,” she ended as she brought up a hoof to his forehead to feel his temperature.
“I feel f-fine, I guess. Just a little fever,” Crimson answered.
Kickbolt exhaled. “You know, you scared me half to death when you just collapsed like that!”
Crimson tried to remember what had happened - they had just gotten to town and he was looking around, but then what? He couldn’t remember. Everything seemed hazy.
“Wait... S-something strange happened b-before. I looked at your... wake-up device... and thought that it looked like a clock,” Crimson said.
Kickbolt just lowered his eyebrows, but Sketch seemed to understand what he was trying to say. “You mean, you knew what a clock is?” she asked while leaning forward.
Crimson looked down on the apple he was still holding. “I don’t k-know. I mean, I guess I d-did. It’s odd because I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it before, but I still thought ‘that looks like a timepiece’, but how would I know w-what a timepiece looks l-like?” He raised an eyebrow. “When I think a-about it, I knew about a l-lot of t-things since we first met, things I don’t know how I s-should know about.”
“But you still had no idea about many other things... like you couldn’t even walk at first,” Sketch said. She took out her notebook and started reading some scrabble from one of the pages. “You suddenly appeared at the top of the tower, you had no cutie mark nor any idea what was going on or how you got there. You didn’t know how to walk - or even stand - until we showed you how. You have no memories about your past.” She sighed. “I dunno, you’re a mystery. Some of these things could easily be shoved under the category ‘amnesia’ of some kind, but the fact that you just appeared like that and that you have no cutie mark is what’s weird.” She closed the book. “Also, your stuttering seems to have improved?”
Kickbolt cleared his throat. “What she said.”
Sketch rolled her eyes at the notion.
Crimson sighed. “I’m s-sorry... I don’t know myself what’s going on.”
A few awkward moments of silence passed - besides the occasional noise of Kickbolt chewing his apple - until the red unicorn spoke up again to ask a question.
“So, w-what were you doing in that tower anyway? Where you found me,” Crimson asked nopony in particular.
Sketch, who had been staring at her hay sandwich while in deep thought immediately jumped up in excitement to answer the question. “Why, we’re explorers! The two best the town of Fourtow has to offer!” By now she was standing firmly planted while grinning, and for some reason her hair was blowing in the wind - while indoors.
Crimson could swear he almost saw background lights behind her as she was posing. Apparently the wind was coming from Kickbolt’s wings as he flapped them for effect.
“Your w-wing, it’s okay now?” Crimson asked while turning around in the bed to face Kickbolt.
Sketch, dissatisfied with the lack of attention, returned to her hay sandwich while grumbling something to herself.
Kickbolt stretched out both his wings for effect. “Yeah, don’t worry! The doctor took care of that easily after he’d taken a look at you,” he said, giving his right wing a few lazy flaps.
“How did he f-fix it so quickly? I thought it w-was broken.”
“Oh, the doctor’s a unicorn, he just used some magic to fix it. Apparently I was lucky Sketch splinted the wing or it could have been worse.” Kickbolt replied.
“M-magic? I forgot about that. I want to try using it again!” Crimson exclaimed.
Kickbolt took a step closer. “Actually, the doctor said that part of why you collapsed must have been because of... uh... Sketch?” Kickbolt turned his head to Sketch for help as he scratched his head.
Sketch got back up again to continue explaining where Kickbolt’s memory faltered. “He said...” She gave a moments pause to stare at Kickbolt in annoyance. “He said that you had
over-channeled magic ‘the wrong way’. I’m not sure what it means, but apparently your inexperience with it caused you to become mentally exhausted and... well... collapse,” she said, shrugging momentarily before continuing. “We were worried when it first happened, but the doctor said that after ‘resting your mind’ a couple of days, you’d be fine again. Ah, incidentally that means you can’t use magic until told otherwise.”
Crimson’s face dropped to stare at the apple again. “Oh, I s-see...”
Sketch brought up a hoof to feel his temperature again. “Don’t worry about it, it shouldn’t be that much longer. But you’re still bedridden for at least another day.”
Crimson continued to stare at the apple, until a loud grumble originating from his stomach needed to be quelled. “So you s-said you two are e-explorers, what d-d-did you mean by that?” he asked. Finally taking a bite out of the red fruit.
Kickbolt and Sketch traded a quick look. “Well, I suppose a quick history lesson wouldn’t hurt.”
The next few hours were spent telling Crimson the past century of events, beginning at the earliest documented happenings in Ever City since the appearance of the ponies, up until the current circumstances in Fourtow, why the Explorer’s Guild had started and what they aimed to do. It all ended with how they had finally encountered Crimson inside the tower. Kickbolt had been tossing in a few ‘spooky voices’ every now and then for effect, until Sketch made it clear with her hoof - hard - that it wasn’t necessary.
“Why is it c-c-called Ever City? The name s-seems sort of... bland.”
Sketch chortled. “Hah! I know, right? You’ll have to ask big city pony over there for the answer for that one though, if he can be bothered to actually remember an answer.”
Kickbolt snorted. “I do remember things! And yes, I actually happen to know the answer to that question. To quote my grandfather back when I lived there...” He cleared his throat, and continued in a much deeper voice. “Because it’s all we’ve ever known.”
Crimson and Sketch patiently waited for anything else to be said that would give any further indication for why the city being named as it is, but their staring was met with Kickbolt staring back at them.
Kickbolt shrugged. “That’s all I know, sorry.”
Sketch facehoofed. “Really? That’s it? No incredible explanation for why besides... that?”
Crimson joined in. “I have to s-say... I expected m-more.” Feeling another upcoming conflict on its way, Crimson tried to divert the attention instead. “So, what are all these t-things?” he asked while pointing at the many gadgets around the room.
Kickbolt grinned. “Ah, an eye for detail. This, my friend, is my very own collection of various contraptions for many and different uses!” he exclaimed, standing on his two hind legs to point the two remaining ones to nowhere in particular.
Sketch rolled her eyes. “He means glorified junk.”
Nopony paid any attention to that, Kickbolt was already busy explaining to Crimson about some of the things he’d already become interested in before accidentally waking everypony up.
Sketch groaned loudly.
“Are you s-sure I can’t bring that claw horseshoe? It c-could come in handy!”
Sketch shot a glare off in Kickbolt’s direction.
Kickbolt gulped. “Uh, yeah, you probably shouldn’t,” he said.
The following day Crimson’s fever was completely gone, so Sketch had arranged for them to meet with somepony.
Crimson was able to walk almost perfectly by now, although he did attract quite a few looks when passing by throughout the town by being a new pony. That, and not having a cutie mark made him stick out as a sore hoof.
“Is i-i-it much f-f-further?” Crimson asked, his stuttering acting up due to the anxiety.
Sketch pointed a hoof to a stone building in front of them. “Relax, we’re already here.”
The building was slightly larger than the average house - about five ponies high - and instead of being made out of wood with hay or something similar for roof, it was almost entirely made out of stone pieces - each the size of a head - that had been fused together with cement.
Crimson looked around - it looked familiar. Not a long way from where they stood, the entrance to the town where they had first arrived upon was. He shook his head, his memory bugging him.
Did I see something here before?
Before he had a chance to recollect what had happened, Sketch pulled him inside the building.
The inside seemed normal enough: simple yet nice furniture, a counter right in front of them. The wall to the right was adorned with several picture frames with name tags, two of them belonging to ‘Map Sketch’ and ‘Kickbolt’, among a few others Crimson didn’t recognize.
Behind the counter there was an old earth pony mare, a creamy yellow color with a grayish-white hair bun; on the top of her muzzle resided a small pair of spectacles.
“Welcome back, dearies!” the old voice greeted the explorers happily.
“Good morning, Master,” Sketch and Kickbolt replied at the same time.
“G-g-g-good m-m-m-morning...” Crimson stuttered.
“Ah, you must be Crimson! Sketch told me all about you yesterday,” the old mare said. “Don’t worry about me, I wont bite!” she chuckled.
Crimson flushed as he gave a slight nod.
The elderly mare walked out from behind the counter, age reducing her to little more than Sketch’s size. “You can just call me Master, everypony does! I didn’t get appointed that title over years of exploring just to use it as a title.” She proudly pointed at the wall with the picture frames, specifically at one with her own picture showing the name ‘Master’ under it. “If you want to be technical about things, my name is Red Thread,” she said as she turned around to show her cutie mark, a red ball of yarn. Her eyes squinted as she looked through her spectacles, staring directly at Crimson who froze. “But nopony calls me that.” Just as suddenly as she had turned hostile, she seemed cheery again. “So I had a few questions for you dearie, if you don’t mind!”
Crimson never answered, he was still paralyzed.
Sketch stifled a giggle as she walked up to speak, “I already told you about you all we know about him, and that he has no memory of his past, so I’m not sure what you want to get out of this.”
Master cleared her throat. “Sketchy, dear. There are always things to ask about, even if they don’t seem noteworthy at first. Besides, I wanted the three of you here for different reasons!” She smiled.
Kickbolt walked up. “Wait, you want something from each and every one of us?” he asked.
“No no no, Bolty.” Kickbolt winced at the nickname. “I want the two of you to go back to the tower and get me a detailed report of the final floor,” she said. “I can understand why you had to leave without thoroughly examining the entire room, considering what happened.” She nudged her head towards Crimson, who was slowly retreating in behind the two explorers in an attempt to hide himself, which didn’t work out as well considering how much smaller the two of them were.
Sketch frowned. “What, now?”
Master smiled. “Yes, now. I already got your saddle-bags packed and ready!” she pointed to the side of the counter, where two fully packed and ready to go saddle-bags stood waiting. “You don’t have all day, so you better get going!” she exclaimed.
Kickbolt joined in Sketch by frowning. “But-”
“But you don’t have all day! Now get going,” Master threw the saddle-bags at them and started pushing them out of the building, finally closing the door after they left.
She turned around and leaned up against the closed door, squinting her eyes yet again to look at Crimson. She licked her lips at the thought of it.
“Let’s get down to business, you and I, dearie,” she said.
Crimson was paralyzed again.
The two explorers stood outside the guild with mixed expressions.
Kickbolt shrugged his wings. “Uh, what exactly happened just now?” he asked.
Sketch glared at the door for a moment before turning around to head for the town exit. “Oh, I see what you’re doing, Master,” she said annoyingly. “I’m only letting her get away with this because I’m not allowed to go against her wishes, but I can’t say I’m certain that this is a good idea.”
Kickbolt had a confused expression on his face. “You know what’s going on?”
Sketch sighed. “Yes, and let’s just leave them alone for now, Master would only get annoyed if I were there to try and talk them out of it, so let’s just do what she wants us to do and hurry back.”
So the two explorers headed back towards the tower.
“A-are you sure Sketch and Kickbolt shouldn’t b-be here for this?”
Master stuck out her tongue. “Phhbt. Sketchy is way too fuzzy about this sort of thing. I admit she’s an excellent explorer when actually out working, reminds me of myself her age. But in the safety of the town she has to consider all the ethical and logical viewpoints before doing anything, never gets anything done! Me, however, I am a mare of action,” she said proudly. “Now... coffee or tea?” she asked.
Crimson flushed. “Umm... I’m not sure what the d-d-difference is.”
“Oh, right. I forgot, dearie, sorry. The whole amnesia thing,” she apologized. “Juice then.” She brought a glass of apple juice and placed it in front of Crimson. “I had a chat with the doctor who looked at you before, and besides what he knew from what Sketch and Kickbolt told him about your memory, he was certain that you had no physical issues.”
Crimson’s eyebrows furrowed. “How could he t-tell without actually talking to me?”
“Unicorn magic, dearie. Wonderful thing that is.”
Master grinned. “Which is what I wanted to talk to you about, I heard about your earlier incident a couple of nights ago. The doctor recommended that we should find you a magic tutor.”
Crimson’s eyes widened. “A t-t-tutor? For magic?”
The elderly mare nodded. “Yes, dearie. All I ask of you is that...”
Master quickly produced a couple of paperwork, which she waved in front of him. “...you sign this paper! Recruiting you as an apprentice for the Explorer’s Guild!” she exclaimed.
“You m-mean to do what Sketch and Kickbolt does? Explore?” Crimson questioned.
Master nodded again. “Let’s just say I have an... eye for talent. And I want you to be the latest recruit for our little town. Don’t worry, all the details are taken care of already,” she said with a glint in her eye. “All you have to do...” She took out a pen. “Is sign with your name riiiight... here!” she said, pointing to a blank spot on the papers. “The guild can provide you with magical training if needed, which in this case, it is, but we can’t just give it away to just anypony you see...”
“I s-see... So for me to be eligible for what this guild can offer, I have t-to be a part of it.” Crimson deducted.
“Ohoho, a clever one, even better! Don’t worry, all the contract says is that you’re fully aware of the risks that you could end up injured... or worse, when exploring.” She nonchalantly waved a hoof in front of her face. “See, we could currently use a new unicorn around here willing to do some exploring, and you happen to be a perfect fit, dearie!” she gleefully said. “Assuming you’re able to learn how to properly do magic, that is.”
“I’m g-guessing that I would be traveling w-with Sketch and Kickbolt, seeing how there’s only two of them, neither being a u-unicorn?” Crimson asked.
Master grinned. “You are a clever one!” She corrected her spectacles. “Granted, I’m not going to force anything on you, but I’ve given you my options, and I sincerely hope you agree to these terms.”
Crimson nodded. “They told me w-what it is they do... and I have to admit, i-it’s interesting. Besides... I f-feel like I have to repay them a debt for finding me.” Crimson nodded again. “I agree.” He picked up the pen with his teeth and tried to write his name.
Crimson flushed deep red upon looking at his own awkward scribble. “I-I-I-I’m not sure I can write just y-yet...” he stammered. “I can r-read, but w-w-writing seems different.”
Master gave a small chuckle and crumpled the paper, pulling out a new one along with an ink pad. “For now, I think a simple hoof print will suffice.”
Crimson nodded, dipped his hoof in the ink pad and gave a hoof print on the fresh paper.
Master silently gave a hoof pump. “Wonderful, Crimsy my dear!” Crimson winced. “I hereby welcome you into the Explorer’s Guild of Fourtow - as soon as Sketch and Kickbolt return I will gladly appoint you as their apprentice.”
Crimson smiled. “N-not having any memory made this an easy decision... It f-feels like I have no r-r-reason to say no, there’s nothing h-holding me back.” He blushed a little. “Uh, so what n-now?” he asked.
“Don’t worry, most of the ‘standard entry procedures’ are minor details, we’ll take care of that easily another time. For now, I should mention a few guidelines. Well, one guideline, really.” She cleared her throat. “Everything goes through me: new information, reports on exploration, new findings and all that yadda yadda,” she said as she waved her wrinkly hoof. “Now, let’s get started with your magic training, shall we? Now where is that mare?” She went to the counter and brought up a few papers, correcting her spectacles as she squinted her eyes to read what was written. “Oh, good! Should be any second.”
Just as Master had finished that sentence, the door creaked open behind Crimson.
“There you are dearie, right on time as usual!” Master exclaimed.
Crimson turned around to face a female unicorn standing at the entrance. He thought she looked familiar. Looking on the wall to the left where he stood he could see why - she was on one of the picture frames adorning the guild. Under her picture stood the name ‘Pledgeword’.
“I can’t believe she made us go all the way back, after only two days,” the earth pony panted.
The pegasus whined, making his way up the final step of the giant staircase. “I wanted to at least get my wing-harness fixed first.”
“Well, we’re finally here again.” Sketch mumbled. “If we hurry, we can make it back to town in a few hours,” she said, walking up the final step after Kickbolt.
The circular room looked the same as their first visit. It was smaller compared to the rest of the interior of the tower, with the only outstanding thing being the altar in the opposite side of the room.
“Sooo... do you see anything?” Kickbolt asked, squinting his eyes, looking for any missed details. “Because I’m not seeing anything.”
Sketch moved along the wall, gleaning for anything. “No. Let’s just give it a quick look and then get back,” she muttered.
Kickbolt looked down at his hooves and shuffled them. “I thought you’d be... you know... happier.” He sighed lightly, staring into the wall in front of him. “We’ve been trying to get to this very spot for over two years, and now that we’re finally here, you don’t seem to care anymore.”
Sketch stopped and looked up at the ceiling. “It’s not that I don’t care anymore.” She shook her head. “My interest has just... moved. I’ve been dying to find out whats at the top of this tower for years, and I don’t think anypony expected what we found,” she said quietly, slowly continuing down the wall. “I can feel that there’s nothing left here for us, the only reason we’re back is because we didn’t ‘thoroughly explore’ this room. What I’m interested in now is Crimson.”
Kickbolt spurred up his eyes. “Interested?”
Sketch rolled her eyes. “Oh you know what I mean. There’s just so many questions regarding him...” She reached the altar and examined it closer, where they had found Crimson. “We finally got to this room and suddenly he just appeared! If I’m not going to be able to figure out this tower, then I want to figure him out. Besides, Master is probably recruiting him right now to the guild, if she hasn’t already.”
Kickbolt stopped searching at his side of the room and turned to look at the mare. “Wait, you mean he’ll be joining us as an apprentice?” he asked, a small glint in his eyes.
Sketch nodded happily. “Yeah, we’ll become mentors,” she said with a smile, turning to face the eager pegasus looking at her. “Which is why I want to get back to town already!”
Kickbolt started laughing loudly. “Yes! We’re finally achieving mentor rank!” he exclaimed. The pegasus turned to face Sketch, getting serious for a moment. “Are you sure he’s being recruited?”
Sketch giggled. “Calm down. If I know Master, I’m certain he’s being recruited. She’d never let a chance like this get away. Not to mention, she’d want us to keep a close eye on him for various reasons.” She took out her book. The new frame she’d replaced it with while in town felt sturdier than the old one. She sat down at the altar and started writing something down, tapping one hoof against the floor. “So, did you find anything?”
Kickbolt shook his head. “I don’t think we missed anything when we were here the first time. There’s just nothing here.” He squinted his eyes, examining the wall. “But... is it just me, or is it getting darker?”
Sketch looked up from her book and stared at one of the emeralds embedded in the wall before her. “You’re right! They’re not giving off as much as light as they used to!” she noted, tapping the emerald with her hoof. It flickered slightly upon her touch. “Was it like this when we got here?” She continued poking the same emerald, checking for any further reaction other than the glow dissipating.
Kickbolt scanned the rest of the room for any oddities. “I’m not sure, I think it’s been getting dimmer since we got here...” He trotted to the middle of the room, his hooves clopping loudly against the stone tiles. While on alert, he noticed something odd. In the corner of his eye, just for a moment, he thought he could see something at the stairs leading back down.
Turning to see whatever it was, he crouched down and flared his wings. “Sketch. There’s someth-”
The gemstones started flickering all at the same time, accompanied with the same noise that had begun the last time they were there - except it was worse, as if the gems were broken. One by one the stones started blowing up all around the room, scattering green dust across the entire room. Sketch and Kickbolt both clenched their ears in response to the unusual noise. The resonating sound that last time had caused them pain when Crimson first appeared was happening again, but as the gems were breaking, it sounded corrupt, damaged. After only a few moments they could tell that whatever the sound was, it wasn’t hurting their ears, it was hurting their minds. It didn’t take long before blood slowly started seeping out of their noses in response to their excruciating efforts to stay lucid from the pain.
The shaking from the gems became more and more violent as they started shattering with loud bangs. No, the gems weren’t shaking any longer, it was the room shaking.
Sketch fell over, unresponsive to Kickbolt’s shouting. The blue stallion was still managing to maintain consciousness, the headache becoming more aggressive by the seconds. His wings reacted almost on instinct as he glided to Sketch’s side of the room in an instant. He was only barely able to maintain his balance with the earthquake, and the pain in his head wasn’t helping. The earth pony lying on the ground whimpered upon his touch. He managed to scoop her up on his back with the help of his wings.
Rocks and pieces of the ceiling started coming down, so far only smaller pebbles were harassing his back, but the massive boulder the size of himself that landed only a few meters away wasn’t very reassuring. With heavy steps and a quivering awareness he headed for the stairs again, Sketch in tow. As he reached the stairs more and more boulders were slamming down behind him.
Drops of sweat and blood rolling down his face, he clenched his teeth, looking down the narrow staircase, his legs almost wobbling from the extra weight of Sketch while already under the mental pressure from the burning sound drilling into his brain. He quickly hurried down, accompanied by rocks rolling down after him.
“I’m sorry, Sketch...” he apologized through gritted teeth. He had only managed about halfway down when his mind finally gave in. He lost his balance which sent the two of them tumbling down the staircase exactly as Crimson had done earlier when they first passed through here.
After falling down the stairs, again, Kickbolt snapped back into consciousness long enough to pull Sketch away from the entrance to the rumbling floor, getting her away from the stones falling from the upper floor.
Then everything went black before his eyes, unable to stay awake any longer.
The purple mare slammed her hooves on the table, sending the utensils scattered on it into the air. “Again!” she bellowed, sending the unicorn in the opposite seat into hiding underneath the table.
Some light mumbling could be heard as an orange glow wrapped around a chandelier and lifted it into the air, shakily, but slowly going up.
Pledgeword gave a smirk as she used her own magic to tug it back down. “Concentrate, keep applying focus to keep it mid-air, even with external forces tampering with it.” Her pink magic glow was battling the orange one for the chandelier, both auras shifting back and forth as neither had sole control of the object. “Try to take control of it completely,” she said.
The red stallion crawled back out as if afraid of being yelled at again, his horn weakly glowing orange as he became more committed for the fight to control the chandelier. “I-I-I-I-If you s-s-say so...” he stammered, each stutter causing Pledgeword to wince as if in pain.
She scowled. Staring at him while slowly mouthing, “Don’t. Speak.” Intensifying her own magic just to make a point, slamming the chandelier back into the table, quickly overpowering Crimson’s magic. He whimpered, nodding slowly while avoiding her look. The mare took a deep breath, and shouted at him again. “Now try again!”
As Crimson yelped and covered his face, the chandelier flashed orange as it flew straight up with such force that it smashed to the ceiling, dropping down to the floor afterwards with a satisfying plink, where it was grabbed by Pledgeword’s magic once again and shoved into a pile of similar objects of varying size.
She gave a small harrumph and lifted her head up as if looking at the ceiling, except her eyes were closed. “Enough telekinesis. Try applying the same rules I explained to you before, but instead of lifting an object with your mind, try to imagine a fire burning in front of you, spreading its light through the dark.” She used her own magic to dim the lighting in the room. No windows being available in the cellar room made it almost completely black. “You’ll be attempting a light spell now,” she said.
Crimson nodded nervously, afraid to get yelled at again. He closed his eyes as he tried to replicate the very same spell he had tried to figure out alone a couple of days ago. Now with the extra practice and guiding, it felt a lot easier. After a few moments of concentrating he opened his eyes, only to have to cover his eyes with a hoof from the strong light. After some adjusting it became manageable. He smiled.
Pledgeword snorted. “That was... satisfactory. You may leave now,” she said, as she returned the light to the room.
Crimson quickly darted away from the table and towards the door, only to get tangled in his own legs and fall forward. After a nervous chuckle to himself he quickly proceeded out.
As he was leaving the room, Pledgeword eyed his flank mischievously, muttering to herself. “Too bad he’s a blank flank and has that awful stutter...”
Sketch slowly opened her eyes. Her head felt as if she’d been bludgeoned to submission with Kickbolt’s alarm clock. “Unnnhh... what happened?” she groaned, asking nopony in particular, rubbing the temples of her sore head. It didn’t take long before she realized nopony was answering. As she looked around, all she saw were boulders of different sizes lying spread out around her. The staircase behind her had completely collapsed.
“Kickbolt? Come on, where are you?” she demanded, getting slightly nervous as she raised her voice.
“Here.” Could be heard from behind one of the larger boulders with a tired rasp. Kickbolt stepped out from behind it. “I’m fine, only a bit beaten up,” he coughed lightly. “What about you?”
“I’m fine, thanks,” she quietly said after rubbing her head again. “What... what happened? The last thing I remember was being up in that room again, and everything just... went dark.”
Kickbolt slowly walked over the rocks littering the floor while wiping away some of the dried blood from his face. “The room started acting up again like last time we were here and found Crimson, except it was as if it was... broken,” he explained, pointing to the staircase with his wing. “I had to carry you out of there before the entire room collapsed on us both, but right before it actually happened... I... I think I saw something following us,” he said with a low voice, trying to be covert.
The green mare gave him an odd stare. “What, like a goblin?”
He quickly shook his head. “No, I don’t know what it was! It looked like... well... a shadow.”
A pregnant silence quickly filled the room, as the two of them anxiously kept looking around them as if being stared at by invisible creatures. A rock falling from the ceiling, making clicking sounds as it crumbled and hit the ground, breaking the tension.
“W-W-What do you mean a shadow?!” Sketch asked with a panicky voice as she stepped closer to her companion. “There’s no such thing as shadows moving around by themselves, it would have been documented a long time ago... right?”
He used his wings to wipe of the blood from Sketch’s face, grimacing at the sight of his bloodstained feather tips. “I’m not so sure about that. We only have documents at most a hundred years old. Things could easily be missed.”
Sketch shot him a confused glare. “How do you know that? You don’t know anything!”
For the first time in a while, Kickbolt beamed. “There’s a few things I know about, one of them being creatures in this world.” His face quickly became one of worry again. “With that said, I still have no idea what that thing was.”
After a quick check to see that her book was still all right, Sketch went back to nervously looking at their surroundings. “Well... there’s not much we can do here now,” she said, glancing towards the rubble blocking the stairs up to the room. “I think it’s best if we just get back to town before anything else happens.”
Kickbolt jumped up in realization. “Oh! I found something, actually! Just where I woke up, over here!” he divulged, going back to behind the boulder where he had been lying just minutes ago. Before Sketch had been able to follow him around it, he pulled out a heavy and unusual stone.
“Is that... a chest?” Sketch quietly asked.
“I think so. It was just lying next to me when I woke up,” he explained, nuzzling it, trying to get it open. “But it doesn’t seem to open. There’s no handle or keyhole or anything, but the top is clearly meant to come off!”
“What? Why? Don’t you want to know what’s inside?” he asked in confusion.
Sketch facehoofed. “Of course I do, I meant you should just try bucking the lid off of it,” she explained in a stale tone.
Kickbolt blushed. “Oh. Heh...” He turned around and kicked with such speed that his hindlegs became a dark blue blur. His hooves connected perfectly with just the top of the chest, which shot the lid flying into the wall with a loud crack as the actual chest just tipped over, spilling the contents over the ground.
Sketch’s eyes almost glittered when she saw the small perfectly round stones rolling over the floor. “Magic stones!” she exclaimed loudly, jumping to the ground to try and grab as many as possible before rolling down the large sets of stairs beneath them leading back down out of the tower. She giggled with glee as she scooped up most of them into her saddlebag. “There must be dozens of them!”
As she grabbed the final stones, Sketch composed herself with a flick of her ponytail mane. “Right. It might be time for us to leave now, don’t you think?”
The stallion nodded eagerly and started walking back down the stairs with Sketch close after. “I’m not sure how long we were knocked out, but hopefully it wont be too late,” he said.
“We’ll see if the sun is still up by the time we get out of the tower,” Sketch replied.
Upon seeing the red unicorn trudge into the room, the creamy old mare was quick to exclaim, “Pledgy told me already!”
Crimson winced. Pledgy? Really? What did she tell her? he thought. Before he got a chance to ask, Master was already rambling on about it.
“She said that you had a curious magical talent, at first at least. As if you knew what you were supposed to do, and once you got pointed in the right direction you figured it out by yourself! Although she did mention that you quickly seemed to reach a limit very quickly, which is odd. Either way, she was pleased with you!” Master rambled, oblivious to the fact that Crimson was almost shaking upon being reminded of Pledgeword.
Crimson blinked. “She s-said I was... good?” he asked curiously. “She w-w-was horrifying!” he exclaimed with a dreaded expression on his face. “She y-y-yelled at me all t-the time for t-the smallest error... or e-even for talking...”
Master smiled. “Don’t worry dearie, I know Pledgy might be a bit harsh, but she’s effective nonetheless! As long as you’re being watched over by Sketchy and Bolty, you have my approval to explore along with them as an apprentice,” she educated him, laying a hoof on his shoulder. “Now let me explain to you the basics of guild ranks works around here. See, you’ll be starting out as an apprentice, as already mentioned, which is the first rank out of four. In order, they’re Apprentice, Explorer, Mentor and Master. Mentor is just short for Explorer-Mentor.”
Crimson nodded slowly, following in Master as he was being led to a storage room.
“Sketchy and Bolty have been in the Explorer rank for years now, since they were pretty young if I recall correctly. Explorer rank lets you team up with other explorers - or higher ranking ponies - to do exploring, simple enough. But now I’m bumping them up to Mentor rank! Which will also give them the right to take in an apprentice to their group, if they so want, and that’s gonna be you!” she said with a giddy voice, poking Crimson in the chest with a hoof.
“A-Are you c-certain they’ll be willing t-to take in me?” Crimson asked nervously, shuffling his hooves.
Master suddenly stopped dead in her tracks and turned around to stare the stallion dead in his eyes. “If they know what’s good for them, they will,” she said in a dark voice. On a moment’s notice she turned back to her bubbly self again. “Then finally there’s the Master rank, yours truly. Not many ponies make it to that, but those that do either gets special missions directly from HQ in Ever City, or will be the one to take over an outpost guild in a town, like me. Any questions, Crimsy my dear?” The nickname still didn’t feel right. Crimson reacted accordingly.
Crimson just continued to nod as his head was buzzing with new information, trying to sort everything out in his brain as he stoically forced a smile. “No! I-I think I got it.”
The elderly mare shrugged. “Well, it’s not like it’s really important anyway. See, what I wanted to show you is here!” She opened the storage room door and pulled out a small bag labeled ‘Water’, placing it on the floor and rummaging with her nuzzle inside of it until she pulled up a single light blue orb. “This here is called a magic stone, and this type specifically is a water stone,” she said, pointing another hoof at the obvious label. “There are two types main of magic stones, single-use ones, and charged ones.” She pulled out another bag labeled ‘Illumination’. “There’s no way to tell them apart really, besides from the color they gain when first imbued with magic,” she educated him, pulling out a white illumination stone as well.
“And I t-take it charged ones can b-b-be used continuously u-until they run out of power, but single-use ones c-can only be used once?” Crimson asked, glancing into the storage room to see dozens of other bags placed neatly on shelves.
With a giggle comparable to a school filly’s, Master snickered. “Oh you are a clever one!” Calming herself, she placed the white illumination stone back into the bag and kicked said bag back into the room, knocking a few other bags over on the way in. “Single-use stones are just that, you activate them and poof, they’re done. Usually the effect from them are significantly stronger and more immediate. Charged stones on the other hoof can be used as many times you want, until they run out of power.” She demonstrated this by concentrating on the light blue water stone while looking at a pot nearby, the pot slowly started filling up with clear water, up to halfway before she stopped. “See, I just used the stone, but I can keep using it if I want to, up until it runs out of power.” She spat out the stone out of mouth to the floor in between them. “You can tell how much power left a charged stone has from the color. The closer to gray, the less power.” She leaned in closer to Crimson, speaking so low as if she was almost whispering, “What do you think happens when they run out of power?”
Crimson scratched his head, trying to make heads or tails out of all the information. “Uhh... they become useless?” he asked, forcing a grin.
“Right! Once a magic stone loses it’s imbued power, they lose their color and crack. However, charged stones can be charged back up by a unicorn to regain their power - up to a certain limit - so they can continue to be used over and over.” She pointed to the blue-gray stone lying in front of Crimson. “I want you to try and recharge that stone now. Mind you, water stones are supposedly easy to recharge. Other ones can require some very precise magic for it to work. Just... imagine your magic getting absorbed into it... or something.” She shrugged.
Crimson changed between staring at Master and the pebble, upon deciding the small stone required more attention right now. “O-Okay...” he quietly mouthed. Staring intently at the magic stone lying in front of him, his horn started glowing orange, along with the stone itself. After a few moments the orange aura started changing color to light blue, which then settled itself into the stone, giving it a nice clear color.
Crimson wiped some sweat off his brow, surprised upon needing to do so. “It’s easier to recharge certain stones, but it was never easy in the first place,” Master said with a smile. “I hoped you’d be able to do that. This means that out of the three of you, you will be the one in charge of magic stones from now on! At the very least, the chargeable ones.”
Crimson nodded nervously, again, unsure what to say regarding his sudden new responsibility. “A-Are you su-”
The door in front of the guild could be heard opening, shortly thereafter the call of a stallion could be heard.
“Hellooo? We’re back!” Kickbolt shouted throughout the guild, scanning for anypony near the entrance as he glided in. “Master? Crimson?”
Master quickly grabbed the water stone, put it in the appropriate bag and left that in the storage room before trotting over to greet Kickbolt. “Bolty! Glad to see you again, dearie! We just finished up here. Now, where’s Sketchy?” she asked, turning her head left and right while trying to locate the small mare.
The blue pegasus landed softly near the elderly mare as Crimson walked in behind her. “I flew ahead a couple of minutes, she’ll be here any moment,” Kickbolt said, taking off his saddlebag and placing it in front of him. “We found magic stones!” he exclaimed, taking out a few stones from the bag to show.
Master greedily collected all the stones into a bag. “See Crimsy? These are natural magic stones, without any infused magic! It requires specialized unicorn magic to be able to get them to do anything, but they could be turned into any type of stone!” She looked at Crimson with a hard glare. “I shouldn’t have to tell you that you shouldn’t try to imbue stones yourself just yet.” This warranted a nervous chuckle from Crimson.
Sketch trotted in, hauling another bulging saddlebag with her, along with her book in tow. “Master! We found magic stones!” she happily repeated what Kickbolt had said a few moments ago. “Oh, and here’s the finalized report for the top floor of the tower, it’s not much... but it does explain the state of the other towers, sort of...” she said as she ripped out a paper from her book and hoofed it over to Master. “The top floor collapsed while we were there, we barely made it away alive! If it weren’t for Kickbolt I probably wouldn’t be here.” Flapping her eyelashes, trying to mimic a damsel in distress being rescued, she turned towards Kickbolt to thank him properly.
He'd pulled a magic stone out of the bag, and was busy entertaining himself by balancing it across his muzzle.
Sketch snorted in anger, blowing steam in her oblivious partner’s direction.
The red unicorn chuckled at the motion along with the elderly mare until Kickbolt dropped the stone back into the bag, eyes almost bugging out of his head as he recalled something of importance. “I saw something! I mean, somepony! I mean, some... thing. A shadow,” he blurted out. “All I could see was a dark shape, only for a moment. That’s when the floor started falling apart.”
Sketch pointed at the paper that Master was holding. “It’s in the report, but I suppose hearing from the actual eye witness is a good thing, too.”
Crimson spoke up, pale as if he’d just seen a ghost. “T-That... I think I s-saw one too. I s-seem to have forgotten a-about it, I’m sorry, b-but the night when we first got here... before I f-fainted, I saw one too!”
Sketch shot him a doubting glance. “Are you sure? It was dark already, you could have just imagined it. Not that I don’t believe you, especially considering that Kickbolt’s seen it too...”
Master cleared her throat. “Sorry dearies, but I’m not sure what it could have been either. I’ll send a message to HQ in Ever City regarding this, see if they can scrounge anything up!” she reassured them.
“Anyway, now that you’re all here, I might as well mention that Crimsy will be your apprentice from now on!” Master cheerfully said, tugging on Crimson’s shoulder to pull him to the front. “I even scrounged up some magic tutoring, in which he’s now qualified to go exploring with from now on, assuming he’s with you two.” Crimson demonstrated this by picking up a few magic stones from the bag, too embarrassed to speak up.
Sketch smiled first at Crimson, and then at Kickbolt. “Told you we’d become mentors.”
Master giggled lightheartedly. “I suspected that you knew what I was planing. Oh! I should mention I’ve arranged for your first trip together in a couple of days, so go ahead and rest up for now!” She ushered them all out of the guild.
As the newly formed team walked away from the guild hall towards Kickbolt’s house - where she’d overheard Crimson would be staying - the elderly mare gave a content sigh and smiled.
“I’ll expect big things in their future...”
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW and LysanderasD for helping me with editing and making my story readable. If you liked it, please leave a comment, they’re probably the biggest source of encouragement I’ve yet to encounter. Don’t forget to rate! I mean, seriously, if you’re still reading this fiction, the best way to promote it to others is to rate and comment! People look at those things. If a fiction has a lot of rates and comments it means it’s popular! So if you want others to look into this story, please do those things... please? :3)
The three stood in front of a very dark cave entrance. This had been one of the spots that Pledgeword's team had scouted out in the plains to the east before returning back to town, where they had met Kickbolt and Sketch before their venture into the tower.
Crimson cautiously stared into the dark, shivering slightly. "We're going in t-there? I-It's so... dark."
Kickbolt looked at him curiously, shrugging his wings to get the attached harness comfortable. "You're not afraid of the dark, are you?"
"Not really..." His eyes rolled back as he thought about it. "I d-don't think so at least. I suppose I just expected more of those emeralds that illuminated the tower."
As she made some final scribbles in her book, Sketch chuckled. "Those emeralds were unique to that tower; chances are we won't see anything like them again, meaning we'll be going blind from here on out." She closed the book and smiled directly at Crimson. "But you said you'd been training your light spell, right?"
He smiled back, blushing slightly as his horn flared a bright orange colour, though it was barely visible in the sunny morning light. "R-Right, I have. And just in case, I've some illumination stones with me." He nodded to his saddlebag.
Kickbolt pulled out a lantern with his mouth and spoke through clenched teeth, "Or we'll jusht haf to go retro shtyle!" He posed adventurously, spreading his wings. Sketch rolled her eyes, as usual.
Crimson let the light from his horn fade. "I think I can manage to keep the light g-going for an entire day. I don't really know any m-magic yet besides that and telekinesis, so..." his voice trailed off as he looked down at his hooves.
He felt a pat on his back, and looked back up to see Kickbolt beaming at him with pearly white teeth. "Don't worry about it, Crimson. We still think you're awesome."
"I don't want to say this, but..." Sketch hesitated. "Many unicorns don't learn more magic than that, especially if their special talent turns out to be something really mundane, like books, or pretty rocks." As she saw Crimson's mood drop she was quick to add, "But I'm sure your special talent involves magic in some way! I mean, you learned the basics of magic in less than a day!"
The unicorn smiled weakly. "Thanks."
Kickbolt started walking into the cave, towards the darkness. "I'm just happy I won't have to keep that lantern in my mouth an entire day again." He rubbed his teeth with his tongue, and spat. "Tastes like rust."
The green earth pony walked in after him, humming to herself as she stepped hoof into unknown territory, eager to put her special talent to use again. She turned around to glance at Crimson. “You’re okay with this, aren’t you? I know you already went over this with Master and everything, but you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
Crimson who had been shuffling his hooves up until this point looked back at her. “Yeah, I w-want to help you two, since you h-helped me when you found me. I’ll just s-stay behind you guys and try not to g-get in the way too much...”
Sketch turned back and looked at the blue pony in front of her, then back to Crimson behind her. “Actually, I was thinking that you would be walking between me and Kickbolt, so you could light up the way. If you’d be walking behind me, the light may not reach far enough.”
Kickbolt yelled from a short bit into the cave, “Let’s try it his way first, if he’s comfortable with it. Come on already, we’re wasting time!”
Sketch yelled back, walking in after him. “Since when did you get so eager to explore new areas?” She trotted into the darkness, leaving Crimson behind her.
“Since we finally got a new team member, making things more exciting!” he answered.
Crimson slowly started walking in after them, flaring his horn as he did. The burning orange light lit the way all the way past both Sketch and Kickbolt.
The blue stallion could be seen beaming down from the damp cave, surrounded by moss growing on the cave walls. “Wow! This is a lot better than I expected!” The orange light was easily glowing over Sketch and past Kickbolt, further into the cave. “And this orange is a really nice change, I’m sort of sick of green by now.” He stuck out his tongue to portray his disgust.
“Hey!” Sketch threw a small pebble in the pegasus’ direction. “Although... it is sort of a nice color,” she agreed, turning to look at light coming from Crimson’s horn. “Are you sure you’ll be able to keep this light up?”
Crimson was flushing from the praise, but due to his normal coat color and the orange glow, it went almost unnoticeable. “Y-yeah, don’t w-worry. I’ll let you k-know if I need a break.”
Sketch brought up her notebook and opened it. The light coming from behind her made it much easier to see. Taking notes would be a lot easier now. She flipped a few pages and cleared her throat. “So, a quick recap on what we know about this place. Pledgeword’s team only found this cave a week ago or so, just before we found you, Crimson.” She nodded in Crimson’s direction while flipping another page. “Due to this being a cave system instead of a hoof-made structure, we should expect little to no traps, but instead, greater chances of monsters.” This time she nodded to Kickbolt, who was stretching his wings to full extent.
He smirked, fluttering his armed wings. “I’ll take care of that.”
“But!” Sketch continued. “That doesn’t mean there won’t be any traps, so remember to be on the lookout for anything.”
Kickbolt blew a raspberry. “I know what I’m doing, Sketch!” he said before
The cave gave no sign of being either inhabited or filled with traps, but both Sketch and Kickbolt knew that is not always the case. The three of them continued down further, with the pegasus at the front to spot for any traps or enemies. Sketch was behind him, in the middle, to take notes of their surroundings. Finally, Crimson was in the rear and was somehow able to keep the passage lit for all three of them with his magic.
Their hooves scarcely made a sound as they made their way in, the moss and mud muffling most of the noise with the exception of Crimson accidentally stepping into smaller pools of grime, his hoof occasionally getting stuck in the mire. He had to on multiple occasions pull himself free with a wet 'splotch' that echoed disgustingly against the tunnel walls, which more than once sent Kickbolt into a panicked frenzy, yelling about 'muddlers'.
The pegasus shivered at the thought of them. "Muddlers are disgusting goops of mud that seem to be alive!" He scooped up a hoofful of sludge and threw it against the wall. "Imagine dozens of those crawling after you." He pointed to the ball of mud dripping down, slowly making its way to a large fungus.
Crimson managed to step into far fewer piles of mud after the brief but effective explanation, until he decided to ask, "But w-what do they do? Do they have fangs or anything?"
"They gang up on you and choke you to death, after which they sit on your corpse for a few days to suck up your nutrients," Sketch briefly mumbled while scribbling into her book.
The large unicorn started avoiding mud as if it was acid, jittering at the sight of it.
They passed a few stalagmites and stalactites, along with the odd steam of water coming out from small holes about the right size to be fit for a mouse, crossing their path and pouring into another hole.
After almost an hour with nothing but overgrown mushrooms and wet moss in one single long passage, the trio finally managed to spot something different. As the cave apparently ended, the surroundings changed to hoof-made blocks that made up the walls and ceiling, their hooves started to clop as they got off from the moss and onto hard rock instead.
“Heads up, Kickbolt. This could actually mean more traps...” Sketch said, trying to draw a picture of the pattern the blocks were forming.
The pegasus sighed. “Right...” he muttered, slowing his movement just to be sure. “I hate traps...” His ears perked up as he looked ahead of them. “Hey, what’s that?”
Not long before them the passage abruptly ended, leaving an altar between them and the wall. Kickbolt had just barely made out the shape of it from Crimson’s orange light in the distance. It stood about as tall as Sketch, which compared to the walls made it feel almost insignificant if it weren’t the only thing there. The three gathered around it and just stared at it, trying to see if anything could be done.
The small altar was covered in odd symbols, none which seemed recognizable. Sketch was furiously at work trying to copy them all into her book, muttering about ‘yet another set of indecipherable runes’. Crimson’s ears perked up.
“W-what do you mean another set of indecipherable r-runes? There’re more?” the unicorn asked, switching between looking over Sketch’s shoulder and at her drawings, and back to the motive.
Sketch was filling out the lines for some of the odd symbols, and mumbled with the pen between her teeth, “All over the world, ponies have been finding these weird texts that nopony can read. Ponies have been trying to decipher them for a century, but all they’ve ever been able to figure out is that none of them makes any sense! There doesn’t seem to be a connection between ones you find here, or in any other ruins at all!”
Kickbolt was slowly walking around, scanning for anything else that stuck out. “Aside from the obvious thing here, I’m not finding anything.” He pointed a wing at the shrine. “I’m not even spotting anything that could resemble a trap... wait,” he said, suddenly slowing to a crawl as he approached the wall directly behind the altar. “There’s something here,” he said, pointing his other wing towards a thin line barely visible behind the dust. After a few flaps of his wings in that direction, it became clearly visible.
Sketch had just finished copying the runes and walked up to see for herself, and after only a second she nodded cheerfully. “I think this might lead further in! Look at the way they’re placed, it’s like a hidden door.” She followed the lines with her hoof, revealing the shape of an entrance further in. “But... how do we open it?” she slowly asked nopony in particular, as she turned back to glance at the shrine behind them, at which Crimson was staring with great intensity.
Kickbolt and Sketch traded a quick look with each other. “Uh... did you find anything, Crimson?” the pegasus quietly asked while moving closer to him to try and see things from the same viewpoint. “Hello? Kickbolt to Crimson, are you there?” he tried again after the first question yielded no reaction. Finally he decided to simply prod him lightly.
“W-W-What?” he stuttered while stumbling back a few steps, as if taken by surprise, and the light from his horn seemed to dim. “I-I’m sorry... did you a-ask something?” He shuffled his hooves uncomfortably.
Sketch slowly walked up to him with a concerned look on her face. “Well, you sort of spaced out for a moment there, are you alright?” she asked.
“N-no! I mean, yes! I’m fine... I was just... e-examining the podium...” he blurted out, continuing his hoof shuffling as he nodded towards the object in the room. The light spell he was keeping alive seemed to flicker back to full strength again. “Why, w-what happened?”
Sketch sighed loudly. “Well, if you say so.” She turned back around to point at the lines with a hoof. “I think we can continue down further if we can get this door open. But the only thing in this room that could possibly do anything like that is that,” she said, motioning towards the still untouched shrine, the flat surface of it still dusty. “I’m not really seeing any indication as to how we’re supposed to do anything...” she muttered. “Kickbolt, you said you couldn’t spot any traps around here?”
The navy blue pegasus shook his head firmly. “That altar and those lines in the walls are just about it, and I’m not seeing anything directly on the altar either.”
Sketch rubbed her templates while thinking. “Okay, so bear with me. What if we’re supposed to put something on it? To activate it, that is.”
Kickbolt nodded. “Okay, so what? I see what you’re thinking... but literally, what do we put on it? Should we just guess and toss anything on it and see what happens?” He shrugged his wings.
Sketch took out her notebook again and stared at her copies of the runes covering it. “Those things must mean something... maybe if they’re not meant to be read, what if they’re just pictures showing us what to do. You know, like in the tower?”
“I think we need a m-mushroom.” Crimson said loudly, trying to get some attention.
Both Sketch and Kickbolt slowly turned to look at the deep red unicorn. “What?” they asked in unison.
“W-Well... I just think we need a mushroom to get it open...” he mumbled, shuffling his hooves again now that both of them were looking at him as if he’d grown another head.
Sketch quickly started to look at the runes covering the podium again, and then glanced back at her notebook. “Why... why would you think that? I can’t find something anything here that even resembles a mushroom, and there are like ten different types of symbols here!” she exclaimed in confusion.
“I don’t k-know... I just think it’ll work. It w-wont hurt to try, will it?” he nervously replied, turning around to the passage behind them that had led them there. “I saw s-some mushrooms just a short w-way back. I’ll get one, don’t worry,” Crimson said while briskly moving back into the tunnel.
Kickbolt shrugged. “Well, we’re out of ideas anyway,” he said as Crimson trotted away from them, leaving them in the dark as his magic light only became a shining ball dancing in the distance. “Do you think we should have gone with him?” he whispered to the mare next to him.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be fine, we just covered the passage on our way here,” she whispered back. “This darkness doesn’t make me feel very safe, though.” She put up a hoof in front of her face, but was unable to see it. “Maybe we should have gone with him just to avoid being in the dark.”
A minute later he came back with a pale turquoise fungus floating next to him, wrapped in an orange aura. His face however seemed slightly pale as well.
Kickbolt quickly trotted into the orange light again when Crimson got close enough. “Everything alright, Crimson? You didn’t space out again or anything?” he asked.
Crimson gulped loud enough for the two others to hear. “N-N-No... but...” He gulped again. “Do you r-recall that last water stream we passed?” he asked, nervously looking over his own shoulder, as if expecting something.
Sketch slowly nodded, and started leaning to the side to watch behind Crimson. “Yes, and?”
“I’m not sure it m-means what I think it does... but...” He turned around to look behind him. “There was no water. It was all mud when I p-passed it again.”
As if on queue, a wet ‘splotch’ could be heard from behind him.
Kickbolt facehoofed. “Of course...” he muttered. “Whatever you do, don’t let them get to your face,” he said, flaring his wings to get his wing harness ready.
As the three of them looked into the dark passage, they could make out something on ground level slowly making its way towards them. At first it almost looked like one big mass bobbing up and down, parts of the mass began to break off from the main body, covering the entire path. Each separate blob of mud started climbing up the walls, covering any surface available that was yet to be dirtied.
Some of the closest muddlers started glowing orange. Crimson was using his magic to grab them before they got too close. Using his telekinesis, he started tossing them back further away again, although this only seemed to delay their approach ever so slightly, seeing how he was only able to do so with a few at a time out of the dozens that were getting alarmingly close.
As soon as they got within range of his hooves, Kickbolt gave them a quick stomp, sending mud splattering in every direction, only giving him a brief moment to shake some of the dirt off before almost getting swarmed.
“What were you going to do with the mushroom?!” Sketch demanded, shaking off a glob that was somehow making its way up one of her legs. It finally lost its ‘grip’ and was sent into the wall with a splat. “Place it on the podium, right?” she asked Crimson again, having moved up close to him as if she was already standing right next to him.
Crimson briefly turned to answer her, still hovering the mushroom next to him. “Ye-MMFFGHH!”
A muddler had made it across the ceiling and landed perfectly on Crimson’s face. The only visible feature left of his head was the horn, sticking up out of the mud. His concentration broken, the light from his horn died out, and he began a desperate attempt of scraping the muddler off. The amorphous ball refused to let go, only yielding small pieces to the unicorn’s frantic gestures.
Crimson could only hear muffled yelling through the muck as Sketch had a similar encounter on her back, which was now proving itself difficult to shake off as it crawled towards her head, along with two other muddlers grasping at her hooves.
Even in the dark, Kickbolt was doing an admirable job of cutting off the muddlers’ approach. Running around, stomping like mad and slicing wildly left no chance for the muddlers to grab him, but gave him plenty of chances to stomp them into oblivion before they managed to get to his struggling companions.
The muddler covering Crimson’s head suddenly glowed orange, and then burst, pieces flying in every direction as the unicorn gasped for air, coughing out wet dirt from his mouth. After a moment to recollect himself, he was able to get his magic light going again. With a little force he managed to lift off the muddlers that were climbing up his legs.
“Get it off me! Get if off!” Sketch burst out. The muddler was sitting on top of her mane now, dripping into her face. Her legs were too occupied with shaking off others attempting to climb up her, leaving her no free limb to get rid of the one assaulting her hair. “These things are so gross!” she managed to screech before it slumped down over her muzzle.
Kickbolt hadn’t heard her; he was too busy fending off the muddlers near him with a flurry of chops. The muddlers started ignoring him and just tried to pass him if they got the chance, rolling past him with relative ease as the blue stallion was busy sending chunks of the more immediate threat - the massive body of mud that took up most of the space in the passage - flying in different directions, to little effect.
Bloploplorb. Splotch. Grglgrglug.
The smaller bodies were mostly soundless, but all the pockets of air in the massive one seemed to imitate the sounds of hunger. Disgustingly so. As it slowly crept its way across the floor, Kickbolt got forced back unless he wanted to wade inside the very creature attempting to consume him.
As Crimson managed to lift off the some of the muddlers that had made their way up to his body, his attention turned to Sketch. The green earth pony was just barely visible by now under all the brown sludge. With some forced magic, he managed to lift off the ones covering her face, the suction releasing yet another ‘splotch’ sound as Sketch gasped for air, tears rolling down her eyes. As she continued to try and shake off the blobs climbing on her, Crimson managed to assist her by pulling the ones she’d almost shaken off, away.
The entire floor was by now covered with muddlers, all rolling in different directions while looking for something to assault. The floor was nearly covered, and the ponies had to almost dance their way across the room to avoid them, occasionally dodging to the side to avoid the ones falling from the ceiling.
Now that both Sketch and Crimson had managed to free themselves from most of the mud, and Kickbolt was somehow still managing to keep the mass of them away without getting attacked himself, they moved up to the altar as a last resort.
Crimson lifted up the mushroom he had dropped earlier, and with a little determination he shook off a muddler who was apparently under the belief that the mushroom hat was the head of somepony. He swiftly brought up the mushroom to the podium and placed it in the center, while kicking away a mudball that was climbing its way up towards them. Sketch was busying herself stomping them to pieces as if they were cockroaches, refusing to die.
The wall behind them let out a tired groan as the aged mechanisms got to work to open the way further in. Part of the wall started sinking into the floor, revealing an intricate, and larger, room behind it.
Kickbolt had nearly been forced back to the altar by now. All of the smaller muddlers were now fusing back to the main body again, causing it to grow into one massive shapeless mire that was completely blocking the way they had entered.
Sketch and Crimson had already ran into the new room, with only a few stray muddlers rolling around after them. “Kickbolt, in here!” Sketch called, getting rid of a mudball stuck to her flank with a precise tailwhip as Crimson was busy flinging out the ones that had followed them into the newly opened room with his magic.
The pegasus was finally getting overwhelmed as he attempted to abscond, and with a few strong beats of his wings he managed to lift up from the muck trying to grasp his hooves. The low ceiling only barely let him stay above the ground as he managed to glide into the opening where Sketch and Crimson were waiting. The very moment he got past the new portal, Crimson picked up the mushroom resting on the shrine, and tossed it aside, causing the door to close again with only the ponies and a few isolated muddlers on this side of it.
Sketch immediately jumped to assault the last remaining ones with a banshee like screech. “I hate you!” She furiously stomped one of the last muddlers over and over until all that was left was splattered around the ground she stood on. After which she slumped to the ground with a long heavy sigh. Her normally light green coat was now covered by the dirty substance, her saddlebags as well, but had miraculously saved the contents within from any befoulment.
Crimson had fared better, his larger body seemingly much harder to cover with the same amount gave the blobs less cause to target him. Kickbolt’s early aggressive behaviour had made him less appealing to the muddlers as well. The two stallions tried to rub out what little mud there was in their coats.
The unicorn swiped off the brown substance from his saddlebag and carefully hovered out a magic stone with his telekinesis. “Umm... I c-can make some water if you want,” he mentioned, slowly approaching the now very brown mare.
She quickly tossed her dirty saddlebags aside and nodded eagerly. “Yes! Please! I really want to get off all...” She looked at herself with disgust. “This.”
Crimson floated up the water stone to eye level and looked at a spot above Sketch.
“Wait, what are you doing?” she queried, unsure what he was looking at. Only a second later a small waterfall started pouring down from the air above her, slamming her into the ground.
Crimson grinned sheepishly. “T-Too much?” he asked, quickly throttling the water funnel - out of thin air - into a more manageable amount. “Sorry... I’m still g-getting used to these,” he apologized.
Sketch crawled back up on her hooves, letting her wet ponytail fall down over her back as she quickly rid it of any remaining mud. “Thanks. That’s much better.” After the ‘shower’, she shook most of the excess water off. “So how exactly did you know that the mushroom would work?” she asked. “I’m seriously having problems understanding how it did. While I’m glad we managed to get away thanks to it, it doesn’t make sense.” The earth pony mare stared down on the ground, pondering about it while awaiting an answer that hopefully would please her piqued curiosity.
Crimson had just finished squirting water over himself with the aid of the magic stone, and was in the process of doing the same with Kickbolt. His blades easily washed off, bringing back their natural golden shine again. “T-That won’t rust, will it?” the red unicorn asked.
Kickbolt shook his head. “Don’t worry about it.” He tapped one of the blades with his hoof. “Rust-free metal.” Following the same motions Sketch just did, he shook off the excess water after most of the mud was taken care of. “So, feel free to answer Sketch’s question... how did you know about the mushroom?” he asked, fanning himself by lazily flapping his wings.
Crimson shook off most of the water from himself as well, and proceeded to stare at the almost gray magic stone with focus as he started to refill its magic potential again. “I... I’m not s-sure...” he mumbled. “I know it d-doesn’t make any sense at all, I m-mean, a mushroom? You’d assume it’d b-be something of great importance, or some sort of k-k-key. Something relevant.” He sighed. “All I know i-is that when I saw the podium, the thought ‘place a mushroom on it’ entered my mind. I wish I c-could say more. I wish I knew more... but that’s it.”
Sketch was wiping off the mud from her saddlebag with a piece of cloth. She wiped the cloth with her hoof before putting it back in. “I get what you’re thinking, and I’m still confused about it. But I’m also happy it worked. I mean, if it hadn’t, we’d still be stuck on the other side of that wall with that thing.” She fixed her half-dried mane into a ponytail again and pulled out her book to make some quick scribbles in it. “I’d rather not like an answer and be confused about it than dead.”
Kickbolt harrumphed. “Sorry, but we have another problem now, you know?”
Sketch lifted her head from her book. “Mwhat?” She spoke through her pen while lifting an eyebrow. “We got away, we can continue with what we came here for.”
The navy blue pegasus sighed and pointed back at the closed door they had just come through with a wing. “Do you see any way to open it from here? I’ve already looked around, but I’m not finding anything. Not to mention even if we did get it open again, well...” He rolled his eyes.
“Ah. I see.” Sketch blinked slowly as she turned around to look at the unexplored hallway before them, Crimson’s orange light only able to dig so far into the dark. A glint in her eye slowly revealed itself as she chuckled. “I suppose that means we have no choice but to find another way out.”
Kickbolt walked up to Crimson and laid a leg over his back, smiling. “I’m actually impressed, you know. Usually most ponies panic when something like this happens for the first time, but you handled yourself pretty well!” He pulled his leg back, now damp again since Crimson had yet to dry himself properly.
Crimson didn’t immediately reply. He frowned and started shuffling his hooves again after putting the now half-full water stone back into his saddlebag. “What if t-that was my fault? I’m the one that w-w-walked away by myself, how do I know I wasn’t the one that lured them to you? What if I’d just waited for you to come with me? We might not have gotten stuck here now....” He slumped down on the ground and covered his eyes with his hooves, sobbing lightly. “I’m the one that l-lured those things to you...”
Sketch and Kickbolt traded a glance and started respectively chuckling and laughing loudly. “Well, that was early!” Sketch said over her giggling, only to soothe her snickering to continue. “I’m pretty sure every explorer at some point goes through a self-accusation phase for no reason.” She trotted up to the unicorn and looked right into his eyes. “I guarantee you that what just happened is not your fault.”
Kickbolt nodded. “Muddlers are clever like that, although I’m still not sure if they actually have brains...” He brought a hoof to his chin to think for a moment. Sketch gave an eye-roll. “Anyway, they like to sneak up on ponies. You didn’t lure them to us, we had already walked into their trap.”
Crimson traded momentary looks with his two mentors, only to slump his head back to the ground heavily. “Is it w-wrong of me to assume you’re lying just to m-m-make me feel better?” he moaned. “B-Because I predicted you two attempting to cheer me up before I s-said anything...”
The green mare sighed lightly. “There’s a difference between being reckless and walking into a trap, or actually falling into the trap in the first place.” This warranted a quick glare from Kickbolt, thinking back to their earlier encounter with a golem only a few days ago. “Know when it’s your fault, and deal with it then. But this wasn’t your fault.” Sketch comforted the unicorn. “You might remember that the two of us were already trapped behind that thing in the first place?”
Sketch lightly tapped his head. “Hey! Listen to your mentor! It wasn’t your fault.”
He wiped a small tear from one of his eyes, it might have been some leftover water from the ‘shower’, but he wasn’t sure. Thanks, Sketch. I’m cert-”
“Uh, guys. I don’t mean to interrupt, but we have a problem!” Kickbolt stood on his hind legs, waving his two forelegs in the air to get their attention. “You know the door that closed and is keeping that giant pile of mud from eating all of us? Well...” He pointed towards the rims of it, mud was beginning to slowly seep through, and a slight gurgling noise could be heard. “We need to find another way out of here... now.”
They were picking up the pace. Inside the actual ruins - instead of the cave as up until now - they still kept their formation with Kickbolt in the front, Sketch middle and Crimson in the rear, the red unicorn easily being able to light the way with his magic way past both ponies in front of him.
Kickbolt stopped in front of another fork in the road, stepping his hooves up and down to keep the pace. “Sketch, left or right?”
The mare was feverishly flipping pages in her book, looking at the already done parts of the layout she’d mapped. “Give me a second...” she muttered.
The muddler’s echoing noises could be heard from far behind them.
“Sketch, now!” Kickbolt demanded.
She made a final note in the corner of the page before lifting up her head. “Left!” she exclaimed.
As they slowly started trotting down the path, Crimson placed a red ribbon neatly behind a loose block, almost hiding it out of sight, except that they knew where to expect it.
They were moving a lot faster than they usually would, and the giant muddler was still after them from somewhere behind them. They had yet to see it again, but the constant noises indicating some sort of hunger were always a short way behind them.
The pegasus snorted. “We’d be able to outrun that thing if we didn’t have to worry about traps!” Kickbolt complained. “But nooo, that would be too easy.”
“Less complaining, more checking for traps,” Sketch muttered while copying the three blocks fallen from the ceiling they passed, considering them a landmark.
The pegasus suddenly slowed to a crawl, and pointed in front of them. “Something up ahead,” he quietly said.
Sketch stretched to peek past the pegasus, almost falling over from altering her balance, barley able to catch her notebook with her teeth before it touched the ground. "Whad ish et?" she asked, unable to see now that she was almost crouching.
"Ah, uh, a wall. With something on it," Kickbolt mumbled. "Also, a dead end."
"As informative as always," Sketch grumbled, regaining her balance again.
Crimson looked at them both expectantly, having half turned around to walk back again, until noticing his his two mentors weren't moving in the direction he thought they would. "Didn't you say it was a d-dead end? Should we not return before we're trapped?" He nervously asked, conflicted between running back from where they just came or following his mentors.
"You heard the pegasus, there's a something on the wall! We can't just overlook it, for all we know it's our way out! We need to make sure we’ve covered as much as we can that could mean anything while we still can,” Sketch educated the unicorn.
Kickbolt continued where she left off, “And that giant muddler is slow. Really slow. If we hurry and check this out we should be able to head back and run into another corridor before it catches up!”
“I-I-I... Uhh... O-Okay,” Crimson meekly stuttered.
Sketch had now joined Kickbolt next to the ‘something’ on the wall, which actually gave her reason to scratch her head. “I give. You win, Kickbolt. This actually is a... ‘something’,” she muttered, staring at the round yellow entity hanging out from the wall. “It looks like an...” She moved close enough to touch it. “... an egg?”
The pegasus tried looking around it, but the tip of it was hooked to strings which led directly into the wall, tilting the entire ‘egg.’ “Okay, so. Since we’re on a time limit right now...” He perked his ears up, listening for any resemblance to hunger sounds. “... we really need to get this over with quick. So! Any ideas?” He turned around to look at a bewildered Sketch staring at him and Crimson eyeing every detail about the object on the wall. “No mushrooms this time?”
“While I’m all for hurrying up, this isn’t like you, Kickbolt! Normally you try and force me to look into every possible single thing that could lead to us avoiding stuff like this. Not jump right into testing phase!” Sketch exclaimed, pulling down her own face as if in disbelief of what she just heard.
Kickbolt snorted. “Well, normally we’re not chased by giant piles of mud. One which I might add will be close enough to cut us off soon.” He turned around to look into the darkness behind them, listening intently again for a second. “I think we only have a few minutes, since this entire corridor is cleared of traps - besides this thing - we could gallop our way back.” He turned back to the bright yellow egg-shaped object. “So. Ideas! Now!” He stomped his hoof for effect, making Crimson flinch slightly.
Sketch quickly mumbled to herself for a moment before repeating what she just said to the others. “Get it down and bring it with us? We might need it later.”
Kickbolt crossed his wings. “No. It’s too big. I mean, look at it! It’s the size of him!” He exclaimed, pointing at Crimson.
“S-Sorry...” he muttered in response.
Kickbolt spoke up again. “Should we just smash it? Maybe there’s something in it.”
Sketch was quick to show her opinion about breaking a possible long-lost artifact. “Are you kidding?! You have no idea what this thing actually is! It’s one thing to press a button and see if something happens, but to actually break things?” she almost cried out. She facehoofed while sighing. “Just... no.”
“M-Maybe...” Crimson started, “... we should just g-go back? We might not be able to d-do anything with it as of now. At the very least, we don’t know what we’re s-supposed to do.” He turned, looking back into the dark behind them, the light mote flickering at the tip of his horn. “Do you think there’s any c-c-chance we would be able to double-back to this location at a later point? When we maybe will know more about this object? Then again, we m-might just get cornered again in any other direction we go...”
Kickbolt stared at Crimson, and then looked at Sketch who shrugged. “I... I didn’t think of that.”
Crimson continued, “You said t-that we should inspect things when we have a chance to do so. As I s-see it, we’ve already examined this as much as we can. B-B-Besides, if we’re supposed to break it, wouldn’t somepony have already done so in the past? And what about the future? If we broke it now then somepony in the future may not be a-able to do so when they need to. It wouldn’t make sense to place an object just to have it broken. It could only be d-done once.”
Sketch probably would have knocked him over if not for the sheer size difference between her and Crimson, but it did give him quite a scare as she tackle-hugged him. “Thank you! You have no idea how much I’ve needed somepony to say something like that!” She let go of him and took a step back. “You’re really quite brilliant, aren’t you?”
Luckily for Crimson, being a dark red pony helped mask the vast amounts of blushing from compliments. His head dived towards the ground as he mumbled something resembling a ‘Thank you’ after a long stutter.
After a quick head scratch, Kickbolt just nodded slightly before opening his mouth to say something. “Okay then, I guess this means we’ll be hurrying back, so come on!” he said, turning around to the front again, away from the ‘egg’. “We’ll need to hurry.” He started galloping down into the dark passage again, gradually getting darker until he almost couldn’t see.
He turned around to see Crimson struggling to keep up, Sketch was right next to him, trying to help him move quicker by instructing him how to move his legs. It only took a few seconds before the unicorn fell over, not used to running at full speed. “Oh... great,” Kickbolt mumbled to himself.
Crimson tried to pick himself up, having more experience with that made it easier than galloping. “I-I-I-I’m s-sorry...” he croaked, “I’m apparently s-still not used to all the ways of m-moving my body...”
Kickbolt moved back to them, keeping his pace even when standing still. “Sorry, but we really need to get moving now or we’re in trouble again.”
Sketch finally got him back on his hooves again. “Just... try and move as quickly as you can, without falling over, okay? We can’t afford to lose any more time here,” she said.
He nodded meekly.
They hurried back down the corridor they had chosen in the fork earlier. They had to make it back to the fork and take the other hallway before it was too late. Sketch and Kickbolt moved as fast as they could, without leaving Crimson behind, who was struggling to maintain the same speed as the others.
The echoing of the giant muddler could be heard getting louder as they moved in its direction, but the sound of their hooves hitting the hard floor easily muffled it.
“It’s just around the corner, hurry!”
As they finally reached the crossing paths, all three of them came to an immediate stop as they came face to... blob, with the massive muddler. It wasn’t the same size as when they initially encountered it, but it easily had twice the mass this time. But it was alone. No smaller muddlers crawling over the walls to reach them were in sight, but that didn’t make the one giant muddler stop from clogging up almost the entire passage.
“What happened to that thing?” Sketch gasped, hiding behind Kickbolt’s outstreched wings.
Kickbolt ushered Sketch and Crimson back with his wings, his golden blades plinking upon the touch of each others from his movements. “They must have fused together into one. I’ve heard about some monsters doing that.” He continued to wave his two companions into the second passage that they had originally not gone into.
Bubbling, almost frothing, the monstrosity kept inching closer, leaving no space to get by in any direction.
Just as Kickbolt was about to turn around and follow his comrades, the muddler gave out a disgusting - more so than usual - sound, giving the pegasus reason to glance back towards it, just in time to see a smaller ball of mud speeding towards him through the air. Thanks to pure reflex, the dark blue stallion managed to shield his face with his wing. The projectile bounced off his knives with such speed, it was sent ricocheting down behind the other two ponies behind him, sending them jumping for cover - if there had been any - before it finally came to a stop, just before Sketch.
“A pebble?!” she cried out. “That was a pebble?! That thing could have killed us!” she exclaimed, almost trembling.
Luckily, the projectiles didn’t come without warning. The muddler started popping large gas bubbles which released a nauseating stench, coupled with a repeated loud gurgling sound as a huge bubble suddenly popped, firing another rock at high speed against Kickbolt.
Being ready this time, Kickbolt could deflect the pebble with ease.
Except it wasn’t a pebble this time.
He tumbled down to his two teammates from the impact, his wing nearly crushed. The boulder that had been flung at him easily broke his guard and made him lose his balance. While Kickbolt was still recovering from the attack, the bubbling sound had already started again.
“Come on, get up!” Sketch yelled at the pegasus, trying to help him get up on his hooves again before it was too late. She tugged on his mane to try and pull him up to no avail - Kickbolt was still light-headed and could barely keep his balance, and every time he got halfway up he just fell right back down. “Up!” she cried again.
Crimson stared at the huge muddler. Even though they were in the right tunnel this time, the mere sight of the gigantic muddler was enough to freeze them all in fear. “I-I-It’s not moving! Not since it started firing projectiles. We should run while we still can!” he yelled, but the current frothing from the monster muffled almost all of it. Sketch and Kickbolt only caught snatches.
By the time Kickbolt got back on his hooves, another boulder was already moving toward them. It was only a wingspan away from his face as he tried to get his wings up to block the incoming attack. Sketch gasped and tried to look away, unable to see what would happen.
Kickbolt blinked. “What... what just happened?”
The rock that had been a split second from crushing his face was now lying flat on the ground before him. Even the muddler seemed to give a confused ‘blorp?’ before it started frothing in apparent anger as it tried to fling out more rocks from its body.
It was figuring out how to do it better every time, the very first shot had been more of an experimental attack, but only after a few times it was firing deadly projectiles with ease.
Now knowing and prepared again, Kickbolt dodged the incoming rock by jumping to the side, leaving it bouncing further into the passage past Sketch and Crimson. He glanced back to see the other two looking at him with worry, wondering if he’s still okay. “Run already!” he commanded.
The muddler had been decreasing the delay between every shot, as well as increasing the force it put behind them. As Kickbolt turned to face it again, it had already sent a second projectile towards him without any warning, catching the pegasus off-guard.
This time, the giant mud monster almost began boiling. It started sucking in stone blocks from the floor and the walls that it prepared as ammunition. It may have been because it was already busy steaming in anger, but the next few shots came without any warning whatsoever. With deadly aim and speed, it once again flung a giant stone block the size of Kickbolt himself. He only barely dodged by diving against the wall, unable to block such a large attack. Unfortunately, the stone block was still moving towards Sketch, who had been in the line of fire by accident.
“Watch out!” Kickbolt cried out, trying to reach out as if he could move her out of the way.
Sketch just stood frozen, unable to move as the reflection of the boulder grew in her eyes.
Having been staring at her impending doom only an instant ago, she could see how an orange field had popped into existence just in front of her just for a split second. The stone block bounced right off of it.
Kickbolt blinked for a moment before turning towards the muddler again, dodging another stone block sent his way, which due to the angle it was fired at left it crashing into the wall. “What’s going on?!” he demanded. “And why aren’t you running already?” he growled, wings flaring as he’s preparing himself for the next projectile. “I wish we could just flush this thing away!”
Sketch composed herself upon hearing that last part. “Flush...” she mumbled for herself. “Crimson! Where’s the water stone you used earlier?!” she asked, turning towards Crimson. However, he seemed to be in a trance of some sort, his eyes being fixated on every movement of the muddler. “Crimson? Auugh!” She ran up to him and started rummaging in his saddlebag herself, looking for the turquoise stone.
She found it and pulled her head out of the bag, just in time to hear Kickbolt shout another warning at them. “Move!” He’d dodged another stone block, but this time it was sent tumbling towards Crimson’s location, which incidentally was where Sketch stood as well.
This time, when she stood from the side, she could see Crimson’s horn flashing brightly as the orange barrier popped into existence again - just for a split second - and blocked the boulder, knocking it into the wall instead.
Crimson began staggering. His head, his horn, his mind started aching. The orange glow from his horn quickly started to fade away as he struggled to keep his balance.
Sketch bit down on the water stone with her teeth and focused, hard. Just as the muddy monstrosity was giving off warnings - disgusting bubbling noises - that it had had enough and was about to end this, a waterfall formed out of nowhere just above it - in the little space there was between it and the ceiling - and started gushing down water with such intensity that the muddler started dissolving.
Mud and dirty water started running all over the ground as the mud monster started to lose cohesion. The little that was left of it by now wasn’t mud, just a watery, goopy clump of dirt, pebbles, rocks, boulders and stone blocks pulled out from the interior were left all around where its body had just been.
Kickbolt walked up to it and - with a great deal of anger - squashed the final manifestation of the muddler, sending it splattering into the dirty water running down into the cracks of the ground. He shook off the last bit of mud left over on his hoof and turned around to check on the other two. “Are you guys okay?”
Sketch spit the gray cracked rock out of her mouth, having drained all of its power now rendered it completely useless. “I’m fine, but Crimson...” She looked at the unicorn who was now down on his front knees. “I think he’s the one who shielded us from those rocks it threw, but it really took it out of him.”
“I-I-I’m f-fine...” Crimson gasped. “Just a b-bit... tired.” The magic from his horn quickly started fading out as his concentration began to waver. “I don’t t-think I can m-manage any magic for a w-while now... my head feels so... h-heavy.”
Kickbolt pulled out the backup lantern, urging for Sketch to light it. “You made those shields?! You saved my life several times! Not to mention Sketch’s, and your own! That was amazing!” The pegasus stared at Crimson, grinning uncontrollably.
Sketch went back to Crimson’s saddlebag, rummaging for another magic stone to light the lantern before his magic completely left them in the dark, mumbling ‘Sorry’ as she had to dive back in a few times as she picked the wrong stones. After finally getting the fire stone, using it to light the lantern - giving them a light source again - and placing it back into his saddlebag, she hugged him. “You saved us,” she said softly with a smile.
Unable to keep himself from blushing in his mentally exhausted state, Crimson’s face almost turned pink. His horn finally ceased glowing, and his face expressed relief as he sighed.
Kickbolt walked up to them, the lantern dangling between his teeth as he spoke. “Rooks rike you got shomefing dere,” he mumbled through the lantern, pointing his right wing towards Crimson’s behind.
Crimson and Sketch both followed his wing and stopped when their looks met his flank. An single orange sphere adorned it.
Sketch hugged Crimson even harder. “You got your cutie mark!” she laughed, almost climbing over him in glee. “You saved us and got your cutie mark for it!”
After having rejoiced for a while, they continued down the second hallway, being guided by the lantern Kickbolt held with his mouth.
“How do you feel, Crimson?” Sketch asked, leaning her head back to look at him.
He looked tired, his eyes were dropping to the ground as if he’s about to fall asleep, and his legs were almost being dragged. “B-Better, thanks... and sort of... happy,” he answered, looking at his own cutie mark, giving a weak smile. “Being different... not r-remembering anything... I was beginning to worry if I maybe wasn’t an actual p-pony. Getting my cutie mark helped erase a lot of those feelings.”
“Sho what exactly ish your special talent? Making shields?” Kickbolt asked from the front, the light from the lantern flickering as it dangled in his mouth.
“I guess. T-The thought just entered my mind back there, ‘what if I c-could block that with my m-magic?’, and before I knew it... I’d already done it!” He rubbed his head for a moment before continuing. “But... it’s really quite taxing, I’ve never felt like this before. It’s l-like my head... my horn is in pain. I h-hope it’ll wear off...”
“I’ve heard using new magic can be tiring for unicorns, but after letting your mind rest for a while it gets better. I wouldn’t know for sure, though...” Sketch mentioned.
Kickbolt cleared his throat to get their attention again. “Don’t rook now, ‘ut there’s anoder dead end,” he mumbled through the lantern.
Sketch quickly became flustered, pulled out her book and looked at the map in progress. The long passages they’d been walking had snaked their way a long distance into the ruins, but aside from the corridor with the egg, and where they currently where, there was nothing left. “There can’t be a dead end here! We need still need to find out what to do with that stupid egg!” she exclaimed.
“Maybe we can find a clue, at least? About what t-to do with it.” Crimson muttered.
Sketch sighed. “I hope so...”
Kickbolt who got up first to the wall, said, “Rooks rike deres runes.” He placed the lantern on the ground, only to spit a few times to get the dirt out of his mouth. “Ugh, I hate the taste of that thing.”
He browsed the runes to see if he could deduce anything. “Oh come on! It’s like this place is literally messing with us!”
“What? Why?” Sketch quickly asked. She’d been busy bringing up her book again to prepare to copy whatever was marked on the wall. “What is it?”
They weren’t so much runes as they were pictures. A picture of an egg. Then an arrow pointing from the egg towards the right, to an egg split in half.
A broken egg.
“Oh come on!”
“So, should I just buck it or something?” the pegasus asked, lightly poking the odd egg-shaped object, looking for a reaction.
Sketch put up a hoof to her chin while thinking, then nodded. “Might as well. There’s only three P.O.I’s that we can get to from here. The entrance we came from, the runes ‘instructing’ us to break this egg and... the egg. Seeing how we’re trapped, all we really can do is do as we’re told.” She gave the egg a long, hard, skeptical stare.
Crimson nuzzled his saddlebag, taking inventory of his things. “S-Sorry... but whatever do y-you mean by ‘P.O.I’?” he asked, pulling his head out of his bag to look at Sketch.
“Oh! P.O.I stands for ‘point of interest.’ Or just ‘poi’ if you’re lazy. Basically, anything of importance. We use the blue ribbons to symbolize them.” The small earth pony pulled up a deep blue ribbon, almost the same color as Kickbolt. “Although, there’s no reason for us to bother using them here. No matter which direction we go there’s a P.O.I.” She showed a simplified version of the map she’d made so far of the area. They were currently located in the left tip of an Y shaped cavern. Crimson gave a slight nod before continuing rummaging in his own saddlebag.
Kickbolt slowly walked up to the unicorn and looked over his shoulder without Crimson noticing. “What are you doing, anyway?” he asked in a louder than usual tone.
Crimson froze with his head still stuck in a bag. “N-N-Nothing, why?” his muffled stutter could be heard.
“You’ve been digging around in your bags for a while now. I was just curious why.”
“Oh, I’m...” He finally pulled his head back out, only leaving the bag open for but a moment for anypony else to peek inside of it. “I’m just making sure I g-got everything. I h-have this odd feeling I k-keep forgetting something.”
Kickbolt gently shrugged his wings. The wing harness had felt a bit off ever since he’d block a direct boulder from the giant muddler. “Well, okay.” He moved back to the egg instead. “So, should I buck it?”
Sketch reluctantly nodded. “I guess, although what Crimson said earlier still makes sense... or something. Once broken, nopony will be able to use it again, so the next pony to get stuck in here would actually be stuck. Assuming this thing actually gets us out of here.”
The red unicorn pulled his head back out again to join the conversation. “W-Well... I was thinking about that, actually. If this egg really is the source of whatever will lead us out of here, it w-would have to be magical. If so, t-then it could very well mend itself once again.”
The pegasus rolled his eyes. “Do I buck it or not?” He was frozen in position where he could finish the job in the blink of an eye, waiting for a signal of approval.
“Lacking any other choice...” Sketch said, “I’d have to say... yes.”
A split second later his hind hooves connected with the giant yellow egg-shaped object hanging from the wall. A loud crack was heard echoing throughout the corridor as the bottom part of it fell. The pegasus who’d kicked it quickly flapped away from it as the shell touched the ground. A dark blue, sparkling yolk started oozing onto the ground. The gooey essence in the middle trembled like jelly as it slipped down from the cracked shell. As it touched the ground, the center of the yolk was flattening as the rest of the liquid was stretching out to cover more and more of the floor. The three ponies watched with awe at the display and they backed away a few steps to avoid coming into contact with it.
The very same moment that all of the contents had escaped the egg, the shell snapped back together, fusing with the top part again into one whole egg. The contents still spilled out on the floor in front of it. Little by little, faster and faster, the yolk started crystallizing. After only a few seconds all of it had become one dark blue mirror.
“Okay?” Sketch edged over to look into it, but was surprised when what she saw wasn’t a reflection. Attempting to tap it with a hoof, it instead sunk right into it - and through - to what seemed to be another room under the yolk. Quickly pulling it back up and staring into it for a moment, she turned around to the others. “I guess... this is our only option.”
Kickbolt started dipping his wings into the portal. “Wow, that’s creepy!”
“And it looks like Crimson was right about it fixing itself,” Sketch mentioned. “All we really can do now is to go through this, I guess.” She looked at the other two ponies. “Anypony care to try it out?”
Crimson took a step back and looked away. “Ah, uh... I-I’m only an apprentice... soo...”
Kickbolt bowed deeply, using his wings to motion for Sketch to move forward. “Ladies first!”
She stuck out her tongue and blew a raspberry. “Cowards.” After which she jumped straight into the portal head first without hesitation. The other two ponies just stared as her body was swallowed into the blue goo. Her yellow tail being the final part to get sucked into it.
Crimson walked up to the edge of the pool and looked into it, seeing Sketch - donning a huge grin - waving them in from the other side. “Is she a-always that reckless?”
“Usually,” the pegasus responded flatly. “But no point in keeping her waiting now,” he said before stepping into it himself, his hooves starting to sink. “Not as fast, but probably less bumpy.” He continued sinking until about halfway through, then he came to an abrupt stop. After some light awkward wriggling he started laughing. “Ahahahaha! Oh stop! That tickles!! Ahahaha!” His head was the final part to go through as his laughing finally subsided.
The unicorn that stood there by himself didn’t wait long before diving into it head first, as Sketch had done first. As he tried to jump, he missed a step and ended up somersaulting, flying flank first through the portal.
Crimson’s butt flew out first through the portal, but it seemed he managed to grab hold of the edge on the other side, leaving half of his body hanging out from the blue hole in the wall.
“First you and now him?” Sketch muttered while walking up to the red flank, biting down on his orange tail and giving it a steady tug. Half a yelp could be heard as his head finally got through the portal. He landed flat on the ground.
“S-Sorry... I tripped. I thought i-if I tried to jump like you did, Sketch, I would get through easier,” the unicorn said, rubbing his legs in shame as he looked away.
“At least you didn’t fall out sideways, I had to pull out Kickbolt by his legs.” She rubbed her face, giving the pegasus a sore look. “I still can’t believe you kicked me in the face!”
The blue pony looked away, blushing slightly. “You tickled me, I couldn’t help it.”
“Your legs were hanging out from a wall, I had to do something! Do you have any idea how creepy it was to see that from my perspective?” Sketch complained, flailing her hooves in the air.
Crimson picked himself up from the ground and looked around. “So where a-are we?”
“I’m not sure, it’s not like I had time to check it out already.” Sketch replied. “All I can say for sure is that the interior is the same, for now at least...” She pointed down the lone passage before them. “There’s only one way for us to go.”
Kickbolt picked up the lantern and began trotting ahead. “You guysh coming?”
The earth pony pulled out her notebook and flipped a few pages. “Just a second, I need to decide on where I’ll put this on the map...” She made a few scribbles, frowned, erased it and wrote something again before giving a slight nod. “Okay, ready!”
As they walked down the new passage, the sound of water could be heard flowing in the distance. The sound of their steps echoed back and forth in the eerie hall against the stone pavement covering the surfaces, mingling with the rushing noise.
Sketch was drawing the final details of where they had just been when she slightly turned her head to peek at the pony behind her. “So, how are you feeling anyway? With your head, I mean.”
Crimson was in the middle of taking an inventory of his saddlebag again. Caught by surprise, he started stumbling for a moment before regaining his footing. “Oh, uhm... better, a-actually. Thank you for asking.” His eyes crossed as he looked up at his own horn. It flared for a moment as he attempted some magic again. “I could probably resume lighting the way again, with some m-more time to rest. But t-that’s it.”
“Feel free to tek over lantern duty any time, dude!” Kickbolt mouthed through the lantern. “Dish ‘ing tastes horrible!”
Crimson smiled. “I’ll let you know w-when I think I can handle it again. But there’s something I wanted to talk a-about...”
“Wait, what’s that?” Sketch pointed to somewhere in front of them in the dark. A small altar, not unlike the one from the entrance, stood in the middle of the hallway.
Kickbolt set down the lantern next to it, gagging slightly to get the old rust out from his mouth. “Is that an egg on it?” he asked.
“More eggs? What’s up with this dungeon?” Sketch didn’t look at it, but instead inspected what she’d seen behind the altar. “Anyway, there’s a... hole... here,” she said, standing at the edge of the cavity about the size of her head. “Judging by the echo I’m hearing... it’s pretty deep.”
“What, like a well or something?” the pegasus asked, looking into it himself.
“No idea,” the earth pony replied, she walked up to the altar and examined the egg, “but I’m willing to bet it has something to do with this. Crimson, any chance you’re able to figure anything out like with the last altar?”
The unicorn nervously walked up to it, and after some thought he shook his head. “S-Sorry... last time I just... knew. This time I know just about as much as y-you two.”
Kickbolt cautiously poked the egg with a wing. It wobbled slightly. “Do you think we’re supposed to break it like the other one?”
Sketch picked it up. “I’d like to think it was that easy, but we don’t know for sure yet. Let’s just bring it with us- wha?” The egg in her hoof glowed brightly as she lifted it away from the altar. Within a second, it had just faded away from existence.
“Where did it go?! It was just here a moment ago!”
“Uh, Sketch?” Kickbolt replied, “It’s back on the altar.” He pointed towards the same spot she had picked it up from moments ago. The egg was sitting there again just as when they had arrived.
“Huh...” She picked it up again, but didn’t move her hoof away. “Maybe it gets pulled back here if it gets taken too far...” She slowly started pulling away her hoof, when she got about as far as she had the first time, it started glowing again. Then it was back at the altar.
Sketch pulled out her notebook. “Interesting... an egg that can’t be moved,” she murmured while writing something. “Kickbolt, try tossing it down that hole.”
“Uh, are you sure?” He nervously looked back and forth between her and the egg. “I hope you’re right...”
He picked up the egg carefully, and then with a precise throw lobbed it towards the hole behind the altar. It barely reached the cavity before the process repeated.
“Okay...” She scribbled something, then walked up to the egg again herself. “How about something more direct?” She raised a hoof and crushed the egg on the very altar it laid on. Similar blue liquid as in the earlier giant egg started seeping out of the crushed shell.
“Sketch! What did you do that for?!” Kickbolt called out. “We might need it!”
The shell and the liquid started glowing, and then the egg reappeared again.
She firmly slammed her book closed and started speaking to nopony in particular. “These eggs are obviously magical in nature, but this one in particular seems to have a rule to it. It cannot be moved from the altar, nor can it be damaged. What we’re actually meant to with it remains to be seen. And as for this hole...” She leaned over the edge again, peeking into it. “Well, I honestly have no idea. But I have a feeling it’s connected to the egg, somehow.”
“But did you have to just crush it like that? You couldn’t know for sure that would work!” the pegasus snarled.
“Relax. That’s why I had you try tossing it away first. I had a feeling it would work, anyway,” she nonchalantly waved a hoof in front of his face.
“You and your feelings...” he muttered. “I swear,” sitting down, he brought up his hooves and barely held them apart, “you’re this close of getting us both killed one of these days.”
“You mean the three of us,” Sketch flatly replied.
“It’s not just two of us any more, remember?” She pointed towards the unicorn standing behind him.
Kickbolt’s eyes shot up as he realized Crimson was standing directly behind him, waving awkwardly. “Uh... h-h-hi?”
“Oh, dude... sorry,” Kickbolt apologized. He covered his face with his hoof. “I... forgot. I got pulled in by the moment. This sort of thing happens way too often between Sketch and me...” He revealed his face again, and looked at Crimson with sudden enthusiasm. “Hey, who do you think is right? I mean, testing the egg like that.”
“I... umm...” Crimson began, “... I think Sketch was right when it came to testing the simpler properties of the egg, regarding p-picking it up and seeing what h-happened.”
Sketch grinned. “See? He agrees with me!”
“B-But...” he continued, “... destroying it was taking it t-t-too far. We still d-didn’t know if it was the same egg that r-reappeared or not. Crushing it just l-like that could have just as well done nothing, or it c-could have simple re materialized as c-crushed again, or it c-could have b-broken something, or it could have-”
“Okay, alright already! I’m sorry.” Sketch rolled her eyes. “Sorry for assuming things and acting rashly.” She glared at Kickbolt. “Happy?” She received a content nod in response.
The red unicorn whimpered. “S-S-Sorry... I didn’t mean t-to upset you... I just thought...”
Sketch and Kickbolt traded a look. “I’m not upset, you know that, right?” she reassured Crimson. After a moment of silence she spoke up again, “You’re not wrong, you know? I was sort of hasty when it came to the whole egg thing.”
Crimson gave a slight nod while avoiding eye contact. His lips were almost quivering.
Sketch groaned. “Okay, seriously, don’t cry.” She pointed back the way they’d come from. “If you start crying, we’re going straight back to town. Closed entrances or not.”
Crimson shook his head and closed his eyes. “S-Sorry... it’s just... just...” he blubbered. He took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds, before letting it out. “I t-think I m-may have a problem reading e-emotions... for a moment there, it s-seemed to me as i-if you were furious for what I said...”
“Ahahaha! Furious? Trust me, man. You don’t want to see her furious,” Kickbolt laughed.
“Without going off track,” Sketch spoke through her teeth while staring daggers at the pegasus. She looked back at Crimson. “I’m... guessing this might be another problem you have, coupled with your amnesia, or something...” She gave a small nod, and then smiled. “I can guarantee you that I am in no way angry or even irritated with you.”
The unicorn finally stilled his voice. “Thank y-you... but... it’s not just that.”
Both the earth pony and the pegasus spoke up at the same time. “It’s not?” This caused Crimson to flinch slightly.
He took another deep breath before speaking again. “At first, when I met you two... when I met Red Thread-”
“Master,” both other ponies corrected him.
“You really don’t want to call her Red Thread in person, best not get used to it,” Sketch explained. “Sorry, go on.”
“Uh... When I m-met Master, and she e-explained to me about exploring... I honestly
thought it sounded interesting. It still does. She did c-cover the potential dangers, and the... chances of n-not returning alive,” he said, rubbing his legs. “I argued t-that it would not be a-an issue, seeing how I have no memories. I would feel no d-desire to stay protected in my current l-lifestyle, seeing how I had none. That I could just t-throw myself into d-danger without any r-regret. Making memories from scratch.” He almost started blubbering as he proceeded. “B-But when I see the t-two of you, how y-you act t-together... it makes me wish I already had m-m-memories.” He closed his eyes again and gave a soft sob. “It’s s-starting to feel as if I’m not actually a pony... sorry, it’s hard to explain...”
He felt a touch on both sides of his flank. Opening his eyes, quelling a few tears, only to see both Sketch and Kickbolt pointing towards his new cutie mark he had only gotten a few hours ago.
“We may not be able to do anything about your lost memories,” Sketch spoke softly. “But you’ve already done more than enough to be considered one of us. And your cutie mark, right here,” she poked it a couple of times for emphasis. “It proves that you’re a pony, no matter what anypony says.”
Kickbolt used a wing to pull Crimson in closer to him, smiling while doing so. “I’m willing to bet that getting that cutie mark has to be one of the most memorable things ever, nopony I know has a cutie mark story that compares! I’m pretty sure some guys I know from Ever City would have killed to have gotten a cutie mark from actual combat!”
Crimson started pulling back, nervously shifting his eyes upon hearing the last part. “K-K-Killed?”
“It’s a figure of speech,” Kickbolt replied, tapping his shoulder.
The unicorn lifted off the wing from himself and took a step back. “S-Sorry... for getting all... emotional. I suppose there’s more than just walking that I n-need to learn about.”
“Don’t worry about it. Sorry about... uh, forgetting about you for a moment there. I just need to get used to it.”
Sketch stepped in between them and pushed them apart further. “I’m all for talking about our feelings, but could we maybe take this when we’re not in the middle of who knows where? We need to find a way out.”
“Right, sorry.” The blue pegasus looked up at the ceiling, answering to nopony in particular, flushing slightly. “So, are we done here?”
She nodded. “I’d say so. Lead on.”
Kickbolt picked up the lantern again and took the front, Sketch standing behind him and Crimson in the back. The three ponies continued marching into the unknown.
“Um... c-can I ask something?” Crimson meekly said.
Kickbolt flicked his tail in response. “You jusd did. But you don’d have do ask if you wand do ask somedhing, just... uh... ask.” Sketch groaned.
“R-Right... sorry... but... I was wondering regarding p-pony names.”
Sketch turned halfway around to look at him, but continued walking sideways. “What about them?”
“Do all pony names have... t-two words? I mean, you’re M-Map and Sketch, and he’s Kick and Bolt... Master is Red and Thread. The one who t-tutored me in magic too, Pledge and Word.”
Sketch came to a complete stop, turned around, and looked him straight in his eyes. “Wait, Pledgeword was your tutor?!”
“Y-Y-Yes? Altough, I admit I did see quite a few... flaws r-regarding her personality... so I suspect I know where you’re g-going.”
The mare snorted. “I’ll say. We’ll talk more about that later, I need to make sure she didn’t brainwash you or anything.” She turned around again to continue walking after Kickbolt, who had momentarily stopped to give a visible eye roll as Sketch watched.
“I sincerely d-doubt that... all she r-r-really did was give me instructions f-for the basic principles of magic... but if you wish to. Anyway, since you f-found me, you’ve been c-calling me Crimson. I... actually like being called that, but I w-was wondering, do other p-ponies only have one word for their name?”
Sketch turned around halfway again to answer, but got interrupted by Kickbolt, who flared his wings for attention. “Stairs!” His muffled call could be heard, almost dropping the lantern from saying it.
Barely out of visible range from the poor lighting the lantern provided through its stained glass, a sudden maw darkness could be seen as they approached. Kickbolt’s keen eyes could easily identify the footing as steps, having seen many sets of stairs in his time exploring.
Slowly approaching it, examining for any possible suspicious indents or bulges, he gave a clear as they started trudging down the steps.
“It’s ‘ot bery deeb, I can already see the boddom,” he said after a few steps down.
Sketch raised her voice a little to compensate for not having to turn around to face Crimson while walking down the stairs, finally about to answer his question. “I’ve... heard about ponies with just one word for their name. But I don’t know any personally, besides you, of course.”
“I thought s-so... It’s a bit silly, to be honest, b-but I was wondering if it would be okay if I adopted a second word t-to my name,” he mentioned as the stairs ended.
“We didn’t exactly name you, we just needed something to call you at the time, and you seemed happy with Crimson. So you can call yourself whatever you want, I suppose.”
“It’s not that I want to c-change it, just... add t-to it. F-For the record, I’d still like t-to be called C-Crimson, as my first name. I’d like to be named... Crimson Aegis.”
Sketch turned around halfway again to speak with him, but not before Kickbolt’s lame voice spoke up. “Aegis, like a shield? As in your special talent?”
The unicorn gave a useless nod, seeing how nopony was watching him right now. “I’m not q-quite certain it’s actually my special talent, but I’d l-like to think so. I think I can imagine a few v-v-varieties of it I could p-put to use.”
Sketch appointed her attention back to the red pony behind her again. “I’d say Aegis describes you well enough,” she giggled. “Whatever your special talent is, it seems to be... barriers, force fields?”
He nodded again, this time to more avail. “I’d a-assume so, but I s-suppose I’ll need to do some... testing, l-later.”
Kickbolt flared his wings once again for attention, before he spoke. “Intersection.” Followed by putting down the lantern for a spell. “And how much longer until you think you can start lighting with magic again, Crimson? After all that time spent in the tower, where we didn’t need to use lanterns, I’m really not used to keeping this thing in my mouth,” he sputtered, making a gagging motion as he tried to scrape his tongue.
The lantern next to him suddenly started floating, enveloped in a bright orange glow which seemed to actually strengthen its light. “I’d say just a-about so.” He put down the lantern again, and focused for a second, igniting his horn once again.
“Thank you,” the pegasus grunted, happy for not having to carry the rusted handle in his mouth any longer.
“But I’m not q-q-quite sure I can manage much more than just light and telekinesis just yet.”
Sketch jotted something before pointing towards the left path. “Considering how we’re a floor below now, our current progress doesn’t say much of the layout on this floor, so it doesn’t matter which direction we take right now.”
Kickbolt glared at her. “Then why not right?”
She glared back. “Because I like left.” The pegasus groaned, but agreed, as he started to trek along the chosen path.
Crimson’s magic was lighting up the way again, and was a lot more effective than the old dirty lantern had been at it. Not long far into the new course they came to a stop.
“Is that a... button?” Kickbolt asked, slowly walking up to the circular bulge in the middle of the wall.
“I’d... say so. What’s that mark on it?” Sketch replied. “Look’s like an arrow?”
The pegasus nodded. “An arrow pointing down, pretty much.”
Sketch took up her notebook to jot something down. “Alright... try pressing it.”
“Didn’t we just talk about this?” Kickbolt muttered back.
“It’s one button, there’s only so much we can do with it, now press it,” she said, ushering him.
Kickbolt turned for Crimson, hoping for backup. The unicorn just shrugged.
Giving a hearty sigh, the blue pony nodded. “Fine.” He walked up to it and readied himself, standing on the tip of his hooves and wings outspread. “Ready?”
Sketch frowned. “Nothing? I was-”
Kickbolt brought up a hoof to her lips. His ears twitched. “Shh. Listen. I don’t hear the water anymore.”
Sketch scratched her head for a moment. “Well... nothing else is happening here, so we might as well go check it out.”
As they started making their way down the second passage in the crossroad, Crimson floated up a blue ribbon to the way, showing where the button had been, followed by a red one just next to where they were walking.
After another set of uneventful stairs leading down, they came upon another oddity.
“I’m not finding anything we can do with it, do you guys?” Sketch asked as she paced around the pillar placed in the middle of the path.
Kickbolt murmured, “No.” Crimson just shook his head.
“Wait, maybe...” she quietly said, bringing up her book. After a moment her expression brightened. “Yes! If I got the distances right on the map, that altar with the egg, and more importantly that hole should be directly above here!”
The blue pegasus glanced her way before looking up the ceiling again, where the pillar connected. “And... what exactly does that mean?”
“I t-think it means that the hole is c-connected to something below us, through this pillar,” Crimson said.
Sketch smiled. “Exactly. Of course, it’s just the current theory, but we’re getting somewhere!”
Kickbolt was staring into the darkness before them again. “I think I see even more stairs ahead of us. How far down are we by now?” He asked as they started walking towards said stairs.
“Uhh... If we started on floor zero, then this should be... minus two. Meaning we’re soon on minus three,” she replied, consulting her book.
Standing at the top step, the marine blue pegasus was glancing back and forth for anything. “Looks the same as the other two stairs,” he mentioned, taking the first few steps down. “Looks like another crossroad just down below.”
After slowly having made their way down the third set of steps, the new crossroad was clearly visible.
“Huh, it only goes a short way in... I think I see another button there?” Kickbolt said.
Sketch was mapping and writing something as she asked, “Does it have an arrow pointing up?”
“How did you know?”
“Call it a hunch. Please do not press that button for now... I want to check something, first.” She closed her book and turned back around. “Come on, we need to continue... down, I hope it will be. Blue ribbon please, Crimson.” The unicorn nodded and floated said object to the corner, showing a point of interest.
“Here’s what I’m thinking... remember that very first egg we saw on the altar, next to the hole? I’m hoping that something down here will be connected to that hole, and hopefully will give us a way to do something with the egg. But I want to see it to make sure.”
Kickbolt scratched his head. “And what about those buttons?”
“Well, you said that you stopped hearing water when we pushed the first one, the one pointing down. I think they control the flow of water, and we... removed it by pressing it. Pressing this other one pointing up will instead add water. But... I’m not sure about this, if I got the map right so far, then we should be heading down another set of stairs first, which will lead us to below the pillar - below the egg.”
Crimson blinked. “I... I h-had a couple of theories on how t-the layout of this place functioned... but nothing that e-elaborate.”
Sketch giggled. “You get used to thinking like this, after a while you start assuming, based on what you’ve seen so far.”
“Which I really dislike about you,” Kickbolt growled. “That type of thinking has gotten us into trouble more than once.”
“Shush you. Clever ponies speaking back here,” Sketch said, cackling slightly as the stallion in front of her submitted.
“Well, you’re right so far - more stairs ahead,” Kickbolt said. “But I’m just saying, you need to think about the consequences more often.”
“Actually, I w-was wondering, what exactly is it you two d-do? Sketch... draws m-maps, and Kickbolt looks for t-traps?” Crimson asked.
The mare nodded. “Pretty much. Usually the groups are of three ponies, and you’re our third! One earth pony, one pegasus and one unicorn. It’s not exactly a rule, it’s just how it’s preferred. I’m a mapper, or cartographer if you prefer that. But I’m usually the one that has to do the thinking around here.” She tapped her head, smirking against the pegasus.
“This set of stairs is longer... looks like twice the length, I’d say.” He flared his wings, giving a clear view of his harness. “Well, my job is to protect Sketch, and you, now that you’re here. These blades I’ve got on my wings, the wing harness, gives me an edge in combat. As you’ve seen, we sometimes run into... things. Looking for traps is just something I just started doing so Sketch could focus on her maps,” he muttered. “Usually, I’m the one that has to put myself between danger, and other ponies.”
“I was curious, t-though... what am I expected to d-do then?” the red stallion asked.
“As our apprentice, not much, really. We’re already covering the most important bases. But it’s recommended to have at least one unicorn in your group for their magic. Even the most simple magic could be invaluable from time to time,” Sketch said.
“Like light magic!” Kickbolt gleefully exclaimed.
She smirked. “But I think what you’ve done so far speaks for itself.” She continued sketching something resembling stairs, like the ones they were currently walking in. “I think... it should be just up ahead. Either that, or another pillar or something...”
Kickbolt squinted. “Well, I don’t see a pillar, but I do see... something. Looks like... another altar? And... I don’t even know what that is.”
As they got closer, Sketch took a closer look herself. “Okay, see that?” She pointed to something resembling the first altar, but was actually floating in a small pool of water. “I’m guessing that thing needs to float all the way up... there.” She pointed up, the ceiling slowly coming together as a small hole in the middle was at the top. “That probably leads to the pillar. And this thing needs to get all the way up to the first floor we were on, so the egg can be placed on this thing,” she said, pointing back to the miniature altar, bobbing softly in the water. “It will probably let the egg be moved to it, acting as an anchor. Then it needs to be floated back all the way down here, so the egg can be moved to that.” She pointed to a flat slab of rock, with a small indent, with room for a small circular object. “What will happen then, I have no idea, but it seems fairly obvious this is what we’re meant to do.”
Kickbolt shrugged. “If you say so... so we just use those buttons to make more water, to float it all the way up?”
“Pretty much, except... come on, if I’m right about this, this won't be as easy as I hoped...”
They made their way up again, past the stairs, and stopped before the button. Sketch calmly walked up to it and pressed it. After the familiar click the sound of water gushing could be heard quite clearly, and loudly.
“Kickbolt, tell me how far up it reaches!” Sketch shouted through the sound of the rushing water.
“It stopped halfway up the stairs!” he yelled back.
Having heard what she wanted to, she pressed the button once more. After a moment the pegasus could be heard yelling again.
“It’s right at the top of the stairs now, it’s literally brimming over!” he yelled once again.
“Come back now,” Sketch replied. “I need to explain a few things.”
As the pegasus trotted back to the other two ponies, Sketch sighed heavily. “Right... this is where things will get tricky...”
“So one of us is going to almost drown if we’re going to get this to work?!” Kickbolt almost shouted.
Sketch shrugged. “Maybe if we were better prepared for something like this it might have been easier. Right now we’re just lucky there’s three of us. If it’d just been me and you, there’s no way we could have done this,” she replied. “Somepony needs to get the water level high enough for the floating altar to reach up to floor zero, and considering how the last set of stairs is twice the length, that should make it...” She flicked her hoof around like she was counting something in front of her. “...five floors, meaning the button needs to be pushed three more times if you take where the water is now into account.” She pointed to where water was already running, not far behind them.
Kickbolt frowned after connecting the dots. “But if we just press it one more time, then the water will fill this floor. The one pressing it will be drenched!”
Sketch sighed. “Hence the problem. Somepony needs to stay here, and hopefully manage to last as the other two get the egg into place, and finally lower the water level again from the other button we found on floor minus one.”
“W-Which will also be s-submerged at that point. Correct?” Crimson asked.
The green mare nodded towards the unicorn.
“So who will be staying here?” Kickbolt asked. He was met with two stares and an awkward silence. He finally gave in and slumped down. “Walked right into that one, didn’t I? I guess you and Crimson will go and take care of the other two spots." He stood back up and cocked his head. "But how will I know when to press it? It’s a bit of a walk for you to get all the way back there.”
Sketch’s ears fell. “I’m not sure. Maybe if you just wait a while and we’ll try to be there by then?”
“I guess. I just hope I won’t get the timing-”
Two small orbs floated up between the pair. “Uh... I b-b-brought these, just in case,” Crimson said.
Kickbolt raised his eyebrows upon seeing them. “Are those my-”
“Your linked switches, yes,” Crimson quickly assured him.
Sketch looked at the two of them, scrunching her nose. “His what?”
“S-Something he showed me back in town from his collection. I t-thought we could use them so I b-brought them, just in c-case...” He glanced at Kickbolt. “...sorry.”
“No worries.” Kickbolt smiled. “They’re magically linked switches. If you use one, the other one gets flipped too. They work across distances, too.”
Sketch looked upon the small circular objects closer, and noticed they did indeed have small switches on them. “Why have you never showed me these? They actually seem... useful.”
The pegasus shrugged. “Didn’t think they would ever have any use, and they’re sort of boring.” Sketch groaned from hearing the answer.
She took one of the orbs, releasing it from Crimson’s magic grip. “If I take this with me, and you keep that one, I can let you know when we’re in position?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” Kickbolt answered, taking the second orb for himself. “Uh, whoever is going to take care of lowering the water again... don’t let me drown, please?” he asked with a sheepish grin.
Sketch giggled. “I don’t think you’ve got to ask us that. Just make sure you press the button three times when you get the signal. You can try and head for the stairs to get higher up once you’ve done it.” She turned around, towards the stairs up. “Come on, Crimson.”
They didn’t get very far before Kickbolt yelled, “Wait!”
“What? Did we forget something?” Sketch asked.
“It’s, uh... dark. I have the lantern, but when this place gets flooded... well...”
“Oh! Yeah that could be a problem...” Sketch hummed. “Crimson, give him a light stone. Not an illumination stone. He can use it as a light when we leave,” she said, picking up the lantern herself. “Oh god dish really does dasde ‘rrible!”
Kickbolt stuck out his tongue at the remark. “I know, right?”
“S-So which one of us stays here at this button?” Crimson asked. By now he had picked up the lantern with his magic, seeing how Sketch was too short and struggled to keep it above the ground most of the time. His horn was still the current source of illumination as they stood before the first button they had found, the one pointing down. “A-Although... I d-don’t think I can swim,” he mentioned, squirming at the thought. “Could.... could I p-please deal with the egg, and you s-stay here? I-I’m not sure how well I would handle being submerged in water.”
Sketch didn’t answer. She just stared down at her own hooves while lost in thought.
“S-Sketch? A-Are you alright?”
“I... I can’t swim,” she mumbled.
“What? B-But... well, neither can I. Pardon m-me for asking... but shouldn’t you know h-how to swim?”
She quickly shook her head. “No. I mean... I just can’t... I’m sorry, but this isn’t an option for me... I can’t handle being submerged in water. I’m sorry, I just can’t. I’m so sorry I have to ask this of you... but can you please stay here?” she blubbered out, trying to keep a brave face.
Crimson’s eyes widened. “You’re... you’re serious a-about this?”
Sketch bit her lower lip. As she slowly brought her face up to look at the unicorn, her eyes were almost brimming over with tears. “I’m so sorry, Crimson. I just can’t do this. It’s just... impossible for me,” she croaked out.
“I s-swear, I will t-turn this expedition around if you d-don’t stop crying, missy,” Crimson said with an awkward smirk. “Sorry... I t-thought it w-would help, s-since you did that to me...”
The mare sniffled, but giggled as well. “Thanks. Would you... mind not telling Kickbolt about this? I don’t want him to know... he would freak out if he knew I had a problem like this.”
“Y-Yeah... don’t worry, I won’t say anything. And I’ll s-stay here, too, don’t worry a-about it.”
He was caught by surprise when Sketch was suddenly hugging him, sniffling into his shoulder. “Thank you, Crimson Aegis.”
He flushed more than he’d ever done before.
She let go and looked him in the face again, just in time to catch the pinkish tone of his blushing. “But... are you sure you’ll be alright? I’m so sorry I have to ask you to do this.”
“I-I should be able to manage. And... I think I j-just had an idea for how to do t-this,” he replied.
She nodded and picked up the lantern again. Wiping away some tears, she looked back at the unicorn while her eyes were still tearing up. She nodded again and turned around, moving back to the first location they had come across, the egg and the hole.
As the light from the dirty lantern danced away in the darkness, Crimson could hear her starting to sniff again.
Having already spent some time waiting, the blue pegasus was getting bored. After having re-equipped the wing harness only for the sake of examining it for damages after the last battle, he’d begun humming to pass the time. Now that bored him as well.
Not having bothered using the light stone yet, Kickbolt sat by himself in the dark. His eyes having adjusted themselves as much as they possibly could as he squinted to make anything out. Being tired of sitting in the dark, he picked up the light orb and activated it - it hummed softly as it begun to glow.
He stared at the small metal orb in front of him- he could vaguely make out something that resembled a switch on it.
I wonder if they’re there yet, he thought. This is boring. I just hope Sketch is right about this, and I don’t end up almost drowning for nothing. He sighed. Although, we’re out of ideas anyway.
He scraped his hoof against the ground in a circle, dotting the round dirt figure with two rocks for eyes, and slowly making a half-circle below the eyes. He smiled upon his simple creation, before slumping down again to keep waiting.
He pulled out an apple to munch on, the juicy red fruit quelling his hunger.
I wonder what Crimson brought to eat. I hope Sketch didn’t bring turnips or anything again...
He gave the light stone, lying next to the linked switch, a small poke. It flickered slightly, but easily regained its normal glow.
So, I’m going to need to keep that in my mouth while doing this... I wonder if I can find a way to fit them into the harness back in town.
He returned to the drawing. Using his hoof again to make a large oval body, with four legs sticking out underneath, his ‘earth pony’ was now more complete. All that was missing now were the ears, a mane, and the tail. And the cutie mark, of course. He added a square with some dotted lines inside it, leading to a big X near the corner.
I just need something yellow for the ma-
He looked around, before realizing what had just made that sound. He looked down to the linked switch, and saw that it was flipped to the other side.
He picked it up, and flipped it himself for clarification. Tick.
Only a couple of seconds later he got his answer. Tick tick tick.
He slipped the linked switch into his saddlebag, picked up the light stone that was still glowing a soft yellow color. Looking down at his creation, he gave a frown as he realized his marvelous piece of art would soon be washed away by the flood of water.
Light stone securely in his mouth, and everything else in his saddlebags, he was ready. He placed a hoof on the button that would start everything... and pressed it.
The process was fast- it only took a few seconds before the water was running past his hooves, and another couple of seconds and it was already up to his body.
He took a deep breath just before it reached his head.
I was supposed to press it three times, right?
He barely managed to press it a third time as the water was filling the room entirely, he was forced to swim by now.
I really hope I wasn’t supposed to wait for the water to fill the room entirely before pressing it again, he thought as he started swimming towards the stairs.
His wings gave slow but strong strokes in the water as he worked his way up, the currents of all the water gushing in from somewhere making it harder to keep control. The light stone’s glowing was severely hindered by the dirty water, but it gave him enough to see.
I hope Sketch is right about this...
The altar looked the same as it had before, as did the hole.
Sketch had made her way up to the top floor again. She trudged towards the altar, dragging her hooves while doing so.
I feel horrible... I can’t believe I’m making Crimson do this, she thought, feeling something
tugging down her spirits.
Sketch rubbed her eyes and glanced upwards to see the little golden egg from before.
She lowered her head to allow her eyes to meet with the gaping hole as well.
I know I’m usually right about things like this... but...
She sighed again as she imagined Crimson struggling to complete his task while underwater.
I hope he doesn’t have to do this for nothing...
She stomped, snorted momentarily and took a couple of deep breaths.
Right. Time to do this. I can’t let Kickbolt see me like this later, either.
She stared at the small podium like altar before her for a moment before sighing once again.
What am I getting psyched up for? I’m the one doing the easy part...
She reluctantly pulled out the linked switch from her bag and held it in her hoof. The small orb like object was roughly the same size as a magic stone. The small metallic lever sticking out of it seemed like it would break if you pushed it the wrong way.
In hindsight, we should have tested these before we split apart. Oh well.
After she gave it a light poke, she shrugged.
Might as well just go for it. I’m here, after all.
She flicked the switch, causing the orb to give off an unusually loud tick considering the size of the source. She flinched as she realized it reminded her way too much of Kickbolt’s alarm contraption.
She focused on the ball in her hoof, expecting something to happen, or at least to hear the sound of water gushing in the distance.
Lowering her eyebrows she focused harder on it while listening for anything intently. Oh come on, Kickbolt. Do something already!
She rolled her eyes. I was hoping you would go for the water switch. Yes, that was me, now get to work!
She flicked the switch back and forth a few times. Tick tick tick.
Hopefully that should get him working. I want out of here... stupid water.
A few seconds later the sound of something moving down in the hole could be heard. The altar on the floating pad seemed to be clinking back and forth against the walls while rising up in the water.
“It’s working!” she shouted to herself, moving around the hole looking for a better angle to see anything.
After only a few seconds it appeared. The light from the lantern, stretching down into the gaping maw, revealed a stone formation, slowly reaching up through the hole.
Not wasting any time, Sketch stood ready by the egg on the first altar. As soon as the second one passed the floor and was finally getting into place, she grabbed the egg and started passing it over to the second altar, placing it in the middle of the small indent which secured the egg in place.
The egg didn’t disappear this time - it stayed where she left it, in the second altar that would bring it back down to the bottom floor.
Okay Crimson, your turn! I hope he realizes this shouldn’t take long once the water is up here, and he could press the button on his end to keep himself and Kickbolt from drowning. He’s smart, he would be able to figure out that he shouldn’t have to wait... right?
She stared at the second altar, bobbing slightly in the water as it reached up to her floor. The water wasn’t descending.
“No... no no no, oh no...” She grasped her face, covering her eyes momentarily before looking back at the altar.
It still wasn’t moving.
She grabbed the lantern and started galloping back the way she’d come. “Crimson! Kickbolt!”
The orange bubble burst, letting out the compressed air Crimson had confined with his new magical affinity.
Maybe, he thought, if I trap the air, only to shrink the bubble to increase the pressure inside of it, resulting in a louder pop once I let go of the magic. I wonder how much air I can fit into one bubble like that, I wonder how much air I can fit into one bubble before I pop it?
An orange circle formed in front of him, the size of his own head. With some additional thought he managed to shrink it to eyeball size instead, with the air still trapped inside it, now pressurized.
He maintained the spell, smiling at his little creation. It was easier now that the bubble had already formed. The orange ball hung mid-air in front of him. He gave it a light poke. The added pressure was apparently enough for the thin cover he’d given it to snap, so it popped.
Or exploded, in this case. Compared to the first attempt he’d done, a lot more air had been compressed which resulted in a wave of air being released at the same time, letting out a small shockwave for just a split second.
That... He blinked. That was a better result than I hoped for. Maybe if I can somehow hurry up the process, I would be able to use that offensively somehow.
His attention turned to his saddlebag. He nuzzled it, trying to get a feel of the contents. After recognizing some of the bumps, he opened it only to peek directly into it.
Two light stones... one illumination stone... two heat stones... why didn’t they have these when we first met? Could have saved me that cold I had. What else did Master give me for this trip? There’s so many of these stones and I only have a faint idea of what they actually do. That one’s a... gust stone? It blows air? I’m not certain what that could be used for. And what about this...
Before he could continue pondering, he could feel his surroundings beginning to move. He realized that the water was rising up to his floor, and quickly. Apparently he’d missed the first warning - the sound of it - when he was busy thinking.
When the water started running in, he splashed his hoof playfully while waiting for his time to act.
I need to wait for the water to reach the first floor, and then give Sketch some time to move the egg over... considering where the hole was, it should only take a second. Even if she would drop the egg or it doesn’t work, it should reappear instantly, only taking up a short moment of her time before she tries again. But how do I know when the water stops rising? If I do it too early, then we would need to do this all over again.
The water was getting up to his legs now, the cold making him shiver slightly as it reached up to his body.
I hope I can manage to swim... Or, well, I just need to stay right next to this button so I can press it when it’s time, that should be easy enough. But the question remains: how long I can hold my breath?... I don’t think I’ve ever tried that. Wait... maybe I don’t have to!
Just as it started reaching up to his head, he leaned up, standing on his hind legs while keeping his head higher than the rising water to give him more time. He easily kept his balance.
Just a bubble like before... no need to compress it or anything...
As he concentrated, a sphere surrounded his head, effectively giving himself a helmet with his magic. It was done barely in time before he was unable to keep his head above the water any longer. The moment his ears entered the water, he could clearly hear the sound of something forcing the water into the dungeon.
He smiled. There’s not a lot of air, but now I won’t have to hold my breath for a bit longer. I wish I’d thought about this earlier though. Maybe I could have taken Kickbolt’s place...
Then he felt the currents. All the water rushing in at the same time, trying to reach higher and higher in the dungeon was bound to make a lot of movement. It wasn’t until he had become completely submerged that he could feel this - and how helpless he was against it.
He struggled to keep his position, but never having swum before left him inexperienced, just like when he tried to walk for the first time. He got swept away from the location he had planted himself in, floating to wherever the water took him while flailing his legs desperately to get back to the button.
No! He thought. How am I supposed to get back?! I can’t figure out how to move around like I want!
He tried, but nothing worked, and he was helplessly dragged around by the currents. The current wasn’t strong, but Crimson was unable to learn how to move against it in such short time. He twisted and turned, but the best he could manage was a dizzying spin.
Aaargh! This is even harder than learning how to walk!
And then the noise stopped.
The same sound that could clearly be heard upon entering the water had now stopped, as if there was no more water needed.
Or it had reached the top floor.
Oh no. It’s time! I need to get to that button or Kickbolt... he’ll...
He tried running, trotting, just walking, jumping, even galloping. Every single movement he’d learned for getting around, but they didn’t work while under water.
I need to get to that button now! Think think think... He bobbed his magical helmet with a hoof, as if it would help him. Maybe I can press it with magic?
He focus on the button that was out of his reach and tried to grasp it with his magic, only to use his telekinesis to press down on it.
But it didn’t work, the button glimmered from his magic, but no matter how he thought or focused about it, no force was applied. I... can’t push it! Do I need another type of telekinesis for that? Apparently picking things up isn’t the same as in applying pressure to them...
Now what?! If I only knew some more proper magic, maybe I could just get that to work... What if I can use magic to get me to the button instead? He hesitated slightly before beginning to act.
He turned his head. There was nothing behind him but water. Using his magic, he managed to conjure a wall - similar to the ones he’d used against the muddler earlier - right behind his hind legs. But instead of having it flicker out of existence, he maintained it for a few moments longer, enough so he could push himself away from it with his legs, and towards the button.
He reached out a hoof, and...
Click click click click click.
He managed to repeatedly hammer on it as fast as the water could let him. The results were noticeable a second after the first press. The same noise as when the water was rising could be heard, but he could see the water lowering as well. A few seconds passed before he was finally standing by himself again.
I hope I wasn’t too late.
He let the bubble around his head fade away, as he greedily breathed in sweet fresh air once again.
Oh... good. I was starting to feel woozy. I’ll just... rest here for a moment while waiting for Sketch to return, he thought as he slumped down to the floor in a groggy manner. Note to self, lack of proper breathable air makes you dizzy.
In a jolt he pushed himself back up again, slapping his face lightly to regain any lost consciousness. I need to make sure Kickbolt is alright! He began to gallop down back into the hall which lead to the crossroad.
Until he missed a step and fell flat on his face.
“Ow,” he groaned.
As he picked himself up and continued back in a slightly slower but more stable pace. He could hear a voice calling out to him.
“Crimson?! Crimson, are you alright?”
His ears perked up upon hearing a female voice calling for him.
“Sketch? I’m f-f-fine, but we need to check on Kickbolt!” he yelled back.
As he passed the final corner before the crossroads, he finally met with Sketch again.
The earth pony’s eyes were worse than the last time they’d spoken. Tears were running down her cheeks as she openly sniveled upon meeting the unicorn again.
“S-Sketch, I’m so sorry. I wasn’t able t-to swim so I ended-”
“This is entirely my fault, Crimson. Now come on, we need to find Kickbolt!” she almost blubbered, wiping her eyes with a hoof.
“R... R-Right,” he reluctantly agreed, their priority being on the pegasus’ well being.
The two of them continued tracing back their steps, but in a hurry. Sketch was quick to go on ahead, but every now and then took a brief moment to rest - being tired after running all the way from the top floor - while allowing Crimson to catch up.
“Kickbolt?! Kickbolt, please answer me!” Sketch called out, her voice almost starting to rasp after having repeatedly having done this all the way since the first floor. “Please, tell me you’re alright!”
“I’m here...” a tired voice responded.
Sketch and Crimson were almost at the stairs. Upon reaching them, they could see the pegasus lying in the middle of them, having crawled halfway up.
The mare stopped momentarily upon seeing him, before rushing even faster to his side. “Oh thank goodness you’re alright! You are alright, are you? Please tell me you’re alright!” she demanded.
He closed his eyes and let out another cough. “I almost drowned, you know,” he wheezed. “You could have been a bit faster with removing the water. Luckily I’m a good swimmer and managed to get up a floor and...” he opened his eyes again and looked down the stairs behind him. “...and a half. I’m not sure I could have taken any longer without air.”
Crimson whimpered softly. “I-”
“I’m so sorry, when the water came rushing in it swept me away with it, I had to swim quite a way back to be able to press the button after Crimson moved the egg into place. It’s all my fault!” Sketch sobbed. “Just... just tell me you’re okay, please?”
Crimson didn’t speak up, but looked anxiously at Sketch.
Kickbolt slowly picked himself up, one hoof at a time. “I’m fine, don’t worry. Just a bit exhausted. Luckily wings are good for swimming too, and not just flying.” He stretched out his wings, the harness creaking in an upset manner from the water. “Oh. I hope they don’t rust.” He frowned, stretching the wings back and forth to listen for any similar squeaks.
He suddenly turned towards Crimson. “So, did it work?”
“Yeah, he said it worked perfectly. The egg should now be down at the bottom floor if everything went according to plan,” Sketch said, covering for Crimson again. “So... we should probably head back down and see if it worked.”
Kickbolt shook off some of the water still dripping off of him. He gave Sketch a quick glare before nodding. “Right.” He turned on the spot and slowly started walking, still tired from the ordeal.
As soon as the pegasus looked away, Sketch turned to Crimson and smiled sadly, mouthing something that Crimson interpreted as “Don’t worry about it.”
The water had subsided, and access to the bottom floor was possible again.
“It worked! It worked! Haha!” Sketch bounced around, almost singing at the sight of the egg. “It worked and everypony is alright!”
“While I’m happy you’re suddenly so... giddy,” Kickbolt said, carefully pronouncing the last word while squinting towards her. “I’m almost getting worried about you, Sketch. You’re acting... weird.”
Immediately calming down, the mare brushed away some hair hanging in her face as she blushed slightly. “Sorry... I just...” She looked in Crimson’s direction, who gave her sad look in return, biting his lip. She turned back to Kickbolt and smiled. “Never mind.”
The altar she had placed the egg on earlier had now floated all the way down to this level, and had somehow relocated itself in the very same pool as the first time they’d been there- right next to the platform.
Sketch carefully picked up the egg, and slowly started moving it. “Hopefully... this is what we need to do to continue on. Cross your hooves, everypony.”
As she slowly brought it closer to the platform, careful not to trigger any magical reactions that could cause it to reappear - possibly at the top floor again - they all held their breaths.
The same moment she laid it down, it started vibrating. It began soft, as if it was shivering from a cold, but the shuddering quickly became violent shaking as if it was in the middle of an earthquake. The ponies almost panicked as the egg started bouncing around on the ground.
Then it grew.
It ballooned in size, in about a second it had become as big as one of them, similarly to the very first egg they had encountered in the dungeon.
However, it didn’t need any applied pressure in the form of hooves to crack it open, as it seemingly did so by itself this time, letting the yolk flow out by itself. Crystallizing as it seemed evenly spread on the ground.
They all agreed to go through it without saying anything, knowing they had no choice.
“Where are we now?” Kickbolt asked, rubbing his behind as he’d fallen out from the hole high up in the wall they had come from. “It looks more or less the same, but bigger.”
Sketch was busy scanning what she could see, having been the first one to jump through the portal, simply out of joy of being able to jump through a portal again - and in an attempt to forget what had happened earlier by pressing on. “Guys, I think we’ve found something.” She pointed in front of her, only to then move her leg to the side, pointing in an entirely different direction, and again but towards the other side. “It’s all around us.”
“What is?” Kickbolt asked. “I don’t see anything but walls.”
Her entire visage was lightening up by the second. “Look at the walls,” she replied. “They’re covered in runes, everywhere! I’ve never seen this many before!” She walked up to the nearest wall and started copying symbols. “Crimson, could you come a bit closer? I want to get a good look at these, and your light is a bit far away to see clearly.”
The unicorn didn’t answer. He was standing at the same spot since he came out through the portal. Right after he had gotten himself up on his legs again after the jump down, he’d been aimlessly staring around in the room.
Sketch walked back up to him, and waved a hoof in front of his face. “Hello, Crimson Aegis? Are you okay?”
Kickbolt joined in, noticing the lack of attention from the unicorn. “What happened to him? It’s like he’s sleepwalking or something.” He gently prodded Crimson’s side.
Crimson suddenly started blinking like he’d just woken up. After trading looks with the two confused ponies in front of him, he quietly started mumbling.
“What was that, Crimson?” Sketch asked. “Are you okay? You... dazed out again.”
Swallowing hard, he nodded a couple of times before responding. “Y-Yes. I’m f-f-fine. J-Just... c-confused...” He pointed at the wall. “These... t-these runes... I t-think I c-can read them.
Kickbolt’s eyes widened, but Sketch’s jaw fell to the floor in disbelief. “You... you what?! You can read these? Is that how you figured out how to enter this dungeon in the first place?” She furiously shook her head for a moment. “How long have you been able to do that? What does it say? We have whole books back in town filled with runes copied from different places all over the world, you could decipher them for us!” she rambled, quickly digging out more papers to take notes on.
“I-I-I-I...” he stammered. “I’m s-s-sorry... but I don’t think I can. It’s... v-very odd.”
Sketch winced. “What do you mean you can’t? Do you realize how much this could mean?! Ponies have been trying to figure out what these runes mean for years, but no pony has been able to!”
Crimson fell flat to the ground, covering his head with his hooves. “I’m s-sorry. But I c-can’t r-read it.”
“But you just said-”
“I told y-you...” he interrupted her. “It’s... v-very odd. I can’t r-read what t-they say, but instead I can... understand s-some of it. I l-look at them and it’s like... thoughts enter my m-mind, but only f-for s-some of them.” He shook his head, avoiding eye contact with the others. “I-I-I’m... scared. I don’t k-know what’s g-going on. It’s... all so c-confusing.”
Sketch bit her lip. “I’m... sorry. I got a little excited when you first said you could read them. But could you please explain what you know? What you’re able to tell from them... anything could help.” She placed a hoof on his head, making him uncover his face again to look at her. “Please?”
Kickbolt cleared his throat. “I’d just like to point out I have no idea what’s going on here, so you two keep figuring this out.” This warranted a small laugh from the unicorn and the earth pony, lightening the mood.
As Sketch helped Crimson stand again, he explained, “M-M-Most of the r-runes in here d-doesn’t seem to m-mean anything at all. I-Instead, it’s as if they just f-fill my head with... e-empty t-thoughts. I t-think that’s why I... spaced out.” He pointed behind Kickbolt, who sidestepped to allow a better view. “But... o-one over there... i-it’s different.”
“Different? How?” Sketch quickly asked. By now she was writing down notes as fast as her penmanship allowed her to.
Crimson slowly walked up to a certain set of runes and placed a hoof on them. “It’s as if... when I l-look at it, an old m-memory of a conversation p-plays through my mind.”
He swallowed, staring at the odd shapes in front of him for a moment before continuing. “‘Thou cannot b-be serious about this undertaking,’ is what t-the first voice says. It’s f-followed by somepony else saying ‘You k-know as well as I do that w-without his offer, we cannot hope to protect all of them.’” He sighed. “That’s it.”
Sketch’s jaw had dropped again. After shaking her head, recollecting her thoughts, she asked, “Are you sure that’s what it says?”
He nodded slowly. “Y-Yes... it’s... I can’t misread it. It’s l-like the t-thoughts has always been in m-my mind, and I’m j-just remembering them very c-clearly.” He leaned towards the wall, staring off into another direction. “But I h-have absolutely no idea w-whatever it could m-m-mean.”
“Well,” Kickbolt said. “I still don’t really understand most of what’s going on, but I do know that you’re the first pony ever to be able to read these things. That’s... a pretty big deal. Considering the vast amounts of runes like these we’ve run into in the past. Your ability is definitely noteworthy.” He started grinning, smiling up to his ears. “I’m proud to call you my apprentice, Crimson.”
Sketch who had been writing until her pen almost burned through the paper acknowledged that final statement with a small rock to his head. This seemingly cheered Crimson up as Kickbolt stared down the mare.
“I know there’s a lot of questions right now, heck I’ve probably got most of them,” Sketch said. “But right now I think it’s about time we find a way out of here. Crimson... we’re currently in the bottom of a dungeon with no passage out, is there any chance you can... uhm... see anything that could help us?”
He nodded and pointed behind her. “There, I s-see one that makes me t-think ‘push’. I’m n-not sure what exactly it m-means, but that’s t-the only other rune I c-can read. I think it means you have t-to push it?”
Sketch walked up to it and laid a hoof on it, only to pull it away. “Before we try and leave, are you sure you won’t be able to read copied runes? If so, I could try and copy as many from here as possible for later.”
“I’m s-sorry Sketch, but it’s like... it’s like s-something b-behind the r-runes holds t-the information, not the runes themselves. I’m assuming they’re m-m-magical in nature.”
She sighed. “Worth a try, at least.” She placed her hoof on the rune again carefully. “Are you two ready? This looks like our last resort to get out of here... this... button.” I really dislike buttons right now, she thought.
The other two ponies traded a look, and carefully nodded - being as ready as they could be.
After a sudden bright flash, they found themselves in a forest.
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW and LysanderasD for helping me with editing and making my story readable. Here I just usually ask for a comment and rating, but I’m going to go a step further and explain why as well.
This story gets posted on both Equestria Daily and Fimfiction, the latter has several neat tracking features that allows me to easily see how many people view the story, when, etc. I can easily get an idea of how many are interested in it. But as for everyone that’s reading the google document version straight from Equestria Daily, I have no idea how many of you there are.
It would mean a lot to me if you could somehow make your presence known to me, simply by either rating and leaving a comment. Or possibly a step further and contact me directly at [email protected]. Feel free to make suggestions or... well, anything at all! Thank you.)
Stacks of books that’d been untouched and gathering dust for years, papers scattered with no easily observable pattern across the entire basement room, and a complete lack of any system to keep track of any information in there without spending at least a couple of maddening days digging back and forth between piles of unlabeled or mislabeled tomes.
A normal day in the guild archive.
Pledgeword pulled out and dusted off yet another textbook, hoping that it would contain intel she was searching for. She had already spent a number of days down here digging her way through layers of dust and wrongly labeled folders. She cursed the caretaker of the mess.
Master Red Thread.
“‘An organized mess’ she says, ‘nothing to worry about, Pledgie,’” the unicorn mimicked the elder annoyedly. I’m beginning to believe she keeps it like this on purpose, she thought.
Looking at the title of the newly uncovered book, she smirked. ‘Scouting Catalogue - Fourtow’ the title read. Finally, I’m getting somewhere. That just took, what, four days?
Opening the tome, she turned the page to the one containing knowledge regarding the areas close to town. More specifically, plains to the east of town. It contained maps that showed locations of previously explored areas. Pulling out her own copy and overlapping it, it matched almost perfectly, the only differences being the style the maps had been drawn in.
As I thought... every single location we discovered last week was already known about.
Seeing a number tag on one of the caves she recognized, her eyes dropped down to the list below.
‘Water Dungeon, fully explored by Red Thread - Entrance requires a mushroom, any found in the cave will do. Left path leads to an egg, when destroyed opens a portal further in, and the egg is restored. The next few floors is all part of an puzzle requiring teamwork to continue further, see page 92 for instructions.’
Shuffling pages back and forth both in diligent curiosity and seething anger, Pledgeword found similar inputs for the other locations she and her team had ‘discovered’.
Grabbing a piece of paper, she jotted down some notes on what she’d found before slamming the book back into its proper shelf again - probably for the first time.
The orange mare had just arrived at the scene, where the light gray colt was already waiting. “You’re already done I guess, as always?” Spyglass asked, bringing up a hoof to cover her mouth as she yawned this early morning.
Gearbox nodded, clapping his saddlebag with a hoof as he smiled.
“Did you see Pledgeword already? It’s not like her to to show up after me,” she asked.
The colt didn’t say anything, but instead just pointed to somewhere behind her. Spyglass jumped up into the air to stretch her wings as she turned around.
A purple mare was approaching from behind - dark bags under her eyes - with an even more irritated look than usual. She was already glaring at them from a distance. Usually they had to tell her good morning before that happened.
The pegasus sighed upon seeing her like this. “Pledgeword, did you stay up all night in the archives again? It’s not healthy, you need to get some proper rest... especially before we go out on a mission!”
The unicorn huffed. “Think what you will, Spyglass, but I have a duty as an explorer to find the truth.” She shot them a glare with one eye. “One that I had hoped you two would share with me.”
“This again? Pledgeword... you’re chasing ghosts! Why would the guild be hiding anything in the first place?” Spyglass argued, landing again on the ground after having given her wings sufficient morning exercise.
Gearbox nodded once. “Pointless.”
Giving off a sly smirk, the unicorn pulled out the piece of paper she had prepared a few hours ago. “So you say, but I actually found something this time.” She floated the paper to Spyglass to see with her magic. “This is a copy of my findings. And let me be clear, I triple checked everything,” she said, being very clear on the ending.
Bringing over the piece of paper to Gearbox so both of them could see, her eyes scanned the yellow parchment as the colt next to her craned his neck to see as well. “This... this can’t be true... can it?” Spyglass asked, eyeing Pledgeword suspiciously. “I mean... according to this, Master has been--”
“Lying, yes. Ever since we first started doing this. Every single area we’ve been to to scout for new ruins or dungeons has already been explored. We’ve pointlessly been running around looking for things already known and fully explored,” she growled. “At least we’ve been getting points for all this, but I don’t know if Master will even let us go considering the facts.”
Spyglass cocked her head and frowned. “Sorry, but remind me how the point system works again? I hardly ever hear about it, so I never really bothered since I never thought it would affect us.”
“Honestly, Spyglass,” Pledgeword snapped at her, “don’t you read up on these things? You’re explorer rank for goodness sake!”
“As I said,” she responded while shrugging her wings. “I didn’t think it would ever concern us. So?”
The unicorn sighed. “Fine, but just this once. A group can wish to redeem all their points if they so wish, and then headquarters will be contacted. They will consider a new location for you to be sent to based on your group skills and amount of points gathered. The more points you have and the better the group, the more prestigious areas we get to work with.” She turned her head, glaring into the town. “The problem is that it has to go through the guild master.”
“Confront?” Gearbox asked, still sitting at the same spot with a calm look on his face.
“Soon enough, yes. Once we return from our mission.”
The orange pegasus’ eyebrows furrowed. “But didn’t you say that--”
“I know what I said, Spyglass!” Pledgeword snapped at her again. “But I agreed to do this job and, as you know, I finish my tasks once I’ve accepted them.” Her snout met the sky as she huffed. “What I discovered almost changes the circumstances, but not enough. There’s still a possibility of Master having us out scouting for something, we don’t know yet. Or she’s just gone completely senile. Either way, we’ll complete the task at hand, and then I’ll talk to her.”
Spyglass gave Gearbox a worried look, who just stared idly back. “Riiight... so... are you ready then? That’s why you’re here, right?”
“What sort of question is that? Of course I’m ready!” She started trotting off through the town gate. “Why would I even show up here if I wasn’t ready?”
“Sorry, I just thought that since you... you know, been busy, you wouldn’t have time to prepare,” Spyglass mumbled, lazily flying after as Gearbox followed.
“The only thing I’ve truly lost is sleep, but that’s not important right now. Besides, I have reason to believe that this trip will be much shorter than usual,” Pledgeword said. She floated up another piece of paper for Spyglass to look at. “I took the liberty of copying a finished map once I found the catalogue. All we have to do make sure all the P.O.I’s are in place, and then make a quick search of the general area.”
Gearbox pulled out a stopwatch, pressed it once before letting it hang around his neck. “Time,” he announced as it started ticking.
Kickbolt was flying above the treetops, relieved to use his wings for their actual purpose - not just fighting or swimming. The wind ruffled his mane as he finally stopped to rest on the branch of a particular large tree, closer to his friends.
“So did you see anything?” Sketch yelled from below, facing directly up to get a view of the pegasus.
As his attention turned downwards again, he glided down in a wide circle before landing next to Crimson, who was surprised at the pegasus sudden appearance.
“You’re not used to pegasi, I take it?” Kickbolt asked.
The unicorn blushed. “I-I just l-looked away for a m-moment, and then you w-were next to me!” he stuttered. “I’m used t-to only having to l-look forward,” he mumbled, shuffling his hooves uncomfortably.
Sketch was impatiently tapping her hoof against the mud and wet leaves. “So, did you see anything?”
“Well... I saw... trees...”
The mare rolled her eyes. “And you wonder why nopony ever lets you try on map-duty.”
“I’m no cartographer, why should I have to?” he responded. “Besides, all I really saw was... trees, nothing else.”
“Usually when you’re looking for something, you’re looking for landmarks. I doubt the forest went on forever,” she lectured him.
“But I didn’t see any towns or villages... just trees and a big mountain in the distance”
Sketch facehoofed. “You don’t think that counts as a landmark?” she groaned. “Did you say it was just one lone mountain?” she asked, bringing up her notebook for reference.
The pegasus grinned. “Yeah, and it was huge! Way bigger than any of the mountains surrounding Fourtow.”
Sketch looked up from her book and blinked. “That... that doesn’t make any sense!” She pulled up a world map from her saddlebag. “See this, here?” She pointed towards a particularly large mountain. “If this is the one you saw, ‘High Top’s Hill’, then--”
Kickbolt put a hoof up to her face. “Wait, ‘High Top’s Hill’?” he asked.
The mare sighed. “Named after the first pony to actually climb it. It’s the only mountain high enough to ever have been problematic to go up.” Her eyes dropped to the map again. “Anyway, that means we’re on the other side of Ever City. I’ve heard about dungeons magically transporting you out, but never such a distance!”
Crimson looked over her shoulder. “So... if that is t-the mountain, a-and we’re in a f-f-forest,” He pointed towards one of the two green masses on the map on either side of the mountain. “We c-c-could be in either one of these two?”
Sketch leaned closer and read the names written for the woods. “I guess, yeah... either ‘Glumdeep Forest’ or ‘Halewoods’.” She raised a head and looked at the surrounding tree trunks. Putting her hoof against one of them. “If I’d have to guess by just the names, Halewoods fits this better than Glumdeep. This forest looks perfectly healthy.”
Kickbolt didn’t listen to the last part, but instead was mumbling to himself with his hooves clutched around his head. “Something about those names are familiar... something... important,” he muttered. He let out a groan in irritation and stomped, sending some of the few dry leaves around them flying. “Aargh! Why can’t I remember?”
“So far the only thing you’ve shown yourself capable of remembering is information about monsters,” Sketch snorted. Waving a hoof in front of him nonchalantly. “It’ll come to you, don’t worry.”
The pegasus eyes went wide, and his pupils shrank. “Sketch... what did you say the names were again, Glumdeep Forest and Halewoods?”
Sketch and Crimson shared a look, furrowing their brows. “Yeah.... why? Do you remember anything?”
He suddenly started to look around nervously, the slightest breeze putting him on edge as he flared his wings. He gulped. “I think so. One of those places happen to be the home of very large, very mean and very hungry pony-eating spiders.”
Crimson and Sketch traded another look, this time with a lot more worry. “And... a-and the other forest?” Crimson asked, slowly turning around to view his surroundings as he twitched upon the slightest sound.
“Larger, meaner and hungrier ogres.” He grinned sheepishly. “But... don’t worry! I heard they’re only active during the night!” He laughed nervously. “It’s pretty early in the morning, we should be able to get out of here by then, right?”
A loud snap could be heard behind them. Crimson stood frozen in place as his hoof was shaking, pointing in the direction of the noise.
“I-I-I-I-I-I... I-I...” His stutter was acting up so much he couldn’t speak at all.
Kickbolt and Sketch looked in the direction and saw a large bald head poking out from behind a couple of trees. The beast was grinning at the sight of the pastel colored ponies - its few pointy teeth more closely resembled rocks. It had almost teared a tree out of the way just to get a good view at them. It stuck out a leathery brown tongue that slobbered all over its lips as it laughed with a rumbling voice. “Heehee... tastee ponee!”
“Actually... it might have only been the spiders that are active during the night,” Kickbolt concluded with a horrifyingly calm voice considering the circumstances. “You two run, I’ll distract it.”
Before Sketch had time to react, the pegasus had already lifted off and was advancing the ogre. He dived towards its face, but the ogre just lazily waved his arms around as if trying to waft an irritating fly away.
“Bad ponee! Bad!” it roared, unnerved by Kickbolt’s fearless advance. Kickbolt’s hind hooves connected with the creatures eyes and then he kicked off again. Its eyes were blood-red when it opened them again. After kicking himself away he soared away again and around a couple of trees. Using the broad daylight and his wings to their full extent, he easily avoided the clumsy counter-attacks of the ogre.
“What are you waiting for, hide!” the pegasus shouted at the other two ponies, who just stood dumbstruck at what was happening. “Hurry!”
He circled back around and landed on the ogre’s head, and used his wing-blades to slice the scalp as best he could. However, the thick skull protected it well enough, only leaving a few thin scratches and even less hair than before. A hand came swooping by just after Kickbolt had jumped away.
“Oooooww! Bad ponee! Eat bad ponee!” it yelled, knocking over another tree as it flailed around. The roots snapped as it got pulled right out of the ground by the sheer force.
With a slap of her face, Sketch snapped out of her stupor. “That’s our cue, come on!” She grabbed Crimson’s tail and started tugging. “We need do ‘ide!”
“R-r-r-r-right!” he stuttered, alternating attention between the ogre’s rain-dance like flailing and the smaller earth pony’s feeble attempts to pull him along. He turned around, forcing Sketch to release her grip on him.
“Hee! Got ponee!” Crimson heard as he turned, and he and Sketch both looked over their shoulders. The ogre had grabbed Kickbolt in one of its massive hands. He was struggling to get loose, but his wings had been caught between the ogre’s fingers, and he was unable to move.
He fought to get loose as the ogre slowly opened its large grin to devour its newly caught meal. Unaffected by the pegasus’ profanity, it slowly brought him closer to its large gaping maw.
“No! I am not about to be eaten by an ogre! I can’t believe this stupid thing managed to catch me! How did it even move its- Mffffmfgghm!”
As Kickbolt was brought closer, he suddenly found himself being pressed against a large orange sphere that had manifested itself in its mouth.
The ogre slowly raised an eyebrow as it wondered why it couldn’t move its hand any closer to its mouth, but instead just tried repeating the same movement over and over - repeatedly pressing Kickbolt against the orange bubble filling its mouth.
Crimson’s horn was almost burning as he focused on keeping Kickbolt away from the mouth the only way he knew - using his magic to cause an obstruction, his telekinesis being too weak to fight against the strength of the ogre.
“How-mffgghh-stupid-mfffgfhg-can-mfgfdgh-you-mdfgdgh-get-mdfghdfghfhg,” he managed to spit out between being pressed against the magical force. “Your-mdgfdghdmouth is being blocked!”
Finally deciding that something was wrong, it simply tried to close its jaws. When it ‘chewed’ on the bubble, it finally realized what was happening. It brought its other hand up and tried to feel it - being stopped by the bubble again. Now realizing what was happening, it started flailing its arms again, giving Kickbolt a ride.
“Aaaaaaahhh aaahhhahhhh!” was the best it managed to get out, unable to move its trapped tongue, its lips unable to shape the sounds around the bubble.
It tried to grasp its own mouth, but was unable to; Crimson’s magic was still keeping it blocked.
In its panic, it released its grip on Kickbolt just as it was surging the arm holding him through the air, shooting Kickbolt off into the sky.
Now that the pegasus was somewhat safe, Crimson’s horn died out as he lost his concentration, staggering. “Uhh... d-d-d-dizzy...”
Biting down, the ogre broke through the remains of Crimson’s barrier. Realizing Kickbolt was out of the way, it couldn’t help but grin at the sight of the other two ponies. “Haahaa, mouth work again!” it hollered, eyeing Crimson as it licked its lips again with its thick, brown tongue. “Red ponee look yummy.”
Crimson was leaning against a tree, unable to keep his balance at the moment after having exerted his mind so much. “Oh... t-this isn’t good...” He took a few steps backwards, but after only two he tumbled over. “Ow... n-n-n-not good at all.”
The ogre began moving towards him, its heavy steps crushing bushes as though they weren’t even there. It didn’t bother with the rock that hit its forehead either, or the one after that; It wasn’t until one flew up its nose that it turned its attention to the source of the stony assault. Scrunching its nose, the ogre eyed its assailant.
“Hey!” Sketch yelled, throwing a stick instead, as she’d run out of stones around her. “Don’t you want a nice green pony instead? Come and get one!”
“Heeee! Get one!” it repeated after her. Now turning towards her, the ogre forgot all about the immobilized unicorn mere steps away. “Green ponee yummy!” It began sprinting, or at least lumbering with its awkward two-legged gait, trying to catch up to the earth pony who was standing a bit further away by now.
Sketch quickly turned around and galloped as fast as she could, jumping over logs and roots to get away from the beast. “That’s right, come and get me, you idiot!” she taunted it.
Ohmygoodness ohmygoodness ohmygoodness whatdoIdo whatdoIdo?
Her heart was beating up in her throat as she ran as fast she possibly could. One single misstep would be all it needed to catch up with her. Using her size to her advantage she quickly maneuvered around trees to try and confuse it, but the ogre would just mow them down rather than bothering going around.
“Come back green ponee! Me hungry!” it bellowed.
Sketch was moving quickly, but the ogre’s size was more than enough to quickly give it the edge in raw speed. Even with her tricks to outsmart it, it was quickly catching up.
There! That tree is way bigger than the rest. It might not be able to just rip it out with its roots, maybe I can use it to-
Long before she ever reached the tree she was thinking about, everything went black.
“Huh? Where green ponee go?”
Everything was dark. All she could feel was dirt and roots stretching all around. Sketch started digging desperately to try and find a way out - suddenly finding herself trapped under the earth after having been chased by a hungry ogre wasn’t exactly calming. It was cramped, she could hardly move around in there. She used her hooves to try and dig herself out the way she thought was up. It only took a few hoof-fulls of dirt before light began to shine through the ceiling.
She was almost out. Just a few more and...
“Poneeeee? Where green ponee?”
The tremors could be felt through the earth as the silhouette of the ogre passed by just outside. Sketch quickly sunk back into the same position she’d found herself in and tried to stay quiet.
Then, only a leg’s reach away from her, two large milky white eyes opened. They were almost shaped like cat eyes, but turned to the side.
Sketch screeched. Or at least, she tried to. She had only opened her mouth and started to let out her breath before the creature’s claws covered her face. It stared her down and gritted its teeth - its maw glowed the same bright white as its eyes, shining patches separated by thick, parallel black bars. It hissed at her.
Sketch couldn’t move; she was being pinned down by the jet-black creature in the small cramped hole. She tried to scream but with her mouth covered she couldn’t let anything but muffled yells out. She struggled and tried to flail her legs around, attempting to free herself from its grasp.
It stared at her and continued hissing, Sketch continued to try and scream her lungs out if only she could.
Then it stopped. It was still covering her face, but its eyes began to cross down towards its face, as if looking at its own mouth. With what seemed like great effort, it pursed its lips instead. For a moment, it looked as if it was mimicking a fish.
“Sshhhh. Quiet! Big-one hear!” it shushed her. Its voice was raspy, and almost sounded as if there were two, possibly three voices speaking at the same time but in different tones. Despite this, it was still perfectly understandable.
Sketch stopped screaming, and only blinked in response.
“Quiet now?” it asked, still keeping a tight grip around her mouth. Sketch softly nodded,
not breaking eye contact.
It slowly let go of its grip, and Sketch remained calm. It pointed towards its own face and
grimaced. At least she thought it did. “Sorry. Pony talk hard.”
“Y-Y-You... you saved me?”
It nodded, its head jerking as though dislocated at the neck. “Slip through hole. Hard to see.” It grinned, which, considering how its mouth did not have the same limitations as hers, made it all the more creepy. It stretched in every direction, almost making it look wide enough to eat her whole. But the teeth were still in place, if that was what they were.
Sketch was dumbstruck. She kept looking back and forth between the thin hole above them, sunlight barely being able to get through it, and back towards the creature in front of her. “How did you... but...” She shook her head. “One thing at a time... what about my friends?” she demanded. “Are they safe too?”
“Wingy-one fly. Safe,” it responded calmly. At least Sketch thought so, seeing how she had no idea how to interpret its voice yet.
Not satisfied with the answer, she tried again. “What about Crimson?! After that spell he cast, he almost fainted! I had to distract the ogre before it got to him! Is he safe?”
The creature slowly turned its head sideways without saying anything. Sketch assumed this meant it didn’t understand.
“The red pony?”
It continued to turn its head, but instead of just stopping at ‘sideways’, it kept on turning. “Rrrrreeeeeeeeed?” it asked. By now it’s head was upside down.
“The big one! With the horn!” She motioned towards her own forehead upon the last part.
The creature let out a strange wheezing sound. Sketch could only assume this was the equivalent of an ‘Oh’ after hearing what came next. “Clumsy-one! Not know. Maybe safe?”
Suddenly, its neck stretched way further than should be physically possible. In a split second it had forced its head through the crack in the ceiling, peeked outside and then snapped back in without causing any deformation in the earth. “Big-one walk away. Still near, but think Clumsy-one safe. Keep hide now.”
The pony sighed. “So we’re... or at least I am, stuck here for now? At least until that giant lug wanders away...” She reluctantly looked back up at the creature, whose head was bobbing up and down for no apparent reason. “I guess I should thank you for saving me... so... thanks, whatever your name is?”
The response she got was not one that was expected. Its eyes blinked furiously, turning both white, grey and black in different patterns as all around her she could hear a sort of wet whisper speaking simultaneously in five different types of gibberish.
Then it stopped and looked at her again with its normal white eyes. “But for pony talk, K’les.” It smiled. It wasn’t as bad as when it grinned, but still enough to give anypony reason to be wary, more wary than they would be around it already.
Sketch blinked but didn’t say anything, trying to make sense of what had just happened. It blinked back by switching from white eyes to grey, then white again.
“So... K’les,” she said. It started to bounce its head again upon hearing being called by name. “Thank you for saving me.” She pointed towards herself. “My name is Sketch.”
“Skeeesh...” it tried. Its head ceasing its jumping as it tried out her name. “Not like. Like Small-one!” it happily mentioned, head bouncing again.
“What,” she deadpanned.
It pointed towards her. “Small-one! And Wingy-one! And Clumsy-one! Better names.”
“Small-one bad hearing? Say Small-one better name.” Its head bounced around in the small space for all it was worth. The rest of its body remained oddly still, pressed up against the dirt wall, unaffected by the motion.
It suddenly found itself being the one pinned down. Sketch had forced its head back into its original position, assuming that would be at the top of the body. She held it firmly up against the wall and stared right into the now grey eyes.
Gritting her teeth, she growled right into K’les’ face, “Listen, I do not want to be called ‘Small-one’. My name is Sketch. I can accept my full name, Map Sketch, or nicknames like ‘Sketchy’, but under no circumstances are you to ever call me ‘Small-one’ ever again!”” She forced her own head up against it, staring straight into its eyes.
Its entire body shrunk, including its head. “Understood?” she asked, shaking it while doing so. Unable to move around freely, it nodded so quickly it seemed to vibrate. “Good.” She let go of it again, and slumped back into her own corner, crossing her legs while glaring. “Now say it.”
Still a lot smaller than originally, K’les gave a quick - and not very bouncy - nod.
“Skeee... Skeeee... Skeeesh... Ssss... Scary-one,” it whimpered.
She looked away and snorted, still crossing her legs. “Good enough.” Eyeing it suspiciously, she let her legs down again. “So what exactly are you?”
K’les’ amorphous black body reinflated to its previous size, and its eyes began to blink erratically as it hissed incomprehensibly at Sketch.
“Okay, stop stop!” she groaned. She brought up her hooves to rub her temples. “Hearing that’s giving me a headache, sorry.”
K’les’ head snapped back into its neck position, and its eyes turned grey as it faced the floor. “Sorry. No word in pony talk. But hear ponies say shadow. Guess shadow good word?”
“Wait, you’re the one that’s been following us? The shadow that Crimson and Kickbolt have been seeing?”
Its eyes blinked back and forth between white and grey as it alarmingly stared at Sketch for a moment. “Too much! Too much!” it hissed. Then without warning it whisked away through the ceiling, showing no traces that it had ever been there.
As Sketch sat alone in the pit, she could hear a whisper again all around her, but this time she could understand it. “Big-one gone. Safe now, Scary-one. Pony town if walk to mountain. Go there.”
Sketch stood up on her hind legs and started to dig through the ceiling. Considering how most of it was already gone, it only took a few moments before she broke through. Old leaves and grass fell down on her as she pulled herself up.
“Sketch!” could be heard calling, and a few seconds later Kickbolt swooped down next to her, immediately laying his neck across hers in a hug. “You’re safe! How did you do that?! You just disappeared into thin air!”
She pulled herself away and looked around. “Wait, what about Crimson? Is he okay?”
“I-I-I’m fine...” she heard from behind. “W-Whatever you did seemed t-to overwork its b-brain. It f-f-forgot about me c-completely and just wandered away l-looking for ‘green ponee’.”
Kickbolt cut in. “I was trying to catch up when it was chasing you, but then you were just gone!”
“I... uh...” she started. “I think I met your mysterious shadow. The one you two saw before? It... He? She? I’m sticking with he just to make things simpler from now on.” She rolled her eyes, then raised her eyebrows as she looked back. “He saved me.”
The other two ponies traded a look, both of them having a lot of questions, Crimson just nodded slowly for now. Kickbolt on the other hoof didn’t seem as patient. “You met it? Are you alright? It didn’t hurt you or anything?” He moved around her, looking for any injuries.
She lightly whipped her tail at the pegasus as he walked behind her. “I’m fine, relax. I don’t really know how, but he pulled me in...” She pointed towards the pit behind her. “There, without actually opening up the ground itself. He called himself K’les. He was here a minute ago, until I apparently scared him off or something... he called me ‘Scary-one’, and then just ran away when I asked if he was the one that had been following us.”
“Scary-one? Hehe...” Kickbolt grinned. “Did he call me anything? And what about Crimson?”
“You were called ‘Wingy-one’... probably because of your wings. Then he referred to Crimson as Clu-” She stopped herself. “No wait, that’s wrong, haha,” she lied. “It was Hor-” She caught herself mid-sentence. “B-Big-one, he called you ‘Big-one’.” She smiled sheepishly.
“Anyway!” She tried to change the subject before any questions were asked. “Right before he left, he said that there was a town in the direction of the mountain, if I understood correctly... mind you, most of his speech was... odd.” She pulled up her map again. “However... I don’t see any towns on the map nearby. Maybe this isn’t the mountain I thought it was?”
“Shouldn’t w-we still go towards it?” Crimson asked.
“True, without any other points for reference, that’s really all we can do.” She paused, and all three of them took nervous glances around. “Let’s just try to avoid any more... encounters on the way.”
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW, LysanderasD and Seven Fates for helping me with editing and making my story readable. I suppose it’s about time I actually start writing something in these notes, here goes. Altough this is written after all the proof reading has been done, so my pre-readers will probably cringe when they see this and all the horrible mistakes i may or may not have made intentionally just because i can.
This chapter was a fun one. The start of it is something I’ve been wanting to bring up for a while, but have been unable to because... well... it wasn’t time yet. It’s not the last you’ll see (read) of Pledgeword’s team either!
The ogre is negligible. Basically a random encounter, but it was fun to write about something stupid. Even if that stupid is an ogre.
So... K’les. (Kuh-LESS). I really liked how he turned out. I was told he was both scary and... adorable in a cute way.
Now, please rate, and then you should comment, about whatever thoughts you have about the story from reading this.
I actually got my first piece of fanart a while ago, but the artist still isn’t done with it yet so I’m not going to show it until he’s comfortable with it. But still... I GOT FANART! <3<3<3 When he first asked if he could draw my characters I almost freaked out (in a good way). For future references... you don’t have to ask for permission if you want to draw them :P (I’ve also been told some people don’t always share their artwork with the writers, I’d love to see anything that’s been made - if anything has - for myself!) By the way, I want fanart. Draw some for me! There, was that desperate enough?
If you want to talk to me personally, or leave suggestions, you can either reach me through fimfiction or at [email protected].
Thanks for reading!)
The stumpy, bipedal, cackling and sickly-green creatures surrounded them. The trio had tried to escape from a group of the beasts, but had unknowingly been chased into a dead end up against a cliff. A particularly tall one, about the same height as Sketch, climbed up a tree and started to yell and wave at the others. The ones still on the ground gritted their dagger-like teeth as drool dripped down their chins at the thought of biting down on the ‘fresh meat’ in front of them. They jumped from side to side as they pointed towards the ponies while speaking in their own incomprehensible language, but so far none had gone close enough thanks to Kickbolt’s blades keeping them a step further than a wing’s length.
“I hate goblins,” the pegasus muttered. He snorted in the direction of one of them that had just taken a step closer. The goblin tumbled backwards, only to blow him a raspberry in response. “Any ideas, you two? They could probably overwhelm us at any moment.”
“Not unless you can fly us out of here,” Sketch murmured in response. She was gathering every single rock she could reach without leaving the safety of Kickbolt, attempting to arm herself with possible projectiles.
Crimson nervously looked back and forth between the two, sparing a scarce moment of being terrified while attempting to keep himself hidden behind the other ponies. “C-C-Couldn’t y-you f-fly Sketch out w-while I defend m-myself with magic, then y-you come b-ba--”
“Back to fly you out of here as well?” Kickbolt intercepted.”I’m sorry, but there’s no way that’s happening. I could probably get Sketch away, but you’re way too big for me to carry. Besides, they’d probably jump at us if we tried anything like that, and I doubt I can get into the air fast enough, anyway.”
“Oh...” The unicorn blushed. “S-Sorry...” he mumbled while shuffling his hooves. “B-But...” he tried, but stopped as he continued to flush for a moment.
More and more goblins were gathering. Some, like their encounter in the tower, actually managed to arm themselves with objects that in some cases would inflict more damage than their razor nails. The ones holding old rotten twigs seemed especially courageous, while the few with sharp rocks seemed to contemplate whether to throw it or grab a twig of their own.
Kickbolt was kicking dirt while attempting to stare the enemies down. “We need to do something now or there’ll just be more of them coming.”
As if on cue, one of the green fiends jumped at him while shrieking, waving its small decayed branch before the wind pressure snapped it in half. Kickbolt pulled a wing in front of him, blocking the goblin’s entire mass before flinging it away by flapping his wing in the opposite direction. As it bowled down four others behind it, more started to charge towards the ponies.
The navy blue pegasus responded to this by scraping up the dirt in front of him with his blades, and then to kick up the loose sand in front of him, creating a smokescreen. Afterwards, he jumped through it to engage the goblins straight on, hoping that his two allies would receive less attention if they weren’t quite as visible. But the transparent dust cloud did nothing to help, and the monsters charged from every direction.
Within moments, Kickbolt was well within their ranks, bucking in every direction he could with such speed that they were unable to retaliate. Using his bladed wings to cover any blows against his actual body, he let his hooves do the brunt of the fighting.
The goblins which weren’t preoccupied with trying to climb over each other to get first dibs on pegasus wings instead jumped against the other two.
Picking up one of the rocks that she’d gathered earlier, Sketch gave it a precise throw, hitting the goblin closing its distance the quickest in the face and sending a couple of teeth flying as it fell over. Another rock aimed to the monster next to the first one had it doubling over whilst clenching its stomach.
The next couple of goblins closing in stopped momentarily and glared at her. “Anyone else?” the grassy green pony asked while lightly tossing a stone into the air only to catch it again. The ones that had stopped proceeded to charge at her while flailing their naturally uneven arms while screaming more gibberish at her.
She threw the stone she’d tried to threaten them with, knocking one of them over. As she scrambled to pick up another projectile, four others were only a few steps away from her.
Crimson’s horn flashed as he projected a wall right before Sketch’s face. As if part of a comedy act, one of the goblins ran into it face first, followed by the second one running into that one, and so on. Each bump knocked their heads back and forth. The hollow sound reminded Sketch of tapping on watermelons. While they still stood lined up, a large orange bubble suddenly formed next to them while they regained their senses. It started large, but quickly began to shrink. They ceased their arguing and started mumbling instead before the now eye-sized bubble floated up right up against them and popped. The resulting explosion of air sent the four small creatures flying past some trees and into some bushes.
Sketch gawked at the unicorn, turned her attention back to a nearby goblin armed with a funny looking mushroom, threw a rock in its face and returned to gawking at Crimson again. “How... how did you do that? That was amazing!” she dumbfoundedly asked.
Floating another similar, and already shrunk, bubble towards another couple of adversaries running at them. Crimson detonated it, propelling them into the air. “S-Something I c-came up with while in that d-dungeon.” He smiled at her as he conjured another large sphere before him, about the same size as himself, before he started to shrink that one as well. “It proved more effective than I h-h-hoped!” He continued to float it towards Kickbolt’s direction, the pegasus being swarmed right now from all directions by anything that dared go near his lightning fast hooves; which apparently was most of them for some reason. With a flick of his horn, it blew up as well in the middle of the swarm, sending goblins flying in all directions.
Kickbolt was bucking everything behind him, hitting the goblins one by one, and using his wings to block attacks to him from the side and front. Giving out a war cry one of the creatures fell from above, having jumped from the branch of a nearby tree and landed on the pegasus’ back, pinning his wings down by hugging him tightly.
“Get off me!” he shouted, trying his best to get rid of the unwanted rider. Struggling to get loose, he started jumping around hoping it would fall off. Goblins around them started chanting as if cheering on the one on his back.
It suddenly lost grip from one of his wings and started flying around, still gripping as best it could to his other one, but since it was no longer able to pin them down and was just barely holding on, Kickbolt’s wings were free again. However, the sudden freedom was unexpected, and as he was still regaining control over it, he accidentally cut through the arm with the sharp blades, spraying blood over himself as the crippled monster flew away with a screech.
By now, the little creatures were basically running around aimlessly, screaming with their high pitch voices for no apparent reason, considering only one had been injured seriously. One had apparently set itself on fire somehow in the confusion.
With his wings free again, he quickly flew over the mass and back to the other two ponies who were trying to make sense out of what was happening with the small bipeds running around like crazy before them. “Are... are you two okay?” Kickbolt asked, his face pale. “And was that explosion you, Crimson?”
Crimson hung his head but smiled back at the pegasus. “Y-Yeah...” He flinched as his horn flickered. “B-but I c-can’t do much more, sorry.” He raised his head again and rubbed his horn, looking back over the horde of goblins before them. “Luckily, they seem... disoriented.” He looked back at the pegasus. “W-What about you? You don’t look so well... and you got b-blood all--”
“Don’t say it.” He interrupted, gritting his teeth at the thought of it. Upon seeing Crimson’s initial reaction from being interrupted, he tried to force a smile. “I’m fine, don’t worry.” He wiped some sweat off his forehead. Then nodded off towards the mass. “So what’s their problem all of a sudden? It looks as if they’re not sure who they’re fighting.”
“Goblins aren’t known for their intelligence,” Sketch said. She threw another stone which seemed to home in on the skull of another goblin heading their way, maybe by pure chance by the looks of how they were acting. “It’s more like the opposite; they’re known for usually not making any sense at all aside from wanting to take a bite out of you. I was worried first because of the sheer number of them, but this isn’t turning out so bad.”
“I’ll say, halfway into the fighting before I got back out again, I think they actually started attacking each other, I’m not sure,” the pegasus commented. “I think it’s about time we bolted.”
Sketch eyed him. “Bolted? Really?” She sighed reluctantly. “I think we can slip out over there, if we follow the wall. For some reason they seem to be avoiding the actual cliff.
Kickbolt quickly moved forward and started clearing the way by lazily pushing some of the goblins away. They momentarily stared at him before flinging their arms back into the air and began their screaming again, continuing to run around in no apparent pattern.
The mare dropped all of her ammunition and looked over the crowd before quickly following the pegasus. “Okay, this is getting ridiculous. I don’t think this is natural behavior even for goblins.”
“I’m not so sure about that. I told you they were stupid,” Kickbolt replied.
She shrugged as best as she could while running. “I don’t think this is the best time for discussing that. Let’s just get out of here for now.”
Crimson was following right behind them as best he could without tripping. “T-There’s a path up the c-c-cliff over there,” he wheezed out, still not used to running.
They climbed up the narrow path, guided by the airborne pegasus keeping them safe from any potential attackers. After the two landborne ponies managed to make their way up, Kickbolt gained some altitude. Covering his eyes from the sun beams making their way through the treetops with a leg, he squinted.
"I think I see the edge of the forest up ahead!"
"Then can we please get out of this horrible forest already?" the earth pony complained.
"Yes, please!" Crimson agreed. "After this trip, I'm pretty sure I'm not p-particularly fond of nature.”
"Yeah, I'm with you there. We’re almost out of here so hold o--oh."
After passing the final trees, Sketch and Crimson saw what had just rendered Kickbolt speechless. A massive entrance could be seen down below, which jutted out from the cliff they were standing on. The ground below them was actually part of the ceiling of a temple built into the ground. Huge moss-covered pillars were holding it all up, keeping the way in easily accessible.
Sketch’s eyes widened with amazement. “This is almost like the towers back home! I wonder what--”
“Sorry, but no,” Kickbolt interrupted. “We’re not going in there now. We’re tired, hungry and we still haven’t gone to that town you told us about. Before we do anything else, that’s where we’re going.”
After giving the pegasus a quick glare, she hung her head in defeat. “Fine, but only because I want a nice hot bath.” She sniffed the air around her and grimaced. “And by the smell of it, so do you two.”
Looking up into the sky in embarrassment, Crimson blushed at the notion. “I’m s-sorry... I didn’t r-realize.”
Kickbolt on the other hoof sudden turned pale again, and slowly turned his head to see his own back covered in blood from earlier. “Oh... I forgot about that...” Pearls of sweat quickly started forming on his body and his pupils shrank as he felt his own heartbeat. Moments later he could feel one of the apples he’d eaten earlier making its way back up again. He quickly stepped to the side, and vomited.
The other two ran to his side, but careful not to directly disturb him as he ‘finished’. “Kickbolt! Are you alright?! Are you sick?” Sketch fretted, quickly digging in her bag for anything that could help.
His lips quivered as he wiped off the puke. His legs were shaking as he slumped down. “I-I’m... fine, it’s just...” He pointed to his own back, at the stains and closed his eyes. “...could you please take care of that?”
Pulling out an old rag, she dipped it in a small pool of water nearby, then proceeded to clean his coat by rubbing it against the spots. “I... I didn’t know you had a problem with blood, Kickbolt.” She bit her own lips at the thought of asking, but continued. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
He sighed heavily. “I’m not proud of it, but it’s something I’ve had to deal with for as long as I can remember, ever since I was a kid. The sight of a nosebleed is enough to make me feel queasy. Look at me, I’m supposed to be a protector, a guardian, a defender.” He sighed, covering his face as it dug into the ground. “At the sight of a little red I can hardly keep myself together. I only barely managed to get out of the fighting, and I was lucky enough the goblins went crazy, or this would probably have been worse than it is.”
I need to tell him about my problem with water, she thought.
“You don’t have anything to be sorry about, Sketch. This is my problem, and I want to deal with it alone,” he muttered. “I’m the one that should be sorry. Just... just see if you can get it off of me for now, please?”
“But I...” she tried, but stopped. Crimson stayed quiet, looking at her expectantly. She shook her head instead. “Kickbolt, if you ever want to talk about it, I’ll be here.” She was finishing up scrubbing the blood away. “I’m almost done,” she murmured.
The pegasus sobbed once, but quickly covered it up by clearing his throat. “Thanks. So where is this town that Kuh-leez told you about?” he tried.
“It was K’les, at least that’s how he said it,” she corrected him. “But no, all he did was give me a direction, saying there would be a ‘pony town’ if we went here. Could you fly up again and look around maybe? If you’re okay with that right now...”
“I d-don’t think that will be necessary. Look.” The red stallion pointed off towards the distance. Now looking over open plains much like their hometown, they could easily see some small buildings in the distance, between the mountain and the forest.
“Huh.” Sketch said. “I wonder how we missed that.”
Kickbolt looked away. “Sorry. Probably from me distracting you.”
They approached the wall protecting the village, similar to that of their own hometown, but it wasn’t finished yet and had several spots that still required construction work.
Sitting in the middle of a hole, an old tan stallion with a half gray half straw-coloured mane was working on raising bars that would make the foundation of the wall. As they got closer, to saw something resembling a bellow blowing air on a fire for his cutie mark.
The trio walked up to the still unaware earth pony, peeking inside the city through the open wall while doing so. Several houses weren’t finished yet either.
“Excuse me, sir?” Sketch tried. “We’re a bit lost, could you please tell us where we are?”
The old pony continued his work with trying to dig the metal bars into the ground, oblivious to the fact that right behind his back there were three ponies attempting to communicate with him.
“Excuse me, sir?” she tried again, raising her voice.
“What?” he bellowed, turning around. “Who’s there? Who are you ponies? What are you doing here?” he shouted.
Sketch cleared her throat. “Um. Hi, sorry. We’re a bit lost, so we were wondering if you please could tell us where we are?” she grinned sheepishly. “It’s a long story.”
He stared at them for a moment before opening his mouth again. “What?” he asked, putting a hoof to his ear. “What was that?”
The smile from their faces slowly began to fade away. “Umm... I think he has a hearing problem,” Crimson said.
“I said,” Sketch started yelling as loud as he was. “Do you know where we are?”
The stallion once again just stared at her, slowly beginning to squint his eyes as he looked at the three of them. He put a hoof to his chin as if in deep thought. “Let me get my ear trumpet,” he yelled again, and turned towards a bag behind him. After some quick rummaging he pulled out a big horn that he put to his ear, facing it towards them.
“Now what were you saying?” he asked.
“I was asking if you know where we are!” Sketch tried once more.
“Whoa there!” He flinched, pulling the horn away for a moment. “There’s no need to shout!”
Kickbolt leaned towards the unicorn next to him. “At first I thought he was yelling all the time because he had bad hearing, but now I think it might be the other way around,” he whispered.
“What was that?” he asked, immediately turning his attention, and horn, from Sketch towards Kickbolt. “I heard you say something, what was it?”
Clearing her throat again, the tan old pony looked back at the mare in front of him. “I’m sorry, is this okay?” she asked with her normal voice.
He cracked a smile and nodded carefully. “Yes, that’s good enough. Now was that so hard?”
Don’t answer that, she thought, and instead forced a smile. “No, not at all. I was just wondering if you could tell us where we are. Long story short, we ended up in that forest over there, but we’re not sure where we are.” She pointed towards the mountain behind the village. “Is that mountain possibly High Top’s Hill?”
He slowly turned around to glance at the snowy peak visible in the distance. “Indeed it is, and this here town is the newly established ‘Hill’s Base’, we only began building it a couple of weeks ago.” He put a hoof to his chest. “The names Full Bellows, village smith. Now who might you three be?” he asked very loudly. By now he was eyeing Kickbolt suspiciously. “Are you maybe from Ever City?”
“Huh, me?” Kickbolt asked. “Well yeah, but we didn’t come from there right now. How did you know?”
“Your wings, that harness. There’s only one shop you can get something like that from, and that’s in Ever City. Now what did you say your names were?”
“Sorry, we didn’t. I’m Map Sketch, but just call me Sketch.”
“Kickbolt here,” the pegasus said, raising a wing.
“And I’m C-Crimson...” The unicorn smiled weakly. “...Aegis! Crimson Aegis,” he added, blushing slightly at having forgotten his newly adopted second name. “But g-go ahead and just call me Crimson, please.”
The mare nodded after introductions had been completed and stepped in again. “We’re explorers from Fourtow. We were stuck in these ruins in a cave, but near the end we found a portal that led us out. The thing is, we ended up in that forest over there.”
The tan pony raised an eyebrow. “Fourtow? You mean with the four towers?” He snorted. “I can’t believe how dull the naming was back then...” he grumbled to himself.
“What was that?” Sketch asked.
“Nothing,” he quickly assured her, putting on a fake smile. “So you were explorers? Since you came from the forest, you probably saw that temple on the way here.” He pointed back towards where they had come. “It’s still visible from here.”
The green mare nodded. “Yeah, we almost went in to check it out, but after our recent ordeal we could use some rest first. We were hoping you could maybe help us with that?”
The elder rubbed his chin and stared off towards the temple before answering. “I may be able to do something, if you’re willing to work out a deal. Tell you what, I can get you a house here for a day if you’re willing to do something for us tomorrow,” he hollered right into their faces as if he was speaking casually.
Wiping some spit off her face, Sketch’s eyebrow began to twitch. “I... guess. What exactly would you have us do?”
He pointed back towards the temple and grinned. “Go in there. Now come on, let me show you to where you can stay for the night. I need to talk to some ponies before I can give you the details.” He left his work, picked up his bag and headed into the town itself.
“T-Talk to some ponies?” Crimson quietly repeated.
He stopped only a short way in, before a two story house. “I’m pretty sure no one’s staying here yet, so you go ahead and make yourselves comfortable. It might lack furnishing, but it should have beds to sleep on and running water already.” He started to turn around to face them, squinting his wrinkly eyes as he stared at them and did a long sniff. “And a bathtub.”
“Wait, we can have the whole house for a day? Doesn’t anypony live here?”
He shook his head. “We’re still constructing this town. Most of the ones meant to live here won’t be coming for another month, when we’re done building. Until then, most of these houses will be empty,” he said loudly. “Make yourselves at home, I suppose. As I said, the more important furnishing should already be there. I’ll go tell somepony that you’ll be staying here, and send some food for you.”
The blue pegasus picked his ears after all the shouting. “Okay, mister? Sorry, but you’re yelling a lot, and I’m not sure how much more my ears can take.”
Turning around with a horrified expression, Sketch pushed his face away before miming something he understood as ‘What are you doing?’. As she turned around to face the old pony again, she was met with a few confused blinks.
“I’m yelli--” He cleared his throat. “I’m yelling? Why didn’t you say so in the first place! My hearing is pretty much gone from a life inside a smithy, so I’m used to having to raise my voice a lot.” Suddenly, his tone was very normal compared to before, but still slightly louder than any pony would normally speak. “As I already said, I need to speak to a few ponies about you being here, just make yourselves at home.” He walked up to the door and opened it for them, then turned to walk away.
“Um. Sir?” Sketch stopped him as he began to walk away from them. “Thank you for all of this, but could you maybe tell us a bit more about that favor you wanted from us tomorrow?”
Full Bellows bit his lip. “I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say right now, but I have reason to believe we need to send somepony in there, and soon. You said you almost already entered it, so I reckoned that you wouldn’t mind checking something out for us. This is what I need to talk to somepony about before I give you any details, sorry.”
“I... see.” She smirked. “Well, I would love to see the insides of that temple. Do you know anything about it yet?”
“By the looks of it, you seem like the type that’d go in whether or not I told you to avoid it, am I right?”
“Pretty much,” Kickbolt spoke up from behind, before getting shoved in the face again.
The tan old pony nodded twice. “Then I might as well tell you what I know as a friendly warning so you can prepare yourselves for tomorrow. Basically, the entire temple messes with your mind!” He waved a circle next to his head. “I’ve been told you lose memories, gain false memories, hallucinations among other inexplicable things. Either way, most of it seems focused on the brain, and apparently monsters can’t stand it so they stay away.”
The trio quickly shared a look with each others. “The goblins!” they shouted out in unison, all making the same realization.
Rubbing his the ear he had used the ear trumpet in, Full Bellows flinched. “What’d I tell you about yelling?”
Sketch giggled. “Sorry, we just realized something weird that happened earlier. That last thing you said with monsters would explain why these goblins we encountered behind the temple sort of just went crazy.”
He lowered an eyebrow. “Crazy goblins? That I’d like to see.”
So far everything was calm and going as expected. Sitting in a rocking chair, slowly moving back and forth, Master Red Thread was enjoying some knitting.
Under the fence, she sang in her mind, sticking in the needle under the red piece of yarn, through the loop.
Catch the sheep. She hooked the needle around the thread.
Back you go. And pulled it through the hole again.
Off you leap. Finally, letting the threads slip into place.
Years of practice allowed Red Thread to do this absent mindedly, but she still had a habit of humming the knitting rhyme she’d learn as a young filly. Knitting had became more of a hobby to ease her mind, rather than something she used to make things out of convenience. By now she already had way more sweaters and scarfs than she could use, but the weather around Fourtow was too warm to use them normally.
As she was about to put on the finishing touches on her work, the door in the next room could be heard creaking open, multiple hoofsteps following.
“Master?” a female voice called out. “Are you here? We need to talk.”
Raising her head and leaning forward, she could see a pink mane with white streaks somewhere behind from the other side of the counter. Putting her knitting aside, she hopped out of the chair.
Master smiled at the sight of the explorer’s return. “Pledgie! Geary! Glassy! You’re all back, and so early too! I expected you to be gone for a least another few days.”
Pledgeword’s lips were tightly sealed, considering her next words carefully, before she decided to just go straight at the beast. “What are you hiding, Master?”
The elderly mare just smiled calmly. “What do you mean, dearie?”
“Don’t take me for a fool, Master. I’ve known for a long time that something suspicious has been going on regarding our ‘exploring’. You’ve been asking our team to search and find for new P.O.I’s, caves or anything. You’ve been sending us to a new area every time, having us do the exact same thing, but in a new location.” By now her voice was clearly getting louder as she started to speak through her gritted teeth. “Then why is it that every single one of these places has a corresponding map down in the archives?!” she yelled. Putting a hoof to her forehead and sighing, she pulled out some papers.
“Look, this is the map we finished a bit earlier. And this is an exact copy I was able to find in the archives. Not to mention all the data I found giving detailed information on all the dungeons! I, for example, saw that the very cave you sent Sketch’s group to is not only very deadly if approached the wrong way, but that they are most likely to end up on the other side of the world!”
Gearbox and Spyglass stood behind her, but didn’t say or portray anything, even if they knew Pledgeword was right after the recent proof they had just seen first hoof.
Master’s eyes were wide, and her jaw was slack. “You... you...” she mumbled.
The purple unicorn took a decisive step forward. “Yes, Master? Anything you have to say for yourself?”
“You...” she repeated herself. “You... you actually managed to find something in the archives?!” She sat down on the floor, rubbing her head while in thought. “Clearly I’m not as good at this as I thought.”
“Explain!” Pledgeword exploded out, stomping as hard as she could.
The elder waved her hoof nonchalantly. “Fine, fine. But just for the record, I’m doing this for the good of all ponies.”
Spyglass rolled her eyes. “This had better be good, another one of Master’s stories from her youth, I’m guessing.”
“Darn right, Glassy!” She grinned at the yellow pegasus. “Although this one is actually true, not like all of that other stuff I make up.”
Gearbox suddenly piped up. “F-Fiction?” he asked, feeling a lump in his throat.
“Oh, yes Geary. I’m sorry.” She shamefully looked away. “I know you love to hear my stories, but they’re all made up.” The cold nodded meekly at the answer.
Giving everyone in the room a fast annoyed look, the unicorn stomped again. “Could we please get to the bottom of this?!”
“Right, right,” Master said. “The reason why there are finished maps in the archives is because...” She waited a moment before continuing, trying to create suspense. “... they were already finished years ago!”
Pledgeword frowned. “You don’t intend to tell us anything at all, do you?”
She chuckled. “I’m sort of hoping if I can drag this out long enough, you’ll just drop it.” Her smirk died out and she looked Pledgeword in the eyes. “Anyway, you’ve caught me... I’ll... start talking.” The elder took a deep breath.
“Yes. Almost every single mission I’ve sent your group on has not actually been for exploring; all those areas were already fully known about. You’ve actually been scouting for... possible threats.”
“What? Threats? What are you talking about?” Pledgeword demanded.
“I’m not entirely sure myself, which is why this is so hard.” She bit her lips. “I have reason to believe that this world may soon enough be in more trouble than anypony even dares to realize. I... I tried to take it up with the council in Ever City, but they wouldn’t have any of it. Or rather, my old teammates tried to, but were deemed ‘unfit for exploring’ because they were suddenly seen as crazy. I had... stayed behind when they confronted the council, so it didn’t happen to me. Instead, I feigned ignorance; we had agreed it was the best thing I could do at the time, considering the circumstances. So I’m doing the best I can while being inconspicuous about it.”
Pledgeword stared at Master, as did her two teammates behind her. “You’re... not making any sense. What’s this threat you’re talking about?”
“You probably wouldn’t believe the rest I have to say regarding that even if I tried to tell you, so I’ll just hold my tongue on that subject. Just know that I have good reason to keep sending you out on these missions. It’s not exploring I intended for you to do, it’s... keeping guard and looking for any signs. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that. I’m sorry, dearie.”
Pledgeword gave a slow nod, but didn’t break eye contact. “And what about Sketch’s group? Why did you send them to the cave, and possibly to the other side of the Ever City?”
Master’s face scrunched. “That’s... relevant. I suppose the best way to say this is... I once walked through the exact same path they’re walking in now, and I’m hoping they’ll see the same things I did.” Her voice began to fade out. “Hopefully more. We need answers.”
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW and Roxor for helping me with editing on this chapter. If you liked it, please leave a comment, they’re probably the biggest source of encouragement I’ve yet to encounter. Don’t forget to rate!
So... Sorry that this one took so long. At first I had a wisdom tooth pulled, and I used the pain as an excuse not to bother writing. After that, I had just gotten a bit lazy before I got back on track.
Something I had forgotten to mention earlier is that Glory Blaze is trying to make a role playing game based on this story! You can check it out here! For some reason it totally slipped my mind that I could mention this in the author notes, so I’m sorry for that. You are now all victims of my forgetfulness!
As always, you can contact me directly at [email protected] if you want to make any suggestions to the story or send me anything. Or just talk, that’s rather nice too.
Thank you for reading! And thank you even more if you rated it and commented, hopefully constructive, you know there’s a reason why all writers keep nagging regarding this. :P)
Warm water was slowly trickling from the tap into the bathtub. As it did so, it dissolved the bath salts that Sketch had 'borrowed' from one of the supply closets, which were filled with almost anything a pony would need to live comfortably for a while. Too comfortably, in her opinion; she took it upon to herself to remedy this by relieving them of some of the more superfluous ones.
As the tub was filling, she tried to force a comb through her blonde hair and tail. The knots, mud, dirt and the occasional twig turned it into a painful chore rather than just the morning routine she was used to.
After pulling out a few long strands of hair by accident, she gave up until she could at least get the majority of the muck out of it. Putting the soiled brush aside, she stepped into the tub, allowing the hot soapy water to embrace her legs as she slowly began to sink into it.
“Aaaaahhh...” she slowly let out with a tired sigh. “I so needed this.”
The green pony let the water sink into her coat for a few minutes at first before doing anything. She playfully poked some of the bubbles while enjoying the bath.
As she began to let out another hearty sigh, somepony knocked at the door.
“Sketch?” a male voice called out. She recognized it as Kickbolt’s. “Could you hurry it up in there? There’s only one tub and we’d also like to use it.”
She groaned, allowing half of her face to sink into the water before correcting her posture again. “Fine, I’ll be out soon enough.”
Hoofsteps could be heard walking away from the other side of the door. “Good, just don’t hog all of the warm water.” The walking stopped, and she could hear him taking a few steps back again. “By the way, somepony came by a moment ago and left us some food, and she asked if there was anything we needed?”
Jumping out of the bath, she grabbed a towel and threw it around her body. “I almost forgot! Hold on.” She opened the door, still dripping wet. “Is she still here? I need to ask something.”
“Uh, yeah,” Kickbolt replied. “She’s just outside.” He peeked past her, into the bathroom. “Are you--”
Sketch walked past him, still drying herself with the towel. “Yeah yeah, go ahead.”
Moments afterwards the door closed behind her and the pegasus was out of sight. She rolled her eyes as she continued down the hallway towards the entrance. She passed by the kitchen, where Crimson sat with a fruit filled basket, staring at something she didn’t recognize.
As she passed the corner, she picked up a letter she’d left lying on a table in the hall. The next thing she saw was a sky blue mare waiting by the door. She was poking her head inside and examining the interior of the building, smiling as she did so, oblivious to Sketch.
Walking closer, Sketch greeted her. “Hi! Are you the one that came with the food for us?”
Her attention snapping back to in front of her, she nodded hastily. “Yes, that would be me.” She eyed the hallway behind Sketch, blushing slightly. “Sorry, it’s just my first time seeing the inside of one of these houses. We’re still waiting for the bulk of the population-to-be to get here, so several of these houses are still standing empty until further notice. Anyway, I was asked to see if you needed anything?”
“Actually, there is one thing I was hoping we could get some help with,” Sketch answered. She took out the letter, giving it to the deliverymare. “Would it be possible to get this letter sent? To Fourtow, that is.”
“Hmm...” the blue pony said to herself. “As I said, this town hasn’t actually officially become a town yet, so we don’t often receive - or send - post messages yet. But I’ll see what I can do. Maybe somepony is going back to Ever City to ask for more construction materials? Then I could ask them to take this with them. Either way, I’ll have to ask around.”
Sketch nodded. “Thanks, I appreciate it. I think we’re fine now. If anything we could just use some rest.”
The blue earth pony nodded back. “Good to hear! Just try and catch anyone walking by if you need anything. There’s not much work going on today, since everypony’s worried about...” She giggled nervously. “Never mind. Just make yourselves comfortable until tomorrow. Full Bellows should come and see you tomorrow morning.” Suddenly, she turned around on the spot and walked away without saying anything else.
Blinking a few times, Sketch closed the door again after returning inside. She headed back towards the way from which she’d come, and entered the kitchen, accompanying Crimson.
He picked up what looked like a giant blue nut and showed it to her. “Do you k-know what this is? I don’t think I’m familiar with it yet...”
The earth pony grabbed it to examine it more closely. “I’ve never seen anything like this. It is food, right?”
He motioned towards the basket filled with fruit. “It c-came with those, but that what’s c-caught my eye.”
She tried biting it, but quickly spat it out and grimaced. “Ugh, too hard. I wonder how you open it?” Without waiting for an answer, she began to bang it against the corner of the table, splitting it in half. “Well that was easier than I thought.”
Crimson levitated the two pieces back into the air, the hard shells concealed a soft purple mass within, with a few black dots - seeds - scattered around as well.
Grabbing one of the floating pieces, Sketch gave it a sniff. “It smells sweet. Well, here goes!” And without further ado, she licked it, the soft fruit easily tearing apart from the force of her tongue. After a few experimental chews, her face began to beam. “This... this is the greatest fruit ever!” was all she said before proceeding to greedily consume the rest of her half.
“That g-g-good, huh?” the unicorn on the other side of the table asked. He carefully licked his part of the fruit. But grimaced at the taste of it. “It tastes l-like something rotten!” He slid his half over to Sketch. “Here, you take it.”
“Thanks!” she answered with a mouthful of purple, the juice dripping down from her lips. “I have to ask somepony later what this is, I’ve never seen or tasted anything like it before!”
“If you s-say so...” He instead picked up a shiny red apple from the basket, giving it a satisfying crunch. “S-Sketch, how come you c-could take a b-bath if you’re afra--”
She put a hoof in the air to cut him off. Taking a few seconds to swallow the contents in her mouth and to wipe of any juices, she put the nut-fruit aside. “It’s... It’s not the same thing. I don’t have a problem with just water, it’s under water,” she said matter of factly. The calmness of her voice when saying it surprised Crimson, almost making him feel uncomfortable. “I can handle water just fine, as long as I don’t have to hold my breath or anything while in it...” her voice finally trailed off.
“Shouldn’t you have t-t-told him?” Crimson stuttered.
She looked up at him, lowering an eyebrow. “Huh?”
The red stallion looked away, breaking eye contact. “Kickbolt... he seemed, I don’t know... hurt back there. Emotionally... almost l-like you when you told me about the w-water. I guess I thought... I thought it’d w-work out if you t-told him what happened in that d-dungeon,” he said.
“Crimson, I... it’s not that simple,” she mumbled back to him. “I almost did, but... I can’t. I’m sorry,” she said, suddenly having lost all interest in the unnamed fruit.
The red unicorn stared down into the table. “I just thought that it’d be b-b-better for both of you if you t-told--”
“Crimson,” Sketch interrupted him. “Can we please not talk about this? We should just go to bed already, we have to get up early tomorrow.”
“Good night, Crimson Aegis,” she said, and walked out on him.
“It’s simple, really,” Full Bellows said. He was speaking in a more normal voice today, as if he’d been practicing. “We want you to go into the temple and look for our two explorers. I would have said so sooner, but we’d been told to keep it down until further notice.”
“How long have they been gone?” Kickbolt asked. His wing harness was in rough shape, but still much better than the previous day after a crude repair job and polishing.
The old stallion rubbed his balding head. “About a week. They’d gone in before, so we know a little about the place, but that’s it. I figured that if you were already going in, it’d be easy enough for you to keep an eye out for them.”
Sketch put away her notebook after having gone through what she’d written about the temple from the day before. “You could have told us. We could already be in there looking for them!”
“Well, you were hungry and worn out! It was easy to see you were in no shape to enter that place,” Full Bellows answered.
“He’s r-right, you know. We probably w-wouldn’t last long without food, and we had p-practically run out already.”
The green mare’s head dropped. “Fine. With the supplies you brought with you, we should be able to go in.” She pointed towards the big, burly brown sack he’d brought with him.
The elder nodded. “I was told to bring the usual supplies explorers are given. Of course, we packed extra for a third pony.” I’ll let you take a look at it and discuss things over. You can just head over there whenever you’re ready.” He began to walk towards the door, but stopped a few steps away, turning his head back to look at them. “Just... make it soon, please?”
"We'll get going soon, don't worry," Sketch reassured him.
The old pony nodded slowly, putting away the ear horn as he did so. "Good, good," he murmured. "Good luck, you three."
Kickbolt pulled out a milky white orb from the sack, holding it out for the others to see. "Look!" he exclaimed. "I think this is a marker stone. They must have gotten these from Ever City!"
Crimson leaned forward to get a better look at it. "Marker s-stone? I don't think I'm familiar with those."
Sketch grabbed it for herself, her expression changing from confusion to joy as she recalled an earlier conversation with the pegasus regarding that type of magic stone. "Are these the ones that allows you to magically project symbols to relay messages?"
Kickbolt was practically beaming, happy to be the one sharing information for once. "Yeah!" he replied. "Arrows, simple pictures, writing, and even recorded messages. Triggered by anypony walking close enough." He waved his hooves around in the air, trying to imitate how it would look.
Sketch hummed while focusing at the stone. Only a moment later, a luminescent yellow arrow appeared, floating just above eye level over the swaying grass in front of them. It pointed in the direction of the temple only a short way before them.
The earth pony frowned. “No sound? I thought I made it so it would say something.”
“Try touching it. I think that unless you set a specific trigger, that’s what usually works,” the pegasus explained.
Without sparing a second for anymore thought, the mare practically threw a hoof at the arrow. The same moment it came, it touched - and then flew through - the arrow. Her own voice could be heard emitting from the arrow itself in a very neutral tone. “Temple,” it said.
She flinched upon hearing the message, turning back towards the other two. “Do I really sound like that? That was almost...”
“Squeaky?” Kickbolt suggested with a grin.
“C-cute?” Crimson tried, blushing slightly.
She gave the unicorn a quick smile, but only glared at Kickbolt.“Never mind,” she muttered as she continued walking towards the structure visible in the distance.
“You can’t reject it as long as it’s true!” Kickbolt shouted after her.
Crimson gave the arrow one last look before going after them again. “So how l-long do those last? If they’re m-magical, they’ll only b-be able to stay manifested for s-so long. The r-ribbons we’ve been using so far doesn’t exactly ‘lose p-power’.”
“Uh...” the blue stallion started. “I... I think they sort of power down if they don’t detect anypony in their direct vicinity, giving them a longer life-time. But I think they usually last a couple of weeks, unless it contains a big message.” He looked behind him. “I don’t see the arrow any longer, I guess that means it already ‘powered down’. If anypony gets close enough again, it should appear. Check this out.”
He lazily began to flap his wings, hopping into the air and gliding back to where they had been a few moments ago. As soon as he got a few meters from its original position, the yellow pointer appeared out of thin air again. “I’m pretty sure you can decide how far away or how close you need to be for it to sense anypony when you first create it, you just have to think of several things at the same time when doing it.”
“Why is it that y-you’re the knowledgeable one r-regarding this?” Crimson asked, shuffling his legs after asking. “S-Sorry, but I’m just a bit surprised. Usually it’s Sketch that has all information.”
Sketch snickered upon hearing the remark. “He’s right, you know.”
Kickbolt blew a raspberry in Sketch’s direction. “We used these all the time back when I was in training in Every City. We had so many magic stones that the guild had first dibs on, so we had all kinds of magic available to us. We even had some personal stone infusers at the guild.”
“Stone infuser?” Crimson asked. “I’m g-guessing they are the ones... well, infusing m-magic into the stones?”
“Pretty much, yeah. I’ve been told there’s a special trick to it, and not many unicorns can do it. Not to mention that most magic stones requires a unicorn adept at that specific type of magic to infuse it. The few ponies that can do some of the more mundane magic stones work overtime way too often, just to make it easier for the rest of us.”
“I didn’t realize that,” Sketch said. “We’ve just gotten a few bags now and then delivered to town. Nothing fancy though, just some standard elemental--”
The three of them jumped into the air, alarmed at the sudden new voice. Turning their heads in all possible directions they searched for the source of it, without finding anything.
“Who said that?!” Kickbolt demanded, kicking dirt as if ready to charge.
Emerging from the ground, behind Sketch, a shadowy shape took form. “K’les,” it rasped. His head suddenly almost fell off his shoulders - or a least what they thought was the shoulders - as the shadow began to move the head around unhindered by anything that could resemble a skeletal structure. “Hello pony,” he said again.
“Sketch? Is that--”
“Yes, that’s K’les,” the green mare interrupted Kickbolt, answering him at the same time. “Although this is my first time seeing him in pure daylight, he’s not as big as I first thought.”
Flickering his eyes between grey and white, it gave what looked like a smirk at her remark. “Size change,” was all he said. Suddenly, his body seemed to fold into itself, shrinking to a more pony-like size instead of the towering slender one he’d had moments ago.
“What are you doing here, K’les? Are you still following us?” Sketch asked. “Oh wait... that’s what made you run away last time, when I asked that.”
He shook his head vigorously. “Damage done. Help now.”
Kickbolt and Crimson shared a stare at the shadow creature before them. “Uhhh...”
“I told you he’s hard to understand,” Sketch said. “You mean you’re going to help us now instead of just following?”
The same way he’d been waving his head side to side to relay his no, he started nodding up and down as his eyes turned white. “Help now. Show way! Pony follow.”
“His s-speech seems... fragmented,” Crimson noted, putting a hoof to his chin.
K’les frowned towards the unicorn. “Sorry Clumsy-One. Pony talk hard.”
“C-C-Clumsy-one?!” he repeated, staggering backwards at the remark. “I thought y-y-you said he c-called me Big-one?”
Sketch’s eyes met the sky as she grinned sheepishly. “Uh... sorry. I was sort of hoping you wouldn’t find out.”
“What, so I’m not Wingy-one either?” the blue pegasus asked, now seemingly less alarmed by the foreign presence.
The shadow turned its head upside down and blinked a few times. “Not understand. Wingy-one not Wingy-one?”
“Uhh... never mind.”
Suddenly his head began to bounce up and down while in mid-air. K’les walked - or rather, he floated - towards the temple entrance before turning his head back at them. “Follow! Close. Soon answers!”
“Wait... what do you mean answers?! Answers to what?” Sketch called, trotting after him. “K’les, what are you talking about?!”
They had followed him all the way to the entrance without realizing it. They stood under the massive plates they had stood on top of upon their first arrival, supported by giant pillars next to them, hiding the actual entrance that easily reminded them of the one in the tower outside Fourtow, both in architecture and size.
“Lead way. Pony follow!” K’les said, bobbing his head while doing so. He floated further into the entrance, ushering them to keep on moving.
Kickbolt frowned. “Sketch, can we trust him?”
“I think so. He saved me when that ogre was chasing me. He sort of pulled me into a hole. I’m not sure how, but without it, I’m not sure I would have made it. That and...”
“You really want to know what he means by ‘answers’?” Kickbolt finished for her.
She smiled at him. “Yeah.”
He rolled his eyes. “Fine. But we’re taking this slow. I’m not even sure he can activate traps, he doesn’t even have any legs! So we’ll do this the same way as always.”
Suddenly a lot less excited, Sketch sighed. “Fine. Just hurry up!”
As if on cue, K’les drifted back from the hallway, giving them a blank stare for a few moments. “Pony come? No trap. Safe here.”
“If you say so!” The green earth pony mare happily trotted after him, despite Kickbolt’s warning.
“Hey, Sketch, wait! That’s dangerous! You don’t know if you can trust him!”
Crimson stood alone by the entrance, mumbling something for himself before following the rest. “Answers to what...?”
“So, K’les... am I pronouncing that right? Anyway, where are we going? You just keep saying we’ll get to answers, but we don’t even know the questions?” Kickbolt asked while eyeing the creature suspiciously.
“Wingy-one ask lots. Meet Mad-one!”
"Huh? Who?" They asked, but the only answer they got was a tilted head looking at them as if they just asked the dumbest possible question ever. They decided to shrug it off for the time being.
K’les led them further in. So far it was just one long hallway leading straight in. The interior was more or less in the same shape as the towers they were used to. There were also similar gemstones than the ones they had learned to recognise lighting the path, although these ones were of mixed colors, not just green. It didn’t take long until they came upon something that could only be compared to a great ballroom, except it was symmetrically filled with dozens of new passages leading into other locations.
"This way! This way!" K'les shouted, his odd rasping voice echoing against the walls. Without stopping, he chose one of the corridors near the middle. His body almost glided over the floor as he escorted them.
"Wait, stop!" Kickbolt shouted, flaring his wings to stop the ones behind him. "Look over there!"
He pointed to a passage three doors away. A floating green shape appeared out of thin air, pointing into the hall.
Sketch ran up to it without thought, activating it by getting too close. Only a second later, a mare’s voice could be heard speaking.
"After our last time here, we determined to take this path, based on the intuition of my partner. If we managed to figure this place out the least, there should be another thrilling brain adventure awaiting us."
"That must be the ones they told us to look for! They must be down here!" Sketch exclaimed, jumping up and down as they listened to the rest of the recording.
"Last time we wound up forgetting who we were once every five minutes, I think we only managed to get out there by luck. Hell if I remember."
Kickbolt cocked an eyebrow. "They forgot who they were?"
"Full B-Bellows mentioned, remember? This p-place does things to your mind," Crimson said.
"Ughh..." The pegasus rubbed his neck. "This is gonna be fun."
"They must have gone in here," Sketch said. "Come on!"
Crimson tugged lightly at her with his magic as she began trotting further in. "W-Wait! If they went in here b-before they went missing, then doesn't that mean s-something in there is the reason why they went missing?"
"Hmm..." She put a hoof to her chin for a moment. "Good point. Let’s check it out!"
"Sketch!” the two males called out to her.
She sighed, slowly rolling her eyes. “Fiiine...” She turned back to look at two staring stallions. “Aren’t you the least interested in knowing what sort of mind-traps are here? It just seems so... so...”
“Dangerous?” Kickbolt tried.
“I was going to say fun, but whatever. Well, if you’re not going to let me follow that marker, what do we do then?”
K’les had been standing behind them idly, waiting to see what was happening, up until now. He swooped in and up between the ponies to their surprise, and pointed back towards the passage he wanted to take. “Mad-one help! Mad-one know much.”
“What...?” Sketch pulled his arm to get his attention, which didn’t do much but stretch it out further, but still worked to make him turn to her. “K’les, what’s with this ‘Mad-one’? Is it the one with these answers you keep talking about?”
A low rustling sound surrounded them. Sketch, however, recognized it as a sigh from the shadow. The other two ponies didn’t make the connection quite as fast, instead looking around to look for the source before the mare informed them.
“Mad-one tell to get pony. Mad-one want speak!”
“So whoever this is, it wants to speak with us?” the blue pegasus asked. The response was a frantic nodding. “Why?” he asked again.
The head jiggling stopping momentarily as he scratched his head, his eyes blinking grey and white a few times before setting back to white. “Not know,” was all he said before continuing with his blissful bouncing.
“But can this ‘Mad-one’ help us?” Sketch questioned him.
Rotating his head on the spot without moving his body, K’les stared at her for a second, once again swapping eye colors momentarily. “Probably.”
“Uhm... K-K-K’les?” Crimson stuttered. “Why do you--”
“Not K-K-K’les. Only K’les,” the shadow corrected him, stretching his neck out to get a good look at the unicorn. “Clumsy-one talk funny pony talk.”
Crimson shyed away at the response. “Sorry...”
Kickbolt pulled the unicorn back again. “Don’t apologize, Crimson! Just say what you wanted to ask.”
Flushing slightly, he nodded. “O-Okay... K’les, w-why do you think we should t-trust you? I don’t w-want to be rude, b-but we don’t know anything about you, not even what you are.”
“Well... he did save me from the ogre, as I said,” Sketch added. “While by our standards he seems... odd. I don’t think he has any ill intentions, so I say we follow him.”
“Are you sure, Sketch?” Kickbolt asked, still eyeing the shadow suspiciously.
“Well you’re not letting me go in there.” She nodded towards the passage behind them. “And odds are most of the other corridors around us could be trapped the same way. You heard the recording. If this... ‘Mad-one’ really can help us with this place, I say we go for it. Besides, by the sound of it, I’m interested in meeting it.”
Kickbolt groaned loudly. “Are you sure about this? I mean, really sure? Crimson, help me out here!”
“I’m s-sorry, Kickbolt, but her points are pretty v-valid. I d-don’t like it myself, but it’s our best option if we’re g-going to do anything here.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?”
“I’m just t-trying to think logically,” Crimson mumbled, looking away.
K’les moved back towards the passage he originally tried to lead them into. “Then pony follow? No trap here!”
Sketch walked after him, grinning uncontrollably. “You heard the shadow! Come on!”
“I give up...” Kickbolt muttered, and began to trudge after, with Crimson in tow.
The myriad of colors illuminated their path, but even as the light touched K’les’ skin, it remained completely black. True to his word, they did not encounter any traps along the way, and soon enough they were at the end of the hallway. But it didn’t keep Kickbolt from stopping them every few meters to double check.
Cut off as if someone had just sliced the hall in half, a mix of colors were glowing before them. The lights being similar in nature to the crystals lighting the inside of the temple, but at the same time they seemed almost dark, despite the fact that the portal’s light was outshining the gems by far.
“Through here!” K’les exclaimed, eagerly walking through the swirling colors. Even as he slid through it, the colors did nothing against his jet black skin.
“Uh, we’re going through... that?” Kickbolt asked. “Really?”
“What? it’s just another portal! We already went through a whole bunch in that other dungeon we were in!” Sketch answered. “You’re not scared of portals, are you?”
“Not directly, but this looks a bit too much, even by your standards. I’ve seen portals before, but this one just looks... weird.”
“Well, K’les is waiting for us on the other side, so let’s go already!” And with that, the earth pony hopped into it, her yellow tail the last part to follow her in.
“No, wait, Sketch!” Kickbolt tried to call after her, but it was too late. “Ugh... why does she always have to rush into everything?” he mumbled. “Come on, Crimson.”
“R-Right...” the unicorn responded, nodding meekly.
The two of them stood side by side and walked through it together. Much like the other portals, walking through it was just like going through a doorway. Only a split second later, they were standing in an entirely different room, but what they saw wasn’t anything they could have expected.
Sketch was only a few steps ahead of them, standing still. She was staring at the creature in front of them, neither moving or speaking. Only observing, as her mind was working overtime to comprehend what she was seeing.
K’les was standing next to the throne, looking up to the one sitting in it.
A combination of several types of creatures was combined into one tall abomination. They could identify a bat wing, a lion paw, eagle claw along with several other parts they didn’t even recognize. As it sat there smirking at them, it was sipping a brown liquid out of a glass. At first glance, it could have been chocolate milk.
“Well you sure took your sweet time getting here. I was starting to get bored.”
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW and LysanderasD for helping me with editing on this chapter. If you liked it, please leave a comment, they’re probably the biggest source of encouragement I’ve yet to encounter. Don’t forget to rate!
So yeah, I’ll let you guess who this new character is.
It’s not Pinkie Pie, if that helps.
Feel free to discuss all the amazing possibilities due to this change of circumstances in the comments or something! If you want to reach me directly, you can do so at [email protected]
Since there’s no way for me to know how many people read this story through the google documents, I like to peek in and see how many people are currently reading. Feel free to say hi if you see me pop in! (On my account: Diexna) I’d be the one saying hello, but I don’t want to disturb people reading, but if you talk to me first I guess it’s alright? :)
And as always, thank you for reading!)
The ponies all stared at the monstrosity, who just guffawed back at them. “What, never seen a draconequus before? I didn’t think we were that rare,” he said, taking a quick sip from his glass of chocolate milk. Without warning, he was sucked into the glass, which fell to the ground, shattering.
“I’ve been keeping my eyes on you three,” his voice echoed around them. The creature itself was nowhere in sight as the ponies’ eyes darted around the room. K’les just stood next to the throne, smiling. “I have to say, you’ve done far better than I expected. Of course, I only actually bothered since you found Crimson Aegis there.”
Sketch stepped forward towards the center of the room. “Who are you? What are you? What do you want?!” she called out, stomping for every question asked. The next thing she knew, everything was upside down.
“Ah, Map Sketch, the ever so curious one.” She felt a claw on her shoulder, as she turned around. The draconequus was standing next to her - on the ceiling - with a nasty smirk. “Tell me, has there ever been a day where you didn’t put some other ponies life at risk?”
“Leave her alone!” Kickbolt bellowed, dashing towards their position up near the center of the room as fast as his plated wings allowed him to.
He shot the incoming pegasus a smile. “Oh, and you must be Kickbolt. The overprotective one.” He snapped his lion’s paw, and disappeared again in a cloud of cotton candy that Kickbolt collided with. “I have to say, I’d rather walk into a mysterious dungeon with you than with her. Then again, the moment any kind of brain activity would be necessary you seem to just blank out.”
Kickbolt was struggling to free himself from the cotton candy that was sticking him to the roof. Sketch was standing next to him, still stuck on the ceiling, unsure what to do.
He reappeared again on the throne, using his paw again to shield his eyes as he looked about the room. “Now, who did I miss? Oh right, nopony. I could cover you some more, C-C-C-C-Crimson Aegis. Smart fellow, but way too timid. Still, you’re a decent choice for what you’ve got ahead of yourselves.”
Crimson himself was paralyzed in fear, staring up at the looming abomination before him. “W-W-W--”
“Oh, speak up already! That’s probably the most annoying thing about you. The stutter! Who knew you would end up with that? I for one didn’t expect it!”
“Did you expect this?!”
Kickbolt had managed to free himself from the pink fluff, and had lined it up so that when he gave it one strong kick in mid-air, it flew right at the creature’s face. Kickbolt’s ‘enhanced control’ over lightning immediately triggered a chain reaction inside the cloud, making it shoot bolts of lightning in every direction the moment it took off. The creature slowly turned his head with a lazy smile as the incoming cloud flew at him and hit his head.
“Well,” he said, barely being able to raise his voice over the sound of the lightning bolts shooting from the cloud stuck to his head, “No, I don’t think I saw that coming.” He suddenly doubled over while levitating, laughing his heart out, all while being electrocuted by the cotton candy cloud. “Good one! Bravo!” he cheered, clapping loudly.
Kickbolt was trying to pull Sketch down from the ceiling, but gravity seemed to work in reverse for her, and she catapulted back upwards again to the ceiling, landing upside-down again. “Shouldn’t you be electrocuted by now?” the mare asked, oddly calm despite hanging from the ceiling.
“I don’t know, maybe? I never bothered with such details. Anyway, playtime’s over,” he declared. In the blink of an eye, everything was just as when they had first entered the room. He cleared his throat, loudly. “To answer Map Sketch’s questions, my name is Discord, spirit of chaos and disharmony, and I want your help.”
“Help? You just stuck me to the ceiling!” the mint green mare complained, flailing a leg in his direction.
Discord rolled his eyes. “I’m sorry if I came off as a bit rude, but I’ve been stuck here for quite a while without company, and I was getting bored.” He gleaned at K’les ,who was tugging at his tail. “Well, no company aside from the occasional shadow creature,” he amended himself. “My point is, I need you three to help me with... certain tasks.”
Sketch shook her head. “Hold on now. K’les told us we’d be getting answers!”
The shadow’s head bounced up and down in excitement as he looked at the pony, but as it turned to look at his master’s expression, he quickly stilled himself.
“Did he now?” Discord said, glaring at K’les. “Well, I’m afraid you just got outsmarted by a shadow. I told him to bring you here, and that’s exactly what he’s done. Can’t say a lot of ponies can brag about that, assuming it’s something you’d want to brag about.” He picked up K’les and began to pat him as if he were a cat. “So what did you want answering anyway?”
“Uhh... I didn’t think about that,” Sketch mumbled, suddenly throwing a blank.
“Why can I read the r-runes?” Crimson suddenly asked. Everyone in the room turned to look at the unicorn, who had been standing in the back row without drawing attention to himself. “Why d-d-on’t I have any memories? What w-was I doing in that tower? Y-You said you’ve been following us ever s-since they first found m-me, so you must know something about me.”
Discord sighed heavily and openly. “I was hoping you wouldn’t actually have any questions, but I suppose that was too much to hope for.” In a puff of smoke, he appeared next to Crimson in the shape of a dirt brown unicorn, his horn as twisted as one of his normal ones. “I do have an answer for that actually!” he exclaimed, throwing a leg over Crimson’s back. He pressed his other hoof up against his forehead and looked up to the ceiling with a frown. “Alas! I can’t actually part with that particular information yet, partially because I still need you to help me.”
Crimson tried to pull himself away, but found a copy of Discord on his other side, trapping him in yet another hug. “Help you w-with what?” he reluctantly asked, unsure whether to escape with magic or just brace himself as another pony copy of Discord appeared before him.
“Oh, not much,” all three clones said before suddenly exploding into pieces of glass, scattering all over the floor. “It just so happens we have a common goal right now. I need you three to get somewhere for me. Get me one of those runes, and I maybe I’ll be able to answer some of your questions,” he said, now sitting upside down on his throne again, but the throne itself was lying sideways, with K’les on top of it.
“How is that a common goal?” Sketch asked. “We’re not here for the runes.”
The draconequus smirked, his uneven eyes leering at the three of them. “Maybe that’s not what you came here for, but now that you know that there are some here, you won’t be able to resist now, will you?” He pulled out a whistle and blew it loudly. When the signal stopped, everything in the room had swapped location and direction, as if they were now looking through a mirror.
“Oh, I should mention something while I’m at it. I’m staying here, but we’re actually not at that temple you came in from. That portal you took, the one just behind you?” He pointed towards the swirling rainbow colors in the doorway. “It’ll lead you back to the temple again. You can come back here through it when you’re finished.” He began to wave nonchalantly, blowing bubbles into his drink. “Now go on, time is of the essence! At least if you want things to go faster.”
The green mare furrowed her eyebrows and snorted. “ Why don’t you just go yourself? And how exactly is this a common goal? I’m not so sure I want to explore a dangerous temple on the whim of a trickster.”
“Oh right, the common goal!” Discord began to roll around mid-air, laughing hysterically before spontaneously stopping again. “It just so happens that those two explorers from Hill’s Base are stuck literally juuust before the exact spot where I want you to go!” He floated up towards them and pouted up his cheeks while grinning. “Aren’t coincidences fun?”
Kickbolt ran up and pushed Sketch aside, much to her displeasure. “Wait, you trapped them here just to get us to do your dirty work?! What exactly are you planing?”
“Oh no no no!” the abomination began to shake his limbs in protest. “I didn’t lead them here or trap them. Trust me when I say this, I don’t lie, and I certainly do not hurt ponies. I might mess with them, but I don’t endanger them. Of course, my best interest might not be in actually saving them, but this is why it’s a win-win situation for all of us.”
“And... you know where they are?” Sketch asked, readying her notebook. “These other two explorers?”
He laughed for himself with a low tone. “You already know where they are as well, don’t you, Map Sketch? Finding them isn’t the problem, it’s getting to them. You’d need a poke in the right direction unless you want to lose your mind.” He quickly covered his mouth. “Oops, did I just spoil the surprise?”
“You still didn’t e-explain why you can’t go yourself,” Crimson said. “Why d-do you need us to do this for you?”
“If I could go, I would. Now are you going to get moving or not?” he waved his eagle claw off at them. “As I said, if you want to get this done with already, you’d better get moving.”
“You still didn’t ‘point us’ in the right direction, Discord,” Sketch said, dragging out his name as she said it.
“Oh, of course.” He returned to his throne once more. “When standing in the great hall, enter the passage four from the right. It shouldn’t be anywhere close as problematic, and what you’ll find will let you follow the other ponies lost in the temple without completely losing your mind,” he giggled. “Not that that would be a bad thing, if you ask me.”
“I don’t trust him!” Kickbolt exclaimed, shrugging his wings uncomfortably as they made their way back to the great hall. “Everything about that guy was just... off.”
Sketch sighed. “I don’t exactly want to do as he says either, but all of his points were pretty good. I mean--”
“That we’d be getting ourselves trapped if we just followed those other ponies? And he’s helping us by telling us how to safely get to them?” the pegasus intercepted. “I still don’t trust him. You saw what he did with us just for fun, he’s basically some sort of god! Who knows what he’s planning?”
“B-But we only agreed to follow K-K’les and see him b-because he could’ve helped us. We were stuck t-trying to decide whether t-to follow the lost explorers or not,” Crimson said. He began to paw at the stone tiles beneath him with a hoof. “And... well... I might be w-wrong, but I’m willing to trust him, if just for n-now.”
“I’m guessing it’s because he said he had answers to your... questions?” Sketch asked. She turned around to give him a half-hearted smile. “I can’t blame you in that case, seeing as you’re one big ball of question marks to all of us.” She didn’t get a response, as Crimson just looked away while mumbling something. “Either way, what Crimson said is true. We decided to meet this Discord to get help, and he ‘pointed us’ in the ‘right direction.’ We don’t have anything else to go on besides that marker pointing into one of the passages. I say we do as he says for now.”
Kickbolt frowned, glaring at the mare as if she’d just insulted him. “Fine,” he muttered. “But only because we’re potentially saving other ponies lives while doing this!”
After having passed through the same corridor again, they were once more in the grand hall.
“W-What did he say again? Four from the r-right?” Crimson asked, looking back and forth between all the passageways before them again.
Sketch nodded, her notebook readied. “Yeah,” she said while flipping the pages, “although he could have told us what to expect in there, or in the other passage leading to those other explorers. I’m just saying that we’d be going mad without his help.” She nodded towards the doorway that fit the description. “Either way, let’s go.”
Kickbolt leaped to the front, taking the lead as they began walking in. “So what do you expect us to find here?” he asked, his eyes already scanning their surroundings for any notable traps.
“Honestly, I have no idea. We haven’t actually been told what exactly happens in any of these passages yet, and we still don’t know what we’re looking for,” Sketch answered, already slowly dotting out the lines on the map to-be for where they were walking. “I’m just hoping that whatever it--”
“What was that?! Did anypony step on something?!” Kickbolt blurted out, checking his own hooves one by one.
“I-I-I-I...” Crimson tried, but was unable to get past his stammering. “I-I think I stepped on a s-switch...” he said. He almost began shaking as he stared down on his own front leg which was now standing on an indented stone panel. “I-I’m sorry! What do I d-d-do?!”
Kickbolt cursed as he looked closer. Sketch had already scootched to the side of the wall to leave room for the pegasus. “Okay, Crimson, listen carefully. Assuming something isn’t already happening, chances are nothing will happen until after you release the plate. If so, then maybe we can--”
“B-Behind you!” Crimson shouted, stumbling back, releasing the pressure plate in doing so. “T-There’s something coming fast!”
Sketch and Kickbolt quickly turned around to face a dark blue wave rushing towards them. All three stumbled around as they tried to prepare themselves to run away.
“It’s too late, we won’t make it!” Sketch cried out. “Brace yourselves!”
Everything felt weird. The closest thing Sketch could compare this to was waking up and finding out that she’d been sleeping on one of her legs, making it feel numb. Now, however, that feeling was covering all of her body.
What happened? The last thing I remember was getting washed over by some magic field before I collapsed, she thought.
She forced her eyelids open, still unable to rid herself of the strange feeling in her body. “Guys, are you--” she began before stopping herself. She brought a hoof to her throat. “My voice!” she exclaimed. “What happened to my voice?! I sound like... like...”
“L-L-L-L-L-L...” Crimson could suddenly be heard stuttering from behind her. “L-Like... m-m-m-me!”
She slowly turned around to see Crimson, also turning to look at her. Crimson’s eyes immediately went wide as he saw her.
“Crimson, what’s wrong?” she asked. “You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m over here,” a female voice called from the side. Sketch recognized the voice right away and shifted to see if her assumption was correct.
Lying next to the wall, looking nervously in Crimson’s direction, was a mint colored mare with a bright blonde mane.
She was looking at herself.
“Judging by the way you’re looking at me, you must be Sketch, but in Kickbolt’s body,” the mare said.
“I... I what?” Sketch tried, listening to her voice this time. Suddenly, she realized one of the things that had been feeling off the entire time. Just below her vision, there was a different color than she was used to. She turned head down, only to see blue legs and hooves. “I’m... Kickbolt?” she said to herself quietly. “We swapped bodies?!”
The mare, still lying on the floor, turned from staring at Crimson back to Sketch. “It would seem so. I’m Crimson, but in your body, and I’m guessing that leaves Kickbolt in my body over there.”
Sketch turned to see the red unicorn behind her again, who was now staring cross-eyed and angrily at his own mouth as he seemed to be having trouble with his stuttering, before yielding to it and just nodded instead.
“It seems he’s not used to a body that won’t let you speak properly,” Crimson said, now in the form of a smaller mare. “Personally I’m actually finding speaking almost enjoyable now.” He - or rather she - closed his eyes, sighing. “It’s... rather nice. I might have been speaking a lot more since meeting you if it weren’t for it, and not just whenever I only found it necessary to state the facts or my viewpoints on things. Although I can understand his current frustration with being unable to get sentences started. I’ve always found it harder than usual whenever I’ve been flustered or stressed, and I’m guessing being able to see your own body from another perspective - literally - can be quite shocking for some, and then to be unable to speak as you’re used to could be another factor, along with the unfamiliarity I’m assuming we’re all feeling right now, from not being in our own bodies.”
He opened his eyes again and looked at the two other ponies staring at him. “Oh, sorry... I... guess I was rambling? Being able to talk so easily... I sort of got lost in my thoughts,” he apologized, blushing slightly.
“Wait, just to get it on the record,” Sketch said, in the form of a navy blue pegasus stallion. “I’m Sketch in Kickbolt’s body.” She pointed towards the green mare on the floor. “You’re Crimson in my - Sketch’s - body, and finally...” she turned to the unicorn. “You’re Kickbolt in Crimson’s body?”
Kickbolt, now a red unicorn, gave a depressed nod after having to concede to the stumbling of words again, not used to stammering.
“You seem to be having more problems with the stuttering than I first had; I wonder why... maybe it’s just the complete unfamiliarity with my body that’s getting in your way. Either way, with some time it should get easier, especially once you manage to calm down,” Crimson said, finally getting up on his hooves.
“And you seem to be unnaturally calm about all of this. How are you not freaking out?!” Sketch asked.
Crimson just casually shrugged. “I’m not sure. Feels rather pointless, actually.” He slowly began to look around, and moved up closer to Sketch, who was now in the pegasus body. “Actually... everything seems rather... big now. I guess it’s because I’m in such a small body right now.”
As he looked up again he could see Kickbolt, in Crimson’s own body, motioning a hoof across his throat back and forth.
“What did you say?” Sketch demanded, and was for the first time in her life, looming in front of somepony else. “I couldn’t quite hear that.”
“Nothing,” Crimson squeaked out, standing in the pegasus’ shadow.
“S-S-So w-w-what do we d-d-do now?” Kickbolt asked with great concentration on his pronouncement, trying to get them back on rail again.
Sketch shuffled one of her wings without knowing it, still not used to them. “While this is... really awkward, it won't really keep us from continuing. I say we keep going.”
“But...” Crimson began, still in thought. “We’ve always been moving in the same formation, Kickbolt in the front, then you, and lastly me, probably because I’m not as used to this as you two are. But what now? I’m not entirely sure Kickbolt is used enough to my body to protect us. Not to mention he has had no training with magic, if he can even use any, that is...” He shook his head, his new blonde ponytail swinging back and forth while doing so. “My point is, we can’t move in our usual formation... can we?”
Sketch narrowed her eyes as she looked at her own body. “You know, I just realized that my eyesight is a lot better now. I mean, I’ve got Kickbolt’s eyesight. I guess this is why he’s so good at spotting traps, excluding one.”
The unicorn in the room glared at his own body, not feeling up to the task of making a further fool of himself by being unable to speak past his stammering.
Sketch saw Kickbolt looking at her, in his body, and smirked as she realized a way to tease him further. “You know, these additional body parts from being in a new body sure feels weird too. I wonder how they’re used.”
Kickbolt’s eyes spurred open, alarmed at what he just heard. “W-W-W-W--”
“Relax, I’m talking about your wings,” Sketch said, winking at him. Kickbolt, however, didn’t feel comfortable being winked at by himself, cringing at the sight. “Luckily, we don’t need magic to light the path in here thanks to the gemstones. I guess I could give a shot at being the first in line. I’m just hoping we don’t run into anything hostile.”
She looked at Kickbolt, who shrugged in response. That was all she needed before she moved up front and began to scan the area in front of them. “I just have to search for anything that looks suspicious?” she asked, and got a nod in response. “Crimson, don’t worry about the map. So far everything’s just a straight line, so just leave it for now,” she called out to her own body.
Sketch tried to move her wings, but after a few awkward half-flaps she folded them again. “I guess I should keep these two in check. I wouldn’t want to accidentally cut myself, or you, by mistake. Is it just me, or is this harness really uncomfortable?” she asked.
“Y-Y-You g-g-get used t-t-to it.” Kickbolt answered, now trudging in the back in the new body, maintaining the usual formation. “C-C-C-Crimson... d-d-do you t-t-think I can use m-m-magic?” he asked. He cringed after every failed word.
Crimson’s head turned to glance back at his original body. “I never really thought about it before, but from this perspective, I guess I really am big,” he mumbled. “Anyway, remember the first time I tried to cast a spell? I put a lot of effort into it, but barely anything happened. Apparently, the problem was that I was imagining the ‘light’ as a general light. When nothing happened, I attempted to increase the intensity until my goal was reached. The consequence of that was a lot of unfocused magic being tossed about. All I had to do was imagine a light at the tip of my horn. It’s possible to do it elsewhere, but a unicorn’s horn is apparently the easiest focal point, for obvious reasons. Just... try and imagine a small light, like watching a lantern in the distance of a dark tunnel, but based on the horn.”
Kickbolt’s eyes crossed up towards the tip of his horn, barely in sight. He began to pout as his concentration intensified. He held his breath, until...
“N-N-Nope. I c-c-can’t d-d-do it,” he admitted an early defeat, having already lost all interest in the basics of magic.
“That’s... a pity,” Crimson responded sadly.
“Wait! Stop!” Sketch suddenly shouted, rearing up on two legs. “I think I see something!” She pointed to the corner between the wall and the floor. “See, there? There’s something... no wait, never mind,” she said, mumbling the last words. “False alarm. Seriously, Kickbolt, your eyesight is... really good. Either I need to get glasses or I’m not used to seeing so much detail in everything. Is this just your eyes or is it a pegasus thing in general?”
“B-B-Both,” he replied. He attempted a smirk, but felt that it wasn’t worth it after the stutter.
“I think there’s something ahead of us now,” Sketch said. “A... dead end?”
They continued up towards what Sketch had just spotted. It took a few seconds of extra walking before the other two had any idea what she spoke of. Kickbolt tried to comment about how his current eyes wasn’t up to par, but didn’t want to risk any more stammering than necessary.
“It is a dead end,” Sketch confirmed. “But there’s something hanging on it.” She moved up closer, and picked it up. “A pendant?”
“Yeah, yeah. I can guess,” Sketch interrupted Kickbolt as his stammering was acting up. “‘Sketch, you don’t know what that does, how could you just pick it up!’” she mimicked Kickbolt’s voice, which while being in Kickbolt’s actual body only resulted in a much lower voice than needed. “Relax, it’s the only thing here, and Discord said we’d find something that would help us, so this must be it!” She slipped it around her neck. “So, how do I look?” she asked, showing off her new accessory.
“Like Kickbolt,” Crimson responded dryly.
She rubbed her own neck. ”Oh yeah, I guess we need to do something about that sooner or later. For now, I guess we’ll just have to head back again.”
“I suppose,” Crimson agreed. He was now flipping around in Sketch’s notebook, which he’d found in its usual position in her saddlebag. “By the way, these hooves - your hooves... it’s... very easy to use them in regards to other objects. Is this an earth pony trait?”
“Huh? I guess, maybe. I never really thought about it.” She brought up her own - now blue - hooves to look at them, and grimaced at the sight. “Ugh, Kickbolt, have I ever told you that your fetlocks look hideous?”
The unicorn rolled his eyes at the notion. “T-T-Too often.”
“I might as well attempt some slight wing-movements, just in case,” Sketch said. “They’re already armed, and they’re the only actual weapons we have right now, and we can’t rely on Crimson’s magic either. I guess I could just run up and buck whatever troubles us, I do know how to do that.”
“W-W-W-Works f-f-for m-m-m-me,” Kickbolt responded, after which he sighed heavily. “H-H-How d-d-do you d-d-deal with this?!”
“As I said, you seem to be having more trouble with the stuttering than I have. I recommend you to be patient, and only to speak when you have to if you find it problematic,” Crimson responded.
It didn’t take long before they were back in the great hall again, retracing their steps was easy in a straight path, as Sketch lazily mentioned while inspecting the necklace she’d found.
“I wonder what this thing is good for,” she said, poking it with a hoof. “Looks completely ordinary to me.” She hummed while narrowing her eyes, looking at the small stone object bound to the string around her neck. “Oh well, let’s see if we can put it to use somehow. I guess it’s time to try and follow those other two explorers and see if we can help them already.”
Sketch began to lead them through the passage that the magical pointer showed them. “Are you two coming?”
Kickbolt nodded meekly, which looked fitting in Crimson’s body. Crimson himself seemed to hesitate, but decided to follow as well.
“So what do you think we can expect in here?” she asked nopony in particular. “Never mind, it’s a stupid question. There’s nothing to base the answer on,” she said again before anypony responded.
They continued down the similar passage in silence for a couple of minutes. Sketch didn’t detect any traps, and luckily none were triggered either, but as most of the questions that came with the body-switch had already been asked, there was little left to say.
However, suddenly, Kickbolt and Crimson could hear a voice speaking softly around them, as if coming from the gems lighting the inside of the temple.
“I wonder if I should tell Crimson that I like him.”
(Author’s note: I’d like to thank ARBPW and LysanderasD for helping me with editing on this chapter. If you liked it, please leave a comment, they’re probably the biggest source of encouragement I’ve yet to encounter. Don’t forget to rate!
Body switching! That’s totally not cliché... right?
Maybe it is. Meh, I don’t care, it was still fun to write.
Sorry I’ve been slow on updating, especially with a chapter that’s not really that big after all that waiting, too. It’s way too easy to let the days drift past one by one while you keep thinking ‘later’. But sooner or later you realize that ‘later’ won’t ever come until you decide to actually do something.
What I’m saying is, procrastinating sucks.
If you have any suggestions or thoughts or anything you’d like to say to me personally, you can contact me on fimfiction or directly via [email protected]!
Also, thanks again for reading!)
The currently red stallion and the green mare stopped dead in their tracks, staring with wide eyes at the pony whose voice they had just heard echoing from inside their own minds. Sketch herself was trotting ahead, unaware what had just happened. Kickbolt and Crimson quickly traded a mystified looks before turning back to the pegasus before them.
“Sketch, did you just say that?” Crimson quietly asked, having taken a few moments to bring up the courage to speak after what he just heard.
Slowly stopping her movement, the mare in the stallion body turned around. "What are you talking about? I didn't say anything," she responded. "Maybe you just imagined it."
Kickbolt quickly stepped in, shaking his head. "I heard it t-t-too."
"And," Crimson continued, "it sounded like your voice. And I mean your voice. The one I currently possess!”
Sketch gave them an odd look. “But... I didn’t say anything... did I? What did you hear?”
Crimson looked to the side, blushing. “You were... contemplating whether or not to tell me that you... like me.” By now he was tapping the ground with a hoof anxiously.
“I... what?” Sketch asked quietly. Her face flushed red immediately as her wings uncontrollably began to twitch, causing the the feathers ruffling slightly. “How... but... you heard that?!” she almost screamed back in a panic. “I was just thinking to myself!” she explained quickly, before realizing what she had just admitted.
The silence that followed was all the more difficult to deal with than what had just happened. The three of them just stood there, staring at each other for several minutes. Both Sketch and Crimson tried to break the awkwardness by saying something, but it proved too hard to come up with anything to say at this point.
“S-S-So... w-w-w-we heard your t-t-thoughts?” Kickbolt eventually managed to get out, attempting to change the subject everypony was thinking about.
“I guess so?” Sketch replied, rubbing her neck with a leg. “I don’t really know what happened or why. It could just be one of those ‘mind tricks’ that Full Bellows warned us about. I guess we should continue either way. We’ve been standing here for too long already. We can... talk about what just happened later, okay?”
Crimson nodded meekly. “A-Agreed,” he stuttered slightly, looking down on the ground as if looking for something.
Only after having continued down the same path for another couple of minutes, another voice could be heard echoing from somewhere.
“It hurts to think...”
Crimson and Kickbolt both began twisting their heads again as soon as they heard it. “There it was again!” the current mare said. “But I think it was somepony else speaking this time?”
“What are you talking about? I didn’t hear anything,” Sketch said, raising an eyebrow in their direction as they were looking back and forth, as if searching for something.
"A-Again!" Kickbolt let out, trying to keep his words simple.
Crimson nodded, looking back down the hallway before them. "I'm only guessing, but I think that was the voice of... somepony else?"
"You mean the two we’re looking for?" Sketch wondered, still looking at her companions as if they've gone mad. “You’re not making much sense.”
The smaller earth pony shook her head and tapped it with a hoof, deep in thought. “I’m not certain of what’s going on, but for some reason you’re unable to hear these voices?”
“What voices?! All I can hear is us talking!”
“Exactly, you can’t hear them. The question is why you and not us?” Crimson said, turning towards Kickbolt standing behind him, who just shrugged.
Sketch held her tongue for a moment before speaking. “I don’t know, but does it really matter right now? I mean, they’re just voices, right?”
Kickbolt squinted in her direction, frowning, but didn’t say anything. Instead, he nudged Crimson forward a step, hoping he would say something similar enough to what Kickbolt himself was thinking.
“Uh... Well, we can’t be sure, can we?” he mumbled, desperate to come up with something else to say as the unicorn kept prodding him with the horn to keep him talking. “I’m pretty sure we heard your voice at first, but after that we’ve only heard other voices. We can only guess that they belong to the ones we’re searching for.”
“So?” Sketch asked with an eyebrow up. “I don’t think that changes anything. We already ran into a trap that made us swap bodies, and now you’re hearing voices? Either way, I don’t see how any of these things are directly bad, just annoying. I’m just hoping this body switch will wear off in time,” she finally mumbled. “For now, let’s just keep going! We’ve already talked about this. You two are probably worrying yourselves over nothing,” she suddenly said in a much cheerier demeanor.
Everypony’s legs but Sketch’s were now wobbling their way forward. Both Crimson and Kickbolt had been telling her about more and more of these voices they were hearing.
“Is it really that bad?” she asked, tilting her head while looking at the other two ponies.
Both Crimson and Kickbolt grimaced even harder than they already were. “This... is maddening,” Crimson let out through his teeth, clenching them as if dealing with pain. “I can hear so many voices... at the same time.” He paused to slowly breathe in before continuing. “It’s beginning to become difficult... to hear actual sound over all the talking.”
Kickbolt just nodded in agreement.
“Well... keep it up, then.” Sketch walked up to Crimson, and pulled up her own book that was still in her original saddlebag. “If the other passages we walked through are of any indication, we should be nearing the end.”
Just as she ended her sentence, Kickbolt suddenly collapsed. The red unicorn was now lying sideways, having fallen flat on the ground.
Rushing to his side, both pegasus and earth pony looked over him. “Kickbolt, are you alright?! What happened?” Sketch demanded, shaking him lightly with a hoof.
“D-D-Dizzy...” he groaned, but after a few moments his face seemed relieved. “B-Better now, th-thanks,” he said, trying to get up on his legs again.
“Are you sure? You just sorta... fell over, I don’t want you fainting or anything,” the pegasus said with a stern voice.
Kickbolt nodded carefully. “T-The v-v-voices... b-better now.”
“If you say so...” Sketch mumbled. “Just... stay close, both of you, okay? I don’t want either of you hitting your head against the floor or anything.”
Taking up a new formation, Sketch stood in between both Crimson and Kickbolt, supporting them by placing her wings on top of them, which took more work than she would have preferred for some simple control over them.
They only had to take a few additional steps before something new came into their sight.
Beneath the crystal ornaments lighting, a light gray mare with a creamy yellow mane was visible. Next to her was another mare, whose coat was the same color as her companion’s mane, while her own mane was a pale green.
Both of them were lying on the floor, near another dead end.
“Hey! Hey, are you alright?!” Sketch shook the closest one, the light gray mare. Up close, she could spot a quill writing something as her cutie mark, under her wing. She pulled out Kickbolt’s canteen and splashed some water on her face.
She slowly blinked herself awake, trying to see through the water dripping down her face. “Uhh... everything seems... clearer now. What happened? Who... who are you?”
“Good good, you’re still okay. Hold on, we have to see to your teammate first!” Sketch responded, looking over to see Crimson already tending to the other mare, who was slowly waking up.
With a calming smile now on her face, Sketch looked down to the pegasus again. She was still holding up her head slightly with a leg from when she tried to wake her up, only now Sketch noticed that the female pegasus was staring up at her, blushing.
“You... you saved us.”
“Err... yeah. We were asked to see what had happened to you,” Sketch explained as she helped the pegasus up.
Without a moment to spare, as soon as the gray mare had gotten up, she immediately moved closer to lean up against Sketch. “Oh it was horrible! We thought that we could turn off these voices if we made it to the end, but they never ended! Soon enough, our minds felt like... like... mush!” She seemed to calm herself as she leaned tighter into Sketch, who was uncomfortably trying to edge backwards.
“I’m Fleeting Quill,” she spoke softly into Sketch’s ear. “And this is my partner in exploration, Clear Lens!” She moved a hoof in the other mare’s direction, who was standing next to Crimson. At the sight of the the unfamiliar green mare, Fleeting Quill’’s eyes suddenly glared for a moment before turning back to bat them again at Sketch.
Crimson and Kickbolt were both staring awkwardly at what was going on, the latter’s eyes twitching at the very sight. Clear Lens just rolled her eyes at the sight of it.
“Uh... right,” Sketch muttered, pushing away the attached pegasus. “I’m Sketch, this is Crimson,” she said, motioning towards her own body. “And this is Kickbolt,” she ended, pointing at the unicorn instead. “And due to some unforeseen circumstances, the three of us have swapped bodies. I am now in Kickbolt’s body, while he is in Crimson’s, and Crimson is in my own body.”
Fleeting Quill’’s eyes narrowed as she looked back and forth between the three of them, Clear Lens seemed to be trying to stifle giggling instead. “Wait, so you’re saying... you’re a mare?!”
“Uh... currently? Yes.”
The creamy mare standing behind them suddenly began rolling over while laughing, Fleeting Quill flung her legs into the air, and began spouting several obscene words, every one worse than the last. Sketch’s flushing was now about as strongly colored as Crimson’s usual coat, as was Kickbolt’s.
After several attempts to get their attention again by clearing her throat, Sketch failed to quiet them, until Kickbolt whistled loudly. She mouthed a quick ‘thank you’ to him before turning to the mares again. “I see you’re both... feeling better, however, could you please help us figure out what’s going on here?”
“Fine, but only because we could use your help. Just cut the crap so we can get out of this hellhole already,” Fleeting Quill answered quickly enough without making eye contact.
“Rrright... Well, for some reason, my two companions seemed to be affected the same way as you two were, but I... well... didn’t. I still haven’t heard a single one of those voices they kept mentioning.”
Clear Lens walked up, taking a closer look at Sketch. “Maybe it’s... you? We could barely communicate with each other until you showed up, then everything just seemed to... fade.” After a moment her eyes shot up, and she looked back to the wall behind her, and then back to Sketch, and then back to the wall...
“Uh, Clear Lens, was it? Did you figure something out?” Crimson asked, stepping out from Sketch’s shadow.
“What? Oh, yeah, sorry.” She blinked inconspicuously before turning back to Sketch. “That pendant you’re wearing, where did you get it?”
“This?” she asked, picking up the round stone she’d been wearing around her neck. “We found it in another passage before making our way here. We didn’t know what to do with it, so we just brought it along.”
The yellow earth pony nodded to the wall behind her. “There’s a slot here that looks like it could fit something just about that size, we thought it was meant for a magic stone first, but it didn’t work... and by then we were too... exhausted to make our way back.”
Sketch quickly caught on, moving up to the wall and examining the hole for herself. “There’s not much to go on, it’s just... a hole.” She turned back to Clear Lens. “Are you sure about this?”
Clear Lens just shrugged back at her. “Meh, what’s the worst that could happen?”
Snickering lightly, Sketch took the pendant off her neck. “Heh, that sounds like something I would say.”
After removing the string allowing her to wear it like a necklace, she lined it up with the hole, sliding it in carefully. Everypony held their breaths as first the stone, and then the entire wall, began glowing a light sky colored blue in an pattern resembling an inverted sun, with the rays pointing inwards, the pendant being in the center.
Kickbolt, Crimson, Fleeting Quill and Clear Lens all sighed with relief as a wave of clarity washed over them. Sketch herself could feel slightly better, even though she hadn’t noticed any ill effects at first.
“Oooohh... that feels a lot better,” Fleeting Quill moaned, rubbing her templates while doing so.
“So...” Crimson began, rubbing his chin. “The pendant was the ‘cure’?”
Clear Lens tilted her head slightly and shrugged. “Honestly, I have no idea. I just hoped it would work.”
“Well it would explain why I never noticed any effects. I was the one carrying the thing!” Sketch deducted.
"I don't care, nor do I want to!" Fleeting Quill suddenly called out. "Come on Lens, let’s get the hell out of this forsaken place." Before even waiting for a response, she began trotting with her snout in the air.
Clear Lens sighed again and slowly began following. She turned her head slightly before leaving earshot. "Fleeting Quill may not be the most thankful pony around, so I'd like to say thank you all for saving us."
As their hoofsteps slowly died out in the distance, Sketch and Crimson turned to Kickbolt.
"Sooo..." Sketch began. "Looks like somepony fell for your... good looks," she said, savouring the last few words deeply before uttering them.
Crimson stepped back, blushing.
"What about you? We both heard you admitting you had a crush on Crimson here," he defended himself with.
"Can... can we please talk about this later?" Crimson interrupted them, flushing even harder than before. "I’m not comfortable talking about that, especially when we’re not in our own bodies."
Sketch, who had been flushing up until now, nodded in agreement. "Maybe... maybe you’re right. Lets get back to the task at hoof." She turned back towards the glowing wall and slowly began to tilt her head at the sight of it. "Okay... So... What?"
"Um..."could be heard from behind them. Kickbolt was staring awkwardly at the wall. "I t-t-think this is one of t-t-those things that C-C-Crimson could read, b-because I'm reading it right n-n-now."
"Really?! Crimson asked, wide eyed with surprise. "What... what do you ‘feel’?" The question made Sketch seem even more confused.
Kickbolt waited a moment before answering. "I-I-I-In a s-s-sense, comprehension... It's hard to describe, but from what I can understand is that it says the word ‘rule’, not that I know why."
Crimson nodded slowly upon hearing the answer. "I... see. I suppose this ability of mine is bound to my body. Aren't you able to read anything as well?"
"Actually, something else just appeared... ‘Go portal.’"
"Portal? The one leading to Discord?" Sketch asked.
"Do we know of any other portals?" Crimson answered with another question.
Upon seeing the ponies again, Discord began rolling on the floor in heavy laughter, banging his fists at the floor panels. “You swapped...” he choked out between breaths. “You actually swapped bodies! This is priceless!”
“Rub it in, will you?” Sketch groaned, shuffling her wings with annoyance. “Can you help us or not? We did what you asked us to.”
“Won’t you let an old fellow enjoy himself for a moment?” Discord said while cracking another smile. After having traded smiles for scowls for a moment, he frowned himself. “Oh but fine, we have things to discuss either way.” Snapping a claw, the room was suddenly filled with smoke.
After some light coughing, Kickbolt called out to the others. “Are you guys okay?!”
As the smoke quickly began to clear, Sketch responded with a cough of her own. “I think so, and I’m... I’m...”
“B-B-Back in m-m-my b-b-body!” Crimson let out happily. By now the white fog had cleared, and the three ponies could clearly see each others. Smiling at the sight of ponies other than their own bodies.
“Oh I really missed not having a stutter!” the once again pegasus declared. “Oh and I missed these for sure.” He gave a few strong flaps, hovering slightly above the ground for a moment.
“It feels good to be back in my own body. This experience was just... weird,” Sketch said.
Discord brought up his lion paw and gave an ever so gently cough, followed by a giant trumpet playing out of his ears, loud enough to wake a sleeping Kickbolt. “Now that I have your attention again, we do have things to talk about.”
“Y-You said that you could t-tell me about... myself, didn’t you?” Crimson eagerly asked.
Discord waved a digit at him. “Ah ah ah! I said I might be able to tell you more about yourself. Right now that’s not the case. You are however lucky enough that I will be able to say what I’m going to tell you now,” Discord explained, sitting in his usual throne, normally for once.
Crimson pulled back, dropping his head low upon hearing this. Kickbolt walked up to him and patted his back with a wing. “Cheer up. I’m sure we’ll find out something eventually,” he comforted the other stallion. Crimson replied with a meek smile, blushing.
“It better be good,” Sketch spoke in a threatening manner, squinting towards the draconequus.
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly go as far to say it’s good information, just that you should count yourselves lucky. Here’s the thing... Due to certain... circumstances, I am trapped here. I might seem all mighty and godlike to you, but I’m still stuck. I’m here to play a certain role, to... guide you, in a way. The problem is, what I can and can’t tell you is also restricted by the same powers keeping me here. That task I asked you to do? That was one out of many objectives which must be met for me to be allowed to part any further information.”
The trio blinked slowly. Kickbolt’s head just tilted sideways, as if everything just went over him. Sketch pulled out her notebook and wrote hastily as Discord spoke.
“Wait... why should we count ourselves lucky?” Sketch asked suddenly, not quite done writing.
The abomination sighed and rolled his eyes. “As I said, these tasks I ask of you help me help you further. This one, in particular, that you just completed, allowed me to tell you all of this. There are many things that need to be said, but right now I was able to explain this to you. Now you know of my restrictions. I’m not intentionally hiding anything from you, I just can’t speak freely,” he explained further, the last words seemed to agitate him slightly. “Chances were some random information about the background for Crimson or some other silly rule would be explained, but right now I’ve said all that I can. I didn’t lie when I said I might be able to explain Crimson Aegis’ background. I just can’t, yet.”
Sketch slowly hummed while rubbing the eraser end of her pencil to her cheek. “So you’re saying that if we uncover more of these secrets for you, you’ll be able to tell us more? Possibly about... this world?”
“A-About me?” Crimson asked.
“Yes, and yes,” Discord responded simply. “I can help you locate other runes that might be of use, but you need to handle yourselves out there. Although you’ve already proven yourselves quite capable.”
“Wait wait wait,” Kickbolt walked between everypony, shaking his head. “How do we know you’re not some sort of ancient evil, and you’re just using us to get out?!”
Discord’s eyes immediately seemed to express boredom. “Kickbolt,” he deadpanned. “Have you ever heard the term ‘cliche’? I don’t do ‘cliche’. Besides, I doubt your female friend here would miss out the chance to unravel all of this world’s mysteries,” he gleefully said, pouting up his cheeks while blinking with giant gleaming eyes at Sketch, who rolled her eyes before nodding slightly in Discord’s direction.
“Oh come on Sketch!” the blue pegasus cried out. “You can’t seriously be trusting this... this thing!”
“Oh my, what language!” Discord said, fending off a yawn. “I’m almost offended!”
The little green mare slowly moved towards the pegasus, putting on a weak smile. “Kickbolt, do you really think we can afford to miss a chance to learn all there is to know about this world? That’s the only thing that’s been keeping ponies going for years!” She finally glanced back to Discord again. “Besides... I think we can trust him. I’m not sure why... but I just do.”
“Excellent! Now that this is settled!” Discord announced loudly. “I ca--”
“But--” Kickbolt tried.
“Now that this is settled,” Discord repeated himself, putting emphasis the last word “I can point you towards your next destination. Well, sort of.” He put his claws into his mouth and whistled loudly. “Here boy! Come here K’les!” He patted his knees while calling for the shadow.
A wispy jet black shape slipped out through some cracks in the wall, stopping in front of Discord. The draconequus threw the shadow a small bone shaped treat. K’les simply tilted his head as he tried to identify the object.
“K’les here will guide you to your next destination. He more or less knows where you need to go, but you’ll have to find the exact location yourselves.”
Upon hearing his task, the shadow’s head immediately began flying up and down in its usual pattern, showing some sort of happiness on his part. “K’les go with pony!”
“We’re going to be stuck with the shadow thing again? He sort of creeps me out,” Kickbolt muttered. K’les however, remained oblivious as he had already begun to move towards the exit.
“Sketch... I really can’t stress how much of a bad idea I think this is,” Kickbolt tried reasoning with the mare again. “We don’t know anything about this guy, I’m not sure we should trust him completely.”
“There’s nothing to discuss. We don’t know anything about this world, and he might be able to tell us something. It’s not like we can research anything about him. As far as I know, we’re the first ones to meet him.”
The pegasus shook his head. “Wouldn’t that make it our responsibility to make sure we don’t do something horribly wrong? Shouldn’t we bring this up to the council in Ever City first or something?” he argued.
Sketch blew a raspberry in his direction. “Oh please, those stuck up ponies wouldn’t even believe ‘second rate explorers’ like us even if we actually had the answer to everything right before us. We’re better off without them.”
“Am I d-d-detecting hostility t-towards the c-council?” Crimson asked from beside the others as they made their way back into Hill’s Base.
“If there’s anypony I don’t trust, it’s them,” Sketch muttered. “It’s a long story.”
“Hey K’les,” Kickbolt began, now floating slightly above the ground with his wings. “Where exactly will you be taking us?”
The black creature that had been hiding beneath the pegasus’ own shadow under the moonlight opened his white eyes, blinking them a few times before responding. “Not sure. Only know direction now.”
“Well that’s informative,” the pegasus muttered. “We can go after tomorrow. Right now, we could use some rest once we get back to the house they’re letting us use.
“Speaking of which, we’re finally back!” Sketch happily let out, pointing to the “Ooooh. I really want a bed right now. Swapping bodies is exhausting for some reason.” Putting a hoof against the door, she pushed it open, letting the group in. “Let’s talk more in the morning, right now all I want to do is sleep.”
The blue stallion nodded in agreement. “Can’t say no to less talking, my mind is already spinning from all of this. I’ll see you two... err...” He eyed his own shadow suspiciously. “Three... in the morning.”
K’les separated himself again, and headed towards a dark corner in the house. “K’les wait here.”
“Rrright...” Sketch let out. “Good night, you two,” she said, nodding towards Crimson and Kickbolt.
“G-G-Good night...” Crimson finally said, heading towards his own room.
Sketch was sitting by the table next to the bed. The candle’s flickering was slowly dying out as she made some final adjustments to the notes and mapping she’d been making from their trip. Stretching her hooves as a yawn overcame her, she blew out the candle and decided it was time for some well deserved rest.
Just as she turned towards the bed, somepony knocked at the door. Rubbing her eyes in annoyance at the late visitor.
“Come in,” she said while stifling another yawn.
As the wooden door creaked open, a red pony could be seen entering.
“Crimson? Is there something wrong?”
The unicorn softly shut the door behind him, ensuring it was properly closed again. He looked up to Sketch before dropping his eyes to the floor again. “I... Sketch... c-can we t-t-talk? About what h-h-h-happened in the... temple.”
(Author’s note: Okay. So, sorry that this chapter took a while. I’m really sorry, but that’s what happens if writers end up getting jobs during the summer and end up catching pneumonia somehow. That, and I’ve only been a little lazy. Anyway, chapter 14 is here now! I’ll see if I can’t get back into my usual writing rut after this.
So apparently this story got added to tvtropes, but it doesn’t have it’s own page yet. I’m not entirely familiar with the site, all I know it’s popular for some reason I probably should get into (but not now). If anyone’s feels like they’re up for making a proper page for it, please, go ahead! :d
Sorry if the chapter feels... weird. I suppose I’m a little out of practice. I did my best though.
I’d like to thank my proof readers, ARBPW and Lysander. Speaking of which, ARBPW is actually working on his own story on fimfiction. I urge you to go and take a peek on it, like this one, it’s based on OC’s in an adventure setting. Clicky. Make sure you leave him a comment or such if you like it, you know, to get him to continue writing it faster!
With that said, don’t forget to comment on this chapter (and story in general) as well! I may not answer all comments, but I read all of them. All of them. Multiple times, usually. If you want to reach me, you can do so at [email protected].
Thank you for reading! I promise the next chapter won’t take as long.)
Sketch’s eyes drifted slowly to the side, not wanting to make eye contact with Crimson.
“About what happened in the temple,” he started. “... I...I...”
She breathed deeply before continuing. “Why is this always so hard?” she muttered. “Might as well get this over with. Crimson Aegis... I... I li—”
“Like me,” he finished for her. “I a-already know that,” he said quietly with a smirk.
Sketch began to glance towards Crimson’s face. “Right, because that’s what you... heard. I was sort of hoping we could have this nice talk first before you found out. Maybe something to drink...”
Crimson put on another nervous smile. “I’m f-flattered. R-R-Really, I am... but...” His voice trailed off.
“But? But what?” Sketch asked. She walked up to him, just close enough so that they were talking face to face.
Crimson inhaled and paused his breath for a moment. “I’m s-sorry... but... I d-d-don’t feel th-the same way.”
An awkward silence filled the room. All that could be heard was the breathing of the two ponies.
“I... see,” Sketch said. “I guess that idea’s out of the window.” She tried to laugh, hoping the sound covered up the sound of her voice cracking. “Are you sure we couldn’t give it... you know... a shot? Just... a date maybe?”
The stallion bit his lips and looked away. “N-n-no, it’s... Th-the thing is... I don’t feel that w-way... about...” He mumbled something, almost in a whisper, and Sketch leaned closer to him while raising her brow.
“What was that last part?”
He sighed heavily, trying his hardest not to look at her. Eventually, he had to bite the bullet.
“...I’m not s-sure if I like mares...”
It took a few moments for Sketch to realise what he had just said, but once it sunk in she began to blink at him with wide eyes. “Wait... so it’s not me? I thought you didn’t like me as in you thought I had a bad personality or something... but you don’t like mares?! As in, you don’t like them, but nothing against them personally?” She rambled, exhaling when done and instantly feeling relieved. Her eyes suddenly narrowed into small cracks as she looked in his direction. “Wait... does that mean that you like...”
She didn’t have to say another word, as Crimson was already blushing as he sat down and stared into the wall, nodding meekly. “I had always th-thought you and K-Kickbolt were... together. But s-since I l-l-learned that you liked me... I figured you two w-weren’t a c-c-couple.”
The light green mare tilted her head and raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”
Crimson swallowed. “I w-wanted t-to ask... d-do you think I have a chance with K-Kickbolt?
The exhaustion she had felt earlier was completely gone by this point. She began to hum to herself and scratched behind an ear. “When I first met Kickbolt a couple of years ago, I tried to... approach him. I got rejected by him, too. At the time he said something about... not being sure if he liked girls that way.” She cracked a smile towards Crimson, who was listening with both ears perked up. “I’ve never really confirmed it myself... but I always assumed he was a coltcuddler. There’s been a lot of signs, though.”
The unicorn raised an eyebrow at the expression, then smiled. “I... Th-Thank you, Sketch. I m-may not like you in such a w-way, but you’re still a g-good friend.”
After the her guest returned to his room, Sketch sat on the edge of her own bed for a while, tapping against the wooden floor with her hooves dangling. As she thought about what had just happened, her smile slowly turned into a frown, until she finally let out a heavy sigh as she crawled in under her sheets.
Just as she managed to make herself comfortable, a dark head popped out of the wall.
“K’les confused. What ‘coltcuddler’?”
Shrieking loudly, she threw her pillow at the shadow’s face, yelling at him to get out.
The elder held up his ear trumpet as he tried to make out what Sketch was shouting in his general direction. He nodded once he realized that she was thanking him for his hospitality.
“You sure you don’t want to stay? We could use more ponies like you around here,” Full Bellows yelled back at the mare. Adjusting his ear trumpet further, he finally relaxed as he signaled, using his hoof, that he could hear now.
“Thanks, but no thanks. We sort of have this... thing we have to do. By the looks of it, we’ll be going to Ever City first,” Kickbolt said, grinning at the thought of going to the big city again.
“You’re going to Ever City?” Full Bellows asked. He pulled out a letter from his vest. “Could you bring this letter with you? It’s for my son. I’d appreciate it if you could get it to him.”
“Uh, sure, I guess,” Sketch answered as she took the letter and stashed it in her bag. “But why not just send it with normal mail?”
“Too important. Lucky for you, I trust you.” He winked towards Sketch, who stepped back in the process with an awkward smile on her face.
“Rrright...” Crimson and Kickbolt traded a look with each other, then Sketch who nodded firmly. “Well, it’s been a blast, but we’re losing daylight here! We’ll get this letter delivered for you. Buhbye!” She scurried towards the exit, trying to somehow stay inconspicuous.
Without wasting any more time, the trio headed out away from Hill’s Base and towards Ever City.
The grey young pony was standing alone in the clearing, busying himself with trying to erect a set of metal poles near the middle. Gathered closely together, they formed a small circle where they connected at the top like a tent. After Gearbox finished with putting them up, he stared at them for a moment before giving a nod to himself for a job well done. Giving them a light kick, they all simultaneously sparked to life as they began to hum in harmony with the small yellow light that was dancing around the top of it.
“No, I’m telling you Pledgeword. If we want to find anything we need to stay low.”
“Fine. We’ll attempt your way of doing this in the morning.”
Gearbox turned his head to see his two female companions coming out from behind a particularly large tree they’d decided to set up camp at. He smiled when they noticed him, and eventually began to grin as they began to stare at the contraption he’d set up.
“Gearbox, what in the blazes is that?!” Pledgeword immediately demanded. As she walked closer, the small light at the top fixed itself in her direction, turning bright red and buzzing loudly. Alarmed, the unicorn stumbled backwards, slamming her back into the tree they’d just walked around.
“Hostility detector,” he responded simply with a wry smile, wagging his eyebrows at the mares.
Pledgeword and Spyglass looked at each other the latter just shrugged before the pink pony sighed. “Fair enough,” she said as she moved her head about after the impact. The red light that had been buzzing to and from suddenly returned to its previous form as it began to calmly look around them.
“Is this the thing that will warn us if in case of danger?” Spyglass asked, flying above it and having a staring competition with the magical eye. Eventually, she forfeited as she descended again, rubbing her sore eyelids.
"I'm not so sure I'm willing to trust this thing, Gearbox. It looks like a piece of overgrown junk," Spyglass said with a frown.
The colt flinched, as if he'd been struck physically. After looking back to his beloved construction and then to the orange pegasus again, he pouted, his lip trembling ever so slightly. "Trust?" he asked, tilting his head sideways.
The pegasus glared at him for a couple of seconds, finally sighing in defeat. "Fine," she grumbled.
Pledgeword slowly cracked a smile of her own. "I suppose we can give him this. After all, his inventions have yet to actually cause any problems aside from not doing anything at all, at worst." She slowly paced around both Gearbox and his magically powered machine, slowly nodding to herself. "With this, we won't need somepony to stay watch while we rest," she argued, causing the colt to beam once again. "Where do you keep getting the magic stones to power these things, anyway?"
He turned back to the device, poking a small screen that had only appeared after he twisted a knob. After changing some settings back and forth, he turned back the same knob, causing the yellow transparent monitor to fade away. "Custom ordered," he replied flatly, as if deep in thought. He pulled a small lever, and stared at a small needle pointing at some numbers as if there was currently nothing more important in the world.
“I might as well take this opportunity to inform you that I’ve finally agreed to Spyglass’ suggestions. From now on we’ll attempting a more subtle approach, rather than the usual scouting we’ve been doing up until now.”
The gray pony flicked an ear and tilted his head backwards, glancing at the pink unicorn for a moment before returning to his apparatus. “Reconnaissance?”
“Pretty much,” Spyglass confirmed. “We can’t just look around aimlessly out in the open if we want to find these things; for all we know, they’re actually hiding from us,” the pegasus added. She pulled out a small blanket that she placed on the ground, making herself as comfortable as possible on the rugged cloth.
Pledgeword followed her lead, rolling out her own thin mattress on the camp ground, grimacing as she tried to flatten it properly against the damp leaves. As one final act before allowing herself any rest, she carefully brought out a pink pillow with white small frills and a silky pattern etched across it. As her head touched it, she let out a sigh of relief.
"Do you always need that over-stitched piece of fluff when you try to sleep? It's a waste of packing space," Spyglass growled with with one eye half-open. "Just look at Gearbox! He can sleep fine without any 'nice commodities'." She pointed a hoof in the colts direction. He was lying flat on the ground, already having fallen asleep whilst Pledgeword was readying her own sleeping area.
"Forgive me for bringing me a piece of home to help me relax," the unicorn replied in a snarky voice. "Does my pillow bother you? Is it keeping you awake?” she countered, to which the pegasus just rolled over, without responding. “Besides, have you actually seen his home? I wouldn’t be surprised if he can make himself comfortable on the top of a heap of metal scraps.”
“Right, whatever. I’m sorry,” Spyglass said. “I guess I’m just tired after flying around all day, looking for something we’re not even sure is there. Or maybe because it’s the third day in the row I’m doing this? Or was it fourth? I lost count.”
“We’ll head back to town tomorrow night.” Pledgeword gave a long yawn. “I’m not entirely happy with what we’re doing either, but orders are orders.
“‘Orders’? The Explorer’s Guild is practically based on volunteer work! We could just quit anytime we wanted and do some real work again instead of following instructions from a senile old mare under the belief that we’re being invaded from another world!” She turned on her back and flung her legs into the air. “I’m telling you, she’s nuts! And I’m not sure I can take this any longer!”
Pledgeword sat up and looked in the orange pony’s direction. “Spyglass, what are you implying?”
“I’m ‘implying’ that I’ve had enough! When we get back to town next time, I’m quitting the guild. Maybe I’ll see if I can move to Ever City and start my own shop or something, get a real life.”
She shot the pegasus a glance. “How long have you been thinking about this?”
“I don’t know,” she murmured. “Since a couple of weeks ago, I guess? I’m just not sure that this is what I want to do any longer, especially with all...” she stretched out her hooves into the air. “All of this going on.”
“If that is what you truly think, then so be it...” Pledgeword quietly responded. “We’ll talk more about this in the morning, Spyglass. Good night.”
The pegasus just muttered something to herself, turning back to face the gray bark of a tree.
The three ponies all woke up in an instant as soon as the siren began to call.
“What’s going on?!” Spyglass called out, covering her ears as she grimaced. “What’s that noise?!”
Gearbox pointed towards the top of the gadget, at the mystic eye that had been looking around earlier. It was now a blood red color and focused towards a couple of bushes at the other side of the camp. He gave it a confident kick and the siren shut off, but the eye continued to stare towards the same direction.
Only moments after the trio looked to the bush, it rustled briefly, before a dark shape barreled out of it, running away.
“Wh-what was that?!” Spyglass blurted out, shaking heavily. “Did you see that? What was that?!”
“A hostile, if Gearbox’s machine is to be believed,” Pledgeword said. “Did anypony get a good look at it?”
“I just asked what it was!”
“But did you see it? Yes or no, Spyglass?” Pledgeword asked again.
“I don’t know what I saw!” The pegasus pulled at her own face. “It was... it was...”
“Here,” Gearbox said from behind them, by his machine.
A soft orange projection appeared before them, floating in mid-air as the eye on top of the machine conjured it. A picture of the bush could be seen, as well as a creature behind it.
“It would seem that whatever we’re out here looking for...” She swallowed. “…found us first,” Pledgeword said softly, inspecting the picture keenly.
“What do we do? Follow it?” Spyglass asked, sweat beads forming on her forehead.
“No,” the unicorn responded sharply. “For now, we report back to Master at the guild...”
Pledgeword paused, deep in thought, and then began to chuckle heartily. “What’s the matter with you?!” the pegasus snapped. “We’re dealing with who knows what and you suddenly throw a laughing fit?”
“I was just thinking about our senile and nutty master, about how right she seems to have been.”
Spyglass spoke through clenched teeth. “Not the time, Pledgie.” The pink unicorn flinched slightly at the nickname.
“Correct,” Gearbox cut in. He brought up another monitor like the first, except it seemed to show an overlay of the area they currently were in. He pointed towards a set of red dots closing in towards the middle, circling around three blue dots they could only assume meant themselves.
“There... There’s more, and they’re surrounding us.”
“I’m telling you Sketch, once a mare enters the marketplaces of Ever City, they never leave!”
The green mare huffed. “You’re that eager to get rid of me?”
“What? No! That’s not what I meant!” Kickbolt assured her. “I just mean—”
“Relax, I’m just teasing you. Sarcasm really does go over your head sometimes,” she said, giggling as she covered her mouth with a hoof.
The pegasus dropped down a level, now flying parallelly with the other’s walking. “Not fun.”
“S-So...” Crimson began. “Where e-exactly are we going? I th-though we were just passing through Ever City, b-but from everything K-Kickbolt wants to sh-show us it s-seems like it’d take days.”
“Uh...” Sketch opened her mouth while thinking about the question. “K’les, help me out, where exactly are we going?”
The shadow’s head popped out of the dark mass that had been following them close to the ground. “Don’t know. Only know which way.”
“What, so it could be days on the other side of the town? Weeks?”
K’les, now fully surfaced, stilled for a couple of seconds as he thought about the question. Suddenly his head began bobbing as usual when he came up with an answer. “Maybe?”
“Aaargh!” Sketch yelled out to the sky. “That’s it! Once we get there, I’m officially taking a vacation. We’ve been walking for days and my legs are sore!”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Kickbolt agreed as he floated alongside her. He received an evil eye from Sketch, which finally got the pegasus to land and walk again. “At least we’re close now, I mean we can actually see it now!”
“We know. You’ve been saying that all day, but it still doesn’t feel like we’re getting any closer. How big is that place?” Sketch asked, staring off towards the mountain in the distance. On top of it a fort like structure could be seen, and surrounding the fort itself, the actual city could be seen tapering off the further away from the hill it got.
“Big. Many parts of the actual city still haven’t been occupied... I think.” He smiled nervously, tapping his chin. “That, or they might have just been empty whenever I passed through. I dunno.”
“Well... y-you’re the local e-expert. Where d-do you th-think we should go first?”
“Oh!” The pegasus brightened up immediately. “I have got to show you this Steam-tech store! It’s the place I’ve been getting my custom-ordered things from, and that made these for me!” He flexed his wings, showing off the wing-harness he’d been wearing for most of the trip. “You liked all that stuff I had back in my house? They make things like that for a living!”
“What,” Sketch deadpanned. “Do you seriously want to take him to—” She stopped once she turned to see Kickbolt, giving her his best pair of puppy eyes. What had really stopped her was seeing Crimson behind the pegasus, smiling at her, mouthing the word ‘please’. She sighed loudly. “Fine. I guess it’s okay, as long as you don’t end up buying something that’ll burn your mane off.”
“That only happened once!” he retorted. “Actually, when I think about it, maybe you should come with us too. There’s something I want you to try.”
“What,” she deadpanned again, this time louder. She looked at Kickbolt, who was grinning back at her widely. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“I may have only just remembered it, but there’s an actual reason for it!”
“What? What reason could there possibly be for you to bring me into a deathtrap store like that?”
Kickbolt chuckled. “You’ll see.”
“Then I guess I’m not going,” she said decisively with a huff.
“Aw, come on, Sketch! I’m serious here!” Kickbolt flew up in front of her, flying backwards as he tried to convince her. “I want it to be a surprise! Is that too much to ask for?”
“Why d-don’t you t-trust him, Sketch? How b-bad could it be?” Crimsoned argued.
“You’re only saying that because you haven’t seen what his... his... things sometimes do! I was serious about not lighting his mane on fire, that actually happened once!”
The pegasus crossed his forelegs, still in mid-air. “I’m never hearing the end of that, am I?”
Sketch cleared her throat, trying to adjust her voice. “My mane is on fire! My mane is on fireeee!!” She flailed her legs around into the air, mimicking a scream for help. By now, K’les was mimicking Sketch. “Put it out put it out putitoutputit--”
“Alright!” the pegasus boomed. Sketch’s laughter began to die out after she stopped, and Crimson was stifling his own much more subtle chuckles.
“No more dance?” the shadow asked, now doing the flailing motion much slower and waiting for approval to continue.
“No dancing,” Kickbolt replied irritatedly, as to which the shadow sunk back into the ground, hiding beneath Crimson’s shadow with a sulk.
He glanced the other way. “Maybe it’s a little dangerous, but this is Sprocket’s Store. It’s in the middle of Ever City! Do you think they’d just let any store be in the middle of the city if it was dangerous?”
“Well maybe... wait, what did you say?” Sketch asked as she began rummaging in her pack.
“Uh...” Kickbolt began. “It’s in the middle of Ever City?”
“No, before that,” she replied. After a moment she found what she was looking for, and she pulled out the letter they had received from Full Bellows.
“...Sprocket’s Store?” he tried again, which was followed by a long and loud sigh from the mare’s part. “What’s wrong?”
“Ugh.... that’s where the letter is meant to be delivered. To this Sprocket guy.”
“You mean you’ll...?”
She sighed again. “Fine, I’ll come with.”
“Yes!” Kickbolt bellowed, swooping down to hug the smaller mare. “I promise you won't regret this!”
Sketch narrowed her eyes. “We’ll see about that.”
Both Sketch and Crimson gasped in awe whilst Kickbolt stood beside them, grinning widely. Their necks craned up as their eyes followed the buildings. House after house, stacked on top of each others all around them, with bridges connecting back and forth in different angles. Looking into the distance instead of just up, they could see how this same pattern continued further than they could see.
Ponies could be seen trotting around, minding their own everyday business, either by shouting out for others to come take a look at their wares at their stalls or the random ponies walking around just chatting to each other. The buzzing of the community could already be heard before they actually entered the city as they walked past the guards.
“There’s... so many ponies,” Sketch murmured. “I’ve never seen this many ponies before!”
“D-D-Ditto,” Crimson gasped out, backing off a few steps upon seeing them all. “I-I-I’m n-n-not so s-s-sure...”
“Relax!” Kickbolt placed himself next to him, pulling him closer with a wing. “Nothing’s going to happen. I grew up here, I know this place like I know my own wings!”
Crimson turned his head away to hide his blush. “R-Right...” he responded meekly. Sketch saw how he acted and nodded towards them with a wink and a smirk, but he just returned a mild shake of his head.
“What are you two doing?” the pegasus asked, folding his wing back as he used it to scratch his head.
“Nothing!” they both squealed out. Sketch attempting to hide her smirk with a hoof as Crimson continued to blush.
“So,” the green mare tried to change the subject. “Where do we go? Where is this store?”
“Oh! I think I know where it is,” Kickbolt answered. “Well, more or less,” he added. “Sorta-ish.”
“I thought you knew this place like your own wings,” Sketch replied flatly.
“What?! I never said that!”
She sighed. “You did, like thirty seconds ago.” Crimson nodded slightly in agreement.
“I did? Heh, must have forgotten I said that.” He rubbed the back of his neck as he grinned as usual, chuckling to himself. “No matter! We’ll probably find it sooner or later, we could just look around, maybe I could give you a tour along the way!”
“Let’s just focus on finding that stupid store already,” Sketch murmured. “I promised I’d deliver the letter, so let’s get that done first before we start wandering.”
The darker than average shadow underneath Crimson suddenly shifted to Sketch, and a low voice could be heard echoing in their immediate vicinity. “K’les help too!”
“Shh!” Sketch hushed him. “What are you doing?! You’ve got to stay hidden when in towns, remember?”
The shadow shrunk slightly, merging better with her own. “Sorry...”
“Girl, sorry, but I don’t sell those things. Nopony in their right mind eats them.”
The mare frowned at the merchant. “But your sign says ‘Fruits, Berries and Nuts’, why wouldn’t you sell them?”
“Why? They’re disgusting! I’ve never actually met a pony who’d willingly eat a rotnut. You know why they’re called that? Because they taste as if they’re rotten. Now do you actually want to buy anything or are you going to continue making my other customers lose their appetite by mentioning those damnable things all the time?”
Sketch sighed and handed over the money she owed for a pair of red shiny apples.
“Thank you,” the old mare muttered as she greedily grabbed the coins. “Now please leave already, I’m already feeling queasy from thinking about those things for too long.”
With a roll of her eyes, Sketch walked out of the store with a disappointed look once again.
“N-No luck?” Crimson asked, sitting on a bench whilst staring down to a couple of levels below. He was looking past a few bridges, at all the ponies literally running from place to place.
“No luck,” the mare repeated as she joined him. “That’s two stalls and one store, and all I’ve got is the name of the thing. ‘Rotnut’, apparently because they taste as if they’re rotten already,” she muttered. “I really liked them! How hard is meant to be to purchase a couple of giant blue nuts?”
The unicorn stallion stuck out his tongue at the memory of the fruit. “R-Rotnut? S-Sounds about right...”
“So how are you holding up? You don’t seem to like crowded places.” She pulled out one of the newly bought apples and tossed it to Crimson, who caught it with his magic. He rubbed it against his chest to get the shine just right.
“I-I’m not s-sure. It’s b-better up here, where there’s l-less p-ponies running a-about, b-but...” He stopped to take a small bite out of the apple, swallowing it quickly. “It’s l-l-like I n-need t-to see all the ponies n-nearby, or I d-don’t know what they’re c-currently doing... and th-that... frightens me.”
“So you dislike crowds? We’ll, you’re doing way better than me or Kickbolt.” She took a bite out of her own apple while the unicorn gave her an odd look. “Well... you saw how I reacted to...” She gulped. “...water?” To which he nodded once. “And we both saw what happened to Kickbolt when he saw blood. Both of us freaked out for different reasons, you’re just uncomfortable,” she reasoned. “Besides, the risk of you freaking out because of a crowd of ponies while in the middle of nowhere is highly unlikely, while I could... I could--”
“Sketch?” Crimson interrupted her, nodding her shoulder slightly. “T-Thanks,” he said with a weak smile.
“Y-Yeah,” she blurted out. “No problem!”
After a few seconds of silence, aside from a passersby ever so often and the sound of the marketplace several levels beneath them, both of them took a bite out of their fruits.
“Sho,” Sketch began again with a mouth full of apple, “what about Kickbolt?” She swallowed. “I mean, are you going to say anything?”
Crimson responded with his trademark blush as he began to choke on his apple momentarily. “I-I-I-I...” he trailed off.
She smirked and prodded him with her elbow. “If you want, I could try and set you up or something.”
Crimson continued to blush, and stared out into space without saying anything.
“Crimson?” She tried again. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you or anything. Look, how about this. The next time we’re all together and I get a chance to leave the two of you alone,” she stared down at her own shadow. “That’s assuming hitchhikers do as they’re told.” The shadow quivered slightly. “I’ll just let the two of you go and do something. Ask him to show you around or something, maybe eventually you could talk to him.”
“M-Maybe...” he said. “I-I... d-don’t know. Whenever I t-think about s-saying anything, my whole b-body s-s-screams at me.”
Sketch stared at him, then began giggling loudly, with the occasional high pitched snort.
“W-What’s so f-f-funny?!” Crimson asked with a glare.
“I think somepony really has a crush!” she said with a grin. “I can’t believe I was thinking the same thing just a couple of days ago.”
“W-What?” the unicorn asked, lowering an eyebrow.
She poked him in the chest. “About you. I don’t know why, but after our first time on the field with you along with us, I began to feel that way about you. I’ve always liked figuring out puzzles of sorts, and you were just one big question mark. But I suppose it wasn’t really more than a crush,” she sighed.
By now Crimson was staring down at the ground beneath them again, past the bridges. “S-Sorry...”
“Oh! Don’t worry about it! As I said, it was just a crush, and I’m over it already,” she said with a smile. “Right now I’m more concerned about you and Mr. Back-in-a-jiffy. Speaking of which, where is he?!” She asked nopony in particular, as she got up on the ledge of the bridge connecting the two tower like buildings together, scouting around for the navy blue pegasus out of the many ones zipping around the city.
As if on cue, the pegasus in question popped down before the bench they’d been sitting on a moment ago, wiping the sweat of his brow. “Whew!” he let out. “I found it! Turns out it was much closer than I thought. I didn’t actually have to fly around half the city to find it.”
Sketch having now jumped down again met him with a tired glare. “How close?”
He pointed to his own right. “One building, two levels down, that way.”
Crimson repeated what he’d just heard in a low voice. “W-Weren’t we th-there an h-hour ago?”
“I guess we must have missed it?” The pegasus shrugged his wings as he smiled sheepishly. The accompanying mare just hid her face behind a hoof.
Upon entering, the sign said “Sprocket’s Store. Trinkets, Gadgets, and Experimental Weaponry.” Sketch trembled after reading it, mouthing the last two words to herself in fear. However, her male companions gladly began to feast their eyes upon the many objects hanging on the walls and lying on shelves, much like in Kickbolt’s home. Saddles with mechanical arms hanging out of them, or what looked like tanks with attached nozzles. Weapons that could be strapped directly onto the legs or the body, with blades and such that looked as if they would fold inside when not in use. And finally a vast display of seemingly random gadgets lying about, ranging from some familiar ball shaped objects they recognized as linked switches, all the way to what looked like a giant suit of armor on wheels, standing in a corner by itself. The main difference was that there was some degree of organization here, as expected of a store.
“Hello?” Kickbolt called out, popping his head over the empty front desk. “Is anypony here?”
“Back here!” a voice boomed out through a door just behind the desk.
Walking in, they could see a large, brawny, forest green stallion, working with his back turned towards them.
“Just a moment! I’m almost done here,” he said, louder than he needed to. “Can’t take my eyes of this until I’ve got the springs in place. Meanwhile, any business that could be settled with just talking?”
“Uh, we’ve got a letter for you? Assuming you’re Sprocket?” Sketch answered.
“The one and only!” he replied. “Just place it on the desk, thanks. I’d shake hooves and introduce myself properly, but—” He flinched suddenly. “Darnit, almost lost the linkages!”
“Uh, don’t worry about it, we’ll just be—”
“You don’t happen to make those leg mounted magic stone shooters?” Kickbolt suddenly cut in. “We’d like one for our friend here.”
Sketch shot him a look. “What—”
“‘Leg mounted magic stone shooters’? I named them ‘Conjury Shots’ when I first invented them, thank you very much.” He responded with a slight annoyance to his tone. “But yeah, I make them, sell them and modify them as needed, whatever you nee—” His entire visage suddenly seemed much more relaxed as he began to turn around. “Finally, got those darn springs aligned correctly. Sorry about that.”
“Right, we’d like one of those Conjury Shot’s for Sketch here,” Kickbolt said, pointing to the mare.”
“Again, Kickbolt, what?” she tried to get his attention, but failed.
The dark green earth pony slowly pulled his eyes down to Sketch, who was seemingly half his size, and he blinked slowly. “Sorry, I don’t make them filly-sized.”
Sketch’s eyes twitched ever so slightly.
He scratched his white stubble as he hummed to himself, suddenly bringing his attention to the other stallions in the room. “Anything I could get for you two, perhaps?”
“Well, probably,” Kickbolt responded,” but I really wanted Sketch to have a Conjury Shot... see—”
“I already said I’m sorry, but the half-pint is going to have to look elsewhere if she wants to arm herself.”
This time, her eyes and tail twitched, but this was only noticed by the pegasus in the room, who suddenly began to sweat beads.
Sprocket sighed. “Okay, as thanks for delivering that letter, which is probably from my father, considering nopony else ever sends me letters, I’ll see what I can do with shorty over here.”
Sketch tackled him with enough force to send both of them rolling along the floor. An impressive feat considering how the earth pony she had just assaulted was much larger than anypony else nearby.
Crimson was suddenly being pulled out of the room. “W-What’s g-g-going on?!” he uttered. “W-Where are we g-g-g-going?”
“Away,” Kickbolt responded briskly, as he pulled the unicorn out of the store. “Before we become witnesses to a murder.”
The light green earth pony was now standing on top of the much larger stallion whose face was almost as pale as his mane, staring into his brown eyes.
“Don’t. Call. Me. Small.”
~Chapter 14~ ~Chapter 16~
(Author’s note: Okay! This chapter took longer than I had hoped, but it was still faster than the last one. Right? If anything, I’m sort of getting used to writing again. Maybe. I don’t know. Please don’t hate me.
As usual, many thanks to LysanderasD and ARBPW, the people who somehow manage to turn this mind-numbingly rage-inducing writing not fit for toilet paper into something readable. Or something like that.
So... thoughts on what’s going on? Shipping isn’t... I’m not very familiar with writing shipping, and it’s not exactly core to the story. I’m not sure how well I’m doing it, so any comments on that would help, because right now I’m a nail-biting wreck, afraid of people who may not approve of the current events.
If you want you can reach me at [email protected], or just on my account on fimfiction. Suggestions, comments, or if you just want to talk or anything! Please leave a comment and rate! (Please, like, really. I can sit up for hours waiting for new comments to drop in. I do read every single one of them, but I don’t always answer because sometimes it just feels like I can’t come up with a good response. Because I’m stupid.)