Series 2) Daring Do and the Caballeron Chronicles by AlmanacPony
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Book 1 of the Caballeron Chronicles

Thus starts a new adventure for Daring Do. Has her life changed since the Terrifying Tower? It might have. Her companionship might have changed as well. But sometimes having those friends mean sacrifices, and sometimes, it can mean pain.

Daring Do and the Amulet of Atonement

 


 

The mud below splashed about her hooves. The wind rustled through her grey-scale mane as the mare dashed round a tree. A fallen tree blocked her path but with a single high leap she cleared it gracefully, landing on the ground, rolling on her hunches and slipping to a halt at the end of a cliff. The other side was close by but it was also high up, but as she looked up a vine was tossed to her with the words, “here ya go,” punctuating the air.

Daring Do looked up into the smiling face of Cloud Zapper. His green eyes looked down at her with fondness, and it was a look of friendship that brought a smile to the mare’s face. She grasped the vine, made sure it was strong and jumped, flying to the Cliffside, landing on it with her hooves and slowly walking up the sheer rock, pulling herself with the vine. Once over the top, her hoof was grabbed and she was aided by Cloud.

“You really need to start flying more.” He sighed.

“Told you, can’t see as much from up there.” She smiled, walking past him.

The two of them had been in this forest for two days now, and she had to admit they made a good team. They’d managed to canvass more of the area than Daring had ever usually managed on her own when in such places. She glanced at her companion, his stark golden armour glistening in the tropical light as though it were freshly polished. Which it was, he polished it every night…and every morning…and just after they stopped for food each day. She found it a little annoying how obsessive compulsive the stallion could be.

She sighed, turning her magenta eyes up to the sky, the macaw’s cried out above them, and as a cooling breeze ripped through the otherwise stifling air, she smiled, closing her eyes and enjoying it for a moment. The mare was golden coated and grey-scale maned, wearing her usual olivine vest and her trusty pith helmet.

Daring opened her eyes and lifted her hooves, removing her pith helmet she gently ran her hoof over it. It looked almost knew. It had once been pockmarked, it had been damaged and a large claw-mark had been gouged into the front of it. But now it was flawless repaired, thanks to a particular item she had discovered on her last adventure.

“Thinking about something?” Cloud asked.

She turned to him and looked him over. Not too long ago he’d been cold to her after he’d found out what she’d done. She thought she’d lost him as a friend, but then everything had changed when the adventure at the Terrifying Tower had concluded. She gulped, and turned away from him, forcing herself not to think about that day.

The Terrifying Tower had gotten its name because those that went in either didn’t come out, or were forced to experience their worst fears by the magic within. She’d been asked about that when she’d went back to the princesses, asked about her experiences in the tower. They didn’t understand why the Tower hadn’t made her experience her worst fear. She hadn’t answered them; it was an answer that was too painful.

“Daring?” Cloud’s voice broke through her reverie the world came rushing back and she seemed almost startled with the stallion that stood close to her, looking concerned.

“S-sorry, distracted.” She smiled nervously before turning away and looking around.

“You got any idea where it could be?” He asked curiously, speaking about the temple they’d been hunting down for a while now.

“I dunno.” She said with a shrug, walking past him towards a clearing. The trees began to encroach on them as they walked, the sound of the jungle slowly gaining in volume as the silence seemed to close around them.

“How do you usually find them?” Cloud asked. He wasn’t too big on jungles, but he seemed to be managing without too much complaint.

“Well to be honest.” Daring Do began with a nervous smile. “I usually just end up stumbling into the-EEEEM!” She screamed as the floor gave way and she began to fall through. The darkness rushed up to her and with a loud THUD she struck the dusty ground.

“DARING, ARE YOU ALRIGHT?” Cloud’s voice called down into the echoing chamber and seemed to be met with silence. A single pause impregnated the air as the silence seemed to fall, broken only by the call of a bird somewhere off in the distance. Cloud almost held his breath as the dust settled before finally the words-

“I’m okay.”

-called up to him. He let out the breath he held and sighed.

“You hurt?” He asked, his voice carrying on the echo.

“Nah.” She coughed, shaking the dust from herself as she looked around. “I think I’m in a cave.” She said, flipping out a glow stick from her saddlebag, snapping the chemicals inside and lighting the area with an eerie green glow. The ground seemed to be tiled with shapes running along it, making a pattern on the ground of a circle going outwards. There was a fallen pillar to her left and as she approached the wall, Ancient Equestrian writing became visible, decorating the surface in curving texts that had somehow survived the tests of time. Shrugging she began to mark them down in her notepad, humming as she worked. She’d begun to get into the habit of writing stuff down in an attempt to get better at her job.

In the centre of the texts was a mock-up of some kind of talisman. She looked over it and found it familiar, but she couldn’t say where it was from. She pressed some paper to the image and used a wax crayon to rub over it, creating a rubbed likeness of the image on the paper that she could analyse later. Behind her there was some grunting as Cloud lowered himself down on some rope.

“Wow, it’s dusty down here.” He coughed, shaking his head in an attempt to free himself from the stifling sensation.

“You get used to it.” She grinned as she began moving along the walls, looking at the other depictions.

“Is this what you usually do then? Just explore?” He asked curiously.

Daring just shrugged. “There’s a group at the Clopsdale university that research things in old books, looking for lost and ancient places, they forward them to me, I check them out and try to bring back a piece of history. Sometimes what I find turns out to be dangerous.”

“And Ahuizotl, how does he fit into all of this?” Cloud asked, studying a piece of tile that had fallen from the wall that was covered in the ancient equestrian markings.

“He’s…part of something else.” She sighed. “From what I’ve been able to discern, he’s from a very old time, and a very far off place. Kinda used to power and riches kinda guy.” She shrugged. “He likes having the most power, and if he can find something sinister to do to an area, he will.”

“But why?” Cloud asked curiously.

“Fear.” She answered simply. “The more afraid a populace is of him, the more control he has. And he really likes control.”

Her hoof knocked against something that glittered in the darkness. Looking down she glanced closely at the dirt before pulling her head back, and kicking at it with her hoof until the dirt came loose and the object came into view.

The object jingled across the floor, coming to a rest with some dust clouding the air around it slightly, the glint of blue crystals made Daring even more curious when she approached it. It was a blue amulet, attached to a golden chain. The amulet sported a bright jewel at its centre, with a head poking out the top harbouring a large unicorn horn, but on both its edges it also had blue jewel encrusted wings. The image of an Alicorn.

“This is interesting.” She said, reaching for the necklace. The moment she touched it, the blue shifted to a blood red, glowing brightly and it felt like energy ran up her hoof and over her wings. She pulled her hoof back sharply and the amulet once again returned to its dormant blue.

“Maybe you shouldn’t touch that.” Cloud Zapper said beside her, looking cautious.

Daring Do nodded and pulled out a rag, wrapping it around the amulet and stashing it away in her satchel bag.

“Let’s get back to the university, maybe we can figure out what this is there.”

*

Back at the Clopsdale University, the university Daring Do studied at in her youth, the brave adventurer huddled over a book, looking at a few depictions.

“Okay, I’ve found out what it is, but the origins of the Amulet aren’t listed. So I get the feeling this is a later entry.” She sighed.

“So?” Cloud asked, looking up from his book. He’d only managed to go through three, while Daring Do had managed to go through seven. Cloud had proven to not be the most expedient researcher.

“Sometimes old items like this get rediscovered before they get lost again. They get found, their powers are discovered, they’re named and the ponies that found it think they know what it really does, often they’re wrong. I mean, look at this.” She picked up the book she was looking at and trotted over to Cloud, showing him the page.

“‘The’ something ‘Amulet’,” he read, the book slightly damaged and the full name of the amulet illegible, “grants great magical power to any pony that wields it, regardless of race, enhancing all natural magical abilities.” He read, shrugging. “Sounds pretty powerful. It says it can only be removed by the pony that wears it.”

“Yeah, but now look at this reference.” She said, showing a smaller book.

“The Unicharm.” He looked confused as the pictures of the amulets were identical; different artists, same amulet.

“A magical corruption device.” He read. “Taps into wild energy magic to enhance the wearer, whilst corrupting their mind. A magical trap used to enslave a pony to the darkness, addictive in its use and can only be removed by the wearer.” His leaned back and sighed. “Okay, now it just sounds scary.”

“Yeah it does, but none of these legends say where it came from.” She sighed. “And without knowing where it came from, there’s no point in really doing anything with it.” She shrugged and leaned back. “Let’s just put it in the vault. I have dinner plans.” The mare said softly and passed the Amulet to Cloud who opened up the picture on the wall, put in the combination to the safe and slipped the amulet inside, so it sat beside the other assorted goods in the safe.

“Wait.” Cloud began, the grey stallion turning to look at Daring with a confused look, “a dinner?” He asked suspiciously. “Do you have a date?”

Daring Do chuckled and shook her head, taking off her hat and shaking out her mane. “No, it’s just Caffeine.” She smiled. “Though he probably wishes it was a date.” She chuckled wryly as she left.

She considered wearing something different but she decided not to. Her trademark outfit was likely going to stay the best bet; she wasn’t exactly the ‘dress and sparkly horseshoe’s’ kind of mare.

Walking into the cafeteria, she approached the till and got herself a muffin, before looking to the middle of the room where a table laid waiting amongst the others, most were empty, this one was occupied. At one side of the table sat a blue and grey maned pony wearing large glasses that were reminiscent of goggles. His back was half covered by an auburn red vest, and his posture was that of someone in concentration. Arching her head a little, Daring saw he had a book in front of him, and he seemed quite intent on what he was reading. She chuckled at this.

Caffeine Kick was a stallion of rare companionship. He was smart, loyal, kind, and he had been harbouring a massive crush on her for many years, which probably helped a little when sweet talking him into getting her a latte with sprinkles every once in a while. He could be formal at times, but that was more a learned behaviour due to his job. He was the go-to substitute professor at the university. He was capable in most subjects and masterful in a few particular ones, and when a teacher couldn’t quite manage their lessons, he was always there to fill in; on off days when he wasn’t subbing or researching anything, he would hold advanced classes for those that wished to increase their grades.

He was also her best friend.

Daring approached and stopped near his chair, looking over his shoulder.

“What ya readin’?” She asked loudly, making the stallion yelp and almost spill his drink.

“Don’t sneak up on me.” He said, the fright causing his tone to become higher pitched, belying his usual professional demeanour.

“Sorry.” She smiled, sitting down opposite him, relaxing back. She looked the unicorn over and smiled to herself. “I really am sorry.” She said a little softer.

“It’s okay, it was just a joke.” He shrugged, closing the book and placing it to the side.

“No, I mean…I’m sorry for…being me.” She said, looking slightly sheepish as she leaned back.

Caffeine Kick gave her a curious look and pushed the book to the side. He pushed her plate with the muffin on it slightly closer to her, encouraging her to take a bite.

“Go on.” He invited curiously.

“Lately I’ve been running around, going on adventures, almost getting myself killed, and in the last three months I’ve barely spent any time with you. We used to have dinner together every week, swap stories about adventures and classroom antics, and talk about ancient civilisations, and you’d always try to correct me on something that I was getting wrong or overthinking and I’d argue back and pretend to get annoyed.” She said, giving him a slight smile. “I miss it.”

Caffeine Kick looked her over curiously.

“Who are you, and what have you done with Daring Do?” The way he said the line with a straight face almost made the mare in front of him burst out with laughter, but at the same time it was also quite annoying.

“I’m serious.” She said, leaning over and punching him in the arm playfully.

He rubbed his arm and still eyed her suspiciously. “I’m serious too. You look like Daring, hit like Daring,” He said, rubbing his arm. “But you don’t sound like Daring. The Daring I know wouldn’t have used those kinds of words, they’d be far too touchy feely.” He grinned.

Daring folded her hooves and looked away grumpily. “I’m trying to be honest and open here.” She said, sounding annoyed.

“I know which is why I think you’re an imposter.” He said, grinning. She knew he was teasing her, and that alone tugged the corners of her mouth into a slight smile, even as she tried to fight it.

“Hey.” He said, smiling as she turned to face him, her face still a mask of grumpiness, but his soft smile almost melted that grumpiness instantly, even as she tried her best to hold onto it. “It’s okay, I forgive you. Besides, you’re here now.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I am.” She said with a sigh. “And I’m still the same Daring Do; I’m still the most awesome adventurer extraordinaire around.”

“‘Extraordinaire’ huh.” He smirked, obviously amused at the choice of word. “And what are you an ‘Extraordinaire’ at? Falling flat on your face down holes?”

Daring all but puffed up with indignation.

“Who told you?”

He smirked at her tone and shrugged. “Why that stallion you’ve been dragging around, of course. He and I have been chatting a bit, he likes to talk.”

“I’m gonna kill him.” She said dryly.

His amused grin was the kind that he saved only for her. It was like she was his vent, and the professional aspects of him only came out when they were talking business. But for personal situations, he was soft, warm and quite wonderful as a conversational companion.

“What happened to your new pension for taking notes and doing research?” He asked wryly, taking a bite of an apple he produced from his bag beside the chair.

She let out a frustrated sigh.

“I tried.” She grumbled out, taking a large munch of her muffin. “The place had little to no details, only a vague reference point, so I figured I’d do it the old fashioned way.” She said, spraying bits of muffin as she spoke.

“Falling down a hole is the old fashioned way?” He teased a little, the corners of his lips sliding up in an amused smirk.

Daring sighed. “Okay, can I not be the butt of every joke right now?” She said, finally thinking enough was enough.

“Alright, alright.” He smiled, relaxing back, visibly altering his demeanour so it wouldn’t be too mocking. “Shall we go to dinner?” He asked with a smile.

“I thought this was us at dinner?” She asked, looking at him curiously, her eyes glancing around them. The cafeteria was okay in her eyes. Its stark white walls decorated only with a single yellow line that ran like a band across the middle of the wallpaper around the room. The floor was a green-grey tile that echoed with every clop of a hoof and the seating wasn’t at all uncomfortable, so long as one didn’t stay for extended periods of time.

“Oh please, like I would keep you in this place. We’re going somewhere nice.” He grinned, picking up his bag and standing, taking another bite of his apple with a mischievous glint in his eye.

Daring Do’s eyes narrowed and her hooves folded again. “I’m not going on a date with you, I’ve told you that.” Despite the reprimand and refusal, his mischievous smirk didn’t alter in the slightest. She sighed and grumbled, feeling like she might regret this decision she got up and grabbed her stuff.

“Perfect.” He said, smirking brightly.

“It’s not a date.” She reminded him, not that he seemed to take any notice of her words. He led her out and walked through the corridors with her, they got out of the university, headed for the road and he hailed a carriage. They were soon on their way, the carriage bouncing along the cobbled streets and turning down a few roads. He didn’t even say where they were going, he’d told the pullers an address and they were soon on their way, but it was sadly an address that Daring did not recognise, which in itself wasn’t at all surprising. She barely spent any time in the city, and her sense of direction in city-scapes wasn’t the best. She could navigate most jungles blindfolded, but put a building in front of her and she’d get lost trying to find the front door.

The building that loomed ahead of her was tall with white brick, the old windows and the stylish front said the building was old and well kept, and quite expensive by the look of it. It was also a proper high style restaurant. She got out of the carriage and looked the place up and down, soon joined at her side by Caffeine who was simply smirking.

“Oh no,” she said, her eyes wide, shaking her head. “Nope, nope, I am NOT this kind of mare.”

“Oh come on, give it a try?” He asked in a sweet voice.

“What, I…erm…I’m not even wearing the right outfit! I need a dress or something...” Her ears flattened at a sudden realisation. “I don’t even OWN a dress!” She yelled at him, her breath coming in gasps as she began almost hyperventilating. This was the first time any stallion had pulled something like this on her, and she wasn’t really sure what she was supposed to do in this situation.

His hooves suddenly found her shoulders and forced her to face him, his eyes looking at her intently. The mare’s eyes scanned his face and found nothing but kind warmth.

“I’ve been your friend for longer than any other pony, I’ve been there for you when you’ve broken, and I’ve seen you at your worst.” He said gently, a soft smile spreading across his features. “I’ve also seen you at your best, and you’ve always known how I’ve felt. I’m not asking for anything big, and I’m not asking to become your special some-pony. I’m not asking for you to make more room in your life for me.” He shrugged and leaned in, giving her a kiss on the cheek that caused a flush to boil up under her skin. He chuckled lightly at the sight and smiled sweetly. “I’m just asking to take you on ‘one’ date.”

Daring sat there, not entirely sure how to proceed, but her body gave her the answer when she felt herself nodding to him in agreement, without really understanding why she was agreeing. She let his hoof hook in hers and she was escorted into the building.

The shiny glass doors made way to a large interior that was slashed with deep reds and auburn colours. The hard dark grain of the wooden beams on the ceiling gave it an old and classy look while the plush red carpet below gave the room a warm feeling. There were tables and chairs everywhere with menus on them, as well as small candles. He led her to one and sat down, but not before he pulled out her chair for her, before sitting into his own, a gesture that caused another rise of flush to creep under her cheeks.

Daring Do felt nervous. Here she was, on a date with her best friend, and she was wearing her khaki clothing that was stained with grass, mud and what could possibly be a little blood –not that she could remember when she’d bled onto her clothing, but cuts and bruises WERE an unfortunate hazard of her job-. She reached up and tried to self-consciously do something with her mane, a futile effort as the grey-scale locks refused to be placed into any style other than messy.

“Stop fidgeting. You look fine.” Caffeine Kick said with an adoring smile.

She hadn’t even noticed he’d been watching her, the knowledge that he had, once again brought a flush to her cheeks. She was starting to hate how much blushing she was doing. She gave him a half-hearted smile, but couldn’t shake the feeling that the other patrons of the restaurant were looking at her. It certainly seemed the kind of high class place she wouldn’t usually be invited to.

They both ordered their food –Daring picking something that she couldn’t quite pronounce but certainly hoped was edible- and they waited. The usual fast food places she went to were quite quick with orders, but after twenty minutes waiting for the food had begun to grate on the mare. Not that she was particularly hungry, but sitting there in silence for twenty minutes was awkward, and though Caffeine tried for a little conversation, she was far too nervous to reciprocate.

She sighed with relief when the food arrived and without much care for manners or discourse she dug in, eating happily. She was pleased to find that the food quality was fantastic, if the quantity was menial. The plate was barely half full and after finishing it she was tempted to go for another before she remembered guiltily that Caffeine was expecting to pay for it, with that in mind she figured she’d settle for the one plate and nibble on something when she got back.

“Are you almost done?” She asked when she noticed he was starting to finish off his plate.

“Wanting to leave so soon?” He asked, the slightly hurt look in his eyes belying the smile that spread across his muzzle.

“No, I suppose not, it’s just-” She froze when she heard something. She wasn’t sure what it was, it was a singular sound that touched the very edges of her hearing, and yet it was so familiar her body took instant notice. Her fur stood up on end down her spine, her wings tensed, and her body felt poised.

“Diane?” Caffeine asked, looking concerned, reaching for her before she suddenly dived at him.

“GET DOWN!”

She tackled him to the floor just as the wall nearby exploded, glass and rubble erupted out to the sound of screams that echoed in the building around her. Dust filled the air, blocking out her sight. She grabbed the table cloth and yanked hard, managing to slip it from under the plates without knocking anything to the floor. Spinning the sheet above her head rapidly, she created a slight wind that was strong enough to blow away the dust and reveal the room around her.

Daring was about to turn and survey the wall when something grabbed her hoof. Looking up in shock, she came face to face with the being known as Ahuizotl!

“Hello there, Daring Do.” He said, his foul breath permeating the air around her, making her cough in disgust. His face was stretched into a menacing grin. “I bet you thought you’d seen the last of me.”

He flung his arm and threw her hard, sending her crashing into a nearby table, the couple of ponies at the table now standing back in surprise as their dinner was ruined.

The ape-like creature began walking towards her, his paws crashing down on the floor in fists, punctuated by the cracking of the ground and the shaking of the floor beneath her with every step. Noticing the impending danger, the rest of the patrons began running from the restaurant, a fact that Daring was pleased about because it meant she wouldn’t have to worry about them.

“Where is it, my dear?” His melodic voice demanded. His accent was all tongue and rolls, his gaze sharp and even slightly amused as his shadow fell over the golden mare.

“Get away from her!” Shouted a voice from behind him as a chair crashed against his back with enough force that it sent the large deep blue creature sprawling to the side. The chair broke apart on the impact, the stallion wielding it now only holding a single leg of the furniture. The blue unicorn approached, his hooves raised, ready to smash the chair leg down on the beast, but its rapid descent was halted by a claw reaching out and catching it deftly. Yanking the chair leg away with a single hard wrench, Ahuizotl suddenly lashed out, cracking the stallion across the face with the piece of wood, sending him sprawling to the floor.

“What’s this?” He asked, an amused tone touching the edges of his voice as he approached the stallion, the initial attack from the chair not seeming to have wounded him at all. “When did you get a colt-friend, Daring Do?” He said, a malicious grin touching his features. “You should have told me sooner, I’d have bought you flowers.” He cackled, making a grab for the stallion.

Daring launched herself at Ahuizotl, intent on protecting Caffeine, but she was forced to halt when the beast turned, yanking the stallion with him, holding him like a shield with his sharp blade like claws aimed at Caffeine’s throat.

“Ah, ah, ah.” He tutted mirthfully, “stand back.” He warned, the claw poised in such a way that Daring feared to make a single wrong move. She knew all too well how sharp and dangerous those claws could be.  “You would do well to pay attention to my demands. You have in your possession an Amulet, and it is an Amulet that I want.” He said darkly, his voice punctuating the air with malicious tones. “You will give it to me, or you will never see your precious colt-friend again.”

Daring watched in horror as he turned, holding Caffeine tightly as though the unicorn were a ragdoll, pony-handling him easily, showing off his strength as he burst through one of the windows and began running away through the streets.

Daring could only watch helplessly as her best friend was foal-napped. She was fast enough and skilled enough to catch up, but she didn’t have her tools, or a weapon, and while she might be able to take on Ahuizotl single-hoofed, she couldn’t do that AND rescue Caffeine at the same time.

She needed help. It was a good thing these days she had a partner.

*

“This is a bad idea.” Cloud reiterated for the hundredth time.

“We’re still doing it.” She informed him again.

“Since when were you two dating anyway?” He asked curiously, giving her curious glances.

“We’re not.” She grumbled. “It was one date; he’s my best friend, that’s IT.” She said, stamping a hoof pointedly.

The both of them were already out of Clopsdale, and heading towards the mountainous regions. Ahuizotl had not given her a location to bring the amulet, but Daring Do knew Ahuizotl far too well. That monster would choose the highest point, looking down on any pony. He’d choose it because it was of the greatest advantage. He’d see them coming a mile away, from any height.

“If that amulet gives amazing power to those that wear it, what makes you think giving it to him is a good idea?” Cloud Zapper demanded, climbing up the hill. They wanted to get closer before using their wings, at that steep of a climb to the top; they’d need all their energy.

“It’s not!” She rounded on him. “It’s a stupid, idiotic and selfish idea. But it’s the only one I’ve got.” She turned away from him, and despite the plan to walk halfway before flying, she flapped her wings and took off, the mare soaring into the sky.

Cloud watched her and sighed, he made sure his sword was secure in its sheath, spread his wings, and flew up into the air in pursuit.

They flew for almost an hour, but only just managed to reach the base of the mountain. Daring landed in a clearing and approached it, looking over the rock-face curiously.

Cloud Zapper landed nearby and approached, sighing softly.

“You can’t run into this, Daring.”

She turned to face him and surprisingly there was a smirk on her face.

“Oh Cloud, it’s like you have no faith in me.” She said in a mocking tone, giving him a few tuts before approaching the cliff face. She looked over a few segments, tapping her hooves on them before she smirked in triumph. She was acting like she’d found something, but the secti8on of rock she was looking at looked no different than any other to the royal guard Daring Do pushed at a stone which surprisingly slid into the wall. Suddenly a large doorway opened in the rock that had otherwise been hidden.

Cloud turned to the mare who stood there with a wry grin He was feeling quite gobsmacked. The rush of air from inside the cave was stale and old, and inside the fires of torches were alight, giving the place a slightly eerie glow.

“What is this place?” He asked, walking in, following the mare. She seemed to walk around the area confidently, walking into the first room, only to head towards a crevice in the wall.

The place itself was domed and ragged, cut crudely into the earth, there were some writings and drawings over one side of the wall, but the rest were bare. At the bottom of the wall, on the left side was a chest that was quite large and old, oaken, but it didn’t have a lock.

“I found it in my second year at the academy. It was my pride and joy.” She said wistfully. “I figured this place must have been part of some ancient city or something, but, no such luck. Neanderthal ponies must have just used it as a basic home, I cleared out the skeletons, studied them of course, but the drawings and writings don’t mean much, just some words about growing crops and hunting.” She sighed, her body pressed to the wall, fishing around inside the crevice with a single hoof blindly, as though looking for something very specific.

Cloud just looked around the area still. He noticed that on one side there was a single passage that ascended upwards at an incline. Cloud figured it must lead to more rooms that were further up.

“So why are we in here then?” He asked, finding the place interesting. But as much as he enjoyed Daring’s company, he wasn’t the kind of pony that such dark and dank places benefitted. His armour lately had been seeing its fair share of wear and tear, even more so than combat often wrought; simply because of the places this mare had been dragging him. He reminisced on their adventures as of late. There has been that whole fiasco with Ahuizotl and the Terrifying Tower, a situation that still made him shudder sometimes when he thought about it, the other month there had been that cave that turned out to be the home of a dragon, all for some mystical opal. Then there had been the altercation with the Ursa Major…that one hadn’t been pretty, as well as many other incidents.

He was awoken from his musings by Daring answering his question.

“These passages form kind of ‘stairs’ –more like ramps really- that lead all the way to the top.” She informed. “Ahuizotl will be up there, but he’ll expect us to fly up, not walk up behind him.” She smirked, finally pulling out a satchel. “Here we go.”

The sound of creaking hinges met her ears and she turned to see Cloud opening the chest at the far end of the room. She dived at him.

“No!” She shouted, managing to slam herself down on the chest causing him to yelp and step back.

“Whoa, sorry, I was just curious.” He explained with his eyes wide in shock.

Daring looked him over and grumbled. “Come on you.” She said, moving behind him and pushing him towards the corridor that would lead them upwards. He chuckled a little at her pushiness and began trotting in front of her.

The way up was surprisingly narrow, sometimes he would have to be on his hind hooves and slip between rocks just to make it over into the next area. There were many rooms, but none were occupied by any possessions.

Daring, for her part, directed Cloud most of the way, she didn’t trust him not to go back and look in the chest, so she decided to stay behind him, which considering the space, half the time ended up with her getting a face full of tail-hair.

Not very pleasant.

The journey took them almost forty minutes, but eventually they reached the top. The roof was covered by what seemed to be a large slab of rock, but it was on a pulley system. Daring gripped it in her teeth and yanked on it hard, dragging it down and causing the stone above to open with a grinding sound that Cloud certainly hoped wasn’t going to get them caught.

Daring peaked her eyes over the lid of the opening cautiously, and sure enough, there, stood before the backdrop of open skies and forests below, with the town of Clopsdale sat snugly to the left, was Ahuizotl. The wind blew his deep blue fur and his mane rippled in the breeze. Beside him was a bound and gagged Caffeine Kick and, from what Daring could see, her stallion friend was unconscious.

Daring could only smirk. She knew she wasn’t going to get a better chance, so at that thought, the mare reached into the bag she had brought with her from the room down in the cave, and pulled out a circular device with a wick. She struck the wick on the rock nearby and rolled it towards Ahuizotl, She ducked down fast, smirking. Cloud was about to question when it exploded in a flash of light and sound. A ringing suddenly burned through all their ears, all except Daring who had prepared by shielding the sound with her hooves. The moment the flash went off she jumped up, ready to attack before a claw lashed out, stopping her mid jump.

“Hello, my dear.” Ahuizotl said as his claw clenched. It was wrapped around her throat and Daring Do felt the constricting claw cutting off her airway, her body panicked and she grasped at his paw with her hooves, trying to pull herself from his clutches.

“How nice of you to come.” His melodious tones rang out as a smirk spread across his features. He turned and threw her hard, she struck the ground, rolled and was almost flung from the edge of the cliff but her quick reflexes allowed her to grasp her hat in her teeth, flick it up and have it latch onto a rock. She clung to it with her jaw, hanging off the edge of the cliff, with a hundred foot drop below.

A drop was not usually a problem. She was a Pegasus. But there was very little wind, if she fell from this angle she’d be upside down, and though the drop was a hundred foot, less than halfway down were the massive tree’s that lined the forest. She’d hit them before she could gain any momentum with her wings. Even for a Pegasus, this was not a good situation to be in.

Ahuizotl walked to the edge and looked down, a mirthful chuckle sounding from his throat as he looked on at the helpless mare.

“Come out here, gleaming stallion.” He said, looking over his shoulder as Cloud poked his head out of the cave entrance.

“I know you are there.” The ape-like creature chuckled. “Enough games. Bring me what I want, or I shall throw Daring Do to her doom.”

Cloud weighed his options, gulped and stepped out with a saddlebag in his mouth. He trotted over and laid it down, stepping away slightly.

“Here.” He said firmly. “Let her go.”

Ahuizotl’s paw lashed out and struck Cloud’s face, sending him sprawling to the ground. The ape-like creature chuckled as he looked down at the fallen stallion before grabbing the satchel.

“A pathetic excuse for a Royal Guard, and a much mistaken choice for a companion, Daring Do.” He moved over to the ledge and looked down at the struggling mare that was still holding on just by her teeth. By now she had managed to swing herself to gather purchase on the rocks with her hooves, giving her aching jaw a break.

“Why, I heard the clinking of his armour before you even opened the cave, I saw the glint of it strike the ground beside me when his head poked out. He was your only indication that you were there, and the only reason you had not caught me by surprise.” He cackled manically. “Your aid was your doom!” He reached into the bag and pulled out the amulet, smirking. He held it aloft and watched it glint the sun. “The Amulet of Atonement is mine!”

He looked down at the helpless mare and smirked.

“And you, my dear, are no longer a thorn in my side.” He grinned evilly as his fist suddenly struck down, crashing into the ground and causing rocks to slip loose. Daring Do yelled out in panic as she clung to the side of the cliff for dear life, trying to scramble up for better purchase, but before she could, the rocks came loose. For a singular moment she experienced the sensation of vertigo, and then she was falling.

Daring tried beating her wings hard, attempting to slow her fall. The golden mare watched as the cliff rushed away from her at high speed, she turned halfway down, beating her wings hard until her eyes widened at the approaching trees. Daring Do struck them hard, there was a lash of pain from her left wing, a snapping sound and then it felt like she was slowing down. The branches and leaves cleared, the ground rushed to meet her, and with a thud, everything went black.

*

The cawing of birds above her pierced through the veil of darkness that fogged the mind of the adventurous mare. Her eyes opened an inch, and for a moment she was blinded by a ray of bright yellow sunshine that burst through the leaves above. She sat up groggily, her memory faulty for a moment about what happened, before it all rushed back.

Caffeine Kick!

She bolted to her feet and spread her wings. Or at least, to her credit, she tried to. Her left wing suddenly lurched with violent pain that lashed up the forearm of the wing and down her back that was painful enough to have the mare biting her lip to stop herself from yelling out. When the white hot pain finally ceased to a small mind numbing throb, she looked at her wing slowly, bracing herself for what she might see.

Yup, it was broken.

Daring Do was grounded.

“CLOUD?!” She called out, looking up the cliff, hoping he could hear her. But she was getting no response.

Ahuizotl had taken the amulet, what had he called it? The Amulet of Atonement? Where had that come from? That name wasn’t in any of the books she’d looked in, and it wasn’t a name she had ever heard associated with any object before. But if she had of identified it properly, then it was a device that was capable of greatly enhancing the powers and capabilities of any that wore it. It was initially made for ponies, but if it worked for Ahuizotl, then she wasn’t sure how powerful he’d become. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to find out.

She needed to get that amulet back, but first she had to make sure her friends were okay.

Daring looked at the cliff face and sighed. She padded to a tree, reached up and yanked down several of the large leaves, tearing them into strips and using those strips like bandages, she wrapped them around her wing to make sure it wouldn’t get further damage. She then turned her attention to the cliff, spitting on her hooves she let out a sigh and braced herself for the effort to come. She jumped and latched onto the wall, grasping onto the rock hoof-holds so that she could clamber up. She wasn’t really used to climbing cliffs, but it wasn’t exactly something that was new to her. She could remember a few times in past adventures when she’d had to do such a thing, so she had some minor expertise. Grasping hold of a higher rock with her hoof she pulled herself up, making her way slowly up the sheer rock face.

It took her almost an hour, sweating and panting heavily when she finally reached the top, once or twice almost slipping. She grasped the edge, and pulled herself up and finally on top, panting and shaking a little.

There, still on the floor and unconscious, was Caffeine Kick, and Cloud was near him, still unconscious.

She picked up Caffeine and Cloud, knowing that they would likely be in need of medical attention, she used the other entrance and made her way down, carrying her stallion friends on her back.

Daring got them out of the cave, out of the area, and back onto the streets of Clopsdale.

*

The hospital was surprised at Daring and her companion’s arrival, questioning why a Royal Guard would even be in these parts, let alone getting injured. They took both of them, and fussed over Daring Do until she demanded that they leave her alone. She was unable to stop them at least binding her wing properly, though that was probably a good thing. Daring was given some medicine to stave off any infections to her wing, and allowed to go after that. Cloud Zapper, it seemed, had a concussion and was knocked out cold, while Caffeine Kick had been knocked unconscious via other means. And so far, efforts to wake him had yielded no result. The best that they could surmise was that he was being kept under by some sort of spell. There were unicorns in the medical ward trying to break it, but it didn’t seem they were having much luck.

Daring Do tried to think of a reason Ahuizotl would do this, but if she had to guess, it was likely just in case she had survived the fall. If so, he knew that caring for her friends would be her first priority, and this would slow her down.

Daring went into Cloud’s room, having been told that he would be woken up soon. She was by his bedside when the grey Pegasus finally opened his eyes.

“Daring?” He asked in a gravelly voice. “What happened?”

“You were knocked out.” She answered, looking tense. “I need to know which direction Ahuizotl went, Cloud.”

He shook his head.

“I wish I knew.” He said, looking sad. But Daring could only narrow her eyes.

“I need you to think. You might not have been out entirely, you might have seen something. You HAVE to think.” She said firmly, making Clouds eyes widen in worry at how she was acting. But Daring didn’t care. Caffeine Kick was in trouble, and he wasn’t waking up anytime soon, and if she ever wanted him to wake up again at all, then she needed to get hold of whatever it was that Ahuizotl had used on him.

“I…I really don’t know, Daring.”

She lashed out, bucking her back legs hard against a nearby table and smashing it against the wall in anger.

“I’ll find him myself!” She shouted at him before storming out, Cloud called after her as she left but she paid him no mind. She had a few ways of tracking people down. Well, just one actually.

*

The beautiful sunny day had been nice for the Pegasus known as Swiftcall. His blond mane hung down from his head with bright enough colours that his red eyes stood out starkly. His purple coat was a light enough shade to pass for almost blue in most lights, but otherwise he seemed unremarkable. His only noticeable feature was how skittish he seemed to be.

He heard the sound of approaching hooves behind him. The gait of the hooves upon the ground had him groaning outwardly in dismay. It was annoyingly familiar.

"Daring, do we have to do this today?” He said, turning to the grey-scale maned mare. But he was slightly shocked at how dishevelled she looked. Her wing was damaged, she looked wide eyed, tired, but also wired with stress. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.

“What happened to you?” He asked in a worried tone. He’d worked with her for years when it came to tracking and information gathering, but lately things between them had seemed…strained.

“Never mind that, Ahuizotl has a base somewhere, and I need to know where he is.” She said rapidly.

“He has bases everywhere; I need a few more specifics than that.” He said, looking nervous now.

“His last one! The one he’s most recently used, ANYTHING, maybe a sighting of him, somewhere, anything you can give me.” She all but yelled at him, looking distraught.

Swiftcall looked her over and sighed.

“I-Ironhoof Hill.” He said with a gulp. “I last heard he was at Ironhoof Hill.” He revealed, looking down as though he were ashamed.

“Thank you.” Daring said, paying him almost no mind as she turned away and ran, leaving the Pegasus sighing to himself.

Daring managed to hitch a ride in a balloon; the guy that ran the place owed her a favour so it wasn’t hard for her to get passage. Ironhoof Hill was around three miles away, and even running at top speed she was worried she wouldn’t make it fast enough. So this was the next fastest way, also she doubted Ahuizotl would expect a balloon. More than that, if luck was on her side, he thought she had perished in that fall. If he wasn’t worried about her coming back, then that might give her the element of surprise. And this time, without Cloud to mess it up-she stopped her thoughts there and shook her head. It wasn’t REALLY Cloud’s fault…well it was. But not by much, and it wasn’t malicious. She shouldn’t blame him.

Turning her attention back to the task at hoof, she guided the balloon to its destination. Landing the balloon nearby, she approached the hill. It was a wonderful patch of hilled field that was quite a picnic destination for days out in the wild and camping, but it was otherwise unremarkable.

Reaching the hill she looked around, finding no sign of any such place that Ahuizotl could be. She began circling the hill and it took her almost an hour to find it, and even then, it was by accident. Her hoof got stuck on a rock and lodged it out of place; it opened up a secret door in the side of the hill with steps leading down.

A small twinge of pride burst through her dam of worry in her mind as she found the entrance to Ahuizotl’s latest hideout. Climbing down the steps she descended into the darkness below. The place was lit with torches, so her way was not entirely engulfed in the blackness, but it was dark enough that she had to squint to see distinct shapes in the gloom.

Nearing the bottom she started to hear voices.

The first one echoed and was sadly indistinct, but the way it spoke sounded almost like a song.

“I understand.” Replied Ahuizotl’s deep voice. “It will not be long now, as soon as I find it, I will control it, and then the world shall know my wrath.” He said, his sneer becoming a chuckle.

Daring Do poked her head in cautiously to see what was going on. There was a crystal ball on a pedestal with an indistinct pale face in it, and Ahuizotl was standing in front of it. He brought out the Amulet of Atonement, and slipped it over the orb, and Daring watched as a bright light suddenly erupted before it shone on the floor, seeming to search for something, from her position she could see the carvings in the floor were almost like a map. Ahuizotl’s eyes widened and his face broke into a grin.

“Ah, so there it is.” He chuckled mirthfully.

He was just about to take the amulet back when a giant boulder crashed into him from the side and pinned him against a wall with a comical thud.

Daring stood by the entrance, her hoof holding down a small slab in the wall.

“Gotta love these old booby-traps.” She chuckled, galloping for the amulet. She skidded to a halt as the boulder that had struck Ahuizotl was suddenly thrown at her by the beast. She screeched and ducked under it as it smashed into a wall, sending rubble and ancient glyphs falling to the floor.

“That was close.” She remarked breathlessly. A roar from nearby drew her attention as Ahuizotl swiped at her. She ducked, his swipe connecting with the orb and the amulet, sending them both to the floor. The orb shattered and sent pieces strewn across the ground and the Amulet skidded away, and any information that Ahuizotl had found out, was suddenly lost from Daring’s ability to discern. Cursing the situation she jumped out of the way of another swipe, only to jump at him, her hooves lashing out, sending him sprawling back.

“I’d love to do this dance a little more Ahuizotl, but this ain’t really my song. So why don’t you just tell me how to wake up my friend.” She said, picking up the amulet, looking at him warningly.

The blue ape-lick creature slowly pulled himself to his feet and looked her over, chuckling.

“And why should I tell you Daring Do, you do not even know what it is I seek. But it will be your doom, my dear. It will be everypony’s doom, and when you wretched ponies are defeated, I will make you all my slaves and rule you like you were meant to be ruled!” He shouted and charged at her, his claw lashing out hard. But Daring had already used this time to put on the amulet. It went from dormant blue to a suddenly powerful red. Her eyes closed as the power rushed through her, her eyes opened, a red glow shone around them and she ducked with speed that made Ahuizotl shocked. She span, her hooves lashing out at his legs sending him spinning in mid-air for a moment before her hooves lashed out into his chest, sending him flying back against the wall. She panted, grinning at the power.

“Oh year, I could get used to this!” She chuckled, approaching him with a malevolent look in her gaze. He tried to get up but she knocked him down again, only to grab him and throw him, smashing him against a wall. She ran up, reared up her legs and was about to finish the job.

“DIANE!” A voice shouted out behind her, momentarily making freeze. She turned her head and saw Cloud Zapper approaching, he looked worse for wear, but otherwise, he seemed okay, though, she did notice that his mane was very dishevelled.

“Stop.” He said softly. “Don’t go too far.” He said carefully, looking almost afraid of her. She looked down and saw Ahuizotl, looking for once, scared.

This alone shocked her. She’d never seen Ahuizotl scared before, not of anything. And now he was scared of HER. She backed off, her body shaking.

“Take off the amulet, Daring.” Cloud’s even voice said gently, his manner and tone were calm and warm. She nodded and knew he was right. She reached up; gripping the amulet and pulled it over her head, and dropped it to the floor. The amulet stayed red for what seemed like forever before it finally dulled to its dormant blue. Cloud wrapped it up in a cloth and held it close, putting it into his saddlebag.

Daring shook herself, suddenly feeling strangely tired. She looked to Ahuizotl.

“Please, tell me how to save Caffeine.”

He didn’t say anything; he simply reached below him and pulled out a vial. She took it from him, and turned away, not needing to say anything else. She’d won, but it hardly felt like a victory at all. She’d felt like she’d lost herself a little back there.

But the deed was done, and they could now save Caffeine Kick. The trip back was quiet in the balloon, Daring spent most of it staring out into the countryside below.

“Thank you.” She said softly, turning to him. “I don’t know what I’d have done without you.” She said gently before turning back to the view. Cloud’s only response was a smile.

The medicine in the vial worked. It was administered to Caffeine and within moments he woke up, his weary eyes looking around. He was told that Daring Do had managed to save him. He saw her in the doorway. His eyes closed and he took a deep breath before opening them again to thank her. But when he looked again she was walking away, and she looked…defeated somehow.

Daring Do left the hospital, and she left Caffeine Kick. He would be fine without her, and he was probably better off anyway. Ahuizotl would always use those she cared about against her, so it wasn’t like she could really find a special somepony anyway.

Looking up into the blue sky she wondered what was going to happen now. Ahuizotl wasn’t in the habit of going after big things one day, and trinkets the next. He always upped his game. The price always got higher. So whatever he was doing now could be worse than his attempts with the Terrifying Tower.

The thought made her shudder.

She had no idea what was to come, but she knew that she would face them. She had Cloud by her side, and she wasn’t going to let Ahuizotl win.

She was Daring Do. And for now, the day was saved.

She only hoped she could save tomorrow as well.

The End


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