Welcome again, readers, as I attempt something I've never done before - an adventure-fic! A review on how it looks so far would be lovely. I hope you all enjoy it!
The dull droning of insects was almost lulling in the humid heat, and many of the native occupants of the jungle were dozing lightly, ears twitching at the natural and soothing sounds of midday.
Or, it would have been soothing, if not for one particularly stressed unicorn.
"Blasted jungle!" the stallion swore, dusting off his coat and glaring back at the root he'd tripped over. "Foolish thing, growing there right in the path. Uncivilized is what it is!"
"But that's the point, Silver," his companion interjected, bending down to peer at a line of red ants, eyes full of wonder. "It's a jungle, it's not supposed to be civilized. And the root was there first, too." He was a colt, an Earth pony, and a good many years younger than Silver– all of which, in the unicorn's book, added up to obstinacy.
The elder stallion sighed. "How many times must I remind you to address me as Mr. Silver Platter, or even just Mr. Silver. Honestly, Marble, sometimes I dare to think you really don't want to learn to become first-class butler."
Marble frowned and scuffed his hoof along the ground. "But I don't want to be a butler. I want to be an adventurist, like Daring Do!" He struck a pose, arranging his face into what he hoped was a brave expression.
Silver Platter sighed and picked his way forwards, shaking his head. "Then I daresay that this apprenticeship is all you parents are able to afford, which means you must do your family proud, and cease this foolishness. Come, Marble, I dare to think I can smell the camp's smoke."
Blushing shamefully, the young Earth pony scurried obediently after his teacher. All thoughts of his unfavorable situation, however, were wiped from his mind as they entered the camp. Marble gaped at the bustling camp, filled with more strange creatures than he'd ever dreamed off. There were long, lanky ponies with exotic lines, and birds the color of rainbows, screeching from the treetops, and over in the corner a giant gray beast with a nose longer than him was lumbering around.
"Look, Mr. Silver, over there! Look at that bird's tail! And look, is that pony riding an elephant? Whoa! Is that a cobra?"
"I should hope not," Silver Platter said, paling and mobbing his brow with a handkerchief. "Ah, Marble, perhaps we should move on."
"Aw, but I want to go see the eleph-oof!" Marble found himself being dragged off, one leg held in the green glow of Silver's magic. He pouted, plotting how he could escape and actually have a good look around, when –
"Now, that ain't the sor' o' face I like to see 'round these parts. What's got ya down, young'n?"
Marble looked up into the smiling face of pony he'd never seen before – if it even was a pony. The ears were far too long, and the face too blocky for the mare's voice that had come from it.
"Who're you?" he asked suspiciously, conscious of what kind of position he was in.
"Call me Molly, littl' un. Molly Mulestead."
Marble found himself being dropped unceremoniously on the ground as Silver Platter whipped around. "Molly Mulestead? Are you Mistress Molly Mulestead?"
"That I am, darlin'." Molly cocked an ear and tipped a hoof, leaning her weight on one side as she regarded the proper pony. "What can I do for ya?"
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you," Silver said with relief, executing a quick bow. "I am Silver Platter, and this colt here is my apprentice Marble. We've come all the way from Equinopia to meet you and Dar-"
"Well, now, ain't that a grand distance," Molly interrupted, an amused smile of her whitening muzzle. "I must imagine you both must be mighty hungry, traveling so far. Why don't I just fetch us some tea and cakes, real quick-like now?"
"Yes please!" Marble cried, but he was quickly silenced by a glare from his teacher.
"Really, we'd hate to bother –"' he started, but Molly cut him off with a wave of her hoof.
"'s no bother, you can be sure o' that. I was hankerin' for some myself, so why not share?" Molly plodded towards one of the rear tents. "Y'all just make yourself comfortable, ya hear?" she called, and disappeared through the flaps.
Silver Platter was left gaping in her wake, and there was a long moment of silence. Marble finally broke it, turning to his elder and announcing, "I like her."
Two trays of biscuits, a cracked teapot, and four broken plates later, Silver Platter had had enough.
"Mistress Molly," the unicorn began, mustache twitching with irritation, "if you would kindly just tell us where –"
"Jus' Molly, dearie," the old mule interrupted. "Jus' Molly'll do fine." She smiled kindly at the stallion. . Silver Platter, it appeared, was anything but patient.
"Fine, then, Molly." The unicorn ground his teeth together. "If you would please tell us –"
"Molly, Molly!" Marble was practically jumping in excitement.
The mare mule smiled down at the colt. "Yes, dearie?"
Marble grinned up at her, eyes shining. "Is it really true that you knew Daring Do when she was a filly?"
"Aye, and even younger still, dearie. She was a brash little thing, but she had a good heart. I can tell you do, too," she added, winking. "I raised her myself, you know."
"If I may please," Silver interjected, forcing himself between the colt and Molly, "if I may please request, would you kindly tell us where Miss Daring Do is located at this moment in time?"
"You wanna know where she is?" The old mule's ears flicked forwards in soft amusement.
"Yes!" Silver cried, throwing his hooves into the air. "Yes! That is the reason we took this sun-forsaken journey out here. That's the reason we camped out in the cold and the dirt and those wretched bugs, and the reason my favorite umbrella was stolen, and why I'll never be able to get the muck off my hooves! We just want to know where to find her!"
Molly waited patiently as the stallion heaved for air, and then smiled kindly. "Sorry, darlin', but even I don' know that."
Silver Platter gaped at her, eyes nearly bugging out of his head. "Y-you don't… not even… w-why ever not?"
Molly rose to her hooves and shook out her coat, a cloud of dust rising in the humid air, and she ambled away to wash the teapot, calling over her shoulder, "Sweetie, you ever tried to catch the wind?"
Silver groaned and slammed his head into the table.
Daring Do, famed explorer, first-class archeologist, and rescuer of rare and endangered artifacts, was flying far too fast, and she knew it.
The blood was pounding in her ears, one beat for every three flaps of her wings. She had her eyes nearly closed against the blinding wind, but she didn't really need her sight to tell her that she was still being chased. She could hear the shrieks of the vultures behind her, harsh scraw-ing that called for her blood. Well, that, and the treasure she had stowed away in the saddlebag on her flank.
"Thief!" one vulture cried behind her.
"Food!" crowed another.
"Give up, give up!" the call was haunting in her ears. "Blood for blood, meat for meat, your thieving soul shall be our treat! Blood for blood, meat for meat, this is the day you – DIE!"
With a screaming call, the vulture flock put on a burst of speed and descended upon her, claws glinting. Daring felt the sting of talons raking down her back, and she jerked herself free, roaring.
Not today, buzzards, Daring thought viciously, and wrenched herself into a dizzying spiral. The carrion birds followed her down, inches away at every moment. Daring knew that she'd have to do better than that to get away; she had the scent of blood on her now, and the vultures would follow her for miles when they got that into their beaky nostrils.
"Death to the thief!" a vulture hissed in her ear, and she suddenly realized that one vulture still had it's claws tangled in the saddlebag strap. Daring snarled and bucked midair, trying to loosen the vulture's grip and not get her head severed by the wicked beak or talons in the meantime.
The vulture slapped at her with it's heavy wings, but she twisted and managed to and two solid hits on it's breastbone. The vulture scree-ed in agony and fell back, tumbling away – and Daring could see the scraps of the bag handle still caught on its talons.
There was the faintest of rips, and suddenly her flank felt a whole lot lighter.
Please no, she thought desperately, and looked down.
Tumbling towards the ground was her prize – the Golden Statue of Azir, god of the Sacrifice.
Two blurs of black streaked by her, and Daring realized suddenly that the vultures had seen it plummeting two.
Daring grimaced. There was no way she was going to catch up to them and grab the statue without the vultures catching her.
Looked like she needed to take the dive.
Sighing and leveling out, Daring spread her wings wide and caught an updraft, soaring upwards. The vultures forced themselves into the same thermal, jostling and ripping into each other in their haste. Daring took a breath, closed her eyes, and gritted her teeth.
Then she snapped her wings closed and plummeted down.
The surprised cries of the vultures behind her grew rapidly fainter, and then the roaring wind was all she could hear. She cracked open one of her eyes, tears streaming out as the pressure blasted against her. The jungle below was getting closer and closer – and still Daring fell, sight trained on the glinting gold of the statue and the ragged feathers of the vultures that flew after it.
One-one hundred, Two-two hundred – three!
Daring forced herself between the two buzzards, kicking out and catching one on the wing, sending it spiraling off. The other vulture managed to drag its claws along her back leg before she butted it in the craw. She grinned as it choked and fell away, tumbling into the canopy.
The canopy. Daring's eyes widened as she realized how close they were to it. Desperately she whipped her head forwards, managing to catch the heavy gold in her teeth and clamp down as she prepared herself.
She snapped her wings open, mere feet from canopy. Daring's back hooves scraped the tops of the trees as she wrenched herself up out of her dive, startling a flock of scarlet macaws into flight. She glanced up once, grinning as she realized that there were no vultures in sight.
I lost 'em!
Daring whooped as well as she could around the statue's heavy handle, twirling and dipping to join the flock of macaws, and laughing as they skirted around her in a red feathered mass.
The sun was shining, the vultures were gone, and she finally had the statue.
Now, if only she could get on the ground will all limbs attached...
If Daring Do had any faults, it was her inability to stick a landing.
The burnt orange pegasus finally ended her rolling in a crumpled heap, snorting out dust and blinking the dirt out of her eyes. The first thing she saw, like always, was Molly smiling down at her.
"Never could get your landings right, could ya, darlin'? 'Course, I wasn't much of a help there, huh?" The old mule waggled her shoulder to emphasize the lack of wings.
Daring could only grin as flipped her mane out of her eyes, shaking her head. "Mphm-fthp," she tried to say, her words muffled around the statue.
Molly just brayed a laugh and jerked her long nose in the direction of the fire pit. "Got some visitors to see ya, darlin'. The fancy kind. They seemed mighty upset that ya weren't here yet."
Daring rolled her eyes and tried to remark about the impatience of royal folk, but somepony else spoke before she could get a word in.
The mare looked up. Two ponies stood at the edge of the circle of tents; the one who had spoken, a unicorn, was looking rather green at the sight of the blood and muck that flecked Daring's coat, his nose stuck up in the air and wrinkled. To his left, a small Earth pony colt was gaping at the sight of the Golden Statue of Azir still clamped in her teeth.
Daring spat out her prize and gulped in fresh air. "Y-yeah?" she panted, trying her best to gather herself together. "What can I do for ya?"
The colt stared back at her, awe in his eyes. "Are you really Daring Do? The world-famous Daring Do? The one was knighted by Queen Gilded Horn herself?"
Daring chuckled and reached out a hoof to tousle the colt's mane. "I don't know about world-famous, kid," she smiled, "but the rest is true. You can call me Daring."
The little Earth pony beamed, while the elder stallion at his side cleared his throat impatiently. "It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Miss Daring," he said, throwing a sharp look at the colt, "but I'm afraid we did not come for pleasantries. I am Silver Platter, here on the behalf of Sir Iron Crest, Lord of the Eastern Plains and Chief Advisor to Prince Bridled Glory himself." The unicorn ended in a sweeping bow.
Daring watched him, eyes narrowing. "Yeah, I've heard of him. Big, blustery, has a lot of stuff. What about him?"
The stallion's eye was twitching. "Well," he started, grinding the words out between his teeth, "the blustery Sir Iron Crest has asked me to come in his place and offer you a job."
"What, work for that old windbag?" Daring snorted and swiped the Golden Statue of Azir from the ground, dusting it off and frowning. "Don't count on it, buster. I've had enough of his kind."
Silver Platter looked like he was having an aneurism. "You don't want the job?" he hissed. Silver stood shaking for a moment his jaw working up and down as he tried to find the right words. Finally he stood back and bowed, sneering, "Not even an important job? Mysterious, even? But, if you'd rather stay here and dilly-dally in this… mud hole," he said airily, turning his back and starting to walk away, with an expression that Daring knew she didn't like, "be my guest..."
Daring watched him saunter off for a moment, biting her lip. Dang it all, she thought after a moment, rolling her eyes and getting to her hooves. You really can't let these mystery things go, can you, Daring? Even if this stallion is playing you like a drum, you just can't let this chance slip by.
"Hold up there," the mare called, trotting after him and planting herself in his way. "What's this big job you're talking about?"
The unicorn smiled a bit too big for her liking, and leaned in to whisper in her ear. "What do you know about the Dragon's Flame?"
"I don't know, Molly," Daring muttered, pacing as much as she could in the confines of their tent. "I just don't know…"
"Don't know about what, Dare?" Molly asked gently, wiping a soft cloth across the small table that sat in the middle of the room. Usually the table held maps and compasses, tools to plan out each expedition to the farthest degree – though all plans were usually blown out of the water when Daring set foot in the field. It was the reason she worked alone, apart from the dozen or so ponies that carried everything out into these wild parts.
Daring grunted and smacked her head down on the bed. "I don't know if I can accept this offer," she moaned, voice muffled by her bedsheets.
"Then don't," Molly said airily, dropping the rag into a bucket and drying off the tabletop.
"What?" Daring jerked upright. "But I have to, Molly, don't you see? The Dragon's Flame is legendary! Ponies from all over the world have tried to find it! It's important!" Daring jerked her face close to Molly's, eyes huge. "It's a legend."
The old mule backed up nonchalantly, swinging her large frame onto her bunk. "Then accept the offer, Daring. It's your choice, ya know." Her eyes twinkled with good humor.
Daring sighed and slumped on the table. "I know, I know. Usually I'd accept in a heartbeat, but…"
Molly studied her adopted daughter for a moment, before guessing, "It's the rich pony, ain't it? Ya really don't like him this much?"
The pegasus mare nodded. "Iron Crest is one of those that I try to stay away from. He's got too much power for how ambitious he is, and he's anything but stupid. He's a cunning stallion, and I wouldn't want him near my hen coop, if you get what I'm saying. He'd talk a chicken out of her eggs if he got the chance. The fact that he's so close to the prince just presents a whole slew of new problems."
Molly nodded slowly, deep in thought. "An' now that ya know he wants the Dragon's Flame…"
"It's something far worse than I could have ever imagined," Daring said grimly. "That thing's powerful, Molly. Like, alicorn-magic powerful. If he got his hooves on that, and knew how to use it, well… let's jut say there'd be no more Queen Gilded Horn anymore, or even a Prince Bridled Glory. Or Equinopia, for that matter. He'd want the world." Daring dropped her head into her hooves. "So I'd hate to actually help him get the Dragon's Flame, but getting close to whatever expedition he sends out for it might be the only chance for me to try to stop him. I think…" she paused for a moment, and then ended softly, "I think I need to."
Molly was silent for a moment, and then – "Ya don't have to do it. If it's that dangerous, ya should refuse."
Daring looked up at her old caretaker, who was looking her age for the first time in years. Guilt washed over her; Molly had raised her, and so she knew that when Daring was worried, she should be too. Daring trotted over and nuzzled her gently. "C'mon, Molly. It'll be okay. It's just… no one knows what's going on. And Old Iron Lungs has got too many spies in too many places for me to go blabbing about this. And besides," she laughed, stepping back and spreading her wings proudly. "I'm Daring Do, world-renowned treasure hunter and famed explorer. What could go wrong?"
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