Hi there, everypony! I'm not exactly sure what made this pop into my head, but it did. Daring Do and Fancy Pants, and their fancy, daring adventure. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it.
Extra Note: I didn't realize until after I posted this how badly Fancy Pants's OOC in this chapter grated on the nerves. I assure you, it's only Daring's perception of him that makes him so... like this, and that will change as the story progresses!
Trial By Fire
She concluded her lecture in her traditional way. "Archaeology isn't a game, fillies and gentlecolts," she announced, her voice echoing through the lecture hall. Her students laughed, accustomed to this warning. To them, it seemed difficult to believe that the mild-mannered Professor Do was really the most famous adventurer in all of Equestria. Professor Do, with her tied back mane, down-turned eyes, and quiet voice.
She stared at them a moment longer. "Well then, away with you all," she commanded with mock irritation, waving her hoof dismissively. "I expect that essay by next class."
There was a room-wide moan of disappointment, but the ponies gradually filtered out, bags in tow. She smiled after them as she leaned down to gather up the papers she'd scattered across her desk. They were all young, younger than her, and she felt a sort of protectiveness for them, in all their wide-eyed innocence. Archaeology was a safe major, but not the way she did it. No, if any of them followed in her hoofsteps, she doubted they would last very long.
The slow clacking of horseshoes down the steps startled her out of her reverie, and she jumped back defensively, her eyes narrowed and her teeth bared.
She was greeted with quiet laughter. "My, my, Professor Daring," the stallion said haughtily, his eyebrows rising into his mane. "On edge, are we? I couldn't do you any harm, I assure you."
She eyed the pony up and down carefully before settling down. Really, he was just a Canterlot pony, she chided herself. Harmless, if a little bit self-righteous. Her eyes flicked to his flank, and she immediately recognized the mark there.
"And what does a pony of such high standing as Mr. Fancy Pants himself want with a professor like me, hm?" she asked, tilting her head to the side and letting her tied back mane fall into her eyes. She would try to play off her silly overreaction.
He laughed again, a polite little chuckle that grated on her nerves. "What wouldn't a pony want with you, Professor Daring?" he asked, stepping closer so that he stood on just the other side of her desk. She pushed her papers into her bag protectively. "You're the greatest treasure hunter in Equestria. I want what anypony else wants. Your aid."
She slung her bag over her shoulder and donned a worn-out trench coat in silence, as Fancy Pants stood patiently waiting for an answer. "And how would I be aiding you, Mr. Fancy Pants?" she asked cautiously after a lengthy pause. Immediately, his face was split with a grin, exuding a strange sort of glee.
"I own a frighteningly diverse collection of jewels, as I'm sure you're aware," he drawled proudly. She rolled her eyes, but motioned for him to continue. "But I'm afraid there is one particular gem that has caught my attention that I simply can't get my hooves on."
"And what does that have to do with me?" she prodded, nervously checking the clock on the wall. She would be late for her dinner with the heads of the department if she waited much longer.
"Well, who else would I go to if I wanted to locate the mysterious Fire Ruby of lore?" he asked, his shoulders rippling in a shrug. She couldn't help it, a bark of laughter escaped her, and her esteem for this famous pony fell considerably.
"Mr. Fancy Pants, I regret to inform you that the Fire Ruby is a myth. A legend and nothing more," she said airily. "I'm an archaeologist, not an idiot. I only pursue things I know to be true." She moved toward the door. This was not the first time she'd been approached about the illustrious Fire Ruby by somepony who didn't properly understand how she operated. Truthfully, she'd done some research into it after the first request, but it was simply one facet of an old mare's tale, a symbolic icon of the greed of dragons. It was mentioned only once, in one story, which didn't even take place in Equestria. She scoffed at the foolishness of some ponies.
"Ah," he sighed, his eyebrows waggling as if he knew something she didn't. "Therein lies the rub. What if I could assure you that I knew it existed? And that I knew exactly where to find it?"
She paused, but only for a moment, her back to him as she ascended the stairs. "I would call you a fool and suggest that you get your money back from whoever sold you that falsified information," she shot back over her shoulder, her violet eyes skimming over his figure skeptically. He looked almost offended.
"Well then," he said, stepping closer. "What if I promised you a vast amount of money for even trying?" he offered persuasively. His blue eyes skimmed over her outfit disdainfully. "Surely you could use it."
She found her gaze following his down to her threadbare coat, and she bristled before calming herself. "How much money are we talking here?" she demanded harshly, and Fancy Pants appeared taken aback by her brusqueness. Nevertheless, he leaned in and whispered seductively in her ear.
Her eyes widened at the sum. She stepped back, placing her bag strategically between his body and hers. "I would say, Mr. Fancy Pants, that I would feel awful taking advantage of such a silly stallion, but that if you were so stubborn about it, I would have to acquiesce."
A grin crept onto his features again, and his eyes sparkled with delight. "Well, the money is of course necessary. I would not ask you to look after me for free," he drawled in his affected Canterlot accent.
"Wait. Wait, what?" she stammered, taking another step back cautiously.
His eyes widened innocently, and he leaned against one of the benches casually. "I said that I would naturally be paying you enough to make it worth your while to guard me while we adventured together, of course."
Again, a strangled laughed left her body without her permission. "Mr. Fancy Pants, I think you misunderstand," she said humorlessly. "I don't adventure with other ponies. It's too dangerous. Especially if they cannot fend for themselves. If you'll just give me the information you have, I will gladly venture out and inform you of the results I find."
Fancy Pants frowned, clearly displeased. "I'm afraid that I will have to halve my offer if I am not going with you, Miss Daring."
"Professor," she corrected through gritted teeth. "And I'm afraid that if that is the case, I will be forced to decline. I will not be responsible for the death…" She trailed off under his gaze. She shook her head briskly, her fly-away mane swishing out of her eyes. "I will not be responsible for the death of a fellow pony. And that is all a civilized pony like yourself will be to me. Deadweight."
His frown deepened. "I will pay double my original price."
She paused, her mind reeling with all the projects she could fund with that kind of money. "And I won't be liable if anything happens to you? I'll still receive my payment?"
He laughed then, a deep chuckle that grated on her already frayed nerves. "I know where your worries are founded, Professor Daring," he said in a smooth voice that she supposed was meant to be soothing. "And I promise you that I will not be another Professor Dashing."
She froze at the mention of the name. "I will take you where you think we need to go," she said curtly, nodding her head in a clear dismissal. "But do not be surprised when your Fire Ruby is nowhere to be found. I will be expecting my payment whether we find out or not, whether you die or not."
"So kind, Professor Daring," he said, his voice elevating with delight in the face of victory. "It will be a pleasure to witness your legendary adventuring firsthand."
She clicked her tongue impatiently, turning on her hoof and heading for the door. "And Mr. Fancy Pants?" she called over her shoulder. "If you mention my fallen comrades again, this deal is off and I will not be responsible for getting you home from wherever I happen to drop you."
She would be lying if she said she didn't enjoy the way his face fell as she left him in the dust, the door slamming behind her with a satisfying echo. Even the most mild-mannered of ponies would surely be aggravated by the presence of such a self-righteous, spoiled pony like Fancy Pants. The next few days, weeks, months- however long this torture was going to take –would be the longest of her professional life.
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