Daring Do and the Lost Tome of Shadows

by whiterook6

Chapter 1: Chapter 1: A Daring Proposal

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Rock Gambit was lucky to be alive. If Daring Do had her way, that luck would run out.

Daring struggled through the narrow tunnel, furiously blinking sweat from her eyes. She was covered in scratches and dirt, and she was pretty sure that she was leaving a trail of torn feathers behind her. Light came from a small opening in the floor at the end of the tunnel, as did the sounds of a rat-bastard horn-humping two-bit thief whistling to himself as he inspected the chamber.

Daring pulled herself up to the opening. Looking down from her vantage point high above, Daring could just make out Rock’s silhouette dancing back and forth across the temple wall as his torch flickered and sputtered. She shoved some loose rock out of the way, careful not to drop any down into the chamber, and crawled forward, seeking a better view. She had very little room to maneuver, and if she dropped down now, Rock would see her. In her condition, Daring didn’t have a hope of beating Rock in a fair fight, so she paused, tried to slow her breathing, and fumed. She was angry and tired and she stung all over. Adding that she’d had to leave her saddlebags behind and that Rock had taken her torch, it was no wonder she’d been unable to come up with a plan.

No matter. She didn’t want a plan—she wanted to beat Rock until he couldn’t walk straight. And Rock’s torch lit the chamber well enough. It was a large room, with stone pillars tracing the walls, and a beautifully tiled floor marking the way.

Rock stepped into view. He placed the torch in a stone brazier, slid his saddlebags to the ground, and reached back to dig through them, looking for something. Daring Do craned her neck down through the hole in the floor, slowly, and watched her prey. After a moment the Earth Pony pulled out a small, leather-bound notebook and held it up to the light.

The real treasure.

Sure, the sparkling, smoky red ruby on the pedestal at the far side of the room was invaluable, doubtlessly ancient, and breathtakingly beautiful; and she definitely wanted the recognition and fame of discovering a bastion of truly forgotten history; but Daring Do recognized immediately the notebook held in front of the stallion. The writing between its covers held the keys to finding countless more artifacts, temples, tombs, and even the tiniest of caves once inhabited by the indigenous ponies of this land. Its notes spanned over a century’s worth of work, passed down from parents to child and paid for with sweat and blood and tears by some of the world’s greatest archaeologists.

And Daring Do was gonna get it back.

“This writing’s awful!” the stallion groaned, flicking through the pages. His gravelly voice and rich, warm drawl were all too familiar. “So much useless junk! Why not spell it out? Why so many riddles?”

So you can’t read it, Daring thought. Though you’re right about the writing.

The pony shook his head, then alternated between scanning the floor and the walls, and reading the journal. It would explain in enough detail how to make it across, sacred knowledge even Daring had forgotten, and as much as she wanted to think otherwise, Rock Gambit was smart enough to decode it.

“Let’s see here . . . ” Rock muttered, and looked around the chamber. Near the entrance sat a chunk of fallen ceiling tile, heavy and dusty. Daring held her breath as he passed right underneath her hiding spot to reach it. Rock turned and kicked it into the hall. It landed in the middle but, as they waited, nothing happened. Maybe he was too lucky, and had hit a safe tile? Or—

Then the tile sank into the floor with a click, and a small spark shot out from the edges of the tile, leading a brilliant flare of white fire as tall as a pony that seemed to go on and on. A pony stepping on that would’ve been roasted.

“Alright. Ah suppose that’s expected.” Rock double-checked something in the notebook, then nodded, returned the notebook to his saddlebags, and focused once more on the tiled floor.

Though wary of leaving the ruby in the raider’s possession, Daring Do couldn’t risk losing the journal. Instead, she’d wait until Rock Gambit had made his way to the pedestal. Then, while the stallion was busy admiring the relic, Daring Do would float down, grab the journal, and crawl back through her tunnel. If she was quiet enough, and if the ruby proved enough of a distraction, he wouldn’t notice the missing book until he made his way back.

It was a horrible plan, she had to admit, but so was rushing up and teaching him a lesson in friendship with her hooves. The tricky part, of course, was the room itself. Almost every tile sat atop a small pile of fast-burning powder and a snapstone, designed to incinerate anypony unlucky enough to step on it. Though Daring Do herself was out of danger where she was, the path to the gem was quite dangerous. Even so, Daring Do knew Rock could make it safely across. Lucky bastard.

“Don’t move a muscle, my friend,” Rock growled at the ruby, his foreign voice loud in the otherwise still-as-dead chamber.

Daring Do held her breath as the pony stood, shook the stiffness from his shoulders, and headed towards the tiled floor of the main chamber. Finally! Once he had made his way far enough through the tricky flooring—

“Whoops. Can’t forget you!” Rock said. With a plummeting gut Daring Do watched Rock Gambit turn, reach into his saddlebags, and grab the journal in his jaw.

Damnit! Daring Do leaned back from the hole and took a slow, quiet breath. She needed a new plan, and fast. Her only real advantage over Rock—her wings—was useless in the cramped space of the temple. Rock Gambit was crafty and if he made it outside and disappeared Daring Do would never find him. Whatever she was going to do, it had to be now, and it had to be fast.

Daring Do looked again, and watched as the stallion gingerly stepped out onto the first tile, leaning way back and barely putting any weight on it. Judging from the sigh of relief Rock let out when nothing happened, even he didn’t fully trust his luck. He slowly put more weight on the tile, and once balanced he started looking for the next. Daring carefully pushed a pebble over the edge and listened carefully. The pebble made a small crack when it landed, but Rock gave it no notice, utterly focused on avoiding the traps. It was Daring Do’s only chance.

As quietly as she could, she squeezed her way out of the small tunnel, wincing with every motion. Once she had one foreleg out she used it to pull herself farther. When she was free of the tunnel she fell, catching herself at the last moment with a great gust of wind. Rock didn’t seem to notice, as he took another careful step, a little more confidently. Daring Do had maybe a minute before Rock made it to the ruby.

Briefly she thought of flying up behind Rock Gambit and catching him off guard, but if he misstepped even once then they’d be the main dishes at a gryphon feast. She’d be better off waiting until he made it to the raised platform. Looking around, she spotted a large rock, and she spent a few moments wondering if she should just throw it blindly and let luck figure things out.

Of course, luck would probably figure things out in his favor—or her notebook would be incinerated.

Another step, then another. Rock Gambit had figured out the pattern, but more importantly he trusted the pattern too. Daring Do couldn’t simply wait for Rock Gambit to make it back and hope to stay hidden, not with the way the room was laid out, and with a not-so-hidden passage at the rear and not-too-subtle clues to its whereabouts in her notebook, the raider might not even come back this way. Two tiles left.

Subtlety and patience had had their turn, she decided. Time for initiative and hooves.

Daring Do quietly lifted off the ground and, hoping against hope that Rock wouldn’t turn around, started floating over. Rock Gambit leapt the last step and landed on the platform above the tiles, with the pedestal in the middle. Daring Do flapped harder, picking up speed, and tried to angle herself so she’d come at him from the side, and hopefully keep either of them from tumbling back onto the trapped floor.

She could see Rock Gambit pausing as he grabbed the journal from his mouth, head cocked to the side, ears flicking. Daring Do wasn’t being subtle. Rock turned, looked over his shoulder, eyes wide in the flickering torchlight, opened his mouth, yelled, “Hay, Rainbow Dash!”


“Shit!” the cloud above Applejack yelped. She watched a small object tumble end over end from the cloud, landing with a thud a few meters away.

A startled face appeared over the edge, then turned sour when its owner realized what had happened.

Applejack called up, “Crap! Ah’m sorry, Rainbow!”

Rainbow Dash leaned back and slid through her cloud, falling towards the ground. She stopped at the last moment with a pump from her mighty wings, sending dust and pebbles scattering, and hovered at eye level.

Applejack walked up to the object that had landed in the grass ahead of her. It was a book, and it had landed cover up. It looked familiar. “Daring Do and the Legend of the Metalsmith. Is that new?” she asked.

Rainbow grabbed the book from the ground and brushed a clump of dirt from it. “No, I’ve read it before. It’s one of my favorites.” She smiled a huge grin. “Daring Do is searching for the Metalsmith’s Ruby, a source of powerful fire magic stolen from the heart of a dying Dragon, but her rival betrays her, and she has to escape, and they duke it out in a tiny chamber, but it’s full of traps, and it’s so awesome! And the ancient foundry is super creepy, too—full of broken golems and dragon bones—gives me the chills.”

Applejack rolled her eyes and chuckled. “How can a book you’ve already read give ya the chills? Y’already know what happens.”

Rainbow shook her head, slowly floating around Applejack. “It’s not about the surprise. The temple is full of ancient carvings, empty underground chambers, tight passages, and dark and dangerous and hot the whole time.” She hugged the book close and kicked her legs. “I’ve reread all the books, and they never get old.”

“How many are there?”

“Fourteen so far, and five shorts—but A. K. Yearling’s already writing the next one, and they say it’s gonna be her best yet.”

Applejack thought she caught a tiny twitch in Rainbow’s right eye. Interesting . . . “What’s it gonna be about?”

“Nopony knows what Daring’s gonna do next. Yearling keeps her books wrapped up pretty tight until they’re released.”

“And you’ve been rereading yours, waiting for the next book.”

“Yeah, like five times now.” Twitch.

Applejack whistled. “Five times? You must really like reading those books, huh?”

“Oh yeah. I get so bored without them. I can’t wait for the next book. It’s gonna be so awesome!” she exclaimed, spinning in place.

“So when’s it due—”

“Another adventure, deep in the jungle, or maybe an expedition to the desert, or—”

“Yeah, but when’s it—”

“Dodging traps, beating up minions—”


“It’s been pushed back!” Rainbow wailed, burying her face in her book and sobbing all over it. “Nopony knows how long it’s gonna be!”

Applejack couldn’t help but smirk. “Aw, come now. It’s not that bad.”

Rainbow paused, peering over her hooves at Applejack. AJ continued, “At least you know she’s writin’ another book. Eventually she’s gotta stop—”

“You shut your mouth,” Rainbow Dash growled, glaring at Applejack.

Applejack took a step back. “Uh huh . . . Ah’m heading over to Twilight’s for a moment. If yer so bored, you can come with me.” She chuckled. “An’ if yer real bored, you could help me get a jump on lotsa chores.”

Rainbow Dash scowled. “I bet Daring Do doesn’t do chores.”

“Uh huh.” Applejack started walking towards town.

“How could she?” Dash continued. “She’s not stuck at home, she’s got treasure to hunt! Bad guys to catch!” She hugged her book and her grin was back. “And Daring Do is so awesome! Watching her soar through the air, swing on vines, dodge traps, steal back priceless artifacts just because they belong in a museum—so cool!”

You can fly, too, ya know,” Applejack pointed out.

Rainbow Dash sighed, landing in front of Applejack. “Duh, Applejack, I can fly too. I can also swing on ropes, and I sneak around basically all the time. It’s how it’s written—Daring Do is adventurous, fierce, and undeniably, unquestionably unstoppable!” she exclaimed, striking a pose.

“That’s funny, because up until now Ah would’a said the same thing about you, Dash. But if Daring Do’s as bang up as ya say, then she must be cooler than you.”

Rainbow didn’t bite. “The only difference between Daring Do and me is that she gets to bomb around exotic locations, fight bad guys, rescue some hunk, and save the day.”

“That’s four—”

“If it were more exciting around Ponyville, you know I’d be right in the thick of it.”

Applejack looked around. “Ah think Ponyville’s had its share of excitement to last a while. Discord? The parasprites? That … rash everypony got?” She winced.

Rainbow ignored her. “Just imagine! Buried deep in the Everfree—uh, Jungle, full of predators and crisscrossed with rivers and chasms, there’s an unexplored and forgotten city.” She waved a hoof to encompass the horizon. “And underneath, behind secret doors and dangerous traps is . . . uh . . . is the . . . ”

“Is what?”

“I’m thinking!” Rainbow Dash scrunched her face up and concentrated. “Inside is the Lost Tome, a warlock’s spellbook of unimaginable power, and the bad guys are trying to find it to take over the world.” She puffed out her chest and strutted up in front of Applejack. “And only Daring Do can stop them. Aw, yeah! That’d be so fun. Hey. Hey!” She leaned close and grinned. “Wanna go on an adventure?”


“Yeah! We could go exploring, and look for treasure!”

“Look for treasure?” Applejack asked, eyebrows climbing up inside her hat. “Around here? Ponyville ain’t exactly known for its history of rich ponies losing their valuables, unless yer talking about Rarity’s silly gems.”

“Aw, c’mon, AJ, it’ll be fun! I’ll be Daring Do, adventurer extraordinaire, with lightning reflexes, nerves of steel, and an attitude to match, and you can be—”

“Her bumblin’ sidekick?” Applejack shook her head. “Pass. Ah’m not gonna spend my day being yer lackey.”

“No, no, not a sidekick. You can be Rock Gambit.” Rainbow Dash waggled her eyebrows.

“Who’s Rock Gambit?”

Dash nodded seriously. “Let me tell you about Rock Gambit,” she said, and wrapped a foreleg around Applejack’s withers. “Rock Gambit is Daring Do’s rival. He’s not as awesome, obviously, but Daring Do is always having to watch her back for treachery. Rock is from across the ocean, but they both travel the world looking for treasure and relics, so they wind up crossing paths a lot. More than once has Daring Do had her plans foiled by Rock. See, he’s a tomb raider, not an adventurer.”

She flipped through the pages of her book and held it open. “That means he’s in it for the glory and the money, but the tombs are still dangerous and Rock Gambit wouldn’t be Daring Do’s rival without being pretty good, I think.”

Applejack read a little and tilted her head. “Ya want me to play yer rival—in a game of make-believe?”

“Sure! It’ll be awesome!”

“Why would we be workin’ together if we don’t like each other?”

“Rock and Daring work together all the time. They just don’t trust each other.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow.

Rainbow said, “Oh! I know! We both know a little bit about how to get the treasure. You know how to navigate the traps, while I know where the temple is. We got stranded when our boat was attacked by pirates, then again by sea monsters, and we’ll have to work together to get to the temple, steal the treasure, and make it out alive.” She did a little dance. “Oh, it’s gonna be so great!”

Applejack wondered just how desperate Rainbow Dash was to escape her boredom. She sighed. “Well . . . Playin’ make believe’s not really mah thing.”

“Aw, come on!”


“I’ll be your friend!”


“Oh, you’re mean!”


“Applejack! I’m bored! Please?” Rainbow hovered right close to Applejack and pouted, eyes watering.

Time for the hook. “Maybe—”

“Aw, yeah!” Rainbow said, and did a backflip.

“—On one condition: you get to be mah chore-horse tomorrow. Ah sit back, watch ya work, and administer any extra . . . motivation that may be required.” She grinned. “That means—”

“I know what that means,” Dash said, eyes narrowing. “I’ve watched you do your chores. They’re not that bad.”

Applejack cocked an eyebrow. “‘Not that bad’? Let’s see. You’ll be muckin’ out the chicken coop, feedin’ the animals, milkin’ the cows, collectin’ eggs, and doin' lots and lots of repairs on the barn.” Applejack walked around her, trying to keep the grin from her face as she imagined her day off.

Rainbow Dash landed in front of Applejack, blocking her path again. “You spend the rest of the day on an kick-ass adventure with me, and I do your chores tomorrow?”

“That’s the deal,” Applejack said, heart racing. “I’d make you buck the southern orchard, too, but it’s tricky.”

“For real?”

“Well, Ah suppose if you want the sourthern orchard—”

“You’d really have an adventure with me?”

“Would Ah lie?”

Dash grinned. “Deal.”


Not far from where Daring Do and Rock Gambit were planning their adventure, a wild and dangerous mage was experimenting with new abilities.

“Hold still, Spike.”

“I’m—I’m trying, Twilight! Hurry up! I can’t keep my balance like this!”

“Okay. On three.” Twilight closed her eyes. “One.” Her horn erupted with a shower of sparks, and her wings pumped hard, lifting her off the ground. “Two.”

“Wait! Like, on three? Or, ‘One, two, three, then the spell’?”

On three! I just said—”

“Yeah, but the last time—”


A glow of magic erupted from her horn. A spot on the ground just to the left of Spike burst into flames. Spike yelped, jumping to the side, and scrambled to see if he was on fire.

Twilight Sparkle landed clumsily and swore. That was the fifth clump of dirt she’d incinerated this afternoon, and it didn’t help that her knees were getting tender from the rough landings.

“Uh, Twilight? Can we stop now?”

“Not yet, Spike. I’ve got to figure out how to compensate for aerodynamic drift.” She consulted a checklist that floated beside her. “We’re only at the fifth of twelve identified conflicts. Pegasus magic interferes with spell casting and it’s throwing all my spells out of whack.”

Spike gulped. “You’re telling me.”

“One more try, Spike. C’mon, on the ball.”

“Um . . . ”

“On. The. Ball.”

“Twilight . . . ” Spike whined, looking at the mess of deflated balls around them. “I don’t think this is gonna work.”

“There’s a fire ruby in it for you,” she said, waggling her eyebrows.

“Oh, you mean like this one?” Spike asked. He pulled one out from wherever he pulled spare scrolls, chomped down on it, and burped an impressive jet of flame.


Spike crossed his arms and shook his head.

“Fine!” She stomped her hoof. “Fine.”

“Isn’t there some other way you can practice your magic?”

“No, Spike! When I cast spells for myself I can’t test my improvisation skills or my reaction time. It doesn’t matter how well I can cast when I’m focused, it only matters what I can do in more unpredictable and stressful situations.”

Small fires smoldered around them.

“Do you have to learn this now?” he asked. “You’ve been practising for days!”

“The Summer Sun Celebration is only eighty-nine hours away! Who knows what sinister plot will require me to save the day? Remember what happened during our first Summer Sun Celebration in Ponyville?”

“ . . . You think Nightmare Moon is going to return? During the Celebration?” Spike asked, clearly not convinced. “Again?”

Twilight opened her mouth to correct him—Nightmare Moon was a corruption of Princess Luna—but Spike had a point. It was extremely unlikely that a dangerous spirit from the Void would infest the Princess’ mind in a bid to destroy the Sun; admittedly, it was unlikely that anything would happen. She was simply trying to ignore the uncomfortable fact that she’d fallen down on her studies, ever since her coronation ceremony. Just getting used to flying was a big deal, and having to relearn the basics had put her back a few steps. Twilight was certainly used to struggling with her magic, but she had to start practicing now or else risk never starting.

Spike was still talking: “ . . . not even in Ponyville this year.”

Before she could try to lure Spike onto another ball, a pair of voices caught her attention. She turned and looked up the path: cresting over the hill were Rainbow Dash and Applejack, arguing as usual. From the tone of their voices, Dash was trying to convince Applejack of something—

“ . . . so awesome . . . ”

—while it sounded like Applejack remained thoroughly unconvinced—

“ . . . uh huh . . . ”

Thankful for the distraction, Twilight smiled and trotted over, leaving Spike to pout on his own. “Hi, girls!”

“Twilight!” Applejack smiled, interrupting Rainbow Dash and hurrying over. “Ah was just lookin’ fer ya. Ah wanted to show you—” She paused and looked at the small brush fires and burst plastic. “You, uh, doin’ some sort of experiment?”

“Oh! No, just running through some basic magic: levitation, projection, manipulation.” She smiled. “Nothing unusual.”

“Uh huh,” Applejack said, cocking an eyebrow.

Twilight sighed. “Actually, I’m checking the effects Earth Pony and Pegasus magic have had on my spellcasting.”

“Ah’m assuming they’re getting along like water and grease?”

“Well . . . ” Twilight tapped her hoof and sighed. “To be honest, ever since ascending, some of my magic has gone a little haywire,” she explained. “Pegasus and Earth Pony magic don’t react well with Unicorn magic—or with each other—so a simple levitation spell interferes with flight, for example. Or a transfiguration interferes with growth magic.” She pointed absently at one of the fires. “It’s like learning to use a different Unicorn’s horn instead of my own.”

“Aw, cheer up, Twi. Sounds like growing pains. It’s only been a couple weeks. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have had thousands of years to figure it all out. Ya can’t beat yerself up over this.”

Sure I can, Twilight thought wryly, plastering a smile on her face. “Thanks.”

“Anyways, Ah wanted to show you this!” Applejack removed her hat and pulled a rolled-up sheet of paper from its crown. “Your magic may be on the fritz, but you were an excellent tutor for Apple Bloom.”

Twilight read the homework, and the assigned grade, and her smile grew more genuine. “This is wonderful! I’m so glad.”

“Thank you for your help with her homework,” Applejack said. “Would you like to keep it? Applebloom thought you might.”

“Yes, please. And anytime! Really.”

“Well, now that you mention it—”

“Alright, enough sap.” Rainbow shoved Applejack out of the way and said, “Twilight! Applejack could totally be Rock Gambit, right? Tell her!”

“Huh?” She looked back and forth between the two, then at the book held in Rainbow’s hoof. “Oh. Let’s see.” Twilight closed her eyes and thought back over the most recent adventures, then inspected Applejack. “Well, Rock is athletic. Determined. Skilled with a rope.”

Applejack couldn’t take a compliment without blushing.

Twilight continued, “But honest? Sense of family and commitment? Humble? Rainbow Dash, Applejack would make a terrible Rock Gambit.” She looked at Applejack. “No offense, but Rock is usually a very bad friend.”

Rainbow Dash huffed and rolled her eyes. “What about in Desert Tomb, where Rock learns about Daring Do’s tragic past, and comforts her?”

“You mean when Rock was lying through his teeth?”

“Sure, but Daring Do knew that. What about in River of the Ages, when Rock helps Daring save all those sailors, even though it means giving up the Jewel of Eternity?”

“Rock did it to save himself. He even threw one of those sailors overboard!”

“In Wasteland Guardians, the two of them team up to defeat Ahuizotl!”

“Rock wouldn’t’ve helped Daring if his country wasn’t also being threatened. You know that!”

“You’re not helping,” Rainbow grumped. “Anyways, who cares? We’re gonna have an adventure—”

“A fake adventure,” Applejack objected.

“—looking for the Lost Tome—”

“Fake Lost Tome.”

“Just because we’ll have to imagine some of it doesn’t make it less awesome!”

Some of it? Twilight, will you zap some sense into her? Y’all can’t just wander around the forest and pretend yer tryin’ to discover some ruby of fire—”

“Metalsmith’s Ruby,” both Rainbow and Twilight corrected.

“Oh, forget you both.”

“Actually, Applejack, I think an afternoon of roleplaying is a great way to relax and have some fun—a safe adventure that’s as exciting as you want it to be.” Twilight smiled innocently. “For example, Rainbow Dash spends plenty of time pretending to lead a Wonderbolts practmmpf—

“Haha, Twilight, why do you lie like that?” Rainbow asked nervously, her hoof in Twilight’s mouth.

Applejack laughed. “Really? Talkin’ to ponies that ain’t there? Teachin’ thin air how to do loopy loops? Ha!”

Twilight knocked the hoof from her mouth and continued, “And Applejack, your brother told me you had an invisible Pegasus friend who flew through the orchard and pointed out which trees were the best for bucking.”

Applejack glared at her. “That was years—Just a filly—Ah’ll kill him!” she snorted, kicking at the ground and looking back towards her farm. Beside them, Rainbow Dash tumbled with laughter.

Twilight cleared her throat. “I enjoy roleplaying as well. It’s useful as a creative exercise, and as a tool for problem solving. There’s nothing foalish about it at all.”

“Yeah, Applejack,” Dash snorted, trying to keep a straight face. “Invisible friends totally aren’t foalish. Twilight said so!”

“Go on, Applejack. Go play pretend with Rainbow Dash. The Daring Do adventures are kinda predictable, but they’re fun and different, too. And I know today’s your day to clean the loft, which never takes as long as you think it will, so you’re done for the day—right?”

Applejack hung her head in defeat. “Yeah, Ah guess.” She looked up at Twilight, and asked with narrowed eyes, “How’d you know Ah had to clean the loft today?”

Twilight grinned. “I keep charts!”

“See? Even Twilight thinks it’s a good idea. Let’s go!”

“What, right now? Don’t’cha need, like, a map or something?”

Rainbow Dash gasped, eyes wide. “You’re right! I knew I was forgetting something!”

She leapt into the air and rocketed off, the air rumbling as it rushed to make way. Twilight watched her disappear into the sky, a hoof to her forehead to block the sunlight.

Head craned back to watch, Applejack asked, “What’s she up to now?”

“Getting your gear, I think,” Twilight answered absently. “There she is.”

Rainbow Dash plummeted towards the ground, slamming to a halt just above the grassline so suddenly Twilight would’ve sworn she’d actually crashed if she didn’t then saunter over, saddlebags bulging. “Here you go!”

“What’s this?” Applejack asked.

“Our gear!” She hefted a pair of saddlebags up and over Applejack’s back, then shoved her forehead into Applejack’s shoulder. “C’mon. I wanna find some treasure!” she urged.

Applejack sighed and let Dash push her towards the forest. Over her shoulder she called back, “You gonna be okay, Twilight?”

“It’s fine,” Twilight said, ignoring the small brush fires surrounding her. “Everything is fine.”

She watched the two adventurers wander off and pursed her lips in heavy thought. Rainbow Dash was right, of course—Daring Do was adventurous, risky, and cool. Very cool. Twilight had read the same books and couldn’t help but share an appreciation for a well-written protagonist.

“Come on, Spike. Enough practice for today. Spike?” She looked around. He wasn’t in sight. “Where did you go?”

Twilight glared instead at the little deflated ball, then sighed. “You’re going to have double chores when you get back, mister.”

The ball ignored her.

After cleaning up her little arena and extinguishing the brush fires, she turned and headed back to town. The walk back into Ponyville was short enough that she didn’t bother flying; soon she could see the Golden Oaks Library. In the distance, a small purple shape raced out the front door, likely towards the Boutique. She admired his audacity, at least.

A checklist appeared in her mind as she walked.

Situations: A) Rainbow Dash and Applejack are playing make-believe. They have entirely different imaginations. B) Rainbow Dash idolizes Daring Do, and is likely jealous of the fame the character gets. C) Applejack wants to spend time with Rainbow Dash but doesn’t usually play such abstract games. Problems—

She frowned.

Problems: A) Unless they’re very lucky, their adventure won’t live up to their imaginations and they’ll get bored. (Additional situation: D) Daring Do books, while enjoyable, are formulaic and predictable (Implication: The villains are formulaic and predictable.))

The items in her checklist each took the form of a jigsaw puzzle piece, clicking together nicely. All she needed was to fill the holes in the picture. Pegasus and Earth Pony magic may have screwed up her basic casting, but her ability to list away had not been impaired in the slightest.

Goals: A) Make their adventure live up to their imaginations. B) Give them an adventure that isn’t formulaic or predictable.

She opened the door to her home and entered, deep in thought.


Her thought processes ground to halt as the state of the library registered. The curtains were drawn, dimming the light and trapping in the heat. Little wonder she’d slept so late. At her hooves were a scattering of books; small piles of publications mixed with volumes and ledgers dotted the floor. A single shaft of sunlight penetrated the room, throwing dark shadows on the wall behind—she looked up and up, leaning back, eyes wide—behind towering spires of knowledge reaching for the ceiling towards the back.

She gulped sheepishly. “Gotta cut back on the late-night studying . . . ” she chuckled nervously, not for the first time, and pushed her way through the mess.

At the far side of the room, after carefully edging around one of the larger piles, she spied a familiar if incomplete set of novels, lying out of order in a pile. It should have upset her. The whole mess should’ve upset her, but an idea was winning out. She grinned a wicked grin.

Around her the remaining puzzle pieces fell neatly into place. It was all there: an adventure worthy of her friends and of Daring Do. Abandoned ruins. Actual danger. Ancient artifacts. Saving the world. And so much improvised spellcasting she’d likely hurt her head. She fought the urge to squeal, even as her horn ignited and pulled various objects towards her.

Eighty-nine hours before the Summer Sun Celebration, and only eighty-eight hours before her impending meltdown. Plenty of time.


Applejack and Rainbow Dash stood at the edge of the Everfree Forest. It was muted and still, and the light didn’t quite filter out properly, like it was darker than it should be. The trees themselves abruptly shot out of the ground and were quite tall, forming an imposing wall that stretched from one side of the valley to the other.

“So, Rainbow Dash . . . what’re we s’posed to, you know, do?” Applejack asked, eyeing the darkening depths ahead of her. Her voice echoed back from the surprisingly thick forest wall ahead of them.

Rainbow Dash turned to her, a big, smug grin plastered on her face. “Who’s Rainbow Dash? I’m Daring Do, the coolest fuckin’ archaeologist this side of the Equestria!” Daring Do jumped in the air with a flourish.

“You can’t be that cool. Archaeology’s lame. And Ah don’t even know what you look like.”

“Huh?” Daring Do frowned, then laughed. “Oh, yeah. I’ve got a dark grey mane, tan fur, green jacket and white pith helmet, and my cutie mark is a green and gold compass. Basically Rainbow Dash with different colors.”


“Your turn,” Daring prodded.

Applejack nodded, then puffed her chest out. “Is that so? You? An adventurer? Ha! Yer an amateur, compared to—Uh, who’m Ah s’posed to be, again?”

Daring Do cleared her throat. “You’re Rock Gambit, famous gambler turned tomb raider. You go hunting for treasure in the deepest depths of the world,” she explained, like she was reciting from a book, “and are a huge thorn in my side. Unfortunately, you know how to navigate the temple hiding my treasure, so I’m keeping an eye on you.” With that, she hovered in nice and close to Rock’s face and glared, trying to keep a straight face.

Applejack tried to match her stare, before snorting and smiling. “Ah don’t play make-believe very often, ‘Darin’ Do’, but Ah make believe as a stallion even less. Ain’t there somepony else Ah could be?”

“Not unless you wanna play the Princess in peril. But, hey, that’s okay! We’ll just make Rock a mare. How about . . . Rose Gambit?”

Rose Gambit rolled her eyes. “Alright.” She cleared her throat and glanced over Daring Do’s shoulder. “Anypony could be a thorn in your side. It’s a pretty big side.” Somehow, her foreign, unsophisticated accent made it more insulting.


“And you couldn’t find yer way through a maze—”

“Labyrinth,” Rainbow corrected quickly. “When it’s large enough for an adventurer to get lost in, it’s called a labyrinth.”

“. . . a labyrinth, even if it opened up and lit the way. So you—” she reached and tapped Daring Do on the chest “—need me.”

“Hmpf.” Daring Do glared at her, then smirked. “Care to bet?”

Rose Gambit grinned. “That you can’t get to the treasure without me? You’re on.”

The two spat on their hooves and clopped them together, then turned to face the forest.

“Yunno . . . Look, Dash. Ah know Rose Gambit would know where to go and all, but Ah sure as shootin’ don’t.”

“So? Make something up. Where’s your imagination?”

“Ah dunno, Ah never do this. Yer the one with yer head in the clouds.” Applejack eyed the book in Dash’s hoof. “What about the gem y’all were talking about earlier—the ruby? Do we look for that?”

“Naw, we’re nowhere near the Crumbling Foundries. Let’s find something new!”


“Yeesh.” Rainbow Dash pointed deeper into the forest. “We’ll head into the jungle. I’m sure there’s something in there to entertain us.”


“Yeah, jungle. Can’t you see the vines and insects?”

Applejack looked at her like she’d grown a horn. “Uh, no?”

“Look, Rose, just pretend this is a jungle. What would you see?”

Applejack peered ahead. “Ah suppose . . . Ah suppose the ground wouldn’t be covered in pine needles. It’d be covered in leafy bushes. Lots more green. And . . . vines?”

Rainbow Dash nodded. “Tons of vines. And?”

“And no evergreens. Jungle trees.”

Dash wrapped her forehoof around AJ’s shoulder and continued. “And it’s humid. Lots of insects buzzing around, and it stinks of sweat and moldy vegetation. You can even hear the calls of wild animals off in the distance.”

She turned to face her friend, replaced by a tomb raider named Rose Gambit. “And somewhere deep within are ancient ruins, a dark temple, and dangerous traps guarding my treasure—the Lost Tome.”

Rose Gambit sputtered. “Yer treasure?! Keep yer hat on and focus! We’ve got a lot of jungle to cut our way through, so don’t get distracted!”

“That’s more like it! Let’s go!” Daring Do hollered, and flew into the jungle, Rose close behind.


Daring Do and her gender-bent rival hurried onwards. Thankfully Rainbow Dash had been kind enough to describe her vision of a jungle; aside from a hoofful of dry articles and various biology reviews, Twilight had been unable to find any good references to jungle flora or fauna. Of course, this meant she had to stay close to the heroes, but she’d already been planning on that. Hopefully she’d be able to keep up.

She waited until they were safely in the shadow of the big trees and landed behind them, then quietly followed them in.

“You want vines, Rainbow Dash? Have some vines.”

Her horn glowed purple, and in her head the vines Rainbow Dash had gone to lengths to describe sprouted from the ground, and from the trees above. Slowly, at first, she focused her magic into projecting color, light, and texture to form a single vine ahead of her, then as she grew more comfortable, a few more. As she thought, she willed them into being, and behind Applejack a sprinkle of vines appeared on the forest floor. Carefully, quietly, they grew in short amounts, always out of sight of the two, since she knew it would be too jarring for them so early on.

She’d thought a lot about this on the way from the library. By the time they were well and truly into their game, Twilight planned on having them deep in an actual jungle. She could already do simple projections, so long as she wasn’t flying; she just had to stay close and pay attention to their reactions.

“Now for the jungle trees,” she muttered, and concentrated. Thicker trunks, smoother bark, wilder branches; wide hanging leaves that filtered the sunlight; and moss everywhere. The first few appeared, out of sight so she could get the hang of them.

Twilight stepped up to one of her transformed trees and prodded its trunk, even as more and more trees and foliage transformed around her. It looked real enough, and even though she could sense a slight pressure on her horn when she touched it, the trunk felt real too. She turned and poked one of the vines hanging from its branches, smiling when it swung gently in the air. So long as Applejack and Rainbow Dash didn’t investigate the trees themselves too closely, the illusions and projections would do the trick.

The real trees were too close together to let her catch up without making too much noise, so she carefully lifted off, still wary of flying, and made her way above the canopy in the same direction as the adventurers, already trying to guess where they were heading and preparing the environment. As trees grew and vines snaked and brushes thickened beneath her, she felt a warmth spread through her body.

This was going to be fun.

Author's Notes:

Author's notes available here. I'm posting the next chapter, Welcome to the Jungle, at the same time. After that chapters will be released regularly.

With assistance from Daetrin. Cover art by Foxinshadow. Alternate cover art by Diremuffin.


Next Chapter: Chapter 2: Welcome to the Jungle Estimated time remaining: 7 Hours, 45 Minutes
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