Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash return to the princesses’ Everfree castle with exploration on the brain. As they proceed further and further into its depths, they can’t shake the feeling they’ve walked into a Daring Do novel. Using nothing but their wits and their friendship, they must overcome the castle’s challenges and perhaps if they’re lucky, find a little treasure.
(A revision of one of the Hearth’s Warming Care Package stories for Kiki.)
If it wasn’t for them, this fic wouldn’t be as refined as it is.
When Twilight Sparkle had asked, “Want to take another look at the Everfree castle?”, Rainbow Dash had not expected it to mean, “Want to stand around forever in an empty, half broken stone shack that smells kind of awful?”
Dash sighed, flicking her tail as she leaned against the smooth wall. The pale purple surface seemed duller and duller with each swish of the multi-coloured strands. Her eyes fell down her snout and continued across the room’s lonely, beaten floor. They settled in the centre where Twilight busied herself.
A twinkle, not unlike the starbursts in the unicorn’s cutie mark, filled Twilight’s eyes as they darted from wall to floating quill and parchment and back. The glow of her magic cast a soft pink over her purple coat. A light blue saddlebag hung across her back, the corner of a yellowed book peeking out from under the half open flap. With a shower of glitter, the tome leapt from its nest, the pages of Castles Throughout the Years: A Comprehensive Guide spilling open.
Rainbow tapped her hoof. “You done yet?”
“Almost. Yes, I’m certain this must have been a study! Which means I was right. This is unlike anything listed in my book!”
With a quick flick, the quill added another line to the scroll and completed the fourth box in the diagram.
“So a bedroom is where the dining room is supposed to be. What’s the big deal?” Dash’s forehoof met with a pebble, sending it skipping into the dimly lit shadows.
“Oh, come on. This is the princesses’ castle! And it’s customized! Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
“Not if it’s boring and empty.”
Twilight stared at her friend through slitted eyes.
Rainbow swept her hoof through the air. “I mean, where’s the little pictures? The treasure? The adventure? This is just one empty room after the other.”
“Dash. Princesses’ castle. Not the Lost Temple of the Sapphire Stone.”
“I wish it was.”
“Wrong side of the world.” Twilight sighed, her magic stuffing the tools back into her bag. “And you know, Daring Do doesn’t find adventure in every room either.”
“No offense, Twilight, but at least she can make boring things sound, well, not boring.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “This way.”
Dash plodded after her friend, passing under a crumbling arch. The room, which Rainbow noted was more like a closet, was not much different from the last four. On her left was a rotted set of bookcases, their sad remains dominoing across the wall. And on her right, a greying, doorless cabinet.
Twilight made a beeline for the shelves, the light of her horn poking at the mixture of moss and webbing. “I can’t believe any of this survived!”
A faded and torn book pulled its way free of the wreckage. As the cover, which read re in he Moo, flipped open, a flurry of scraps tumbled to the floor.
“Yea. ‘Survived,'” Dash replied, breaking off toward the cabinet. She reached out to one of the drawers. As soon as her hoof touched it, the handle fell away, clattering to the ground. She sighed, glaring at the container as though her eyes could pry it open.
That was when she noticed the crescent. It was a C-shaped mix of earthy colour set into the cabinet’s inner wall. She propped her forehooves on top of the drawer, poking her nose into the cavity.
And jumped as the wood beneath her hooves jerked backward.
Rainbow blinked, eyes flitting to Twilight with the careful indignity of a cat. Satisfied that her friend was still distracted by the mess of broken wood, Dash turned her attention back to the cabinet.
Squinting past the shadows, she realized the wall was further from the cupboard than she originally thought. She poked her head around back. The passage was cramped: not even two ponies wide and slanted down, slinking off into an endless darkness.
“Hey, Twilight. This one goes down. Do castles go down?”
The unicorn trotted over, the light of her horn forcing the blackness to give way – to more blackness. She frowned.
“Yes, but I’d expect the cellar to be closer to the kitchen.”
Dash flashed Twilight a grin, almost springing into the doorway. “Could be a secret passage. Let’s check it out!”
“If it is, somepony did a really bad job of keeping it hidden. Just don’t get your hopes up. If we find anything, it’ll probably be somepony’s hundreds of years old lunch.”
Rainbow shrugged. “Can’t be more boring than up here.”
The ramp circled round for the fifth time before Twilight’s hooves finally touched level ground. As she did, the tight, almost stifling, walls gave way to an impenetrable darkness.
Rainbow was practically pressed up against Twilight’s rear, craning her neck for all the good it did her.
Twilight glanced over her shoulder to give her friend a questioning look. Barely had she turned her head when a loud, echoing click snapped it back in front of her. The room blasted into existence, flames licking out from torches all along the wall. Forehooves and a wing were flung up, even though they hardly shielded either mare.
After several long moments, the light settled into a warm glow. The room was wide and circular with heavily faded carvings running all along the walls. On the far side was an open door, a couple cobwebs slung delicately across its frame.
From the door, the bricks led Twilight’s eye in a spiral until they were stopped by a stone pedestal, its cylindrical form chipped and battered. A weathered vase, its design unlike anything she had ever seen, crowned the altar.
Dash grinned, hurrying over to the vase. “Hey, check it out.”
She peered around to the left, then waved her foreleg above the container. She brushed her bangs from her face and rubbed her forehooves together.
Twilight giggled, her mind painting a pith helmet atop her friend’s head.
With a look of indifference, Rainbow Dash snatched the urn with her mouth.
“Wait, don’t touch it! It might be-”
The room trembled. Dust spewed from the ceiling and even a few larger chunks came free, pelting the ponies.
Out! Get out! Twilight’s mind screamed.
She turned to the entrance just in time to see a thick slab of rock come crashing down with deafening force. Thousands of specks shot off the floor, joining the existing grit in attacking her. She fell to her knees in a fit of coughing and blurry tears.
Seconds passed. Then minutes. An eternity later, the room fell deathly silent. Twilight groaned, forcing an eye open.
Rainbow Dash let out a cough from behind the pedestal. She was huddled against the ground, the vase beneath her miraculously still in one piece.
She met Twilight’s gaze, a small, sheepish smile forming. “Booby trapped?”
“I… was going to say fragile,” Twilight replied, hacking out more dust, “but yes, that too.”
Dash stood and shook herself out before carefully retrieving the jar and setting it back on its stand. She glanced from vase to entrance and back again. Her wings drooped.
Sweat formed on her forehead as she rushed over to the ex-entryway, pushing with all her might. Twilight’s horn glowed, the magenta of her magic shining out from beneath Rainbow’s hooves.
“It won’t budge…” Dash gasped.
“Maybe I can teleport us,” Twilight said, fighting back a frown. She closed her eyes, gritting her teeth as colour poured from her horn. Pain leapt across her brain, like a slap to the forehead, except somehow inside her skull. She jerked back, wobbling a few moments before she collapsed.
“Twilight?!” Rainbow Dash yelled as she galloped over.
“Nnnugh, why isn’t it working?”
Twilight scrambled to her hooves and stared at the far end of the room. Her horn sparkled, but before she knew it, she was on her rump again. She clenched her eyes, clutching her forelegs to the sides of her head.
“Twilight, stop. What’s wrong?”
The unicorn pushed herself to her hooves, brushing some dust from her coat. “It’s like everytime I try to do it, I crash into some sort of magic wall. I… I guess it makes sense, since this is the princesses’ castle, but…”
They both looked forlornly at the sealed passage.
Rainbow turned her gaze to the other door, hesitating with each word. “Maybe there’s a switch or something?”
Twilight gulped. “Only one way to find out.”
Twenty shaky steps later, they found themselves in a large, square room. On the ponies’ left and right were crumbling pillars, seemingly held up by a blanket of overgrowth, that ran the full length of the room. At the end of the columns was a doorway. But this one was blocked by a rust coated grate.
The girls edged over to the doorway, small chunks of broken rock skittering away from their hooves.
Dash pressed her weight against the metal, her trouble gaining her little more than a hollow rattle. “No good…”
She glanced about the room. A hole, just to her left, caught her eye. Its rounded, hoof shape beckoned. “Maybe there’s something in there?”
Twilight squatted, trying to squint past the blackness. “Do you want to stick your hoof in that?”
Rainbow eyed the hole again. It was just too inviting. Too easy. And if Daring had taught her anything, easy was a trap. “No, thanks.”
“Thought so. Hmmm… but what if…”
Twilight’s horn glowed and a sizable hunk of rock rose from the floor. It made its way over to the cavity, sliding easily inside.
Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap. Tap, tap. Tapclick. Crunch.
“Got it!” Despite the clattering that quickly filled the room, she found herself beaming as the gate fell into the floor.
Just like Daring Do! she thought.
Twilight’s mouth fell open, her mind pulled aboard a high speed train of thought. She stared blankly at the hoof hole. The sealing entrance, the grate, the hoof hole switch, the layout of the rooms. The sequence was chillingly familiar: one she had read many times. She peered over at Dash, meeting with a mirrored look. “This could be just coincidence, but-”
“Daring Do and the Tomb of Horse?”
“Yea. But there’s no way. That’s just silly.”
Rainbow let out a nervous chuckle. “Wrong side of the world, right?”
They pressed forward and found themselves in a wide open hallway. Right beneath their hooves was a band of stone that was a lighter purple. It stretched a metre or so to their left and right, as well as straight to the other end. At that end was another door, much like the one they had just used.
A large crack traveled along the low ceiling, leaving a curved pile of debris in its wake. Simple, dull edged glyphs ran the full length of each wall, creating an endless line of ponies, the buckets they carried never reaching their destination.
Dash followed each carving, her stare becoming wider with each new figure. She stopped halfway down the hall. She took a step back, then a couple to the right and tilted her head. Her imagination drew a dotted line up against the wall, where Daring Do should have stood.
“Okaaaaay… this is just creepy.”
Twilight nodded, pressing a hoof to one the blackened silhouettes. “It’s… just like the cover.”
Rainbow glanced side to side. “You think we’ll find Horse sitting on a pile of treasure, cursing at the rest of the world?”
Twilight frowned. “I… I want to say no. That a pony feeling so hurt and alone as to abandon her name is just an old mare’s tale. But it all just keeps adding up and… well, our last old mare’s tale turned out to be more than just a myth. Maybe we should turn back.”
Rainbow Dash strode down the hall, boldly puffing out her chest. “And do what? Besides, Daring would never-”
“But we’re not Daring, Dash!” Twilight hissed.
Rainbow struck a pose. “Maybe not, but we’re not normal ei— What?!”
She hopped backward as the tile gave way, sinking firmly into the floor. With an unholy screech, the gate slid back into place.
“No fair! That’s not in the book!” she moaned.
The walls shook and groaned, the stone jaws of a great beast closing in on the ponies.
“RUN!” Twilight yelled, breaking into a gallop.
Rainbow charged to the remaining doorway, easily outpacing the walls. With a grin, she turned back to Twilight. But her smile quickly melted into horror: her friend was falling behind.
Beating her wings, the pegasus launched herself back into the hallway, leaving a flowing rainbow trail. As she swung around, time seemed to slow down, the walls obviously struggling to keep up with her superior speed. She slammed into Twilight with all the force she could muster and they shot forward, becoming a tornado of limbs and colourful hair.
The two of them tumbled head over hooves for a good few seconds, kicking up a cloud of dust that could give the trap a run for its money. As the mares came to a stop in a tangle of pastel grime, the room filled with the sickening crunch of stone on stone, followed by an ominous boom.
Twilight peeked over her bangs. Two giant purple slabs sat together in a tight hug, the hallway a victim of their affection.
“Thanks… Rainbow,” she gasped.
“Don’t… don’t mention it…”
Twilight pushed herself off of her friend and stood, scanning the room. The same carvings, in all their bucket carrying glory, lined both the outer wall and the pillars that ran along it. Heaps of filthy cloth sat in tattered piles against the left and right sides. With great care, she tiptoed over to the closest pile. After several moments of magical poking, she lifted it, revealing the remains of a banner.
The barest of blues fought its way through the caked dust. Despite its extremely poor condition, Twilight knew exactly what she was looking at: two ponies forming a circle around the sun and the moon.
She frowned. Although familiar, she had been expecting something else. Something that was more dark purple with a yellow crescent horseshoe stamped in the centre.
Twilight stared up at her horn as a dozen different ideas tried to run off with her mind.
“Somepony went through a lot of work,” she mused.
“What, you think some fanfilly built this to look like Horse’s Tomb?”
“Or the author liked it enough to put it into the book. Unless there’s some sort of historical basis, which, if Horse is real, would make Tomb some sort of biography. Although that begs the question of why Horse was living in the princesses’ basement. I mean, did she know them? Or move in afterward?”
“Or… or maybe Daring Do is real too. Which would also make this a first pony account of something historical!”
“Huh?” Twilight blinked, the Equestrian banner falling to the floor.
“That’s really cool and all, but if you ask me, this is starting to get old.”
“Oh, haha… sorry.” Twilight pondered again. “Regardless of the answer, this does at least give us an advantage. If we’re careful to avoid any extra surprises, we know where to go and how to get there.”
“So we find Horse’s room and bust out through her exit?”
“Let’s do it.”
They left the room and as expected, the hallway forced them into a sharp right turn before widening into something rather huge. Or at least larger than the book had led Twilight to believe. She was almost certain that if they tried hard enough, they could cram a few of Ponyville’s houses inside.
As the mares stepped away from the corner, Twilight half expected Horse’s booming voice to demand they turn back. To tell them she had not forgiven them for abandoning her and that to continue forward would be their end. Instead, the floor gave way with an audible click.
Letting out a yelp, both ponies scrambled back from the sinking tiles. They stared dumbly as the bricks fell away, a tidal wave of stone crashing down upon itself. Within seconds, a pit, filled with rows upon rows of sharpened stone stood in place of the floor.
Twilight sighed. “That’s new.”
Rainbow grinned, flexing her wings. “Nothing these babies can’t handle.”
Before Twilight could open her mouth, Dash took off, making a quick lap of the hall.
“There could have been more traps!”
“Duh! What do you think I was looking for?”
Twilight let out another sigh. “Let’s just go.”
Twilight’s stomach churned, despite Dash’s iron grip, as each jagged tooth passed beneath them. As they cleared the doorway, Twilight let out a breath she did not even realize she was holding.
Her hooves were barely on the ground when a loud, metallic ping echoed around the room. Twilight’s eyes darted over the narrow passage, the crumbling stone railing on her right forming into a balcony that overlooked a great black void. But nothing caught her attention.
She turned her gaze to the empty expanse, another balcony sitting opposite the pit. Then she looked up. A pulsing pink crystal sat embedded in the high roof. Her eyes went wide: they had blundered right into a real Wind Eater.
“Dash, get d—oof!” she cried out as she was thrown against the railing. She gasped inaudibly, struggling to untangle herself while the air blasted over her.
“I can’t!” Rainbow yelled. “It’s got me!”
Twilight pushed her head up and found herself eating her mane. She spit the strands aside as she pressed, teary eyed, through the gale.
Rainbow Dash thrashed ferociously. But her flailing hooves and wings seemed little match for the storm drawing her closer and closer to the hungry crystal.
Her mind nagged at her, pelting her with fragments of information. She shook her head, silently reassuring herself that she was not about to let Dash be caught in a magical jail cell to which she did not have the key.
“Rainbow! Hang on!”
Twilight’s horn leapt to life, a magenta light encircling both it and Dash. The unicorn grunted, eyes widening as her friend continued to crawl upwards. Sweat beaded on her brow, a second layer of magic forming. But still she found herself losing the tug-of-war.
Her mind tripped over itself as it scrambled through page after page of Tomb of Horse. Until finally Daring Do came through for her. If only she could do the same for Dash.
Bracing her body on the balcony, Twilight stood. Dust ground beneath her hooves as she dug in, her magic expanding once more. She squinted and a small bolt shot toward the gem. The attack went wide, shattering into glittering shards as it struck the ceiling. She tried again. And a third time, each attempt coming a little closer.
But Twilight’s horn was starting to feel heavy and her knees began to buckle. A vision of Rainbow, surprise forever written on her face as she sat encased within the Wind Eater, played out in front of Twilight. Her eyes hardened: she refused to let this thing take her friend away from her. The beam lashed out with renewed strength, crashing full on into the crystal. All sound died away and Wind Eater’s vibrant pink sank into a deep purple.
Twilight reeled Rainbow Dash in, nearly dumping her friend on the floor before collapsing into a heap. Several minutes passed as the two just lay there, their gasps filling the room.
Dash glanced at Twilight. “Okay. No more…. flying… around crazy crystals… Thanks, Twi.”
“Any… anytime. I can’t believe… Daring did that… with a hat…” Twilight groaned.
“She’s a lot better at this.”
Twilight giggled. “You can say that again. Let’s go before that thing gets any more ideas.”
Though tender and bruised, the girls struggled to their hooves, crossed the balcony and shuffled down the ramp.
The passage was a tight, long, sloping L-shape. Twilight led the way, soft tap, tap, tapping echoing all around her as she prodded the floor and walls with broken chunks of rock. Going strictly by the book, there was no danger for her to find. However, given this place did not seem to play by the rules, she was not about to take any chances.
As they worked their way down, her mind kept drifting back to Horse. One particular passage played over and over again: “Everything crumbles. From the most magnificent to the tiniest of things. It’s all a matter of time. And sometimes… sometimes the one that is doing well leaves the other behind.”
Twilight nodded to herself. It could happen. In fact, it had happened. But there was always hope for a solution, which had also happened. A thousand year old feud and to look at Princess Celestia and Princess Luna now, it was almost as though they had never fought. She let the example linger at the back her mind. Should they come across Horse, it would be her greatest weapon.
The corridor ended, becoming a small room that was nearly as cramped. The exit on the opposite side was almost an exact mirror of the mares’ passage.
In the middle was a rectangular stand, a series of deep cracks spider webbing from halfway up its base. Beside it lay an overturned pony bust, a wide split running up its chest. Beneath the eyeless head lay a long band of metal, its form twisted and crushed.
Rainbow blinked, gaping at the shattered tiara. “No way. It was real?”
“Feeling nopony could understand her, Horse channeled all of her rage and sorrow into a torrent of chaotic magic. The result: a crown that makes a pony everything she is not,” Twilight recited, eyes following invisible lines just above her bangs.
Both girls shuddered.
They made their way to the far ramp, stepping carefully around the wreckage and doing their best not to look back. After another long length of uneventful corridor, they found themselves on the second balcony. As they crossed the ledge, they were greeted once more by the emptiness of the bottomless gap and the dull purple of the dormant Wind Eater.
Twilight leaned in, whispering to Dash lest the pegasus reawaken the slumbering beast, “Crazy gem.”
Rainbow Dash gave a solemn nod.
The next room was another grand hall, the bricks of its ceiling practically specks in the distance. Dash was tempted to stretch her wings, to forget the stifling atmosphere of the underground for a few moments. But after the last few rooms, she felt less than willing to trust such “generosity.”
A pair of giant stone slabs, as tall as the mares several times over, towered above an altar. As the girls trotted over, Rainbow could make out a delicate pattern of stars crawling up the side. Set into the altar’s surface was a stone disc, the sun and moon carved into it with equal care and positioned such that the moon faced the slabs.
Dash frowned. “No seasons? What gives?”
Twilight shook her head, circling the disc. “We’ll have to do without Daring this time.”
Rainbow Dash glared at the pedestal and pressed her weight against it. Although the stone ground in protest, she forced it to turn. As the sun aligned with the door, the two slabs swung open with an earth shaking rumble.
Several metres into the new passage, tongues of flame licked up and down, creating a wall of heat. Both mares’ jaws dropped.
Twilight shifted nervously. “How-?”
Tremors filled the room once more, the doors slamming shut with unnerving speed. The pedestal clicked as it ground back into place, its moon once more facing the closed stones.
“Let’s try that again,” Twilight mumbled, her horn lighting up. She brought the disc around, revealing the same hall of fire. Half a minute later and it was gone.
Twilight steeled herself. “I’m going in.”
Rainbow Dash blinked, staring at Twilight as though she had grown a second horn. “What? What are you going to do in there?”
“Look around. There’s gotta be something else to it.”
“After the doors close, wait about a minute and then open it again.”
Dash tilted her head. “You really sure?”
“Yea, I’ve got a few ideas.” Twilight smiled unconvincingly.
The altar received one more spin. Rainbow paced nervously as the stone maw swallowed her friend, counting each excruciating moment in her head.
She’ll be fine. She’ll be fine, Dash told herself each time she turned around.
After a small eternity, she eagerly plowed the pedestal into place. She stood tall, fighting the urge to rush forward as the doors inched open.
A beaming Twilight beckoned. “Rainbow! Get in here! It stops when the door closes!”
The lair of Horse. Untold riches, their reflections painting the room gold. Pillows of the smoothest silk. Luxury as could only be provided by the most refined of magicks.
Twilight smacked herself on the forehead. The room was big. Big enough to put her library, maybe even the town hall to shame. But aside from the odd vase or stray coin, she realized the pale purple emptiness was the perfect sign the dreaded confrontation with Horse was not to be. She let out a sigh of relief, scolding her imagination for getting so worked up.
She wandered toward the middle of the room, leaving tracks in the ancient dust. As Twilight stood where Horse’s treasure throne should have been, she felt a small pang of sadness. Whatever answers she had hoped to find had long since left the building.
With a resigned sigh, she prodded her mind back toward the task at hoof and turned her attention to the wall opposite the entrance. Built up against it was a small shrine: a perfectly flat stone circle protected by the largely unnecessary roof. On either side were long banners that reach from roof to floor. A heavy coat of brown dulled the blue background, as well as the princesses and the sun and moon which they were circling.
Dash trotted up beside her. “So… think you can make it work?”
“In theory.” Twilight took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
They approached the shrine’s centre with the quiet care appropriate to sneaking past large, ill tempered monsters. The Wind Eater flashed through Twilight’s mind, grimly reminding her that its big sister may actually be lurking nearby.
Once inside, she glanced at Dash, who simply nodded.
“Here goes,” Twilight mumbled, the pink of her magic flooding the platform. She held her position for several seconds, letting the light grow brighter and brighter until she could hardly see. Drawing herself tall, she spoke with piercing clarity, “Hoof of gold, show me the way!”
The pink faded away, leaving her panting in the middle of the shrine.
Rainbow Dash frowned. “What went wrong?”
“I… I don’t know. I’m certain I got the incantation right.” Twilight perked up. “Oh, I know! I bet we have to say it together.”
Dash nodded. “It’s worth a shot.”
Both ponies tensed as the glow of Twilight’s horn filled the shrine once more. When the spell had reached its peak, they shouted in near unison.
“Hoof of gold, show me the way!”
The girls glanced around, but neither had moved so much as a centimetre.
Twilight lowered her head. “I just don’t understand.”
Rainbow gave her a worried look. “You don’t think it’s broken, do you?”
“No… It’s in better condition than the rest of this place combined. We have to be missing something.”
Twilight’s ears fell. “I don’t know.”
A long, uneasy silence filled the air.
Rainbow let out a pained chuckle. “I asked for this, didn’t I? All the danger and thrill of a Daring Do adventure.”
The pegasus flopped onto her rump, absently drawing circles with her wing. “But now? I just want to go home.”
Twilight wished she could say something to comfort her friend, but as she fumbled for the words, she found her own confidence failing. With a sigh, she took a seat beside Rainbow. Her mind wandered home, visions of the library, Spike and that yet unsent friendship report, playing in front of her. Twilight’s eyes began to roam as well. And that’s when she caught a glimpse, out of the corner of her eye, of the brown-blue cloth.
Home. Home? Home!
“That’s it! You’re a genius!” Twilight cried out.
Dash jumped, bewilderment crossing her face. “What?”
“We assumed Horse’s incantation was the right one, but that’s not her banner out there.” Twilight pointed excitedly at the side of the shrine. “It’s Equestria’s!”
Magic filled the air as she leapt to her hooves.
“Wait, how does that tell us the real answer?”
“The centre. That’s what matters.” Twilight focused, setting the shrine ablaze with light. “Sun and moon, show me the way!”
The light faded from existence and with it, the mares within.
Twilight found herself on her back, staring up at a cracked, domed roof. She followed the curve until it met with a rounded wall. Strands of flowing pink, green and blue poked their way into her vision just within hoof’s reach of her face. With a start, she scrambled to her hooves. Her jaw dropped.
Before Twilight stood Princess Celestia, wearing that ever familiar calm, patient smile. Behind her was a long passage, the unmistakable light of the sun wreathing her in a divine glow. Twilight’s eyes flitted to the side, but Dash’s mirrored expression told her she was not just seeing things.
“P-princess?!” the girls exclaimed.
“Hello, Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash.”
“You’re Horse?” Dash blurted out.
Celestia stared for a moment. “Wherever did you get that idea?”
“You know about the secret entrance.” Twilight waved a forehoof at the ground. “And your basement is almost exactly like Horse’s Tomb. It’s not a coincidence, is it?”
Princess Celestia shook her head. “It is not. It was once the royal treasury.”
“Treasury?! Pardon me, Princess, but were things so bad that you needed to booby trap your own castle?”
“This palace is from a less civilized time. When such a threat was necessary to discourage thieves and spies.”
Twilight stared at Celestia, opening her mouth, but unable to find the words.
“Cool,” Dash whispered.
“However, Luna and I preferred that they surrender, so our design is rather forgiving.”
Twilight tilted her head. “I don’t understand.”
“Think back to each trap you triggered. How much time did you have to react? While the particularly rash could find themselves in trouble, everything here is a show of power first and foremost.”
Each room came tumbling back. For the most part, Celestia was right. But only for the most part. “What about the crushing walls? That was way too close.”
Princess Celestia eyed Twilight, then Dash. “Did you notice anything strange about the walls?”
Rainbow blinked. “Wait, that was part of the trap?”
“What?” Twilight raised an eyebrow.
“When I came back for you, the walls were slower. I thought it was just the rush of kicking it up a notch.”
Celestia shook her head. “You have a good eye, but your reasoning was incorrect.”
“Hey, but what about the Crown of Insanity? Not much warning there.” Rainbow Dash motioned to her head.
“The crown was never a part of the plan. That was an… unfortunate addition. Regardless, it hasn’t been able to harm anypony for a long time.”
Twilight gulped, realizing just how lucky she and Dash had been. Daring Do was definitely much better at this than them.
“So if you’re not Horse, then who is?” Rainbow asked, flapping her wings a few times.
“Horse is a Daring Do character, nothing more,” Celestia replied. “Even if there are some similarities between she and her author.”
Twilight’s face lit up, growing brighter with each word. “You know who wrote Daring Do? I mean, if anypony would know, you would, but I always wondered who-”
Then it hit her and she wanted to bury her face in her hooves. A pony who felt alone and unappreciated. Hurt and despaired. Who changed her name and stewed in her anger. And knew the layout of the royal treasury like the back of her hoof. Twilight could not believe she had missed the similarities.
“Wait… it’s Princess Luna, isn’t it?”
“If only I’d caught on as fast as you,” Celestia replied, a sad smile forming on her lips.
Rainbow tilted her head at Twilight. “Whoa, hold on a second. Daring Do isn’t that old, is it?”
Twilight scrunched her face. “It isn’t. But everything else fits. This doesn’t make any sense.”
“I stored her drafts until it was nearly time for her to return so she could see them at the height of their popularity. She poured her soul into them night after night. Enough that I knew how popular they would be the first time I read them. With a single exception, they needed little editing beyond updating some of the older language.”
“Really? Which part?” Twilight and Dash asked in stereo.
“Oh, just one little incomplete section of a book. It would have been a shame to leave it unpublished because of a few missing pages.”
Twilight pondered, the contents of her favourite books tumbling through her mind. Her eyes glazed over.
“My sister and I, we don’t always see eye to eye,” Daring said, taking off her helmet and holding it to her chest. She stared up at Horse, the larger mare perched high atop her mountain of gold and wearing a scowl that could slay a dragon. “But no matter what, we still care for each other. Do you think yours is any different? The world, the same one you had a hoof in, is a beautiful place. So maybe you needed a break. Even I get tired. But do you think she would want you to give up so easily?”
Twilight snapped back to reality, a wide grin spreading across her face. “The end. It was the end of Tomb. When Daring talked Horse into giving the world another chance. That was you.”
Celestia smiled and turned toward the light. “You must be tired from your adventure. Let’s get you home.”