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The Darkest Hour · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Mysteries of the Chamber
When she thought about it, Daring Do frequently came to the conclusion that much of what she did professionally was in spaces that were not exactly what one might call “pegasus-friendly”.

Oh, her lecture hall had quite a bit of vertical wall space, which she’d covered in blackboards that were tall enough that ground-bound ponies had to get creative (or use unicorn telekinesis, but she always felt that that was almost cheating) to write on the higher levels. And every now and then, she’d have digs at properly open-air sites, which gave her the chance to stretch her wings if she felt she needed to.

But, she reflected as yet another drop of water fell the few inches from the sandstone ceiling onto her pith helmet, far too often her work took her to places that seemed almost designed to draw out any latent claustrophobia she possessed. It was hardly uncommon among pegasi to be uncomfortable in enclosed spaces, and though she didn’t usually suffer from it, it could poke its head up at inconvenient times.

Like it was trying to do now.

Nopony would have faulted her for it, were anypony else around to see. The hallway was just tall enough for her to stand up straight, and even folded in against her barrel, her wings were almost scraping the rock walls on either side of her. As it was, she knew she would want to wash them off before she preened next. Whatever was at the far end, the ancient Amareicans had only wanted ponies to be able to traverse the passage in one direction at a time. And considering how long it had been so far, she was questioning their judgment more and more with every step.

As she continued to trudge forward, another drop fell from the ceiling and landed on her, this one near her haunches. Daring thought something uncomplimentary about whoever had thought that cutting a tunnel through porous rock without sealing it was a good idea. It made for an effective form of water torture, but it wasn’t something she wanted to be on the receiving end of. Never knowing when the next drop would land, or where on the body, so that you couldn’t be ready for it, couldn’t adjust to it, every drop of cold hard water as much a shock to your system as the first, leaving you to shiver with antici—

Daring shook her head. That was quite enough of that line of thought.

Then she stopped in her tracks. Maybe it had just been her imagination, but she thought her headlamp had flickered a bit during that head shake.

No, that couldn’t have been it. That never happened. She made sure to change the batteries before every trip. And she certainly hadn’t used it enough on this expedition for them to be running out now.

Still, the thought was a worrying one. If her only source of light was starting to fail on her...

When the light from her headlamp remained steady, Daring decided to move on.

There was definitely a curve to this tunnel. It was not a very tight curve, nor did it possess any sharp corners, but she was certain it was not cut straight through, and she felt as if she had been walking far enough for the Corifoalis effect to set in. She was, at any rate, positive that were she able to turn her head far enough around to see behind her, she would not be able to see her entrance. The air pressure was starting to thicken, too; she must have also been going downward—

Daring’s headlamp flickered again, then got very bright for an instant before cutting out entirely, plunging her into total darkness.

She had no batteries with her, nor would she have had room or visibility to change them now. Any such action would have to take place back at the campsite or the dig site, which were both near the tunnel entrance.

That would be a very long way to walk backwards, and she had no room to turn around. Nor had she had such for some time. Her best option could very well be to reach the chamber believed to be at the end of the tunnel, turn around, and then come back — but who knew how long that was going to take.

“Oh, good,” she said to the emptiness, her voice echoing down the length of the tunnel. “And here I was thinking I would have to worry about getting bored.”

It was very easy to lose track of time in total darkness.

One of the innate bonuses common to most pegasi was an excellent sense of direction and location. Not all pegasi had this, of course; Daring’s distant cousin Random Walk had once famously gotten lost on a numbered grid, but he was something of an outlier in that regard. Daring, by contrast, had a sense of direction even better than most pegasi, which had saved her haybacon more times than she cared to count. It was somewhat necessary if you intended to pursue a line of work in which actual labyrinths were something you could encounter on a recurring basis. So she knew exactly where she was, at least relative to where she’d started. (She had significantly less of an idea where she was relative to where she was going, but then again, if she knew where the place she was trying to get to was, she could potentially have been there already.)

How long she had been in there, though, was another question entirely. There were no visual cues to indicate any sort of progress, one hoofstep felt very much like another, and the hard water slowly dripping down onto her hat (and her shirt, and her back, and her tail, and her flanks…) wasn’t landing with any kind of regularity. She supposed she could start using music to give her a sense of time elapsing, but that ran the risk of distracting her from important things, like the texture of the surface beneath her hooves, or the potential for increased range of motion. She could not afford to miss something critical like that due to humming along to the Washington Bays March.

She was still in the narrow, compressed hallway, still with no room to turn around and head back the other way. Her wings, which had previously been folded against her side, were now slightly extended, intentionally scraping the tunnel walls (and oh, was she going to want to wash them extensively the next time she got to running water). This was not doing anything good for her claustrophobia.


Not for the first time today, Daring silently cursed at the designers here. At least when she was infiltrating Ahuizotl’s bases, it was understandable that the things she was sneaking past were specifically intended to keep her out, for all the good it did him.

Though, actually… huh.

As another drop of water landed on her, Daring reviewed the tribal legend surrounding the mountain she was now standing under. The indigenous earth ponies of the area, the Arapahoof tribe, told the tale that Long Ago, they had had a Majestic Settlement here, until the Sky Ponies swooped down from somewhere up the slope and raided their village, taking about half of their most prized possessions with them. The Sky Ponies had left a declaration that They Would Return, and the villagers split into two groups. One left the settlement to be more nomadic, feeling that there was more safety in mobility, though they stayed in the general area in case they needed to come to the aid of their compatriots. The other group had been so overwhelmed by the Mighty Combat Prowess of the Sky Ponies that they decided they would rather go within the mountain itself, with what remained of their relics, and develop their skills until such a time as they could challenge the Sky Ponies on their own terms. They dug deep into the mountain, carved out a chamber for themselves, and then once it was finished, they moved in.

Naturally, they were never seen again.

As legends went, this one was honestly not that ridiculous. It had the ring of something that both was probably based in fact, and was not embellished overmuch. The Sky Ponies’ alleged actions fit the modus operandi of the old Coltmanche pegasus tribes known to have been active in the area, and the dig site near the tunnel entrance was on the location of a village that appeared to have been abandoned fifteen hundred years or so ago.

Furthermore, an excavation fifteen or so months ago by one of Daring’s colleagues, a unicorn named Keen Eye, had discovered some figurines clearly of earth pony make in a Coltmanche camp just above the treeline of a neighboring peak. The camp and the figurines had also been dated to near the fifteen-hundred-year mark. While this was hardly conclusive evidence towards the idea that the figurines had been stolen from this particular settlement, it seemed a not unreasonable inference.

Daring found herself reevaluating her previous frustrations. If the creators of this tunnel had, indeed, been attempting to defend against pegasus attackers, it would make sense for them to have designed it to be as pegasus-unfriendly as possible. It would certainly explain why the locals kept looking at her wings as if they expected them to do something.

She still couldn’t help but think that they might have gone a bit overboard to their own detriment, though. They may not have delved too greedily, but it was very probable that they delved too deep.

That the tunnel had angled upwards at some point since her headlamp died did nothing to change that opinion.


When Daring had been but a filly, her parents took her to visit an old, abandoned mine. At one point on the tour, the guide had provided a demonstration of total darkness, and claimed that if you were in it for a long enough stretch, things started to happen to you: first you went blind, then you went insane, and then some time after that, you could become a tour guide (this last said with an audible grin). Daring wasn’t sure how true any of that was, but she currently felt confident saying that with the water continuing to fall on her, she would go insane before she went blind.

Her hoof made contact with something round, which promptly broke apart into what felt like splinters. This had probably been a torch, then. She was a little surprised it had lasted this long, but if nothing had disturbed it in a millennium and a half, she supposed it was possible for it to sit there decomposing but still balanced.

A jolt of realization hit her: If she was stumbling over torches now, she must be close to the end.

There had never been any question that the chamber existed. The remaining Arapahoof were absolutely certain of it. The stories of its appearance, however, had been lost to time — and, unfortunately, would continue to be for at least another day or two, since Daring couldn’t see anything now. Still, it was there, and she was almost certainly near it.

Indeed, a scant few steps later, she was able to finally properly stretch her wings out. She turned a hundred and eighty degrees, took a long swig from her canteen, and started trotting back down the hallway at a much faster rate than before. It would still take her some time to get out, but at least she didn’t have to worry about running into anything.

“Found the problem,” reported Daring’s top assistant, Dusty Trowel. Dusty was one of her doctoral students, and he’d always been one of her most dedicated.

Daring glanced in his direction, still squinting a bit in the sunlight. This close to sunset, his chestnut coat and mane tended to look much redder than normal, and her eyes still hadn’t quite adjusted back to being outside yet. “Oh?”

“Your bulb’s burnt out,” he said, levitating it over to her. Indeed, there were all the signs of an incandescent light bulb whose Time Had Come, most notably the soot on the inside of the glass. “And I don’t think we have any extras of those.”

“Hm. Something to put on the packing list for next time, then.”

“We may still have a spare headlamp or two, ma’am,” Dusty volunteered. “I’m sure you could use one of those for the duration.”

Daring considered it. She did want to be the first pony in several centuries to see the inside of this cavern; the thrill of discovery was one of the things she most enjoyed about her work. On the other forehoof, the prospect of subjecting herself to that tunnel again was not a pleasant one, especially not tomorrow. And if the chamber had ever been decorated before, it was a safe bet that most of the decorations were ruined by groundwater, and any ponies that had tried to live in there had likely become skeletons long ago.

She shook her head. “You know what, Dusty?” she said. “How about you take the lead tomorrow? I’ll run the dig out here, and you can delve into the mysteries of the chamber.”

Dusty appeared to accept his new assignment as a sign that his advisor trusted him. Which she did. If he wanted to take that as the primary reason, she wasn’t going to bother correcting him, but it was a reason she was letting him make the discovery himself.

Daring walked around to her tent’s entrance, headed in, and picked up a meal pack. One of her other students would be starting the dinner fire soon.

Today had not been great, but tomorrow would be just what she needed: a day spent outdoors where nothing was going to go seriously wrong.

Well, unless Ahuizotl decided he wanted to make a surprise appearance.

...Now that she’d thought that, tomorrow was looking a lot less pleasant than it had been.
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#1 · 1
I kept expecting this to turn into horror at the end; that it was going to reveal the tunnel had been carved in such a way she could loop and loop and loop endlessly with no way out.

That, or, you know 'This hole was made for me!' horror.

Glad to see it didn't. The tension through the journey was high quality; the fact I was worried it was going dark was a good sign.

The ending is the weakest; perhaps it was a case of running out of time, but there is also this tension, then she turns around, goes back, and things fizzle out. I'd suggest finding a stronger ending to this to bring it to the next level.

Tier : Almost there.
#2 ·
· · >>TrumpetofDoom
Author: you did a great job of building tension, and the writing is competent and well handled with interesting details. (I laughed aloud at Random Walk).

And just when my scrollbar told me the story was coming to a close and I was expecting something tragically ironic to happen to Daring, instead you defuse the tension and deflect the questions, and I am left feeling that this is a longer story undone by lack of time.

I cannot give this story top marks in this round, but this is a very good start and I want to see how you finish it.
#3 · 1
· · >>CoffeeMinion
That last scene transition threw me for a loop and I'm not quite sure how the end scene fit with the middle.

This comes out like a nice slice-of-life Daring Do fic. Which (if that's what you were going for) was done well :)

I think this is one of the few stories that could be accurately tagged as [Adventure][Slice of Life].
#4 ·
The story reflects Daring’s actions. It goes around and around, and just when it seems like something might resolve the tension, it turns back and goes home. This was wonderfully tense and atmospheric, but it left me unsatisfied, especially given how the average ancient ruin still has perfectly functional traps.

Still, it did what it set out to do, and if you want to change your goals a bit, you have a wonderful base to start from.
#5 ·
· · >>TrumpetofDoom
First of all, let me tell you I loved the flow of your prose. It got me really invested in the story, and you pulled off a decent creepy vibe in that first scene...

...which made it all the more anticlimactic once the story ended with no real resolution, no doubt a result of the double edge nature of the write-offs.

As others have said, I'd love to see a more fleshed out version of this story, where we get to actually see the chambers. As it stands, I can't help but feel cheated out of a better, complete story.
#6 ·
· · >>TrumpetofDoom
Genre: Atmospheric dread

Thoughts: This was a great little slice-of-adventure, as >>Chinchillax said. I do wish the ending had delivered on the climax that the rest of the story seemed to be building toward. And yet, I feel the piece is almost more memorable for not going in that direction. We can feel the tension Daring Do feels, and we can imagine all the terrible things she's envisioning might happen, and perhaps it lets us get inside her head a little bit. I also like that the part at the end pulled us deeper into her world, as we got to see some of the support apparatus that surrounds her adventures.

Tier: Strong
#7 · 1
You had the makings of a serious horror fic there at the beginning. Good atmosphere and tension building. I wonder... in another part of the ruins if there isn't a tunnel... just the right size, like it were made for her... O_O;
#8 · 1
· · >>TrumpetofDoom
Echoing the comments made by the rest of these very fine, attractive individuals, I feel like there should have been some sort of resolution or payoff to all the tension built by the first half of the story. I don't necessarily mean that it has to be something ~spoopy~ but the resolution is that Daring turns around and goes the other way and then whoops, story's over and she's pawning off assignments on her TA like any good academic. And this story can do better than that.

Also, I don't see why someone like Daring Do, meticulous and methodical lass that she is, wouldn't bring extra batteries on a trip. I like the idea that she literally has no room to maneuver enough to swap them out, and in total darkness, probably wouldn't be able to do so effectively anyway. But let her have them, fer the love of Mike.

One more thing: I think you go overboard with the pony puns. And this is coming from someone who put "Nägermeister" in a story.
#9 · 2
All right, okay, I get it, I need a better ending for this. Message received, and I've already started working on it. (The story may be renamed by the time I'm done, but it will still be recognizably descended from what's here.)

Honestly, part of the reason the ending is what it is is that it was midnight-thirty and I just wanted to throw something onto the end of it so I could go to sleep. Writing a better one would have taken more time than I was willing to spend that night, and it might have devolved into incoherence anyway.

"Literal total darkness" was the seed of the idea for this story; I don't think I actively decided to also go for the metaphorical meaning of "darkest hour" so much as I discovered a ways into writing that this idea could also fit the figurative version and decided to go with it.

(I laughed aloud at Random Walk).

A Glimpse Into The Process:

What's the most embarrassing situation I can think of to have this character get lost in?

How about in a city where the street names are numbers and letters?

...No, I can do better than that. "Literally a numbered grid" would be even worse.

...There's really only one thing I can name this character, isn't there.

Don't worry, it was only a 2D grid, so he did eventually get back to where he started. ;-)

>>Zaid Val'Roa
I'd love to see a more fleshed out version of this story, where we get to actually see the chambers.

I hope the final version, when I get around to completing it, meets your expectations.

I also like that the part at the end pulled us deeper into her world, as we got to see some of the support apparatus that surrounds her adventures.

I'd have to rewrite that scene more or less from scratch, but I do intend to have something like it in the final product.

Also, I don't see why someone like Daring Do, meticulous and methodical lass that she is, wouldn't bring extra batteries on a trip. I like the idea that she literally has no room to maneuver enough to swap them out, and in total darkness, probably wouldn't be able to do so effectively anyway. But let her have them, fer the love of Mike.

My thought was that they were back at the campsite, where they still ought to have been reasonably accessible (but weren't, because she couldn't go back and get them). If that's still unsatisfying, I can certainly go back and change it - it's not like being able to swap them out would have even fixed the problem of a burnt-out lightbulb anyway.

One more thing: I think you go overboard with the pony puns. And this is coming from someone who put "Nägermeister" in a story.

The words "time-honored tradition" spring to mind. I do not apologize for those.

(Actually, I was going to have "Chineighse water torture" until I discovered that there's no evidence that "Chinese water torture" is really from China. That one, I might have been sorry for.)