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Great Expectations · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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Daring Do and the Weapon of the Ancients
What I most love and hate about archeology is the unpredictability. An expedition to, say, Neighcaragua could mean spending hours with a brush in my teeth as I clean delicate Quetzalcoatl artifacts or flying for my life as a living tribe of the feathered serpents tries to bring me down because Caballeron framed me for stealing their most sacred relic.

Last time I went to Neighcaragua, both happened.

That proves my point, really. You never know what you’re going to get in this field. In college, I had to familiarize myself with eight ancient mythologies, six extinct languages, and four martial arts, and that was just for my bachelor’s.

Thus, when I found myself in a dingy bar for tapirs in upper Llamazonia, waiting for an informant like I was Con Mane (who isn’t nearly as suave in person,) it was business as usual. This wasn’t even the first time I’d been to this particular watering hole, and it was just as cramped and poorly lit as I remembered it. The bartender even remembered me and gave me my order from last time, something syrupy that tasted like mangoes and pain. I needed it.

I didn’t have to wait long. My informant ducked inside a few minutes after I got my drink. I was surprised to see another pony, but with a name like Bromeliad, I suppose I should’ve been expecting it. Still, even ponies without wings tend to find tapir places claustrophobic, given the size discrepancy. I managed by telling myself it was just another ruin. The state of the tables made that easy to believe.

I waited for the earth pony to make the first move. I'd been burned by impostor informants before. He moved straight to my table. Well, I wasn’t exactly hard to spot. We were the only people here who didn’t look like pigs with prehensile snouts. Still, I nursed my mug of electric death jelly until he whispered, “Daring Do?”

I set down my drink and nodded. “That’s me.”

“I am Bromeliad,” he said.

"What's the code phrase?"

He blinked, his ears folding back. "There was a code phrase?"

I smiled. “No, but I can't be too careful.” I looked around. “So, why Baird’s? Not exactly a conspicuous place for two ponies to meet.”

“Ahuizotl has few friends among the tapirs," said Bromeliad. "We are safe here.”

I scowled into my drink. “Nowhere’s really safe from him.” I sighed. “But I suppose if we haven’t been pounced on by jungle cats yet, then this place is fairly secure. So, what can you tell me about the Weapon?”

He took on a familiar, distant look. Great, he was a storyteller. Some informants could just give me a quick rundown, but others had to make a production out of it. Totally different from the novels; I only work on those after I’ve saved the world. “The origins of the Weapon of the Ancients are lost to the ages,” Bromeliad intoned.

Celestia help me, I had an intoner. I kept my expression civil. “I’ve gathered that much.”

“For generations, the legends have been passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, but some has still been lost. We do not know the name of whoever crafted it, but it was definitely the work of the capuchins.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Monkey magic? That’s some unstable stuff.” Unicorns saw birds in the sky and wrote flight spells. Zebras brewed levitation potions. Monkeys made jetpacks out of bamboo and fruit juice.

Bromeliad nodded. “Indeed. And the Weapon was said to be a destructive force the likes of which had never been seen. Its wielder was unbeatable in battle.”

I glowered. “All the more reason for Ahuizotl not to have it.”


“So, what happened to it?”

He took on the storyteller's stare again. “The Weapon changed hands many times, its wielder undone by treachery and trickery where direct conflict was fruitless. Each time, the slayer took up the Weapon and became more terrible than the one before him, until its final wielder, whose name has been struck from history, was poisoned by his followers, who feared the power more than they coveted it. They took the Weapon and sealed it in the deepest part of the jungle—“

I groaned. “Of course they did. And no doubt the seal keeps out all but the worthy, where worth is defined as whoever can get through a gauntlet of traps that are still in perfect working order despite untold years in hot, humid conditions.” I knew how trap preservation spells worked, but it was still an annoying pattern.

“Actually, no,” said Bromeliad.

I blinked. “Wait, what?”

“No, Miss Do, the monkeys feared the Weapon too much to allow it into any hands.”

I nodded. “I see.” That told me a lot. Not just about the danger of the Weapon—again, these were creatures who thought brewing rocket fuel from fruit juice was a good idea—but also its endurance. If the monkeys feared it that much, but it still existed, then it was one of the tough magic items. You could never tell; some items of power could survive a dip in an active volcano, while others would break if you looked at them funny.

“Indeed," said Bromeliad, "they feared it so much that they’re still sealing it.”

My jaw dropped. “What?”

“The memory of what the Weapon was has been lost, Miss Do, but its danger has not. To this day, all the peoples of Llamazonia continue to build upon the Weapon’s seal. The monkeys, the tapirs, even we ponies.”

I sputtered for a bit. The sheer scale of such an undertaking... “H-how long has this been going on?”

Bromeliad shrugged. “For as long as we know.”

“Where is it?”

He laughed. “Once you know where to look, Miss Do, it is obvious.”

I thought about it. The deepest part of the jungle. Millennia of seals. My eyes bugged out. “You can’t possibly mean… You’re saying Mount Peligroso is a giant tel? Countless years of civilization’s efforts devoted to guarding this one thing?” To think that the mysterious mountain at the center of the Llamazon basin, defying geological understanding, really was artificial. It wouldn’t be the first time the crackpots were right, but that didn’t make it any less of a shock.

“So the legends say.” Bromeliad smiled. “If nothing else, Miss Do, Ahuizotl will be hard-pressed to claim the Weapon of the Ancients for himself.”

All the pieces came together. I bolted to my hooves. “No, Bromeliad. He knew. He knew and he came prepared.” I galloped out the door. There wasn’t a second to lose.
The flight from the edge of the jungle to Mount Peligroso gave me time to think. Despite what my books might have claimed, I didn’t have a perfect record against Ahuizotl. I may have always survived our encounters, but sometimes I couldn’t keep him from getting away with whatever item of power had caught his interest. I’d been lucky; none of the ones he’d claimed was a suitable tool for world domination.

At least, not individually.

An explosion shook the air. A dust cloud rose from Peligroso’s peak. I put aside the woolgathering and poured everything into getting there as quickly as possible.

After far too long, I landed on the shallow upper slopes of the mountain. When I knew what to look for, Mount Peligroso’s true nature was obvious. The foliage was young here, saplings and shrubs, and a few trees bore the coincidental-looking scratches of tapir runecraft.

I crept towards the peak. Even if Ahuizotl were fully focused on digging his way down to the Weapon, he’d have his henchcats watching for me. The fate of the world hung in the balance, but I wouldn’t be able to save it if I was busy escaping from his latest deathtrap. Besides, I’d just flown hundreds of miles, and climbing a mountain wasn’t exactly the best cooldown.

That’s what I kept telling myself, even as my wings itched and my treacherous imagination supplied visions of an unstoppable Ahuizotl running roughshod over the world because I took too long getting to him. Trickery wouldn't work well if he took over the world in an afternoon, and between the Weapon and his own power, he might be able to.

After far too long, I reached the grassy peak and saw him standing before a shallow crater. And judging by the growl behind me, his tiger had seen me.

I hate cats.

Ahuizotl whirled and pointed something at me, firing a ray of crimson energy. I might have been able to dodge it in better circumstances, but not after the cross-country flight. It struck, and I screamed. The pain was worse than broken bones, worse than punctured organs, even worse than the time an alicorn's ghost tried to tear out my soul. If anything, it felt like Ahuizotl was succeeding where that thing had failed.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, it ended. I collapsed, barely breathing, my ears ringing from my own cries of pain. If I didn’t hurt so much, I would’ve thought I was dead. My wings had gone totally numb and everything else felt like it was made of molten lead, all searing heat and crushing weight. I had no idea how I was still conscious.

The tiger lifted me up by the collar of my jacket and dragged me to Ahuizotl. The fiend himself was chuckling at me. Clutched in his tail hand were a pair of artifacts I’d been unable to keep from him. A reptilian arm with three fingers, crafted from gold, clutched a length of smooth, black horn carved with fell sigils.

I grunted as the tiger dropped me at his feet. “The Talon of Triumph,” I croaked.

Ahuizotl’s grin widened as only his could. “And the Horn of Hunger. One a magical catalyst that does nothing on its own. The other a fragment of Lord Tirek the Devourer, with a whisper of his power. Alone, mere curiosities. Together?” He chuckled again. “Well, they seem to have done quite well against you, Daring Do.”

“And now you want the Weapon of the Ancients?” The pain was fading, but I still felt terribly heavy. “You’ve all but broken Tirek out of Tartarus. How much power do you need?”

“As much as I can get, of course." Ahuizotl tossed and caught the Talon a few times. "Together, these trinkets are powerful, but they do not promise power that cannot be defeated.”

I struggled up to my hooves, glaring at him. “You should have killed me. I will stop you.”

He laughed. “And how do you plan on doing that? I have sucked your magic, your very life, down to the dregs. You are nothing now. Just look at your haunches if you don’t believe me.”

I sneered. “And the moment I take my eyes off of you—“

“I will do nothing.” Ahuizotl held up the hands that weren’t on his tail. “I swear on the memory of the ahuizotl race and the death curse that created me.”

It was an oath on his very essence, one even he couldn't break. I gulped and turned.

I saw nothing.

That was the problem.

“My cutie mark!” I jumped and spread my wings. The air went through them like I was five years old again. I ate dirt.

Ahuizotl cackled. “Did you not listen, Daring Do? You cannot fly. Your very destiny has left you. You are as an empty shell. Twice you have failed, and with this third failure, I will do to you what you have done to me so many times before. I will drive you to the depths of despair. Then and only then will I end your miserable life.”

I got back up.

He shook his head. “You do not know when to quit, do you?” He clapped his hands, and the cats came for me.

I threw myself at the lynx, rear leg extended in my favorite Katabatic Hoof strike. Without flight magic or a convenient drop, I made it about halfway there before hitting the ground. I felt a paw on my back, and I didn’t struggle. There was dogged resistance, and then there was just embarrassing myself.

“Give up?” said Ahuizotl.

“For now.”

He smirked. “Let her up.” He waited until I was standing before he went on. “I should thank you, Daring Do. It was slow going, trying to feed the Horn with the magic seals and preservation spells guarding the Weapon of the Ancients. It is not meant to consume such things, even when enhanced by the Talon’s power.” He thrust the Talon heavenwards. Clouds began to form overhead, swirling like a hurricane. “But now that the Horn has tasted pegasus magic, I can direct its power through that magic, tearing through every spell in this mountain with a single almighty bolt!”

I backed away, stopping only when the cats started growling. “Are you insane!? Lightning of that magnitude would kill us all, even if you weren't stuffing it full of magic!”

Ahuizotl rubbed his chin. “Hmm. I suppose you would know more on the subject than I. Very well.”

He waved his hand. “Go, my children. Run to safety. I will call you again when my triumph is complete. You will still get your victory meal.”

Given the looks the cats gave me before they ran down the slopes, I could guess what the entree would be if I couldn’t turn this around. “And as for me? I suppose you think frying me with my own magic is funny.”

“Well, there is a certain pleasant irony to it, but no.” A wave of the Talon, and transparent veils of magic wrapped around Ahuizotl and me. “There. Preservation spells do not last long without anchoring runes, but when enhanced with the Talon, they will survive even when the stable ones fall, and we shall survive with them.” Ahuizotl looked up, his head all but splitting open with his grin. The skies had gone black, storm clouds roiling like a pit of vipers.

Part of me felt a bit of pride. I’d never really gotten the hang of weather work. The rest of me just covered my eyes, hunkered down, and kept trying to think of a way out of this.

That thought process was interrupted by a light I could see through my legs and a thunderclap that should’ve made my head explode. Ahuizotl wasn’t kidding about the preservation spell. I wasn’t even dazzled when I stood back up, and I could hear his cackling just fine.

"You see?" he cried.

I saw. The vegetation on the peak had been blasted off, as had most of the dirt. Several yards away, a red-hot tunnel glowed with heat. I walked up to it and looked down. The shaft was twice as wide as my wingspan and went down as far as I could see, radiant all the way down. "You were a bit off-center." Hey, falling back on humor is a recognized coping mechanism, and I had a lot that I needed to cope with just then.

"Intentionally," said Ahuizotl. "Pitting relic against relic is risky, as you and I have proven time and again. I dare not risk destroying the keystone of my conquest. Now to fetch it!" He grabbed me and leaped down the tunnel.

I screwed my eyes closed at first, expecting to either roast from convection or hit a massive wad of molten stone. Neither happened. The preservation spell probably accounted for the first, but the second... "Was that lightning or some kind of disintegration beam?"

He shrugged. "Does it matter?"

"I am a scientist."

Ahuizotl barked out a laugh. "You are a treasure hunter no different from me, no matter what you tell yourself."

This was far from the first time we'd had this argument. I took the conversation in a different direction. "We're going to break every bone in our bodies, aren't we?"

Our velocity got a lot less terminal. Ahuizotl smirked as he hovered. "Pegasus magic, Daring Do."

I rolled my eyes. "Oh, just get on with it."

He tutted and resumed the descent. "Such a sore loser."

"How many timed have you shouted at the heavens, cursing my name?"

"Merely catharsis. Ah!" We slowed again and drifted into a crudely dug chamber. It was probably stately for the capuchins who built it, but it was only half the size of Baird's bar. "We have arrived." With a wave of the Talon, Ahuizotl summoned a sourceless light. "Now behold, Daring Do! Behold the Weapon of the Ancients!"

I beheld. So did he. What felt like hours passed as the two of us took in the Weapon, resting on an undecorated dais. At some point, he dropped me. I barely noticed.

Eventually, Ahuizotl broke the silence. "Is this some kind of joke!?"

I shook my head. "No, no, it makes sense."

His gaze stayed locked on the Weapon, but I saw his fists clench. "How? How could this possibly make sense?"

"Well, for one, remember who made it. The Weapon is going to be sized for a capuchin."

He stomped his foot. "I had accounted for that, but not this travesty!"

"Think about the legends. 'Destructive power the likes of which had never been seen.' Emphasis on 'had.'" I smiled. "I'm sure it was quite impressive in its day."

"Impressive?" Ahuizotl marched up to the dais and took hold of the Weapon of the Ancients. "This is a tree branch!"

I shrugged my wings. "Hey, tool use is a big paradigm shift. Besides, weapons don't get much more ancient than clubs."

Ahuizotl growled, then, visibly shaking, forced himself into a calm state. "It matters not. As you noted, I still possess the powers of Tirek himself. And given what I can do with just one pony's magic..." He trailed off and gave a predatory grin. "Time to die, Daring Do." He thrust his tail hand at me.

I picked up the Talon of Triumph in my mouth.

Ahuizotl's jaw dropped. "What!?"

I shut my eyes, crossed my pinions, and gave a mental tug on the Horn of Hunger. My magic came flooding back to me in a rush of sensation that felt as good as getting it sucked out of me didn't. I took to the air. It was only a few feet of altitude, but I still savored it. I moved the Talon to my forehooves and said, "You dropped it along with me. You just never noticed."

"This... You..." With a blood-curdling screech, Ahuizotl charged at me.

I backtracked and went up the shaft. I didn't feel any heat; the preservation spell was still holding.

Ahuizotl almost flew out of the Weapon's chamber. Almost. He soon discovered that he'd dug even deeper than he meant to. Then came that most wonderful sound:

"Curse you, Daring Do! CUUUUURSE YOOOOOU!"

I gave a satisfied sigh as I spread my wings. The walls were still radiating heat, and the shaft was basically a chimney producing one heck of a thermal. Soon enough, I'd be on my way home with two mistakes taken care of. "You're never know what you're going to get in this field," I said to myself. "A shame Ahuizotl forgot that."
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