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Prose Equus 18: Buried Secrets.

By Mandroid
Created: 19th December 2020 02:15:52 PM

  1.  
  2. >”No-naaaaaame!”
  3. “Did you call me, Princess Loki? My ears are burning.”
  4. >”Yes well my EVERYTHING is burning! It’s too HOT!”
  5. “It’s the Badlands, Princess! The name implies a land that is bad! Our next outing can be to “It’s-not-the-heat-it’s-the-humidity land!”
  6. >”UUUUHHHHHGGGGGGGG.”
  7. >Right, just complain, that helps.
  8. >Today found you and the princess trudging through the steps and sand of the Badlands south of Equestria, ranked number to on the list of “Worst places to walk with metal boots on” after the Bone Dry Desert and even then, just barely.
  9. >Your spear today doubles as a walking stick to keep your balance while you lead the way, glancing over your shoulder at Loki.
  10. >”What?” she asks.
  11. “Making sure you didn’t abandon me.”
  12. >”I thought about it.”
  13. “Will you answer to the Queen if you do?”
  14. >”Oh be quiet.”
  15. >You shake your head and allow her request.
  16. >Queen Sleipnir had hurried the two of you down to Midgard earlier after telling you that a Changeling Hive nearby had exploded and that you were to retrieve something from the area.
  17. >When you asked what that was, you only got told “Don’t open it”.
  18. >Which paints SUCH a lovely picture.
  19.  
  20. >Even more strange was that Heimdall wasn’t the one to send you down, the Queen herself directing the Bifrost at the edge of the Badlands and telling the two of you to hoof it and make sure you weren’t followed.
  21. “I don’t like one bit of this…”
  22. >”That makes two of us.”
  23. >As the two of you walk, the countless rocks in your paths go from a flat brown to a sharp black, like someone had swung a hammer and broken the night sky over the land below.
  24. >”Look. These rocks are charred black.” Loki says.
  25. “They’re not rocks.”
  26. >Experience tipped you off the minute you saw the sun shine off them. You swing your spear and lop the top off one of them, slicing it easily.
  27. “Changeling chitin. A fast hardening substance the drones secrete to build and reinforce their hives. Brittle unless there’s a lot of it and upsettingly flame retardant.”
  28. >Loki looks around at the field of twinkling black obelisks stretching along the sands to a steel hill beyond the mesas. “Which makes these…”
  29. “Evidence that there was once a Changeling hive here.”
  30. >You point to the hill with your spear
  31. “That was probably in the place that hill is now. Come on.”
  32. >You press on forward and find Loki not complaining anymore.
  33.  
  34. >At the top of the far-off mound of sand, you get a better view of the once Changeling hive. Fragments of chitin dot the landscape for miles from whatever caused the hove to explode, and one of the mesas a ways away has the central spire impaled into it. You don’t see any bodies, Changeling or otherwise, and sand already begins to flow into the crater to reclaim it
  35. “The force needed to produce an explosion of this size would be…”
  36. >”Just short of colossal.” Loki finishes.
  37. >The wind howls behind you and you look to the sky, no clouds blocking the sun which means that the explosion forced them away with an airburst, the wind only now coming back.
  38. “Now like we can ask any natives.”
  39. >”I don’t believe even you would be stupid enough to live out here, No-name.”
  40. “We need to get a closer look, come on.”
  41. >You hop off the lip of the crater and let yourself begin to slide down the dune. Loki helps behind you but follows along.
  42. >You look to your side, seeing the princess of trickery struggle to maintain her balance.
  43. >You stifle a laugh.
  44. “Hold all four of your hooves together and let gravity do its work.”
  45. >”I am FINE.”
  46. “Yes, clearly.”
  47. >”Loki knows enough about hives and holes to fill a library, No-name! Show respect!”
  48. >That reminds you of something.
  49. “Hey!” you call to her.
  50. “What is it with you and Changelings? I know you’re connected to them.”
  51. >”I beg your pardon?”
  52. “Don’t play dumb with me! Thorax! The Changeling that had a debt to you to get the Palantir crystal? You have dealings with them so what is it? Are you their matron saint? Their god? The shapeshifting made me curious…”
  53.  
  54. >Loki rolls her eyes and adjusts her feet, sliding down to a bit of large chitin, a former hallway by its construction, still stuck in the sand where she can stand on to take refuge.
  55. >”Oh yes, of course! Because I may freely change my shape as they do, I MUST be their god! Just like all Zebra’s must speak in meter right?”
  56. >Wait, is that not true?
  57. >”If you MUST know…” Loki starts as you slide to the platform she found. “Yes, being a shapeshifter as they are makes it easier to coordinate them, we have similar modus operand.”
  58. “You like sneaking into cities and staging a coup at royal weddings too?”
  59. >Loki sticks her tongue out “FAR too grandiose for a scheme. Revealing yourself before your master stroke? Amateur hour.”
  60. “I’m sure you’d do SO much better.”
  61. >”I would, yes. Regardless, what is the old saying? Find the smile, teach the skill? Well I’m not a good smiler and the Changeling’s already have the skill I needed to act as my influence in Midgard.”
  62. >You cross your arms.
  63. “Influence, huh?”
  64. >”Yes, No-name. Contain your mistrust. I hear many secrets through the realms and yet until recently, I was locked away form Midgard. If not for my connections with the insects, we wouldn’t have the Palantir at all.”
  65. “Mm…”
  66. >Loki rolls her eyes again. “Let me simply answer the question you’re too afraid to ask. No, I did not have anything to do with your little wedding invasion nor did I ever deal with your “Queen Chrysaswiss” or whatever. The tithe she sent to me always ended up falling to tatters. I only deal with independent agents, they’re much easier to manipulate.”
  67. >You’ve known Loki for a while now and felt a connection with the Princess others seemed not to have, you want to trust her…but you know her.
  68.  
  69. “Is that it?”
  70. >”Of course it is it, No-name. But it doesn’t matter now. Midgard is open to me and you are my proxy now.”
  71. >Right…
  72. >Wait what.
  73. >”Along that line of thought…” Loki’s eyes blink open. “Aha! Do you have the jewel?”
  74. “Eh?”
  75. >Loki begins bouncing up and down, excited at the prospect of magic. “The Palantir jewel, you clod! I have an idea!”
  76. >You reach into the pocket you hide the magic opal in and hold it to her, letting it catch the golden rays of the sun. Loki smiles a sly smile and produces the Time-seeing amulet’s base from a space that shouldn’t exist and carefully puts the two together.
  77. >”Why spend hours rooting around for answers when we may simply peer through the past and see things as they happened?”
  78. “I can think of a few reasons.”
  79. >”Are you going to act on them?”
  80. >You cross your arms and lean against the chitin wall of the hallway, letting that be your answer.
  81. >Loki smiles. “I knew I kept you for a reason.”
  82. >With a click and a flash, the Palantir activates and a white fog rolls in at the corners of your eyes.
  83.  
  84. >”Work faster you fools! Or I’ll feed you to something that can!”
  85. >You take an instinctive step backwards as a Changeling with all the markings of a queen materializes out of the fog. Taller, legs starting to split, and a sharper horn. You’d been familiarized with Chrysalis considering the threat she posed to the kingdom, but this wasn’t her.
  86. >Loki smugly leers at your trepidation at the illusion, you sneer back.
  87. >More Changelings appear around you from the fog, as well as your surroundings, one of the many passageways inside of a Changeling hive.
  88. >The queen rears back and hisses as her drones move piles of earth and rock through the corridor like a line of ants.
  89. >”Move the earth, minions! The temple must be revealed!”
  90. “Temple?”
  91. >Loki shushes you.
  92. >The queen of the past grins a wicked grin looking down at her subjects. “Soon the power sealed away from ages past will be MY power! We’ll see what that fool queen to the north thinks when I’M the one standing over a conquered Canterlot! And from there, the world!” The queen leans her head back and unleashes an ear-piercing cackle through the tunnel.
  93. >In the old adventure serials, this would be where the scene cuts, but the queen’s laughter is interrupted by a loud ringing that smothers her mirth and echoes through the entire hive, like a gong the size of a building being rung.
  94. >”Wha-“ escapes the queen’s mandibles before the ringing rapidly closes towards her, throwing workers and debris into the air as it tears through the hive like paper.
  95.  
  96. “Guh!”
  97. >What feels like a hoof to your chest knocks you out of the visions of the Palantir and sends you back a few steps. Loki laying on the ground rolling back and forth tells you she had a similar experience.
  98. >”Ow. Ow. Ow…”
  99. “Nngh. Are you alright?”
  100. >”Stupid gem isn’t supposed to do that!” she says, pushing herself to her hooves.
  101. “Whatever hit them must have hit even us…”
  102. >You look around the gravesite crater
  103. “They were digging for something…and it sounds like they found it at the end.”
  104. >Squinting your eyes to combat the sun, you look to the lowest part of the crater at the very center. There, beneath the sands flowing into the hole, do you spot the slightest hint of chiseled stone casting a shadow beneath it.
  105. “Hey, look.”
  106. >Loki follows your finger. “Is that a bug? It’s so small.”
  107. “Like you’re one to talk. When this place exploded, the sands were disturbed and must have fallen into the bottom and buried that…whatever it is.”
  108. >”Well I’m not digging it out.” Loki says.
  109. “Well I didn’t bring a shovel and only one of us has magic. So if you want to get home before you’re your Mother’s age, I’d start flexing my brain muscles.
  110. >You hop off the bit of ruined hive you’re on and slide down the dune, leaving Loki to glare at you before following.
  111.  
  112. >You reach the bit of carved stone, no higher than your hips but clearly artificial before Loki does. You kneel down to inspect its sides, but find that any symbols or sigils carved into the side have been worn away by the sands of time and the literal sand.
  113. >There is one thing you can figure out though.
  114. “From the positioning here…this was one of the load bearing beams for a roof once.”
  115. >Loki joins you and rolls her eyes. “Oh, he’s a carpenter now?”
  116. “I dabbled.”
  117. >”Well dabble yourself away so someone with a brain can take a loo-“ Loki ceases her chatter and looks down at the sand.
  118. “What was that, O’ Brain-Haver Mi-“
  119. >”Shut up, No-name.” Loki commands. She tilts her head to the side and squints a bit. “There’s something beneath these sands.”
  120. “The temple?”
  121. >”No…something older, with power inside it.”
  122. >Loki’s horn sparks a glow as she reaches down below the sand.
  123. “Careful…” you warn. “The bugs hit SOMETHING that made them blow up.”
  124. >”If you knew the depths of how fareful I could be, you would be pushing those words back into your mou-LIGHTERTHANITHOUGHT.”
  125. >Loki shoots backwards and nearly falls over as a shining golden orb rockets from the ground in and escapes her grip before settling in the air.
  126.  
  127. >You kneel and help Loki up, falling this many times a day would get her moody.
  128. “You alright?”
  129. >”Stupid thing didn’t fight at all when it was pulled.”
  130. >Once Loki is upright, you take a look at what she pulled out. You squint through the golden light it emanates from its ethereal glow and the desert sun.
  131. >It’s a bit bigger than your head, a solid gold urn wrapped in what look like equally golden leaves or wings. It floats maybe twelve feet from the ground and softly thrums a distinct chiming sound you can feel in your teeth.
  132. “Loki, what is this?”
  133. >The princess keeps her eyes on the object and circles around it. “…A container of some kind, a powerful one. I can’t detect what’s inside…”
  134. “Is it floating by magic?”
  135. >Loki rejoins you. “Partly…you see the extraneous bits on the sides? That is a golden fleece, a metal lighter than air but extremely strong.”
  136. “Why’d whoever built this do that?”
  137. >Loki looks to the ground and gathers a small bit of sand, throwing it at the golden urn. The reaction she gets is immediate, with the urn’s melody increasing in pitch until you’re forced to cover your ears and a wave of pressure emanating off it that nearly blows you both back.
  138. “DON’T do that again.”
  139. >”Gladly…” Loki says. “The urn must be enchanted with a defensive measure that repels any physical contact it experiences back…several hundred times fold, if that is what happens when you throw sand at it.”
  140. >You nod, understanding.
  141. “So they make it float because setting it on top of something would blow the place up.”
  142. >”Precisely. The Changelings must have struck it when they were digging down here and drawn an appropriate response.”
  143. >This was clearly what you were sent here for.
  144.  
  145. “Any ideas how we get it down?”
  146. >”Listen…”
  147. >You do as she says and listen to the quiet chime coming from the urn, its pitch is different now but you can clearly place the resonance of-
  148. “The explosion from the vision.”
  149. >”Precisely.”
  150. “What are you getting at?”
  151. >”Did you know that Loki has a highly tuned ear? It’s how I imitate the cadence and verbiage of those who’s forms I take.” Loki walks closer to you and strikes her hoof on your shield. “Sound travels in waves, No-name, especially in stone temples where this was once held. My hunch is that if we can produce the counter-wave to its own?”
  152. “Then it’ll get through its defenses and we’ll be able to grab it.”
  153. >”By Mother’s beard, he can be taught! Present your shield to me, I need an instrument.”
  154. >You do as instructed and crouch down behind your shield a bit, Loki turns around and stands still save for slightly moving her flank from left to right.
  155. >”Let’s see…a bit high, but not too high, consider the shape of the crater aaaaaand…D flat!”
  156.  
  157. >Loki shoots her hind legs out and strikes your shield slightly left of center, sending a resounding low note echoing through the crater. The urn freezes in the air as the sound washes over it and one by one, the pieces of the Golden Fleece fall to the ground, gently letting the urn down with each one that drops. Loki quickly engulfs it in a magical grip so you don’t get blown up.
  158. “I’m impressed.”
  159. >”Good, you should be.”
  160. >You and Loki approach the urn and examine it. In place of a normal cap, you find that the urn is sealed with what appears to be gold hastily dripped down into a vague skull shape overtop of the urn.
  161. “What do you suppose that’s about?”
  162. >”If I knew the answer, I’d tell you.”
  163. “Should we call Heimdall? Get it back to your Mother?”
  164. >”Considering how we were sent here, I doubt that idiot even knows where we are. At the risk of inciting Mother, I’m afraid our safest bet is to make the trek back to where we arrived here and call Mother from there.”
  165. >You sigh.
  166. “Guess we’re not making it home for dinner.”
  167. >”I am going to need so many baths to get all this sweat and sand off me…”
  168. >You’re about to turn and head back up the dunes when something on the urn catches your eye.
  169. “Loki?”
  170. >”Hmm?”
  171. “Is that a crack?”
  172.  
  173.  
  174. >The crack in the urn allows the contents to see you and shake its golden prison. Black tar begins to spill forth from the infinitesimal crack by the top of the urn, where the Changelings hit it no doubt, and breaks free of Loki’s magic.
  175. >The princess is thrown back by the rebound and lets the urn drop to the sand.
  176. “Loki!”
  177. >You check to make sure she’s still in one piece before looking back at the urn. Tar spews from the crack like a geyser and forces the skull topper off, exploding outwards and engulfing the urn as the Fleece did, but swelling in size.
  178. >Oleaginous tentacles form at the end of the black mass of magic alongside a thick animalistic foreleg.
  179. “Princess get up! We have a fight on our hands!”
  180. >You hear Loki groan as she gets to her hooves for the umpteenth time today. “Uhg…I can’t take you ANYWHERE, No-name!”
  181. >The tar creature pushes the skull from the urn to its “face” and roars at you, now as big as a Timber Alpha.
  182. >You brandish your spear in one hand and raise your shield to protect your torso with the other.
  183. “Come and get them!”
  184.  
  185. >Loki rushes to your side as the beast leaps over you, leaving a thick black mud in its wake that washes over your boots and sticks to you.
  186. >The princess nearly slips but finds her hoof sticking to the mud. “Eeeeewwww!”
  187. “Ignore it, here it comes!”
  188. >You turn as quick as you can and block glancing attacks from its tentacles with your shield, retaliating with slashes from your spear.
  189. >”Let’s see if it likes this!” The princess shouts as she traces an orange rune in the air with her horn. “Logi! Consume my enemies!”
  190. >From the rune comes sparks that herald the arrival of flames. A dragon’s breath worth of fire shoots through the air at the creature and breaks upon its tar skin. Any normal animal, even of that size, would be wounded by such an attack.
  191. >This one however jumps through it and swipes at the two of you, missing you by scant inches when you duck down.
  192. >”My magic doesn’t work!” Loki shouts, stating the obvious. You get a grip on your spear and jab it upwards into the stomach of the beast. Where she fails, you find success, poking holes in its carapace and letting the two of you jump to the side. You splash into the mud on the ground and wipe it off your face. Something told you that you didn’t want it in your mouth.
  193. “Asgard steel does!”
  194.  
  195. >Loki skids over the ever-expanding tar on the ground and faces the creature. Two small magical gateways open over her shoulders and throw a lance of light from each of them.
  196. >The lances hit the tar-beast in the shoulder with a heavy impact, getting a roar of pain from it. You look up to see a pair of short swords sticking from the beast.
  197. “Where’d those come from?”
  198. “Mother’s Armiger! I can’t be expected to hold back against something that resists my magic!” she cries back, throwing two more weapons at it.
  199. >You slash one of the tendrils from its mane off and avoid it as it wriggles on the ground before being absorbed back into the tar.
  200. “You’re stealing the Queen’s weapons!?”
  201. >”They’re small ones she won’t miss! Eep!”
  202. >The tar creature rakes a paw through the ground and impacts Loki, who scatters into a haze of green light and reappears next to you. “And I’m BORROWING them!”
  203. “Move!”
  204. >You shove Loki with all your might, sending her falling into the tar and sliding away just as the monster crashes down into the space she once occupied and shaking the earth, knocking you off your balance. If you ended up on your back this was over, it’d pounce on you and crush you flat, so you better improvise.
  205. “Not today!”
  206. >You spin your spear around backwards and brace it beneath your armpit, driving it through the tar behind you and into the ground below to offer enough support to push yourself back up and catch the enemy off guard.
  207. >Using your shield, you deliver a rapid succession of hits with either the broadside of the shield or the honed edge, carving away chunks of tar with each swipe.
  208.  
  209. >No howls of pain get a chance to escape the monster as five more gateways open above its back, raining shortblades and knives down upon it from above. Whether by luck or divine providence, the Asgardian steel clearly has some effect on it and lets you escape its proximity.
  210. “Nice work, Princess! It’s off balance!”
  211. >”I was aiming for you, oaf!”
  212. “What.”
  213. >You catch Loki’s eyes across the battlefield, they were pinpricks of anger and she was gnashing her teeth. “You SHOVED ME!”
  214. >Oh for the love of-
  215. >The tar monster slowly turns itself and locks on to Loki, heaving like a cat with a hairball and opening the golden skull it wore for a face to begin emitting a yellow beam of energy. Loki turns sheet white as the oily tendrils on its back shrink away, reappearing at her hooves and wrapping around them before it begins to turn to aim it at her.
  216. >You decide there’d be time to deal with the teenager later. No way with her level of physical activity she’d be able to shake those off in time.
  217. “Hang on!”
  218. >You drop your shield into the tar, lest it weigh you down, and rush the tar beast with spear in both hands.
  219.  
  220. >A dozen more gateways open around Loki and she screams in terror and determination as she throws hatchets, spears, and everything but the kitchen sink at the head of the beast to knock its aim off before the beam roasts her.
  221. >You plant your spear in the ground again and press down, bending the elven wood in the haft and leaping up, springing into the air when the tension released and soaring up over the top of the creature’s back.
  222. >”KILLITKILLITKILLITKILLITKILLITKILLIT!”
  223. “I’mgoinggoinggoinggoinggoinggoing!”
  224. >You scoop up one of the swords Loki dropped onto the beast and jump in the air to both gain momentum and force yourself to commit as you drive the sword down.
  225. >Sword pierces tar and sinks down so far into the monster that it goes up to your shoulder. There’s a yelp of pain as the air grows still and the beam of light shorts out, followed by a rush of air. The mask tilts and nearly melts off the creature’s face, attached by gooey strands of tar as the rest of its body oozes into itself bit by bit.
  226. >The tar on the ground flows back into the creature through its legs, or perhaps the creature sinks back into the tar on the ground? The end result is the tar flowing back into the golden urn impaled at the end of the sword in your hand, the tip piercing through the crack in it and sealing it up.
  227.  
  228. >Loki and you look to each other, covered in the black mud and panting.
  229. “What…the Hel was that?”
  230. >”I have…no idea…”
  231. >You’re amazed you stabbed the right spot to seal the urn back up.
  232. “Pretty lucky, huh?”
  233. >”Don’t touch me with that arm until you’ve washed a dozen times or lopped it off.” Loki says, ignoring you.
  234. >Teenagers.
  235. >You let the sword go, your entire arm covered in black tar, and let the urn rest in the sand.
  236. >The moment you do, the sky opens with a crack of thunder and your eight-legged monarch stands before you both.
  237. >You’re too tired to do anything but look to her, but Loki instinctively shrieks backwards
  238. >”Mother we were just on our way back! Be patien-“
  239. >Loki gets no further. The urn and sword both envelop in a momentary golden glow before they explode off into the air faster than you could ever hope to see.
  240. >Loki, you, and Sleipir all stay silent, albeit for different reasons. You’re the first to break the pause.
  241. “…I guess you’re right princess, she DIDN’T need that sword.”
  242. >Mouth agape and gaze slowly turning down to her Mother, Loki quickly gets belligerent.
  243. >”Why…WHY!? WHY DID YOU DO THAT? WHY ARE WE EVEN HERE IF YOU WERE GOINT TO DO THAT?! WHAT WAS THAT THING!? WHAT WAS IT MADE OF?? WHY ARE YOU BEING SO SECRETIVE!? WHY COULDN’T YOU HAVE DONE THIS YOURSELF?? AAAAAAAAAAAAAA!”
  244. >You get to your feet while Loki screams and go to the remnants of the urn.
  245. “Golden Fleece huh? I can probably do something with this…”
  246.  
  247. >You retrieve your spear and shield and return just as Loki runs out of breath. Sleipnir seems content to let her daughter tire herself out. Her eye glances between Loki and you, sizing the both of you up to some standard only she knows and twisting her grimacing mouth.
  248. >”It was Etir, Loki.”
  249. >The princess stops her tantrum and lets fear into her eyes. “E-Etir? Here? On Midgard?”
  250. “Not anymore, by the looks of it…”
  251. >You look to the sky.
  252. “Where did you send it?”
  253. >The Queen’s good eye looks to you. “The sun.”
  254. >You look back to the sky at the heavenly body that’s been oppressing you all day.
  255. “…Nice aim.”
  256. >Loki looks shell shocked. “E-etir here? Why didn’t I know about it? I know so much, I-“
  257. >”Loki.”
  258. >The All-Mother lives to her name and puts a hoof of comfort on her daughters back. “This is the first I’ve seen any since long before you were born, I intend for it to be the last. Please, calm yourself.”
  259. >Loki takes a deep breath and gets steady.
  260. “What’s Etir.”
  261. >The Queen looks to you both again, scrutinizing you. ”Later, No-name. You have both done well today by my request and have earned my favor. Wash yourselves. Recuperate. Rest for the next day’s trials.”
  262. >”Let’s listen to her, No-name.” Loki says, getting to her hooves and still shaken by the revelation about whatever that substance was. “I want to go home…”
  263. >Curiosity burned within you, to know what you’d just risked your life for and what the gods were hiding, but if a one-eyed old mare could see a rattled teenager who’d nearly died, you could too.
  264. >You walk over to Loki and stand tall next to her. She needed the reassurance.
  265. “At your side, your highness. Wherever you need me.”
  266. >”…Yes, see that you are.” She says.
  267. >Queen Sleipnir opens the sky for a Bifrost bridge before you and you slot these questions you have into the back of your mind for another day as you walk away from this haunted waste.
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