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Penultimate Paradise // Closed

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Whether through luck, fate, or sheer force of will, the gates of Penultimate Paradise are opened for you.

Illisa Misteria III, known affectionately as 'Myst', comes from a long line of business-orientated ponies, specializing in building entertainment and luxury locations. From casinos to hotels to amusement parks, her family has made its name throughout Equestria - but only as a family name. Determined to set out on her own, Myst as recently purchased and refurbished several large facilities in prime, often isolated places, and her latest acquisition is no exception.

With a grand opening set in only a few months, Myst is all but ready to unveil Penultimate Paradise, a luxury resort equipped with everything a pony could ever dream. Located along the River Stadia in the lush and beautiful north-east Frontier, Penultimate Paradise is a hidden gem, deeply seated in a natural alcove that makes but invisible to anypony unwary of its existence. And though Myst has several facilities located in this area, Penultimate Paradise clearly stands out as the shining forefront of her career.

Proclaiming itself a luxury resort to set all others to shame, Myst has taken it upon herself to host a soft opening, available to only a select hoof-ful of ponies to enjoy. Random lottery, magical interventions, influential callers - however the ponies have gotten their invitations, Myst is determined to prove Penultimate Paradise as accessible to all walks of life.

You are one of the lucky few that has received an invitation - a week-long experience at Penultimate Paradise, all expenses fully paid for. All you need is your luggage, and a carriage will be waiting at Seaddle to wind its way through the dense rain forests of the Frontier to bring you to Penultimate Paradise.

Beauty, luxury, freedom - a once in a lifetime chance. Why not take it?


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⚈ Welcome to Penultimate Paradise, an Adventure RP styled after classic Point and Click Games!

⚈ The only art in this thread that belong to me is any art that I myself have drawn. All other art pieces belong to their respective owners, and I claim no ownership over them.

⚈ This RP is aimed to provide RPers a challenge aside from RPing, allowing them to participate more in the thread. Players (and by extension, the characters) will need to solve clues and riddles to attempt to move through the RP. Areas, rooms, objects of interest, and similar, will be laid out by the Game Master (myself), leaving players to have their characters perform the correct actions in order to advance the plot.

⚈ An example: Billy Bob finds himself in a room that is filled with several toy balls. Billy Bob's RPer makes a short post, saying that Billy Bob moves closer to inspect the toy balls. A Game Master post then comes along to explain how Billy Bob can see small writing on each of the toy balls, laying out a riddle. Billy Bob thinks the answer to the riddle is to arrange the balls by color, which he does. However, the next Game Master post says nothing has happened. So Billy Bob makes another post, arranging the balls by size. This time, the following Game Master post has Billy Bob discovering a secret passageway that leads him out of the room.

⚈ Because this thread will rely on characters performing actions and waiting for a GM response to see if they can advance the plot or not, don't worry so much about writing long posts. Two to four good paragraphs is plenty, and even less if your character is simply trying out an action, or series of actions, to try and solve a puzzle or clue (i.e., if it gets to the point where Billy Bob keeps rearranging the balls in different order). One-liners won't be permitted, but don't kill yourself trying type out a long and thoughtful post when all you're doing is having your character try out a new set of actions.

⚈ Aside from this, there are two important images that may or may not pop up during the course of the RP. The first:

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⚈ Is the Pause image. When you see this picture, do not post anything in the RP thread. It means that I need time to set up an area or event, and I simply don't want a character to unintentionally advance too far before I have a chance to do so. The second picture is:

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⚈ The Resume image. This simply means that I've finished setting up the scenario or event, and it's safe for everyone to post again. Simple!

⚈ Lastly, this RP is supposed to be fun, so the riddles and puzzles are not aimed to be particularly frustrating or challenging. If you find you're having trouble however, and your character happens to be alone and cannot ask for help IC - ask for help OOC! Discuss in the OOC thread, ask others what they think the answer might be. There's no rule against players helping each other out OOC, or characters helping each other out IC (obviously), so do what you need to do.

⚈ Have fun! HAVE IT.

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Whether you have traveled from near or far, one thing is certain.

You are clearly in for the week of your life.

A carriage has been waiting since the first ticket holder has arrived, but the friendly looking stallion has been holding off for all the ponies to arrive. Now that time has come, and as soon as he checks the last viable ticket, he has bundled everypony into the carriage, hooked himself back up to it, and started the journey out of Seaddle and into the deep, winding jungles of the Frontier.

There is food and drink of all sorts for the ponies to enjoy as the carriage moves off the beaten path to begin traversing rougher, less trodden roads, sometimes even completely leaving the dirt path to move through sheer underbrush. The carriage puller is clearly trained and is doing an amiable job keeping the ride smooth and steady, though you can't help but notice that he seems to slow almost to a halt every now and then. Whether that is simply from a rough pathway or not is unclear.

Still, he seems entirely in control, allowing you to sit back and simply enjoy the ride as lush forests and dense jungles pass by the open windows. Eat, drink, and be merry to your hearts content, and perhaps introduce yourself to the other ticket winners if you haven't already. The four of you will be the only ponies lounging away in a luxury resort after all.


: GM Notes :

⚈ Thread is now open for posting!


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Well. It wasn't as if he could expect to have an entire resort to himself, now could he.

Still, Nocturne had to admit - to himself, mind - that he was…excited, for this trip. Oh of course, finding that little slip of paper and letter sitting innocently in his mailbox had been highly suspect, a sure practical prank. Whoever heard of a resort owner opening up her place to only a select few ponies for a week? But subsequent research, calls, and investigations had made the truth known. It wasn't an elaborate prank.

At least, not on the part of the ticket and letter themselves.

But if this, "Myst" was playing the trick herself, well…Nocturne was fairly certain he could suffer the ride. After all, if it all turned out to be false, he was only missing a few well-earned days of vacation from work. And truth be told, he had been getting a little restless, a little brain-dead. Not that Nocturne was all the certain how much rest and relaxation he was going to be getting with these fellows with him - two were easily recognizable as Elderflower and Flaxen Feather, the white Pegasus not so much - and he'd made it a point to glare out the window almost as soon as the four of them had been bundled off into the carriage, with only a bottle of water for company, along with blissful silence.

'For however much longer that lasts.'

 

 

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Hmm... This sounded like it would be an enjoyable week away from the shop and other various jobs. Maybe she could even come back with something new to sell in her shop, though she doubted she'd be doing anything like that. She was going to a resort after all, practically by herself, aside from the other three in the carriage with her and whatever staff would be there. Honestly, the white mare didn't know much about where it was she was going, aside from it being some form of resort.

 

All in all, Marusha was looking forward to the experience. She looked around at the other passengers in the carriage, frowning a bit at the unicorn stallion glaring out of a window. She wasn't sure what his problem was, but she didn't really want to bother him. As for the other two, another unicorn and a pegasus stallion, they seemed friendly enough. Still though, she was remaining on guard, not sure what exactly the reason she had been invited was. For all she knew, they had discovered her side job and were trying to bring her in for it.

 

Also rather interesting, the four selected consisted of two unicorns and two pegusi, a stallion and mare of each. Hmm... Was that just a coincidence? Maybe. She was seated at the window opposite the one that was currently being glared out of, and she turned towards the other pegasus to give him a friendly smile and a wave.

 

"Hello. I'm Marusha Moonlight, what's your name?" She asked him, smiling a bit at him.

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Elderflower had been distracted for some time by the sights passing by outside the carriage. She had traveled many places across Equestria before settling down with her teahouse, but the jungles of the Frontier were sadly not one of those places. And how regrettable! The vegetation was unlike any she had seen before: huge, leafy plants and flowers she had only seen in books or greenhouses were thriving, welcoming the four lucky ticket-holders as their admirable carriage-driver swept them off towards their mysterious destination. The mare was in her bliss, deeply drinking in the fresh air as her mind raced with all of the wonders awaiting the four ponies at Myst’s little paradise. Of course, there was one very important question right at the fore of her thoughts: would there be tea? Which kind? Would the staff know how to properly steep their tea, or were they the horrid kind of ponies who burned and oversteeped their greens?

The mare smiled at her own silliness and finally pulled herself away from the window, taking a moment to look over her companions for the week. Two of the ponies she was already vaguely familiar with: the friendly Flaxen Feather, who (judging by his cutie mark at least) she felt she might have a few things in common with, and the ever-scowling Nocturne Wisp. The white mare was one she was unfamiliar with, so there was only one thing for Elderflower to do!

Summoning up her soft, golden magic, the mare lifted a container and a large thermos from her saddlebags.

“I guess I shouldn’t stare out the window for the whole trip,” the willowy mare said softly, opening the container to reveal panini-pressed sandwiches made with yellow peppers, portobellos, tomato, fennel, and creamy tomato sauce, “If any of you would like some lunch, I made plenty. There’s minty cucumber water in the thermos as well. Something refreshing for a trip made cooped up in a carriage.”

She smiled at the two stallions who were sitting opposite herself, then decided it was time for an introduction! She had to make sure to save one of those sandwiches for the stallion pulling their carriage, too - and a drink of course!

“I’m Elderflower, by the way,” she said to the winged mare beside her, offering a smile and a slim hoof to shake, “It is lovely to meet you.”

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Flax was a little reluctant when his parents asked him to attend the invitation for them. Something about being too busy to go themselves. He wasn't too particularly fond of gatherings that were so exclusive and... luxurious. He always felt a little insecure about flaunting his wealth, never wanting anypony to feel beneath him. But there was no reason to let a good invitation go to waste, was there? Besides, he was growing increasingly glad he attended. Especially when he saw a couple familiar faces. Nocturne Wisp and Elderflower were here! He couldn't help but grin like an idiot as he entered the carriage. And he thought he was going to be alone. It was lonely enough just walking over here. He wasn't sure if he could endure an empty carriage.

 

He took a seat beside a white pegasus mare while maintaining his smile. So many potential best friends all sitting in the same wheeled box. It almost made him forgot about his empty stomach.

 

"Hello. I'm Marusha Moonlight, what's your name?"

 

Flax's grin widened. "I'm Flaxen Feather. You can just call me Flax though. Flaxen Feather is a bit of a mouthful."

 

And speaking of mouthful, Elderflower pulled a container from her saddlebag and inside was an assortment of delicious looking sandwiches.

 

“If any of you would like some lunch, I made plenty. There’s minty cucumber water in the thermos as well. Something refreshing for a trip made cooped up in a carriage.”

 

He could practically hear angels sing. "You saved me!" He laughed. "I actually forgot to eat before I left and now I'm starving. I got a little lost on the way here and kinda forgot all about food."

 

He took one of the sandwiches and chewed as he watched Elderflower introduce herself to Marusha. His eyes soon fell upon Nocturne Wisp, who hasn't said a thing since they've been here. Which means Marusha probably won't know his name for awhile. Unless...

 

Flax pointed to the grumpy stallion. "And that guy's name is Nocturne Wisp." He turned towards him. "I didn't expect to see you here. Not that I don't think you'd get an invitation, just... what are the chances of the three of us running into each other again right after meeting at the teahouse party, right?"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Amidst the conversation taking place from inside, the carriage suddenly grinds to a complete halt for several seconds. The carriage puller seems to be looking back and forth over the landscape, a somewhat worried expression on his face.


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And there it was.

Ncoturne Wisp's default setting was to immediately tune out polite and useless pleasantries, as ponies who were just meeting each other tended to speak of inconsequential and inane things, like the weather and their pets and the chances for a good spring harvest. Still, he didn't completely check out, it simply wasn't in his nature as a researcher to do so. Elderflower's voice was as calm and lilting as he remembered from her festivities back in Canterlot, while the earnestness and sincere timbre of Flaxen Feather was easy to recognize, now. The white Pegasus in turn seemed an amiable sort - at least she wasn't of a Dazzle nature, insistent and eager to include any and everypony - and Nocturne could begrudgingly admit that the group of three ponies were not the worst sort to be stuck with for a relaxing vacation.

The dark-colored unicorn ignored the food that was brought out, save for a somewhat intense glare shot towards one of the sandwiches, and took a defiant sip from his water bottle. And miracles upon miracles, the golden Pegasus suddenly introduced Nocturne for him, saving the unicorn the trouble. An assertive sort of grunt left his lips at the introduction, though Flaxen Feather carried on in a conversation clearly directed at himself. Nocturne reigned in a sigh, but turned his head just slightly, taking in that same, stupid, grin on the other stallion's face, the one that made him want to get up and…and hug something.

Or punch something, whichever came first.

"Hn," he said instead, indicating an acknowledgment of Flaxen's statement. If the letter they'd all presumably received with their tickets could be believed, then the tickets in question had been dispersed in numerous ways. Sticking it into a random mailbox, given to a friend of the owner - a gift to a particularly appreciated teahouse owner, even? Nocturne could see Flaxen's point.

He didn't have time to ponder any further however, as the carriage swayed slightly, momentum carrying them a bit forward as the ride came to a stop. Nocturne glanced out the window again, expecting to see a pool or building - but to his surprise, was only met with more vegetation and underbrush. The dark-colored stallion frowned, before sticking his head completely out the window to crane his neck around, attempting to look at their carriage puller. He seemed to be looking around, almost wonderingly, as if -

"Is there a problem?" he asked curtly, irritation coating his voice. A week spent lounging around a luxury resort, all expenses paid, was quite a reward, but one that couldn't be enjoyed if their hostess had arranged their transport with a puller who'd gotten lost.

 

 

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At the sound of Nocturne's voice, the puller immediately starts, as if caught off guard. "No sir, no problem," he says, turning his head around to smile a bit sheepishly at the unicorn, "just being careful with my footing, is all." It was indeed starting to turn dark, the deep red and orange rays from a sunset already having trouble piercing the thick canvas of the jungle. "Sorry for the delay folks - we should arrive before dark."

That said, the puller tugs the carriage back in motion, only a slight stall in his steps before he determinedly sets off in his chosen direction.


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Marusha smiled at the introductions coming her way, taking the mare's hoof in a shake as she introduced herself as Elderflower. It didn't take long for the pegasus stallion to introduce himself as well, saying his name was Flaxen Feather. Or just Flax for short. Then came the offer of food, which she responded to with a smile as she took one of the sandwiches.

 

"Thank you, Elderflower." She said before taking a bite of the food. Flax then introduced the other stallion for him, before talking directly to the unicorn. Marusha turned herself to address the other mare, stopping as she realized the carriage had stopped moving. What was going on? She looked out the window for a second before Nocturne asked the one pulling them along about what the holdup was. She relaxed a bit as they started off again, taking another bite from the sandwich.

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Elderflower beamed at Flax when he took the first of her sandwiches, striking a playful, triumphant pose. “That’s not too bad, hm?” she laughed softly, “My first adventure in years and I’m a hero before things even get started. Please, I made far too much so take your fill - I only ask that you leave enough for the valiant stallion who’s bringing us to our destination. I hope you all enjoy them!”

 

The willowy mare gestured to the stallion pulling their carriage outdoors, then waited for the others to take a sandwich before she herself grabbed one. Only Marusha seemed interested, since Nocturne cast the food a rather withering glare, so El took one right after her and began happily munching away. Flax took care of introducing the white mare to Nocturne, and when he did the teahouse owner couldn’t help but cast a thoughtful glance in the dark stallion’s direction, her yellow eyes mildly scrutinizing. This was the second time she had presented him with something she had made to find him underwhelmed, and she wasn’t quite sure if that was because of his usual demeanour or if she had simply failed to present him with something to his tastes. For a mare who prided herself on being a first-rate hostess, it was important for her to know what kind of food and drinks could make a pony happy! So when she found somepony who was difficult to please she was always driven to uncover their tastes. And the best way to crack a tough nut was...well, it was simply to ask them!

When the carriage set back into motion after a short delay, El realized she was staring and roused herself from her thoughts. How rude of her! Well, there was only one way to find an answer for her little dilemma. “Nocturne,” she ventured quietly, tilting her head to one side and sporting a gentle smile, “Pardon me for interrupting your thoughts, but I feel like I’ve missed the mark with you twice: first with tea, and now with sandwiches. Is there any food or drink you’re very fond of, so I can know for next time?”

Edited by Elderflower
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“I hope you all enjoy them!”

 

"I did!" Flax said. Those sandwiches were just... delicious! Being a hobby cook himself, he had to wonder what the ingredients were. "Mind sharing the recipe? I'd love to recreate them if I could. I've got so many ingredients in my garden just waiting to be utilized." He gave a reassuring grin "But if it's top secret, I totally understand."

 

When the carriage stopped, Nocturne's very first sentence left him. His voice felt a bit alien since it was the first time he actually spoke. Nocturne asked the carriage puller if there was a problem, which he insisted there wasn't. But he sounded a little odd. Uncertain maybe? Nah, Flax was probably just over thinking it. Once the carriage went back into motion, Elderflower asked Nocturne if there was anything he did like since she missed the mark twice now. Flax was pretty interested in the grumpy stallion's reply. Getting to know Nocturne was proving a challenge so this was quite the opportunity to learn a little more about him.

 

As Flax listened, he glanced at Marusha with a bit of concern on his face. She wasn't talking too much either. Not that there was anything wrong with that. Some pony's were just quieter. Sometimes he wished he were quieter. But if she were being quiet due to unease, Flax would aim to fix it. He spoke in a low enough voice to allow the other's conversation to remain undisturbed. "I'm a sucker for sweets myself." He laughed. "I've never been able to pass a bakery without buying something. What about you?"

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Well, at least that had resolved quickly.

Nocturne settled back into his seat as the carriage resumed its motion - only to suddenly be addressed by Elderflower. What's more, she seemed intent do cater to his specific needs, for some feather-brained reason. The dark-colored unicorn couldn't help the tense purse of his lips as his spine automatically straightened out just a little bit, pale gaze narrowed almost suspiciously on the cream colored mare.

What was she playing at? She wasn't the hostess this time, and the cart had already come with food and drink for any hungry pony. What did it matter to her if he ate her sandwiches or not? Nocturne briefly entertained the thought that the other unicorn was slyly mocking him, but the earnestness in her gaze and thought belied that suspicion. Perhaps it was pride speaking, then, a perceived slight on her tea and food that caused carefully masked indignation.

Abruptly, Nocturne realized that he had let the question spiral on for longer than socially acceptable, Flaxen and the white Pegasus engaged in their own conversation. A small flush of color rose up the back of his neck. "It's fine," he answered shortly as he stuck his snout back towards the window, forelegs folded. "I don't want anything from you."

A second after he said it, he regretted it, causing Nocturne's ears to fall back onto his head. He hadn't meant for it to come out exactly like that - as if the mare herself was the reason for his disinclination for her offerings, rather than the offerings themselves. Nocturne almost said something, mouth half opened to simply clarify - but, no sooner had he had the thought when the carriage, once again, pulled to a stop, albeit a smoother one. Still, irate at the thought that the puller had had to stop a second time, Nocturne whipped his head back out the window.

Until he realized the puller had stopped for another reason, actually. Nocturne let out a simple, almost bemused, "Oh," before slowly opening his carriage door.

 

 

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The sun is only just skimming the horizon as the carriage pulls to a complete stop in front of a smooth stone pathway. The path is surrounded by trees, plants, and flowers, all young and artfully arranged, making it clear they have been planted by a talented landscaper. Several lamps line the stone pathway to give it plenty of light, and you discover that the path, though it moves roughly uphill, is not very long, and leads to your obvious destination.

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Even from this distance, Penultimate Paradise is a sight to behold. Surrounded on all sides by the natural hill and mountain formations in the jungles of the Frontier, the resort nonetheless dominates the space, laid out in a relatively clear area as if a natural alcove formed for the sole purpose of giving birth to the beautiful building. A river winds its way past the resort, fading away behind the building, and you can easily see the beginnings of an extravagant garden on the other side. There is a dock on the river as well, perhaps a way for ponies to travel once the resort is opened up to the public.

Your escort unhitches himself from the carriage to help pull down luggage as the ponies exit, a wide grin on his face. "This is it," he says proudly, "Penultimate Paradise." Perhaps it is a trick of the light, but you can't help notice that the puller looks rather relieved as he stares up at the large structure. The look doesn't last long however, as he turns back to the group. "And this is where I drop ya'll off. Just head up the path up to the entrance doors - 'ya can't miss 'em!" Instructions relayed, your guide gives an extravagant bow, before he once again hitches back up to the carriage and starts pulling away.

With or without luggage, the walk is an easy one, especially with the lamps lighting up the path against the setting sun. It doesn't take long on the path to get very close to the resort, where the extravagant entrance doors stand tall and proud.

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Strangely enough, there are no doorbells nor doorknob on the entrance doors, and knocks go unanswered. The carriage puller is already out of sight, and nopony else seems to be around. There is some writing stretched across the very top of the doors, but they are too small to see from ground level.


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Hmm... Well, Nocturne obviously wasn't the most social of ponies. Still, she didn't really mind, she had dealt with worse during her thieving jobs. She simply smiled a bit at his attitude, looking away from him while shaking her head slightly. There was soon enough another distraction from the trip in the form of Flax speaking to her, revealing his sweet tooth to her. She giggled lightly at that, looking to him before responding.

 

"While I do enjoy sweets, it seems I have a bit more self control in that area. Nothing to be ashamed about though, there are worse things to lack self control in." She replied, smiling a bit at him. As the carriage came to another halt, she peaked out the window, taking in the building they had stopped at. Well, it certainly looked impressive to her. She gave a small hum before getting out of the carriage.

 

"Thank you, sir." She said, smiling at the carriage puller as he hitched himself back up and headed off. Well, they were here now. Marusha looked at the other three for a moment before picking up her bags and walking towards the door to the building.

 

"Why is nopony answering? Are they delayed or something?" The white pegasus asked after a bit. She looked around, but there was no other obvious way of alerting anyone inside of their presence aside from knocking. Then she looked up and spotted the words. She squinted at them, giving a little hum as that proved ineffective. Well, looked like she would have to go up there. She set her bags down before opening her wings and flying up to the words to get a better look and read them.

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Other than the writing, there is nothing else of note along the doorframe or anywhere else in sight. The words are small, but etched out in an elegant and delicate script that fits perfectly in with the architecture of the building.

"Now is the hour of your arrival,
As quickly as you yourselves decide.
Many symbols here are of little import,
Each lesser than the far left side.
Speak these and enter, in your own time."


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Elderflower beamed at Flax, thrilled to bits that he enjoyed the sandwiches. Without missing a beat after he had asked for her recipe, she cheerfully responded in that quiet voice of hers, “I’m so glad to hear that! And of course I’m more than happy to share the recipe! It’s quite simple, though it does have a few steps - and the creamy tomato sauce adds a few extra minutes to your prep time as well. The flavours are certainly worth it though, don’t you think? And you’ll have to tell me all about your garden, oh I bet it’s exquisite! A garden tended with love is the most beautiful treasure a pony could ask for.”

 

When she realized just how much she had been rambling, the mare sheepishly directed her gaze at a very lovely, regular corner in the architecture of the carriage. Yes, a lovely corner. You get El on the right topic and she becomes a veritable storm of cheery words - but once she realizes just how much she’s rambled on, she always grows a touch bashful. The sunny atmosphere that had built from that conversation was quickly cut short, though.

 

For a few short moments after Nocturne gave his clipped response, El looked as though she had been struck. Quiet and grumpy ponies she had dealt with, yes, but never had she encountered somepony quite this icy. She had no idea how she had offended the dark stallion, but she had the feeling that asking him would just cause the situation to deteriorate further. So instead she drummed up her usually warmth and cheer, casting away the twist of negativity that held her muscles tense.

“I won’t press the issue, then,” she responded softly, offering up a small smile while her gaze looked everywhere but at Nocturne with uncharacteristic timidness, “But should you ever change your mind...I am always happy to make something a friend will enjoy.”

 

The carriage had come to a stop again. This time, the mare peered curiously out the window and lost her breath. The view was indescribable. She couldn’t help but breathe deep when she stepped out of the carriage, the sweet, earthy smells of grass and forest flooding her senses. Everything about this place was stunning...and the building! Wow!

 

Taking a moment to let their carriage puller know she had left some of the sandwiches she had made in the cart for him to avail of as well, the mare followed everypony up the path until they found themselves before a very peculiar door. Marusha flew up to investigate some writing on the door, and El considered the verse for a moment.

“Ahh...I’m afraid I’m not very good at riddles…” she said, a little sheepish once more, “Perhaps it means to read the left-most words of each line? Or…”

Or there could be more symbols on the left part of the door, perhaps. El really was hopeless at riddles and brain games. Still, she moved to inspect around the left side of the door, just in case. If you were bad at riddles...guess everything! That way an answer was bound to present itself.

Edited by Elderflower
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"I don't want anything from you."

 

Flax grimaced at the stallion's words, feeling quite a bit of sympathy for Elderflower. That sort of response didn't bother him much, but he knew it could cut pretty deep for some ponies. Especially ponies that valued the comfort and happiness of others as much as Elderflower seemed to. But Nocturne's expression soon caught his attention. That look on his face was all too familiar to Flax. It was regret. His friend Vesper displayed a similar expression when something came out wrong. After being around with him for so long, Flax learned to recognize that look in order to prevent misjudgement.

 

Elderflower made a poorly masked response. The uneasiness was apparent, and it made Flax's heart sink. And seeing Marusha's response just made it sink even further. It was all just a misunderstanding. Nocturne wasn't that cold. He just didn't know how to convey his words properly. Poor guy. Flax had to straighten things out. He was about to speak on Nocturne's behalf until the grumpy stallion opened his mouth. Flax let out a tiny gasp. Was he going to clarify things on his own? That would be great! But when carriage came to a stop, the words never left Nocturne's muzzle.

 

This is it, Penultimate Paradise."

 

"Oh my, we're here already?" When Flax leaped out of the carriage, eyes were met with a gigantic building. The architecture was lovely. It almost looked like a castle. Was it a castle? What exactly defined a building as a castle anyway? Either way, Flax wasn't too awestruck since he's living in a building similar to this one, though it's not quite this big or detailed. That's not to say it wasn't impressive though. It was. He's just really used to this sort of thing by now.

 

Flax picked up the pace as he realized he was being left behind. He trotted up beside the group until they arrived at the door. After returning to the others, he couldn't help but feel like he was forgetting something. And it felt kind of important. It wasn't an item since everything was nicely stored in his saddlebags. He felt like he forgot to say something. Oh well. It'll come back to him eventually. His thoughts turned to the door. Nopony answered for quite awhile and it was starting to look like they were stuck outside.

 

Wait a second.

 

Just as Flax noticed the words etched in the door, Marusha flew up and read them aloud. It sounded like a riddle of some sort. Flax raised an eyebrow. This was rather unexpected, but also pretty neat. Maybe it was some kind of test to see if they were worthy or something. He recounted the words in his head as he tried to figure it out.

 

“Perhaps it means to read the left-most words of each line? Or…”

 

Flax rubbed his chin. "Hmmmm." He glanced up at the door but it was too high up to read. He'd probably think better if he could see the riddle right in front of him rather than vague words swirling around in his head. Flax flew up beside Marusha and tried to keep his hovering stable enough to read. He squinted his eyes and spoke the words in a pondering tone.

 

"Now is the hour of your arrival,
As quickly as you yourselves decide.
Many symbols here are of little import,
Each lesser than the far left side.
Speak these and enter, in your own time."

 

What was that Elder said? Read the left most lines. "Okay's let's try that." He mumbled to himself. His eyes trailed to the beginning letters and carefully scrolled down the riddle. Sure enough, there was a hidden code. "Names... It spells names!" He announced before landing back on the ground with a victorious grin. "If we all introduce ourselves, the door should open."

 

He turned back to the door and cleared his throat before speaking. "I am Flaxen Feather." After his introduction, he glanced at the group and whispered "Okay, now you guys do it."

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Of all things he expected, riddles posted above doorways was not one of them.

The lack of a reception had been irritating enough, but something he could have chalked up to miscommunication. The owner was opening up her resort to a small few ponies for a week, after all, it wouldn't be surprising if the staff was actually having trouble coordinating for such a small party. Understandable, but infinitely more unacceptable if their arrival date had somehow gotten mixed up, leaving them without a host or staff or anything else - especially as their escort was already long gone into the dense jungle. One of the Pegasi could perhaps catch up to him, but considering the thick and almost indiscernible pathways the carriage had traversed through, bumbling about an unfamiliar jungle was probably not such a novel concept.

Which left the four of them, luggage and all, staring up at the massive doorway without anypony else in sight.

If the others were feeling as putout as he was, they weren't showing even a smidgen of it, Nocturne thought a bit sourly, as the white Pegasus named Marusha continued to hover next to the wording. Even Elderflower only let out a small, considering comment, as if being locked outside a building in the middle of nowhere was only a mild inconvenience thanks to her novice riddle-solving skills. Flaxen Feather, too, seemed rather nonchalant, flying upwards to get a better look alongside Marusha, and Nocturne took a moment to wonder if he was the only sane pony in the entire group.

But despite himself, the riddle worked through his brain, piquing academic interest at a brain-utilizing challenge. The dark-colored pony silently mulled over the words in his mind as the others gave worth their suggestions, lingering a bit on the wording. No other symbols were on the doorway, or anywhere else near - at least none common enough to be anything recognizable. Only the words were visible, stretched in five lines at the top of the doorway. Although…

Nocturne Wisp straightened a bit, eyes narrowing in on the words too far for his eyes to see. Letters were a type of symbol in an of themselves, were they not? Symbols that ponies used to represent certain sounds and patterns. And if what Elderflower said was correct, then -

Flaxen Feather finished his train of thought for him, allowing Nocturne to see the word in his mind's eye a moment later. He was correct - the leftmost letter in each sentence spelled out the words, "names". And they were to speak them aloud, to announce themselves?

Briefly, a scowl overtook Nocturne's face. Why wasn't there simply a note telling the guests to announce their names and unseal a presumably magical lock? Why the riddle and wait? A myriad other questions and complaints threatened to burst out of the dark-colored stallion's mouth, but instead he constrained himself to a curt, "Nocturne Wisp," following the golden Pegasus' example, with a glare that bordered on approving aimed at Flaxen's backside.

He could only hope the rest of their stay would be more hospitable.

 

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Marusha continued hovering near the words as she read them again to herself, puzzling a bit over what they could mean. Obviously they had to do something to get in, and it likely had something to do with the riddle, but she had to wonder why it was even set up in the first place. Why would they need to do this to get into what was supposed to be a resort?

 

Oh well, that was an issue for later, for now she should help figure out what the riddle means. During her little musing, however, Flax had joined her up in the air, and she recoiled a little from surprise, moving back a few inches to give him more room. It wasn't long before he came up with the idea of reading the leftmost parts, and as she did it too, she saw the hidden word spelled out from the first letters of the words. Names? They had to announce themselves? Well, it sounded like as good a solution as any at this point. 

 

"Marusha Moonlight." She spoke clearly after both Flax and Nocturne had given their names.

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Before she had even reached the door, Flax had run with her suggestion and solved the riddle. Excellent! So they had to speak their names, then! Elderflower waited patiently while everypony else introduced themselves to the door, her excitement rising. As an adventurer-turned-teahouse owner, El’s quiet lifestyle had been feeling...a little too quiet lately. It’s why the mysterious invitation that appeared in her mailbox one day had piqued her interests so much! The long, winding road that had brought them here, the vast wilderness of the Frontier, the riddle barring them from easily entering this Penultimate Paradise...it was all really getting the willowy mare fired up!

Once Marusha had introduced herself, El lit up and looked at the door, tilting her head to the side in a friendly manner as though she was about to strike up conversation with an old friend. Because in many ways, she was! This felt so much like the adventures she had gone on in the past, though this time there were more riddles and she wasn’t alone!

The mare beamed, “Hello there,” she said warmly, “My name is Elderflower.”

Anticipation was mounting. Would that work? What was waiting for them behind that door? She couldn’t wait to find out!

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The doors remain still and silent as the ponies speak their names in turn. For a moment, it seems like nothing is going to happen - but suddenly, a loud, groaning sound echoes from inside the building, quickly followed by the grand entry doors slowly swinging outwards.

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A lavish grand staircase takes up the immediate entranceway of the resort, easily filling up most of the space. There seems to be another set of grand double doors at the very top of the staircase, which splits both ways in front of the doors towards two more locked doors, ones that seem to lead to the second floor.

The rest of the entranceway is just as lavish, plush carpets and fancy decorations obviously intended to make an impression on any visiting pony. No other ponies seems to be in this area either, though strangely enough, there is a marked space near the entrance doors that seems to be intended for the ponies to set their luggage and traveling items on. Funnily enough, though there are several doors around the entranceway, only four seem to be opened and accessible to the resort-goers.

Small Eastern Room

This appears to be some sort of waiting or sitting room, with a small closet and a few pieces of furniture scattered about. A set of artful flower arrangements decorates the small space, though there doesn't seem to be anything else to note of in the room. Despite its elegant decorations and polished look, the wooden floor seems to be creaking slightly, as if everything but the floor was renovated in preparation for the resort's grand opening.

Small Western Room

A large desk, chair, and several papers adorn this room. Seemingly meant to be some sort of office, or perhaps even a reception area, the room stands out from the other open rooms as a place for staff ponies only. Unlike the rest of the resort, the office space is cluttered and unkempt, papers scattered all over the floor as if somepony was hurriedly finishing something up. The large desk takes up most of the space, and is covered in standard office supplies, like quills and ink, paper clips, and a flickering lamp that makes the entire space ill-lit. The desk is so large that the empty space underneath it almost seems pitch black, as if a yawning maw is underneath it rather than the wall.

Large Eastern Room

Rows upon rows of books immediately fill anypony's vision as soon as they walk into this room, indicating a library of some sort. Despite it feeling somewhat out of place at a luxury resort, there was clearly no expense spared for the library, just like the rest of the building. It feels almost like a maze, a seemingly endless amount of shelves and study desks filling up the area, though at the center of the room lays a grand circular staircase. There are holes at the top and the bottom, indicating at least one floor below and one floor above the ground floor.

Large Western Room

Another room that seems to be for staff only, the large western room is obviously a kitchen of some sort. Filled with state-of-the-art cooking equipment, sterling silver gleams from almost every available surface. Fresh fruit is sitting in a bowl on a kitchen counter nearest to the door, though there seems to be no sign of the pony, or ponies, responsible for placing them there. Across the room, three large ovens line the far western wall. One of the oven doors seems to be slightly ajar.

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: GM Notes :

Link to larger version of the map

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