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Tenochtitlan.  A vast basin filled with, alternately, dry desert and deep rainforests.  The amazingly swift shift in its climate over the last few decades have led many pegasus weather scholars to be worried about the equations the weatherponies use to determine the weather, and pointed to an increase in storms from the Everfree Forest.  On the other hoof, researchers focused in flora were beside themselves at the possibilities of long-thought extinct plantlife that might suddenly return ... or entirely new plantlife that might be available.  What medical and alchemical potential was hidden in the vastness of the Tenochtitlan basin?  And what dangers lurked?  Because it was well known that in addition to beneficial medicines, the plants and animals here were known to have fierce survival adaptations, from poison to magic.

And these were only a couple of the reasons that Bramble Rose was feeling conflicting emotions as he stepped off of the royal pegasus-drawn carriage at the small, wooden, treetop station which represented the farthest extent of Equestria's civilizing touch into the dark basin.  They were greeted most enthusiastically by the pegasus pony Final Glory - a portly older stallion wearing an out-of-date military jacket and a pith helmet while speaking in a Trottingham accent delivered on breath smelling only a little bit of spirits this morning.  He kissed Bramble's hoof along with those of the mares Bramble was with as he greeted the arrivals.

Which was another reason Bramble was of conflicting emotions.  They were here as part of some diplomatic envoy to a tribe of amazons who were holding onto some fantastic but mysterious artifact.  And Bramble had been asked to come by the Princess of Friendship herself!  He had been presenting a request for a research grant for studying the blasted fields where Twilight had battled Tirac when she had presented that he might be *perfect* for this research expedition.  He'd been thrilled!  A royal research project?  He'd be able to get research grants in spades after that!  ...  So long as he didn't have to explain what it entailed.  Perhaps he could claim it was top secret.

He ... well ... she ... had taken care to douse himself in poison joke extract - of which a very pleasant and knowledgeable zebra had helped him out with that.  He could not WAIT to compare notes with her later.  Another dozen doses were tucked away in Bramble's packs.  But for the little slight unicorn stallion who desperately wanted to be more like his father ... poison joke's little prank was to turn him entirely into a mare.  Her long silver hair was pulled back and wrapped up into a bun, tucked away under the broad-brimmed white hat, and Twilight had insisted upon a tan-colored pair of long skirts and an off-white button-up blouse covering most of Bramble's lavender coat.  And a pair of reading glasses on a chain.  He didn't need reading glasses!  But Twilight said it was important.

Still, at least there were three other cute mares in the group.  Bramble had already met Flitter - a very nice mare, and quite smart.  They'd had lunch to talk about her doctoral thesis a few times.  And, of course, he knew of Twilight Sparkle, though they hadn't really met before his presentation.  Silver, he'd only met just a little bit ago, when they'd boarded the royal carriage.  Apparently the muscle of the group, though she was only an inch or so taller than Bramble himself - barely squeezing in past the Royal Guard's height requirements by a hair.  He envied that extra inch rather a bit, but she was very nice.  In fact, the whole group seemed chosen for brains rather than brawn - though Bramble could definitely have thought of a few brawny mares he'd like to have accompanying them, against the beasts certainly out there in the jungle.

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Flitter was excited.  No no, she was ecstatic! Was there even a better word to describe the euphoria she was feeling right now? Exhilaration? Jubilation? Exultation?  Yes, that was good!  Exultation, a word that covered her feelings well and sounded just cool enough to be in some book about daring adventures in far away lands. 

 

How could she not be this happy?  She was doing actual field research that relates to her specialty in entomology!  The pale lavender pegasus pony had already gotten her undergrad degree in Biology specializing in entomological studies, but to be a real scientist in modern Equestria, one needed to graduate from the decorate program.  Of course before she could do that, she had to get accepted.  Most of that was done: Degree, excellent grades, letters of recommendation, now all she had to do was finish the most essential part, her Statement of Purpose and finalize getting an adviser.  What would really impress the department with that is if she had some actual field research to back it up, hence her excitement for this trip!

 

It was all thanks to Bramble Rose, a nice stallion she met during the last Winter Setup who was a post-doc himself.  He got asked by Princess Twilight to come on this expedition, and he recommended Flitter and the princess approved!  All those lunches with the diminutive stallion really paid off!

 

She was well prepared, though her saddlebags full of notebooks, equipment, and provisions was packed away on the carriage - all she had was a beige, wide brimmed hat with mosquito netting hanging over to face down to her shoulders.  Since her mane was tucked into the hat, she had her lucky bow tied to the base of her tail instead.  Standing under a tall tree, she waited patiently in the shade for the others.  She hadn't been able to contain her excitement and she'd hurried ahead of the royal carriage that everypony else had ridden in, so she could really *see* the landscape all around her!  .

 

Flitter didn't have to wait long, though.  The first pony she saw was Twilight who she gracefully bowed to with a smile, "thanks for letting me come along Princess Twilight! I'm very...Exhilarated for this expedition!"  The second pony was a guard who she never seen before, obvious why they were there.  Finally there was Bramble and that was Flitter's first surprise of the day!

 

Flitter knew Bramble always was a smaller stallion with features almost like a mare's, especially around the face, but it was still obvious he was, well, a he!  This time though he was dressed like a mare! His face and body was even more mare like somehow, was it just because of the outfit he was wearing?  Was it the heat playing tricks on her?!  Flitter rubbed her eyes just in case and looked again... Still the same, she didn't know what to think... "Uhh, hi Bramble.... You are Bramble right? I mean, well, why are you dressed like that, seems odd for a stallion, not that I am judging, I mean whatever makes you feel comfortable with yourself!"

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This was a very unusual set of circumstances that Silver had found himself in. It wasn't everyday a member of the royal guard was called by the newly crowned princess of friendship to assist on a mission. The stallion's pride did deflate quite a bit when he learned one of the major reasons for him being chosen was his appearance... that wasn't the only qualification but he would have much prefered being called on for his talents rather than his appearance. It seemed that the princess had a desire to travel to the tenochtitlan Basin in the hopes of seeing a specific magical artifact that had some odd traits attributed to it.

 

Silverheart was very well versed in magic, perhaps it was in the blood? Maybe it was his persistant studies and desire to help ponies that got him to where he was now but there was no changing that now. Seeing as this trip could go south extremely fast if one of their group was discovered to be male in a tribe where most males were... to be fair what exactly happened to the stallion's in this place? Well it might be better for him not to find out and it seemed Twilight had the same notion and used a new spell on him based on some events with the prince that he had little knowledge about... so now here silver was, changed into a mare but really looking almost no different save for his freckles being gone and his mane now having grown out just a tad.

 

"Tear blimey, this is going to be a trying trip." Silver hadn't been to many jungle environments before, his sister often wrote about them in her letters but seeing it in pony was quite different. She'd told stories of giant pony eating plants and stuff in the region but often he couldn't tell if she meant that in jest or not, perhaps that was why these two other more scholarly looking mare's were here. One of them must surely know the region and the plantlife well enough... 

 

Walking up to Bramble, Twilight. and Flitter, the silver coated mare bowed politely as any good guard should and spoke, "I was wondering something, your highness. If you, or your friends will be able to answer it I would be most grateful." As usual, SIlver had a difficult time dropping his habits of formality even amongst those that woudl prefer he drop it, "I wished to know if the stories of um... mare eating plants in the basin were true."

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Twilight never felt the need to justify to herself or others the worthiness of her scientific expeditions, from either a crude cost-benefit analysis or a broader spectrum of the philosophical implications of her individual curiosities. Science was, in and of itself, all the justification she needed. Academic pursuit of science and the magical implications of aether were step in step aligned with the practical pursuits of day to day scientific advancement that could improve the quality of life. They were all equally important to her and needed no justification. And as somepony with the resources to study and experiment on such a wide scale, she rarely had to do so anyway. Her experiments were contained. Her ambitions scientifically were thrust towards understanding rather than invention.

 

But there were times when there was some justification needed for her actions, almost always when they started involving others. Today was one such day as her ambitions and desires had allowed her to assemble a team of specialists for a very...well, special mission. Two of the three had to undergo magical alterations. Bramble Rose was a pony on the cusp of academic excellence who needed but a little nudge to make a name for himself inside and outside of the hallowed halls of Canterlot's top universities. Today, that nudge would be the somewhat unpredictable nature of poison joke which had thankfully played true to form and repeated an old 'joke' that had been played on him. She was now a mare and would remain so one way or another for however long this took.

Guardspony Silver was along for the ride as well and had 'suffered' the same fate, even if the vector was different. A magical spell. Gender and sex spells were always tremendously tricky. Doing one but not the other could lead to vast emotional trauma. Doing both felt manipulative. Doing none of the above...well, that would ruin some of the reason for the expedition. Silver was a trained Guardspony and while Twilight was more than certain she could get the group out of jams, it was a fact that a Princess without a visible guard was a Princess more likely to be attacked. She would rather not be attacked than have to fight anypony, or anything, off. Flitter was chosen for her dual specializations being of great importance to the expedition, but also as a way of keeping Bramble comfortable. As a friend, she would be needed to ensure he remained emotionally stable. More importantly, once they met the tribe they were contacting, she would be required to handle the artifact. The tribe and the artifact- the justifications she had for what she had done to her assistants.

They were going to contact a tribe of amazon mares who lived without a nary a stallion ever recorded. They called themselves the Chuplal Holcanob, but Twilight preferred to call them the Holcanob. Their language was still mostly a mystery as was their culture, save for the fact they did not have a single stallion amongst them and, as far as they could tell, never had. Much of the basin was a mystery outside of lurid tales and wild speculation. Indeed, the few Equestrians who lived nearby- such as A.K. Yearling- often did so for the solitude and excitement such a life offered. The only reason Twilight took such a keen interest in this tribe at this time was because of certain artifacts that may be in their lands should her research prove accurate.

The Quetzalcoatl Empress had many dark magic artifacts, some of which had turned up recently thanks to the works of Daring Do. Even many of those who knew the hidden layer of truth believed that most artifacts had been found, but this was a fantasy at best. Twilight had tracked down dozens of dark magic artifacts across the world, from the sands of Saddle Arabia to the peaks of Whitescar, and almost all of them bore the ancient, eroded, and almost entirely forgotten sigil of the Quetzalcoatl Empress. She was not just the oldest known mass practitioner of the art, she was the most overwhelmingly successful of them all. She must have been outrageously powerful and had some way to create these artifacts other than pure enchantment- otherwise, with her death such devices would have lost almost all of their power. Instead they had remained potent memories of her darkness, and Twilight wanted to know why.

Which led to her seeking the Transcendence Sigil of the Imperial Line. It existed in only one sentence in one paragraph in one stone tablet that had almost been lost to the sands of time- literally. It spoke of an ability to create magic where none existed. It was the philosopher's stone of magical energy. To possess it- more importantly, to keep it away from anypony who had dark aims- was an absolutely vital mission for her. So she had decided upon a trek onto a land where no stallions were allowed. She had good reasons for selecting all of them, but the two former stallions were- well, they had a part to play further once they got there, and they would need Flitter before then. So her justification for changing them into mares was simple- knowing Basin ponies, they were likely to be speared unless they followed the cultural norms of the Holcanob.

So that was it. They had arrived in due time, prepared for the mission. They were accompanied by a guide who, to Twilight's shock, wasn't the most well-kept adventurer ever. She could have had Daring Do do this instead, couldn't she? Even Pathfinder. That foal practically lived in areas like this. No matter. She had already cast her equine detector up to fifty meter spell, allowing her to spot incoming ponies not of their group. She followed their guide and turned her attention to Flitter. “Bramble is a mare now, for as long as this takes,” she nodded at all of them, “remember, we don't know much about this tribe except they have no stallions and allow no stallions into their land. We can ascertain that like most Basin tribes they are aggressive, so be on your guard and remember to be as respectful of their ways as possible, okay? And- well, maybe those rumors are true, Silver. There are definitely some dangerous species of fauna here, but there is a good chance the mare-eating part is an exaggeration."

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Bramble tensed up as her Highness quietly told Flitter the truth of the matter.  He glanced around quickly, tallying up the area.  Silver on her way over, probably didn't hear, and their host, Final Glory, was taking care of a few last minute details.  Good, she wanted as few ponies to know about this embarrassing situation as possible.  His eyes flit over the edge of the raised jungle platform... nothing obvious... "Your highness, a word in your ear?" she murmured respectfully, then stepped closer, gesturing Flitter closer, too.  "Remember that we are probably already under observation by the amazon tribe.  Of course we needed to let Flitter know what was happening, but perhaps a whisper would have been more discrete?  Amazons, I understand, can move through the jungle like ghosts ... it would be a dreadful incident if a word said in what we thought was private ... ended up disrupting everything.  Even when we think we're alone, we should assume they are listening."

It was up to the princess, of course, but Bramble had been brought along for his scholar's mind, and he'd read up as much as he could on the area.  Though of course, nopony knew very much... thus this research trip.  She smiled to Silver as the guard came closer.  Even with himself being a mare, being on a trip with three cute mares - one a princess! - was still very nice.

"Not much of an exaggeration," Bramble said pedantically.  He doubted he would scare Silver, but the guard did need to keep a wary eye.  "There are actually several species that are indeed carnivorous, some of them mobile, and of a size to consider ponies valid prey.  Not that I imagine they get many mares out here to consume ... but the risk is real.  I can think of three different species just offhoof, with a certain liberal interpretation of 'mare-eating'.  One breed simply shoots seeds into nearby creatures - but the seeds burrow, and the saplings will later sprout out of the mare rather lethally, using her as fertilizer as they grow up somewhere else - providing a method of dissemination for the plants, and thus, not competing for nutrients or food with the parent tree.  Fortunately, in the event we run into that sort of tree, there is no immediate danger - I have an alchemical remedy for such an infection.  With knowledge and forethought, there is virtually no danger from this breed - and I hear that some ponies actually take advantage of the calming fumes released by the blossoms and stronger effect from the sap as recreational stress-relief, or harvest them to use the numbing agents in the seed pods as an anesthetic - either way taking on several seed-hits, then using the remedy afterwards."

Bramble Rose adjusted her glasses, having swiftly moved from simply answering into a scholarly enthusiasm on her favorite subject - unusual methods plants have developed to survive in their magical world.  "A second breed is less subtle - and of the more traditional sense.  A mutation of the pitcher plant, this is known as the Last Drink.  This plant lives mostly underground, and can grow to be as deep as three ponies or more.  The shallow lip captures rainwater and mixes it with a pollen, making it seem as if it is a small pool of water with a sweet smell."  Bramble's horn glowed with a soft green light, and she used her magic to sketch out a diagram of the plant she was speaking about - detailing a long, slender tube going deep underground.  "A creature comes up to drink from it, and the inside lip falls away - curling up to preserve the liquid lure - and the creature falls inside.  It often has petals out under the hooves of the prey, concealed under dirt and plant debris, to lift them into the insides, and a dozen short tendrils to capture them and pull them in." Bramble sketched a tiny little stick-lizard and moved it down into the inside of the tube.  "Once inside, the prey is slowly dissolved by the plant's digestive system - but again, the numbing agents to keep the prey subdued make it sought out as a source of a natural sedative - though harvesting this is much more risky."

She grinned.  "And the last, of course, are the rather more dangerous jungle varieties of Timber Wolves - they don't have the hive-manner of the Everfree breed, unable to join together into some massive creature, but they *do* bristle with quite a few poisonous thorns.  Not lethally poisonous, just irritating and subduing, but the teeth take care of the lethal part.  Timber Wolves are *not* harvested for medical supplies ... the high level of risk combined with the low utility of their natural toxins make it inefficient, not to mention the potential moral and ethical considerations, given their more aware nature over other mare-eating plants."

She adjusted her glasses again, then realized that not only had she contradicted the princess, but she'd gone spouting off again.  She shrunk down on herself, blushing fiercely.  She felt like everypony was staring at her ...  "Um, sorry.  I meant, uh ... yes, I can think of three species ... but I can identify them, so we should be all right.  Just, um, don't drink from any puddles that smell nice and sweet."

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The princess' statement about Bramble Rose's current gender suggested that the fact he, er, she was now a mare was some sort of temporary situation due to the nature of their expedition.   Flitter could accept that, even though the idea of using powerful magic to temporarily change one's gender felt a bit off-putting to her, it also opened another question in her mind, "why are you wearing that outfit Bramble?  It seems a might uncomfortable and tight, especially trekking in the jungle, you look more at home in a library."  Even that observation was based on a stereotype, Flitter didn't recall many female librarians actually dressing up in such a manner, only in those bit store novels or mystery films that needed a library scene, which only made seeing Bramble wearing the outfit all the stranger.

If Bramble's choice of clothing wasn't strange enough, the revelation the tribe they were visiting only allowed mares raised all sorts of anthropological questions, such as how they keep their population going.  Flitter didn't want to bother the princess though with such questions as she worried it would be rude, and just as worrying, imply she wasn't knowledgable enough to have along in the first place, after all she wasn't a trained guard like Silverheart.  "Don't worry your highness, I'll be sure to be as polite and accommodating as possible".  For Flitter, her plan in regards to this was to say as little as possible and stay in the back once they came in contact and let the princess and Rose do all the talking.  No chance to screw up that way!

Flitter walked along with the others and listened as Bramble explained the various dangerous flora and fauna that they could possibly encounter during their trek to Silverheart.  As the silver maned unicorn went over in detail each dangerous species with the royal guard, Flitter found herself unconsciously starting to float higher and higher off the ground to match her increasingly worried expression.   She didn't realize this journey was so fraught with potential danger!  She wasn't that brave, Cloudchaser was always the brave one, Flitter rather avoid danger than confront it.   Why was she here again?  She was just an entomologist! Well one in training… Soon… Hopefully.

The flighty pegasus shook her head to rid herself of the panicked thoughts, snap out of it Flitter, this is an opportunity of a lifetime! Don't flake out now! You can do this, YOU CAN DO THIS!!  To go on an expedition in the wilderness of the basin with all its research potential, and with a princess no less, would look spectacular on any PhD application!   Besides Bramble believed in her enough to advocate for her to be here and he's a post doc! Still… It wouldn't hurt anypony if she kept her hooves off the ground, right?  

"So umm… I'll just fly up a little, to check out things from above and see if I can spot anything, you know, just in case.  Maybe I'll see some of the tribal ponies!  Don't worry though, I won't fly ahead, or drink anything… unless it is from my canteens, which already filled at the station!  Ya know, I'll just go by your judgement on any water we come across Bramle, heh."  She sounded like a jittery filly ready to zoom for the safety of the clouds at the sight of her own shadow, which wasn't too far from the truth.

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The Silver coated mare's face fell slightly at the mention not one species, but three species of potentially meat eating plants in the jungle. Immediately though the guard straightened her features and nodded sternly. "Well... I can handle the Timberwolves and I'll remember not to go anywhere near such puddles." The mare bowed politely to the trio before approaching the other end of the wagon before looking over the various foliage and thinking to herself. Normally Silver would have no problem keeping calm in the field. What was it that was making her so nervous inside? was it the presence of three mares? Being with civilian ponies as opposed to fellow guardsponies was vastly different than she thought... maybe she wasn't prepared for it mentally, but it was too late to turn back now.

 

"Um, Miss Flitter. I would strongly advise against that. If at all possible I think we should stick together. We're not sure how this tribe would react to seeing a strange pony, mare or not flying around their grounds... in the end it is up to Princess Twilight though."

 

The Guardpony took a moment to sit down on her side of the wagon, making sure not to intrude on the princess' personal space. Seeing as Princess Twilight was seemingly enjoying her conversation with her fellow scholars and intellectuals, Silver took a moment to center herself by silently humming a soothing yet uplifting tune just quiet enough to not disturb the princess and her friends back and forth but loud enough to be heard if one listened. Eventualy the mare managed to calm her nerves and looked around at horizon and the sides of the road ... having the oddest feeling that the group was being watched.

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It was good that Bramble was on high alert as she waved her over into a small group meeting. It was always better to be cautious in such scenarios. The scientist and reader of far too many Daring Do novels wanted to jump at the chance to meet the Amazons, regardless of how or why. New cultures, new ways of thought, all equally enticing to her. But Bramble had something of a point. They had to be careful and keep their wits about them. While this was no blind expedition seeing as she knew of the Holcanob it was best to remain discreet and silence. Of course, Twilight was no simple pony. She had already cast the equine life detector, hadn't she? Well, maybe Bramble didn't know. After all, it was supposed to be invisible. No matter. The group was safe, Bramble was right, no need to correct or inform her of anything at the moment. Vigilance was the first and most important step in the safety of the group, after all. “Good thinking, Bramble. We'll remain quiet from here on out,” she nodded, moving along in good order.

Bramble started speaking about the different types of dangerous fauna in the region, all of which were dangerous, some of which were rare, and all of which were a little deep into the Basin. Twilight wasn't going to correct her, though. Most of her information was spot on. The basin was a dangerous place for ponies. That made those that live here especially tough and hardy. One of the many reasons Twilight wanted to meet the Holcanob was to see if they had remedies for the various diseases and cures for lower-tier ailments. Living alone in the Basin with only unfriendly contact would for sure give them a leg up in that regard. That was another reason why having Bramble along was a boon. She knew her stuff and knew it well- a valuable commodity, to be sure.

 

“Sounds like a good idea, Flitter. I believe in you,” Twilight responded to the slightly nervous looking pegasus, her mind set on her task. Flitter was a good selection for the group and having a pegasus was always good. Hopefully she didn't go too far- Twilight's detector would catch anypony not of their group that wandered too close, but it didn't do much otherwise. If she had set it for all forms of life she would have been overwhelmed with biofeedback immediately. Good on Flitter for doing her part there. Once she settled down entirely, Twilight was sure she would be able to do a bang-up job. Which was good, since with a small team rather than a full expedition Twilight needed every single pony to be at their very best. Speaking of, Silver's mind was security oriented. That was good, even if Silver needn't be so overwhelmingly cautious.

“As long as she doesn't do anything too outrageous, she'll be fine. She is a mare. Any unfortunate incidents that have been recorded between Equestrians ad the Holcanob., what little contact we've actually had, has been between a stallion and the tribe. Admittedly, they've gone...missing. But the one written source we have that describes them in any detail was from an ancient mare scholar, so hopefully they'll react differently. And if not, that's why you're here,” Twilight stated plaitatively, still looking around. Yes, this was a good trip. Such variety of life- so beautiful. Some of it was undoubtedly deadly. But no matter what, there was a love of discovery and an excitement that came with scholarly pursuits that she hoped never ebbed.

She-
Something tripped her detector. A few things did. Her ears shot up and she looked around. A few directions. Multiple equines closing in, maybe thirty meters away now. “I think it's best we prepare for contact...” she whispered to the group, suddenly kicking her flank for having Flitter away. Luckily it wasn't going to happen in the next few seconds, so they had time to prepare. Hopefully.

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Bramble gave a small little roll of her eyes and a shrug of her shoulders to Flitter's question.  "Her Highness wanted me to wear this.  She insisted it was important.  I don't know why." she murmured back to Flitter.  When a princess wanted you to do something, you did it!  Or else you might get thrown into a dungeon.  Or exiled.  Or exiled and then put into a dungeon.  As a mare.

She gave a little eager grin.  "If you see any of the mare-eating plants, though, could you tell me where they are?  It'd be just *fascinating* to see them instead of just reading about them!  It's very exciting!"

Bramble's attention was stolen away from scholarly research by Twilight's tone.  She straightened up and nodded her head.  "All right," she agreed, moving to their trunks.  She struggled a moment or two with one of the trunks, which was pinned underneath some supplies - until one of the local rangers, with a wry grin on his face and a little wink, helped her out with the heavy baggage.  She blushed a bit at his expression, feeling decidedly uneasy, but wary of her situation, she didn't put up too much of a fuss.  

She'd learned from past mistakes, and had packed much more lightly this time around.  Mainly empty notebooks that she could take notes in - and very little in the way of actual reference materials.  The main reference material she had was a small field guide to edible plantlife in the basin - something she considered *quite* important.  The differences between poisonous plants and edible plants was sometimes quite subtle.  It was kinda like playing Ponies and Dragons with her roomie Curtain Call, back in college, except you had to actually pay attention to the encumbrance rules.  She pulled out one empty notebook and her quill and ink, and put the rest in her saddle bags.  Other than that, she had water, a share of the rations, and those little pills that made water safer to drink.  the broad-rimmed hat wasn't too bad, actually - kept the sun off, and she hoped that would help.  It was the humidity that was going to get to her, though.

With that, she glanced around... "All right.  I'm ready to go make contact," she said, already sketching a diagram of the treetop sanctuary they were about to leave.

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Flitter was a bit flustered at the conflicting advice.  The guard wanted her to stay close, while Twilight thought it was a good idea for her to go scouting.  And she, herself, just wanted to get high above the canopy, but then she wouldn't be able to see anything, and she wanted Twilight to be proud of her.  C'mon, Flitter, you're a college grad, you can figure this out.  It's just a bit of math.

All we have to do is take the safe distance from the plants p1, p2, and p3, and the probability of encountering each plant, versus the distance p4 which represents the princessly pride for her proclivity for flight.  The probabilities could be determined by a simple formula of reach, mobility, and location.  p1 had the best reach, p3 had the best mobility... p2 was almost completely harmless for a flyer.  And the princess would have more pride in her scouting the closer she got to danger without actually being in danger ... So simply solve ( (3r+1m+2l)p1 * (1r+0m+0l)p2 * (0r+5m+2l)p3 ) < p4( log(dist) ) as a multi-axis graph and take the upper bound...

Her musings were interrupted by Bramble's request to let her know if Flitter spotted any of the plants.  "Um ..." she said, staring at Bramble's eager face for a moment ... "How ... would I know?  Where was I?  Um ... "

Oh, heck.  She'd just fly halfway between the canopy and the ground and keep them in sight.  She flew off with nervous sweat touching her cheeks.  Oh, why wasn't she brave and daring like Cloudchaser?  What was she even doing here?!  Oh, right!  Graduate school!  Focus on the doctoral thesis!

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Silverheart nodded solemnly, the situation was a bit different considering that gender status was an factor... something silver wasn't used to. In the end she could only hope for the best and protect the princess and her friend's if things went south. Silver calmed himself down and sat down on the other side of the wagon, away from the trio of scholar and keeping her eyes on the enviroment for any sign of danger...

Judging by the sudden beeping of the princess's detector, Silver wasn't being too paranoid. 

 

“I think it's best we prepare for contact...” she whispered to the group,

 

"Understood, your highness." Silver whispered back. Keeping her guard up and ready to magic whatever attacked them (if anything) into submission if necessary.

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It happened fast, and it happened from multiple directions at once. In front of them, two mares leaped out from the jungle and took positions up front. The same number came from behind, but there was more! From the clouds high above, three pegasi blotted out the sun. In the trees around them four mares on either side moved out of covered positions. It was these that shocked Twilight- caught her noticeable off guard. She hadn't detected them. Why? The only way is if they had been so still and the jungle so active with life that they were masked. That would require unreal precision in terms of launching the ambush- coordination the equal of any she had seen.

They were all dressed and attired in similar fashions. Masks of war paint in intricate, likely personal designs, in various colors, over their faces with other patterns across their body. A few of them had saddles made out of bamboo and vines, with built in pouches. Cargo transport? Armor? Both? A few, especially the ones on the trees on the sides, seemed to be unicorns who had bows levitating a few feet from them, while they peeked out from trees and other forms of cover. The rest had spears, and they formed around the foreigners. And said nothing.

Twilight took a step back before stiffening up. Well, this was expected. Time to make the first, very polite move. No movement since- well, tribal ponies were notorious for being quite responsive to that. “H-hello. I am Princess Twilight Spa-”

“You are alicorn! Kurakola kon!” One of them yelled, broken Equestrian at best escaping her. The others whispered, half in fear and the other in what could pass for determination.
“Why magic come here? This land Chuplal Holcanob!”

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Bramble Rose had to fight between two different responses to the surrounding forces.  On one hoof, this was obviously terrifying.  An assault upon an Equestrian outpost - which they'd managed to completely bypass the security perimeters for.



"I say!" cried Final Glory, "this is most unseemly!  I thought we had a truce!"

But on the other hoof ... wow, these mares were amazing!  Rose's quill flew over the paper, desperately trying to capture the intricate little details of all those little markings, the artistry of the saddles, and scribbling, to the side, small quick phrases that passed through her head about how ghost-like they had emerged from the surrounding jungle to invade the treetop fort.

In a soft aside to one of the amazons not currently busy talking with Twilight, she whispered, "Excuse me?  Excuse me?  Um..."  She checked her notes.  "Akalla ti bok?"  <You listen nice?>  "Could you turn a bit to the side so I can see your saddle better?  That is, I hope this is right ... Bok tolla ... uh ... yikka tol mi?"  <Nice armor, I see to paint?>

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Flitter let out a squeek and her wings jutted straight out as natively adorned pegasus ponies with spears appeared around her.  She hadn't even seen them coming!  They were practically out of nowhere!  She knew she shouldn't have been surprised, they were experts in moving thorugh this jungle, and her own perceptive abilities were mainly for spotting bugs, not potentially hostile mares.  But still!  Spears!

She wanted to fly away, but she didn't want to test those pegasus ponies with the spears.  She hazarded a nervous little smile to them as she floated back down to ground level, placing herself as far into the middle of the group as possible, where their magic could protect her - perhaps a little closer to the Guard and the Princess.  Bramble was very brave and all, but an alicorn and a trained guard felt much safer just now.

She listened in amazement as Bramble began to converse in their own native tongue, eyes wide.  Bramble was amazing!  No wonder he ... she ... was here!  She just smiled in her most winning, disarming, wide-eyed panicky manner, waiting for the more experienced ponies to take care of this.  Why ... why was she even here?  It was only thanks to Bramble that she was even along... as a scholar?  Bramble was a scholar.  To pick up bugs?  Maybe she was to be an assistant?  What would a real scholar do?  She'd ... she'd ... she could watch.  yes.  A proper scientist's first duty was to observe all the details, just like Bramble was doing with her... his ... her sketchbook.

So she sat back and observed with a scholar's eye.  And as her fear lost its manic edge, she started picking out some details.  Several of those spears were tipped not with stone, but with some sort of huge mandible... and those two pegasus ponies?  They had some chitinous shell piece worked in with the bamboo and vines of their armor!  By the Flame of Friendship, that had to be one GIANT bug they'd gathered those pieces from!

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Seeing a few of the amazon ponies approaching the cart made the Guard slightly nervous. Perhaps they were still in awe of the presence of an Alicorn in their midst but Silver didn't think it wise to let these mares get to close. She moved slowly but deliberately taking a stand beside the wagon in the typical guard posture, her head held up and eyes sharp and ready to react to anything... or in some cases seem un-phased by anything in the case of some annoying tourists. 

The silver coated mare wasn't willing to do anything too hasty so for now she settled into position, waiting in case they tried anything strange, "If you can understand me, I have to inform you not to approach the princess without her approval first."

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To Silver's defense no offense was ledged. They seemed more interested in keeping the alicorn from moving forward than pushing her back any, some of them clearly less comfortable with her presence than others. "We go where we must, Equestrian. Our land. Chuplal Holcanob land. No Equestria!" one of them said, to the nods of others.

Final Glory's impetuous little response was met with a stern gaze by the largest and eldest of the tribe, who turned to him swiftly. "Truce yes! tresspass, not! You not clear with us alicorn. Kurakola kon, great danger with them! Betrayal and hate, urrkino fordika. Why you come?" She turned back aggressively to Twilight, who seemed to go over the words for a moment before replying.

"I am here to study the magic of the Empress," she replied evenly.

"See. See. Cerica soo saaa, feih-sekn! We will allow, but you see jungle danger, and you survive or not be worthy of Chuplal Holcanob. Survive and be worthy of home at the second sun. Chuplal Holcanob! Home!" the leader spoke, but her eyes settled somewhere else. 

Bramble's side conversation had found a home in the ear of one of the younger looking mares. She looks a little unsettled by Bramble's approach, but starts to slowly unfold her wings to give him a better look at her side, all the while giving him a quizzical look. "Dissi kuri dee. Akalla mo bok. (This is strange. You speak well.)" the young mare replied in a subdued, sweet voice. "Khala!" The mare leapt in the air at the bellow of the leader, who saw this display and came over with venom in her tongue. "Mo bok? Ekwest su lu bok! (Speak well? Equestrians never speak well!) You, painter, no now. No right, daughter! Right, home at the second sun if survive! Chuplal, kuri!" She said.

As this scene unfolded, the tribesponies had started to vanish one by one until by the time she was finished speaking the only ones left were her and her daughter. With a nod, the two bounded into the brush. Moments later, not even their hoofsteps could be heard. Silence.

"Okay well, at least we know they aren't going to try and attack us. Let's go!" Twilight said with enthusiasm, trotting forward as if nothing had happened.

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Bramble was delighted - the mare understood him!  Her... whatever!  She must have gotten the pronunciation right!  She just hoped the vocab was correct.  Her quill bobbed over to the side to scribble down quick phoenetic notes on whatever the amazon was saying ... way too fast for her to follow.  She'd have to translate that after she was done sketching that armor.

But that idea got a hole in it as the larger mare flew in and fair snarled at the two of them.  What had they done wrong?  Bramble desperately scribbed down whatever it was she had said.  "What ... what just happened?" she asked of nopony in particular, as all the amazons retreated into the jungle...

 

Final Glory harumphed, and called after Princess Twilight, "Your Highness?  Your highness?  Are you sure you don't want an escort?  Oh, dear.  Be safe, your highness!"

 

Dizi kury dee. Akalla mo bok.  Akalla ti bok was 'you listen well'... mo bok... ti was 'you', bok was 'listen'. No, not quite.  ti was 'you to me'... mo was ... 'me to you'.  Reversing the verb, so ... you ... speak well?  Oh!  It was a compliment on speaking their language!  Bramble smiled happily, following along afterwards, flipping through the book to slowly translate the simple sentences.  Khala... what did Khala mean?  Was that her name?  The plants bent themselves out of Bramble's way as she absent-mindedly followed after the rest, her horn glowing green as she walked through the jungle without trouble, the jungle sealing itself up again behind her.

Oh dear.  It seems he got some poor young mare in trouble with her mother.  Painter, huh?  Well, he'd have to try again once they got to wherever they were going.  "Wow... that was really something!  I've never been on such an exciting scholarly expedition before!"  Truth be told, now that it was all over, her stomach was quailing and churning, and she just wanted to go home and hide under the bed... but she couldn't let any of the mares think of her as a coward.  Especially not Flitter, who was being so incredibly brave.  Was she even scared at all?  She'd just settled right into a careful position to watch everypony's back, as if she did this all the time.  And Bramble had just been distracted by sketching up some armor.  Ah, how embarrassing... ah well.

"So ... if I might ask, how do we know where we're going, Your Highness?"

 

 

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Flitter was extremely nervous, would these strange ponies from the jungle attack?  She had no training nor skill in combat.  She never even been in a fight, at least not one that involved weapons or anypony actually being seriously hurt, what would she do if things got bad?!?  Oh, how she really wished Cloudchaser was with her right now just so she could have somepony to hold to, but on the other hoof, she was just as glad her beau was safe at home and not in their current peril.

Listening to the conversation, Flitter had no clue what was being said, which made her feel more jittery.  At least the princess and Bramble appeared to speak their language and communication was happening.  The younger pony - just an older filly really - looked to be especially responsive, but Flitter was one step from panic flying when their leader started yelling angrily.  Just as suddenly as they appeared, the strange tribe melted back into the green canopy.  "Oh! Is it over?!"  Flitter looked around at the others, "it's over right?  I guess it is over?" Oh Celestia she hoped it was over!  Flitter was all for Final Glory's offered escort, but didn't want to speak out of turn.

Bramble seemed not to be worried.  He, er, she was already trekking into the dense canopy, using her magic to make all the vines and plants move aside to form a clear path, now that was a neat trick!    Such a brave stallion, er, mare!  Ugh.  Like it made a difference!  Not to Flitter at least, mare or stallion, Bramble was a friend, and was cute, and right now being incredibly brave to boot!  Well she wasn't going to be no coward, not with the pony who go generously sponsored her coming along on this research trip walking courageously forward!  Flitter quickly flew in behind her, keeping herself several feet above ground and close behind so not to get caught up in the canopy.

She kept close attention to Bramble, following wherever he, er she lead, and it was a good thing too!  As brave as the little purple unicorn was, she was also absentminded, more paying attention to her notes then what was in front of her.  In the nick of time Flitter swooped down lifted Bramble up for her forearms but only managed a couple feet, thanks to the latter's overly heavy saddle bags, not to mention her own.  "Urrrrghhh!  B-Bramble!  You almost walked, uff! right over the edge of that gouge into that *puff* river! Whoo....  This is harder than I thought!"  It wasn't a gorge, more of a small sheer drop off of some ten feet, and it wasn't so much a river as it was a babbling brook, but hey, she saved Bramble from some bumps and getting his, er her clothes all wet!!  

Well she hopes she could, or they could use the nearby rope bridge, but that wouldn't show how brave and helpful she could be!  "I can *nnnngh*  carry you across, if you *rrrrgh*, like!"

 

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Silver could only nodd curtly, He understood nothing of what was being said but he could tell that the locals weren't in danger of attacking so he simply stepped away. He stood in the usual guard pony stance to the princess's side and trotted off alongside her. It was clear that something might have been bothering him throughout this whole thing but rather than let anyone try and ask him about the hesitant look on his face as he followed the princess along, he just looked off to the jungle and cleared his throat.

"Miss Flitter, Miss Rose." The mare's voice was amplified by a bit of magic to be more attention grabbing; as evidenced by the lit up status of her horn, "Please Rejoin us as soon as possible. The princess would like to continue on."

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Twilight smiled at Bramble. Astute question from an astute pony! "Well, remember that detection spell? I could sense them massing up and leaving in one direction. I figure that is either the direction of where they live and thus where we need to head to anyway, or they are trying to lead us somewhere- in which case, also where we need to go. I figure that either way, we're just following them," she said quietly as she continued to walk through the brush. "How are you doing with translating their language? I had access to some sealed records, but you're doing it the hard way- very admirable, and helpful for the future," she said, continuing to push forward.

It was true that she had some advanced knowledge of this tribe but it wasn't much. Because of the events in them, she couldn't release that knowledge out to the public- it could prejudice Equestrians against tribals if they knew what happened. Not that it helped her that much. They had spoken rather plainly but even then they were almostat the tail end of her knowledge of their language. What Bramble was doing would go a long way to helping them, and by extension, helping Equestria. That was assuming that everything went to plan. Which was assuming that they weren't defeated by some jungle problem which, of course, were likely to be degrees worse than others.

While she thought about the many variables inherent in such a climate in regards to adventuring, situations developed. Well, not really situations. Flitter 'saved' Bramble from some drop and the groups got far enough apart that Silver felt the need to try and wrangle them. They weren't really that far away and Bramble's potential drop wasn't bad, but it was nice that everypony was so alert! You needed to be in a jungle environment, otherwise you could get caught up in the various indiginities and trials they offered freely. Twilight waited briefly for the three t get settled, and then continued on- time was of the essence.

It wasn't long until they found themselves walking through trees and brush much more densely packed than normal. Above them, strange webbing extended in the trees above, almost forming a covering, dark red in color and bathing the area below in an eerie red light as the sun reflected off the webbing. The spunds of the jungle- normally a wild cacophony of birds and animals big and small- were much quieter here. Very peculiar, but interesting! "What do you think?" she asked to nopony in particular.

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Bramble Rose let out a *whoof* as she was suddenly grabbed and lifted, the wind wooshing out of her, and nearly dropping her notes.  What was going on?!  Were they being attacked?

 

Her face turned bright red as she realized she'd almost walked right over the edge like a complete doofus.  Flitter must think she's the biggest idiot in Equestria just now... But that thought got distracted by the sudden lurch as Flitter dropped about a foot mid-air.  Which got Bramble VERY attentive to the drop down to the stones and the water and who-knew-what-was-in-the-water?  Like mare-eating fish that could strip the flesh from a pony in half a minute!  Or giant alligators!  Or were they crocodiles around these parts?  What was the difference between those again?  ANYWAY!  He didn't quite want Flitter flying him over the ravine and possibly dropping him.  Her.  But Bramble also knew how devastating it could be to have one's physical ability insulted.  How to decline politely?

 

Thankfully, Silver there was a perfect interruption.  "Ah, well, thank you for the offer, Flitter, but I'm afraid we need to listen to our security. We'd best back up a few meters and rejoin the princess up by the bridge.  We wouldn't want to be split up!"

 

Also thankfully, the path over the rickety rope bridge wasn't nearly as terrifying as it might have been.  Not with both Flitter and the Princess there to catch them in case the thing went out.  At least, that's what Bramble kept telling herself.  Repeatedly.  Not terrifying at all.

 

At any rate, the conversation with the Princess was nicely enlightening, but Bramble sighed at not being able to give a better answer.  "Regretfully, my research did not go so well.  I found some few early exploratory journals, and some very few late references to their language, but there were a score of referenced journals and histories in between that none of the libraries I contacted could locate.  It's like every reference to this place for a span of a decade or so was checked out and never returned, and they lost the records of who borrowed them.  There hasn't been any trips to here since then.  I can piece together a few simple phrases, and if I write it down, I can slowly translate it from my notes, but I'm nowhere near fluent yet."

 

It was the quieting jungle that really got Bramble's attention.  Bramble's father, Blue Agave, wasn't one of the finest (in Bramble's mind) Roving Rangers in Equestria for Bramble to not know what a quiet jungle meant.  "Um ... I believe, your highness, that this unnatural quiet means there are predators in the vicinity..." she said quietly.  "I suggest for us to gather together very carefully ... and ... perhaps consider taking an alternate route?"

 

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