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Loose Ends and Gates Ajar 2 (Open)


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"Wonder how Iggy and those STAR agents are doing." TT mused to herself, [i]"That old abandoned lab was rather decrepid, but there was still quite a bit of sellable stuff in there !
Those labs had equipment that could fetch quite a few bits.  And that automaton has many parts that researchers might be interested in.  Somepony could benefit from recycling and stripping down that place; whether it is a team from a 'secret' agency or some civilians, it matters not.

Do hope they returned those animate statues to their countries of origin, or at least to reputable museums.  Otherwise, we may have to track them down and deal with them ...."[/i] she mused to herself as she set out for the first of her destinations.

old hidden cave in Northern Solstice Heights, near source of Delamare River :

Tongue Twister squinted at the barely legible scrawlings on a rockface near the mouth of the cave.  It had once been used for storage during the construction of Canterlot Palace, but apparently they stirred up something, and so had to trap somethingin there.

The writings were in a lesser known variant of Northern Old Ponish, but one she'd studied way back in grad school.

She sighed as she rolled her eyes - they were a long winded description of a sealing spell some unicorn used to keep something contained deeper inside this exact cave long, long ago.

It specifically stated that the Threat would be contained for 'as long as the great and wondrous magiks of the wondrous and great unicorns flowed through the world'.
But for almost three days, there WAS no unicorn magic.

And since the writings were just a description of the binding spell and not the spell itself, it meant that something could have gotten out.

Extending a small bit of the alchemic mercury her wings were now composed of forward through her mane like a tentacle, she held a light crystal up as she carefully trotted deeper into the cave.

There was what looked like a gigantic smudge on the back walls.  It was all that remained of a spectral entity that no longer had the power to maintain its cohesiveness - it had 'died' of old age or 'starved' from lack of whatever energies it fed upon a very long time ago.

"Well, that's one less thing to worry about." TT noted to herself as she scribbled a note in her journal, then headed back out.

In the Well of Shade, the Hollow Shades

Keeping to the shadows, Tongue Twister looked up through the giant hole in the cavern's ceiling.  It used to be a standard well; now, it's a giant buckin' hole !

That was a rather common fate of most wells - given enough time, for any underground system, the ceiling will fall unless propped up somehow.

But this was NOT a natural collapse - the Elements of Harmony AND the Pillars of Equestria had battled the Pony of Shadows here, where he had retreated to recover his power.

This place had been designed to collect and store negative energy, because if the energy is stored here, it isn't somewhere else causing trouble.

The only problem was that if too much was collected, it could - and did - become a sentient entity.  An echo or projection of all those who supplied the energy.  Since most were ponies, the astral echo would be quite equine.  A morbid, dark and evil equine presence, but equine nonetheless.

But one that needed a host to actually be able to do anything or go anywhere.

The last time that happened was about a thousand years ago, and the Pillars with Starswirl dealt with it by tossing the Pony of Shadows and its host into limbo, taking all the energy with it.

Then the complex accumulated power for a millenium, ready to be taken if/when the Pony of Shadows was released.  Or some other fool stumbled in and fell for the entity's sales pitch.

The original host - Stygian - was returned to Equestria and took all that freshly accumulated power to try his luck against both the Elements AND the Pillars.

The host was seperated from the entity, which was then shoved into limbo once again.  Leaving this place completely drained. 



TT took out a small crystal sphere filled with equal amounts of clear and inky black fluids and gave it a shake.

The liquids seperated smoothly as small glints of light flickered and swirled in the dark half.

"Completely drained.  As expected." she noted to herself, before scribbling in her journal, then heading out one of the secret exits.  She figured it would take centuries or more for this place to recharge.  

Assuming, of course, it could stay intact that long.

Caverns beneath Mount Faba, Long Guo

Tongue Twister marveled at the scene before her - a pefect miniature of the First Emperor's city.  With flowing rivers of mercury.

It was the epitome of ancient spellwork and craftsqilinship.  A thing of pure beauty unseen by any mortal eyes for millenia.

"Too bad I can't tell anypony about this place !" she groused to herself as a slight wind picked up.

The air became cloudy, which then swirled into the ghostly form of a gigantic Longma.

"WHO DARES DEFILE THIS PLACE ?" it bellowed with a voice loud enough to rattle the walls before it glared down at Tongue Twister.

"Oh.  It is just you." it stated as it reverted to a Longma ghost of normal proportions.  "Looking to acquire King Faba's pearl ?"

"No."  TT replied, "That is for a Longma to find, not us."

"I do not recall any specific restriction on who is or is not worthy to receive it." the ghost stated, "The Worthy can use the pearl.  Do you believe you qualify ?"

"We didn't qualify the last five times we were here !" TT stated, "So WHY would we qualify now ?"

"I do not know." the ghost replied, "Have you done any legendary deeds since you were last here ?"


Both TT and the ghost started laughing at that joke.  Even the giant guardian statues animated for a few moments to enjoy some levity before resuming their eternal, silent vigil.

"You know that's not allowed !" TT replied (once she got her breathing under control), "Besides, the treasures of the Long Guo belong to the Long Guo.  Taking things that don't belong to you has always seemed wrong to us."

"And that wisdom is why you are allowed to even be in here." the ghost stated as he wiped a spectral tear from his ghostly eye, "So, WHY are you here ?  And why are you now a Many Who Are One ?"

TT sighed.  "Well, some time ago a pegasus filly used a ritual that came with minutes of permanently draining away all of Equestria's magic !  Since ancient unicorns banished and bound threats with magic, there was a chance that something might have gotten loose !  

Like, some of the horrors in here.

We've been checking a few accessible sites and, so far, nothing escaped."

"Ah.  So THAT'S what that was." the ghost replied solemnly before asking "Would you happen to know what the ritual was ?"

"From what we've heard, she gathered six ancient artifacts from the six allied nations - a helm from the yaks, Clover the Clever's cloak from the ponies, a talisman from the changelings, an amulet from the hippogriff/sea ponies, Grover's crown from the griffins, and a shell to summon a dragon to represent the dragons, we guess.
She put them in an arcane circle to dump all that power into the Void.  Came very, VERY close to removing all Equestrian magic permanently."


The ghost pondered a bit.  "If she was using those artifacts as foci, then only creatures symbolized by those artifacts would be drained.  Unaligned creatures would not be affected as badly, if at all."

"Well, THAT'S good to know !" TT remarked, "That means we don't have to check every site in the world; just mainly Equestrian ones.  And a few in Yakyakistan.  And Seaquestria.  Not exactly sure how we're going to do that last one ....

But we're sure the locals will notice something is up in time to do something about it."

"It is pleasing that you have a sense of your destiny." the ghost stated, "But you have not answered all my questions as of yet."

TT thought for a moment.  "Oh.  We had an extremely unpleasant encounter with an extremely unpleasant millenias old Fenghuang sorceress.  Tried to corrupt our mind, body and soul, just to see what would happens if you corrupt someone with a partitioned mind.  An experiment at OUR expense.

Our soul is balanced, so the influx of dark energy was rebalanced.

Our mind is like a jigsaw puzzle - no matter how many times it is blasted apart, we can always put it back together exactly as it was before.  More or less - the spell bonded to one of our shoulder angels.  As long as we keep the parts of ourselves seperate, we are fine.

Were we to fuse back together, we would be lost within our own, now MUCH greater darkness.

We can't do anything about the body alterations, but we were able to copy a bit of her hydrargentum spells.  We now have some special abilites, but the skies are lost to us !"

The ghost nodded forlornly, knowing what flying means to pegasi.

"Do you know the name of the sorceress that did this ?"

"Yes.  Hou Shuren.  Ever hear of her ?"


TT shrugged.  "Ah well, it was worth a shot."
Bleary-eyed, Tongue Twister trudged her way to the last place she had to check this month : the Ponyville Post Office.

She knew there was a slim chance that she'd get a response from the Devil's Business Card enchantment her dad set up for her, but a slim chance is better than none at all.

There was a response !  Somepony had sent a response to the Letter, and had need of her talents !

It was an archaeological dig on the coast of the Sparkling Sea, east of Wakr in Saddle Arabia.

Apparently somepony found some old ruins, inquired at a museum, and was setting up an expedition to figure out what is still there, and needed a linguist with experience.

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  • 3 months later...

Inside a meeting room of the Grand Canterlot Hotel :

After examining a map of the area, it turned out the 'coast of the Sparkling Sea, east of Wakr' site was on the EASTERN side of the Petite Desert, closer to Saddlelon than Wakr.  It was practically as far from Wakr as one could get while still being in Saddle Arabia !

When Tongue Twister inquired as to HOW anypony could be that bad at navigation, the younger of her potential employers told her it was a security measure to have any potential claim jumpers looking in the wrong spot.

TT shrugged and then began examining the artifact they'd brought in.

"This is the face of a sundial." TT stated to her potential employers as she looked over the large transparent oval stone with gold inlaid lines, "By the inscriptions, Second or Third Kingdom by the looks of it.  Extremely well preserved !  Where did you find it ?"

"About a few hundred meters from the shore of the Sparkling Sea." the elderly tan unicorn stallion stated, "The early Saddle Arabian empire was vast, and the Petite Desert is part of Saddle Arabia.  There should be quite a few temples and finds of great archaeological significance out there, just waiting to be discovered !"

"True enough." TT replied, "But that area is vast.  You could search for decades and spend millions of bits combing the area and not find anything."

"Yeah, that's what I told this old coot !" the younger peach unicorn stallion stated with a huff, "Why should anypony think there is anything valuable out there ?"

TT glared at the younger unicorn for a moment before collecting her thoughts.  "Well, the Saddle Arabians were - and still are - a very well organized nation.  A sundial of this size and quality would usually be found at the center of a medium sized village.  Or a transportation hub.  And given an object this size couldn't have been moved very far by normal winds and shifting sands, the rest of any ruins should be nearby."

"So there really is a chance of finding gold, gems, and valuable artifacts ?" the younger unicorn inquired with a bit too much glee for TT's tastes.

"More likely just a temporary village or a work camp." TT replied, "But given that undamaged sites that age are rare, there could be much more new knowledge available to learn !"

"But there could be uncounted riches there, right ?" he asked again.

"Yes.  But we won't know until we go there and search."

"So, how long would it take to set up an expedition ?" the senior unicorn asked.

"Hmmm.  Not long.  About two weeks to contact my contacts in the area to get supplies." TT noted, "Maybe a note to the Manehattan museum so any students that want or need to go on an actual dig for school credit to graduate can sign up.  And we need to send a request to the College of Antiquities, in Manephis.  So the locals know we're there.  And don't try to arrest us for tomb robbing."

"But then they might try to horn in on OUR discovery !" the younger exclaimed.

TT's left eye twitched a bit, before she face hoofed.  "It is THEIR country !" she replied, "Saddle Arabia is a seperate kingdom, and not part of Equestria !  They have every right to every thing in their OWN country !"

The younger unicorn grumbled, but went along with the plan since his eccentric uncle was totally on board.

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  • 1 month later...

On the beach of the Sparkling Sea, north east of Saddlelon

"What ARE you looking for ?" the younger unicorn stallion asked Tongue Twister with a bored tone, taking his attention from overseeing the workers taking stuff off the ship.


"A slight difference in plant life." she replied.  "Sand may cover everything, but if covers anything like non-local stone, minerals from the stone can alter the soil quality.  Which can alter what can grow there.  Or how fast or some other difference.

It is part of the Eternal Cycle.  Ponies build a city, and keep the sands of the desert away with constant work.

When the ponies leave, wind and sand bury everything.

Then, centuries or so later, conditions change and the winds blow the sand away, revealing the city again !

What was once revealed, becomes concealed; what was concealed is revealed.

And since the city was covered in sand, the preservation of the site can be surprising."

"That's all well and good, but how do such mystical musings help us ?" he inquired snidely.

"They can point out buried objects." she replied as she trotted over to a slight rise in the sand, that had a few scraggly plants on it.  More plants than the surrounding sands.
After a few moments of digging, her hooves hit stone.  With some digging, she revealed a rectangular column of what appeared to be marble.  Further digging revealed some stone tiles.

"Why are you digging in the dirt like an Earth pony ?" he asked, "I know a spell that can solve the problem readily !"

With that, he took a few steps forward, powered up his magic and cast "Sirocco !"

Winds began spiralling around his hooves, then whirled outward and upward, scouring the earth while hoisting cubic meters of sand directly into the air !

A few seconds later, the winds stopped and the sand fell well away from where he cast the spell.  There were no other ponies visible.

Until a small hill of sand started moving, and Tongue Twister dug her way out.  Soon followed by the dozen or so workers he'd hired.

"WHY DID YOU DO THAT ?!" TT asked as she shook sand off of her, "Excavations must be done properly !  

The placement of artifacts is important in interpreting the site !  Their location and depth can tell us quite a bit about what happened - and you may have just blown them all away !"

"A worthwhile risk." he smugly replied, tapping a hoof on a paving stone.

His spell had cleared a circle nearly fifty yards across, and had revealed an area paved with large, precisely cut stones.  There was a carefully constructed ring around the column that TT had uncovered earlier.

"Can you tell anything from this ?" the elder unicorn inquired.

TT lowered her head to get a closer look at the stonework.

"Hmm - carefully cut, but large, simple squares.  No fancy shapes or ornamentation.  Suggests a large but short-term project, taking up to one, maybe two years to complete.

This was a pre-staging area.  Material would be delivered by ship, then unloaded here to be accounted for, before being packaged for delivery to the worksite."

"Could they have been building a temple or tomb out here ?" the younger unicorn asked.

TT looked around a bit as she set up her surveying equipment.  "Those would be some of the few projects that would require this much setup."

"So  you're saying there could be an undiscovered tomb loaded with gold, jewels and artifacts somewhere nearby ?" he persisted.

TT sighed before answering "Yes.  That is the most likely option."

"Well, then I guess this wasn't a complete waste of our time and money after all." he replied in a condescending tone as he walked towards the tents that were being set up.

The elder unicorn ambled over to TT.  "I do apologize for my nephew's behavior Miss Twister." he stated, "He's always been fixated on money and getting more of it.  I honestly wonder if he can actually see the value of anything that can't be sold in a store for profit."

"Thank you sir.  We are quite familiar such views." she replied, recalling her mom's more than slightly criminal background and family, and her dad's Talent for seperating fools from their money.

"So, would this be considered a noteworthy find ?"

"Oh, MOST definitely !" TT replied, "This site alone could be written up in textbooks for generations to come !  Finding undisturbed sites with this degree of preservation is extremely rare !  And not much is known about this part of Saddle Arabia - everypony knows about Saddlelon and Pharoah's Vale because that's where the money and power were, but up until now there has been little interest in this region !

This - is an uprecendented view into a part of history unseen until now !"

"Good to know.  I shall leave you to your work then." he replied, grinning ear to ear.

A few hours later (after TT had photographed, measured and documented everything she could as a mortal being), she put the column she'd found back into the hole in the center of the ring.

"We wish you'd brought that sundial crystal you found on this expedition." TT stated to her employers, "We suspect it belongs on that pedestal."

"Why would we cart that heavy thing halfway across Equestria into the middle of a desert ?" the younger unicorn scoffed.

"It's in one of the trunks." his uncle replied, "I'll have it brought over here."

"WHY did you drag that thing all the way here ?!"

"So I can see it in its historical context."

The younger unicorn rubbed his forehead and sighed.  "Its 'historical context' was buried in sand thousands of years ago !  There is nothing more that could be learned by putting it back !"

Once the workers put the large crystal on the pedestal, the sunlight refracted inside it, casting a large circular pool of light with hour marking of shadow inside the circle of stones.

The biggest shadow indicated one mark past noon.

The younger unicorn looked at the illuminated clock, confused.

"It appears the Saddle Arabians weren't as smart as you think they were Miss Twister." he stated as he looked at his pocket watch, "That clock says it is one in the afternoon; it is nearly six !"

TT looked and, much to her chagrin, noted he was right.  Then she took out her compass to check something.

"Ah !  A sundial only gives the correct time if the gnomon points true north." she stated, "The stone is misaligned."

With that, she turned it until the black streak in the center of the stone pointed north.

New refractions cast a circle of text and two spots of light on a ring.

TT smiled broadly before stating "It says 'the measure to your site of labor is seventy six rods along this line.

Now get back to work !' "

After consulting her notes (and using a slide rule to convert the units), she placed the surveying equipment and lined it up with the spots of light.  There was an outcropping there, so she centered the equipment's view on that.

She then retrieved a chain precisely ten meters in length, and strolled ten meters away, exactly perpendicular to the sightline.

She set the equipment at that spot, and took another measure of the angle to the outcropping.

After a few moments of looking through the telescope and noting the calibrations, she asked her employers "Do you see that outcropping of stone in the distance, near the horizon ?  That is the worksite !"

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  • 4 weeks later...

Site : edge of the Petite Desert, Saddle Arabia

"Are you SURE you got your measures right, Miss Twister ?" the younger unicorn growled, " There is absolutely NOTHING out here by this giant outcropping of rock except this outcropping of rock !"

"Perhaps the Saddle Arabians didn't want anyone to find whatever they built out here." TT replied, "We still don't know exactly what project they were working on.  Could be a tomb for a king they wanted to forget.  Or a vault to contain something too dangerous to be in the world.  So hiding it makes sense."

"Or it could be like the underground city of Derinkuyu" the elder chipped in.

"Yes.  We suppose it could."

"Darrin Kuya who ?"

"Derinkuyu was an ancient city built underground." TT began, "It was inhabited - more or less - until a few centuries ago.  Had eighteen levels, and they estimated it could support around twenty THOUSAND ponies.  And you'd have difficulty knowing they were even there, given that the city was intended to be a sanctuary from the constant battles back then.

But an undertaking like that required two factors to be true : little to no rain, and volcanic tuff to dig into.
Care to guess what this outcropping is made of ?"
she finished with a smile.

The younger unicorn looked at the small hill - it was nearly two stories tall.  If it were hollowed out, several families could live in there in near complete secrecy.

"Okay, I'll admit there COULD be something here." he replied snidely, "But if the ancient Saddle Arabians didn't want it to be found, how are we supposed to find it ?"

"By looking and listening very carefully." TT replied as she started gently tapping on the hill, taking a few steps, then doing it again.

After about fifteen minutes, she found a spot that sounded different.  Careful examination revealed a seam - there was a hidden door big enough to let the average Saddle Arabian through.  And given that the average Saddle Arabian was nearly twice an Equestrian pony's height, it was one really big door !

It took some digging, a lot of rope and quite a bit of pulling, but they managed to wrest the door free.

Turned out it wasn't a door - the lack of hinges, a lock and a doorknob meant it was a plug meant to seal the entrance so no one could ever get inside.

At the end of long squeeze, the group entered a large perfectly hemispherical chamber over one story high.  The ceiling had stactites, and the floor was smooth tile set in a pattern of many concentric rings.

"This - doesn't make any sense !" TT noted, "No one tiles a floor like this !  The difficulty in cutting all those curves for a site that no one is ever supposed to see makes no sense !"

"Maybe there is something special about this site then." the younger unicorn stated as he wandered about inside, before stepping on a loose tile.

"Oh ho !  A secret door perhaps ?" he stated, before powering up his aura to lift it.

"WAIT !  DON'T MOVE THAT TILE !" TT yelled at him from outside the room, "It is most likely a trap !"

"Oh ?  How do you figure that ?" he asked in a condescending tone.

"You see those stalactites on the ceiling ?"

"Yes.  So ?"

"Stalactites only form in limestone caves, from the action of water over millions of years.
This room was carved a few thousand years ago in VOLCANIC rock. In a desert."

He thought about it a moment, then carefully backed out the chamber.

Once safely outside, he used his telekinesis to lift the stone - it was indeed a hinged circular door that blended in perfectly with the floor pattern.
But once lifted far enough, long spikes erupted from the centers of the other circles.

Then the 'stalactites' broke free, crashing down to crush anyone not impaled on the spikes.

Everypony sighed with relief, but TT could hear the faint sound of sand falling as flakes of some black substance fell from the ceiling.

"It's not done yet !" she exclaimed as a few laborers tried to get in; they backed out just before large, heavy spears were spring propelled from the ceiling to imbed in the stone floor (seems the stalactites were crafted to hide the chambers).

After a few tense minutes, she carefully went inside and looked around.  "That should be the last of the traps in here." she stated while examining one of the spears.  It was of the highest craftponyship, and not the least bit tarnished after a millenium or two.

Or dented or scratched from embedding itself an inch deep in solid stone !

She noticed a slight, oily discoloration along the blade - the darn thing was poisoned too !

"Well, they sure didn't want anyone in here !" TT noted to her elder employer, "We're not even inside the vault yet, and the traps tried to kill us five times already !"

"Wait !  FIVE times ?" the younger inquired, "I only counted three attempts !  The spikes from the floor.  The ceiling dropping.  The spring propelled spears.  That's three !"

"The spears were poisoned.  That's four."

"Not sure that counts as a seperate attempt.  But what's attempt five ?"

"We suspect those black flakes are what's left of an alchemical mixture after centuries of drying out.  We think it was supposed to be a mist.
Any pony have a glass and some water ?"

One of the workers found the requested items, and TT used some tweezers to place a single flake into the water.  The flake instantly dissolved, turning the water a pale slime green.

Thinking a moment, she placed an apple she had in her pack on the ground, then carefully poured the mixture on it.

The apple began to dissolve and melt into a puddle.

"Is that - alchahest ?!  The universal solvent ?" her elder employer asked.

"Almost.  Probably an incomplete formulation, meant to only dissolve organic materials.

Like skin, bone, blood, hair, paper, etc.

This formulation is very weak.  Probably a millenium beyond its expiration date.

All the traps would go off, then the victims would be dosed with alchahest and cleanly dissolved.  No corpses to stink up the place and attract scavengers.  Which might lead to the entrance being discovered.  And no real clues left behind.

This was a very neat and tidy death trap !"

"Well, I'm SO glad you approve !" the younger employer snarked, "How can you be so casual about all this ?"

"We've been doing this for years." TT replied with a shrug, "This is towards the higher end of security that we've seen though.  On a scale of one to five, this is about a four.  Most vaults rate about three, maybe three and a half.

But, then again, this is just the entrance.  We suspect there might be more and even worse traps inside the vault proper." she continued as she wrote all this down in her journal.

"This might make a great dungeon for an O & O adventure !  But we'd really need to tone it down ..."

"So where is the vault all these traps were protecting ?" the elder employer asked.

"Probably down that shaft." TT replied as she pointed to the door the other employer had opened.  The door was covering a shaft wide enough for two ponies to barely squeeze in - but it was completely filled with sand !

The younger employer groaned.  "It's going to take days to dig all that sand out of there !"

"At least." TT replied. "That is a standard blocking technique though.  They worked from the inside out, blocking the way in as they went.  Thus the entrance is the last way out, and the last thing to be blocked.

Be thankful that it is just sand - some pyramids have their hallways blocked off with massive granite or basalt blocks three or more meters thick !"

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  • 2 months later...

Two days later

TT was writing down all the measurements she'd taken in her journal, and organizing the rolls of film she'd taken (to be developed later when she had the equipment and time to do it right.

The other workers were pulling out buckets full of sand - the quarters were too tight to take more than a little at a time.  It was a primitive measure to ensure ponies would have a really hard time reaching the vault proper, but an extremely cheap and effective one.

She noted the laborer's safety line on the floor.  Not tied to anything.

TT sighed.  She warned them there might be more traps, but no pony seemed to listen.

Suddenly, the worker at the bottom of the shaft screamed, and his safely line began rushing down the hole !  TT just mananged to grab it with her teeth and brace herself for the slide - hooves don't get much purchase on polished stone floors.

She managed to catch herself at the lip of the shaft and hold on for a few moments for help to arrive.

"What happened ?" she asked the fortunate worker once he'd been pulled up.

"I don't know !" he replied while still catching his breath from the fright, "I just relayed up another bucket of sand, then the floor fell away !"

Tongue Twister turned on her lamp and tried to look down the shaft.  She didn't see the bottom where it should be.

So she rummaged through her satchel and pulled out a flash grenade.  She centered it in the shaft, then let it fall as she began counting.
One second.  Two seconds.  Three seconds.  Four seconds.  Five  - then a flash of light.

"Hmm.  Distance roughs out to sixteen feet times seconds, squared.  Sixteen times twenty five is four hundred feet.  More or less." she stated, "The safety rope was only a hundred feet."

"So ?" her younger employer asked.

"It was another trap." TT replied, "A drop shaft at the bottom of the access shaft.  Any worker not tied off would have fallen three hundred feet.
We wonder if the bottom of the trap is just sand, stone, a pool of acid, or has metal spikes ..."

"WHY do you want to know that ?!"

"Morbid curiosity." TT replied as she scribbled a few more sentences into her journal.

"I thought you were an expert at this sort of thing !"  another laborer stated, "You OBVIOUSLY missed a trap !"

Tongue Twister glared at him.  "Did we ?  Why do you think we insisted on everypony going down the shaft to dig wear a safety tether ?  Floor collapses are very common, even if they weren't a purpose-built trap !"

Her employers glanced at each other before the elder spoke up "Perhaps you should investigate the site further ?  Ensure there are no other traps ?"

"Well, that is what you hired us for.  Be right back." she replied as she jogged outside, to return a few moments later with a large rectangular suitcase.

She opened it.  Inside were two crystal balls on a velvet pillow - one bigger than a pony's head, the other the size of an orange.  Both had one half painted flat black.
She took the smaller one in hoof and held it aloft, moving it around while watching the scene in the larger crystal.  It was displaying what the smaller crystal 'saw'.

"A remote viewing crystal set ?" the elder employer asked, "Didn't know there was such a thing."

"Well, it's a moderately difficult spell, with exacting material components." TT replied, "It's a niche item, so not many ponies would know about it." she continued as she put on a pith helmet, then carefully stuck the smaller crystal into a clamp mounted on the helmet.

She lit up an illumination crystal and carefully rappelled down the shaft.

About a hundred feet down, she encountered a ring of stones where the floor used to be.  There were deep alcoves opposite each other.

The one to the back just had old ropes and the dusty remains of chisels and hammers partially buried in sand.

The other alcove led to a pair of doors made from a pale greenish-gold metal.
The doors were sealed with a pair of thick bars going through a gigantic disk.
There was a symbol on the disk.
Her employers yelled down to her, asking if she knew what that symbol was.
She climbed back up to tell them.

It was the sigil of the Unnamed God, Keeper of Secrets and Mysteries.  The ultimate 'DO NOT ENTER !' sign.

"There must be something really valuable down there !" her younger employer stated with a flicker of greed in his eyes, "Why else go through all this trouble ?"

"To protect ponies from something dangerous." TT replied, "A vault can hold many things.  Sometimes, it's riches.  Other times, it's death and misery."

"A vault, you say ?" he asked as he mused about riches beyond imagination.

"Yes, a vault !" TT answered.  "Most constructions like this are either tombs, temples, or vaults.  Temples are places constructed for worship.  As such, usually every square inch is decorated with iconography.   There is no sign of that here.

A tomb is the final resting place of some creature's body.  As such, they are usually decorated with stories of the entombed one's life, prayers to the dead and so forth.  There is no sign of that here.

That leaves vault." she continued, "A place to keep very valuable or very dangerous things.  Although at this point it's hard to tell which it is."

The younger employer sighed.  "Daring Doo never had to deal with stuff like this !"

Both Tongue Twister and the older employer sighed.

"I keep telling you that those Daring Doo stories aren't real !" the elder said.

"Well, that's not entirely true." TT replied, "We've spent most of our career studying the languages of the Tenochtitlan basin.  Many of the places in those books exist.  So did many of the artifacts.  We've seen them, but had the sense to leave them alone.  Since, you know, they don't belong to us !

The  point isn't that the stories are made up or overly exagerrated - it's that Daring Doo isn't an archaeologist.  She's an adventurer.  A completely different thing !"

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  • 2 months later...

"Well, any ideas about how to get past that seal ?" her younger employer inquired after TT had been investigating an instant photo of the seal for a few minutes.

"Despite its immense size, it's just a cylinder lock." she replied, "The key used to fit in that triangular recess right there.
But they broke the key off inside the lock !  To ensure any tomb robbers would have a difficult time proceeding further."

Her elder employer mused for a bit.  "You say it's just a cylinder lock ?  Meaning that if the cylinder the lock fit inside could be turned, the lock would open ?"

"Yes." she replied, "But getting enough leverage to turn the cylinder in such cramped space will be rather difficult !"

"Well, if all that is required is simply turning a cylinder, we should have enough unicorns to do the job." the younger employer stated.

"Ah.  Good point." TT stated, before asking how far away they could stand and still do the job.

Turned out that, with enough lighting, they could all see down to the alcove and just make out the lock.

"Do you suspect yet another trap ?" the younger employer inquired as she was still snooping around that seal.

"This would be the perfect place for one." TT replied as she retrieved a tool she bought from a dentist friend  - a small mirror on a short, thin rod.  Just the thing to look behind close or tight corners.

"Yep.  One more trap." she stated after a few more moments of checking.  "There are four very large springs behind this seal.  As soon as it's opened, the restraining bars retract, and the springs shove the seal violently forward, shoving anypony standing in the way either down the shaft, or crushing them into the opposite wall.


Once safely on the surface, she stood back while the unicorns in the group focused on turning that cylinder.

After a few moments of turning the cylinder with great difficulty, the trap activated, slamming the gigantic metal seal into the opposite wall with enough force to make the ponies topside wobble a bit.

Tongue Twister was listening, waiting to hear the sound of the the seal falling into the pit; but all got quiet once the echoes died down.

Looking down the shaft showed the seal was embedded in the wall.  True, the stone was one of the softest stones, but it was still stone.

She headed back down the shaft, and into the alcove where the warning seal used to be.

There were four holes on the back wall where the springs powering the trap used to be, and on the ceiling a crack just big enough for a pony to fit inside.

"That would be the way to the vault."  TT stated, "In order to find the way in, you have to set off the main trap."

She investigated a bit, and found the route was truly horrible - the shaft was just barely wide enough for a pony to squeeze through, without a millimeter to spare.

No room to flap wings.  


Or even turn around.

And since it meandered in slow curves, there was no way to see what was ahead, so no way to teleport.

No way to tell where an unexpected sound came from.  


Or what made it.  


Or how badly echoes are altered - a gust of wind could sound like breathing right behind  you.

No way of knowing how far the shaft went; could be in there for minutes or hours.

And with no light, it would be home to any number of spiders, scorpions, centipedes, snakes, or other vermin ready to scamper unseen over your hooves.  


Or drop on you.

There don't need to be any traps in the tunnel, since the intruder's own instincts, paranoia and claustrophobia are the traps.  The tunnel will give you the willies so badly that no one would willingly venture into it.

"You going to have enough room to use a light crystal or a safety line in there ?" the elder employer asked, looking to Tongue Twister.

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  • 1 month later...

TT thought for a bit.  "Yeah.  We can just stick a light crystal on the front of a helmet.  That should do.  Always has before.


But there's no way to trail a safety line.  So somepony's got to squeeze through the crevice to the end."


"That somepony would be you." the younger employer stated, "That IS what you were hired for, is it not ?"


TT glared at him for a moment.  "Yes, it is.  And being the most experienced with this sort of thing points to us going in as well."


She thought for a bit.  "If we're not back two hours from now, carefully search for us." she stated, before heading in.


One hour forty two minutes later :


"By the seventh Ring of Raggador, that was HORRIBLE !" Tongue Twister exclaimed as she wobbled into the camp, quite dirty and roughed up.


"Did you find a way through ?" the elder employer asked.


"Yes." she replied. "And fortunately, nopony else will have to go through that !" she exclaimed as she pulled out a piece of chalk.  "Behold !  The Villain's Shortcut !" she stated before whirling once counterclockwise, drawing a perfect circle.  Then repeating the action to make a smaller circle inside the previous one. Then drew a few arcane symbols at various points.


The elder employer tilted his head at the circles and asked "A thaumaturgic circle ?  Where did a pegasus like you learn something like that ?"


"We're a linguist." TT replied, "We study ancient languages.  Ancient folk wrote about a lot of subjects.  Many different cultures had many different ways of using magic.


And our dad is a curio merchant that likes to collect strange items and bizarre spells.  So we grew up around oddball and forgotten magic."


With that, she rummaged inside her vest and pulled out a large glowing crystal, and placed it on one of the symbols.


Then reared back and crushed it into dust, causing the rings and symbols to glow.


"That gem must have been worth a thousand bits !" the younger employer shrieked.


"Fifteen hundred actually."


"And you DESTROYED IT ?!"




"WHY ?!"


"To activate the transport circles." Tongue Twister replied, "All types of magic have advantages and disadvantages.


The First Magics were versatile you could do virtually anything you could imagine, as long as the results could be sufficiently defined.


The disadvantages are the magic is inefficient, slow, and rather expensive.


For somepony that needs to use magic several times a day, it's not worth using that style of magic.


But, for normal shlubs that only need a special effect once or twice a year at most, it is, well, adequate."


"Was it truly worth the expense to avoid the crevices ?"


"We'll let you decide that for yourself !" TT stated with a smug grin as she walked forward, hopped up into the circle while pulling her hooves together, then 'VOOP !'.  She dropped through the ground.


A few moments later, she and her employers were in a large cavern the size of a buckball field, dimly lit with illumination crystals.  The only things in the room were a heavy ornate door in the middle of the wall, the twin of the transport circle TT drew, and two other larger transport circles at each side.


"This is a staging area." TT stated as more workers vooped in, "Constructed so workers and equipment could get here without the massive hindrance and delay of the fissure path.  Those two other circles were drawn a few millenia ago.  Transport circles only work in pairs; one here, the other on the surface.  Once work was done in here, all they'd have to do is destroy the matching circles topside, and there is no other way in except the hard way."


Her employers looked about.  "What were they protecting that needed this much effort ?" the elder inquired.


"Not sure.  The way to the ACTUAL vault is through those doors."  TT replied.


"Wait - the ACTUAL VAULT ?!" the younger shrieked, "Then what is all of what we've gone through ?"


"The outer perimeter of defenses." TT replied, "The actual vault is the standard cut and dressed stone architecture common to the era."


With that, the group opened the door and went inside.


It was a small landing with a narrow ledge on this side of a large pool of bubbling, glowing green slime that was brighter than daylight.


On the opposite side was another landing, with what looked like huge piles of golden coins and treasures on each side of a door.  Above the door acting like a billboard was a dark blue rectangle with gold hieroglyphs, which couldn't be read due to the glare and sheer distance.


"Manaluxia algae."  TT noted. "Instead of using sunlight like normal plants, it uses ambient mana.  The visible light is essentially just a waste product."


"Is is dangerous ?" a worker asked, grimacing at the smell that just wafted from the pool.


"Not exactly." TT replied, "The algae grows a very thick, slimy coating of mucus around itself.  Swimming in it is even more unpleasant than you'd care to imagine.  It is very tiring, and with the glow coming from all directions, it becomes hard to tell which way is up.  You couldn't see more than a fraction of an inch before your eyes in there.


The slime is also mildly digestive." she continued, "You'll develop a rash a few days after exposure.  And most of your fur will weaken and fall out.  It's not deadly, but very, VERY annoying to deal with.


So try to NOT spend any time in the slime pool if you can help it."


The younger employer looked confused for a moment.  "You said the light it emits is just a waste product.  But to get a glow this bright ..."


"Yep.  We're facing major league magical power." TT interrrupted.

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