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Into The Deep

by BBWolf

Cross Stitch growled gruffly as he clung tightly to the climbing pick that was his only purchase against the raging waters. This wasn't his first time in such a situation. He was an adventurer after all. It was his own fault really. Growing up he had read about all the great adventure ponies. Daring Do, Snap Shutter, you name it and he had read it. This was why he now clung on the precipice of his greatest discovery yet as desperately as he clung to his last life line. He thought back on the day that had led to this point as he slowly climbed his way back up through the rushing water.

She had shown up that day as cheerful as ever much to his dismay. Cheery Blossom, the bouncy pink changeling brimming with laughter and joy as always. He never understood that about her. As long as anyone had known her she had been stuck in pony form unable to change shapes in the slightest. Only her Changeling eyes remained as proof of what she really was. If that wasn't enough they were in the middle of a battle for their lives. Ever since the Nightmare Six had risen to power no one had been safe.

His first inclination at the sight of her bouncing pink form had been to walk away. She was the complete opposite of himself much to his chagrin. He wore dark clothes a great adventurers hat that constantly framed his brooding face, and kept to the dark as much as possible. It was like mixing oil and water when she showed up. But the puzzle she spoke of.... perhaps that would be enough of a bonding agent to make her presence bearable.

One of the oldest tales in Hoofs Hallow spoke of an ancient garden outside city limits. Supposedly it contained the threshold of power. However, it was in Queen Rarities territory. She had gone mad as much as the others when the nightmare's took over. She was often considered the most dangerous due to her obsession with beauty. He still shivered when he thought about the last pony she got her hands on who hadn't met her beauty requirements. They were pulling sequins out of his mane for weeks. He apparently still saw them in his dreams to this day according to Luna.

Luckily Cheery Blossom had found a tunnel that lead directly to the garden. It hadn't taken very long to convince Cross Stitch to go despite his dour attitude. Puzzles, exploration, and hidden treasures. Sure who wouldn't go. Besides they needed to find the elements of harmony if they ever had a hope of redeeming the Nightmare Six. The rest of Cheery Blossoms' group was out today, so Cross Stitch was glad to only have to deal with one of the new kids even if it was his least favorite from their group.

“And then there was a giant waterfall going whoosh! I almost didn't make it out of the pipe in time. Luckily I bounced out of there just fast enough to catch a nearby tree. But I sadly wasn't fast enough to get...” She had been talking non stop since they had left Hoofs Hollow, but thankfully she managed to stay quiet for a short time when he glanced around nervously and shushed her as he did now. Typically he just enjoyed the brief silence while she tried to decide if the danger had passed or not, but this time he needed answers.

“Were their gears, or levers of any sort?” He whispered in a hushed tone, hoping shed think there was still a need to be quiet.

“YEP YEP YEP!” He winced simultaneously at the volume mixed with old memories as Cheery bounced faster with each obnoxious yep. He was trying to be nice but she really wasn't making it easy. Why couldn't everyone be serious like he was.

“Great. That will hopefully make things easier. I've got plenty of gadgets and curios to get us past any traps. We'll have The threshold of power in our hands by midnight. Hopefully it will be enough for Luna to re-power the shields over Hoofs Hallow.”

“YEP YE...”

“NO! By Luna's grace please don't say that again today.”

“OkiDokiLoki!” Now why did that line sound familiar he wondered briefly, but shook his head in abject annoyance. Cross Stitch grumbled under his breath instead as he pulled out various gadgets and curios to examine the pipes that now loomed before them. The magical curios glowed softly and buzzed as they scanned the area.

“What's a curio?” Cheery asked as Cross put it away.

“No idea, but I have lot of them and they get the job done.”

“Don't you ever get curious about why?” She tilted her head sideways like a confused puppy dog as Cross rather unsuccessfully tried to derail the conversation.

“No not really. I mostly just care about the adventure. All the smarty pants stuff can be left to the egg heads in the research facility.” He sighed softly before grinning as a loud clunk reverberated through the tunnel and a new pipe opened up before them.

“OOOOOH! ADVENTURE!” Cheery Blossom Squealed excitedly as she rushed through the new opening. Cross Stitch cursed beneath his breath as he followed her through before the entrance closed shut again.

His awe and shock showed as plainly on his face as the smile plastered across the bouncing changelings face. Before them massive waterfalls crushed into the rocks below as streams passed from pool to pool. Cross tested his wings to quickly find the wind created by the plethora of waterfalls was to much for him to fly across. He sat briefly to examine this new puzzle before them as he looked over the streams and waterfalls. They went various seemingly random directions, with some leading to pools of water while others led directly into solid rock. Clearly the had to pick the right route if they wanted to make it through alive.

“WEEEEEE!!!!” His thoughts were suddenly interrupted as Cheery Blossom leapt into a nearby stream and was swiftly carried away.

“Cheery!” His eyes quickly followed the stream but couldn't find its end point. He stared curiously at the water as it rapidly rushed towards his face. “Eh?” A quick examination of his thoughts made him realize he had leapt in after her, and he briefly wondered why before he found himself swimming for his own life.

Water rushed around him battering him like an angry herd of buffalo as he gasped for air between coughs and sputters as he fought to keep above water.

“Got you!” Cross scowled at the laughing Cheery as he finally caught up and grabbed her to pull her back to safety.

“Oooooh pretty!” Cheery pointed towards the coming waterfall as it quickly pulled them closer. The mists created a kaleidoscope of colors as the lights from the garden above passed through. Cross panicked briefly as he realized they didn't have time to swim for safety. Years of training and adventures kicked in suddenly snapping him out of his shock as he yanked out a climbing pick with his teeth and slammed it into the wall below as they fell off the edge of the waterfall.

“Muh hght!” He grunted out through gritted teeth as his hat was ripped away by the waterfall.”

“What? Oh hey you lost your hat!” Her eyes widened as she looked at his now hat-less head for the first time. “You have a horn!”

Cross grunted angrily as he cast the first spell that came to mind before darkness took over and he passed out.

A gentle, melodic tune hung on the air as Cross Stitch slowly came to. Cheery Blossom was absent mindedly playing with his hat as she hummed softly.

“You should never touch a mans hat you know.” Cross stood on wobbly legs as he spoke walking over to yank his hat away and put it back in its rightful place to hide his horn.

“Why do you hide it?” She tilted her head to the side again in that way Cross was quickly beginning to see was a habit of hers. He wanted to yell at her, to scream and throw a fit. But she didn't deserve it. She was just trying to help.

“My father is King Sombra.” He frowned as he thought about his past and what he had had to deal with because of it. “In the reality I come from he was a very evil man consumed by greed and anger as the shadow magic took him over. It's not something I'm proud of. I'm stuck being a monster all because of who my father was.”

“You know. The scars of your past don't define you. You do. You aren't defined by your father, or your shadow magic. Being yourself is a miracle stronger than any magic. No one else can decide that for you. You have to spend some time convincing yourself you're worthwhile. Because you are worth what you convince yourself to be, not what others tell you to be.” Cheery Blossom smiled with that squeaky noise that normally annoyed Cross Stitch as his mouth hung open in utter shock. He was surprised by the incredibly wise words she had just told him, and for once he thought maybe she wasn't so annoying after all.

“Besides you saved us with you magic, so how could you be a monster silly? Unless you like cookies.... ooh wait do you have cookies!” Never mind, she was still as annoying as usual. He had saved them now he thought about it. It had been a shadow teleportation spell taking them to the nearest safe shadows it could reach. They were deeper now after all. Strangely the garden still reached down here as plants covered the walls ceiling and floors in equal measure. They had somehow made it past the dangerous water puzzle thanks to his magic, but was it far enough?

“Hey Cheery what was that tune you were humming?” It had sounded oddly familiar for some reason and he couldn't place it much to his annoyance.

“Oh that was the song about the threshold of power.” She grinned excitedly before singing it out loud.

“Through water's gates. And Laughter's cry, shadows wait in gardens heart. Friendships lost brought back again, in memories youth will magic reign. True magic lost but found again, claim the threshold of power before all is lost.”

Cross smiled softly as he so rarely did as the song sparked old memories of his mother sharing tales of old before the nightmares reigned over this world. It had been so long he had forgotten why it was called the threshold of power, but so far it seemed they had everything to find it. Laughter, a solved water puzzle, memories of youth. The shadows he figured was talking about the depths of the garden where shadows seemed to be everywhere, if not he had enough shadows to bring to the front. As for friendship, he glanced over at Cheery Blossom who was bouncing like a Pogo stick again and sighed. After their whole conversation about his horn he realized she just wanted to see her friends happy. Maybe just maybe they could actually be friends if he just gave it a chance.

“So what do you say we finish this thing and go find the so called threshold of power?”

“Okidokiloki!” She shouted excitedly before bouncing off down the tunnel with Cross quickly following behind.