The darkness of the passageway weighed heavily on Enchantment and Belle Star. It seemed almost as if it had a physical form that blocked even the magical light of Enchantment's luminous sphere. The passage itself was constructed of rounded fieldstone, not the fine cut blocks of the rest of the castle. The stones were cold and damp, as was the air.
"This tunnel seems to lead into the heart of the mountain, unless I've lost all sense of direction. And the construction is different from the castle. I wonder if it was built before or after? What do you think, Belle Star?"
"How would you build a secret passage behind the kitchen cupboard before you built the kitchen?"
Enchantment giggled. "The passage may not have always been secret. If it existed before the castle, the kitchen cupboard was just built over the opening. But why make it a secret? It looks like it would make a fine wine cellar."
"Oh, maybe there's something scary down there. Like a pony-eating monster."
"If it was something like that they would have blocked up the opening. The fact that there is a door suggests that there is something back here that someone would want access to."
"Like buried treasure?"
"I suppose that's possible, but if it's something that valuable there will probably be traps."
"T... traps. Uh, maybe we should go back."
"Aw, come on. We've come this far, we might as well see it through to the end. Besides, after the door closed behind us, I couldn't find any way to open it. We'll have to find another way out."
"You mean we could be trapped in here forever!"
"Don't worry. If it comes to that I'll just contact the Magus through magic and he can open the cupboard from the outside. Now, let's keep moving. I think I can see something up ahead."
The ponies soon found that the passage opened into a vast chamber. The darkness was less oppressive here. The illumination from Enchantment's spell reflected off the shimmering surface of hundreds of stalactites and stalagmites of a vast natural cavern.
Belle Star's eyes went wide with wonder. "It's so beautiful! Do you think this could be what they were hiding?"
"I don't think so. There are caves like this all over the isle, though this one is quite a sight. Look, there is a walkway cut into the wall. Maybe the passage continues on the other side. Watch your step, we don't want to be falling onto those stalagmites."
The walkway was polished smooth as if by many generations of hooves passing over it. The stone was thankfully dry, for the most part. As the pair of ponies neared the exit passage and were a third of the way around the cavern from the entrance, Belle Star slipped on a wet patch and, trying to regain her balance, grabbed Enchantment from behind. The two of them plummeted toward the cavern floor deep below.
"AAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Belle Star screamed in terror as they fell, not noticing their gradual deceleration and unexpectedly soft landing.
"You can stop screaming now. We're safe."
"Huh? Oh, how did that happen?"
"I was able to slow our fall with a levitation spell. Unfortunately it's not powerful enough to levitate us out of here."
"Not even one of us?"
"No, it can only levitate a pony or object up to three feet off the ground. We'll have to find an exit from down here."
As they made their way through the forest of stalagmites, guided by Enchantment's sphere of light which had followed them down from the ledge, Belle Star shuddered and huddled close to Enchantment. "I think I heard something; we're not alone down here!"
"Be quiet. I'll try a spell to see if anyone else is around. Mana of all creation, open my eyes, show me what lurks in shadow guise." A soft blue light appeared in the distance, and silhouetted against the illumination, three dark forms. "Guardian spirits!"
"Sort of like a magical booby-trap. Spirits that are bound to a place and will not let anyone pass unless they speak the proper password."
"And you do know what the password is, right?"
"It's different for every spirit; the wizard who casts the spell usually chooses a word that only he knows. But right now they are only following us. As long as we don't get too close to whatever they are guarding, they should leave us alone."
"So how do we know where not to go?"
"We don't. All we can do is proceed slowly and keep an eye on the spirits. If they start to act aggressively, we turn around."
"Okay, but why isn't there one over there?"
Enchantment looked in the direction that Belle Star was pointing and to her puzzlement there was no silhouetted spirit. "Ah, that's a good question. Let's see what's there. But be very careful."
The duo advanced slowly toward the gap in the spirit ring. The spirits moved with them, growing neither nearer or farther. Before long the cavern wall became visible before them; it was irregular and jagged.
"Oh! They're going to smash us against the rocks!"
"Calm down. I don't think they are going to hurt us. These aren't guardian spirits, they're spirit guides! They weren't trying to keep us away from anything, they were showing us the way to get out of here!"
"Way out? Where?"
"Look at the rock formations. They're like a ladder! Oh, thank you, kind spirits!"
Belle Star bowed deeply toward the spirits. "Oh yes. Thank you very much, honorable spirits."
Suddenly the chamber was filled with a soft, almost melodious, humming. The two ponies climbed carefully back to the walkway from which they had fallen and ended up right at the opening they had hoped would lead them out of this mysterious place. They proceeded into another passage identical to the first and followed it without mishap until the walls gave way to cold night air. The passage opened into a deep crevice on the mountainside and only a narrow bridge spanned the gap.
"Watch your step carefully, Belle; I don't think my levitate spell could save us here."
"Right. I'll be extra careful."
Much to Enchantment's relief, they made the crossing safely. The passage continued but sloped upward and curved around and back and forth.
Belle Star stumbled. "Oh, my tummy is grumbly. Is it breakfast time?"
"I think so. Too bad we didn't bring any of that pudding with us."
"Uh-huh. How much longer do you think it will be before we get out of here?"
"Uh, I don't know. When we get out, we get out."
"Can we rest for a while?"
"I guess so. For a while, anyway."
As the two ponies rested, they heard a mumbling voice coming from above. Soon they saw a light.
"What is it, Enchantment? Not more spirits, I hope!"
"Shhhh! We don't want whoever it is to hear us." Enchantment extinguished the light sphere, and the two ponies held their breaths and waited. Before long the light and the mumbling disappeared. After several moments Enchantment let out her breath. "Come on. Let's see where it went. And you can start breathing again."
Belle Star, who was turning blue, gasped for breath. "Oh, thank you."
When they reached the point in the passage where the light had disappeared, they found two doors, one on either side. A light shone through the crack below one door. Enchantment carefully placed her ear against the door and listened. She gasped in surprise. "Magus!"
Bells Star panicked. "Oh, be quiet or he will hear you!"
"That's okay! It's my teacher, the Magus."
The door swung open and Enchantment fell into the room. A short white pony with pink hair stood over her. "Oh, Enchantment, it's you. Who's your friend?"
Belle Star bowed. "I am Belle Star, Mr. Magus."
"It's nice to meet you, but what are you two doing here? I could have sworn I locked the door."
"Oh, well you see, we were looking for something to eat for a midnight snack and, well, this cupboard moved and there was a tunnel behind it..."
"The cupboard? How'd you open that? The sequence is so complex it took me a week to figure it out."
"Oh, I just opened doors until I accidentally pulled on a candle holder and it opened."
"Uh-huh. Interesting. So you made it past the cavern without incident?"
Enchantment shook her head. "Not exactly. We had a little run in with the spirit guides."
"Ah, them. Curious chaps. I haven't quite got them figured out. Well, at least you made it through alright. You did make it through alright, right? I mean there were only the two of you, right?"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Magus."
"Good. Well, since you're here, I might as well show you around."
As the Magus led Enchantment and Belle Star through the maze of chambers and passageways, he explained the history of the place. "These caverns and passages are rich with natural energy and were a sacred place for the ancient inhabitants of the Isle. When the castle was built, the court wizard had secret entrances constructed to give him access to the tunnels and their energy. Eventually the secret was forgotten; but while I was Jack-O-Lantern's apprentice, I rediscovered the secret passages and have been studying them ever since."
The tour ended as they passed through a sliding door into a room that was familiar to young Enchantment as the Magus' laboratory. Enchantment tried to notice how the Magus opened and closed the secret panel but could not see that he did anything.
Belle Star bowed to the Magus. "Thank you so much for showing us around, Mr. Magus."
"Oh, it was nothing; just let me know next time you're coming, and don't enter uninvited."
"Yes, we are very sorry for intruding."
"Well, there are many preparations to be made for the royal wedding and the day is wearing on. We should be on our way. Come on, Belle Star, I'll show you back to your room. Good day, Magus."
"Good day, ladies."
As the two ponies trotted off down the hall, Belle Star's stomach growled. "Oh, could we stop by the kitchen first and get some breakfast?"