“Shoot me! Shoot me!” the bright yellow mare giggled wildly as she struck various poses in front of the video camera her friend, Asta, was holding. A mountain peak soared in the background of the dry plateau the would-be model pranced around on.
“I’m shooting! Calm down!” the peach-colored unicorn retorted from behind the viewfinder.
“Mitzi! Asta! I thought I told you to get that footage ready to mail to the studio!” a reprimanding voice came from a nearby parked vehicle. It was the voice of Haiku, who for all practical purposes was the manager of their little entourage. She sat in the front seat, scribbling out more reminders for the coming days.
“Yeah,” Asta said, lowering the camera, “enough fooling around, Mitzi.”
“Ooooh!” Mitzi was undoubtably about to voice a protest when another figure came on the scene. “Hey, Psyche! Hi!”
The sky-blue pegasus raised a suspicious eyebrow as she surveyed the scene. “What are you guys doing with my camera?” As the technical-minded of the crew, Psyche was the only one able to release the full potential of the video camera and didn’t fully trust anyone else handling it.
Asta lowered her gaze and relinquished the camera to Psyche. “Mitzi talked me into it.”
“I was modeling,” Mitzi embellished on Asta’s explanation. “Hey, let’s play back the tape!” Enthusiastically, she jammed her hoof down across the row of buttons. Psyche only rolled her eyes at her friend’s impulsiveness while the camera proceeded to make strange whirring noises.
“Oh my gosh, I think I just pressed the tape destruction button!” Mitzi gasped, wide-eyed.
“Mitzi, there is no tape destruction button,” Asta said rationally.
“Well, then how do you explain it going crazy like this?” Mitzi pointed out with a superior air.
“You pressed rewind and fast forward simultaneously and it ate the tape,” Psyche explained, extracting the cassette and mangled film.
“Ohhh! Cool!” Mitzi marveled at the fete she had accomplished.
Meanwhile Haiku was muttering something along the lines of having to do everything herself after she had thrown down her notepad and was putting together the package herself. Psyche appeased Mitzi by restoring the tape as best she could and allowing her to watch the somewhat-damaged modeling video on the tiny built-in screen.
“Hey, girls, I thought we were here to be filming me!” A stallion appeared over the rise, grinning good-naturedly.
“Cazador!” came the shriek of four simultaneous voices as the girls all dropped their respective tasks and ran to greet their hero.
Cazador took all their adoration in stride. He threw his forelegs around them all and laughed out loud at what a great life he had.
Cazador had, for some time, been a bigfoot hunter wannabe. He had finally run one to ground in the Dark Forest last year; the dedicated hunter wasn’t able to capture the specimen as he had hoped, but he did get a lot of great footage of Tiny the Bigfoot. After some difficulties the two had arranged a truce; Cazador gave up his pursuit of Tiny, but the footage did give him instant fame in the entertainment community. Now he was the Bigfoot Hunter, with his own TV show and adoring fans, not to mention his four intensely loyal groupies who followed him everywhere and took care of all his needs! Yes, life was good.
“Well, anyway,” he said briskly, taking charge of the situation. “I’ve located the pack of rockdogs. They’ve congregated just a little ways down that ravine over there. Shall we go?”
“Yay!” the girls cheered, gathering up their supplies. “Everybody in the car!” Haiku said authoritatively, jumping into the driver’s seat. Soon they were off.
“We’ll stop here and walk the rest of the way,” Cazador decided and Haiku screeched to a halt. “I’m not sure how easily they startle.”
“What are rockdogs, anyway?” Mitzi wanted to know. “I’ve never seen one before.”
“Oh, Mitzi, don’t you remember anything?” Psyche chided. “Cazador briefed us on them before. They’re- ”
“Well, Mitzi,” Cazador broke-in, never giving up an opportunity to show off his superior knowledge, “rockdogs are from the canine family with bodies covered in a thick layer of a concreted mass of stony material. They resemble a bulldog but are much larger, nearly three times the size of a pony! In addition- ”
“Look! There they are!” Asta exclaimed, pointing ahead. A pack of about ten rockdogs were lounging around in the afternoon sun. Some were lolling on their backs, others napping in more dignified positions. None of them appeared to suspect the presence of intruders in their midst.
“All right!” Cazador ran ahead. “Start rolling film, Psyche!”
“Ready!” Psyche shouted back.
Cazador assumed a confident pose in front of the pack and started speaking to the camera. “We’re here in the barren wasteland at the base of the Purple Mountains. This area is riddled with legends; but with creatures as fantastic as the rockdogs in residence, who can wonder at this! Rockdogs used to be quite common; but in recent times they’ve been pushed back, and this is one of their few remaining outposts.” He advanced closer to one of the rockdogs and started patting it on the head. “Legend holds that the rockdogs were created by some mountain spirit dude long ago. The ancestor of all of today’s rockdogs is held in myth to be a certain Crunch the rockdog, the first one created by this mountain guy. Of course this is all just fanciful thinking, but it makes a good story, anyway!”
The rockdog he had his hoof on opened an eye and began growling deeply as he realized there was an intruder. “You can tell this one here is the leader of the pack,” Cazador went on, blissfully unaware of any danger, “due to his larger size. As leader, the others defer to his judgement, and also allow him larger portions of the kills they make. Just look at his strong, thick hide! But remember, folks, if you anger them, these guys can turn you into stone! So you really don’t want to go after any rock dogs unless you know what you’re doing!”
The leader of the pack proceeded to stand up and barked a warning behind him to the others. They were instantly at the alert and began advancing on Cazador.
“Great, Cazador! Just keep going!” Psyche cheered him on.
“Ah... right. So anyway, the hides of the rockdogs are composed of thick deposits of igneous rock. Since stone isn’t much of a fashion statement yet, they’re not in any danger of being hunted for their skins... heh... heh...”
Cazador started to look visibly nervous as the dogs came closer. At a menacingly growl from the leader, the nearest rockdog snarled and made a move to leap upon the Bigfoot Hunter. This was too much for even Cazador. He ran away, screaming. “Ahhhhhh!!! Somebody save me!!!” The rockdogs obligingly gave chase.
“Cazador! Your sword!” Asta shouted as he made no move to defend himself.
“Oh... right!” Cazador suddenly turned around to face the rampant rockdogs and pulled out, as if from nowhere, a really cool sword! At seeing the steel drawn in their faces, the rockdogs looked at each other as if determining if it was worth risking themselves on a guy with a sword.
“Hah-hah! You’re chicken, aren’t you!” Cazador gloated, seeing their indecision. The girls took the momentary opening to move in closer to ensure they had clear footage. But before either side could make another move, suddenly the ground beneath them started shaking and a deep, rumbly voice came from, it seemed, inside the mountain.
“Who disturbs my rockdogs?!” the voice demanded in an angered tone. All the ponies looked around in alarm. Who was it?
“Hmm... interesting,” Cazador said, nonplused. “What do you suppose it is, girls?”
They all shook their heads, except for Mitzi, who shrieked, “It’s the mountain spirit dude!”
“There must be some explanation for all this,” Asta said tentatively. “The voice... the ground shaking... let’s check it out!”
“First we should take care of the rockdogs,” Haiku pointed out. “They’re still aggressing Cazador.”
“Ah... ah... eek!” Mitzi shrieked as, taking a step backwards into what looked to be a cave opening, she hovered in midair for a moment and then disappeared.
“Mitzi!” Haiku peered over the edge of the lowered hollow Mitzi had fallen into. “Are you okay?”
“”Yeah... but my hair’s all dusty!” Mitzi shouted back up in dismay.
“You’re only a few yards down, Mitzi! You don’t have to shout so loud!” Haiku shouted back. “Here, take my hoof.”
“But there’s rockdogs out there!”
“Don’t worry, girls! I’ll get us out of here!” Cazador, who was separated from the girls by the pack of rockdogs, swung his sword around and the rockdogs obligingly stepped out of his way.
“You idiots!” Suddenly the same mysterious voice from before came back, accompanied by much ground shaking. “Didn’t I tell you to get out of here?”
“Who are you, anyway?” Asta demanded.
Letting out a frustrated growl of sorts, the voice caused an even heavier shaking of the ground. The ground beneath Mitzi suddenly gave way, and she and Haiku, who lost her balance on the ledge, went plummeting downwards into an even deeper hole. The remaining three stared in horror as their two teammates disappeared from view.
* * *
“Mitzi! Haiku!” Cazador shouted into the abyss those two had so recently disappeared into. There was no answer except for a slight echo.
“We get to go in after them, right?” Asta said eagerly, already holding rope and other climbing necessities
“You’ll get the rescue on tape, won’t you?” Cazador asked, turning to Psyche, the camera-girl.
“Naturally,” came the affirmative.
“All right! Then let’s go find ‘em, girls!” Cazador said eagerly, leaping over the edge to continue his adventure.
“Hmm,” Asta said, watching the end of a rope disappear with him, too. “He forgot to secure his line to anything.”
“Oh dear,” said Psyche. “Well, let’s go after him.”
* * *
“I do believe we’re quite lost, Haiku!” Mitzi observed as she and her friend strolled through belowground passageways with no entrances to the outside in sight.
“Very observant,” Haiku said dryly.
“Hey, look at that!” Mitzi caught sight of something bright and glittery on the ground and ran to investigate. “Check this out!” She held up a red heart-shaped jewel about half a foot across.
“I wonder how that got here,” Haiku frowned. “It might be connected with that voice we heard earlier.”
“And the earthquakes! Don’t forget the earthquakes!”
“Well, yes. It is due to them that we’re lost within this mountain range.”
“Don’t you think this would look good as a necklace?” Mitzi interrupted, holding the jewel up to her neck.
“Too gaudy,” Haiku dismissed the idea. “Put it back where you found it.”
“No, you can’t keep it. Besides, something strange is going on in this mountain, and I think it’s best if we don’t disturb anything.”
“Do you suppose it’s the mountain spirit Cazador was talking about?” Mitzi said conversationally.
“Anything’s possible, I suppose,” Haiku condescended. “There could be a rational explanation, however. Whatever it is, I mean to get to the bottom of it!”
“I didn’t know you could be so determined!” Mitzi said in awe, scurrying to catch up with Haiku.
“I wonder how the others are doing up above with the rockdogs,” Haiku wondered.
“I’m sure they’re fine. Cazador’ll be coming to our rescue soon,” Mitzi said cheerfully. “Ooh! Look at that cool rock formation,” Mitzi suddenly exclaimed as they passed a pedestal-shaped rock. “Hey, wouldn’t the heart-jewel-thingy look good on there?”
“Hmm, interesting. But it couldn’t have been created naturally,” Haiku considered the pedestal with a basin at the top molded out of rock. “How long ago were it and the jewel made... and by whom?” Suddenly she realized she no longer had an audience. “Mitzi! What are you doing?”
Mitzi reappeared with the jewel. “I was just going to set it on the stand. Maybe somebody lost it. It’ll show up better there if they look for it.” Before she could do anything, however, the ground started to shake again, the same shaking that had sent her and Haiku into the bowels of the earth!
“Thieves!! Give me back my heart stone!” a voice boomed from out of nowhere.
The girls whirled around, looking for the source of the voice. “Who are you?” Haiku shouted back.
“I’ll destroy you!!” Whoever it was was not in a mood for discussions. The ground shook with more power. Mitzi lost her balance and the jewel went skidding across the ground.
“That wasn’t very nice!” she said angrily. “Is it that jewel-thingy you’re after? I didn’t even know it was yours, and how could I give it back if I don’t know where you are?”
“Fool! Of course it’s mine! Put it on that pedestal!”
Mitzi naturally took umbrage at his tone of voice and grumbled as she went forward and retrieved the heart stone and then placed it in the basin atop the pedestal. “There! Will you stop insulting us now?”
“Mitzi,” Haiku whispered, “let’s not try to irritate him any more.”
The voice, after the heart stone was in place, seemed to become more calm and collected. “I apologize for my earlier outburst,” it rumbled. “My heart stone was knocked askew some time ago and whenever that happens... well...”
“You could get a sturdier place to set it,” Mitzi said helpfully.
“However,” the voice went on, “you and your companions were irritating my rockdogs, and I demand an explanation.”
“We’re with Cazador, the Bigfoot Hunter. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?” Haiku put forward tentatively, and regretted mentioning the ‘hunter’ part as slight tremors ran through the ground. “No-no-no, he doesn’t hunt things in that way. Just on film. That’s why were we were here. We’re just documenting Ponyland’s more-elusive inhabitants.”
“And anyway,” Mitzi interrupted, “you’re the one that made us fall into that cave in the first place! We’d probably be out of here already if it hadn’t been for your interference.” Mitzi glared at the heart stone, the only solid thing she could find to glare at in lieu of the elusive voice.
* * *
Meanwhile, the other three had been wandering through the caverns themselves with no luck finding any sign of their friends. Currently they were following the course of an underwater stream. “Awesome! Ghost fish!” Asta said enthusiastically, pointing into the water.
“Really?” Cazador perked up his ears. “Hey, let’s stop and try to catch one. It can be a supplement for this episode on TV.” Expertly, Cazador extracted one of the nearly transparent fish from the water and held it up to the camera. “These fish spend their entire lives underground with no exposure at all to sunlight. As a result, they’re, like, totally blind! Or something like that. Observe their creepy, transparent scales!”
But the fish, at that moment, began flopping around. In an effort to keep it in his grasp, Cazador tripped over a rock and fell into the icy stream.
“Oh, that’s good,” Asta said appreciatively, offering her hoof to help him off. “That’ll really boost our ratings.”
“Yeah,” Cazador muttered, refusing further comment. “Okay, let’s find Mitzi and Haiku.”
* * *
A short while later, Cazador, Asta, and Psyche turned off into another tunnel from which they had been hearing strange noises. Lo and behold, there were their missing friends, Haiku and Mitzi!
Mitzi turned around as she realized her friends had caught up with them. “Oh, hi guys! We were just having a chat with the mountain spirit dude. What took you so long?”
“You were what?” Psyche gasped.
“It would seem,” said Haiku pensively, “that there’s some truth to the legend after all.”
“He was just in a bad mood because his heart was misplaced. But we fixed that,” Mitzi said happily. “Hey, are we done with the rockdogs yet?”
“I guess, but how about checking out this spirit dude before leaving?” Cazador suggested.
“Mr. Mountain Spirit Dude! Are you still there?” Mitzi hollered. There was no answer.
Haiku frowned. “Strange.”
“And he was here just a minute ago. How rude.” Mitzi stomped her hoof.
“I’d say it was just your imagination running away with you,” Cazador said authoritatively, quickly changing his tune. “Like who would believe in a stuffy old mountain spirit, anyway?”
“I heard that, young stallion!” came a booming voice. The mountain spirit was back.
“Ahh!” Cazador jumped back at the noise. “Oh, I mean, um... hi.”
“You’ll be happy to hear that I just cleared a path for you to the outside, and the rockdogs won’t bother you on your way out. Now I’d suggest leaving before you set me off again,” Mr. Mountain Spirit boomed in a voice that brooked no argument.
“Oh, I could have gotten past them myself, no problem,” Cazador said confidently. “They’re no match for-“
”That’s enough of your insolence! Just get out of here and leave me in peace!” The ground started rumbling threateningly again.
“...but thanks anyway, that’s what I meant. Heh-heh,” Cazador laughed nervously. “Okay, girls, time to leave!”
“Bye-bye, Mr. Mountain Spirit!” Mitzi waved before following the others outside.