PART TWO – PAST IMPERFECT
SIX YEARS AGO
Bright Eyes swept a lock of straight black mane out of her eyes and stood up straight as the Director trotted into his richly-appointed office; she'd been waiting in front of his desk for the past half-hour, but she was far too excited to be annoyed. She'd graduated from the Academy yesterday, and it was time to find out where she'd be assigned.
The older rust-coloured Unicorn stallion trotted past her and sat down at his desk. He calmly magicked around some scrolls and parchments on the lacquered wood surface before clearing his throat and speaking:
"Let me be blunt, Miss Eyes: nopony – no Pegasus, no Earth Pony, not even any Unicorn – has ever finished their training before at such an early age. You've created something of a…sensation."
Bright Eyes forced back the blush threatening to colour her cheeks and nodded seriously. "I don't know about that, sir," she said. "I just want to be the best I can be in Her Majesty's service."
The Director smirked. "Well, you're off to a fine start." He magicked up a lengthy scroll and perused its contents. "Fluent in seven languages, exemplary grades in tactics and procedure, top of your class in both grounded and aerial combat…and you broke the time record on the obstacle course while nursing a sprained fetlock."
"It was only a minor sprain, sir," she insisted, letting just a little bit of pride colour her voice.
"Nevertheless, your records suggest that you'd make an excellent addition to any operation. There's just one thing…"
Bright Eyes swallowed; her excitement shriveled. She'd dreaded this possibility. "…My Cutie Mark," she said softly.
"Or lack thereof, yes," agreed the Director. "Most of our trainees have their Marks before they even apply – it's a testament to your potential that you were admitted before you got yours. But it's highly unusual for an active agent to lack an appropriate Cutie Mark. Unheard of, even. The right Cutie Mark is a sign of…reliability."
"With all due respect, sir," Bright Eyes said, her voice under rigid control, "have I ever shown any sign of letting any of my trainers down?"
The Director looked into her sharp golden eyes for a long, silent moment. "…No. Which is why I've decided to recommend that you be assigned to Special Operations."
Bright Eyes stared. "R-really…?"
The Director nodded. "There's a mission in the works for which I believe you are uniquely qualified – blank flank and all. You'll report to Canterlot Intelligence Airborne Division HQ first thing tomorrow morning for your orientation – if you're interested, that is." He smiled.
"Absolutely, sir!" she replied, barely containing her elation. "Thank you, sir!"
Once she had excused herself and demurely trotted back out into the hallway, Bright Eyes let out a hooping cheer of triumph. She clopped her front hooves together and flapped her wings for joy, hopping from one rear hoof to the other.
The next day, Bright Eyes stood in the cloud-built briefing room of CIA's temple-like headquarters. Her designated trainer had just explained the nature of her assignment.
"Undercover work?" All at once, Bright Eyes realized why the Director had given her this assignment.
"That's right," the trainer continued. She was a lean, scarred mint green Pegasus mare with a cropped emerald mane and tail. Her Cutie Mark was a stiletto resting on top of a domino mask. "Organized crime has been all but wiped out in Canterlot, but the skies are a different matter. Weather racketeering, rainbow smuggling, even Pony trafficking – the clouds hide a multitude of sins, and they threaten to rain down onto the streets. We need Ponies on the inside."
Bright Eyes nodded, her eyes narrow. "And that's where I come in."
"Yes. Currently, we have our eyes on a particularly vicious Griffon crime boss in Cloudsdale by the name of Giovanni."
"Gio the Claw…" whispered Bright Eyes.
"Correct. Nopony's ever been able to infiltrate his organization, but you may be able to change all of that. Your talent and your lack of a Mark will match up well with the cover identity we've been assembling." The trainer pushed a small stack of papers across the low table next to her.
Bright Eyes examined the papers. "Desiderata 'Dezi' Cavallino…" she muttered, trying on the false name for size. "A born member of La Mandria Nostra, fresh in from Puledria…" She slid aside the dossier, revealing travel papers, a rap sheet, and even wanted posters bearing her sneering likeness. She raised an eyebrow. "How did this all get assembled so quickly?"
"The Unicorn division. Horns aren't as functional as wings, but they're great at solving logistical problems."
"Of course. When do I get started?"
"As soon as you've memorized the dossier. The longer we wait, the less secure your identity will become. We want you in, made, and out with evidence before The Claw knows what hit him."
Bright Eyes saluted firmly. "Yes ma'am! I won't let you down!"
Bright Eyes pivoted in place and smashed a front hoof across the jaw of the Pegasus who'd just nipped at her hindquarters; the sizable stallion stared in cross-eyed confusion for a moment before collapsing in a dazed heap.
Another member of the flock of Pegasi sitting around the small but stately cloud-built restaurant smirked, giggled, and then broke into peals of laughter. The rest soon joined in.
"I guess that's one way to teach Big Wing how to treat a filly!" said the first Pegasus to laugh. "Dezi…you're awright!" The crowd murmured various approving comments.
Bright Eyes smiled a self-satisfied smile. She was in.
The next day, Bright Eyes was seated at a low table in the back of the restaurant. It was evening, and the dark sky outside dimmed the translucent white walls.
The towering half-avian form of Gio the Claw sat opposite her with his back to the wall. He looked down at her with eyes the colour of molten gold – the same shade as hers.
"Buon appetito, Dezi" he rumbled, gesturing with a claw at the agnolotti piled on a ceramic platter in the middle of the table. A smile spread across his sharp beak.
After only the slightest pause she brushed a straight lock of black mane off of her face and pinched one of the delicate, doughy bundles off the plate with her lips.
With the first bite, she realized that she was eating Puledrian Griffon cuisine. Agnolotti di Lombrico, if her memory of her multicultural studies served her right.
She started chewing the earthworm-filled pasta and forced herself to smile back, crushing down her revulsion to the pit of her stomach.
This is a test, she told herself. Gotta be strong. Griffons respect strength. Don't let him see you sweat…
She swallowed the mouthful, suppressing a shudder as it slid down her throat. Her host chuckled, apparently impressed, and speared up a morsel on a claw.
While the unnatural food slowly made Bright Eyes' innards clench and twist, Gio offered her a muscular talon. "You're a tough one, and the word on the wind is that you're not afraid to get your…hooves…dirty. There's a place for you in my Flock, if you'll take it."
Bright Eyes' delight made her aching stomach lurch; it took a massive effort to resist throwing up right then and there on one of the deadliest creatures on feathered wings.
"I accept," she said through gritted teeth, holding forth a front hoof and letting his talon close around it.
It was two weeks later, and Bright Eyes was crouching next to Giovanni, perched on a low-hanging cloud above Canterlot's majestic rooftops.
She had endeared herself to the crime boss and his Flock more and more over the past fortnight, laughing, gambling and drinking with the underlings and accompanying the higher-ups on their less unsavoury errands.
And now she was next to The Claw himself. They were looking down at the city's expansive Post Office.
On the steps of the building, a sandy-maned purple Unicorn stallion was chatting happily with a golden-maned grey Unicorn mare. The stallion was Marked with a brass shield, and the mare with an open sack of envelopes. Effortlessly, Bright Eyes' training unraveled the subtle and unsubtle cues of their body language; it was obvious the two Unicorns were very much in love.
"This one's been sticking his horn where it doesn't belong, Dezi," Gio growled. "He's interfering with Flock business, trying to root out our earners in Canterlot. Guardsponies usually get the hint – even the wingless ones. But this one's a cub-scout. He's going to be made an example of."
Bright Eyes nodded gravely, but she couldn't take her eyes off of the mare's smiling face. The Unicorn's happiness reminded her of everything she'd resigned herself to doing without in her pursuit of a career in Her Majesty's service: a safe home, a stallion and foals of her own, and – in all likelihood – the luxury of someday dying of old age.
Bright Eyes turned away. She knew that maintaining her cover was vital, and she knew that she might have to pay a terrible price if she broke it, but the thought of letting innocent Ponies pay that price instead made her feel ill. She couldn't let the hit go through. If she returned to CIA and delivered her evidence, the Unicorns would be dead before the ink on the arrest warrant even dried. If she stayed undercover, they'd be just as dead. She had only one choice:
She had to find a way to warn them.
Late that night, once the streets and skies of Canterlot were all but deserted, Bright Eyes glided through the cool air as gracefully as a hunting hawk. Around her hips hung tactical saddlebags – a narrow black belt strung with several miniature pouches filled with useful equipment.
She came to the Canterlot Post Office's second story balcony, and oh-so-quietly used a mouth-pick from her belt to unlock the window. She slipped inside, silent as a shadow.
Bright Eyes unconsciously stroked a wing against the unsigned letter tucked into her belt. The word on the wind was that the hit would go down tomorrow night; if she could leave the letter tonight, the Unicorns would be long gone by then.
Shadows painted the hallway black; Bright Eyes moved forward with aching slowness, straining her ears for any sign of whether the Unicorns were awake.
If she hadn't been focused so intently on her hearing, she might have missed the tiny creak of a pastern-strung wire garrote pulling taut behind her.
Bright Eyes let her front legs buckle and lashed out with a lightning-swift double-back-leg kick at an upward angle. The blow struck her would-be assassin in the throat, causing him to choke and gurgle while flapping his wings. The wire between his front hooves made him stumble.
Bright Eyes turned to face the Pegasus and wrapped her front hooves around his head. Acting on ingrained combat training she pumped her wings and rotated laterally with a savage wrench; she heard and felt a wet snap from the stallion's neck.
The Pegasus collapsed on the wooden floor, his head twisted at an unnatural angle.
Bright Eyes started shaking as she looked down at the body; she had sparred and trained for countless hours, but she had never fought for her life before. Never taken a life before. The stark reality of the mission she'd so readily accepted crashed over her like a tide of ice water. She'd just killed a Pony, and she might have to do it again. Her stomach lurched.
But, before her conscience could drive her nausea any further, the fact of the slain stallion's presence drove a vital thought into the forefront of her mind:
Something's wrong – the hitponies are here tonight! And there could be more…
No longer trying for stealth, Bright Eyes galloped to the office's only bedroom and kicked open the door. There was nopony inside. She turned on her hooves, spread her wings and flew down the stairs – before colliding with another Pegasus hitpony flying up to meet her.
The two tumbled down onto the landing in a mass of flailing hooves and flapping wings.
"You messed up!" Bright Eyes growled as she struggled to get the filly into a hold. "They aren't here!"
The filly chuckled through gritted teeth as she fought back. "…Wrong," she whispered, and gave a wicked grin.
Bright Eyes hazarded a glance down the stairs; she saw a still, silent huddled mass in the middle of the main floor. "NO!" Fury seared away Bright Eyes' crisis of conscience. Swift and powerful as a rushing river she bent, leaned, hooked and jerked, and the filly's left hind leg dislocated. A shriek of agony shattered the hitpony's sadistic smile.
Bright Eyes cut off the shriek with an enraged cry of her own and a fierce front-hoof strike to the assassin's face. And another. And another. She kept kicking and kicking, screaming and screaming, until her breath came in ragged gasps, her legs burned and her hooves felt wet.
She stood up and slowly stumbled down the stairs, leaving the filly's remains on the landing. She was short of breath, and her whole body ached. Damp, dark spatter reached from her front hooves halfway up her legs. She left a trail of red hoofprints behind her. Her hooves slipped on the smooth stone floor at the bottom of the stairs, forcing her to sit down heavily. When she held up her blood-soaked front hooves and looked at them her nausea came back with a vengeance; she lurched forward and vomited.
Once she had recovered somewhat, Bright Eyes shakily stood and approached the shadowy mass on the stone floor like an Earth Pony approaching the edge of a cliff. She silently begged to be wrong, but as she drew near the awful truth was undeniable.
It was the broken remains of the Unicorn couple. The stallion was stretched protectively across the mare, but both were bloody, unmoving, and oh. So. Quiet.
She was too late.
Bright Eyes gritted her teeth, fighting back tears. Damn you, Gio, she silently cursed. Damn me.
The silence in the room was all but total, but then all at once, the air filled with the sounds of a foal's fearful weeping.
Bright Eyes gasped. "No…!" She cantered after the sound. It seemed to echo from every wall.
She came at last to the rooms in the back of the Post Office, where a storage area had recently been converted into a nursery. A cradle in the centre of the room faintly shone with magic; it had been enchanted to amplify the cries of the newborn Unicorn foal inside.
Bright Eyes slowly trotted up to the cradle. Guilt stabbed at her as she looked down at the crying infant.
"W-well aren't you a dinky little thing?" she whispered, a smile spreading across her mouth even as her lower lip quivered.
The upset foal was tiny – her lavender form was barely longer than of one of Bright Eyes' flight feathers – and her silky mane was a pale straw blonde. Her eyes, shrouded through they were by tears and half-closed lids, were the same vivid golden colour as Bright Eyes' – the shade that had inspired her parents in naming her. Thoughts of family twisted the blade of guilt in her heart and summoned up needles of sadness to join it.
"I…I'm s-sorry," she said, feeling the stinging tears in her eyes finally escaping, "b-but your mommy and daddy…th-they…they aren't…" She choked up, briefly unable to continue. She swallowed and forced herself to keep talking, making her broken voice as soothing as she could.
"..They aren't going t-to be there for you anymore." She started gently rocking the cradle with a front hoof. "S-some very bad Ponies took them away from you. And they'll try to hurt you if they find you."
The foal slowly began to calm down. She shifted under her blanket and gurgled.
"But I'm not going to let that happen. I lost my parents when I was little, too, and it n-never stopped hurting. I couldn't save your parents, but I promise I'll keep you safe – even if I have to raise you as my own." Bright Eyes wrapped the blanket around the nearly-sleeping foal in a bundle, and gripped it with her teeth. She gingerly trotted back up the stairs, past the hitponies' bodies and down the hallway, and smoothly took wing into the night.
First thing's first, though, she thought to herself. I'm going to take that monster down.
The roar of the night wind in Bright Eyes' ears did nothing to silence the cacophony in her head. Every trainer's voice and every finely-honed instinct was screaming at her to report in, deliver her evidence, and release the foal to foster care or extended family.
But this wasn't like the Academy's lessons, where following procedure solved every problem. Even in her short stint as a member of his Flock, she had learned that Gio the Claw had his talons in a lot of pies; he was unlikely to see the inside of a dungeon, even if a memory projection spell showed him ordering a hit right to her face. And the reach of the Griffon's minions extended farther still. The foal would never survive in the system or with family. If she wanted her to live and Gio to pay, she knew she would have to make it happen herself.
Ahead, the bucolic tableau of Ponyville spread out on the rolling hills below. Maybe… Bright Eyes thought. Maybe I'm still blank for a reason. Maybe this is what I need. A small town…a quiet town. Nothing special, nothing dangerous. If I make it through this, we could disappear there. Start over. I could be a librarian, or a translator…or a mailmare. The painful thought fractured Bright Eyes' fantasy. Stay focused, filly, she ordered herself. You're not there yet.
A short distance from the far edge of Ponyville, the furthest outskirts of Cloudsdale's aerial suburbs hung silently in the still night air. Bright Eyes banked and slowly spiraled downward until she came to a small copse of trees near the well-travelled road back to Ponyville. She set down the sleeping foal's bundle at the base of the largest tree, in plain sight of the road.
"I know I promised," she whispered, "but just in case, somepony is sure to find you here if I…if I don't come back. Just sit tight, okay Dinky? If things work out, I'll be back before you even wake up."
With one last long look at the sleeping infant, Bright Eyes spread her wings and took off toward Cloudsdale.
"But Unnn-cle…! I don't like fish!" The young Griffon pouted, her talons folded across her ruffed chest. The array of artfully-arranged fillets on the plate in front of her was untouched.
Giovanni let out a tiny growl. Despite its minimal volume, the sound echoed off of the restaurant's cloud-walls. "Your father – my brother – asked me to look after you while he's away in the old country, and I'm a Griffon of my word. Fish is good for you. You're a growing Griffon, Gilda – you need your vitamins. Don't you want to grow up big and tough like your Uncle Gio?"
"Yeah…" muttered Gilda, looking away sullenly.
"And don't you want to finally show all those Pegasi who's the fastest Junior Speedster before your last year is over?" Giovanni continued.
"Yeeaahhh…" Gilda whined. "But there's this one–"
Giovanni pounded a talon on the table. "*Awrk*-rowr! No buts! Eat up!"
The steel in Giovanni's tone made it clear he would brook no refusal; Gilda started gulping down the fillets.
The Griffons' meal passed in peace and quiet for a few minutes…until a dazed Pegasus stallion crashed through the cloud-wall separating the private room from the restaurant at large.
Giovanni stood up, his wings spreading in surprise. His niece's jaw dropped.
A moment later the double doors to the main room swung inward and Bright Eyes strode firmly into the private room. As the doors swung shut behind her, the doorway afforded a brief glimpse of a room littered with beaten and bruised Pegasi.
"Gio…" Bright Eyes snarled.
Giovanni silently cursed the sound-baffling properties of cloud-walls. He craned his neck, releasing an ominous crack. "Dezi…" he rumbled. "You seem upset."
"You knew, didn't you?" Bright Eyes said. "You sent them early because you knew I'd try to stop them."
The massive Griffon chuckled. "You're young, Dezi. And the honour code of La Mandria Nostra is famous, even this far from Puledria. I'd hoped you were above such an…outdated…notion. It would appear I was wrong."
"Honour?" Bright Eyes shouted. "You think that I tried to save them because of the Briglia? You destroyed an entire family because a guardspony was annoying you! You're a sick Buzzard, and I'm going to take you down."
Giovanni scoffed. "And then what? You think you can take over my Flock so easily?"
"Your Flock can go buck themselves," said Bright Eyes, her golden eyes narrowing. "I just want you dead."
Gilda spread her wings, swooped in front of her uncle and charged Bright Eyes. "You'll have to go through me, first!" she yelled.
Bright Eyes deftly dodged the young Griffon's reckless charge and clopped a rear hoof across her face. "*Chrr-wit* sque'k irr *caw*-rowr!" she sneered, smoothly switching to the guttural Griffon language. Gilda tumbled into a table and upended it, landing in a daze.
"Grr-*keek*!" Giovanni raced over to his fallen niece and gently stroked a talon across her face. He turned to face the grey Pegasus, rage burning in his eyes. With a hawk-like cry, he lunged for Bright Eyes.
It took every ounce of Bright Eyes' focus to keep Gio's talons from splitting her open and his beak from crushing her bones.
She had learned how to deal with larger opponents at the Academy – how to exploit leverage and angles to use their weight against them – but The Claw was easily twice as heavy as the largest stallion she'd sparred with; every time she fought against his mass it felt like her legs were going to pull out of their sockets.
The fight took them into the restaurant proper, out the front doors, onto the cloudy front lot, and into the open air. Bright Eyes pounded on the Griffon with her hooves, angling their edges forward for minimum surface area, but her strikes barely put a dent in the beast's hide. She was faster than he was, but she couldn't get in, strike and pull back without leaving herself open to a swipe of those lethal talons.
After a few minutes they parted, landing on an empty stretch of cloud on the outskirts of Cloudsdale.
"You're a quick one, Dezi," Giovanni panted, "but it's only a matter of time until I taste your heart."
"Over my dead body," Bright Eyes said, her sarcasm shining through the ragged fatigue in her voice.
The two clashed once more, their movements a blur of flapping wings, striking hooves, and slashing talons. Bright Eyes managed to catch Giovanni off balance, and crashed a hoof across his beak; the blow left a hairline crack in its wake. Pain and anger lent Giovanni extra speed, however, and the Griffon managed to grab the Pegasus' leg as she drew it back.
Giovanni swung Bright Eyes by that leg in a wide circle, and smashed her down onto the cloud. The impact momentarily dazed her, and before she could react Giovanni had closed his talons around her throat.
"I could bite your head off right now, little Pegasus," he hissed, "but you've made me mad enough to want to make you suffer. Here's a little trick you Ponies might not know…it's called strangling. I'll do it nice and slow so you can pay attention…" Giovanni tightened his grip, his scaly talons slipping over one another around Bright Eyes' thin neck.
Bright Eyes' golden eyes bulged; black curtains danced around the edges of her vision. She knew she only had a few moments of useful consciousness left. Her hooves scrabbled against the Griffon's talons, unable to find purchase.
"Awww…tough time to not have any digits, hmm?" Giovanni smiled, and squeezed harder. "What are those stupid hooves good for, anyway?"
"…this," Bright Eyes whispered soundlessly, and thrust her rear hooves between Giovanni's hind legs. The Griffon squawked in pain and shock, his head lowering and his grip on Bright Eyes' throat slackening.
She took the opportunity and swung her head upward, driving her forehead into the bridge of Giovanni's fractured beak. The Griffon winced from the impact, staggering back on wobbling legs.
Bright Eyes followed, scrambling to her hooves and hopping to rest her front legs on Giovanni's shoulders. "This is for all the Ponies you've hurt!" she shouted, and unleashed another head-butt onto the top of the Griffon's beak. The fracture widened into a noticeable crack.
"This is for being a bad influence on your niece!" She pounded her forehead into the Griffon again.
"And this…" She punctuated every phrase with another headbutt. "Is for leaving! A foal! With no PARENTS!" Giovanni's damaged beak finally shattered under the assault.
The Griffon hurled Bright Eyes off of him with a back-paw slap. She landed on her back a few feet away. Giovanni writhed and howled an endless stream of distorted obscenities in his native tongue, his talons clamped over the bloodied remnants of his broken face. The cloud-stuff around him was speckled crimson.
Bright Eyes rolled onto her side. She knew she ought to press her advantage – put the foul beast out of his misery while she had the chance – but her limbs wouldn't respond. She felt as if her mind was a hundred miles from her bruised body.
The cry had come from above; the young Griffon flew down and landed next to her stricken relative, her eyes wide with horror. A moment later she turned to face Bright Eyes, her face a mask of vengeful rage…but then she froze. She stared at the Pegasus in horrified silence.
W-wha-? Why…why isn't she… Bright Eyes felt hot wetness spill down her nose. She looked up, her eyes crossing, and gasped softly at what she saw:
The last head-butt had driven a sizable shard of beak into her forehead.
She shakily sat, and reached up with her front hooves. They felt numb. Clumsy. With no small effort, she got a grip on the shard and eased it out of the gash in her face. She let it drop to the cloud. It seemed to fall in slow motion.
Ss'a bad w-wound, she mentally slurred. Might be b-brain da-amage… Gotta get to a d-doctor… She stood and staggered drunkenly to one side, her wings flapping in an opposing rhythm. G-gotta…uhh…
Bright Eyes' golden eyes veered in opposite directions, and she tumbled off the edge of the cloud. She vaguely saw the smooth blue surface of a lake rushing up to meet her as she fell.
The next few years passed by in a streaking blur, one prominent event bleeding into another:
A blue Unicorn was helping her clear the water from her lungs, and asking for her name. In her addled state she reflexively tried to give her cover identity, without really knowing what she was saying: "Uhhh…D-dezi'duhhh…" The Unicorn smiled. "Hello, Ditzy Doo – I'm Colgate!" While the Unicorn was leading her down the road to Ponyville, Ditzy jerked to the side and staggered over to a copse of trees, where a precious bundle still sat undisturbed. "Dinky…" she whispered, and nuzzled the tiny foal's cheek with her own. The motion left a faint smear of blood on the foal's blanket.
She was shivering with fever in a soft bed, and Colgate was feeding her soup with a magicked spoon. Dinky slept next to her, her tiny hooves wrapped around a foal bottle. "She's adorable," said Colgate. "My friend Berry Punch has a foal the same age." Ditzy smiled weakly. Her injuries were skillfully bound, but her eyes still wouldn't focus right. "So...are you from Cloudsdale?" Colgate continued. Ditzy frowned and muttered "…I dunno…"
Ditzy was speaking with an elderly stallion in front of the Ponyville Post Office. A fresh scar marked her forehead, and Dinky was sleeping in a basket between her wings. The old Pegasus shuffled off his saddlebags. "Great timing!" he cackled, and shakily took to the air. "I was gonna retire tomorrow, anyway! San Caballo, here I come!"
She was sitting in a plush chair with her chin resting on the curved lip of one of the sinks in Carousel Boutique's cosmetology room. "Yellow," she said to the shop's elegant young Unicorn proprietor, and pointed a hoof at her blue-black mane. The Unicorn sighed in dismay. "For the record, I want you to know that I am only going through with this crime against fabulosity because you're my very first customer."
She was trying to make her rounds in good time, but her wings still wouldn't move like she wanted them to and her eyes made it hard to fly straight. She bumped into nearly every animate and inanimate surface in Ponyville as the years passed by, and she soon forgot what few shards of a less-clumsy past remained. "Sowwy," she'd say, a front hoof rubbing the back of her blonde-maned neck as the stares of annoyed townsponies bored into her, "I'm not a clever Pony."
She was waving excitedly to Dinky Doo as the little Unicorn came bounding out of the schoolhouse at the end of her first day. "MOMMY!" Dinky squealed in delight as her eyes fell on Ditzy. The young filly leaped into her mother's waiting hug. "Love you, muffin…" Ditzy whispered, feeling the same oddly bittersweet warmth she always felt when she held her precious foal.
"I love you too, Mommy…"