Carrot Top proved to be an excellent cook, and I left the meal satisfied, though the overall mood of the luncheon was rather icy.
This could be due to the fact that Derpy was, on many occasions, trying to assist me with one thing or another while I ate. In total I had three sets of silverware set by me, two glasses of water, and about half a dozen napkins. Although I accepted them politely because I didn’t want to be rude in front of Carrot Top, I found it nigh impossible to make merry while my doppelganger was clowning around around my table setting. Dinky was still upset that Carrot Top had dismissed her and didn’t say a word, and Derpy was too distracted with me to talk with Carrot Top, so for the most part she made conversation on her lonesome, something that she seemed to have been practicing a lot lately.
Afterward, Dinky and Carrot Top cleared the table and took the dishes into the kitchen to wash. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to have a conversation with Derpy and to, indirectly or not, inform her of my plans and why I needed her help.
“Tell me, Derpy,” I began, leaning back in my chair. I forced myself to use vocabulary at her level of understanding. “Why do you want to earn my approval so much?”
“Uh, I dunno,” she said, tracing invisible circles on the table with her hooves. “You seem really nice. I don’t know why you don’t like me.”
I snorted, but hid my sneer. “Maybe because you’re trying too hard to be my friend.”
“I try hard to be everypony’s friend,” Derpy stated.
“Yes, but don’t you think that might make at least some of them uncomfortable?” I inquired, leaning in.
Derpy shrugged. “I think that, uh... if they didn’t want me around, they’d tell me. Some ponies do, and I stay away from them. But you would tell me if you wanted me gone, wouldn’t you?”
I folded my forelegs and leaned backward in thought. “Not if I wanted to be polite.”
“...I don’t think it’s polite to hide your feelings,” Derpy said, resting her head on the table. “I think it’s dumb. It makes everything more... um...”
“Complicated?” I offered.
“Yeah. That,” she said. “My eyes may be funny looking, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see. Or that I can’t hear. Which is why I don’t know why ponies don’t like me, because I don’t do anything to them, and they don’t tell me to stay away. So I try to make friends with them, ‘cause we just could have got off on the wrong hoof at the start, and then they like me even less. I don’t get it.”
“Most ponies fear those that are different. It’s in our nature,” I said. “We’re hardwired to avoid diseased ponies. I’m not saying you’re diseased in that way, of course, but it’s difficult to override biology.”
“...I don’t know what last part means, but I think you’re trying to say that ponies don’t like me right when they meet me? Without knowing it?” Derpy guessed.
“They know it all right. They just don’t know why they know it,” I corrected. I had to remember to keep my speech simple, or I’d never be able to communicate with her. “Basically, our brains funct-... work in such a way to make us not like ponies that app-... look different than us.”
“Oh,” Derpy said. She paused for a moment before saying, “Well... aren’t we taught as foals to like ponies that are different?”
“Most ponies don’t remember most of the facts they learn in elementary school, let alone the morals,” I muttered, taking another sip. “The situation you’re in, Derpy, is unpleasant. However, I respect how much effort you’re putting into overcoming this disadvantage.” A lie, but even if I didn’t have to like Derpy, she still had to like me.
“You’re cool. And you’re really smart, too,” Derpy said, smiling. “Carrot Top likes you, too. I don’t know if Dinky likes you yet, but I think she will, because she’s a little like me.”
“Hmph. I’m glad,” I said, starting to get impatient. Time was ticking, and this conversation need to go somewhere fast.
“Where are you going to go now?” Derpy asked.
I took a deep breath. “Derpy, I am on a mission that I need you to keep secret.”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, instantly reaching and covering up her mouth. For a minute she was unsure how to communicate via closed lips, but eventually she moved one hoof slightly to the side and whispered loudly, “I can do that, don’t worry! So what is it?”
“I’m going to Everfree County Dungeon to meet up with some official Equestrian personnel. It’s a group that researches ponies that look exactly alike,” I lied. “Their work is very sensitive, which is why I haven’t let anypony else know about it yet.”
“Sooo... they do science?” Derpy asked.
“Yes, they... do science.” I managed to say that with a straight face somehow, though I think I lost a few IQ points in the process.
“Oh. That sounds neat,” Derpy said.
I paused for a moment, for dramatic effect. I needed to look as if I were pondering something. “Derpy,” I began, “would you like to join me? You and Carrot Top have been incredibly hospitable to me here, and I think that it’s only fair I take you somewhere, too.”
“Thanks! I’d love to! But I have to ask Carrot to watch Dinky for me first,” Derpy said, her face lighting up in a bright smile as she began to rush into the kitchen. She stopped in her tracks, though, and looked back at me for a moment, asking, “Hey... we’re not gonna do anything bad, are we?”
I laughed. “Of course not!”
She nodded and continued her canter into the kitchen. A few moments after she left the room, there was a yelp, a thud, and the clattering of broken glass.
I sighed, massaging my temples. A migraine was already forming, but I resisted the urge to preemptively reach into the pouch containing the Winterwort. I would need that for the incredibly long, painful, and laborious journey ahead.
Carrot Top, admittedly, wasn’t the easiest to convince.
“How did you find out about this, anyway?” she asked. Derpy had already told her about the trip, but, predictably, she wasn’t exactly on board with the idea at first.
“It was the reason I came through Ponyville in the first place; I’m going there to file data and take notes and such. Not the most exciting work in the world, which is why I’d rather be a part of the experiment by taking Derpy along?”
“Are you sure that it’s safe?” she inquired.
“It’s not even all that much of an experiment, really,” I said. “They’re just surveying look-alike ponies and taking a little bit of hair to test and make sure we aren’t actually related. The goal is to see if there is some bond greater than genetics that can make two ponies look nearly identical. Quite harmless, really.” This was, by far, the most complex lie I had created to date, and I needed to wrap it up before I tripped over my own make-believe facts.
“How long will you be gone?” Carrot Top asked.
I shrugged. “It depends on how many ponies show up. We could be back this evening, or we might have to stay overnight in a nearby town. At the latest, we’ll be back tomorrow morning.” I prayed that the last part would end up being true.
Carrot Top pursed her lips. “Are there any forms we need to sign, or anything?”
“The experiment, as I said, is very low-key and is being run by a few college colts and their professor. There’s nothing you need to worry about that I haven’t already taken care of,” I assured, though this lie was getting more and more difficult to weave. I needed to end the conversation quickly. “Derpy seems to want to go.”
“Uh-huh,” Derpy said, nodding. “So can you watch Dinky? Please?”
Carrot Top smiled, pulling Derpy into a quick hug. “Of course I can. You can count on me. Now you and Ditsica go have fun, and let me know how it went afterward.”
Derpy grinned happily and bounded out of the room exclaiming, “I’ll go get my scarf!”
Carrot Top then turned her attention to me. “You know, I hardly know you, Ditsica, but it already feels like you’re part of the family. I really appreciate your patience with Derpy.”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” I said automatically.
“No, really, I do. And I know that you two will get along well. But... you know how prone she is to accidents,” Carrot Top began softly, looking up into my eyes. “Promise me that you won’t let her get hurt, okay?”
“Hmm?” I asked.
“I know it’s silly when you’re only going to be gone for a little while, but trouble seems to find Derpy everywhere she goes. And even if she needs me, well, I need her, too. Just be careful and keep her safe, that’s all I ask,” she said, smiling slightly.
“For what it’s worth, I promise,” I said. I really meant it for a moment, but as I realized how foolish the sentiment was, my smile vanished. I adjusted some of the wayward threads on my scarf as I turned toward the door and said, “Farewell, Carrot Top.”
“Oh, don’t be like that. I’m sure I’ll see you again,” she chuckled.
For once, I longed to be as sure of that as she seemed to be. I suppose, if I had to choose which pony in Equestria I would miss most besides myself, it would probably have been Carrot Top.
Derpy bounded up besides me as I exited the house and stepped onto the road. The air was notably chillier, and a light snow was falling. It was about noon, and the clock was ticking. My underused wings tingled as I realized I would have to fly.
“I brought food,” Derpy said, pointing to a bag she had strapped to her side. “So where’re we going, anyway?”
“Everfree County Dungeon,” I muttered, my breath making mist in the air. My hide kept most of the cold out, but I still felt its sting on my snout and my lips. “A few hours due north.”
Derpy took to wing and began to soar, but stopped as she realized I hadn’t followed. “What’re you waiting for?” she asked, confused. “Are you going to walk?”
“No,” I mumbled, spreading my wings. I flapped them once, as a test, feeling the wind resistence beneath the feathers. I flapped them again, trying to get lift, but my hooves didn’t rise an inch off the ground. I exhaled in frustration.
“What’s wrong?” Derpy asked, concerned.
“Nothing, just give me a moment,” I growled, widening my stance. A few other pegasi chortled at me as they walked by, but I ignored them. I leapt up and flapped again, only to land on my hooves once more.
“Why aren’t you flying?” Derpy asked.
Why wasn’t I flying?
I have always tried to squirm out of uncomfortable questions with my silver tongue. But the situation was too dire, and Derpy too simple, for there to be a way to weasel myself out of this conundrum. I stood there in the cold breeze for a moment, scouring my mind for an answer to her question, but found nothing. No lie, excuse, or alibi would answer her question, save one, and it was the one that would lead directly to the painful truth I was trying so desperately to avoid. Personal growth was not included on my plans for this journey; I simply had to get from point A to point B while dragging somepony else along for the ride. Now, however, there was no way out, and I hated it.
“Because...” I folded my wings and brushed my mane back behind my ears before looking back up at Derpy indignantly. “I can’t.”
I despised not being able to do things. Arrogance aside, the very fact that I wasn’t able to do something so basic infuriated me to my very core. I didn’t understand why I was given wings if I was so much more comfortable on the ground; I simply didn’t! My entire personality was made for books and chess and intellectual activities, not prancing about in the air like the buffoons the other pegasi are!
“...Why not?” Derpy asked, landing beside me.
“I’m afraid of heights. I’m afraid of speed, I’m afraid of the wind blowing something into my eye and taking it out, I’m afraid of getting struck by lightning, I’m just afraid!” I sputtered. I lowered my voice and added, “The list goes on and on.”
I detested being so open with a near stranger. It was almost too much to bear; if only I was merely lying to earn Derpy’s trust! That was a foolish wish, though; I couldn’t fly, I could never fly, it was as if these wings were simply taped on like some foalish costume. Folded nicely, of course, but still a pathetic, useless costume. And I was afraid that, if I used them, they would fall apart as if they were made of tissue paper and cardboard.
“So... you’re afraid?” Derpy asked, though she looked more concerned than sarcastic. She thought for a moment. “Well... if you’re afraid of heights, we’ll just fly low, right? And, uh... if you’re afraid of speed, well, flying doesn’t have to be really fast. I’ve never had anything get in my eyes while flying, but I guess I’d just land if it did. And... most pegasi don’t fly in thunderstorms, or rest on thunderclouds. Uh, if they knew it was that kind of cloud, I mean,” she added sheepishly.
“It doesn’t matter if a fear is irrational or not, it can still inhibit you,” I mumbled, hanging my head. My spectacles slid off my nose, and I picked them up and put them in the pouch with the Winterwort. “How am I supposed to be able to fly?”
“You have wings,” Derpy pointed out. “If you wanted to fly, you could.”
“But I do want to fly,” I argued, though it was halfhearted. I would have gladly traded flying for a chariot ride, or perhaps a magician who could teleport us to our destination.
“I mean if you really, really wanted to,” she said. “Like, uh... if your will beats your fear. Right?”
“...I suppose,” I said, looking up.
“So how about you just try to fly, and if you get hurt, then we’ll walk. But you have to really, really try, otherwise it won’t count,” Derpy suggested. “Deal?”
She didn’t know about my deadline, but I supposed that didn’t matter all that much anyway. I was going to have to fly, one way or another, otherwise all my work thus far would have been in vain. “Alright.”
I steadied myself. The instincts were there. I had flown before; that much I knew, or at least, I thought I knew. I extended my wings once more and, with a little effort, pushed myself off the ground. But my form was clumsy and haphazard, and after a few seconds of airtime, I was forced back to the snowy ground, my cheeks burning with humiliation. I felt like a mare who was just now learning to walk for the first time.
“Try again,” Derpy prompted.
So I did. With more effort this time, I launched myself up into the air and desperately flapped my wings, vying to stay above ground level. And I did, for a little; I actually flew. In the end it was all for naught, though, because I slipped up, turned sideways, and fell to the ground with a yelp and a soft thump. I landed wrong on my ankle, though, and pain shot through it.
“Are you alright?” Derpy asked, rushing to my side.
“...No,” I mumbled, checking my ankle. It hurt slightly to move it, but I didn’t think it was sprained or broken. I shivered slightly; this was my second landing in the snow. I was humiliated and furious at myself for being so pathetic.
“Okay. Let’s just walk,” Derpy said, helping me up.
“No,” I growled, shrugging off her hoof and standing up on my own. “I am going to fly.”
“B-...But the deal,” Derpy said, confused. “Aren’t you still afraid?”
“Of course I’m afraid!” I snapped back. Cooling my temper, I stated softly, “Out of all those other fears, though, there is one that stands out: I am afraid of being afraid. I hate the fact that my fear could... could...” I strained for the right word. “Control me, somehow. So I am going to fly, like it or not.” And that was the truth.
“...Okay! I think,” Derpy said. “You can do it!”
I readied myself again and shot up into the air as Derpy cheered me on. The wind pushed me upwards, but with too much force for me to control, so I flipped and landed on my back. I snarled and shook the snow off before leaping toward the sky, pushing down on the air with all my might, and I gained a meter or two before my lift vanished and I was sent spiraling once more.
Derpy was looking increasingly concerned as she watched my numerous failures. Her brow furrowed as she realized something and she yelled, “Ditzy, wait!”
I didn’t listen to her; I was too furious at my own incompetence. I picked myself back up, took a running start, and jumped into the air, trying desperately to fly, only to faceplant inches from the frozen dirt road. Derpy grabbed me and tried to sit me down, but I flinched out of her grasp and tried again, launching myself high out of her reach. I was so angry, I couldn’t see straight.
She caught me in midair and plowed me down into the snow. When I collected myself, I saw that wings were splayed out to my sides, and when I failed to get up I realized that Derpy was sitting right on top of me.
“...Are you okay?” she asked tentatively, not bothering to get off.
“Peachy,” I hissed, propping my head up on my hoof and looking up at her irritably.
“Oh. Okay,” she said, sitting up and smiling absently.
“Derpy, has it occurred to you in the slightest that your posterior is positioned in such a way to make my recovery from the crash you caused utterly inconceivable?” I snarled.
“Um...” Derpy thought for a moment. “What does ‘slightest’ mean?”
“Oh!” she exclaimed, sliding off of me and allowing me to stand up.
I shook myself off and adjusted my scarf, noticing a few strands had fallen out of it. “What is so direly important that you had to interrupt my progress?”
“Um... you were doing it wrong,” Derpy said simply.
“Oh? Do tell,” I hissed, my speech dripping with sarcasm.
“Uh, well, you don’t push down on the air when you fly. It’s more of like, uh... swimming. So you push the air behind you,” she explained as she demonstrated her method. She raised up her wings slowly, then moved them through the air in a more-or-less circular motion.
I thought for a moment, then flapped my wings, using the technique she showed me but with a bit more force. I was propelled forward, and I had to take a few steps to compensate for the unexpected momentum. “...Oh,” I said. I flapped a few more times, and before I knew it, I was sailing through the air as if it were water, instincts taking over as soon as I knew how to use them. I adjusted my direction and started to fly northward, an internal compass guiding my progress.
Derpy was right alongside me. “See?” she asked, smiling pleasantly.
I didn’t detect a hint of smugness in her expression. She seemed genuinely glad to help me. I turned a slight red, remembering my numerous failures, and replied, “Yes. I see.”
It was a shame I was going to have to end up hating Derpy, one way or another, at the very least temporarily. There was no way I knew of to fake hate, and I would need to hate somepony in order to accomplish my goal. Derpy was making herself increasingly difficult to dislike, however.
She paused for a moment, thinking. “Wait a minute,” she began, inspecting me. “We look the same! We even have the same cutie mark!” She giggled. “That’s weird.”
Then again, maybe not so much, I thought, rolling my eyes. This was going to be a long trip.
Next part: Derpy's Truth!