A Second Witness
“Sugarcube Corner?” Daring read aloud. “Hmm. That sounds healthy.”
She smirked at herself and nearly trotted past the giant gingerbread house, but the sweet aroma of fresh muffins lured her closer to the open front door.
Directly in her line of sight was a short display counter. Four ponies waited in a line between her and it. She took her place at the back of the line and tried to see what options lay beneath the curved glass.
A portly blue earth pony with a swooping, pink-striped mane stood patiently behind the counter with a fixed expression of polite worry. Daring had seen the type: ponies who were too nice for their own good. She snorted, drawing unintended attention from two of the bakery’s seated customers. The lavender mare’s jaw dropped in utter disbelief while the white one’s irises shrunk dramatically.
“‘Sup,” Daring greeted, turning her attention back to the line. She allowed the unseen half of her mouth to curl into a knowing smile.
“Is that…? No, it couldn’t be,” she heard the purple unicorn whisper across the table.
“She certainly looks a great deal like her,” the white one whispered back. “I wonder if she’s aware!”
“Quit staring, Rarity!” the first mare breathed. “I’m sure she hears it all the time.”
“But the resemblance… it’s simply uncanny! Do you think she knows the author?”
The unicorns continued to gawk and wonder as Daring moved up in line. Her stomach felt tight and on the verge of grumbling when the portly pony finally addressed her several minutes later.
“Good evening, deary!” she greeted. Daring noticed bags under her tilted eyes. “Welcome to Sugarcube Corner! What can I getcha?”
Daring’s eyes swept over the assortments beneath the glass one last time. “I’ll have a slice of that pie,” she started, pointing with a hoof at a decorated green circle, “and one chocolate muffin.”
“Just chocolate or chocolate with chocolate chips?” she asked, relieved with the simple order.
Daring licked her lips. “Definitely chocolate chips!” she said, nodding excitedly.
With a few swift motions of her hooves, the mare cut a thick slice from the key lime pie and placed it on a small, white plate with delicate precision. One chocolate muffin was dropped into a paper bag and both items were hoofed across the countertop into Daring’s extended wing.
“Thanks!” she hollered.
“My pleasure, deary,” the blue pony said. “That’ll be six bits.”
Daring pulled the proper amount from her saddlebag with her teeth and dropped them onto the counter. On a whim, she whipped out another coin and tossed it onto the stack.
“Keep the change,” she said with a wink, rolling her suitcases behind her as she moved to an empty table. The genuine smile on the blue mare’s face brought an uncommon twinge of happy contentment.
Daring chose to sit at a small, round table fairly close to the pair of unicorns who had recognized her. She kept her eyes on her slice of pie and pretended not to notice their furtive glances at her goldenrod coat and grey-striped mane. Both of them flinched when she flicked her wings. She had to hold back an amused laugh.
After what looked like a very brief argument, the purple unicorn turned toward Daring. “Excuse me, Miss,” she began in an even voice not unlike a curious student, “I’m sure you get this all the time, but have you ever read the Daring Do series? You look just like the eponymous character.”
Daring chuckled. “Actually, I wrote the Daring Do series.”
No point in beating around the bush. As both of their eyes widened, Daring took her first bite of the key lime pie. She inhaled sharply as a bomb of crisp flavor exploded on her tongue, sending her mind on a quick joyride to the highest heights of satisfaction.
“Whoa,” she said as the bright green faded from the corners of her vision. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“We rarely expect our most wonderful moments,” a methodical voice spoke from behind her. “Perhaps anticipation dulls what might be a life full of such experience.”
Daring twisted her head to see the pony. She was green, several shades softer than the pie on her plate, with striking golden eyes. A harp that matched her Cutie Mark balanced on her back, covered in turn by a stone-grey hoodie that wrapped around her upper half.
After taking in her unusual appearance, Daring grinned. “I guess that’s true. The very best moments of my life were the ones I never saw coming.”
“It is as they say,” the mint green unicorn added, taking the small table’s second seat uninvited. “Ignorance is bliss.”
Daring furrowed her brow at the stranger’s intrusion, looking over her shoulder at the purple and white mares. They had leaned across the table and were whispering up a storm right in each other’s faces. The sight made Daring snicker.
“I don’t know if I agree with you there,” she said, turning her attention back to the pony at hoof. “For example, now I know that this pie is incredibly delicious. And still—” She took another bite. “—it’s just as blissful.”
The musician smiled, lifting her harp in an aura of magic and setting it beneath the table. “Something’s troubling you, Daring,” she stated. “Are things in Ponyville not as you expected them?”
Surprised, Daring shook her head a bit. “Uh… no, things are… things are fine. Actually, yeah, I guess it’s not what I expected, but so far that’s a good thing. Here’s proof.” She gestured to her pie, taking a third bite in her teeth.
“You know what I mean,” the stranger insisted, narrowing her eyes sincerely. “How was your visit with your sister?”
Daring leaned away. “How in… I’m sorry, do I know you?”
The mare’s smile was tinted with accustomed sadness. “We met at the train station this morning.”
“We did?” Daring scratched her head. “I don’t remember that. What’s your name?”
“Lyra,” she stated like the title of a song. “Lyra Heartstrings.”
Daring shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry, Lyra, I can’t say I remember meeting you. Did I tell you what I was doing in Ponyville?”
“You mentioned your sister,” Lyra offered.
“Yeah… I guess that didn’t turn out too well,” Daring admitted, sliding the little glass plate between her hooves.
“Well, I went to ask a favor and ended up just making a fool of myself,” she summed up. “I forget how much things change with time. I thought eight years would be enough to heal old wounds, but we both got pretty heated over everything that’s happened.”
“Time does not heal wounds alone. For a proper scar to form, they must be thoroughly cleaned and dressed—or in this case, addressed.”
“Have you ever talked to your sister about what happened?”
“Well, sure, of course we’ve talked about it!” Daring said. She caught her snappiness and stopped pushing her plate. “Well… sort of. We’ve yelled about it a lot.”
“Did you let her know you were coming to make peace?”
Daring scowled, more at herself than at Lyra. “I didn’t come to make peace. I came to ask for a favor.” She laughed at herself, sliding a hoof over her face. “I didn’t even think about what it would mean for her. I guess I always imagined Ponyville as a meaningless little pit stop between Canterlot and Fillydelphia. I never thought she had a job here, let alone a family!”
“I didn’t think much of Ponyville before I came here, either,” Lyra confessed, casting her gaze through the window and toward the setting sun. She shivered and pulled the hoodie tighter around her chest. “But I have since learned that it is a vibrant, lively town, however small, full to the brim with good, inspiring ponies, each with a story to tell and a lesson to teach.” She turned back to Daring. “Did you know your niece plays the flute?”
Daring blinked. “Uh… no.”
As Lyra nodded, her eyes moved as if she were watching a memory play out before them. “She has quite the talent. I’ve never known Ditzy to be a musician. Was her father so gifted?”
Daring rubbed her eyelid as it twitched involuntarily. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, he was amazing at music. Magical, even.”
“Hmm.” Lyra nodded again. “Yes, some music is very magical…”
The pair was quiet for some time, Lyra lost in thought while Daring tried to squish bad memories. She took little notice a light blue pegasus gliding into the Corner and starting a large order with the mare behind the counter.
“Your sister refused to do the favor, then?” Lyra asked, pulling in Daring’s attention.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, she did.” She sighed and finished her pie in one bite. “I don’t quite know what to do now.”
Lyra cleared her throat. “What was the favor, if I may be so bold?”
Daring rolled her head on her neck. “Eh, it was stupid. See, I’m a writer, but I have a very limited imagination. I can’t come up with full stories on my own. Everything I’ve written so far has been based on stuff that really happened to me. I came here to ask my sister to go on another adventure so I can have another story to write.”
With a curious smirk, Lyra asked, “Why not just go on your own?”
The pegasus gritted her teeth. “I… I can’t. I, uh… I need a second witness.” She looked at the ceiling and nodded. “Yeah, that’s it. I need another pony to see everything that happens so when I’m writing it down later I don’t miss any details.”
“I see,” Lyra said, pulling at her sleeves. “So Ditzy helped you write your presently published works then?”
Daring winced. “Well… no. But… she and I…”
She met Lyra’s piercing gaze and felt a lump grow in her throat.
“I’m scared,” she admitted like a foal at the top of a long slide. “I can’t do all the things the Daring in my books can do. I need a sidekick—no, a partner. I need somepony with me to bounce ideas off and keep me company and watch my back. Adventures are fun, no doubt, but they’re pretty… dangerous.”
Lyra’s nod expressed her approval. “I understand that entirely, Miss Do. Being alone on an adventure is maddening to say the least.”
“Yeah,” Daring agreed with a relieved sigh. She couldn’t believe how good it felt to tell somepony the truth.
“So what are you going to do now?” Lyra asked. Her tone was low and encouraging.
Daring sniffed and pulled her chocolate muffin with chocolate chips out of its crinkly paper bag. “I don’t know, Lyra. Go home, I guess. Try to make up a story, see if my publishers will lower their standards.”
“Why not find a new partner?” Lyra suggested.
Daring perked up. “What was that?”
“Ponyville is full of unique and energetic ponies, Miss Do. I’m sure several of them would jump at the chance to adventure with a famous explorer like yourself.”
The muffin fell from Daring’s hooves and landed with a dull thump on the table.
“A… new partner?” she repeated. Her eyes were beginning to sparkle. “A new partner!?”
Lyra’s upper eyelids drooped. “Have you honestly never considered that before?”
“A new partner!” Daring nearly shrieked, leaping to her hind hooves and wiggling her forelegs excitedly. “Oh, sweet Celestia, why didn’t I think of this before? My problems are solved! A new partner!”
A torrent of delighted cackling drowned out the sound of chattering teeth. The tears of joy in Daring’s eyes blurred a small cloud of fine mist that wisped above the tabletop.
“Excuse me, ma’am, are you all right?” an angular, yellow stallion called out from behind the counter. Daring silenced herself and looked his way.
“Oh, yes! Yes, I’m fine.” She lifted a hoof to her mouth and cleared her throat. “Sorry about that. I just had a really good idea pop into my head out of nowhere! You ever have that happen?” With an embarrassed chuckle, Daring snatched the chocolate muffin from the small round table and hurried out the front door. “Thanks for the food, it was great!” she called over her shoulder.
As soon as she was on the street, she broke into a full gallop, suitcases tucked beneath her wings, eyes peeled for a hotel. It looked like she’d be staying in Ponyville for a while longer. Something told her there were good, inspiring, unique, energetic ponies in that town who were more than fitting candidates to replace her sister on another thrilling exploration. She was going to find a suitable partner and embark as soon as possible! Those ancient and/or mystical artifacts wouldn’t know what found them.
Daring hurried past a unicorn trotting alone down the middle of the road. Thinking it better to ask for directions than scurry around an unfamiliar town by moonlight, Daring screeched to a halt and turned to face the stranger.
“Excuse me, Miss,” she said over the resonant plucks of the mare’s harp, “sorry to interrupt, but do you happen to know where the nearest hotel is?”
A whimsical smile graced her flawless face as one hoof pointed down an adjacent street. “The tallest building at the end of that road is a wonderful choice, Miss Do,” she said.
Daring quirked an eyebrow. “You a fan of my books?” she guessed.
Without breaking eye contact, the minty mare shrugged. “Something like that.”
“Pull yourself together, darling!” Rarity implored. “You’re frightening the Cakes’ foals.”
Indeed, Pound and Pumpkin stared up at Rainbow Dash with confusion in their tiny eyes.
“Rainbow, you’ve got snap out of it!” Twilight Sparkle demanded. “Come down from there at once!”
“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Cake said under her breath, scooping her children onto her back and carrying them out of the front room.
There weren’t very many ponies left in the Corner at that hour, but since a mustard-yellow pegasus had burst into unexplained laughter and trotted away three minutes earlier, every eye was locked on Rainbow Dash.
The weathermare was plastered into the far corner of the ceiling. How she managed to cling to the wood, nopony understood. Her limbs and wings were pressed so tightly against the converging walls they appeared flat. Every hair of her multi-colored mane seemed to stand on end. Her only movements were the frantic vibration of her eyeballs and the rhythmic bobbing of her jaw as she repeated one sound over and over again.
Pinkie Pie appeared beside Twilight and covered her ears. “The inside of my nose is itchy,” she whispered to her friends. “You might want to follow my lead.”
Without a second thought, Twilight and Rarity clamped their forehooves over their ears, and not a moment too soon.
The windows of the confectionary rattled in their frames. Several glass cups exploded without warning. Eight of Carousel Boutique’s ponnequins fell to the floor. A flock of ravens in the middle of the Everfree Forest took flight. Princess Luna was momentarily distracted from raising the Moon. A dozen or so stored snowflakes in Cloudsdale’s Weather Factory shattered. A small crack appeared in Tom’s side. Half of Bloomberg’s apples fell to the ground. Discord winced inside his stone prison.
Ditzy Doo flinched as she tucked her little muffin into bed.
Daring Do grinned as the candles in her hotel room flickered.
“Maybe Ponyville isn’t so bad after all,” she mused. “At least somepony here has great taste in fiction.”