Save Your Energy
“She’s not gonna be at Carousel Boutique, Sweetie!”
“We might as well try it! We’ve looked everywhere else!”
“M-maybe she’s at the schoolhouse, or helping repair Town Hall, or demolishing an old building—”
“We would o’ heard that, don’tcha think?”
“Or maybe she’s at Carousel Boutique!”
“SHE’S NOT AT CAROUSEL BOUTIQUE!”
“Actually, Scootaloo, I reckon she is at Carousel Boutique.”
Apple Bloom pointed behind them. Scootaloo twisted the cart perpendicular to the road and skidded to a stop. She followed Apple Bloom’s hoof with her eyes and her jaw fell open in disbelief. Rainbow Dash was right there, pacing back and forth outside the boutique’s front door.
“Told’ja,” Sweetie boasted with half-closed eyes.
“Darn it,” Scootaloo groaned. She flapped her exhausted wings, straining and sweating all the way until the scooter stopped in the boutique’s front lawn.
“Rainbow!” she called out immediately. “Rainbow Dash, I have something to tell you!”
The pacing mare turned toward her with a Pinkie-worthy smile. “Hey, Squirt! I’ve got great news, too!”
They bounded toward each other and, at exactly the same time, shouted at the top of their lungs, “I just met Daring Do!”
Scootaloo’s pupils shrunk with worry. “Wait… you did?”
Rainbow nodded so fast her ears flopped against her forehead. “I spent the night at Sugarcube Corner—”
“But that’s where we started!” Apple Bloom whined.
“—and in the morning we discovered that the Cakes’ twins had been foalnapped!”
The Crusaders gasped and pulled back. “That’s horrible!”
“I know, right?” Rainbow squealed, grinning hysterically. “We were all freaking out when all of the sudden, Daring Do flies through the window and promises to rescue the foals!”
“YAY!” thundered the tiny trio.
“That’s not even the best part!” Rainbow’s wings began to flap, lifting her above the fillies’ heads. Her forehooves shook while she exclaimed, “She chose me as her partner!”
The results for her revelation were mixed. Sweetie Belle’s mouth opened into an enormous oval. Apple Bloom’s front legs gave out and she toppled into the grass. Scootaloo, however, was struck as if with lightning, gritting her teeth in a wide-eyed stare at her overhanging hero.
“Isn’t that awesome?” Rainbow asked, flapping faster.
“Since when does Daring Do have a partner?” Sweetie asked, regaining control of her face.
“Uh… well, since she met me, I guess.” Rainbow leaned back in the air and placed her hooves on her hips. “She told me I have what it takes.”
Scootaloo could barely breathe, stuck between sharing in her idol’s excitement and the crushing disappointment of her plans all dashed to pieces.
As Apple Bloom pushed herself up from the ground, she had a recent memory strike her. “Hey, Rainbow, did’ju see the mailmare around Sugarcube Corner?”
Sweetie caught on quicker than usual. “Oh, yeah! When we ran into Daring this morning, Dinky’s mom showed up and got pretty angry. It seemed like she wanted Daring to leave Ponyville.”
Rainbow’s ears drooped a little. “Oh, you mean Derpy? Yeah… turns out she and Daring are sisters.”
If the Crusaders were any older, they might have suffered heart attacks.
“Bu-bu-bu-bu-whhhaaa?” Scootaloo yowled.
“I know, right? I can’t believe she never told me,” Rainbow Dash grumbled to herself, but turned up her volume to vent at her audience. “It doesn’t seem like they get along very well. Derpy kept calling Daring names and trying to show her up, but Daring gave her old the wing-slap and we got outta there.”
“Now where’s she at?” Apple Bloom asked.
“Who, Daring? She’s in there with Rarity.” Rainbow gestured behind her at Carousel Boutique.
Sweetie’s eyes lit up. “My sister is hanging out with Daring Do?”
“They’re not hanging out!” Rainbow snapped. “I’m Daring’s partner, not her. She’s just making us some outfits for our adventure.”
All three foals seemed to grow a little taller at the word. “Adventure?” they whispered together.
“Well, yeah! Why else would she need a partner, the Sisterhooves Social?” She angled her wings and circled the girls before touching down and striking a pose. “I’m going with her to find the Cakes’ twins.”
Apple Bloom offset her jaw. “Why ain’t ya in there with ‘em, then?”
“I’m trying to remember how to breathe,” she explained, resuming her pace. “You have no idea how exciting it is to be taken under your hero’s wing.”
Scootaloo frowned in sad agreement.
Rainbow came to an abrupt stop. “But you know what, Apple Bloom? You’re right! I should be in there proving to Daring that she picked the right pegasus. No more messin’ around and feeling all jittery inside. It’s time to stop being chicken and start being daring!” She started to giggle but loudly coughed it off, saluting sternly to no one in particular and barging through the front door.
“Come on, girls!” Sweetie Belle invited her friends. “Let’s go spy on what Rarity’s making for them.”
Apple Bloom skipped after her. Scootaloo followed slowly, dragging her hooves through the blades of grass. They suddenly felt much rougher and didn’t look nearly as green.
“How can I prove to Rainbow Dash that I have what it takes?” she asked herself, hanging her head in despair. Every chance she got to impress the fastest mare in Equestria, Scootaloo somehow found herself a trot behind the mark. She wondered if Rainbow would ever know exactly how much she meant to her.
Inside the dress shop, directly across the lavender-striped floor from the entrance, Daring Do was scrutinizing a cream-colored ponnequin clad in a moss-green, collared shirt. Atop its head, covering its ears, was a tan pith helmet wrapped by a similarly green sash.
“Eeugh…” Daring grunted, scratching her chin as she squinted at the outfit. Rainbow Dash stood several pony-lengths behind her, pawing meekly at the ground despite her recent declaration. Beside the ponnequin itself, Rarity watched Daring’s inspection with flaring nostrils.
“Do you not like the color?” she finally asked.
“The color’s fine,” Daring said, shaking her head. “I can’t quite put my hoof on it…”
“Do you not like the shape?” Rarity asked, gesturing to the hat.
“Oh, no, the shape’s fine,” Daring assured her. “It’s just… well, the whole thing just needs to be…”
“Cooler,” Rainbow Dash suddenly piped up. Both the yellow and white ponies turned their necks to look at her.
“What was that, darling?” Rarity asked in the kindest voice she could muster.
“It just needs to be cooler,” she repeated with a shrug, unable to meet either of their eyes.
Daring nodded wide-eyed as if Rainbow Dash had singlehoofedly solved the mystery of life, the universe, and everything.
“Yes,” she breathed, facing the ponnequin once more. “That’s it. It just needs to be cooler. Not much cooler, mind you, you’ve really done a great job. But my partner’s right. This outfit needs to be… it just needs to be…”
“About twenty percent cooler?” Rainbow offered.
Daring smashed her forehooves together triumphantly. “Yes! Exactly!” She beamed at Rainbow before addressing Rarity in a tone of dire importance. “Ma’am, I need you to make two of these outfits, exactly twenty percent cooler than it currently is.”
Rarity’s eye twitched. “How helpful,” she deadpanned, snatching the entire model in her magic and trotting briskly into another room.
Daring pointed a hoof at Rainbow and pulled one side of her mouth into a grin. “You. How did you know that’s what it needed?”
“I’ve had to work with Rarity before,” Rainbow explained, putting on a confident face and brushing off her shoulder with a hoof.
Clicking her tongue several times, Daring approached Rainbow and patted her on the back. “What’d I tell ya? You and me, we’re gonna be great partners. What does Ditzy know? Can’t she see that great minds think alike?”
“I don’t think she can see much of anything,” Rainbow joked off the top of her head. For a fraction of a second, Daring almost looked offended, but Rainbow’s fears were swept aside when the mustard mare burst into hearty laughter.
“You’re right about that one, kid!” she bellowed, slapping the space between Rainbow’s wings several more times. “Oh, steed, that’s funny. You’re funny, kid.” Her brow furrowed and she whispered in Rainbow’s ear, “Say, what’s your name again?”
Slightly surprised, Rainbow recited her name.
“Right, right. Sorry, kid, I’ve always been bad with handles. Too many years spent out on my own hunting for valuable treasure, you know?” She sucked in a deep breath and sighed toward the ceiling. “Let me tell ya, you can’t beat a good adventure when it comes to thrill, but it sure does take its toll.” She gave Rainbow a sidelong glance. “You sure you’re up for it?”
“Absolutely,” Rainbow said, straightening her spine and saluting like a Royal Guard.
Daring barked another laugh. “Good to hear it, kid! You’ve got a lot of enthusiasm. That’ll help. And you look like you’re in good enough shape.”
“Good enough?” Rainbow guffawed. “I’m in the best shape a pony could ask for! I’m a Junior Speedster graduate, black belt in karate, winner of last year’s Best Young Flier Competition—”
“Whoa, whoa, what?” Daring stopped her with a waving hoof. “You’re that pony? The one who pulled off a sonic rainboom to save her friend?”
Rainbow’s smile threatened to rip against her teeth. “Yep, that’s me!”
“I read about you!” Daring remembered, poking Rainbow in the chest. “I didn’t believe it ‘til I saw the pictures. I tried to 'boom a few times when I was your age but never even got close. I figured it was just an old mare’s tale.”
“My friends and I have a way of making old mare’s tales come true,” Rainbow acknowledged with a flick of her wings.
“I bet you’ve got all sorts of great stories being one of the Elements of Harmony,” Daring supposed. “Heck, you might even have half the stories I do! That’s good. When things get slow on our trip, sharing victory stories helps lift up the mood. I used to do it all the time.”
Rainbow scrunched up her brow. “You told yourself your own victory stories?”
Daring blinked. “Uh… yeah, sometimes. Like I said, this stuff takes its toll.”
Rarity marched back into the main room with two green-clothed ponnequins floating beside her.
“Well, girls?” she asked, presenting her work with a knowing grin. “Would you say that I delivered?”
Four fuchsia eyes glistened in the glow that seemed to exude from the matching outfits.
“They’re…” Daring tried to say.
“I’ve….” Rainbow started to drool.
Peeking between an assortment of dresses hanging from a rolling rack, the Cutie Mark Crusaders nearly blew their cover with a triple-amplified gasp.
Rarity’s gleaming teeth broke through her smirk. “I thought so,” she tittered.
Pinkie Pie stayed behind to comfort the Cakes as Ditzy Doo led Twilight Sparkle up the Corner’s stairs. The pegasus didn’t begin to speak until both mares were standing over the missing twins’ wooden crib.
“Are you familiar with Haissanic horseshoes?” Ditzy asked.
Twilight closed her eyes to dig through mountains of memories piled during her lessons from the Princess on Eastern Equinities.
“They’re usually bronze, aren’t they?” she asked, opening one eye. “Rather than steel?”
Ditzy managed half a smile. “That’s correct, Miss Sparkle. And after a lot of use, the bronze begins to chip away and leaves behind distinctive flakes.”
She gestured at the crib. Twilight leaned closer, squinting against the dull pink fabrics lining the tiny mattress.
“I don’t see…” she started to say. Ditzy reached out a helping hoof and gently moved Twilight’s head left and right. Sure enough, at certain angles the morning sunlight reflected off miniscule flakes of bronze.
“Wow!” Twilight cheered. “That’s very impressive, Ditzy! It certainly adds to the evidence that the foalnappers were Haissanic.”
“That’s not all I found,” Ditzy continued, trotting around Twilight to the open window. She beckoned her over and tapped on a section of the chipping wooden window frame. A few strands of long, midnight blue tail-hair had snagged on a protruding splinter. Stepping back to give Twilight more room, Ditzy tapped the other side of the windowsill where brown hairs had caught in a similar way.
“How did you see that?” Twilight asked in awe, watching the web-like strands waver in the breeze.
“I’m not blind, Miss Sparkle.” Ditzy tried to roll her eyes, though it came across as just another senseless swivel.
Twilight’s face burned red. “Oh, no, I didn’t mean… it’s just, even I can barely see it, so with your… handicap…” She winced.
Ditzy chuckled. “Don’t worry, Miss Sparkle. I’m not as easily offended as it must have seemed a while ago. At least, not by somepony as kind as you.”
Twilight’s shoulders only slightly relaxed. “Your sister isn’t kind?”
“She’s kind when she wants something from me,” Ditzy answered with a sad shrug.
Twilight opened her mouth to ask for more details, but Ditzy quickly moved on.
“Another thing I noticed,” she said, returning to the crib, “is this indentation in the pillow. This circle here is where one of the foals’ heads was lying, and you see this deeper point just below it? See how narrow it is? One of the intruders took a child with their hooves, leaving behind the bronze flakes, but the other used his mouth, and this is where his snout pressed down. Why do you think that is?”
Twilight blinked. “I… I’m not sure,” she admitted quietly.
“Perhaps this will help,” Ditzy said, using her teeth to pull a dark blue feather from an outer pocket on her mailbag. Twilight took it in her magic and suspended it between them.
“I found this under the crib,” Ditzy told her. Twilight’s eyebrows lifted as the mailmare continued. “There’s another one just like it in the pink daisy patches on the ground outside the Corner. Tell me, do feathers normally molt so quickly?”
Shaking her head, Twilight noted, “Not unless they’re under strain.”
With a tiny smile of approval, Ditzy asked, “What kind of strain?”
“I mean… if something was tugging at them, or rubbing against them all the time. Something like…” She looked down. “The ground.”
“Bingo,” Ditzy congratulated. “If he used his mouth to carry the baby and is scraping his feathers along the ground, I’m willing to bet he’s missing a forelimb.”
“A three-legged pegasus who uses a wing for balance,” Twilight imagined. “That can’t be very hard to spot.”
“Not if you’re looking in the right places,” Ditzy agreed.
“Wow, Ditzy.” Twilight couldn’t seem to close her mouth all the way. “I had no idea you were so observant.”
Ditzy kicked at the ground. “I used to be a lot better. Back in the day, I could probably have figured out their names at this point.”
“Is it… your eyes?” Twilight asked carefully.
The mailmare’s silence served as her response.
Twilight bit her lip. “What happened, Ditzy?” she asked, taking a brave step closer to the wilting mare. “Was it something to do with your sister?”
With an inner groan, Ditzy turned away from the librarian. “I’m sorry, Miss Sparkle,” she whispered. “I really can’t talk about it.”
Though she did nothing to hide her disappointment, Twilight didn’t press the matter. Instead she cast her gaze out the window where the shadows of the morning Sun were shrinking as it climbed.
“Are you going to tell her what you know?” she asked as her eyes fell on Carousel Boutique.
Ditzy’s nostrils flared. “I guess I’ll have to.” She bowed her head and let her blonde mane fall over her eyes. “I just hope she can catch them before they reach Haissan. If this really does go all the way up to the Sultan… then she has no idea what she’s getting into.”
Twilight faced her once again. “And you do?”
For just a moment, both of Ditzy’s eyes narrowed in on Twilight’s pair. The unicorn stepped back in surprise, only to watch one golden iris drift toward the door.
“I hope I’m wrong,” was Ditzy’s answer. “I hope so very badly that I’m wrong.”
“Wrong about what?”
Ditzy grit her teeth and snorted hard, waiting several seconds before offering a question of her own. “Have you read Daring’s newest book?”
Twilight shook her head. “Rainbow Dash has a copy of it, though.”
“Borrow it,” Ditzy suggested. “It’ll help you understand. Read it while I’m gone. Then I’ll try to explain everything.”
“While you’re gone?” Twilight repeated.
One of her eyes scanned the rooftops of Ponyville through the open window. “I have to go with them,” she said begrudgingly. The eastern horizon loomed. “I haven’t left Ponyville for eight years—except for the Canterlot Hearth’s Warming Eve Pageant, I guess. I remember waving to Dinky from backstage… heh.” She pushed her bangs to one side and sighed. “You see what Daring does to me? I go from being a quiet mailmare to a high-strung detective in less than twenty four hours.”
Twilight laughed at that. “Why do you say you have to go with them?”
Ditzy features turned grim. “Because if they’re not careful—and Daring never is—there’s a good chance they’ll both get hurt.”
Twilight blanched. “Hurt? Ditzy, what are you talking about?”
Ditzy swallowed past a lump in her throat, but didn’t answer the question. “Read the book,” she said again. “I have four ponies to save.”
With a couple swift flaps of her wings, Ditzy was airborne and out the window. She hurdled toward Carousel Boutique, leaving Twilight with one more story to add to her ‘Read Later’ list.
“I’m sorry, darling, you just missed them,” Rarity said to the stony mailmare. “I believe they headed off for the train station.”
Ditzy’s mouth fell open. “What? Already? That idiot! What, does she think Rainbow Dash can just up and leave the weather patrol whenever she wants?”
With an angry grunt, the mailmare spun around and flew toward the center of town. Rarity breathed a sigh of relief and slowly shut the front door.
“Goodness, what a day,” she complained to herself. “Two cutting-edge safari outfits and it’s not even ten o’clock! Why am I always the one to get roped in to that sort of whacky business? This is exactly why I don’t like sleepovers.”
Remembering the Cake twins, Rarity lifted a hoof to her forehead. “Oh, the poor dears! I do hope Rainbow and Daring find them quickly. They certain look the part.” She allowed herself a proud little giggle, slamming her hoof to the ground afterward. “And I hope the shameless ruffians who dared to take those children are brought to swift and proper justice!”
Her declaration was met by applause from three little pairs of hooves.
Rarity whipped around to see the Cutie Mark Crusaders sitting upright on their haunches at the far end of the boutique, clapping for her monologue.
“That was great, Rarity!” Sweetie Belle chirped.
“So powerful!” Scootaloo agreed.
“Inspirin’!” added Apple Bloom.
“Girls! How long have you been here?”
“A while,” Apple Bloom answered succinctly, hopping up onto her hooves. “Those were some mighty fancy outfits ya made fer Dash and Daring!”
Though perplexed by their presence, Rarity couldn’t ignore the compliment. “Well, fancy is hardly the right word, but thank you all the same. I’m rather pleased with how they turned out, especially under such short notice.”
“Is Rainbow Dash really leaving right now?” Scootaloo worried, scurrying closer to Rarity.
“I’m not sure, to be honest,” she said. “They only mentioned the train station, not actually boarding a train. Perhaps they’re only checking for times of departure.”
“Why does Dinky’s mom hate Daring Do so much?” Sweetie Belle asked.
“For that, too, I’m afraid I have no answer. Although this morning, I did discover that Ditzy and Daring are—”
“Sisters,” the fillies finished together.
Rarity blinked three times. “How are you aware?”
“Rainbow told us,” Scootaloo answered, smiling broadly.
“Well, at this rate, I suppose the whole town will know by tomorrow morning,” Rarity mused.
“I’m sure you won’t have anything to do with that,” Sweetie mumbled under her breath. Her friends snickered into their shoulders.
“Now please, girls,” Rarity spoke firmly, “you’re free to stay for as long as you’d like, but please don’t get into any trouble and try not to make any messes. I’ve had a rather exhausting morning and I’m going upstairs to freshen up. If anyone knocks while I’m away, let them know the shop will be closed until noon.”
She trotted through the main room’s archway to the only staircase, hoping Sweetie Belle and her friends would get bored and leave sooner than later.
She wasn’t disappointed. Less than a minute after she’d gone upstairs, the Crusaders exited the Boutique single file after Sweetie Belle made sure the sign in the window read “Closed”.
“Does anypony else wanna know what’s goin’ on?” Apple Bloom asked as she clambered into the red wagon.
“Not really,” Sweetie Belle admitted. “It seems pretty personal.”
“It seems pretty suspicious, that’s what it seems!” Scootaloo said, mounting her scooter and starting up her wings. “Fictional heroes popping up? Mailmares going crazy? And nopony has any answers at all? Maybe Discord’s coming back!”
Sweetie knocked her in the back of the helmet. “Don’t tease about that, Scootaloo.”
“Yeah, Scoots, it ain’t funny.”
“Whatever,” Scootaloo grumbled, rolling her eyes. With a burst of loud flaps, the scooter and its cart bounced out of the grass and kicked up a cloud of dirt when it hit the road. The fillies’ heads pulled back as they shot off like a rocket toward the village proper.
“Maybe Dinky has some answers for us,” Sweetie Belle suggested.
“Yeah!” Apple Bloom beamed. “Let’s go visit Dinky! I love that silly filly!”
“Me, too!” chimed Sweetie Belle. “She plays the flute so beautifully.”
“She is pretty fun to hang out with,” Scootaloo remembered. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind us dropping in for a few questions.”
With that, she steered their party of three in the direction of the Doo’s.
“This hat is so… awesome!”
“It’s all right,” Daring conceded, shifting hers further back on her head. “I’m really diggin’ this shirt thing! Why didn’t I think to have all these pockets before?”
Their dull green outfits had been spiced with Rarity’s flare for semi-practical fashion. Copper zippers ran diagonally over the front of both shirts. The double breasted pockets were adorned with dual bronze buckles, and the collars had been crumpled and frayed to give them a more rugged vibe. They hugged their wearers’ torsos tightly—a little too tightly in Daring’s case—and had several additional pockets sewn into the sides behind the wingholes, ideal for carrying various tools and small medicinal supplies.
“I feel like a real explorer!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, flipping backward over the empty train station’s platform. She caught a glimpse of herself in the ticket box’s window and tapped on the rim of her helmet. “I can’t believe it! I look just like you!”
Daring turned away from the posted train schedule to raise an eyebrow at Rainbow. “We look nothing alike,” she disagreed, eyeing Rainbow up and down. “Except for our eyes, I guess. Other than that, I don’t notice a thing.”
“I just meant our outfits,” Rainbow said, landing next to her idol. “We really do look like partners!”
“That’s because we are partners, kid,” Daring badgered playfully, putting a foreleg around Rainbow’s withers and pointing to a section of the schedule with the other. “The next train to Manehattan leaves at five after one. You ever been to the Big Orange?”
“Once, when I was filly,” Rainbow said. “I don’t really remember it.”
“It’s not far from here, actually,” Daring said, squinting toward the eastern horizon. “I bet you could see if you flew up high enough.”
“Why not just fly there, then?” Rainbow asked, spreading her wings.
“Gotta save our energy, kid,” Daring excused lazily. “Besides, that gives us a few hours to get everything ready to go. You got a job around here or anything?”
Rainbow brought a hoof to her temple and gasped. “Oh, gosh! I almost forgot! That would have been bad. A lot of ponies depend on me around here.”
Daring scoffed. “What, are you the local librarian or something?”
“Librarian? No way!”
“A nurse?” Daring asked with a hint of hopefulness. That could be helpful.
“Nope. I’m the head weathermare. I’ve gotta make sure Thunderlane, Cloud Kicker, and the rest of the gang can handle the skies on their own for… uh… how long do you think we’ll be gone?”
“A day,” Daring guessed. “Maybe two.”
Rainbow was a little disappointed, but she didn’t let it show. “Right. We wanna rescue those foals as fast as possible.”
“That’s the goal.” Daring smirked.
“Lemme go make sure everypony will be okay without me,” Rainbow said, backstroking into the air. “I’ll meet you back here at noon and we’ll buy our tickets.”
“Sounds good.” She watched Rainbow Dash salute her, spin around in the air, and tear through the streets of Ponyville at breakneck speeds, leaving behind a sheet of prismatic light.
“Wow,” Daring muttered to herself, seeing as there was nopony else in the station. “She really is fast.”
“Fastest in Equestria,” droned a familiar voice.
Daring scowled and faced her sister, glaring from beneath her hat.
“Didn’t hear you come up,” Daring said testily.
“That was the point.” Ditzy eyed her sister’s new green jacket as well as she could. “Nice outfit.”
“You could have had one.”
“I thought you said already I had my chance.”
“You did! I wasn’t offering. You missed the train.”
“Speaking of trains, I’m coming with you.”
“I’m coming with you.”
They stared each other down in silence. Wings and eyelids twitched as back teeth ground and nostrils flared.
“No, actually,” Daring growled, “you’re not.”