The Doctor gave a cry of pain and stumbled, sending the TARDIS hurtling through the sky. A familiar feeling surged through him, but he resisted, fumbling with the controls in desperation. Everything seemed to spin around him, which made it pretty hard to land the ship. There was no way the TARDIS had enough energy to make it to Earth.
“I’m going to have to crash land,” he grunted, glancing at the screen above him. “Well, I suppose that’s as good a place as any. Nice, quiet, peaceful…” His shaking hands grasped the controls, sending him veering toward the nearest planet. There was a sudden lurch as they entered the atmosphere, then a loud crash.
Gasping for air, the Time Lord staggered outside. Unable to fight the need to regenerate any longer, he fell forward, yellow light bursting from his hands and face.
This lasted for a few moments before he sat up, breathing heavily. Before he had looked like a regular Time Lord, with hands and such. Now, where he had been sat a very dazed and confused pony.
“Huh. That’s new.”
* * *
Derpy Hooves, Ponyville’s most reliable mailmare, trotted cheerily through the streets. Her saddlebags, usually bulging with mail to deliver, were now empty. Her wings sagged slightly and her eyelids drooped, but she kept the same cheerful smile plastered on her face.
“Derpy!” came a familiar voice. Carrot Top galloped toward her friend, her orange mane bobbing up and down. “Are you finished with your route?”
“Yeah,” the gray mare said, laughing. Her friend always seemed to be in such a rush, no matter what she was doing. “Why? What’s up? Do you need help with something?”
Carrot Top shook her head. “No. I was just wondering what you were doing.” She glanced around before beckoning Derpy to come closer. “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but earlier Colgate smelled smoke from a fire. We couldn’t find the cause of the smell, but she—not me, mind you—thought you might have something to do with it. I didn’t say that, she did! I know you’re not nearly as clumsy as you look.”
Derpy didn’t know whether to take that as an insult or a compliment. It wasn’t her fault she was always bumping into things. When she was younger she and her parents had been in an accident. Her father had died, her mother had broken one bone, and Derpy’s eyes had become crossed. Depth perception wasn't her strongest point, which led to quite a few collisions and more than one destroyed building. “I didn’t smell anything, and I didn’t cause any fires.” She hesitated. “Well, not that I know of, anyway. So how have you been?”
If Carrot Top knew Derpy was trying to change the subject, she didn’t show it. “Oh, I’ve been great! My carrots are almost ready to harvest! Then I’ll be able to make carrot treats for everypony!”
“That’s great." Derpy glanced at the sun, noting its position in the sky. "Hey, I’d love to talk more, but I have to pick up my daughters from school. I’ll talk to you later, Carrot.”
“Okay. Bye, Derpy!” Carrot Top waved goodbye and raced away, probably going to tell Colgate that the burning smell wasn’t her friend’s fault.
Giving a sigh of relief, the gray mare trotted away again. She appreciated Carrot Top a lot, and she was one of her best friends, but sometimes the yellow pony’s antics became a bit too much.
You’re one to talk, Derpy thought. You always cause everypony a lot of trouble. You think that makes them like you?
She shook her head to clear it. Of course ponies liked her. She knew for a fact that her daughters liked her, and her best friends, and her husband. So there, she told herself.
Before too long she could see the Ponyville schoolhouse up ahead. Dinky, a purple-gray filly with a yellow mane and tail, was already waiting outside, talking to the Cutie Mark Crusaders about something. When the filly saw her mother, however, she immediately broke away and raced toward her, tackling her to the ground.
“Mommy!” Dinky exclaimed. “You won’t believe what happened today!”
Derpy lifted her daughter up so she could look her in the eye and kissed her on the nose. “Oh? What happened today, muffin?”
“Excuse me, Mrs. Hooves. Perhaps I should be the one to tell you what took place,” Cheerilee said sternly, coming up beside her. Her normally gentle gaze had an edge to it, and she kept clenching her teeth like she was trying to bite through stone.
Derpy set Dinky down uneasily. “Dinky, run along and play with your friends, okay? Mommy needs to talk to your teacher for a little bit. I’ll get you when it’s time to leave.” She turned back to the teacher. “Did Dinky do something wrong? If so, I’m terribly sorry. I’ve been trying to teach her to behave better, but—”
Cheerilee held up a hoof, silencing her. “No, Mrs. Hooves, Dinky’s behavior isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about. Yes, she can be a bit much to handle, but I assure you, I’m used to foals being rowdy. No, what I need to talk to you about is something else entirely.”
“Oh.” Derpy stared at her hooves. “I...I’m sorry, Cheerilee! You know she can’t help it. I don’t know anything about magic, her father never has time to teach her, and Sparkler has already tried to teach her how to control her magic surges! Nothing works!”
“Derpy, this is the third time this week. If your daughter keeps having these magic surges, somepony could get hurt!” Cheerilee sighed. “I love all of my students, Dinky included. But the last thing I need is for one of my students to become permanently injured because of your daughter. I’m terribly sorry, Derpy, but I’m going to have to ask you to switch schools.”
Derpy’s jaw dropped. “Wh-what? But this is the only public school for ponies her age in all of Ponyville! Night Hooves and I can hardly pay the bill as it is. We—we can’t afford to send her to a different school.” Derpy could feel her lower lip trembling and knew tears were bound to come soon. For the past few months Dinky had been getting strange magic surges at random. Usually she would just accidentally change objects into other things, such as her pencil into a plant, or her lunchbox into a book. They’d seen magic specialists, doctors—heck, they’d even asked Princess Celestia for help. But nothing seemed to work. Recently the surges had become a lot worse, changing ponies into inanimate objects for a few moments before changing them back. “Please, Cheerilee.”
Cheerilee searched Derpy’s eyes before dropping her gaze. “I’ll give you one month to make these surges stop, Derpy. Understand that I wish I could give you more time, but for the sake of my students and my job I can’t.” She reached her hoof and brushed a strand of blonde out of Derpy’s face. “Remember that I’m still your oldest friend, and I care about what happens to you and your family. Now, go on. I’ll bet Dinky wants to get home and see her father.”
“Yeah.” Derpy turned to leave, not looking back as she said bitterly, “Thanks.”
* * *
“Derpy, I’m home,” Night Hooves called from the door. His yellow mane was messy, and his purple coat was covered in grime. His legs trembled with exhaustion.
At once Derpy came racing around the corner, her wings beating furiously. When she reached him she threw her arms around him. “Nighty! You’re back!” she exclaimed. “How was work? Did your team find anything new?”
Night brushed her off. “No, not this week. Although we did manage to rebuild camp after the last attack.”
Countless years ago, Night Hooves had worked as a mailpony, like Derpy. That was how the two had met, bumping into each other and accidentally getting their bundles of mail mixed up. However, a little while after Dinky’s birth, many of Ponyville’s stallions, Night Hooves included, volunteered to investigate in the Everfree Forest. Ponies had been disappearing in there for a while, leaving behind no traces. If a manticore or another beast had killed them, their bones would’ve been left behind. Such wasn’t the case for these incidents. The investigation team was required to camp in the Everfree during the week to search for bodies and clues as to what caused them to disappear. So far, all they’d found was a document written in a strange language, and even that had mysteriously vanished. As Night always said, it was a dangerous job, but worthwhile. "Protecting my family is my top priority," he'd said time and time again.
Sparkler looked around the corner, gagging when she saw her adopted father. “Yuck. Dinner’s almost ready, but for Celestia’s sake, take a shower first!” Years before, she’d been Dinky’s foalsitter. Once the Hooves discovered she was an orphan and living completely alone, they had adopted her at once. “I mean, no offense, Night Hooves, but you smell like a dead rat that's been dipped in sweat and dragged through Foggy Bottom Bog.”
Night laughed and rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay, I’ll shower. Say, how’s Dinky’s magic thing been? You know, those weird rushes of magic? I hope she hasn’t been causing trouble at school.”
“Oh, she almost turned her teacher into a broom,” Sparkler said nonchalantly, “three times.”
His eyes widened. “Dinky Mariella Hooves! You get over here this instant!”
Dinky crawled out from where she was hiding behind Sparkler. Her ears drooped. “I can’t control it, Daddy. I don’t know anything about magic, and you never teach me.”
“Dinky, you know I have to work in the Everfree all week! It’s a dangerous job, you know. Some of my coworkers don’t come back. But do you know what? I do it for my family! Do you hear me? I do it for my family!! So I don’t want you to complain one more time about me never being home." He snorted in anger, pausing to catch his breath before continuing his rant. "And you know what? I’ve been working all day. I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I’ll shower after I eat, thank you very much!” Finished with his outburst, he stormed into their small dining room and sat down at the head of the table. “Well, what’re you waiting for? You were hungry; let’s eat.”
The rest of the night was spent in silence.
* * *
The Doctor took in his surroundings as calmly as he could, considering the circumstances. “Well, this place is pretty nice. Can’t say I’m glad I’m here, but of all the places to crash-land, this is good. Very good.” He stopped for a moment, his eyes narrowed. “Too good.
“And speaking of too good,” he went on, beginning to pace, “why did I regenerate to look like a pony? That’s impossible. I still have two hearts, but really, why a pony? If I regenerate on some random planet, I turn out just fine, but if I regenerate here, I look like a pony! I know I’m still a Time Lord. I would've been able to tell if my DNA was completely rewritten. But…why a pony? What's up with that?”
Realizing that he was getting a bit confused, he took a deep breath. "Okay, Doctor, start with the obvious and work from there. I'm a Time Lord from Gallfirey. My spaceship, the Time and Relative Dimension in Space, is bigger on the inside and can travel to any place or time in the universe. We Time Lords are born with the ability to regenerate when about to die, changing our appearance and personality. For some reason, though, this time I regenerated to look like some sort of small, bright-colored equine." Groaning, he sank to his haunches. "That was supposed to make me feel less confused. Why is it never that easy? Why don't I have some sort of traveling companion that knows everything and can tell me exactly what's going on? That's not fair. Nothing's ever fair for me. I'm just the last Time Lord in the whole universe, there's nothing important about me! ...Oh, dear, I'm getting a bit off topic.
“And what’s this?” He twisted his head to see his flank better. “There’s an hourglass on my rump. That’s bloody brilliant! I’m a talking pony with an hourglass on my rump. Ha! I'm a talking pony with an hourglass on my rump! It feels weird just saying it! In fact, I’m feeling quite dizzy, I think I’d better…” Trailing off, he toppled forward, landing in a jumbled heap. “…Lay down for a spell…”
The Doctor blinked open his eyes, cringing at the sudden burst of sunlight. He could feel his legs splayed out all around him, and half of his face was pressed into the dirt.
“Oh, my head,” he said. “That was a very peculiar dream. I thought I was a pony, and—oh, what do you know?” He stared down at his hooves. “It wasn’t a dream after all.”
Shakily, he got to his feet—hooves?—and looked around. He was in some sort of field next to a peaceful-looking town. The TARDIS was half-hidden in a clump of bushes, safe from prying eyes. The Doctor’s clothes were jumbled up nearby.
“Well, I may as well get rid of those old things,” he sighed, tottering toward the pile of clothes. His hooves kept getting tangled up in each other, so even though the clothes were only a few feet away, it took him quite a while to reach them. Inside the pocket of his shirt was the TARDIS key, his psychic paper…and no sonic screwdriver. The sonic screwdriver was able to unlock anything and hack into any electronic system. “Maybe I left it in the TARDIS,” the Doctor said, becoming worried. “All I need to do is pick up the key, unlock the door, and get my sonic screwdriver. Easy.” He paused, staring down at his hooves, and added, "Or, it would be, if I weren’t stuck with these things."
For a moment more he stared before picking up the key in his mouth. “There. Ish eashy,” he mumbled, stumbling to the door of the TARDIS. As he pressed the key into the lock, though, he could feel saliva building up in his mouth and he instinctively swallowed, washing down the key with the saliva.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
* * *
Derpy rubbed her forehooves on her forehead and groaned. That had been the longest weekend of her life. After Night’s outburst, neither of the foals had wanted to stick around. Sparkler managed to get a last-minute foalsitting job at the Cakes’, and Dinky decided to go crusading with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. That left Derpy alone with Night Hooves. When Night hadn’t had a long week, when he was in a good mood, he was charming and pleasant. When he was in a bad mood, however…he was dreadful.
So most of Derpy’s weekend was spent listening to her husband rant and rave about everything in the world that got on his nerves. Not the best experience.
Now, on Monday, she had a spring in her step. Her saddlebags rustled, shaking around the mail she’d just picked up from her workplace, and her tail swished happily. Two very talkative friends of hers seemed to notice her extra energy and came rushing over.
“Hi Derpy!” Pinkie Pie greeted, bouncing up and down in place next to Carrot Top.
“Oh, hi, Pinkie, hi, Carrot Top!” Derpy chirped, her wings flapping unintentionally. “What brings you to this part of Ponyville? I mean, I know you two like to talk to ponies, but if you haven’t noticed, this is the least-populated part of town.”
Carrot Top smiled. “Actually, Derpy Hooves, we were looking for you. Colgate just told us something really cool and we knew we had to tell you!”
Derpy sighed. She tried her best to like Colgate, but sometimes it grew pretty difficult to. Colgate was usually the first to jump to conclusions and spread gossip. It wasn’t really her fault; she was a fast-paced pony, which meant she had no time to really stop and think things through. The first time Colgate and Derpy met was when Derpy accidentally burst a hole through Colgate’s roof., so they hadn’t exactly started out on the right hoof.
Carrot Top waved her hoof, beckoning Derpy to come closer. “You can’t tell anypony we told you this, okay? Promise you won’t tell!”
Throwing a glance in Pinkie’s direction, Derpy said, “Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”
“Okay. Here it goes… There’s a new stallion in town!”
Derpy smacked a hoof to her face. “Carrot Top, I’m married with two foals. Why in Equestria do I need to know this?”
“Oh, no, Derpy, we weren’t saying it like that. We just thought you should know, because, well...Colgate said the stallion kept wandering around like he didn’t know how to walk. She tried to talk to him and he said something about talking unicorns and stumbled away. I think he’s got…issues.” Carrot Top tapped her head, as if she didn’t expect Derpy to understand what she meant. “Colgate asked his name, and he said it’s just ‘the Doctor.’ He sounds really weird, am I right?”
“Look, Carrot,” Derpy began slowly, “you know that sometimes Colgate makes things up, right? There’s no way there’s a stallion who’s that weird.” Inside, though, she felt a flash of pain. Her friends heard that there was a strange pony in town and automatically thought Derpy should know. What did that tell her about them?
“No, she was telling the truth,” Pinkie Pie said excitedly. “I saw him too! I tried to sing a song to him but he got really scared and ran away to a blue box in the bushes! Well, not really ran, but kind of stumble-tottered, you know, like a foal who’s just learning to walk. Not a foal like Pound Cake, because he just went straight to flying, but a foal like Pumpkin Cake. Ooh, that reminds me, the Cakes wanted me to tell you that Sparkler did a great job foalsitting them! They said—”
“Pinkie,” Derpy interrupted. “I think we’re getting a little off topic. Besides, I really should get going. I have a job, remember?”
“Oh, yeah! Bye! Ooh, Carrot Top, you know what sounds good right now? Pound cake! Not the foal, the food. Mmmm, I should get back to Sugarcube Corner and bake some!”
Once away from the two of them, Derpy released the breath she’d been holding. Pinkie could be a bit much sometimes, just like Carrot Top. But what they’d been talking about, a stallion who didn’t know how to walk and obsessed over talking unicorns and lived in a big blue box…how could something like that not be made up? It was too impossible to be true.
* * *
Derpy Hooves’ mail route seemed to take twice as long today. More than half of the letters were from Pinkie Pie, inviting every single pony in town to a party for the weird stallion. The other letters were normal things like bills and postcards.
When she was finally walking on the street to her home, she felt fear for Dinky churning in her stomach. Over the weekend they’d gone to see Twilight Sparkle, the local librarian. When Derpy explained her youngest daughter’s problem, the purple unicorn had seemed astonished and a bit scared. She said recurring magic surges were very uncommon, but untreatable. Apparently the problem was genetic, though Derpy wasn’t even a unicorn and Night had never said anything about magic surges. Twilight’s next words, though, made Derpy feel even sicker. She said, since magic surges were dangerous and untreatable, most ponies with them were forbidden to ever go to school or get a job.
Derpy hadn’t told Dinky the news yet, but she’d sure as hay told Night Hooves and Sparkler. As expected, Night Hooves was furious and Sparkler was devastated. For half an hour Night Hooves bellowed about how this wasn’t his fault, that he’d never had magic surges, that it was Twilight’s fault for not having a cure. So, following her husband’s wishes, Derpy took Dinky to stay with Zecora for the week. Surely the zebra would be able to find a way to help.
Suddenly, she stopped. Her ear twitched, and her eyes narrowed. There was something up ahead on the path, something alive.
“Excuse me,” the something said in a Braytish accent, “could you help me with something?”
Derpy’s wings flared, ready to lift her into the sky if needed. “What do you need?” she asked cautiously, taking a few steps forward. The something was obviously a pony, but what sort of pony didn’t know how to walk properly? At once she recognized who it was. “Ohhhh, you’re that weird stallion.” Realizing her mistake, she quickly corrected, “Uh, sorry, I mean, you’re that new stallion.”
The pony shook his head. “No, no, don’t call me that, I’m not a stallion.”
“Then what are you?”
He blinked, surprised. How was he supposed to answer that? He doubted any of these ponies knew what an “alien” was, let alone a Time Lord. “Well, I’m not exactly from here,” he finally said. “But that doesn’t matter. Can you help me with something?”
Derpy took a few more steps toward him. He didn’t seem to have any weapons, but he was an Earth pony and a stallion, which meant he was much, much stronger than her. It would only take him a few well-aimed kicks to knock her out, or worse. “I’ll help you, b-but I’m warning you, try any funny business and I'll k-kick your flank to the moon!”
Once Derpy was in front of him and could see him better, she looked him over carefully. He was tall for a pony, with a dark, spiky mane and blue eyes. His coat was light tan, and an hourglass cutie mark sat upon his flank. He looked sort of uncomfortable, shifting his weight like he had something caught in his throat. “What do you need? I have other things to do.”
He looked a bit nervous. “Like I said, I’m not really from here. I’m from—somewhere else. I really don’t know anything about ponies. I don’t know how to walk properly, I don’t know how to pick things up, I don’t know what to eat, I don’t even know whether or not ponies wear clothes! I was wondering if maybe you could help me?” The Doctor coughed, embarrassed. “Oh, and I kind of swallowed the key to my home.”
For crying out loud, Derpy thought, he’s even clumsier than me! Out loud, she said, “S-sure, I can help you.”
“Oh, thank you. Most ponies just laughed at me and walked away. And then there was that one that tried to sing to me…” He shuddered. “Wow, I’m not sure if I like my pony self. I’m a lot more reserved and polite now. Not that that's a bad thing, but... Well, what are you going to do? It’s not like I can choose my personality, right?”
Derpy found herself facehoofing for the second time that day. “Yeah. Right. So, what, I just help you cough up your key, teach you everything imaginable about being a pony, and then I go home?”
“…You’re utterly insane. How do you not know how to be a pony? You were born a pony, weren’t you?”
“Um, no. Not exactly. You see, I’m not really a pony now, either.”
Derpy flapped her wings, lifting herself off the ground. Usually she tried to avoid flying, because every time she did, she ended up obliterating a building. “You’re right! Silly me, I can’t believe I didn’t notice. You’re not a pony; you’re a three-headed polka-dotted monkey shooting lasers out of its eyes. You know what? I’m not helping you, because you’re insane! I think you should go to Princess Celestia and get her to help you. Maybe in a mental hospital they’ll teach you how to walk and use your hooves.” With that said she flew over his head, landed on the other side, and took off running, not looking back once.
When she had gone, the Doctor sat back on his haunches and frowned. “Did I say something wrong?”
* * *
That evening at dinner, while Sparkler was telling her mother about something funny that happened in school, Derpy found her mind wandering back to the strange pony on the road. Weird or not, he had asked her for help and she had turned him down. He was locked out of his home, night was almost there, and she had just left him. What kind of pony did that make her? Considerate? No. Likeable? Definitely not.
“Huh?” Derpy looked up from her hay noodles, startled.
Sparkler looked hurt. “Were you even listening to me?”
Derpy dropped her gaze. “I have a lot on my mind, that’s all. I’m sorry, Sparkler. Here, tell me the story again. This time I’ll listen, I promise.”
Finally Sparkler finished telling how Thunderlane had accidentally spilled all of his lunch on his marefriend, Blossomforth. “You should’ve been there, Derpy!” Sparkler had a habit of calling her adoptive parents by their first names instead of “Mom” and “Dad.” “Anyway, I’m stuffed, and I’ve got homework to do, so goodnight!” She scurried away from the table, using her magic to grab her phone on the way.
“Don’t stay up all night texting, muffin,” Derpy called after her. She waited a minute or two after Sparkler had gone, then, tossing the dishes in the sink to do when she returned, she rushed out the door.
The strange stallion—no matter what he said, he still looked like a stallion—was lying right where Derpy had left him, curled up and shivering. He looked up when Derpy arrived, his eyes weary.
“Hi again,” Derpy said sheepishly. “Sorry I made fun of you and left you outside.”
“Oh, it’s no problem at all! Trust me, I’ve had people do much meaner things to me. Have you come to help me?”
“Yeah, I guess.” She flattened her ears. “I still think you’re insane, though. What’s your name, anyway?” Didn't Carrot Top say his name was “the Doctor?”
“I’m the Doctor. And you are?”
Well, that answers that question. “I’m Derpy Hooves.”
The Doctor burst out laughing, kicking his legs and rolling around. “Ha, ha, ha! Your parents actually named you that? Ha, ha!” He deadpanned, trying to act serious. “Hey, honey, look, it’s our daughter! I know, let’s name her Derpy! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! I’ve never heard anything so—oof!” He stopped talking abruptly as Derpy’s hoof connected with his jaw. “Well, ponies certainly seem to have short tempers.”
“What kind of doctor are you?” Derpy asked bitterly. “I certainly wouldn’t want you to be my doctor. You'd probably kill me on accident.”
“I’m not really a doctor, it’s just my name.”
“Well, it’s a weird one.”
The Doctor shook his head. “Look, Derpy, are we going to sit here bickering like children, or are you going to help me? I’d really like to fix the TARDIS so I can get out of here as fast as possible.”
Derpy circled him curiously, her wings spread. “What’s a TARDIS?”
“It’s my spaceship. And she’s a very good spaceship, if I do say so myself.”
“Is it that blue box in the bushes over there?”
“Well, yes. It’s bigger on the inside,” the Doctor said defensively. “She’s a great spaceship, honestly.”
“Hang on, let me see if I’m following.” Derpy stopped walking and sat down, her eyes slowly becoming crossed. “You’re telling me you’re an alien named the Doctor and you have a spaceship that’s a blue box and is bigger on the inside?”
The Doctor laughed nervously. “Uh…yes? If you don’t believe me, listen to my heartbeats. I have two hearts, honestly. All Time Lords do.”
Derpy rolled her eyes, which actually looked quite strange, considering that her eyes were still crossed. Slowly, she reached her wing forward, resting her feathers on the left side of his chest. She could feel a steady thum-bum, thum-bum. Then, even slower, she shifted her wing to the right side of his chest. Sure enough, there was a heartbeat there. Her eyes stretched as wide as saucers as she looked up at the stallion. “You have two hearts,” she whispered. “Two…hearts…" Her jaw dropped as it sank in that this stallion might not be as crazy as she'd thought before. "So, um, what was it you needed help with again?”
* * *
Deep in the Everfree, the stallion worked, pouring over every detail on the worn paper he’d found in his friend’s tent. His charcoal-gray mane was drenched with sweat, and his gray body was so damp he could’ve been wrung out like a towel. Mosquitoes buzzed around him, tearing at his flesh, but they were the last things on his mind at the moment.
Suddenly, he stopped. His eyes narrowed, then widened. “No…it can’t be…” He knew this language. He’d spent most of his life learning and perfecting the languages of the world, and this language…this language sent shivers down his spine. “That’s not possible. If this is what I think it is…if this says what I think it says…we’re in terrible danger.”
“What was that you said?” Night Hooves asked from where he was standing right behind him.
The stallion jumped. “O-oh, Night Hooves, it’s you. I was just saying that I found something very interesting that you might want to tell the others about.”
“Is that so, Lucky?”
“Yes. I think I know who or what we’re up against!”
Night Hooves’ eyes narrowed dangerously, but Lucky didn’t seem to notice. “Okay, then. I’ll get some of my best workers and meet you in the forest to discuss what you discovered. Oh, and by the way, Lucky, where’d you find that document? Think carefully. Your answer is very important.”
“I-I found it in your tent, sir.”
“Very well. Follow that path right there and you’ll come to a clearing. Don’t worry, we’ll be there soon enough.”
Lucky nodded, completely oblivious to his boss’s anger. “Yes, sir. I think you’ll find what I found out very interesting.”
Night Hooves watched the young stallion leave before giving a quiet chuckle. “Yes, I think I’ll find it very interesting indeed.” With that he broke into a run and hurried back to the camp, skidding to a stop in front of his best workers. “Well, stallions, it seems we were fortunate today. It’s a code blue.”
“Who is it?” one of them asked.
“Lucky. Follow me, and be ready by the time we get to the clearing.”
Lucky was walking calmly down the path, keeping his ears perked in case anything was following him. His mind was racing, trying to figure out how to break the news to the others. Well, men, he pictured himself saying, it seems we’re dealing with changelings here. Not just any changelings, but supreme changelings. They’re the most dangerous creatures to have ever walked Equestria. We must report to Celestia at once.
Very soon, he reached the clearing, sitting patiently in the middle.
“Lucky, tell us exactly what you found out,” came a voice that was similar to Night Hooves’, but not quite the same.
He looked around, confused. “Are you guys in the bushes or something? Why can’t you come out?”
“Tell us what you found out.”
“Well,” he began, “um, it appears we’re dealing with changelings. That’s right, changelings, like the ones that tried to ruin Captain Shining Armor’s wedding a few years back. But these ones are even worse. These are the supreme changelings, the worst of the worst, the strongest of the strong. I hate to say it, but I think we’d better step out and let the Princesses and Elements of Harmony handle this case.”
A rustling could be heard in the bushes. “Wow, you’re not as dumb as I thought before, Lucky. Tell me, do you have any family, or maybe a marefriend?”
“I don’t see what this has to do with anything, but yes, I do. Her name is Wild Fire, and we’re hoping to get married soon. I love her more than anything.”
“Perfect.” Something began to step out of the bushes, dark, tall, and terrifying. “You’re just what we need.”
Lucky shrank back, only to bump into another one of the creatures. “S-sir? What’s going on? Sir?” He could feel magic surrounding him, pulling him into a deep rest. “S-sir…what are you…?!” Finally, it became too much, and darkness closed in on him.
The creature that had spoken waved its hoof—if it even counted as a hoof—at the others. “Take him to the cocoons. Once I get back, the Queen and I will decide what to do with him.”
“Yes, sir!” they bellowed, dragging the unconscious stallion away.
Night Hooves, or what had previously been Night Hooves, gave a cruel smirk. “I promised nobody would find out what we’re doing, and I meant it. No matter what it takes, this time we will not fail. We will be victorious. Nopony, not even Celestia herself, will be able to stop us.”
For the second time that week, Derpy woke up eager to get to her job. However, today she was hoping to get the mail delivered as soon as possible so she could talk to the Doctor some more. The day before she’d showed him how to walk as a pony, taught him what ponies ate, fed him something so he’d puke up the TARDIS key, and helped him learn how to use hooves.
“Wait there while I open the TARDIS,” the Doctor had said the day before, sounding like a foal on Hearth’s Warming morning. “You won’t believe what the inside is like!” He’d only dropped the key seven times before managing to force it into the lock and turn it. Then he had shoved open the door, spreading his arms wide. “Derpy Hooves, welcome to my TARDIS.”
Derpy had pushed past him, excited. Once she was inside, though, she frowned. “Huh. I expected it to be shinier.”
The Doctor had snorted. “That’s it? No, ‘It’s bigger on the inside?’ No, ‘Doctor, you have such an amazing ship, thank you for showing me this?’”
“Well, you told me it was bigger on the inside. I believed you, so I knew it was coming.”
As soon as Derpy said that, the Doctor had put on his best puppy-dog eyes, begging, “At least say it’s bigger on the inside and look surprised. That’s my favorite part. C’mon, at least give me this!”
Derpy sighed. “Oh, wow, it’s bigger on the inside! Goodness me, I never expected that! How in Equestria is that possible?”
Today Derpy was going to take him on a tour of Ponyville, showing him where to buy food among other things. Afterward he would tell her how he came to Equestria and what his life was like. But, no matter how much she was looking forward to it, Derpy still had work to do. That was why she was flying full speed toward her office with her saddlebags dangling at her sides. And that’s how she came to be sitting amidst pieces of Carrot Top’s wrecked cart after crashing into it.
The gray Pegasus sat up, rubbing her aching head with a hoof. When she spied her friend standing a few feet away, staring in shock, she grinned sheepishly. “My bad, Carrot Top. I wasn’t looking where I was going. Here, I’ll help you clean this up. And…and I’ll even pay you back to fix the damage.”
Carrot Top’s jaw hung open. She seemed fixed in that same position, her eyes huge and unblinking, her legs glued to the ground.
Derpy waved a hoof in front of her face. “Hello? Carrot Top? Are you there?”
“Derpy…please tell me you didn’t just completely wreck my cart, which, by the way, was filled with all the carrots I grew that are now ruined?”
“Uh…I didn’t just wreck your cart which was filled with all the carrots you grew.”
A crowd had begun to gather, most of them shaking their heads in shame. It wasn’t an odd sight to see Derpy sitting amongst wreckage. Actually, it was pretty common, no matter how much Derpy hated to admit it.
“What’s going on?” came a familiar gruff voice.
Derpy cringed. “S-sorry,” she squeaked.
Her boss, Crafty Crate, snapped, “Derpy, this kind of thing is why I wish I could fire you! But if I fired you, you wouldn’t be able to pay to fix this kind of thing!”
“I’m sorry,” she repeated quietly.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re sorry. You know what, Derpy? Because I’m trying to be kind, I’ll let you take the day off to help your friend clean up the mess you made. Sound good?”
“Good. Now, I don’t want to hear that you’ve messed up anything else for the rest of this week. Is that clear?”
“It better be. Enjoy your day off.” Crafty Crate snorted angrily before galloping off, his head high.
Gradually the crowd began to disperse, leaving only Derpy, Carrot Top, and a few other ponies.
“Does that happen often?” The Doctor came trotting over, his eyes bright.
Derpy’s ears drooped. “More often than I’d like it to. I thought you were still in the TARDIS.”
“What? No, no. Time Lords don’t need much sleep. I was only in the TARDIS half the night, trying to fix it. Unfortunately, my sonic screwdriver’s completely busted, and the TARDIS can’t create a new one if it’s broken, so I don’t know what to do. I decided I’d start my tour of Ponyville a little early. Let me just tell you, of all the restaurants here, Sugarcube Corner is by far my favorite. Who would’ve guessed I really like sweets as a pony? Not me, certainly.”
Carrot Top looked surprised and slightly annoyed. “Derpy, you two know each other now?”
“It’s a long story,” Derpy said flatly.
The Doctor shook her hoof vigorously. “I’m the Doctor. And you are?”
“Nice to meet you, Carrot Top. Now, let’s get to work, shall we?” He flashed her a smile and sniffed at the broken boards. “My, how’d all this happen from one little crash? And how did you not see the cart? I can imagine it was pretty big.”
Derpy pointed a hoof at her eyes.
“Oh, dear, are your eyes always crossed like that?”
Instead of answering, Derpy folded her wings and turned to pick up a plank. “Carrot Top, I’m really sorry about this.”
The earth pony gave a halfhearted smile, saying, “It’s no problem. I know you can’t help it. So how’d you meet this dude?”
The Doctor grinned. “I accidentally swallowed the key to my—uh—home, and I was asking Derpy for help. Oh, and I didn’t know how to walk or use my hooves or what to eat. So Ms. Hooves decided to assist me. Easy enough, right?”
“Mrs. Hooves,” Derpy corrected bitterly. “I’m married.”
“Really? Who are you married to, and why haven’t I met him?”
“His name is Night. He works in the Everfree Forest all week. A while ago reports of ponies disappearing there started rolling in. If a pony goes missing in the Everfree, we always find bones, or blood, or a body. But not these times. So Ponyville sent a team of ponies to investigate. Night Hooves was among them.” She stopped talking, glancing at the Doctor. He was smiling ear to ear, his hooves dancing around in excitement. “What are you looking so pleased about?”
“Nothing really,” he said. “It’s just that I expected Equestria to be boring and peaceful. I never thought other aliens would come here. But I guess I was wrong! Hee, hee!”
Carrot Top looked extremely confused. “What does he mean, other aliens?”
The Doctor ignored her, grabbing Derpy by the arm. “Derpy! We can clean this up later. Right now we have some important business in the Everfree to attend to. Although it would’ve been useful to have my sonic screwdriver, but what are you going to do?” He pranced in circles. “I wonder what sort of creature it is? It might not be an alien, but if it’s dangerous enough to send a bunch of people—sorry, ponies—to investigate, then it’s probably dangerous enough for me to get involved! Oh, this is wonderful!”
After a few moments, he realized Derpy hadn’t moved. “What’s wrong, Derpy? Are you coming?”
“Actually, Doctor, I’m not,” she said. “I wrecked my best friend’s cart, so now I have to fix it. But…if anything exciting happens, let me know, okay? It sounds fun.”
The Doctor sighed. “Okay. See you around!” Without waiting another moment he took off, giggling madly and tripping every few feet.
* * *
Sparkler made her way down the hallway, her head low to the ground. As usual, her backpack bulged, filled with textbooks, folders, and homework. When she saw a familiar blue-maned Pegasus walking toward her, she groaned. “What do you want, Thunderlane? Are you here to make fun of Derpy again?”
Thunderlane shook his head. “Nah. I’m saving the stuff I want to say about your mom for later. Actually, there’s something interesting I thought you should know.”
“What? In case you haven’t noticed, school is about to start.”
The stallion waved a hoof dismissively. “When have either of us ever cared about being late for class? Seriously, I think you’ll find what I discovered very interesting.”
“For pony’s sake, just tell me what you found out already!”
“Somepony’s in a bad mood,” he joked.
“Thunderlane, I swear to Celestia, if you don’t tell me what you found out right now, I will tear every feather off your wings.”
“Okay! Geez. So, last night, I was taking my little bro, Rumble, for a flight around Ponyville. He’s just learnin’ to fly, you know? But then I heard your mom’s voice.”
“She’s not my mother.”
“Whatever. I heard Derpy’s voice. I figured she snuck out, so I followed the sound of her voice.”
“She was with a stallion!”
“Yeah. He was really weird, though. Apparently he swallowed the key to his house, so she had to help him puke it up.”
Sparkler made a face. “Ew!”
“He also didn’t know how to walk properly, and his name was, like, Doctor or something. I think he’s got some mental problems, because he kept sayin’ he wasn’t from this planet.”
“What…what did he look like?”
Thunderlane shrugged. “Pretty average. Brown earth pony, darker mane and tail, you know. He had an hourglass cutie mark. No clue why, though. He didn’t look like he made clocks or whatever. Anyway, just thought you should know.” The school bell rang, sending the ponies that were left in the halls scrambling to get to their classes.
Sparkler’s mind raced. Yes, Derpy and Night Hooves weren’t her biological parents, but they still took care of her. Night may not have been the sweetest or most loving of ponies, but he still loved Derpy, and Derpy loved him. Right? So why was Derpy running around meeting some other stallion? It didn’t make sense. And who was this “Doctor?” Why had Sparkler never heard of him before? “Thunderlane, can you tell all my teachers I’m sick with the feather flu?”
“Um…sure, I guess. Why?”
“I have some…business to take care of. Bye!” Leaving behind a very confused Thunderlane, the teenage mare darted out of school. She knew that she couldn’t confide in Derpy, Night Hooves was working, all her friends were in school, and Carrot Top would probably just tell Derpy, which left her only one choice. She was going to have to go into the Everfree and get Dinky.
* * *
The Doctor paced by the edge of the forest, breathing heavily. Derpy hadn’t told him much about the Everfree Forest, but she’d said enough to make him realize it wasn’t safe. Usually he wouldn’t care about how safe it was, but he hadn’t quite mastered running as a pony. And, as anyone who traveled with the Doctor knew, he had to run quite often.
Finally he worked up the courage to take a step inside the trees. Just as he did, though, he heard a gasp behind him.
Whipping around, he caught sight of a pinkish unicorn with a purple mane. Her eyes were narrowed dangerously, and her lip curled.
“Hello, there,” he said cheerfully. “Do I know you from somewh—?” His words were cut off as the young mare tackled him, her hooves slamming into him. “Ugh, pony hooves hurt,” he groaned.
The mysterious mare towered over him, her eyes blazing with anger. “You’re the Doctor, right?”
“Y-yes? Honestly, have we met before?”
She smacked a hoof across his face. “What the hay do you want with Derpy?!”
The Doctor rubbed his jaw in pain. “Allow me to repeat myself: pony hooves hurt.”
“Answer the question, wise guy.”
“I’m not sure I actually understand the question. Why would I want anything from Derpy? She was just helping me with some things, like showing me how to walk, how to hold things, what to eat…” He licked his lips. “Speaking of eating, I’m actually quite hungry. Well, I suppose it will have to wait.” He tilted his head. “Okay, seriously, why are you so angry with me? I don’t recognize you, so I certainly can’t have done anything wrong to you. Well, not yet anyway. Well, not at this point in my timeline.”
She stepped off him and crossed her arms with a huff. “I’m Sparkler. Derpy adopted me when I was a filly. So she’s practically my mother.”
“That might explain your attitude,” the Doctor said under his breath.
“Care to repeat that in a louder voice?”
“Um, no, not really.”
Sparkler looked him up and down suspiciously. “Why were you about to go into the Everfree? Don’t tell me you were about to go get Dinky, too?”
“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but who is Dinky?”
“Ha!” Sparkler snorted. “You’ve been sneaking around behind my father’s back with my mother and you don’t even know her foals’ names? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
The Doctor held up his hooves, stunned. “Hang on, what did you just say? Are you suggesting we’re romantically attached? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard some pretty dumb things. I’m hundreds of years older than her, she’s married, she’s got two foals, apparently, and besides, she’s one of the most infuriating ponies I’ve ever met. Granted I haven’t met many ponies, but you know what I mean.”
Now it was Sparkler’s turn to be stunned. “Did you say you were hundreds of years older than her? What are you, an alicorn?”
“No, I’m a Time Lord. Look, I can explain all that later, but right now I have things to do. Very important, save-this-planet type of things to do. Why are you going into the Everfree Forest, and why are you going alone? Aren’t you supposed to be in school? Do ponies even go to school?”
Sparkler rolled her eyes. “You’re weird, you know that? I was going to get my sist—I mean, Derpy’s daughter, Dinky. She’s staying with Zecora.” The Doctor blinked. “The zebra.” He blinked again. “Don’t you know anything?”
“Sorry, I’m relatively new here. Why is Derpy’s daughter staying with a zebra in the Everfree Forest?”
“Did Derpy tell you anything about her life?”
“Well, Dinky’s been getting dangerous magic surges since she was really little. Her teacher as good as banned her from the school, so she was staying with Zecora. Zecora is really smart. We were hoping she might find a cure, and—what are you giggling at?”
“Hee, hee. Magic. That’s brilliant!”
“…Did I mention you’re weird?”
The Doctor began pacing again. “Yes, but that’s not the point. It seems to me like you ponies are wondering how to fix Dinky’s magic surges. But maybe that’s not what you should be wondering. What you should be wondering is…why? Why is she getting these magic surges?”
“Well…Twilight Sparkle said it’s genetic.”
“Genetic. But Derpy’s not a unicorn, she’s a…whatever a flying pony is called.”
“Yes, right, that’s what I said.”
“Well, Dinky’s dad is a unicorn. Maybe it comes from him.”
The Doctor’s mind whirred. “Yes. Maybe. Although I’m not certain, my guess is that these magic surges have something to do with the creature in the Everfree. Maybe these surges aren’t entirely natural. Alien, even.” His eyes widened. “Sparky—”
Sparkler snapped, “It’s Sparkler!”
“Yes, right, that’s what I said. Take me to your sister!”
* * *
Watching from the bushes, the changeling’s eyes stretched wide. “Time Lord? No, that’s not possible. The Time Lords were wiped out. But if he is a Time Lord, then we’re in big trouble. He knows too much. We need to find a way to trap him.” Remembering the conversation he’d just witnessed, he gave a cruel smile. “And I think I know exactly who to use as bait.”
Half an hour after the Doctor left, Derpy was having second thoughts about staying behind. He was probably fighting awesome creatures in the Everfree Forest, and Derpy was stuck picking up carrots and wooden planks. To make things worse, Carrot Top hadn’t stopped talking once.
“So then I said to Colgate, ‘Hey, if you can’t do the crime, don’t do the time!’ It was hilarious, Derpy, you should’ve seen it! Oh, that reminds me, a few days ago I was talking to Berry Punch and—”
Derpy groaned and flared her wings. Carrot Top was basically a less-random, less-hyper version of Pinkie Pie. Especially when she’d had a lot of sugar, which she had.
“This morning I ate four doughnuts at Sugarcube Corner! Can you believe it? They were good, though. I had a glazed doughnut, a chocolate doughnut, a powdered doughnut, and a jelly-filled super-sprinkle special doughnut! They’re really good, you should try them. Oh, and while I was there I saw that Doctor pony there. He kept muttering about a target or something.”
“TARDIS,” Derpy corrected quietly, placing yet another filthy carrot on the pile.
“Yeah, a tar-dips. He’s strange, you know that? I—”
Derpy looked around at the mess, which was now separated into a pile of planks and a pile of carrots. “Hey, uh, Carrot Top, we’re done. And I’d love to stay here, really, but I need to…um…earn the money to pay you back. So, uh, bye!”
“Wait! Derpy!” Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t Carrot’s voice that called out. It was the Doctor’s, or at least what sounded like the Doctor’s. The brown stallion raced over, his eyes frantic. “Derpy, something’s happened. I need you to come with me, now!”
“The—the TARDIS! It’s gone! And I think I know where to find it, but I need you to come with me. I need your help.”
Derpy’s eyes lit up. Finally, she had something fun to do. “Great! Carrot Top, I’ll see you later, okay? I have a TARDIS to find!” She reared, her hooves pawing at the air, and galloped after him.
Carrot Top watched them go, shaking her head. “That stallion’s nothing but trouble. Derpy better be careful. Though there did seem to be something odd about him this time. Hm. Oh well. I bet it’s nothing.”
* * *
The Doctor and Sparkler skidded to a stop in front of Zecora’s hut. It was a hollowed-out tree-looking thing, decorated with strange painted masks. Outside was a garden of herbs and other plants, and a cauldron of bubbling water hung above a small fire. All in all, it looked pretty creepy, but neither of them minded. The Doctor personally preferred creepy things, and Sparkler knew this place was safe.
The zebra was outside, nosing at a patch of herbs on the ground. As they arrived, she looked up, her eyes blinking slowly. “Who is this with you, my dear, and why has he come with you here?” she asked, her deep voice resonating off the trees.
Sparkler gave the Doctor a sideways look. “Good question, Zecora. He’s a friend of Derpy’s, and for some reason he needed to see Dinky. He says he’s from a different planet, but he looks like a pony to me. Care to explain now, Doctor?”
“No time,” he said briskly, looking around. “Where’s Dinky?”
“She is asleep inside my home, for I forbade the foal to roam.”
“Great!” Within a second he was inside.
Sparkler's eyes narrowed and her ears flattened. Annoyance was spread across her face like icing on a cake. Seeing the strange look Zecora gave her, she sighed. “Seriously, I don’t know. As soon as I mentioned Dinky’s magic surges he started getting really freaked out and talking fast. I brought him because I figured he might know what’s wrong with Dinky.”
“You were right in thinking so. He may seem strange, but he does know.”
“Does that mean you believe he’s an alien? I mean, no offense, but that’s impossible.”
Instead of answering, Zecora looked back at her hut, her ears swiveling and nostrils flaring. She appeared to be deep in thought. Finally she nodded to Sparkler and made her way inside.
Sparkler stood there for a moment, her jaw dropping. Zecora was one of the smartest, most sensible creatures around. If she too believed the Doctor was an alien, then surely it must be true. But…how? Sparkler thought. Why? He looks just like a pony. And what’s he doing here of all places? It just doesn’t make sense.
The Doctor popped his head out of one of the windows, startling Sparkler out of her thoughts. “Parker, are you coming, or are you going to stand out here the whole time? There are things to do, you know.”
“It’s Sparkler,” she muttered, but she joined him inside the hut.
As soon as she entered, a purple-gray blur rushed toward her. “Sparkler!” Dinky exclaimed. “Where are Mommy and Daddy? Who’s this stallion? What are you doing here?”
Sparkler swept Dinky into a hug. The day’s events rushed through her head. “I’m not really sure where Derpy is, and Night Hooves is at work. This stallion’s called the Doctor. He thinks he might be able to help you.”
Immediately Dinky started backing away. “Another doctor?” she whispered. “I-I don’t like doctors. They always poke me and prod me and shine lights in my eyes and then tell me they don’t know what’s wrong with me.” She crouched, whimpering softly. “Go away, Mister. Please don’t hurt me.”
The Doctor shook his head softly. “I’m not that sort of doctor. I’m not going to examine you, but I can help you.”
“How? Nopony can help me,” she insisted.
“That’s perfect, because I’m not a pony.”
“But Daddy said I’ll never be fixed. He said I’ll always have these magic surges, and there’s nothing I can do.” Her head drooped dejectedly.
“Did he now?” The Doctor seemed to have perked up considerably. “What else did he say?”
“Well…he said I’d grow up to be super special. He also said to eat all my vegetables, and to wash behind my ears, and to—”
“Right, right, that’s enough. Now, remember how I said before that I wasn’t going to examine you?” The filly nodded. “Well, I lied. But I won’t poke you or prod you or shine lights in your eyes. I just need you to sit still for a minute.”
Dinky looked at Sparkler for assurance. The older mare nodded and smiled. Then she turned back to the Doctor and sat back on her haunches. “O-okay.”
The Doctor sat in front of her and lifted his hooves so they were hovering over the sides of Dinky’s head. “This is going to hurt a little, but only for a minute or two.”
“Wh-what are you g-going to do?”
“I need to get inside your mind. I know this seems terrifying, but I know you can be brave. If you let me do this, I can help you.”
Her eyes were wide, frightened, but past the fear the Doctor could see determination. He could see bravery, and strength, and persistence. She nodded her head firmly. “Do it.” At once the Doctor’s hooves touched her head, and she felt a jolt of pain run up and down her body. A loud yelp escaped from her mouth.
Sparkler was on her hooves at once. “Stop that right now! You’re hurting her, Doctor! Stop it!” Her lip curled. “Are you even listening to me? I demand you to stop it!”
The Doctor tuned her out, focusing only on Dinky. He could see her emotions, her thoughts, her perspective. He could see every moment of her life playing out; every word she spoke, every day she lived. He could see the days past and the days to come. But most importantly, he could see who—what—she was.
Now it was the Doctor’s turn to yelp. As fast as he could he withdrew his hooves and backed away. “It can’t be,” he croaked. His eyes didn’t leave Dinky. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“What?” Sparkler asked, suddenly fearful. “What happened?”
He slowly lifted his gaze to meet hers. “I know what’s wrong with her. And I’m sorry to say, but we’re all in very grave danger.”
It took Sparkler, Dinky, and Zecora a few seconds to comprehend what he’d just said. When they did, they all had the same reaction. “WHAT?!”
“You know, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t realize this before. The signs were all there; I just chose to ignore them. I dismissed them as coincidences. Oh, how could I have been so stupid? Maybe ponies are less intelligent than Time Lords. No offense.”
“For Celestia’s sake, Doctor, can you just tell me what the hay is wrong with my sist—I mean, Dinky?”
The Doctor gave Sparkler a sharp look. “Why do you do that, Shaker?”
“It’s Sparkler, and why do I do what?”
“Why do you call your mother and father by their first names, and why don’t you call Dinky your sister?”
She snorted. “You’re changing the subject, Doctor. What the hay is wrong with Dinky?”
His brow furrowed, and he continued to cast worried looks toward the small filly. “Nothing’s wrong with her, really. She’s always been like this. It’s just recently that she started to show it.”
Sparkler advanced toward him, her hoof raised. “If you don’t tell us exactly what’s wrong with her right now, I promise you I will slap you.”
“She’s half-changeling.” Despite the fact that he answered her, she still slapped him. “Why’d you do that? I told you!”
“This is no time for joking!” she shouted. “Tell us the truth!”
“That is the truth!” he shouted back.
“How can she be part changeling? That doesn’t make sense!”
“That isn’t possible. You have to be lying.”
“I mean, who’s her dad, then?”
“I don’t understand!”
The Doctor shoved his hoof in her mouth. “Honestly, Sparky, could you shut up and let me talk? Thank you. Now, down to business. Can I at least tell you why I should’ve known about the changelings?”
Sparkler nodded silently.
“First, when I regenerated, I looked like a pony. That doesn’t normally happen, in case you didn’t know. I figured there was some sort of weird thing in the atmosphere, and I was right. But I didn’t give it a second thought. Do you know exactly what sort of weird thing was in the atmosphere?” He gave a huge grin, proud to have figured this out. “Changeling residue! Something I’ve discovered over time is that some alien races leave behind an invisible, almost non-detectable residue. The changeling race is one of them.”
Sparkler spat out his hoof and blurted out, “How’d you detect the residue, then?”
“I’m a Time Lord. We have some brilliant skills. Anyway, the changeling residue interfered with my regeneration, automatically making me look like the natives. That would be you ponies, by the way.
“The second thing that I should’ve paid attention to,” the Doctor continued, “were the creatures in the Everfree Forest. Ponies disappearing out of nowhere? Had to be alien. Only certain ponies being picked to investigate it? Very suspicious. But, again, I dismissed it. I had other things to think about. The creatures in the Everfree are changelings, though I expect you’ve figured that out now.
“And finally, last but not least, was Dinky. Now was when I started paying attention. Sparkly, when you told me about her magic surges, I started connecting the dots. Something was definitely going on. There were strange creatures in the Everfree, alien residue in the air, Dinky was having magic surges, and her father was working in the Everfree to investigate the strange creatures.” He waited a few moments, as if trying to add a dramatic effect. “Yes, Dinky. Night Hooves is a changeling.”
* * *
Carrot Top gave a smile of relief. After hours of cleaning up the cart and rebuilding it, she was finally done. Sure, it was a crudely built cart, but it held the carrots, and that was all that mattered. Now all she had to do was get the cart with the carrots back to her home before anything else—
A tan stallion barreled into the cart, crushing it instantly. He sat up and shook his head as if dizzy. Carrot Top immediately recognized him as the Doctor.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” she said, throwing up her hooves.
Derpy’s two daughters came scurrying after him, a frantic look on both of their faces. “Where’s Derpy?” Sparkler asked.
She looked between them and the Doctor. “Isn’t she with you?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, a bit after the Doctor left, he came back to get Derpy. He said something about a missing tar-dis.”
The three other ponies groaned in unison.
“That lowly changeling scum,” Sparkler muttered.
“That means Mommy’s in danger,” Dinky said quietly.
The Doctor lowered his head. “This is not good. Not good at all.” Suddenly he tensed. “Carrot Top, do me a favor and keep these two here. I might be gone a while.” He would’ve run away right then if Sparkler hadn’t held him in place with her magic.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to where Night Hooves and the others were ‘investigating.’ What does it look like?” He struggled fiercely, his eyes dark.
Sparkler pawed at the ground. “Not without us, you’re not.”
“And why is that?”
“Because…well…because we want to come with you. Why are you so keen to help my mother, anyway?”
He stopped and looked her in the eye. “It’s my fault she’s in trouble in the first place. I’m a dangerous person. Those involved with me tend to get hurt, and I’m not going to let that happen again. So please, let me go and stay right where you are.”
She glared at him for a moment more before releasing him. “Fine. You get your way. Have fun saving the world while we sit here and pick up carrots.”
“Thank you.” The Doctor reared on his hind legs, pawing at the air. “Woohoo! That’s more fun than it seems. I haven’t said this in hundreds of years, but…Allons-y!” With that he took off, leaving clouds of dust in his wake.
Carrot Top blinked twice. “What just happened?”
“It’s a long story. Dinky and I will explain some other time. Now I’m really sorry about this, but I’m going to have to use an immobilizing spell on you.” Sparkler’s horn lit up, sending sparks flying. Magic shot from her horn and settled on Carrot Top’s hooves, fixing her in place. “I’m not going to let that featherbrain throw his life away to save my mother. Goodbye, Carrot Top!”
Dinky giggled. “You called Derpy your mother for once, Spark!”
“Yeah, well, don’t get used to it.”
The two of them took off after the Doctor, leaving a very confused Carrot Top behind.
“Wait!” the earth pony called. “Come back!” Seeing that they weren’t responding, she sighed. “Oh, ponyfeathers. Guess I’m going to miss my dentist appointment this evening.”
* * *
As the Doctor and Derpy made their way through the Everfree, Derpy began to feel a bit puzzled. He hadn’t spoken one word to her so far besides telling her he thought the TARDIS was in the middle of the forest, and he was getting farther and farther ahead of her.
“Doctor, can you wait up?” she said loudly, her wings rustling. Though she hated to admit it, the Everfree Forest gave her the shivers. It wasn’t natural, and the creatures in it…the creatures were downright horrifying. “You’re getting kind of far ahead of me.”
He turned to look back at her, his eyes gleaming dangerously. “Actually, Derpy, you’re getting kind of far behind me. I’m not speeding up; you’re slowing down. Walk faster.”
She stopped walking completely. “Excuse me?”
“I said, walk faster!” There was a certain edge to his voice, a certain fierceness, that would’ve made any other pony obey without hesitation. But Derpy wasn’t any other pony.
Her wings flared, propelling her up and over him. She landed in front of him and whirled around, her lip curling. “Forgive me, Doctor, but I can’t walk very fast without tripping over plants and rocks! I don’t know who you think you are, but you certainly aren’t able to speak to me like that! So please, Doctor, shut your muzzle and walk slower.”
That was her first mistake.
The Doctor’s eyes flashed bright green. He backed away from her, his hooves trembling with concentration. Then, before her eyes, he began to change.
Years before, after the changeling invasion in Canterlot, Derpy had spoken to a few ponies that had seen Queen Chrysalis transform into her true form. They’d described it as the most horrific, most vile, most disgusting thing they’d ever seen. They’d said that, if they had an opportunity to erase all their memories of her transformation, they’d take it, no matter what the cost. Derpy had never truly understood what they meant until that very moment.
First, a sickly green substance began to worm its way up the Doctor’s legs. The substance spread like wildfire, writhing, dripping, oozing. When it completely covered his body, it shot upwards, forming a tall green pillar. Next wings, holey and thin, ripped out of the Doctor’s skin. A twisted, deformed horn snaked out of his forehead. His coat turned completely black, save a deep green mane and tail that hung like curtains, flat and limp. His legs lengthened, holes spreading all over them. All of his teeth sharpened to points. Muscles bulged from his skin, and his eyes turned to a piercing green.
“No,” Derpy whispered, her voice barely audible.
The creature straightened the dark green crown upon his head. “Yes,” he laughed, his horn lighting up.
“No,” she repeated, backing away slowly. “What have you done with the Doctor? Who are you? What do you want from me?”
He circled her, grinning a sharp-toothed grin. “Oh, nothing really. We just want to use you as bait for your precious Doctor, and then make you watch as we absorb all life energy from him. You know, the usual.”
She trembled like a leaf. “Who are you?”
“What? You mean you haven’t figured that out yet? Oh, my, I always thought you were smart, dear. I’m your husband. I’m Night Hooves.”
Just before the changeling teleported both of them away, Derpy’s wail of sheer grief ripped through the air.
Derpy opened her eyes to utter of darkness. The blackness spread around her, billowing and tumbling as if it was alive, taking all fragments of hope and brutally crushing them. A thick, musty smell filled the air, clogging her nostrils.
Coughing, she sat up. Her heart hammered in her chest and the world spun around her. For a moment she didn’t know where she was. Did I go to a party last night or something? she thought. Wow, how much did I drink?
Then the memories hit her like a bullet, sharp and painful. “Night Hooves…” she whispered.
“Yes, darling?” the devil himself sneered from somewhere below her.
She jumped, letting out a yelp. Her head slammed against the ceiling above her. When she landed, she thrashed her hooves out, slamming them against the green walls surrounding her. “Night Hooves! Let me out! Where am I? What do you want from me?!”
“You really think I’d tell you what we’re doing?” He snorted cruelly. “Don’t make me laugh, sweetie.”
“Don’t call me that!” she begged, flapping her wings in distress. “Please, Night. Let me go. Why are you doing this to me? I thought I meant something to you!”
Several other voices sounded out now, echoing her husband’s laughter.
Night Hooves gave a sharp command and the laughter ceased. “Oh, come on, Derpy. You mean you actually bought all that? I honestly thought you were smarter than that, dearest.”
“What do you mean?”
He gave an irritated sigh. Suddenly the world lit up and the walls grew semi-transparent, allowing Derpy to see where she was. She was trapped in a green cocoon-like prison that was hanging from the ceiling, high above a never-ending sea of changelings. Plenty of other cocoons dotted the area. Each had a pony inside them.
Night Hooves, or the changeling that had been Night Hooves, flew up so he was right in front of Derpy’s prison. His lips parted in a sneer, and his green eyes seemed to taunt her. “Tell me, Derpy, what are changelings known for?”
“Well, there you go.” When Derpy didn’t respond, he snarled, “Holy Chrysalis, you’re slow! I’ve tricked you since you were a foal, with all that lovey-dovey nonsense. Honestly, it wasn’t that difficult. You’re so dumb you wouldn’t notice a changeling if they came up to you and said, ‘Hey Derpy, I’m a changeling!’ In fact, I bet you don’t even believe me now.”
Derpy’s head drooped until her forehead rested on the wall of her prison. A jolt of pain pierced straight through her heart like an arrow. “So none of it was real?” she asked softly. "You never loved me?"
Night Hooves made a face, saying, “Aww, is little Derpy Hooves sad? Does little Derpy Hooves want her dear husband to stop being mean? Aww, you poor thing.” He tapped a hoof to her cage. “Don’t worry, Derpy, it’ll all go away if you think happy thoughts. Think of your little Dinky-winky, the hopeless daughter of a changeling. Or perhaps think of Sparkler, the lonely orphan, searching for a way to belong. Or maybe, just maybe,” he said, buzzing his wings, “you can think of your dear little friend the Doctor.”
Immediately Derpy stiffened. How did Night know about the Doctor?
“You really thought I wouldn’t know? How stupid do you think I am? I saw him before, walking with your children into the Everfree Forest. No, I know what you're thinking, and he isn't a changeling. But, Derpy, do you know where he was headed?”
She didn't speak, but she could sure as hay guess.
“Right towards here. That’s right, foal, your precious Doctor is leading your daughters into a trap.”
“I thought changelings fed off of love,” Derpy said, her voice shaking.
“We do, sort of." He gave a huff of annoyance. "Did you hear any of what I just said?”
“Wouldn’t it be logical to just act all lovey-dovey towards me, then feed off of my love?”
Night Hooves gave a bark of laughter. “Yeah, listen, we don’t just feed off love. That would be stupid. We feed off of any strong emotions, for example, hatred or grief. Love is just the…tastiest of our foods. We prefer it, although I must say fear is pretty delicious as well. Even so, you know what’s one of the strongest kinds of love?”
“Mother’s love. Okay, I’ll admit it, the Doctor has no idea that your daughters are following him. Creatures in the Everfree’ll probably kill them before they get anywhere close to here.”
Derpy rammed her shoulder against the walls, trying desperately to make them give. “Why don’t you warn them, then? They’re your daughters, too, Night Hooves!”
“Oh, I’m much too busy.” He examined a hoof as if bored. “And by the way, my name’s not ‘Night Hooves.’ It’s Metamorphosis. But my people call me Morph.” He paused, as if thinking. “You can call me King Metamorphosis.”
With that said he shot a stream of magic toward Derpy’s cocoon and everything went dark again.
For a few moments Derpy sat there, too stunned to move. Then she buried her head in her hooves and wept. She wept for her daughters, following the Doctor through the Everfree Forest straight to their deaths. She wept for the Doctor, coming to save her, not knowing there was nothing he could do. She wept for herself, trapped in a green cocoon in a nest of changelings, her energy slowly being sucked from her body. But most of all, she wept for Night Hooves, king of the changelings, who had deceived her all her life.
“He never loved me,” she whispered hoarsely, feeling weaker by the second. “He tricked me, he tricked our daughters, he tricked everypony.” Fuzziness crept over her mind and she knew she would fall unconscious soon. “I-I hate him. I…hate…Night Hooves…”
* * *
The Doctor, blissfully unaware of anything that was going on with Derpy, trotted through the undergrowth. An outsider might’ve mistaken him for a dog if they didn’t look closely, what with his swishing tail and long muzzle and the way he was walking with his nose to the ground. To Sparkler and Dinky, that was exactly how he looked.
“Why do you think he’s smellin’ the ground like that?” Dinky asked, struggling to keep up. She was still a bit shaken by the news that she was part changeling, but to be honest, it hadn’t shocked her that much. It at least explained her magic surges. “He looks silly.”
“Shh, keep your voice down. He might hear us. I think he’s smelling for changeling residue. I remember he mentioned that it really reeks.” Glancing at Dinky, she frowned. “Do you want me to carry you on my back? You look tired.”
The two walked on in silence for a while before Dinky spoke. “Sparkler, why won’t you call me your sister?”
Sparkler stopped walking abruptly, her ears shooting up in surprise. “What? Oh, um, I...I don’t know. You’re not really my sister, you know. I’m adopted. My parents are both dead.”
“No, they’re not! Mommy and Daddy are still alive. We saw them this mornin'.”
The older mare sighed. “No, Dinky, I meant my real parents.”
Dinky pouted, sticking out her bottom lip. “They are too your real parents,” she mumbled.
“No, they’re—” She stopped, thinking carefully. “Okay, it’s like this. You know how much you love Miss Cheerilee?”
“Well, imagine that one day you went into school and found out she was gone forever. No matter what you did, you could never get her back. Somepony in the town heard about your predicament—”
“What’s a predicament?”
“They found out about your problem and decided to replace Miss Cheerilee. They were really nice, and you loved them dearly, but they weren’t Miss Cheerilee. That pony would be your teacher, sure, but she’d never, ever be Miss Cheerilee. That’s what it’s like for me.”
Dinky gazed up at Sparkler, her eyes huge. “Do you remember your mommy and daddy? What were they like?”
Sparkler was silent for a few minutes, lost in her memories. Her eyes were clouded over with anguish. Finally she gathered the strength to speak. “Yeah, I remember them. My mom was a unicorn, like me. Every day when I got home from preschool she’d make me my favorite heart-shaped cookies. They were the best cookies I’d ever eaten; soft, warm, and made of the best chocolate around. She was a doctor at the hospital where you were born, you know. My dad was an earth pony police officer. I didn’t get to see him a lot, because we lived in a place where there were always ponies committing crimes, but some of my best memories were with him. He used to play with me whenever he was home, and whether we were playing Cops and Robbers, Tag, Hide and Seek, or any other game, we always had the best of times.”
“Do you miss them?”
“More than anything,” Sparkler whispered. Realizing that she was crying, she stared at the ground. "I know I'm acting really pathetic. You probably think I'm a crybaby."
Dinky stopped walking and threw her arms around Sparkler. “You're not a crybaby, but you don't need to feel sad. You still have us! We’re your family now. I don’t care what you say, you’re the best big sister ever.”
“No, Sparky. You are my sister. Don’t ever say you aren’t.” She buried her face in her sister's mane and emitted a soft purr-like sigh.
“Dinky, stop!” Sparkler pulled away, glancing around frantically. “Where’s the Doctor?”
The tiny filly’s pupils shrank. “Uh-oh.”
Sparkler gave a nervous laugh, beginning to pace. “It’ll be fine. Don’t worry, Dinky, we can just turn around and go home. I’m sure the Doctor and Derpy will be fine. We just need to find the way we came, and we’ll be fine!” Her ears twitched and her head whipped back and forth. “Great. Now where the hay did we come from?”
Dinky tapped a hoof on her chin. “Um…that way, I guess?”
“Don’t be absurd, that way there’s a river. We didn’t pass a river, did we?” She stamped her hoof. “This is not good at all. We can’t be lost in the Everfree Forest. That’s impossible. This isn’t happening. Dinky, do you know what kinds of creatures there are in here?! There are manticores and hydras and timber wolves and changelings—no offense—and all sorts of other monsters! We’ll be eaten alive!” she wailed.
“We gotta get out of here,” Dinky squeaked. “I don’t wanna be eaten alive.”
“Right all we gotta do is keep calm and no creatures will find—DEAR CELESTIA WHAT’S THAT ON MY BACK?!” she screamed. All the nearby birds took to the sky. Sparkler turned around, quivering like a leaf. “GET IT OFF ME!”
Dinky rolled her eyes. “Sparky, it’s just a leaf.” She brushed it off with a hoof.
“Oh. Right. Well, I didn't—”
An earsplitting roar shattered the air.
“What was that you were saying about no creatures finding us?” Dinky leapt into Sparkler’s arms, trembling.
Sparkler grabbed Dinky with her magic and placed the filly on her back, grabbing a vine to strap her down. “Stay quiet,” she urged. “Don’t make a sound, and maybe whatever that is will go away. Right?” While she was talking, the unicorn made her way quietly toward a bush, diving inside for cover.
The two of them became completely still. Neither dared to move, or even breathe, for that matter. They could hear whatever had roared making its way toward them, snorting and growling.
It stopped right in front of the bush they were in, sniffing loudly. Then, giving another huge roar, it pounced.
“All right, that didn’t work at all!” Sparkler hollered, scrambling to get free. She stumbled away and took off running, glancing back briefly to see what it was that had found them. Oh, gee, that’s just wonderful, she thought, picking up the pace. We’re lost in the Everfree Forest and being chased by a dragon. That’s horribly cliché.
The dragon reared its head up, sending a pillar of fire shooting into the atmosphere. Its eyes narrowed as it peered after them, and its spiked tail lashed back and forth, knocking over trees. With one more roar it sped after them.
Sparkler panted. “What should I do?” she cried. “I can’t outrun this thing, and I’m way too tired to do magic! For once I wish you would get a magic surge!”
Dinky twisted her head, trying to look behind them. Giving up, she pressed herself against Sparkler’s back. Her eyes squeezed shut with fear. “Doctor!” she screamed. “Doctor, help us!”
“He can’t hear us!” Sparkler snapped. “He’s probably miles away by now! Oh, why the hay did we have to follow him?”
“Because I’m half-changeling!”
Sparkler could hear the dragon getting closer and closer. Slowly she untied Dinky with her magic and lifted her off her back.
“What are you doing?” Dinky squealed. “Put me back!”
“No, Dinky. I’m not going to let my little sister die. I’m sorry!” As the dragon lunged, Sparkler teleported her sister away. “Goodbye, Dinky.”
“Oh, no you don’t!” a Braytish voice bellowed. The Doctor leapt at the same time as the dragon, cutting him off before he could reach Sparkler. His hind hooves connected with the dragon’s nose, sending it tottering backward. “That’s right, back away, or I’ll…I’ll kick you again!”
The dragon rubbed its nose and snarled.
“Nice going, genius, now it’s even madder,” Sparkler muttered.
“Hey, I saved your life,” the Doctor shot back. “Don’t make me regret it. Now, when I say, you are to run as fast as you can in that direction. You’ll come to a river. There are some stepping-stones for you to cross, so wait for me on the other side. Where’d you teleport your sister to, Smacker?”
“It’s Sparkler, and she’s somewhere over there.”
“Thank you, Smacker, that’s so specific. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” The Doctor braced himself, facing the dragon. As it began to stir, he said, “Now!”
Sparkler took off running, her tail streaming behind her. She could hear dragon roar with fury and began to run even faster. Finally she made it to the river. Stopping at its edge, she gaped.
The river was at least thirty feet across, and there was not a single area that was less torrential than anywhere else. The “stepping-stones” looked hardly twice the size of her hoof, and were spread as wide apart as she could possibly jump without falling in.
“Talk about horribly cliché,” she groaned. “But seriously, how the hay am I supposed to cross that? I used up most of my magic energy teleporting Dinky away, and it was for nothing!” Swallowing, she stared at the first stepping-stone. “Well, it’s either I get eaten by a dragon or I drown. I guess drowning is the better option.”
She placed a cautious, trembling hoof on the first stepping-stone and found that it was way larger around than she’d originally thought. From there she bunched her muscles and sprang, soaring through the air and just barely landing on the next stone. Bit by bit she traveled across, and at last the shore was only one jump away. She leapt into the air and…
“Sparkler!” Dinky hollered. “You’re okay!”
The distraction was enough to disrupt her balance. She went crashing downward, her hooves scrambling to reach the shore, even though she knew she would fall short. With a loud splash she slammed into the water and was swept away.
“Doctor! Help me!”
She could see the Doctor on the other shore, looking around for a branch or something else that could help. Suddenly he stopped and turned toward her, his eyes grim.
“I’m sorry,” he called out to her. “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing I can do. If I jump into the water with you, Dinky will be left completely alone and all of us, Derpy included, will die. The changelings will win. Your world could be destroyed.”
Sparkler gasped for air, her hooves flailing around, as the two ponies on the shore grew more and more distant. “No! Don’t leave me! No! You can’t…” Waves crashed into her face, shooting water up her nostrils. The current tossed her around ruthlessly, slamming her against rocks, fallen trees, and even the shore a few times. But when she tried to grab onto whatever she was thrown into, she found that she was helpless.
I’m going to die, she thought. I’m going to die and there’s nothing I can do. I didn’t even get to die in a cool way. I’m going to drown in a Celestia-forsaken river in the Everfree Forest, far away from home. I’ll never see Dinky or Mom or the Doctor again, all because I was stupid enough to disobey the Doctor. Great, and now I’m being all sappy and adding a bucking moral to my death.
Suddenly a light flashed in her eyes. She could feel hooves gently pulling her out of the water and setting her down. Water streamed from her mouth and nose.
“Do you know this mare?” came a raspy voice.
Another voice replied, “Yeah, this is Sparkler. I told you guys about her, didn’t I? We adopted her when she was little.”
Night Hooves? Sparkler thought, hovering between unconsciousness and wakefulness. Hey, what’s he doing here? Did he get off work early? That’s too bad, I’m tired. I’ll say hello to him later. She yawned. “G’night, Daddy,” she giggled, her eyes fluttering closed. Before she slipped away, she could hear a single demand.
“Take her to the cocoons.”
Dinky closed her eyes and curled up tighter, trembling slightly. She could faintly hear the Doctor calling her name, but that didn’t matter. Let him keep looking for her.
As soon as Sparkler had disappeared under the rushing water, Dinky had felt something in her snap. She looked at the Doctor for a few moments and began to run. It didn’t matter why she was running, or what she was running from. In fact, nothing mattered.
Finally, when she could go no more, she collapsed beneath a knotted tree. She could feel no pain, or grief, or anger. All she felt was numbness. So she shut her eyes and rested her head on her hooves, her breathing ragged and uneven.
“Dinky!” the Doctor hollered. “Please, come back! It’s not safe out there!”
Why did he have to show up, anyway? Everything had been fine without him. Yes, Dinky had been having magic surges, and yes, her dad being a changeling wasn’t the Doctor’s fault, but if the stupid Doctor hadn’t shown up, Sparkler would still be alive. Changelings wouldn’t have captured Derpy. Dinky wouldn’t be shivering, completely alone, in the Everfree Forest.
She could hear something walking through the trees toward her. Maybe it’s the dragon, she thought bitterly. Let him eat me. See if I care.
“Dinky, are you all right?” The Doctor stood at her side, concern clear in his voice.
No, I’m not all right. My sister is dead because of you. Out loud, she croaked, “Go away.”
There was a faint thump as he sat down. His hoof rested gently on her back. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. If I had jumped in to save your sister, both of us would’ve died. You’d die, too, all alone here. Then, because we couldn’t save her, your mother would die and the changelings would take over.”
“I can take care of myself,” she mumbled, still not looking up. “I’m half-changeling, remember?”
He gave a soft laugh. “Plus you’ve got your mother’s attitude. You’d make any monsters wish they’d never met you.”
She didn’t respond.
“Look, Dinky, I know you’re upset, and you’ve got a right to be. But if you don’t move on, then Derpy will die, too. You don’t want that, do you?”
“We’ll have plenty of time to mourn Sparkly later, but right now we have to get going. So, are you up for it, or do you want to stay here while the changelings grow stronger?”
“I guess we can go.” Dinky lifted her head and sniffled.
The Doctor pulled her toward him, wrapping her in a hug. “That’s the spirit, Dinky.” His voice grew quiet. “I’m going to miss her, too, though. So, anyway! I think we’ve pretty much ruled out crossing the stepping-stones now, so we’re going to have to find an alternate way of getting to the place your father works. Before you ask, I asked around, so yes, I know where their workplace is. Brilliant, isn’t it, I had to ask quite a few ponies before finding out where they work. They really covered their tracks well. Nopony escapes the Doctor, though. Is that the proper term? Nopony? I heard someone use it while I was trying to find stuff out. Oh, dear, I seem to be rambling. Before I was saying how emotional and reserved I was! Silly me. What was I talking about? Oh, yes, other ways to get to their workplace.”
Dinky looked him up and down, her eyes curious. How could he be so calm and quiet one minute, yet hyper and excited the next, especially after something so sad?
“Apparently there’s some bridge or something, but it’s broken. I think crossing old, broken bridges is a bit overdone, so I was thinking we could go a different way. There’s supposed to be a fallen tree to cross downstream, but once again, that’s a bit overdone. That leaves us with one more option. There’s some sea serpent upstream that helps ponies cross the river. I’d prefer it if we go to the sea serpent, but it’s up to you, Dinky.”
“Sea serpent it is,” she said halfheartedly.
“Splendid!” He began to trot toward the river, his ears perked. “I can’t get over how brilliant this is. I’m a talking pony with an hourglass on my rump walking through an enchanted forest, going to talk to a sea serpent so I can stop changelings from taking over a land called Equestria. That’s bloody amazing! Hey, Dinky, why don’t you have a mark on your bottom?”
She stared at the ground. “You mean a cutie mark?”
“Is that what they’re called?”
“Well, then, why don’t you have a cutie mark? Is that a bad thing?”
“Ponies get cutie marks when they discover their special talent. I haven’t discovered mine yet, so I don’t have one.”
“Are they on the fur or the skin? And how do they appear?”
“Magic, I guess.”
“And that’s another thing. How does magic even work? Is it some particle that nobody else has discovered yet? But how does that make sense? And why does—”
He tilted his head, studying her. “Yes, Dinky?”
“Will I ever get my cutie mark?” Her voice sounded so heartbroken the Doctor almost stopped walking. “I’ve been thinking about that. Changelings don’t get cutie marks. They can shape shift into ponies with cutie marks, but their true form can never get one. Is it the same for me? Will I ever get my cutie mark?”
“I…I don’t know.” He walked on in silence before saying, “I’d assume that since you’re half-pony, you would be able to get one, but I don’t know for sure. I just arrived on this planet, remember?”
The two of them were silent after that.
* * *
The gray mare flinched at the sound of hundreds of changelings roaring in delight. For the past few minutes the king and queen had been bringing in victim upon victim. Most of them Derpy knew, because they’d worked with “Night Hooves” in the Everfree Forest. Some of them, though, were new to her. Every time a new pony was brought in, the queen would create a new cocoon to stick him or her in.
Derpy had thought Metamorphosis looked strange, but he was nothing compared to the queen. Her mane and tail hung like sickly, gray-green rags. Her eyes were large on her face, and her muzzle was a petite little thing. Instead of all her teeth being sharp, she had four long, ugly fangs.
To make matters worse, every time the king and queen were in the same room they made it a goal to act as adoring as they could. They complimented each other to no end, they shot each other loving glances from across the room, and they called each other pet names even when not speaking directly to each other. Derpy knew they didn’t really love each other that much, though. They were only doing it to make her angry. Every compliment they spewed out was dull and lacked emotion. Every “loving” glance was filled with arrogance and loathing. The pet names were simple and dripped with venom. No matter how hard they tried, no matter how much they persisted, Derpy wouldn’t allow herself to feel an ounce of anger.
“Hey, Derpy,” Metamorphosis taunted. “We’ve got something to show you.”
“Let me guess,” Derpy said, “it’s a long love note you wrote for Chrysalis?”
“No, but you’re close. I guess.”
She slouched down, her ears flat. “I’m not going to keep guessing, you know. You could just tell me.”
“Aww, but where’s the fun in that?” He flashed her a cruel grin and flew over to Queen Chrysalis, his green eyes darkening. “What do you think, love bug? Should we show her what we found by the river?”
Chrysalis barked in laughter. “Yes, honey bee, let’s.”
“You heard her, changelings!”
Derpy leaned against the wall, peering out. Half of her hoped it was her daughters and the Doctor, just so that she could know they were okay. But, at the same time, half of her hoped it wasn’t. The shock of knowing Night Hooves was a changeling would be a lot for them, and she didn’t want them to have to go through what she was going through. Her energy was slowly being sucked from her body, making her weaker and weaker. Eventually she’d have no energy left. And then she would…
“Huh? Where…where am I? Am I dead?” came a familiar young voice from down below.
Metamorphosis and Chrysalis flew a cocoon up to Derpy, attaching it to the ceiling near her. Inside the cocoon, Sparkler was sprawled out, soaking wet and shivering.
“Hello, my precious daughter,” Metamorphosis cooed. “Did you sleep well?”
“No, not really,” Sparkler admitted, still not fully awake. “I’m really cold. Did you leave the AC on last night or something? I’m pretty thirsty, too.”
“Sparkler!” Derpy cried. “You’re alive!”
“Huh?” Her eyes shot open and she sat up, breathing heavily. When she saw where she was she leapt up. “GAH! Where am I? What’s this thing I’m in? Sweet Celestia, I’m high up!” She whipped around, only to see Metamorphosis and Chrysalis staring at her. “Who are these weirdos?”
Anger flashed across Metamorphosis’s face. “Weirdos? I’ll have you know I’m the king of the changelings and your father! So think twice before you insult me, you insolent pest!”
Sparkler looked unimpressed. “Oh, so you’re Night Hooves? I was wondering what you really looked like.”
“What do you mean?”
She examined her hoof. “The Doctor, Dinky and I already figured out you were a changeling. We were actually just on our way to come rescue Derpy. But I kind of got separated from them, and, well, you know how that turned out. Hey, you know what I realized? They probably think I’m dead. That’s not good. So if you could just let me out, I’ll be on my way to—”
Metamorphosis thrashed his head from side to side in fury. “You foal! You really think we’d let you out? Nice try! Besides, by the time my changelings reach them, they’ll be as good as dead. Nopony, and I mean nopony, is going to stop us!”
“That’s another thing, Night Hooves.”
“My name is Metamorphosis!”
“Yeah, yeah, Metawhatever-you-said. What is it you guys are doing, anyway? I hardly think you’re destroying an entire nation just because you’re a little hungry. So why are you trying so hard to bring down Equestria? Do you have something against our Princesses? Because I’m pretty sure they’d be happy to talk it out with you.”
Chrysalis glanced at her companion, whose face was tinted red with rage. “Morphy, why don’t you go check the perimeters? I can handle this one.”
Metamorphosis glared at all of them a moment more before storming off.
“Forgive me, worthless creature, my husband is a bit touchy when it comes to our evil plan. You want to know why we’re doing this? Fine, I can tell you, as one last favor before we claim your miserable life.” She narrowed her eyes. “To begin, I must say that this isn’t our home planet.”
“Sorry to interrupt, changeling queen lady, but I kind of figured that.”
“What do you mean?”
“All of you are too ugly to have been born in Equestria. I don’t know what it is, but all aliens trying to look like ponies are really ugly. Take the Doctor, for example. He’s ugly as a mule and he doesn’t even know it. Although compared to you changelings, he looks like a model.”
What is she doing? Is she crazy? Derpy thought, panicked by the sight of her daughter taunting a changeling.
Chrysalis’s eye twitched. “You little—!” She then proceeded to let loose a string of curses, each one more crude and offensive than the one before it.
“Uh-uh-uh, ugly changeling lady, watch your language.” Sparkler dropped her voice to a whisper. “There are children here.”
“I have had ENOUGH!” She whipped around and bucked her legs at the cocoon, shattering it instantly.
Sparkler dropped down, screaming, only to be caught by a few changelings. “Oh. Huh. That’s interesting. I thought you were going to kill me. Not that I’m complaining or anything, but I thought you said you’d had enough of me.”
“That’s why I’m putting you in a very special place. We had prepared it for the Doctor, but until my changelings drag his worthless flank in here, it will be your prison.”
Derpy watched all this in shock, her mouth hanging open. “No! Bring Sparkler back right now!”
Sparkler looked up, surprised, as if she forgot Derpy was there. “Oh, don’t worry, Mom, I’ll be back. No changelings will be able to keep me locked up. Eventually I’ll drive them so mad they’ll do whatever I say. Right, cheese-legs?”
The changelings carrying her glanced around, asking each other, “Is she talking to me, or you?”
Once Sparkler was taken away, Derpy slapped her hoof to her face in disbelief. No offense to Sparkler, but she’s either the biggest idiot to ever walk this planet, or the smartest. For her sake, I hope she knows what she’s doing.
* * *
After what seemed like ages, the Doctor and Dinky arrived in a large clearing. The grass was flattened and hoofprints dotted the area. Torn tents sagged near the edges of the clearing, holes ripped in their sides, and litter was scattered all around. Sleeping bags—or, rather, the remains of sleeping bags—lay under the tents. A lean-to rested in the center, and inside was a small desk with papers strewn across it.
“Where is everypony?” Dinky asked quietly. She had halted just before the end of the trees, her knees locked and her eyes huge.
“It seems to me that they were attacked.” The Doctor gestured to a few specks of what looked like rust. “Normally I would wonder what attacked them, but I’m pretty sure we can make a good guess. The real question here is…where were the ponies taken? There are no bodies, so obviously the changelings took them somewhere.”
A faint coughing could be heard. After exchanging a glance, the two ponies slowly made their way toward the source of the sound.
“If I say run,” the Doctor said under his breath, “you are to run as fast as you can and hide. We don’t know what could be making that noise.”
The coughing was coming from one of the collapsed tents. Slowly the Doctor reached his hoof forward and pushed a flap to the side. A stallion was lying limply inside, his blue coat decorated with cuts and bruises of various sizes. His breathing was ragged, his legs were bent oddly, and his eyes were swollen. Everything about him screamed pain.
Upon seeing the two other ponies, the strange stallion’s eyes flew wide open. His pupils shrank to tiny points. Even though he could hardly move, he scrambled to get away, his tail thrashing about. “Don’t hurt me,” he begged. “Haven’t you done enough? Leave me alone!”
“What? Why would we hurt you?” The Doctor tilted his head in confusion.
“Maybe he thinks we’re changelings.” Dinky squeezed through the gap and was at the stallion’s side in an instant. She touched her nose to his cheek, eliciting a pained squeak from him. “Oops, sorry. I didn’t see that you had a bruise there. Don’t worry, though. We won’t hurt you. What’s your name?”
He seemed to calm down a bit. “Noteworthy.”
“Do you mind telling us what happened?”
Immediately, his shoulders tensed and he pressed himself to the ground. A shudder ran from his nose to his tail, then back up again. “It…they…it was horrible… They were everywhere. In the tents, in the trees, in the bushes, even in the river! We couldn’t stop them. They destroyed everything. Every ounce of information we’d managed to gather, they destroyed.”
“By ‘they’, you mean the changelings, right?” the Doctor interrupted.
“Yes. Then, when they were done trashing our camp, they began to take some of us away. They forced us to stand in a line, and when it was our turn, they’d ask us some questions. They teleported of us away, but I was lucky.” Noteworthy gave a bitter laugh. “If ‘lucky’ is even the right word. Once everypony else was gone, they beat me to a pulp and left me here. I can hardly move, let alone get help. I think that’s what they intended to do; destroy the only witness.” His eyes took on a glassy look. “It was horrible…”
The Doctor looked thoughtful. “What questions did they ask you?” Seeing the look Dinky gave him, he shrugged. “What? It could be important.”
“They just asked if I had a special somepony. I don’t even know why they cared. It seems kind of weird to ask someone if they have a special somepony before dragging him or her off to be tortured. They also asked if I had any close friends or enemies.”
“What did you tell them?”
A blush bloomed on Noteworthy’s face. He rubbed a hoof on his neck, flinching. “Well, ah, you see…I’m not a very social pony…so my answers were no. Never thought I’d be happy to be antisocial, I’ll tell you that.”
“Thank you, Noteworthy, you’ve been a great help. I have one more question for you, and I need you to think very hard. When the changelings teleported the others away, which direction were they facing?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Just tell me.”
“I…I think they were facing…north? Why, what does that—?” He broke off, a grin slowly forming on his face. “Oh, I get it. When they’re teleporting something, they have to face the direction they’re teleporting it, right? That’s clever. Wait…you’re not seriously going after them, are you?” Noteworthy frowned. “That’s suicide. Do you know what they could do to you?”
The Doctor leaned forward, his eyes fierce. There was a certain edge to his voice, a certain ferocity, that would’ve made even Celestia herself shiver with fright. “Yes. Yes, I’m serious, and yes, I know what they could do to me, but this filly next to me is half-changeling. Her father is their king, and her mother is an ordinary pony. The changelings kidnapped her mother, and if it’s the last thing I do, I will get her back. I’m the Doctor. There’s nothing, I repeat, nothing I can’t handle.”
Noteworthy’s eyes stretched even wider. “Then I’m coming with you.”
“Unfortunately, Noteworthy, I have to say no. You said it yourself; you can hardly move. Do you really think you’re in any position to go waltzing right into the changeling’s base to defeat them? I don’t think so. No, you’re staying here, safe and sound.”
Dinky huddled closer to the injured stallion. “But, Doctor, what about all the creatures? They’ll kill him if he stays here.”
“And he’ll die if he comes with us,” the Doctor argued. “I’m sorry. I’d take you back to Ponyville, but we don’t have much time. The best I can do is point you to the river. You’ll see a sea serpent there. Tell him your problem and I’m sure he’ll look after you until you return. Come on, Dinky, we have to keep moving.”
Reluctantly, Dinky left Noteworthy’s side and joined the Doctor just outside the tent. As they turned to walk away, they could hear him calling out to them.
“Good luck,” he said gruffly. “You’re going to need it.”
* * *
The Doctor and Dinky stumbled forward, their hooves aching and their eyes fatigued. After what seemed like hours of walking north, they were finally here. They had done it. They had reached the changeling’s home.
A tall, old castle loomed high above them, vines weaving in and out of the crumbling stone. Overgrown bushes surrounded the entrance, and the whole place smelled like rotting animals. It had taken them a while to find it, and several times they’d walked right past it. A perception filter had been placed over the dark abode, making it only distinguishable by the trained eye. Eventually the Doctor had realized there was a perception filter and they’d crawled over to it, collapsing in front.
“Well, here we are.” The Doctor stared at the entrance in aversion. “We made it. So this is where the changelings are. This is where Derpy is.” He gave Dinky a long look. “Are you sure you want to go in with me? You look pretty beat.”
Dinky lifted her chin defiantly, trying to hide her exhaustion. “I’m sure. They have Mommy, and if it weren’t for them, Sparkler wouldn’t have died. I’m going in, no matter what.”
The two of them waited a few more seconds, not daring to move a muscle, before taking a deep breath.
“Here goes nothing,” the Doctor said.
Then, seeing no use in waiting any longer, the two stepped inside and immediately found themselves surrounded by changelings.
Dinky swallowed hard, her eyes huge, and huddled closer to the Doctor. The changelings’ eyes glinted in the gloom. She could hear a soft clicking sound as they shuffled their hooves.
“Well, this could’ve gone better,” the Doctor said, frowning.
Suddenly the changelings fell silent. The clicking stopped, and they all took a small step back. A small pathway was made through them. Slowly, a dark figure moved forward, his head held high and his lips pulled back in a sneer.
“Doctor,” the changeling hissed. “Last of the Time Lords, I presume?”
The Doctor blinked, surprised. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“That is a very good question, my friend.”
“What are you doing in Equestria? You don’t belong here.”
“Neither do you.”
He snorted. “Yes, because my TARDIS crashed. I didn’t choose to land here.”
“And neither did we.” The changeling began slowly circling them, his eyes narrowed dangerously. “I’m amazed by how slow you are, Time Lord. It was my understanding your kind is supposed to be smart.”
“You know, changeling, if we keep dancing around each other’s questions, we’ll never get anywhere.” The Doctor took a deep breath, attempting to control his anger. “I think it would be fair if I answer one question for every one you answer, don’t you think?”
“Very well. What is it you want to know?”
The Doctor glanced down at Dinky, who was cowering between his hooves. “Who are you?”
“I am King Metamorphosis, although Dinky may know me as Night Hooves.”
At this, Dinky gave a tiny whimper.
“I expected as much,” the Doctor said calmly. “Your turn.”
“How did you get here?”
“That’s quite a story. It’s a bit long, so I’ll give you the main idea now and save the details for later. I was aboard a ship of Cybermen, programming it to self-destruct, when one of them tried to delete me. Can you imagine that? A Cyberman trying to defeat the Doctor! Anyway, I hopped on the TARDIS as fast as I could and flew away. The TARDIS was unfortunately on fire and I was about to regenerate, so I crash-landed on the nearest planet, which happened to be this one. Then, thanks to your residue, I regenerated to look like a pony. It’s quite the change, really. How do these hooves even work? I can pick things up just fine, but I don’t have fingers. Fancy that!” He cleared his throat. “Sorry, I got carried away. How did you get here, and why do you want to destroy this place?”
Metamorphosis clamped his mouth shut. For a few minutes he stood, pondering how much he should tell this stranger. His hooves shuffled uncomfortably on the ground as he finally said, “Same as you. We crashed. I assume you know of our rivalry with our neighboring planet?”
“Well, we were in the middle of the greatest war in all of our history. My changelings were the scouts, sent to decide whether or not a place was safe. We boarded our ship and took off. But we were ambushed, and landed in a desert on this planet about one hundred years ago. Since then we’ve lived here, building a wonderful castle. As for why we do what we do…well…we don’t really want to destroy Equestria. You see, changelings are only loyal to their swarm. When we crashed here, nobody took the time to look for us. We were just one swarm out of thousands.”
The Doctor furrowed his brow. “So what do ponies have to do with anything?”
“Be quiet, insolent pest, I’m getting there. We were left here, all alone, weak and helpless. So we began to draw energy from the natives. Soon we realized just how much energy was within these ponies, and that was when we formed a plan. If we captured enough ponies to feast on, we would have enough energy to fix our ship and get back home. And that’s not all. Once we returned to our planet, we could—” He suddenly broke off, smacking his hoof to his face. “Horseapples. I just did exactly what Chrysalis told me not to do. I told you what we were planning. She warned me! She told me what happens when we accidentally tell ponies our plans, but no, I had to be stupid enough to go blabbering everything to not only a prisoner, but the Doctor! Guards, take them to the cell. Oh, and none of you are to tell the Queen what I did, okay?”
Muttering to himself, Metamorphosis stalked away. When he was gone the changelings moved forward as one, reaching toward the Doctor and Dinky.
“Where are they taking us?” Dinky cried, flailing her hooves desperately as they lifted her off the ground.
The Doctor twisted his head to see her. “Don’t worry, Dinky. They need us alive for now. Just let them carry you. I’ll think of something while we’re being taken away, but you have to trust me. Okay?”
She sniffled. “Okay.”
* * *
Sparkler sighed, bored. Her arms were shackled to the wall above her, and her legs were bent beneath her. A machine was hooked up to her horn, and several security cameras were pointed at her. For the past hour she had been screaming insults at the guards and cameras. Now her throat felt raw, and not a single guard had even turned around.
“Are any of you even listening to me?” she complained. “If not, that’s cool, but I wish you would’ve told me earlier. I’ve been screaming at you for an hour.”
One of the guards trotted over to the door of her cell and scowled. “We’ve been listening. We’ve just chosen to ignore you. If you continue to yell at us and call us names like ‘cheese-legs’, I promise you I will get Chrysalis, and she won’t be happy.”
Sparkler tapped her hoof on the ground. “Okay, but can I at least have a glass of water or something? I know I almost drowned, but now I’m thirsty.”
“Pretty please with cherries on top?”
The guard shoved his muzzle in between the bars, his teeth bared. “Shut your muzzle or you’ll regret it!”
Sparkler was obviously enjoying this. She gave a sly grin, saying, “Ooh, I’m so scared. What are you going to do, change me into a flower? I’m so scared, I—AHHHH!” Sharp pain ripped through her as the machine on her horn activated. It was as if someone had taken a vat of boiling hot water and poured it over her horn. At last the pain died down, leaving Sparkler whimpering and numb.
“How about now? Are you scared now, pony?” The guard sneered. “That machine is a way of extracting emotions without magic. We changelings invented it a few years ago. You know what that was right now?”
“What?” she practically whispered.
“Fear. I guess you really were scared. Here’s the thing, pony. Every time you do something we don’t like, we have permission to use this. So I suggest you shut your muzzle and stop complaining.” With that the guard went back to his position, a cruel smile across his lips.
Sparkler closed her eyes, shuddering. I hate to admit it, but maybe taunting the King and Queen like that was a mistake.
Several minutes later, the guard reappeared at the entrance of the cell. “We’ve got news for you, pony. Your little friends are coming to join you. You know, your sister and that Time Lord? I bet you were hoping they’d save you. Well, you were wrong. There’s nothing that can save you now.” He laughed. “Anyway, we’re sending them in. Have fun!”
A large group of changelings pushed him out of the way, the Doctor and Dinky in their midst. The door slid open, and with a large shove the two were sent tumbling in.
The Doctor sneezed, shaking his head fiercely. “I didn’t know changelings could be so rough. I mean, the least they could do is treat us better. After all, we’re their prisoners.” He helped Dinky to her hooves. “Are you all right, Dinky?”
She stumbled a bit before regaining her balance. “I think so. My head feels funny, though.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Sparkler croaked.
Both of them froze. Dinky’s eyes immediately welled up with tears. “I hear Sparkler’s voice,” she mumbled. “Doctor, please, check if it’s a changeling. I don’t want to look.”
The Doctor stood and made his way over to Sparkler. His eyes were narrowed, but softened as he came closer. His mouth opened and closed several times. “Dinky…it’s really her.”
That was all Dinky needed to hear. She threw herself at her sister, her arms wrapping around her tightly. “Sparky! You’re alive!” Her yellow tail wagged happily. “How’d you survive? We thought you drowned!”
“Don’t worry, Dinky, it’d take a lot more than some dirty old river to take me down.” Sparkler smiled weakly, casting several glances toward the guards outside.
Sparkler dragged her eyes back to the Doctor. “Huh?”
“I said, what’s wrong? You spaced out a bit.” He reached a hoof toward the chains on her arms. “What’re these for? Do they really think those are strong enough to keep you here? They’re all old and rusty. I could probably yank them off if I tried hard enough.”
She saw a guard reach toward a button on the wall and instinctively smacked the Doctor’s hoof away. “No! Stop! Don’t touch the chains!”
“This.” She tapped the machine on her head, wincing. “If we do anything wrong they’ll activate it. It sucks energy out of me. They did it once before. It was…horrible. Just don’t touch the chains!”
The Doctor shook his head. “Of all the times I don’t have my sonic screwdriver… No matter. We’ll find a way out of this. How many guards are out there?”
“I don’t know. Five? Six?”
“Have you tried talking to them?”
“Well…yes, but then they…” She tapped the machine again. “It’s no use. They won’t listen.”
“Of course. Dinky, do you think you could turn them into insects or something?”
Dinky rolled her eyes. “I can’t control my magic yet, silly.”
“Right. Well, then, I’ve come to a conclusion.” He sat down, looking proud of himself.
“We’re stuck here.”
* * *
Derpy paced back and forth, her tail lashing like a beheaded snake. Her ears kept twitching, and her nostrils flared with frustration. She’d been like this for the past ten minutes, trying desperately to find a way to escape. So far she had no plans.
“Are you still pacing?” came a voice from a nearby cocoon. “Just face it. There’s no way out.”
She whipped around to face the speaker, a yellow stallion with a brown mane and tail. “My children are in here! I’m going to find a way out if it kills me. If you cared the slightest bit, you’d help me, too!”
He held up his hooves in surrender. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just trying to help. I want to get out just as much as you do.”
Another voice echoed toward them. “Do you have any plans, then?”
The stallion sighed. “No. Even if we could break these cocoons, we’re too high up. Sure, some of us can fly, but most of us would fall to our deaths.” He rested his head on his hooves. “We’re doomed.”
Derpy searched the other cocoons. Finally she located a unicorn, a white mare with a two-toned blue mane. “You there! The pony with the music note cutie mark! What’s your name?”
“Vinyl Scratch,” she called back. “Why? What do you want?”
“Do you know how to teleport?”
Vinyl Scratch shook her head. “Sorry, dude. My expertise is music. I don’t know anything about complicated magic stuff.”
The gray mare thought for a minute. “Have any of you asked for water or food?”
A dark gray stallion nodded. “I did.”
“Did they give it to you?”
“Well, yeah. They need us to absorb energy. How are they supposed to do that if we’ve starved to death?”
“How did they get it in your cocoon?”
“The Queen flew some vegetables up to my cocoon. Where she put her hoof in, it kind of turned to a weird jelly-looking thing, so she could move the food through. Why? Is that important?”
Derpy tapped her hoof to her chin, thinking. It seemed like every time a changeling came into contact with the cocoon it changed substances. If she bucked the walls at just the right time, they might budge. She called out, “May I have a glass of water?” The changelings didn’t move, and for a moment she was afraid they’d heard all the ponies talking. But when she raised her voice and repeated her request, one of them flew toward her, and she relaxed.
“Water?” the changeling repeated. “No problem.” It reached toward the cocoon, the glass held unmoving by its hoof.
At the same time, Derpy lashed her hind legs out, catching the changeling by surprise. The cocoon bent slightly on contact. When she kicked it again, it shattered completely.
The changeling’s eyes grew huge. “Red Alert! Red Alert!” it screamed, flying back toward the others. “Tell the Queen!”
He isn’t even smart enough to try to stop me himself, Derpy thought, giggling slightly. Then she realized what was happening and darted off, her wings pumping furiously. It was only when she was almost to the entrance that she realized she had no idea where she was going. Slowing only slightly, she burst through the doorway, blasting through a group of startled changelings. They automatically jumped up and raced after her.
An alarm flared throughout the building. It was a shrill, earsplitting noise intended to stun the intruder. But Derpy was not going to let a simple noise slow her down. If anything, the alarm quickened her, reminded her what she was fighting for.
As she turned a corner, she stopped. Waiting for her were several dozen changelings, each covered in heavy armor.
“Stop now and nobody gets hurt,” one of them snarled. “We’ll give you one chance to surrender. If you say no, we’ll attack, and may Celestia help you when we do.”
Derpy’s heart pounded in her ears. She was almost certain the changelings could sense her fear. But even greater than her fear was her determination to save her foals.
“You have five seconds to make a decision.”
It was suicide, she knew.
They outnumbered her by a few dozen.
She was also weak; the changelings had absorbed most of her energy.
But somewhere in this maze of changelings were her daughters and the Doctor.
If I’m going to die, she finally decided, I’m going to die trying. Bunching her muscles under her, she yelled, “One!” and leapt.
She had hoped to at least surprise them by striking first, but apparently they were ready. As she flew threw the air, a wall of changelings rose up to meet her, teeth bared and eyes gleaming.
Her hoof connected with a changeling’s jaw. The changeling reared back, clicking, before twisting and lashing its hind hooves. She flew higher, dodging it and retaliating with a buck of her own. The changeling fell away, only to be quickly replaced by another.
“Hello, little pony,” it cooed. “Prepare to die. Any last words?”
“You have no idea how cliché that sounds,” Derpy retorted, barreling into it. What am I doing? I’m a mother, not a fighter. This is crazy. She felt a burst of pain in her ear as the changeling bit down on it. I’m doing it to protect my children. That’s all I need to think about.
“Derpy!” came a voice from below. “It’s me, Vinyl Scratch!”
Derpy resisted the urge to look down, instead focusing on the changeling she was battling. “How’d you get here? Wasn’t it a long fall, even if you managed to break the cocoon?”
“That stallion, Thunderlane or whatever his name was, flew me down! The others are coming. It’s totally crazy in there, dude! There are changelings everywhere.”
She was about to reply when she felt her wings snap shut. At once she began to plummet, pawing frantically at the air. “What’s going on? Why won’t my wings open? Vinyl, help me!”
Vinyl Scratch sounded injured. “I can’t. They’re using their magic, dude. I can’t move.”
The changelings moved aside to let Derpy fall, satisfied smiles on their faces.
“Help me!” she screamed. Her eyes squeezed shut. I was right. I'm going to die. At least I tried. An image of the Doctor flashed in her mind. Oh, please, Doctor, keep my little muffins safe.
Just as she was about to crash, she felt something bowl into her.
“You okay?” the dark gray stallion asked, lowering her to the ground. “You looked like you needed help.”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” she lied. She glanced over at Vinyl, who was smashing two changelings’ heads together. “Thank you. You saved my life.”
“No problem. We’re working together to get out.” He darted off, wings beating to lift him off the ground.
“Don’t fly too high!” she reminded him. “They’re using magic now. You could fall. I—oof!” Whatever she was about to say was cut off as she was pinned to the ground. Something sharp dug into her neck.
The changeling’s horn glowed, and suddenly she saw Sparkler towering over her. “You failed me,” Sparkler-changeling said. “I trusted you. I thought you would save me. But you failed me. You lied to me, Derpy. You said you’d always protect me.”
Derpy kicked feebly at Sparkler-changeling, trying to throw her off her. “Stop it,” she begged. “If you’re going to kill me, just do it.”
Sparkler-changeling’s eyes flashed, and now she was Dinky, her eyes wet with tears. “Mommy, how could you? How could you do this to me? You left me all alone. Now I’m going to die. It’s your fault, Mommy. I will die because of you.”
Another transformation took place. The Doctor shook his head disapprovingly. “I expected better of you. Oh, well. You did a good job messing everything up, Derpy.”
Derpy clenched her teeth, tears streaming down her cheeks. “Shut up! Leave me alone!”
The fourth and final transformation occurred, changing the creature to Night Hooves. “Oh, Derpy, I can’t believe it took you this long to realize the truth. You really are an idiot sometimes. Maybe that’s why your parents named you Derpy. It makes me laugh to remember that you used to think ponies could love you. You’re a disgrace. Your children are disgraces, too, even more so than you.”
At this the gray mare stopped struggling. Her ears drooped and she stared up into the changeling’s eyes, the tears pouring down now. “Is that true?” she asked softly.
“No truer words could ever be spoken.”
“Then I will end you.” Derpy surged upward, startling the changeling back into its true form. Her hooves flew at the changeling’s face, slamming into it again and again. Soon she had it pinned against the wall, yet she kept attacking it. Finally she stepped back, her wings spreading over her back. “You can torture me. You can curse everything I’ve ever done. You can threaten me with promises of death. But when you bring my children into the equation, that’s when things get personal.”
The changeling cowered against the wall, trembling.
“I won’t kill you. But you won’t lay a single hoof on my daughters, or I promise I will hunt you down. Is that clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” the changeling whispered.
“What was that?”
“That’s a good changeling. Now, you are to stay here until this is over. Okay? Good.” She turned around, coming face-to-face with a gaping Vinyl Scratch. “Oh! Um, hi, Vinyl Scratch.”
Vinyl blinked. “Hi, Derpy. I heard you mention something before about the Doctor being able to help us. Is that true? Can this Doctor really save us all?”
“In that case, I think you should go find him. We need all the help we can get. We’ll stay here and fight off the changelings. Go get them, okay?”
Derpy nodded and turned, ready to leave. Vinyl’s voice stopped her.
“Oh, and Derpy? Be careful. We can’t have you die on us. I saw the way you fought that changeling. While I don’t fully understand what’s going on here, I do know that fierceness like that is exactly what we need.”
“Thanks. You be careful too, Vinyl.”
With that Derpy raced into the swarm of changelings, hoping with all her heart she’d be able to find the Doctor and her daughters in time.
Derpy crept along the wall, brushing a strand of blonde hair from her eyes. So far she’d only run into three changelings, and of the three, only one gave her a run for her money. Eventually, only receiving a few fresh bruises and scrapes, she was able to knock it out and move on.
She had never been fond of fighting. Even in flight school, when all her friends decided to solve problems by throwing punches, she preferred to sit peacefully and talk it out. Though it was true that she wasn’t as bad as Fluttershy, the shy yellow mare, she still shied away from fights.
But now was different. Now, not only her life was at stake, but her daughters’ lives, too. Not to mention that stallion, the Doctor. Yes, now she had a reason to fight.
“If only you could see me now, Night Hooves,” she muttered. “I promise you I would kick you so hard you’d be unconscious for a month.”
But even as she spoke, she felt a familiar twinge in her heart. She knew she could never do that. Fighting these other changelings was different. She didn’t know them personally; all she had to was remember that they were threatening her children, and before she knew it they were passed out on the ground. She couldn’t do that with Night Hooves—no, King Metamorphosis. No matter how evil he was, no matter how rude and deceptive, in the bottom of her heart she still longed for him. She longed for the old days, the days when he would come home shining with happiness, the days when she at least thought he loved her. There was no going back now. He would still be a wicked beast that had to be destroyed no matter what she did.
“Who goes there?”
She froze. She knew that voice.
“I said, who goes there?” Metamorphosis repeated. “Show yourself!”
Frantic, she glanced behind her. Three long shadows were stretching across the walls, revealing the changelings that were closing in on her swiftly. She had to think fast. If she turned around to fight, Metamorphosis would hear and come find her. Her chance to save her foals would be blown. There was nothing she could do.
Wait a minute… She tilted her head to one side as an idea struck her. It was utterly insane, but there was a chance it could work. Still…if she failed, it would mean the end of her. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith, she thought, remembering Sparkler taunting the changelings. If Sparkler could do something this crazy, so could I.
“It’s only me, honey bee,” Derpy chirped, trying her best to sound as creepy and malicious as Chrysalis.
Metamorphosis rounded the corner, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Chrysalis? Is that you? What are you doing in that pathetic pony’s form, and what was all that noise before?”
Ponyfeathers. Hmm…what excuse would sound somewhat valid? She raised a hoof to her lips. “Shh, not so loud, or the, uh, prisoners will hear you. It’s nothing major, don’t worry. Your little, um, ‘wife’ tried to escape. We handled her, though. She wasn’t that strong. Honestly, I…I don’t know what you could’ve said to convince her that you loved her.” Derpy winced. What am I doing? There’s no way he’s buying this. “But that gave me a plan. I don’t trust that Doctor pony one bit. There’s…no telling what he could do if we let him live. I’m going to disguise myself as this horrid pest and lead them right into a trap.” She swallowed. “You’re following, right?”
He sniffed haughtily. “Of course. What do you take me for, an idiot?”
Well, now that you mention it, yes, Derpy thought, giggling to herself. It took her a moment to realize that he was looking at her expectantly. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Were you listening? I said, where are we going to ambush them?”
“In the left wing,” she blurted out, rustling the matching appendage. “Take most of our army with you. We…don’t know how strong the two fillies’ magic is, and like I said, I, um, don’t trust the Doctor.” Sweat was beginning to drip down her face as she struggled to maintain her composure. This way she and the others could escape through the right wing without any difficulty. If she messed this up…
Metamorphosis stared at her for quite some time before nodding. “Of course, my Queen. At once. You three,” he added, speaking to the changelings making their way toward the two, “get the rest of our army and meet me in the Cocoon Room. I’ll give you instructions there. Chrysalis, wait here for a few minutes. I’ll go bring the guards away so you can help them ‘break out.’” With that he trotted off, his ugly tail swishing happily.
Had the mare noticed the look Metamorphosis gave her right before he turned the corner, she may not have been so relieved. In fact, she may even have been able to prevent what was to come.
“Wow,” she said under her breath, “I can’t believe it. He actually bought my stupid story. Just how dumb is he?”
* * *
The Doctor stirred in his sleep. He was curled up in the corner of the cell, his nose tucked under his tail and his chest gently rising and falling. No matter how much he insisted he wasn’t tired, as soon as the changelings brought them their dinner he nodded off.
“I spy with my little eye…something brown!” Dinky announced triumphantly, giving a tiny bounce.
Sparker rolled her eyes. Her arms stretched high above her, becoming achier by the hour. “The Doctor.”
“Yes! How’d you know?”
“Well, your past seven answers have all been the Doctor, so I guess it was just a lucky guess.” Irritation was sharp in her voice. How could her sister be playing games at a time like this? They were going to die, or worse, the changelings would torture them until they were old and weak, and here was Dinky playing I Spy.
It’s probably because she feels at home in this place, a snide voice chimed inside her head. She immediately flinched. How could I think such a thing? Just because she’s part changeling doesn’t mean she’s comfortable with them. She’s grown up mainly around ponies. She’s innocent!
Maybe now she is, the voice hissed, but I’d watch her if I were you.
“Gah!” Sparkler cried, her head snapping up. “What?”
Dinky stomped her hoof with frustration. “I said, where’d the guards go?”
“What are you talking about? They’re right…there…” She trailed off, her jaw dropping. “Sweet Celestia, they’re gone! We can escape now!”
“Yay! Doctor, did you hear that? We can escape now!” Dinky pranced over to the sleeping stallion and prodded him with her horn. “Wake up, sleepy head, we’re escaping!”
The Doctor just lay there, still as stone.
Now Dinky was becoming impatient, shoving him roughly again and again. “I said wake up! Wake up, wake up, wake up!”
Sparkler sighed. The Doctor had been through so much lately, and now Dinky wasn’t even letting him get some much-needed rest. “Hey, Dink, stop it. He’s tired. Besides, we can’t escape, anyway. Do we have the key? I didn’t think so. Now hush and let the Doctor sleep.”
“Actually,” Derpy said, approaching the entrance, “I have the key.”
Both fillies’ jaws dropped. Dinky ran over to the door of the cell, bouncing up and down, her tail wagging excitedly. “Mommy, Mommy,” she cried.
Derpy pressed the key into the hole and twisted, pushing the cell door open. Immediately she was at Sparkler’s side, inspecting the chains carefully.
“Are you okay? Did they hurt you?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” Sparkler lied. “But, um, can you get me out of this machine as soon as possible?”
Before too long Sparkler was on the ground, the machine lying in a jumbled heap next to her. Her lips pressed against the ground again and again. “Oh, thank Celestia! I never thought I’d get out of those things! The chains really hurt, you know.” She cleared her throat. “Not that I’m complaining or anything. They didn’t actually hurt that bad.”
Derpy pulled her daughters into a hug, her wings flapping merrily. “I’m just glad you’re okay. When they took you away, I thought I’d never see you again. And Dinky…they told me they would kill you first. But you’re alive.” She buried her muzzle in the foal’s mane. “Oh, Dinky, Sparkler, you’re alive…”
“Eww.” Sparkler wrinkled her nose. “You smell like sweat and changelings. That’s not a pleasant combination, you know.”
“Well, I had to fight my way here. What, did you expect me to smell like flowers and kittens?” Derpy laughed. “Anyway, we have to hurry. I tricked Metamorphosis into thinking I was Chrysalis.” She paused. “Wait, I just realized you probably have no idea who those two are. Oh, how do I say this…?”
Dinky giggled. “I know who they are. Metamorphosis is Daddy, who’s really the changeling king, and, and Chrysalis is the queen, and I’m half-changeling, and the Doctor is an alien time traveler!”
“Yes, exactl—wait, how do you know this?”
“It wasn’t that hard to figure out, y’know. Plus I had the Doctor to help me! He’s really funny. Can he be our new daddy?”
“Oh, that explains a—what did you say?” Derpy did a double take, her eyes growing wide. “No, Dinky, don’t be silly. We’ve only just met him. We can’t do that. Speaking of which, where is he?”
“He’s taking a nap.”
Derpy raised her eyebrows, watching him carefully. “Really?”
“Shh, he’s sleeping.”
The gray mare prodded him suspiciously with a hoof. He didn’t stir. “But he said Time Lords hardly ever need sleep. And he would never just go to sleep at a time like this.” Though outside she remained calm, her mind was in turmoil. The Doctor was practically their only hope of survival. What if the changelings had done something to him? He had to wake up. He just had to.
Sparkler seemed to be thinking the same thing, for she opened his eyes with her magic and waved a hoof in front of his face. When she turned back around, her face was clouded over with anger. “He’s completely unconscious. He didn’t even react.”
Derpy glanced over at the open cell door. “Well, we can’t just leave him here. No matter why he’s not waking up; we need to bring him with us. Sparkler, I assume your magic’s working fine?”
“Wait, you’re not suggesting I use a spell to wake him up, are you? My magic isn’t that strong, you know.”
“No, I was just going to suggest you drag him by the tail.”
“But won’t that hurt him?”
“Is there any other option?”
Sparkler grinned. “I like this side of you, Mom,” she said, grabbing the Doctor’s tail with her magic and pulling him out of the prison. Dinky followed close behind, enjoying herself immensely.
After a few moments it dawned on Derpy that, for the first time, Sparkler had called her “Mom.”
* * *
The Doctor was nothing.
His entire world was made of emptiness. His eyes only saw white. Hot, searing white, boring holes in his skull. No thoughts flitted through his mind, no emotions pierced his heart. All he knew, all he had ever known, was this strange void.
Voices drifted around him, tumbling and swirling like waves crashing on the shore, but they meant nothing to him.
“…We knew we could not kill you,” one voice was saying. “Your power is too great. You would just return, stronger than ever. But your intellect surpasses your strength by far. We could not risk letting you live, either.”
For the first time in what felt like forever, the Doctor thought. Oh, hello, odd ghostly voice. What in the world are you talking about?
“Even changelings know your name, Doctor.”
Doctor. What kind of name is that? Ha, that’s even more odd than Derpy. Ha, ha.
“So we decided to poison you. You are not dead, Doctor, but nor are you alive. You simply…are. And you will be for the rest of your days.”
Wonderful. I rather like this place. It’s peaceful. There’s no danger, no aliens to fight…
“Without you, Derpy and the others cannot win. The strongest one of them is Dinky, and she doesn’t even know how to control her power. That’s what you do, Doctor. You give creatures hope, and then you turn your back on them and let them die.”
“You sicken me.”
Fine by me, odd ghostly voice.
“You little…! Are you even listening to what I’m saying? They’re going to die because of you. How does that make you feel?”
Oh, the voice can hear my thoughts. How does what you said make me feel…? I don’t feel anything. I feel…calm, I suppose. The Doctor suddenly had the urge to yawn. Tired. I definitely feel tired.
“That’s it? You don’t feel anger, pain, grief, shame, love? You don’t feel anything? Wow, you’re useless. How are we supposed to feed if you don’t feel any emotions?”
Feeding? I’m hungry. Do you happen to have any bread? I’ve been craving that for a while.
The voice was silent for a while. When the voice spoke once more, it dripped with enough venom to kill an elephant. “Very well, Doctor. You don’t want to give in, and I will respect that.”
Give in to what?
“That is not relevant. I will give you one more chance to give us the energy we need, Doctor. One more chance and that’s it. Perhaps you need a little nudge, hm?”
The Doctor’s vision shifted. Flashes of color splashed around him until he found himself dangling from old wooden rafters.
Four ponies moved slowly below him. The pony in front, a gray and yellow mare, kept glancing behind her as if afraid the others would vanish. There was a smaller, similar-looking filly creeping along beside her. At the back, a pink and purple mare was dragging a limp body.
That’s me! the Doctor thought. How can I be here and there at the same time?
“Simple. You are not really here,” the voice said. Metamorphosis rested next to him. He looked almost bored. “True, your mind is up here, but your body is still below.”
“Why…showing…me…this?” the Doctor choked out, his mouth not seeming to form the words properly.
Metamorphosis pointed a hoof far in front of the four ponies. Once again the Doctor’s vision changed, and suddenly he could see far beyond the walls. Hundreds of changelings gathered there, their eyes gleaming and wings buzzing.
“Obviously. Wow, you’re slow.”
The Doctor bunched his muscles, ready to spring down below, but the changeling stopped him.
“I wouldn’t do that, Doctor. As I said, you are not really here. Your mind and your body colliding in such a manner would be sure to kill you.”
“Then why not let me die?” He clenched his jaw defiantly. “Aren’t I a danger to your kind?”
“We need you, Doctor.” Metamorphosis twitched his ear, his eyes narrowed. “My changelings are calling to me. I must wake up. Goodbye, Doctor. See you when they’re dead.”
Before the Doctor could respond he felt himself begin to fall, tumbling head-over-hooves into the darkness below.
And so the Doctor slept on.
* * *
Sparkler halted, her ear twitching. Behind her, the stallion began to thrash around, his legs flailing around as if he were falling. “Mom!” she yelped, lunging toward the Doctor. “Help!” She pinned him to the ground, only to be thrown back by his hoof striking her.
Derpy whipped around, startled. At once she raced to help, and the two of them fought to hold him down until he grew calm. “What was that for?” she asked. “He could’ve easily knocked us out.”
His eyes flew open and he gasped for air. Frantically he grabbed for Derpy and pulled her closer. His eyes were large and wild. “Run,” he muttered.
“Run, run, run,” he repeated, falling limp once more. “Run…”
Derpy pried his hooves off her and scrambled away. Her eyes were wide. “Did he just…wake up? But that’s impossible. He was practically in a coma. How could he just…?”
“What did he mean, ‘run?’” Sparkler interrupted. “Where do we run to? The only way out is where we’re going.” She turned her attention to Dinky. “What do you think he meant, Dink? You know changelings better than anyone. Hello? Dinky?”
Dinky was standing stock-still, her eyes squeezed shut. Her breathing was ragged and irregular. When she opened her eyes, they glowed green. “They’re coming,” she whispered in a voice that was not her own. “Run.”
Sparkler backed away from her sister. “Dinky? Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay, you fools!” She arched her back, her hooves digging into the ground and her lip curling. “They’re coming. They will kill us, every last one of us. Run!” Giving a loud yelp, she collapsed. The green faded from her eyes and she shook her head fiercely. Then, whimpering, she stared up at Sparkler. “Sparky, what happened to me?”
“I don’t know.”
“Help me!” Once again spasms shook her body. The green in her eyes returned, stronger than before. “Don’t worry about me,” she said with a laugh. “Just run for your life. Leave me here. I’m dangerous. You know I’m dangerous, Sparkler.” She gave a wide smile. “You thought it yourself, remember? So run, little pony, and don’t look back.”
Derpy spread her wings out, stepping in front of Sparkler to shield her and the Doctor. “What’s going on? What have you done to Dinky?”
“I am Dinky,” said Dinky. “Or, rather, I’m what Dinky will become.” She slowly advanced toward them. “The changelings are coming. They will kill all of us if you don’t run, so for pony’s sake, run for your life!” With that final shout she slumped over, a gasp escaping her lips, and fell unconscious.
“Well, that’s just great,” Derpy said bitterly. “Now the Doctor and Dinky are unconscious. We should probably listen to them, though. I suggest we turn back. Sparkler, you keep dragging the Doctor with you. I’ll carry Dinky on my back.” She paused. “Sparkler? Are you okay?”
The young mare was frozen in place, her eyes huge. That can’t have just happened, she thought. My sister isn’t dangerous. Besides, how could she know what I was thinking? What’s going on?
An image flashed in her mind. Sparkler cowered in a corner, bruises decorating her body. Dinky towered above her. The filly’s lip was pulled back in a sneer, revealing sharp white teeth, and her horn flared to life with pulsating emerald magic. “What’s wrong, Sparkler?” Dinky spat. “Am I scaring you?” Sparkler could feel magic pull energy from her, gradually weakening her. “Or do you pity your sister, the half-changeling, half-pony hybrid?” Now the magic grew stronger. Dinky gave a sigh of contentment and closed her eyes. “It’s a shame, Sparkler. You were actually a pretty good sister. Too bad I had to kill you.” With a final shudder, Sparkler fell back, her eyes rolling into her head.
“Sparkler!” Derpy exclaimed, waving a hoof in front of her daughter’s face. “Come on, we have to go. Are you okay?”
She cast a quick glance at her sister, who was draped across Derpy’s back. How could I even imagine such a thing? She’s my sister. She would never hurt me. Right? “Um, yeah. I’m fine. Anyway, where are we supposed to go?”
Derpy frowned. “I don’t know. I was thinking we could get back to the room with the cocoons and then think of something.”
“Sparkler…are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. Let’s go already!”
The two took off, not hesitating a moment longer. Sparkler kept her eyes focused on the ground in front of her, spreading her magic field from pulling the Doctor by his tail to floating him along beside them. The farther they ran, she more tired she became. But she knew they could not stop. Not only had the Doctor woken up from his coma-like state to tell them to run, but Dinky had become that…that monster to say the same thing. If the changelings caught them, they would die.
Sparkler stumbled, her chin hitting the earth with a thump. The Doctor slammed into the ground next to her. Her mother ran on a few paces before noticing and screeching to a stop, returning to her side.
“I’m fine,” the unicorn insisted. But her vision was blurry and her stomach churned with fear. The vision of Dinky had disturbed her greatly, but not for the reason that seemed obvious. Yes, it had been terrifying. Yes, it had been horrible to watch. But there was some essence of truth around it, some strange feeling of understanding, that made Sparkler feel sick. She didn’t truly believe Dinky would do something like that…did she?
“You’re not fine, Sparkler, and you know it.” Derpy rested Dinky gently on the ground and sat down. “That’s great. You’re unfit to run, the Doctor and Dinky are unconscious, and the changelings will probably find us any minute now. How the hay are we supposed to get out of this?!”
Sparkler shook her head. “Mom, you’re not staying here.”
“Oh, really? Well, I’m not leaving you, the Doctor, or Dinky here alone.”
“I can fend for myself. Take them and go.”
“I can’t carry both of them.”
“Then take Dinky.”
“I’m not leaving the Doctor, okay? He saved all of our lives, whether you like it or not. I’m staying here, Sparkler.”
“I’m fine, though. I can walk. I just tripped, that’s all,” Sparkler lied.
Derpy rolled her eyes and sighed. “Sparkler, you are not fine, for the last time. We’ll stay here together, okay? And if we die, we’ll die together.” She began stroking her daughter’s mane comfortingly. “No matter what, I’ll stay by your side. That’s what mothers do.”
Sparkler sat up, leaning on Derpy’s shoulder. “I don’t want to die,” she whispered.
“Then I’ll make sure you don’t.”
And so they sat there, side by side, and began to wait.
Dinky was floating. That much she could tell. Everything beyond that was…hazy. Mysterious. Unknown.
No. Wait. She was cold. Very cold. Why was she so cold? And why couldn’t she see anything?
She closed her eyes again and buried her face in her hooves. All she remembered was Sparkler’s face, blank with fear, as Dinky advanced toward her. She didn’t remember what she had been saying. However, she did remember that something was pulling at her, urging her to make her way toward the terrified mare.
The same something nagged at her again. What was it? Anger? Greed? Or maybe…hunger? Yes. Hunger seemed about right. But this was a new kind of hunger, an odd, aching kind of hunger that sent chills running down her spine. And why did the thought of fear make her feel this way? Nothing made sense in this strange, empty world.
No. She had to focus on her surroundings. She had to get out of here…
A new image flashed in her mind, one of Derpy. Her mother’s eyes were soft and warm. Her wings spread wide in a motherly manner, and her ears pricked forward slightly. She was obviously feeling a strong surge of love.
Dinky pressed her hooves to her stomach, wincing. The hunger was growing, and fast. She wanted food. She needed food. But not normal food. That wouldn’t help in the least. She could eat four full meals, including four servings of dessert, and she would still be hungry. No, this kind of hunger required something more…abstract. And Dinky knew just the thing.
She focused on the image of her fearful sister and her horn began to glow. Slowly energy began to flow into her, spicy and sharp. The edge of the hunger left, but after a minute or two the taste of fear grew bitter and dull on her tongue. Maybe…
Vaguely she could remember the Doctor telling her that the changelings liked the taste of love the best. What if…?
Dinky imagined her mother, feeling the waves of love pulsing from her. Once again her horn glowed and the energy flowed into her. This time, though, the taste was rather enjoyable. It was sweet, tangy, and sour all at the same time. It filled every part of her with immense satisfaction, and when she finally decided she’d had her fill, it left her wanting more.
The Doctor was right, Dinky thought, licking her lips. Love really is delicious.
With a content sigh, she let the darkness consume her.
* * *
Sparkler yelped suddenly, leaping to her hooves. “Ow!”
Derpy snapped her head toward her, her eyes wide. “What’s wrong? Did something bite you? Are you hurt?”
“No, I just…” She sat down, blinking absently. “That’s weird. I feel kind of dizzy, like I just ran two marathons in a row.” Her ears twitched. “Maybe I should…OW!” A bright green glow lit up her forehead as she fell to the ground, whimpering. “What’s going on?”
The pegasus glanced around fearfully, her eyes finally settling on Dinky. The filly’s horn was just barely lit up, and a dark smile was spread across her lips. “It’s Dinky! I think she’s absorbing something from you.”
“Well, don’t just stand there! D-do something!”
Derpy blinked before diving toward Dinky, her hooves flailing around. “Dinky! Stop! You’re hurting Sparkler! You have to…” She broke off suddenly as the glow appeared on her own forehead. “Gah! She’s doing it to me now!”
Sparkler lunged forward and grabbed Derpy, pulling her several feet before coming to a stop. For several minutes they sat there, both whimpering, helpless to stop the flow of energy. Finally it ceased and Sparkler gave Derpy a hard look. “Listen to me,” she growled. “I know Dinky’s your daughter and my sister, but she’s dangerous. She said it herself. I hate to say it, but maybe we should leave her here.”
“No, Mom. When Dinky stopped whatever she was doing just now, how did you feel?”
“Tired, I guess, but I don’t see how—”
“Stop!” She lashed her tail fiercely. “I love Dinky, I’d do anything for her, but we have to leave her here! She’ll kill us!”
Derpy’s wings flared in anger. “Listen to yourself, Sparkler! She’s only a filly, and, by the way, she’s your sister! What kind of pony would just abandon their sister to die? I…”
“You what?” Sparkler narrowed her eyes.
“What? You can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my biological—”
“I said be quiet!” Derpy placed her hoof over Sparkler’s muzzle. “Listen.”
Sparkler fell silent, her ears pricking. Sure enough, there was a faint buzzing coming from farther down the corridor, accompanied by a sharp clicking noise. Her eyes widened with horror and she brushed Derpy’s hoof away from her mouth. “It’s them. It’s really them. Horseapples. I wanted to go down fighting, but of course Dinky had to go and drain most of our energy. What’s up with that, anyway? Do half-changelings have the same powers full changelings do? If so, does that mean—?”
“Sparkler, be quiet.” The gray mare gave Sparkler a sharp glance, her head shaking slightly. “That doesn’t matter right now. So we’re a bit tired. So we’ll probably pass out far before they kill us. We’re still going to fight, right? Besides, we don’t know if any of the other ponies escaped. They might come to help us.”
“That’ll never happen. If they escaped, they’ll be running away as fast as they can.”
“We can still hope, though, right? These changelings may be able to crush us like bugs, they may be able to take away everything we’ve ever known, but there’s one thing they can’t take away, and that’s hope. Giving up isn’t what ponies do. If we just sit back and let them kill us, we may as well join their army, because that’s not what we were born to do. We were born to stand our ground and never give in, and you know what, Sparkler? That’s exactly what I intend to do.”
Her daughter held her gaze for a moment before bowing her head. “Okay, Mom. You’re right.” She took a shaky breath before adding, “As long as you fight, I will, too.” A blatantly fake smile splayed across her lips. “One last thing to bring us closer, huh? You, me, and an army of hungry changelings. What could go wrong?”
Derpy nudged her with her wing, grinning. “That’s the spirit, Sparky. Let’s kick some changeling flank.”
* * *
The hunger was back, stronger than ever. It raged through Dinky’s whole body, clawing and ripping at her, determined to destroy her. It howled and bellowed, begging her for sustenance. It roared and it burned and it tore at her until finally she could take it no longer. She parted her jaws and gave a long, earsplitting wail, loud enough to be heard in Canterlot.
It didn’t help.
She had already tried to imagine her family again and draw energy from them, but it was as if a brick wall had gone up between their minds and hers. She had tried feasting on her own emotions. Hay, she had even gone so far as to try and feed off of Metamorphosis. But nothing was working.
To make matters worse, the temperature wherever she was had dropped vastly. She had to use up most of her energy keeping from freezing to death, which obviously didn’t help her hunger.
Things were not going well for Dinky Hooves.
Eventually the cold left her and she stretched, blinking her eyes wide open to try and draw some bit of light from this dark prison. Like before, nothing was—wait.
Something was moving a bit to her right. Something furry and brown.
Doctor! she thought, her tail wagging slightly. The Doctor’s here with me! Wait, how did he get here? I thought this place was just for me.
The dark shape stirred, groaning, “Where am I? Who’s there?”
“Doctor! It’s me!” The sight of him strangely took the worst of her hunger away. “It’s Dinky!”
He fell silent. After a few long moments he said, “Dinky? Are you sure?”
“Well, yeah. Who else would I be, silly?”
“I don’t know, a changel—never mind. But how are you here? This is my dream realm. Only certain creatures can dream hop, and I’m almost certain ponies can’t. I don’t know about changelings, though.”
Something about what he had just said made her uneasy, but she shook it off. “I don’t know how I’m here, I just am. I fell asleep, opened my eyes, and then I was here! I’m really hungry, though. Do you have anything to eat?”
“No, I don’t.” He reached toward her, pulling her toward him. “Do me a favor and stay here, Dinky. You never know what other creatures are here, especially if it turns out changelings can dream hop.”
She was quiet for a second. “Doctor?”
“Why am I so hungry?”
He stiffened, letting go of her. “What do you mean? What kind of hungry? I didn’t think you could be hungry in a dream.”
“Well, when I first woke up here, I was really, really hungry. But it wasn’t normal hungry. It really hurt, and I felt sick at the same time, like that time I had to get fluoride on my teeth and I couldn’t eat for a really long time. So then I thought of Sparkler and Derpy and my horn glowed and I felt better. Then when I woke up just now and I saw you I was a little less hungry.” Her voice shook. “What’s happening to me?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Her nostrils flared. His fear-scent was strong; it had been ever since she mentioned her hunger. “You don’t believe that,” she accused, her voice deepening. “You’re terrified. You think I’m dangerous, don’t you?” When the scent grew stronger still, she knew she had guessed right. “Well, you’re right.”
What am I saying? she thought, her eyes growing huge.
“My father is the king of the changelings. My mother has a destiny larger than you can imagine. At nine years old I’m stronger than any other pony, except maybe Twilight Sparkle and the Princesses. Imagine me full-grown. I will shake the very foundations of this nation. I will bring this world to a halt, and then I will destroy the Elements of Harmony and the beloved Princesses. Then, and only then, I will bring my changelings, and we will receive the glory we deserve.” Her legs shook, and she fell to her knees. “And you, Doctor, can do nothing to stop me.”
The Doctor backed away. “Dinky, snap out of it. This is not you. You’re still in there somewhere, I know it. Snap out of it!”
“I’m still in here somewhere, you say? You foal. How can you not realize that this is me? I may not realize it yet, but these things I have said are my destiny. Leave me be. There is nothing you can say to stop the destruction I will bring.” Dinky winced as a hoof struck her face. “Why would you do that?” she asked in her own voice.
“I’m sorry, Dinky, but there was no other way to help you. Are you all right now?”
She blinked, thinking. Was she all right? All that was wrong was that her face was throbbing. Why did the Doctor seem so terrified? “Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You…you honestly don’t know?”
His hooves pressed onto her shoulders, forcing her to squint through the darkness to find his eyes. “Dinky, tell me what just happened.”
“Okay. I told you I was hungry, you looked scared, I told you I was dangerous, and then you slapped me.” She rubbed her jaw. “And that hurt, Doctor. I’m gonna tell my mommy you hurt me.”
“You’re certain nothing else happened?”
“Well, then, don’t hate me for what I’m about to do.” Before she could even ask what he was doing, he pressed his hooves on her temples and she sank to her knees, her vision blurry. He released his hold on her and stood up straighter. “Whatever you are inside Dinky, I want to speak to you. I won’t hurt you, and I won’t stop you yet, I just want to talk.”
Dinky sat still for a moment, then spoke. “Very well, Doctor. What do you wish to talk about? Know that it is my choice whether or not I answer you.”
“Yeah, yeah. Tell me, just how powerful are you?”
“Fine. Well, then, are you powerful enough to save our flanks?”
“Good. Then I think you know what to do, right?”
“What good will come to me if I save you?”
“You will live. Now before you go jumping to brash conclusions, know this: If your host dies, so do you. That much I can tell. So the way I see it, you don’t have a choice. You will save us, and then I will stop you from destroying this world.”
“…I hate you.”
The Doctor nodded. “That’s very well, but you can continue hating me after you’ve saved us. Is that a fair deal?”
“Doctor, allow me to ask you something, since you seem so intent on questioning me. How is it you are so calm in going about your business? Why are you not cowering with fright?”
“You want an answer?” He chuckled. “Let me put it this way. I’m a talking pony with an hourglass on my rump trapped on a magical planet, lost in my own mind in a nest of changelings with a pegasus and two unicorns, asking someone I will probably have to kill later on if they can save my life. I’m not afraid because, quite frankly, I’m having a bit of trouble believing all this. Now, onto business. I believe we are in a large bit of danger at this moment, so now would probably be the best time to wake up. Don’t kill if you don’t have to, and do not kill any ponies. Other than that, do whatever you need to do to save us.”
“You’re a strange creature, Doctor.”
“So are you.” The Doctor reached forward, placing a hoof on Dinky’s head. “I’ll send you out of my dream realm now. Good luck.”
* * *
Metamorphosis landed with a low thud, his porous wings rustling. The army was spread out behind him, their blue eyes gleaming with hunger, and his Queen was at his side. Cowering before him were Derpy and Sparkler, while the unconscious Dinky and the Doctor were sprawled out next to the wall of the cavern.
“Well,” he laughed, “it looks like this will be easier than I thought.” He stalked over to Derpy and leaned forward, sneering. “You’re pathetic, Derpy.”
Derpy spat in his face, only to wince as he slammed his hoof into her cheek. Her jaw clenched with anger. Still she remained silent.
“I think I’ll save your death for last,” he went on. “First to go will be our daughter, Dinky. Then I’ll kill Sparkler, and finally the Doctor. Then and only then I will suck every last bit of life force from your body.” He traced her jaw with the tip of his hoof.
She drew away, a challenge in her eyes, and bit her tongue.
“Well? You have nothing to say? Wow, you really are pathetic. Here I am, making death threats, and you sit here cowering like a filly. I guess you finally realized you’re too stupid to be of any use.” Metamorphosis watched her for a minute or two before giving a whine of frustration. “Why is it when I insult you ponies you don’t get angry? It’s not fair!”
Chrysalis sighed, annoyed, and pushed the king out of the way. “Honestly, Metamorphosis, you’re such a foal. That’s not how you get a reaction from a pony. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’ve never done this before. Now, watch and learn, you blubbering baboon.”
As the queen drew closer, Derpy spread a wing around Sparkler protectively.
“Hello, Derpy Hooves.”
Derpy rolled her eyes. “Hello, Queen Chrysalis. Killed any innocent ponies lately?”
Chrysalis shot a triumphant glance toward the king. “See, idiot? I’ve hardly said a word and she’s already angry.” She turned toward the mare again. “As a matter of fact, yes. Although you can hardly remain angry at me, because you’ve done the same thing.”
“Oh, really? How do you figure?”
“Well, just look around you. There’s the Doctor, your daughters, the other prisoners…all of them will be dead because of you. You befriended the Doctor, so he felt he had to rescue you. He felt he had to rescue you, so your daughters followed him. Your daughters followed him, so you felt you had to escape. And now, here we are.”
A stab of guilt shot through Derpy’s heart, but she suppressed it. I can’t let her win.
“It’s a shame, really. Dinky would’ve been so powerful. After all, a changeling-pony hybrid has never before been seen. She could’ve traveled the universe, saving it again and again. Oh, and the Doctor…well, let’s just say he could’ve continued doing what he’s been doing. But I suppose sacrifices must be made for us to prevail.”
“Ah, now there’s the reaction we wanted.” Chrysalis swept her gaze past Derpy and settled on Sparkler. “Sparkler. Poor, lonely Sparkler, never able to fit in no matter how hard you tried. You were so smart. You could’ve been great. Although I suppose it was incredibly stupid of you to follow the Doctor here, but what do I know? Maybe you had some ulterior motive. Or maybe you’re just an idiot.”
Sparkler gritted her teeth. “And maybe you’d better shut up before I tear off your wings and shove them down your throat, cheese-legs.”
Chrysalis laughed. “All bark and no bite. I guess you really are an idiot.”
“Pardon my interruption, but maybe you’re the idiot here, Queen.”
Every head whipped toward the source of the voice, a small unicorn filly. But something was wrong, very wrong. Her eyes glowed green, and her teeth were bared in a fanged sneer. Her voice pulsed with power and had a certain echo to it, like someone had taken two very different voices and pressed them together.
The changelings took a step back in unison. The queen’s eyes were bright with fear. “It can’t be,” she murmured.
“Oh, but that’s the thing, Queen Chrysalis. It can be, and it is.” Dinky smiled even wider. “Did you miss me?”
Sparkler’s breathing grew shallow. She pressed against Derpy so desperately that her mother could hear her rapid heartbeat. No, she thought. No, no, no!
Metamorphosis answered for his queen. “But…how is that possible? I thought you were just an old legend. How are you here? Why are you here?”
Dinky tapped a hoof to her chest as if it explained everything. When that gained no reaction, she sighed and shook her head. “Have you not heard the stories? No matter. That’s not important right now. The Doctor has agreed to let me live for now on one condition.”
At that moment the Doctor’s eyes shot open and he tried to leap up. However, he hadn’t taken into consideration that he was still under the affects of whatever they’d fed him, so he ended up toppling back over like a tipped cow. After a few failed attempts to get up he flopped onto his side and gave a tired groan, turning red. “Sorry about that, I forgot you changelings poisoned me. Anyway, I was trying to make this really dramatic, but that completely failed, so I may as well just come out and say it. I’m letting whatever this creature is live if he or she saves us and kicks your flanks to the moon.” He grins. “I told him or her—could I just call you an ‘it’? What? Why are you glaring at me? Anyway, I told it that it could kill as many of you as is necessary.”
Once again the changelings stepped back and Chrysalis spoke. “You really don’t want to do that, Time Lord. We poisoned you, remember? Only we have the antidote. You’ll die if you kill us.”
The Doctor beckoned to Derpy, and she hurried over, pulling him to his hooves. “The thing is, Queen Chrysalis, I recently regenerated. I was busy worrying that Derpy and the others were dead, so I completely forgot about this for a while, but you know what I can do when I’ve recently regenerated?”
He held out a hoof, beaming. “This.”
The queen stared at him, amused. “Nothing’s happening.”
He blinked, then looked back down at his hoof. His brow furrowed. “You know that feeling when you’re about to sneeze so you make a really weird face, and then you end up not sneezing and everyone looks at you funny? That’s pretty much how I feel right now.” His hoof began to glow a pale yellow and he gave a yelp of excitement. “Never mind! Here comes the sneeze!”
The yellow mist swirled around him, twisting and writhing until it obscured his whole body. Then, with a burst of light, it vanished, leaving a healthy-looking stallion standing there happily.
“I love it when things work out splendidly,” he chirped. “Now, where were we? Oh, yes, the thing inside Dinky was about to destroy you.”
Dinky rolled her green eyes and stepped forward. A sickly color lit up her horn, and she slowly tilted her head back, her lips working furiously as she whispered a small chant. Then she slammed her front hooves into the ground and curled her lip. “Doctor, take your little friends and leave.”
Chrysalis snorted and took a step forward. “I know you’re supposed to be strong, but honestly, do you think we’re going to just sit there while these pests get away? Do you think we’re just going to let you kill us without giving a fight?”
“That would be the smart thing to do. Maybe then I’d spare a few of you.”
“Fool.” She narrowed her eyes. “Changelings, charge!”
Suddenly the world became a buzzing world of black. There were changelings everywhere, hissing, clawing, gnawing.
Before too long the ponies were separated. Derpy jostled a few changelings out of her way, trying to find her daughters and the Doctor, only to whimper as others quickly replaced them. And she had thought there were a lot of changelings before, when she was fighting with Vinyl Scratch and the others. But now, she could hardly breath without some changeling’s insect wing shooting up her nostrils.
She gagged as a hoof fell into her mouth and instinctively lashed out, catching the changeling on the nose. Once again she felt herself slipping into what she was starting to think of as her “fury mode.” She kicked and punched, bit and tore, thrashed and writhed. Her wings became like second arms, jabbing changelings in the gut, shoving them away, and slamming the changelings against each other.
The chaos didn’t last long, however. A sudden blast shook the walls and the changelings stopped, turning toward the sound.
Dinky, her eyes still glowing, stood in the center of a horde of unconscious changelings. “I gave you a chance to surrender,” she said softly. “You were too proud to take it, Queen. I don’t like it when creatures take advantage of my mercy.”
King Metamorphosis leapt in front of Chrysalis, growling, “If you lay a hoof on her, I will end you!”
She didn’t flinch. Instead she simply gave a bitter laugh and said, “Ah, Metamorphosis, you just don’t get it. I am powerful, more powerful than you can imagine. Yes, there have been stronger creatures than I, but I am smart, and that is my greatest strength. You don’t have a choice. You two will die at my hooves, and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You’ve sealed your own fate, so to speak.” Her nostrils flared. “Your fear-scent is strong. You know I speak the truth.”
Metamorphosis whimpered. “Don’t you dare kill us,” he whispered, obviously trying to act tougher than he was.
“Oh, don’t worry, King. Your deaths will be as quick and painless as possible. All the Doctor, Dinky and I need is to send a message. Dinky is the only living creature that would have the strength to replace you on the throne, and we both know that will never happen. As for the rest of the changelings…once I have killed your leaders, you are to go to the Badlands and never return. I know your kind left you behind. I know you only planned to absorb enough energy to make it home. But you had your chance, fools. You had your chance and you didn’t take it!”
Derpy felt a light tap on her shoulder and turned to see the Doctor standing with Sparkler. “That’s our cue to leave,” he said quietly. “The creature will take care of the rest. I promise Dinky will be safe.”
“How do you know?” she demanded, her eyes locked on the confrontation between Dinky and the changelings.
“Because if Dinky dies, so does the creature, and you know it doesn’t want that.”
She flattened her ears, knowing he was right. “What about Vinyl Scratch and the others? They helped me escape, and then they held the changelings off for me.”
His eyes were sad. “If they haven’t escaped already, they don’t have a chance. This place is going to be turned to ash within minutes.” He nudged her comfortingly with his muzzle. “We need to get out of here now. Do you want to watch your daughter murder your husband?”
That thought sent tremors of sadness up and down Derpy’s spine. Nothing will ever be the same again, she thought. Dinky’s half-changeling and has some kind of monster living inside her mind, Night Hooves is really a changeling king and is about to be killed, Sparkler’s scared to death of her sister, and the Doctor…well, he’s here. Nothing will ever, ever be the same, and there’s nothing I can do. Tears welled up in her eyes. “No, I don’t.”
“Good.” He and Sparkler each threw a leg over Derpy’s shoulders and helped her walk away, casting a few glances over their shoulders. The last thing they heard before they broke into a run was a terrible roar.
* * *
I did it.
I killed the changelings.
Yes, a few of them escaped, but only the weakest. They will not be a danger to Equestria any more. King Metamorphosis and Queen Chrysalis are dead, erased from the world for all the years to come. Their home, the castle, was destroyed, burned to the ground by the fire I summoned. The only proof that changelings once lived here are the stories that will be told for generations to come, and the three injured soldiers living in the Badlands.
Derpy, Sparkler, Dinky, and the Doctor are very much alive. I did all I had to do for them. I saved them, defeated the changelings, and kept Dinky’s brain from frying up. Now I owe them nothing. I am free to do what I please. Oh, but I won’t attack right away. No, that would be stupid. They’re expecting me to strike soon, so I will wait until they’ve all but forgotten me.
You may think my appearance was sudden. You may think there is no way I was a part of this event until the very end.
But you are wrong.
Why do you think Dinky was having magic surges? Did you think it was only because she was half-changeling? I was there from the start. I entered her mind when she was just a foal, hardly old enough to walk on her own.
Why do you think the Doctor’s TARDIS was malfunctioning? It’s typical for him to have problems when he’s going to regenerate, but who do you think made sure the closest planet was the world of Equestria? That’s right. It was me. I didn’t move the planet or anything stupid like that. I just latched onto the outside of the TARDIS so that when it slipped through the time vortex I was able to manipulate its course.
When Sparkler was younger, who do you think convinced her to foalsit for the Hooves family? I am very good at manipulating minds, very good indeed. It didn’t take much for her to begin to show interest in their little family, and it took even less to convince them to adopt her.
Derpy crashing into Carrot Top’s cart again was not an accident either. It was necessary to get her to help the Doctor. Had she not gotten the day off because of her accident, the fake Doctor wouldn’t have been able to convince her to come with him and none of this would’ve happened. Sure, she was later fired for the many accidents, but sacrifices must always be made.
From the very beginning I was working to force these four together. Their destiny together is larger than they can imagine. Soon the darkness spreading across Equestria will reach them and they will be thrown into situations larger than they can handle on their own. But together, the four of them can do anything.
Well, almost anything. They will have trouble defeating me, that’s for sure.
But they will find that out in time.
Sparkler leapt to her hooves at once, her ears shooting straight up. Her eyes wildly flew around the room before settling on her younger sister, who was lying in the hospital bed. The Doctor stood next to her, looking relieved.
“Dinky!” Sparkler exclaimed, lunging toward her and scooping her up into her arms. “Are you okay? Are you in any pain? Talk to me!”
Dinky made a face and squirmed away from her. She rolled her eyes. “Since when have you been so…lovey-dovey?” Then she giggled. “I’m fine, but I don’t remember what happened.”
“It’s a long story.” Once again Sparkler threw her arms around her sister, nuzzling her cheek. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“You’re creeping me out.”
The Doctor laughed. “She’s creeping me out, too. I never knew you could be so nice, Parker.”
“Right, that’s what I said.” He tapped a hoof to his chin. “Anyway, I had the doctors scan her for any unnatural occurrences, but they didn’t find anything. ‘Unnatural occurrences’ include magic surges, by the way, which means whatever was inside her is gone now.”
Sparkler snorted. “You don’t seriously believe it would just leave, do you?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. That’s why I was going to talk to your mother. I wanted to get her opinion before I decide what the next move should be. Where is she, anyway? Don’t you think she’d want to be here when her daughter woke up?”
“I’ll find her. While I do that, you can tell Dinky what happened, because that’s going to take a while.”
A look of horror flashed across the Doctor’s face. “There’s no way I’ll be able to explain it all before you get back!” He buried his head in his hooves and added, “Besides, do you expect me to be able to sit still for that long?”
“I’ll stall,” she said simply, already heading out the door.
After Dinky—or, rather, the monster inside Dinky—had finished destroying the changelings, Dinky had stumbled out of the crumbling building and collapsed at their hooves. Sparkler had been sent ahead to get help, and Derpy and the Doctor took turns carrying the unconscious foal. Just outside the Everfree Forest there was a team of ponies waiting to bring them to the hospital. As it turned out, Vinyl Scratch and the others had made it out as well, and met up with them at the hospital. Dinky had been unconscious for the last twelve hours, but thankfully, she hadn’t been injured too badly.
Sparkler scanned the hallway before tapping one of the nurses on the shoulder. “Excuse me, have you seen a gray pegasus with a blonde mane anywhere?”
The nurse nodded and pointed toward the stairs leading to the roof. “She said she was going up there.”
It wasn’t too hard to locate Derpy on the roof. She was sitting near the edge, her head tilted back and her wings rustling in the breeze.
Derpy’s ear twitched, but she didn’t turn around. “Hey, Sparkler.”
Sparkler trotted over and sat down next to her. For a moment she watched her cautiously. Then she leaned her head on her mother’s shoulder and closed her eyes. “Are you okay, Mom?”
She blinked. “…Okay, do you care to explain?”
“My life is a lie.” Pain contorted her face.
“My husband never loved me, he was just pretending to so he could feed, because he was a bucking changeling. One of my daughters is half-changeling and has some weird monster inside her, and my other daughter is adopted and doesn’t want anything to do with me. The only reason my boss hired me is that he felt sorry for me, and now I’m fired. Not only that, but now I have a friend who’s a thousand-year-old, time-traveling alien.” A single tear slid down her cheek. “I’ve basically just been told that everything I know is wrong. I…I’m so confused.”
Sparkler drew away, her eyes wide. “Who said I don’t want anything to do with you?”
“Nobody did, but the way you were acting before…”
“Look, Mom, it’s not that I don’t love you, I just…don’t know how to show it. I mean, I never really had a mom before, and you’re really busy, so I don’t get to spend a lot of time with you. So then I don’t get to tell you how awesome you are. You’re a great mother.” She folded her ears back. “I’m just too stubborn to admit it sometimes.”
“How am I a good mother? I don’t spend time with you two, I’m never home, and tell me, Sparkler, what’s one time I’ve sat down and had a heart-to-heart talk with you?”
“Well, you’re doing it now.”
“That doesn’t count.”
Sparkler rolled her eyes. “Okay, so maybe you don’t talk to us as often as you’d like to. But you work really hard to keep us happy, you’re always there to pick us up from school and stuff, and we know that you love us more than anything in the world.”
“No buts. Stop beating yourself up, okay, Mom? It doesn’t matter that we’re as poor as dirt. It doesn’t matter that you’re not home very often. What matters is that you try. You’re not home very often because you’re busy working your flank off to keep us happy! You love us more than all the muffins in the world, and you tell us that. You’re always there for us. And you know what?”
Derpy sniffed, wiping her eyes. “What?”
“You’re the best mom in the whole universe, and I love you.” Sparkler hesitated, and then pulled her mother into a huge hug.
Derpy gave a small smile and returned the hug. “Sparkler, how did I end up with such amazing daughters as you and Dinky?”
“I don’t know, but I’m glad you did.”
For a few minutes they sat there like that, wrapped in a warm embrace, just enjoying each other’s company. Then Sparkler cleared her throat. “Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that Dinky’s awake.”
Before you could say “muffins” Derpy was inside and racing toward Dinky’s room, leaving Sparkler scrambling to keep up.
As the two drew closer to the room, they could hear giggling.
“Hee, hee! Stop it, that tickles, hee, hee!”
“What? You’re laughing too much! I can’t understand what you’re saying.”
“Please, hee, hee, stop it! I-I can’t breathe! Hee, hee, hee!”
They exchanged an amused glance and made their way inside, expecting to see Dinky rolling around in laughter. Instead, they saw Dinky dangling a feather over the Doctor’s neck, darting it down and tickling him every so often.
The Doctor kicked his legs out and snorted. “Okay, okay, you win! Ha, ha, okay, you can stop now!”
Dinky continued tickling him. “What was that?”
“Stop! Dinky, hee, hee, you win!” He yelped as the feather brushed over the back of his neck. “Please!”
“Sorry, I can’t understand—” She cut herself off abruptly, her eyes widening as she saw her mother and sister watching her. “Uhh,” she said, dropping the feather. “Uhh, I was just…”
The Doctor wriggled away from her, still giggling despite himself. “She was just showing me how she defeated the changelings. Apparently she tickled them to death.”
“Nuh uh!” she pouted. “That’s not what I said. I said I used magic, and I was showing you that. You can’t kill changelings by tickling them, silly.” A mischievous gleam flickered in her eyes. The feather, enveloped by a golden glow, lifted up slowly. “But I could probably kill you by tickling you. You’re really ticklish!”
Derpy’s jaw dropped. “Dinky, you can use magic now?”
“Yeah! See?” The feather darted over and waved in the gray mare’s face. “It’s fun.”
The Doctor ruffled Dinky’s mane and stood. “Derpy, I know you probably want to see how Dinky’s doing, but there’s actually something I needed to talk to you about. Could you come with me for a moment?”
“Um, sure.” She cast a long glance toward Dinky. “It won’t take too long, will it? I don’t want to leave her all alone here.”
“I’m sure she’ll be fine. After all, she’s got Sparkler with her. And now that she’s able to do basic magic, if anyone tries to hurt her she’ll tickle them to death.”
“Okay, then. Where to?”
He held the door open for her, exchanging a sorrowful look with Dinky before joining Derpy in the hallway. “I need to show you something in one of the rooms. It has all of Dinky’s scans and x-rays and whatnot.”
As they walked, Derpy found herself thinking about how strange this was. Though she had just met this stallion less than a week ago, she trusted him with her life. Why was that? What had he really done to make her trust him?
Or maybe it wasn’t what he had done, but what he hadn’t done. Not once had he lied to her or tried to hurt her in all the time that she’d known him. In fact, his top priority had been to protect her and her foals. When the changelings had captured her, he risked his life to save her. And somehow she knew that if a killing blow had been sent her way, he’d have jumped in front of her and took the pain instead. The same went for her foals.
Once they were inside the room, the Doctor pointed toward one of the pieces of paper. “Look. It says that there’s nothing out of the ordinary inside Dinky, but we know that whatever was inside of her wasn’t just in our imagination. That leaves only one solution; it’s gone.”
Her eyes widened. “But it intended to kill us. It practically swore it would. It wouldn’t just leave, would it?”
“You catch on quickly, Derpy. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. What’s going to happen next?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you think it would be better to assume that it’s going to come back, or to assume that it’s not?”
“…I still don’t get it. We know it’s going to come back.”
“I know, but…” He sighed and stared at his hooves. “Derpy, I don’t usually stay in one place for very long.”
“But we’re in danger. Don’t you usually save ponies? Isn’t that basically your life’s purpose?”
“Yes, I suppose.”
“Then stay here.”
“Okay, but what if I do stay? Who knows how long it’ll take the creature to return? And during that time, I’d be sitting there on my rump while creatures all over were dying without me. Besides, it’s not like I could get a house and a normal job and just fit in. And what if it didn’t come back? I’d have to stay here until all of you died, and you know I’d get attached, so then I’d probably break the rules and go back in time to before we first met, which would cause a paradox, and then there would be another thing I’d have to fix.”
Derpy’s ears drooped. “But if you don’t stay, tons of ponies will die.”
“I know.” He frowned. “And that’s where the dilemma resides. If I do leave, a lot of people—sorry, ponies—will die. If I don’t leave, even more ponies will die. What am I supposed to do?”
“Well, maybe you could visit a whole lot.”
“But what if it returned in between visits?”
“Maybe we could find a way to contact you when you’re gone.” She shook her head furiously as soon as the words left her mouth. “Never mind, you’d be in the past and we’d be in the present and it wouldn’t work.”
He thought for a moment before a light bulb went off over his head. Figuratively, of course. “That’s not necessarily true. If ponies are able to use phones… Never mind. Hooves.”
“Phones? We have those. Why wouldn’t we?”
“What about them?”
“How do you press the buttons?”
She flapped her wings. “Unicorns use magic, earth ponies use their nose, and we pegasi use these babies!”
The Doctor pondered that, running a cautious hoof over his nose as if pondering how that worked. Then he said decidedly, “Right. Magical ponies. Of course they use their noses. Anyway, do you have a phone?”
“Yeah, it’s at my house. But still, how would the whole past-present-future communication thing work?”
“Well, since you’ve met me, you’re now a part of my timeline. That means, if you call me in the TARDIS, no matter where or when I am, I’ll always have met you, and therefore you’re able to communicate with me.”
He gave a smirk. “Hey, if your excuse is ‘magical talking ponies,’ my excuse is allowed to be ‘Time Lord.’ Does that seem fair?”
“Okay, then. It works because Time Lord.” He clapped his hooves together, his grin growing wider by the moment. “Ha! I love it! It works because Time Lord. But in all seriousness, now I’m able to travel the universe, and you’re able to, well, not die because of that weird creature thing inside Dinky. That’s splendid!”
“Wait, Doctor, isn’t your TARDIS broken?”
His smile vanished. “Aw, ponyfeathers. Hey, did I use that right, by the way? I heard your friend say it before.”
She rolled her eyes, laughing. “Yes, you used it right.”
“And about the TARDIS, it might take a while, but I can fix her.”
“Yes, the TARDIS is alive.” Seeing her befuddled expression, he added, “It’s a long story that I don’t feel like explaining right now. Now, since that little problem is fixed, shall we head back to your foals?”
“Wait.” Her brow furrowed. “You said the TARDIS had a bunch of dangerous smoke and gas inside it that made you feel dizzy. Where are you supposed to stay?”
“What, you’re saying I can’t stay in the TARDIS? That’s rubbish. I stayed there before and I was fine!”
“You told me you had to use some of your leftover regeneration energy to get rid of the stuff from the TARDIS.”
“Oh. So I did.”
She rubbed the back of her neck. “Well, we do have a guest room that we never use. You could stay there. Just until the TARDIS is fixed, you know? I’m sure Sparkler and Dinky would love it if you stayed with us.”
“I suppose I could stay with all of you until it’s safe to sleep in the TARDIS. If it’s not too much trouble, that is.”
“No, no, it’s a pleasure!”
“Then it’s settled. I’ll drop by the TARDIS, get the universal communication thing to put on your phone, and then I’ll head back to your home. You’re sure your foals won’t mind?”
Derpy nodded. “I’m sure. They think you’re great!”
The Doctor reared onto his hind legs, nickering happily, before dropping back down and chuckling. “I didn’t know I could make that noise.” Just as he opened his mouth to speak again, his eyes grew as wide as saucers. “Oh, snap. Sparkler cast an immobilizing spell on that orange-maned friend of yours.”
“We never went back to undo it. She’s been standing in the same place for the past day and a half!” Before Derpy could respond, he galloped out of the room. “Don’t worry, Derpy, I’ll be back! Allons-y!”
Her laughter could be heard all throughout the hospital.
A/N: Sorry for the long wait! School's been SUPER busy for me, so I haven't really had time to write. This chapter's a bit short, but I'll try to get Chapter Eleven out as soon as possible. Maybe even by the end of today, if I'm lucky.
Carrot Top sighed. Why do ponies always assume I’m good at watching foals? Sure, Sparkler’s not technically a foal anymore, but still… Every time I foalsit, one of the foals always finds a way to immobilize me, whether it’s tying me to a chair, gluing my hooves to the floor, or casting some weird spell on me. Oh, I hope the foals are okay. I saw a group of ponies from the hospital heading toward the Everfree Forest, which is where they went. If something bad happened to them, Derpy will kill me…
Her eyes widened. Oh, no, it’s this dude!
The Doctor skidded to a stop in front of her, laughing uncontrollably. “Sorry you were here for so long. We were a bit busy and happened to forget about you.”
Her eye twitched. “You happened to forget about me? Me, who was left here for an entire day, who had no food or water or anything? What could be so important that you and the foals forgot about me?” She sniffed, narrowing her eyes. “Besides, why did Derpy trust you with her foals?”
“Uh…well…she didn’t exactly…”
“So you foalnapped them?!”
“What? No! Look, the changelings tricked her into following a fake version of me into the forest and then knocked her out and put her in a cocoon on the ceiling so they could feed off her emotions so I had to go save her but then Dinky and Sparkler insisted on coming along because Dinky’s half-changeling and Sparkler didn’t trust me but then we were captured too and put in a cell and we almost died but then Derpy escaped and fought changelings and let us out and there was a monster inside Dinky that exploded the changelings and then she passed out so we brought her to the hospital and now everything’s fine.” He gave a proud smile and puffed out his chest. “And now that I know ponies have phones I can travel the universe while protecting Derpy’s family.”
Carrot Top blinked, utterly confused. “Um…I don’t get it.”
“No matter. Hey, as an apology for forgetting about you, how about you join me and the Hooves for dinner?”
“If you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of stuck here.”
“Oh, yeah. Be right back!”
If I could move my hooves right now, I would facehoof, Carrot Top thought. I guess I could humor them and go to dinner. But after dinner I’m getting this stallion a psychiatrist. He has some serious issues.
Before too long the Doctor was back, this time with a unicorn. She was a light blue color with a two-toned blue-and-white mane, and her cutie mark was an hourglass. When she saw Carrot Top, she gasped.
“Carrot? What are you doing out here?” she asked.
“Hi, Colgate!” Carrot Top replied. “Well, I had to watch Dinky and Sparkler, but then Sparkler used an immobilizing spell on me and now I can’t move. I’ve kinda been here for a really long time, so if you wouldn’t mind removing the spell…”
Colgate snorted, then shoved a hoof in her mouth to stifle her laughter. It was ineffective, for soon she was rolling across the floor, her legs kicking out as she snickered. “Bwa-ha-ha! That’s too rich! Sparkler’s immobilizing spell worked on you? Oh, Carrot, that’s hilarious!”
“Sparkler’s magic isn’t that strong. Trust me, I should know. She tried the same trick on me once. Your physical strength just has to be stronger than her magical strength, and then you can break free easily.”
“Well, if Sparkler’s spell is stronger than you, then you’re even weaker than I thought! Bwa-ha-ha!”
Carrot Top’s ears drooped. “That’s not nice, Colgate. Could you please let me go now?”
“Uh, sure. Sorry.” Just as she stood, she noticed something. “Wait…hang on…you’re that really weird stallion that I met before,” she said, peering closely at the Doctor. “You said you were a doctor.”
The Doctor curled his lip, offended. “No, I didn’t say I was a doctor, I said I was the Doctor.”
“You know there’s more than one doctor in this world, right?”
“Well, yes, but the different Doctors cannot exist at exactly the same place at exactly the same time or it would cause a paradox. And trust me, paradoxes are extremely hard to fix.”
“Okay, but there are at least four doctors at the Ponyville Hospital, and there hasn’t been a pair-of-ducks or whatever.”
“But in order for that to happen, I’d have to…wait. We’re not talking about the same kind of doctor, are we?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, then, my name is the Doctor. I’m not a doctor, I’m the Doctor.”
He pawed at the ground in frustration. “My name is the Doctor. Just the Doctor. Not Doctor Smith or Doctor Whooves or whatever kind of names you have here, just the Doctor.”
Colgate tilted her head, saying, “…Right. Well, I’m just going to call you Doc.”
Carrot Top cleared her throat loudly, drawing their attention. “Ahem. I’m really interested in this conversation, really, I am, but I’m kind of stuck here and I really need to go to the bathroom. Can’t you two discuss this later? Maybe Colgate can come to dinner with us.”
“You two are going to dinner?” Colgate’s eyes lit up at this new tidbit of information.
“No, he’s having dinner with the Hooves family, I’m just tagging along.”
“Ooh, Doc and Derpy are getting along quite well, are they? Does Night Hooves know?”
The Doctor was not amused. “Colgate, or whatever your name is, would you be ever so kind as to hurry up and let Carrot Top go? I promised Derpy I’d be there as soon as possible, and I still need to get something from the TARDIS.”
Colgate rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine.” Her horn lit up and a stream of energy shot forward, wrapping around Carrot Top’s legs and lifting her off the ground before setting her down gently. “Happy?”
“Very!” Carrot Top squeaked, bouncing around. Then her eyes widened. “Uh, you guys go ahead. I’ll meet you at Derpy’s house. I really gotta go!” And then she was gone, zipping to the nearest house and disappearing inside.
* * *
Derpy set the plates down at the table, casting worried glances toward the front door. The plates were covered with fresh fried grass topped with a steaming layer of honey.
Note to self, she thought, I need to go grocery shopping soon.
Dinky groaned and whimpered, her eyes large and pleading. “When’s dinner?”
“Whenever the Doctor arrives,” Derpy responded absentmindedly. I wonder if a changeling escaped? What if he’s in danger? Should I go look for him? But if he isn’t in danger, he might be mad that I think he can’t take care of himself.
But at that moment there was a knock on the door, and relief washed over Derpy.
She bounded over and threw open the door to not only find the Doctor, but also an energetic Carrot Top and a terrified Colgate.
The Doctor smiled sheepishly. “I, ah, may have brought a few extra ponies,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck with a hoof.
Colgate lunged forward, placing her hooves on Derpy’s face. “Derpy! He’s an alien! His house is bigger on the inside! You gotta get out of here, he’ll kill us all!”
“For the last time, Colgate, I will not kill you all.”
Derpy giggled and opened the door wider, inviting them inside. Carrot Top immediately raced to the kitchen to hug Dinky. “I see all of you have met already, then,” she observed, amused.
The Doctor nodded, stepping inside and looking around. He took in the cramped walls, the small rooms, and the lack of furniture. Then, peering closely at the small amounts of food on the puny table in the corner, he gasped. “Derpy! I just realized something! You’re poor!”
“…Yeah, and I’ve always been poor.”
He cast Carrot Top and Colgate a long gaze before turning back to her. “But…how are you going to feed all of us?”
“Doctor, I’m poor, but I’m not broke. I have enough food for all of us. I’ll just need to go shopping tomorrow.”
“Blah. Shopping is boring, I hate shopping. Do I have to come?”
“Not if you don’t want to.”
“Good.” He tried to cross his arms and toppled forward, unable to balance on only his hind legs.
Sparkler, who was watching all of this with mild interest, raised an eyebrow. “Great, so now that we all know one another, can we eat already? I’m kind of starving over here. Sure, they fed us a bit at the hospital, but the changelings didn’t take care of us all that well.”
Dinky and Carrot Top, who were already seated, voiced their agreement, and before too long everyone was seated and ready to eat.
The Doctor licked his lips, staring down at the grassy meal. “I don’t know what this is, but it looks great,” he said, leaning down to take a bite.
Dinky leapt forward, pulling him back. “No, silly, we have to thank Celestia and Luna first!”
“Our Princesses, duh!”
He looked around. Seeing everyone staring at him with amused expressions, he blushed and ducked his head. “Right, of course, I know what you’re talking about. So, ah, thank you to, um, Celestia and, uh, Luna, for, you know, um, being…Princesses. Or something. Now, let’s eat!” Before anypony could stop him he had scooped up some of the food in his mouth and was chewing loudly.
Sparkler gawked at him. “Doctor, you are so weird.”
“That’s good, weird is good.”
Colgate shoveled food into her mouth and frowned. “Sho, whaf egshactly hapnnnn?”
“Huh?” the Doctor said.
She swallowed and repeated, “So, what exactly happened? You know, with the changelings?”
Dinky, Sparkler, Derpy, and the Doctor exchanged a glance. Then, one by one, they began to tell their version of the story, pausing every so often to make sure they were remembering it correctly.
Carrot Top and Colgate listened intently. Every once in a while one of them would gasp or whimper, but other than that they were silent, their minds struggling to wrap around what had happened.
The four of them talked for hours, stopping only once to clear the plates and bring out dessert. By the time they concluded their tale, the moon and stars shone high in the sky.
For a moment everyone was silent, each lost in his or her own thoughts. Then Colgate spoke.
“Wow. That’s…certainly a lot to take in,” she said, staring down at the table.
“I hardly believe it myself,” Derpy responded.
Carrot Top pondered this before hurling herself at the gray mare, her arms wrapping around her as she buried her nose in her blonde mane. “Don’t worry, Derpy, you didn’t need Night Hooves anyway. He’s just a big, dumb jerk.”
Colgate nodded her agreement. “CT’s right. Remember all those times he yelled at you and your foals, and told you that you were useless, and complained—”
Derpy held up a hoof. “Okay, I get it. But I’m not upset about Night Hooves—I mean, King Metamorphosis. And even if I was, he’s dead. The thing inside Dinky made sure of that.”
“Speaking of which, is it seriously gone?”
Dinky beamed and bounced up and down in her seat with joy. “Yup! I’m one hundred percent monster-free!”
The Doctor gave her an affectionate smile. “I’m still staying here just in case, though. We never know when it might come back. Well, I won’t stay here the whole time, but…you know what I mean.”
“Not really,” Carrot Top giggled.
He stared at her, and then shrugged. “Oh, well. I know what I mean. Hey, speaking of which… Derpy, I usually travel with a companion. It gets awfully lonely going through space and time on my own. Once I get the TARDIS fixed, how would you like to come with me?” he asked eagerly. “We could literally go anywhere, anytime. Fighting aliens, saving planets, or maybe just relaxing on beaches made of powdered diamond. Besides, I could think of nopony more qualified than you. If you hadn’t saved my flank in the changelings’ hive, all of Equestria would be doomed. And you wouldn’t have to worry about your foals, because we’d almost always be back before they even knew we were gone. And—and—and maybe when they’re older they can come with us. So what do you say, Derpy? Would you like to travel the universe with me?”
Her jaw dropped and her eyes widened. “You’d seriously want me to travel with you in the TARDIS?”
“Well, yes, I suppose.”
“That sounds amazing, but I have just one question.”
“Ask away, Derpy.”
She took a deep breath and said quickly, “Would we be able to go visit Commander Hurricane? She was alive before Equestria was officially made, and, well, she’s kind of a role model of mine.”
“Of course!” He tipped his head to a side. “So will you do it?”
Her eyes swept around the room. Dinky was nodding enthusiastically, a grin fixed upon her face. Sparkler was beaming, and Carrot Top and Colgate mouthed, Do it! She closed her eyes to think.
This was amazing, it really was. But what if something happens to me and Sparkler and Dinky don’t ever find out? Wait, the Doctor wouldn’t let that happen. Even if I did get hurt, he’d do everything within his power to help me. And if I died, he’d tell them the bad news. Oh, but this was so fun! I felt so alive! I don’t think I’d be able to go back to a regular old life after this.
She opened her eyes and stared at the Doctor. He was great, he really was. He was brave, honest, and smart. He would never abandon her or her foals, and he would risk his life time and time again to ensure their safety. As long as she was with him, she knew that nothing could hurt her. And suddenly she knew her answer. “Honestly, Doctor, I can’t think of anything that would make me happier.”
* * *
“I can’t believe Miss Cheerilee is letting me go back to school!” Dinky chirped, skipping in circles happily. “I thought I was gonna have to go to some other school, and that would’ve stinked!”
“Stinked isn’t a word,” Sparkler pointed out.
“It is now.” Dinky stuck out her lower lip. “I made it one.”
“Yeah, but it’s not a real word.”
They stood nose to nose for one more moment before bursting out laughing, rolling across the ground.
“Okay, girls, that’s enough fooling around. If we don’t hurry, you both will be late,” Derpy said sternly, but her eyes sparkled with amusement.
Sparkler and Dinky raced ahead.
It was a week since the changeling incident, and with reporters interviewing the four of them every time they turned around and the Princesses themselves holding an audience with them, they hadn’t had much time for anything else. The good thing about that—well, the good thing according to Sparkler and Dinky—was that the foals got to miss school and were featured in most newspapers around the world. Now the flow of interviewers had tapered off, and while some ponies were still itching to hear what had happened directly from their mouths, things were finally going back to normal. Well, normal by Ponyville standards, anyway.
“It’s nice to see them getting along so well, isn’t it?” the Doctor said, grinning. “First time I met them, Sparkler seemed like she couldn’t care less what happened to Dinky. But look at them now.”
Derpy nodded. “It’s like they’re completely different ponies.” She watched them for a moment, calling, “Girls, don’t go too far, okay?” Then she turned to the Doctor. “What’re you going to do after we drop off the two of them?”
“Well, I was going to get a quick meal at that Sugarcube Corner place, and then I was going to get to work fixing the TARDIS. Oh, and later that pink pony is having a Welcome To Ponyville party for me. How about you?”
“I haven’t eaten yet, either, so I may as well join you at Sugarcube Corner. Then—well, you know how I lost my job?”
“Yeah. You’re not upset about that, are you?”
“No, of course not. But I just heard that Sparkler’s school is looking for an Equestrian History teacher, so I thought I could apply.”
“Do you have a degree in History?”
She flapped her wings a few times. “Well, no, but once you fix the TARDIS, I figured we could see everything firsthoof. Something tells me the books are wrong on a bunch of things. Maybe I could fix that, you know? After I apply for the job, I’m probably going to see a movie with a few of my friends, and then go to that party you were talking about.” She rolled her eyes. “My friends still keep trying to comfort me about Night Hooves.”
“Is that a bad thing? I’d say it’s good to have friends who care that much about you.”
“I know, it’s just that I’ve told them millions of times that I don’t miss him, but they won’t listen. So at the movie, they’ll probably tell me about one thousand times that it’s normal to be sad and whatnot.”
He chuckled. “Well, at least you’ll have the party to look forward to. Dinky told me Pinkie Pie is the best pony party planner a pony could pursue.” After a moment of though, he added, “Say that ten times fast.”
Before Derpy could respond, Sparkler and Dinky came scurrying back.
“Hey, Mom, we’re at Dinky’s school already,” Sparkler said. “Cheerilee said she wanted to talk to you.”
Sure enough, when the Doctor and Derpy reached the schoolhouse, the purple mare was waiting for them.
“Hello, Mrs. Hooves,” Cheerilee greeted. “Hello, Doctor.”
“It’s actually Ms. Hooves now,” Derpy corrected her. “Night Hooves is dead.”
“I’m very sorry about that, Derpy.” Cheerilee reached a hoof forward and rested it on her friend’s shoulder. “How are you doing?”
“I’m doing much better. It’s actually a lot more peaceful without him.” She gave the Doctor a look and rolled her eyes, obviously trying to say, Great, now she’s trying to comfort me. “But I know you didn’t just want to talk to me so you could say how sorry you are that all of this happened. So what is it?”
“I just wanted to say how lovely it is to have Dinky back without her being a danger to the students.” When Derpy winced, her eyes widened. “Oh, I’m sorry, that came out wrong. I guess I’m trying to say that I’m glad she’s better. I explained to the students what happened, so they understand not to make fun of her for being half…you know. In fact, if it’s okay with you, I’d like your family to come in some time next week to tell the story again. Then my students would be able to ask as many questions as they needed to, and it would be a great learning experience.”
The Doctor raised his hoof. “Am I included in this?”
“We’ll do it,” he decided. Then he looked sheepishly at Derpy. “Oh, sorry. You want to do this, right?”
Cheerilee clapped her hooves together, obviously excited to hear the story right from their mouths. Just like every single pony they’d encountered during the past week. “Great! Does Wednesday work for both of you?”
“Then it’s settled!” She leaned down and nudged Dinky. “Say goodbye to your family now, Dinky. Class is about to start.”
Dinky stared at her for a moment before racing forward, leaping into Derpy’s arms. “Bye, Mommy,” she murmured. “See ya after school!” Then she hugged Sparkler, mumbling her own goodbye, and turned to the Doctor. Hesitantly, she reached toward him. He immediately picked her up and ruffled her mane.
“You be good, okay, Dinky? Do good in school and eat your vegetables, and one day you’ll be able to come with us in the TARDIS.”
“Okay,” she said. She hugged him tightly before squirming away and trotting to her teacher’s side. “Bye, Mommy! Bye, Sparkler! Bye, Doctor!”
They watched her go for a moment longer before continuing on. Before too long they could see Sparkler’s school. She stopped them before they could get any closer, turning to face them.
“I’m just warning you, all of my friends and teachers are probably going to be waiting for me. I’m kind of a big deal because of the changeling thing, so I might not get to say goodbye when we get there. That’s why I stopped you now.”
The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “You do know we’re going to see you in a few hours, right, Sparkly?”
“It’s Sparkler, and yes, I know. But I’m going to…” She trailed off.
“What was that?”
“I’m going to miss you guys.”
“I didn’t quite catch that.”
“I’m going to miss you guys, okay?” She pinned her ears back. “You guys are awesome and I love you and you can’t go to school with me so I’ll miss you. Happy?”
The Doctor smirked. “Very.”
Sparkler blushed and looked away. “So…yeah. I have to go now. Um, bye.” She turned to leave, but Derpy stopped her.
“That’s it? No ‘I love you’?”
She gritted her teeth. “I…love…you.” It was almost as if the words were painful to say.
“Love you too, Sparkler.” She kissed her daughter on the forehead. “Now go to school before you’re late, okay?”
Sparkler nodded happily, galloping toward the school. As she drew closer, the gathered ponies cheered, rushing forward to meet her. She was soon swallowed up by her classmates, vanishing from their sight.
The Doctor and Derpy watched until the young ponies made their way inside.
“I hate to admit it, but I’m going to miss them whenever they’re at school,” the Doctor said. “Why did you have to have such awesome foals?”
Derpy laughed. “Why, would you rather I have horrible foals?”
“No, I suppose not. So. Breakfast. Sugarcube Corner. Shall we?”
The two turned and began to leave, walking side by side like old friends. Even over the singing of the birds, the Doctor’s voice could be heard loud and clear.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I erased the Weeping Angels from existence? Don’t let the name fool you. They’re anything but angels. So there I was, surrounded on all sides in a forest on a spaceship, with no hope of escape. A crack in space and time that could literally wipe you from history was chasing us, which is why they didn’t kill me right then and there. There was only one place we’d be safe, and the Angels were approaching fast. So I said to myself…”
At that moment, to Derpy Hooves, everything was right in the world. Her foals were safe, the Doctor was with her, and she was happy. It seemed like nothing bad could possibly happen. And the truth was, nothing terrible would happen, at least for a while.
But I’ll make sure it doesn’t stay that way.