By Saddlesoap Opera
Appendix Two of the Pony Psychology Series
PART ONE – SIMPLE PRESENT
"Learn lots, muffin!"
Ditzy Doo hugged her precious foal from behind on the street in front of Ponyville Elementary and peppered the top of her head with kisses until the little Unicorn squirmed to get free.
"I will, Mommy! C'mon, leggo – I'm gonna be late!"
Ditzy released her, and the blonde-maned lavender filly cantered over to join her friends on the way into the schoolhouse. Ditzy waved at her happily as she went.
Once her pride and joy disappeared from sight past the open double doors, Ditzy spread her wings and took to the air, heading back to the Post Office. She gathered up the day's post in her saddlebags and began her morning rounds.
Letter by letter, parcel by parcel, she began working her way from one end of Ponyville to the other, waving and smiling at the Ponies she passed by and apologizing to those she accidentally ran into. Most took it well. Most.
"Watch where yer goin', Derpy Hooves!" The chocolate-brown Pegasus shook the dust from his wings and his sand-coloured mane as he stooped to retrieve the newly-purchased dumbbell he'd dropped during the collision with Ditzy.
Ditzy winced upon hearing the mean-spirited nickname, but she said nothing. Her oldest friend – the Unicorn Colgate – had often told her that a Pony's life is too short to hold grudges, and she'd taken the advice to heart. She silently collected the letters that had spilled from her bags and resumed her rounds.
A few minutes later she happened to glance at a shop window and caught a glimpse of her faint reflection. She stopped dead in the air, folding her wings and landing heavily. She approached the window like an Earth Pony approaching the edge of a cliff.
"Oh, no…" she said under her breath as she angled her head down and toward the glass, examining her scalp in dismay. "No, no, no!" She twisted to check the base of her tail, and saw the same problem there. "Noooo…!"
She trotted in place and murmured anxiously, her uneven gaze darting from the window, to her tail, to her still-half-full mailbags and back again. She bit her lip.
"Sowwy…" she said to her mailbags, and took to the air.
A few minutes later Ditzy Doo sat on a plush chair with her chin resting on the curved lip of one of the sinks in Carousel Boutique's cosmetology room. Her relief at finding the place otherwise devoid of customers was almost palpable. She sighed, and her eyes half-closed in relaxation.
The shop's elegant white Unicorn owner stood next to her, flanked by a hovering magicked dye brush and bowl of mane bleach. Her own lustrous purple locks were wound into a tight bun and protected from accidental splashes by a diamond-patterned bandana.
"As I've often said before, I do so wish you'd let your natural colour grow out, dah-ling," said the Unicorn, stirring the brush in the bowl of bluish paste. "It's so rare to see such a dark mane around these parts."
"Uh-uh," said Ditzy, emphatically shaking her head. "Yellow."
"Yes, blonde does seem to suit you, I suppose," the Unicorn conceded, "but don't you find it a bit plain? You could look so exotic – like you'd stepped out of the pages of Puledria Vogue!"
"Yellow," she repeated firmly, her voice tinged with something not unlike fear. After a moment she looked down, and added: "…Dinky doesn't know."
A long, uncomfortable silence passed between the two Ponies, until thoughts of the magazine the Unicorn had mentioned reminded Ditzy of something.
"Here!" she said, and pointed a hoof at the wrapped flat rectangle sticking up out of one of mailbags sitting nearby. The Unicorn magicked up the package and tore away its wrapping, revealing a glossy magazine with a lean, long-legged, dark-maned, huffy-looking orange Pegasus on the cover.
"Oh! Speak of the Pony Devil – the latest issue! GRAT-zee!"
"GRATzee-EH," corrected Ditzy reflexively.
"Ah – yes. Of course. My mistake." The Unicorn's features jerked in confusion. "Wait. Ditzy…you speak Puledrian?"
Ditzy shook her head. "Uh-uh."
"But…how did you…?"
Ditzy smiled and shrugged. "Dunno!"
The Unicorn sighed and set down the magazine on a nearby table. "Oh, Ditzy. You really are quite…unique," she said, and started painting the bleach into the Pegasus' blue-black roots.
Once her mane and tail were back to their customary vivid blonde, Ditzy flew down Stirrup Street at Pony head level, making an earnest – though somewhat unsuccessful – attempt to avoid bumping into passersby, trees, fences, walls and the like while she rushed to continue her rounds.
Delivering the mail was an enjoyable profession for Ditzy. She'd been the town's mailmare for as long as she could remember – though that was only about six years – and the job's routines suited her.
She could take the same route every day so that she didn't get turned around, and everypony was always happy to get their mail. If only they'd write a little bigger and clearer…
She alighted on a bench on the side of the street, setting down her mailbags. She retrieved the offending letter from her mouth with her front hooves. She tilted her head and squinted, trying to maneuver the letter's address into the clearest part of her distorted field of focus.
A sudden shout from around a nearby corner broke her concentration:
"Hey…! I'm WALKIN' here!"
The voice was harsh and boisterous, with a faint hint of a big city accent. Something about the sound struck a deep and unsettling chord in Ditzy. For some reason, it reminded her of the awful free muffins that had made her sick the week before. She angled her head and ears to listen better, distractedly letting the letter slip from between her hooves.
"'I'm sorry, I'm sorry'…why don't you just watch where yer goin', DOOFUS?"
Ditzy shifted uncomfortably on the bench. The voice sounded mean, certainly, but that alone shouldn't have been enough to disturb her so much – she had, after all, been the direct target of a great deal of harsh words over the years. So, why did simply hearing that voice set her teeth on edge?
As if in answer, a deafening roar pierced through the ambient noise of downtown Ponyville.
Ditzy Doo's golden eyes widened; it was a Griffon's roar. Not a Manticore or a Dragon or an Ursa – a Griffon. She couldn't remember ever meeting a Griffon, but she was utterly certain nonetheless. The realization deepened her discomfort. She started trembling. She tried to swallow, but her throat was suddenly dry.
All at once, the afternoon breeze filled with the sounds of a filly's fearful weeping.
If the Griffon's voice had struck a chord, the pitiful whimpering broke a string. A sudden surge of pain lanced its way through Ditzy's brain.
Disjointed images and sensations exploded forth from the neglected depths of her memory, crowding out her conscious thoughts in an agonizing jumble.
She clapped her front hooves to the sides of her head, gritting her teeth. Her wings and tail thrashed spasmodically.
"…Muffins…" she groaned; her eyes rolled upwards, and she tumbled off the bench.
The first thing that came back to Ditzy was pain. Her head throbbed with it, and her right wing ached from folding wrong underneath her.
Ditzy's eyes flickered open to a view of the grassy verge underneath the bench. She was lying on her side partially hidden by the grass and the bench, and further obscured by the mailbags sitting where she'd left them.
With a start she realized that she had no idea how much time had passed, but judging from the sun and the shadows, it wasn't time to fetch Dinky from school yet. She sighed in relief.
She struggled her way back onto her hooves; the effort made her headache worse. Everything seemed off-balance, as if the world were tilting to and fro. She shook her head, trying to clear it of the strange and unsettling feeling. She staggered forward a few steps to the nearby street corner.
The sound of a door slamming rang out, followed by a high-pitched cry; Ditzy swayed as she turned to see the sounds' originator. She frowned at what she saw, her nose wrinkling in disgust. Her eyes slowly narrowed and veered into proper alignment.
A female Griffon was standing in front of the nearby Sugarcube Corner. Her front talons had dug furrows into the earth and her wide golden eyes were shining with tears. Noticing Ditzy's stare, she hastily sniffled and rubbed a forelimb across her eyes.
"Wassa matter – you never seen a Griffon before, blondie?" she sneered, covering her heartache with a layer of anger. She stalked over to Ditzy, narrowing her eyes. "Take a picture, it'll last longer!" She swung a talon toward Ditzy's face in a back-pawed slap.
Fast as a striking serpent, Ditzy deftly parried the talon with a front hoof and followed through with a blow of her own. Her hoof clopped against the point where the startled Griffon's beak met her downy face, and knocked the hybrid beast off her feet.
"*Chrr-wit* sque'k irr *caw*-rowr!" Ditzy snarled, her voice a jumble of growls and squawks.
The Griffon lay on her side frozen in mute shock for a moment and then hopped back onto all fours, glowering. "You take that back!" she growled. "My mom is a SAINT!" The Griffon surged forward with her talons extended.
Ditzy spread her wings and threw herself upward out of harm's way, only to drop down and stomp all four hooves squarely on a nerve cluster between the Griffon's broad wings. The strike made, Ditzy hopped off of the Griffon's back and landed a few feet away.
The Griffon squawked in pain and surprise as her wings convulsed and then flopped down uselessly on either side of her tawny frame.
"Mrr-*cheep* irr grrll *awwk-bk'kaw*!" taunted Ditzy, a wicked grin spreading across her face.
"SHUT UP!" roared the Griffon, the anger in her tone losing ground to pain and humiliation. She locked eyes with Ditzy for a long moment; their golden gazes mirrored each other.
Realization and recognition slowly crept across the Griffon's features. She looked away. "Ehh, whatever. I don't have time for this!" she hastily huffed, and turned to slink away down the street. Her wings were still out of commission, and even walking made her wince with every step of her front paws.
As the Griffon disappeared around a corner Ditzy shook her aching head once more; her eyes returned to their usual misalignment, and her scowl vanished. "Umm…sowwy!" she called after the Griffon, smiling nervously and backing away toward her mailbags.
A few minutes later the Griffon sat on a hill on the edge of town, gingerly flexing her aching wings.
I shoulda seen it sooner, she thought to herself. That voice…those eyes. It's her! It's gotta be her. But how? She's dead. I saw her die!
She cautiously spread her wings to full extension and gave them a few gentle flaps.
"…Doesn't matter," she said out loud. "Not once Uncle finds out, anyway…" She chuckled.
With a pump of her wings, she took to the air.
As she did with all traumatic events, Ditzy tried to forget the meeting with the Griffon – but the disturbing exchange was etched into her memory. Day after day, her thoughts returned to it. Why did seeing the Griffon make her so angry? How did she know how to speak its language? And how did she know how to fight?
Never once in all her years in Ponyville could she remember raising a hoof in anger, but when she'd felt threatened her response had come with the swiftness of a deeply-ingrained reflex. She had been Ponyville's mailmare ever since the accident had robbed her of her memories. But who had she been before that? For whatever reason, she'd never thought about it before.
Ditzy sat at her kitchen table staring down at a fresh bran muffin, lost in thought.
"Muffins…" she muttered.
"…Mommy? Eat up – it's time to go!" said her foal from across the table.
Ditzy shook her head. She pushed aside her musing and gobbled up her breakfast in a couple of bites.
"Okay! C'mon!" She trotted over to the little Unicorn and stooped to let her climb onto her back.
The tiny filly let out an excited squeal as Ditzy leaped out of the open window and took to the air.
With no mail today and Dinky Doo dropped off at a weekend Junior Magic-Users Day Camp, Ditzy decided to take a short flight through town to clear her head.
She soon came to an open square, where a performance of some sort was apparently about to begin. Ditzy flew over and hovered up at the back of the gathering crowd for a better view.
"Come one, come all – come and witness the amazing magic of The Grrreat and Powerful TRRRIXIE!"
The coach in the middle of the square blossomed open to reveal an ostentatious stage. Moments later, a deep blue Unicorn wearing a flashy magician's ensemble appeared on the stage in a puff of smoke.
Ditzy's eyes widened. She slowly sank down and landed.
With a hearty boast and a flourish, the Unicorn called forth a pyrotechnic display.
At the first flash and bang, Ditzy lunged sideways, tucking into a roll and landing with her back to the side wall of the closest shop. She counted five heartbeats, her wings tense, waiting for a break in the spell onslaught to begin a headlong charge. After a moment of bemused confusion, she came to her senses. Pain throbbed dully in her head.
"Silly…" she chided herself. "S'just fireworks…" she forced herself to chuckle, but deep down she knew she hadn't misunderstood – she hadn't understood at all. The noise had set her body in motion before she'd even realized what was happening; putting hard cover between her body and the Unicorn had felt as natural as breathing.
Getting to her hooves, Ditzy trotted away from the square with fresh concerns added to the weighty thoughts that the Griffon encounter had piled onto her.
At length Ditzy came to Ponyville's Library. She looked the hollow tree up and down and then trotted up to the front door. She wanted answers; it seemed like the perfect place to look. She knocked, but there was no answer.
Ditzy opened the door, and trotted into the Library's main atrium.
"H-hello…?" she called out. Nopony answered – the room's only occupant was a stand displaying a checklist of magic tricks, and it wasn't talking.
Ditzy shrugged and started browsing the shelves. She stopped at the International section and spotted a volume titled Get Going: a Great Geographical Guide to Geography. She picked up the book with her mouth and set it down on a table. She nosed it open, and started flipping pages.
The page for the Isle of Mythos made her pause. She looked at the illustrations of skies full of Griffons and frowned. She felt the same unexplained hostility rising once more. Snippets of Griffon language floated into her awareness, none of them pleasant. She flipped a few pages to avoid letting her anger build too much.
She stopped again when she reached the entry for Puledria. She remembered the elegant white Unicorn's magazine, but more memories followed. Words and phrases came together and danced through her mind. "Sì...parlo Puledriano," she muttered, her eyes widening in shock as soon as she'd spoken. She flipped ahead several more pages.
She got to the San Caballo entry. She felt her mental lexicon broaden once again. "¡Yo hablo Caballol también…!" she said with growing surprise and delight. "¡Fabuloso!" She flipped further through the book.
"Сталлионград? Hет проблем!" she snickered at the page for Stalliongrad, waving a front hoof dismissively. The language felt like second nature.
Nearing the end of the book, she flipped to the entry for Xiao Ma. "小马太？太棒了！" she said, and broke into excited laughter.
Ditzy's smile widened until it threatened to escape the confines of her face. After six years, she had uncovered part of her past – she was a translator! Well, no wonder she liked handling letters! And as for knowing how to fight? Not every place was as peaceful as Equestria. A Pony on a diplomatic mission had to know how to take care of herself. It all made sense!
"I am a clever Pony!" she whispered to the empty room, her splayed eyes shining with pride.
Ditzy clopped her front hooves together and flapped her wings for joy, hopping from one rear hoof to the other. She took to the air and flew out the Library's still-open front door, giggling happily. For the moment, her elation at recovering such a useful talent pushed aside her woes and worries with a wave of wonderment.
The rush of wind from her departure stirred up a sheaf of pages that had been wedged in the shelf next to the geography guide; the papers spilled out onto the floor. Among them was a poster depicting a blank-flanked, black-maned grey Pegasus filly with her face twisted into a vicious scowl. Beneath the picture, the largest word on the poster read:
Gilda the Griffon soared through the skies above Ponyville, her face locked in a serious frown.
Can it really be her? she mused. I mean, she's just a PONY. There's no WAY she could have lived through that fall. If I tell Uncle and it turns out I'm wrong, he'll have me plucked! But still – that voice! Those eyes! And those moves… She rubbed her bruised cheek with a talon.
Gilda skirted the edge of Cloudsdale's floating suburbs and headed for the weather manufacturing district. 'Course, if I'm right, Uncle's gonna… Her stern visage faltered for a moment as her conscience gnawed at her. In her mind's eye, the grey Pegasus slowly brightened into a bluer shade, with a multi-hued mane. Why? begged the phantom Pegasus, her ears drooping and her maroon eyes shining with fear as a shadow fell over her…
Gilda shook her head. The imagined Pony's colours faded. Too bad! She shoulda thought of that before she decided to be lame! They all shoulda! Stupid Ponies! Stupid, sucker-kicking, flip-flopping… She rubbed a forelimb across her eyes – because the wind was making them water. Just the wind.
She came to a small but stately cloud-built restaurant half a sky-block from the storm factory. She landed on the doorstep, took a slow, deep breath, and walked in.
The next ten days passed in a pleasant whirlwind. Ditzy felt better than she had in years, and nothing could bring her down.
She witnessed an Ursa Minor's depredations with the same giddy half-interest with which she watched its magical defeat. Not even an ominous cover of Dragon exhaust over Ponyville could draw her thoughts away from her new memories for long. Even as she swept away the ashen clouds with her wings, she softly sang songs in a wide array of languages.
Her thoughts were so diverted by reclaiming a piece of the puzzle of her past that she forgot to deliver Ponyville's newest rain schedule requirements to Cloudsdale, which led to the need for a substantial downpour to make up for a missed shower.
She blithely went through the motions of assisting the Ponies clearing up loose branches and other potentially-dangerous items in preparation for the storm, but her preoccupation was obvious.
"Bit for your thoughts?" asked a soft, dignified voice from behind her.
Ditzy turned to see her friend Colgate. The streaked-maned blue Unicorn was magicking together a pile of sticks.
"Nuffin'," said Ditzy, poorly concealing her good cheer. "Jus' thinkin'!"
"You are not 'just thinking,' Ditzy. You're practically glowing."
"Really…?" asked Ditzy, somewhat surprised.
Colgate raised an eyebrow. "You are not a subtle Pony," she said. "Go on, tell me – what's up?"
"I remember stuff!" Ditzy said, grinning broadly.
The Unicorn's expression brightened. "That's fantastic! When I pulled you out of that lake six years ago, you could barely remember a thing! Something's come back to you?"
"Yeah! I'm a translator!" Ditzy beamed.
Colgate stared blankly. "…A translator."
"Yup!" Ditzy's tone was as bubbly as her flanks. "I can talk in all kinds'a languages, an' I can fight, too!" She kicked at the air with her front hooves, the jabs lightning-quick. Despite the grace of her strikes, Ditzy stumbled slightly. She righted herself and giggled.
"Do you remember anything else? Your family? Or what happened to you?"
Ditzy shook her head, undaunted by the admission.
Colgate nodded slowly. "…I don't want to burst your bubble," said Colgate gently, "…but maybe you should try to remember more about your past before you celebrate. I have a very old friend here in town who I think may be able to help you…"
"Nah, iss'okay," said Ditzy, waving a hoof. "I'll get it."
"Ditzy, please. I have a bad feeling about this. I know you have time – Dinky's with her friends at Berry Punch's for that 'rainy-day party.' As a favour to me, please do this."
Ditzy's off-centre gaze met Colgate's, and the Pegasus recognized her Serious Stare – the particular deep, sad-yet-determined look that her Unicorn friend only wore when she was discussing matters of grave importance.
"…Okay," said Ditzy.
The dark-maned brown Earth Pony took several minutes to even acknowledge the two visitors to his cluttered workshop. As he paced to and fro, Ditzy noticed that he had the same Cutie Mark as Colgate: a golden hourglass.
He was caught up in musing to himself about the contents of a basket of fruit the school had given him as a thank-you for judging a recent science fair.
"…Cherry pits, too! Full of the stuff! In the wrong hooves, a gift like this is a veritable chemical warfare project! Fitting prize for judging a science fair, I suppose." He idly picked up a pear from the basket by its stem with his teeth, and dropped it into a nearby waste paper bin. "Minus the seeds, though, I must admit those apples are pretty delic– 'Colgate?' Hullo! How have you been?" The Earth Pony stressed Colgate's name in an odd fashion.
"Hello, Doctor. I'm well, thank you." Colgate gestured to her friend. "This is my good friend Ditzy Doo. She's been having some trouble with missing memories, and I suggested that she come and see you. Ditzy Doo…this is The Doctor."
Ditzy smiled nervously and waved a front hoof. "Hello, Doktah," she said, unconsciously mimicking her friend's upper crust Canterlotter accent.
"Trouble, eh? Made you think of me straight away, did it?" The Doctor asked Colgate with a wink and a wry smile. He turned to face Ditzy. "Pleased to meet you, miss. I'm sure I'll be able to get to the bottom of – phwoar! That's a great trick! Wish I could do that – I could read two things at once!" Ditzy looked away, blushing. The Doctor cleared his throat. "Sorry…they're lovely eyes, really. I mean it. Let's take a peek behind them, shall we?"
The Doctor trotted over to a nearby table and picked up an ornate metal rod in his mouth. He pointed the object at Ditzy, and its tip buzzed and glowed green. Ditzy cringed, but she felt nothing.
The Doctor set down the tool, examined it for a moment, and spoke: "Did you know that you've had your skull fractured?"
Ditzy shook her head.
"Well, it's healed now, so I wouldn't worry about it. Didn't notice anything too odd inside it, either. A few scars, nothing much. I've seen worse. If you can't remember something, it may be because you don't want to."
Ditzy frowned and shook her head. "Uh-uh! I do wanna! I wanna know!" Her wings flapped emphatically.
The Doctor's cheery expression shifted to a look surprisingly similar to Colgate's Serious Stare. "…All right," he said gently, "if you're certain." He pointed to the floor in front of him with a hoof. "Sit down here. Face me."
Ditzy trotted over and sat down. Her off-kilter golden eyes met The Doctor's pale blue gaze.
He sat as well, and slowly raised his front hooves to rest on the sides of Ditzy's head.
"Try to relax," he said softly. "Open your mind…think back… baaaack…that's it – let yourself go wherever your memory takes you…"
Ditzy gasped softly; she felt her thoughts streak through her time in Ponyville in reverse, all the way back to her first clear memories, and beyond. She closed her eyes, and surrendered to the recollection.
She was a young filly on the cusp of marehood, but she still lacked a Cutie Mark. Her short mane and tail were poker-straight and pitch-black. She was crouching next to a massive male Griffon; he looked like a mass of corded muscle lightly sprinkled with fur and feathers, and several ominous scars marked his hide. Both of them were perched on a low-hanging cloud above the majestic city of Canterlot. They were looking down at the city's expansive Post Office. On the steps of the building, a sandy-maned purple Unicorn stallion was chatting happily with a golden-maned grey Unicorn mare. The stallion was Marked with a brass shield; the mare, an open sack of envelopes.
Ditzy twitched. She felt her heart rate start to increase.
"This one's been sticking his horn where it doesn't belong, Dezi," rumbled the Griffon. "He's interfering with Flock business, trying to root out our earners in Canterlot. Guardsponies usually get the hint – even the wingless ones. But this one's a cub-scout. He's going to be made an example of." She nodded gravely.
Ditzy's head began to pound. Behind her eyelids, her eyes veered into proper alignment. They flicked to and fro in rapid saccades.
Time whipped past in an indiscernible blur. It was night now, and she was oh-so-quietly opening the Canterlot Post Office's second floor window. She slipped inside, silent as a shadow.
At some point, Ditzy had started holding her breath. She gasped for air now, almost hyperventilating. The pain in her head worsened.
Time skipped ahead once more. She was on the Post Office's main floor. She was short of breath, and her body ached from exertion. Her hooves were covered in dark, damp stains. She was standing over a huddled mass on the stone floor. As the memory sharpened, she saw that it was the broken remains of the Unicorn couple. The stallion was stretched protectively across the mare, but both were bloody, unmoving, and oh. So. Quiet.
"No…" Ditzy whispered; it was less a statement than a plea. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes.
Their silence seemed to infect the room, draining it of even the slightest sound. And then, when the quiet was almost absolute…
"No…!" Ditzy repeated through gritted teeth, her tone desperate.
…the air filled with the sounds of a foal's fearful weeping.
"NO!" Ditzy lashed out with her front hooves, sending The Doctor tumbling. "NO, NO, NO, NOOOO!" She spread her wings and screamed the denial over and over, her head and tail thrashing back and forth.
"Ditzy…!" Colgate took a step toward the Pegasus but Ditzy hopped back, her teary eyes wide and wild.
Ditzy wailed in anguish and fell to her knees. "…I'm a bad Pony!" she sobbed. Tears soaked her cheeks.
The Doctor had gotten back to his hooves. He approached Ditzy. "No – Ditzy, no. Please…your memory is still in pieces. You need to–"
"NO!" she shouted. "Don' touch me! No more! I don' wanna!" Ditzy leaped to her hooves and galloped over to the door. "I DON' WANNA!" She shoved it open and fled into the worsening rain.
Colgate moved to follow her, but The Doctor held up a warding hoof. He sighed. "Don't. Give her some time. She won't listen…not in the state she's in." He slowly shook his head. "The poor thing…I'm not surprised it hurts her to look back. Some things…" He turned to look out the back window, where an odd, narrow blue shed sat in the middle of the yard. "…Some things are just too painful to relive."
Colgate touched a front hoof to The Doctor's shoulder. "You know, it's not too late to help her…not for us, anyway. Not for you…"
The Doctor turned away from the Unicorn. "I can't. I won't. Not here. My help only brings more trouble in its wake. I won't put Ponies through that. One storm is enough." A rumble of thunder punctuated his statement.
Colgate sagged slightly and sighed, and then trotted toward the door. "That's the funny thing about the storms here, Doctor," she said without looking back, "they only come when they're needed."
The rainstorm began in earnest as Ditzy plodded aimlessly through the puddle-strewn streets. Her soaked wings hung limply at her sides. She shivered against the wet chill, but inside she just felt empty.
"…bad Pony…'m a bad Pony…" she muttered over and over. The rain soaking her face concealed the steady trickle of tears down her cheeks.
She turned a corner, and saw a pair of menacing-looking Pegasus stallions peering into the front window of her Post Office home.
One, the smaller and leaner Pony, had a slicked-back black mane, a tawny hide, and four aces for a Cuite Mark. He was chewing on a toothpick. The other, far larger and bulkier than his associate, had a shaggy blue mane, a blue-grey hide, and brass horseshoes on his flanks as well as on his hooves. The pair spotted her, and turned to face her. They trotted over.
Aces whistled in amazement. "Dezi…it really is you!" He smiled, revealing more than one gold tooth. "I almost didn't recognize ya with that mane and tail. Me and Stomper have been lookin' for you all over this town ever since we heard you was still alive – ain't that right, Stomper?"
The hefty Pegasus nodded. "All over," he agreed, spreading his wings in an expansive gesture.
Ditzy made no reply. Her misaligned eyes stared hollowly at the pair.
"It's nothin' personal, Dezi – ya know that right?" continued Aces. "I always thought o' you as the little cousin I never had. But the boss ain't forgiven ya for whatcha did. Ya went too far, Dezi. He wanted you done in then, and he still does now."
"He still does," echoed Stomper, nodding again.
"It'll be easier on all of us if ya don't run," said Aces. "You've lived one Pony Helluva lot longer than most Ponies the boss points a claw at – why doncha just come along peacefully and take what's comin' to ya?" He grinned wickedly, and shook out his wings slightly, readying himself for the inevitable chase.
Ditzy heaved a slow, shivering sigh. "…Okay," she said softly.
Aces stared; the toothpick fell from his slack jaws. "…Seriously?" he managed at length, his eyes casting about for an ambush or some other ploy.
Ditzy nodded meekly, her splayed eyes downcast. "I'm a bad Pony," she whispered.
Aces' smile returned. "Well then...why don't we take this inside? If we keep standing out in this rain, somepony's gonna catch their death."
The Doctor paced around the main room of his workshop-cottage, his face locked in a frown.
This has nothing to do with me, he thought to himself. And nopony – no one – else is meddling from the outside, either. It's just the proper course of events unfolding.
A crack of thunder shook the wooden building. The Doctor turned and looked out the back window once more. The blue shed sat out in the rain, as pitiful as an abandoned puppy. The Doctor shook his head and turned away.
I did stir up those broken memories, though – who's to say what might have happened if I hadn't done that? I wouldn't be meddling, not really. More like setting things right. I could be subtle – I'm sure I could! There's a first time for everything…
The Doctor gritted his teeth and stomped a front hoof, annoyed by his shameless attempt to manipulate himself. "Is it the mane? Is that it?" he asked the empty room. "Even a few lifetimes later, am I still swayed by a bottle-blonde in distress? Is that why I'm even considering putting this wonderful, peaceful world at risk just to help one filly?" No answer came from the assorted trinkets and devices littering every flat surface. The Doctor sighed in surrender.
He trotted over to the far corner of the room and nudged aside an empty, vaguely dog-shaped metal shell covered in dents and burn marks. He pressed a hoof to the exposed floor, flipped over a loose board, ducked his head down into the hole, and retrieved a small metal key in his teeth.
The Doctor headed over to the back door and ventured out into the rain. He approached the blue shed, and unlocked its door with the key.
"I don't suppose you would be willing to explain things to Celestia when all Pony Hell breaks loose?" he asked.
No answer came from the blue shed.
The Doctor shrugged. "Ah well…worth a try."
He slipped through the shed's open door and disappeared in the shadows of its deceptively large interior.
Stomper didn't know much, but he knew how to kick.
The brass-shod front-hoof blow came within a hairsbreadth of fracturing Ditzy's jaw; as it was, it still sent her tumbling across the Ponyville Post Office's main room, a mist of blood escaping her lips. Pain clawed its way across her neck and jaw, but Ditzy didn't cry out. She stayed similarly silent when Stomper unleashed another few kicks, this time to her ribs and haunches.
"Aww, come on," said Aces from his spot perching on the Post Office's counter, "if yer gonna play along, ya could at least make some noise – keep things inn'aresting. The Boss said we gotta do you slow – you wamme to get bored, here?"
"You want I should break her wings, Aces?" asked Stomper, hovering a hoof over Ditzy's back. "Dat always makes you laugh."
Aces waved a font hoof dismissively. "Nah – wha'did I just say? We gotta make this last. Save that fer later. Jus' keep on beatin' on her for a while. No – wait…" Aces looked out the window at the falling rain. "I got a better idea…"
A few minutes later Ditzy found herself stretched out on her back and upside down, tied to the counter's torn-off top plank with packing twine. Stomper had dragged her out the back door and slid the board up close to the downspout from the Post Office's gutters. Stray drops from the heavy flow of rainwater wet Ditzy's mane and face.
"If you wanna do any beggin' or cryin', now would be a good time," said Aces with a leering grin. His wings rose slightly. They folded again when Ditzy stayed silent. "…Fine. Stomper – give 'er a drink."
Stomper levered up the board and slid it forward. Ditzy's face plunged into the freezing torrent.
Cold, gritty rainwater flooded Ditzy's mouth and nose; she tried not to panic, but the reaction was instinctive. She thrashed as much as her bindings would allow, her head and body jerking against the twine. The fear of drowning dredged up the memory of her arrival in Ponyville – the earliest memory she could clearly recall. Images flicked dream-quick through her consciousness.
The impact with the lake's surface was devastating; it felt like striking a wet brick wall. She sank under the water in a daze, the disorientingly-hard landing and the cold easing the pain of her injuries. Her lungs still held breath, but she grew more and more tempted to simply let it out. The cool pressure of the water all around her seemed to wash away her pain and fear. It would be so much easier to just give in. A few small bubbles escaped from between her lips. As she hit the silt-covered bottom of the lake, her blurred gaze fell upon an odd, narrow blue shed resting on the lakebed…
The board slid back and Ditzy coughed spasmodically, gasping for breath. Aces chuckled. He nodded to the downspout, and Stomper pushed the board forward again. Ditzy mentally lunged for the memories this time, frantic to escape the terrible present.
The shed's door opened, and a familiar dark-maned brown Earth Pony stuck his head out. For some reason, the water didn't seem to reach him or the open door. With a start, she realized that it didn't fully reach her, either – her head was inside of the air bubble now surrounding the shed. The siren's call of the water broke, and she hungrily gasped in a few breaths. The Earth Pony smiled slightly, and shook his head in dismay. "Now that I get a better look, that is a bad one, no doubt about it," he said, and she knew he meant the deep gash in her forehead. "You likely won't remember this little chat for a long time – in fact…I'm counting on it."
Stomper pulled Ditzy back once again. Despite the ache in her lungs and the exhausting remnants of panic wracking her limbs, Ditzy almost objected. She'd only just remembered that she'd first met The Doctor at the bottom of a lake, and her curiosity about the rest of the encounter was intense. The present was all pain and horror, and it was such a compelling memory – almost as if he were speaking to her here and now, instead of so many years ago.
Thinking as quickly as conditions would allow, Ditzy realized what she had to do.
"N-no more…!" she spluttered, summoning up every buried bit of hurt and humiliation from six years of clumsiness and confusion. "Pleeeez…please stop!" Her anguished tone positively dripped with helplessness and despair. One of her veering eyes met Aces' gaze.
Aces licked his lips. His wings snapped to full extension. "…Give 'er some more, Stomps," he breathed. "Make it a good one."
"I know you think you've done something terrible," continued The Doctor, "but not everything is as it seems. If you're remembering this, then please…please…finish remembering what happened before this. No matter how scared it makes you, or how much it hurts, or how much you think you deserve whatever's driving you to summon up this memory, trust me: you must finish remembering." He sat down in front of her and rested his front hooves on her shoulders. His blue gaze seemed to drill right into her.
Ditzy spasmed against her bonds; her heart was beating faster and faster. Stomper looked to Aces for direction, but the smaller Pegasus shook his head.
"Can you hear me? Do you understand? You must. Finish. Remembering." She tried to focus on his face, but her head throbbed and her eyes felt strange – like they were pointing in different directions. Nevertheless, she struggled to answer him. "M-mussst…ff-finish…" she whispered weakly. "Good! Brilliant!" said The Doctor. He cast his gaze up toward the water's surface. "I only hope that's enough – I really must dash, I'm afraid, or things will get…complicated." He trotted back inside the blue shed with the briefest backward glance, and then shut the door. The shed warbled and glowed from its roof, and then it slowly vanished. The air pocket collapsed in its wake, leaving her once again struggling to hold her breath and watching a string of seven large, silvery air bubbles float lazily toward the surface. Riddled with pain and barely conscious though she was, the bubbles were the most beautiful sight she'd ever seen. She felt a tingling warmth on her once-blank flanks. A moment later, a pair of blue hooves wrapped around her as somepony started pulling her upward. "Musss'…fin'shhh…" she muttered, releasing more bubbles as she neared the surface. "Muhh'…ff'ns…"
"MUFFINS!" she screamed around a mouthful of water as the latest round of torture finally finished.
Aces let out a slow whistle. "Woops! She's off her cloud. Give 'er a minute – s'no fun if she ain't all there."
Ditzy coughed a wet, throaty cough as she fought stay conscious. She knew her respite would be terribly short; if she was going to do as The Doctor asked, she would have to do it now. Forcing her mind to clear as much as she could, she did her best to reach inward for the same state The Doctor had brought her to in his workshop. Fear and guilt chewed at her heart but she pushed on, determined to reclaim her past, no matter what it entailed...