Anything Like That
Halfway up the stairs, Mrs. Cake used her entire body to shield her children from the atmospheric tremors caused by Rainbow Dash’s inequine scream. They still started to cry.
“Ng’oh… you little stinkers,” she grumbled to herself, carrying both of the bawling foals to their room on her back. “Really, how does Pinkie do it?”
She remembered the flour shortage following Pinkie’s first babysitting job and pushed the question aside.
“Shhh, shhhhh, go to sleep, little darlings,” Mrs. Cake cooed at the foals. The soft vibrations of her voice calmed the infants before she reached their room. Gently, she lowered the tiny ponies into their crib and sang them a common lullaby.
“Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to lay your sleepy head…”
Their breathing slowed and peaceful smiles graced their miniature snouts. Satisfied, Mrs. Cake backed away from the crib toward the front door.
“Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to go to bed…”
Following routine, she sat on her haunches to the left of the doorframe and locked her eyes on the window pane closest to her children, humming the rest of the song over and over to keep herself awake.
She sat there at the entrance of her precious babies’ bedroom with wide, wary eyes for more than thirty minutes before her husband entered the room.
“The shop’s all closed downstairs, honey bun,” he whispered, planting a kiss on her cheek. She barely nodded in response, otherwise staying as still as a statue.
Mr. Cake sighed. “Are you going to stay in here all night… again?”
Another twitchy nod inspired another tired sigh.
“Honey… when was the last time you got some sleep?”
“I took a nap earlier today, Carrot,” she answered.
“Was that when you leaned against the kitchen counter for thirty seconds?” Mr. Cake accused. His wife didn’t answer at all.
“I’m worried about you, dear,” Mr. Cake admitted. He stroked a tender hoof along his wife’s round face. “I know you’re worried about the foals, but don’t you think you’re taking this hunch a little too far?”
“It’s not a hunch, Carrot!” she snapped, taking her eyes off the window for just long enough to shoot him a stern glance. “I told you, I saw somepony looking at them through the glass.”
“More than a week ago!” he added. “I believe you, Cup, I promise I do, but I don’t think whoever you saw was planning to hurt them. It was probably just a pegasus passing by who thought they were cute enough to ogle for a moment.”
“You didn’t see him, Carrot,” Mrs. Cake breathed with audible fear. “I’ve never seen a pony like that in Ponyville. His snout was long and narrow—”
Mr. Cake raised an eyebrow and pointed to his own face.
“—and wedge shaped! Different from yours, Carrot. Different from anyone’s I’ve ever met!”
“What color was he?”
Mrs. Cake’s eyelid twitched. “I… couldn’t tell in the dark.”
“And his eyes?”
She shook her head.
“It seems like I’m not the only one who didn’t see him,” Mr. Cake quipped with a smile. “Come to bed, honey. I love that you care about our foals so much, but I promise there’s nothing to worry about. Our children are safe.”
She didn’t want to listen. She couldn’t explain it to her husband, but she had a horrible feeling in her gut whenever she left their babies alone. But he did have a point: she hadn’t slept for several days and hadn’t seen the malicious silhouette for even longer.
“I guess you’re right, Carrot,” she surrendered, allowing her husband to help her to her hooves. Suddenly she had an idea, hurrying quietly to the toy box and removing a squeaky rubber chicken. “Just let me set this up,” she insisted, moving to the window. “It’ll make me feel better.”
Mr. Cake nodded and watched his wife fiddle with the toy at the windowsill for some time. He wasn’t sure how it was supposed to alert them of an intruder but kept his mouth closed in a polite smile while they trotted out the room together. Anything to settle her ridiculous fears.
After blowing a final kiss goodnight toward his resting children, the baker gently shut the door and started down the hall. Loud snoring met their ears as they passed Pinkie’s door, which probably meant she wasn’t really asleep. Neither of them cared to check on what she actually doing. A face-full of confetti or a monsoon of balloons was very unwelcome at that time of evening.
“After you, m’lady.” Mr. Cake opened their bedroom door for his wife.
She blushed in spite of herself. “Oh, Carrot, you always know how to make my night.”
“Yes I do,” he agreed with a wink and ushered her inside.
“Honk, shooo! Honk, shooo! Honk, shooo!”
“Will you please turn off that infernal recording?” Rarity snapped.
“Do you think they’re asleep yet?” Pinkie asked, putting an ear to the inside of her door.
“Who cares?” Twilight asked. “You’re an adult mare, Pinkie. Shouldn’t you be allowed to have friends over? It’s not like we’re bothering anypony.”
“Oh, I’m sure they’d love to know I have you and Rarity over, Twilight,” Pinkie assured her. She whipped a hoof toward Rainbow Dash. “But I’m not so sure how they’d feel about her.”
Rainbow was squirming on the bed, wrapped from head to tail in rope and rags.
“Leh meh go!” she demanded, muffled by the saliva-soaked oven pads they had shoved in her mouth to stop her scream.
“Not until you’ve calmed yourself down a bit, darling,” said Rarity. She trotted to the bedside and stared into Rainbow’s wild eyes. “As good friends, we simply can’t allow you to behave so irrationally. You have to realize that the pony you saw was not, in fact—”
“DEH-WEEN DOOO!” Rainbow screeched. Her body lurched and twisted as she tried to yank her wings free from their bonds.
Rarity sighed. “It seems we’ll be here for a while yet,” she mumbled to herself, moving back to the front of the room where Pinkie and Twilight were waiting.
“Honestly, I’ve never seen a pony so wildly obsessed!” Rarity said. She caught Twilight’s embarrassed blush, but decided against commenting on it.
“I don’t blame her,” Pinkie said with a shrug. “If somepony I idolized that much waltzed into Sugarcube Corner, I don’t know what I’d do!”
“Throw them a party?” Twilight offered dryly. Pinkie’s eyes lit up with a gasp.
“That’s a great idea!” Pinkie exclaimed over her recorded snoring. “We should throw a party for Daring Do!”
Rainbow Dash’s spasms intensified.
“Just think of all the decorations!” Pinkie said, spinning in place with excitement. “We could have one corner look like a jungle and one look like a desert and one look like a castle and one look like an ocean and one look like a tundra and one look like a mountain and—”
“You’re not helping, Pinkie,” Twilight scolded, stopping her friend mid-twirl with magic. “First of all, we are not going to throw any parties. Secondly, the mare we met today is not Daring Do.”
“But she looks just like her,” Pinkie argued. “She even has the compass-y Cutie Mark!”
“Daring Do doesn’t exist,” Twilight stated. “She is a fictional character created by an author who chooses to keep her name anonymous. Rather admirably, in my opinion. The pony we saw today told Rarity and I that she was the author of the Daring Do books, but I don’t think she was being serious. Looking like she does, I’m sure she’s come up with a few clever lines to startle the ponies who ask her about it. Besides, she seemed a bit… snarky.”
Pinkie slumped a little. “Oh. One of those, huh?” With a heavy sigh, she started toward the door. “I’ll go find the forks and hope. You wanna find a thimble, Rarity? Twilight, go grab some soap from that box of yours.”
Rarity and Twilight exchanged concerned glances. “Pinkie, what in Equestria are you talking about?”
Pinkie’s eyes went wide with fear. “Let’s just hope she’s not a boojum! That would be bad.” A shudder started at the tip of her tail and ran through her entire body.
Twilight’s hoof smacked against her own forehead. “Will you please tell me what any of this has to do with the pony that looks like Daring Do?”
The pink pony’s eyes grew even wider. “I thought you of all ponies would recognize a Bluish Carol reference, Twilight.”
“The nonsense poet?” Twilight clarified. Pinkie nodded so fast her whole face blurred. The librarian groaned. “Pinkie, I don’t read nonsense. It’s inapplicable and time-wasting, intended solely for the entertainment of little foals with no expectations.”
“Is not!” Pinkie argued, lifting a defensive hoof to her chest. “Bluish Carol was a genius! I have his complete works! See?” One of her forelegs stretched to a bookshelf on the far side of the room where she snatched a huge, dark brown tome and slammed it at Twilight’s hooves.
“Well, there goes all attempts at stealth,” Rarity mumbled, stopping the obnoxious gramophone from snoring any longer.
“You should read it sometime,” Pinkie encouraged cheerfully. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from this book!”
“But it’s called nonsense, Pinkie. You can’t learn anything from nonsense.”
“Sure you can! Just give a try? At least read the first two chapters.”
The gleam in her giant blue eyes convinced Twilight to add the massive anthology to her saddlebag, however begrudgingly.
“Make sure to read The Hunting of the Snark,” Pinkie was saying. “Then you’ll appreciate my joke from before.”
“I’m sure I will, Pinkie,” Twilight droned, setting her weighted bag on the ground and trotting to Rainbow Dash’s side.
“You ready to be untied now?” she asked the brooding blue mare.
“I beh yeddy hince you hied me uhh,” she complained.
“Promise not to start screaming again?”
The tips of Rainbow’s ears reddened as she nodded.
“And you’re not going to start destroying the town in search for that pony, are you?”
“Cruh kiw dehoy swah,” she growled.
Twilight raised an eyebrow and magically pulled the oven pads from her friend’s mouth. “What was that?”
“Just get these out, stat!” she repeated, offsetting her jaw. Twilight giggled and started to undo the knots in Rainbow’s makeshift straightjacket.
The soft squeak of a rubber toy came through the bedroom wall. Pinkie’s ears snapped upright.
“Did you hear that?” she asked her companions. Twilight stopped her twinkling magic long enough for the four of them to have a proper listen.
“I think I did hear something out of place, Pinkie,” Rarity seconded with a worried expression.
“I didn’t hear anything,” Rainbow snapped. “Hurry up and get me out of the rest of these stupid ropes!”
Giggling at her expense, all three friends undid their hoofiwork and allowed Rainbow Dash to stretch her cramping wings.
“So…” she started, ruffling both forehooves through the back of her mane, “if that wasn’t Daring Do… then who was it?”
“I’ve never seen her in Ponyville before,” Pinkie offered. “She must be visiting!”
“If it’s an extended visit, I’m sure one of us will notice her tomorrow,” Rarity pointed out. “She’s not likely to go unspotted in a quaint little village like this.”
“That’s right, Rarity.” Twilight nodded once. “We’ll meet her properly tomorrow. For now, I think it’s best we all go home and get some sleep.”
Pinkie’s face fell. “What? But… I thought you were going to stay the night!”
To the bubbly mare’s delight, Twilight brightened at the idea. “I didn’t know we were invited! I love sleepovers!”
Rarity stopped herself from rolling her eyes by pulling a tired grin. “I’m all for staying here. Carousel Boutique is too far a walk for this hour.”
Rainbow grimaced. “Yeeeeah, I dunno, Pinkie…. I don’t think I can stay. I, uh… I forgot to fill up Tank’s water dish. So he’s prob’ly thirsty.” Her smile was less than convincing. “I’ll just go through the window here and—”
“Come on, Dashie, everypony else is staying!” Pinkie pled. “It’ll be so much fun!”
“She probably wants to start scouting for that Daring Do doppelganger,” Rarity teased.
“What? No! I’m totally over that.” Rainbow tried to act flippant by flicking a front hoof at the wrist.
“More like she wants to go home and keep reading her new book,” Twilight said with a knowing smirk. Rainbow went pale.
“H-how did you…?”
“You asked me to order it every day for almost two weeks,” Twilight reminded her, “and as soon as you stopped, you had this cocky smile whenever you visited the library as if you’d gone over my head. It’s no crime to own a few books of your own, you know.”
Rainbow harrumphed and folded her forelegs. “Okay, fine, I’ll stay. But if I start mumbling questions about Sultan Alula in my sleep, don’t blame me!”
Twilight perked up at the Sultan’s name and was about to ask for a repeat when Pinkie Pie tossed a sleeping bag in her face.
“Sorry I don’t have any extra beds!” she apologized as chipper as ever. “But these are the comfiest, warmiest, sleepiest sleeping bags you’ll ever fall asleep in!”
Rarity prodded her bag experimentally. “Oh, my… it certainly is plush, Pinkie Pie. Where did you purchase them?”
“I didn’t! I made them myself!” she corrected.
Rarity’s expression blended confusion, hope, and approval as she unrolled the large, pink sack and smoothed out its synthetic fabric. She wriggled into its folds, careful not to wrinkle it any more than necessary. “My goodness,” she remarked, melting into the bag. “These really are comfortable!”
“You made these?” Rainbow Dash clarified, tossing her lightweight bag from one hoof to the other.
“Yup!” Pinkie confirmed proudly. “I used my very own recipe.”
One of Rarity’s eyes popped open. “Recipe?”
“That’s right!” Pinkie giggled. “They’re stuffed with cotton candy!”
“I told him, ‘I do not foresee our business ever floating in that direction.’”
Daring laughed at the Sultan’s cleverness. An involuntary wing flap sent her stumbling toward one of the garden’s most exotic bushes, but Alula’s magic steadied her and brought her near his side.
“Sorry about that,” Daring muttered, her face reddening. “I’m not usually this… clumsy.”
“Your agility is legendary, Miss Do,” Alula said. “I can only take your present jitters as a compliment. After all, it is I who is the fan here.”
Daring could think of nothing else to do but giggle. It was an unusual and borderline uncomfortable thing, but the charming alicorn affected her like no stallion had before. After three days in the palace, enjoying his hospitality and participating in these morning walks through the garden, she had come to know the Sultan in a much different light than she had anticipated.
“Do you recognize this plant?” he asked, nodding toward the tall, ruby-red shrub with which she had nearly collided.
“I’ve never seen it before,” she admitted.
“In all your wanderings?” he questioned, raising his brow in surprise. “You have never seen a tumtum tree?”
Daring snickered. “A… tumtum tree?”
The Sultan chuckled. “It is a deceptively foalish name, perhaps purposefully. You see, the tumtum tree, like many wild plants, has magical properties. Unlike Heart’s Desire or poison joke, the tumtum does not affect the body of a pony, but the mind.”
She took a wary step away from the towering plant, drawing more amused laughter from her dark blue companion.
“It does not elicit a harmful effect,” he expounded. “The pollen of the tumtum tree enhances focus. When breathing near it, one’s thoughts become clearer and deeper than naturally possible.”
Her interest piqued and Daring took a deep breath through her nose. “Does it have a smell or anything?”
Alula shook his head. “The pollen is entirely undetectable.”
Daring sniffed again. “I don’t feel like I’m thinking any different.”
“Perhaps we’re not standing close enough,” he suggested. As Daring moved toward the tree, he took a deliberate step toward her. Their sides pressed against each other and Daring struggled to keep her wings from rising with strange excitement. She bent her neck meekly to look up into his soft, violet eyes.
“My thoughts, at least,” he whispered, boldly returning her gaze, “are definitely deepening.”
He lowered his chiseled, narrow snout closer to hers. Daring wasn’t sure how to feel or react. Her heart hammered like she was escaping a collapsing temple with a million-bit gemstone in her teeth. Could he feel its thud through her ribcage?
Her lips began to twitch as his spotted muzzle neared. A thousand thoughts raced through her head and her lungs picked up the pace. What could this immortal alicorn, leader of a nation nearly half the size of Equestria, possibly see in a mare like her?
That question started a chain reaction that fired through the contours of her brain until she finally blurted, “Where did you come from!?”
The Sultan stopped his slow approach. A bemused expression pulled at his ravishing features. “I’m sorry?”
Daring scooted away from the Sultan and cleared her throat. “I asked, uh… where did you come from? I mean… you’re an alicorn, like my princess, and….”
She trailed off, scratching at the garden’s dark, dirt path as the Sultan straightened his neck to the sky and allowed his long mane to tuck itself behind his ears.
“I am afraid I do not understand your question,” he replied, resuming his air of polite regality as though nothing had happened. “Do you mean to compare me to your princess?”
“No!” Daring yelped, shuffling awkwardly on her hooves. “Er, well… yeah, actually, I guess so. I mean, Celestia raises the Sun for the whole planet. Do you… do anything?” Realizing how insulting that must have sounded, she quickly added, “Like that!? I mean, do you do anything like that?”
His subsequent silence felt like murder to the bumbling adventuress, but a half-grin played at the left corner of his lip all the while.
“I have no power over firmamental bodies,” he began, “but to answer your question more directly: yes, I do something like that.”
Daring’s rosy eyes widened. “Really? What do you do?”
He glanced at the large Cutie Mark dominating the majority of his flank that displayed three thick, sweeping, silver lines.
“I begin the wind, Miss Do,” he explained. “Every morning I sweep the air of the world and let its many pegasi direct it as necessary. It is not as impressive as your princess’s special talent, but without it the air would remain stagnant and stale all over our fair planet forever.”
Every moment enjoying the cool summer breeze, every storm redirected by faithful weatherponies, every kite she flew as a filly came back to Daring in that moment with newfound appreciation.
“Wow,” she breathed. “I-I had no idea.”
“Few do,” he acknowledged without a hint of sadness.
“Does that make you upset?” Daring asked.
“That Celestia is praised all over the world for bringing Day and Night, but your name is practically unknown?”
They had continued their walk at some point and were coming to the end of the lengthy garden trail.
Alula lifted his gaze to the shocking white clouds against Haissan’s rich, blue sky. “No,” he answered. “No, it does not upset me. I have never been one to… how do you say it? ‘Crave the spotlight’.”
Daring was distracted from responding by the sound of flapping wings from above. She followed Alula’s eyes to a pegasus flying toward them from a distant spire of the palace.
“Who’s that?” Daring asked. Alula did not answer, but she noticed an interested gleam in his eye.
The pegasus continued its descent until it landed on the garden trail not three ponylengths in front of them.
“Your Highness,” the mare greeted, bowing before Alula.
“Rise and speak, Tenutherut,” he commanded in a kind tone.
Daring quickly surveyed the light grey mare, taking note of her striking golden eyes and mild yellow mane.
“Your presence is requested in the audience hall,” she recited. Daring’s keen eye detected an elated smile dancing behind the mare’s slavish façade.
“I shall come immediately,” he said with a hidden grin of his own. It didn’t take a world-class observer to notice the pair’s chemistry, but since Daring was a world-class observer she found herself especially curious of their history.
Alula turned to Daring and offered her a parting nod. Confused, Daring watched him follow the light grey mare to the audience hall.
Ditzy finished the chapter and slammed the book shut.
“Gee, Daring, nice subtlety,” she growled, picturing her Haissanic-servant counterpart. More like mirror image. “I’m surprised you didn’t write about her bubbly Cutie Mark.”
With a heavy sigh, Ditzy placed Daring Do and the Poison-Whispered Kiss on the kitchen counter and hoisted her empty mailbag onto her back. She wondered if Rainbow Dash would connect her to Tenutherut when she got to that part. On that note, she wondered what changes Daring had made to the actual events now that Ditzy’s role was filled by the Sultan’s servant rather than the second Doo sister.
She tapped her forehead several times with the flat of her hoof, trying to knock away all distracting thoughts and early-morning tiredness before heading to the post office. Every day, with the proper focus, she was getting better at her job. There hadn’t been any major mix-ups in three weeks, and she wasn’t about to let her selfish sister’s wild fabrications ruin that streak.
Dinky was still fast asleep upstairs. Ditzy was starting her mail run early that day and hoped to be done before midafternoon. The school band, of which Dinky was a part, was putting on a little show for all the members’ parents. She wouldn’t miss it for the world and couldn’t wait to cheer for her talented little muffin.
She flew as quickly as she could to the post office, scooped her route’s pile into her bag, and flitted through the streets of Ponyville. Envelopes seemed to shuffle through her hooves in a blur as she darted from mailbox to mailbox. A few larger parcels required her to knock on front doors. Not everypony answered, but that was common. It was too early for most ponies. Ditzy had been waking at the crack of dawn for as long as she could remember, ready to take on another day, another challenge, another chance at saving her father’s life…
“I’m not Berry Punch,” Bon-Bon croaked dryly.
“What?” Ditzy snapped back into full alert. “Oh! Oh, sorry, Bon-Bon. Uh… here you go.”
She shoved Berry’s letter back into her bag and gave Bon-Bon the right parcel.
“Thanks, Ditzy,” she said and was about to shut the door when her eyes lit up. “Oh! Actually, would you mind doing me a quick favor?”
“Uh… sure, I guess,” Ditzy complied.
Bon-Bon disappeared from the doorway for a moment and returned with a large, round cake platter.
“Will you return this to Sugarcube Corner for me?” she asked. “Pinkie Pie brought me an enormous cake last week.”
“That was kind of her,” Ditzy said, taking the dish between her hooves.
“She said it was courtesy of an anonymous pony,” she said with a distant smile. “I just finished cutting it up and storing it for future get-togethers and whatnot. Anyway, are you sure you have the time to give that back for me?”
“Oh, sure thing!” Ditzy assured her. “Anything I can do to help! I’ll return it right now and get back to my route.”
“Thank you, Ditzy!” the cream pony said, waving as the mailmare tore down the street toward the Corner. She stole a happy glance at a small, red velvet pouch hanging at her side before closing the door.
Ditzy was a quick flier when she wanted to be and reached Sugarcube Corner quickly. It was still too early for the shop to be open, but just before Ditzy knocked at the front door, her ears were assaulted by a horrified scream from upstairs.
“Mrs. Cake?” Ditzy guessed aloud, flapping to the upper level where she found an open window.
“Mrs. Cake? What’s wrong?” she asked the petrified pony in the far doorway.
Four familiar faces filled the space around the baker and gasped at whatever sight Ditzy couldn’t see.
“My babies!” Mrs. Cake finally shrieked. Ditzy hovered closer to the open window, peeking through at the empty crib against the closest wall. Her jaw dropped as Mrs. Cake began to shake and sob.
“He took my babies!”