I’m Used to It
Something had startled her awake too early. She wasn’t sure what it had been—maybe somepony had slammed a door down the hall, or a bird had bumped against the window—but she was angry at it anyway.
She stared at the textured ceiling of her hotel room for nearly ten minutes before realizing she wasn’t going to get any more sleep. Heaving a bored sigh, Daring barrel-rolled out of the covers and landed in a careless heap at the side of the bed. Rising slowly to her hooves, she plodded to the oval mirror hanging by the door.
Daring Do didn’t like to brush her hair. Some ponies kept large brushes on or around them everywhere they went in case of a mane emergency, but Daring had never been one of them. In her younger years the condition of her mane didn’t matter in least since it was almost always covered by a tan pith helmet.
She stared at her reflection from under her brow and lethargically poked at the tangled grey mane between her ears. Giving the tufts a quick ruffle with both hooves, she struck a pose and grinned confidently at herself for a couple of seconds. The early hour took its toll before too long and she slumped forward, nodding once in a curt goodbye to the attractive mare in the mirror.
With nothing better to do, Daring left her bags in the hotel room and trotted to the lobby. The Sun was barely peaking over the mountains on the horizon. Aside from a blue Earth pony stallion behind the front desk, Daring was alone in its glow. She smacked her dry lips and asked the vested stallion where she could buy a good breakfast.
“I’m partial to Sugarcube Corner,” he answered. “It’s not a far trot from here.”
“Yeah, I ate there last night,” Daring said. “Great treats. Any others I should try?”
“Well, there’s a nice little café near the library. It’s a higher end place owned by a stallion from Cheval. I’d definitely give it a try, if I were you. They make great daisy sandwiches.”
Daring grinned. “Sounds perfect. Thanks, kid.”
As she moved toward the door, she noticed him hesitate to speak out of the corner of her eye.
“Need something?” she asked.
“Uh…” He tapped his hoof absentmindedly against the base of the front desk. “I, uh… couldn’t help but notice your Cutie Mark.” He pointed too quickly. “Golden compass. That’s really cool. What does it mean?”
Daring pushed her lips to one side and shrugged. “I dunno. Wha’d’ya think it means?”
The young stallion’s face flushed. “Oh, I don’t like guessing Cutie Marks. Some folks get pretty offended if you get it wrong.”
“I won’t be offended,” Daring promised, turning to face her company. “Give it a shot.”
He gulped. “Well, if I had to guess, I’d say you’re some kind of… navigator?”
His wince only made Daring laugh.
“Close enough, kid,” she said. “I guess I am something of a navigator. Or I used to be, anyway.” She clicked her tongue once and smiled at the pony. “What about you? What’s your special talent?”
His countenance dimmed while he trotted around the counter for Daring to see his Mark.
“Nothing special,” he said with a shrug. “Just a bunch of quavers.”
Daring eyed the two sets of conjoined musical notes on his flank. “Are you a musician?” she asked.
He donned a half-hearted smile that pulled against his teeth. “Sure am. Didn’t have much of a choice, though, did I? My parents named me Noteworthy, for goodness’ sake. I was born to be a singer.”
His tone made Daring raise an eyebrow. “You seem bitter about that.”
“Yeah, well.” He snorted and moved back to his spot behind the front desk. “I dunno, I guess nopony really has a say in their special talent, but sometimes I feel like I was cheated out of becoming something great, you know? Like, have you ever thought about how it would be if Cutie Marks didn’t exist? What if everypony got to choose what they wanted to be good at? Whatever they wanted. Seems more fair to me.”
Daring shook her head to clear it. “Whoa… no Cutie Marks?”
He propped one foreleg onto the desk and rested his chin on his hoof. “Yeah, no Cutie Marks. You could be good at anything. And when you’re done being good at that, you can just move on and become good at something else. No one special talent weighing you down.”
Daring scoffed. “No offense, kid, but you’re looking at this the wrong way. Just because you were born to be a singer doesn’t mean you can’t be great at anything you want.”
Noteworthy lifted his muzzle. “Yeah it does.”
“No, it doesn’t, actually,” Daring assured him, sticking out her chest. “Take me, for example. I was born a navigator of sorts, like you said, but I ended up being a writer. Now that’s how I make my living.”
His eyebrows climbed toward his hairline. “You’re a writer? Like, a journalist?”
“Adventure novels, actually,” Daring corrected with a wave of her hoof, “but that’s not the important part. My Cutie Mark doesn’t have anything to do with the path I’ve chosen.”
One of Noteworthy’s eyebrows dropped suddenly, leaving his expression skeptical. “And you’re happy with that? Your life is exactly the way you want it?”
Daring had to gulp before saying, “Nopony’s life is exactly the way they want it, kid. But, yeah, I’m… I’m happy.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Noteworthy narrowed his eyelids, but didn’t object out loud.
Daring’s ear twitched as she started pushing circles into the lobby’s carpet.
“Yep. So,” she said, glancing out the window, “I think I’ll go try one of those daisy sandwiches.”
“Do you think I could do it?” Noteworthy suddenly asked.
Daring stopped fidgeting and tried to smile warmly. “Find a new talent? Sure you can. Heck, maybe you should try writing. It still fits your name, after all.”
His head pulled back at that. “It… does?” he asked, more to himself than to Daring. His eyes grew wide and distant. “It does. Noteworthy.”
Daring couldn’t help but laugh. “Good luck with that, kid,” she said, turning once more to the front door.
“Wait!” Noteworthy yelped, snapping out of his trance. “How did you do it? I mean, did ponies think you were crazy, going against your talent like that?” He bit his lip and whispered, “What did your parents think?”
Daring didn’t want to answer. She kept her eyes on the doorknob. “What are you talking about?”
“When you became an author instead of a navigator,” he answered quickly, leaning over the desk. “Did anypony care? Were they mad at you?”
“Mom nearly DIED when she saw the title of that first novel! You may as well have spat in her face!”
Her sister’s words rang through her head as Daring answered, “No. They were fine with it.”
Noteworthy slumped and sighed. “I’m not sure mine would be. My parents are pretty set on me becoming another one of Equestria’s thousand worthless singers.”
Daring’s gaze locked with his without her really thinking about it. “Everypony’s special, kid,” she said. “Everypony matters. Whether you stick to the talent your butt gave you or find a new one, you matter. What you do matters. And that’s what’s important: you’re important.”
Noteworthy was silent, stunned by her sudden motivational speech. Daring seemed just as surprised; her eyes darted around the room, skimming over the wallpaper’s various symbols.
“Wow,” he finally said. “That was… pretty intense. Thanks, Miss.” He let out a short, breathy laugh. “Really, thank you. That meant a lot to me.”
Daring moved for the exit. “It’s something my dad used to say. It meant a lot to me, too,” she mumbled before jetting out the door, fighting the urge to cry.
She didn’t like thinking about her father. Actually, she didn’t really like thinking about anypony, especially the members of her family. But those old sentiments—everypony’s special, what you do matters—they stuck with her like a mental Cutie Mark, written in her brain no matter how she tried to block them. Relaying them to Noteworthy and reminding herself brought back all kinds of stinging memories.
Hurrying through the crisp air of early morning Ponyville, she remembered nights when she and Ditzy waited in the living room for Daddy to come home. She remembered resting her head on the softest feathers of her mother’s wing and staring into the gentle fireplace, counting the ticks of the clock on the wall.
Then, suddenly, the door would swing open! Daddy would bound into the room, tossing his glorious golden mane for it to glimmer in the firelight. His daughters stumbled over their short, ecstatic legs on their way to his embrace, giggling and shrieking all the way. She remembered his laughter, rich and low and fast, like a happy train speeding down the tracks. She remembered burying herself in the dark grey fur of his chest, wrestling with Ditzy to be closest to his heartbeat.
“Did you find it, Daddy?” she used to ask. “Did you find what you went looking for?”
His rosy eyes would twinkle at her. His teeth would sparkle in an impish, goading smile. “Do you think I found it, darling?” She loved that nickname: it was only one letter away from her real name, and “the extra L means I love you”.
“Of course you did! Of course you did!” Daring and Ditzy would chorus, nuzzling their father’s neck and laughing with pride and delight. He would hold up whatever he found—a statue, a crystal, a goblet, a scroll—and let the firelight dance across its surface. He would let the fillies hold it sometimes, cradling it between their hooves as if it was made of golden sand, while he took time to kiss his patient wife and tell her that he loved her.
And he did love her. The Sisters Doo knew exactly how much their father loved their mother: exactly half as much as he loved both of them. He told them every night.
“How much do you love Mommy?” Ditzy would usually ask.
“I love your mother all the way to the Moon,” he would whisper as he kissed her in between her golden eyes.
“And how much do you love us, Daddy?” Daring would always blurt.
That wonderful smile, the one that told the truth, would stretch across his chiseled face whenever he replied, “I love you to the Moon and back, my darlings.”
Everypony’s special, he would teach them. What you do matters.
He would scour the world for what ponies had done. He traveled to distant countries and braved the strangest wastelands to find what “they” had left behind.
“Who are they, Daddy?”
“They’re ponies, just like you and me. They’re ponies who lived a long time ago and had something to say. Everypony has something to say. I want to hear them all.”
Some of what “they” left behind he kept in his personal collection. Some of it he sold to museums across Equestria. Some of it he gave to the decedents of its makers. He loved learning about ponies. He loved the ponies themselves. But there were only two fillies he loved all the way to the Moon and back: Ditzy and—
The daydreaming pony jumped at the call, skidding to a halt on a brown dirt road. She didn’t know how long she had been walking and thinking about her father, but she could feel dry tears in the fur below her eyes. Lifting an elbow, she rubbed at the residue, grunting away the knot in her throat and ruffling her wings.
“Daring Do?” the same voice asked, startling Daring again. She glanced all around her in search of the cheerful speaker. Only one, fuchsia mare stood agape just down the road.
“Yeah,” Daring croaked, rubbing her throat with a hoof. “Yep, that’s me.”
The Earth pony brought up a hoof of her own to cover her open mouth. “I… I didn’t know you were…” she tried to say.
Daring performed a small mock-bow. “I’m real, lady,” she said for what must have been the thousandth time. “Live and in the coat.”
“I-I-I don’t understand,” the pink mare stuttered. She took a few hoofsteps closer to Daring. “I thought you were just a made-up character.”
“Most ponies do,” she said. “I keep my name off the books. Well… sort of.”
“You write them?” the mare asked.
“Wow! I didn’t realize all those adventures were based on true stories!”
Daring’s upper lip curled. “Loosely based,” she admitted. “I, uh… I add a lot of stuff.”
To her surprise, the stranger laughed. “Well, of course you do! As a fellow writer, I understand the value of entertaining exaggeration completely.”
“Thank you!” Daring yelled, tossing her hooves into the air. “I’m glad somepony gets it! They are books, after all.”
“You are a very good writer, Miss Do,” the mare complimented. “It is ‘Miss Do’, isn’t it?”
Daring chuckled. “Yeah, but call me Daring.”
The stranger giggled, but nodded. “I’m Cheerilee,” she said, extending a hoof in Daring’s direction. The pegasus closed the gap between them with a few quick trots and shook the offered foreleg.
“What on earth are you doing in Ponyville?” Cheerilee asked on the brink of a laugh.
“I was visiting… somepony that I used to know,” Daring mumbled. “What are you doing out and about so early?”
“I’m the local school teacher here in town,” Cheerilee explained. “I go to the schoolhouse pretty early to set things up for the kids.”
“Oh, really? You headed there now?”
“Not yet. I thought I’d stop by Sugarcube Corner for some breakfast first.”
“I was trying to find some Chevallian café,” Daring said, casting her eyes over the stores lining the road. Ponies were starting to exit their homes, breathing in the sunbathed air to start their busy days. She thought she saw a mailmare zip by on an adjacent street.
“Oh, you mean Horte Cuisine’s place?” Cheerilee asked. She pointed the way Daring had come. “See the big treetop over there? That’s the local library. The café is just a few blocks behind it from here.”
Daring scrunched up her nose and clicked her tongue. “Eh, too far. I’ll just go to the Corner with you.”
Cheerilee reeled to face her. “With me? Really?”
“Sure,” Daring said, shrugging, “why not?”
“Oh, my,” Cheerilee giggled, trying to hide a blush. “I’m sorry, Miss Do, I don’t mean to embarrass you. I’m a big fan of your books is all, and this is just such a surprise!”
Daring smirked. “I’m used to it.”
She followed the teacher down the street toward Sugarcube Corner, watching the doors of the cottage-like homes as Earth pony after colorful Earth pony moved into the sunlight. Most of them were smiling, eager to begin the day. Others scowled and yawned as their bodies begged for a few more minutes, or hours, of sleep. Daring couldn’t blame them. She had never been much of a morning pony, unlike Ditzy. That mare was up and at ‘em when the Moon began to set, it seemed.
“You said you were visiting somepony?” Cheerilee asked.
“Huh? Oh, yeah.”
“Who? I probably know them. I’ve lived in Ponyville since I was born.” A certain pride sparkled in the teacher’s clear green eyes.
“Er… an old friend,” Daring sort-of lied. “It didn’t go well. I don’t really want to talk about.”
“Oh.” Cheerilee’s features tightened sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Daring. Anything I can do to help?”
Daring gritted her teeth. Filly-Ditzy’s bubbly voice bounced through her memory, always looking for ways to help their brave, heroic father.
“Not really,” she said, but lifted her head as another thought struck her. “Unless you know any courageous ponies with tons of energy and athletic ability who might be willing to go on a dangerous quest.”
Cheerilee choked on a laugh. “As a matter of fact, I do know a pony or two who fit that description pretty well.”
Her ears pointed toward the sky. “Really?”
“Sure!” Cheerilee closed her eyes and nodded. “I’m sure somepony like you is already aware, but Ponyville is home to some pretty experienced adventurers: all six Elements of Harmony.”
Daring’s jaw dropped to her chest. “All… six?”
“Wait… do you mean the Elements of Harmony? The mares who defeated Discord?”
“They all live here!?”
Her voice cracked, making Cheerilee burst out laughing. “Yes, they live right here in Ponyville! All six of them. My good friend, Twilight Sparkle—she’s lives in the library I pointed out—she and her five closest friends embodied the Elements when they defeated Nightmare Moon.”
“Whoa, what? They did that, too?” Daring pulled her own ears down over her cheeks. “Why don’t more ponies know about this? Why haven’t they… written a book about it or something?!”
“They don’t want the attention,” Cheerliee explained. “Well… most of them don’t. I can think of two who wouldn’t mind a bit more popularity.”
“You actually know these ponies?”
“Quite well, some of them.”
Daring nearly squealed. “Will you introduce me?”
“Sure! One of them lives right here at the Corner. Fair warning, though—she tends to be a bit wild.”
Daring grinned. “I like wild.”
“Then maybe that’s not the right word,” Cheerilee said with a wince. “She isn’t exactly….”
The teacher’s words trailed off as her pupils shrunk to pinpricks. Daring followed her gaze apprehensively, lifting an eyebrow at the scene around Sugarcube Corner. A sizable group of ponies had gathered below an open window on the building’s side. A grey pegasus was hovering above them, chewing on her bottom lip. Daring squinted and moved a little closer, instantly recognizing the blonde mare.
“Oh, great,” she murmured, starting to back away.
“What’s going on?” Cheerilee called out, hurrying toward the whispering huddle.
“The Cake twins have been foalnapped!” Daring heard somepony answer. A gasp went through the newest members of the gathering.
Daring crouched where she stood in an effort to stay unnoticed. Luckily, Ditzy seemed preoccupied inspecting the pink glass window’s wooden frame.
“Better get out of here,” Daring said under her breath. She whipped around to gallop away just as a buzzing noise drew too close for comfort.
“Watch out!” shrieked three young voices in unison, but Daring Do’s reflexes weren not what they used to be. She was broadsided by a scooter and pummeled with tiny wings, a knobby horn, and a giant satin bow.
“Oof!” was her addition to the tremulous crash that redirected every eye from the crowd around Sugarcube Corner.
“Daring?” asked a distant, all-too-familiar voice.
The quester in question was half-buried face down in the dirt with three woozy fillies sprawled out groaning on her back. The only one wearing a helmet sat up and looked toward Ditzy curiously.
“That wasn’t daring,” Scootaloo said as the mailmare flew down from her spot by the window. “We weren’t even trying any stunts. This stupid pegasus just got in our way!”
“Get off her, kids!” Ditzy commanded. Surprised by her sharpness, the Cutie Mark Crusaders scrambled off the fallen stranger. Ditzy landed with unusual grace by the grounded goldenrod mare.
“You okay, Daring?” she asked, smoothing out her sister’s crumpled wings.
With a low moan, Daring pushed herself out of her hole in the ground and shook out the dirt from her mane. Ditzy noticed the cut on her lip. With an inward smirk, she wondered which of the many scrapes across her limbs and ribcage were from the recent crash and which were from their fight.
“More or less,” Daring grumbled, spitting blood onto the ground. The Crusaders leapt back in disgust.
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!” Scootaloo yelped. “I… I’ve never actually hurt anypony by running into them before—”
“Don’t sweat it, kid,” Daring interrupted. She arched her back enough for it to pop a dozen times. “I’ve lived through a lot worse. Believe me.”
She flashed Scootaloo a brazen smile, showing off her bloodied teeth. The little filly suddenly recognized the messy grey mane, the golden wings, the ruby eyes that matched her hero’s…
“Sweet Celestia!” she cried out. “You’re Daring Do!”
Sweetie Belle gasped in equal realization. Apple Bloom just quirked an eyebrow.
“The one and only,” Daring mumbled habitually, swiveling each of her hooves in turn to check for sprains.
Scootaloo screamed through a giant smile. Daring toppled over from the blast, landing on her back in the hole she’d made. “What the…”
“I gotta go get Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo exclaimed, snatching her scooter from the ground. “Don’t go anywhere, Miss Do!”
Ditzy slammed a hoof against the front wheel of the scooter. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“But if I introduce her to her idol, she’ll love me forever!” Scootaloo reasoned, beaming with excitement.
“Rainbow would want to ask Daring a lot of questions,” Ditzy said in the most level tone she could muster, “but she doesn’t have time for that. In fact, I’m pretty sure she was on her way to the train station right now.”
“Nope,” Daring said, rising again to her hooves. “I’m stickin’ around for a while, Ditz. Go ahead, kid, find this Rainbow girl. I’d love to meet a fan.”
Ditzy’s yellow mane stood on end. Her neck twisted with a sickening stretch as she glared golden daggers at her worse-for-wear sister. “Sticking… around?” she seethed.
Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom took the confusing tension as their cue to leave. Boarding the little vehicle, Scootaloo’s buzzing wings whisked the trio down the street toward Rainbow’s home at the edge of Ponyville.
Daring leaned close to Ditzy’s ear and whispered, “You’re not gonna go on another adventure with me? Fine. I’ll just find somepony else.”
“Here?” Ditzy wheezed. “In Ponyville? Why not go back to Las Pegasus or look around Cloudsdale?”
“Because Ponyville is the only town with the Elements of Harmony,” Daring whispered back.
Ditzy glanced back at Sugarcube Corner. The whole crowd was still staring at them, speculating amongst themselves: what problem did the derpy mailmare have with this injured stranger? Grinding her back teeth, Ditzy grabbed her sister by the tail and dragged her into a nearby alleyway.
“Hey! What gives?” Daring asked, whipping her tail out of Ditzy’s mouth. The grey pegasus pounced, pinning a terrified Daring to the wall.
“Whoa, whoa! Calm down, Ditz!”
“I told you to leave, Daring. I told you to get out of here, not recruit the Elements of Harmony!”
“I don’t want them all!” Daring defended. “Heck, I don’t even know if I want any of them. I haven’t met a single one! I just found out they lived here this morning! But if little old Ponyville is home to Equestria’s two-time saviors, what other awesome ponies could it hold? No way, I’m not looking for a new partner anywhere else. This is the place.”
“A new… partner?” Ditzy growled.
Daring tried to push her off. “Hey, don’t be getting jealous! I gave you a chance and you pushed it aside. Now I have to—”
“You think I’m jealous?” Ditzy yelled, slamming her sister against the bricks. “I’m not jealous, you idiot. I’m angry! And, quite frankly, I’m worried!”
“Worried?” Daring squeaked.
“Worried for whatever sorry soul falls for your charm and your lies and puts themselves in mortal danger with a washed up, overconfident has-been!”
“You said yourself you’re out of shape, Daring,” Ditzy reminded, backing away from her sister with a final painful push. “You can’t go on another ‘adventure’, not like we used to. You’d get yourself and your new partner killed.”
“I would not!”
“Do you even have a quest in mind? Is there anything you need to find? Or were you just planning on running out into the wild looking for booby-trapped treasure?”
Daring didn’t have an answer for that.
“I’m not going to tell you again, Daring. Leave. Go by yourself if you have to, but don’t drag any of these good ponies into your selfish escapades.”
“They’re not selfish,” Daring mumbled, pawing at the ground.
“We don’t have a father to save anymore, thanks to you. You have no reason to find any more mystical objects except adding a story to your series. That’s selfish.” With a hateful glare, she turned toward the alley’s exit. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of baby foals to help rescue, and I don’t want to see your face in Ponyville again.”
Daring lifted her head. “Baby foals? The missing ones?”
Ditzy shot her an indifferent look before flying back to the Corner. Daring always asked the stupidest questions.
The crowd around the confectionary had nearly doubled in the time she was gone. All of them were too busy gossiping amongst themselves to question Ditzy as she swooped through the upper window into the scene of the crime.
Mrs. Cake was leaning over the empty crib, sobbing uncontrollably. Mr. Cake had a hoof on her shoulder, but his eyes were dark and distant. Still standing in the doorway were four of the Elements of Harmony: Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash. None of them looked quite sure how to help.
“Mrs. Cake,” Ditzy addressed in a serious tone that surprised everypony. No use wasting time. “A while ago you said that he took your babies. Who were you referring to?”
Her red, wet eyes met Ditzy’s angled squint.
“I-I-I saw somepony,” she choked out between sobs, shivering at the memory. “I saw somepony looking through the window.”
“When? Last night?”
She shook her head. “Nine days ago.”
“What did they look like?”
Her lower lip quivered as she shook her head despondently. “I don’t know… I don’t know! It was too dark…”
“Was he flying?” Ditzy asked, guiding her into revealing any details.
Mrs. Cake gasped. “Yes! Yes, he had wings… and he was very thin… and he had a… a strange snout.” She lifted a hoof to her own, drawing an invisible outline in front of her face. “It was narrow and… arched, maybe? Sort of curved…”
Ditzy’s pupil’s grew smaller with every word. “A curved snout…” she whispered.
“Sounds Haissanic,” Twilight Sparkle spoke up from the doorway. All eyes swiveled toward her and she squeaked at the sudden attention.
“Hey, I know that word!” Rainbow said. “Haissan is a country, right? Outside of Equestria?”
“Across the sea to the east,” Twilight confirmed. “Our nations have never been at war, but we’ve never been the closest of allies, either. There aren’t many immigrants between us. I’ve only seen a few Haissanic ponies in Canterlot, but never one in Ponyville.”
Ditzy had been hovering near the window. Her wings slowly came to a stop and she slumped in a heap on the ground.
“I know who took your babies,” she muttered barely loud enough for everyone to hear.
“So do I!” a scratchy voice suddenly blared from just outside the window. Ditzy eyes glowed with inner fire as she whirled around just in time to watch Daring dive into the room.
“I told you to le—” she started to snarl.
“I remember you from the store yesterday,” Mrs. Cake said, wiping tears from her cheeks. “Who are you? What happened to my children?”
“Your twins were abducted by the Sultan of Haissan!” Daring declared in an inappropriately excited tone.
“Probably one of his servants, actually,” Ditzy corrected without pulling her eyes from her headstrong sister, “according to your description.”
“But… why?” Mrs. Cake pled.
Ditzy gulped. “I’m not sure, Mrs. Cake,” she half-lied, hoping her suspicions were wrong.
“Does it matter why?” Daring asked, rising heroically into the center of the room. “All you need to worry about, ma’am, is absolutely nothing! Because Daring Do—”
“—is going to rescue them!”
Mrs. Cake gasped. Pinkie Pie clapped. Rarity frowned at her messy grey mane. Twilight Sparkle stared in shock at Ditzy grinding her hooves against the floorboards.
Mr. Cake and Rainbow Dash both fainted on the spot.