My Nose Hurts
“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.”
“How many times are you going to say that?”
“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.”
“Come on, Daring, they’re getting away!”
“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.”
“What does that even mean?”
“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me!”
“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular-that’s-twenty-five-GO-GO-GO!”
Daring ripped through the air with a mighty swish of her wings. Her excited laughter ricocheted off the nearby skyscrapers and caused several ponies on the ground to look up.
“Finally!” Rainbow yelled, catching up to Daring with a few swift beats of her own feathered appendages. At the adventuress’ side she asked, “How are we going to find them now?”
“Easy!” Daring cackled, pointing ahead with a hoof. “Weren’t you paying attention? I pushed the basket closer to the cripple so he would have to carry it. The extra weight is hard on the wings, and did you see how many of his feathers were about to fall out from grinding against the ground all the time?” She shot Rainbow a confident grin. “They took a pretty sharp turn around that brownish building. I’ll bet every bit I own that there’s a nice trail of blue feathers for us to follow.”
Rainbow bit her lip. “What, like, floating in the air?”
“Stuck to the buildings!” she corrected as they followed the foalnappers’ path, barreling around the corner of an old copper tower. “Y’ever heard of static electricity? Those feathers must be charged to the brim from being walked on all the time.”
Rainbow surveyed the side of the building with a skeptic squint. “I don’t see any—” Her eyes fell on an oval spot some forty feet down the side of the building. She gasped and dove to the blemish, snatching it from the wall with her forehooves. “Holy guacamole! You were right! There’s a feather right here!” She looked to her left and noticed more of the plumes stuck at different levels along the skyscraper. “And there’s another! And another!”
Daring hovered at her side and gave her back a mighty slap below the wings. “What did you I tell you, kid? I know exactly what I’m doing!”
Donning a determined grin, Daring took off along the trail of feathers. With a conflicted sense of hope burning in her chest, Rainbow found a smile of her own as she flew after her hero.
The trail of feathers continued along a shorter, greyer tower. The pegasi companions whooshed past all the sticking plumes, gliding from building to building, dropping lower and closer to the ground, until they found themselves approaching the northernmost docks of the Manehattan harbor.
Rainbow’s irises shrunk with realization. Even Daring began to look nervous.
“They went... back to the docks?” Rainbow asked.
“I thought for sure they’d hide in the city...” Daring mumbled, picking up speed with three extra flaps.
The duo landed around the last blue feather lying discarded by a stack of salty crates. They stared at it, looked one another in the eyes, and slowly turned their gaze toward the expanse of greyish ocean.
“Do you think they—” Daring started to ask.
“Got away?” a fuming voice inquired from above.
Daring and Rainbow whipped their heads toward the noise. On top of the crates stood a blonde, grey pegasus clad in a green collared shirt and a battered pith helmet, narrowing her wonky eyes at both the startled pegasi.
Daring couldn’t help but smile. “Ditzy! You did come!”
Ditzy snorted. She jumped off the pile and landed hard on all four of her hooves, twisting her head to glare at Daring with one focused eye.
“Where are the foals?” she asked coldly.
As beads of sweat gathered just below her hat, Daring gulped and tried to hold her smile. “Uh... they’re around here somewhere. The kid and I were hot on their trail just a minute ago—”
“Have you seen the foals, Daring?” Ditzy asked with intended menace.
“Well...” Daring readjusted her hat and stared at the blue feather next to Ditzy’s tail. “Uh, not expressly....”
Ditzy scowled and turned to Rainbow. “Have you seen the foals, Rainbow Dash?”
The blue pegasus’ ears drooped. “Well, uh... see, I actually had the bas—”
Daring swiftly kicked her partner in the ribs, silencing the Element of Loyalty with a sharp cough.
“Look, Sis, it’s cute that you wanna help...” Daring started.
“Oh, so it’s cute now? What happened to ‘I don’t need you’ and ‘I’m better off without you’?”
“Still true,” Daring answered with a shrug. “What I was going to say is, Rainman and I have this under control, and you followed us when I made the consequences very clear.” She lowered her brow. “When I find those twins and we get back to Ponyville, everypony’s gonna know your dirty little secret.”
Rainbow took a step back from the sisters. “Secret? What secret?”
A cold sneer stretched over Daring’s teeth. “What d’ya think, Sis? Should I start the unveiling here and now?”
“How about I do a little unveiling of my own first?” Ditzy’s hard expression had not faltered under Daring’s threats. “The foals are gone.”
Daring blinked. “Huh?”
Ditzy pointed out over the water. “I just watched the foalnappers take them into a submarine and head for the horizon.”
Rainbow’s knees wobbled and the color drained from her face.
With sweat now dripping down her temples, Daring shook her head. “No... no, you’re lying. They were... they were just here, we just had them...”
Ditzy slammed her hoof into the dock hard enough that the old wood cracked. “You actually had them, didn’t you? Rainbow had the foals in her hooves and you gave them back, didn’t you?”
Daring looked to Rainbow for support, but the blue mare was teetering precariously.
“I... I didn’t think that...”
Ditzy roared and threw her helmet at the base of the seaweed crates. “You idiot! This is just like the time you reset the whole temple just so you could be the one to excavate the Sapphire Stone!”
Rainbow snapped back to full alert. “What!?”
“You remember that, Daring?” Ditzy continued, spittle hanging from her quivering lips. “Do you remember falling into that snake pit? Remember how the walls were closing in, how you were almost crushed?”
Daring grit her teeth and removed her own helmet, casting it beside her sister’s.
Rainbow’s lungs started working as if she was flying the race of her life. “But you got out, right? Y-you used your hat, you got the statue back from Ahuitzotl—”
Ditzy barked a short, cruel laugh. “Please, Rainbow Dash! You can’t seriously still think she’s the real Daring Do!”
“Shut up,” Daring growled.
“How did you really escape that pit?” Ditzy asked. “Can you remember, Daring?”
“Shut up!” she said again, jerking her head in Rainbow’s direction and clicking her tongue. “What’s that you said about breaking hearts, again?”
Ditzy didn’t listen. “I pulled your worthless hide out, Daring. You put yourself in peril, and I saved your miserable life. I saved it then, I saved it a hundred times after that, and now I have to save two innocent foals because you’re such a selfish idiot!”
Releasing an ear-splitting battlecry, Daring lunged at her sister. They tumbled to the salt encrusted dock, punching and kicking and biting one another at every conceivable chance. Many of the harbor’s patrons stopped to watch the catfight, whispering bets and predictions to each other as tufts of grey and yellow fur fluttered through the air.
Rainbow Dash was shocked stiff for longer than she thought appropriate. When her senses finally kicked back in, she immediately dove into the center of the squabble.
“Break it up!” she yelled, pushing Ditzy away. “Come on, quit it, Daring!” She shoved at her idol with a back leg. Daring smacked Rainbow aside with both of her wings and throttled Ditzy again, jabbing her several times in the neck and chin.
“The yellow one’s got it in the bag,” Rainbow heard someone in the growing audience say.
Ditzy swung her tail over her shoulder. It was just long enough to whip Daring in the eye, sending her stumbling back with a yelp. The mailmare used her wings to get airborne, swung her back legs forward, and landed a powerful buck in Daring’s sternum.
“Oooooh!” the crowd reacted, cringing from the attack. Daring skidded on her rump to the edge of the dock.
“Nah way, the grey one’s crazy!” another voice piped up. Rainbow rolled her eyes and shot forward, grabbing Ditzy from behind before she could charge the dazed Daring.
“Knock it off, Ditzy!” she said directly into the mailmare’s ear. “You guys are making a scene, and we still have to save those foals!”
“Lemme go!” Ditzy shrieked, wriggling out of Rainbow’s hold with the help of her wings. She screamed and sprung at her coughing sister, landing the blunt of her hoof on her snout. Daring fell backward into the water, splashing and spluttering as she tried to stay afloat.
“Stop it!” Rainbow implored, swooping over Ditzy’s head to help Daring. She reached down and tucked her hooves under Daring’s forelegs, hoisting the dripping wet archeologist out of the sea and setting her gently in the middle of the dock. Blood streamed with the ocean water from one of her nostrils.
“That’s enough! Both of you!” Rainbow shouted, glaring fuchsia daggers at Ditzy. At the sight of her sister’s blood, Ditzy’s eyes tilted and softened. She dropped to her haunches and rubbed her bruising chin, quivering with adrenaline and shame.
“And all of you, get outta here!” Rainbow yelled at the crowd. Some of them looked confused; she heard a few ponies ask “Who won?” and the clinking of bits. When none of them left, she expelled a heavy sigh and tried her best to ignore their stares.
She tended to Daring first, making sure the mare was conscious and tearing off a piece of her own collar to press against her bleeding snout. Before a minute had passed, Daring was back on her hooves, holding the fabric to her nose and giving Ditzy dirty looks from a safe distance.
Rainbow approached Ditzy warily and took a seat directly in front of the dejected pegasus. “What the hay happened there?” she asked quietly.
“I got mad,” she moaned.
Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I caught that much. Did you really see them get away with the foals?”
Ditzy’s eyes filled with tears. “I... I let them go.”
Daring scrambled awkwardly to Rainbow’s side. “What was that?” she asked in a nasally voice.
“I could have stopped them,” Ditzy said as tears dripped from her eyes onto the wooden planks, “but I didn’t. I let them go.” One of her eyes met Daring’s for less than a second. “I wanted you to fail so badly that I....” She sniffed. “I heard them say you gave the foals back, and I wanted you to feel horrible for doing it. So I let them go. I let them get away.” She groaned with rage at herself and covered her face with her hooves.
A hard lump lodged itself in Daring’s throat and she looked at the horizon with darkened eyes. Rainbow ran a hoof across her face.
“So lemme get this straight,” she said, turning first to Daring. “You’re not Daring Do.”
“I am!” Daring defended, but her voice grew weaker with every word. “I just made up some of the stuff in my books....”
“And you,” Rainbow said to Ditzy, “used to be her partner? You went on all those adventures?”
Ditzy nodded behind her hooves.
Rainbow blinked a few times before continuing. “So... what the hay happened to you guys?”
“I almost killed her, and she stole the love of my life,” Daring explained succinctly.
“In that order,” Ditzy added emphatically.
Rainbow blanched. “Whoa, what!?”
Dinky clenched her jaw and pulled back her lips, pressing her hooves firmly against the tabletop as the tendons of her neck protruded.
“That’s it! You’ve almost got it!” Twilight Sparkle encouraged, clapping her hooves together. “Your horn is sparking!”
The library door swung open. Twilight looked to scold the incomer for rudely slamming her door but was met instead with a surprising gust of wind. It blew her mane into a tangled mess and fluttered the pages Dinky was trying to magically turn.
The little unicorn yelped and jumped away as the strange wind slammed the book shut. Both ponies cringed and waited for another burst of air; none came. They glanced at each other unsurely before Twilight approached the door. She peeked outside through the morning light and, seeing nopony, shut the door with her magic as she trotted back to Dinky’s side.
“Well, that was unusual,” Twilight remarked. “I’ve never had a problem with wind here before. The latch must be faulty.” She frowned. “I’ll have to get Spike to repair that.”
“Where is he?” Dinky asked, rubbing her aching horn.
“He must have stayed at Sugarcube Corner last night,” Twilight said, glancing through a window in the bakery’s direction. “I ought to go over there soon and find him....” She bit her lip and shook her head, releasing a heavy sigh. “Well, let’s try this one more time before I go,” she said to Dinky, opening the book to its middle.
The door opened again, much softer this time, and a trio of colorful fillies walked in.
“Howdy, Twilight!” Apple Bloom greeted.
“Hello, girls.” Twilight smiled sweetly. “What brings you here?”
“We came for the Dinkster,” Scootaloo said, waving at the periwinkle pony.
“What happened to your mane?” Sweetie Belle asked, trying not to snicker at Twilight’s windswept strands.
Twilight had to laugh at herself. “We had a draft,” she said, shrugging.
“Can I go play with them, Miss Twilight?” Dinky asked. “Please?”
“Well...” Twilight took one sad glance at the unturned pages of the small textbook. She shook her head with a quiet giggle and said, “Yes, of course you can, Dinky. We’ll practice more when you get home.”
Dinky beamed. “Thanks, Miss Twilight!” she squealed, dropping from her stool and bolting across the length of the room to her friends.
“Take care of her, girls,” Twilight said with an expectant expression.
“We will, Twilight!” Apple Bloom promised. “Don’tchu worry none.”
The four fillies hurried out the front door. Dinky was sure to shut it gently behind her, making Twilight chortle. She was such a thoughtful little pony.
Left alone in the library, Twilight took note of the time. It was midmorning; almost twenty hours had passed since Ditzy, Daring, and Rainbow had left for Manehattan. And less than fifteen hours ago, Pinkie Pie had slammed her face against reflective glass.
Twilight took a long, deep breath and blew out a humiliated sigh. There were so many things she needed to do, but her mind felt too frazzled for any of them. Absentmindedly, she pushed the textbook around the central tabletop and accidentally bumped it against another small volume. The book fell to the ground with a thump, drawing in Twilight’s attention. She lifted it with her magic and gasped at the title: Daring Do and the Poison Whispered Kiss.
“Oh my gosh! I almost forgot!”
She cantered to her reading desk and made herself as comfortable as possible, effortlessly opening the book to its first pages with a spell that once caused her much strain as a filly.
“Let’s see what you can teach me, Daring,” Twilight mumbled at the novel. “Who is Ditzy Doo?”
“Do you love her?” Daring asked.
The meekest of smiles adorned the Sultan’s mouth. “I love all of my subjects.”
“She’s your servant,” Daring corrected.
“And she lives under my roof, in the country I rule,” Alula added. “She is as much one of my subjects as anypony else.”
Daring snorted and turned away, staring into Luna’s blanket of stars that twinkled over Haissan. “You treat her different,” she finally continued.
“Different than whom?”
“Your other servants,” Daring said, turning her head further from the alicorn. “And me.”
The Sultan was silent for a while. Daring feared she had upset him and pawed nervously at the balcony’s granite beneath her hooves.
“Allow me to ask you a question, Miss Do,” Alula finally spoke, as respectfully as ever. As Daring turned to face him, he did the same, so that their sparkling eyes met only inches apart.
“Do you love me?”
Daring’s stomach tightened. She felt the sweat bead along her hairline and she suddenly hated the way it had been styled for the evening. Tugging at the edges of her silvery dress, Daring tried to explain herself. “I-I...”
Alula waited patiently, smiling at her all the while.
“You’ve been very kind to me,” she blurted. “For two whole months now I’ve lived in your palace and learned of your country. I’ve learned so much more about its ponies and its culture than I’d ever have thought to do. I’ve made many dear friends... but none like you.”
Her voice cracked, and she cleared her throat before continuing, shifting her eyes from star to distant star.
“My life has been so full of adventure that I’ve never had the time or opportunity to... fall in love,” she choked. “Not since I got my Cutie Mark have I found myself attracted to a stallion. And yet...”
She stopped to breathe. Dark grey strands of her mane were slipping out of their extravagant braids and high-set bun.
“And then this evening... inviting me to the Ball and... and dancing with me....” Hesitantly, she turned her burning face to his again, gazing deeply into his soft, periwinkle eyes. “Do I love you, Alula? What do you think?”
He inhaled slowly through his nose. “I believe you do,” he whispered.
Daring gulped. “So do I,” she squeaked, her ears flattening against the sides of her head. In a sudden burst of frustration, she spun around and marched to the edge of the balcony, looking out over Alula’s glittering kingdom.
“Everypony in Haissan is celebrating tonight,” she said loud enough for him to hear. “They’re merrymaking to a holiday I didn’t know existed until today. They’ve looked forward to this day for a whole year, and I still barely understand it.” She bit her lip without turning around. “I’m not one of them, Alula. I’m not one of your beloved subjects, nor am I a devoted servant. I’m certainly no Tenutherut.”
“We don’t have to talk about her,” the Sultan said.
“Well, why shouldn’t we? I mean... she’s perfect!” She grunted and slammed her hooves against the balcony’s railing. “She’s beautiful and hilarious and hardworking. She does everything you ask her to do, exactly as you ask it. And the way you look at her....” Daring cringed and clenched her jaw, gathering her emotions.
“How do I look at her?” the Sultan inquired with genuine curiosity.
In response, Daring slowly turned and gazed upon the Sultan with a look of love and desperate longing. To her utter surprise, the look upon his handsome features mirrored hers exactly.
“Like that,” she answered breathlessly.
The Sultan rose from his pillow and took three deliberate steps toward Daring. She stayed frozen to the balcony, watching his approach with large, ruby eyes.
“I love all of my subjects, Daring,” he whispered. Her name sounded musical on his tongue. “But it takes a greater love for me to welcome a guest to Haissan’s most distinguished social gathering. And you, Daring? You are far more to me than a guest.”
She gulped. As the Sultan lowered his eyelids, her lips began to quiver. The steady rhythm of her heart became a wild thundering as he took one more step, placing his chiseled face quite near the archaeologist's.
“Alula...” she managed to say before his lips pressed against hers. Her eyelids fluttered as she took one last look at the warm night’s glowing starscape.
“My, that must be a good read!”
Twilight jumped at the voice from behind. She whirled around to see Ponyville’s schoolteacher smiling back at her, balancing a paper bag behind her withers.
“Oh, hello, Cheerilee,” Twilight wheezed, lifting a hoof to her chest. “You startled me.”
“Sorry,” said the teacher, wincing. “I didn’t mean to. You were nose-to-page with that book, Twilight! Do you mind sharing the title?”
Twilight blushed. “It’s, uh... it’s actually the latest Daring Do book.” She lifted it in her magic to show Cheerilee the cover.
To Twilight’s surprise, her friend sucked in a delighted gasp. “You’re reading it, too? I was up all last night reading the school’s copy!”
“Yes! All the books come to me before being shelved in the schoolhouse, you know, for an inspection of sorts. I have to make sure every book is appropriate for the children. Poison Whispered Kiss was quite a ways down on my list, but I just had to move it to first priority after what happened yesterday.” She leaned closer to Twilight to a conspiratorial smirk and whispered, “I met Daring Do!”
Twilight giggled. “So did I, Cheerilee.”
Though her face betrayed her disappointment, Cheerilee moved on. “I can’t believe she’s a real pony! And a downright sweetheart at that!”
“Sweetheart?” Twilight guffawed. “Are you sure you met Daring Do?”
Cheerilee’s eyes widened. “Of course! Why? Was she rude to you?”
“Not really,” Twilight admitted. “She was pretty snarky, though. And she sure has it out for her sister.”
Twilight’s jaw dropped. “She didn’t tell you? She was in Ponyville visiting her sister, Ditzy Doo.”
“Ditzy?” Cheerilee squeaked. “The mailmare?”
Cheerilee gasped again. “She did mention visiting an old friend, but she didn’t say anything about Ditzy being her sister! Oh, my...”
“The craziest part is,” Twilight continued, tapping the book suspended in the air, “I think she and Ditzy used to be close partners. They went on all these adventures together, but Daring didn’t put her in the books.”
Cheerilee moved forward. “Why not?”
“I don’t know yet,” Twilight said, “but Ditzy told me reading this would help me understand.”
“How far along are you?”
Twilight checked the novel. “I just finished Chapter Nine.”
Cheerilee snorted. “I’m a little ahead of you. Good luck with Chapter Ten.”
Twilight tilted her head. “How do you mean?”
The schoolteacher rolled her eyes. “It’s way too dramatic and everypony breaks character. I think Daring tried too hard to push the story along.” She shrugged. “It gets better after that, though.”
“Hmm.” Twilight set the book back on her reading desk and faced Cheerilee properly. “Well, when we’ve both finished, we’ll have to compare notes and figure out what’s going on.”
Cheerilee chuckled. “Well, you’ll have to catch me up quite a bit. I’m afraid I’m still lost.”
“That’s fine,” Twilight said with a wave of her hoof. “What brought you to the library this afternoon?”
Shifting the package on her back, Cheerilee explained, “I’m looking for Dinky. Spike said she’s staying here for a while? I put a bag of goodies together to thank her for her excellent performance yesterday.”
Twilight took the bag in a field of magic and set it by the staircase. “Cheerilee, that’s so sweet of you! She’s out with the Crusaders right now, but I’m sure she’ll be delighted when she comes back.” She creased her brow and asked, “Where did you see Spike?”
“At Sugarcube Corner,” Cheerilee said. A small frown pulled at her lips. “He and Pinkie are helping the Cakes with all the orders, but he’s doing most of the work. The Cakes are so distraught, for good reason, and poor Pinkie didn’t seem herself.”
Twilight winced. “That’s probably my fault,” she admitted, lowering her head.
Cheerilee’s brow raised. “How’s that?”
“She... that is, I....” Twilight sighed and kicked her hoof against the ground. “I was stressed and anxious last night when I went there to ask her some questions about a book. She... was being Pinkie Pie, and I overreacted.” She glanced at the clock. “I’ve been trying to build up the courage to go apologize all day, but...”
“But what, Twilight?”
The unicorn bit her lip. “She pushed me into a mirror.”
“She grabbed my head,” she said, demonstrating with a hoof between Cheerilee’s ears, “and squished my face against the mirror in her room. She kept telling me to be curiouser.”
Cheerilee blinked worriedly. “Curious about what?”
“I don’t know!” Twilight yelled. “It was so weird! I mean, Pinkie Pie is Pinkie Pie, but... it was like she was trying to push me through the mirror. It was too much for me.”
She trotted to one of the windows. Cheerilee followed unsurely.
“I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation,” Twilight continued. “Or... at least as logical as Pinkie can be. I’m just a little nervous to confront her. It was a very strange experience.”
“I can imagine,” Cheerilee said sympathetically, placing a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder, “but you’re right to go apologize. Knowing Pinkie Pie, I’m sure she didn’t mean you any harm. Explaining yourself to her will help both of you feel better.”
The studious mares exchanged smiles. “Thank you, Cheerilee,” Twilight said, raising her head a little higher. “I think I’ll go to the Corner right now.”
“I think that’s a fine idea,” Cheerilee encouraged. “And when Pinkie Pie explains herself, you must come find me! Pushing her friends through mirrors? Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d call that gypsy magic!”
“You’re in love with Alula?” Rainbow hissed.
Daring gave her an incredulous stare. “How far did you get in the book?”
Rainbow shrugged. “I dunno, like... six chapters, maybe?”
Swishing her tail back and forth through the water over the edge of the dock, Daring rolled her eyes, cringing at the pain that shot through her swelling left eye.
“Daring and I both fell for the Sultan,” Ditzy explained to Rainbow Dash. The three pegasi were lying on their bellies at the northern dock, waiting for the passenger ship to Haissan. Rainbow had placed herself between the sullen sisters. “I didn’t read much of the book,” Ditzy continued, “but from what I gathered, she portrayed me as a servant girl named Theothernut.”
“Tenutherut,” Daring corrected testily. “It’s Haissanic for ditzy.”
Ditzy peeked around Rainbow Dash to give her sister an icy glare. “Yeah, I know.”
Rainbow reached out a hoof and pushed Ditzy back to a spot where she couldn’t see Daring. The mailmare huffed and looked away, dropping her purplish chin into her folded forelegs.
“Gosh, Ditzy,” Rainbow said, shaking her head. “I feel like I just met you. This is crazy.”
“My nose hurts,” Daring grunted.
“Why didn’t you tell anypony?” Rainbow asked, ignoring Daring’s whines.
Ditzy’s eye swiveled up and around to meet Rainbow’s. “Lots of reasons. Safety, for one; we made a lot of enemies back then.”
Daring laughed in nostalgic agreement.
“I was ashamed, too,” Ditzy growled. “Ashamed of who my sister really was and what she had done to me and my family. I didn’t want to go through explaining the whole story. Anypony who knows the name Daring Do thinks she’s some amazing heroine. Explaining the truth and crushing their dreams... I couldn’t do it.”
Rainbow’s eye twitched at the phrase “crushing their dreams”, but she pushed her own anger down. “So you think Alula took the foals?” Rainbow asked, focused entirely on Ditzy. “Why?”
Daring piped up. “Yeah, Ditz. What does he want with a couple of baby earth ponies?”
Rainbow finally swiveled her neck to frown at Daring. “They’re not earth ponies! The boy is a pegasus and the girl’s a unicorn.”
Daring’s tail slapped against the water, spraying all three of the ponies with mist. “What!? But their parents are both...”
Her eyes and mouth widened in sync. “Oh my gosh...”
Rainbow’s heart began to race. “What?” She whipped her head back and forth between Daring and Ditzy. “What is it?”
Daring bit her lip and lowered her head. Ditzy stared unblinking at the ocean’s bright horizon.
“Will somepony tell me why the Sultan of Haissan wants the foals of a village baker?” Rainbow yelled. She was grateful that the crowd had finally dispersed.
“They took the wrong foals,” Ditzy answered without turning her head. “Leave it at that.”
Daring just nodded. Rainbow’s frustration rose in her chest, but she kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want to spawn another hooffight.
Several minutes of silence later, Rainbow followed Ditzy’s gaze over the ocean. “What are we waiting for? Where’s the passenger ship?” she asked. “It’s supposed to be here any minute, and I don’t see the first sign of it.”
“I’ve been trying to tell you, kid,” Daring said as her blood-crusted nostril twitched, “the ships that carry ponies don’t come across the ocean.”
Confused, Rainbow offset her jaw. “What the heck does that mean? There’s no ship coming?” She rose to her hooves and swept her eyes over the entire wooden harbor, stretching far toward the south with scores of narrow docks reaching into the water. “Well, I don’t see any boats here, either. Are we gonna have to sew our own sails or something?”
A burly stallion standing nearby chuckled, low and slow. “I’m wagerin’ ye’ve never crossed the ocean a’fore, lass,” he drawled.
Daring snickered at Rainbow’s perplexed expression. “Gee, Mister,” the yellow pony teased, “whatever gave you that idea?”
She chortled along with the stallion at Rainbow’s expense, making the fastest mare in Equestria seethe beneath her brow.
“You can’t sail across the ocean anymore, Rainbow,” Ditzy kindly explained.
The laughing stallion trotted nearer, revealing a short grey beard around his rotting teeth. “Sails wouldn’t do a pony any good out thar. The winds haven’t been workin’ fer nigh unto ten years now.”
Rainbow blinked. “The what hasn’t been working?”
“The winds, lass,” the stallion said, wiggling his hoof through the air as if to represent a breeze. “There hasn’t been a gust of it to cross these waters fer eight whole years.”
Daring and Ditzy shifted uncomfortably at Rainbow’s sides. Something tried to make itself apparent in Rainbow’s brain, but none of the right synapses clicked and she was left practically clueless.
“But... I can feel the wind right now.” She spread her wings and watched the feathers vibrate in the breeze. “See? There are gusts all over the place!”
“The ocean cools the air and the city heats it up,” the stallion went on with a crooked grin. “Creates a bit of a draft circlin’ back and forth between ‘em. The further onto the water ya go, the less of a wind there is, until the air’s as still and dead as any lifeless thing.”
Rainbow’s wings slumped to her sides. “So... if the winds don’t blow...” She stomped a hoof. “Then how in the hay do we get across the ocean?”
In answer to her question, a shadow engulfed the harbor. Each waiting pony glanced upward to where the Sun was shining, blocked by the silhouette of some enormous object. As Rainbow squinted past the light that bordered the enormity, her legs threatened to give out from beneath her as her lungs drew in a slow, awed breath.
“Sweet Celestia...” she swore.
Daring smirked, pointed to the looming ship descending on the harbor, and said to her new partner, “We take that thing.”