My Fashionably Zippered Pockets
“Never seen the ocean, never ridden an airship… I’m starting to think I picked the wrong partner,” Daring teased, nudging Rainbow Dash in the side.
“Why would I have ridden in an airship?” Rainbow asked testily. “I have a perfectly good pair of wings right here!”
“Yeah, so do I,” Daring said, flexing her feathery limbs, “but that doesn’t mean we can fly across the whole freakin’ ocean.”
Rainbow scowled. “I’ve never had to cross the ocean before.”
“Which is exactly why I said…” Daring sing-songed, bouncing her head left and right with the rhythm of her words, “that I picked a poopy partner.”
“Oh, shut up, Daring,” Ditzy snapped. “No pegasus in Ponyville has ever ridden an airship or crossed the ocean. Rainbow Dash is the best partner you possibly could have found.”
Rainbow couldn’t help but grin, even as Daring snorted. “Shoulda searched outside of Ponyville…”
“Yeah, you should have. It’s too bad you didn’t have any sisters on your tail offering that exact advice.” Ditzy throated an agitated grunt and picked up her pace, cutting through the crowd ahead of Rainbow and Daring and nearing the top of the ramp.
“Boy, is she something,” Daring complained. She nudged Rainbow’s side again with the joint of her left wing. “I’m just messin’ with ya, kid. You’re a fine partner. I’m glad I get to show you the ropes of this stuff. Air travel is awesome.”
“I’m well aware,” Rainbow said, flicking Daring’s wing away with one of her own.
Daring laughed. “Nah, kid, you have no idea. Sure, flying on your own is great and all, but wait ‘til this thing breaks the clouds.” She shook her head and whistled. “Now that’s a sensation.”
“It can’t be that different than just looking over the edge of Cloudsdale,” Rainbow guessed.
Daring clicked her tongue with a wag of her brow as if to say, “We’ll see about that.”
The wooden docks of the harbor practically floated on the water. There was barely a leg’s length between their wooden planks and the surface of the sea. The enormous aircraft, hovering steadily more than twenty feet above the water, had lowered half a dozen narrow ramps from along the curve of its deck. The ends of the ramps connected with the ends of the docks, and ponies ascended them in compact droves.
Rainbow’s wings twitched impatiently, but Daring refused to cut in line and insisted that Rainbow remain at her side. They cantered up the northernmost ramp extending from the back end of the airship. Peeking over the edge of the ramp, Rainbow was surprised to see the ocean’s surface rippling and vibrating rather fiercely. Her eyes darted in the opposite direction to focus on the huge, oblong balloon rigged to the boat with veritable miles of rope.
“The zeppelin’s to keep it in the air,” Daring began to explain, “but there are boosters on the bottom that give it speed and direction, too.”
Rainbow gave her a puzzled glance. “Boosters?”
“Yeah, you know: magic generators.”
Choking out a laugh, Daring adjusted her pith helmet with a wing. “Don’t tell me you’ve never even seen an airship.”
“Sure I have!” Rainbow said. “I see a bunch of ‘em in Canterlot whenever I visit. But they don’t have any… magic boosters.”
“Those fancy yachts?” Daring asked in a mocking tone. “Heh. Those painted buckets of bolts are good for nothin’ but an earth pony pleasure cruise. This thing’ll carry hundreds of ponies from one country to another in a day and half.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty incre… wait, what?”
Rainbow pointed ahead, redirecting Daring’s worried glance. The end of the ramp was only a few trots ahead of them. A bulky, scowling mare in a dark blue vest was allowing ponies to enter the main deck on either side of her—as soon as she checked their boarding passes. Ditzy stood off the side of the ramp, her head held low and her mane covering most of her face.
Daring sighed briefly, cleared her throat, and donned a broad, cocky smile before she approached the large earth pony mare.
“Afternoon, ma’am,” she said with a nod, aiming to walk around the sentinel.
She stopped Daring with a thick, pinkish hoof. “Ticket?” she grunted.
Daring lifted a convincingly confused-looking eyebrow. “I’m sorry, ticket? What do you mean?”
“I need to see your ticket,” the big mare clarified. Her gruff voice reminded Rainbow Dash of some of Ponyville’s construction workers.
Daring snorted, covering her mouth with a hoof. “Right, right. My ‘ticket’!” She laughed and shook her head. “Oh, that’s a good one.” With a sigh, she tried to push down the pink hoof at her chest. It didn’t budge.
“Look, lady,” Daring said a smirk, “you must be new around here. I don’t need a ticket.” She straightened her collar and leaned closer, lifting the rim of her hat just enough to give the mare a conspiratorial wink. “I’m Daring Do, of the former Sisters Doo.”
“I already tried it, Daring,” Ditzy said from her wilted position. “Ocean Liner doesn’t own the business anymore.”
A glint of panic flashed across Daring’s eyes as she turned to her sister. “What?”
Ditzy didn’t look up. “We’re off the list. Have been for more than five years, apparently.”
“Horseapples, has it been that long?” Daring mumbled under her breath. She faced the scowling pink mare with a far less confident smile. “Uh… heheh… well, all right them. How much for a ticket?”
“A hundred bits,” she answered with zero emotion.
Daring winced. “For all three of us?”
Ditzy groaned as Rainbow’s eyelids all but disappeared into her skull.
“Three hundred bits!?” she squeaked, turning to Daring. “Do we have that?”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve got three hundred bits stored away here in my fashionably zippered pockets,” Daring droned with an eye roll.
“Think you mares can hurry up?” a unicorn stallion asked from behind them. “There’s a whole line of ponies back here with our tickets ready.”
“Thaysahullinaponieswithaticketsreedy,” Daring mimicked in a nasally voice. “Shut up and gimme a minute, huh?”
Once again, she turned back to the pink mare whose shoulders appeared to have widened. “We don’t have three hundred bits,” she said matter-of-factly. “How else are we gonna get on this ship?”
“You’re not,” the guardpony growled.
“Oh, come on!” Daring whined, dropping her shoulders. “Can’t we, like, swab the deck or something?”
Rainbow blanched. “What? I’m not doin’ that!”
“We’ve got a full crew,” the thick pony drawled, “and nearly a full boat. If you can’t pay for passage, you don’t ride the ship.”
Daring gurgled in frustration and darted to Ditzy’s side. “You don’t have any bits on you? Any at all?”
Ditzy shook her head. Frantically, Daring turned to Rainbow with a pleading expression, but the cyan pegasus could only shake her head.
“Ponyfeathers!” Daring yelled, stomping her hoof on the ramp.
“Hey, think you can watch the language?” the same stallion asked. “There are kids in this line.”
“What are you, the Passenger’s Spokespony for Swift and Moral Conduct?” Daring snapped at him. “Come on, kid, let’s get out of here. Ditzy, you better come, too.”
As the three of them lifted into the air, the big mare’s lips curled into a mean smirk. “See ya, Wall Eyes,” she hummed. More of Ditzy’s mane fell from her helmet to cover her hot face. Daring had to bite her tongue to keep from erupting any further.
The three of them fluttered back down the docks where a sparse number of ponies still went about their watery business. Landing by the crates of seaweed, Daring dragged a hoof over her tightly shut eyes.
“Well, this sucks,” she said. “Celestia’s saddle, I wish we were in Vanhoover.”
“Why?” asked Rainbow Dash. “Is that where you live?”
“Yeah. S’where my bank is, too.”
Ditzy was holding one hoof in front of her face and desperately trying to focus both eyes on it. A bead of sweat trailed down her neck as she asked, “Who do you—ngh—bank with?”
“Uh… something like Bite and Brittle…” she said, waving a hoof around.
“Bit and Bridle Banking?” Ditzy clarified, one eye swiveling to glare at her. “Daring, that’s a national company. They have branches all over Equestria.”
“Yeah, there’s even one in Ponyville,” Rainbow remembered. “It’s right by the mail office, I think.”
Ditzy nodded as Daring’s eyes grew wide.
“Is there a branch in Manehattan?” she asked.
Ditzy snorted, dropping her hoof. “I’m sure that if there’s one in Ponyville, they’ll have one in Manehattan.”
With a harsh flap of her wings, Daring took the air. “Well, let’s find it! Come on, we don’t have all day!”
She took off toward Manehattan proper, leaving Ditzy and Rainbow to glance at each other.
“Is she always this—”
Rainbow smiled a little. “I was gonna say funny.”
The balance of Daring Do’s primary account was enough to make Ditzy’s jaw drop.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Daring said breathlessly. “Pull, like, four hundred bits out of that.”
With a professional nod, the teller used her magic to write something in a log and moved away from the window separating her from three panting pegasi.
Rainbow Dash’s pupils were the size of pinpricks. “You made all that… on your adventures?” she asked.
Daring snickered. “What? No way! There’s barely a bit in that line of work, kid. Ditzy made us donate practically everything we found to museums and crap.”
“I did not!” Ditzy said. “We made more than enough money to get by, Daring.”
“Okay, we were pretty well off,” the mustard mare admitted, “but I didn’t start making the big bits until my first novel hit the market. Heheh… now that was a good looking paycheck.”
Rainbow’s eyes shifted from Daring’s brazen grin to Ditzy’s crestfallen frown with increasing concern. “Ditzy…” she started, clearing her throat. “Not to be rude or whatever, but… I always kinda thought you were poor.”
“I am poor,” the mailmare confirmed, shuffling all four of her hooves as her tail swished back and forth. “When I came back to Equestria from Haissan, I started all over in Ponyville without a single bit to my name.”
“Oh, please,” Daring guffawed, refusing to look at her sister. “You could have had all the money in the world. Don’t go mopin’ around like some kind of martyr.”
Ditzy’s features hardened. “Oh, but of course, Daring. I could have taken all the money I wanted from Alula. At the tap of my hoof, he would have bagged it right up and arranged for a luxury yacht to sail me back to Equestrian soil.”
“Geez, someone’s on a sarcasm kick,” Daring grumbled. “That’s not what I meant, Ditz, and you know it. You could have just asked me.”
Ditzy’s laugh was airy and cold. “Oh, is that right? All I had to do was write a letter to the sister who our mother hadn’t seen or heard from since Dad died?”
“Whoa, chillax!” Rainbow said, trotting to Ditzy’s side and resting a hoof on her shoulder. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”
Daring lowered her head a little. “No, she… she’s right, kid. I could have helped out.” She clicked her tongue and looked away. “I should have.”
Ditzy’s ears swiveled toward her sister, but nothing else came from the yellow mare’s mouth until the teller returned to the window with a bulging bag of coins.
“How much is in there?” she asked.
“Four hundred bits, Miss Do,” the grey unicorn answered, “just as you requested. Will that be all?”
Daring took the heavy pouch and dropped it in her saddlebag. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Would you like an updated receipt with your current balance?”
“Uh… sure, why not?” Daring said, hoisting the weighted saddlebag to the space behind her wing joints.
The unicorn scribbled a set of numbers onto a thin sheet of paper and passed it through the hole at the bottom of her window. “Have a nice day, Miss Do,” she said blandly.
“I hope to,” Daring said with a nervous smile at her companions. “Come on, slowpokes, let’s hope the ship isn’t full yet!”
She galloped to the B&B building’s front doors and burst into the streets, flying out of sight before either Rainbow or Ditzy even moved. They were too distracted by the receipt that drifted unremembered to the bank’s marble floor. The number at its bottom seemed to laugh in both their faces.
“That’s a lot of bits,” Rainbow squeaked. Ditzy could only gulp.
“But don’tcha wanna get yer Cutie Mark soon?” Apple Bloom asked. Her exasperated expression, matching those of Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo exactly, made Dinky Doo giggle into the curve of her hoof.
“I guess so,” she said with a shrug, “but I’m sure it’ll come when I’m ready for it. There’s no sense in hurrying through these years when we’re young. I’ll just keep practicing the things I know I’m good at until I find my super special talent.” She closed her eyes in a smile.
“Awwww…” Sweetie Belle cooed. “That’s such a good attitude, Dinky!”
“And a boring one!” Scootaloo rasped, sticking her tongue past her teeth in disgust. “Besides, if you already know what you’re good at, why don’t you have your Cutie Mark yet?”
Dinky tilted her head. “Just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean it’s part of who I am. Think of my mom! She’s great at delivering the mail, but she doesn’t have a letter-shaped Cutie Mark.”
“She’s not that good at delivering the mail,” Scootaloo grumbled under her breath.
“What does your momma’s Cutie Mark mean, Dinky?” Apple Bloom asked. “I’ve always wondered what special talent had to do with a bunch o’ bubbles.”
“Hmmm…” Dinky put a tiny hoof to her chin. “I dunno. I’ve never asked her.” She pulled her shoulders up to her cheeks. “But to me, it’s a reminder that our love will never pop.”
Sweetie Belle squealed. “Dinky, stop it! How can you possibly be so adorable?”
“Heehee…” The periwinkle filly flicked a humble hoof. “Oh, Sweetie Belle, you’re one to talk! You know all the colts at school are crazy about you.”
Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “They’re crazy about my sister, you mean.”
“I just think they’re crazy,” Scootaloo piped up, inspiring a quartet of youthful laughter.
Apple Bloom thumped her hoof absentmindedly against the trunk of the birch tree shading them all. She looked out into the quiet streets of western Ponyville and waved to Pinkie Pie in the window of Sugarcube Corner. The party pony didn’t seem to notice, staring into space.
“What d’y’all think’s wrong with Pinkie?” she asked.
“I’ve always thought she eats too much sugar,” Sweetie Belle said.
Scootaloo snorted. “No way. I’m pretty sure she got dropped as a foal.”
Apple Bloom clicked her tongue while Dinky giggled. “No, girls. I mean right now. Look at ‘er!” She pointed at the window where Pinkie stood despondent.
Dinky frowned. “Oh, dear! She looks sad.”
“Maybe the Corner ran out of ingredients,” Sweetie Belle guessed.
“Or maybe she’s thinking about the Cake twins,” Scootaloo said in sullen monotone.
The four fillies grew very still and quiet, staring with feigned interest at the grass beneath their bellies.
“Do you think they’ll… be okay?” Sweetie asked.
Apple Bloom squared her shoulders. “Sure they will! They’ve got Dinky’s mom, Rainbow Dash, and Daring Do herself lookin’ for ‘em!”
“I don’t know…” Dinky admitted, rubbing her front hooves over each other. “You remember what my mom said about Daring. I don’t think they’ll work together very well. And—no offense, Scootaloo—Rainbow Dash would be right there to save the foals if they were gonna get squished or something, but… finding foalnappers? That doesn’t really seem like her forte.”
Apple Bloom bit her lip. “Well… that might have a lick o’ truth to it.” She forced a small smile and said, “Even so, that’s one heck of a team if I ever saw one! If that crew cain’t find the Cakes’ little foals, I don’t know who could.”
Scootaloo’s head rose slowly from her forelegs. “I do,” she said.
Her friends snapped their heads toward her. “Huh?”
The orange filly’s purple eyes were glowing with epiphany. “I know a group who could find the foals faster than you can say cockatrice!”
Apple Bloom perked up. “Who?”
“A crew made up of the bestest friends who work together perfectly!”
“Who?” Sweetie Belle joined in the chorus.
“A partnership of ponies unified by friendship, awesomeness, and all-too-often tree sap!”
“Who!? Who!? Who!?” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom pranced around their orange friend with escalating volume and excitement.
Dinky gasped and shot her hoof into the air. “Of course! The Cutie Mark Crusaders!”
“YEAH!” the CMC rejoiced in unison, leaping into the air and slapping their orange, yellow, and milky white hooves together. “CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS FOAL FINDERS, YAY!”
They dropped to the ground with equally unsatisfied expressions, scanning the grass, tree, and sky as if to find a better name.
“Cutie Mark Crusaders Cake Baby Bringer Backers?” Apple Bloom suggested.
“Cutie Mark Crusaders… Baby Acquisition Program?” Sweetie Belle squeaked.
Again, a gasp of victory expanded Dinky’s lungs. “Cutie Mark Crusaders Taken Twin Trackers!”
The trio exploded again, jumping high with a resounding cheer. They stayed suspended in the air for a moment with their hooves poised for collision and glanced expectantly at Dinky grinning below.
“Uh… ain’t ya gonna jump in?” Apple Bloom asked.
Dinky leaned back. “What?”
The Crusaders dropped from their seats in the air and landed on their rumps.
“Come on, Dinky. You’ve gotta do the cheer with us!” Sweetie Belle said.
“But… I’m not a Cutie Mark Crusader,” she said, blinking.
“You are today!” Scootaloo announced. “Dinky Doo: Honorary Cutie Mark Crusader!”
The title brought a delighted shade of violet to Dinky’s cheeks. “Golly, do you mean it? I’m honored! But…” She blushed even deeper. “I don’t know, girls… I’m not as brave as you three. And I don’t think my mommy would want me to leave Ponyville, not to mention Miss Twilight…”
“I’m sure it won’t take very long,” Sweetie Belle said. “We’re reeeally good at finding stuff.”
“Yeah! Besides, don’tcha remember? We promised yer momma and Twilight that we’d take good care o’ ya.” Apple Bloom beamed proudly. “You’ve got nothin’ to worry about. The Cutie Mark Crusaders’ll make sure no harm comes yer way.”
“It certainly sounds exciting,” Dinky admitted, smoothing down her mane. Her ears pressed against her skull. “I just… don’t wanna make Mommy sad again by running off. She told me to stay at the library.”
“But think about it, Dinky!” Scootaloo said, throwing a hoof around her friend’s shoulder. “Imagine trotting back into Ponyville with the Cake Twins on our backs, heads held high, wings outstretched! Think of how proud Rainbow Da—er—your mom will be!” She offered the filly an ear-to-ear smile. “Can you think of anything more awesome than impressing your mom?”
“Uh… yes?” Dinky pulled a wonky grin.
Scootaloo’s face fell. “Oh, come on, Dinky! You’ve gotta come with us!” She fell to her knees and pled with her front hooves. Her best friends were soon at her sides, copying her position. “You’re super smart—”
“—and we can’t find the twins without you! And we’ve gotta find ‘em and prove to everypony how awesome we are, and how much we deserve some of their attention!”
With glistening eyes, all three of the fillies crooned, “Pleeeeeease?”
With a bubbly laugh, Dinky closed her eyes and nodded. “Okay, fine! I’ll come with you! But you have to promise we’ll be safe.”
“Of course we will!” Apple Bloom said, exploding from her knees. “All we have t’do is take the train to Manehattan, find out where yer momma went with Rainbow Dash and Daring, follow their trail, and use our super sleuthy skills to track down the Cake twins!”
“Sounds easy enough to me!” Scootaloo said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
All four of their tiny hooves pushed off the ground a final time and connected in a central pinwheel of color. The resounding smack of the four-way hoof bump punctuated their earsplitting cheer with a bold exclamation point.
“CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS TAKEN TWIN TRACKERS! YAY!”
The airship itself—the giant craft secured to the floating zeppelin above—was entirely composed of wood and light metals. Its exterior paintjob of murky greens and greys blended its panels of material seamlessly, if unpleasantly, and the lack of any visible windows made Rainbow Dash uneasy. In structure, it reminded her of an old pirate ship, the kind she saw in decorations during Nightmare Night. Thanks to the early-evening Sun and the scores of everyday ponies navigating its open deck, however, the ship was far from frightening. The only pirate-y elements were the burly ponies serving in the crew.
Rainbow Dash and Ditzy arrived at the top of the ramp just as Daring finished counting out three hundred bits. The same pink, bulky mare collected them in a separate pouch and allowed the trio of pegasi to pass her undisturbed. With a collective sigh, they joined in the airborne throngs and listened to the metal ramps fold up along the outside of the hull.
“Does that mean we’re taking off already?” Rainbow asked.
“You bet, kid!” Daring thundered, laughing with relief. “That was a close call. Too close for my liking. Who knew that free intercontinental travel expired with new management, huh?” She grinned and shook her head, watching the hordes of passenger ponies move this way and that.
Rainbow gulped. “So… how does this work?” she called over the noise of the crowd. “Do we have a room or something? She didn’t give us a ticket.”
“Ooo, good point!” Daring said, whipping around to find the pink security mare, but she was already gone. “Ponyfeathers. Guess we’ll have to look around for an empty room when it’s sleepy-time.”
“Or we could just ask somepony,” Ditzy said tersely. “They keep thorough records of that kind of thing, I’m sure.”
“You mean they run a tight ship?” Daring asked, following by a torrent of self-appreciating laughter. She wiped a tear from her eye and took the air, hovering some distance above the crowd.
“Are there many other pegasi on this flight?” Ditzy asked up to her.
Daring’s eyes swept over the crowd. “Doesn’t look like it. Seems to be mostly earth ponies, actually.”
“Why are this many ponies going to Haissan?” Rainbow asked into Ditzy’s ear.
“They’re not all headed for Haissan,” Ditzy explained. “This ship goes back and forth between the North Amareican and Stirropean continents. There are several countries over there; Haissan is actually one of the smallest.”
Rainbow blinked. “Stirrope? Isn’t that, like, where the griffons live?”
Ditzy smirked. “You got it. If I remember right, you had a griffon friend visit you in Ponyville not too long ago.”
Rainbow pawed at the wooden planks beneath them. “Yeah… Gilda. She came by about a year ago, I guess. We haven’t talked since.”
Ditzy laughed through her nose. “I know how that is,” she said, swiveling one eye at her airborne sister.
Daring dropped back to her hooves and addressed her companions in a loud voice. “Might as well make ourselves comfortable. There’s a lot of heavy ponies on this rig and it’ll probably be a two day trip.”
Rainbow’s jaw fell slack. “Two days?” She turned to Ditzy. “How long do you think it’ll take the foalnappers to get across in their submarine?”
The mailmare winced. “Not two days. Probably not even one.”
Groaning, Rainbow fluttered her wings. “I can’t believe we let them get away! What if something horrible happens to them?”
“They’ll be okay,” Ditzy said with more confidence than she felt. “If Alula really is the one behind this, he wouldn’t dare hurt a couple of innocent foals.”
“And if he’s not behind it?” Rainbow asked.
Ditzy was silent.
“Then we’ll get to beat up somepony else!” Daring answered with an encouraging oomph to her voice. “So come on, girls. We’re not helping anypony by moping around the deck. Let’s go find the bar in this floating hunk of horseapples!”
She turned around and began to weave between ponies while Rainbow’s eyebrows came together.
“Bar?” she said. “There’s a bar in here?”
“There’s all sorts of venues in this kind of a ship,” Ditzy explained. “Why do you think it cost a hundred bits a pony?” She followed Daring’s lead at a far slower pace. With lowered ears, Rainbow took to the air instead, keeping an eye on the goldenrod streak snaking through the masses.
Like most ships of its size, the deck was split into two levels. The majority of its bustling passengers were swarming the lower, larger section. The upper level was accessible by two staircases on either side of the ship. The wall between them bore several doors into which ponies were pouring. Rainbow realized they led to the floors below deck. It was through the centermost portal that Daring disappeared from Rainbow’s sight, encouraging the cyan mare to dive in its direction.
“Hey, buzzard! Watch what you’re doing!” somepony screeched from below. Rainbow froze midflight and dropped her suddenly fiery gaze.
“Who said that?” she yelled, zipping over an area of several dozen ponies like a wasp. “Come on! Speak up! Who called me a frickin’ buzzard?”
“Hey, calm down, lady!” another voice called up. “Just stay on your hooves like the rest of us and you won’t have to worry about it.”
A few low voices laughed at that, fueling Rainbow’s fury.
“That’s it!” She lifted her hooves and danced back and forth in the air. “You wanna go, pal? Let’s go! Show yourself!”
The crowd went silent at the strain in her voice. Ditzy swooped in from behind and grabbed Rainbow Dash around the waist.
“Hey!” she shouted, trying to wriggle out of Ditzy’s grasp. “Lemme go!”
“Déjà vu?” Ditzy whispered into her ear. “Ignore them, Rainbow. Let’s catch up to Daring before she does anything stupid. Or anything at all, really.”
Rainbow kicked and squirmed for another couple of seconds but soon gave up, forcing herself to go limp in the mailmare’s surprisingly powerful grip. Ditzy’s wings carried them both over a scowling crowd and landed in a narrow gap some five ponylengths from the middle door. Rainbow’s limp tail flicked someone in the ear upon descent.
“Hey, watch it, featherbrain!” the mare yelled from behind while Rainbow planted her hooves on the deck. Though her face flushed, she remained silent and followed Ditzy closely. They converged with a river of ponies and rushed through the open doorway, forcing them into a dark, narrow staircase ten times more crowded than outside.
“Where does this lead?” Rainbow shouted over the harsh, contained noise.
“Bunking compartments,” Ditzy said. “Another few floors down is where we’ll find Daring.”
Rainbow dodged a random limb and narrowly avoided getting whipped in the face with a long, red mane. “How do you know that?” she asked.
Ditzy turned just enough for Rainbow to see her dimly lit grimace. “That’s where the bar is.”
Rainbow pushed past a couple of scrawny stallions and pressed herself against Ditzy’s side. “She’s not, like… an alcoholic or anything, is she?”
“Not that I know of,” Ditzy said, “but she’s always had a taste for hard cider.”
The bottom of the staircase opened into an artificially lit hallway lined on both sides by tall, horseshoe shaped doors. Rainbow and Ditzy hurried through the tiny hallway, finding it to be less crowded as they went along. Through some open doors, Rainbow took note of the small, two-cot, colorless rooms lined along the hallway. She winced at how small and uncomfortable they looked, longing for a fluffy cloud to nap on for ten minutes.
That hallway led into a larger chamber housing all sorts of refreshments: bushels of apples, tables of greens, and even a multi-shelved tray of small muffins. Ditzy eyed the pastries briefly before surveying the open doorways all around the room. It branched off into what appeared to be a dozen identical housing hallways. One portal, shaped differently than the rest, indicated another staircase. A steady stream of ponies were passing through it.
“Stay close,” Ditzy said to Rainbow.
She frowned. “Why?”
“Things might get a bit wild down there.”
She trotted onward with Rainbow right behind. “I can handle wild just fine,” Rainbow grumbled to herself. “I’m not Fluttershy.”
The next floor down was, in fact, wilder. Another chamber leading into even dimmer hallways shook with the rambunctious noise of poorer Stirrope-bound. Ditzy guided them quickly to another staircase on the opposite wall of the room. The sign above it read “18+” and bore the image of a martini glass.
Rainbow caught Ditzy by the shoulder and shouted, “Isn’t it usually twenty-one and up?”
Ditzy smirked. “Not in Stirrope!” she yelled back, and dove into the darkest stairwell yet.
Rainbow swallowed down a lump in her throat and glided after the mailmare on tense wings. “Some ropes you’re showing me, Daring,” she mumbled.