Until She Lowers Her Guard
Ditzy clutched the carpet’s tassels as she barreled toward the sky. Her lips flapped around her teeth, her eyes watered and stung from the wind, and her mane flattened against her skull while the carpet carried her away from her friend, her sister, and the raging inferno below them all.
She burst through the top of the chute, entering a glade of tall, skinny trees. Almost instantly, she passed them, too, opening her wings in an attempt to slow the carpet. Focusing with all her might on controlling its magic, the enchanted carpet eventually slowed to a stop among the wispy clouds. Ditzy took only a few seconds to glance at the Moon glowing silver overhead while the blinking stars applauded her escape.
Tearing her distorted gaze away from the beauty of Haissan’s sky, she peered over the edge of the carpet at the glade below. Blinking, she focused her eyes enough to gauge its distance from the nearby palace. It stood, in all its majesty, not terribly far from where she hovered; from her height Ditzy could see over the walls into the large central garden. If the entrance to their prison truly lay among those shrubs, they must have traveled more than a mile underground to emerge from the small gathering of tall trees below.
A jet of flame suddenly burst from the hidden entrance to the carpet’s chamber. Even from a hundred feet above, Ditzy’s mane billowed in the wave of heat it threw in all directions.
Suddenly, the door swung open, bringing in a gust of wind to tousle Ditzy’s hair. Danger Doo bounded 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. He laughed, rich and low and fast, like a happy train speeding down the tracks. The fillies buried themselves in the dark grey fur of his chest, wrestling with each other to be closest to his heartbeat.
“Did you find it, Daddy?” Daring asked. “Did you find what you went looking for?”
His rosy eyes twinkled at her. His teeth sparkled in an impish, goading smile. “Do you think I found it, darling?”
“Of course you did! Of course you did!” Daring and Ditzy chorused, 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.
“How much do you love Mommy?”
“I love your mother all the way to the Moon.”
“And how much do you love us, Daddy?”
“I love you to the Moon and back, my darlings.”
Everypony’s special. What you do matters.
“What have I done?”
Ditzy coughed on fumes as the pillar of fire burnt itself out, leaving a charred circle in the midst of the thirty odd trees. She couldn’t blink or breathe. Her lungs convulsed, pushing her ribcage in and out in sickly, jolting rhythms. “Daring!” she wheezed, collapsing on the carpet. She dropped a forehoof over the edge and reached as far down as she dared. “Oh, no… Daring, I…”
She clenched her jaw and rolled onto her back, fighting the tears for as long as she could. One eye examined a distant constellation while the other stared directly at the Moon.
“I love you to the Moon and back, my darlings.”
“Daddy… I didn’t mean to…”
Her ribs contracted against her insides until boiling tears squeezed from the outer corners of her eyes, darkening the light grey fur on the sides of her head just below her ears. They disappeared into her crumpled yellow mane, one after another, until she was sure a puddle had built on the surface of the carpet under her head.
“Daring…” she choked again, expecting to complete a sentence. Instead, her throat tightened, casting a tormented whine into the quiet air. “Ohhh, Daring…” Curling into a ball in the center of the rug, Ditzy lay on her side and sobbed, clutching her tail between her forelegs.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered into the tips of her tail hairs. “I should have… we were both… I’m so, so sorry.”
In an instant, her eyes flew open and focused perfectly on the Moon. She glared at its glory from under her brow, and though the chemical fire had long died out, its light burned behind her golden orbs.
“I swear he’ll pay for this,” she seethed, another wave of tears spilling onto her cheeks. “All of it!”
Thrusting aside her mourning for an unmarked future point, Ditzy took control of the carpet and sped back to the palace.
Beads of sweat ran all the way down Rainbow Dash’s body, dripping from the end of her tail and into the hissing tongues of fire below. Though a pressure wave caused by the heat was keeping her ahead of the flames, she couldn’t outfly the explosion for long, not with Daring in her grasp. Her eyes spiraled frantically along the walls of the well-like chamber, searching for some kind of alternate escape.
Miraculously, she found one—an offshoot so nearly invisible that, were it not for the shadow cast by the fire, she may never have noticed. Without a second glance, Rainbow screamed and directed every ounce of energy into her wings. Angling herself and her passenger just right, she slipped into the narrow tunnel, too confined to spread her wings. Rearranging Daring on her back, Rainbow ran as fast as she could until she collapsed some fifteen yards along the upward sloping path. Certain it wasn’t far enough to escape the flames, she spread herself over Daring and ground her teeth together, waiting for the wicked heat to roast them both alive.
The volume of her quickening breath drowned out every other sound. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter, angry at Alula, angry at the fire, angry at how long it was taking to…
One of her eyes popped open. The steady roar of the fire had stopped. She sat up and looked back, expecting a wall of flame, but saw instead a wall of solid stone.
“What the…?” She tried to stand up, only for her exhausted body to fail after such a narrow escape. Pushing herself against the wall of the tunnel, she leaned into its cold relief and coughed out a long string of laughter. “Thanks, Piedra!” she shouted, pounding weakly on the rock. “I knew you wouldn’t let us down.”
The absent alicorn didn’t answer, but he didn’t have to. Rainbow smiled, checking herself for any major burns. The ends of her mane, wings, and tail were singed black from the sheer heat, but other than a slight irritation in her lungs, she felt fine.
“Phew!” she sighed, pulling Daring’s body close to her side and slumping onto her shoulder. “That was way too frickin’ close. Right, Daring?”
The limp mare twitched.
Rainbow nodded. “Right.”
After taking three deep breaths, Rainbow hopped back onto her hooves and shook a dozen heat-curled feathers from her wings. “All right, no time to sit around. Ditzy prob’ly thinks we’re dead, and that means we oughtta find her as soon as possible. I’m sure you’ll agree.” Lifting the mute pony onto her back, Rainbow marched further up the slope. “Well, Daring, you may have lost most of your wing,” she continued, her voice bouncing off the tunnel walls, “but you can’t say you didn’t get a pretty darn good story for your next book.”
She followed Piedra’s tunnel for a good ten minutes before stepping into a large, dim cube of rock filled with boxed treasures and sheet-covered statues.
“This must be the palace’s basement or something,” Rainbow whispered to Daring. “Look at all this stuff! Your dad would have had a hay day.”
“Rainbow? Rainbow Dash!”
The pegasus jumped at hearing that studious voice in such an unexpected place. “Twilight?” she asked, glancing around the obstructive objects.
The answer sounded muffled, like Twilight was shouting through a window. “Rainbow, I’m over here! In the mirror!”
Wilting at the prospect, Rainbow glanced at a tall, oval mirror leaned against the far side of the basement. “T-T-Twilight?” she stuttered, dropping Daring before hurrying to the looking-glass. “Twilight, how are you doing that?”
The blessedly familiar unicorn rolled her eyes. “Never mind me,” she snapped, clearly agitated by something. “Where in the world are you?” Her mane was frizzy and her eyes very wide, but other than that she seemed unscathed
Rainbow didn’t quite understand the question. “Huh?”
“Where are you!?” Twilight shrieked, startling Rainbow with her forcefulness.
“Uhhh… Haissan!” she said, rearranging her wings. “I’m in some kinda… I dunno, basement thing… connected to a big old chute that hid a flying carpet…”
Rainbow stomped a hoof. “Psh, it doesn’t matter! What are you doing here?”
“I’m not there,” Twilight said, adopting a philosophical tone. “I’m in the Wabe, but I can explain all that later. Well… I’ll try, anyway.” She leaned as if trying to peek around Rainbow. “Where’s Ditzy?”
“She made it out a different way. I’m gonna go find her right now.”
“Yes, okay, that’s great!” Twilight said, clapping her hooves. “Before you go, there’s something really important I need to tell you about the Sultan Alula!”
“What, that he’s evil?” Rainbow guessed.
Somehow, Twilight’s eyes widened even more. “How did you—”
“He locked us in a big creepy cave that nearly blew us to smithereens,” Rainbow summarized.
Twilight gasped. “Oh my gosh! Are you okay?”
Rainbow pointed a hoof at Daring. “She’s not. But yeah, I’m fine.”
Twilight’s lower eyelids tensed. “Oh, Rainbow, I hate to tell you, but I’m afraid it gets even worse. He’s planning on unleashing the creatures of Tartarus back into Equestria!”
Rainbow jumped. “What!? Why?”
“To overthrow Celestia! I saw him through this same portal. The conversation must have happened some time ago. Wait… when is this happening? When are you?”
Rainbow pulled her head back. “When am I? What the heck is that supposed to mean?”
Twilight bumped a hoof against the inside of the mirror. “How long ago did you leave Ponyville?”
Rainbow tried to work it out in her mind. “I dunno, like… three or four days ago?”
Twilight sighed. “Oh, good. That’s lucky.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry, Dash, but I don’t think we have much time,” she rattled. “Pinkie’s hurt, and apparently so is Daring. Go find Ditzy as fast as you can and let her know that Alula is planning to take over Equestria, but not until he finds his daughter, who I think must be Dinky.”
“Yeah, it is,” Rainbow confirmed, wincing for her friend. “Don’t tell anypony though, okay? She’s really embarrassed by it.”
“Who am I going to tell?” Twilight deadpanned. “The Bandersnatch?”
“The what now?” Rainbow asked, frowning.
Twilight swished her hoof around. “Never mind, go now! I’ll… I’ll see you back in Ponyville! Sooner than later!”
The weak smile on Twilight’s lips was far from reassuring, but Rainbow faked one of her own and returned to Daring’s side. “We sure will,” she called to her friend, replacing her partner on her back. Remembering something she had said, Rainbow added, “I’m glad you’re okay, Twi. Daring said you’ve been missing.”
“More than she’ll ever know,” Twilight replied. “Good luck, Dash!”
“Uh…” She shrugged. “You, too, I guess.”
A million questions fired in Rainbow’s head, but she pushed them down and turned her full attention to finding Ditzy. She raced up the steep cellar staircase to an overhead hatch. Pushing it open with the top of her head, Rainbow found herself in a small closet lit only by the torchlight that passed beneath the door.
“This better be the palace,” Rainbow muttered, “or we’re pretty much screwed.”
Tilting the hatch back, she sprung up to the higher ground and heaved Daring out of the hole. Shutting the trapdoor with her tail, Rainbow cracked the closet’s wooden door open and poked her eye into the hallway. Its familiarity was both a delight and a terror.
“We’re in!” Rainbow whispered. “Okay, now… if you were Ditzy, and you thought your sister was dead, where would you enter the palace from?”
“Don’t end sentences with from, kid. And I would just run away.”
Rainbow sat bolt upright and clicked the door shut before spinning around. “Daring! You’re awake!”
“Am I?” Daring droned, lying flat on her face. “I can’t tell yet.”
Rainbow laughed. “Come on, sit up! How do you feel?”
The adventuress wheezed through her teeth as Rainbow helped her to her haunches. Daring lifted a hoof to rub her head and habitually rotated her wings. She froze with a sharp gasp, locking her head straight before it could turn around on its own. “How bad is it?” she asked Rainbow.
“Uhh…” The singed pony bit her lip. “I haven’t really checked that closely, but… it’s pretty bad.”
“Well, duh. It’s totally numb. I can’t even feel it. Check right now,” Daring said, turning her back toward Rainbow.
“Ew! No way!” Rainbow yelped, scooting away from the tightly wrapped wound.
“Take off this stupid canvas thing you tied into my flesh and tell me how bad it is!” Daring snapped.
“Hey! That stupid canvas thing is my awesome shirt which I sacrificed for your life, thank you very much,” Rainbow yelled back. “And there’s no way in Tartarus you’re getting me to—hyyeuh!”
“What, what is it?”
“Tartarus!” Rainbow flapped her wings in agitation. “Alula’s gonna let loose the monsters in Tartarus so he can take over Equestria or something!”
Daring reeled on her. “What? How do you know that?”
“Twilight told me!”
“Your purple friend?”
“Yeah! She was inside a mirror downstairs!”
Daring’s eyelids drooped. “Oh. Um… how much of that colored smoke stuff did you breathe in?”
“I’m not kidding, Daring!” Rainbow yelled, pointing a serious hoof between the bleary mare’s eyes. “Twilight said she’s in someplace called the Wave or something, and she has some kinda portal that… I dunno, lets her see through mirrors!” Rainbow frowned at the stupidity of her own words, but shook away the doubt. “She saw Alula planning to overthrow Celestia, but first he wants to get his child out of harm’s way.”
Daring narrowed her eyes. “Well, if you’re telling your truth, that would make perfect sense.”
Rainbow blinked. “It would?”
“Sure. He always hated Celestia.” Daring shrugged. “In the book I made them out as a couple of old friends, but in reality he never wanted to talk about her, and whenever Ditzy or I would try to bring her up he’d get this freaky scowl on his face.” Her eyebrows crept up to her scalp. “Oh my gosh… I almost forgot. One time I did get him to say something about her.”
Rainbow moved closer. “Really? What?”
Daring knocked a hoof against the side of her head. “Ummm… I asked him something about… about why he didn’t like her? Maybe… oh!” She slammed her hooves together, beaming. “I asked him where he and other alicorns came from and why he wasn’t well known in Equestria. He told me that once he lived in Equestria, but that Celestia made him leave!”
Rainbow gaped. “No way!”
“That’s what he said! I asked him if he’d ever come back, and he told me, ‘Not until she lowers her guard.’ Now, that was back when nopony really knew much about Luna, so he must have been talking about Celestia, right? I didn’t really think much about it after that, but… maybe it’s important.”
“Well, yeah, I’d think so,” Rainbow scoffed. “But I’m no good at this kinda stuff! Maybe we should go down and see if Twilight’s still in the mirror. Or if we hurry, maybe we can find Dit—”
Something knocked three times on the closet door. Daring and Rainbow shut up instantly, sharing a terrified glance before fumbling with the hatch underhoof.
“Get off it!” Rainbow hissed.
“Move! I can’t—”
“Just hover a bit!”
“Oh, yeah, real funny!”
“What? Oh, gosh! Sorry, I forgot—”
“How’d you like me to make sure you never forget?”
“You ungrateful little… I just carried your fat flank on my back for—”
“Okay, I may not be in the best shape of my life, but I am not fat!”
“Come on, Daring, just—”
The door to the hallway opened; automatically, Rainbow lashed out a hind hoof. It connected with a pony’s jaw, followed by a girlish “Yoowch!”
Daring and Rainbow both turned to the newcomer. “Ditzy?”
“Geez, Rainbow Dash!” the blonde mare said through clenched teeth. “Here I was, all happy that you’re alive, and you buck me right in the face!”
“Ditzy, get in here!” Daring said, leaning forward to pull her sister into the tiny space. Rainbow closed the door behind her and they sat in a tight triangle.
Ditzy’s anger soon melted away. “Daring, I can’t believe you’re alive!” she said, throwing her hooves around her sister’s tender neck. “I heard you two shouting in here and I could hardly believe it! How did you escape the fire?”
“Piedra opened a tunnel for us,” Rainbow said, grinning. “Sorry about that, uh—”
Ditzy shushed her. “Piedra? Did you see him?”
“Well… no,” Rainbow admitted, “but this hole just, like… opened. And as soon as we were through, it closed again. And the tunnel led right to this underground storage place down these stairs.” She thumped her hoof on the hatch.
“That definitely sounds like Piedra,” Ditzy said with a sigh. “Oh, Rainbow, I’m so happy you’re okay!”
“We’ll hug and stuff later,” Rainbow said. “First, I have to tell you something that sounds crazy, but I promise it’s the truth. Like, Applejack promise.”
“Don’t you mean Pinkie Promise?” Ditzy asked with a giggle.
“I’m being serious!” Rainbow squeaked, wiggling her hooves above her head. “Listen, Ditzy: Twilight appeared in a mirror downstairs through some kind of portal, and she told me that she saw Alula plotting to take over Equestria by, like, opening the gates of Tartarus, but first he’s trying to find his kid.”
Ditzy gasped. “That’s why he tried to foalnap Dinky!”
“So, wait,” Daring said, removing her hat. “Are you saying that by stopping Alula we’re not just saving foals, but the entire country from imminent destruction?”
“Um… well, yeah, I guess.”
Daring grinned. “Heck yeah! This is gonna make the best book ever!”
Grunting, Ditzy punched her sister in the shoulder to silence her. “I’m gonna try really hard not to be mad at you because I was surprisingly sad when I thought you died, but don’t expect that to last for very long if you keep focusing on your stupid book.”
“Hey, if it wasn’t for my book, we never would have discovered Alula’s plan and saved Equestria.”
“We haven’t saved Equestria yet,” Ditzy reminded her, “but… yes, I guess you’re right.”
Satisfied, Daring crossed her forelegs over her chest and donned a proud smirk.
“Just so you know, you lost one of your wings,” Rainbow muttered. “It’s, like, ripped clean off.”
Daring’s face paled. “What!?” She jumped to all four hooves and turned her head around to view her left side. In a craze, she tore away the blood-soaked wrapping with her teeth to reveal a mangled stump of oozing flesh and crushed bone, surrounded by a halo of stained, crumpled feathers. Rainbow looked away in disgust while Ditzy watched her sister stare at her newest restriction.
A wave of pain dropped on Daring harder than a tsunami of lead. She screamed at the ceiling from the bottom of her lungs; blue and grey hooves were quick to cover her mouth. When the dulled shriek died with the light in her eyes, Daring dropped to the floor in a heap, and the greatest mare in all of Equestria bawled like a newborn foal.
“My wing! My frickin’ beautiful, glorious wing!” She choked and hiccupped into the hard, indifferent ground. “Sweet Celestia’s secret suitor, my wing is gone!”
“Calm down, Daring!” Rainbow said. “You’re gonna give us away!”
“Shut up! I don’t care! Let them find us!” She wiggled her hooves in the air and shook her face, distorted with grief. “You can tell me to calm down once your wing is ripped out of its socket, Miss Junior Speedster!”
“It wasn’t ripped out of its socket…” Rainbow mumbled under her breath.
Ditzy tried to wrap her hooves around one of Daring’s flailing appendages. “Daring, it’ll be okay…”
“Ruined! Disgraced! Cut down! Disabled!”
“Daring, listen to me.”
“Landbound for the rest of my life, cursed to spiral when I fall!”
“Daring, the carpet will heal you!”
Daring stopped her sobs at once, hope shining in her eyes. “Really?”
“Of course! All we need to do is get you and the carpet to a skilled unicorn and your wing will be healed.”
“Yussss!” Daring cheered, punching one hoof into the air as she stood on her hind legs. “Daring Do is back in aaAAHH!” With only one wing to stabilize herself, Daring toppled over and landed on Rainbow, collapsing both of them into the corner of the closet.
“All right, that’s quite enough,” Ditzy said, helping to unscramble them. “Rainbow, what else did Twilight tell you?”
“Uh… nothing much.” Shoving Daring away, she tried to smooth out her tail as she rehearsed the unicorn’s message. “Just that Alula wants to take over Equestria, something about Pinkie being hurt…”
“Oh no! Should we be worried?”
Rainbow lifted an eyebrow. “About Pinkie Pie? Uh, no. That pony will survive the apocalypse.”
Ditzy smirked. “Well, then, I guess the only thing we can do is face Alula together and try to talk some sense into him.”
“Pffff… whaaa?” Daring snorted. “Geez, Ditz, for being the smart one, you sure come up with some dumb ideas. Alula’s not gonna listen to us. The best thing we can do is fly home on the carpet and get my wing fixed.”
Ditzy opened her mouth to argue, but Rainbow held up a hoof.
“She’s kinda right! We need help, and we need to keep Dinky out of his hooves. As long as she’s in Equestria, he won’t attack. We can tell Princess Celestia… or, heck, Twilight’s probably already doing that! The best thing for all of us is to get out of here without any more… accidents.”
Daring nodded through her every word. “Yeah! Yeah, exactly. See, Ditz? The kid’s got it.”
Ditzy sighed. “Okay, fine. I hid the carpet near the window where I snuck in. The room is just down the hall. But we need to be careful; Alula’s throne room is right above us. Don’t make too much noise.”
“Aye-aye, Sis,” Daring said.
With an encouraging nod, Ditzy swung open the closet door—and froze in her tracks.
The periwinkle foal dove into her mother’s arms while an orange filly wrapped herself around her hero’s leg. Sweetie Belle’s bright green eyes magnetized on Daring’s missing wing, and Apple Bloom just sort of stood there and scuffed at the ground.
“Dinky!” Ditzy hissed angrily, even while she held her daughter in a tight embrace. “What are you doing here?”
“Adventuring!” the foal squeaked. “Just like you!”
“How did you get here?” Rainbow asked the orange filly at her knee.
She and Apple Bloom exchanged a glance. “It’s a long story,” Scootaloo said, backing away from Rainbow to look into her eyes. “We’re trying to find the foals for you!”
Ditzy’s eyes zoned in on the pink-haired pegasus. “How dare you pull my daughter into your half-brained, dangerous—”
“It’s okay, Ditzy!” Rainbow said, stopping her rant. “It was stupid of them, yeah, but what can we do now? At least they’re alive—somehow—and at least we found them before anypony else.”
Ditzy’s eye twitched, but after a few deep breaths, she nodded. “You’re right, of course. I’m sorry, Scootaloo.”
The filly gulped and bowed her head. “It’s okay, Miss Derpy.”
“Ditzy,” Sweetie whispered.
“Ditzy,” Scootaloo said in the same monotone. “I didn’t think you’d be mad at us.”
Daring looked from filly to filly with an amused expression. “Your parents let you travel halfway across the globe by yourselves?”
“Of course they didn’t, Daring,” Ditzy chastised with an eye roll, stroking her daughter’s mane.
“Applejack must be freaking out!” Rainbow said to Apple Bloom. “Do you guys know how long you’ve been gone?”
“Just a couple of days!” Scootaloo said, beaming. “After the foalnappers got away, we thought it was gonna take years to cross the ocean, but—oof!" Rubbing the spot on her ribs where Sweetie Belle had just kicked her, Scootaloo smiled weakly. "Uhhh... but it didn't! Isn’t that cool?”
“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Dinky asked as her mother’s teardrops reached the top of her head.
Ditzy blew a long sigh through her nose and bent to Dinky’s eye level. “Honey, it’s very unsafe for you to be here,” she said with all the seriousness she could muster.
Dinky’s brow creased with worry. “It is? Why?”
Grimacing, Ditzy said, “I can’t explain it right now, but you need to get back to Equestria as soon as possible.” Turning her head, she continued, “Rainbow Dash, I need you to take Dinky back to the coast right now. Keep her hidden, and find a way home.”
“But why, Mommy?” Dinky asked again.
Ditzy ignored her, speaking to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. “You three are going to stick very close to Daring and I. We’ll get you home safely… somehow.”
“What about my wing and the carpet?” Daring whined.
Ditzy shot her a silencing glare. Daring averted her eyes to the ground, flattening her ears.
“You need to go with Rainbow Dash, darling,” Ditzy prompted, nudging her toward the hesitant blue pegasus with the end of her snout.
Dinky glanced at Sweetie Belle. They shared a short and solemn look that instantly broadened the tiny pony’s shoulders. She slammed her hooves into the ground as a golden spark jumped from the tip of her horn. “No!” she exclaimed, a sudden gust of wind whipping through her mane. “I’m a big girl, Mommy. I’m smart and I’m strong, and I want to know the truth. Why do I have to go back to Equestria? Why can’t I help you find the Cakes' twins?”
Ditzy stepped back, shocked into silence.
“The Cakes are safe, kid,” Rainbow Dash said. “Daring took them back home.”
Scootaloo wilted on the spot. “What? Aaahhh, come on! Every time I try to…” She grunted as her words trailed off, spinning away from Rainbow Dash and storming off to stare at the hallway’s far wall.
“Well, that’s good,” Dinky admitted to Rainbow, “but I still want to know why you think it’s so dangerous for me, Mommy. Look how far I’ve already come! I’m not a little pony anymore. I’ll get my Cutie Mark soon, and I’m old enough to know you’ve been keeping lots of secrets.”
Ditzy bit her lip and turned her face away from her daughter. Immediately, Dinky rushed forward, lifting her hooves to rest them against her mother’s chest. “I’m not mad at you, Mommy,” Dinky assured her. “I understand you can’t tell me everything right away, but at least tell me why I’m not allowed to stay with you!”
The poor mailmare’s breath quickened as her brow wrinkled. “Dinky, darling, I wish I could say, but there’s just so much you wouldn’t—”
“I’ll understand!” Dinky said, tapping her hooves into Ditzy’s fur. “You’re always telling me how smart I am and how quick I pick up on things. I promise I’ll listen very close, and if there are parts I don’t understand, I’ll ask about them when we get home.”
One of Ditzy’s eyes swiveled fast to meet her daughter’s pleading gaze.
“Please, Mommy?” Dinky asked, pressed her cheek into Ditzy’s sternum. “Please, I really need to know.”
Ditzy looked to Daring first, and then to Rainbow Dash. Though she looked as if she was in pain, Rainbow nodded firmly. After a long moment, Ditzy nodded, too. “All right,” she said, kneeling down. “All right, here it is. The honest truth.”
Dinky’s eyes and ears tuned in on her mother’s face, etched with every sign of love and effort.
“This is all about your father, Dinky,” she bravely said. Dinky let out a quick sigh and stole another glance at Sweetie, but nodded at her mother and continued to listen. “I met him eight years ago right here in this palace. He’s the ruler of this country, Dinky, and he’s a very powerful pony.”
“He’s an alicorn, isn’t he?” Sweetie Belle asked.
Ditzy’s jaw wavered with surprise, but she composed herself quickly and answered, “Yes, he’s an alicorn.”
Scootaloo bounded across the hall and stood by Apple Bloom. “That is so cool!” she squealed.
“No, Scootaloo, it’s not,” Ditzy said, crushed to see her daughter’s momentary smile fall.
“No,” Ditzy repeated, shaking her head. “Your father, Alula, is planning to break open the gates of Tartarus and let all of the scary monsters out so that he can defeat Celestia while she tries to save her subjects.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders, including their honorary member, gasped in unison. “He’s aimin’ to kill the princess?” Apple Bloom asked.
“He wants to dethrone her and rule Equestria,” Ditzy clarified, bringing her forehooves to her daughter’s shoulders. “I know this must be very hard for you, Dinky, but the only reason he hasn’t attacked yet is because he’s been looking for you.”
The little pony’s golden eyes, so much like her mother’s, shrunk. “Me?”
“Yes. He doesn’t want you to be there when he lets the monsters out,” Ditzy explained. “If he finds you here, he will not hesitate to begin his plan, so you must get back as soon as possible."
Dinky’s lower jaw stuck forward. “Why does he want to do that?”
Ditzy blinked. “Do what, darling?”
“Why does he want to dethrone Celestia?”
“Because… well, because he doesn’t like her.”
“I’m not sure, Dinky. He never told me.”
Dinky took a number of deep, thoughtful breaths in her mother’s grasp, staring at a spot on the ground. Finally she nodded to herself, backed out of Ditzy’s reach, and took off running down the hallway.
“Dinky!” Ditzy called out, chasing after the foal. “Dinky, stop right now!”
“We have to know, Mommy!”
“Dinky, you stop right now! You don’t have to know everything to be—”
The unicorn looked over her shoulder without slowing her sprint. “It’s not for me. We all have to know, or it will never end.”
For some reason, the words made Ditzy stop in the center of the hallway. Her rational mind screamed at her to keep going, to flap her wings once or twice and scoop her daughter off the floor, but something kept her frozen until Dinky disappeared around a corner.
“Whattaya doin’, Ditz?” Daring screamed, snapping the grey mare out of her trance. “We can’t let the poor thing face Alula alone!”
“We can’t let her face him at all!” Ditzy said, galloping forward. “Dinky, wait! You can’t do this!”
Scootaloo nervously trotted in place. “Oh gosh, Rainbow Dash! What do we do?”
“I, for one, am following my sister and my adorable niece!” Daring cheered, whinnying before she tore off down the marble hallway.
Rainbow grimaced and tugged at her ears. “Uhhhh… I think we should find the Magic Carpet!”
Apple Bloom tilted her head. “Excuuuse me?”
“Come on, girls, I think Ditzy said it was this way!” Rainbow said, leading the CMC down the hall in the opposite direction.
Apple Bloom ran alongside Scootaloo to ask, “Is she pullin’ our tails?”
“Psh… as if I’d be the one to understand Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo pouted, picking up her pace.
Apple Bloom frowned after her friend, waiting for Sweetie Belle to catch up with her. “I think Scootaloo’s real upset that Rainbow Dash is still ignorin’ her.”
“Well then hopefully she’ll take that nice pony’s advice,” Sweetie whispered back.
Apple Bloom snorted. “Well, I can’t rightly blame her if she has a hard time takin’ an alicorn floatin’ in the middle o’ the ocean seriously.”
“I liked him,” Sweetie chimed.
“Just ‘cause he sang that dumb song with ya.”
“He was so funny!”
“Girls, in here!” Rainbow called out. “I think this is the room where she hid it!”
As she ducked out of the hallway, Apple Bloom asked, “Why do I get the feelin’ there ain’t no Magic Carpet?”
“Maybe because one of us has to be realistic,” Sweetie supposed, “and it’s sure not gonna be me or Scootaloo.”
Apple Bloom pulled one half of her mouth back. “Dinky better hurry up and show her dad who’s boss. It’s no fun bein’ the serious one.”