Chapter Twenty One
What You Do Matters
“Dinky? Dinkyyyy! Oh, where did she go, where did she go?”
“You lost your own kid?”
“Gah! Oh, Daring… don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“Her legs are like tiny little marshmallows! How could she have possibly outrun you?”
“What? Ng’oh, I don’t know!”
“Well… keep looking!”
“I’ll go upstairs, you check down that hall.”
“But what if she runs into somep—”
“Then we should already be at full speed! Go, Ditz! Hurry!”
Dinky’s horn stopped glowing when she heard the low window click back into place. Shaking dirt from her knees, she turned around to survey her location: a lush, enormous garden, laced with interweaving paths, trees, shrubs, and flowers, sprawled before her tiny form. The tall, rectangular palace surrounded the entire garden, as if protecting its beauty from the world outside. She nodded firmly to herself and marched along one of the dirt paths, aiming for the wall against the far side of the garden.
The filly raced down path after adjacent path, watching plants of every color slide across her peripherals, until she hopped around a squat palm tree and gasped at the flowerbed on the top of a small hill… or rather, at the regal stallion standing over its moonlit blossoms.
Her shrill cry made him turn around, one eyebrow arched. He said something in a language she didn’t understand. Struck with fear, she backed away, but did not take her eyes off of his large, shimmering pair—exactly the color of her coat.
He seemed to sense her lack of comprehension. “Oh… hello there,” he spoke with slight concern. “Have you lost your way, child?”
Planting her hooves firmly into the path, Dinky shook her head.
Alula smiled and ruffled his wings. “Have you come all the way from the city? That is quite a walk for a lonely young pony.”
“I’ve come a lot farther than that to learn the truth,” Dinky announced in as forceful a tone as she could muster.
The Sultan observed her rounded snout. “You are Equestrian,” he noted.
“I am,” Dinky said. “Born and raised.”
“That voice…” Alula blinked, trotting down his grassy mound to join Dinky on the level pathway. “You sound a great deal like a pony I once knew very well.”
“You’re right,” Dinky said. “I’m the daughter of Ditzy Doo. And that means I’m your daughter, too.”
Alula froze and stayed completely quiet. Not an insect chirped among the garden. He shivered at a sudden chill and steadied himself as his front knees trembled. “My… daughter…” he repeated.
“My name is Dinky,” the unicorn said, “and I have some questions for you.”
“You are my daughter,” he repeated with a flighty laugh, dropping to his belly and tucking all four of his legs close to his body. “I will be happy to answer anything.”
“When did you find out about me?”
Alula’s wide eyes scanned her scrunched face. “I discovered that Ditzy was pregnant when she tried to run away,” he answered bluntly.
“Have you ever seen me before?”
“No,” Alula said, shaking his head, unable to stifle another short laugh. “Never.”
“Why aren’t I an alicorn?”
“That is an excellent question, and I am afraid I do not know the answer. Perhaps your mother will be of help.”
Dinky nodded. “She will, if she knows. How old are you?”
Alula laughed. “Excuse me?”
“How old are you?”
“How many years?”
“I have no answer,” he said. “Many thousands.”
“When did you meet my mother?”
“Eight and a half years ago,” Alula answered. “I had heard a great deal about the Sisters Doo and I wanted to meet them for myself, and so I brought them to my palace by way of a fallacious commission. Your mother and I fell in love during the following months.”
“Then why don’t you live with us?”
Alula had to clear his throat before he could say, “I beg your pardon.”
“Why has Mommy never even talked about you?” little Dinky asked with tears in her eyes.
The stallion’s lower jaw jutted forward. He rose to his haunches and loosened his wings, eyeing Dinky down the length of his muzzle. “I have horrible news for you, Dinky, but I feel I must be honest. Your mother’s mind is not of sound composition. I am glad she has kept you safe for so long, but now it is my duty to keep you safe from her.”
Dinky immediately backed further away. “What? Mommy would never hurt me…”
“Then why has she been keeping secrets?” Alula asked. “My daughter, I will never lie to you. Anything you wish to know, I will divulge it fully, including this difficult truth: Ditzy Doo is not sane, and she cannot be allowed to raise you any longer.”
A new scowl covered Dinky’s face. “What are you saying?”
“I am telling you the frightening truth: that you must stay with me here, in the palace, as the Princess of Haissan, and allow your mother to be treated in her own country by trained professionals. I am very sorry to say that you might never see her again.”
“Do you know Princess Celestia?”
Alula blinked. “I… do,” he said with a curious wince.
“Do you hate her?”
The Sultan’s periwinkle eyes shifted between his daughter’s piercing golden pair. After another long pause, he grunted, “I do.”
Alula tossed his mane and sat up straighter. “What makes you ask this?”
“You promised to tell me the truth,” she reminded him. “Why do you hate Celestia?”
A perturbed smile tightened Alula’s face. “It is a very long story. I will tell it to you someday, but tonight is not the time. We must rejoice at our meeting after so long!”
“I want to know now,” Dinky said, stomping her hoof. “I’m a patient pony, but this is important. I don’t need to know the whole story, just why you hate my princess.”
Alula was quiet. His front teeth ground together as he stared at his daughter, but long before he began to speak she could tell he was breaking down. The slow downturn of his ears was enough to betray his emotions.
“Is she your sister?” Dinky asked in a sweet, quiet tone.
The muscles in his jaw flexed briefly. “How did you know that?”
“I came across the ocean with three of my friends,” she explained. “On the way, we met an alicorn who… well, I think he lives in the water.”
A smile flashed across Alula’s face quicker than a bolt of lightning. “Calupan,” he breathed.
Dinky beamed. “Yes! Yes, that’s him! He said that Celestia was his sister, and… well, it made me think that maybe all alicorns are part of the same family.”
“You are a perceptive child,” Alula said. “I am glad for that.”
“My mommy taught me,” Dinky said proudly, sticking out her chest. “Now, tell me, why do you hate your own sister?”
“Did Calupan tell you I hated her?”
“No. It doesn’t matter how I found out. I want to hear your story and how it really happened.”
Alula tonged the inside of his cheek. After a long sigh, he nodded his lengthy head. As it bobbed up and down, the alicorn began his tale. “I have heard rumors of ponies born with both wings and horn in your country, but they are not true alicorns. Their magic cannot sculpt the world; it cannot tame the seas; it cannot cause the winds to blow, nor the Sun to rise… nor the Moon.”
Dinky was surprised to see a tear build at the corner of his tightly closed eye.
“We did not come from this world, my siblings and I. We were brought into it during a period of great turmoil. We had compassion for the ponies of this world, and we saved them from their doom. For that, they revered us as their great superiors. We had never been so loved, nor held such great responsibilities. We took upon ourselves the duties of their world, keeping the cycles in motion that governed their lives. Day and night, rain and shine, life and death… we each took upon ourselves an element of nature, along with our Elements of Harmony.”
Dinky’s ears shot up. “Elements of Harmony?”
Her father smiled. “I am glad you know of them. We six used the Elements to stop the reign of the Jabberwock, a creature of discord and chaos. It was then that the united tribes of Equestria appointed us as their leaders, and we ruled with great love for our subjects.
“It did not take long, however, for our new emotions to cause trouble. Before living in this world, we were not affected by such things as joy, justice, or jealousy. Here, despite our thousands of years of life, we may as well have been children, unable to properly understand or control our emotions. Celestia is the eldest and had always been our leader, but when the citizens of Equestria elevated her to a divine status, dedicating shrines to the worship of her and her Sun, the rest of us grew envious.”
“So you hate her because she got more attention than you?” Dinky asked.
The Sultan scowled, but not at his daughter. “No. I am a… quiet pony, and have never thirsted for the spotlight. Celestia, however, basked in it. She lapped up their attentions like a spoiled dog from its silver bowl and did not hesitate to bite when others tried to share.”
“She bit you?”
Alula cracked a smile and the strain in his voice disappeared. “No, my dear. Celestia was very happy with her position as the god over us all, even while some of her siblings longed for—and needed—more attention, especially…” His eyes found the Moon behind soft clouds overhead.
“Luna,” Dinky finished.
“She is my youngest sister,” Alula whispered, “and… she was always my favorite. We were very close, she and I. She came to me whenever Celestia dashed her hopes of becoming as loved by the ponies as she. Poor Luna worked far harder than Celestia to make her nights as beautiful as possible, hoping to receive some recognition from the Equestrians, but felt that they shunned her Moon in favor of the day. It drove her mad.”
“I know that story,” Dinky said, nodding sadly.
“Celestia could have stopped it,” Alula growled. “At any time she could have spread the news of Luna’s glorious night to her adoring subjects, but she so craved the corrupting limelight that she left her starving sister to become—!” He swung his head down, snorting heavily. With a few slow breaths he calmed himself and, sitting up, continued. “What is worst, dear daughter, and the reason I so despise Celestia, is perhaps too shocking for you to take in.”
“It won’t be!” Dinky said, taking several braves steps nearer to the alicorn. “Tell me, please!”
“It is a familiar tale,” he muttered, “one that is probably hailed in your country as a great sacrifice made by the ever-loving Princess of the Day.”
Dinky’s winced. “You mean… when she sent her to the Moon?”
A snarl curled the stallion’s upper lip. “Without the consent of her siblings—who, I remind you, were each connected to one of the Elements—Celestia took upon herself all six, separating us from their power, and banished Luna to her own beautiful orb, staining it with the visage of the monster that grew from Celestia’s shadow.”
A sincere frown skewered Dinky’s tiny face. “Then what happened?”
“The citizens rejoiced,” Alula droned in a cold voice dripping with malice.
“And you left Equestria?”
Their eyes met. “We could not bear it any longer,” Alula confessed. “Each of us took our leave. We continued to provide our magic for the cycles of the world, but I do not think anypony in Equestria even noticed.”
“Where did you all go?”
“My brother Calupan took to the ocean as, somehow, you know. I have always thought it was to hide the Element of Laughter’s tears from the rest of Equus. I had heard that Piedra lived among the griffons, but recently discovered that to be only partly true.”
“What was his Element?” Dinky asked.
Alula squinted for a moment. “Honesty,” he said, smiling sadly. “Forgive my poor memory; it has been over a thousand years now.”
“And what happened to your sixth sibling?”
“My sister Beatrix—the Element of Kindness—disappeared completely. I saw it happen myself. She just…” He waved his hoof through the air before him. “…vanished. She governed the most beautiful and difficult cycle of all, and did it entirely on her own: Life and, consequently, Death. Sometimes I think she must have become one with that great force, unable to face the sorrows of our faux-mortality.”
“And how did you end up here?”
“I was the bearer of Generosity for good reason,” Alula said. “I could not let my powers go to waste, despite my tribulations. I found this country in a state of great unrest and worked for several hundred years to bring it to its current order. I have not spoken with any of my siblings since.”
Dinky’s brow wrinkled in thought. “So you hate Celestia… because she broke up your family.”
“I consider that an accurate observation.”
“And yet… you want to break up my family?” Dinky asked. “You want to take me away from my mother?”
Alula’s jaw hung open. “It was not I, dear daughter, who ran from the love of their life to fend for herself with a child on the way, leaving behind, with no explanation, a world of safety, comfort, and love.”
“She must have had a reason!” Dinky yelled.
“Of course she did,” Alula said, leaning lower. “She is insane. I tried to heal her from a terrible accident, but though I saved her life, I did not entirely succeed.” He had to pause to blink away a fresh film of tears. “But we need not worry about her ever again, my darling,” he continued, reaching out with a shaking hoof to stroke Dinky’s mane. “You need never think of Ditzy, your princess, or Equestria ever again.”
“Why?” Dinky asked, jumping away before he could touch her. “Because you’re going to kill them all?”
Alula blinked. “Kill who?”
“The ponies of Equestria!” Dinky shouted. “Now that I’m here and Celestia’s no longer connected to the Elements, are you going to break open the gates of Tartarus and send Equestria to its doom?”
“Tartarus?” Alula asked. “I am not aware of that word’s meaning, my dear.”
“I thought you said you wouldn’t lie to me,” Dinky seethed, narrowing her eyes.
Alula smirked. “I did not. If ‘Tartarus’ is a name Celestia has given the Wabe, then yes, I am planning to release its creatures back into my sister’s country.”
“But why? She and Luna rule together now, with love and friendship!”
A cruel laugh crawled up from the bottom of Alula’s throat. “Do not pretend to know my sister better than I. Luna is as much a prisoner there as she was on the Moon.”
“That’s a lie! Princess Celestia has changed!”
“Oh, has she?”
“Yes! She welcomed Luna back and honored her in front of everypony. I was there! She wants everypony to know the magic of friendship. She gave the Elements to normal mares in my town! Isn't that proof of her being humble?”
“Humble!?” Another spiteful laughed echoed through the garden. “Humble! Now, there is a word I would never use to describe my sister.”
“I bet she’s sorry for what she did. Why not talk to her before you try to ruin Equestria? Why not give her a chance to fix her mistakes?”
“Her mistakes are far past fixing.”
“There’s no such thing,” Dinky said, lifting her chin. “I’ve made lots of mistakes. So have you, so has my mom, so has Aunt Daring, and so has Princess Celestia. But guess what? Even though my mom can't stand her sister, she still tries to understand her and help her and get her on the right path, because she loves her and they’re family.” Dinky stopped short, her eyes growing to take up most of her face. “Oh my gosh! I’m related to Princess Celestia!”
Alula chuckled. “I admire your concern for the wellbeing of those you love, but I am afraid there is a major flaw in your philosophy. Ditzy and Daring do not love each other. From my observations, which are undeniably more extensive than yours, they would like nothing more than to see the other suffer.”
“That’s not true. They might fight and not get along, but in the end they’re still friends. They’d do anything for each other. Princess Celestia has taught me and my town that there is powerful magic in friendship, so imagine how much power there is in family, the most important friendship of all!”
“We must agree to disagree for now,” Alula said flatly. “Someday you will learn the truth and see that I am right, but since neither of us will ever meet the Sisters Doo again, I suppose we will have to wait.”
“And Wrong-o was his name-o!”
Alula flinched at the scratchy voice, throwing his gaze to the second floor window where a mustard-yellow mare cackled, waving her pith helmet over her head. “What?” the alicorn shouted. “No!”
“Ha ha haaaa! Hiya, Dinks! Sup, Alula!” Daring rested her elbows on the open windowsill. “Long time, no see, eh, kid?”
“Hi, Aunt Daring!” Dinky yelled up to her.
“Aunt Daring, huh? Well, I guess that’s kinda cute.” She shrugged and cracked her neck. “So you met your dad, didja?”
“Yeah!” Dinky chirped happily, unaware of the wicked scowl screwing up her father’s face.
“What’d’ya think? Has the old windbag bored you to death with his history of Haissan lessons yet?”
Dinky snorted a giggle. “You’re funny, Aunt Daring!”
“I try,” Daring said with an exaggerated shrug. She gasped in pain and smiled past a wince, trying to hide the tears that sprung to her eyes.
Dinky’s eyes shone among the darkness of the garden. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah! Yeah, of course!” Daring said through clenched teeth. “Never better.”
“Fly down here, Daring Doo,” Alula bellowed. “Explain yourself at once. Did you escape my guards?”
“Guards?” Dinky squeaked. “What guards?”
“I did better than that, Lulu!” Daring shouted, teeth glinting in the Moonlight as she leaned out the window. “Me and Ditz and Reindeer Bash escaped your stupid prison, and found the Flying Carpet to boot!”
“What!?” A stormcloud in the distance smacked the ground with lightning, punctuating Alula’s shout with a roll of ominous thunder.
“That’s right, Windy! It wasn’t even that hard, really. Little bitta green, little bitta red, toss in some nice yellow…”
“I saw the explosion!” Alula shouted. “I watched the fire consume the grove not twenty minutes ago! How could you have possibly escaped?”
“You’re not the only alicorn around these parts, are ya, Lulu?” Daring went back to laughing hysterically, wiggling her hooves like giant noodles.
“You put my mommy in an explosion?” Dinky yelled, turning on Alula with a hard stare.
Hate continued to pulse from the sultan’s eyes in Daring Do’s direction. “You say that all of you survived? Then where are—” He clamped his mouth shut, spinning around just in time to knock a diving Ditzy out of the air.
The pegasus slammed into the nearby flowerbed, spraying roses and tulips every which way. “It’s all right, Dinky!” she grunted, struggling to her hooves. “Get out of here!”
“How ironic,” Alula droned, walking up the small mound to the patch of dirt and flowers. “Do you know what lies beneath this hill, my dear?”
Ditzy ignored him, using her wings to regain a position of defense. She snorted, locking one cooperative eye on the father of her child.
“It is the rock on which you fell and nearly lost your life,” he hissed. “I wanted to forget that day; the day I lost my love to madness.”
“I’m not crazy, Alula,” Ditzy said, ready to dart in any direction. “You healed my mind perfectly. The only things to suffer from that fall were my eyesight… and my relationship with my sister.”
Daring smiled in surprise and disappeared from the window.
“And, apparently, your sense,” Alula added to her list, “and your love for me.”
“I didn’t lose my love for you, Alula,” Ditzy said. Her shoulder’s fell a little before she said, “It never existed in the first place.”
Alula halted his approach. “How do you mean?”
Ditzy closed her eyes. “Alula, I can’t count how many time I’ve tried to tell you that I never loved you. The only reason I… acted like I loved you… was to spite Daring.”
Alula’s eye twitched. “That is impossible. You have forgotten, is all. You have lost your mind.”
“I have not,” Ditzy repeated, flapping her wings for emphasis. “I lied to you, Alula. It was wrong—it was so very, very wrong of me—but I did it, and I’m sorry. The truth is that I never loved you, and I… I had to get away from it all. Don’t you see? I couldn’t spend the rest of my life with an alicorn I didn’t love… watching him and my own child stay forever young as I withered away without a purpose.”
“Why did you not tell me the truth?”
“I did! I tried!” Ditzy screamed. “I tried so many times, but you didn’t believe me! You thought I was crazy! You couldn’t let yourself believe that I never loved you. But now there’s too much proof.” She pointed to the filly behind him. “I’ve raised our daughter as any perfectly sensible mother would. There is nothing wrong with me, Alula, except that I keep far too many secrets.”
The black stormcloud drew ever nearer to the palace, along with a steady wind that spun through the garden, bringing a constant, whistling drone to the background of their reunion. Branches, leaves, and manes whipped in its cyclonic wake.
Alula hung his head, ignoring the angry wind that tossed his tail around his flank. The motion of his ribs accelerated with the storm. Finally he turned his head to look upon his daughter, standing still and frightened several ponylengths behind him. “And now you see that I was right,” he said to her, just loud enough to hear over the rush of the wind. “The hatred between siblings knows no bounds. It will crush the hearts of any and all unsuspecting victims along its path of unstoppable destruction. Who am I to pretend that I can deflect what Celestia has coming to her?”
“No, you’re still wrong!” Dinky shouted, shielding her eyes from the leaves and dirt that swirled among the storm. “Something really bad happened to your family, and something really bad happened to mine, but look where they are now! They’re working together to help me! Don’t let Celestia’s mistakes feed your own. You have to stop the chain, if not for Celestia’s sake, then for yours! For Luna’s! For everypony in Equestria!”
“I do not care about any of them!” Alula thundered, accompanied by a great flash of lightning just beyond the palace walls. “I have been wronged and disgraced by Celestia! Now she must receive her consequences!”
“She already has!” Dinky yelled. “For a thousand years! Give her another chance! Just talk to her, try to see it from her side! Forgive her!”
“No!” her father shouted, spinning around to face her. “I cannot!”
“You can! You have to!” Dinky pleaded. “Never hate a sibling or give up on your family. They need you just as much as you need them!”
A mighty gust ripped a tree from its roots on the other end of the garden. The circling windstorm carried the entire trunk toward the trio of ponies. Alula and Ditzy gasped when its branches slammed against a stronger tree, changing the airborne plant’s trajectory directly at Dinky.
“Dinky!” Ditzy shouted, jumping forward—only to be pushed back by wall of air. She landed in the dirt again, throwing her hooves around angrily. “No! How dare you? How dare—”
“I did nothing!” Alula shouted at her. Ditzy looked up to find Alula on the ground as well, struggling back to his hooves. “It came from—”
They both gaped in Dinky’s direction. The tiny unicorn’s horn was glowing bright amidst the dirty air, and swirling around her was an upside-down cone of wind separate from Alula’s wrathful storm. Circling inside the child’s miniature tornado was the uprooted tree.
“Dinky…” Ditzy said breathlessly. “You… you can do…”
“Wind magic,” the unicorn finished proudly. “Why do you think I’m so good at the flute?”
Ditzy laughed. “Oh, honey! That’s amazing!”
Alula said nothing, hypnotized by the swirling tree.
With a strobe of her horn, Dinky redirected the wind, tossing the tree beneath a well-grounded shrub where it stayed safe from the storm.
“Stop this at once, Alula!” Ditzy shouted. “It nearly killed our daughter!”
He blinked and stared blankly at the ground. “My daughter,” he said under his breath.
“Did you hear me, Alula?” Ditzy yelled.
With a terrifying glint in his eyes, Alula turned his face toward Ditzy and firmly repeated, “My daughter.”
Ditzy barely had time to open her mouth before a startling gust caught her under the wings. She yelped as it lifted her off the ground and pushed her across the garden, slamming her into the trunk of a great palm tree.
“What are you doing!?” Dinky shouted. “Stop it!”
Alula ignored her. With the slightest tilt of his head, another powerful force swept up Ditzy from the side and drove her into the dirt, grinding her face along a pathway before flinging her into a bed of thorny roses.
“Stop it!” Dinky shrieked, conjuring another small tornado around her father. Alula’s horn sparked and it disappeared. “No! No, no, no, no!” Dinky shouted, running up to the alicorn’s side and pounding her hooves against his knees. “Don’t hurt my mommy! Stop it right now!”
“You believe so much in family?” Alula droned as Ditzy’s body was carried into yet another concussive slam. “Then remember that you are my daughter and must do as I say.”
Dinky started to sob. “Don’t do this! Please, stop hurting her!”
“I’d listen to her if I were you, chump!” Rainbow Dash shouted just before her hoof collided with the side of Alula’s snout.
“Graaaugh!” The alicorn pulled away and Ditzy’s body dropped out of the air.
“Go to your mom, kid,” Rainbow whispered in Dinky’s ear. “I’ll handle this bully.”
Dinky sniffled and managed to smile. “Thank you, Rainbow Dash.”
“Don’t mention it,” she said with a wink, pushing her toward the spot where her mother had fallen. Tilting one wing expertly, Rainbow caught the rushing wind and used it to gather altitude. “Come and get me, big guy!”
He glared up at the sky blue nuisance. “How do you fly in this? Not even I can fly in this!”
“I’m the best flier in all of Equestria!” Rainbow Dash bragged. “You think I’d be put off by a little Haissanic breeze?”
Growling, Alula opened his giant wings and rocketed toward Rainbow.
“Wuh-oh!” she said, barreling to one side.
“I will deal with you quickly,” Alula said as he flapped hard against his own wind.
“We’ll see about that!” Rainbow quipped, diving through the harsh gale to a stream that snaked through the garden. Alula followed, roaring with rage.
Dinky found her mother surrounded by three familiar fillies. “Scootaloo! Apple Bloom! Sweetie Belle!”
“And Daring Do!” the mare announced, galloping up to the join the group. “How bad is she?”
“We just got here, like, five seconds ago,” Sweetie Belle said.
“Where’s the carpet?”
“We hadn’t found it when you told us to come help—”
“Never mind all that,” Daring said, pushing Apple Bloom out of the way. “Look out, yellow kid, I’ll do it myself. Orange kid, how’s the blue kid?”
Scootaloo tilted her head to one side. “Huh?”
“Check the sky, Pink Head! How’s our mutual friend getting along with Ditzy’s ex-love bird?”
“Uhh…” Scootaloo scanned the garden’s treetops. “I don’t see them… oh, wait! Rainbow Dash is climbing! He’s chasing her!”
“Didn’t think so!” Daring pressed her ear against the side of Ditzy’s ribcage. “Yeah, she’s totally alive, but it seems to me that she’s also totally unconscious.”
Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. “Thanks a bunch, Doctor Do.”
“My pleasure!” Daring said, saluting. “Now, let’s get her out of here!”
“How?” Sweetie asked. “On your back?”
“On my back?” Daring asked. “Uh, yeah, that’s a huge no.”
“But she’s yer sister!” said Apple Bloom.
“It’s because of her wing, you guys,” Dinky explained. “Come on, we’ll lift her onto all three of you. Line up!”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders swiftly obeyed, bracing themselves for Ditzy’s dead weight. Before Dinky and Daring could even get the mailmare off the ground, Scootaloo gasped and jump out of formation.
“Luna’s nipple, kid! Can’t you stay still for ten seconds?”
“Rainbow Dash is in trouble!” Scootaloo yelled, pointing to the sky.
Above them, Rainbow was spinning out of control. She flexed her wings hopelessly against Alula’s impossible wind, but the downward gust kept pushing her into his waiting embrace.
“That’s not fair!” Rainbow screamed, trying to jerk herself out of the current. “You’re cheating!”
“Wind is very natural,” Alula replied, flapping his wings in a steady rhythm and hovering over a tall, twitching tree, “as is your defeat against a god.”
“Nnnnnyaaaugh!” Rainbow shrieked, throwing herself in every direction until Alula’s forelegs wrapped around her helpless form. With an inward swipe of his hoof, he cracked the bone of her right wing in half. “Ghaaaugh-ee-aaaahh!”
“Raaainboooow!” Scootaloo cried as Alula tossed her exhausted body haphazardly into the gale.
“Meh, she got it easy,” Daring said, rolling her eyes. “Keep helping Ditzy, I’ll go find the kid.”
“Why is this garden so freaking huge?” Scootaloo shouted furiously.
“Because this is Stirrope, kid!” Daring said, ruffling her mane. “Just focus on getting my sister out of here. I’ll keep Alula off your tails.”
“Promise?” Sweetie Belle asked.
Daring winked. “You bet.”
The adventuress tore away as the Cutie Mark Crusaders realigned. “Okay, I’m gonna lift her onto your backs on the count of three!” Dinky said, tucking her hooves under her mother’s body.
“This oughtta be good,” Apple Bloom drawled.
Their voices faded into the whine of the storm as Daring ducked under broken branches and hopped over shrubbery. Weaving and darting and ignoring the painful stub on her back, she kept her eyes peeled for a grounded rainbow in the ghostly Moonlight. Once she reached the other side of the garden, her partner’s mane was not hard to spot.
“Kid! Hey, kid, can you hear me?” she asked as she approached the writhing mare.
“Ngaaaah, horseapples!” Rainbow hissed. “He broke my wing!”
“I know, I watched,” Daring said, turning Rainbow on her side to examine the appendage. “You’re gonna be fine. Especially compared to me.”
Rainbow chuckled. “Guess I had it coming.”
“What for? You’ve been nothing but good to me, kid, even when I totally didn’t deserve it.”
“Well, that’s not totally true…”
“It’s true enough to say. Now come on, let’s get you out of his—”
“Sights?” Alula asked from above, dropping onto Daring’s back.
“Ooomphhh!” She flattened under his weight, expelling every drop of air in her lungs.
“Daring!” Rainbow shouted, leaping to her hooves. “Get off of her, ya melon fudge!”
“Fly for help, little pony,” Alula said in a mocking tone. “Fly for dear Ditzy, or for the little filly weeping at her side.”
“You’re breaking her back, you big alicrap!” Rainbow yelled right into his face. “Get off!”
“She can take it,” Alula sneered, watching at the pony under his hooves wriggle and wheeze. His eyes darted to what remained of her left wing. “Oh, my… it appears you did not quite make it out of my trap unscathed, Miss Doo.” He bent low and snickered into her ear. “Tell me, did Ditzy push you into the Patternica, or leave you behind for the flames?”
“She did it to herself!” Rainbow yelled. “Ditzy helped save her life!”
Alula frowned. “Did she? I am surprised at that.” A wicked grin slithered over his mouth. “You had a hoof in convincing her, no doubt.”
“I did not! Ditzy would have… helped… even if I wasn’t…” Rainbow’s words vanished with the confidence behind her stare.
Alula laughed. “Do you hear that, Daring? Ditzy would have left you to die were it not for this vivacious young thing.” He offered a grateful smile to Rainbow Dash. “We are ever so grateful, my dear, for keeping them together. Just look where it has gotten us now!” He burst into another long string of maniacal laughter while blinding bolts of lightning struck the garden’s tallest trees.
“Don’t listen to him, Daring!” Rainbow said, slamming herself into Alula in an attempt to topple him. “Ditzy definitely would have saved you! I promise!”
“You ought to spend more time with my brother,” Alula said. “He once bore the Element of Honesty.”
A light sparked deep in Rainbow’s soul. She let out a terrific battle cry and flapped her one good wing hard, driving the top of her head into the center of Alula’s chest. He coughed and tumbled to the side, allowing Daring to suck in an enormous breath and roll away, groaning in pain. She steadied herself on a short bush and rose back to her hooves as Rainbow wrestled Alula in a small creek.
“Do not bite me, you fiend!” Alula yelped, splashing water with his twisting wings.
“It’s natural for a horse to bite!” Rainbow yelled back, chomping her teeth again and again around his fetlock.
“Enough!” Alula shouted, pushing Rainbow away with a loud gust of strong wind. She landed on her broken wing and whinnied in pain.
“Get outta here, Rainbow!” Daring exclaimed.
“No way!” Rainbow shook away tears and faced Alula where she stood. “I’m sticking with you, Daring!”
“How very touching,” Alula spat. “You remind me of my sister before she was blinded by the bright lights of adoration. If only she had kept that sense of loyalty.”
“Loyalty’s my middle name,” Rainbow said, “and my Element of Harmony.”
Alula’s brow furrowed. “Your Element of…” His eyes shot open as his great blue wings, dark as the sky, flared in surprise. “You are one of the ponies who took the Elements from my sister?”
“I didn’t take it,” Rainbow said. “I earned it by being a good friend to the Element of Magic and standing up against Nightmare Moon.”
“The Element of Magic…” Alula repeated. His eyelids tensed as a memory danced inside his angry mind. “How I wish the Loyalty and Magic I knew had been good friends. All of this… every hardship might have been avoided.”
“But it did happen, Alula,” Daring said between heavy pants. “It all happened, already. But that kid of yours is right. You don’t have to let it ruin you, and you sure as Tartarus don’t have to ruin anypony else’s lives because of it.”
“Do not lecture me on the subject of familial harmony, Miss Doo,” Alula seethed, jutting a hoof at her. “I will not be patronized by the very embodiment of a poor sibling.”
“Well, that’s a little harsh,” Daring mumbled.
“If anything, it is not harsh enough,” Alula said. “You are a selfish, thoughtless, arrogant fool of a pony with no redeeming features I have ever observed.”
Daring wilted. “What? I… I’ve got plenty of…”
“Your treatment of those who care for you is deplorable,” he went on, “and your absolute lack of gratitude and respect brings your worth to zero. You are less valuable to your sister than the dirt on her snout.”
All three ponies spun around. “Ditzy!” Rainbow shouted. “You’re okay!”
“I wouldn’t say that,” Ditzy groaned, “but at least I’m alive.”
“And neither of your wings are broken,” Rainbow noticed.
“Or ripped off,” Daring grumbled.
Dinky jumped through a bush and slid to her mother’s side. “Mommy, we gotta get out of here!” She winced in Daring’s direction. “I’m sorry, Aunt Daring, she just woke up and—”
“Dinky, I can handle myself!” Ditzy said. “You have to get away from the palace with the Crusaders!”
“She will not be leaving,” Alula said. “Ever.”
To that, everypony started shouting at once, blending into the maddening howl of the worsening wind.
“I’m not going to leave my daughter with a deranged alicorn—”
“—better than you ever could—”
“—she hasn’t done anything wrong—”
“—under the supervision of a god—”
“—can’t expect everything to go your—”
“—won’t be an Equestria to go back—”
“—forgive her, just find it in your—”
Frightened by the ferocity in each adult’s face, Dinky trotted backwards from the shouting contest. She could feel the heat of the air rise with Alula’s temper, and soon large beads of sweat were sliding down her face. Dinky shivered and pressed herself against the base of a very odd tree, tall and red and seemingly unaffected by the destructive storm.
As she took deep, calming breaths with her face pressed against the soft, red leaves of the unusual plant, an incredibly clarity came to her mind. The chaos and fear of the moment slipped away, replaced by an overwhelming focus and confidence in herself. Rising from her cower, Dinky shut her eyes in tranquil silence and ignited her horn.
The tempest instantly ceased, leaving four ponies screaming at each other in a still, Moonlit garden. They quickly dropped their arguments and glanced around in shock. Ditzy was the first to notice Dinky’s glowing horn.
“Dinky,” she asked, “did you do that?”
Alula took one look at his daughter and the tree behind her and began to chortle. “Ahhh, the power of the tumtum tree. Remarkable, is it not?”
Dinky opened her eyes, alight with surety, and stared down her father with an air of perfect calm.
“I hate to break your concentration, little one,” he said, “but you are just a unicorn, and I am a god.”
“You’re becoming exactly what you hated about Celestia,” she said without blinking.
Alula grimaced. “What?”
“Maybe it's natural. You said emotions are new to you.”
“I have had them for a thousand years,” Alula said.
Dinky shook her head. “Not these; not like this.” She sighed. “It’s sad that you hate Celestia for something out of her control, especially when you're making the same mistake.”
“Silence,” Alula growled.
Dinky continued without a quaver in her voice. “It’s so sad that you hate someone who could be your best friend if you forgave her. She already knows about this problem.”
“I have no problem!” Alula screamed, bringing back the fullness of his raging storm with a bright flash of his horn. “Celestia is the one with a problem!”
Dinky’s horn began to glow as well and the winds softened. “It will be hard, but you can change your mind. You can have a better relationship with Celestia.”
“You will not, but you can.”
A veritable hurricane exploded to life around them. The CMC tumbled into view, huddling close around Ditzy.
“What’s going on?” Sweetie Belle shouted over the new roar of the wind.
“Looks like Dinky’s fighting her dad!” Scootaloo answered.
“Stay close to me, girls!” Ditzy yelled, wrapping her forelegs and wings around the young Crusaders. She beckoned to Rainbow and Daring to come closer, and they began to push themselves against the mighty gale to join the little group.
Some ways off, Alula and Dinky glared into each other's faces in the calm eye of the storm. Their horns sparked and shone as the huge tornado buckled and grew, shattering the palace windows and pulling painted bricks from the walls. Scootaloo yelped and lifted her head as a shard of glass whizzed past her snout.
“Stay down, Scootaloo!” Ditzy yelled, lifting one of her wings to push the filly’s head down. The wind caught below her feathers and she was sucked into the cyclone, disappearing with a scream among the dust and debris.
“Derpy!” Apple Bloom screamed.
Rainbow and Daring shared a horrified glance and looked at their disabled wings. Daring chuckled. “Well, look at that. I’ve got a right wing, you’ve got a left one.” She offered her left foreleg. “Wanna share?”
Rainbow grimaced. “That’s crazy!”
“Hey, according to Ditzy, we’re basically the same mare, anyway!” Daring pulled a nervous smile.
Rainbow gulped, nodded, and linked her right foreleg with Daring’s. “For the record,” she yelled into her partner’s ear, “I’m nowhere near as cocky as you!”
“Not yet!” Daring said. “Give it another twenty years!”
They crouched and spread their good wings in unison. The interlocked duo caught the ferocious wind and rose three hundred feet in a matter of seconds.
“Close up, close up!” Daring yelled.
“I’m trying!” Rainbow said, her voice cracking. They folded up their wings just in time to see the entire palace engulfed by Alula’s tornado. With mutual terror, they flapped in sync to hover high above the hurricane and watched the beautiful building crumble in the wind, breaking into hundreds of sections and throwing its contents into the storm. Walls, books, furniture, chandeliers, and several dozen ponies joined the unforgiving spiral, or else were flung into the airspace over the capital of Haissan.
“Luna’s nipple…” muttered Rainbow Dash.
“Amen,” said Daring. Then she gasped, startling Rainbow, and pointed with her free hoof to an object flipping in the wind.
“The carpet! The Magic Carpet! We have to go get it before it shoots outta here!”
“What about Ditzy?”
“We’ll find her once we have the—”
“Wait, there she is!” Rainbow pointed downward, too, following the grey mare with her hoof. “Oh my gosh, I think she’s passed out again!”
“What!? Can’t that pony stay awake for, like, two frickin’ minutes?”
“Daring, she’s gonna get hurt in there!”
“Okay, we’ll get her as soon as we snag the Carpet!”
“We don’t have time, Daring! We have to dive now! She gonna crash through that window on the next revolution!”
Daring’s eyes flicked between the floppy pony and the carpet on opposites sides of the giant funnel.
The pony... or the wing...
Daring rolled her eyes. “What are you waiting for kid?” she shouted. “That bubbly plot ain’t gonna save itself!”
Rainbow laughed and angled her wing parallel to Daring’s. They launched downward and reentered the storm, catching Ditzy under her flailing forelegs and yanking her away from a number of dangerous chunks of palace spinning in the wind. Working with shared instincts, the ponies carried Ditzy safely to the eye of the storm.
“Y’know,” Daring yelled to Rainbow as they neared Alula, “I knew Ditzy’s clumsy hooves would make themselves useful one day.”
“What do you mean?” Rainbow asked.
Daring winked and clicked her tongue. “Derp’s away!”
Daring let go of Ditzy at just the right moment; the wind pulled her from Rainbow’s grip and drove her limp hind hooves into the side Alula’s long horn. The alicorn howled as a long crack shot down the length of his spire. He crumpled to the ground with Ditzy while his cyclone whisked away, leaving only the bare remnants of a once majestic palace and a ruined, earthy garden holding eight exhausted equines.
Dinky’s strange trance finally broke. She gasped and leapt on her mother, brushing the hair from her face. “Mommy? Mommy, are you okay!?”
Alula moaned and rolled onto his side. “My horn…”
“Aw, shut up,” Daring said as she and Rainbow landed nearby. “A little crack in your horn is nothin’ compared to losing your wing for good.” She leaned close to the Sultan’s face and smirked. “Of course, we could always show you what that feels like, too.”
His irises shrunk, inspiring a long laugh from Daring.
“How’s she doing, Dinky?” Rainbow asked, trotting to Ditzy’s other side.
“She’s waking up!” Dinky exclaimed.
Sure enough, the mailmare’s wonky golden eyes—pointing in opposite directions—fluttered open while her daughter stroked her mane. “Dinky?” she croaked.
“It’s me, Mommy,” Dinky assured her, nodding and smiling as bravely as she could. “It’s all right now. Everypony’s safe, and the storm is gone.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders made their way over piles of broken branches and loose dirt to stand around Rainbow Dash. Scootaloo was shivering, but kept her distance from Rainbow. The older mare smiled and wrapped her wing around the filly’s shoulder, pulling her close. “You all right, kid?” Rainbow whispered.
“I nearly k-killed Derpy…” Scootaloo stuttered, fighting back embarrassing tears.
“No, you didn’t,” Rainbow said, shaking the little pony playfully. “All you did was give Daring a chance to show how much she loves her sister.”
Scootaloo sniffled. “Really?”
“Yeah! And on top of that, you gave me one more reason to fly! Thanks to this sucker—” She gestured to her right wing, bent and broken. “—I don’t see me getting a lotta airtime for the next couple o’ weeks.”
Scootaloo managed to smile at her hero. “M-Maybe I could teach you a few tricks on my scooter… y’know, while you’re waiting to get better.”
Rainbow brightened a little. “Heh, sure. Though you might have to be extra awesome! I tend to get pretty bored when I’m not up in the air.”
Scootaloo peeked over her shoulder and beamed at Sweetie Belle. The filly winked and smiled just as widely back at her friend.
Dinky helped her mother to her haunches where, despite swaying slightly, she managed to stay. “Are you sure you’re all right?” Dinky asked.
“I’m fine, sweetheart,” Ditzy said, steadying herself with a foreleg around her daughter’s shoulder. “I will be, anyway, thanks to you.” She turned her head to the grounded alicorn. “And no thanks to you! Do you realize that you nearly killed me? In front of our daughter?”
Alula’s eyes were tightly shut and leaking warm tears. “Yes,” he breathed.
“Do you realize that there were several more innocents involved who you might have killed, or seriously injured?”
One of his eyes cracked open. “If you also plan to ask me if I realize that I have destroyed my entire palace and any shreds of integrity I had among the ponies of this country, then know that my answer is yes, yes, yes…” He brought his forelegs to his face.
Dinky’s jaw set and she trotted to her father, planting herself in front of his snout. “Promise that you won’t hurt my mommy ever again.”
He uncovered his glistening eyes. “What?”
“Promise that you won’t hurt me, or my mommy, or my friends, or my country, or my Aun—er, Princess Celestia, ever, ever again!”
A look of anger flashed across Alula’s brow, but the adamancy in Dinky’s voice lingered in her unwavering expression until his rage melted into shame.
“I… I cannot promise that,” he whispered.
The periwinkle unicorn sighed through her nostrils. “Then at least promise me that you’ll talk to Celestia and try to understand her before you make any more stupid decisions.”
Alula blinked and looked away, unable to make eye contact with his only offspring. “I… I can…” He grit his teeth as his wings drooped closer to the ground. “I cannot. I am not ready. Not yet.”
“Then leave us alone until you are,” Dinky commanded.
After a moment of perfect stillness, Alula nodded. “I will go the way of Beatrix,” he said in a quiet voice that came from all directions, “until I am ready to face her.”
The seven surrounding mares stepped away from the cowering alicorn as his body began to disintegrate, fading before their eyes from the tips of his wings, tail, and horn toward the center of his chest. Even Dinky’s brave resolve faltered under the awing spell of his merging with the wind. A cool night breeze, far removed from the recent tempest, blew across their backs and through their colorful manes, lifted the wispy remnants of Alula’s disappearing body, and carried them into the night until his figure was no more.
“What in Ponyville was that?” Apple Bloom blared.
“He gave up,” Ditzy murmured, swallowing a hard lump down her throat and staring into the empty air. “We’re safe.”
“You sure?” Apple Bloom asked, glancing over both her shoulders. “He’s not gonna pop outtuva a breeze and strangle us’r nothin’?”
“I very much doubt it,” Ditzy said, holding Dinky close. “It may not be apparent now, but Alula is just as unsure of himself as any one of us.”
“Except for me!” Daring said.
“Especially you,” Ditzy and Rainbow said together.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders laughed at the uncharacteristic blush on Daring’s face. Sweetie Belle’s giggling morphed into a gasp and she stretched out one her hooves to point. “Dinky, look at your flank!”
The filly blinked her amber eyes and quickly turned her head. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom rushed forward to get a better look. There, among the little pony’s periwinkle fur, a brand new emblem gleamed: a golden flute beside three wavy markings of a summer breeze.
A squeak of exasperation leapt from Ditzy’s throat. “Oh, Dinky! You…”
“I got my Cutie Mark,” Dinky whispered, wide-eyed.
Scootaloo stole a glance at her own flank and promptly deflated. “Awww, come on! She’s, like, a year younger than us!”
Rainbow laughed. “You’ll get your turn, kid!”
“As if yer one to talk!” Apple Bloom piped up. “Weren’tchu the first in yer class to get a Cutie Mark?”
“Well… yeah,” Rainbow mumbled, “but that doesn’t mean—”
“Rainbow’s absolutely right, kids,” Daring said in a genuine tone that caught Ditzy’s full attention. “Dinky found her special talent, and it’s a doozy to say the least, but that doesn’t make yours any less special, whatever it will be.” She smiled briefly at her sister, and then at three blank flanks sitting close together. “Everypony matters. What you do matters. I… I’ve been taught that for—heh—a long time… but I think I’m finally starting to learn exactly what it means.”
Ditzy’s misaligned eyes sparkled with tears. Whether they were from pain or joy she couldn’t tell, but she let out a happy sigh anyway. “Well, I think we all know what to do next,” she said.
Daring grinned. “Go home?”
Ditzy ran a loving hoof through her beaming daughter’s mane and nodded. “Go home.”