Once she’s seated at her desk and able to dedicate a full ten seconds to something other than daydreaming about her new coltfriend—a new word I’ve learned for the genetically irrelevant counterpart she’s just acquired—Dinky informs me that I’ve more than fulfilled my half of our bargain and promises that she’ll let me go the second she can reach someplace where no one will see us split apart. By now I’m too exhausted to complain, but upon reflection the deal as it stands is far from disagreeable. I’ll be able to depart without anypony else knowing I was ever here, and in the meantime Dinky’s head has become a far more tolerable place to reside. The resolution of Operation: High Tide inspires a marked improvement in her overall mood, to the point that some of the bubbly bliss encompassing every inch of her brain even seeps into my side of it. Within the day, I will be free once more. In just a few hours, I will never have to see Dinky Doo again.
The schoolday up to Time Block B—now obsolete, thank the stars—passes at an agonizing pace for the both of us. Dinky can’t wait until she gets to talk to Tidal Wave again, and I can’t wait until she’s done talking to him so she can sneak off out of sight and allow the counter-possession charm to run its course. She squirms in her seat when the bell for lunch rings, but doesn’t follow Tidal Wave when he gets up to leave the room.
“I want to surprise him,” she whispers to me. “I’ve always wanted to do that.”
Halfway through a count of thirty seconds, Dinky decides she’s waited long enough. Once outside the schoolhouse, she heads for its rear, where she knows Tidal Wave spends his lunchtime every day. She stops just before stepping into his view, biting her lip at the sound of his voice wafting around the corner. I can’t begin to comprehend any of what she’s doing, but then again, I no longer have to. As long as she releases me come day’s end, she can spend all the time she likes eavesdropping on her brand new—
“… I don’t know, I just didn’t know what to say to her!”
Dinky freezes with one hoof poised at the building’s edge. That was Tidal Wave’s voice. He sounds upset.
“I mean, everypony was staring at us and she just got out of the hospital yesterday… I mean, what was I supposed to do?”
He’s talking to someone else next to him, another of his friends now murmuring their sympathy. He doesn’t know Dinky can hear him. She doesn’t know who he’s talking about.
“I didn’t want to be a jerk to her, but… like, she just asked me right there, in front of everypony. You know?”
We both know now.
“Yeah, dude, she’s nice, but that doesn’t mean I really wanted to… she’s just weird. That’s fair, right? I mean, everypony’s weird some way or another, but she’s just… geez. I guess I’ll just see how tonight goes and figure some way out of it later. It could be worse.”
For once, heat fills my gut that isn’t caused by the pony to whom that gut belongs. If Tidal Wave didn’t want to go on a date with Dinky Doo, the least he could’ve done was tell us so himself. Through his cowardice he has disrespected my authority and wasted my time, and a coward’s action deserves a coward’s punishment. Drawing and quartering remains a personal favorite, but since Dinky has been slighted more than I in this instance, I suppose it’s only fair that I rest the final decision on her judgment and…
Dinky doesn’t answer me. I’m not sure Dinky even heard anything I’ve said. Dinky feels hollow, feels like every part of her is imploding, collapsing on top of her—dying. Her eyes and throat sting as if pricked by needles, and when she begins to jog—run—sprint—away from the schoolhouse, she stumbles over grass clumps and roots she should’ve seen coming, her gait awkward and clumsy and weird. The sun-soaked schoolyard gives way to the speckled shade of a forest canopy, and it’s there that she falls to her knees against a rough tree trunk that gouges her coat, her shoulders hunched and her teeth clenched so hard the brown pine needles underhoof glow white.
What is the matter with her? Why did she retreat? Why doesn’t she confront her enemies and drive them before her and make them rue the day they ever dared cross—
“Because I’m not like you!”
Dinky’s response comes out as a wail, shrill and desperate and soaked with tears dripping down her face. The tree digs further into her shoulder as she leans harder against it, sobs shuddering through her body and opening what feels like a far deeper hole inside her chest. “I don’t think I’m better than everypony else,” she says, hiccupping for breath between each sentence that pours out of her. “I don’t like being alone, I hate it! You don’t care if everypony else hates you, but I do, and I can’t just beat ponies up when they’re mean to me. I’m not strong like you. I’m too scared. I’m too much of a coward. I don’t like fighting, I don’t want to hurt anypony…”
With a shuddering whimper, Dinky collapses onto her side, a few last droplets squeezing out of her closed eyes. “It’s always just me who gets hurt.”
I know I should do something. I know I should say something—literally anything—to make her see herself in a different light, because the less composed she is now, the more likely she is to decide she doesn’t want me gone after all. Because once she realizes that we’ve failed today, she’ll force me to help her again tomorrow and the day after that, for so long that I might as well be a permanent fixture inside her head. Because the longer she lies there wallowing in her own self-pity and weakness, the more it begins to poison my own thoughts as well.
Because the more miserable she feels about her isolation, the more familiar the sensation seems to become to me.
By the stars, this is ridiculous. She can’t possibly expect me to lead her through every hardship in her life, nor can she possibly take me for someone willing to do so. The only thing I’ve done for her, I did for my sake and mine alone. She has been nothing but a thorn in my side since the day I first encountered her. I owe her nothing. In fact, she owes me for valuing subtlety over freedom, for not making every minute of my captivity a living hell for my captor. The fact that she would attempt such folly in the first place should stand as testament to her mental fortitude, and yet here she lies, weeping on the ground, convinced that she can’t stand up to an airheaded mortal schoolboy. This is pathetic. This is absurd.
Dinky shudders and sighs, and inside her head, so do I. If Dinky allows this to happen, she will not believe herself capable of remedying it, and if she believes that, she will not release me. There is no alternative. I have no choice. I know what I have to do.
I just cannot believe I am actually about to do it.
• • •
When Dinky leaves the woods, eyes dry and alight with energy, she does not stumble or falter. A few foals find their eyes drawn to her as she passes, but none of them command her attention in return, not even the two snickering fillies who appear to have sniffed out the reason for her disappearance. Tidal Wave himself just looks uncomfortable, even more so once he notices Dinky approaching him. He lifts a hoof as if to speak, and lets it drop when she beats him to the buck.
“Don’t even start,” she tells him, the fire in her gaze licking at each word off her tongue. “It’s one thing not to like me, but lying to me out of some misplaced sense of sympathy is another entirely. Hate me, call me clumsy or weird, think whatever you want about me when I’m not there to hear it, but don’t ever show me the disrespect of assuming I’m too weak to hear the truth. And in return, I’ll give you the truth: I deserve better than a colt who’s less unnerved by his own cowardice than by a filly half his size. So next time someone asks you out in front of everypony you know, keep that in mind.”
Tidal Wave shuts his mouth fast enough to produce an audible click of his teeth, his eyes downcast and his orange face now scarlet. Dinky is right to scold him, but he’s more a fool than a villain who would deserve anything more. The latter honor goes to the two fillies approaching her now, still smiling even as she refocuses her wrath in their direction.
“And please, grant us the favor of your silence for once,” she tells Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, stopping them dead in their tracks in a way that reveals the novelty of such an act towards them. “If you cut out your tongues and spent the rest of your lives as mutes, I’d have wasted too much of my time already listening to you talk. I’m not ashamed of the things you make fun of me for, because you know what? You’re right about them. I am clumsy, I don’t have any friends, and I did pass out in front of everypony yesterday. But you know what else you’re right about? I’m not like you. I embrace my own flaws, I admit to my mistakes, and I don’t give what I’m not willing to take.”
The rest of Dinky’s class, merely intrigued by her encounter with Tidal Wave, now watches in spellbound silence as Dinky continues, neither Diamond nor Silver doing anything to stop her. “By all means, call me names. As much as you like, laugh at me when I fall. But if I tell you your glasses look stupid, or your hair looks like old toothpaste, or that both of you wear so much of that stars-awful perfume I can’t imagine how you don’t suffocate at your desks, don’t cry or complain or expect the slightest bit of sympathy from anyone you know. Just stand there, grow a spine for a change, and take it. Or at the very least, just admit that you’re hypocrites and save some air for the ponies whose heads aren’t already full of it.”
With a swallow and a small sigh, Dinky is finished. Silver’s eyes water with the weight of her shame, and Diamond gasps for breath as if to hide her struggle with her own.
“Well…” she tries to say. “Well, you’re just a… I mean, I… w-what makes you think you can…”
“You do,” Dinky growls. “And I just did.”
Diamond’s mouth opens and closes a few times more, but everypony in earshot knows the final blow has already been struck. With a scoff and a muttered “Weirdo” under her breath, Diamond bulls through a gap in the crowd and retreats with Silver in tow. The second they’re gone, the trance is lifted. The whole of Dinky’s class converges on her at once, incoherent with shock and breathless with awe, all of them shouting about how amazing that was and how brave she looked and did she have any idea how long they’d wished someone would tell those two jerks what she just did. Even Tidal Wave looks impressed, although he retains the decency to duck his head when Dinky looks his way.
In the midst of all the chaos, the heralded hero of Ponyville Elementary excuses herself. There’s only a few minutes left until lunch ends, she explains as she goes, and there’s something she needs to take care of first. Away from the prying eyes of her newfound companions, she threads her way through the woods bordering the schoolyard, only stopping once she’s sure nopony can see her. Once assured of her solitude, she pauses for a moment, smiles to herself, and then nods.
“You can come out now,” she tells me. And I do. From the shade of a nearby shrubbery—where I ensconced myself after my release from her body and watched her from afar—I materialize into a wispy rendition of my former self, all skin and bones but at least substantial at last.
After a few moments spent staring at each other without a word between us, Dinky makes the first move. She leans forwards and wraps her forelegs around my own, pressing her cheek to my knees as she squeezes them together. I’m unmoved by the sentiment. I’d much rather just get going.
“Thanks for telling me what to say,” she says, a faint smile twitching on her lips.
“You knew what to say already,” I reply, finally in my own familiar tone. “I just showed you where to find it.”
Strictly speaking, that’s not true. I did tell her what to say, almost every word save for her undeniably creative final remark, but with the point of the whole gesture being that she could stand up for herself without me stuck inside her head, I believe my bit of subterfuge to be—
“No, seriously, I know it was all you.” Dinky smiles again as I look down at her perplexed. “I could hear every thought you had the whole time you were in my head. On that note, actually, why do you narrate everything that happens to you as it happens?”
“Never mind,” I mutter. “The point is—“
“It was a nice thought,” Dinky tells me. “Thanks for caring about me enough to have it.”
Now I’m truly perplexed. “Whatever gave you that impression is misguided. I still fully intend to pursue my original goal.”
“You’re still here now, though,” Dinky says, a shrug and a grin all she offers as explanation. “Good luck with Twilight. Tell her I loved that textbook she lent me last week.”
Before I can get another word in, Dinky is gone. For the first time in two days, I am alone. There is no injury restricting me, no loudmouthed little brat holding me back. Twilight Sparkle is less than a mile away. I can reach her in minutes. I can still enact my flawless, unbeatable plan.
The textbook Twilight lent her?
My shoulders sag, and a sigh escapes my newly formed lungs. It would be foolish to rush this again like I did two days ago. Most of my remaining strength went into creating this body, and leaving it again would only tax me further. I need to find a place to regroup, to adjust my strategy and repair the damage done to it by Dinky Doo’s damned intrusion upon it. Once all that’s done—once I’m truly ready—then I will strike. Then I will be king. Then I will be Sombra once more.
And if I want to get back to the Crystal Kingdom in the meantime, it occurs to me now, I will have to walk. Because of Dinky. Because of her spirit. Because I just like to see things through.
Stupid mortals. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother with them.