“Muffins!” squealed Ditzy as she looked over the breakfast the hotel had provided. After half a night's sleep and some time under the lukewarm shower in her room, she at least felt partially equine, and the presence of her favourite food helped improve her disposition even more. Despite being used to early mornings she had found herself the last of the party to arrive to eat. Even the nap happy Dash was here.
“It’s nice to see that some things are the same in all universes,” said Spike with a grin. ”My Ditzy loves muffins as well.”
“As does mine,” said Octavia with a smile. “Although she tries to resist their siren call to stay in best flying shape.”
“The Ditzy I know loves them as well,” said Pinkie, inhaling a plate of sweet treats. “For her last birthday I baked her a really big muffin that Dinky could jump out of as a surprise. But she was worried that her momma would eat her, so I jumped out instead. She did take a few bites out of my tail though.”
Dash gave a chuckle, “Yeah, that sounds like Ditzy. I found she even keeps an emergency muffin stash in her bedroom, in case she gets peckish at night.”
“How do you know what's in Ditzy’s bedroom Dash?” asked Spike. “Is there something we should know?”
“Oh, I live with her, she’s one of my oldest friends,” said Dash casually
“Only friends?” said Spike, raising an eyebrow.
“Yeah, only friends.” She blushed slightly. “Geez what are you, your universe’s version of Cloud Kicker? She even made me Dinky’s godmom,” she continued with pride.
Ditzy blinked. She couldn’t think of trusting somepony like Dash with her daughter if something happened to her, but maybe this Dash was more reliable than the one she knew. Although, thinking about it her Dash had been caring for Fluttershy for several years. Maybe she should consider asking some pony to be Dinky’s godmother in case something happened to her, since being an element was a dangerous life. Still, who could she pick? Most of her closest friends were elements as well, her parents would make sense she supposed, maybe Silver Script?
“We’ve been talking about what to do today,” said Auntie, shaking Ditzy from her thoughts. “We think our best lead to the Element of Kindness is Sparkler, she certainly seems to fit the bill. We just need to get her away from that ogre of a father of her’s long enough to talk to her and for your element to empower her.”
“Yeah, I’m sure I can get in there and out in a few moments,” said Dash. “Castor won’t even know I’m there.”
“Is there something wrong dear?” asked Auntie turning to Ditzy. “You seemed a little on edge last night.” She narrowed her eyes a little, obviously not having forgotten Ditzy’s words outside of her room. “Everytime someone mentions that stallion’s name you twitch a little.”
“Well, I know Castor,” said Ditzy, shifting uncomfortably in her seat, breakfast forgotten, “well the Castor in my world very well, at least I thought I did.”
“And this one doesn’t match? I certainly don’t see you being friends with anypony like that.”
“It was more than friends, you see.” Ditzy closed her eyes and tried to will away the ice in her stomach, this was every bit as hard as she’d expected. This was very private to her and she’d only recently told even her closest friends, let alone total strangers, even if some of them wore familiar faces. However, if it affected their mission and got her one step closer to getting back to her daughter she’d do anything. “Well you see Castor... C-Castor’s Dinky’s father,” she stuttered, looking down at the ground. “At least in my world he is.”
“You mean Doctor Whooves isn’t Dinky’s daddy in your universe?” gasped Pinkie. “She doesn’t have two hearts?”
Ditzy looked at Pinkie in utter confusion, “Two hearts? No just one really big one.” She couldn’t help but smile at the thought.
“Wow, you must live in bizarro world then, I can’t imagine you and the Doc not being together.”
“I do not know who Dinky’s father is in my universe,” said Octavia. “Your duplicate has not ventured that information and I have not pried into her affairs, but I don’t know of anypony called Doctor Whooves.”
“Yeah, sort of the same thing here,” said Spike, rubbing his head nervously. He’d always meant to find out who Dinky’s dad was but it seemed a rather personal question to ask his friend.
“That Castor creep,” said Dash. “Definitely not Dinky’s dad in my universe. He might be Sparkler’s, though. You adopted her where I come from.”
In a way the fact that Dinky seemed to exist in all universes more or less the same regardless of who her father was make Ditzy feel better. When she’d previously visited a different universe the Dinky there had been similar to her daughter and had been the daughter of Castor Cut as well. The version of her in that universe had been dating a stallion called Time Turner, but she’d never heard of a Doctor Whooves. It seemed like her daughter was special, appearing in the whole of creation regardless of her parentage.
“So Castor Cut lives with you and Dinky in your universe then?” asked Auntie. “I can understand how it could be a shock to see him like this, then.”
Dinky flinched, her happy thoughts suddenly forgotten. “No. We... We’re not together anymore, I’m not sure if we ever were really.”
“What ever do you mean?”
“Well when I met him I was young, almost too young. I was angry with my parents about something, I don’t remember what, not letting me go to a concert, something trivial like that. So I went to a bar and I met him there. He... He’d be fighting with his wife and I... I was in heat.”
“Oh,” said Auntie, looking grim.
“We danced and when the clubs closed we went, umm, dancing together. He seemed so mature and attractive at the time, and well I liked how he made me feel. We were together for a few months, then... then I found out about Dinky and he... he didn’t want anything to do with me.” Her gaze dropped again.
“What!” exclaimed Auntie, “How could he! Abandoning his own child like that!”
“The cad!” agreed Octavia.
“Scumbag!” snarled Dash.
“It wasn’t all his fault, I hadn’t thought of the consequences either,” said Ditzy. “And he had a family to think of.”
“Which he should have considered before picking up barely legal fillies in bars, no offence dear,” said Auntie.
“But I didn’t think of them either. I knew he had a wife and a daughter, and he never even said he was going to leave them. I just wanted to have fun.”
“No, don’t blame yourself. You were the victim. He obviously wasn’t thinking... not with his head anyway,” snorted Auntie.
“Stallions!” commented Dash.
“They’re all the same,” complained Octavia.
For a moment Spike considered protesting the other element bearers’ slander of his gender, then looked around at the circle of angry mares and decided that in this situation discretion would be the better part of valour, and kept his mouth shut.
“Anyway, my parents tried to make him take responsibility. His wife, May Bell, found out what had been going on and she divorced him.”
“Serves him right,” said Orange Sherbet angrily. “If I found out that Mosley, not that he would...” she trailed off.
“But that ruined his daughter's life, ruined Sparkler’s life, her parents split up and it was all my fault. If I’d just been a better pony, thought about something other that my own selfish needs. I ruined her life.”
“Well Castor didn’t seem to recognise you in this world so it would seem that this universe's you didn’t have an affair with him. If there even is a you in this universe,” said Octavia, frowning a little. “This multiverse thing is very confusing.”
“Still it does seem that no version of Castor is any good,” said Sherbet. “It's a wonder his daughter turned out so well, she must take after her mother. I think we can all agree that she is most likely to be the Element of Kindness and the sooner we get her out of that gulag and saving the world the better for everypony.”
“But remember what Iron Nails said,” said Ditzy, an idea striking her. “This world’s Castor was a good pony without me about, until he changed recently. We were told this world’s elements had become corrupted, so it could be him rather than Sparkler.”
“Dear, I think you might be putting your relationship with Castor ahead of your common sense. You are not to blame for what has happened in this universe, nor in your own. He might have done some good in the past but he seems quite far gone now, whereas Sparkler seems a saint.”
“Yeah, Sparkler’s a sweet kid and Castor doesn’t seem anything but trouble in this world or your own,” said Dash.
Ditzy tried to consider her emotions. Despite how he’d acted towards her she’s never really blamed Castor for anything, how could she? He’d given her her most precious treasure, for without him there would be no Dinky. But was she taking it too far, seeing kindness where there was none? He seemed to be motivated by a desire to protect his daughter, and she could understand that, love could drive you to do some questionable things. She remembered hefting a gangster far into the air and let him drop without knowing if she could catch him again so she could find out what his companions had done with Dinky. She had to find out more.
“I think I at least need to talk to him to try and find out what happened to make him change. Maybe if we talk to him and Sparkler about why we’re here...”
“I’m not sure if that’s a good idea,” said Spike. “You remember what Iron said about his wife, you could be in danger.”
Ditzy looked agast. She knew Caster and May Bell had been fighting even in her universe but she couldn’t imagine it going that far. Even when she’d been with him he’d mentioned he’d loved his wife. It was just that sometimes love didn’t last, or just wasn’t enough. “I really don’t think he’d do that.”
“But even if there’s a chance I think we should all go.”
“Oh, come off it,” growled Dash. “Maybe you had a thing with your world’s Castor, but this one’s locked up his own daughter. We need to break in there and get her out before he does something worse to her.”
“Dash, I think that’s a bit extreme. We don’t have any evidence that he’s done anything wrong. We should go with Ditzy’s plan and investigate a bit first,” said Spike.
“Who made you the boss?” snorted Dash, rising into the air.
“I agree with Spike,” said Octavia.
“I don’t like this Castor,” admitted Auntie. “But it’s probably best to try to talk before we go in hooves flying.”
“Fine,” said Dash, crossing her forelegs and scowling.
“Right so once we’ve finished eating we can go and interview Castor, and Sparkler if we can,” said Spike.
“No, you saw how he was, he might let one or two ponies into his house but not six,” pointed out Ditzy.
“How about just you and me?” suggested Sherbet. “We hardly look threatening. The rest of you can stay here for the moment.”
“Hey, no offence but if this guy does turn out to be some sort of psycho pony you’re gonna to need some backup,” said Dash.
“Oh, I think I can take care of myself dear. I’m not as helpless as I look, earth pony strength and all that,” said Orange, looking Dash in the eye.
“Yeah, ok,” said Dash, lowering her gaze, “but I don’t see why you need to talk to him. We could just get Sparkler out of there and be done. The sooner this world’s saved the sooner we can all get back home.”
The argument was very seductive to Ditzy, but she couldn’t agree. “I’m not just going to take Castor’s daughter away from him, even if she wants to go. I wouldn’t wish that on anypony. We need to talk to them both before we do anything else.”
“Fine,” said Dash sulkily. “But my way’s quicker.”
“So it’s agreed,” said Spike, “Auntie and Ditzy will try to talk to Sparkler and Castor and the rest of us will stay here?”
The rest of the group nodded.
“I’ll get a ‘we found the third of the elements’ party ready,” said Pinkie.
The group stood up from their breakfast. Orange and Ditzy made their way to the door while the rest milled around in the lobby area. Octavia took out her cello and started to run through some scales on it. Meanwhile Spike started to read an old magazine he’d found on a table and Pinkie produced fabric and paints from somewhere and started to make a banner. Dash paced impatiently around the room. “I’m going out to stretch my wings,” she announced after a few minutes.
“Don’t go far,” warned Spike.
“Don’t worry,” said Dash with a grin. “I’ll be back before you know it.” With that she ran to the door and leaped into the air. Circling the hotel a few times before flashing away in the direction of Castor’s house.
“This can’t be the right way,” said Orange, looking at the tangle of vines which blocked their route to Castor’s house.
“I think you might be right,” admitted Ditzy. It wasn’t as easy finding her way back without a guide as she thought it would be. She knew the Fillydelphia of her universe but it had been several years since she had lived there, plus in this universe several roads were blocked by vines.
“Maybe you could fly us over this blockage, dear,” suggested Auntie, looking dubiously at the long thorns sticking out of the greenery, “I don’t fancy trying to chamber over that.”
Ditzy scanned the sky. There were several stickly looking clouds hovering above, and she didn’t like the look of them. She was about to suggest they take a different route when she saw a multicoloured blur whizz across the sky. “Dash!” she gasped.
“What?” said Auntie shielding her eyes from the sun and looking up. “What’s she doing?”
“Going to get Sparkler no doubt! After we told her not to!”
“Well you’ll have to stop her, then. There’s no way I can get there in time.”
Ditzy was torn for a moment, “Are you sure you’ll be all right by yourself?”
“Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll be able to meet you at Castor’s... eventually,” she said, looking dubiously at the vines.
“If you’re sure...”
“Yes, go!” she insisted.
Giving a last look back, Ditzy lept into the air, and giving the yellowy clouds a wide berth she followed Dash’s trail as quickly as her wings would carry her.
It had only taken a matter of minutes for Dash to reach Castor’s house. She circled it a few times, looking for a way in. She had to admit that the unicorn had done a good job of fortifying his dwelling, even the chimney was blocked off. Most of the mansion’s windows and been bricked up and those that weren’t were barred. Thinking she might be able to pry out some of the blocks, Dash hovered in front of a window, only to freeze as she noticed several small gems glittering in the mortar. That triggered a faded memory of her lessons about magical security. She suspected that the gems were enchanted, if disturbed they could trigger an alarm or even a harmful spell of some type. Celestia had demonstrated the range of spells that could be stored in such gems using a paralysing spell, and by the time Dash had been able to move again the castle seamstresses had finished sewing her into a dress for that night's gala. Dash shuddered at the recollection, if these gems were anything like that then Castor had certainly not skimped on his security system.
Sighing, Dash swooped lower looking for any further entrances to the house.
“Rainbow Dash!” came a cry from behind her. Dash jumped so suddenly she was sure her wings would fall off and then spun around. Hovering there, looking annoyed was Ditzy Doo. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
Dash looked down, sweating nervously, “Errr, Um...” she tried. It seemed that this Ditzy had the same power as the one in her universe, the disapproving look of doom. One glance and she was a little filly again and she knew she’d been naughty. It made Fluttershy’s stare seem like a sideways glance. “I was just stretching my wings and found myself in the area so I thought I might as well have a look around.”
“Fine, I was trying to find Sparkler.”
“We agreed to talk to Castor first.”
“Yeah but he locked her up Ditzy, he could have done anything to her. Now we’re here we can at least make sure she’s all right.”
Ditzy sighed. It would be a while until Orange got here and now that Dash mentioned it she was a bit worried about Sparkler’s safety. She was sure Castor wouldn’t do anything to her, but just in case. “Fine, let's see if we can find her room and make sure she’s ok.”
“Thanks,” said Dash with a grin as she zipped towards the nearest barred window. To her surprise she immediately caught a glance of Sparkler sitting at a desk apparently working some sort of magic on a large gem.
“Hey kid!” hissed Dash, causing Sparkler to jump and drop the gem.
Looking around in surprise Sparkler spotted the source of the noise and cautiously approached the pegasus’s crowding at the window. “Rainbow isn’t it? And Ditzy?” she asked, sounding surprised. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to make sure you were all right after how your dad was acting last night. He didn’t hit you or anything did he?” asked Dash with a scowl. “If he did I’ll...”
“No! Dad would never hurt me. He was just angry that I left without telling him and, well scared as well. He worries about me you see.” She wrung her hooves.
“I can understand that,” said Ditzy. “This wor... city doesn’t seem very safe.”
“Yeah, you can see he really cares,” said Rainbow sarcastically. “He’s given you such nice curtains.” She tapped one of the bars with her hooves.
“He just wants me to be safe,” she said regretfully. ”He doesn’t like it when I go out.”
“Yeah most jailors don’t like it when their prisoners escape.”
“Dash!” said Ditzy sharply, although the evidence didn’t seem to be with her. The bars looked very sturdy.
“Hey, I just tell it like it is,”
“It’s really not like that,” said Sparkler, “I could leave if I wanted to.”
“Sure! The locks and bars are all just decoration.”
“No really, I can leave whenever I want,” said Sparkler, looking sure of herself.
That surprised Dash. “Come off it, there are bars and I can see at least a dozen spell gems.”
Ditzy frowned. She wasn’t sure what the blue pegasus was talking about, then she squinted at the wall and noticed several twinkling lights.
“Twenty-two actually, Daddy’s very good at them. But,” she turned slightly giving them a view of her flank and the gem symbols on it, “I have the same cutie mark as him, and the same talent.” Her horn glowed for a moment and Dash saw the spell gem’s slight glimmer go out. “As for the bars, well I loosened them a long time ago.” Her aura encompassed one of them and, with a yank, it separated from the wall. She repeated the process again and again until there was enough room for Dash to squeeze herself through, which she did. Ditzy started to follow her, but being less athletic, didn’t find it as easy.
“Hey, not bad. ‘course I could have broken in myself but it would have taken a bit longer.” Dash looked around the room. “Eerr, nice place, it’s very pink.” She was not exaggerating, every surface of the large room was covered in various shades of the colour as was the carpet, the furniture, and even the bed clothes. There was a large pile of plush toys in one corner and apart from a small work bench covered in gems, everything else was lacey or flowery. It made Rarity’s bedroom look practically butch. Rainbow could feel some of her awesomeness being leached away just by being in the room.
Sparkler blushed, blending into the room even better. “Dad decorated it. I don’t think he always remembers I’m not a little filly any more.”
“Those are very nice,” commented Ditzy pointing at the toys. Her head and forelegs were now in the room, but she was having difficulty getting her wings through the gap between the bars. “I’m sure Dinky would like them.”
Sparkler sighed, “Yes, I used to really love them. When I was a foal!”
There was a knocking at the door. “Sparkler?” came Castor’s voice. “Can I come in?”
“Hide!” hissed Sparker, snapping her head around to Dash before rushing over to the window and gently pushing Ditzy back out the window before slotting the bars back into place. Dash looked around for somewhere to go, but there wasn’t space under the bed and she couldn’t see any cupboards large enough to hold her. The ceiling was low enough that anypony entering the room would notice her straight away.
“Sparkler?” came Castor’s voice again.
“Just a second, Dad!”
Dash’s eyes alighted on the pile of toys in the corner. She gulped but couldn’t see any other options, she just hoped that nopony she knew would see her. She dived into the pile of plush animals and tried to bury herself as best as she could. Sparkler, having finished securing her window, ran back to her desk and picked up the gem again.
“You can come in now!” she yelled.
The door opened and Castor came in levitating a tray. “I brought you a snack,” he said.
“Thanks,” muttered Sparkler as Castor rested the food on a pink side table. Ditzy poked her head up over the lip of the window for a second before ducking back down again. She was still a little stunned to see her old lover again. Unlike last night he seemed much more composed, almost like she remembered him.
“I’m... I’m sorry how I acted last night,” said Castor, sitting on the bed. “But you shouldn't go out like that, it’s too dangerous. Something could happen to you.”
“I was fine,” said Sparkler, “I was just helping some of the homeless.”
“You said you were attacked!” cried Castor, raising his hooves in distress.
“But it turned out fine, those new ponies saved me.”
“But what if they hadn’t? Since your mother... I can’t... I can’t lose you Sparkler, I can’t.” He lowered his head.
Sparkler ran over to her distressed father and gave him a gentle nuzzle. “Dad, don’t worry. Nothing’s going to happen to me.”
“Thanks sweetie,” he said as he threw an arm over his daughter's back, “I know I’m being silly, but I get so worried.” They remained there for a while locked together. Trapped under the pile of toys, Dash felt rather awkward while Ditzy felt her heart soar. She was glad in this universe Sparkler and her father still seemed to get along.
Sparkler eventually broke the silence. “Dad, I talked to Pokey yesterday and him and some of my friends from college are going down to the river today to have a picnic, I’d like to go as well.”
Castor broke their embrace “No!” he commanded. “It’s dangerous, you could fall in, or be attacked by one of the street ponies, or anything. And I’ve told you before you’re not to have anything to do with that colt. He’s only going to hurt you!”
“But I like Pokey! He’s smart and funny,” said Sparkler, stomping her hooves on the plush pink carpet.
“My word is final! You can not go out today, and you will have nothing more to do with that colt! He is nothing but trouble.”
“You can’t make me!” cried Sparkler. Ditzy winced, she hoped Dinky never yelled at her like that, but she remembered being Sparkler's age and knew how unfair this must seem to her. If only she could get the two of them to really talk to each other, not just yell.
“As long as you live under my roof you will follow my rules,” snorted Castor.
“Then maybe I won’t live under your roof any more!”
“And where would you go!”
“I could stay with Pokey!”
Castor’s face turned even more purple than normal. “You are not living with a colt!” he yelled.
“I’m an adult now! I can live with whoever I want, and we can do whatever we want, we can even have sex! Sexy, sexy, sex! With each other!” she added.
Castor staggered back as if he had been slapped, and even Sparkler seemed to realise she had gone too far.
“Well,” roared Castor, for a moment Dash thought he might even strike his daughter and tensed ready to stop him, then he relaxed slightly. “You say you’re an adult but you’re acting like a foal. You can stay in your room until you grow up. No matter how long that takes.” He turned and stamped towards the door.
“Dad!” cried Sparkler, rushing towards him, but he did not stop or turn back and slammed the door behind him. There was the sound of several locks being engaged and the door glowed slightly as it was sealed magically for good measure.
Sparkler pounded her hoof again the door, “Daddy!” she cried again before slumping against it and letting out a long sigh of frustration.
Dash broke free from her plush prison, scattering toys in all directions. “‘Sexy, sexy, sex’?” she chuckled. “Smooth.” Then she noticed how upset Sparkler was.
To her surprise Ditzy flashed past her and enveloped Sparkler in a hug, having apparently pushed the bars from the window by herself and passed through them in only a few seconds.
“You ok kid?” asked Dash, hunkering down by the younger mare as Ditzy loosened her grip.
“That was foalish, I know,” Sparkler sobbed, burying her face in Ditzy’s shoulder, “I don’t mean to hurt him. It’s just he gets me so angry treating me like a foal all the time,”
“I’m sure he doesn’t mean to be like that, he’s just worried,” murmured Ditzy.
Sparkler turned to Dash. “Do you know what it feels like, to have your life being controlled by another?” she asked.
Dash gave a small grin. “I might have an idea. My... teacher kept trying to make me something I wasn’t. It's not like you can improve on perfection anyway. Then I found it was all for some secret purpose. She could have told me, I lo... l would have done anything for her, but she didn’t trust me enough to tell me.”
“What did you do?”
“I guess I sort of ran away, found a place I could be myself without her about for a bit. But then it looked like she might be gone forever... Well things got complicated. We’ve talked a bit but I don’t think we’re really cool yet.” She sighed, she wasn’t normally big on introspection but she could see a few similarities between herself and Sparkler. Maybe it was a sort of rule that at least one element bearer had to have a problem with their parent like figure.
“Do you think I should do that, run away?”
“I think you should get out of here now. Your dad’s a psycho, he’s worse than Cele... my teacher ever was, at least she didn’t lock me up.”
“No Sparkler,” Ditzy glared at Dash. “That’s not a solution, you’ll just hurt your father more. You need to sort things out with him.”
“I know, Dad’s not that bad, he just gets worried about me. The city’s not what it used to be and since Mom’s gone..”
“What happened to your Mom?” asked Dash.
Sparkler turned away. “Dad says she’s away on a business trip, she’ll be back soon.”
“You believe him?” asked Dash cautiously.
“I’m sure she’ll be back soon,” she repeated dully.
“I’ve, um, heard some rumours that your Dad might have done something to your Mom.”
Sparkler turned angrily to Dash. “He would never hurt her, he loves her, like she was supposed to love him. She’ll be back soon and we can all be a family again, Dad was never like this before she went! He wasn’t worried all the time, he even got on with Pokey.”
Ditzy hugged Sparkler again. She’d seen what breaking up a family had done to the Sparkler of her world, and it had been her fault. She couldn’t stand the same thing happening here. “I’m sure your father only has your best interests at heart, he’s just gone a bit far.”
Deciding to avoid difficult subjects for a while, Dash tried a different line of conversation. “So you and Pokey. He told me how you met, when you ran into him.”
Sparkler grinned despite herself. “Yeah, it took a few tries before I actually managed to hit him.”
Dash chuckled and revalued the cunning of the mare next to her. “You planned that? That’s sneaky.” She had smashed into Shining Armour a few times, although never on purpose. At least she didn’t think it had ever been on purpose.
“Well he was always walking around with his horn in the clouds. I’d tried to talk to him before but he didn’t notice me so I had to be less subtle.”
“Well he’s not really my type, I prefer my stallions to be a bit more... well more.” She thought of Shining Armour and Big Mac, and they were certainly hunks of stallion. Pokey, well she could see how some mares might like him, he certainly had a big horn thing going on and his mane was sort of cool, but not to her tastes. “But he’s cute, I suppose. I like a stallion who’s dependable, you know that whatever happens he’ll be there for you will always have your back.”
“He does seem a nice stallion,” said Ditzy. Her own taste has proved to be poor, but the Pokey in her universe was an honorable stallion, if a little changeable in his tastes.
“Oh, Pokie’s sweet and kind, you saw how he was with the homeless and he’s so funny and smart. I wouldn’t have done half as well in class if it wasn’t for him. And he’s surprisingly muscular.” Her eyes sparkled and her face coloured a little.
“And your Dad doesn’t approve,” noted Dash.
“I just wish he and Pokey would get along, they both mean so much to me. I don’t want to have to choose between them.”
“So you’re not going to be moving in with him, then?”
“His dorm doesn’t allow mares, and his room’s too small anyway. You can barely fit two in the bed,” Sparkler agreed, before realising what she had said and blushing. “Not that we’ve.... you know the bed...”
“Of course I know,” said Dash with a grin, elbowing the pink mare in the ribs and causing her face to glow like the sun. “So no sexy, sexy, sex going on there, then?”
“Errr, no we’ve, um, done some things,” her face rivalled the sun in warmth for a moment, “but nothing that far. A lot of the girls at college say they’ve gone all the way but I want to wait for the right time. The thing is, the way the world is you never know if there will be a right time, the vines could destroy everything tomorrow, but I don’t know if I’m ready. What do you think?”
“You really shouldn’t do anything you’re not ready for,” said Ditzy, sounding almost panicked. “You’ve got to remember there are consequences to that sort of thing. You have to understand what could happen.”
“Yeah,” agreed Dash. “Don’t let anypony else tell you when you’re ready, that’s not cool at all. If Pokey ever tries to force you to do anything you’re not comfortable with just leave, you’re better than that.”
“Pokey would never tell me what to do, we’ve talked about it and I’ve been tempted. There was this time at the dance last year, he’s very good on his hooves and he was in a tux and well I was very very tempted to just...”
“Seize the day?” suggested Dash. She liked talking to Sparkler like this, as if she were her big sister. Would Dinky come to her with this sort of problem in many many years? It just seemed wrong thinking of the cute filly having questions about colts. Maybe she should arrange to be out of town for the whole of Dinky’s puberty.
“As I said I’ve been tempted, but in a way that’s giving up. You’ve got to have hope that things will get better, than somepony will do something about the vines that the princesses will come back. Otherwise you might as well just give up and die.”
“You got guts kid,” said Dash, standing back from Sparkler as she stood up. “And you’ve got me standing around in your very pink room talking about colts. If you try to start braiding my mane I might have to hand in my awsome card.”
Sparkler pouted, “Awww! I thought we could do each other’s makeup.”
Dash make a vomiting gesture for a moment and Sparker giggled. Ditzy smiled, she’d never seen her Dash act like this, maybe she could see why her other self had made her Dinky’s godmother. She’d heard that her Dash had looked after one of Dinky’s friends during the longest day when her father had been taken by Corona, so maybe she wasn’t that different.
“But seriously,” said Dash, “that’s a good philosophy. I think you’re the only pony I’ve seen here who has hope, everypony else just seems to have given up. How would you like to really be able to make a difference? Not just wait for the princesses to return but actually make it happen?”
“I don’t know about that but I do what I can to help the homeless. It’s not half as much as Dad used to do, but it's something. I wish he’d never given up.”
“Why did he?”
“He never told me. He said that one of the homeless robbed him of something very precious and that he was afraid that they’d hurt me, but they’ve never done anything like that, well apart from those thugs last night. I don’t get it, it’s like he wants me to stay a filly my whole life and never go out and grow up.”
“Well,” said Ditzy. “It can be hard for a parent to do that, he’s been protecting your all your life and now he can’t. I’m not saying it’s right. I know someday I’ll have to let Dinky go, but I don’t think it’ll be easy. He really does love you it’s just not easy, he might just need time.”
“I suppose so,” said Sparkler sulkily. “I don’t understand why it can’t be now.”
“Yeah, everypony needs to leave the nest sooner or later. You can’t live in a cage,” said Dash.
“Dash, it’s not our place to interfere. This is between Sparkler and her father.”
“I suppose,” she said, not sounding convinced. “Look, won’t Orange be here soon? You better go and meet her. I’ll be fine staying here with Sparkler while you talk to Castor and try and sort things out.”
“Ok, just don’t go anywhere.”
“Not a problem,” said Dash, looking a little shifty.
“Nice talking to you Sparkler,” said Ditzy as she made her way to the window and, with a little bit of wiggling, and some help from Dash, made her way out into the street again.
Dash watched the grey mare bob away around to the front of the building. “So you ready to get out of here?” she asked. “Your friends and Pokey will be waiting.”
“Didn’t you just tell your friend you wouldn’t go anywhere?” said Sparkler, sounding shocked.
“Yeah, well she doesn’t have to know everything,” mumbled Dash, looking down. “She’ll be talking to your Dad for hours, so they won’t even know you’re gone. I’m just glad she didn’t make me Pinkie promise, maybe they don’t have that in her world.”
Sparkler seemed conflicted, “No, I couldn’t. You heard what Dad said.”
“Yes, I heard. I just thought you’d ignore him, he’s locked you up!”
“Not really, it’s just for show, he knows I can get out if I want.” She stood and turned towards the door, her horn glowed and the aura surrounding the portal faded away. Then she opened a small casket on her dressing table and brought out a crystal key and turned it in the lock. “Daddy made sure I could get out in case of a fire.”
Dash’s mouth dropped, “Why lock it then?”
“That’s just his way of showing me he’s angry,” she pushed at the door and to her surprise it suddenly glowed again and gently but irresistibly she was forced away. Looking confused, Sparker lit her horn again. The glow continued to emanate from the door. “I don’t believe it,” she gasped. “He’s really locked me in! He’s never done that before,” she said, sounding outraged. “How dare he! I’m am not a little filly!” She stomped a hoof on the ground and tried to counter the spell holding the door shut again, but it remained stubbornly closed. “That is it! Come on Dash, I’m going to the river whether Dad lets me or not.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Dash with a grin as Sparkler yanked out the bars from her window and tossed them onto her bed. Dash swooped out through the window while the younger mare quickly packed a bag.
“This’ll show him,” muttered Sparkler. She stopped for a moment and considered leaving a note for her father, then glancing at the door again she decided not to. He deserved to worry after treating her like this. She clambered through the window and let Dash ease her down to the ground before the two of them headed towards the college.
Ditzy quickly circled the house and was glad to find Auntie Orange standing near the front door. “You made it!”
“Yes, it wasn’t to hard once I got my bearings. Did you find Dash?”
“Yes, she’s in Sparkler’s room.”
“How is the filly?” asked the older mare with concern.
“She’s fine, although a little upset with her father. He’s rather overprotective, but I know the feeling.”
“I really don’t understand why you’re standing up for him after what his alternative self did to you. You’d have every reason to hate him.” She sighed, “I guess that’s why you’re kindness.”
“Well that was his other self, a different stallion, your friend back in Manehattan wasn’t the same as she was in your world was she?”
Still looking unsure, Sherbet nodded. “Lovestruck is different in this world, but at her heart was was the same pony. If Castor could abandon his own child in your world, can this one really be much better?”
“I can’t even hate him. Without him there would be no Dinky, and I’ll forever be thankful for her. I can’t hate anything that is part of my little muffin.”
“I... I think I can understand that. I don’t think I could ever hate part of Tangerine either. But that’s just why I can’t believe this Castor Cut can be any sort of element bearer, the way he treats his own flesh and blood.”
“I guess we’re about to find out,” said Ditzy, flapping up to the door and knocking loudly. It glowed an alarming red colour and both mares stepped back in alarm. When nothing further happened for a minute Ditzy stepped forwards again and raised a hoof just as a slot in the door slid open to reveal a pair of light blue eyes.
“Who is it?” asked Castor sharply.
“Umm, I’m Ditzy Doo, and this is Orange Sherbet,” said Ditzy. “We brought your daughter home last night.”
“Oh yes, thank you for that. I gave you a reward, you don’t want more do you?” he asked suspiciously.
“Oh, no, you were very generous. We want to talk to you... about your daughter and the work she’s doing for the homeless.”
“She shouldn’t be doing that, they’re dangerous, thieves the lot of them. I’ve made sure my daughter will be safe from them now.”
“But she’s doing a lot of good,” protested Ditzy. “Somepony has to do something.”
“I used to think that way...” he paused for a moment, “but not any more, it's a lost cause, I need to protect my own now, not a bunch of homeless strangers.”
“Your daughter doesn’t seem to think so.”
“She’s too young to really understand it all. She needs me to protect her.”
“Does she understand that? She seemed quite angry with you last night.”
“How I raise my daughter is my own business!” said Caster angrily. His head moved back and the cover started to close back over the slot.
“I’m not saying it isn’t,” said Ditzy quickly, and the spy hole opened again. “But we understand how difficult it can be to raise a child. We’re both mothers. I know how hard it can be to do it alone.”
“And even with help and money it’s not easy to raise a child,” said Orange, butting in.
“Maybe we can talk about it,” continued Ditzy, glaring at her companion, “Give you some advice on talking to her. Get a mare’s perspective?”
“Maybe,” muttered Castor. “She’s been so disobedient recently and there hasn’t really been a mare in her life since my wife... went on her trip.”
Auntie’s eyes narrowed a little at that.
“Look, can we talk face to face,” asked Ditzy, widening her eyes and fluffing up her wings. She knew that her Castor found that look adorable, although she had been younger when she’d last used it on him, and the situation had been entirely different, but it was worth a try. “Talking through this door is rather off putting.”
“I... I suppose so,” said Castor. “Stand back.”
The two mares complied, the red glow on the door faded, and it opened. Castor looked around nervously for a second before gesturing to his guests. “Come in,” he said, “but if this is some sort of trick I am very well protected.”
Somewhat nervously Ditzy and Auntie stepped forwards into the hall as the door slammed shut behind them.
The college campus wasn’t far from Castor’s house, and it took Dash and Sparkler less than half an hour to get there. The site was dominated by a tall clock tower at one end and was mostly open grassy fields surrounding various buildings, a few of which were abandoned by the staff and students, overwhelmed by the ever present vines. The campus seemed mostly deserted, it was one of the few places Dash had seen in the city which didn’t contain a homeless population and she assumed it was too early for many of the students to have crawled from their beds. She yawned. She wished she could join them, since the hotel’s bed hadn’t been anywhere near as comfortable as her own at Ditzy’s house, and the constant twilight of this universe hadn’t helped her sleep.
“So which way to lover colt’s pad?” asked Dash.
Sparkler blushed a little and pointed at a nearby building. “That’s Pokey’s dorm,” she said, then looked around nervously. “Something’s wrong, there should be at least a few campus guards around.”
“Unless somepony was messing around at the clock tower, then they’d all be protecting their precious time piece,” came a female voice.
Dash looked up to see the scarred mare from the gang they had fought yesterday perched on the top of Pokey’s building. “What are you doing here?” she cried.
“I’ve got an invitation from Gambit, he wants to have a talk with you.”
“Who?” asked Dash.
“You’ll find out soon enough,” said the mare, leaping off the building and hovering above them.
“And what if we don’t what to go?”
“Gambit doesn’t take no for an answer.” A dozen or so ponies appeared from the shadows of various buildings and formed into a rough circle around the two mares. They were quickly trapped.
Dash looked around, chewing at her lip. She was good, but despite her bravado yesterday, she didn’t think even she could deal with a dozen gang members by herself without backup. Sparkler looked scared out of her wits, but had lit her horn ready to make a fight of it. “Dash,” she whispered, “what are we going to do?”
The blue pegasus’s eyes flickered around the scene as the gang members closed in towards them. She looked up at the red mare above them and grinned. “Hang on kid, we’re going for a ride.” She grabbed Sparkler, causing the younger mare to squeak in surprise and threw her over her back before, with a grunt of effort, she leapt into the air and streaked away from the circle of ponies below them.
“After them!” cried Cookie as Dash shot past her.
“Catch me if you can!” taunted Dash as the pegasus gang members rose into the air. Cookie swooped towards the fleeing mares, but even burdened by a passenger, Dash avoided her clumsy attack. “Ha, I’ve seen earth ponies who can fly better.”
Snarling, Cookie banked and tried to lunge at Dash again, but the blue pegasus ducked between two buildings. To her surprise further pegasus gang members launched themselves from the roof of the dorms and plunged down towards them. Almost dislodging her passenger, Dash banked quickly to avoid the new arrivals and flew back towards Cookie.
“Urghhh,” moaned Sparkler from Dash’s back.
“Hey you ok back there?” asked Dash as she rolled past her increasingly angry pursuer. “Don’t spew over me or anything.”
“Clock tower. Guards,” Sparkler managed, pointing one hoof towards the landmark while using another to cover her mouth while her hind legs wrapped themselves around Dash’s waist to keep her attached.
“Good thinking,” grinned Dash. If the guards were at the tower then it was the safest place to be. The tall building was visible between two dorm blocks above which few a few more gang pegasus. Dash shot up towards her enemies. They grinned, preparing to tackle the blue mare, but at the last moment she dived before leveling out just above the grass, out maneuvering her attackers.
“Got you!” sneered Cookie from behind.
Dash looked back for a moment in surprise. The reason for the red pony's glee then became obvious as two unicorns appeared from the buildings on either side of her, their horns glowing. A green net appeared, stretching between then and blocking Dash’s flightpath. She desperately tried to pull up, but Sparkler’s added weight slowed her enough for the net to wrap itself around her. Her wings pinned, Dash slammed into the ground with enough force to knock the air from her lungs. Sparkler was thrown from her back and went tumbling across the ground. Dash bounced a few times before coming to rest next to one of the buildings. She struggled weakly and tried to get to her hooves but the net was still wrapped around her. Suddenly, she found herself surrounded by ponies and was hauled into the air by the unicorns.
“Not so cocky now are you?” taunted Cookie.
“Lemme out and I’ll show you,” slurred Dash, still dazed by the impact.
Cookie looked about. Sparkler has also been secured by her crew, the stunned unicorn was being dragged along by Brick. The guards still seemed to be occupied, but they should get out of here as quickly as they could before they came back.
“Come on, we got to get back to base, Gambit is waiting,” she ordered, gesturing for her ponies to move out.
Unseen a blue stallion was hidden in the shadows. Pokey had seen Sparkler approach and had come down to greet her, just in time to see the trap sprung. He wanted desperately to help his marefriend and her ally, but he knew he didn’t have a chance against so many. He knew he should go and get the guards but they only cared about the campus and by the time they got here the gang would have reached safety in the slum areas. Instead he tried to keep back and follow them, hoping to have a chance to help Sparkler later.