King Sombra meant to possess Twilight Sparkle's body and take over Equestria with it. Due to an addressing error, he ends up in Dinky Doo's body instead. Neither of them is very happy about it. *5th place in the More Most Dangerous Game contest*
The plan, he thought, was perfect. Instead of returning to the mortal world as a shade of his former self, King Sombra would transmute his soul into the body of his greatest foe, using her influence and power to destroy Equestria from the inside and take vengeance on the Princesses that stole his beloved empire.
There's just one problem: after her fight with Tirek, Twilight Sparkle changed her address. This turns out to be a much bigger problem than Sombra thought. A Dinky-Doo-sized problem, to be precise.
Of all the follies of all the fools in all of the lands of Equestria, the greatest is this: they cannot, will not, and will never kill me.
When I ruled over them, they called me a tyrant. From impure crystal I carved a city of glass, an empire of steel, and when they witnessed my power they wept for lack of their own, crawled sniveling back to the gods I had rendered obsolete. They begged for freedom instead of progress, comfort instead of security. They buried their heads in the muck of mortality, blind to the eternal heavens so far out of reach their mortal minds could not hope to comprehend. When they came for me, they called me Sombra—emperor of darkness, enemy of light. They struck me down out of ignorance, locked me away inside the arcane void. I saved my empire out of spite, bound them to myself, gave them life at the expense of my own.
But still, I did not die.
When I returned, I was reborn in shadow. Conquering the black magic I had wielded before robbed me of my mortal body, silenced all but the simplest words from my mouth, but as recompense gave me strength beyond anything a mere mortal could command. The Crystal Heart—the lifeblood of my ponies, the instrument of my undoing—tormented me, its very essence profaned by the presence of true arcane might. For the good of my empire I sealed it away, and when the little ponies found me I showed them a world free of willfulness: docile, efficient, incorruptible. I offered them freedom from all their earthly bindings, but they only pulled them tighter. They used the Heart against me, tortured me, tore me into pieces and banished me to a realm yet unsullied by ephemeral hooves. I lived as a ghost of my former self. I lived as less than nothing. I lived in agony.
But still, I lived. I did not die.
I will never die.
And now, I am free again. Without a body, without the means to so much as pluck a dandelion… but alive. I am little more than a presence now, an etching of a spirit’s ghost, but it is enough to lift me back into the plane of the living. It will be enough to carry me across the crystal plains towards the sleepy little Equestrian township of Ponyville. It will be more than enough for what I plan to do once I get there. I have spent the past months rebuilding myself, gathering my strength, meditating on the target I will soon once again pursue. Her name haunted me as the Heart burned me to ash, echoed in my mind as I stitched it back together: Twilight Sparkle. My nemesis. My impossible, undeniable conquerer.
I know her through her mentor the oppressor, through her brother the fool, through her pitiful servant whose blood runs colder than his ancestors dared imagine: a strong-willed unicorn clad in violet coat, precocious in all forms of magic she encounters. She serves Harmony as I do Order, has meddled in darkness where I once embraced it. In a different world we could have been allies, but in this one she stunted her potential for the sake of those she thinks are her friends. Through little more than poor timing and good fortune, I did not confront her when last we met. It was a mistake that cost me my kingdom. I will not make it again.
Her mind may be of no use to me, but a glimpse inside her attendant’s proved much more valuable. When I am free of this accursed realm, I will come for her first, in her little treehouse she leaves open to all of the backwater hamlet she calls home. I will possess her body as my own, use her magic to fortify my own. I will reclaim my empire with her as my vessel, let her watch as the light leaves her usurping compatriot’s eyes. Then I will take her to Canterlot, strike down the old gods, let the terror of my name chill the tongues of every citizen in Equestria. When the dawn comes, it will rise not over a kingdom, but an empire. My empire.
And when it does, I swear on every star in the sky and beyond it: I will have my revenge.
• • •
Even for autumn, the night is cold. I can feel the chill tingling at the edge of my being as I pass through the air, prickling like the numbness of a limb slowly waking up. I don’t mind the odd sensation. It reminds me that I am awake at last, that my power will only grow as my earthly strength returns to me. My arrival in Ponyville—just a few minutes away now—will only expedite the process.
My plan, I cannot help but think, is devilish in its simplicity. While all of Equestria slumbers under the full harvest moon, I will sneak in right under their noses before any of them can suspect a thing. Instinct—and, I must admit, pride—drives me to meet the coming dawn in fury and flames, to lay siege to Canterlot and challenge the old gods in full view of every creature in their kingdom. The idea of slithering into their territory like a serpent hidden in the grass would have turned my stomach in a time when I still had a gut to contain one, but the contrarian nature of the plan is precisely its genius. No one will see it coming. No one will be prepared. Provided the old spells still work as they should, no one can possibly stop me.
And in truth, the spell is the simplest part of all. Though forbidden by the old gods and thought to be unfathomably dangerous by the mortals who heed them, the murkier side of magic holds no such cowardly notions. A temporary possession spell requires only a sharp mind and a keen focus on the being meant to be possessed. I have always boasted the former, and I have spents weeks upon weeks honing the latter to a razor-sharp point. I know Twilight Sparkle’s name, her face, her home, even her exact location—up the stairs, first door on the right, at the top of the loft so she can watch the stars each night.
With my return to glory so close at hoof, not to mention so assured of success, I cannot help but feel excited. The extra jolt of energy heightens my dulled senses, enough that I’m gifted with a momentary glimpse of the approaching horizon. Ponyville unfolds below me like the tapestries I will hang in Canterlot once I’ve conquered it, the eternal record I will install to remind all who gaze upon it of what befell those who stood in my way. If memory serves, Twilight’s home stands near the center of town, just west of the market square.
As the sense that I would grin like a fool if I only had the teeth with which to do it bubbles inside me, I decide I am at long last ready to begin. The preliminary spellwork feels second nature to me by this point, after the countless times I rehearsed it over the last months. The possession spell will become autonomous once I have cast it, but only as long as the energy I have reserved for it lasts. If my recollections of the ancient spellscrolls and a few ad-hoc calculations are all correct, I will be able to maintain the spell for three full days by my own power. By the time three days have passed, though, I will not need to maintain it. Twilight’s life force will serve as a splendid substitute for my own, perhaps so much so that I can restore myself to my true form in due time. With a talented magician like her under my hoof, the possibilities could very well be limitless.
Another tingle informs me of the spell’s activation, and only a few moments pass before it pings off what must be my target. I scan over the sensory response just to be sure, but I already know what it will show me: genus equus, species unicornum, fur a lovely shade of violet. I even catch a flash of the dream she’s having: a colt standing before her, mane shimmering, teeth gleaming in her star-struck eyes. How precious it all is, she and her secret romance. Maybe later she’ll even assure me that he’ll come to rescue her before I dispose of her myself.
Entrancing as the thought is, I shake it from my mind. There will be time later for reveling in the misery of the equine race. Right now, I must focus. My descent steepens as the spell zeroes in on Twilight’s slumbering form, and deep inside my being a phantom heartbeat begins to pound. I am so close to her I can taste the air rushing past me, feel the night splitting apart to allow me passage, watch the ground expand below me as I near the swaying leaves and the creaking bark and the tightly shut windows of the—
The tree house.
I can’t see the tree house.
The tree house is gone. A smoothed-over stump is all that remains, all that proves it once stood just there. There are no leaves to push aside, no windows to shatter as I enter straight through them. There is no Twilight. There is nothing.
There is no tree house.
Where in all hellfire is the moondamned treehouse?
I fly over the stump, rocket through the empty space where Twilight’s bed isn’t, and then the spell yanks me off to the left so fast my crystallizing vision blurs again. Instead of a tree house, the spell guides me towards a beige wooden one across the street, two stories tall with a yellow thatched roof. From the second floor—the bedroom on the right-hoof side—my target’s prone form echoes in the spell’s ephemeral chime. My vision fails before I can see her, but the imprint of her mind lingers overtop of mine. She’s stirring in her sleep, wincing at the sudden bite of the air against her exposed neck. I hurtle towards her room, blast through her window, roar in pain as the spell smashes me against her chest, wraps me around her horn, sinks me through her skull to the very edge of her mind…
She’s thrown clear of her bed by the impact, her legs spasming and her spine locked into an inflexible arch. I writhe against the carpet, every nerve on fire, every sense ablaze with color, sound, sensation, panic. The window hangs open on one hinge behind her—me—us. For a moment she resists, blind instinct fueling a futile push against the presence invading her mind, and then the spell completes with a flourish and a flash of deep green light. I wrestle one of her twitching forehooves under control, straighten it out by her side, gather it underneath her quivering barrel as the other three bend to the same command. When she stands, I stand with her. When I tell her to take a single trembling step forward, her body obeys without the slightest hesitation.
For the first time in months, I can feel the muscles tighten in my face, feel my lips curl away from teeth that glow red as blood under the harvest moon. There is no more planning left to be done, no more time left to be wasted, no more life doomed to be whiled away in formless, senseless exile. Even destroying her home and moving here wasn’t enough to hide Twilight Sparkle from me. The spell tracked her down anyway.
Sparks of magic flit from my horn, raise the fur lining my scalp and back, crackle across my legs and shower onto the floor. The spell worked. I own Twilight Sparkle absolutely. I command every iota of her arcane power. I am free. I am powerful. I am unstoppable. I am…
… shorter than I imagined.
My skin crawls as my mind forges connections to my new body’s nerves, from the tip of my tail all the way to the rims of my… shouldn’t my hooves be farther from my nose? Twilight Sparkle was fully grown when she faced me before. I know she was. Picturing her with this mind is easier than ever before. In moments I conjure an image of her standing in her absent library—speaking to a dumbstruck crowd—bowing before some imperious dignitary—looking at me.
Looking down at me.
It can’t be.
I couldn’t have.
The spell wouldn’t have.
Not now. Not after all this time. Not this close.
I will my body’s legs forward, stumbling over my overlarge—no, too small—hooves. A vanity glass—three times myheight—blooms into view in front of me, inches from my violet—not violet enough—snout. Dim moonlight streams over me from the shattered window, just enough to illuminate my new face. Wispy strands of golden-yellow mane hang in a tangled mess over a stubby, immature horn. Sleepy amber pupils dilate under the glare of the gangrenous green haze that surrounds them. Another consciousness stirs beneath me, splits my vision as it gazes upon the same sight I struggle to comprehend, murmurs the name scrawled on cardstock taped to the mirror’s rim, printed on a saddlebag flap next to the glass, echoing through the consciousness of the pony whose body I’ve just irrevocably possessed.
As one mind, we reach the same conclusion. As one body, a horrific chill seizes our heart.
The spell would have.
I am stuck inside the body of a pre-pubescent, colt-crazy unicorn filly named Dinky Blasted Doo.
I’m not even granted the small comfort of screaming before my own forehoof smacks me square in the nose.
In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, I must confess some degree of vexation during my first few moments in Dinky Doo’s body. I had every confidence that Twilight Sparkle would prove a formidable opponent in our inevitable battle for dominance over her anatomy, and in fact spent a great deal of time over the last months perfecting a comprehensive defense against such a resistance. I was prepared for master-level counter-possession charms, advanced occulumental techniques, practiced meditative exercises, even the simple sheer force of disembodied will.
I was not prepared for her immediate reaction, upon realizing that some unknown spirit had forcefully taken up residence inside her body, to be punching herself in the face as hard as she possibly could.
With my psyche still growing accustomed to a healthy, functioning nervous system, the blow feels more like ten piled all on top of one another, enough to send me reeling off to the side balanced on two legs. The other two flail in midair completely outside of my control, presumably with the intent of making contact with Dinky’s skull again. Another point of credit for the little whelp: like all ponies, she seems insufferably tenacious in the field of ignorant, incoherent fear.
WHO ARE YOU WHAT ARE YOU DOING LET ME GO HELP ME AAAAAAAHHHHH
Dinky’s thoughts swarm over mine like drunken wasps, piercing and stabbing at every notion I try to cobble together in spite of them. The pain from the throbbing lump on her temple is nothing compared to the twinging ache inside my mind. How can a mortal pony scream like a banshee inside their own mind?
“Silence, you fool!” I order her, but the words almost choke me as they leave her throat. The voice I hear rattling around the room isn’t the familiar booming call I’ve grown accustomed to, but instead a gravelly, broken cough that somehow manages to crack on all four words. Bile rises in her throat to match the blood rushing to her face. I don’t sound like me. I sound like a pathetic little foal trying to sound like me. And failing.
OH CELESTIA OH LUNA CADANCE MISS SPARKLE SAPPHIRE SHORES WHATEVER THE GRIFFON GOD IS HELP ME HELP ME GET IT OUT GET IT OUT GET OUT OF MY HEEEEEEEAD
“Damn you to the moon, will you shut-OW!”
Before the last feeble, pitiful word can squeak out past her lips, Dinky Doo once again speaks without using them at all. I duck her head just in time for her forehoof to glance off her ear instead of her teeth, only for the frame of the vanity glass to finish the job for her. Pain fogs her vision as I clamp the only hoof I can control over the fresh bruise on her scalp, right in the center of her miserable skull. Between my inexperience with scrawny mortal legs and the fact that only one of them is now left touching the ground, I feel her falling before I have to chance to steady herself. Before I can stick her hoof out again to break her fall, some other infernal piece of furniture beats me to it.
OW HEAD OW DRESSER OW OW HURTS OW BAD REALLY BAD GET OUT PLEASE I’M SO SORRY OW REALLY SERIOUSLY HURTS OW OW OW STUPID STUPID STUPID
“You think?” I seethe through gritted teeth, our motives coalescing for once as both Dinky’s forehooves wrap around the sides of her head. It feels like her skull is splitting apart between them, each heartbeat pounding another searing crack through the fragile bone. I don’t have time for this foolishness. This is but a temporary setback, a simple and meaningless mistake. Nothing will deter me from reaching Twilight Sparkle tonight. One way or another, come dawn tomorrow vengeance will yet be—
TWILIGHT YES TWILIGHT SPARKLE PRINCESS BIG WINGS MAGIC BEATING UP BAD GUYS HELP ME SHE CAN HELP ME FIND HER RUN RUN RUN GOOOOOOOO
Dinky overpowers me before I have a chance to parse a single syllable of the claptrap spewing from her side of her brain. I wasn’t prepared for this. She has too much influence over her body. I have just enough time to curse my own damnable weakness before her windmilling legs carry us just to the left of her wide-open door, directly into the corner of its cedarwood frame.
Finally, I’m granted a respite from the foal’s insufferable keening wails. I think I am, at least. Another possibility is that she no longer retains the mental faculties to give internal voice to her whinging, in light of the other sensations taking precedent over what little space remains there. Most of those sensations being pain.
“Blasted… fool of a… weak, impuissant little…”
A discombobulated mash of invectives turns out to be all I can manage. To an infuriating degree, the trauma to my body’s brain affects my own mind as much as hers. Her sluggish limbs wobble through my commands, but with some effort I prop her up against the wall and guide her to the top of the stairs. Outside the bay window above the front door, a splash of orange and pink paints the lightening horizon. Dawn is upon me. There’s little time left. I must go now.
NO NO NO STOP STOP STOP DON’T LEAVE I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE NOOOOOOOO
In the middle of stretching her forehoof out, Dinky expends the last of her energy to yank it back towards her chest, hard enough to bounce off her sternum. Her hind legs twitch with the added strain, and for a moment almost hold. For the second time, Dinky falls into silence, beginning to realize what she’s done. She leans back hard, lets her rump drop in sync with her heart, thrashes her limbs around in a frantic attempt to stay upright, but I know long before the insipid little foal does that it all came far too late.
Between her panic and my palpable, spellbinding incredulity, neither of us can maneuver her body into a position that might have saved us some modicum of additional pain. Instead, we tumble down the stairs like a sack of potatoes mixed with concrete bricks, limbs and mane and pulsing, pulverized skull flying every which way and bashing into every single one of the fifteen steps. The final bounce at the foot of the staircase sends us careening across the house’s foyer, stopping with a jarring thud against a cabinet set up next to the door.
I find myself left without the capacity to speak. I’m not sure I could bring myself to say anything even if I had it. In a way, it’s almost satisfying that things have turned out this way. There were times during the last months, inside a place in my heart I dared not show the light of day otherwise, when I wondered whether my conscience would withstand the path to glory I intended to set it upon, whether my immortal soul would someday balk at the notion of once again enslaving an entire race of sentient, independent creatures. It comforts me to know that my deep-rooted fears were unwarranted. I will have no qualms sentencing everypony in Equestria to a lifetime of misery and servitude. In fact, I imagine I’ll enjoy it even more now.
… vase …
Dinky Doo sounds comatose inside her head, a single word all she can manage as she clings to the last few threads of consciousness. I squeeze my eyes shut and let her talk. Whatever saintly patience allowed me to engage with the suicidal simpleton before is well and truly vanquished now.
… big vase …
Stars only knew what she’s even prattling on about. She hardly seems lucid. I hardly feel lucid just listening to her.
… wobble wobble …
Now a flash of an image accompanies her babbling, though: an ornate white flower vase painted with swirling blue patterns. Sitting on a cabinet inside a house. Next to the front door. At the bottom of the steps.
… falling …
Through Celestia’s blinding sunrise, I crack one of Dinky’s eyes open. On top of the cabinet next to the front door at the bottom of the steps we just fell down, an ornate white flower vase with swirling blue patterns teeters back and forth right over Dinky’s head. It balances on its edge for a moment, then with a scrape of china on wood tips over and starts to fall. I don’t even bother trying to move. There’s no point. Mortal life is pain.
• • •
Time passed over us like water falls: there was a lot of it and it was really, really loud. I am not particularly sure why. It was never like that before. Maybe mortals feel time in a different manner than me. I have never asked them. Should I have asked them? No, they are mortals. Stupid mortals. I am not mortal. I am the keeper of death and the destroyer of worlds. I am darkness and shadow and some other scary third thing. I am Dinky Doo.
No, Sombra. I am Sombra. Dinky Doo is… I am inside Dinky Doo. Dinky Doo is my body. Dinky Doo will not shut up except now she has, mumbling instead of yelling, dizzy and throbbing it hurts oh stars above Dinky Doo hurts. Why does she hurt? Why does everything hurt? Why does her throat hurt when I talk through it and hoof hurt when I move it and ears hurt when sound enters them another voice someone else talking stabbing into her skull with needles and pinpricks and ten-foot-long swords.
“Dinky? Dinky, is that you down there?”
“What in Eques… aw, you poor thing. Did you fall down the stairs again, honey?”
Dinky opens her eyes, wriggles towards the sound as I try to buck it away. Messes of color form into blurry shapes: four gray hooves, more gray torso and face, short mane yellow like buttercup buds, eyes tawny and perfectly straight. She looks like Dinky, but I am Dinky. Or… not Dinky. She is not Dinky, is what’s important. She is Bigger-Dinky. I don’t know her, except for all of my life since birth.
“Uh-oh, looks like Aunt Daring’s vase broke too…” One of Big-Dinky’s eyes vanishes as her mouth wavers into a crescent. “Don’t worry about it, sugar-bear. Between you and me, I always thought it was kind of ugly.”
Bear made out of sugar. Vase made out of ugly. I don’t understand. I don’t know what’s happening. Who is Big-Dinky? Me-Dinky knows. I think she’s Mother. Not my mother. My mother is eternity, and my father is… is… something. Damn it to the moon, I had something for this.
… I had something I needed to do, didn’t I?
“Now, come on, Dinky, you don’t have to be so embarrassed. Everypony’s a little clumsy now and then. Just sit tight for a minute and let me clean all that up, and then I’ll make you an extra-big breakfast before I drop you off at school. Sound good?”
Dinky-Mother’s voice is softer now, farther away in the room I think is called kitchen. I don’t have time to be tight for a minute. I have something I need to do. I have… I know I have it, it’s… she’s…
Dinky mumbles her name right when I do. She is what I need to do. I need to find her and take her vengeance, get my body and… no, that’s later. First vengeance, then body. But with her body, to get the vengeance. And… power too?
Dinky shakes her head as I roll onto my stomach and blink her eyes. Something inside her brain stirs as I stand—it is her, but not. Just part of her, like the echo of her annoying voice.
“No,” I tell her. “Veggence firs’.”
Dinky starts to walk forward, kicking through shards of ugly vase along my way. When she gets there, I bump my head against the front door, gently, just enough to black out all the lights and bury our stomach under a haze of nausea. It only stops me for a few waterfalls or so. Nothing can stand in my way. I’m going to school—no, vengeance—and that’s final.
“Dinky? Dinky, I told you to stay still while I… wait, are you going to school already?”
“Uh-uh,” I tell her with a nod of my head.
“Well, aren’t you gonna stay for breakfast?” she asks next. She didn’t listen to me. This is why I hate mortals.
“Haffa go.” I clamber down the stoop in ten steps and reach the edge of the yard in five plus one trip over Dinky’s clumsy hoof. “Needa… Twahglaspigle.”
“Oh… okay, then. Have a good day, sweetheart!” My mother sounded confused for a moment, but by the time I can’t see the house anymore from the sidewalk, she’s calmed down a bit. I suppose she trusts Dinky a lot. That’s why I love her so much.
Dinky walks down the street from one side to the other, swaying in time with the squat little houses floating above me. Twilight Sparkle lives in a tree house right across from mine, but that one’s gone now. I have to find the other. I have to take control of her body and take over Equestria and study for my test next Thursday and maybe eat lunch on the same side of the playground as—
Dinky’s hooves clunk against each other beneath me, then tangle together so that we both stumble. Her right hoof points left, towards another street where Twilight might live. Her left hoof points right, down a winding lane leading to the edge of town and then all the way out to the schoolhouse, which is where I’m not going, I swear to Old Celestia.
Dinky lurches forward, and I fall to my knees with my hooves still tied in a knot. I grit my teeth, and Dinky shakes her head.
“School,” I say in a slurry hiss. “Haffa goda school.”
“No we don’!” she argues back, straining against my own body.
“Stoppit!” we both growl together, but where I possess finely tuned mental acusity or however it’s spelled, Dinky Doo wins out with sheer idiotic strength. With a cough and a scrapped knee for her troubles, she smothers me under overwhelming mortalness and wrestles us onto the winding path, tottering forward two steps for every one I can force in what I’m almost positive might be the right direction.
Without her body to lord over, I’m left with no choice but to take aim at her mind instead. I rage about how loud I’d be roaring at her if she’d just quit hogging her diaphragm for a second. I poison her thoughts with horrific memories of the Crystal Palace dungeons, which in retrospect would look a lot more horrifying if they were made out of my crystal and not just the regular kind. I go into exquisite detail of exactly how agonizing her death will be just as soon as I remember how hooves are supposed to work.
But nothing does work, any of that or her hooves. All the way from the center of town to the front gate of the schoolyard half a mile away, Dinky Doo just keeps waddling along, refusing to submit. Can she not comprehend the magnitude of my power? Is her intellect too feeble to recall the horrors of my eternal reign, or not to keep her eyes closed once in a while so the sun doesn’t burn holes straight through our brain? Curse this maddening mortal mind! Curse this puny mortal body! And curse the old gods for making the sun so moondamned bright!
By the time Dinky reaches the white wooden gate separating the schoolyard from the path that led us to it, all hope seems lost. Neither extortion nor intimidation proved at all effective against the infinitesimal mind of a child, and I’ve enough dignity left to resist stooping down to such a low as persuasion or reason. Mortals do that, not me. I am Sombra. I am not a dumb mortal. I just have a dumb mortal brain right now, and it’s making my smart ideas feel dumb. It’s probably so dumb that Twilight Sparkle’s already noticed how smart it suddenly became just because I’m inside it. She’s probably coming to save me right now, flying down from Canterlot with a counter-spell already—
No, wait, that’s Celestia. I hate Celestia. I don’t need her to save me from anything. Plus Twilight doesn’t even have wings. She’s just a unicorn who lives in Ponyville in a big treehouse and she’s really smart and good at magic and… wait, what if I possessed her? Yeah, that’s a great idea! She’d be much stronger than this little Dinky thing I’m stuck in right now. I should go find her. I’ll look in the schoolhouse first.
When I push Dinky’s forehooves forward, though, she doesn’t seem to expect it. They touch down on the grass and keep going through it, sliding back under me until they’re pinched together beneath her waist. Her teeth clack together as her chin bounces off the ground, and suddenly it’s like a weight been lifted off her shoulders. She’s dazed. Confused. She doesn’t even know why she fell.
I can take over again. I can go wherever I want.
Dinky’s legs straighten out as my mind fills out her brain completely again, and the ease with which I use them to stand up again makes her whole chest feel weightless. This body—this whole entire body—is me. Like it’s… like it’s just been part of me all along. I can just lift my hoof up and wave it around in front of my face, and it’s just the funniest thing I’ve ever seen and I have to bite my tongue hard so I don’t laugh out loud. I had no idea mortals could do things like that just by thinking about them. I always thought mortals were stupid.
I clench my teeth down on my tongue again, but a giggle sneaks out of my throat anyway. Stupid mortals with their stupid bodies. They don’t know what they’re missing. This hoof is the greatest hoof I’ve ever seen, and Dinky just walks on it like a… like some stupid mortal. She’s so stupid I think I giggled again.
“Wow… have a nice trip, Dinky!”
“Yeah! See you next fall!”
The two voices come out clear as crystal, high-pitched and ringing with laughter. With a swivel of my head, I can see where they came from: a couple fillies about my size, one pink and the other gray, both snickering behind their hooves. I smile and wave my hoof again so they can see it, and they giggle even louder. They seem nice. Maybe I’ll kill them quickly once I’ve banished the old gods to Tartarus and pillaged their land for all it holds dear.
Oh, great. Dinky’s back. I was having a lot of fun without you, you stupid mortal.
what are you doing
I’m taking over Equestria, idiot. I mean, not really now, but I’m totally going to. I have a great plan for it. I need to find Twilight first.
why do you… oh no oh celestia you’re right that’s a good plan let’s go do vengeance please
No, Twilight. Twilight Sparkle. Celestia’s the old god. I’m gonna kill her or make her beg for mercy or something. That’s all in the plan too. Were you even listening when I…
“Uh… you okay, Dinky?”
oh my gosh
I swivel my head again, back the other way. This voice sounds deeper, like a colt’s maybe. In fact, it is a colt now that I can see him, one with an orange coat and a blue mane that looks like an ocean wave. He’s giving me a funny look, like he’s confused. I’m confused too. He looks familiar. I’ve never seen him before.
oh my gosh please no
I lift my hoof up in thought, point it right at his chest. I know I know him, but… no, I don’t know him. Dinky Doo does. Dinky Doo’s seen him before.
you can take over everything it’s totally fine I don’t mind at all just can we please go NOW
“You…” I tell him, my voice slow and sluggish as his identity finally dawns on me. “You were in the dream.”
“I… what?” he says. I nod my head, squinting my eyes at the same time so he stays clear inside my vision.
“In the dream,” I say again, doing my best to ignore whatever Dinky’s yelling about and really getting pretty good at it by now. “Well, not… it wasn’t my dream. It was her dream,” I explain, pointing at my head so it’s clear I’m talking about Dinky and not me. He still looks a little bit puzzled, but I’m sure he’ll catch on. He looks like a pretty smart mortal to me.
“You… dreamed… about me?” he asks. I mean to answer him out loud, but for some reason all I can manage is a nod. Something else has started to happen inside of me, getting stronger every time I look the colt in the eyes. My chest feels light again like it’s filling with air, and it’s buzzing too like the air is filled with butterflies. It’s happening to my head too, spawning heat in my cheeks and a thick lump in my throat. I know this too. I remember this from a long time ago, from stories I read back in the Crystal Land. It’s dumb mortal stuff, but then again Dinky is a dumb mortal, so I guess it makes sense.
“I’m very attracted to you,” I inform the colt, nodding to myself as the thought solidifies in my head. “I think you’re hot.”
He doesn’t seem to understand that either, though. Even the two fillies have stopped giggling, although the pink one’s lips are curling back up into a toothy, delirious grin. At least Dinky has finally gone silent, though for some reason I can’t shake the thought of her screaming without any noise coming out.
“It feels weird,” I go on. “I’ve never actually felt this before, it’s… you mortals are weird.” I point my hoof out again, and this time the colt edges back a step. “I like you, though. Well, she likes you. I’ll probably torture you and immolate your kingdom in flames or… I don’t know, something like that. It’s nothing personal. It’s just a thing I’m gonna do with Twilight and… y’know, taking over the world and stuff.”
I think I gave the colt more credit than he deserved. From the way his mouth hangs open and his eyes bug out of his head, he looks like he didn’t comprehend a word I just said. I guess that’s just dumb mortals for you. I thought I explained things pretty well.
When I turn around to go finally meet up with Twilight, though, I find myself facing an impassable wall made out of magenta forelegs and blinding white nothing above them. Somehow the sun got brighter than ever when I wasn’t looking. I feel kind of dizzy too. It’s probably the colt’s fault. Stupid mortal.
“Are you… feeling all right, Dinky Doo?” the mare in front of me says. I lean forward and crinkle my eyes up until I can see the worried look on your face, and then I remember I’m probably supposed to answer her. Well, that’s easy. Dinky knows her name, and I know just what to tell her.
“Yes, Miss Cheerilee,” I say with a nod. “Yes, I am.”
I make it two steps past her before the world flips upside down and the sun burns out. I’m not completely sure that my head exploded too, but I’m going to call it a fairly safe bet.
The sun overhead is not so bright when I wake up, nor the voices around me so loud. Soft sounds of near-silence accompany them: the twittering of birds, the scratchy rustle of a breeze blowing through spindly branches. When I shift my head, it no longer twinges. When this notion comes into being, it passes through my mind unbroken, clear as a bell. I’m warm, curled up against myself with my nose pressed into something soft as a cloud, and quite comfortable, more so than I can remember being in years. I can almost imagine not going to find Twilight—just lying here, soaking this up, reveling in the relief from all the aches and pains with which the mortal world has burdened me. If this is what death is like, maybe I’m in the wrong line of work.
It’s only once I begin to doze off again that several things occur to me once. Cloud beds, now that I think about it, don’t smell like antiseptic cleaning fluid, and for that matter neither do soft forest breezes. If I listen a bit closer, more sounds dilute my serenity: the clicking of hooves against tile, the beeping and buzzing of invisible machines, a dry cough from somepony right by my side and yet just barely out of sight.
Just as I realize that the bed I’m tucked into consists of starched white sheets instead of fallen autumn leaves, mortal life piles one last straw onto my back. Somewhere in the back of my mind, around the same place my thoughts of the Old Gods and their saccharine schemes tend to reside, another consciousness persists in existing, digging its way into mine like a parasite leeching off a predator’s underbelly. I need no epiphany to remember whose it is. My stomach—her stomach—curdles at her mere presence, her inexplicable refusal to fade into obsolescence no matter how arduous I make the opposite. Even after a dozen blows to the head and a dead mare’s march all the way across Ponyville, Dinky Doo still lives inside the body we share.
Inside the body I’m still stuck inside.
For another longer moment, I seriously reconsider my aversion to my own mortal demise.
Sitting up turns out to be a laborious process, less due to any palpable fatigue and more because I can hardly bear the thought of bludgeoning this frail frame over to wherever my true target still hides from me. On that note, I’m beginning to doubt I’ll even make it that far. My head hardly crests the top of my pillow before I’m sandwiched between two forelegs that, from Dinky’s pitiful perspective, might as well be tree trunks lashed together with skyscraper rivets.
“Ohmygoodnessyou’reawake!” my captor squeals into Dinky’s ear, the shrill sound not enough to revive my headache but just enough to make me sorely wish it had. “Oh… gosh, I’m so glad you’re okay!”
I recognize the mare’s voice, which given what else I remember borders on miraculous. Dinky’s mother lacks in many things, as all ponies inevitably do, but noticeably not among them is an exorbitant affection for her only daughter, whose head she has clearly never had the pleasure of occupying. The stories I could tell her would bleach her mane white, and after today I have about enough patience left to relay not a single damn one of them.
“Unhoof me, you insensate, sentimental buffoon,” I mumble into her shoulder, at a speed she cannot possibly mistake for gratitude.
“Don’t you even think about apologizing, missy!” she mutters, an extra squeeze her way of assuring that yes, in fact, she absolutely can. “I should never have let you a step outside the door this morning. Oh, sweetheart, why didn’t you tell me you were hurt?”
Stars above, she even sounds submissive, and she’s speaking to a foal. No wonder the Crystal Ponies were so easy to conquer, if this is how their geographical cousins treat their young.
“Well, in your defense, Miss Doo, I imagine she couldn’t have said much even if she wanted to.” The new voice sounds feminine as well, though with her pink mane pulled up in a bun and deep stress lines etched into her white face, the mare I can see over Mommy Much-Too-Dearest’s shoulder looks anything but. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen a concussion that severe, and we’re talking about a town where half the kids might as well have membership cards here,” she goes on to say, pursing her lips as she watches Dinky’s mother continue to smother her offspring and me both. “In perfect honesty, though, you really shouldn’t have let her out of the house.”
“I know, I know, I’m sorry.” The bliss of fresh air in Dinky’s lungs lasts only a moment before the frustration beneath it flares up again, as Dinky’s mother shifts her grip from around my back to either side of Dinky’s burning cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Dinky. I promise I’ll make it up to you the second you’re better.”
The nurse starts to say something about how I’m actually already clear to leave the hospital any time I’d like, but her voice has faded into a distant buzz by the time she gets around to finishing. Dinky’s mother looks normal in all ways but one: her eyes, though roughly directed at me, seem to be looking in two other directions at the same time. It must be another symptom of Dinky’s injury, but nothing else in view seems so distorted. How can a mortal pony live with such a condition? How can she even see me sitting in front of her?
“… wonderful news!” I hear her exclaim, her exuberance untempered as if she’s grossly unaware of her debilitating state. “How’s that sound, sugar-bear? We’ll stop by the toy store and the ice cream parlor on the way home, and have you back in school good as new by tomorrow!”
She’s propositioning Dinky, bribing her with sweets so she won’t hold a grudge for her negligence. Dinky herself makes no attempt to respond, so I take the initiative instead.
“What in flaming Tartarus is wrong with your eyes?” I ask her. She and the nurse glance at each other, the former’s cheeks growing pink and the latter’s brow crinkling.
“Maybe just the ice cream, though,” the nurse says. “And then bed. Twilight Sparkle’s a sorceress, not a miracle worker.”
I’m bolt upright before I realize I’m moving, perched on the edge of the bed as a spark of energy flits around Dinky’s horn. “Twilight Sparkle? What about Twilight Sparkle? Where is she? Where can I—”
“Slow down, Dinky,” Dinky’s mother cuts in, her firm hoof on Dinky’s chest preventing me from bolting for the door. I narrow my eyes and almost slap her away, but resist with all my will, if only to find out whether she’ll tell me what I want to hear. “It’s nothing to worry about. Nurse Redheart was just explaining how Miss Twilight used one of her spells to help your head feel better. She came by while you were asleep.”
“Where did she go, you—” At the last second again, I bite Dinky’s tongue. Miserable though it may be, this is the hand I’ve been dealt for now, and all I can do is play it as best I can until a new one comes around. Until I find Twilight and transfer myself into her body, I can’t afford to risk revealing myself inside of this one. For now—however long it takes—I must act as Dinky Doo would.
“I mean… can we go see her first, Mommy?” I say, stuttering over my words as Dinky’s mouth translates them into a sickly-sweet squeak. It occurs to me now that I haven’t the slightest clue how Equestrian children sound when they speak, but it’s too late to remedy that. “I, uh… I wanna express my grati… I mean, say thank you for being, um… magical. And special and nice and not… prolonging my suffering.” Dinky’s mother and the nurse look at each other again, but neither says a word in protest. So far, good enough. “Can we just go now?”
Dinky’s mother smiles down at me, then shakes her head in a way that makes the whole room flush red. “Not a chance, sugar-bear,” she replies. “You heard the nurse: ice cream, then bed. I’m sure Miss Twilight will understand.”
“No, you blithering… uh, n-no, Mommy, I really don’t think she wi—”
I’m scooped up like a newborn before I can protest, once again denied a word in edgewise by the damaged mare’s oppressive matronly grip. “Thank you so much, Nurse Redheart!” she says, flapping towards the door with Dinky held tight against her chest. “We’ll both be more careful from now on, right, sweetheart?”
Nopony hears what I try to say in response, not that it would have been printable anyway. “That’ll be the day,” I hear the nurse mutters to herself, but she smiles and waves after us as Dinky’s mother leaves the hospital with me unwillingly in tow. Squirming does nothing to free me from her grasp, and before I can test out biting we’re thirty feet above the ground and rising. According to a blink of a thought she has as we lift off, Dinky Doo loves when her mother takes her flying like this. As it turns out, I hate it. I hate flying. I hate ice cream. I hate ponies.
And most of all, I hate myself for thinking this whole insipid plan of mine would be, in any way imaginable, simple.
• • •
As has been the trend for the day, rising from the grave to reconstitute myself inside a living mortal body proves a far easier task than escaping the clutches of an overbearing, halfway-crippled pegasus mare. True to her word, Dinky’s mother takes me out for ice cream first—which, in point of fact, tastes disgusting—and then straight home to bed, an endeavor which involves very little slumber and a great deal of staring at Dinky’s bedroom ceiling, waiting for her mother to deem a room with more stuffed animals per square foot than floor space safe to leave her daughter alone in for half a moondamned second. Dinky certainly looks fine whenever I turn her eyes towards the vanity glass. Save for the smudge left by her forehead this morning, everything in it appears normal, even her eyes which glowed so brilliantly when first we met.
By the wall clock’s account, it takes over an hour and a half before Dinky’s mother finally leaves the room for good. The second she shuts the door, promising that she’ll come back up to check on me as soon as dinner’s ready, I’m out of bed and clambering out the window, a well-placed climbing vine providing the means for a quick and clean escape. Almost clean, I would say if I knew empathy enough to care, but if knocking herself—and me by proxy—stupid didn’t kill Dinky Doo, a few scratches and a bruise on her hindquarters aren’t likely to do the trick either. In any event, she’ll be none of my concern soon enough.
There was but one saving grace of the time Dinky’s mother forced me to waste, that being the fact that at long last I know where to find Twilight Sparkle. Dinky’s mother forgot about my request as soon as it whistled through her ears, but probing Dinky’s own memories proved a satisfactory alternative. While I languished in exile, Twilight Sparkle hardly had a moment’s rest. In her most recent struggle against Tirek—now there was someone who knew the value of strength!—her tree house was destroyed in the crossfire. Now she lives in a magnificent tree castle on the outskirts of town, not even a few minutes’ walk from here. Had I the wherewithal this morning, I could have seen it from anywhere in town.
And what’s more, Twilight is not just an ordinary unicorn anymore. Neither Dinky nor I know how or why, but the bookish mare from Ponyville goes by a more regal title now: Her Highness Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria, with a pair of wings and all the alicorn magic to match. A new god, I could say, right here in Ponyville, just waiting for me to find her. Razing this kingdom to rubble won’t just be easy now. I daresay it might even be fun.
Now if only I could get the taste of that vile ice concoction out of Dinky’s mouth. I would have thought something dyed every shade of the rainbow might at least be tolerable, but the bland flavors and sticky paper cone in which I found it presented proved more aggravating than enjoyable, not to mention the sour aftertaste that still lingers on her tongue even now. Dinky’s mother raved about how much better ice cream would make me feel, but I suppose I should’ve expected nothing less from a mortal mare, especially one of her appearance. In any case, all I feel now is nauseous, tired, and sick of death of the entire equine race.
That’s because you got a snowcone, stupid. I hate snowcones.
And as if on infuriating cue, Dinky Doo returns anew. She’s been mercifully quiet up to now, ever since she passed out at the schoolhouse. In keeping with Equestria’s impending fate, I suppose all good mortal things must come to an end.
“It looked like crystals,” I mutter to herself. “Now be silent.” For a few moments, she is, but only until I find myself on the town’s main street with an unobstructed view of Twilight’s—soon to be my—palace.
You’re a bad pony, aren’t you?
“How astute you are,” I mutter.
You’re going to hurt Princess Twilight, aren’t you?
“If I find her as irksome as you, I assure you the temptation will be potent. Now, in your own vernacular this time: shut up.”
I expect another rebuke as soon as I close her lips, but to my surprise Dinky finally acquiesces. Like hearing echoes underwater, I can faintly hear thoughts moving through her head, but I can’t imagine a world in which I would care to listen to them, and in any case she directs none of them towards me. With the gift of her submission springing in my step, the rest of the journey to Twilight’s castle passes quickly. Soon I’m strolling unmolested into her cavernous foyer, the castle’s gate left open to all as if she fears nothing that might pass through it. How wrong she is to think that way, and how deeply she’ll soon regret it.
The archway leading into the great hall boasts no security measures or detection spells, not even an evening guard. I can see her as soon as I pass under it, sitting in front of her throne instead of upon it, speaking in casual tones to a court of ponies that Dinky’s latent brain helps me recognize. I won’t even have to go to the trouble of hunting down the other Elements. They’re all right here with her already. This really will be that simple.
“Oh, hello, Dinky Doo!” Twilight calls out as I enter her field of view. “Glad to see you’re feeling better. You can thank Apple Bloom and her friends for the spell I used on you. After all the trouble they get into, I figured it couldn’t hurt to develop a dependable anti-concussion charm or two.”
Though Twilight won’t expect such a response from Dinky, I can’t help but chuckle all the same. She sounds so happy, so put at ease by the presence of her companions. “Yes… I suppose I should thank you,” I tell her, drawing out each word to prolong the moment. I want to watch it shatter inside her eyes as I reveal myself, feel that internal fire sputter and die as I enter her body and take control. “Thank you, Your Highness, for making yourself so very, very… accessible.”
“The pleasure’s all mine!” she replies, winking at me as I step closer. “I’ll admit I’m not quite used to having my own castle yet, but no matter how big my front door gets, it’ll always be open to my friends!”
“Your friends, yes…” Despite my best efforts, I’m chuckling again. “And also your enemies.”
“I… beg pardon?” she says, halting in mid-sentence as what I’ve said clicks inside her mind. As Twilight’s grin begins to fade, mine grows only wider.
“Oh, my dear Twilight Sparkle,” I croon. “Don’t recognize me? Well, allow me to dispel your confusion. I have returned from the hell to which you sentenced me. I have risen to retake the empire you stole from me. I am darkness. I am shadow. I... am—”
“—Peanut Butter… wait, what?”
I blink Dinky’s eyes and shake her head, the echo of… whatever I just heard still ringing in her brain. Was that Dinky? What in Tartarus is she doing?
No matter. Twilight has made no motion to stop me. She and her friends just look baffled, glancing from side to side in search of some explanation. She still doesn’t know who I am. “I am—”
“—Space… dammit to the moon!”
It is Dinky. It is her voice inside her head, smashing through my train of thought every time I try to speak. She’s not just awake again, she’s screaming at the top of her lungs. I can’t think past it. I can’t get her to stop.
ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM “You little—”
NINETY-NINE SUGARCUBES STUCK ON THE WALL NINETY-NINE SUGARCUBES LEFT “Would you—”
TAKE ONE DOWN PASS IT AROUND NINETY-EIGHT SUGARCUBES STUCK ON THE—
“Silence!” I roar, clutching her hooves around her head before she makes it explode again. “For the love of your worthless gods, I command you to SHUT UP!”
While I heave for breath in the middle of her throne room, Twilight sits motionless before me, her jaw agape and one eye crinkled into a wince. “Maybe I should’ve tested that spell a couple more times…” she mutters to the agreement of her friends. Instead of a response, all that leaves Dinky’s mouth is a vicious snort. I have had it. I have run out of patience. I will retake my kingdom, I will destroy Equestria, and I will have my revenge if I have to strike down every living thing on the continent to get it.
A spell charges in Dinky’s horn, a violent and nearly uncontrollable attack meant to vaporize enemies in a single blast. Dinky isn’t familiar of it, but I am. Dinky can’t possibly survive casting it, but I can. I am more powerful than her, more powerful than anypony. My name is Sombra. My name is death. I grit Dinky’s teeth, close her eyes, and unleash the spell right at Twilight’s forehead. When I look up again, no trace of her remains.
Because I’m back in Dinky’s bedroom.
Because she teleported her body there.
Because while I wasn’t paying attention, she redirected the moondamned spell.
Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Spaceship. Am I being irksome again? That’s it. Game over. I can’t take this anymore. No matter how much energy it takes or how long it delays my plans, I cannot spend another fragment of a fraction of a second inside Dinky Doo’s body. Before she has time to react, I charge up another spell, a counter-possession charm meant to function as an emergency release. Before she has time to meddle with it again, I take aim at the bonds holding my mind to hers and fire.
And nothing happens.
That was a counter-possession charm, wasn’t it?
This can’t be happening. This isn’t real. This is all the worst nightmare I’ve ever had the misfortune to be stuck inside.
No, it’s happening. And it’s all your fault too.
“What did you do?” My voice sears her throat raw with just a sentence, enough that I’m surprised not to feel the taste of copper pricking at her tongue. “You insufferable little insect, what did you do?”
Inside her head, I hear Dinky Doo sigh. In my moment of weakness, she takes control of her body long enough to lead me over to her desk, where she climbs up onto the chair in front of it, flips open a textbook on magical theory, and stabs her hoof down at a passage midway down page 345, under a section entitled “Foreign Consciousness Displacement”.
“You can read this?”
“You’re an infant.”
I’m ten and a half. And I’m advanced for my age. Now shut up and read.
A frightening urge to strike her takes hold of me for a moment, until I remember how well that worked out for us both last time. “The successful release of a legilimental spell with possessive intent requires intensive cooperation between both the possessor and the possessed party. As the purpose of the original spell is the binding of two divergent consciousnesses within a single contiguous organic being, any subsequent alterations to that state require the explicit and focused consent of both occupying…”
I trail off as the passage’s meaning sinks in. “You’re not serious,” I assure her.
Dinky grits her teeth, and the next thing I know I can hear outside of our head instead of just inside. “I don’t know,” she replies. “I think I sound pretty freaking serious.”
“How… dare you!” I spit back, fire licking at every word out of her mouth. “Release me this instant!”
“I will destroy you. You and every pathetic pony you’ve ever loved!”
“Somehow I doubt that.”
“You will perish in flames! Your screams will be the symphony to your entire kingdom’s annihilation!” Instead of replying, Dinky just sticks out her tongue. Instead of destroying her, I blast apart one of her pillows instead.
“Petulant mortal,” I growl at her as I collapse onto her bed.
“Jerk-faced creep,” she growls right back.
At the same time, both of us roll over and heave out a sigh.
“All right,” I eventually ask her through her teeth, “what do you want?” Before she can answer me, the door swings open.
“Dinner!” Dinky’s mother calls in. “It’s your favorite: mac and cheese with garlic bread!”
Dinky smiles with one side of her face, and I glower with the other. Between the two of us, Dinky’s mother doesn’t notice a thing out of place. “Be down in a sec,” she says before turning her attention back at me. As we go down the stairs and wash up, she explains what she wants me to do.
And that’s when I know for sure that she cannot possibly be serious.
And In All Likelihood Just Embarrass Everypony Involved
“Okay, so just to review: we’ll get to school around 8:25, and Tidal Wave’s dad always drops him at 8:30 exactly. From then we’ll have exactly twenty-five minutes, heretofore referred to as ‘Time Block A’, to talk to him until 8:55, which is when Miss Cheerilee will call everypony into the schoolhouse and take roll before class officially begins at 9 o’clock sharp. Depending on the situation, we’ll also potentially have twenty-eight minutes during lunch, not counting set-up and clean-up, and an additional thirty for recess, but those are emergency blocks, B and C respectively, reserved for any unforeseen situation that prevents the completion of Operation: High Tide at any point during Time Block A. Any questions?”
An expectant pause follows Dinky Doo’s spiel as she waits for my input. I blink her eyes twice, and neither one of them helps clear the fog out from my mind or the apathy from my voice.
“I have a question,” I tell her. “By accident or intent, you have successfully trapped me inside your body until such time as you permit me to depart it. Through this, you have acquired the capacity to blackmail me into assisting you, in any way I am able, with anything in the world you request of me. And your request, out of the aforementioned anything in the world, is that I help you ask an adolescent colt, for whom you harbor undisclosed romantic affections, out on a date.”
Dinky stops walking for a moment, and I make no effort to force her back into motion. “That wasn’t a question.”
“My question was very heavily implied.”
“Well, I didn’t ask for you to accidentally possess me while you tried to brainwash Princess Twilight and take over Equestria,” Dinky says with a sigh as she picks up her pace again. “And this is what you screwed up for me when you did. So now you’re going to help me fix it.”
“My second question involves your psychological health.”
“No, no more questions,” Dinky says with a nod towards a squat red building in the distance. “We’re almost there. Operation Tidal Wave is a go.”
I squeeze out one last sigh from a real pair of lungs, then pull back to allow Dinky full reign over her body. One of the stipulations of my release is that I allow her to maintain an illusion of normalcy while Operation: Mortal Stupidity is in effect. In other words, from now until the end of the school day, I am to speak to her only through our mental link instead of out loud. This, this told me, is so nopony thinks she’s crazy. One wonders at whatever might have inspired that conclusion beforehand.
Soft echoes of conversations carry over to us as we approach the schoolyard, none of them distinct enough to overhear. The smattering of foals milling around outside the schoolhouse don’t seem to notice our arrival, which I’m inclined to believe is a good thing. The list of potential obstacles Dinky Doo predicted during Time Block A included several entries directly related to the—as she put it—“laughingstock” I made of her during our first visit here yesterday. Upon being presented with the opinion that her condition at the time was—as I put it—paramountly her fault, Dinky deigned to add another entry to the list: “Sombra acts like a melonhead and ruins my life again.” Upon being reminded that I have paved roads a hundred miles long with the congealed blood of my enemies, the final entry on the list was underlined twice.
After finding a seat against the shaded wall of the schoolhouse, Dinky settles down to wait for her self-described “target” to arrive, that being the colt—named, in the classically incongruous Equestrian style, Tidal Wave—to whom I recently made her feelings slightly less undisclosed than she’d have preferred. In the meantime, two more familiar faces appear inside Dinky’s sights: the pink and gray fillies I encountered yesterday as well.
“Don’t even think about talking to them,” Dinky warns me the moment they catch her eye. “That’s Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, the biggest bullies in the whole school.”
Although I’m no longer allowed to speak through her mouth, Dinky never specifically outlawed shrugging with her shoulders. They seemed nice.
“Are you kidding?” Dinky says after a scoff. “They tease me all the time, they’re mean to anyone who doesn’t do what they want, and they don’t ever think about anypony but themselves.”
I make Dinky shrug again. Exactly. They seem nice. I could use some commandants with backbone in my empire.
Dinky rolls her eyes, but a gasp steals her response right off her lips. At the schoolyard gate, a well-built pegasus bumps his sky-blue hoof against that of an orange colt standing next to him, who sports a mane of deeper blue identical to his own. The esteemed Master Wave has arrived. Let the inanity commence.
Several minutes pass as Dinky surveys her target from the safety of the schoolhouse. In light of the significant lack of inanity during that time, I take it upon myself to remind Dinky of the agreed-upon procedure.
Time Block A is upon us.
“I’m aware, thanks,” she says through her teeth.
Seventeen minutes remain in Time Block A.
None of the obstacles on your list have presented themselves.
Dinky takes in a deep breath, then lets it out all at once. A bead of sweat rolls down her forehead, dripping off the end of her chin once another three breaths have cycled through her lungs.
Fifteen minutes remain in Time Block— “Okay, you know what?” Dinky says, interrupting me with a stomp of her forehoof. “I’m not gonna rush this. This is a very delicate process. If I’m not fully prepared for it now, then that’s what Time Blocks B and C are for, so just… I got this.”
I consider asking her how confident she feels in that assertion, but it seems pointless to waste time doing so. Every emotion roiling through her mind brushes past mine at the same time, and every physiological response to them I feel as well. Judging by her elevated heart rate, her sweating and tingling hooves, and the additional ten minutes that pass without her making any motion towards Tidal Wave, I’m inclined to conclude that—as a pony might say—she don’t got this at all.
Perhaps she feels unsatisfied with her chosen mate. Perhaps I can say something—literally anything—that will lend her the intestinal fortitude to end this charade as quickly as possible.
Speaking from an objective and equine-focused perspective, his face and form are both aesthetically pleasing. His lineage appears strong as well, and at his age his vigor and virility should go without question. Your progenitive taste appears to be without fault.
Dinky’s mouth drops open, and after a while the noises drifting out of it begin to sound Equestrian. “I… he… w-what are you even talking about?”
I shrug her shoulders again. I’m just saying he would make a fine broodmate. I’m sure you would sire many strong sons together.
“Wha… why are you even…”
Is that not the purpose of this endeavor? To embrace the inherent biological impulses of the equine race and facilitate its propagation through conceptive acts of courtship?
“No!” Dinky answers through a cringe, squeezing her eyes shut as her pulse accelerates even further. “I just… I kind of like him and I was… you were so embarrassing before and I didn’t want him to… don’t…” Before she can finish, Dinky buries her head in her forehooves and moans. “Oh Celestia, this was a bad idea.”
A picture of pursed lips works its way from my mind onto Dinky’s face. Time Block B will begin in three hours and nine minutes.
“Screw it.” Dinky stands up so fast we both get dizzy, but once her knees stop wobbling, they hold firm underneath her. “I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna go over there, and I’m gonna talk to Tidal Wave like a normal filly, and then I’m gonna—”
“Gonna do what, Dinky?” a silky voice murmurs into Dinky’s right ear, provoking a violent twitch from her half of our brain that makes her ears lie flat against her skull. “Trip over your hooves again? Throw up all over Miss Cheerilee’s? Pass out right in front of everypony out of sheer embarrassment?”
Dinky shrivels like a prune at the taunts of the pink filly—the one she called Diamond Tiara. I don’t understand her reaction. If somepony insulted my dignity like that, it would be the last time they ever used their tongue. Even with her friend by her size, the pink filly hardly seems a threat. A few simple hexes would dispatch them with ease.
“Or maybe she’s too busy taking over the world,” the other filly—Silver Spoon—adds with a smirk. “Where are you gonna start, huh? Manehattan? Stalliongrad? Maybe Tidal Wave’s house?”
As a matter of fact, I planned to focus on Canterlot in an initial blitzkrieg-style strike before moving east to cut off—
“Look, e-everything that happened yesterday, I… w-well, I wasn’t… really in my right mind, I guess, so…” Dinky says, stammering through every word like a pup being scolded by her pack leader.
“Well, that’s hardly anything new,” Diamond Tiara says over her. In the name of Tartarus, Dinky Doo, equine tongues aren’t even that hard to remove. You get a firm grip with a pair of blacksmith tongs, and then you just—
“Ha ha, heh… yeah, I’m… y’know, i-it was just a thought I had, I wasn’t really, um…”
“Aw, really? I’m so disappointed,” Silver Spoon says with a cock-eyed look at Diamond Tiara. Imposing though they are, I’m beginning to understand why Dinky Doo doesn’t care for these two. I’d still like an opportunity to test their mettle in combat, but then again, Dinky’s the leader of this operation, not me. Clearly she knows the proper course of action in this scenario.
“Yeah,” Diamond Tiara says, a sneer curling onto her lips. “We would’ve loved to see you try.”
Or maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she’s really thinking about giving up on the operation entirely. Maybe she’s losing her nerve for good now, content to let these two fillies no bigger than her—even the slightest bit shorter, at a second glance—divert her from the path she thinks will lead her to success. Or, more importantly, the path that will lead to my freedom from being trapped inside her body.
It’s as if I can see the future already: through an improbable collusion of poor fortune and interpersonal dysfunction, Dinky and I will fail time and time again to complete one simple task together, each bound to the other by mutually exclusive desires and neither willing to give any ground. Over time, we’ll probably end up drawn closer together over some unexpected common preference or predilection, and although we’ll be leery of the other’s intentions and probably hate each other for a brief period over some retrospectively comedic misunderstanding, by the end of our time together we will have accomplished our respective goals through cooperation and camaraderie, and maybe even discovered that what we thought we really wanted was inside us all along.
I don’t have time for that. I have a kingdom to conquer. I’m ending this now.
“Excuse me,” I say to Dinky’s tormentors, edging around them before they or Dinky herself can do anything to stop me. From there I make a beeline straight for the orange-coated colt standing by the schoolyard fence, who sees me coming just moments before I stop right in front of him. For the sake of the vociferous filly protesting inside my head, I make an attempt to bend the lethargic look off her face before I engage with her target. For the sake of my own sanity, the attempt falls somewhat short of the best effort I could have put forth.
“Good morning, Tidal Wave,” I start off, keeping my sentences swift and blunt in light of the diminishing time remaining in Time Block A. “My name is Dinky Doo, and you may recognize me as the severely concussed young mare who, upon admitting her physiological attraction to you about this time yesterday, proceeded to lose consciousness and, according to certain reports, vomit profusely. While I admit that this was a mortifying and altogether unfortunate turn of events, I nevertheless still maintain said romantic affections, and would rather reinforce their validity now than spend the rest of my miserably short mortal life pretending they aren’t morbidly apparent. So, with that being said, I would like to request of you an approximate two and a half hours of your time this coming evening, during which you would accompany me through a series of courtship rituals that would not culminate in any sort of lasting procreative relationship, because as is of course obvious to us all, that’s totally not what this is about.”
When I finish my speech, no one else in earshot so much as takes in a breath. Dinky fumbles around trying to regain motor control for several moments before she realizes I’ve left them all open for her to utilize at her leisure. “What I, uh…” she says as her face flushes with color. “W-what I meant to say is that I was… was just wondering if you might wanna go see a movie sometime or… something like that. With me. As a… just, whenever.”
The gathered crowd’s silence persists as Dinky plasters a toothy smile on her face, her mane soaked with perspiration even after just a few moments back in her own skin.
WHAT. THE HAY. WAS THAT.
I resist the urge to shrug this time, but only just. You told me you wanted my help asking him on a date. You never said anything about making sure he said—
“Yeah,” Tidal Wave says through a small shake of his head. “I-I mean, yeah… sure. I guess.”
A trio of popping sounds emanates from the crowd, one from Dinky’s mouth falling open and the others from Diamond and Silver doing the same. “Really?” Dinky whispers, her eyes wide as saucers.
“Really?” Diamond says, her face twisted with derision.
“All right, everypony, time for class!” Miss Cheerilee calls out from the schoolhouse door.
Zero minutes left in Time Block A. You’re welcome. Now for the love of all you hold dear, do not ever make me do that again.
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 everyponyyou 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.