The Sisters Doo

by Ponky

First published

Daring pays a visit to her sister in Ponyville. Due to buried grudges, things get out of hoof.

Daring Do seeks a favor from her sister in Ponyville. Due to buried grudges, things quickly get out of hoof. She soon finds herself on her most perilous mission yet... with her biggest fan in the world. In the midst of truth and lies, loyalty and treachery, love and hate, one thing is clear ― some family situations are stranger than fiction.

The story extends in Through the Looking-glass and What Pinkie Found There and The Daughter Doo: Honorary Cutie Mark Crusader.

Many thanks to Honey Mead and statoose for their watchful and helpful pre-reading.

Ckat_Myla and statoose (CatNStat) have started an excellent reading of TSD.

1 - Long Time, No See

View Online

Chapter One
Long Time, No See

Rainbow Dash was not a morning pony. As knock after muted knock thumped throughout the house, she staggered from her bedroom with a series of tired groans. Struggling to keep her eyelids wide enough to see, she pulled her front door open with a weary hoof and snapped to full alert at the welcome sight on her porch.

“Special delivery for you, Rainbow Dash!” Ditzy Doo sung, thrusting a thick rectangular parcel into the blue pony’s snout. Rainbow squealed and yanked the package from Ditzy’s outstretched hooves, ripping into its outer layers with her teeth.

“Whoa.” Ditzy blinked out of sync. “Is that something important, Rainbow Dash?”

“I sure hope so, Derpy!” Rainbow screeched, pummeling away the last of the packaging to reveal a practically glowing block of bound pages. “It is! It’s here! It’s finally here!”

Ditzy tilted her head. “What book is it?” she asked.

“Only the latest installment to the greatest series ever created by ponykind!” she rattled off, raising the novel above her head. “Daring Do and the Poison Whispered Kiss!”

One of Ditzy’s eyes twitched. Otherwise, she made no response.

“Twilight’s been ordering a bunch of really rare books on phoenixes that burnt up all the library’s funds for the next couple of months,” Rainbow grumbled, “so I ordered the latest volume myself! I’m gonna start my own personal collection, starting with the end!” Her grin pushed her cheeks into her eyeballs.

Ditzy’s golden eyes swiveled just a tad. “You mean… the end, the end? She’s done writing them?”

If Rainbow Dash had been paying closer attention, she might have been curious about the hopeful tone in Ditzy’s question. As it was, Rainbow was far too excited to notice.

“She better not be, whoever she is!” Rainbow exclaimed. “The author of the Daring Do series is the most awesome mare in Equestria—right after me, of course.” She flashed a cocky grin before continuing her praise. “I hope this series never ends! Daring Do is my hero!”

She let out a long sigh, practically melting as she gazed at the goldenrod pegasus smirking across the cover of the book. “What I wouldn’t give for Daring Do to be real.”

Ditzy could only grunt. Her forehooves wrung together in front of her body. Rainbow Dash cradled the book like an infant while Ditzy backed away to the edge of the cloud.

“Yeah… those fictional adventures can certainly be quite the thrill.” She forced out a chuckle.

Rainbow made a face at her unusually developed syntax (though she mentally called it “Twilight-speak”). “Uh… yeah. Very thrilling,” she agreed.

“Well, I gotta a bunch of deliveries to Daring! I mean, Do!” She smiled too widely and dove away from Rainbow’s airborne dwelling. “See ya later, Rainbow Dash!”

Rainbow rolled her eyes, spun around, shut the door, sat on her haunches, and started reading right away, grinning from ear to ear.


Ditzy swung open her front door and called out for her daughter. When nopony answered, she hurried to the kitchen and checked around for a note. Sure enough, Dinky’s scratchy mouthwriting on a square of paper informed her that the unicorn was spending time with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Ditzy grimaced at the prospects, but tried not to worry about her little muffin as she relaxed at the kitchen table.

“Another day,” Ditzy sighed, “another bit.” She had never really liked that saying. It seemed to lack a certain rhythm.

All the same, her work was over for the day. There had been a record number of large parcels to deliver that required several time-consuming returns to the Post Office, but now it was all finished. As Ditzy tossed her empty mailbag onto the round tabletop, she asked herself aloud, “What better feeling is there than a day gone right?”

The bag made an unusual clack when it hit the table. Ditzy sat bolt upright in her chair, locking in on the sack with one wobbly eye.

“That sounded like a letter…” She gulped past the sudden lump in her throat. “Did I miss a delivery?”

With lightning speed, she shoved a hoof deep into the sack and retrieved a single, brownish envelope. Biting her lip, Ditzy checked the addressee. To her surprise, the name emblazoned on the front was “Ditzy Doo”.

“Oh my!” she chirped. “A letter? For me?” She nearly teared up then and there. She hadn’t received a single letter since her mother passed away.

Her golden eyes attempted to find the letter’s sender’s name. Frustratingly, she couldn’t get either of them to cooperate and skipped to opening the letter. Thankfully, whoever wrote it had large mouthwriting.

Dearest Ditzy,

Long time, no see! What has it been, five years? Eight? Something like that. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I don’t know if you keep up with the Manehattan Bestsellers in that pansy little town of yours, but my new book came out a few weeks ago and it’s already at the top of the charts! My paycheck was a quite a bit more than I expected—not that I need any more bits in the vault, am I right?—but it got me thinking, it’s high time I gave myself a vacation and traveled around, like the good old days. I thought, maybe I’ll go visit some ponies I haven’t seen in a while. And who better to visit first than my very own sister?

So guess what? I’m coming to Ponyville! That’s right, I’m coming to crash the party! If there ARE any parties in that dump, am I right? Well, I’m sure you’ll have something for us to do… like, stare at trees or… prank ponies! I bet those small town earth ponies are in dire need of a good pranking, huh? Anyway, even if there’s nothing to do in Phony-ville, I’m coming there to catch up with YOU, and that’ll be worth the trip in itself!

Look, Sis… I know I’m not fooling anypony. You’re probably foaming at the mouth just reading this thing. But don’t try to write me and tell me not to come because I’m already on my way. In fact, by the time you read this, I’ll probably be at your front door! Just… try to have an open mind, okay? Er, sorry. “Open mind” might have been poor wording. How about “open heart”? Just hear me out. I’ve got a lot on my mind.

I miss ya, Sis. I really do.

Your Loving Sister

Ditzy’s back teeth were grinding by the time she crumpled up the paper and threw it at the wall. “No,” she growled. “She can’t be serious. She can’t be coming here.”

She galloped to the front room and peeked out the window, half expecting to see a perky pegasus poised to knock. To her relief, no such mare had appeared… yet. If she meant what she wrote, she might show up at any second.

“That no-good, hard-hoofed, bit-loving, truth-bending parasprite!” Ditzy cursed. “I hope for her sake that this is all some kind of practical joke.”

She was glad Dinky was out of the house. She didn’t want her daughter to see her in such a fuming state. Then again, Dinky might be at the door any minute, too. To calm herself down, Ditzy trotted back into her kitchen and started doing the one thing that always settled her frazzled mind.

Twenty-five minutes later, Ditzy used a protective pad to pull a batch of six crumbly muffins from the oven with her mouth. She carried the piping tray to the kitchen table and set it down on its wooden surface. Inhaling the pastries’ sweet aroma sent shivers down her spine that ruffled her light grey feathers. Dinky hadn’t yet returned to share the scrumptious snacks, but Ditzy had forgotten her pre-muffin stresses. She lifted one large treat from its circular spot and nibbled a few crumbs from its crisp exterior.

Mmmm,” she hummed, savoring the morsel’s sweetness. “Oh Celestia, that’s good.”

“Are you eating it or doing it?” asked a scratchy voice from behind her. Ditzy yelped, tossing the muffin so hard into the air that it exploded on impact with the ceiling.

“Whoa! That was the most awesome thing I’ve ever seen a muffin do!”

The voice ripped at Ditzy’s eardrums like a manticore claw. She grit her teeth, fueled by layered frustrations with her new company.

“You snuck into my house,” she accused, refusing to face her unwelcome visitor, “scared me half to death, destroyed one of my muffins, and still have the gall to emphasize that stupid verb?”

The other pony guffawed. “Stupid verb? It’s probably the most important word in the Equestrian language! I don’t know what we would do without it!”

Ditzy took several deep, calming breaths in vain. “Why don’t you emphasize don’t, too? That’s a direct derivative.”

“Whoa there, Sis. Don’t go over-expanding your vocabulary on me. Let’s remember who the best-selling author is here, shall we?”

“Let’s remember who all your stupid stories are about!” Ditzy screamed, finally whipping around to face her foe.

The mustard-yellow mare lifted her front hooves to shoulder height. “Uh, they’re about me, thank you very much,” she replied.

Ditzy ground one of her hooves against the kitchen tile. “Don’t give me that. We both know those adventures had two heroines. The Sisters Doo. Isn’t that what we used to call ourselves, Daring?”

Daring Do shook out her greyscale mane. “It’s good to see you, too, Ditzy.” She held a hoof to her mouth to stifle a laugh. “Or should I say… Derpy.” Her fuchsia eyes shifted between Ditzy’s poorly angled pair as she snickered.

Ditzy leaned away agape. “You… how did…?” she stuttered, only making Daring laugh harder.

“That’s what the stallion at the train depot called you,” she explained between giggles. “I asked where Ditzy Doo lived, and he said, ‘Oh, you mean the mailmare, Derpy?’ BA-HA-HA!” She tumbled to the floor, wiggling her hooves in the air.

Ditzy scowled. “I hate that name,” she seethed. “Don’t call me that. Please.”

Her seriousness rubbed off on Daring. She rose to her hooves with a cough and kept her gaze down. “Sorry, Sis. I just thought it was funny. I’m not here to poke fun at you, honest.”

The meek and submissive tone in her voice chipped away the tiniest fraction of the wall around Ditzy’s heart.

“Then… why are you here?” she asked.

Daring sighed through her nose. “Well, I… like I said in my letter, I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I really miss you, Ditzy.” The corners of her mouth twitched upward. “I miss the old times, when we lived the stories I write today.”

Ditzy’s furious scowl returned. “You mean the stories your books are very loosely based on? I’ve read your garbage, Daring. As much of it as I could stand, anyway. You completely cut me out of the picture, and you add things that never happened left and right purely for entertainment value.”

“Uh, hello? They’re books, Ditzy. All they are is entertainment. I didn’t set out to write a biography. This is how I make my living. So what if I exaggerate a few things?”

“Ahuitzotl? Really?” Ditzy questioned with half-closed eyes.

Daring shook her head. “Every story needs a villain, Ditz. Besides, he’s a great character! He’s been ranked in Equestrian Fiction’s Top Ten Villains for six years in a row!”

“And how many times has Ditzy Doo appeared in their Top Ten Heroes list, Daring?”

Now Daring’s eyes started to narrow. “Technically, six as well. You contributed just as much to the series’ Daring as I did,” she reminded.

“And just what did I contribute, Daring? Huh?” Ditzy shouted. “Her name? No, that’s yours. Her appearance? Oh, wait a minute, that’s yours, too. Maybe her personality? Nnnope.” She wagged her head in exaggerated bewilderment. “I just don’t know where I fit in.”

Daring’s breathing quickened as her stance tensed. “You say you’ve read the books? Then you know just as well as me that no one pony could do the things she does. All I did was take two adventurous mares, squeeze them into one, add some antagonists, and make a fortune. Is that really so wrong?”

“That’s all you did, Daring? That’s all you did?” Ditzy accused. She stomped her hoof once before spinning around, trotting around her kitchen table and defiantly plopping into the farthest seat from her sister.

“What are you doing?” Daring asked, taking a step forward as Ditzy shoved half a muffin into her mouth.

“Ignoh-wing yeoh ‘n yoh sehwfish wies,” she answered past her pastry.

“Selfish lies?” Daring repeated. “Ditzy, will you calm down and just listen to me? I came here for a reason.”

“I doh’ caew,” Ditzy spat, swallowing the mouthful. “Leave, Daring. Get out of my house. Don’t come back.”

Daring stomped her own yellow hoof. “Absolutely not!” she declared. “I am your big sister and I demand you show me the tiniest bit of respect while I try to tell you something very important.”

Ditzy let her face fall flat onto the tabletop. “Fine. Be quick about it.”

Daring cleared her throat. “Well, Ditzy, as you probably know, I just published Daring Do and—”

The Poison Whispered Kiss,” Ditzy finished, making obnoxious kissy noises with her crumb-spotted lips.

Snorting once, Daring continued. “Yes, that. And, you see… I’m really proud of it. It’s a great addition to the series, has lots of elements that I haven’t dealt with before, and my publishers are really excited for the next installment. They want me to finish a first draft by the end of next month.” She gulped, her pupils shrinking in panic. “But Ditzy… I don’t have anything else to write! I’m fresh out of adventures!”

Ditzy cocked her head to one side. “Whuuah?” she asked too loudly.

Daring ignored her rudeness. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that each book is based on one of our adventures, Ditzy. We found a lot of mystic artifacts for Dad when he got sick. Of course I left that out of the books. The fictional Daring just has a natural thirst for adventure, you know? If I added the wish of a dying father, the readers would take the whole thing too seriously.

“Anyway, we had a good run, you and me. We probably could have lived like that forever! And then, of course, we had that… ‘falling apart’, you might call it.”

Ditzy actually growled.

Heheh… ahem. Every good thing has an end, right, Ditz?” She blanched. “But my publishers disagree. They want another story, but I have nothing to give them! I can’t come up with this stuff off the top of my head. I just write down what I remember and, you know… add some bad guys. But now? I’ve caught up! I just published the last of our adventures. I’m stuck, Ditzy! I don’t know what to do!” She ended abruptly and bit her lip.

Ditzy raised an eyebrow. “That’s it?” she asked as her eyes shifted.

Daring nodded. “Uh, yeah.” She glanced around the silent room. “That’s it.”

“You came to me for… writing advice?”

Daring groaned and ran her forehooves over her face. “No, Ditzy. I came here to ask you to… you know…” She jerked her head toward the front door.

Ditzy blinked.

“I wanna go on another adventure!” Daring finally blurted, flapping into the air and hovering there for a moment.

Ditzy stared at her airborne sister for several seconds.


“I want you to go dig up your old gear, hop on the train with me, and let’s go find some rare ancient artifact,” she summarized, animating her words with her hooves. “Then I’ll write about it, and everypony’s happy. It’s not that difficult.”

Finally, Ditzy snapped into sensibility. “Not that difficult? Are you CRAZY? Daring, I’ve settled down. I have a job here, and a daughter.”

Daring’s own eyes went for a short spin. “You have a what?”

Ditzy donned a proud smile. “You heard me. I’m a mother now. I adopted an orphaned unicorn from Canterlot and have raised her for the last seven years.”

“Ah, great! That’s just great!” Daring complained, throwing her hooves above her head in defeat. “Now I don’t have a chance at convincing you to come along.”

“You never did.”

“A mother? To a unicorn? Oh, Celestia….” Daring dropped to her haunches in a miserable pout.

The grey pegasus finally felt a twinge of pity for her sister. “Oh, Daring,” she sighed, resting her chin on her hooves. “I’m sorry, but you were stupid to think I’d agree to that whether I was a mother or not.”

Daring shot her an offended look.

“Because,” Ditzy continued, “you seem to be completely ignoring that it’s been more than eight years since I’ve even heard from you, and I’m not ready to forgive you for what you did to me and our family.”

Daring’s jaw dropped. “What… what I did to you?” she clarified, stunned.

Ditzy’s focused eye twitched. “Don’t you dare play innocent. You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

“IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!” Daring yelled, leaping from her crouch quick enough to startle her sister.

“Oh, please!” Ditzy scolded. “It may not have ended the way you expected, but it certainly wasn’t an accident!”

“And what exactly did I do to our family?”

Ditzy scoffed at her. “You must be joking. You’re telling me you don’t remember running away from home after Dad died? Right when Mom needed us the most?”

A knot formed in Daring’s throat. “I… er…”

“You’re telling me you don’t remember breaking your promise to him? You knew I couldn’t find the rest of the artifacts on my own, not after what you did to me.”


“Accidentally or not, I was no longer fit for the job. You could have finished it yourself, but instead you up and left to pursue your career as a writer, for Pete’s sake.”

Daring’s rosy irises glistened with fiery emotion as her sister continued.

“And then you had go and change the spelling of our last name. Mom nearly died when she saw the title of that first novel! You may as well have spat in her face!”

My ‘Do’ is an action word,” Daring shouted. “Your ‘Doo’ is the sound a baby foal makes when it takes a crap in its diaper!”

“That’s it!” Ditzy shrieked, lunging at her sister with a propelling snap of her wings. The table crashed violently to the floor, tossing four crumbly muffins into the rage-heated air.

2 - You're Fine Now, Right?

View Online

Chapter Two
You’re Fine Now, Right?

Daring Do met her attacker with practiced hooves, surprised at how much concentration she had to put forth to counter Ditzy’s quick jabs.

“Gosh, Sis! You’ve been practicing!” she acknowledged between parries, ducking away from a swift swipe at her ear.

“I – was – always a – better fighter!” Ditzy grunted between kicks, finally catching her sister in the hind leg just above the mustard mare’s hoof.

Daring squeaked at the pain and doubled her efforts, landing a series of painful punches on top of Ditzy’s head.

Her golden eyes swiveled in their sockets.

Daring barked a cruel laugh. “Not always, little sister,” she taunted, bumping a hoof against the space between her wonky eyes.

Muffin-scented steam blew from Ditzy’s reddening ears before she returned to her fierce attack.

“YOU RUINED MY LIFE!” she screamed, pummeling Daring with two hard slaps across the face.

“YOU RUINED MINE FIRST!” Daring yelled back, sliding out of the way of a powerful buck and knocking aside a stray hoof with her wing.

Ditzy’s wrath quelled a bit. “What did you say?”

Daring took several deep breaths. “I said… that… phew!” She twisted in place, cracking her spine as she gasped for air. “Oh, Luna’s nipple… I am out of shape…”

Ditzy tapped her hoof against the ground as Daring recovered. She took advantage of the moment by inspecting herself for any noticeable wounds. A large dark spot was appearing on her ribcage and the top of her head was pounding obnoxiously, but at least she hadn’t drawn blood. Daring’s lip was cut enough for a few red drops to pool, but both of them had seen much worse.

“O-o-o-o-oh, gosh,” Daring wheezed, shaking stars from her vision. “Wow. I guess sittin’ around all day writing stories takes its toll on a body, huh?” She glanced at Ditzy and frowned. “How come you’re not tired?”

“I’m the local mailmare,” she explained. “I fly all across this town every day. Not to mention my part-time job at Hoover’s Movers.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I, uh… don’t get many hours there anymore.”

Daring didn’t notice her sheepishness, finally getting a hold of herself with a final, collective breath through her nostrils. “Okay… back to fighting?” she asked.

“No! You said that I ruined your life before you ruined mine. What in Equestria is that supposed to mean?”

A heavy silence fell over the sisters as both stared bewilderedly into the other’s eyes. Or eye, at least.

“You… don’t remember?” Daring whimpered.

“Remember what?”

The yellow pegasus offset her jaw. With a determined gait, she stomped to the front door where she had dropped her luggage several minutes earlier. She reached into a side pocket of the largest suitcase with her mouth and removed a familiar tome. Then she fluttered back to Ditzy and spat the book on the ground before her.

“Can you guess what this one’s about?” she asked, hammering the cover of Poison Whispered Kiss.

Ditzy tried to act innocent, but her furrowing brow betrayed her. “How did you write it with only one mare?” she asked.

“I added a character,” Daring explained in a troubled tone. “A native, like him. Somepony he knew his whole life. It made it… easier to write, I guess, adding a backstory like that.”

Noticing the tears in Daring’s eyes, Ditzy let out a despondent sigh. “Look, Daring, I’m sorry about that, okay? I know you loved him, and honestly you would have been better for him. And Luna knows he shouldn’t have led you on like that. But for whatever reason, he fell for me—” Daring winced. “—and there’s nothing we can do to change that.”

Daring snorted. “I know, Ditzy. Believe me, I know. Besides…” She stole a brief glance at her sister’s misaligned eyes. “I did much worse to you than you did to me.”

She was surprised when Ditzy shrugged. “It really was an accident,” she stammered.

“I’ll never get it out of my head,” Daring muttered. Cold chills ran down her neck. “One good smack between the eyes and you were out, falling helplessly to the rocks below…”

“No need to bring your prose into this,” Ditzy deadpanned.

Daring chuckled a bit. “Why were we fighting so high up, anyway? If we were closer to the ground, that fall wouldn’t have been half so nasty.”

Ditzy lifted her shoulders again. “We were young, energetic pegasi. Our tempers went up: we went up.”

“I’m just glad you survived,” Daring admitted.

“Gee, thanks,” Ditzy grumbled. Daring’s laugh grew stronger.

“No, really! I was so scared, Ditz. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this before, but… when I flew down there and saw that you’d hit your head…” She shuddered. “It was gross, Ditz. Seriously, your skull was cracked clean open. I thought your brains were gonna spill out. I was sure you were dead.”

“Thanks, Daring, I’m really glad you dropped by to tell me this.”

“Oh, quit it. You’re fine now, right? Well… more or less.” She giggled as Ditzy’s eyes swiveled.

“Good thing he was so powerful,” Daring continued, “and that he loved you so much. I don’t even know if Celestia herself could have healed that wound as well as he did.”

Ditzy lifted a hoof to the back of her skull. There wasn’t even a scar. “Love is a powerful magic,” she breathed.

Hmm,” Daring hummed in sad agreement. She sighed and shifted her weight. “Well, I guess that’s it then.” She clicked her tongue and bent down to grab the book. One of Ditzy’s front hooves came down on its cover.

“I think that, uh… I’ll keep this one, actually,” she said, sliding the novel beneath her. “Payback for the damage to my house.”

Daring’s eyes swept over the messy, hoof-pocked kitchen and front room. A smile twitched at one corner of her mouth.

“I guess that’s a fair trade,” she agreed. After a brief silence, Daring Do turned around and walked toward her luggage and the door. Just as she reached it, somepony pushed it open from the outside. The wood smacked Daring across the face, sending her sprawling into her pile of suitcases.

“I’m home, Mommy!” Dinky Doo exclaimed as she burst through the open doorway. In the distance, three blank-flanked fillies waved goodbye and zoomed away on a scooter.

“Daring!” Ditzy yelped, hurrying to her fallen sister’s side.

“Daring?” asked Dinky, following her mother to the yellow mare. “Daring Do!?”

The famous pony scampered to her hooves as if recharged by the sound of her own name. She flashed the youngster a winning smile and tousled her spiky grey mane. “The one and only,” she added proudly.

Dinky squealed. “Mommy, look! Daring Do is in our house!”

“Actually, she was just leaving,” Ditzy replied, giving her sister a meaningful look. “I think she has another big adventure to brave.”

Hesitantly, Daring gathered her things with her tail and wings and trotted around the still open door. “Sorry, kid, but she’s right. I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve gotta go… find… stuff.” Her grin was weak, but Dinky was too star struck to care.

“All right then, Miss Do!” she chirped. “You better hurry fast! Nice to meet you!”

She beamed at her aunt. Daring laughed softly at her innocence.

“Back atcha, kid,” she said.

Ditzy wrapped a foreleg over her daughter’s shoulders. “Why don’t you go up to your room and start getting ready for bed? I’ll be up in a minute to get a bath started.”

“Okay, Mommy!” Dinky obeyed. “Bye-bye, Miss Daring Do!” she added before bounding up the stairs.

“Bye!” Daring echoed, waving with a pained expression. She turned to Ditzy when the foal was out of sight. “What’s her name?”

“Dinky Doo,” Ditzy answered, “with two O’s.”

Daring laughed. “Yeah, well… we can’t all be action heroes, I suppose.” She winked. Ditzy didn’t even smile.

After another click of her tongue, Daring started out the door. “This isn’t how I expected this visit to go at all,” she said over her shoulder, “but I’m still glad I got to see you. Even if we got in a little squabble.”

“We’ve had much worse,” Ditzy reminded.

“That we have,” Daring said, nodding. She stopped in her tracks three or four pony-lengths from Ditzy’s front door. Twisting her head far enough to look her sister in the eye, Daring asked, “She’s not adopted, is she?”

Ditzy’s stomach lurched. “Excuse me?”

“Dinky. She’s not adopted. She’s his, isn’t she?”

Ditzy said nothing. Daring nodded.

“Yeah, I thought so. She’s the same color as his eyes, the timeline works out just right… heh. I had no idea you even got that far with him. I probably would have put that in the book. Readers love that kind of stuff.”


“Of course, then I’d probably have to start calling it a ‘Teen’ series rather than being for ‘Everyone’. My publishers are really cracking down on accurate ratings.”


“Heck, maybe you forgot about it. Maybe you’ve told that ‘adoption’ lie so many times to the folks in Ponyville that you started to believe it yourself.”

“Leave, Daring.”

“Yeah, yeah, Ditz, just one more thing. Before I go, I wanted to tell you that—”

The Doo’s door slammed shut. Daring sighed again.

“—I’m sorry.”

As the sun dipped closer to the horizon, Daring Do bowed her head to her knees and started toward the center of town. No use coming up with Plan B on an empty stomach. With the scent of Ditzy’s muffins lingering in her nose, Daring decided to look for a confectionary. Perhaps all she needed to forget about her sister’s bitterness was a nice, quiet meal in a humble bakery, the likes of which she was sure to find in a place as boring as Ponyville.


As Daring Do pushed herself toward the palace’s highest tower, she wondered if the Sultan had yet succumbed to Celestia’s night. If for some reason he was still awake, her job was about to get much more complicated.

With a quiet backstroke of her wings, Daring reached the uppermost balcony. Her lightly padded hooves made no noise against the structure’s cold granite, but she remained still for several seconds, wary of the unicorn guards posted at the balcony below her. They had not noticed her ascent; neither were they alerted by her landing. With a victorious grin, she crept into the Sultan’s chambers and narrowed her eyes in the darkness.

Just as she suspected, the royal tower was divided into three chambers. The largest hosted a wide array of native sculptures, rugs, draperies, and other Haissanic furnishings. The remaining rooms were the Sultan’s private quarters, in which he presumably slept, and a mysterious third. Daring hoped to find the enchanted carpet therein. Like an agile serpent, she wove past looming idols and meticulously decorated vases. Every item in the largest chamber was worth a fortune, but Daring was focused on obtaining the palace’s rarest artifact.

The giant archway leading to the mysterious third chamber was filled with a fine, velvety curtain of the deepest red. Daring was reminded of blood and pulled back the barrier with her teeth. If this room truly held the fabled Flying Carpet, enchanted with ancient alicorn magic, booby traps were sure to spring upon her at any moment. She moved into into the pitch black chamber, letting the curtain sway shut behind her, posed to dodge from any sign of danger.

Daring tried to regulate her breath as her heart hammered against her ribs. Oh, how she wished she was a unicorn in these moments! A simple spell would have illuminated the lightless room. How was she to find the carpet and avoid the traps if she couldn’t see her own hoof in front of her face? She snorted out of habit and flinched at her own mistake. The Sultan might have heard that! Perhaps he was stirring in his neighboring bedchambers, or perhaps he was already trotting toward the red curtains. Or perhaps…

Daring felt the unmistakable tingle of warm breath behind her ear.

Rainbow Dash gasped, leaping away from her book with enough force to knock her own front door open. She grumbled at herself got back onto her hooves with a few expert flicks of her wings. With remarkable speed, Rainbow careened back into her house, slammed the door shut behind her with her tail, and scooped up the book from its spot on the floor in one fluid motion. A multi-colored streak painted the air between her doormat and her bed where she reopened the book on her pillow and kept reading.

She spun around and lashed out a hoof to catch her company in the neck, but a thick foreleg was already lifted to block it. With a single snap of her wings, Daring pulled herself away from the unseen stranger. Squinting through the dark, she dove at his vague outline to land a good punch on his jaw. With a brilliant flash of light, the stallion disappeared. Daring gulped before slamming into the floor, sliding at least four feet on her chin.

“A strange place to find a thief.” A rich, resonant voice pierced the darkness, smoother than the curtains behind her. “I would think the golden statues or gem-embedded amulets would prove more interesting to your greed than these.”

“I’m not spurred by greed,” Daring countered, crouching defensively.

“Then why invade my palace, little thief?”

“I’m not a thief!” she shouted, lunging toward the voice. Her target teleported again, but Daring was ready this time, using her wings to stay airborne.

“Ah, you learn quickly,” the Sultan’s voice complimented from another corner of the large chamber. “I would like to learn something on this night as well. Why did you invade my palace?”

Daring gritted her teeth. She whipped her head to and fro, searching for the exit, but the velvet curtains allowed passage to no traces of light. She was completely disoriented, a feeling that put her on edge more than she cared to admit.

“Turn on a light,” she bargained, “and I’ll tell you.”

There was a brief pause filled only by the steady flaps of Daring’s wings.

“Very well,” agreed the Sultan, and a spark of magic whisked through the air. It collided with a chandelier hung high above their heads, igniting a great many candles at once. The room was filled with warmth and light, but Daring’s hope dropped to cold, dark depths.

The chamber was devoid of carpets, let alone enchanted ones. Instead, scores of musical instruments lined the walls like art pieces, gleaming with careful polish. The floor, too, boasted impressive piles of various music makers, from tiny bongos to grand pianos. The Sultan himself stood far from Daring, leaning against a colorful marimba as he eyed her with genuine interest.

“You seem disappointed,” he remarked. Daring hung her head with a tired sigh.

“I… didn’t expect this,” she admitted.

“Getting caught?” the Sultan asked with a hint of amusement.

Daring shot him an impatient glance. “The instruments,” she corrected, gesturing with a hoof. “I thought this room had… carpets.”

Why was she telling him this? Perhaps the magic carpet was in his bedroom, or hidden among the statues of the central chamber! Daring was one of the fastest ponies alive: she could outrun him, with or without his impressive teleportation spell.

Her hopes were dashed when the Sultan began to laugh. It was not a cruel or sympathetic laugh. Instead, it seemed to be relieved.

“There is no magic carpet, Daring Do,” he said with a smile. “It is only an old fable.”

Daring blinked and backed away. “How did you know my—”

“We met earlier today,” the Sultan explained. “I am not surprised that you do not remember. We were both in disguise.”

Widening in realization, Daring’s eyes scanned over the Sultan’s handsome, dark blue coat, his long, ice-blue-and-silver mane, his striking, periwinkle eyes…

“You’re the stallion from the market,” Daring realized out loud. “The one who told me about the carpet.”

The Sultan laughed again. “Indeed, Miss Do, it was I. To finally be honest with you, I have known of your presence in my country since the moment you arrived.”

Daring felt weak and vulnerable for the first time in several years. “But… how?”

“I orchestrated all of it, Miss Do,” he continued. “I was behind every catalyst that led you to this exact moment. I knew you would not respond to a direct invitation to my palace, so I devised another way to meet you.” He bowed deeply. “And I must say, it was worth every hour. I am honored, Miss Do.”

Daring blushed and readjusted her trademark headgear. “So… there’s no carpet?”


“And you’re not going to arrest me?”


“And you were behind all of this… just so you could meet me?”

“Privately,” he added.

Daring did a double take. “What?”

The Sultan smiled suavely. “Miss Do, you must understand. You wisely keep a low profile among your own kind, but everypony knows and fears the name of Daring Do among the underworld, and everypony knows and lauds your name among the overworld.”

“The… overworld?”

“Nobility. Your Princess, for example. The King of Caballo, the Queen of Cheval, the Dragon Empress. Me. We have all been made aware of your existence and accomplishments, despite your valid efforts to keep secret your identity.”

Daring cursed under her breath. “Why?” she asked. “My Princess raises the Sun and Moon. Why would She care about me?”

The Sultan looked surprised. “Your Princess cares for all her subjects. Even so, you are a mare among mares, Miss Do. Surely you know that.”

“Everypony’s special,” Daring argued. “So I happen to like exploring. Big deal!”

“You have saved the world from wicked threats a dozen times over.”

“So has She! So have a hundred other ponies through history!”

“Ah,” the Sultan sighed, taking several deliberate steps closer to Daring, “the heroes of the past. What are they if not tools to shape the heroes of the present?” He leaned forward, ruffling his great, azure wings. “And you, Miss Do, are the greatest of all.”

Wings? For the first time, Daring noticed the regal appendages sprouting from his back. Her eyes darted from his wings to his long, spiraled horn. “You’re an alicorn?” she asked in disbelief.

The Sultan chuckled. “Of course. Surely you did not expect a unicorn to rule a country.”

Daring shuffled her front hooves sheepishly. “I… didn’t notice.”

“Does it trouble you?” he asked.

Her eyes locked with his mildly violet pair. “It… doesn’t. I’m not easily troubled.”

The Sultan grinned. “And that is one of the many things I like about you, Miss Do,” he said.

They stood in silence for a long moment. The Sultan seemed unaffected, but Daring searched for a suitable topic to break it.

“What is this room?” she finally asked. The Sultan seemed pleased by the question.

“It is my personal collection,” he answered, taking time to cast his eyes over each instrument. “I have a deep passion for music, you see, and through my years I have taken it upon myself to learn to play as many as I can.”

Daring lifted an eyebrow. “You can actually play them?”

“Of course.” One corner of his mouth lifted. “Would you like to hear?”

She gave a startled cough. “Uh… no offense, Mister Sultan, but I this is all a little too weird for me. I came to collect a magic carpet, not be serenaded by a royal admirer.”

“Please, Daring,” the Sultan implored, taking up a sitar in his magical, silvery aura, “do not call me Sultan. I am Al-Qafzah al-Ula, and you may call me Alula.”

Rainbow snickered. “A loo-la?” she said aloud, bursting into mocking laughter. “What kind of a name is Alula?” Her cackles were met with another sound originating from her stomach. She winced at its grumbles, glancing at the clock on the wall.

“Gosh,” she muttered to herself, running a hoof through her mane, “have I really been reading all day?” With a reluctant glance at the half-finished novel, Rainbow Dash used one of her feathers as a bookmark and hurried out her front door. Sugarcube Corner sounded like just the place to wolf down a casual evening meal, and then she could learn what Prince Alula—“Hee hee!”—had in store for her hero. She could hardly wait to get back to Daring Do.

3 - A Second Witness

View Online

Chapter Three
A Second Witness

“Sugarcube Corner?” Daring read aloud. “Hmm. That sounds healthy.”

She smirked at herself and nearly trotted past the giant gingerbread house, but the sweet aroma of fresh muffins lured her closer to the open front door.

Directly in her line of sight was a short display counter. Four ponies waited in a line between her and it. She took her place at the back of the line and tried to see what options lay beneath the curved glass.

A portly blue earth pony with a swooping, pink-striped mane stood patiently behind the counter with a fixed expression of polite worry. Daring had seen the type: ponies who were too nice for their own good. She snorted, drawing unintended attention from two of the bakery’s seated customers. The lavender mare’s jaw dropped in utter disbelief while the white one’s irises shrunk dramatically.

“‘Sup,” Daring greeted, turning her attention back to the line. She allowed the unseen half of her mouth to curl into a knowing smile.

“Is that…? No, it couldn’t be,” she heard the purple unicorn whisper across the table.

“She certainly looks a great deal like her,” the white one whispered back. “I wonder if she’s aware!”

“Quit staring, Rarity!” the first mare breathed. “I’m sure she hears it all the time.”

“But the resemblance… it’s simply uncanny! Do you think she knows the author?”

The unicorns continued to gawk and wonder as Daring moved up in line. Her stomach felt tight and on the verge of grumbling when the portly pony finally addressed her several minutes later.

“Good evening, deary!” she greeted. Daring noticed bags under her tilted eyes. “Welcome to Sugarcube Corner! What can I getcha?”

Daring’s eyes swept over the assortments beneath the glass one last time. “I’ll have a slice of that pie,” she started, pointing with a hoof at a decorated green circle, “and one chocolate muffin.”

“Just chocolate or chocolate with chocolate chips?” she asked, relieved with the simple order.

Daring licked her lips. “Definitely chocolate chips!” she said, nodding excitedly.

With a few swift motions of her hooves, the mare cut a thick slice from the key lime pie and placed it on a small, white plate with delicate precision. One chocolate muffin was dropped into a paper bag and both items were hoofed across the countertop into Daring’s extended wing.

“Thanks!” she hollered.

“My pleasure, deary,” the blue pony said. “That’ll be six bits.”

Daring pulled the proper amount from her saddlebag with her teeth and dropped them onto the counter. On a whim, she whipped out another coin and tossed it onto the stack.

“Keep the change,” she said with a wink, rolling her suitcases behind her as she moved to an empty table. The genuine smile on the blue mare’s face brought an uncommon twinge of happy contentment.

Daring chose to sit at a small, round table fairly close to the pair of unicorns who had recognized her. She kept her eyes on her slice of pie and pretended not to notice their furtive glances at her goldenrod coat and grey-striped mane. Both of them flinched when she flicked her wings. She had to hold back an amused laugh.

After what looked like a very brief argument, the purple unicorn turned toward Daring. “Excuse me, Miss,” she began in an even voice not unlike a curious student, “I’m sure you get this all the time, but have you ever read the Daring Do series? You look just like the eponymous character.”

Daring chuckled. “Actually, I wrote the Daring Do series.”

No point in beating around the bush. As both of their eyes widened, Daring took her first bite of the key lime pie. She inhaled sharply as a bomb of crisp flavor exploded on her tongue, sending her mind on a quick joyride to the highest heights of satisfaction.

“Whoa,” she said as the bright green faded from the corners of her vision. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“We rarely expect our most wonderful moments,” a methodical voice spoke from behind her. “Perhaps anticipation dulls what might be a life full of such experience.”

Daring twisted her head to see the pony. She was green, several shades softer than the pie on her plate, with striking golden eyes. A harp that matched her Cutie Mark balanced on her back, covered in turn by a stone-grey hoodie that wrapped around her upper half.

After taking in her unusual appearance, Daring grinned. “I guess that’s true. The very best moments of my life were the ones I never saw coming.”

“It is as they say,” the mint green unicorn added, taking the small table’s second seat uninvited. “Ignorance is bliss.”

Daring furrowed her brow at the stranger’s intrusion, looking over her shoulder at the purple and white mares. They had leaned across the table and were whispering up a storm right in each other’s faces. The sight made Daring snicker.

“I don’t know if I agree with you there,” she said, turning her attention back to the pony at hoof. “For example, now I know that this pie is incredibly delicious. And still—” She took another bite. “—it’s just as blissful.”

The musician smiled, lifting her harp in an aura of magic and setting it beneath the table. “Something’s troubling you, Daring,” she stated. “Are things in Ponyville not as you expected them?”

Surprised, Daring shook her head a bit. “Uh… no, things are… things are fine. Actually, yeah, I guess it’s not what I expected, but so far that’s a good thing. Here’s proof.” She gestured to her pie, taking a third bite in her teeth.

“You know what I mean,” the stranger insisted, narrowing her eyes sincerely. “How was your visit with your sister?”

Daring leaned away. “How in… I’m sorry, do I know you?”

The mare’s smile was tinted with accustomed sadness. “We met at the train station this morning.”

“We did?” Daring scratched her head. “I don’t remember that. What’s your name?”

“Lyra,” she stated like the title of a song. “Lyra Heartstrings.”

Daring shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry, Lyra, I can’t say I remember meeting you. Did I tell you what I was doing in Ponyville?”

“You mentioned your sister,” Lyra offered.

“Yeah… I guess that didn’t turn out too well,” Daring admitted, sliding the little glass plate between her hooves.

“How so?”

“Well, I went to ask a favor and ended up just making a fool of myself,” she summed up. “I forget how much things change with time. I thought eight years would be enough to heal old wounds, but we both got pretty heated over everything that’s happened.”

“Time does not heal wounds alone. For a proper scar to form, they must be thoroughly cleaned and dressed—or in this case, addressed.”


“Have you ever talked to your sister about what happened?”

“Well, sure, of course we’ve talked about it!” Daring said. She caught her snappiness and stopped pushing her plate. “Well… sort of. We’ve yelled about it a lot.”

“Did you let her know you were coming to make peace?”

Daring scowled, more at herself than at Lyra. “I didn’t come to make peace. I came to ask for a favor.” She laughed at herself, sliding a hoof over her face. “I didn’t even think about what it would mean for her. I guess I always imagined Ponyville as a meaningless little pit stop between Canterlot and Fillydelphia. I never thought she had a job here, let alone a family!”

“I didn’t think much of Ponyville before I came here, either,” Lyra confessed, casting her gaze through the window and toward the setting sun. She shivered and pulled the hoodie tighter around her chest. “But I have since learned that it is a vibrant, lively town, however small, full to the brim with good, inspiring ponies, each with a story to tell and a lesson to teach.” She turned back to Daring. “Did you know your niece plays the flute?”

Daring blinked. “Uh… no.”

As Lyra nodded, her eyes moved as if she were watching a memory play out before them. “She has quite the talent. I’ve never known Ditzy to be a musician. Was her father so gifted?”

Daring rubbed her eyelid as it twitched involuntarily. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, he was amazing at music. Magical, even.”

“Hmm.” Lyra nodded again. “Yes, some music is very magical…”

The pair was quiet for some time, Lyra lost in thought while Daring tried to squish bad memories. She took little notice a light blue pegasus gliding into the Corner and starting a large order with the mare behind the counter.

“Your sister refused to do the favor, then?” Lyra asked, pulling in Daring’s attention.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, she did.” She sighed and finished her pie in one bite. “I don’t quite know what to do now.”

Lyra cleared her throat. “What was the favor, if I may be so bold?”

Daring rolled her head on her neck. “Eh, it was stupid. See, I’m a writer, but I have a very limited imagination. I can’t come up with full stories on my own. Everything I’ve written so far has been based on stuff that really happened to me. I came here to ask my sister to go on another adventure so I can have another story to write.”

With a curious smirk, Lyra asked, “Why not just go on your own?”

The pegasus gritted her teeth. “I… I can’t. I, uh… I need a second witness.” She looked at the ceiling and nodded. “Yeah, that’s it. I need another pony to see everything that happens so when I’m writing it down later I don’t miss any details.”

“I see,” Lyra said, pulling at her sleeves. “So Ditzy helped you write your presently published works then?”

Daring winced. “Well… no. But… she and I…”

She met Lyra’s piercing gaze and felt a lump grow in her throat.

“I’m scared,” she admitted like a foal at the top of a long slide. “I can’t do all the things the Daring in my books can do. I need a sidekick—no, a partner. I need somepony with me to bounce ideas off and keep me company and watch my back. Adventures are fun, no doubt, but they’re pretty… dangerous.”

Lyra’s nod expressed her approval. “I understand that entirely, Miss Do. Being alone on an adventure is maddening to say the least.”

“Yeah,” Daring agreed with a relieved sigh. She couldn’t believe how good it felt to tell somepony the truth.

“So what are you going to do now?” Lyra asked. Her tone was low and encouraging.

Daring sniffed and pulled her chocolate muffin with chocolate chips out of its crinkly paper bag. “I don’t know, Lyra. Go home, I guess. Try to make up a story, see if my publishers will lower their standards.”

“Why not find a new partner?” Lyra suggested.

Daring perked up. “What was that?”

“Ponyville is full of unique and energetic ponies, Miss Do. I’m sure several of them would jump at the chance to adventure with a famous explorer like yourself.”

The muffin fell from Daring’s hooves and landed with a dull thump on the table.

“A… new partner?” she repeated. Her eyes were beginning to sparkle. “A new partner!?”

Lyra’s upper eyelids drooped. “Have you honestly never considered that before?”

“A new partner!” Daring nearly shrieked, leaping to her hind hooves and wiggling her forelegs excitedly. “Oh, sweet Celestia, why didn’t I think of this before? My problems are solved! A new partner!”

A torrent of delighted cackling drowned out the sound of chattering teeth. The tears of joy in Daring’s eyes blurred a small cloud of fine mist that wisped above the tabletop.

“Excuse me, ma’am, are you all right?” an angular, yellow stallion called out from behind the counter. Daring silenced herself and looked his way.

“Oh, yes! Yes, I’m fine.” She lifted a hoof to her mouth and cleared her throat. “Sorry about that. I just had a really good idea pop into my head out of nowhere! You ever have that happen?” With an embarrassed chuckle, Daring snatched the chocolate muffin from the small round table and hurried out the front door. “Thanks for the food, it was great!” she called over her shoulder.

As soon as she was on the street, she broke into a full gallop, suitcases tucked beneath her wings, eyes peeled for a hotel. It looked like she’d be staying in Ponyville for a while longer. Something told her there were good, inspiring, unique, energetic ponies in that town who were more than fitting candidates to replace her sister on another thrilling exploration. She was going to find a suitable partner and embark as soon as possible! Those ancient and/or mystical artifacts wouldn’t know what found them.

Daring hurried past a unicorn trotting alone down the middle of the road. Thinking it better to ask for directions than scurry around an unfamiliar town by moonlight, Daring screeched to a halt and turned to face the stranger.

“Excuse me, Miss,” she said over the resonant plucks of the mare’s harp, “sorry to interrupt, but do you happen to know where the nearest hotel is?”

A whimsical smile graced her flawless face as one hoof pointed down an adjacent street. “The tallest building at the end of that road is a wonderful choice, Miss Do,” she said.

Daring quirked an eyebrow. “You a fan of my books?” she guessed.

Without breaking eye contact, the minty mare shrugged. “Something like that.”



“Pull yourself together, darling!” Rarity implored. “You’re frightening the Cakes’ foals.”

Indeed, Pound and Pumpkin stared up at Rainbow Dash with confusion in their tiny eyes.


“Rainbow, you’ve got snap out of it!” Twilight Sparkle demanded. “Come down from there at once!”

“Oh, dear,” Mrs. Cake said under her breath, scooping her children onto her back and carrying them out of the front room.

There weren’t very many ponies left in the Corner at that hour, but since a mustard-yellow pegasus had burst into unexplained laughter and trotted away three minutes earlier, every eye was locked on Rainbow Dash.

The weathermare was plastered into the far corner of the ceiling. How she managed to cling to the wood, nopony understood. Her limbs and wings were pressed so tightly against the converging walls they appeared flat. Every hair of her multi-colored mane seemed to stand on end. Her only movements were the frantic vibration of her eyeballs and the rhythmic bobbing of her jaw as she repeated one sound over and over again.


Pinkie Pie appeared beside Twilight and covered her ears. “The inside of my nose is itchy,” she whispered to her friends. “You might want to follow my lead.”

Without a second thought, Twilight and Rarity clamped their forehooves over their ears, and not a moment too soon.


The windows of the confectionary rattled in their frames. Several glass cups exploded without warning. Eight of Carousel Boutique’s ponnequins fell to the floor. A flock of ravens in the middle of the Everfree Forest took flight. Princess Luna was momentarily distracted from raising the Moon. A dozen or so stored snowflakes in Cloudsdale’s Weather Factory shattered. A small crack appeared in Tom’s side. Half of Bloomberg’s apples fell to the ground. Discord winced inside his stone prison.

Ditzy Doo flinched as she tucked her little muffin into bed.

Daring Do grinned as the candles in her hotel room flickered.

“Maybe Ponyville isn’t so bad after all,” she mused. “At least somepony here has great taste in fiction.”

4 - Anything Like That

View Online

Chapter Four
Anything Like That

Halfway up the stairs, Mrs. Cake used her entire body to shield her children from the atmospheric tremors caused by Rainbow Dash’s inequine scream. They still started to cry.

Ng’oh… you little stinkers,” she grumbled to herself, carrying both of the bawling foals to their room on her back. “Really, how does Pinkie do it?”

She remembered the flour shortage following Pinkie’s first babysitting job and pushed the question aside.

Shhh, shhhhh, go to sleep, little darlings,” Mrs. Cake cooed at the foals. The soft vibrations of her voice calmed the infants before she reached their room. Gently, she lowered the tiny ponies into their crib and sang them a common lullaby.

Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to lay your sleepy head…

Their breathing slowed and peaceful smiles graced their miniature snouts. Satisfied, Mrs. Cake backed away from the crib toward the front door.

Hush now, quiet now, it’s time to go to bed…

Following routine, she sat on her haunches to the left of the doorframe and locked her eyes on the window pane closest to her children, humming the rest of the song over and over to keep herself awake.

She sat there at the entrance of her precious babies’ bedroom with wide, wary eyes for more than thirty minutes before her husband entered the room.

“The shop’s all closed downstairs, honey bun,” he whispered, planting a kiss on her cheek. She barely nodded in response, otherwise staying as still as a statue.

Mr. Cake sighed. “Are you going to stay in here all night… again?”

Another twitchy nod inspired another tired sigh.

“Honey… when was the last time you got some sleep?”

“I took a nap earlier today, Carrot,” she answered.

“Was that when you leaned against the kitchen counter for thirty seconds?” Mr. Cake accused. His wife didn’t answer at all.

“I’m worried about you, dear,” Mr. Cake admitted. He stroked a tender hoof along his wife’s round face. “I know you’re worried about the foals, but don’t you think you’re taking this hunch a little too far?”

“It’s not a hunch, Carrot!” she snapped, taking her eyes off the window for just long enough to shoot him a stern glance. “I told you, I saw somepony looking at them through the glass.”

“More than a week ago!” he added. “I believe you, Cup, I promise I do, but I don’t think whoever you saw was planning to hurt them. It was probably just a pegasus passing by who thought they were cute enough to ogle for a moment.”

“You didn’t see him, Carrot,” Mrs. Cake breathed with audible fear. “I’ve never seen a pony like that in Ponyville. His snout was long and narrow—”

Mr. Cake raised an eyebrow and pointed to his own face.

“—and wedge shaped! Different from yours, Carrot. Different from anyone’s I’ve ever met!”

“What color was he?”

Mrs. Cake’s eyelid twitched. “I… couldn’t tell in the dark.”

“And his eyes?”

She shook her head.

“It seems like I’m not the only one who didn’t see him,” Mr. Cake quipped with a smile. “Come to bed, honey. I love that you care about our foals so much, but I promise there’s nothing to worry about. Our children are safe.”

She didn’t want to listen. She couldn’t explain it to her husband, but she had a horrible feeling in her gut whenever she left their babies alone. But he did have a point: she hadn’t slept for several days and hadn’t seen the malicious silhouette for even longer.

“I guess you’re right, Carrot,” she surrendered, allowing her husband to help her to her hooves. Suddenly she had an idea, hurrying quietly to the toy box and removing a squeaky rubber chicken. “Just let me set this up,” she insisted, moving to the window. “It’ll make me feel better.”

Mr. Cake nodded and watched his wife fiddle with the toy at the windowsill for some time. He wasn’t sure how it was supposed to alert them of an intruder but kept his mouth closed in a polite smile while they trotted out the room together. Anything to settle her ridiculous fears.

After blowing a final kiss goodnight toward his resting children, the baker gently shut the door and started down the hall. Loud snoring met their ears as they passed Pinkie’s door, which probably meant she wasn’t really asleep. Neither of them cared to check on what she actually doing. A face-full of confetti or a monsoon of balloons was very unwelcome at that time of evening.

“After you, m’lady.” Mr. Cake opened their bedroom door for his wife.

She blushed in spite of herself. “Oh, Carrot, you always know how to make my night.”

“Yes I do,” he agreed with a wink and ushered her inside.


Honk, shooo! Honk, shooo! Honk, shooo!

“Will you please turn off that infernal recording?” Rarity snapped.

“Do you think they’re asleep yet?” Pinkie asked, putting an ear to the inside of her door.

“Who cares?” Twilight asked. “You’re an adult mare, Pinkie. Shouldn’t you be allowed to have friends over? It’s not like we’re bothering anypony.”

“Oh, I’m sure they’d love to know I have you and Rarity over, Twilight,” Pinkie assured her. She whipped a hoof toward Rainbow Dash. “But I’m not so sure how they’d feel about her.”

Rainbow was squirming on the bed, wrapped from head to tail in rope and rags.

Leh meh go!” she demanded, muffled by the saliva-soaked oven pads they had shoved in her mouth to stop her scream.

“Not until you’ve calmed yourself down a bit, darling,” said Rarity. She trotted to the bedside and stared into Rainbow’s wild eyes. “As good friends, we simply can’t allow you to behave so irrationally. You have to realize that the pony you saw was not, in fact—”

DEH-WEEN DOOO!” Rainbow screeched. Her body lurched and twisted as she tried to yank her wings free from their bonds.

Rarity sighed. “It seems we’ll be here for a while yet,” she mumbled to herself, moving back to the front of the room where Pinkie and Twilight were waiting.

“Honestly, I’ve never seen a pony so wildly obsessed!” Rarity said. She caught Twilight’s embarrassed blush, but decided against commenting on it.

“I don’t blame her,” Pinkie said with a shrug. “If somepony I idolized that much waltzed into Sugarcube Corner, I don’t know what I’d do!”

“Throw them a party?” Twilight offered dryly. Pinkie’s eyes lit up with a gasp.

“That’s a great idea!” Pinkie exclaimed over her recorded snoring. “We should throw a party for Daring Do!”

Rainbow Dash’s spasms intensified.

“Just think of all the decorations!” Pinkie said, spinning in place with excitement. “We could have one corner look like a jungle and one look like a desert and one look like a castle and one look like an ocean and one look like a tundra and one look like a mountain and—”

“You’re not helping, Pinkie,” Twilight scolded, stopping her friend mid-twirl with magic. “First of all, we are not going to throw any parties. Secondly, the mare we met today is not Daring Do.”

“But she looks just like her,” Pinkie argued. “She even has the compass-y Cutie Mark!”

“Daring Do doesn’t exist,” Twilight stated. “She is a fictional character created by an author who chooses to keep her name anonymous. Rather admirably, in my opinion. The pony we saw today told Rarity and I that she was the author of the Daring Do books, but I don’t think she was being serious. Looking like she does, I’m sure she’s come up with a few clever lines to startle the ponies who ask her about it. Besides, she seemed a bit… snarky.”

Pinkie slumped a little. “Oh. One of those, huh?” With a heavy sigh, she started toward the door. “I’ll go find the forks and hope. You wanna find a thimble, Rarity? Twilight, go grab some soap from that box of yours.”

Rarity and Twilight exchanged concerned glances. “Pinkie, what in Equestria are you talking about?”

Pinkie’s eyes went wide with fear. “Let’s just hope she’s not a boojum! That would be bad.” A shudder started at the tip of her tail and ran through her entire body.

Twilight’s hoof smacked against her own forehead. “Will you please tell me what any of this has to do with the pony that looks like Daring Do?”

The pink pony’s eyes grew even wider. “I thought you of all ponies would recognize a Bluish Carol reference, Twilight.”

“The nonsense poet?” Twilight clarified. Pinkie nodded so fast her whole face blurred. The librarian groaned. “Pinkie, I don’t read nonsense. It’s inapplicable and time-wasting, intended solely for the entertainment of little foals with no expectations.”

“Is not!” Pinkie argued, lifting a defensive hoof to her chest. “Bluish Carol was a genius! I have his complete works! See?” One of her forelegs stretched to a bookshelf on the far side of the room where she snatched a huge, dark brown tome and slammed it at Twilight’s hooves.

“Well, there goes all attempts at stealth,” Rarity mumbled, stopping the obnoxious gramophone from snoring any longer.

“You should read it sometime,” Pinkie encouraged cheerfully. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from this book!”

“But it’s called nonsense, Pinkie. You can’t learn anything from nonsense.”

“Sure you can! Just give a try? At least read the first two chapters.”

The gleam in her giant blue eyes convinced Twilight to add the massive anthology to her saddlebag, however begrudgingly.

“Make sure to read The Hunting of the Snark,” Pinkie was saying. “Then you’ll appreciate my joke from before.”

“I’m sure I will, Pinkie,” Twilight droned, setting her weighted bag on the ground and trotting to Rainbow Dash’s side.

“You ready to be untied now?” she asked the brooding blue mare.

I beh yeddy hince you hied me uhh,” she complained.

“Promise not to start screaming again?”

The tips of Rainbow’s ears reddened as she nodded.

“And you’re not going to start destroying the town in search for that pony, are you?”

Cruh kiw dehoy swah,” she growled.

Twilight raised an eyebrow and magically pulled the oven pads from her friend’s mouth. “What was that?”

“Just get these out, stat!” she repeated, offsetting her jaw. Twilight giggled and started to undo the knots in Rainbow’s makeshift straightjacket.

The soft squeak of a rubber toy came through the bedroom wall. Pinkie’s ears snapped upright.

“Did you hear that?” she asked her companions. Twilight stopped her twinkling magic long enough for the four of them to have a proper listen.

“I think I did hear something out of place, Pinkie,” Rarity seconded with a worried expression.

“I didn’t hear anything,” Rainbow snapped. “Hurry up and get me out of the rest of these stupid ropes!”

Giggling at her expense, all three friends undid their hoofiwork and allowed Rainbow Dash to stretch her cramping wings.

“So…” she started, ruffling both forehooves through the back of her mane, “if that wasn’t Daring Do… then who was it?”

“I’ve never seen her in Ponyville before,” Pinkie offered. “She must be visiting!”

“If it’s an extended visit, I’m sure one of us will notice her tomorrow,” Rarity pointed out. “She’s not likely to go unspotted in a quaint little village like this.”

“That’s right, Rarity.” Twilight nodded once. “We’ll meet her properly tomorrow. For now, I think it’s best we all go home and get some sleep.”

Pinkie’s face fell. “What? But… I thought you were going to stay the night!”

To the bubbly mare’s delight, Twilight brightened at the idea. “I didn’t know we were invited! I love sleepovers!”

Rarity stopped herself from rolling her eyes by pulling a tired grin. “I’m all for staying here. Carousel Boutique is too far a walk for this hour.”

Rainbow grimaced. “Yeeeeah, I dunno, Pinkie…. I don’t think I can stay. I, uh… I forgot to fill up Tank’s water dish. So he’s prob’ly thirsty.” Her smile was less than convincing. “I’ll just go through the window here and—”

“Come on, Dashie, everypony else is staying!” Pinkie pled. “It’ll be so much fun!”

“She probably wants to start scouting for that Daring Do doppelganger,” Rarity teased.

“What? No! I’m totally over that.” Rainbow tried to act flippant by flicking a front hoof at the wrist.

“More like she wants to go home and keep reading her new book,” Twilight said with a knowing smirk. Rainbow went pale.

“H-how did you…?”

“You asked me to order it every day for almost two weeks,” Twilight reminded her, “and as soon as you stopped, you had this cocky smile whenever you visited the library as if you’d gone over my head. It’s no crime to own a few books of your own, you know.”

Rainbow harrumphed and folded her forelegs. “Okay, fine, I’ll stay. But if I start mumbling questions about Sultan Alula in my sleep, don’t blame me!”

Twilight perked up at the Sultan’s name and was about to ask for a repeat when Pinkie Pie tossed a sleeping bag in her face.

“Sorry I don’t have any extra beds!” she apologized as chipper as ever. “But these are the comfiest, warmiest, sleepiest sleeping bags you’ll ever fall asleep in!”

Rarity prodded her bag experimentally. “Oh, my… it certainly is plush, Pinkie Pie. Where did you purchase them?”

“I didn’t! I made them myself!” she corrected.

Rarity’s expression blended confusion, hope, and approval as she unrolled the large, pink sack and smoothed out its synthetic fabric. She wriggled into its folds, careful not to wrinkle it any more than necessary. “My goodness,” she remarked, melting into the bag. “These really are comfortable!”

“You made these?” Rainbow Dash clarified, tossing her lightweight bag from one hoof to the other.

“Yup!” Pinkie confirmed proudly. “I used my very own recipe.”

One of Rarity’s eyes popped open. “Recipe?”

“That’s right!” Pinkie giggled. “They’re stuffed with cotton candy!”


“I told him, ‘I do not foresee our business ever floating in that direction.’”

Daring laughed at the Sultan’s cleverness. An involuntary wing flap sent her stumbling toward one of the garden’s most exotic bushes, but Alula’s magic steadied her and brought her near his side.

“Sorry about that,” Daring muttered, her face reddening. “I’m not usually this… clumsy.”

“Your agility is legendary, Miss Do,” Alula said. “I can only take your present jitters as a compliment. After all, it is I who is the fan here.”

Daring could think of nothing else to do but giggle. It was an unusual and borderline uncomfortable thing, but the charming alicorn affected her like no stallion had before. After three days in the palace, enjoying his hospitality and participating in these morning walks through the garden, she had come to know the Sultan in a much different light than she had anticipated.

“Do you recognize this plant?” he asked, nodding toward the tall, ruby-red shrub with which she had nearly collided.

“I’ve never seen it before,” she admitted.

“In all your wanderings?” he questioned, raising his brow in surprise. “You have never seen a tumtum tree?”

Daring snickered. “A… tumtum tree?”

The Sultan chuckled. “It is a deceptively foalish name, perhaps purposefully. You see, the tumtum tree, like many wild plants, has magical properties. Unlike Heart’s Desire or poison joke, the tumtum does not affect the body of a pony, but the mind.”

She took a wary step away from the towering plant, drawing more amused laughter from her dark blue companion.

“It does not elicit a harmful effect,” he expounded. “The pollen of the tumtum tree enhances focus. When breathing near it, one’s thoughts become clearer and deeper than naturally possible.”

Her interest piqued and Daring took a deep breath through her nose. “Does it have a smell or anything?”

Alula shook his head. “The pollen is entirely undetectable.”

Daring sniffed again. “I don’t feel like I’m thinking any different.”

“Perhaps we’re not standing close enough,” he suggested. As Daring moved toward the tree, he took a deliberate step toward her. Their sides pressed against each other and Daring struggled to keep her wings from rising with strange excitement. She bent her neck meekly to look up into his soft, violet eyes.

“My thoughts, at least,” he whispered, boldly returning her gaze, “are definitely deepening.”

He lowered his chiseled, narrow snout closer to hers. Daring wasn’t sure how to feel or react. Her heart hammered like she was escaping a collapsing temple with a million-bit gemstone in her teeth. Could he feel its thud through her ribcage?

Her lips began to twitch as his spotted muzzle neared. A thousand thoughts raced through her head and her lungs picked up the pace. What could this immortal alicorn, leader of a nation nearly half the size of Equestria, possibly see in a mare like her?

That question started a chain reaction that fired through the contours of her brain until she finally blurted, “Where did you come from!?”

The Sultan stopped his slow approach. A bemused expression pulled at his ravishing features. “I’m sorry?”

Daring scooted away from the Sultan and cleared her throat. “I asked, uh… where did you come from? I mean… you’re an alicorn, like my princess, and….”

She trailed off, scratching at the garden’s dark, dirt path as the Sultan straightened his neck to the sky and allowed his long mane to tuck itself behind his ears.

“I am afraid I do not understand your question,” he replied, resuming his air of polite regality as though nothing had happened. “Do you mean to compare me to your princess?”

“No!” Daring yelped, shuffling awkwardly on her hooves. “Er, well… yeah, actually, I guess so. I mean, Celestia raises the Sun for the whole planet. Do you… do anything?” Realizing how insulting that must have sounded, she quickly added, “Like that!? I mean, do you do anything like that?”

His subsequent silence felt like murder to the bumbling adventuress, but a half-grin played at the left corner of his lip all the while.

“I have no power over firmamental bodies,” he began, “but to answer your question more directly: yes, I do something like that.”

Daring’s rosy eyes widened. “Really? What do you do?”

He glanced at the large Cutie Mark dominating the majority of his flank that displayed three thick, sweeping, silver lines.

“I begin the wind, Miss Do,” he explained. “Every morning I sweep the air of the world and let its many pegasi direct it as necessary. It is not as impressive as your princess’s special talent, but without it the air would remain stagnant and stale all over our fair planet forever.”

Every moment enjoying the cool summer breeze, every storm redirected by faithful weatherponies, every kite she flew as a filly came back to Daring in that moment with newfound appreciation.

“Wow,” she breathed. “I-I had no idea.”

“Few do,” he acknowledged without a hint of sadness.

“Does that make you upset?” Daring asked.

“Which part?”

“That Celestia is praised all over the world for bringing Day and Night, but your name is practically unknown?”

They had continued their walk at some point and were coming to the end of the lengthy garden trail.

Alula lifted his gaze to the shocking white clouds against Haissan’s rich, blue sky. “No,” he answered. “No, it does not upset me. I have never been one to… how do you say it? ‘Crave the spotlight’.”

Daring was distracted from responding by the sound of flapping wings from above. She followed Alula’s eyes to a pegasus flying toward them from a distant spire of the palace.

“Who’s that?” Daring asked. Alula did not answer, but she noticed an interested gleam in his eye.

The pegasus continued its descent until it landed on the garden trail not three ponylengths in front of them.

“Your Highness,” the mare greeted, bowing before Alula.

“Rise and speak, Tenutherut,” he commanded in a kind tone.

Daring quickly surveyed the light grey mare, taking note of her striking golden eyes and mild yellow mane.

“Your presence is requested in the audience hall,” she recited. Daring’s keen eye detected an elated smile dancing behind the mare’s slavish façade.

“I shall come immediately,” he said with a hidden grin of his own. It didn’t take a world-class observer to notice the pair’s chemistry, but since Daring was a world-class observer she found herself especially curious of their history.

Alula turned to Daring and offered her a parting nod. Confused, Daring watched him follow the light grey mare to the audience hall.

Ditzy finished the chapter and slammed the book shut.

“Gee, Daring, nice subtlety,” she growled, picturing her Haissanic-servant counterpart. More like mirror image. “I’m surprised you didn’t write about her bubbly Cutie Mark.”

With a heavy sigh, Ditzy placed Daring Do and the Poison-Whispered Kiss on the kitchen counter and hoisted her empty mailbag onto her back. She wondered if Rainbow Dash would connect her to Tenutherut when she got to that part. On that note, she wondered what changes Daring had made to the actual events now that Ditzy’s role was filled by the Sultan’s servant rather than the second Doo sister.

She tapped her forehead several times with the flat of her hoof, trying to knock away all distracting thoughts and early-morning tiredness before heading to the post office. Every day, with the proper focus, she was getting better at her job. There hadn’t been any major mix-ups in three weeks, and she wasn’t about to let her selfish sister’s wild fabrications ruin that streak.

Dinky was still fast asleep upstairs. Ditzy was starting her mail run early that day and hoped to be done before midafternoon. The school band, of which Dinky was a part, was putting on a little show for all the members’ parents. She wouldn’t miss it for the world and couldn’t wait to cheer for her talented little muffin.

She flew as quickly as she could to the post office, scooped her route’s pile into her bag, and flitted through the streets of Ponyville. Envelopes seemed to shuffle through her hooves in a blur as she darted from mailbox to mailbox. A few larger parcels required her to knock on front doors. Not everypony answered, but that was common. It was too early for most ponies. Ditzy had been waking at the crack of dawn for as long as she could remember, ready to take on another day, another challenge, another chance at saving her father’s life…

“I’m not Berry Punch,” Bon-Bon croaked dryly.

“What?” Ditzy snapped back into full alert. “Oh! Oh, sorry, Bon-Bon. Uh… here you go.”

She shoved Berry’s letter back into her bag and gave Bon-Bon the right parcel.

“Thanks, Ditzy,” she said and was about to shut the door when her eyes lit up. “Oh! Actually, would you mind doing me a quick favor?”

“Uh… sure, I guess,” Ditzy complied.

Bon-Bon disappeared from the doorway for a moment and returned with a large, round cake platter.

“Will you return this to Sugarcube Corner for me?” she asked. “Pinkie Pie brought me an enormous cake last week.”

“That was kind of her,” Ditzy said, taking the dish between her hooves.

“She said it was courtesy of an anonymous pony,” she said with a distant smile. “I just finished cutting it up and storing it for future get-togethers and whatnot. Anyway, are you sure you have the time to give that back for me?”

“Oh, sure thing!” Ditzy assured her. “Anything I can do to help! I’ll return it right now and get back to my route.”

“Thank you, Ditzy!” the cream pony said, waving as the mailmare tore down the street toward the Corner. She stole a happy glance at a small, red velvet pouch hanging at her side before closing the door.

Ditzy was a quick flier when she wanted to be and reached Sugarcube Corner quickly. It was still too early for the shop to be open, but just before Ditzy knocked at the front door, her ears were assaulted by a horrified scream from upstairs.

“Mrs. Cake?” Ditzy guessed aloud, flapping to the upper level where she found an open window.

“Mrs. Cake? What’s wrong?” she asked the petrified pony in the far doorway.

Four familiar faces filled the space around the baker and gasped at whatever sight Ditzy couldn’t see.

“My babies!” Mrs. Cake finally shrieked. Ditzy hovered closer to the open window, peeking through at the empty crib against the closest wall. Her jaw dropped as Mrs. Cake began to shake and sob.

He took my babies!”

5 - I'm Used to It

View Online

Chapter Five
I’m Used to It

Something had startled her awake too early. She wasn’t sure what it had been—maybe somepony had slammed a door down the hall, or a bird had bumped against the window—but she was angry at it anyway.

She stared at the textured ceiling of her hotel room for nearly ten minutes before realizing she wasn’t going to get any more sleep. Heaving a bored sigh, Daring barrel-rolled out of the covers and landed in a careless heap at the side of the bed. Rising slowly to her hooves, she plodded to the oval mirror hanging by the door.

Daring Do didn’t like to brush her hair. Some ponies kept large brushes on or around them everywhere they went in case of a mane emergency, but Daring had never been one of them. In her younger years the condition of her mane didn’t matter in least since it was almost always covered by a tan pith helmet.

She stared at her reflection from under her brow and lethargically poked at the tangled grey mane between her ears. Giving the tufts a quick ruffle with both hooves, she struck a pose and grinned confidently at herself for a couple of seconds. The early hour took its toll before too long and she slumped forward, nodding once in a curt goodbye to the attractive mare in the mirror.

With nothing better to do, Daring left her bags in the hotel room and trotted to the lobby. The Sun was barely peaking over the mountains on the horizon. Aside from a blue Earth pony stallion behind the front desk, Daring was alone in its glow. She smacked her dry lips and asked the vested stallion where she could buy a good breakfast.

“I’m partial to Sugarcube Corner,” he answered. “It’s not a far trot from here.”

“Yeah, I ate there last night,” Daring said. “Great treats. Any others I should try?”

“Well, there’s a nice little café near the library. It’s a higher end place owned by a stallion from Cheval. I’d definitely give it a try, if I were you. They make great daisy sandwiches.”

Daring grinned. “Sounds perfect. Thanks, kid.”


As she moved toward the door, she noticed him hesitate to speak out of the corner of her eye.

“Need something?” she asked.

“Uh…” He tapped his hoof absentmindedly against the base of the front desk. “I, uh… couldn’t help but notice your Cutie Mark.” He pointed too quickly. “Golden compass. That’s really cool. What does it mean?”

Daring pushed her lips to one side and shrugged. “I dunno. Wha’d’ya think it means?”

The young stallion’s face flushed. “Oh, I don’t like guessing Cutie Marks. Some folks get pretty offended if you get it wrong.”

“I won’t be offended,” Daring promised, turning to face her company. “Give it a shot.”

He gulped. “Well, if I had to guess, I’d say you’re some kind of… navigator?”

His wince only made Daring laugh.

“Close enough, kid,” she said. “I guess I am something of a navigator. Or I used to be, anyway.” She clicked her tongue once and smiled at the pony. “What about you? What’s your special talent?”

His countenance dimmed while he trotted around the counter for Daring to see his Mark.

“Nothing special,” he said with a shrug. “Just a bunch of quavers.”

Daring eyed the two sets of conjoined musical notes on his flank. “Are you a musician?” she asked.

He donned a half-hearted smile that pulled against his teeth. “Sure am. Didn’t have much of a choice, though, did I? My parents named me Noteworthy, for goodness’ sake. I was born to be a singer.”

His tone made Daring raise an eyebrow. “You seem bitter about that.”

“Yeah, well.” He snorted and moved back to his spot behind the front desk. “I dunno, I guess nopony really has a say in their special talent, but sometimes I feel like I was cheated out of becoming something great, you know? Like, have you ever thought about how it would be if Cutie Marks didn’t exist? What if everypony got to choose what they wanted to be good at? Whatever they wanted. Seems more fair to me.”

Daring shook her head to clear it. “Whoa… no Cutie Marks?”

He propped one foreleg onto the desk and rested his chin on his hoof. “Yeah, no Cutie Marks. You could be good at anything. And when you’re done being good at that, you can just move on and become good at something else. No one special talent weighing you down.”

Daring scoffed. “No offense, kid, but you’re looking at this the wrong way. Just because you were born to be a singer doesn’t mean you can’t be great at anything you want.”

Noteworthy lifted his muzzle. “Yeah it does.”

“No, it doesn’t, actually,” Daring assured him, sticking out her chest. “Take me, for example. I was born a navigator of sorts, like you said, but I ended up being a writer. Now that’s how I make my living.”

His eyebrows climbed toward his hairline. “You’re a writer? Like, a journalist?”

“Adventure novels, actually,” Daring corrected with a wave of her hoof, “but that’s not the important part. My Cutie Mark doesn’t have anything to do with the path I’ve chosen.”

One of Noteworthy’s eyebrows dropped suddenly, leaving his expression skeptical. “And you’re happy with that? Your life is exactly the way you want it?”

Daring had to gulp before saying, “Nopony’s life is exactly the way they want it, kid. But, yeah, I’m… I’m happy.”

“Mmm-hmm.” Noteworthy narrowed his eyelids, but didn’t object out loud.

Daring’s ear twitched as she started pushing circles into the lobby’s carpet.

“Yep. So,” she said, glancing out the window, “I think I’ll go try one of those daisy sandwiches.”

“Do you think I could do it?” Noteworthy suddenly asked.

Daring stopped fidgeting and tried to smile warmly. “Find a new talent? Sure you can. Heck, maybe you should try writing. It still fits your name, after all.”

His head pulled back at that. “It… does?” he asked, more to himself than to Daring. His eyes grew wide and distant. “It does. Noteworthy.”

Daring couldn’t help but laugh. “Good luck with that, kid,” she said, turning once more to the front door.

“Wait!” Noteworthy yelped, snapping out of his trance. “How did you do it? I mean, did ponies think you were crazy, going against your talent like that?” He bit his lip and whispered, “What did your parents think?”

Daring didn’t want to answer. She kept her eyes on the doorknob. “What are you talking about?”

“When you became an author instead of a navigator,” he answered quickly, leaning over the desk. “Did anypony care? Were they mad at you?”

“Mom nearly DIED when she saw the title of that first novel! You may as well have spat in her face!”

Her sister’s words rang through her head as Daring answered, “No. They were fine with it.”

Noteworthy slumped and sighed. “I’m not sure mine would be. My parents are pretty set on me becoming another one of Equestria’s thousand worthless singers.”

Daring’s gaze locked with his without her really thinking about it. “Everypony’s special, kid,” she said. “Everypony matters. Whether you stick to the talent your butt gave you or find a new one, you matter. What you do matters. And that’s what’s important: you’re important.”

Noteworthy was silent, stunned by her sudden motivational speech. Daring seemed just as surprised; her eyes darted around the room, skimming over the wallpaper’s various symbols.

“Wow,” he finally said. “That was… pretty intense. Thanks, Miss.” He let out a short, breathy laugh. “Really, thank you. That meant a lot to me.”

Daring moved for the exit. “It’s something my dad used to say. It meant a lot to me, too,” she mumbled before jetting out the door, fighting the urge to cry.

She didn’t like thinking about her father. Actually, she didn’t really like thinking about anypony, especially the members of her family. But those old sentiments—everypony’s special, what you do matters—they stuck with her like a mental Cutie Mark, written in her brain no matter how she tried to block them. Relaying them to Noteworthy and reminding herself brought back all kinds of stinging memories.

Hurrying through the crisp air of early morning Ponyville, she remembered nights when she and Ditzy waited in the living room for Daddy to come home. She remembered resting her head on the softest feathers of her mother’s wing and staring into the gentle fireplace, counting the ticks of the clock on the wall.

Then, suddenly, the door would swing open! Daddy would bound into the room, tossing his glorious golden mane for it to glimmer in the firelight. His daughters stumbled over their short, ecstatic legs on their way to his embrace, giggling and shrieking all the way. She remembered his laughter, rich and low and fast, like a happy train speeding down the tracks. She remembered burying herself in the dark grey fur of his chest, wrestling with Ditzy to be closest to his heartbeat.

“Did you find it, Daddy?” she used to ask. “Did you find what you went looking for?”

His rosy eyes would twinkle at her. His teeth would sparkle in an impish, goading smile. “Do you think I found it, darling?” She loved that nickname: it was only one letter away from her real name, and “the extra L means I love you”.

“Of course you did! Of course you did!” Daring and Ditzy would chorus, nuzzling their father’s neck and laughing with pride and delight. He would hold up whatever he found—a statue, a crystal, a goblet, a scroll—and let the firelight dance across its surface. He would let the fillies hold it sometimes, cradling it between their hooves as if it was made of golden sand, while he took time to kiss his patient wife and tell her that he loved her.

And he did love her. The Sisters Doo knew exactly how much their father loved their mother: exactly half as much as he loved both of them. He told them every night.

“How much do you love Mommy?” Ditzy would usually ask.

“I love your mother all the way to the Moon,” he would whisper as he kissed her in between her golden eyes.

“And how much do you love us, Daddy?” Daring would always blurt.

That wonderful smile, the one that told the truth, would stretch across his chiseled face whenever he replied, “I love you to the Moon and back, my darlings.”

Everypony’s special, he would teach them. What you do matters.

He would scour the world for what ponies had done. He traveled to distant countries and braved the strangest wastelands to find what “they” had left behind.

“Who are they, Daddy?”

“They’re ponies, just like you and me. They’re ponies who lived a long time ago and had something to say. Everypony has something to say. I want to hear them all.”

Some of what “they” left behind he kept in his personal collection. Some of it he sold to museums across Equestria. Some of it he gave to the decedents of its makers. He loved learning about ponies. He loved the ponies themselves. But there were only two fillies he loved all the way to the Moon and back: Ditzy and—

“Daring Do?”

The daydreaming pony jumped at the call, skidding to a halt on a brown dirt road. She didn’t know how long she had been walking and thinking about her father, but she could feel dry tears in the fur below her eyes. Lifting an elbow, she rubbed at the residue, grunting away the knot in her throat and ruffling her wings.

“Daring Do?” the same voice asked, startling Daring again. She glanced all around her in search of the cheerful speaker. Only one, fuchsia mare stood agape just down the road.

“Yeah,” Daring croaked, rubbing her throat with a hoof. “Yep, that’s me.”

The Earth pony brought up a hoof of her own to cover her open mouth. “I… I didn’t know you were…” she tried to say.

Daring performed a small mock-bow. “I’m real, lady,” she said for what must have been the thousandth time. “Live and in the coat.”

“I-I-I don’t understand,” the pink mare stuttered. She took a few hoofsteps closer to Daring. “I thought you were just a made-up character.”

“Most ponies do,” she said. “I keep my name off the books. Well… sort of.”

“You write them?” the mare asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Wow! I didn’t realize all those adventures were based on true stories!”

Daring’s upper lip curled. “Loosely based,” she admitted. “I, uh… I add a lot of stuff.”

To her surprise, the stranger laughed. “Well, of course you do! As a fellow writer, I understand the value of entertaining exaggeration completely.”

“Thank you!” Daring yelled, tossing her hooves into the air. “I’m glad somepony gets it! They are books, after all.”

“You are a very good writer, Miss Do,” the mare complimented. “It is ‘Miss Do’, isn’t it?”

Daring chuckled. “Yeah, but call me Daring.”

The stranger giggled, but nodded. “I’m Cheerilee,” she said, extending a hoof in Daring’s direction. The pegasus closed the gap between them with a few quick trots and shook the offered foreleg.

“What on earth are you doing in Ponyville?” Cheerilee asked on the brink of a laugh.

“I was visiting… somepony that I used to know,” Daring mumbled. “What are you doing out and about so early?”

“I’m the local school teacher here in town,” Cheerilee explained. “I go to the schoolhouse pretty early to set things up for the kids.”

“Oh, really? You headed there now?”

“Not yet. I thought I’d stop by Sugarcube Corner for some breakfast first.”

“I was trying to find some Chevallian café,” Daring said, casting her eyes over the stores lining the road. Ponies were starting to exit their homes, breathing in the sunbathed air to start their busy days. She thought she saw a mailmare zip by on an adjacent street.

“Oh, you mean Horte Cuisine’s place?” Cheerilee asked. She pointed the way Daring had come. “See the big treetop over there? That’s the local library. The café is just a few blocks behind it from here.”

Daring scrunched up her nose and clicked her tongue. “Eh, too far. I’ll just go to the Corner with you.”

Cheerilee reeled to face her. “With me? Really?”

“Sure,” Daring said, shrugging, “why not?”

“Oh, my,” Cheerilee giggled, trying to hide a blush. “I’m sorry, Miss Do, I don’t mean to embarrass you. I’m a big fan of your books is all, and this is just such a surprise!”

Daring smirked. “I’m used to it.”

She followed the teacher down the street toward Sugarcube Corner, watching the doors of the cottage-like homes as Earth pony after colorful Earth pony moved into the sunlight. Most of them were smiling, eager to begin the day. Others scowled and yawned as their bodies begged for a few more minutes, or hours, of sleep. Daring couldn’t blame them. She had never been much of a morning pony, unlike Ditzy. That mare was up and at ‘em when the Moon began to set, it seemed.

“You said you were visiting somepony?” Cheerilee asked.

“Huh? Oh, yeah.”

“Who? I probably know them. I’ve lived in Ponyville since I was born.” A certain pride sparkled in the teacher’s clear green eyes.

“Er… an old friend,” Daring sort-of lied. “It didn’t go well. I don’t really want to talk about.”

“Oh.” Cheerilee’s features tightened sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Daring. Anything I can do to help?”

Daring gritted her teeth. Filly-Ditzy’s bubbly voice bounced through her memory, always looking for ways to help their brave, heroic father.

“Not really,” she said, but lifted her head as another thought struck her. “Unless you know any courageous ponies with tons of energy and athletic ability who might be willing to go on a dangerous quest.”

Cheerilee choked on a laugh. “As a matter of fact, I do know a pony or two who fit that description pretty well.”

Her ears pointed toward the sky. “Really?”

“Sure!” Cheerilee closed her eyes and nodded. “I’m sure somepony like you is already aware, but Ponyville is home to some pretty experienced adventurers: all six Elements of Harmony.”

Daring’s jaw dropped to her chest. “All… six?”


“Wait… do you mean the Elements of Harmony? The mares who defeated Discord?”

“Yes, ma’am!”

“They all live here!?”

Her voice cracked, making Cheerilee burst out laughing. “Yes, they live right here in Ponyville! All six of them. My good friend, Twilight Sparkle—she’s lives in the library I pointed out—she and her five closest friends embodied the Elements when they defeated Nightmare Moon.”

“Whoa, what? They did that, too?” Daring pulled her own ears down over her cheeks. “Why don’t more ponies know about this? Why haven’t they… written a book about it or something?!”

“They don’t want the attention,” Cheerliee explained. “Well… most of them don’t. I can think of two who wouldn’t mind a bit more popularity.”

“You actually know these ponies?”

“Quite well, some of them.”

Daring nearly squealed. “Will you introduce me?”

“Sure! One of them lives right here at the Corner. Fair warning, though—she tends to be a bit wild.”

Daring grinned. “I like wild.”

“Then maybe that’s not the right word,” Cheerilee said with a wince. “She isn’t exactly….”

The teacher’s words trailed off as her pupils shrunk to pinpricks. Daring followed her gaze apprehensively, lifting an eyebrow at the scene around Sugarcube Corner. A sizable group of ponies had gathered below an open window on the building’s side. A grey pegasus was hovering above them, chewing on her bottom lip. Daring squinted and moved a little closer, instantly recognizing the blonde mare.

“Oh, great,” she murmured, starting to back away.

“What’s going on?” Cheerilee called out, hurrying toward the whispering huddle.

“The Cake twins have been foalnapped!” Daring heard somepony answer. A gasp went through the newest members of the gathering.

Daring crouched where she stood in an effort to stay unnoticed. Luckily, Ditzy seemed preoccupied inspecting the pink glass window’s wooden frame.

“Better get out of here,” Daring said under her breath. She whipped around to gallop away just as a buzzing noise drew too close for comfort.

“Watch out!” shrieked three young voices in unison, but Daring Do’s reflexes weren not what they used to be. She was broadsided by a scooter and pummeled with tiny wings, a knobby horn, and a giant satin bow.

“Oof!” was her addition to the tremulous crash that redirected every eye from the crowd around Sugarcube Corner.

“Daring?” asked a distant, all-too-familiar voice.


The quester in question was half-buried face down in the dirt with three woozy fillies sprawled out groaning on her back. The only one wearing a helmet sat up and looked toward Ditzy curiously.

“That wasn’t daring,” Scootaloo said as the mailmare flew down from her spot by the window. “We weren’t even trying any stunts. This stupid pegasus just got in our way!”

“Get off her, kids!” Ditzy commanded. Surprised by her sharpness, the Cutie Mark Crusaders scrambled off the fallen stranger. Ditzy landed with unusual grace by the grounded goldenrod mare.

“You okay, Daring?” she asked, smoothing out her sister’s crumpled wings.

With a low moan, Daring pushed herself out of her hole in the ground and shook out the dirt from her mane. Ditzy noticed the cut on her lip. With an inward smirk, she wondered which of the many scrapes across her limbs and ribcage were from the recent crash and which were from their fight.

“More or less,” Daring grumbled, spitting blood onto the ground. The Crusaders leapt back in disgust.

“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!” Scootaloo yelped. “I… I’ve never actually hurt anypony by running into them before—”

“Don’t sweat it, kid,” Daring interrupted. She arched her back enough for it to pop a dozen times. “I’ve lived through a lot worse. Believe me.”

She flashed Scootaloo a brazen smile, showing off her bloodied teeth. The little filly suddenly recognized the messy grey mane, the golden wings, the ruby eyes that matched her hero’s…

“Sweet Celestia!” she cried out. “You’re Daring Do!”

Sweetie Belle gasped in equal realization. Apple Bloom just quirked an eyebrow.

“The one and only,” Daring mumbled habitually, swiveling each of her hooves in turn to check for sprains.

Scootaloo screamed through a giant smile. Daring toppled over from the blast, landing on her back in the hole she’d made. “What the…”

“I gotta go get Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo exclaimed, snatching her scooter from the ground. “Don’t go anywhere, Miss Do!”

Ditzy slammed a hoof against the front wheel of the scooter. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“But if I introduce her to her idol, she’ll love me forever!” Scootaloo reasoned, beaming with excitement.

“Rainbow would want to ask Daring a lot of questions,” Ditzy said in the most level tone she could muster, “but she doesn’t have time for that. In fact, I’m pretty sure she was on her way to the train station right now.”

“Nope,” Daring said, rising again to her hooves. “I’m stickin’ around for a while, Ditz. Go ahead, kid, find this Rainbow girl. I’d love to meet a fan.”

Ditzy’s yellow mane stood on end. Her neck twisted with a sickening stretch as she glared golden daggers at her worse-for-wear sister. “Sticking… around?” she seethed.

Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom took the confusing tension as their cue to leave. Boarding the little vehicle, Scootaloo’s buzzing wings whisked the trio down the street toward Rainbow’s home at the edge of Ponyville.

Daring leaned close to Ditzy’s ear and whispered, “You’re not gonna go on another adventure with me? Fine. I’ll just find somepony else.”

“Here?” Ditzy wheezed. “In Ponyville? Why not go back to Las Pegasus or look around Cloudsdale?”

“Because Ponyville is the only town with the Elements of Harmony,” Daring whispered back.

Ditzy glanced back at Sugarcube Corner. The whole crowd was still staring at them, speculating amongst themselves: what problem did the derpy mailmare have with this injured stranger? Grinding her back teeth, Ditzy grabbed her sister by the tail and dragged her into a nearby alleyway.

“Hey! What gives?” Daring asked, whipping her tail out of Ditzy’s mouth. The grey pegasus pounced, pinning a terrified Daring to the wall.

“Whoa, whoa! Calm down, Ditz!”

“I told you to leave, Daring. I told you to get out of here, not recruit the Elements of Harmony!”

“I don’t want them all!” Daring defended. “Heck, I don’t even know if I want any of them. I haven’t met a single one! I just found out they lived here this morning! But if little old Ponyville is home to Equestria’s two-time saviors, what other awesome ponies could it hold? No way, I’m not looking for a new partner anywhere else. This is the place.”

“A new… partner?” Ditzy growled.

Daring tried to push her off. “Hey, don’t be getting jealous! I gave you a chance and you pushed it aside. Now I have to—”

“You think I’m jealous?” Ditzy yelled, slamming her sister against the bricks. “I’m not jealous, you idiot. I’m angry! And, quite frankly, I’m worried!”

“Worried?” Daring squeaked.

“Worried for whatever sorry soul falls for your charm and your lies and puts themselves in mortal danger with a washed up, overconfident has-been!”


“You said yourself you’re out of shape, Daring,” Ditzy reminded, backing away from her sister with a final painful push. “You can’t go on another ‘adventure’, not like we used to. You’d get yourself and your new partner killed.”

“I would not!”

“Do you even have a quest in mind? Is there anything you need to find? Or were you just planning on running out into the wild looking for booby-trapped treasure?”

Daring didn’t have an answer for that.

“I’m not going to tell you again, Daring. Leave. Go by yourself if you have to, but don’t drag any of these good ponies into your selfish escapades.”

“They’re not selfish,” Daring mumbled, pawing at the ground.

“We don’t have a father to save anymore, thanks to you. You have no reason to find any more mystical objects except adding a story to your series. That’s selfish.” With a hateful glare, she turned toward the alley’s exit. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of baby foals to help rescue, and I don’t want to see your face in Ponyville again.”

Daring lifted her head. “Baby foals? The missing ones?”

Ditzy shot her an indifferent look before flying back to the Corner. Daring always asked the stupidest questions.

The crowd around the confectionary had nearly doubled in the time she was gone. All of them were too busy gossiping amongst themselves to question Ditzy as she swooped through the upper window into the scene of the crime.

Mrs. Cake was leaning over the empty crib, sobbing uncontrollably. Mr. Cake had a hoof on her shoulder, but his eyes were dark and distant. Still standing in the doorway were four of the Elements of Harmony: Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash. None of them looked quite sure how to help.

“Mrs. Cake,” Ditzy addressed in a serious tone that surprised everypony. No use wasting time. “A while ago you said that he took your babies. Who were you referring to?”

Her red, wet eyes met Ditzy’s angled squint.

“I-I-I saw somepony,” she choked out between sobs, shivering at the memory. “I saw somepony looking through the window.”

“When? Last night?”

She shook her head. “Nine days ago.”

“What did they look like?”

Her lower lip quivered as she shook her head despondently. “I don’t know… I don’t know! It was too dark…”

“Was he flying?” Ditzy asked, guiding her into revealing any details.

Mrs. Cake gasped. “Yes! Yes, he had wings… and he was very thin… and he had a… a strange snout.” She lifted a hoof to her own, drawing an invisible outline in front of her face. “It was narrow and… arched, maybe? Sort of curved…”

Ditzy’s pupil’s grew smaller with every word. “A curved snout…” she whispered.

“Sounds Haissanic,” Twilight Sparkle spoke up from the doorway. All eyes swiveled toward her and she squeaked at the sudden attention.

“Hey, I know that word!” Rainbow said. “Haissan is a country, right? Outside of Equestria?”

“Across the sea to the east,” Twilight confirmed. “Our nations have never been at war, but we’ve never been the closest of allies, either. There aren’t many immigrants between us. I’ve only seen a few Haissanic ponies in Canterlot, but never one in Ponyville.”

Ditzy had been hovering near the window. Her wings slowly came to a stop and she slumped in a heap on the ground.

“I know who took your babies,” she muttered barely loud enough for everyone to hear.

“So do I!” a scratchy voice suddenly blared from just outside the window. Ditzy eyes glowed with inner fire as she whirled around just in time to watch Daring dive into the room.

“I told you to le—” she started to snarl.


“I remember you from the store yesterday,” Mrs. Cake said, wiping tears from her cheeks. “Who are you? What happened to my children?”

“Your twins were abducted by the Sultan of Haissan!” Daring declared in an inappropriately excited tone.

“Probably one of his servants, actually,” Ditzy corrected without pulling her eyes from her headstrong sister, “according to your description.”

“But… why?” Mrs. Cake pled.


Ditzy gulped. “I’m not sure, Mrs. Cake,” she half-lied, hoping her suspicions were wrong.

“Does it matter why?” Daring asked, rising heroically into the center of the room. “All you need to worry about, ma’am, is absolutely nothing! Because Daring Do—”


“—is going to rescue them!”

Mrs. Cake gasped. Pinkie Pie clapped. Rarity frowned at her messy grey mane. Twilight Sparkle stared in shock at Ditzy grinding her hooves against the floorboards.

Mr. Cake and Rainbow Dash both fainted on the spot.

6 - A Name in Archaeology

View Online

Chapter Six
A Name in Archaeology

“Have you ever seen the mailmare get so mad before?” asked Sweetie Belle.

“She looked like she was gonna rip Daring Do’s head off!” Scootaloo shouted over the buzz of her own wings.

“I don’t know her very well,” Sweetie Belle continued, “but she’s always seemed like just a nice, quiet pony with a little bit of a…”

“Lazy eye?” Scootaloo finished, making the trio giggle.

Sweetie shifted inside the squat wagon. “I don’t know, it just surprised me. She’s always seemed so sweet.”

“I’ve heard Rainbow Dash complain about her before,” Scootaloo said. “She says she means well—always trying to help—but she’s sorta clumsy.”

“Rarity says the same thing,” Sweetie Belle revealed as her ears drooped. “I feel bad for her. But when Aloe came in the other day for her manecut, they talked about how much better she’s getting at delivering the mail. That’s good, right?”

Her two passengers grasped the edges of the wagon as Scootaloo yanked on the handlebars to make a turn. Their makeshift vehicle drifted around the corner, spraying clouds of dust and tiny pebbles over the road. “Yeah, I guess so,” she answered, grinning at her feat.

“She’s Dinky’s mom, ain’t she?” Apple Bloom asked.

Sweetie Belle gasped. “Oh, yeah! I forgot about that! I’ve seen her pick Dinky up from school.”

“What’s ‘er name, anyway?”

“I don’t know. Rainbow Dash always calls her Derpy.”

They hid their muzzles behind their hooves to stifle a fit of giggles, only to have it become raucous laughter.

“Ah might not’a’been payin’ close enough attention, but that whole thing with her and the other pony you two reco’nized went right over mah head,” Apple Bloom admitted. “Can somepony please explain to me what’s goin’ on?”

“The yellow pony we crashed into is Daring Do,” Scootaloo summed up, swerving around a patch of rough pebbles in the road. “She has a ton of books written about her.”

“Books?” repeated Apple Bloom.

“Adventure stories!” Sweetie Belle expounded. “They’re so good. I’ve read almost all of them!”

“I tried reading a few,” Scootaloo said with a shrug. “Words aren’t really my thing. But Rainbow Dash loves those books, and she loves Daring Do! And now she’s right here in Ponyville!”

“Why d’ya think she came here?”

“I dunno,” Sweetie Belle answered. “Maybe she’s on another adventure.”

“Or a vacation,” Scootaloo said snidely. “Remember we’re talking about Ponyville here.”

“What kinds o’ adventures does she usually go on?” asked Apple Bloom.

“She looks for stuff,” Scootaloo blurted.

“She does more than that!” Sweetie snapped, turning to the questioner with a tall smile. “She’s amazing, Apple Bloom! Daring Do travels all around the world collecting rare, magical artifacts and keeping them away from villains who would use their power to take over the world!”

“Wow! She must have the most amazing Cutie Mark ever!” Apple Bloom yelled.

“She’s not real, you dodo,” Scootaloo reminded them. “I mean… she is real, we just saw her, but… she doesn’t actually do all that stuff.”

Sweetie frowned. “How do you know? Maybe they’re true stories after all.”

“Part of me hopes so,” Scootaloo said, “because the cooler Daring Do is in real life, the cooler Rainbow Dash is gonna think I am for introducing them to each other!”

Apple Bloom was rubbing the bottom of her chin. “So… Daring Do is just like us, except instead of crusadin’ fer Cutie Marks, she’s crusadin’ fer magical arcticats?”

“Artifacts,” Sweetie corrected. “You know, like special crystals and ancient statues, that kind of thing.”

“Golly, that sounds pretty amazing.”

“Of course she’s amazing! She’s more than amazing! She’s Rainbow Dash’s hero! She’s super-ultra-extra-uh… whatever!” Scootaloo’s purple eyes glimmered with rotating stars. “She’s like… she’s like Celestia without the horn! Or Mare Do Well without the mask!”

“Mare Do Well? Who gives a hoot’n’holler about Mare Do Well anymore?” Apple Bloom chided. “Mah sister threw away her costume after Rainbow learned her lesson.”

“Actually, I think Rarity kept it up in her—”

“There it is!” Scootaloo interrupted, spotting Rainbow’s drifting house above a straight stretch of the dirt road. “Come on, girls, make some noise! She’s probably still asleep.”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders all shouted at the top of their lungs for the fastest mare in Equestria, but even when all their throats were sore and only Scootaloo continued to croak at the cloud, she didn’t appear.

“Maybe she’s not home,” offered Sweetie Belle.

Scootaloo growled. “Where else would she be this early in the morning?”

“Maybe she’s waterin’ Granny’s new lilac garden like mah sister asked her to a week ago,” Apple Bloom grumbled with familial disappointment.

After readjusting her helmet, Scootaloo gave a little sigh and turned the blue scooter and its red caboose around. “It’s a start, at least. Watch the lowest clouds for a multi-colored tail, girls. That’s where she likes to nap.”

With three pairs of big round eyes sweeping back and forth across the sky, the trio sped off toward Sweet Apple Acres.


“Derpy?” Twilight Sparkle whispered at the cringing mare. “Are you feeling all right?” The sound of Ditzy’s grinding teeth sent shivers down the unicorn’s spine.

“What are you doing here, Derpy?” Rainbow asked accusingly as Rarity helped her to her hooves.

The grey mare’s reddened face whirled to the group in the doorway. “My name is not Derpy!” she shrieked. “It’s Ditzy! DITZY DOO!”

Rarity and Rainbow Dash were shocked into complete silence at the sudden outburst and Pinkie Pie’s bottom lip quivered as her pupils grew.

Twilight took a step into the room. “It’s okay, Ditzy. Everypony’s on edge here.”

“There’s no need to flip out on us,” Rainbow slurred as her vision refocused.

“Yeah, Ditz, keep your cool,” Daring reiterated, dropping to the floor with a confident click of her hooves as she tucked her wings to her sides. “Besides, it’s nopony’s fault but your own if these ladies don’t know your name. How long have you lived here, five years?”

“Seven,” Ditzy corrected automatically. Her eyelid twitched and she lifted a hoof to rub at it.

“Wow. Seven years and they don’t know your name.” She clicked her tongue. “What, have you been living under a rock or something?”

“Shut up, Daring!” Her harshness seemed to smack the room’s other occupants across their faces. “You have no idea what’s going on here. I want you to leave immediately and let me handle this.”

“No!” Daring and Dash said together, briefly making eye contact.

“Please, Ditzy,” Twilight coaxed, trotting closer to the frazzled pegasus with a look of utmost concern. “Please, what’s going on? How do you know Daring? Why haven’t you told us your name?”

I knew her name,” Rainbow said. She winced at a fading headache. “I just thought ‘Derpy’ was a funny nickname. She’s worked under me every Winter Wrap Up since she moved here.”

“Misdirecting the birds, if I remember correctly,” Rarity added under her breath.

Ditzy caught the remark. “I’ll admit I’ve made some mistakes. I’m not as sharp as I used to be, thanks to these stupid things.” She gestured at her eyes, one aimed near Twilight while the other seemed to be examining the ceiling. “But I’ve gotten better! I’ve done my best. And I can help you, Mrs. Cake.” She turned to the shaking mother. “You don’t need to listen to this liar. I promise, I know how to help your children.”

What?” Daring yelled. “Liar, am I?” She stepped in front of her sister and smiled at the conscious parent standing near the crib. “Don’t pay her any mind, Cakester. I’m the greatest explorer there ever was. If anypony can rescue your doubtlessly adorable foals, it’s me.”

“Yeeeah!” Rainbow Dash cheered, pumping a hoof above her head.

Ditzy bared her teeth. “Mrs. Cake, I can assure you that this fraud will only make the situation worse. If you’ll please ask her to leave, I’ll go over everything you need to know.”

“Fraud? Liar? Selfish, washed-up idiot?” Daring scoffed. “Got any more names you wanna throw at me, Ditz?” She tossed her mane behind her ears and gave her sister a critical glare. “Look, you just asked me if I had a plan for my next big adventure. Well… I didn’t. But now I do. I’m gonna pick a partner, catch a train to the coast, and do everything in my power to find those twins! Try to call that one ‘selfish’.”

She lifted her chin and smirked at her fuming sister as Rainbow Dash’s pupils shriveled in the doorway.

“Pick a… partner?” she echoed in a squeak.

“Look at me, Ditzy!” Twilight begged. “What is going on?”

“You can s-save my children?” Mrs. Cake whimpered.

“Yes,” Ditzy and Daring answered at the same time, shooting each other competitive glances.

Rarity groaned and raised her voice to catch their full attention. “Would somepony be so kind as to enlighten those of us who are completely in the dark?”

“Sure thing,” Daring began. “It’s not all that complicated, really. See, Ditzy here and I are—”

“Old acquaintances,” Ditzy butted in. “We met at college, had a few classes together—”

“Oh, hush up, you wall-eyed weirdo,” Daring mocked, knocking Ditzy “playfully” in the back of the head. “Why are you so set on keeping it a secret? I’m not ashamed of our relationship one bit.”

Twilight stepped back in shock while Rarity’s cheeks flushed red. Pinkie Pie started to giggle.

What?” Rainbow practically screamed.

“No, no, no, not that kind of relationship,” Daring corrected, waving her forehooves dismissively. “Ditzy and I are sisters!”

Though Rarity and Twilight looked momentarily relieved, Pinkie continued to giggle and Rainbow’s disbelief only doubled. “WHAT!?”

With a swift flap of her wings, Rainbow zipped across the room and pressed her snout against the mailmare’s. “You’ve been sisters with Daring Do this whole time? And you never told me?”

“Yeah, Ditz.” Daring sat on her haunches and crossed her forelegs over her chest, swishing her grey tail over the floor. “Why haven’t you told anypony about me?”

“We never were that close of friends,” Ditzy reminded Rainbow Dash, trying to direct her eyes at the blue mare’s unnervingly familiar pair. She turned her head at Daring to add, “And I never told anypony for the same reason you keep your name off the books: because in real life you aren’t half the Daring Do everypony thinks they know and love.”

“I’d venture to say that I am about half,” Daring teased with a knowing wink.

“BE QUIET!” Twilight yelled, stomping her hooves against the ground. “Everypony, stop bickering. We need to focus on the matter at hoof.” When her audience had fallen still and silent, Twilight heaved a grateful sigh and asked, “Ditzy, you said you think you know where the foals are?”

“I do, too!” Daring piped up, only to shrink back at Twilight’s glower.

“I don’t know exactly where they are,” Ditzy said, ignoring Daring’s pout, “but I’m almost certain of who took them.”

“And do you think you know why?” Rarity asked.

Ditzy hesitated for a moment too long before answering, “No.” It was met by suspicious squints from both Rarity and Twilight, but Pinkie Pie stepped in before they questioned her further.

“You think it was a servant of the Sultan of Haissan?” she rhythmically inquired.

Ditzy rubbed a hoof along the nape of her neck. “Let me take a look at this room. Please go downstairs, all of you. If you’ll give me five minutes to investigate, I’ll come down and tell you everything.” Her left eye drifted and she covered it with a hoof. “Well, maybe ten minutes.”

The whole party silently agreed. Twilight and Rarity helped poor Mrs. Cake down the stairs, steading her on either side. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie were just as helpful, though much less graceful, with carrying her fallen husband out of the room. Daring tried to stay behind, opening her mouth once the others had left.

“Don’t. You. Say. One. Word.”

Daring slowly clamped her jaw and tightened her lips against her teeth.

Steaming tears rimmed the bottom of Ditzy’s eyes. She jabbed a hoof in Daring’s direction with every grunted word. “Get out of this town, Daring. Leave them alone. Don’t come back.”

“But this is it, Sis!” Daring declared. “This is the perfect big adventure! Do you have any idea how well a book about this would sell? Daring Do, selflessly risking her life across the sea to rescue stolen orphan foals!”

“They’re not orphans!”

Daring shrugged. “Hey, entertainment value, remember?”

It was all the twitching mailmare could do not to tackle her sister and pummel the living daylights out of her. Unfortunately, she couldn’t risk disrupting the crime scene any further if she hoped to scrounge up some clues.

“Go downstairs, Daring,” Ditzy commanded. “I’ll deal with you when I have a better idea as to what’s going on.”

As Daring trudged out the door, she sighed in frustration. “You always make things so complicated, Ditz. Can’t you ever just jump into something headfirst?”

Ditzy’s ears flattened against her skull. “I’ve had bad experiences with headfirst,” she grumbled under her breath. Daring didn’t hear, and Ditzy got straight to work.

Though she hadn’t gathered evidence for years, she remembered how to start: identify the out-of-place. With that in mind, she moved toward a rubber chicken lying beneath the open window.


“Twilight, you’ve gotta introduce me to Daring!” Rainbow whispered into her friend’s ear.

“What?” Twilight paused from reviving Mr. Cake for a moment to give to Rainbow a bewildered look. “Why me? I don’t know her any better than you do!”

“Sure you do! You guys met yesterday right here in the Corner!”

“We hardly met, Rainbow. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble introducing yourself. Look, she’s coming down the stairs now.”

Rainbow whirled around to see, biting her lip with nervous excitement.

“Hi, Daring!” Pinkie greeted with respectful enthusiasm. “What are you doing down here? Aren’t you going to help your sister investigate?”

“Nah, that was never really my—” Daring began, but stopped herself with a forced cough. “I-I mean… I tried to help, but she wouldn’t have it! Poor, stubborn thing. She always did want to be a world-class explorer like her big sis.” She posed heroically, doubling the size of Rainbow’s pupils. “I thought I’d give her a chance to try her hoof at forensics. Who knows, maybe she’ll catch something I didn’t already notice when I flew through the window.”

“I doubt that!” Rainbow exclaimed, suddenly blushing at her own volume.

Daring clicked her tongue as she pointed a hoof at her. “I like this kid,” she said with a wink, flooding Rainbow’s Joy-o-Meter past its recommended volume.

“So they’re true, then? Your books?” Twilight asked as Daring took a seat in one of Sugarcube Corner’s empty booths.

“Pretty much,” Daring answered, inspecting a forehoof. “I may have spiced up the narrative here and there for entertainment’s sake, but what respectable author wouldn’t?”

“Bluish Carol,” Pinkie answered, making Twilight groan.

“Don’t listen to Pinkie Pie,” she said, patting Mr. Cake on the head while his eyelids began to flutter. “She has something of a wild taste in literature.”

“Ah, the wild one,” Daring acknowledged, crossing her arms. “A pony I met this morning told me about you. You live here in the bakery?”

Pinkie nodded, putting a loving foreleg around Mrs. Cake’s side. “Yep, that’s me! I’m a proud resident of the finest snack house in Equestria.”

Snack house?” Mr. Cake yelped, scrambling to his hooves with the help of Twilight’s magic.

Pinkie giggled. “I thought that might wake you up!”

Mr. Cake was not amused. “What happened? Where are the foals? Have we found them yet?”

His wife shook with another wave of sobs. Pinkie’s smile morphed into a sympathetic frown as she rubbed Cup’s back. “It’s okay, Mrs. Cake. We’ve got Daring Do on our side! We’ll find them for sure!”

“Just what are you doing in Ponyville, Daring?” Twilight asked.

“Visiting Ditzy,” she replied nonchalantly, sweeping her eyes over the decorated ceiling. “I hadn’t seen her in a while. Thought I’d drop in.”

“What luck that you’d be here to help us!” Rarity cried. “If those novels of yours really are true, we couldn’t ask for a more capable pony.”

“Ditzy didn’t seem very happy to see you,” Twilight acknowledged.

“Yeah, we’ve never exactly been best friends,” Daring lied. “She’s always been jealous of me. I don’t blame her. She’s a nice mare, but a little on the, uh… derpy side.”

Rainbow Dash was the only one to snicker. Twilight felt the comment was rather uncalled for, and Rarity’s expression affirmed she thought the same. Pinkie was too busy consoling the Cakes to express her own opinion.

Daring smiled at Rainbow again. “I’m glad somepony can keep a sense of humor in a jam. That’s a good trait, kid. Another one we share.”

Rainbow froze under the attention of her idol but managed to squeak, “Another one?”

“Eyes,” was all Daring said, gesturing to Rainbow’s pair and then to her own.

“Oh, yeah!” Rainbow realized. Her fuchsia irises sparkled with pride.

Satisfied, Daring switched her focus back to the frizziest mare in the room. “So, Pinkie Pie. You’re one of the Elements of Harmony, huh?”

“Yep! We all are!” Her eyebrows tilted as she squeezed the older ponies flanking her. “Well, except these two.”

Daring did a double take. “Wait… all four of you? In the same room?”

“It shouldn’t be all that surprising, darling,” Rarity said. The pet name, though casual, made Daring’s eye twitch. “The six of us spend much of our time together. We’ve all remained very close friends since the incident with Nightmare Moon.”

“Is that so?”

“You can’t go through something that dramatic without forging a special bond, can you?” Rarity asked.

“Wow…” Daring laughed and leapt out from the booth. “I’m in a room with four of the Elements of Harmony! It really is an honor, girls. Sorry if I’ve been acting curt.”

Twilight was somehow surprised by the genuine apology. “Why the interest in the Elements?” she asked.

“Are you kidding me?” Daring pushed herself into the air, sweeping her hooves left and right as she spoke. “The Elements were every explorer’s dream back in the day! The legend of the most magical artifacts in all of ponydom was a magnet to mares like me. Everypony who wanted to make a name in archeology studied the Reference Guide and took a stab at the Everfree Forest, but nopony ever found the Ancient Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, until you lot, of course.” She shook her head. “I spent two full weeks in that bush. Never even caught a glimpse of that castle. Word is you all found it in one day.”

“I haven’t thought of it like that before,” Twilight admitted.

“You must have had some powerful magic on your side,” Daring mused. Twilight’s brow furrowed in thought while the mustard pegasus moved on.

“So you’re Pinkie Pie,” Daring said again, nodding in her direction.

“Pinkamena Diane Pie,” she extended, “Element of Laughter!”

Daring smirked. “It’s a pleasure, Pinkie.” She looked around the room. “But that’s the only name I know.”

The purple unicorn lifted a hoof to her chest and said, “I’m Twilight Sparkle, Element of Magic.”

Daring’s wings snapped against her sides and she dropped like a rock. “Princess Celestia’s personal pupil and protégé?”

Twilight tried to stifle a flattered grin. “Why, yes.”

“You’re an Element of Harmony, too?” Daring gawked. “Luna’s nipple, that is impressive.”

Rainbow Dash cackled at the profanity while Twilight’s face flushed even deeper. Before she could even scold Daring for blaspheming the Princess’s name like that, the brash adventuress had passed her attention to another flustered unicorn.

“I am Rarity, the Element of Generosity,” she said. “I manage Carousel Boutique, the local dress shop and beauty salon.”

“You sell all sorts of clothes?” Daring asked.

“Well, I certainly make all sorts of clothes. Why? Is there something in particular you’re wanting?”

“Might be,” she teased with a grin, sidestepping around the mare and sizing up Rainbow Dash.

“And you?”

Rainbow used every available ounce of willpower in her entire body to keep from screaming. She even managed to pull off one of her famously confident expressions while she announced, “I’m Rainbow Dash, head weathermare of Ponyville and winner of the Best Young Flier Competition.”

Rarity gave her subtle glance that encouraged her to add, “Oh, and the Element of Loyalty.”

Loyalty, hmm?” Daring repeated, tapping her hoof against the floor. “Yeah, that could work.” She suddenly straightened up, her ears flicking toward the ceiling. “Oh-ho-ho! So you’re Rainbow Dash!”

The blue pegasus let slip a tiny squeak of joy. “You’ve heard of me?”

“Yeah, I have! Some little orange filly was talking about you earlier today.”

Rainbow Dash’s face turned pale. “Scootaloo met you? And she didn’t even tell me!? That little squirt!”

“Oh, no, she was very excited to find you,” Daring corrected. “It was just this morning. She took off with a couple other youngsters and told me to stay put.” She chuckled and patted Rainbow on the back. “Looks like you found me one way or another. Good to meet’cha, kid.”

Rainbow was too stunned to even say “Back atcha,” but before an awkward silence killed whatever mood they’d set, the sound of hoofsteps above their heads meant Ditzy was on her way down.

“Do you think she found anything?” Mrs. Cake asked nervously.

“I’m sure she did, Mrs. Cake!” Pinkie assured her brightly, though Daring caught the worry building in the mare’s blue eyes. “The Sisters Doo are on the case! We’ll find Pound and Pumpkin in no time.”

“Two!” they all heard Ditzy shout before they saw her face. She barreled down the stairs and slid to a halt as far from her sister as she could. “There were two!”

“Two… foals?” Twilight asked.

Ditzy shook her head. “Two foalnappers. Mrs. Cake, do know anything about the rubber chicken in your children’s room?”

“I set it up to squeak if the window was opened,” she remembered.

Pinkie Pie gasped. “I heard it squeak! Last night, Rarity and I heard it through the wall!”

Rarity looked as though she was about to faint. “Oh, what have I done? We could have stopped them!”

“It’s nopony’s fault,” Ditzy said to silence them. “It’s a good thing you put the chicken there, Mrs. Cake. It must have started them enough to do a sloppy job. I found hair from two different ponies caught in the windowsill and a feather on the ground outside. Definitely two Haissanic pegasi, one with a brown tail and one with a very dark blue, nearly black tail. As much as I hate to admit it, Daring is right. We need to send someone after them.”

“But… why did they take my children?” Mrs. Cake wailed.

“I’ll tell you as soon as I know for sure,” Ditzy promised. “We don’t have much time. If we leave now, we might be able to reach the coast before the next ship to Haissan embarks.”

“You’re going?” Twilight asked.

“Of course.”

“Oh, no you’re not!” Daring eyed Ditzy from under her brow, letting a few clumps of her grey mane dangle between them. “This is my adventure and you can’t have it.”

“Believe me, Daring, this is the last thing I want to do, but if we’re going to find the twins as quickly as possible—”

“Nuh-uh! No way! I already gave you your chance and you turned me down!”

“This isn’t a game, Daring! This isn’t one of your stupid stories! We’re talking about rescuing innocent children here!”

“I know that! I’m gonna rescue those kids, all right, and I’m gonna do it my way… with the help of my new partner!”

Ditzy felt like screaming. “You don’t have a new partner, Daring! No one would be stupid enough to—”

“I’ll do it!” Rainbow Dash yelled. The sisters turned to her with expressions of mortification and thrill, respectively.

“You will?” Daring squealed.

“You would.” Ditzy facehoofed.

“I knew you were the one, kid!” Daring proclaimed, diving to the sky blue mare and taking her by the shoulders. “Somehow I just knew. You’ve got what it takes! Maybe it’s those stripes in your hair, or that rasp in your voice, or that fire in your eyes, but you’ve got it! And the Element of Loyalty to boot? You might as well be hoofing me Celestia herself!”

“I might as well be hoofing you a blunt hoof to the snout!” Ditzy blared, jolting the room’s more sensitive inhabitants. “Rainbow Dash can’t be your partner, Daring. A partner is supposed to the other piece of the puzzle, someone who can do everything you can’t and come up with new ideas to solve the problems you’re going to face.”

“Different parts of an apple pie,” Rarity muttered.

“Yes! Exactly.” Ditzy gestured to the seamstress gratefully. “She can’t be your partner, Daring, because she practically is you!”

“Stop it!”

“You’ll get stuck at every twist and turn and grow frustrated with each other—”

“STOP IT, DITZY!” Daring lunged forward and smacked her sister across the face with her wing. “What do you know about twists and turns? You’re just a mailmare in a tiny village! I’m Daring Do, the greatest explorer who ever lived! And with two of the Elements of Harmony on my side, I can get those foals back before the end of the day!”

“Don’t be making promises you can’t keep,” Ditzy warned her, rubbing her cheek.

Two of the Elements?” Rarity asked.

Without so much as looking at her sister, Daring scooped Rarity into her forehooves. “We’re gonna need some cool outfits.”

She nodded at Dash and whisked out the doorway, paying no heed to her passenger’s wails of protest. With her head weighted down by a mesmerized beam, Rainbow Dash whipped her tail with a crack and soared after them to Carousel Boutique. Rarity’s scream faded into the distance, leaving an assortment of dumbstruck ponies in its wake.

After several seconds, Twilight broke the silence.

“What did she mean, new partner?”

7 - Save Your Energy

View Online

Chapter Seven
Save Your Energy

“She’s not gonna be at Carousel Boutique, Sweetie!”

“We might as well try it! We’ve looked everywhere else!”

“M-maybe she’s at the schoolhouse, or helping repair Town Hall, or demolishing an old building—”

“We would o’ heard that, don’tcha think?”

“Or maybe she’s at Carousel Boutique!”


“Actually, Scootaloo, I reckon she is at Carousel Boutique.”

Apple Bloom pointed behind them. Scootaloo twisted the cart perpendicular to the road and skidded to a stop. She followed Apple Bloom’s hoof with her eyes and her jaw fell open in disbelief. Rainbow Dash was right there, pacing back and forth outside the boutique’s front door.

“Told’ja,” Sweetie boasted with half-closed eyes.

“Darn it,” Scootaloo groaned. She flapped her exhausted wings, straining and sweating all the way until the scooter stopped in the boutique’s front lawn.

“Rainbow!” she called out immediately. “Rainbow Dash, I have something to tell you!”

The pacing mare turned toward her with a Pinkie-worthy smile. “Hey, Squirt! I’ve got great news, too!”

They bounded toward each other and, at exactly the same time, shouted at the top of their lungs, “I just met Daring Do!”

Scootaloo’s pupils shrunk with worry. “Wait… you did?”

Rainbow nodded so fast her ears flopped against her forehead. “I spent the night at Sugarcube Corner—”

“But that’s where we started!” Apple Bloom whined.

“—and in the morning we discovered that the Cakes’ twins had been foalnapped!”

The Crusaders gasped and pulled back. “That’s horrible!”

“I know, right?” Rainbow squealed, grinning hysterically. “We were all freaking out when all of the sudden, Daring Do flies through the window and promises to rescue the foals!”

“YAY!” thundered the tiny trio.

“That’s not even the best part!” Rainbow’s wings began to flap, lifting her above the fillies’ heads. Her forehooves shook while she exclaimed, “She chose me as her partner!”

The results for her revelation were mixed. Sweetie Belle’s mouth opened into an enormous oval. Apple Bloom’s front legs gave out and she toppled into the grass. Scootaloo, however, was struck as if with lightning, gritting her teeth in a wide-eyed stare at her overhanging hero.

“Isn’t that awesome?” Rainbow asked, flapping faster.

“Since when does Daring Do have a partner?” Sweetie asked, regaining control of her face.

“Uh… well, since she met me, I guess.” Rainbow leaned back in the air and placed her hooves on her hips. “She told me I have what it takes.”

Scootaloo could barely breathe, stuck between sharing in her idol’s excitement and the crushing disappointment of her plans all dashed to pieces.

As Apple Bloom pushed herself up from the ground, she had a recent memory strike her. “Hey, Rainbow, did’ju see the mailmare around Sugarcube Corner?”

Sweetie caught on quicker than usual. “Oh, yeah! When we ran into Daring this morning, Dinky’s mom showed up and got pretty angry. It seemed like she wanted Daring to leave Ponyville.”

Rainbow’s ears drooped a little. “Oh, you mean Derpy? Yeah… turns out she and Daring are sisters.”

If the Crusaders were any older, they might have suffered heart attacks.

“Bu-bu-bu-bu-whhhaaa?” Scootaloo yowled.

“I know, right? I can’t believe she never told me,” Rainbow Dash grumbled to herself, but turned up her volume to vent at her audience. “It doesn’t seem like they get along very well. Derpy kept calling Daring names and trying to show her up, but Daring gave her old the wing-slap and we got outta there.”

“Now where’s she at?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Who, Daring? She’s in there with Rarity.” Rainbow gestured behind her at Carousel Boutique.

Sweetie’s eyes lit up. “My sister is hanging out with Daring Do?”

“They’re not hanging out!” Rainbow snapped. “I’m Daring’s partner, not her. She’s just making us some outfits for our adventure.”

All three foals seemed to grow a little taller at the word. “Adventure?” they whispered together.

“Well, yeah! Why else would she need a partner, the Sisterhooves Social?” She angled her wings and circled the girls before touching down and striking a pose. “I’m going with her to find the Cakes’ twins.”

Apple Bloom offset her jaw. “Why ain’t ya in there with ‘em, then?”

“I’m trying to remember how to breathe,” she explained, resuming her pace. “You have no idea how exciting it is to be taken under your hero’s wing.”

Scootaloo frowned in sad agreement.

Rainbow came to an abrupt stop. “But you know what, Apple Bloom? You’re right! I should be in there proving to Daring that she picked the right pegasus. No more messin’ around and feeling all jittery inside. It’s time to stop being chicken and start being daring!” She started to giggle but loudly coughed it off, saluting sternly to no one in particular and barging through the front door.

“Come on, girls!” Sweetie Belle invited her friends. “Let’s go spy on what Rarity’s making for them.”

Apple Bloom skipped after her. Scootaloo followed slowly, dragging her hooves through the blades of grass. They suddenly felt much rougher and didn’t look nearly as green.

“How can I prove to Rainbow Dash that I have what it takes?” she asked herself, hanging her head in despair. Every chance she got to impress the fastest mare in Equestria, Scootaloo somehow found herself a trot behind the mark. She wondered if Rainbow would ever know exactly how much she meant to her.

Inside the dress shop, directly across the lavender-striped floor from the entrance, Daring Do was scrutinizing a cream-colored ponnequin clad in a moss-green, collared shirt. Atop its head, covering its ears, was a tan pith helmet wrapped by a similarly green sash.

Eeugh…” Daring grunted, scratching her chin as she squinted at the outfit. Rainbow Dash stood several pony-lengths behind her, pawing meekly at the ground despite her recent declaration. Beside the ponnequin itself, Rarity watched Daring’s inspection with flaring nostrils.

“Do you not like the color?” she finally asked.

“The color’s fine,” Daring said, shaking her head. “I can’t quite put my hoof on it…”

“Do you not like the shape?” Rarity asked, gesturing to the hat.

“Oh, no, the shape’s fine,” Daring assured her. “It’s just… well, the whole thing just needs to be…”

“Cooler,” Rainbow Dash suddenly piped up. Both the yellow and white ponies turned their necks to look at her.

“What was that, darling?” Rarity asked in the kindest voice she could muster.

“It just needs to be cooler,” she repeated with a shrug, unable to meet either of their eyes.

Daring nodded wide-eyed as if Rainbow Dash had singlehoofedly solved the mystery of life, the universe, and everything.

“Yes,” she breathed, facing the ponnequin once more. “That’s it. It just needs to be cooler. Not much cooler, mind you, you’ve really done a great job. But my partner’s right. This outfit needs to be… it just needs to be…”

“About twenty percent cooler?” Rainbow offered.

Daring smashed her forehooves together triumphantly. “Yes! Exactly!” She beamed at Rainbow before addressing Rarity in a tone of dire importance. “Ma’am, I need you to make two of these outfits, exactly twenty percent cooler than it currently is.”

Rarity’s eye twitched. “How helpful,” she deadpanned, snatching the entire model in her magic and trotting briskly into another room.

Daring pointed a hoof at Rainbow and pulled one side of her mouth into a grin. “You. How did you know that’s what it needed?”

“I’ve had to work with Rarity before,” Rainbow explained, putting on a confident face and brushing off her shoulder with a hoof.

Clicking her tongue several times, Daring approached Rainbow and patted her on the back. “What’d I tell ya? You and me, we’re gonna be great partners. What does Ditzy know? Can’t she see that great minds think alike?”

“I don’t think she can see much of anything,” Rainbow joked off the top of her head. For a fraction of a second, Daring almost looked offended, but Rainbow’s fears were swept aside when the mustard mare burst into hearty laughter.

“You’re right about that one, kid!” she bellowed, slapping the space between Rainbow’s wings several more times. “Oh, steed, that’s funny. You’re funny, kid.” Her brow furrowed and she whispered in Rainbow’s ear, “Say, what’s your name again?”

Slightly surprised, Rainbow recited her name.

“Right, right. Sorry, kid, I’ve always been bad with handles. Too many years spent out on my own hunting for valuable treasure, you know?” She sucked in a deep breath and sighed toward the ceiling. “Let me tell ya, you can’t beat a good adventure when it comes to thrill, but it sure does take its toll.” She gave Rainbow a sidelong glance. “You sure you’re up for it?”

“Absolutely,” Rainbow said, straightening her spine and saluting like a Royal Guard.

Daring barked another laugh. “Good to hear it, kid! You’ve got a lot of enthusiasm. That’ll help. And you look like you’re in good enough shape.”

“Good enough?” Rainbow guffawed. “I’m in the best shape a pony could ask for! I’m a Junior Speedster graduate, black belt in karate, winner of last year’s Best Young Flier Competition—”

“Whoa, whoa, what?” Daring stopped her with a waving hoof. “You’re that pony? The one who pulled off a sonic rainboom to save her friend?”

Rainbow’s smile threatened to rip against her teeth. “Yep, that’s me!”

“I read about you!” Daring remembered, poking Rainbow in the chest. “I didn’t believe it ‘til I saw the pictures. I tried to 'boom a few times when I was your age but never even got close. I figured it was just an old mare’s tale.”

“My friends and I have a way of making old mare’s tales come true,” Rainbow acknowledged with a flick of her wings.

“I bet you’ve got all sorts of great stories being one of the Elements of Harmony,” Daring supposed. “Heck, you might even have half the stories I do! That’s good. When things get slow on our trip, sharing victory stories helps lift up the mood. I used to do it all the time.”

Rainbow scrunched up her brow. “You told yourself your own victory stories?”

Daring blinked. “Uh… yeah, sometimes. Like I said, this stuff takes its toll.”

Rarity marched back into the main room with two green-clothed ponnequins floating beside her.

“Well, girls?” she asked, presenting her work with a knowing grin. “Would you say that I delivered?”

Four fuchsia eyes glistened in the glow that seemed to exude from the matching outfits.

“They’re…” Daring tried to say.

“I’ve….” Rainbow started to drool.

Peeking between an assortment of dresses hanging from a rolling rack, the Cutie Mark Crusaders nearly blew their cover with a triple-amplified gasp.

Rarity’s gleaming teeth broke through her smirk. “I thought so,” she tittered.


Pinkie Pie stayed behind to comfort the Cakes as Ditzy Doo led Twilight Sparkle up the Corner’s stairs. The pegasus didn’t begin to speak until both mares were standing over the missing twins’ wooden crib.

“Are you familiar with Haissanic horseshoes?” Ditzy asked.

Twilight closed her eyes to dig through mountains of memories piled during her lessons from the Princess on Eastern Equinities.

“They’re usually bronze, aren’t they?” she asked, opening one eye. “Rather than steel?”

Ditzy managed half a smile. “That’s correct, Miss Sparkle. And after a lot of use, the bronze begins to chip away and leaves behind distinctive flakes.”

She gestured at the crib. Twilight leaned closer, squinting against the dull pink fabrics lining the tiny mattress.

“I don’t see…” she started to say. Ditzy reached out a helping hoof and gently moved Twilight’s head left and right. Sure enough, at certain angles the morning sunlight reflected off miniscule flakes of bronze.

“Wow!” Twilight cheered. “That’s very impressive, Ditzy! It certainly adds to the evidence that the foalnappers were Haissanic.”

“That’s not all I found,” Ditzy continued, trotting around Twilight to the open window. She beckoned her over and tapped on a section of the chipping wooden window frame. A few strands of long, midnight blue tail-hair had snagged on a protruding splinter. Stepping back to give Twilight more room, Ditzy tapped the other side of the windowsill where brown hairs had caught in a similar way.

“How did you see that?” Twilight asked in awe, watching the web-like strands waver in the breeze.

“I’m not blind, Miss Sparkle.” Ditzy tried to roll her eyes, though it came across as just another senseless swivel.

Twilight’s face burned red. “Oh, no, I didn’t mean… it’s just, even I can barely see it, so with your… handicap…” She winced.

Ditzy chuckled. “Don’t worry, Miss Sparkle. I’m not as easily offended as it must have seemed a while ago. At least, not by somepony as kind as you.”

Twilight’s shoulders only slightly relaxed. “Your sister isn’t kind?”

“She’s kind when she wants something from me,” Ditzy answered with a sad shrug.

Twilight opened her mouth to ask for more details, but Ditzy quickly moved on.

“Another thing I noticed,” she said, returning to the crib, “is this indentation in the pillow. This circle here is where one of the foals’ heads was lying, and you see this deeper point just below it? See how narrow it is? One of the intruders took a child with their hooves, leaving behind the bronze flakes, but the other used his mouth, and this is where his snout pressed down. Why do you think that is?”

Twilight blinked. “I… I’m not sure,” she admitted quietly.

“Perhaps this will help,” Ditzy said, using her teeth to pull a dark blue feather from an outer pocket on her mailbag. Twilight took it in her magic and suspended it between them.

“I found this under the crib,” Ditzy told her. Twilight’s eyebrows lifted as the mailmare continued. “There’s another one just like it in the pink daisy patches on the ground outside the Corner. Tell me, do feathers normally molt so quickly?”

Shaking her head, Twilight noted, “Not unless they’re under strain.”

With a tiny smile of approval, Ditzy asked, “What kind of strain?”

“I mean… if something was tugging at them, or rubbing against them all the time. Something like…” She looked down. “The ground.”

“Bingo,” Ditzy congratulated. “If he used his mouth to carry the baby and is scraping his feathers along the ground, I’m willing to bet he’s missing a forelimb.”

“A three-legged pegasus who uses a wing for balance,” Twilight imagined. “That can’t be very hard to spot.”

“Not if you’re looking in the right places,” Ditzy agreed.

“Wow, Ditzy.” Twilight couldn’t seem to close her mouth all the way. “I had no idea you were so observant.”

Ditzy kicked at the ground. “I used to be a lot better. Back in the day, I could probably have figured out their names at this point.”

“Is it… your eyes?” Twilight asked carefully.

The mailmare’s silence served as her response.

Twilight bit her lip. “What happened, Ditzy?” she asked, taking a brave step closer to the wilting mare. “Was it something to do with your sister?”

With an inner groan, Ditzy turned away from the librarian. “I’m sorry, Miss Sparkle,” she whispered. “I really can’t talk about it.”

Though she did nothing to hide her disappointment, Twilight didn’t press the matter. Instead she cast her gaze out the window where the shadows of the morning Sun were shrinking as it climbed.

“Are you going to tell her what you know?” she asked as her eyes fell on Carousel Boutique.

Ditzy’s nostrils flared. “I guess I’ll have to.” She bowed her head and let her blonde mane fall over her eyes. “I just hope she can catch them before they reach Haissan. If this really does go all the way up to the Sultan… then she has no idea what she’s getting into.”

Twilight faced her once again. “And you do?”

For just a moment, both of Ditzy’s eyes narrowed in on Twilight’s pair. The unicorn stepped back in surprise, only to watch one golden iris drift toward the door.

“I hope I’m wrong,” was Ditzy’s answer. “I hope so very badly that I’m wrong.”

“Wrong about what?”

Ditzy grit her teeth and snorted hard, waiting several seconds before offering a question of her own. “Have you read Daring’s newest book?”

Twilight shook her head. “Rainbow Dash has a copy of it, though.”

“Borrow it,” Ditzy suggested. “It’ll help you understand. Read it while I’m gone. Then I’ll try to explain everything.”

“While you’re gone?” Twilight repeated.

One of her eyes scanned the rooftops of Ponyville through the open window. “I have to go with them,” she said begrudgingly. The eastern horizon loomed. “I haven’t left Ponyville for eight years—except for the Canterlot Hearth’s Warming Eve Pageant, I guess. I remember waving to Dinky from backstage… heh.” She pushed her bangs to one side and sighed. “You see what Daring does to me? I go from being a quiet mailmare to a high-strung detective in less than twenty four hours.”

Twilight laughed at that. “Why do you say you have to go with them?”

Ditzy features turned grim. “Because if they’re not careful—and Daring never is—there’s a good chance they’ll both get hurt.”

Twilight blanched. “Hurt? Ditzy, what are you talking about?”

Ditzy swallowed past a lump in her throat, but didn’t answer the question. “Read the book,” she said again. “I have four ponies to save.”

With a couple swift flaps of her wings, Ditzy was airborne and out the window. She hurdled toward Carousel Boutique, leaving Twilight with one more story to add to her ‘Read Later’ list.


“I’m sorry, darling, you just missed them,” Rarity said to the stony mailmare. “I believe they headed off for the train station.”

Ditzy’s mouth fell open. “What? Already? That idiot! What, does she think Rainbow Dash can just up and leave the weather patrol whenever she wants?”

With an angry grunt, the mailmare spun around and flew toward the center of town. Rarity breathed a sigh of relief and slowly shut the front door.

“Goodness, what a day,” she complained to herself. “Two cutting-edge safari outfits and it’s not even ten o’clock! Why am I always the one to get roped in to that sort of whacky business? This is exactly why I don’t like sleepovers.”

Remembering the Cake twins, Rarity lifted a hoof to her forehead. “Oh, the poor dears! I do hope Rainbow and Daring find them quickly. They certain look the part.” She allowed herself a proud little giggle, slamming her hoof to the ground afterward. “And I hope the shameless ruffians who dared to take those children are brought to swift and proper justice!”

Her declaration was met by applause from three little pairs of hooves.

Rarity whipped around to see the Cutie Mark Crusaders sitting upright on their haunches at the far end of the boutique, clapping for her monologue.

“That was great, Rarity!” Sweetie Belle chirped.

“So powerful!” Scootaloo agreed.

“Inspirin’!” added Apple Bloom.

“Girls! How long have you been here?”

“A while,” Apple Bloom answered succinctly, hopping up onto her hooves. “Those were some mighty fancy outfits ya made fer Dash and Daring!”

Though perplexed by their presence, Rarity couldn’t ignore the compliment. “Well, fancy is hardly the right word, but thank you all the same. I’m rather pleased with how they turned out, especially under such short notice.”

“Is Rainbow Dash really leaving right now?” Scootaloo worried, scurrying closer to Rarity.

“I’m not sure, to be honest,” she said. “They only mentioned the train station, not actually boarding a train. Perhaps they’re only checking for times of departure.”

“Why does Dinky’s mom hate Daring Do so much?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“For that, too, I’m afraid I have no answer. Although this morning, I did discover that Ditzy and Daring are—”

“Sisters,” the fillies finished together.

Rarity blinked three times. “How are you aware?”

“Rainbow told us,” Scootaloo answered, smiling broadly.

“Well, at this rate, I suppose the whole town will know by tomorrow morning,” Rarity mused.

“I’m sure you won’t have anything to do with that,” Sweetie mumbled under her breath. Her friends snickered into their shoulders.

“Now please, girls,” Rarity spoke firmly, “you’re free to stay for as long as you’d like, but please don’t get into any trouble and try not to make any messes. I’ve had a rather exhausting morning and I’m going upstairs to freshen up. If anyone knocks while I’m away, let them know the shop will be closed until noon.”

She trotted through the main room’s archway to the only staircase, hoping Sweetie Belle and her friends would get bored and leave sooner than later.

She wasn’t disappointed. Less than a minute after she’d gone upstairs, the Crusaders exited the Boutique single file after Sweetie Belle made sure the sign in the window read “Closed”.

“Does anypony else wanna know what’s goin’ on?” Apple Bloom asked as she clambered into the red wagon.

“Not really,” Sweetie Belle admitted. “It seems pretty personal.”

“It seems pretty suspicious, that’s what it seems!” Scootaloo said, mounting her scooter and starting up her wings. “Fictional heroes popping up? Mailmares going crazy? And nopony has any answers at all? Maybe Discord’s coming back!”

Sweetie knocked her in the back of the helmet. “Don’t tease about that, Scootaloo.”

“Yeah, Scoots, it ain’t funny.”

“Whatever,” Scootaloo grumbled, rolling her eyes. With a burst of loud flaps, the scooter and its cart bounced out of the grass and kicked up a cloud of dirt when it hit the road. The fillies’ heads pulled back as they shot off like a rocket toward the village proper.

“Maybe Dinky has some answers for us,” Sweetie Belle suggested.

“Yeah!” Apple Bloom beamed. “Let’s go visit Dinky! I love that silly filly!”

“Me, too!” chimed Sweetie Belle. “She plays the flute so beautifully.”

“She is pretty fun to hang out with,” Scootaloo remembered. “I’m sure she wouldn’t mind us dropping in for a few questions.”

With that, she steered their party of three in the direction of the Doo’s.


“This hat is so… awesome!”

“It’s all right,” Daring conceded, shifting hers further back on her head. “I’m really diggin’ this shirt thing! Why didn’t I think to have all these pockets before?”

Their dull green outfits had been spiced with Rarity’s flare for semi-practical fashion. Copper zippers ran diagonally over the front of both shirts. The double breasted pockets were adorned with dual bronze buckles, and the collars had been crumpled and frayed to give them a more rugged vibe. They hugged their wearers’ torsos tightly—a little too tightly in Daring’s case—and had several additional pockets sewn into the sides behind the wingholes, ideal for carrying various tools and small medicinal supplies.

“I feel like a real explorer!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed, flipping backward over the empty train station’s platform. She caught a glimpse of herself in the ticket box’s window and tapped on the rim of her helmet. “I can’t believe it! I look just like you!”

Daring turned away from the posted train schedule to raise an eyebrow at Rainbow. “We look nothing alike,” she disagreed, eyeing Rainbow up and down. “Except for our eyes, I guess. Other than that, I don’t notice a thing.”

“I just meant our outfits,” Rainbow said, landing next to her idol. “We really do look like partners!”

“That’s because we are partners, kid,” Daring badgered playfully, putting a foreleg around Rainbow’s withers and pointing to a section of the schedule with the other. “The next train to Manehattan leaves at five after one. You ever been to the Big Orange?”

“Once, when I was filly,” Rainbow said. “I don’t really remember it.”

“It’s not far from here, actually,” Daring said, squinting toward the eastern horizon. “I bet you could see if you flew up high enough.”

“Why not just fly there, then?” Rainbow asked, spreading her wings.

“Gotta save our energy, kid,” Daring excused lazily. “Besides, that gives us a few hours to get everything ready to go. You got a job around here or anything?”

Rainbow brought a hoof to her temple and gasped. “Oh, gosh! I almost forgot! That would have been bad. A lot of ponies depend on me around here.”

Daring scoffed. “What, are you the local librarian or something?”

“Librarian? No way!”

“A nurse?” Daring asked with a hint of hopefulness. That could be helpful.

“Nope. I’m the head weathermare. I’ve gotta make sure Thunderlane, Cloud Kicker, and the rest of the gang can handle the skies on their own for… uh… how long do you think we’ll be gone?”

“A day,” Daring guessed. “Maybe two.”

Rainbow was a little disappointed, but she didn’t let it show. “Right. We wanna rescue those foals as fast as possible.”

“That’s the goal.” Daring smirked.

“Lemme go make sure everypony will be okay without me,” Rainbow said, backstroking into the air. “I’ll meet you back here at noon and we’ll buy our tickets.”

“Sounds good.” She watched Rainbow Dash salute her, spin around in the air, and tear through the streets of Ponyville at breakneck speeds, leaving behind a sheet of prismatic light.

“Wow,” Daring muttered to herself, seeing as there was nopony else in the station. “She really is fast.”

“Fastest in Equestria,” droned a familiar voice.

Daring scowled and faced her sister, glaring from beneath her hat.

“Didn’t hear you come up,” Daring said testily.

“That was the point.” Ditzy eyed her sister’s new green jacket as well as she could. “Nice outfit.”

“You could have had one.”

“I thought you said already I had my chance.”

“You did! I wasn’t offering. You missed the train.”

“Speaking of trains, I’m coming with you.”


“I’m coming with you.”

They stared each other down in silence. Wings and eyelids twitched as back teeth ground and nostrils flared.

“No, actually,” Daring growled, “you’re not.”

8 - You Know I Will

View Online

Chapter Eight
You Know I Will

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes. I am.”

“No. You’re really not.”

Ditzy took a menacing step forward. “Daring, you need to listen to me. I studied that room and I know exactly what ponies we should be looking for.”

“So do I, genius. I was right there when you said it.” Daring sneered triumphantly. “Two Haissanic ponies, one with a dark blue tail and one with a brown one.”

“I know a lot more than that,” Ditzy assured her.

“Then tell me.” Daring’s eyebrows twitched.

Ditzy took a deep, calming breath. “One of them—whichever one has a blue coat—is missing a leg. He uses one of his wings in its place.”

“One of his wings?” Daring frowned and looked back at her own left wing, stretching it down as far as she could. Sure enough, it touched the ground. She could even lean on it without much pain. “Huh. Never heard of that before.”

“Neither have I. He should be easy to spot.”

Daring tucked her wing back at her side and smiled at Ditzy. “Thanks, Sis. That’ll be a big help for me and the Rainbow kid. We’ll catch those nappers at the coast and bring back the baby foals safe and sound, without your help.”

“What will you do with the foalnappers once you’ve found them?”

Daring’s pupils shrunk as Ditzy sat on her haunches, crossing her forelegs expectantly.

“Uh… turn ‘em in to the Manehattan Police Department,” she said with a shrug. “Who cares? As long as I get those foals back.”

“Did you ever think to wonder why they took the foals, Daring? Do you think they just wanted some new playmates?”

Daring scoffed. “No!”

“Who are they working for?”

“Alula, duh! We already talked about this!”

“So what happens when his servants don’t come back when they’re supposed to?”

Daring slouched a little. “Uh…”

“He’ll send more,” Ditzy answered for her. “Daring, it’s not enough to get the foals back. We need to go to Haissan and find out what Alula wants with the Cakes’ twins.”

“I thought you said you already know what he wants,” Daring chided.

A chill ran down Ditzy’s spine. “I might… but I hope I’m wrong.”

“So, what, are Rainbow Slash and I just supposed to follow the guards into his palace and politely ask for the twins back?”

“Rainbow Dash. And no. We need to find the Sultan, discover his motives, appease them, and retrieve the foals.”

“You’re not coming with us, and that’s a stupid plan!” Daring argued. “Who cares if he sends more servants? We’ll just set up an alarm system and lock them up, too! Raincloud and I—”

“Rainbow Dash.”

“—are gonna do this my way.” She moved closer to Ditzy so that their noses were only a few inches apart. “And when we waltz back into Ponyville with the foals giggling on our backs, you’ll see that I don’t need you or your stupid plans. I’m a mare of action! I get things done!”

“You get things hurt,” Ditzy corrected her. “You break things, Daring. You break promises. You break families. You break ancient Hayan calendars.”

“That was an accident!”

“You break skulls.”

“That was also an accident…”

“And worst of all? You break hearts.” Her eyes began to well with tears as she slowly shook her head. “I will not stand back and watch you break Rainbow Dash’s heart like you broke mine.”

Stunned into unusual silence, Daring chewed on her tongue and stared into Ditzy’s eyes for as long as she could. Casting her gaze toward the train tracks, Daring found her voice.

“You keep asking me to leave, don’t you?” she said in a cold, hard voice. “Well I’m leaving. You’re not coming. And I’m taking Raindrops with me.”

“It’s Rainbow Dash!” Ditzy howled, stomping her front hooves against the wooden planks. “How can you keep forgetting that name? For Celestia’s sake, it’s the coolest name I’ve ever heard!”

Daring raised an eyebrow. “Wait a minute… do you have a thing for this mare?”

Ditzy facehoofed. “I do not have a thing for Rainbow Dash.” She pointed a hoof toward the sky where Rainbow’s trail was fading. “But I admire her. Everypony in this town admires her. She’s a skilled weathermare, a loyal friend, and a terrific athlete. She also happens to think the world of you—or at least, the pony she thinks is you—and I can’t bear to watch her expectations crumble. I will not let you corrupt her.”

“Corrupt her? What am I now, the Devil?”

“Please, Daring. Tell her to go home. Let’s just you and I go to Haissan—”

“Absolutely not,” Daring said, pressing a hoof against her sister’s mouth to silence her, “and I don’t wanna hear another word. I’m doing this, and you can’t stop me.”

Ditzy smacked her hoof away. “Why? So you can write another one of your stupid books?”

“That’s part of it,” Daring confessed, ignoring the insult. “But it’s also to prove to you that I don’t need your help.”

“Oh, is that right?”

“Yeah! Believe it or not, I’m better off without you, Ditzy!” She forced herself to smile around the biting words. “Leaving home to become a writer wasn’t a mistake. It was the first decision I ever made for myself, and it was the best choice of my life!”

“Don’t tell me you still think Dad was brainwashing us.”

“I never said that!” Daring snapped. “But you can’t deny that everything we ever did as foals we did for him, and that didn’t change when we took over his job.”

“Of course we were doing it for him. If you’ll remember—” She hammered the top of Daring’s helmet. “—we were trying to save his life.”

After realigning her eyes, Daring whirled around started marching off the platform. “I don’t need this…” she mumbled.

“But Dad needed you,” Ditzy spat, “and you just let him die.”

Something snapped in Daring’s resolve. She rose into the air and bared her teeth down at her sister. “This is supposed to make me let you come along?” she snarled.

“You don’t have to let me. I’m coming with you whether you like it or not.”

“Oh, no you’re not,” Daring said with a threatening smirk, “because if you do, I’ll tell everypony the truth about your daughter.”

Ditzy’s face drained. “No.”

“Yes! Haha!” Daring tried to complete of victory flip, but ended up losing her lift at the crest and tumbling to the side in midair. She managed to catch herself before she hit the ground and readjusted her hat nonchalantly.

“That… you wouldn’t…” Ditzy stuttered.

“I’ll do it, Ditz. You know I will.” She punctuated her promise with a nod and a meaningful glare. “So leave me and my new partner alone.”

She spread her wings further to fly away.

“Daring, wait!” Ditzy called out, thrusting a hoof toward her, but the yellow pegasus shot away with an adrenaline-enhanced swiftness, leaving behind a colorless streak of seven greyscale stripes.

Ditzy dropped her hoof and choked on a sob. Things were spiraling out of control. With a warped glance at the train schedule, she managed to find that the next train to the coast departed at 1:05, leaving her three hours to clear her head and come up with a plan to keep everypony out of harm’s way. With her daughter freshly on her mind, Ditzy flew as fast as she could to the post office and turned in her unfinished load.


“I’m sorry,” Ditzy said to the head mailsteed, offering her half-full mailbag. “I’ve had a family emergency come up.”

“That’s all right, Ditzy,” he assured her, taking the bag in his magic. “We’ll find someone to cover your route. You of all ponies deserve a day off. You haven’t taken one since you started here!”

“Work keeps my mind off things,” she muttered, hurrying out the door before he could reply.

Upon returning to her house, the mailmare was surprised to find a familiar red wagon rigged to a tiny scooter on the front lawn. Bursting through the front door, she found Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo sitting in a circle around her daughter holding her flute to her lips.

All four pairs of young, round eyes locked in on Ditzy as she panted in the doorway.

“Dinky, what is this?” she asked.

“Hi, Mommy!” Dinky greeted, waving a short foreleg. “The girls came over to ask me some questions, but I told them I had to finish practicing first for the show this afternoon.”

Ditzy winced at herself for forgetting about the performance.

“Shouldn’t you all be at school?” she questioned, sounding exasperated.

Dinky raised an eyebrow. “It’s Saturday, Mom. There’s no school on Saturday.”

“Right, right.” Ditzy nodded, shuffling anxiously from hoof to hoof. “What, uh… what questions did you have, girls?”

The Crusaders exchanged nervous glances.

“Uh… nothing,” Sweetie Belle answered with her biggest smile.

“Definitely not anything about you and your sister,” Scootaloo added.

“Or why you two hate each other so much,” Apple Bloom finished.

Dinky’s other eyebrow lifted to meet its companion. “Sister?” she asked.

“Yeah, you know,” Scootaloo said, turning to the periwinkle unicorn. “Daring Do.”

Ditzy bit her tongue and closed her eyes as Dinky’s pair started to sparkle.

“Mom?” she began with a delighted smile. “Daring Do is your sister?”

“You didn’t know?” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom asked together.

Scootaloo snorted. “Big help she would have been.”

“That’s so cool, Mom!” Dinky continued, setting her flute on the ground. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I’m ashamed of her!” Ditzy screamed, frightening all four fillies. Instantly regretting her outburst, Ditzy dropped onto her belly and groaned into her forelegs.

All were still and quiet for several stretched-out seconds. Finally, her features alight with sweet sympathy, Dinky trotted around the Crusaders and placed a tiny hoof on her mother’s mane.

“It’s okay, Mom,” she whispered, stroking the blonde hair behind her flattened ear. “Sometimes I get angry, too. Do you wanna make muffins with me?”

Ditzy raised her head a little, meeting her daughter’s golden eyes with only one of hers. She was so small, so innocent, so sweet and so beautiful…

Unable to answer with words, Ditzy only sniffed and nodded. Sweetie Belle covered her grin with her hooves, muffling her “Awwww!” while Apple Bloom flicked a small tear from her eye.

Never one for sentimentality, Scootaloo blurted, “And will you please tell us what’s going on while you’re at it?”

Stepping back onto her hooves, Ditzy laughed at the little pony’s brashness. She really was a little Rainbow Dash.

“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to get some of this off my chest,” she agreed, and the five of them moved toward the kitchen.


Twilight Sparkle pushed the door of the library open with her snout. The stress of the morning’s revelations had given her a headache, and her mind was too absorbed in thought to concentrate on magic.

“Ditzy Doo and Daring Do,” she mumbled under her breath. “Why didn’t I see it before? Their inverted colors… their homophonic surnames…”

She sighed and dropped her saddlebags in the middle of the floor. The resounding thump brought Spike out from the kitchen.

“There you are, Twilight!” he said. “Where were you last night?”

Twilight grimaced. “Sorry, Spike. I stayed the night at Pinkie’s. I should have let you know.”

“Ah, it’s all right,” Spike assured, waving a claw dismissively. “I guess you know about the Cake twins then?”

“Is that already going around?” she asked, biting open the flap of her saddlebag.

“Oh, yeah. I heard a few ponies talking about it just outside the library. That’s so scary! What are we going to do?”

“I don’t think we’ll have to do anything,” Twilight droned, rummaging through her bag, “because Daring Do is on the case.”

Spike didn’t know whether to be more surprised at the news itself or the dismal tone with which Twilight presented it.

“Daring Do?” he asked skeptically.

“Mmm-hmm,” Twilight confirmed around a heavy tome lifted in her jaws. She dropped it onto the center table. “Turns out she’s a real pony, and she’s come to Ponyville to visit her sister.”

“Her sister?” Spike repeated, bouncing back in surprise. “Who’s that?”

“You’ll never guess: Ditzy Doo, the mailmare.”

Spike looked to the ceiling and rubbed his chin in thought for a moment. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”

Twilight’s ears perked up. “It does? How?”

Spike shrugged. “I dunno. She always seemed like she had some big secret. I always thought there was more to her than meets the eye.”

Twilight frowned. “Yes, well, it certainly seems that way now. They don’t get along very well. She and Daring fought like cats over who was going to look for the foals. And Daring doesn’t seem anything like the level-headed explorer in the books.” She sighed and flipped her saddlebag closed with a hoof, sliding it under the table with her tail. “Anyway, she won the shouting contest, and now she’s off to save the foals with Rainbow Dash as her new partner.”

“Whoa, wait, what?” the dragon bumbled, wobbling in place. “I’m not sure I’m following you.”

Twilight chuckled. “You and me both, Spike. Ditzy won’t tell me anything, but from what I’ve gathered, I think she and Daring used to go on adventures together. Maybe the stories in the books really happened, but with two mares finding the treasure. Something terrible must have happened—I’m thinking it has to do with Ditzy’s eye problem—and now they can’t stand to be in the same room as the other.”

“Whoa. That’s wild.”

“Ditzy really didn’t want to talk about it. She told me to read Daring’s latest book, and that she’d try to explain everything when she came back.”

“Came back from where?”

“Oh, right. She doesn’t seem to trust Daring and said she has to follow them because somepony could get hurt.”

“Oh, gosh,” Spike complained, pressing his hands against the sides of his head. “It feels like my brain just turned into mush and my eyeballs are trying to eat it.”

Twilight laughed. “Talk about eye candy!” she said, and Spike joined in on her laughter.

“I hope everything works out,” she continued, running a hoof along the spine of the huge book she had set on the table.

“Is that the new Daring Do book?” Spike gawked.

Twilight laughed. “No, silly. This one’s recommended reading from Pinkie Pie.” She tilted it enough for Spike to see the cover.

The Complete Works of Bluish Carol,” he read aloud, stifling a laugh. “Twilight, Bluish Carol is a nonsense poet.”

“I know!” she agreed, rolling her eyes. “But I promised Pinkie I’d give it a try. Might as well get it over with so I can focus on Ditzy’s dilemma.”

She flipped to the first page and started reading. Spike’s stomach grumbled and he sheepishly spoke up.

“Uh, Twilight? Do you mind if I go out for some hay fries this morning? We don’t have anything good in the kitchen.”

“Sure, Spike,” she allowed. The dragon beamed and hurried for the front door. Somepony opened it from the other side just before he reached it. He politely waited for the green unicorn to enter before he made his way out.

“Hey, Spike,” she said as he passed her.

He gave the stranger an odd glance before shrugging it off. Who didn’t know the name of Ponyville’s resident dragon?

“Hey yourself. Dig the swell hoodie!”


“So she made millions off a character half-based on you and never gave you a single bit?” Scootaloo clarified, taking another bite of her muffin.

“Well, in her defense, I never asked for a share,” Ditzy expounded. “Those books are nothing to me but broken promises, and no matter how tight money might get for me, I don’t want anything to do with them.”

“What promises?” Sweetie Belle implored, chewing on the edges of her hooves.

“There’s lots of competition in treasure hunting,” Ditzy said, “and not everypony is in it for the thrill of discovery like my father was. Some ponies will do anything to get their hooves on an artifact, even if it means hurting other explorers.”

The fillies gasped in horror. Ditzy briefly wondered how they would have reacted if she had said “killing” instead.

“To keep yourself safe,” she continued, “you have to keep your identity on the down low. Daring and I promised that we would never tell anypony about our adventures. And she clearly didn’t keep that one.”

Sweetie gasped. “Does that mean… you’re in danger now?”

Ditzy smiled at her empathy. “Thankfully not. Daring published the books as anonymous fiction for a reason. She made a fortune without putting herself in the spotlight.”

“I got a question,” Apple Bloom piped up.

“All right,” Ditzy encouraged.

“How’dja learn to make such amazin’ muffins?”

Her closest friends announced their agreement and approval. Dinky’s smile, plastered to her face since the start of her mother’s story, broadened even further. “I told you that you’d love them!”

Ditzy blushed. “My mother was a pastry chef in Las Pegasus. She made the best muffins in town, and I just copy her recipe.”

“So you got adventurism from your dad and muffinsim from your mom?” Scootaloo asked incredulously. “You had the best parents ever!”

The mailmare let loose a full, rich laugh. “Yes, I did! I really did!” She sighed at the happy memories. “I loved them to the Moon and back. Still do.”

They were quiet for a while, finishing their crumbly treats and letting the story sink in. Dinky, by far, was the most excited by her mother’s secret history.

“You’re amazing, Mommy!” she suddenly yelled, throwing her arms around Ditzy’s neck.

The mare was surprised. “You… you’re not mad at me?”

“Why would I be mad at you? You’re the most amazing mommy ever!”

“But…” Tears welled up in Ditzy’s eyes. “I kept it from you, from everypony, for all these years. I didn’t tell you who I really was or what I had done.”

“You told me now!” Dinky said with unhindered adoration. “My mommy’s a secret action hero! How could I be mad at that?”

As touched as she was by her daughter’s forgiveness, Ditzy used the moment to bring up a crucial point. “Secret action hero is right. I need all four of you to promise me you won’t tell anypony, not until I’m ready to tell everyone the truth.”

“Let’s Pinkie Promise!” Sweetie Belle suggested, and the other fillies joined her in the most binding of chants:

“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!”

Ditzy nodded approvingly. “Thank you, girls. That means a lot to me. It was good to finally tell the truth.”

“I hope you find a way to teach Daring her lesson,” Scootaloo confessed.

“Yeah! She sounds like a meanie,” Sweetie Belle harrumphed.

Ditzy giggled. “Well, I might have been a little harsh with my descriptions, but I’m glad you’re all on my side.”

She bent down to her daughter’s level and put a hoof under her chin. “Now, Dinky, I have to go across the ocean with Daring and Rainbow Dash to make sure they get the twins back. I’m going to leave you with Twilight Sparkle for a while. Go to the library straight after your concert today. She’ll take good care of you, and I’ll be back as soon as I can, all right?”

Dinky nodded. A perfect understanding shone behind her golden eyes.

“That’s my little muffin,” Ditzy cooed, stroking her daughter’s mane. She pulled her into a quick, tight hug, and then addressed the Crusaders.

“Will you three make sure she gets to the concert on time this afternoon?” she asked.

“You can count on us, Ditzy Doo!” Scootaloo assured her, saluting sharply with her right hoof. The other two nodded in unison.

“Thank you.” She glanced at the clock. “I’ll go talk to Twilight and then be on my way.” She swallowed once and kissed Dinky on the top of her head. “I’m sorry for missing the concert.”

“That’s okay. You need to help the Cakes!”

How she had raised such a thoughtful child, Ditzy would never know.

“Be safe, Muffin,” Ditzy whispered. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mommy.”

Blinking away unwanted tears, Ditzy snatched a book from the kitchen counter, barreled out of her house, and sped toward the Ponyville library.


He had bought a large map representing the sea,
Without the least vestige of land:
And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be
A map they could all understand.

“What’s the good of Marecator’s North Poles and Equators,
Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”
So the Bellsteed would cry: and the crew would reply
“They are merely conventional signs!

“Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
But we’ve got our brave Captain to thank:”
(So the crew would protest) “that he’s bought us the best –
A perfect and absolute blank!”

Twilight Sparkle laughed out loud, tossing her head back for the umpteenth time. After Spike had left for breakfast, she suddenly found herself distracted from Carol’s works, thinking about the Lunar Civil War and parasprites, for whatever reason. Brushing the random thoughts aside, she had started The Hunting of the Snark per Pinkie’s suggestion, expecting an unbearable mess of poor poetry.

The “Agony”, as it was subtitled, was divided into eight “Fits”. To her surprise, Twilight found herself rather enjoying the first Fit, giggling here and there at clever wordplay and exceptional meter. Carol’s rhymes, too, were impressively intricate; some verses rhymed up to six times inside themselves.

By the time the second Fit began, Twilight was gulping down the stanzas with a broad smile, chortling often at Carol’s delightful wit. Her burst of laughter at the blank map joke was met by a startling interjection.

“Enjoying your read?” Ditzy Doo’s voice asked from the doorway.

Twilight jumped and slammed the tome shut, looking innocently toward the ceiling. “What? Oh, no, I just remembered a… a funny joke that Pinkie told, that’s all.” She smiled nervously.

“There’s no shame in enjoying something outside your demographic, Twilight,” Ditzy assured her, stepping into the library and closing the door behind her. “I hope you don’t mind me dropping in like this.”

“I’m a bit surprised,” Twilight admitted, taming her blush. “I thought you’d be halfway to Manehattan by now.”

“The train leaves in an hour,” Ditzy explained. “I came by to ask a favor of you.”


They walked nearer to each other, meeting halfway.

Ditzy winced hopefully. “Would you be able to watch Dinky for me while I’m away with Daring? I know you’re a busy mare, but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather trust with my daughter.”

Twilight was struck speechless for a couple of seconds. “You’d like me to foalsit for you?”

“Would you? I’m sure it’s a lot to ask…”

“Oh, no, that’s fine!” Twilight assured her, summoning a schedule from her distant saddlebag. “It just so happens that I have plenty of open spots this week to keep her in my watch. I’d be happy to foalsit for you, Ditzy.”

The pegasus breathed a long sigh of relief. “Oh, thank Celestia. This means a lot to me, Twilight. I really appreciate it.”

Twilight lifted an eyebrow. “No problem, Ditzy. Is there anything special I need to do for her while you’re gone?”

“Just make sure she gets to school on time,” she answered, “and that she practices her flute for at least half an hour every day. You probably won’t have to remind her about that, though. She loves to play. If it ever gets annoying, don’t hesitate to ask her to take a break.”

Twilight laughed. “I doubt it will annoy me. Spike used to play the piano all the time when we lived in Canterlot. I miss having music in the house.”

Ditzy unfolded one of her wings and revealed a small novel.

“I brought you my copy of Poison Whispered Kiss so you don’t have to borrow Rainbow’s,” she said, offering the book to Twilight. “I hope you read it while I’m gone.”

A pinkish aura enveloped the novel and it rose to join the floating schedule next to Twilight’s horn. “I’ll read it. I promise. You’ve given me a lot to be curious about.”

“Sorry,” Ditzy said with a short laugh through her nose. “I hope it all makes sense soon.”

“So do I.”

Ditzy nodded and walked backward toward the exit.

“I told Dinky to come here after her concert this afternoon. Will you be home?”

Twilight glanced at the clock on the wall and bit her lip. “Actually, Pinkie’s throwing a party in half an hour. But don’t worry, I’ll make sure Cheerilee sends her to Sugarcube Corner instead.”

“That’s fine. Thank you, Twilight.”

They smiled at each other, both faces blending worry and hope for the future.

“Good luck, Ditzy. Please find the twins.”

Ditzy jaw clenched and she gave one solemn nod. With that, she opened the library door and flew off to the depot.

Twilight closed the door with her magic and carried her schedule and the new book to the central table. She set both of them down on top of Carol’s massive book, ready to write Dinky into her open time slots.

The rhythm of Carol’s entertaining words began to drum in Twilight’s head. Guiltily, she swept the scroll and Daring’s book aside, throwing his collection open to the middle. She had intended to find her place in The Hunting of the Snark, but several familiar words in the much shorter poem printed on that page caught her eye.

As her brow began to crease, she read the verses quickly.


‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsy were the borogoves
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch;
Beware the jubjub bird and shun
The frumious bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hoof.
Long time the manxome foe he sought
So rested he by the tumtum tree
And stood a while in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood
The jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack.
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh, frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
All mimsy were the borogoves
And the mome raths outgrabe.

In between the made-up words, Twilight’s widening eyes recognized several unnerving names.

“Slithy Toves? Mome Raths? Bandersnatch? Jabberwock?” she read aloud. Her heart rate increased with her volume. “Oh my gosh… those are some of the ancient evil creatures imprisoned in Tartarus!”

“Uh, Twilight?” Spike asked from behind her. She jumped for the second time, whirling around at her assistant.

“Spike! When did you get home?”

He titled his head. “Uh, forever ago. I just brought you those records from the Midnight District like you asked.”


Spike shook his head. “Never mind. Are you okay? Why are you shouting about Tartarus?”

“Spike, look at this!” she said, floating the tome in his direction. “You see this poem, Jabberwocky? I thought Bluish Carol was just a nonsense writer, but all the creatures it mentions are real. I haven’t seen them documented anywhere but the Princess’s personal library. All specific records of the monsters were destroyed or confiscated more than a thousand years ago to keep from spreading fear. I didn’t think anyone even knew about them anymore!”

The dragon quirked his brow. “So?”

“So maybe there’s more to Carol’s writings than I thought!” Twilight exclaimed, slamming the book back onto the table and flipping through its pages. “Maybe Pinkie was right: maybe I can learn something from this book. Bluish Carol lived only about a hundred years ago. How did he know about jabberwocks? What does this poem really mean?”

As Spike surveyed the thirsty look in Twilight’s skimming eyes, he groaned. “Does this mean we’re not going to Pinkie’s party?”

“You can go, Spike,” she permitted. “I’m going to research this for a while.” Her head popped up from the book. “Oh! And Dinky Doo is going to be staying with us during her mother’s rescue mission.”

“Sounds good,” Spike grumbled, waddling to the door. “I think I’ll go to Sugarcube Corner early before you rope me into your ridiculous research.”

Twilight didn’t hear him. She was rereading the Snark with new eyes.

9 - Anything But Normal

View Online

Chapter Nine
Anything But Normal

Only a hooffull of ponies were waiting for the 1:05 train to Manehattan as the light of the afternoon Sun poked around a layer of stormy clouds being gathered above Ponyville’s modest train depot. As the locomotive rounded the outermost grove of the Everfree Forest, a few ponies casually checked the watches strapped above their hooves.

Two of the soon-to-be passengers, clad in identical olive green outfits, were particularly antsy. Wings twitched and swiveled in their sockets, hooves tapped and bounced impatiently against the platform, and eyes darted about in all directions. The pair of pegasi looked rather similar in almost all respects save two: their color schemes were nearly opposite, and while one’s anticipation was fueled by overwhelming excitement, the other looked fretful and nervous.

The yellow one, who appeared to be the least comfortable, kept throwing her gaze over her shoulder as if she expected somepony to tackle her from behind.

“Where is she?” Daring muttered under her breath.

Her companion didn’t hear it. “Look!” she called out, pointing down the tracks. “The train’s almost here! We’re almost on our adventure!”

“Life’s an adventure, kid,” Daring said, tease-punching the other’s shoulder. “You ever ridden the train before?”

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “Yeah, tons of times! Me and my friends rode it to Appleoosa once, and we’ve gone up to Canterlot, like, fifty times.”

Daring raised an eyebrow. “Is that the furthest you’ve been from here?”

“Uh… well, I went to school in Cloudsdale… and I’ve visited my parents in Los Pegasus a few times…”

“Ever been out of the country?”

Rainbow shook her head. Her multi-colored bangs swished under the lip of her helmet.

“Well, if we catch the ‘nappers in Manehattan like I plan to, that’s not gonna change,” Daring said, glancing back toward the village again.

“What makes you think they’re still there?” Rainbow asked. “It’s been more than twelve hours since they took the foals. Wouldn’t they be halfway back to Haissan by now?”

“Lucky for us, ships only embark every couple of days. Your purple friend was right about the lack of interaction between ol’ Equestria and Haissan. There aren’t enough ponies going back and forth on a regular basis for passenger ships to make the transoceanic voyage and still make a profit. We’ll probably get there before the next ship takes off.”

Rainbow’s brow tilted. “Probably?”

Daring laughed. “Yeah, probably. It means ‘more likely than not’.” She patted Rainbow sharply between the shoulder blades. “Don’t worry, kid. We’ll ride over there, find the ‘nappers, chase ‘em through the streets of Manehattan for a while, beat ‘em up, and get the twins back to their parents. This’ll be over in a dash.”

Rainbow beamed. That was the best plan she’d ever heard. Way easier to follow than some of Twilight’s crazy strategies.

For what must have been the twentieth time, Daring’s eyes scanned the scene behind her. She must not have noticed anything, Rainbow decided, because she soon faced forward again to wait for the train.

“Are you looking for something back there?” Rainbow asked, giving Ponyville a wary glance of her own.

“What?” Daring cleared her throat. “No, no, it’s just… it’s just a nice view from here, that’s all.” They both took a long look at the thriving village; Daring nodded thoughtfully while Rainbow Dash just pursed her lips.

“Looks boring to me,” she admitted.

“Not boring, really,” Daring said truthfully. “Quaint, maybe, but… not boring.”

Rainbow complied with a diagonal nod.

Daring’s searching eyes tilted up to the darkening skies. Pegasi had been flitting about above them for almost an hour, organizing a ceiling of dark clouds. Apparently Ponyville had a rainstorm scheduled that afternoon. The grey sky made it that much harder for Daring to pick out any grey pegasi who might be approaching.

Her tension didn’t go unnoticed by Rainbow. The younger mare narrowed her eyes.

“What are you looking for, Daring?” she asked more directly.

The seasoned adventuress gulped. “Uh… I’m just wondering if you got your weather responsibilities all squared away this morning.”

As weak as Daring’s smile was, Rainbow didn’t question the honesty behind her words.

“Yeah, the boys say they have it covered,” she replied. “I hope they don’t mess everything up while I’m gone. When I first moved to Ponyville and applied to be a weathermare, the department was a disaster. It took a lot of work to make it as easy as it is today.”

Daring snickered. “I know exactly what you mean,” she agreed. “Half of treasure hunting is no fun. It’s all about research and excavation and cartography… ugh, all sorts of junk like that. Stuff doesn’t get exciting until all that’s out of the way.”

“Are we gonna have to do all that?”

“Heck no! Lucky for us, the ‘treasure’ we’re hunting is known, new, and relatively unguarded. Like I say, kid, this is gonna be a cinch.”

The train’s steady clicks and clacks crescendoed into a blast of screeching brakes and roaring wind as it pulled into the station. Daring habitually pressed her hat tightly against her head against the rush of air while Rainbow just grit her teeth and squeezed her wings tight against her ribs.

When the train came to a complete stop, a dozen or so smiling ponies hopped out onto the platform from the passenger cars and, some with baggage in tow, cantered toward Ponyville proper. Daring briefly recalled her recent arrival. She had expected to find her sister, reminisce on old times, and recruit her into one last crusade. Rolling her eyes, she shook her head at how differently things had unfurled.

“All aboard!” bellowed a mustachioed conductor. “All aboard for Manehattan!”

Just before boarding, Daring checked the depot’s large clock near the schedule board. Sure enough, it read 1:05 exactly.

“Wow,” she said. “That’s a surprise.”

“Huh?” Rainbow asked, following her hero’s gaze. “Oh. It’s always on time here,” she announced, holding her snout a little higher.

Daring snorted. “Why so proud? I thought this place was boring.”

“So? That doesn’t make it any less awesome.”

Daring was about to point out how contradictory that sounded, but Rainbow had already moved closer to the one of the passenger cars. Biting her lip, Daring took one last, careful look around the station. Ditzy was nowhere to be seen.

“Huh… I thought she would be here,” she breathed. A couple of raindrops pattered against her helmet. After a stern look at the offending clouds overhead, Daring followed Rainbow Dash into the last passenger car.

By the time everypony with a ticket had boarded and the station was clear, the rain was coming down in a gentle drizzle. One blonde pegasus leaned against the far side of the depot and allowed the rain flatten her mane as she stared at the cream-colored helmet in her hooves. After leaving Twilight at the library, Ditzy Doo had returned to her empty house and rummaged through the old storage boxes in her attic. At the very bottom of a tightly strung tote, she found her old safari clothes.

Guiltily, she tried them on and used the small mirror in her bedroom. Despite not wearing the outfit for nearly a decade, it fit rather well. She really had stayed in decent shape. Her eyes prevented her from seeing her reflection very well, but one thing was for certain: she sure looked silly.

The green-and-tan color scheme had been Daring’s decision: partly for camouflage in the jungles, where most of the items of their father’s list were hidden, and partly because it complimented Daring’s coat. Ditzy hadn’t complained—the Sisters Doo had been such good friends back then, after all—although she’d always hated the way her mane clashed with the helmet.

Heaving a nostalgic sigh in the rain, Ditzy raised the headgear over her ears and pulled it down firmly in place. She closed her eyes, allowing as many memories to fall from the hat into her mind as there were raindrops spattering the dirt.

Her eyelids snapped open. Her golden irises, though skewed, were alight with determination. No matter what stunts Daring tried to pull, or how naïve Rainbow Dash chose to be, the Cakes’ innocent twins would not suffer for their rashness under Ditzy’s watch. She had to find out what was really going on and forever ensure the safety of Ponyville’s foals, and she would not allow Daring’s audacious antics to spoil her chances.

Cutting through the thickening rain with her wings, Ditzy took to the air when she heard the train start to move. She didn’t have the extra bits for a ticket to ride, but that had never stopped her before.

Ditzy flew over the depot and glided to the roof the train. As it picked up speed, she galloped to the first car behind the engine. It was designed quite differently than all the rest, intended specifically for elderly ponies who had difficulty boarding the primary passenger cars. Long ago, Ditzy had noticed that it was also significantly taller than the other cars. Upon investigation, she discovered a hidden compartment inside the bright pink roof of the car that could comfortably carry a single pony.

Into this cavity she climbed, escaping the rain and beginning her journey to preserve the safety of her sister, her friend, and the foals.


“The gall of these weatherponies!” Cheerilee glared at the thickening layer of rainclouds over the schoolhouse, as if the heat of her frustration could bore a hole through the dome. “I’ve had this concert scheduled for months. How dare they arrange a city-wide downpour? I had a hard enough time convincing any ponies to attend as it was!”

“It’s all right, Cheerilee,” Fluttershy tried to console her. The kindest of ponies patted the schoolteacher’s shoulder with an encouraging smile. “The children have worked very hard, and they’ll enjoy the concert no matter how many ponies come to watch.”

“Yes, I know, the children have worked hard, and that’s exactly what’s upsetting me!” The teacher slumped and stuck out her bottom lip. “They’ve spent so much of their time and energy on this, and hardly anypony will fully appreciate what they’ve done.”

Fluttershy frowned sympathetically. “You’re right, Cheerilee, it doesn’t seem very fair. But even if the children don’t receive the attention they might deserve, we need to remember all the wonderful things that have already come from this project.”

Cheerilee’s brow tilted. “Like what?”

“Well, for one thing, I’ve gotten to spend more time at the school,” Fluttershy started. “I never went to school in Ponyville and always wondered how it worked. You do a lovely job teaching the children.”

The teacher blushed modestly. “Well, I do my best.”

“You certainly do.” Fluttershy closed her eyes in a meaningful smile before continuing. “I’ve become a better chorister working with ponies instead of birds. And I like to think that you and I have grown closer in our friendship.”

Cheerilee’s soft green eyes brightened at that. “I agree completely with you there, Fluttershy. I can’t thank you enough for helping me assemble the school’s first band. The children love working with you as much as I do, and we would have gotten nowhere without your musical expertise.”

“Oh, it was nothing, really,” Fluttershy said, hiding a smile behind a thick lock of pink mane. “I’m happy to help however I can.”

The rain began to fall. With a defeated sigh, Cheerilee marched away from the schoolhouse to the nearby stage where the children were making their final preparations for the show. A few faithful parents made up the audience, chatting politely with one another as they waited for the concert to begin.

“I guess this is our turnout,” Cheerilee conceded under her breath.

“And they’ll love every minute of it,” Fluttershy sweetly assured.

Cheerilee offered a thankful nod that sent Fluttershy to her place on the stage. The sound shell they set up that morning protected the performers’ instruments and sheet music from the rain, but the audience had no covering at all. Cheerilee stayed at the back of the small crowd and eyed their uncomfortable expressions with great disappointment. If only she had planned better from the start…

Her pout was distracted by a bustle of panic onstage. Fluttershy had gathered all nine performers at the center, but now she was flitting about above the group, peeking backstage with frantic eyes.

Cheerilee frowned and counted the foals again. To her further dismay, there were only eight.

“Who’s missing, Fluttershy?” she called out, trotting briskly to the edge of the raised platform.

“Dinky!” she answered shrilly, biting her lip and continuing to search behind the same small curtains. “We can’t do the show without her—she’s our only pony on the flute!”

Cheerilee grimaced with her back to the audience and forced a wide smile before she turned around.

“Welcome to the show, everypony!” she said to them. As there were only half a dozen, she didn’t have to shout. “Thank you so much for attending despite the… unflattering weather.” Somepony chuckled, and that made her feel better. “I’m afraid we’ll have to delay the show for a few minutes while I check on a member of the band, but rest assured that we will begin as soon as possible.”

She watched her listeners nod for just long enough to make sure they understood before spinning around and galloping toward the main village.

“Dinky Doo… of all the days to start being tardy…” she grumbled as she ran.

The rain was falling ever faster. She looked at her knees for a moment to blink stinging water from her eyes, but that blind moment was a moment too long.

“Watch out!” shrieked a scratchy voice accompanied by the constant hum of tiny wings.

Cheerilee had no chance of watching out. Before she had even cleared thirty pony-lengths from the stage, a barreling scooter collided head-on with the sprinting teacher. A few seconds later, five startled ponies lay scattered and scraped within a ten foot radius of the crash.

“Scootaloo!” Cheerilee thundered, scrambling to her hooves and shaking out her muddied mane. “What in Ponyville has gotten into you?”

“We’re sorry, Miss Cheerilee,” Apple Bloom announced as she hopped back up, “but we gotta get Dinky to the concert!”

Cheerilee gasped and glanced around the wreckage. She beamed upon spotting a blonde, pale-violet filly with her face stuck in a patch of mud. Hanging from her horn was a familiar flute case.

“Get up, Dinky, we’re waiting on you!” Cheerilee chirped with happy harshness. She grabbed the filly below her ears and yanked her head out of the mud with a comical slurping noise. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo couldn’t help but giggle.

“Sorry, Miss Cheerilee!” Dinky echoed, shooting the Crusaders a knowing look. “We got… distracted.”

“Well, you can get back to whatever you were doing after the concert,” Cheerilee said, brushing chunks of mud from Dinky’s cheeks and brow. “Are you ready to do your best today?”

“I’m always ready!”

She hurried alongside her teacher and climbed a wooden staircase leading backstage. The Crusaders stayed put, eyeing the meager crowd in distastefully.

“That’s it?” Scootaloo asked. “That’s all the ponies who came?”

“It’s prob’ly ‘cause o’ the rain,” Apple Bloom realized, holding out a hoof to watch the raindrops pelt her pelt.

“That’s a stupid excuse!” Scootaloo blurted. “They should just ask Rainbow Dash to clear a hole above the stage!”

Sweetie gave an unsure glance at her friend. “Uh… Rainbow’s gone, remember? She left with Daring Do.”

Scootaloo’s wings sagged. “Oh, yeah.” Her eyes narrowed and she stood up straight. “Well, just because Rainbow’s not here to help doesn’t mean I can’t do something.”

Apple Bloom joined in Sweetie Belle’s confusion. “What? How?”

“If we can’t clear away the clouds,” she said, revving up her wings and lifting her scooter from the grass, “then we’ll just dance in the rain.”


Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “It’s part of some old saying my mom has painted on the wall. Doesn’t matter. The point is, Dinky’s practiced a lot to make this a good concert, and since her mom can’t be here to cheer her on, the least we can do is get her a proper audience.”

“How d’ya reckon we do that?”

The orange filly’s crafty eyes locked onto the distant Sugarcube Corner.

“Isn’t Pinkie Pie throwing a party right now?”


Two pegasi sat side by side in a train headed for Manehattan.

“How much farther?”

“I don’t know.”

The first pony groaned and dragged a hoof over her face. “I can’t stand all this sitting around. I’m so bored.”

“So look out the window.”

“I am looking out the window. It’s just hills and trees and mountains.”

“I think it’s pretty.”

Pfft! Pretty schmitty. I wanna do something!”

Rainbow Dash sighed. She hadn’t expected Daring to be so whiny.

“I thought you’d be used to traveling huge distances,” she noted.

Daring blew a stray piece of her mane back and forth in front of her eyes. “Yeah, well, usually I have somepony to talk to.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Uh… you can talk to me.”

“All right, kid,” Daring said, smirking at her new partner. “Tell me something exciting enough to hold my attention.”

The challenge caught Rainbow Dash off guard. She blinked. “Uh….”

“That’s what I thought,” Daring muttered with a crack of her neck, turning back to the window and making weird shapes with her mouth.

“I helped save Equestria. Twice,” Rainbow finally answered.

Daring shrugged. “Yeah, I’ll admit that’s awesome, but I’ve already heard those stories. Everypony has.”

Rainbow donned a determined squint. “Have you ever heard a first-hoof account? Has anypony ever told you about the chills that run down your spine when Discord looks you in the eye and tells you that Cloudsdale is crumbling without you?”

The yellow mare’s attention was snatched up like a fly on a frog’s tongue. “Discord… talked to you?” she asked, wide-eyed.

It was Rainbow’s turn to smirk.

“He did more than just talk to me,” she continued in a tone that sounded very close to bragging. “He taunted me and threatened me and lured me through a maze. But worst of all—he took away my wings.”

Daring gasped. “Your wings? That’s horrible!”

“I know, right?” Rainbow squealed, hardly believing her situation. “I mean, I’ve broken my wing before, and that was torture enough. Heck, I’ve ever had my wings flipped upside down! But to have them vanish completely from my back? That was torture.”

“I broke a wing once,” Daring remembered. “I was grounded for a few days.”

“Might as well have been a few months, or a few years,” Rainbow quoted.

Daring chuckled. “Oh, yeah. You’re a fan of the books.”

“The biggest!” Rainbow blurted, glad that the topic was finally coming up. “I’ve read all of them more than once. Well, except the newest one. I’m about halfway through it.”

“And?” Daring encouraged.

“And they’re amazing, of course!” Rainbow’s giant smile was making it hard to talk, but she pushed through it. “And they’re all true, right? You really found the Sapphire Stone, and the Griffon’s Goblet, and the—”

“Yes, yes, it’s all true.” Daring closed her eyes proudly and adjusted her helmet with a wing.

“Wow… I can hardly believe it!” Rainbow’s expression wilted a bit. “But I gotta ask: why’d you keep your name off the books? Don’t you want ponies to know you really exist?”

“Oh, you know,” Daring said nonchalantly, examining one of her hooves. “Humility and all that. Plus I didn’t want the press bogging me down all the time. I have adventures to go on, you know?”

Rainbow’s eyes sparkled as she nodded quickly. Any complaints that might have been brewing over Daring’s attitude were gone, replaced by a sensation not unlike flying.

Daring turned back to the window, hiding the guilt in her expression. Little did her new partner know that Daring hadn’t taken up a quest in more than eight years. That wouldn’t stop her from finding the foals, though. It wouldn’t stop her from proving to Ditzy that she was every bit of the brilliant adventuress in the books. It wouldn’t stop her from wrangling up some bad guys in the streets of Manehattan and turning it into a bestselling novel. She grinned at the passing countryside, already imagining the new book on display: Daring Do and the Orphan Foals.

She frowned a bit. It needed more syllables. Maybe an adjective for the orphans? Daring Do and the… Missing Orphan Foals. She shook her head, casting aside the boring title.

“Missing…” she said under her breath, scrunching up her brow. “Missing, taken, nabbed, abducted, stolen, taken… no, I already said taken, I don’t like that…”

“Are you saying something?” Rainbow asked.

“Just brainstorming, kid,” Daring replied.

“About how to find the foals?”

Daring waved a hoof. “Nah, that’ll be easy. One of the kidnappers is missing a leg and uses his wing to walk.”

Rainbow Dash reeled on her. “What? How do you know that?”

“Clues in the crime scene,” Daring explained. “I took one look at the place and knew exactly who we were after. Don’t worry, kid, this is gonna be a breeze.”

Rainbow’s ears drooped. “So… we won’t even cross the ocean?”

“Not in the plans. When we find ‘em, we’ll probably chase them around Manehattan for a while—you know, make it worth the trip. That way we’ll have a story to tell when we get home.”

Chasing foalnappers alongside Daring Do? Rainbow Dash beamed at the prospect.

“Sounds good to me!” she chirped. “As long as the foals are safe, of course.”

“Course,” Daring mumbled, examining a smudge on the window.

Rainbow surveyed her hero with a thoughtful grin. “You know, you’re different than I thought you’d be,” she said.

“Yeah?” Daring asked, tapping the glass experimentally.

“Yeah. You’re more… I dunno, normal, I guess. I thought you’d be all quiet and mysterious, I guess, but whenever you spoke, you’d have these deep, mind-blowing things to say.”

Daring gave her a questioning glance. Rainbow grimaced and held up one of her hooves.

“I’m not saying I’m disappointed or anything! It’s just… I dunno, it’s just weird that you’re so… normal.”

Daring snorted. “Believe me, kid,” she said, “I’m anything but normal.” She tapped her chest, making the zippers on her new shirt clink. “Inside this snarky rind is a whole world of mystery and depth. Just wait ‘til we start scoping out those Haissanic punks. Then you’ll see the real Daring Do.”

She clenched her jaw to stop from laughing at Rainbow’s wide-eyed stare. The sparkle in the blue mare’s eyes suddenly faded when a shadow engulfed the train. All of its passengers looked out the windows to spot the source of the shade. Some let loose sighs of relief while others gasped in delight at the towering buildings flanking both sides of the slowing locomotive.

“Speaking of rinds,” Daring said, watching Rainbow ogle the skyscrapers, “welcome to the Big Orange.”


The door to the library creaked open.

“Look here, Spike!” Twilight called out, tapping a stanza in the middle of the page. “The Bandersnatch makes an appearance in the Hunting, too! Carol doesn’t describe any of the creatures with much more than a few words, but the few details he does include are uncannily accurate, if my memory is correct. I’m having to go off what I remember from the princess’s lessons, though. We don’t have any helpful books on Tartarus in the whole library!”

“Uh… sorry, Miss Twilight,” a little voice replied, “but I’m not Spike.”

Twilight spun around to see Dinky Doo in her doorway. The periwinkle filly was soaked to the bone and looked exhausted, but wore an enormous grin nonetheless. A small flute case hung from her stubby horn.

“Oh.” Twilight looked at the world outside the library, noticing only now that it was pouring rain. She winced. “Sorry, Dinky. H-how was the concert?”

The filly’s giant smile nearly doubled. “It was amazing!” she began, rattling off the rest of her tale faster than Pinkie Pie. “At first there weren’t very many ponies in the audience because of the rain and Miss Cheerilee was really sad but then Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom went to Sugarcube Corner and convinced Pinkie to move the party to the stage outside the schoolhouse and even though it was raining Pinkie got everypony to come and the band played better than ever and everypony was dancing and clapping and having so much fun and it was so awesome!”

Twilight gaped in surprise. “Gosh, Dinky! That’s quite a set of lungs you’ve got there!”

Dinky giggled as she closed the library door. “Sorry,” she said. “Sometimes I forget to slow down. Did you catch any of that?”

Twilight magicked a towel from another room and moved closer to the dripping filly. “Yes, I caught it all. That was nice of your friends to bring a bigger crowd.”

“Cheerilee was so happy!” Dinky remembered, letting Twilight lift her flute case in a cocoon of magic while she dried her mane.

“That’s good to hear.” Twilight smiled as she examined the case. “She tends to get pretty worked up if things don’t go the way she planned.”

Dinky hid a smile.

“I’m glad the concert went well,” Twilight continued, suspending the flute case in front of its owner. “Sorry that I didn’t make it, and I’m sure your mother is very sorry, too.”

Instead of snatching the case with magic, Dinky twisted her head and slid her horn into its handle, letting it dangle by her ear.

Twilight tried to smile politely. “Can you levitate yet?” she asked.

Dinky laughed. “No one my age can use magic yet, Miss Twilight!”

“I could,” Twilight said proudly, placing a hoof to her chest. “Maybe I can teach you while your mother is away.”

Excitement danced in Dinky’s golden eyes. “Wow, really? That would be amazing!”

“It’s the least I can do,” Twilight assured her. “I used to help foals at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns after graduating myself. I haven’t been able to try my hoof at teaching for years. It’ll be fun to help you learn!”

“Yay!” Dinky gave Twilight a quick hug. “My mommy was right to leave me with you!”

Twilight rubbed her head affectionately. “I’m glad she thought of me.”

Dinky slid out of the hug and stretched her jaw in a loud yawn. Twilight quirked an eyebrow glanced at the clock. “Goodness, it’s almost six o’clock. Where have you been since the concert ended?”

“Sugarcube Corner,” she answered sleepily. “After the band finished playing, everypony hurried back there to get out of the rain. It was lots of fun, but then I remembered my mommy told me to come here after the concert. Plus I was getting pretty—” She yawned again. “—tired.”

Twilight giggled. “You can head upstairs if you’d like. I’ll be up in just a minute to arrange another bed for you.”

“Okay,” Dinky agreed, trotting toward the staircase. “What have you been working on? I didn’t understand anything you said when I came in.”

Twilight laughed. “I hardly understand it myself. Maybe there’s nothing to be understood.” She magically flipped through the pages of Carol’s anthology. “It seems like there’s more to these poems than meets the eye, but I can’t quite put my hoof on it. If only I had more information on the creatures it mentions.”

“Have you been reading it for a long time?” asked Dinky from the bottom of the stairs.

Twilight shook her head. “Pinkie Pie lent it to me just last night.”

“Then why don’t you ask her?” Dinky suggested, climbing one step at a time.

Intrigued, Twilight turned her head toward the filly. “Ask her what?”

“Ask her what she knows about the book,” Dinky elaborated. Her eyes were drooping with fatigue as she bounded up the last few stairs. “If she’s had it for a while, maybe she knows about the creatures or… eeeaaaaww… something.”

Dinky disappeared from view, but Twilight’s mind was already whirring, remembering phrases from past-Pinkie Pie.

“Bluish Carol was a genius!” “I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from this book!”

Pinkie was convinced that there was more to Carol’s writing than childish nonsense. How much did she know about him? Where had she gotten this huge collection? And what exactly had she learned?

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Dinky!” she called out. “You can sleep in my bed for now. I’m going to go get Spike from Sugarcube Corner and ask Pinkie a couple of questions.”

A muffled “okay” drifted down from the loft as Twilight galloped out into the rain.

10 - Pretty Pink Princess Ponies Prancing Perpendicular

View Online

Chapter Ten
Pretty Pink Princess Ponies Prancing Perpendicular

Even compared to Canterlot’s, the Manehattan train station was enormous. As she stepped onto one of its multiple platforms, Rainbow Dash gawked at the vaulted ceiling high above her head. Without Daring’s guidance, Rainbow would have been overwhelmed by the swarms of hurried ponies darting across the floor like bees over a hive. As it was, Rainbow followed Daring’s lead as they flew over the dense crowd to the building’s eastern exit. Only five or six other pegasi occupied the airspace. Manehattan was home to few winged ponies.

The world outside the station was no less busy. A lively vibration pulsed through the metropolis. Rainbow felt it course through her bones and tingle in her wings. She smiled at the skyscrapers, itching to stand on the peaks of their spires. She ogled the vendors lining the old roads and puzzled over the polarized outfits worn by most pedestrians.

Daring noticed her stares. “This city’s home to a lotta ponyfolk, kid,” she said, “from every walk of life you can imagine. Only the very rich and the very poor bother with clothing.”

Rainbow watched a pair of colts down the street, dressed in tattered shirts and soiled hats, try to sell a newspaper to an uninterested mare in a fine, green dress. “Why?” she asked Daring.

“So ponies know they’re very poor or very rich,” she smirked. “Pride on the one hoof, desperation on the other.”

Rainbow frowned. “That’s... kinda sad.”

“That’s how it works outside of perfect little Ponyville,” Daring said with a shrug. She quickly looked in both directions and started trotting north.

Furrowing her brow, Rainbow followed her at a brisk trot. “That’s not true. I’ve never seen that kind of thing in Cloudsdale or Canterlot.”

“What kind of thing?” Daring asked in a bored tone.

The pair stopped at the paper peddlers. Daring reached into one of her new shirt’s pockets and pulled out a couple of bits. The boys thanked her graciously and hoofed her one copy from the top of their stack.

“You know,” Rainbow answered in a whisper once they’d moved away from the colts, “the… class separation, or whatever.”

“Huh?” Daring wasn’t paying attention, attempting to open the newspaper while she walked.

Rainbow grunted. “I’ve never seen any poor ponies before!” she said.

Stopping for a moment, Daring gave her a sideways glance. “Really?”

“Not like this!” Rainbow clarified, gesturing to the street around them. Everywhere she looked, grungy ponies wearing hardly more than rags trotted sullenly over the sidewalk.

Daring snorted. “You haven’t explored Canterlot much, have you?”

Rainbow blinked. “There’s, like… poverty? In Canterlot?”

“Not as much as there is here,” Daring admitted, “but yeah. There’s poverty everywhere, kid.”

“Not in Ponyville…” Rainbow muttered.

“Yeah, well. There’s not much of anything in Ponyville. Except good pie.”

Rainbow dragged her hooves as Daring led them closer to the eastern docks. Manehattan itself was built on an island, according to the fuzzy maps in Rainbow’s memory. She had never sailed on a ship before, and she briefly worried that she might get seasick. Those thoughts were quickly pushed aside in favor of more distressing matters: Why was she so surprised to see all these unfortunate ponies in the streets? Had she really expected everypony in Manehattan to be as well-to-do as Applejack’s relatives? Maybe the sophistication of Canterlot had skewed her view on big cities.

Daring interrupted with a rough game plan. “N’kay, so we’re gonna reach the docks, find that blue goon with a missing leg, and chase him and his partner around Manehattan for a while. Attract as much attention as you can. If any witty one-liners pop into your head, feel free to blurt ‘em out. Hopefully the nappers are pretty quick—we don’t want the chase to be too short. If they have the twins with them, try to chase them up somewhere really high where we have to rescue them from danger.”

Rainbow’s face contorted. “What!?”

Daring tucked her unread newspaper under a wing and waved her hoof dismissively. “You’re right, that’s too much detail. Just go with the flow, but make it exciting.”

Before she could voice her confusion, Rainbow’s attention was snatched by the sparkling horizon as the pair rounded a corner.

“There she is,” Daring remarked with a satisfied sigh. “The Big Blue.”

“Horseapples,” Rainbow swore. “That’s a lot of water.”

Daring barked a laugh and slapped Rainbow on the back. “You noob! Come on, let’s get a better view.”

She took to the air with a heavy beat of her wings, letting the unread newspaper drop to the sidewalk. Grinning wildly, Rainbow followed her into the sky. They flapped in sync, pushing their bodies higher and higher until they came to the midpoint of an outlying skyscraper. Hovering there, the pegasi swept their fuchsia eyes across the shining sea. It stretched out with apparent infinity to the north, east, and south.

“Wow,” Rainbow whispered.

Daring chuckled. “I thought you said something about visiting Los Pegasus before.”

“Yeah, my parents live there,” Rainbow said. “The ocean’s pretty and all, but you can see Trottingham just across the bay. This is…” She shook her head, wide-eyed. “This is crazy.”

“It is pretty,” Daring had to agree. “Sometimes I forget about that. I used to live on the water back in the day, more or less. Always traveling to one country or another.”

“Must have gotten pretty lonely,” Rainbow said off the cuff. “I hate being away from my friends for too long.”

Daring cleared her throat. “Yeah…” she mumbled.

The sound of their wings fell into rhythm with the murmur of the city far below. Considering the task at hoof, the moment was remarkably peaceful.

A self-satisfied grin curled over Daring’s lips as she mentally constructed the beginning of her next novel: As Daring Do cast her watchful eyes over the Draconic Ocean, she thought back to the flowing tears that stained the face of Lady Bunt. “You must rescue them, Daring Do!” she had implored— er, begged. Desperately begged. “Only you can save the royal orphan twins!”

“I’m no hero, ma’am,” Daring had tried to explain. “I’m only a humble archeologist with a quick tongue and a broken heart.”

Maybe that was a bit much, but first drafts were always overloaded. Daring kept going.

Lady Bunt had shaken her head. “Only your keen eye for detail and fearlessness in the face of danger are enough to bring them home.”

Daring bowed her head and expelled a hesitant sigh. “Who took them?” she asked.

“We don’t know,” Lady Bunt sobbed. “Surely you can find out.”

Daring rolled her eyes and grunted. “I’ll do my best. Do we at least have an idea to where they may have been taken?”

“Back to Equestria, no doubt,” Lady Bunt whimpered.

“Back to Equestria? That’s on the other side of the world!”

Blah blah blah, exposition, make up a reason for the twins to be in Manehattan…

Daring extended her wings out to her sides. “Don’t worry, Lady Bunt. I will travel back to Equestria, I will find the royal orphans, and I will not let anything distra—”

“Hey, check it out!” Rainbow Dash pointed a hoof out over the water. “There’s a ship on its way in!”

Daring’s eyes focused on the distant dot cutting through the ocean. She opened her mouth to speak, but Rainbow had already pulled her wings in for a dive. Daring watched the cyan pony’s colorful trail stretch through the air and end among the docks. With a roll of her eyes, Daring plummeted as well, securing her hat with one hoof.

“Hey, kid!” she called out, landing beside Rainbow as they wove between droves of ponies. “Kid, that’s not a—”

Rainbow rushed ahead, cutting in between a group of burly stallions. Daring winced apologetically as she trotted around the scowling steeds and galloped after Rainbow with a deeply creased brow.

“Stupid pony. Doesn’t she know anything about overseas travel?” she mumbled under her breath, chasing after her inexperienced partner.


Ditzy Doo squeezed her right eye shut and struggled to keep the other focused. She had enough trouble navigating the wide dirt roads of Ponyville without bumping into trees, houses, and other ponies from time to time. The bustling streets of Manehattan and uncomfortably crammed harbor were proving themselves quite challenging.

“Hey, watch it!” a scruffy stallion snapped as she stepped on the back of his hoof.

“Sorry!” Ditzy yelped, keeping her eye on the ground. Her helmet collided with a tall mare’s saddlebag.

“I say!” she complained, stumbling from the impact.

“So sorry!” Ditzy said again, weaving around her and several of her sneering companions. Step by careful step, Ditzy managed to make it to the edge of the docks with only two or three more mishaps. She opened both of her eyes and stared out over the ocean, breathing in its salty smell and remembering days long gone.

“Good to see you again,” she said to the water, allowing a smile to lift one corner of her mouth.

A blink, a determined snort, and Ditzy turned back to the throngs. By some stroke of luck, a passenger vessel was embarking later that hour, which meant there hadn’t been a departure for at least two days. The foalnappers—and, hopefully, the foals themselves—were somewhere in the city, perhaps even somewhere on the docks. Ditzy aimed her eyes at the ground and slipped into the current of busy ponies, watching for any blue feathers snagged along the wood.

At another end of the long harbor, Daring grabbed Rainbow’s tail in her teeth.

“Hey!” the cyan pony yelped, losing her balance and slamming into the ground. Her helmet dropped off her head and rolled off the edge of the dock, sinking into the ocean. Rainbow twisted her head around and gave Daring a furious glare. “What was that for?”

“We’re on a mission, kid, in case you’ve already forgotten,” Daring said, yanking Rainbow onto her hooves by her tail.

“Youch!” Rainbow pulled her tail out of Daring’s grasp and frowned. “I thought we’d find the foalnappers waiting for that ship.” She pointed out over the ocean at the vessel headed straight for their dock.

Daring slid a hoof over her face. “That’s a cargo ship, kid. It doesn’t carry any passengers; it’s too slow.”

Rainbow squinted at the distant ship. “Really? How can you tell from here?”

“Because it’s on the water?” Daring said as if it was painfully obvious.

Confused, Rainbow raised an eyebrow and opened her mouth. Rather than a question, a sharp gasp rushed between her lips.

Daring blinked. “What? What is it?”

Rainbow’s pupils shrunk as she discreetly pointed to something behind Daring. The yellow mare pretended to crack her neck, sneaking a glance at the dozen or so ponies gathered on the dock behind her. Among them were two lean pegasi stallions with uncommonly narrow snouts: one was tan with a midnight blue mane and amber eyes, surveying the sky nonchalantly; the other’s coat was a softer shade of blue, his long mane rusty-orange, but his colors were hardly his defining feature. His front left leg was nothing more than a gnarled stub, and his left wing was lowered to the ground for balance. Between the stallions was a large, covered basket.

Daring and Rainbow exchanged a meaningful glance. They waited in silence for several seconds.

“What do we do?” Rainbow asked.

“Wait for my mark,” Daring answered in an even tone, “then chase them toward the city.”

Rainbow gulped. “Shouldn’t we just, like… grab the basket?”

“Nah, over too quickly.”

“How about I grab the basket and you chase them to the pol—”

“We’re not splitting up. Bad idea.”

Rainbow frowned. “Okay… ‘chase them into the city’ it is.”

Daring smirked, waited a few second more, and gave a commencing nod.

“Here we go,” Rainbow said, grinning in spite of her disapproval.

In unison, the green-clad mares flapped their wings and dove at the crowd behind Daring.

“Give back the foals!” Rainbow demanded.

“Hooves up, punks! As many as you have, anyway,” Daring taunted.

The Haissanic stallions reacted with surprising speed. The three-legged blue one took to the skies as his comrade grabbed the basket in his teeth. By the time Daring landed where the basket had been, both of the foalnappers were twenty feet in the air. Rainbow Dash, however, to Daring’s bafflement, was already ten feet above them.

“Come on, put ‘em up!” she shouted at the ascending duo, flying backwards and punching her front hooves in their direction. “Let’s go!”

The Haissanic stallions traded unsure expressions before diving downward in an attempt to swoop beneath Rainbow Dash.

“Oh no you don’t!” she shouted, twisting midflight to keep on her eyes on the fleeing ponies. With two quick snaps of her wings, Rainbow was directly above them, grinning lazily at their widening eyes.

“Maybe you foreign ponies haven’t heard of me,” she said, flipping forward with another burst of flaps. She snatched the basket out of the tan stallion’s jaws and ended up below the stallions, backstroking through the air and dangling the basket from an outstretched hoof.

“I’m the fastest mare in Equestria,” she finished with a snide wink. “Nice to meet’cha.”

The flabbergasted foalnappers watched in surprise as the blue mare spread her wings, catching a draft from the ocean breeze and dropping to the edge of the docks. Looking over their shoulders, both distracted stallions slammed into the side of Manehattan’s outermost skyscraper, leaving trails of slobber as they slid down the glass.

“Ha!” Rainbow barked from the ground. “Serves you right!”

“What the heck are you doin’, kid?” Daring’s voice bellowed over the oblivious crowd on the docks, going about their business without so much as a glance at the scene.

Rainbow winced at the anger in Daring’s disembodied voice. She searched the crowd for her hero, keeping one hoof on top of the basket.

Daring pounced from the edge of the crowds like a Jack-in-the-Box. Startled, Rainbow did nothing to stop her from planting her hooves on Rainbow’s chest and pinning her to the ground.

“What was that about?” Daring roared in her face.

“I saved the foals!” Rainbow shot back.

“In, like, ten seconds!” Daring whined. “What kind of adventure is that?”

“I focused on the mission, just like you said,” Rainbow said, wriggling under Daring’s weight. “And look: I even chased them into the city!”

Daring groaned and backed off of Rainbow, biting the basket’s handle and flying toward Manehattan.

Rainbow used her wings to get back up and followed Daring’s flight with a wary squint. “What is she doing?” she asked herself, galloping for a few strides before pushing off into the air.

Daring coasted to the base of the building where the Haissanic ponies were gathering their senses. They backed away from her approach and watched in confused silence as she set the basket at their hooves.

“Go on, take ‘em,” she said, nudging the basket toward them. “My partner doesn’t really know how the game works yet. She sorta jumped the gun, y’know what I mean?” She rolled her eyes and offered the stallions a humble smile. “I’ll give you a head start, how does that sound? I’ll say ‘pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular’ twenty five times. That should be enough to make some decent distance, yeah?”

The stallions stood stock still, eyeing Daring with a blend of wariness and worry.

“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular,” she said, lifting one feather of her wing. “Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.” A second feather joined the first. “Pretty pink princes pron… er, ponies prancing perpederper… perpendicular. Pretty pink princess…”

The three-legged stallion seemed to get the message. He lunged at the basket and scooped it up with his only foreleg, whirling around to fly deeper into the city. His partner shot one last look of concern at Daring before following suit.

“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular…”

Rainbow landed hard at Daring’s side. “What are you doing? They’re getting away with the twins!”

“Pretty prink princess… er, ponies prancing perpendicular…”

“… What!?”

Daring laughed. “I’m giving them a bit of a lead. You know, to make it more exciting.”

One of Rainbow’s eyes twitched. “You… you gave the foals back to them?”

“Oh, quit freakin’ out.” She smacked Rainbow on the back. “I’m a professional! I know what I’m doing.”

Rainbow’s shrunken pupils watched the stallions disappear behind a distant skyscraper. “You could have fooled me,” she squeaked.


Somepony slammed against Ditzy’s side, pushing her into a railing at the edge of an older dock. She leaned against the wooden beam to rest her head on its weathered surface. Twenty minutes of constant jostling had taken its toll on her stamina, and there wasn’t a single blue feather to show for it. She clenched her jaw and glanced over the crowd, dreading her inevitable return to its currents. One of her eyes drifted upward, drawing her attention to an unusual sight.

Two thin stallions were rounding a skyscraper at breakneck speeds. The nearer they came, the surer Ditzy was of their identities. She watched them descend to the northernmost dock. The dark blue pony stumbled through his landing, partly due to a large wicker basket in his mouth, and partly due to his missing leg.

Without another breath, Ditzy rocketed above the harbor’s noisy crowds and hid behind a stack of smelly crates filled with edible seaweed at the edge of the northern dock. She peeked through a space in the bottommost crates with one wobbly eye, straining as hard as she could to catch their actions. To her alarm, the pair moved away from a noisy crew of cargo ponies and stopped at the opposite side of her stack. She pressed her ear to the space instead. They spoke in Haissanic, confirming her assumptions. Having not used the language for almost a decade, Ditzy missed parts of their conversation.

“Should we wait for the ship?” the blue one asked, his voice both low and raspy.

“Not with those two on our tails,” his tan companion replied. “Something blue is too fast to something, and the yellow one is crazy.”

Ditzy resisted the urge to groan.

“Is she on our side or not?” the three-legged stallion asked, catching Ditzy’s full attention.

“I do not know.”

“Why did she return the basket?”

Ditzy’s wings squeezed against her sides.

“I do not speak much Equestrian, but it seemed to me that she was giving us another chance to something something.”

“Do you think she’s tracking us?”

“No. It seemed to her a game.”

To keep from screaming, Ditzy ground her hooves against the salty wood beneath her.

The blue one chuckled. “Then we must take advantage of her misunderstanding.”

“Yes. While she something for us within the city, let us not wait for the passenger ship. You made arrangements for an emergency vessel?”

Ditzy’s next breath caught in her throat. There was a pause in which the three-legged stallion must have nodded.

“Good,” the tan one said.

“Not quite good,” the blue one retorted in a joking tone. “The trip will be far from comfortable.”

“We cannot something another encounter with those mares. Let us leave immediately. Where was it made ready?”

“Here, at the north dock.” The blue stallion thumped his lowered wing against the planks.

They picked up the basket and hurried to the far end of the dock furthest from the city. The anchored walkway became narrower with fewer ponies idling about. Ditzy followed them on quiet hooves, searching for an opportunity to strike and take the basket.

At the very end of the dock, where one more step would drop a pony to the ocean, the conspirators stopped. Ditzy took a filthy mop on the ground between her hooves and pretended to brush salt and grime into the water. The foalnappers gave her only one suspicious glance before nodding to one another. Ditzy’s left eye swiveled helpfully, for once, and allowed her to witness their curious actions without looking up from the mop.

The tan stallion lowered himself onto his belly while the blue one kept watch on the basket. Wriggling to the edge of the dock, the first leaned over the side and stretched his hoof into the water, clenching his teeth at its frigidity. After a few moments of splashing about, his eyes lit up as he caught hold of something. The tendons in his neck protruded as he pulled and grunted at his target’s considerable weight.

“Help me,” he wheezed in Haissanic.

The blue pony gave him a questioning glance before dropping at his partner’s side, dipping his only forehoof into the water. Pressing his wings against the dock for leverage, they managed to hoist a rusty, oblong capsule of sorts from beneath the water.

As it broke the surface inch by inch, Ditzy’s took note of its unfamiliar design: there were no windows, although the outline of a sealable door was visible on its side; it was only large enough to fit three averaged-sized ponies inside, if they didn’t mind getting a bit cozy; the back end, facing Manehattan, was adorned with what looked like a household fan sporting three large propellers inside a wiry cage; and the front end, facing the horizon, extended to a conical point.

“Let us hope there is enough magic in the something to carry us home,” the blue stallion remarked through gritted teeth, heaving the strange vessel onto the dock.

Ditzy’s eye swept back and forth between the metal monstrosity and the unattended wicker basket. The incidental gurgles of a curious foal were emanating from it. Her wings itched to dive forward, take the basket’s handle in her jaws, and hide among the skyscrapers until the next train to Ponyville.

Several thoughts stopped her from acting. Simply taking the foals from the abductors would not solve the problem. The root of the weed would still thrive. Alula had to be questioned.

Then again, the trip to Haissan could be made at any time. Would it not be wise to rescue the foals at such an ample opportunity, return them to their parents, and make the journey with their safety ensured?

Yet Ditzy could not bring herself to make that saving dive. She struggled in her mind, trying to push her innermost thoughts aside, trying to convince herself that the wicked little voice keeping her wings tucked in was wrong.

This is her fault, it said. You can blame this on her. She had the chance to save the twins—she had the basket in her hooves, and she gave it back to them. You can ruin her game. You can remind her how much it hurts to fail.

So instead of grabbing the basket, Ditzy continued to mop at a clean spot of the dock as she watched the foalnappers open the metal vessel’s door. They clambered in quite awkwardly, pulled the cooing basket in behind them, shut the door with a heavy clang, and the ship rolled into the water.

Ditzy dropped the mop and peered over the edge. The water was far from clear, but a faint glow of purplish magic and a sudden eruption of frothy bubbles informed her that the pod’s propeller had started to spin. The trail sped off to the west as the oblong submarine rocketed beneath the ocean, carrying the stolen foals far out of Ditzy’s reach.

Instead of guilt, to her surprise, a cold smile was the mailmare’s only reaction.


Twilight Sparkle was soaked to the bone by the time she reached Sugarcube Corner.

“Pinkie Pie!” she shouted as soon as she stepped inside. “Where are you?”

The party was waning but there were still enough ponies who gave Twilight unsure glances for her to feel embarrassed.

“Hey, Twilight!” Spike greeted from across the room, waddling up to his caretaker. “What’s up?”

“Spike, where’s Pinkie Pie?” Twilight asked professionally.

The dragon raised an eyebrow. “Uh… upstairs, I think. She went to get more balloons.”

Twilight frowned. “I thought the party was ending.”

“It is,” Spike said with a happy shrug. “But you know Pinkie Pie.”

Twilight could only nod at that. “Excuse me, Spike,” she said, darting between pockets of chatting ponies and bolting up the Corner’s staircase. At the top she noticed Pinkie’s door slightly ajar and barged in uninvited.

“Pinkie Pie!” she yelled, startling the earth pony. The balloon between her hooves slipped away from her mouth and spun around the room with an obnoxious whine for five whole seconds.

“Hi, Twilight!” Pinkie chirped, grabbing an unfilled balloon from an enormous bag dragged halfway out from under her bed. “Wanna help?”

Twilight observed the top of Pinkie’s bed, overflowing with what must have been close to three dozen colorful balloons.

“Did you blow all those up yourself?” she asked, pointing at the horde.

Pinkie nodded, unable to speak due to the half-filled favor dangling from her lips. When it was as large as the others, she made a blur of her hooves that somehow tied a knot in the plastic and tossed it onto the top of the pile.

“Did you need something?” Pinkie asked, eyeing Twilight’s dripping mane with worry. “Did Dinky get home all right?”

“Yes, Dinky’s fine,” Twilight assured her, running a hoof over her matted hair. “And also, yes, I do need something. From you.”

“Oooooh! What is it? How can I help? I love to help my friends!” Pinkie rattled off, picking another empty balloon from the bag.

“I need you to tell me everything you know about that book you gave me.”

“What book?” She started to fill the blue balloon.

The Complete Works of Bluish Carol.”

Pinkie gasped, sucking in all of the air she had pushed into the balloon. Her body inflated momentarily, making her shining blue eyes bulge in Twilight’s direction. A huge grin pulled at the lips pressed tightly around the neck of the balloon while every drop of air in Pinkie’s lungs siphoned back into it. An excited hum came from the party pony’s throat as the blue ball in her face grew larger and larger, twice the size of any of the balloons behind her.

“Pinkie?” Twilight asked unsurely, watching the balloon continue to grow with equally expanding apprehension.

The blue plastic burst with a terrific crack. The impossible amount of air it had been storing was thrown into Twilight’s face, pushing back her cheeks and eyelids while completely drying out her mane. The force of the blast affected each of the existing balloons as well, causing a chain reaction behind a positively glowing Pinkie Pie that very much resembled fireworks.

“YOU READ IT?” she thundered gleefully above the pops of her balloons.

Twilight waited for the room to settle before answering in a tiny voice. “Not all of it,” she coughed, smoothing down her windswept bangs, “but enough to make me curious.”

Somehow, Pinkie’s smile broadened even more. “Good,” she said, nodding. “That’s very good. Curiosity is key.”

Twilight tilted her head. “Huh?”

Pinkie cleared her throat. “So… what did you read? What do you wanna know?” She couldn’t help from bouncing on the back of her hooves. “Oh, I’m so excited you read it! This makes me so happy!”

Trying to ignore her (hardly) unusual enthusiasm, Twilight presented her first of many queries.

“How did Bluish Carol know about the creatures of Tartarus?”

Pinkie’s excitement dropped with her jaw. “You… you know about that?”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Pinkie, of course I know about that. I’m Princess Celestia’s personal student.” She narrowed her gaze and took a step toward her friend. “How do you know about that?”

Pinkie’s attitude had shifted dramatically. She bit her lower lip, glancing around the room and shuffling her weight from side to side. “I, uh… that is, I read about… er, the book…”

Twilight closed the gap between them and placed a hoof on Pinkie’s quivering shoulder. “Pinkie, what’s going on? If you know something about Tartarus, or something that Carol knew about Tartarus, you need to tell me. It could be very dangerous, or very important knowledge at the least!”

Pinkie’s pupils widened and she shook her lowered head. “I don’t know much about Tartarus, Twilight. Neither did Bluish.” A modest smile skewed her lips. “But I know about its creatures. I know a lot about its creatures.”

Twilight’s eyebrows knitted. “How? Tell me, Pinkie.”

The earth pony grimaced. “You won’t believe me—”

“At this point, Pinkie, I’ll believe—”

Pinkie interrupted Twilight by grabbing her around the middle and turning her toward the rectangular mirror hung upon the bedroom wall.

“You won’t believe me,” she said again, “unless I show you.”

She began to push Twilight toward the glass, scraping her hooves over the floor.

“What are you doing, Pinkie?” Twilight asked with mild concern.

“Remember what you said earlier, Twilight? About being curious?”

Twilight gulped. “Yes.”

“Well, I need you to be very, very curious right now.”

Her front hooves touched against the base of the wall. Pinkie kept pushing.

“What do you mean?” Twilight implored.

Pinkie pressed a hoof against the back of Twilight’s head and slammed it into the mirror.

“Ow!” Twilight yelped, cringing as her cheek was squished against the pane of glass. “Pinkie, what are you doing?”

“Curiouser, Twilight!” Pinkie said happily. “You’ve got to be curiouser!”

With a surge of magic, Twilight heaved Pinkie Pie onto her bed in the corner. Twilight backed away from the mirror and rubbed her flattened cheek.

“You’re crazy!” she yelled at her frowning friend. “What the hoof was that about?”

Pinkie stumbled off her bed, slipping on some of the remnants of three dozen popped balloons. “I was trying to show you the—”

“Stay away from me!” Twilight yelled, backing through the open doorway. “You’re crazy, Pinkie Pie!”

She turned and galloped down the stairs, leaving Pinkie frowning.

11 - My Nose Hurts

View Online

Chapter Eleven
My Nose Hurts

“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.”

“How many times are you going to say that?”

“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.”

“Come on, Daring, they’re getting away!”

“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

“Pretty pink princess ponies prancing perpendicular-that’s-twenty-five-GO-GO-GO!”

Daring ripped through the air with a mighty swish of her wings. Her excited laughter ricocheted off the nearby skyscrapers and caused several ponies on the ground to look up.

“Finally!” Rainbow yelled, catching up to Daring with a few swift beats of her own feathered appendages. At the adventuress’ side she asked, “How are we going to find them now?”

“Easy!” Daring cackled, pointing ahead with a hoof. “Weren’t you paying attention? I pushed the basket closer to the cripple so he would have to carry it. The extra weight is hard on the wings, and did you see how many of his feathers were about to fall out from grinding against the ground all the time?” She shot Rainbow a confident grin. “They took a pretty sharp turn around that brownish building. I’ll bet every bit I own that there’s a nice trail of blue feathers for us to follow.”

Rainbow bit her lip. “What, like, floating in the air?”

“Stuck to the buildings!” she corrected as they followed the foalnappers’ path, barreling around the corner of an old copper tower. “Y’ever heard of static electricity? Those feathers must be charged to the brim from being walked on all the time.”

Rainbow surveyed the side of the building with a skeptic squint. “I don’t see any—” Her eyes fell on an oval spot some forty feet down the side of the building. She gasped and dove to the blemish, snatching it from the wall with her forehooves. “Holy guacamole! You were right! There’s a feather right here!” She looked to her left and noticed more of the plumes stuck at different levels along the skyscraper. “And there’s another! And another!”

Daring hovered at her side and gave her back a mighty slap below the wings. “What did you I tell you, kid? I know exactly what I’m doing!”

Donning a determined grin, Daring took off along the trail of feathers. With a conflicted sense of hope burning in her chest, Rainbow found a smile of her own as she flew after her hero.

The trail of feathers continued along a shorter, greyer tower. The pegasi companions whooshed past all the sticking plumes, gliding from building to building, dropping lower and closer to the ground, until they found themselves approaching the northernmost docks of the Manehattan harbor.

Rainbow’s irises shrunk with realization. Even Daring began to look nervous.

“They went... back to the docks?” Rainbow asked.

“I thought for sure they’d hide in the city...” Daring mumbled, picking up speed with three extra flaps.

The duo landed around the last blue feather lying discarded by a stack of salty crates. They stared at it, looked one another in the eyes, and slowly turned their gaze toward the expanse of greyish ocean.

“Do you think they—” Daring started to ask.

“Got away?” a fuming voice inquired from above.

Daring and Rainbow whipped their heads toward the noise. On top of the crates stood a blonde, grey pegasus clad in a green collared shirt and a battered pith helmet, narrowing her wonky eyes at both the startled pegasi.

Daring couldn’t help but smile. “Ditzy! You did come!”

Ditzy snorted. She jumped off the pile and landed hard on all four of her hooves, twisting her head to glare at Daring with one focused eye.

“Where are the foals?” she asked coldly.

As beads of sweat gathered just below her hat, Daring gulped and tried to hold her smile. “Uh... they’re around here somewhere. The kid and I were hot on their trail just a minute ago—”

“Have you seen the foals, Daring?” Ditzy asked with intended menace.

“Well...” Daring readjusted her hat and stared at the blue feather next to Ditzy’s tail. “Uh, not expressly....”

Ditzy scowled and turned to Rainbow. “Have you seen the foals, Rainbow Dash?”

The blue pegasus’ ears drooped. “Well, uh... see, I actually had the bas—”

Daring swiftly kicked her partner in the ribs, silencing the Element of Loyalty with a sharp cough.

“Look, Sis, it’s cute that you wanna help...” Daring started.

“Oh, so it’s cute now? What happened to ‘I don’t need you’ and ‘I’m better off without you’?”

“Still true,” Daring answered with a shrug. “What I was going to say is, Rainman and I have this under control, and you followed us when I made the consequences very clear.” She lowered her brow. “When I find those twins and we get back to Ponyville, everypony’s gonna know your dirty little secret.”

Rainbow took a step back from the sisters. “Secret? What secret?”

A cold sneer stretched over Daring’s teeth. “What d’ya think, Sis? Should I start the unveiling here and now?”

“How about I do a little unveiling of my own first?” Ditzy’s hard expression had not faltered under Daring’s threats. “The foals are gone.”

Daring blinked. “Huh?”

Ditzy pointed out over the water. “I just watched the foalnappers take them into a submarine and head for the horizon.”

Rainbow’s knees wobbled and the color drained from her face.

With sweat now dripping down her temples, Daring shook her head. “No... no, you’re lying. They were... they were just here, we just had them...”

Ditzy slammed her hoof into the dock hard enough that the old wood cracked. “You actually had them, didn’t you? Rainbow had the foals in her hooves and you gave them back, didn’t you?”

Daring looked to Rainbow for support, but the blue mare was teetering precariously.

“I... I didn’t think that...”

Ditzy roared and threw her helmet at the base of the seaweed crates. “You idiot! This is just like the time you reset the whole temple just so you could be the one to excavate the Sapphire Stone!”

Rainbow snapped back to full alert. “What!?”

“You remember that, Daring?” Ditzy continued, spittle hanging from her quivering lips. “Do you remember falling into that snake pit? Remember how the walls were closing in, how you were almost crushed?”

Daring grit her teeth and removed her own helmet, casting it beside her sister’s.

Rainbow’s lungs started working as if she was flying the race of her life. “But you got out, right? Y-you used your hat, you got the statue back from Ahuitzotl—”

Ditzy barked a short, cruel laugh. “Please, Rainbow Dash! You can’t seriously still think she’s the real Daring Do!”

“Shut up,” Daring growled.

“How did you really escape that pit?” Ditzy asked. “Can you remember, Daring?”

“Shut up!” she said again, jerking her head in Rainbow’s direction and clicking her tongue. “What’s that you said about breaking hearts, again?”

Ditzy didn’t listen. “I pulled your worthless hide out, Daring. You put yourself in peril, and I saved your miserable life. I saved it then, I saved it a hundred times after that, and now I have to save two innocent foals because you’re such a selfish idiot!”

Releasing an ear-splitting battlecry, Daring lunged at her sister. They tumbled to the salt encrusted dock, punching and kicking and biting one another at every conceivable chance. Many of the harbor’s patrons stopped to watch the catfight, whispering bets and predictions to each other as tufts of grey and yellow fur fluttered through the air.

Rainbow Dash was shocked stiff for longer than she thought appropriate. When her senses finally kicked back in, she immediately dove into the center of the squabble.

“Break it up!” she yelled, pushing Ditzy away. “Come on, quit it, Daring!” She shoved at her idol with a back leg. Daring smacked Rainbow aside with both of her wings and throttled Ditzy again, jabbing her several times in the neck and chin.

“The yellow one’s got it in the bag,” Rainbow heard someone in the growing audience say.

Ditzy swung her tail over her shoulder. It was just long enough to whip Daring in the eye, sending her stumbling back with a yelp. The mailmare used her wings to get airborne, swung her back legs forward, and landed a powerful buck in Daring’s sternum.

“Oooooh!” the crowd reacted, cringing from the attack. Daring skidded on her rump to the edge of the dock.

“Nah way, the grey one’s crazy!” another voice piped up. Rainbow rolled her eyes and shot forward, grabbing Ditzy from behind before she could charge the dazed Daring.

“Knock it off, Ditzy!” she said directly into the mailmare’s ear. “You guys are making a scene, and we still have to save those foals!”

“Lemme go!” Ditzy shrieked, wriggling out of Rainbow’s hold with the help of her wings. She screamed and sprung at her coughing sister, landing the blunt of her hoof on her snout. Daring fell backward into the water, splashing and spluttering as she tried to stay afloat.

“Stop it!” Rainbow implored, swooping over Ditzy’s head to help Daring. She reached down and tucked her hooves under Daring’s forelegs, hoisting the dripping wet archeologist out of the sea and setting her gently in the middle of the dock. Blood streamed with the ocean water from one of her nostrils.

“That’s enough! Both of you!” Rainbow shouted, glaring fuchsia daggers at Ditzy. At the sight of her sister’s blood, Ditzy’s eyes tilted and softened. She dropped to her haunches and rubbed her bruising chin, quivering with adrenaline and shame.

“And all of you, get outta here!” Rainbow yelled at the crowd. Some of them looked confused; she heard a few ponies ask “Who won?” and the clinking of bits. When none of them left, she expelled a heavy sigh and tried her best to ignore their stares.

She tended to Daring first, making sure the mare was conscious and tearing off a piece of her own collar to press against her bleeding snout. Before a minute had passed, Daring was back on her hooves, holding the fabric to her nose and giving Ditzy dirty looks from a safe distance.

Rainbow approached Ditzy warily and took a seat directly in front of the dejected pegasus. “What the hay happened there?” she asked quietly.

“I got mad,” she moaned.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I caught that much. Did you really see them get away with the foals?”

Ditzy’s eyes filled with tears. “I... I let them go.”

Daring scrambled awkwardly to Rainbow’s side. “What was that?” she asked in a nasally voice.

“I could have stopped them,” Ditzy said as tears dripped from her eyes onto the wooden planks, “but I didn’t. I let them go.” One of her eyes met Daring’s for less than a second. “I wanted you to fail so badly that I....” She sniffed. “I heard them say you gave the foals back, and I wanted you to feel horrible for doing it. So I let them go. I let them get away.” She groaned with rage at herself and covered her face with her hooves.

A hard lump lodged itself in Daring’s throat and she looked at the horizon with darkened eyes. Rainbow ran a hoof across her face.

“So lemme get this straight,” she said, turning first to Daring. “You’re not Daring Do.”

“I am!” Daring defended, but her voice grew weaker with every word. “I just made up some of the stuff in my books....”

“And you,” Rainbow said to Ditzy, “used to be her partner? You went on all those adventures?”

Ditzy nodded behind her hooves.

Rainbow blinked a few times before continuing. “So... what the hay happened to you guys?”

“I almost killed her, and she stole the love of my life,” Daring explained succinctly.

“In that order,” Ditzy added emphatically.

Rainbow blanched. “Whoa, what!?”


Dinky clenched her jaw and pulled back her lips, pressing her hooves firmly against the tabletop as the tendons of her neck protruded.

“That’s it! You’ve almost got it!” Twilight Sparkle encouraged, clapping her hooves together. “Your horn is sparking!”

The library door swung open. Twilight looked to scold the incomer for rudely slamming her door but was met instead with a surprising gust of wind. It blew her mane into a tangled mess and fluttered the pages Dinky was trying to magically turn.

The little unicorn yelped and jumped away as the strange wind slammed the book shut. Both ponies cringed and waited for another burst of air; none came. They glanced at each other unsurely before Twilight approached the door. She peeked outside through the morning light and, seeing nopony, shut the door with her magic as she trotted back to Dinky’s side.

“Well, that was unusual,” Twilight remarked. “I’ve never had a problem with wind here before. The latch must be faulty.” She frowned. “I’ll have to get Spike to repair that.”

“Where is he?” Dinky asked, rubbing her aching horn.

“He must have stayed at Sugarcube Corner last night,” Twilight said, glancing through a window in the bakery’s direction. “I ought to go over there soon and find him....” She bit her lip and shook her head, releasing a heavy sigh. “Well, let’s try this one more time before I go,” she said to Dinky, opening the book to its middle.

The door opened again, much softer this time, and a trio of colorful fillies walked in.

“Howdy, Twilight!” Apple Bloom greeted.

“Hello, girls.” Twilight smiled sweetly. “What brings you here?”

“We came for the Dinkster,” Scootaloo said, waving at the periwinkle pony.

“What happened to your mane?” Sweetie Belle asked, trying not to snicker at Twilight’s windswept strands.

Twilight had to laugh at herself. “We had a draft,” she said, shrugging.

“Can I go play with them, Miss Twilight?” Dinky asked. “Please?”

“Well...” Twilight took one sad glance at the unturned pages of the small textbook. She shook her head with a quiet giggle and said, “Yes, of course you can, Dinky. We’ll practice more when you get home.”

Dinky beamed. “Thanks, Miss Twilight!” she squealed, dropping from her stool and bolting across the length of the room to her friends.

“Take care of her, girls,” Twilight said with an expectant expression.

“We will, Twilight!” Apple Bloom promised. “Don’tchu worry none.”

The four fillies hurried out the front door. Dinky was sure to shut it gently behind her, making Twilight chortle. She was such a thoughtful little pony.

Left alone in the library, Twilight took note of the time. It was midmorning; almost twenty hours had passed since Ditzy, Daring, and Rainbow had left for Manehattan. And less than fifteen hours ago, Pinkie Pie had slammed her face against reflective glass.

Twilight took a long, deep breath and blew out a humiliated sigh. There were so many things she needed to do, but her mind felt too frazzled for any of them. Absentmindedly, she pushed the textbook around the central tabletop and accidentally bumped it against another small volume. The book fell to the ground with a thump, drawing in Twilight’s attention. She lifted it with her magic and gasped at the title: Daring Do and the Poison Whispered Kiss.

“Oh my gosh! I almost forgot!”

She cantered to her reading desk and made herself as comfortable as possible, effortlessly opening the book to its first pages with a spell that once caused her much strain as a filly.

“Let’s see what you can teach me, Daring,” Twilight mumbled at the novel. “Who is Ditzy Doo?”


“Do you love her?” Daring asked.

The meekest of smiles adorned the Sultan’s mouth. “I love all of my subjects.”

“She’s your servant,” Daring corrected.

“And she lives under my roof, in the country I rule,” Alula added. “She is as much one of my subjects as anypony else.”

Daring snorted and turned away, staring into Luna’s blanket of stars that twinkled over Haissan. “You treat her different,” she finally continued.

“Different than whom?”

“Your other servants,” Daring said, turning her head further from the alicorn. “And me.”

The Sultan was silent for a while. Daring feared she had upset him and pawed nervously at the balcony’s granite beneath her hooves.

“Allow me to ask you a question, Miss Do,” Alula finally spoke, as respectfully as ever. As Daring turned to face him, he did the same, so that their sparkling eyes met only inches apart.

“Do you love me?”

Daring’s stomach tightened. She felt the sweat bead along her hairline and she suddenly hated the way it had been styled for the evening. Tugging at the edges of her silvery dress, Daring tried to explain herself. “I-I...”

Alula waited patiently, smiling at her all the while.

“You’ve been very kind to me,” she blurted. “For two whole months now I’ve lived in your palace and learned of your country. I’ve learned so much more about its ponies and its culture than I’d ever have thought to do. I’ve made many dear friends... but none like you.”

Her voice cracked, and she cleared her throat before continuing, shifting her eyes from star to distant star.

“My life has been so full of adventure that I’ve never had the time or opportunity to... fall in love,” she choked. “Not since I got my Cutie Mark have I found myself attracted to a stallion. And yet...”

She stopped to breathe. Dark grey strands of her mane were slipping out of their extravagant braids and high-set bun.

“And then this evening... inviting me to the Ball and... and dancing with me....” Hesitantly, she turned her burning face to his again, gazing deeply into his soft, periwinkle eyes. “Do I love you, Alula? What do you think?”

He inhaled slowly through his nose. “I believe you do,” he whispered.

Daring gulped. “So do I,” she squeaked, her ears flattening against the sides of her head. In a sudden burst of frustration, she spun around and marched to the edge of the balcony, looking out over Alula’s glittering kingdom.

“Everypony in Haissan is celebrating tonight,” she said loud enough for him to hear. “They’re merrymaking to a holiday I didn’t know existed until today. They’ve looked forward to this day for a whole year, and I still barely understand it.” She bit her lip without turning around. “I’m not one of them, Alula. I’m not one of your beloved subjects, nor am I a devoted servant. I’m certainly no Tenutherut.”

“We don’t have to talk about her,” the Sultan said.

“Well, why shouldn’t we? I mean... she’s perfect!” She grunted and slammed her hooves against the balcony’s railing. “She’s beautiful and hilarious and hardworking. She does everything you ask her to do, exactly as you ask it. And the way you look at her....” Daring cringed and clenched her jaw, gathering her emotions.

“How do I look at her?” the Sultan inquired with genuine curiosity.

In response, Daring slowly turned and gazed upon the Sultan with a look of love and desperate longing. To her utter surprise, the look upon his handsome features mirrored hers exactly.

“Like that,” she answered breathlessly.

The Sultan rose from his pillow and took three deliberate steps toward Daring. She stayed frozen to the balcony, watching his approach with large, ruby eyes.

“I love all of my subjects, Daring,” he whispered. Her name sounded musical on his tongue. “But it takes a greater love for me to welcome a guest to Haissan’s most distinguished social gathering. And you, Daring? You are far more to me than a guest.”

She gulped. As the Sultan lowered his eyelids, her lips began to quiver. The steady rhythm of her heart became a wild thundering as he took one more step, placing his chiseled face quite near the archaeologist's.

“Alula...” she managed to say before his lips pressed against hers. Her eyelids fluttered as she took one last look at the warm night’s glowing starscape.

“My, that must be a good read!”

Twilight jumped at the voice from behind. She whirled around to see Ponyville’s schoolteacher smiling back at her, balancing a paper bag behind her withers.

“Oh, hello, Cheerilee,” Twilight wheezed, lifting a hoof to her chest. “You startled me.”

“Sorry,” said the teacher, wincing. “I didn’t mean to. You were nose-to-page with that book, Twilight! Do you mind sharing the title?”

Twilight blushed. “It’s, uh... it’s actually the latest Daring Do book.” She lifted it in her magic to show Cheerilee the cover.

To Twilight’s surprise, her friend sucked in a delighted gasp. “You’re reading it, too? I was up all last night reading the school’s copy!”

“You were?”

“Yes! All the books come to me before being shelved in the schoolhouse, you know, for an inspection of sorts. I have to make sure every book is appropriate for the children. Poison Whispered Kiss was quite a ways down on my list, but I just had to move it to first priority after what happened yesterday.” She leaned closer to Twilight to a conspiratorial smirk and whispered, “I met Daring Do!”

Twilight giggled. “So did I, Cheerilee.”

Though her face betrayed her disappointment, Cheerilee moved on. “I can’t believe she’s a real pony! And a downright sweetheart at that!”

“Sweetheart?” Twilight guffawed. “Are you sure you met Daring Do?”

Cheerilee’s eyes widened. “Of course! Why? Was she rude to you?”

“Not really,” Twilight admitted. “She was pretty snarky, though. And she sure has it out for her sister.”

“Her sister?”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. “She didn’t tell you? She was in Ponyville visiting her sister, Ditzy Doo.”

“Ditzy?” Cheerilee squeaked. “The mailmare?”


Cheerilee gasped again. “She did mention visiting an old friend, but she didn’t say anything about Ditzy being her sister! Oh, my...”

“The craziest part is,” Twilight continued, tapping the book suspended in the air, “I think she and Ditzy used to be close partners. They went on all these adventures together, but Daring didn’t put her in the books.”

Cheerilee moved forward. “Why not?”

“I don’t know yet,” Twilight said, “but Ditzy told me reading this would help me understand.”

“How far along are you?”

Twilight checked the novel. “I just finished Chapter Nine.”

Cheerilee snorted. “I’m a little ahead of you. Good luck with Chapter Ten.”

Twilight tilted her head. “How do you mean?”

The schoolteacher rolled her eyes. “It’s way too dramatic and everypony breaks character. I think Daring tried too hard to push the story along.” She shrugged. “It gets better after that, though.”

“Hmm.” Twilight set the book back on her reading desk and faced Cheerilee properly. “Well, when we’ve both finished, we’ll have to compare notes and figure out what’s going on.”

Cheerilee chuckled. “Well, you’ll have to catch me up quite a bit. I’m afraid I’m still lost.”

“That’s fine,” Twilight said with a wave of her hoof. “What brought you to the library this afternoon?”

Shifting the package on her back, Cheerilee explained, “I’m looking for Dinky. Spike said she’s staying here for a while? I put a bag of goodies together to thank her for her excellent performance yesterday.”

Twilight took the bag in a field of magic and set it by the staircase. “Cheerilee, that’s so sweet of you! She’s out with the Crusaders right now, but I’m sure she’ll be delighted when she comes back.” She creased her brow and asked, “Where did you see Spike?”

“At Sugarcube Corner,” Cheerilee said. A small frown pulled at her lips. “He and Pinkie are helping the Cakes with all the orders, but he’s doing most of the work. The Cakes are so distraught, for good reason, and poor Pinkie didn’t seem herself.”

Twilight winced. “That’s probably my fault,” she admitted, lowering her head.

Cheerilee’s brow raised. “How’s that?”

“She... that is, I....” Twilight sighed and kicked her hoof against the ground. “I was stressed and anxious last night when I went there to ask her some questions about a book. She... was being Pinkie Pie, and I overreacted.” She glanced at the clock. “I’ve been trying to build up the courage to go apologize all day, but...”

“But what, Twilight?”

The unicorn bit her lip. “She pushed me into a mirror.”


“She grabbed my head,” she said, demonstrating with a hoof between Cheerilee’s ears, “and squished my face against the mirror in her room. She kept telling me to be curiouser.”

Cheerilee blinked worriedly. “Curious about what?”

“I don’t know!” Twilight yelled. “It was so weird! I mean, Pinkie Pie is Pinkie Pie, but... it was like she was trying to push me through the mirror. It was too much for me.”

She trotted to one of the windows. Cheerilee followed unsurely.

“I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical explanation,” Twilight continued. “Or... at least as logical as Pinkie can be. I’m just a little nervous to confront her. It was a very strange experience.”

“I can imagine,” Cheerilee said sympathetically, placing a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder, “but you’re right to go apologize. Knowing Pinkie Pie, I’m sure she didn’t mean you any harm. Explaining yourself to her will help both of you feel better.”

The studious mares exchanged smiles. “Thank you, Cheerilee,” Twilight said, raising her head a little higher. “I think I’ll go to the Corner right now.”

“I think that’s a fine idea,” Cheerilee encouraged. “And when Pinkie Pie explains herself, you must come find me! Pushing her friends through mirrors? Why, if I didn’t know better, I’d call that gypsy magic!”


“You’re in love with Alula?” Rainbow hissed.

Daring gave her an incredulous stare. “How far did you get in the book?”

Rainbow shrugged. “I dunno, like... six chapters, maybe?”

Swishing her tail back and forth through the water over the edge of the dock, Daring rolled her eyes, cringing at the pain that shot through her swelling left eye.

“Daring and I both fell for the Sultan,” Ditzy explained to Rainbow Dash. The three pegasi were lying on their bellies at the northern dock, waiting for the passenger ship to Haissan. Rainbow had placed herself between the sullen sisters. “I didn’t read much of the book,” Ditzy continued, “but from what I gathered, she portrayed me as a servant girl named Theothernut.”

“Tenutherut,” Daring corrected testily. “It’s Haissanic for ditzy.”

Ditzy peeked around Rainbow Dash to give her sister an icy glare. “Yeah, I know.”

Rainbow reached out a hoof and pushed Ditzy back to a spot where she couldn’t see Daring. The mailmare huffed and looked away, dropping her purplish chin into her folded forelegs.

“Gosh, Ditzy,” Rainbow said, shaking her head. “I feel like I just met you. This is crazy.”

“My nose hurts,” Daring grunted.

“Why didn’t you tell anypony?” Rainbow asked, ignoring Daring’s whines.

Ditzy’s eye swiveled up and around to meet Rainbow’s. “Lots of reasons. Safety, for one; we made a lot of enemies back then.”

Daring laughed in nostalgic agreement.

“I was ashamed, too,” Ditzy growled. “Ashamed of who my sister really was and what she had done to me and my family. I didn’t want to go through explaining the whole story. Anypony who knows the name Daring Do thinks she’s some amazing heroine. Explaining the truth and crushing their dreams... I couldn’t do it.”

Rainbow’s eye twitched at the phrase “crushing their dreams”, but she pushed her own anger down. “So you think Alula took the foals?” Rainbow asked, focused entirely on Ditzy. “Why?”

Daring piped up. “Yeah, Ditz. What does he want with a couple of baby earth ponies?”

Rainbow finally swiveled her neck to frown at Daring. “They’re not earth ponies! The boy is a pegasus and the girl’s a unicorn.”

Daring’s tail slapped against the water, spraying all three of the ponies with mist. “What!? But their parents are both...”

Her eyes and mouth widened in sync. “Oh my gosh...”

Rainbow’s heart began to race. “What?” She whipped her head back and forth between Daring and Ditzy. “What is it?”

Daring bit her lip and lowered her head. Ditzy stared unblinking at the ocean’s bright horizon.

“Will somepony tell me why the Sultan of Haissan wants the foals of a village baker?” Rainbow yelled. She was grateful that the crowd had finally dispersed.

“They took the wrong foals,” Ditzy answered without turning her head. “Leave it at that.”

Daring just nodded. Rainbow’s frustration rose in her chest, but she kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want to spawn another hooffight.

Several minutes of silence later, Rainbow followed Ditzy’s gaze over the ocean. “What are we waiting for? Where’s the passenger ship?” she asked. “It’s supposed to be here any minute, and I don’t see the first sign of it.”

“I’ve been trying to tell you, kid,” Daring said as her blood-crusted nostril twitched, “the ships that carry ponies don’t come across the ocean.”

Confused, Rainbow offset her jaw. “What the heck does that mean? There’s no ship coming?” She rose to her hooves and swept her eyes over the entire wooden harbor, stretching far toward the south with scores of narrow docks reaching into the water. “Well, I don’t see any boats here, either. Are we gonna have to sew our own sails or something?”

A burly stallion standing nearby chuckled, low and slow. “I’m wagerin’ ye’ve never crossed the ocean a’fore, lass,” he drawled.

Daring snickered at Rainbow’s perplexed expression. “Gee, Mister,” the yellow pony teased, “whatever gave you that idea?”

She chortled along with the stallion at Rainbow’s expense, making the fastest mare in Equestria seethe beneath her brow.

“You can’t sail across the ocean anymore, Rainbow,” Ditzy kindly explained.

“Why not?”

The laughing stallion trotted nearer, revealing a short grey beard around his rotting teeth. “Sails wouldn’t do a pony any good out thar. The winds haven’t been workin’ fer nigh unto ten years now.”

Rainbow blinked. “The what hasn’t been working?”

“The winds, lass,” the stallion said, wiggling his hoof through the air as if to represent a breeze. “There hasn’t been a gust of it to cross these waters fer eight whole years.”

Daring and Ditzy shifted uncomfortably at Rainbow’s sides. Something tried to make itself apparent in Rainbow’s brain, but none of the right synapses clicked and she was left practically clueless.

“But... I can feel the wind right now.” She spread her wings and watched the feathers vibrate in the breeze. “See? There are gusts all over the place!”

“The ocean cools the air and the city heats it up,” the stallion went on with a crooked grin. “Creates a bit of a draft circlin’ back and forth between ‘em. The further onto the water ya go, the less of a wind there is, until the air’s as still and dead as any lifeless thing.”

Rainbow’s wings slumped to her sides. “So... if the winds don’t blow...” She stomped a hoof. “Then how in the hay do we get across the ocean?”

In answer to her question, a shadow engulfed the harbor. Each waiting pony glanced upward to where the Sun was shining, blocked by the silhouette of some enormous object. As Rainbow squinted past the light that bordered the enormity, her legs threatened to give out from beneath her as her lungs drew in a slow, awed breath.

“Sweet Celestia...” she swore.

Daring smirked, pointed to the looming ship descending on the harbor, and said to her new partner, “We take that thing.”

12 - My Fashionably Zippered Pockets

View Online

Chapter Twelve
My Fashionably Zippered Pockets

“Never seen the ocean, never ridden an airship… I’m starting to think I picked the wrong partner,” Daring teased, nudging Rainbow Dash in the side.

“Why would I have ridden in an airship?” Rainbow asked testily. “I have a perfectly good pair of wings right here!”

“Yeah, so do I,” Daring said, flexing her feathery limbs, “but that doesn’t mean we can fly across the whole freakin’ ocean.”

Rainbow scowled. “I’ve never had to cross the ocean before.”

“Which is exactly why I said…” Daring sing-songed, bouncing her head left and right with the rhythm of her words, “that I picked a poopy partner.”

“Oh, shut up, Daring,” Ditzy snapped. “No pegasus in Ponyville has ever ridden an airship or crossed the ocean. Rainbow Dash is the best partner you possibly could have found.”

Rainbow couldn’t help but grin, even as Daring snorted. “Shoulda searched outside of Ponyville…”

Yeah, you should have. It’s too bad you didn’t have any sisters on your tail offering that exact advice.” Ditzy throated an agitated grunt and picked up her pace, cutting through the crowd ahead of Rainbow and Daring and nearing the top of the ramp.

“Boy, is she something,” Daring complained. She nudged Rainbow’s side again with the joint of her left wing. “I’m just messin’ with ya, kid. You’re a fine partner. I’m glad I get to show you the ropes of this stuff. Air travel is awesome.”

“I’m well aware,” Rainbow said, flicking Daring’s wing away with one of her own.

Daring laughed. “Nah, kid, you have no idea. Sure, flying on your own is great and all, but wait ‘til this thing breaks the clouds.” She shook her head and whistled. “Now that’s a sensation.”

“It can’t be that different than just looking over the edge of Cloudsdale,” Rainbow guessed.

Daring clicked her tongue with a wag of her brow as if to say, “We’ll see about that.”

The wooden docks of the harbor practically floated on the water. There was barely a leg’s length between their wooden planks and the surface of the sea. The enormous aircraft, hovering steadily more than twenty feet above the water, had lowered half a dozen narrow ramps from along the curve of its deck. The ends of the ramps connected with the ends of the docks, and ponies ascended them in compact droves.

Rainbow’s wings twitched impatiently, but Daring refused to cut in line and insisted that Rainbow remain at her side. They cantered up the northernmost ramp extending from the back end of the airship. Peeking over the edge of the ramp, Rainbow was surprised to see the ocean’s surface rippling and vibrating rather fiercely. Her eyes darted in the opposite direction to focus on the huge, oblong balloon rigged to the boat with veritable miles of rope.

“The zeppelin’s to keep it in the air,” Daring began to explain, “but there are boosters on the bottom that give it speed and direction, too.”

Rainbow gave her a puzzled glance. “Boosters?”

“Yeah, you know: magic generators.”

Rainbow blinked.

Choking out a laugh, Daring adjusted her pith helmet with a wing. “Don’t tell me you’ve never even seen an airship.”

“Sure I have!” Rainbow said. “I see a bunch of ‘em in Canterlot whenever I visit. But they don’t have any… magic boosters.”

“Those fancy yachts?” Daring asked in a mocking tone. “Heh. Those painted buckets of bolts are good for nothin’ but an earth pony pleasure cruise. This thing’ll carry hundreds of ponies from one country to another in a day and half.”


“Yeah, it’s pretty incre… wait, what?”

Rainbow pointed ahead, redirecting Daring’s worried glance. The end of the ramp was only a few trots ahead of them. A bulky, scowling mare in a dark blue vest was allowing ponies to enter the main deck on either side of her—as soon as she checked their boarding passes. Ditzy stood off the side of the ramp, her head held low and her mane covering most of her face.

Daring sighed briefly, cleared her throat, and donned a broad, cocky smile before she approached the large earth pony mare.

“Afternoon, ma’am,” she said with a nod, aiming to walk around the sentinel.

She stopped Daring with a thick, pinkish hoof. “Ticket?” she grunted.

Daring lifted a convincingly confused-looking eyebrow. “I’m sorry, ticket? What do you mean?”

“I need to see your ticket,” the big mare clarified. Her gruff voice reminded Rainbow Dash of some of Ponyville’s construction workers.

Daring snorted, covering her mouth with a hoof. “Right, right. My ‘ticket’!” She laughed and shook her head. “Oh, that’s a good one.” With a sigh, she tried to push down the pink hoof at her chest. It didn’t budge.

“Look, lady,” Daring said a smirk, “you must be new around here. I don’t need a ticket.” She straightened her collar and leaned closer, lifting the rim of her hat just enough to give the mare a conspiratorial wink. “I’m Daring Do, of the former Sisters Doo.”

“I already tried it, Daring,” Ditzy said from her wilted position. “Ocean Liner doesn’t own the business anymore.”

A glint of panic flashed across Daring’s eyes as she turned to her sister. “What?”

Ditzy didn’t look up. “We’re off the list. Have been for more than five years, apparently.”

“Horseapples, has it been that long?” Daring mumbled under her breath. She faced the scowling pink mare with a far less confident smile. “Uh… heheh… well, all right them. How much for a ticket?”

“A hundred bits,” she answered with zero emotion.

Daring winced. “For all three of us?”

“Per pony.”

Ditzy groaned as Rainbow’s eyelids all but disappeared into her skull.

“Three hundred bits!?” she squeaked, turning to Daring. “Do we have that?”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve got three hundred bits stored away here in my fashionably zippered pockets,” Daring droned with an eye roll.

“Think you mares can hurry up?” a unicorn stallion asked from behind them. “There’s a whole line of ponies back here with our tickets ready.”

Thaysahullinaponieswithaticketsreedy,” Daring mimicked in a nasally voice. “Shut up and gimme a minute, huh?”

Once again, she turned back to the pink mare whose shoulders appeared to have widened. “We don’t have three hundred bits,” she said matter-of-factly. “How else are we gonna get on this ship?”

“You’re not,” the guardpony growled.

“Oh, come on!” Daring whined, dropping her shoulders. “Can’t we, like, swab the deck or something?”

Rainbow blanched. “What? I’m not doin’ that!”

“We’ve got a full crew,” the thick pony drawled, “and nearly a full boat. If you can’t pay for passage, you don’t ride the ship.”

Daring gurgled in frustration and darted to Ditzy’s side. “You don’t have any bits on you? Any at all?”

Ditzy shook her head. Frantically, Daring turned to Rainbow with a pleading expression, but the cyan pegasus could only shake her head.

“Ponyfeathers!” Daring yelled, stomping her hoof on the ramp.

“Hey, think you can watch the language?” the same stallion asked. “There are kids in this line.”

“What are you, the Passenger’s Spokespony for Swift and Moral Conduct?” Daring snapped at him. “Come on, kid, let’s get out of here. Ditzy, you better come, too.”

As the three of them lifted into the air, the big mare’s lips curled into a mean smirk. “See ya, Wall Eyes,” she hummed. More of Ditzy’s mane fell from her helmet to cover her hot face. Daring had to bite her tongue to keep from erupting any further.

The three of them fluttered back down the docks where a sparse number of ponies still went about their watery business. Landing by the crates of seaweed, Daring dragged a hoof over her tightly shut eyes.

“Well, this sucks,” she said. “Celestia’s saddle, I wish we were in Vanhoover.”

“Why?” asked Rainbow Dash. “Is that where you live?”

“Yeah. S’where my bank is, too.”

Ditzy was holding one hoof in front of her face and desperately trying to focus both eyes on it. A bead of sweat trailed down her neck as she asked, “Who do you—ngh—bank with?”

“Uh… something like Bite and Brittle…” she said, waving a hoof around.

“Bit and Bridle Banking?” Ditzy clarified, one eye swiveling to glare at her. “Daring, that’s a national company. They have branches all over Equestria.”

“Yeah, there’s even one in Ponyville,” Rainbow remembered. “It’s right by the mail office, I think.”

Ditzy nodded as Daring’s eyes grew wide.

“Is there a branch in Manehattan?” she asked.

Ditzy snorted, dropping her hoof. “I’m sure that if there’s one in Ponyville, they’ll have one in Manehattan.”

With a harsh flap of her wings, Daring took the air. “Well, let’s find it! Come on, we don’t have all day!”

She took off toward Manehattan proper, leaving Ditzy and Rainbow to glance at each other.

“Is she always this—”

“Clueless? Yeah.”

Rainbow smiled a little. “I was gonna say funny.”


The balance of Daring Do’s primary account was enough to make Ditzy’s jaw drop.

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Daring said breathlessly. “Pull, like, four hundred bits out of that.”

With a professional nod, the teller used her magic to write something in a log and moved away from the window separating her from three panting pegasi.

Rainbow Dash’s pupils were the size of pinpricks. “You made all that… on your adventures?” she asked.

Daring snickered. “What? No way! There’s barely a bit in that line of work, kid. Ditzy made us donate practically everything we found to museums and crap.”

“I did not!” Ditzy said. “We made more than enough money to get by, Daring.”

“Okay, we were pretty well off,” the mustard mare admitted, “but I didn’t start making the big bits until my first novel hit the market. Heheh… now that was a good looking paycheck.”

Rainbow’s eyes shifted from Daring’s brazen grin to Ditzy’s crestfallen frown with increasing concern. “Ditzy…” she started, clearing her throat. “Not to be rude or whatever, but… I always kinda thought you were poor.”

“I am poor,” the mailmare confirmed, shuffling all four of her hooves as her tail swished back and forth. “When I came back to Equestria from Haissan, I started all over in Ponyville without a single bit to my name.”

“Oh, please,” Daring guffawed, refusing to look at her sister. “You could have had all the money in the world. Don’t go mopin’ around like some kind of martyr.”

Ditzy’s features hardened. “Oh, but of course, Daring. I could have taken all the money I wanted from Alula. At the tap of my hoof, he would have bagged it right up and arranged for a luxury yacht to sail me back to Equestrian soil.”

“Geez, someone’s on a sarcasm kick,” Daring grumbled. “That’s not what I meant, Ditz, and you know it. You could have just asked me.”

Ditzy’s laugh was airy and cold. “Oh, is that right? All I had to do was write a letter to the sister who our mother hadn’t seen or heard from since Dad died?”

“Whoa, chillax!” Rainbow said, trotting to Ditzy’s side and resting a hoof on her shoulder. “I’m sorry I brought it up.”

Daring lowered her head a little. “No, she… she’s right, kid. I could have helped out.” She clicked her tongue and looked away. “I should have.”

Ditzy’s ears swiveled toward her sister, but nothing else came from the yellow mare’s mouth until the teller returned to the window with a bulging bag of coins.

“How much is in there?” she asked.

“Four hundred bits, Miss Do,” the grey unicorn answered, “just as you requested. Will that be all?”

Daring took the heavy pouch and dropped it in her saddlebag. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Would you like an updated receipt with your current balance?”

“Uh… sure, why not?” Daring said, hoisting the weighted saddlebag to the space behind her wing joints.

The unicorn scribbled a set of numbers onto a thin sheet of paper and passed it through the hole at the bottom of her window. “Have a nice day, Miss Do,” she said blandly.

“I hope to,” Daring said with a nervous smile at her companions. “Come on, slowpokes, let’s hope the ship isn’t full yet!”

She galloped to the B&B building’s front doors and burst into the streets, flying out of sight before either Rainbow or Ditzy even moved. They were too distracted by the receipt that drifted unremembered to the bank’s marble floor. The number at its bottom seemed to laugh in both their faces.

“That’s a lot of bits,” Rainbow squeaked. Ditzy could only gulp.


“But don’tcha wanna get yer Cutie Mark soon?” Apple Bloom asked. Her exasperated expression, matching those of Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo exactly, made Dinky Doo giggle into the curve of her hoof.

“I guess so,” she said with a shrug, “but I’m sure it’ll come when I’m ready for it. There’s no sense in hurrying through these years when we’re young. I’ll just keep practicing the things I know I’m good at until I find my super special talent.” She closed her eyes in a smile.

“Awwww…” Sweetie Belle cooed. “That’s such a good attitude, Dinky!”

“And a boring one!” Scootaloo rasped, sticking her tongue past her teeth in disgust. “Besides, if you already know what you’re good at, why don’t you have your Cutie Mark yet?”

Dinky tilted her head. “Just because I’m good at something doesn’t mean it’s part of who I am. Think of my mom! She’s great at delivering the mail, but she doesn’t have a letter-shaped Cutie Mark.”

“She’s not that good at delivering the mail,” Scootaloo grumbled under her breath.

“What does your momma’s Cutie Mark mean, Dinky?” Apple Bloom asked. “I’ve always wondered what special talent had to do with a bunch o’ bubbles.”

“Hmmm…” Dinky put a tiny hoof to her chin. “I dunno. I’ve never asked her.” She pulled her shoulders up to her cheeks. “But to me, it’s a reminder that our love will never pop.”

Sweetie Belle squealed. “Dinky, stop it! How can you possibly be so adorable?”

“Heehee…” The periwinkle filly flicked a humble hoof. “Oh, Sweetie Belle, you’re one to talk! You know all the colts at school are crazy about you.”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “They’re crazy about my sister, you mean.”

“I just think they’re crazy,” Scootaloo piped up, inspiring a quartet of youthful laughter.

Apple Bloom thumped her hoof absentmindedly against the trunk of the birch tree shading them all. She looked out into the quiet streets of western Ponyville and waved to Pinkie Pie in the window of Sugarcube Corner. The party pony didn’t seem to notice, staring into space.

“What d’y’all think’s wrong with Pinkie?” she asked.

“I’ve always thought she eats too much sugar,” Sweetie Belle said.

Scootaloo snorted. “No way. I’m pretty sure she got dropped as a foal.”

Apple Bloom clicked her tongue while Dinky giggled. “No, girls. I mean right now. Look at ‘er!” She pointed at the window where Pinkie stood despondent.

Dinky frowned. “Oh, dear! She looks sad.”

“Maybe the Corner ran out of ingredients,” Sweetie Belle guessed.

“Or maybe she’s thinking about the Cake twins,” Scootaloo said in sullen monotone.

The four fillies grew very still and quiet, staring with feigned interest at the grass beneath their bellies.

“Do you think they’ll… be okay?” Sweetie asked.

Apple Bloom squared her shoulders. “Sure they will! They’ve got Dinky’s mom, Rainbow Dash, and Daring Do herself lookin’ for ‘em!”

“I don’t know…” Dinky admitted, rubbing her front hooves over each other. “You remember what my mom said about Daring. I don’t think they’ll work together very well. And—no offense, Scootaloo—Rainbow Dash would be right there to save the foals if they were gonna get squished or something, but… finding foalnappers? That doesn’t really seem like her forte.”

Apple Bloom bit her lip. “Well… that might have a lick o’ truth to it.” She forced a small smile and said, “Even so, that’s one heck of a team if I ever saw one! If that crew cain’t find the Cakes’ little foals, I don’t know who could.”

Scootaloo’s head rose slowly from her forelegs. “I do,” she said.

Her friends snapped their heads toward her. “Huh?”

The orange filly’s purple eyes were glowing with epiphany. “I know a group who could find the foals faster than you can say cockatrice!”

Apple Bloom perked up. “Who?”

“A crew made up of the bestest friends who work together perfectly!”

“Who?” Sweetie Belle joined in the chorus.

“A partnership of ponies unified by friendship, awesomeness, and all-too-often tree sap!”

“Who!? Who!? Who!?” Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom pranced around their orange friend with escalating volume and excitement.

Dinky gasped and shot her hoof into the air. “Of course! The Cutie Mark Crusaders!”

“YEAH!” the CMC rejoiced in unison, leaping into the air and slapping their orange, yellow, and milky white hooves together. “CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS FOAL FINDERS, YAY!”

They dropped to the ground with equally unsatisfied expressions, scanning the grass, tree, and sky as if to find a better name.

“Cutie Mark Crusaders Cake Baby Bringer Backers?” Apple Bloom suggested.

“Cutie Mark Crusaders… Baby Acquisition Program?” Sweetie Belle squeaked.

Again, a gasp of victory expanded Dinky’s lungs. “Cutie Mark Crusaders Taken Twin Trackers!”

The trio exploded again, jumping high with a resounding cheer. They stayed suspended in the air for a moment with their hooves poised for collision and glanced expectantly at Dinky grinning below.

“Uh… ain’t ya gonna jump in?” Apple Bloom asked.

Dinky leaned back. “What?”

The Crusaders dropped from their seats in the air and landed on their rumps.

“Come on, Dinky. You’ve gotta do the cheer with us!” Sweetie Belle said.

“But… I’m not a Cutie Mark Crusader,” she said, blinking.

“You are today!” Scootaloo announced. “Dinky Doo: Honorary Cutie Mark Crusader!”

The title brought a delighted shade of violet to Dinky’s cheeks. “Golly, do you mean it? I’m honored! But…” She blushed even deeper. “I don’t know, girls… I’m not as brave as you three. And I don’t think my mommy would want me to leave Ponyville, not to mention Miss Twilight…”

“I’m sure it won’t take very long,” Sweetie Belle said. “We’re reeeally good at finding stuff.”

“Yeah! Besides, don’tcha remember? We promised yer momma and Twilight that we’d take good care o’ ya.” Apple Bloom beamed proudly. “You’ve got nothin’ to worry about. The Cutie Mark Crusaders’ll make sure no harm comes yer way.”

“It certainly sounds exciting,” Dinky admitted, smoothing down her mane. Her ears pressed against her skull. “I just… don’t wanna make Mommy sad again by running off. She told me to stay at the library.”

“But think about it, Dinky!” Scootaloo said, throwing a hoof around her friend’s shoulder. “Imagine trotting back into Ponyville with the Cake Twins on our backs, heads held high, wings outstretched! Think of how proud Rainbow Da—er—your mom will be!” She offered the filly an ear-to-ear smile. “Can you think of anything more awesome than impressing your mom?”

“Uh… yes?” Dinky pulled a wonky grin.

Scootaloo’s face fell. “Oh, come on, Dinky! You’ve gotta come with us!” She fell to her knees and pled with her front hooves. Her best friends were soon at her sides, copying her position. “You’re super smart—”

“—and funny—”

“—and cute!—”

“—and we can’t find the twins without you! And we’ve gotta find ‘em and prove to everypony how awesome we are, and how much we deserve some of their attention!”

With glistening eyes, all three of the fillies crooned, “Pleeeeeease?”

With a bubbly laugh, Dinky closed her eyes and nodded. “Okay, fine! I’ll come with you! But you have to promise we’ll be safe.”

“Of course we will!” Apple Bloom said, exploding from her knees. “All we have t’do is take the train to Manehattan, find out where yer momma went with Rainbow Dash and Daring, follow their trail, and use our super sleuthy skills to track down the Cake twins!”

“Sounds easy enough to me!” Scootaloo said. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

All four of their tiny hooves pushed off the ground a final time and connected in a central pinwheel of color. The resounding smack of the four-way hoof bump punctuated their earsplitting cheer with a bold exclamation point.



The airship itself—the giant craft secured to the floating zeppelin above—was entirely composed of wood and light metals. Its exterior paintjob of murky greens and greys blended its panels of material seamlessly, if unpleasantly, and the lack of any visible windows made Rainbow Dash uneasy. In structure, it reminded her of an old pirate ship, the kind she saw in decorations during Nightmare Night. Thanks to the early-evening Sun and the scores of everyday ponies navigating its open deck, however, the ship was far from frightening. The only pirate-y elements were the burly ponies serving in the crew.

Rainbow Dash and Ditzy arrived at the top of the ramp just as Daring finished counting out three hundred bits. The same pink, bulky mare collected them in a separate pouch and allowed the trio of pegasi to pass her undisturbed. With a collective sigh, they joined in the airborne throngs and listened to the metal ramps fold up along the outside of the hull.

“Does that mean we’re taking off already?” Rainbow asked.

“You bet, kid!” Daring thundered, laughing with relief. “That was a close call. Too close for my liking. Who knew that free intercontinental travel expired with new management, huh?” She grinned and shook her head, watching the hordes of passenger ponies move this way and that.

Rainbow gulped. “So… how does this work?” she called over the noise of the crowd. “Do we have a room or something? She didn’t give us a ticket.”

“Ooo, good point!” Daring said, whipping around to find the pink security mare, but she was already gone. “Ponyfeathers. Guess we’ll have to look around for an empty room when it’s sleepy-time.”

“Or we could just ask somepony,” Ditzy said tersely. “They keep thorough records of that kind of thing, I’m sure.”

“You mean they run a tight ship?” Daring asked, following by a torrent of self-appreciating laughter. She wiped a tear from her eye and took the air, hovering some distance above the crowd.

“Are there many other pegasi on this flight?” Ditzy asked up to her.

Daring’s eyes swept over the crowd. “Doesn’t look like it. Seems to be mostly earth ponies, actually.”

“Why are this many ponies going to Haissan?” Rainbow asked into Ditzy’s ear.

“They’re not all headed for Haissan,” Ditzy explained. “This ship goes back and forth between the North Amareican and Stirropean continents. There are several countries over there; Haissan is actually one of the smallest.”

Rainbow blinked. “Stirrope? Isn’t that, like, where the griffons live?”

Ditzy smirked. “You got it. If I remember right, you had a griffon friend visit you in Ponyville not too long ago.”

Rainbow pawed at the wooden planks beneath them. “Yeah… Gilda. She came by about a year ago, I guess. We haven’t talked since.”

Ditzy laughed through her nose. “I know how that is,” she said, swiveling one eye at her airborne sister.

Daring dropped back to her hooves and addressed her companions in a loud voice. “Might as well make ourselves comfortable. There’s a lot of heavy ponies on this rig and it’ll probably be a two day trip.”

Rainbow’s jaw fell slack. “Two days?” She turned to Ditzy. “How long do you think it’ll take the foalnappers to get across in their submarine?”

The mailmare winced. “Not two days. Probably not even one.”

Groaning, Rainbow fluttered her wings. “I can’t believe we let them get away! What if something horrible happens to them?”

“They’ll be okay,” Ditzy said with more confidence than she felt. “If Alula really is the one behind this, he wouldn’t dare hurt a couple of innocent foals.”

“And if he’s not behind it?” Rainbow asked.

Ditzy was silent.

“Then we’ll get to beat up somepony else!” Daring answered with an encouraging oomph to her voice. “So come on, girls. We’re not helping anypony by moping around the deck. Let’s go find the bar in this floating hunk of horseapples!”

She turned around and began to weave between ponies while Rainbow’s eyebrows came together.

“Bar?” she said. “There’s a bar in here?”

“There’s all sorts of venues in this kind of a ship,” Ditzy explained. “Why do you think it cost a hundred bits a pony?” She followed Daring’s lead at a far slower pace. With lowered ears, Rainbow took to the air instead, keeping an eye on the goldenrod streak snaking through the masses.

Like most ships of its size, the deck was split into two levels. The majority of its bustling passengers were swarming the lower, larger section. The upper level was accessible by two staircases on either side of the ship. The wall between them bore several doors into which ponies were pouring. Rainbow realized they led to the floors below deck. It was through the centermost portal that Daring disappeared from Rainbow’s sight, encouraging the cyan mare to dive in its direction.

“Hey, buzzard! Watch what you’re doing!” somepony screeched from below. Rainbow froze midflight and dropped her suddenly fiery gaze.

“Who said that?” she yelled, zipping over an area of several dozen ponies like a wasp. “Come on! Speak up! Who called me a frickin’ buzzard?”

“Hey, calm down, lady!” another voice called up. “Just stay on your hooves like the rest of us and you won’t have to worry about it.”

A few low voices laughed at that, fueling Rainbow’s fury.

“That’s it!” She lifted her hooves and danced back and forth in the air. “You wanna go, pal? Let’s go! Show yourself!”

The crowd went silent at the strain in her voice. Ditzy swooped in from behind and grabbed Rainbow Dash around the waist.

“Hey!” she shouted, trying to wriggle out of Ditzy’s grasp. “Lemme go!”

“Déjà vu?” Ditzy whispered into her ear. “Ignore them, Rainbow. Let’s catch up to Daring before she does anything stupid. Or anything at all, really.”

Rainbow kicked and squirmed for another couple of seconds but soon gave up, forcing herself to go limp in the mailmare’s surprisingly powerful grip. Ditzy’s wings carried them both over a scowling crowd and landed in a narrow gap some five ponylengths from the middle door. Rainbow’s limp tail flicked someone in the ear upon descent.

“Hey, watch it, featherbrain!” the mare yelled from behind while Rainbow planted her hooves on the deck. Though her face flushed, she remained silent and followed Ditzy closely. They converged with a river of ponies and rushed through the open doorway, forcing them into a dark, narrow staircase ten times more crowded than outside.

“Where does this lead?” Rainbow shouted over the harsh, contained noise.

“Bunking compartments,” Ditzy said. “Another few floors down is where we’ll find Daring.”

Rainbow dodged a random limb and narrowly avoided getting whipped in the face with a long, red mane. “How do you know that?” she asked.

Ditzy turned just enough for Rainbow to see her dimly lit grimace. “That’s where the bar is.”

Rainbow pushed past a couple of scrawny stallions and pressed herself against Ditzy’s side. “She’s not, like… an alcoholic or anything, is she?”

“Not that I know of,” Ditzy said, “but she’s always had a taste for hard cider.”

The bottom of the staircase opened into an artificially lit hallway lined on both sides by tall, horseshoe shaped doors. Rainbow and Ditzy hurried through the tiny hallway, finding it to be less crowded as they went along. Through some open doors, Rainbow took note of the small, two-cot, colorless rooms lined along the hallway. She winced at how small and uncomfortable they looked, longing for a fluffy cloud to nap on for ten minutes.

That hallway led into a larger chamber housing all sorts of refreshments: bushels of apples, tables of greens, and even a multi-shelved tray of small muffins. Ditzy eyed the pastries briefly before surveying the open doorways all around the room. It branched off into what appeared to be a dozen identical housing hallways. One portal, shaped differently than the rest, indicated another staircase. A steady stream of ponies were passing through it.

“Stay close,” Ditzy said to Rainbow.

She frowned. “Why?”

“Things might get a bit wild down there.”

She trotted onward with Rainbow right behind. “I can handle wild just fine,” Rainbow grumbled to herself. “I’m not Fluttershy.”

The next floor down was, in fact, wilder. Another chamber leading into even dimmer hallways shook with the rambunctious noise of poorer Stirrope-bound. Ditzy guided them quickly to another staircase on the opposite wall of the room. The sign above it read “18+” and bore the image of a martini glass.

Rainbow caught Ditzy by the shoulder and shouted, “Isn’t it usually twenty-one and up?”

Ditzy smirked. “Not in Stirrope!” she yelled back, and dove into the darkest stairwell yet.

Rainbow swallowed down a lump in her throat and glided after the mailmare on tense wings. “Some ropes you’re showing me, Daring,” she mumbled.

13 - Bet Your Bottom Bit

View Online

Chapter 13
Bet Your Bottom Bit

Rainbow’s muzzle wrinkled at the pungent smell of alcohol. She blinked a sting from the corners of her eyes and searched the din for Ditzy’s light grey coat. Even clothed in an old, green canvas shirt, the mailmare was easy to spot among the bar’s glum palette. Rainbow was shocked at the number of ponies already crammed in the short, wide room; the ship had barely left the harbor.

The stairway led to a small platform elevated from the rest of the bar by only a few steps. Almost the entire room was made of very dark brown wood, glowing maroon in the dim lantern light that shone from six or seven overhanging cylinders. Rainbow Dash’s shrinking pupils took in the fifty odd ponies—mostly male—standing around short tables spread haphazardly over the main level. They drank deeply from dirty mugs overflowing with foam and laughed at crude jokes recited in loud, gruff voices. Loud, loud, loud… the noise reverberating in low-ceilinged chamber gave Rainbow an instant headache.

Gritting her teeth, Rainbow pushed through the crowd in pursuit of Ditzy. They stopped together at the counter on the far side of the room where a happy mustard-yellow pegasus contributed to the noise.

“…and then I said, ‘Oatlantis? Are you crazy?’” she screamed to the bartender and half a dozen listening stallions, all of whom burst into raucous laughter as she settled back into her stool with a self-satisfied grin.

“I hate that story,” Ditzy mumbled in Rainbow Dash’s direction. Before she could ask for the rest of it, Ditzy tapped her sister on the shoulder.

“Hey, Sis, you joined me!” Daring yelled. “It’s about time!”

“You were barely thirty seconds ahead of us, Daring.”

“Huh?” She lifted her helmet with one golden hoof, pushing the other behind her ear. “Didn’t quite catch that!”

Ditzy sighed heavily. “Did you ask the bartender if he knows—”

“Sorry, Ditz, I can’t hear ya!” Daring yelled too loudly, pulling an exaggerated face of apology. “Hey, why don’t you go try to find what room we’re in. I’ll be down here making lots of new friends!” A mug from the bartender slid across the counter and bumped Daring’s elbow. She tucked a hoof into its handle and said, “Speaking of friends!”

Rainbow grimaced as Daring took three huge gulps of the fermented beverage. She lowered the mug with a satisfied sigh and licked the foam from her upper lip. “Ahhh… now that’s good cider.”

Pff.” Ditzy rolled one of her eyes as best she could and turned her face toward Rainbow. “I don’t suppose you want a drink, Rainbow Dash?”

The blue mare’s scowl deepened. “Not unless they serve that cider non-alcoholic.”

Ditzy smirked. “I’m afraid not. That’s a Sweet Apple Acres specialty, if my experience is anything to go by.”

“Apparently it is,” Rainbow said, flicking Ditzy’s collar.

The mailmare laughed and blushed a little. “I guess I’ve seen my fair share.”

“Uh… ‘scuse me,” an indigo stallion said from the stool next to Daring. He was trying hard not to smile. “I don’t mean to pry, Miss, but… have you ever heard of the, uh… the Daring Do books?” He cleared his throat and avoided Daring’s curious glance. “It’s just that, uh… well, it’s not like I’ve read ‘em or anything, but I’ve seen their ads in, er… in Equestria Daily, and it’s just that you kinda, y’know… look like her…”

Daring lifted her mug and showed her teeth. “It’s really me, chum. Daring Do, live and in the coat.” She swallowed another mouthful as the stallion began to squirm.

“Really? I mean, you’re not just cosplaying or something?”

Daring spit back into her mug and tossed her head back, laughing. “Cosplaying? Heck no! I’m the original, son! Archaeologist extraordinaire, nine time savior of the world!”

“We never saved the world,” Ditzy grumbled. Her lips pursed in thought. “Well, maybe just once or twice….”

“Wow!” the indigo stallion let out something very like a giggle. “I can’t believe it! The real Daring Do!” He suddenly tensed up and glanced over his shoulder, running a hoof across his burnt orange mane. “Er, that is… it’s pretty cool to meet a celebrity, y’know?”

Rainbow Dash scoffed. “Oh, please. You’re not foolin’ anypony, pal. You’re a fan of the books. So what?”

The stallion convulsed in his stool, gripping the sides of it with his forehooves. “W-what? No way, lady, that’s… that’s kiddie stuff. I don’t read those lame books.”

A crease formed on Rainbow’s brow. “Kiddie stuff? That’s high adventure, ya melon fudge! There’s no shame in liking something awesome, whatever its target audience.”

“Calm down, kid,” Daring said, reaching behind her to pat the colorful tufts of mane between Rainbow’s flattened ears. “Just because you’re a fan of the books doesn’t mean everypony has to be. Heck, if I hadn’t written ‘em, I’d probably hate the dang things!”

Again, the stallion could barely contain himself. “Wait… you wrote them!?”

Daring flashed him a winning smile. “You bet your bottom bit! What’s your name, handsome?”

He gulped and rolled his shaking hooves over one another. “Azure Crest.”

“Azure Crest?” Daring whistled. “Now there’s a hunky name if I ever heard one. You got a pen on ya, Azure?”

He shook his head. The bartender, overhearing, used his magic to set a quill and napkin next to Daring’s emptied mug.

“Ah, here we go!” she said, winking thanks at the unicorn. She snatched the quill in her mouth and scribbled something on the napkin. “There!” she said with a final scratch of the tip. “All yours, handsome.”

With a sensual breath, Daring blew the napkin into Azure Crest’s exposed lap. He stared at it like a bar of gold and squeaked forth something like “Thank you.” Daring waggled her brow as Ditzy’s eyelids drooped.

Nyeugh,” she groaned, spinning on two hooves. “Come on, Rainbow, let’s see if we can find which rooms we’re supposed to stay in.”

“Hey, whoa!” Daring thrust out a hoof, wobbling slightly. “Wait a second! Aren’t you guys gonna have a drink with me?” She banged on the lid of her empty mug with her other hoof.

“I’m good,” Ditzy said, looking to Rainbow expectantly.

The blue mare’s coat paled a few shades. “No way.”

“Oohhh, come on!” Daring rolled her eyes and spun on her stool. “I promise you, girls, hundred percent: this is the best cider you have ever tasted!”

The other two shared a knowing look before bursting into a fit of giggles. “See ya, Daring,” Rainbow said, whirling around and skimming the low ceiling on her way back to the staircase. Ditzy did the same as Daring shouted protests after them. As she gave up and ordered a second mug, Rainbow led the winding way back out to open air.


“One room?” Ditzy asked again. She blinked out of sync. “For all three for us?”

The lanky colt was trying to politely avoid her disorienting gaze by examining a spot in the hallway near his hoof. “Yes, ma’am, that’s how it works when you ride last minute. I’m real sorry, but… it’s all we can offer you.”

Ditzy leaned left to peek around the vested colt, narrowing her eyes at the small, grey room beyond the recently unlocked door. “Two cots?” she asked.

“Two cots,” the colt answered, nodding at the ground.

After a quick sigh, Ditzy said, “All right then, thanks very much for your help.”

Relief washed over the poor colt’s entire body as he began to scamper down the hall. “Y-you’re welcome!” he said last minute, as if an afterthought, and disappeared.

“Gosh, he was really freaked out by your eyes, Derpy,” Rainbow said. She cringed at her slip-up and briefly covered her mouth with both hooves. “Er, Ditzy, I mean…”

The mailmare laughed while trotting into the tiny cavity. “It’s fine, Rainbow. That name doesn’t really bother me all that much. I know you don’t mean anything by it.” She flung her helmet onto the pillow of the rightmost mattress and shook out her straw-colored mane. “Some ponies just use it to be… mean.”

“Really?” Rainbow asked, entering the same room. It was a square, three-and-a-half ponylengths between each wall, with two thin, white mattresses tucked into the corners. She leapt onto the empty cot and sprawled out on her belly, stretching her wings upward until they popped. “I never heard anypony say it to be mean. I always thought it was kinda cute.”

Ditzy chuckled. “Well, that makes one of us.” She crawled into the opposite cot and pushed her helmet between her front hooves, turning her face toward the prostrate Rainbow Dash. “So I guess you call that bed, huh?”

Rainbow tapped her hooves on its pillow. “Yep!”

“Well if that one’s yours and this one’s mine,” Ditzy said with a curl of her lip, “where’s Daring gonna sleep?”

A smirk appeared almost immediately on Rainbow’s face. “The Great Daring Do, survivor of jungles, deserts, and wastelands? I’m sure she won’t mind sleeping on the floor.”

Ditzy snorted. “Oh, please. She never left home without four foam pads squished into her saddlebags.”

Rainbow laughed. “Okay, then, she can go find a nice cloud to sleep on and catch up with us tomorrow.”

“Ha haaa!” Ditzy chuckled, swishing her tail. “Or she could just fly up to the top of the zeppelin. Heheh… I’m the sure it’s nice and warm up there in the middle of the night.”

Rainbow snickered, burying her face in her pillow. “Let’s just find her a paper and quill. Maybe she can write herself a nice bed to sleep on!”

“Or use some of those spare bits to buy one from the captain!”

“She could just buy the whole boat!”

The mares laughed together, spurred on by the relieving sense of understanding between them. Ditzy rolled onto her back and clutched her helmet to her chest while Rainbow Dash tapped her hoof against the side of her meager bed. With a smile stretched across her face, Ditzy rolled her shoulders and slid out of her cot. “I’m getting hungry,” she said, planting her pith helmet firmly over her ears. “You wanna come to the cafeteria?”

Rainbow listened to her body for a moment before shaking her head. “Nah, I’m fine. I’ll stick around here and get comfortable, I guess.”

“All right.” Halfway through the open door, Ditzy turned her neck. “You want me to bring you anything? Apple, hayfries…”

“Sure, I’ll have an apple,” Rainbow said, smiling. “Thanks, Ditzy.”

“You bet! I’ll be back in half an hour.”


The mailmare used her tail to close the metal door behind her, leaving Rainbow alone and concealed in the little room. Thankfully, the single lantern hanging overhead was bright, aiding Rainbow as she removed her saddlebag and rummaged through its contents. Lying at the bottom was a thick, green volume that seemed to glow brighter than ever in Rainbow Dash’s rosy eyes.

“Right,” Rainbow said through an ear-to-ear grin, finding her bookmark among the novel’s pages. “Where was I…?”


The whip cracked again, startling Daring twice as badly. She gulped and stared at her empty plate, trying to ignore the cold sweat sliding down the side of her neck. Her peripheral vision caught a glance from the dark blue alicorn at her right, overseeing the banquet with regal silence. An involuntary gasp accompanied the third resonant crack, drawing in Alula’s full attention. Embarrassed, Daring kept her gaze away from his, observing the enormous hall’s curious arrangement.

The entirety of the palace’s staff—some three hundred ponies strong—were gathered at what Daring understood as a preparatory feast for an upcoming holiday. Having been a guest there for only two short days, she was largely at a loss in her knowledge of Haissanic culture. Even without a clue as to the holiday’s nature, Daring was impressed with the scope and organization of its preceding banquet. Four long, decorative tables, strewn with golden dishes of delicious food, lined the outside of the room as a rectangular border. The open space between the tables acted as a stage; performers of every sort had taken the granite floor one by one for the better part of an hour, entertaining the happy eaters as they devoured and drank.

The Sultan had not said a word since he and Daring had entered the banquet together. Throughout the meal’s courses and performances, he watched with soft, attentive eyes while his magic carried small bites of his food to his lips, slightly curved in a permanently pleasant smile.

Daring ate with much less grace, laughing and gasping and cheering with the Sultan’s many servants seated all around the stage. A talented showpony wowed them with pyrotechnics; a sitar player sang for them a classic myth in Haissanic; a band of earth pony acrobats shocked and astounded with dangerous, exciting feats…

And then the lions were released, and their tamer strode confidently over the polished granite. He must have been well known: he kept his narrow snout held high and his mouth straight as his audience wildly cheered. Daring blinked and felt the color drain from her face as the tall stallion brandished a long, black whip in his jaws. A raspy, foalish voice echoed through her mind at inappropriate volume, a prelude to the jarring noise that would soon explode from the end of the whip.

“~What does your Cutie Mark mean, Daddy?~”




Her wings fluttered on their own accord. She fidgeted in her seat, wide eyes darting from distraction to distraction in the grand palace hall.



Her breath was quick, ragged. Alula’s eyes were filled with concern when he asked, “Are you all right, Miss Do?”

“I-I’ll be fine,” she said, wincing at another CRACK! “I just need to… need to…”

Alula stooped to whisper in her ear. “Nopony is required to stay. You may leave at any time.”

Daring shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut. “No, I… it’s no big deal, I can just… gaah!”

Another CRACK! and another convulsion nearly pushed her off her chair. Stopped by the end of Alula’s quick wing, Daring brought her gaze up to the alicorn’s with nothing less than a pleading expression.

He narrowed his periwinkle eyes, breathing evenly through his nostrils. Suddenly, like an automaton springing into action, he rose from his chair and lifted a regal hoof above the table. The hall fell silent as every eye locked on his gesture. With a gentle air about him, the royal stallion shook his head at the lion tamer in the center. The performer understood immediately, offering a brief bow before hurriedly herding his beasts into their cages. Another act soon took his place and the crowd resumed their happy cacophony.

Daring didn’t notice what sort of performer had replaced the whipper. She slumped in her chair, filling her lungs again and again. Rosy irises sparkled at the ground, the mind behind them struggling to regain composure. A large blue hoof appeared at the corner of her vision. Reluctantly, Daring shifted her eyes to the selfless Sultan.

His gaze was stern and intimate, forming a knot in Daring’s throat. “I expect an explanation for that,” he said, soft enough for her ears only. She nodded, gulped, and returned to staring at her empty plate.

“You brought that thing?”

Rainbow Dash looked up from the book, failing an attempt to stifle a smile. Ditzy stood in the doorway with a smirk of her own and a small basket of food balanced between her wings. An apple arced from her hoof to Rainbow’s. The blue mare bit out a mouthful of fruit, said a muffled ‘thank you’, and placed one of her feathers between the pages of Poison Whispered Kiss. “It’s a good book, whether it’s fact or fiction.”

“Or a blend of both,” Ditzy said, closing the tiny room’s door and setting her basket between the cots. “How far along are you?”

“I just read about some pre-holiday banquet,” she said. “Daring was freaking out about a whip or something.”

Ditzy’s left eye swiveled to the book in Rainbow’s lap. “Really? She wrote about that?”

Rainbow snorted. “You haven’t read it yet?”

“I read a little bit,” Ditzy said with a shrug. “It’s hard to read that version when you lived the real thing.”

Donning a serious expression, Rainbow Dash nodded at that. “What did happen, Ditzy? I mean, were you two both trying to steal the magic carpet?”

“Well… steal is a strong word. Heheh… but yes, we traveled to Haissan with a lead for an ancient flying carpet. Turned out that Alula had set the whole thing up just to meet us, and he offered us rooms in the palace to stay for as long as we’d like. We both spent plenty of time with him.”

“And you both fell for him.”

Ditzy cleared her throat. “Mm… right.”

“But he fell for you.” Rainbow sighed and shook her head. “Geez, I never thought I’d be dealing with romance in the Daring Do books.”

Ditzy laughed. “It’s part of life, I guess.”

“Yeah, sure.” Rainbow yawned and played a quick rhythm on the novel’s binding. “Hey, Ditzy, what’s with your dad?”

The mailmare whirled at the tactless question. “Excuse me?”

“I mean… ugh, sorry.” Rainbow slid a hoof over her face. “That was rude, huh? It’s just that, in the book, Daring keeps making little references to her childhood or something. Lots of stuff about ‘Daddy’. Like, just now at the banquet, when the lion dude was crackin’ his whip a lot, she had some kinda flashback to asking her dad what his Cutie Mark meant. Er…” She flipped through the book’s many pages. “At least, I think that’s what’s happened. It was kinda confusing.”

“Hmm…” Ditzy popped a hoofful of raisins into her mouth and leaned against the wall close to Rainbow’s cot. “Our father was an archaeologist, just like us. He was a pioneer in our field: exploring the world, braving dangerous adventures in search of rare artifacts left behind by ancient civilizations. He was fascinated with it all, what ponies had done.” She smiled and scanned two separate spots on the ceiling. “My father was an amazing stallion. He cared so much about everypony he met… and everypony he never got to meet, for that matter. He believed that everything we did—everything you do matters. It was an invigorating philosophy. Everyone loved him.”

Rainbow was smiling, too. “That must have been nice. What happened to him?”

Ditzy’s smile dropped like a rock. She briefly met Rainbow’s eyes before returning to her basket. “Ahem… you want anything else? I’ve got a few more apples here, grabbed one or two muffins… well, maybe more than one or two—”

“What happened to your dad, Ditzy?” Rainbow asked again.

“He… died.” She shrugged and rummaged through the food.


Ditzy didn’t answer, finding a soft muffin to munch on instead.

Rainbow thrust out her jaw. “Was there some kind of… whip accident, or something?”

The grey pegasus almost chuckled at that. “What?”

“You know, ‘cause Daring was freaking out about the whip… it made her think about her dad…” She tapped the cover of the book and then her own forehead. “Must be some kind of connection.”

“His Cutie Mark was a spiraling whip,” Ditzy explained a nostalgic grin, twirling her muffin in the air. “It was his special talent. I’ve never seen anypony even come close to his skill.”

“So, what, he messed up a trick and… I dunno, choked on his whip or something?”

Ditzy’s jaw dropped. “Rainbow! Would it kill you to show a little respect? This is my father we’re talking about.”

“So talk about him!” Rainbow encouraged, tossing her forehooves above her head.

Exasperated, Ditzy let out a flighty chuckle. “You are something else, you know that, Rainbow Dash?”

The Element of Loyalty shrugged proudly. “What can I say?” she asked, sliding her hooves behind her head and leaning back against the wall. “I’m persuasive.”

“I didn’t say I’d tell you anything.”

“But you will.”

Ditzy blinked once. Twice. Finally she dropped her head, sighing as her eyes drifted outward. “Yeah, I guess I will.”

Rainbow closed her eyes and nodded, waiting for the story.

“My father died from a curse.”

One of Rainbow’s fuchsia eyes popped open. “Huh?”

“It was his one-hundred-and-eleventh hunt—or so he liked to say, I don’t think he actually kept count. He was deep in the South Amareican continent, past the Badlands and the Zebrahara, studying the ruins of an ancient civilization built by a tribe of unicorns called the Neighr.”

“There are ponies south of the Zebrahara?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“There used to be,” Ditzy said, nodding. “For many years it had been speculated that ponykind originated from that area, but the ideas were often dismissed as remnants of ancient unicorn mythology. My father was the first archaeologist to explore that area with a small team of highly capable unicorn historians. They discovered the remnants of an entire city. All of its art and architecture pointed to unicorn design, and the salvaged technologies were centuries ahead of their time. It was the discovery of a lifetime, and it brought my father much prestige and attention… but, unfortunately, it was also the last discovery of his lifetime.”

Rainbow paled, fully absorbed in the recount. “He died down there?” she wheezed.

“No, though I’m sure he sometimes wished he had. He came across what appeared to be a temple in far better shape than the rest of the ruins. Inside he found an unusual shrine built around a highly ornamented sundial. This was especially remarkable because the temple was permanently roofed, hidden from the Sun; surely it wasn’t used for telling time.”

“What was it used for?” Rainbow asked.

Ditzy smiled sadly. “That’s exactly what he wanted to know. While his team studied the rest of the ruins, taking samples and photographs of everything they found, he spent the entire two weeks of the Neighr excavation pouring over that sundial. When it came time to leave, he refused to go, certain that he could solve the mystery with one more week of study. His team insisted that he come back to Equestria with them and, in his obsession, he tried to remove the sundial.”

She was silent for a moment, staring at the wall.

“He said it was rather large and, being carved entirely of stone, very heavy. The other members of his team—all unicorns—refused to help him. They claimed to feel uneasy whenever they were near the temple, let alone inside it. My father tried to lift the sundial from its shrine all by himself and… well… it didn’t work.”

“Too heavy?” Rainbow asked.

“If only,” Ditzy said. “He managed to lift it an inch, maybe two, off the ground, before it happened. I was only told the story from his mouth one time—” She raised a single, steady hoof. “—but I have never and will never forget a single word.”

The chilling tone in Ditzy’s voice was enough to make Rainbow clutch Daring’s book to her chest.

Ditzy continued somberly. “He said that something attacked his mind. He called it a cold, sharp pain that dripped along the inside of his skull. It spoke to him in a language he didn’t understand, but the message was clear: that he had disrupted a sacred rift, and for his irreverence he would be cursed.”

Rainbow winced. “But… Twilight says there’s no such thing as curses…”

“Perhaps not from the words of a kindly zebra shaman,” Ditzy said with a forced grin, “but from an otherworldly power, my father was smitten with something—call it a disease, call it a curse, call it a punishment—that eventually took his life.”

“Wh-what did it do?” Rainbow Dash whispered.

“Nothing gruesome,” Ditzy explained, “but torturous nonetheless. He was a tall, strong, brave pegasus with an undying thirst for exploration and adventure. The curse left him practically immobile. He came home with his crew and received many accolades for his discoveries among the Neighr, but his health saw a steady decline. Every day he grew weaker and weaker until he was confined to his bed, reduced to a shivering, stuttering mess of bone and fur. For years he was like that. It was frightening to me when I was a filly—heck, it’s still frightening to me. Daring and I took it hard, our mother took it harder, but he definitely took it the hardest. His mind was still fully capable, every bit the genius he had always been, but his body was reduced to little more than a skeleton.”

“Wasn’t there…” Rainbow made a strangled sound. “Wasn’t there anything anypony could do for him?”

“We tried medicinal remedies,” Ditzy answered, “but nothing seemed to have an effect. But we didn’t lose hope. Daring and I had always wanted to follow in our father’s hoofsteps; he passed his love for adventure and discovery on to us. We made a pact with each other, long before his curse, that we’d carry on his legacy as soon as we finished school. When he fell ill and we graduated, we added to that pact: that we would scour the world for powerful, mystical relics until we found a cure to put an end to our father’s wretched curse.”

Rainbow’s eyes shone with starry admiration. “Did you go back to the temple where the sundial was?”

Ditzy frowned. “No. He forbade us. We told him our plan, we promised to help him, and to our surprise, he was even more enthusiastic about it than we were. He revealed a collection of annotated myths, secrets, and classified documents he’d assembled over his years of study. He pointed out ten legendary artifacts that he believed might hold enough power to heal him and had us promise to find every one of them. From that moment on, Daring and I dedicated every waking hour to obtaining those ten artifacts.”

Rainbow leaned forward. “Did you?”

A distant grin twitched at the corners of Ditzy’s mouth. “We found many. The personal nature of our goal, the passion and fervor that burned in our hearts as well as in our minds, added greatly to our success. Although none of them lifted the curse, five of those artifacts were ours within three years—the Sapphire Stone, the Griffon’s Goblet, the Ky Crystal…. Our names spread through the neo-archaeological world like wildfire, and everypony who adventured for the hidden and the rare feared for their careers.” Her smile was widening as her words picked up speed. “And… and along with our search for the remaining five, we began to receive requests and commissions from prestigious museums, universities, and private collectors. We only took up the jobs when we could, keeping our primary focus on saving our father, but…” She sighed and shook her head. “We certainly made a splash.”

Rainbow nodded, grinning at the excitement that glowed in Ditzy’s face. “Sure sounds like it.”

“Our competitors had names for us, I remember,” the mailmare said, tossing whatever was left of her muffin from hoof to hoof as she sat on her haunches. “Some respectful, others not so much. They called us the Winged Wonders, the Hatted Heroines—heheh. When we were younger, we liked to wait and watch the reactions of the archaeologists who followed us to a site, thinking they could take our prize before we got our hooves on it. They shouted some of the funniest things to the sky.” She rose to her hind legs and bellowed upward dramatically. “They tossed back their heads and thrashed their forelegs and cursed the Relic Poaching Pegasi, the Unrelenting Treasure Hunters, the Diabolical Sisters Dooooooo!”

She burst into unrestrained cackles, doubling over and clutching her ribcage. Rainbow was quickly infected, chuckling along and dangling her hind legs over the edge of her cot. Ditzy dropped to the ground and rolled left and right, snorting between strings of lung-twitching laughter. Her tail flicked across the floor as she wiped warm tears from her eyes.

“We liked that one, obviously: ‘the Sisters Doo’,” she said, pushing herself back onto her haunches and flapping twice to stay steady. “We started using it everywhere we went, establishing it as our ‘official’ team name. It seemed to honor our father as much as it pointed to us.”

Rainbow tilted her head. “How’s that?”

“His name was also Doo,” Ditzy explained, taking a deep, respectful breath. “Will ‘Danger’ Doo.”

“Hey, my middle name is Danger!” Rainbow said, hovering in the small space between ceiling and floor.

Ditzy cocked her brow. “Really?”

“Well… no…” Rainbow fluttered back to her bed. “But it kind of is!”

Heheh… whatever you say, Rainbow.” Ditzy grabbed another muffin and hopped into her own cot. She took a big bite and started to chew thoughtfully.

Rainbow pulled at the tip of one of her wings. “So, uh… you liked him, huh? Your dad, I mean.”

Ditzy gave her a sideways glance and swallowed. “Of course I did. I loved him with all my heart. He was my hero.” She let out a small laugh through her nose and stared at the treat balancing in her hoof. “He was everyone’s hero.”

“And by that you mean Daring, right?” Rainbow asked.

Ditzy sort of shook her head, jiggling it on her neck. “Well, yeah, she fits into ‘everyone’ too, I guess.”

“But that’s who you’re thinking of.” Rainbow lifted her book. “Obviously she was pretty attached to him.”

“I can’t…” Ditzy sighed and popped the rest of her muffin into her cheek. “I can’t believe she wrote about that. She doesn’t really… well, she’s kinda…”

Rainbow blinked. “Kinda what?”

Ditzy scowled and looked at the door. “Where is she, anyway? It’s been forever.”

“Hasn’t been that long,” Rainbow said.

“I was gone for almost an hour,” Ditzy said, “and we’ve been talking for a while.”

“An hour?” Rainbow squeaked, checking her bookmark. “How much did I read?”

“More than me,” Ditzy said, shrugging. “Maybe we should go find her. I bet the Sun has set by now.”

Setting the novel on her pillow, Rainbow slid from the bed. “Nah, you stay here. I’ll go find her. I’m sure she’s still down in the bar.”

Ditzy bit her lip. “You sure?”

“Yeah, I remember where it is,” Rainbow said, opening the door.

“I’m sure you do, but… she can be a lot to handle when she’s… y’know…”

Rainbow smirked in her direction. “Drunk? Don’t worry, Ditzy.” Her smile faltered and her eyes darkened. “I know how to handle that.”

Before Ditzy could ask any questions, Rainbow shut the door behind her and took off down the second-level hallway.

14 - You Should Like Your Friends

View Online

Chapter Fourteen
You Should Like Your Friends


The blur of four golden hooves tumbled over the railing as a pith helmet clattered to the ground. Bystanders gasped and covered their mouths, frozen with shock and confusion. Only one pegasus leapt forward and dove over the airship’s edge, plummeting toward the distant ocean with wings clasped tightly at her sides.

She caught up with the floppy archaeologist within seconds, catching her around the middle and stopping her fall. With a roll of her ruby eyes, Rainbow Dash heaved the giggling mess of hiccups and noodly hooves through the air. She kept her eyes on the ship overhead, mumbling curses under her breath.

The faces of several concerned passengers poked over the main deck’s railing. They backed away as Rainbow heaved her uncooperative partner into their midst. Daring landed hard on the smooth wooden planks and sprawled in every direction, slurring a long string of barely comprehensible instructions aimed at nopony in particular.

Ditzy’s eyes were wide and very nearly aligned, her lips pursed into a nervous squiggly line. She breathed out a sigh of relief when Rainbow Dash picked up the pith helmet and tossed it carelessly over Daring’s face.

“Rainbow!” she said, trotting past the ogling crowd and catching the blue mare’s attention. “Wh-what happened?”

The Element of Loyalty gave Ditzy a sharp look and jabbed a hoof in her flattened sister’s direction.

“Can’t you tell? She won,” Rainbow answered curtly, stomping away from a jaw-dropped Ditzy.

{-D earlier D-}

“Where’s Daring?” Rainbow Dash yelled across the counter. The noise in the bar hadn’t died down at all since she and Ditzy left.

“Sorry, who?” the unicorn bartender asked.

“Daring Do!” Rainbow said louder. “The yellow pegasus who was right here, like, two hours ago!”

The bartender laughed and raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure how I would know that, Miss. Can I get you a drink?”

“Heck no!” Rainbow spun around and faced the crowded room, hovering as high as she could in the squat, dim chamber. She spotted a few yellow-coated ponies, but they were all broad stallions with brightly colored manes. Her jaw clenched impatiently as her eyes swept back and forth. If she didn’t find the adventuress soon, Rainbow decided, she would just go to back bed and let Daring fend for herself. It had been a really long day.

Fortunately—or perhaps unfortunately—a tan pith helmet was suddenly in the center of Rainbow’s vision. She snaked between haphazardly arranged tables and their patrons to a corner of the bar where the familiar headgear sat discarded on a wooden stool. Rainbow picked it up and frowned at it briefly, lifting her eyes to scan the surrounding area.

From that angle, Daring was not hard to spot. A number of thick wooden pillars held up the tavern’s ceiling, and in the low light they were difficult to point out. Rainbow hadn’t even noticed the column that sprouted in that section of the room, blocking the corner from general view. It was in this obscured nook that Daring Do stood on her hind legs, pressing her front hooves against the ribs of Azure Crest, pinning him against the wall as they kissed with eager passion.

Every muscle in Rainbow’s body froze… except for her jaw, which dropped halfway to the floor. Her eye twitched with every smothered noise that came from the couple, her ears flattening tighter against her head with every twist and turn of Daring’s. She only realized she had stopped breathing when her peripherals blackened. With a sharp intake of breath, Rainbow lurched at them and screamed, “What in Tartarus are you doing!?”

Daring froze in place and rotated her body, keeping her lips locked with the violet stallion’s while focusing her left eye on Rainbow’s fiery glare. A smile pulled at the corners of her mouth for several seconds before she finally released with a loud smack. Azure grinned stupidly and shuddered.

“Kid!” Daring blurted in a pitch higher than her own. “Heh-heeey, kid! You came back!” She dropped her hooves from the stallion’s chest and landed unevenly, trotting a zig-zag pattern in Rainbow’s direction. “I -HIC- I wuz wunderin’ when you’d get back down here, kid. I thought, -HIC- maybe she’s… nnnever comin’ back, bu’ then I was like, ‘Noooo, she has to come back, ‘cause… where else would she go? She – we’re on a boat. WE’RE ON A BOAT!”

Rainbow’s nostrils flared faster as Daring snatched her helmet from the stool and dropped it carelessly over her head. Rainbow took a quick look at the drooling stallion slumped in the corner, snorted heavily, and grabbed Daring by the back of her mane.

“OW!” the adventuress yelped. “Hey, kkkkid, what’s’a madder?”

“We’re leaving, Daring,” Rainbow growled. “Now.”

“Bu’ I wuz jusss—”

Rainbow tugged hard, increasing Daring’s volume. Whimpering, the yellow pony trotted unsteadily behind Rainbow Dash as the fuming mare dragged them toward the tavern’s only exit.

“This has gotta be some kinda fire hazard,” Rainbow grumbled under the her breath, yanking on Daring’s greyscale mane to pick up her pace.

“AAaaugh! Shhhhtop it!” Daring moaned.

“Let’s get you some air,” Rainbow said over her shoulder, guiding her up the next several levels in teeth-gnashing silence.

Daring was not so silent. “Nnnyyaaaa, I wanna go back. I wanna go back, kid! Dere’s a -HIC- reeeealllly expensine drink I wanna try. Nopony else can afford it. I’m gonna look so cooool!” She giggled. “The stallions er gonna llllove me.” She gasped suddenly, opening her eyes wide. “Oh, wait… I already did that, kid! I already -HIC- did that! Ha haaa!” She stomped her hooves delightedly up the next long flight of stairs. “All o’ those shtallions were so, like… into me. Oah, kid, I’m so hot.” She shook her head proudly. “I am seriously so hawt.”

Rainbow passed only four or five ponies on her way up to the top, hoping it would be empty enough to reprimand Daring in peace. When they emerged into the cool night air colored with the distant sound of gently crashing waves, she wasn’t disappointed. The ivory Moon hanging low in the sky cast an eerie light over the enormous, vacant deck.

A dozen ponylengths from the wall of doors that led to the lower levels, Rainbow finally let go of Daring’s mane. As the inebriated pegasus began to back away, Rainbow grabbed her face tightly between her hooves. Bulging fuchsia eyes met a very frightened pair.

“How many drinks did you have, Daring?” Rainbow asked.

“I’unno,” the adventuress slurred as her eyes slowly crossed. “A lot.”

Rainbow groaned and dropped her partner’s face. “I can’t believe this, Daring! Why would you do that to yourself?” Agitated, she trotted back and forth in front of the swaying mare with quick hooves. “We’re on a mission, Daring, a very important mission. How could you just… nng, what makes you think it’s okay to get drunk when we have baby foals to save?”

“Hey, kid, caaaalm doooown,” Daring urged, sifting her hooves through air. “You’ve gotta see, here, see? I, I didn’t do nothin’... mmbaaad, really. The trip’s, like, two days. S’not like I’m gon’be drunk fer ttttwo days!” She laughed at that, rubbing the sides of her head beneath her ears.

“We coulda…” Rainbow snorted and stomped a hoof, refusing to look at Daring. “We coulda planned or brainstormed or… or you coulda told me more about Haissan, more about how we’re going to find those foalnappers you let get away—”

“Nooo!” Daring yelled, lashing out a hoof that very nearly clipped Rainbow’s snout. “No no no, I didn’t let those foalgetters nap away.” Her eyes narrowed icily. “Yyyyyou did!”

Rainbow guffawed. “Me?”

“Yeah! Yoo!” Daring cackled. “Yoooou messed up, and yoooou coulda went and got the basketball from the thhhhnappers…” Her cheeks bulged momentarily and she clutched her stomach. “Oh. Ooohhhhh… I don’ feel, like… that…”

Both mares grimaced as Rainbow flew backward a few yards. “You gonna hurl?”

Daring’s brow lowered and she looked offended. “What? No! I don’ get ssseasick. I’m Daring Do!”

“Seasick?” Rainbow repeated, her eyelids drooping. “Daring, you’re super drunk. I’d be surprised if you didn’t throw up.”

“Uuugghhh…” The yellow mare dropped to her side and hugged herself. “I haven’t had cider in, like… I’unno, years or somethin’.”

“Well, maybe now you’ll remember why you quit,” Rainbow grumbled. She flapped her wings a few times and landed behind Daring, tucking her forelegs under the mare’s shoulders and carrying her body to the edge of the dock.

“Wha! Wha’re we…”

“If you’re gonna barf, do it over the railing,” Rainbow said, gently setting Daring with her forelegs draped on the rail. Almost immediately, Daring complied. Rainbow leapt back and coughed in the air. “Auughh, Daring! Warn a gal, will ya?”

The drunk pony groaned. “Sorry, Rainbow.”

Rainbow plugged her nose between her hooves. “It’s fine, just—” She froze, staying airborne with only a few mechanical flaps. Her eyes darted to the goldenrod pony leaning over the edge. “Did you just… say my name?”

Daring looked back. “Huh? I… I’unno, prob’ly.” Her eyes bulged and her head disappeared over the rail.

Even under those circumstances, Rainbow couldn’t help but smile a little. “You’re an idiot, Daring Do,” she chuckled.

Daring turned around and sat on her haunches, leaning her back against the thin white border that surrounded the dock’s main level. Wiping her mouth, she managed a wry grin. “But I’m an awesome idiot, right, kid?”

Rainbow landed in front of her, shaking her helmetless head. “You have your moments, I guess.” Her grin became a sad one. “You’re nothing like I thought you’d be, though.”

Daring shrugged and clicked her tongue. “Life’s full of disappointments, I guess.”

“Yeah. Guess so.”

The ponies sat in silence for a while without looking at each other. Both fidgeted and cleared their throats, but neither found the gall to leave.

“It’s really not a big deal, y’know,” Daring said. “You didn’t have to pull me away. I wasn’t drinking anymore.”

“Yeah, well, your new pastime wasn’t exactly a step up.”

“Heheh… that’s prob’ly true.” Daring coughed and got to her hooves, sniffing heavily and eyeing the Moon. “Still, I don’t see why you care. I can get drunk if I wanna. It’ll be forever b‘fore we land in Stirrope.”

Rainbow frowned. “You ought to have your wits about you, anyway. Drinking that much alcohol is bad for you, Daring, especially at your age.”

Daring gaped. “Hey! I’m not that old.”

“You’re old enough to keep calling me kid,” Rainbow teased with a wink.

Daring chuckled. “I call you ‘kid’ because you don’t know anything.”

“I know a lot!” Rainbow said, hovering again.

“About what, Daring Do trivia?” The adventuress smirked. “The magic of friendship? That team you were talkin’ about, the Wonderfolk?”

“Wonderbolts,” Rainbow corrected, crossing her forelimbs. “You did that on purpose. And yeah, I know about all those things. I also know how to help ponies when they’re in trouble, and how to say ‘no’ to big temptations, and how to do a sonic rainboom, and how to win any competition you throw at me, and…”

“Any competition I throw atcha, eh?” Daring asked, lifting a hoof to her snout.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Not that you throw at me, Daring. It’s an expression.”

“Well, my competition is still a competition,” Daring said, “and I’ve got one for ya right here.”

Rainbow quirked an eyebrow. “Huh?”

“Let’s race, kid,” Daring said, stretching out her wings. “I’ll prove to you that I can handle myself, my way, tipsy or not!”

A harsh laughed bubbled from Rainbow’s throat. “Race? Me? Haha! Daring, you might be good at digging up old artifacts and making tons of money, but you don’t stand a chance against me when it comes to speed.”

“Oh-ho-ho! Is that so, Little Miss Loyalty?”

Rainbow grinned again. “You remember that, too?”

Daring’s wings drooped. “What, you think I just block you out all the time or something?”

Rainbow smile weakened. “Uh… well…”

“All right, here’s the course,” Daring continued, bouncing between her front and back hooves.

“You can’t be serious! Daring, you’re drunk. You wouldn’t be able to keep up if you were injected with dragon blood, let alone right now!”

“First mare to fly around the balloon,” she said, pointing a yellow hoof upward, “and land back here, wins.”

Rainbow glanced up at the massive zeppelin. “Really?” She gave Daring a questioning look. “Is that allowed?”

“Prob’ly not,” Daring said, assuming a springy stance with a determined leer. “One, two, three, go!”

She jumped into the empty night, swerving toward the oblong balloon. Rainbow watched her fly to its base, just more than a hundred feet overhead, with a disbelieving squint. When the yellow dot that was Daring started to follow the vertical barrel of the zeppelin, Rainbow shrugged, wiggled her rump, and took off like a rocket.

The balloon was even larger than Rainbow had expected, but that made little difference to her. Grinning at the rush of wind that pushed back her prismatic mane, Rainbow curved around the left side of the floating oval, licking its rough fabric with the tip of her wing. She sucked a deep breath through her teeth and pumped her feathered appendages, pushing her higher and higher and higher into the air. Soon she was far from the ship and high above its zeppelin, both eyes locked on the endless starscape scattered like shy jewels all across the inky dome encompassing her world. With nothing but the blackened sky embracing her entire vision, Rainbow suddenly gasped at its beauty and relaxed her wings—open—at her sides.

Something was wrong, or perhaps very right, and Rainbow couldn’t put her hoof on it. As her momentum continued to lift her up without another flap, she effortlessly rotated her head in the glowing Moon’s direction. It shone near the horizon, surrounded by adoring stars, casting off its precious light to bathe the endless ocean.

With the ship directly below her and outside her line of sight, every drop of breath in Rainbow’s lungs vanished as she drank in that most harrowing of scenes: the ebon sky and glassy ocean meeting equidistantly at a line that curved with the most pleasant and natural of graces; the glorious Moon rising bravely through its stars like a griffon tearing through a dense flock of doves; the reflection of that great white orb, scattered and distorted on the ocean’s razor waves; all of it completely silent, all of it divinely slow.

Rainbow’s ascent came to its peak. Suspended in the air, caught between momentum and gravity’s allure, she dared not breathe or flap or blink. The moment was so suddenly surreal, so unexpectedly astonishing, that she hardly made the decision to fold in her wings and freefall through the night.

Her body stayed there at the crest, relaxed and unmoving, for what seemed like hours—no, eons—before her old foe took its eternal toll. She closed her eyes and allowed that image of the Moon, the sky, and the sea to sink into her eyelids and fill the crevices of her mind. She fell, backwards and blind, for three... four... five whole seconds before slamming into the top of the zeppelin. It was far from a soft landing, but it didn’t hurt much either. Her eyelids flew open and she beamed at the stars, wishing for the first time in her life that Twilight was there to share her knowledge of them.

“Wow,” she whispered to herself, folding her hooves over her belly. “Now that was awesome.”

She gazed at those ethereal pricks of impossibly distant light until the sound of labored panting made her ears twitch to the side. Four unsteady hooves landed on the big balloon and sent ripples of hollow sound through its surface, vibrating in Rainbow’s body.

“Have a nice flight?” she asked loudly from her comfortable recline.

“Holy... horseapples... kid,” Daring wheezed, stumbling closer to her. “I mean... phew... Luna’s nipple... you are frickin’ fast!”

Rainbow chuckled. “I told ya.”

“How in the... name of... Tartarus... did you... huughh!” She gave up, faceplanting two ponylengths to the right of Rainbow Dash.

“It’s natural, I guess,” Rainbow said, wiggling her flank. “My special talent, y’know?”

“Celestia, I would hope so,” Daring said, rolling over to stretch every muscle in her body. Without looking at her, Rainbow could tell from the tremors in the balloon’s fabric that Daring was lying with her head nearer to Rainbow’s hooves. “You’re not even... breathing hard....”

“Nope,” Rainbow gloated, focused on the sky. “I do that stuff in my sleep.”

“Then... why on Equus... didn’t you just... catch the freakin’... foalnappers... when we had the chance....”

Rainbow scowled. “Uh, I did, thank you very much. You gave ‘em back, and I didn’t know how to find them without you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Rainbow saw a yellow hoof lift and wiggle at the bottom of her vision. “It’s my fault, boo hoo. Stupid, selfish Daring Do just likes causing problems.”

“Oh, good, we’re on the same page,” Rainbow said in a snarky tone.

“Ha ha.”


Silence greeted them again, this time like an old friend dropping by for a fireside visit. They watched the stars with varying fascination, two pairs of scarlet eyes absorbing the art of an open sky untainted by the hoofmade lights in cities large and small.

“It’s really...” Rainbow tried to say, darting her eyes from star to star. “It’s just so...”

“Sublime,” Daring stated matter-of-factly.

Rainbow Dash snorted. “That hardly does it justice.”

“‘Sublime is the name given to that which is absolutely great,’” Daring said in a hushed, honest tone. “‘That is sublime in comparison with which all else is small,’ ‘the mere capacity of thinking which evidences a faculty of mind transcending every standard of sense’.”

Rainbow was dumbstruck. “Whoa... what?”

“Ipponyuel Kanter,” Daring replied. “He was a, uh... philosopher, or something.”

Rainbow lifted herself onto an elbow and eyed the tired pegasus. “That was really cool, Daring.”

She shrugged. “You’ve got to read a lot to write a lot. Unless you’re some kinda god of fiction.”

“Heheh... I guess that makes sense.” She laid her head back down and tucked her hooves beneath it. “Still, that was, y’know... impressive. You should do that more often.”

“Do what?”

“Show how smart you are. It’s cool.”

Daring gave her a skeptical glance that Rainbow never saw. After thinking for a moment, Daring pointed at the wonder of the dark enjewelled sky. “You know any constellations?”

“No,” Rainbow admitted. “My friend Twilight loves ‘em. I was just wishing she was here.”

“That unicorn I met?” Daring clarified.

“The purple one, yeah.”

“She seemed a’ight. Sorta brainy.”

“Ha! Yeah, she’s a total egghead. She knows her stuff, though, and she’s crazy good at magic. I like her a lot.”

“Good. You should like your friends.” Daring pointed again. “See those three bright stars that sort of line up at an angle? Middle of the sky right now.”

Daring blinked and narrowed her eyes. “Yeah, I think I see ‘em.”

“That’s Orion’s belt, one of the more famous constellations. You should know that one.”

“Hey, I’ve heard Twilight talk about that! She wanted it on a dress one time.” She yanked a hoof from behind her head to scratch a spot on her ribcage. “Y’know, I’m pretty sure it’s her dad’s name, too.”

A snicker came from Daring. “What, ‘Orion’s Belt’?”

“Just Orion. Can’t remember the second part.” She cleared her throat and traced a circle on the balloon with her free hoof. “I, uh... I know about your dad. I mean, Ditzy told me about him.”

Daring was quiet.

Already feeling a twinge of regret, Rainbow continued. “That must have been really tough, seein’ him... you know... wither away like that.”

Still, the archaeologist was silent as stone.

“Look, Daring... I didn’t mean to bring it up if it’s something you’re not comfortable with, but...” She blew a hot breath through her nose and threw caution to the wind. “Ditzy said you didn’t really—”

She stopped mid-sentence as something in her brain clicked. She sat up straight and looked at the green locks of her mane hanging in front of her shoulder. For several seconds, they didn’t move at all. She unfolded her wings and squinted at the feathers; they didn’t flutter, either.

“Horseapples, that guy wasn’t kidding,” she said, licking her hoof and thrusting it above her head. “There is absolutely zero wind out here.”

“Huh?” Daring stirred and glanced in her direction. “Oh, right.” She yawned and stretched her hind legs along her greyscale tail. “Yeah, Alula sorta quit on the ocean winds after Ditzy up and left.”

“After she what?” Rainbow asked.

Daring didn’t answer, turning to her side, pulling her helmet from her head and using it as a pillow. “You were sayin’ somethin’ about, uh... Twilight’s dad?”

“No, your dad.”

Daring jolted and lifted the top half of her body from the balloon, aiming her shrunken pupils at Rainbow Dash. “What? What about my dad?”

“Ditzy told me all about him!” Rainbow repeated testily.

“Ah, that stupid...” Daring smacked her hoof against her forehead. “Well, whatever she told you is probably not true. I didn’t hate my dad, no matter how much she says I did.”

One of Rainbow’s bottom eyelids twitched. “She didn’t say anything like that.”

“... Oh.”

More silence.

“But... I’d like to hear about that,” Rainbow said, “if you’re, you know... willing to talk about it.”

“Are you joking with me, kid? Why the hay would you wanna know about that?”

Rainbow shrugged. “I dunno, it’s interesting! A couple days ago, Daring Do was just an awesome character in a book, and Ditzy was my goofy mailmare. Now I’m your partner and she’s talkin’ about how you two tried to find a bunch of magic thingamajigs to save your dad from an ancient unicorn curse!” She laughed at herself, less from humor than shock. “That sure wasn’t it any of the books.”

“Nyeh, I left it out. Readers don’t care about that kind of stuff.”

“Whatever! I totally care!”

Daring clicked her tongue. “Why?”

“Because... well...” She bit her lip and tugged at one of her wings. “I, uh... well, if you did hate your dad, then... I dunno, I’d be okay with that.” She rolled her eyes. “Well, not okay with it, really, but... I’d understand.”


“Yeah.” Rainbow gulped away a sudden stress in her throat. “My dad was a, uh... he was an earth pony. Big guy, good with his hooves. He was a sculptor, made a lot of statues and stuff for parks in, like... Manehattan, I think. Maybe it was Baltimare.”

“You talk about him like he’s dead,” Daring said bluntly, “but you told me your parents live in Los Pegasus.”

Rainbow grunted. “Yeah, they do. He’s not dead... yet.”

“Whoa. You got plans?”

“No, but his liver does.”

“Aaaahhh...” Daring nodded from where she lay. “He’s an alcoholic.”


“And that’s why you don’t want me drinking.”

“Well....” Her upper lip twitched as she struggled for words. “Not just that, Daring. It’s bad for you. It messes up your body and weakens your mind, so you do things you’d never do if—”

“Did he beat you as a foal or something?”

“What? Ugh, no!” Rainbow rasped out a heavy sigh. “Why does everypony think that alcoholics are inherently abusive? He didn’t get angry when he drank—just mean and dumb. And he hated pegasi.”

Hates pegasi. Your past tense is messing with my literary brain.”

“Okay, fine. He hates pegasi.”

Daring sat up briefly. “Wait... but you’re a pegasus.”

Rainbow gave her a blank stare.

“No, no, I mean... doesn’t that mean he married a pegasus?”

“Did you not pass, like, second grade? It’s called genetics, Daring. If you must know, both of his parents were pegasi and he was an earth pony. Obviously that was a bit of a problem.” Her eyes locked on a plane of clouds hovering over the distant shore of Equestria on the horizon. “They had to move to the ground ‘cause he couldn’t live in Cloudsdale. He was probably jealous and mad at his parents or something, I never really talked to him about it. Anyway, he married another earth pony, and they had me.”

“Circle of life,” Daring hummed.

“Something like that.” She sighed again. “My mom and I were pretty close, but he... he was always so mean to me. Called me ‘buzzard’ and ‘featherbrain’ all the time, sent me to Flight Camp every summer just so he didn’t have to see me around the house. It was good for me in the end, I guess: I’m the best flier to come out of Junior Speedsters in decades, just because I went there practically every summer since I was foaled.

“The rest of the year was even worse. Mom was a dental hygienist at an orthodontist’s office on the other side of town, so Dad got to take care of me whenever I was home. Er... well, actually, I got to take care of Dad. I can remember four, maybe five times total when he didn’t get so drunk during the day he could barely stand. I had to make sure he ate, clean it up when he puked, help him around the house, read the paper for him... heh. Well, I guess when I say it like that it doesn’t sound all that bad. Could have been a lot worse. I mean, like I said, it’s not like he ever hit me... with his hoof. All day, every day, he told me how lazy I was and how slow I was, that I was just a buzzard who needed to pick up the pace and stop asking to go outside!”

She gulped and ground her back teeth, reigning in her emotions with a shaky sigh. “He never told me he loved me, never took me to school, never let me go to a Wonderbolts show—never even took the time to get to know me. I was just there to make sure he didn’t drown in his liquor, nothing more than a necessary inconvenience. He hated me for no good reason, so... I hated him back.” Her brow furrowed. “I hate him back.” She winced in Daring’s direction. “So if you hated your dad, too, or even just got mad at him for something, I’d like to know about it. Just ‘cause, y’know... I can relate.”

She stopped and waited for Daring to respond. When she didn’t, Rainbow flexed her wings and rolled onto her hooves. Sure enough, Daring was curled into a ball, head rested on her hat, and her side was rising and falling with her steady, soundless breaths.

“Heh... that was quick,” Rainbow said aloud. “How much did you drink?”

Carefully, Rainbow lifted the sleeping pony and draped her over her back just behind her wingjoints. She picked up the pith helmet and pressed it over her colorful mane and, flapping as gently as possible, carried both of them back to the deck and landed near the wall of doors.

Daring opened one eye and looked around blearily. “Whuh... where am the som...”

“Come on, Daring,” Rainbow whispered, dropping to her haunches for the adventuress to balance on her own hooves. “Let’s go find our room.”

Daring grimaced. “Ew...” she mumbled, beginning to topple to her right. Rainbow sped to her side and braced her, wrapping her left wing around the goldenrod mare’s body.

“Let’s go, you big idiot,” Rainbow said with a smile, guiding them through the middlemost doorway.

By the time they reached their hall in the second level, Daring was more than three-quarters asleep, pressing her face against Rainbow’s neck and humming into her coat. “Yer such a great partner,” she mumbled in a low voice. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Rainbow laughed. “Yeah, well, I do what I can.”

They reached the doorway and Rainbow panicked, realizing she didn’t have a key. Trying the knob between her hooves, she found it unlocked and sighed with relief. “Let’s get you to bed,” she whispered to Daring.

The pegasus nuzzled the base of Rainbow’s neck, sending involuntary shivers down her spine. “Eugh...” Rainbow said, trying to lean away from her “hero”.

“I love you, Ditzy,” Daring cooed.

Rainbow Dash blinked. A smile tugged at her lips as she caved, accepting the whole-hearted nuzzle from the drunken ghost of Daring Do.

They trotted through the open doorway; Ditzy was sprawled over her cot, snoring rather loudly. The remnants of at least two more muffins were sprinkled around her face and hooves. As one of her hind hooves twitched, Rainbow helped Daring into the empty cot and patted the side of her head.

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “She loves you, too.”


“What the hay are you doing in the corner?” Ditzy asked.

Rainbow barely opened one eye. “Bwuah?”

“Why didn’t you take the bed?” the grey mare asked, pointing the empty cot devoid of muffin crumbs.

Rainbow wobbled to her hooves, cracking her back in a cat-like arch. “Neeuughh... ‘cause Daring was sleeping there...”


“I put Daring in the—”

Their eyes met and snapped open at the same time.

“Ponyfeathers!” Rainbow yelped, scrambling for the door. “She better not be down in the—”

A group of ponies galloped through the hallway just as Rainbow pulled the door open. She leaned back instinctively but quickly called after them when all had passed. “Hey, what’s goin’ on?”

“Some pegasus is doing tricks on the deck!” a dark brown colt yelled back. “It’s awesome!”

Rainbow heard Ditzy facehoof behind her. She turned around held a blue hoof in her direction. “Stay here, I got it.”

Ditzy chuckled. “Uh, she’s my sister, Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow sighed and bowed her head. “But she’s my partner now,” she said, “and my responsibility.”

Surprised, Ditzy just stared at the pony as she used her wings to dash into the hall. Blowing harshly through the side of her mouth, Ditzy said, “My bubbly plot, she is!” and briskly followed suit.

On the deck, with the Sun several hours into the sky, close to a hundred ponies had gathered to watch as Daring Do soared, spun, and flipped, pausing every now and then to swig from the mug in her hoof. Their laughter and cheering were suddenly dwarfed by a raspy, thundering voice.

“Quit it, Daring!”

The mustard mare froze upside down and glanced in Rainbow’s direction. “Hey, kid! You made it!” She tossed her empty mug aside—it landed over an onlooker’s horn—and dove to hover right in front of her flushed partner. “I was wondering when you were gonna show up.”

“Dang it, Daring!” Rainbow said, stomping a furious hoof. “I thought you weren’t gonna drink again. What about our talk last night?”

“Uh, I never said anything about that,” Daring said, shining a carefree smirk at Rainbow, “and we hardly ‘talked’ at all.”

“How many of those have you had this morning?” Rainbow asked, pointing in the unfortunate unicorn’s direction.

“Enough to remind me,” Daring said, getting in Rainbow’s face, “that you owe me a rematch.”

Rainbow reeled. “Excuuuse me?”

“You heard me! That race last night? Not even fair. I wasn’t motivated! No one was watching me!” She flapped harder, raising ten feet higher and throwing her forelegs out to her sides. “All I need is an audience, kid! You don’t stand a chance against the real Daring Do!”

The ponies in earshot screamed their approval, stomping their hooves against the wood of the deck.

Rainbow groaned. “Daring, you can’t be serious! I’m not racing you again, especially not in front of all these ponies.”

“Why not? Don’t wanna be embarrassed?”

The ponies in her audience jeered.

“Exactly the opposite, actually,” Rainbow mumbled, glaring knives at Daring’s stupid grin.

“Fillies and gentlecolts!” Daring announced, rotating in the air for her voice to carry all across the growing crowd. “This mare is an Equestrian legend, the only pony alive to has successfully performed a sonic rainboom!”

Sounds of wonderment bubbled from the crowd.

Daring bore a wild grin. “How would you all like to see me beat her in a race?”

Rainbow rolled her eyes as the ponies around her exploded. “Daring...”

“So come on, Sonic!” Daring twirled a hoof invitingly. “Same course as last time! Think you’re up to it?”

“Daring, this is a really bad idea...”

“Gotta go fast!” Daring swept down, planted a hind hoof on Rainbow’s snout, and pushed off as hard as she could to begin her rapid climb.

“Not cool, Daring!” Rainbow yelled, joining her in the air. The cheering of the audience served as a sort of guilty fuel and she quickly caught up with the yellow flier.

“Good start, kid!” Daring said, smiling.

“Stop right now, Daring. I don’t wanna do this!”

“And what about what I wanna do, huh?” Her eyes flashed, accompanied by a hard beat of her wings. The wind from the flap threw Rainbow off balance for a moment; when she looked up, Daring was already circling the balloon.

“Whoa!” Rainbow exclaimed, genuinely shocked at her opponent’s speed. Steeling herself, Rainbow did what she was born to do, pumping her sky blue wings with enough vivacity to break an anemometer. She whooshed past Daring and kept close to the balloon’s white fabric, squinting her right eye to block out its glare from the sun. Soon she was grazing a flat stretch of the zeppelin’s side—and something yellow and green was emerging in her peripheral. She whirled her head to the side and gaped at Daring’s rapid flapping.

“Ha haaa!” Daring cackled triumphantly. “I told you, kid! All I need’s an audience!” She waved down at the ant-like ponies and, with an added burst of speed, pulled in front of Rainbow.

“Oh, heck no,” Rainbow growled. She tensed the muscles between her wings and flapped twice as often, keeping neck and neck with Daring as they tore over the spot where they had gazed at Luna’s stars. Seconds later came the descent, but neither racer slowed her flapping.

“You doin’ okay, Sonic?” Daring yelled over their wind. “You look like you could use some water! I see a whole lot down there for ya!” She laughed and did a barrel roll in Rainbow’s direction, causing the weathermare to veer and lose some ground.

“Dang it, Daring, stop it!” she screamed. “If we go any faster I’ll—”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that, featherbrain!” Daring called over her shoulder.

Rainbow’s jaw thrust forward. “You did not just...”

“Come on, slowpoke!” Daring said, spinning around to face Rainbow and flapping backward. “I need you to keep up! What if I puke again, huh?” Her smile widened wickedly. “Whose gonna be there to clean it all up?”

Raaaauuugh!” Rainbow shot downward and grabbed Daring by her wingjoints. The drunken pegasus laughed in her face; the strong smell of alcohol reminded Rainbow of her inebriated state. Of course she didn’t mean those things; in her right mind, she wouldn’t dare use Rainbow’s confessions to taunt her... she wouldn’t dare be so cruel...

Then again, she was rather Daring.

“Shut up!” Rainbow yelled, tugging at Daring’s wings as they plummeted toward the ship. “I didn’t tell you about my dad so you could make fun of me!”

“And I didn’t tell you about my dad at all!” Daring yelled back. “So don’t bring him up anymore!”

“You could have just asked me, you know!”

“You could have just left me alone!”

Rainbow was flapping harder and harder as the ship grew at the top of her gaze. A cone began to form around the fuming pair of pegasi.

“You brought me on this mission for a reason, Daring! I’m here to help you!”

“You’re here because my stupid sister was too stupid to do me a stupid favor!”

“Too stupid, or too aware of who you really are?”



The cone grew narrower, sharper. Daring’s mane flapped around Rainbow’s face as her eyes began to water.

Daring’s helmet suddenly flew off her head, smacking Rainbow between the eyes. The pegasus shouted and let go of Daring, reversing the direction of her flaps and clutching her bruised forehead. Daring snatched the helmet out of the air and tried to slow her brief descent, slamming into the edge of the deck and sending splinters of wood in all directions. The watching ponies gasped and backed away as Daring struggled to her hooves, stumbling to the white railing and moaning against it.

Rainbow did a few twisting maneuvers and landed next to the crater. “There,” she spat, “you beat me. Feel better now?”

Daring’s eyes were full of fire when she looked at Rainbow. “No!” she rasped. “No, I don’t feel any better! You and Ditzy are always telling me who I am and who I’m not, trying to get to me to do this and do that and be who you think I should be... just like Dad always was! Well, you know what? I’m sick of it!” She lifted her helmet above her head. “I’m so frickin’ sick of it! So you can all just shut up and find those stupid foals all by yourselves, because I quit!”

She threw the helmet at hard as she could, lost what little balance she had, and tumbled over the railing.

Daring!” Ditzy shouted from among the crowd, stepping forward to help. Bystanders gasped and covered their mouths, frozen with confusion and shock. Only one pegasus leapt forward and dove over the airship’s edge, plummeting toward the distant ocean with wings clasped tightly at her sides.

A tense silence fell over the deck. The faces of several concerned passengers poked over the main deck’s railing, only to back away as Rainbow heaved her uncooperative partner into their midst. Daring landed hard on the smooth wooden planks and sprawled in every direction, slurring a long string of barely comprehensible instructions aimed at nopony in particular.

Ditzy’s eyes were wide and very nearly aligned, her lips pursed into a nervous squiggly line. She breathed out a sigh of relief when Rainbow Dash picked up the pith helmet and tossed it carelessly over Daring’s face.

“Rainbow!” she said, trotting past the ogling crowd and catching the blue mare’s attention. “Wh-what happened?”

The Element of Loyalty gave Ditzy a sharp look and jabbed a hoof in her flattened sister’s direction.

“Can’t you tell? She won.”


Pinkie Pie stared at the clouds from the window of Sugarcube Corner’s front room, her childish mind finding shapes among their formless, fluffy whiteness: she saw a dog chasing a butterfly, a baby foal blowing big bubbles, a snake getting crushed by a rock. Her lip quivered when one of them resembled a frizzy-maned pony slamming another pony’s face into a mirror.

“Ng’ooooh,” Pinkie moaned, pressing her face against the windowpane. “Maybe I was trying too hard, and Twilight just wasn’t curious enough.” Her lips pushed forward in a pout and she watched the clouds swirl on.

She was momentarily distracted by four fillies under a tree across the street. They leapt into the air, clapped their hooves together, and rode off in a wagon attached to a scooter.

“Hmm... I wonder what the Crusaders are up to,” Pinkie said with a sad sigh. “Probably having tons of fun showing their friends new things without hurting their feelings... and faces.”

A cold chill suddenly ran up her spine while a hooded pony exited Sugarcube Corner, followed by a peculiar warmth and firm determination. “You know what?” she said to herself. “I don’t care if the clouds are mean or if the CMC got a new member or if all I can smell right now are cheese strings. I’m gonna go find Twilight and apologize to her right now!”

Pinkie rushed for the front door and smacked into Twilight Sparkle. Both of them tumbled to the ground, eyes swirling in their sockets.

“Oh, Twilight! I found you!” Pinkie chirped, suddenly on her hooves and helping Twilight to her own.

“Pinkie Pie, I came by to apologize,” Twilight said immediately. “It was rude of me to leave so quickly last night before you even had a chance to explain yourself.”

Pinkie gasped. “I was totally on my way to apologize to you, too!” Her forelegs wrapped around Twilight’s neck and she squeezed her friend lovingly. “It was silly of me to think you could possibly have been curious enough already! I should have waited until we were both sure. I’m sorry, Twilight!”

“Curious... enough for... what?” Twilight wheezed through her constricted throat.

Pinkie loosened her grip and slumped against Twilight’s side. “Maybe you’ll find out someday, Twilight. I guess Bluish Carol can’t make everypony as curious as me.”

Twilight snorted. “Pinkie Pie, you’re a lot of things, but curious is hardly one of them.”

Pinkie guffawed. “I am too curious!” she said, putting a hoof to her chest proudly. “Why, I’m the most curiousest mare in Equestria! I’m the only one who knows about the Wabe!”

“The what?” Twilight asked.

Pinkie winced and covered her mouth. “The, uh, the... the waaay!” She smiled weakly and pulled Gummy from somewhere behind Twilight. “The way Gummy likes to be scratched under his chin to make him fall asleep!” She demonstrated, causing the tiny gator’s limbs to go limp and his eyes to close.

The unicorn shook her head. “Pinkie, I heard you. You said ‘wabe’, not ‘way’. What is a ‘wabe’, Pinkie Pie?”

Pinkie rolled her eyes. “Not a wabe, Twilight. The Wabe!”

Twilight rotated her hoof. “Yes? Well, go on!”

“The Wabe is...” Pinkie sat on her haunches, stroking the snoring Gummy’s back while she scanned the ceiling thoughtfully. “The Wabe is... well it’s, uh...” She made an exasperated cough and flung Gummy over her shoulder. “I dunno, Twilight! I can’t explain it, you just have to see it!”

“Well, then, let me see it,” Twilight said, taking a step closer.

“I tried, Twilight, but you weren’t curious enough.” Pinkie shrugged sadly.

“You mean...” Twilight gulped and leaned close to Pinkie, whispering, “With the mirror?”

“Yeah! That’s where the Wabe is!” she said as if it was obvious, pushing her hoof to the side as if breaking through an invisible barrier.

Twilight tilted her head. “Behind the mirror?”

“Not behind the mirror,” she said with an excited gleam in her eyes. “Through the mirror!”

Twilight dropped her head. “Pinkie Pie... you can’t go through a mirror. That’s impossible.”

“Only to ponies like you, Twilight,” Pinkie said with a smile.

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“It meeeeaans,” Pinkie said, skipping toward the staircase, “that you’re not curious enough to find the Wabe, that’s all.”

“I... I’m curious!” Twilight defended, hurrying after Pinkie. “I’m a scientist. We have to be curious!”

“Remember what you said when you came over last night?” Pinkie asked without turning around, heading straight for her room. “About reading Bluish Carol’s book?”


“You said that you read enough to make you curious,” Pinkie quoted, grinning from ear to ear as Twilight followed her into her room.

“Sure, I remember that,” Twilight said.

“What made you curious, Twilight?” she nearly whispered, planting herself next to the tall, rectangular mirror on her wall.

Twilight eyed the glass nervously. “Um... I was... I don’t understand how he could have known about the creatures in Tartarus.”

“Great!” Pinkie said, squeezing her hooves together beneath her chin. “That’s perfect! Now, I want you to wonder about that—reeeeaally wonder—and just be super curious about how he could possibly know that. Okay?”

Twilight gulped. “Okay...”

“And then, when you’re super-duper-extra-ultra-extreeeemely curious,” she said, rising to balance on one hoof, “do this!”

And she cartwheeled through the mirror.

Twilight screamed and scrambled backward, bumping into the far wall. Her heart was racing, her breathing quick. She stared at the perfectly normal-looking pane of glass for nearly twenty seconds before shuffling toward it.

“Pinkie Pie? Are you all right up there?” Mr. Cake’s voice called from downstairs.

“Er, um...” Twilight blinked and gathered herself, shouting back, “We’re fine, Mister Cake! Thank you!” She winced, hoping he wouldn’t come upstairs. She had some serious investigating to do.

“All right, then,” Mr. Cake’s voice wafted. No hoofsteps were heard.

Twilight sighed, clenched her teeth, and approached the mirror at a snail’s pace. She ran her hooves along its frame, timidly poked the glass itself, and even removed it from the wall. Nothing unusual stood out to her. She couldn’t even sense any magic in the room.

“This is bizarre,” she muttered to herself, setting the mirror up exactly as it was. “I don’t... it can’t... it’s impossible!” She squinted hard at her own reflection. “How did Pinkie...”

A familiar pink face replaced her own. “Hi!”

“Gaah!” Twilight slipped and landed on her back.

“Oops! Sorry...” said Pinkie’s head, smiling innocently.

“H-h-how are you...?” Twilight stuttered.

Pinkie giggled, a hoof appearing over her mouth. “Oh, Twilight. You’re so close! You’re asking all the right questions... just be curiouser, and jump in!” She disappeared, leaving only Twilight’s shocked expression in the shiny glass.

Shivering, Twilight heaved herself up and inched closer to the mirror. “C-c... curiouser?”

She froze with her muzzle only a hoof’s width from the glass. A pale pony in the mirror gazed at her, eyes pleading for sensibility. She closed those violet orbs, remembering the disbelief she felt when reading Carol’s words. She focused on that feeling of shock whenever Pinkie did... well, anything, really. She bit her lip, repeating in her mind, “I am curious. I am curious. Curiosity is key.

When she opened her eyes, she was strangely delighted to see a certain glow about them in her reflection: a genuine look of curiosity.

She gulped, revved up the muscles in her hind legs, and jumped forward.

A sensation like passing through bubble solution licked through Twilight’s fur. She clenched her eyelids shut once more, shivering from the brand new feeling, and listened to Pinkie Pie’s uncontrollable giggling.

“You did it! Oh, Twilight, you really did it! I knew you would be the one, I just knew it! Nopony else is curious enough, or smart enough, or imaginative enough, or even fun enough, for that matter! Oh my goodness, I can’t believe it! Well, yes I can, because here you are, right in front of me, in the Wabe! Heehee!” Twilight heard the unmistakable springy noise that accompanied Pinkie’s bouncing. “Oh-ho-ho-ho, there’s another pony in the Wabe! There’s another pony in the Wabe! I wonder how long it’s been since there were two modern ponies in the Wabe? Hmmm...”

Twilight had opened her eyes, but she was staring at the ground. If it said anything about the rest of “the Wabe”, she wasn’t sure she wanted to look up... because it was checkered. The ground beneath her hooves was like a sheet of polished marble, decorated with strangely natural, alternating black and white squares.

“Pinkie Pie...” she breathed, swallowing again, “where are we?”

“Oh, Twilight,” Pinkie cooed as the unicorn lifted her swelling eyes to a world beyond imagination. “That’s a loooonng story.

15 - I Thought You Liked Bubbles

View Online

Chapter Fifteen
I Thought You Liked Bubbles

“How in Tartarus did this happen?” asked a familiar, large pink mare, looming over the splintery crater and glaring at the crowd.

Ditzy tore her distorted gaze from Rainbow Dash as the racer stormed away. Slumping in defeat, she stepped closer to her unconscious sister lying eight or nine ponylengths from the dip in the deck. “It was our fault,” she called out over the mumble of the race’s audience to the big, blue-vested mare, bowing her head to hide her flushing cheeks.

The bulky pink pony swiveled her head toward Ditzy, snorting once before approaching the Sisters Doo. “You two? Why am I not surprised? You’re the mares who tried to get on board for free.”

Ditzy attempted to roll her eyes; thanks to the downward tilt of her head, nopony noticed her failure. “We paid our dues, and… and we’ll pay for the damages to the ship.”

“You bet your Cutie Marks, you will,” the mare growled, bending close to Ditzy’s twitching face. “How’d a couple o’ lazy pegasi blow a hole the size of a sea turtle in the deck of my ship?”

Your ship?” The distinctively Canterlotian laugh of a stallion bubbled up from behind the mare. “Come now, Sickle, she’s as much your ship as she is the Changeling Queen’s.”

Ditzy lifted her head just enough to see the newcomer. An ivory unicorn with a navy blue mane and well-trimmed mustache adjusted his monocle and smirked at the threatening mare. Her wide mouth curved into a frown and she took a step sideways, allowing the impressive stallion to take her place by the Sisters Doo.

“Cheer up, old girl,” he encouraged, bumping the bottom of Ditzy’s lowered chin. “Don’t mind Sickle for a minute. She’s been working the deck of this old haul for years and years. Just a bit touchy of its state, you see; I’m sure you’ll understand.”

His tone was colorful and genuine. Even Daring stirred under its dulcet influence.

“What’s all this then, hm?” he asked. “It’s not every day I get to handle this kind of excitement in open air.”

Ditzy stifled a laugh at that, imagining the debonair gentlecolt knocking drunken heads together in the bar downstairs. “My sister here,” Ditzy began, nudging the yellow-coated pony on the ground, “got drunk and raced… another pony… around the balloon.”

An eyebrow raised above his monocle. “How reckless. And then?”

Ditzy blinked. “Um… she… crashed.”

There was a moment of silence before the unicorn laughed skyward. “Haa haa! Of course she did. Hmhmhm!” After a deep breath, he cleared his throat and faced the slumping mailmare. “What’s your name, old girl?” he asked.

“Ditzy Doo.”

“Well then, Miss Doo, what would you say to helping your sister here to my room at the bow?” He lifted an edge of the pith helmet tossed haphazardly over Daring’s head and grimaced at her tangled, greyscale mane. “She certainly appears to be in need of a good washing up, doesn’t she?”

Ditzy grinned and chanced a joke. “I’d say she’s plenty washed up already.”

“Hah hah! Good show, old girl!” the captain laughed, pushing back the large blue cap that sat behind his horn. A golden glow of practiced magic wrapped around Daring and she lifted—twitching—to hover beside the amiable captain. “Come now, Miss Doo. I imagine I’ll need your help to revive her.”

Ditzy followed his march to the wall of doors. The pink mare eyed her with a snarl as they passed the crater, but by focusing on how silly Daring looked wriggling in midair, Ditzy was able to ignore her. They headed for the rightmost portal, guarded by a swinging white door with a centered, circular window identical to all the others. As they entered, Ditzy briefly glanced over her shoulder in hopes of spotting Rainbow Dash, but the speedster was nowhere to be seen.

She hadn’t realized how loud the deck was until they left it behind for a bright, narrow hallway. The ground was covered in fuzzy green carpet and the walls were of polished wooden panels. It stretched onward for a surprising distance until Ditzy was sure they would fall out the front of the ship. The hall was narrow enough that the captain had to keep Daring suspending directly behind him as he led the way; Ditzy stayed close to her sister, snickering at her limpness.

Finally they reached another door at the opposite end of the hall. The captain extended another tendril of magic to unlock it. The metal rectangle swung noiselessly on its hinges, inviting the small group into a wide, open room decorated almost exclusively with large, extravagant seashells.

Ditzy gasped at the unexpected beauty of the room. With a smile, the captain carried Daring to a square bed set against the center of the far wall, raised on a short wooden platform. On both sides of the bed, the wall was entirely glass, illuminating the spacey chamber with crisp morning Sunlight. The windows were considerably convex, allowing Ditzy to see the ocean far beneath the flying ship.

“Wow!” she breathed.

“Sometimes I feel terribly guilty,” the captain said as he arranged Daring into a comfortable position. “Compared to the rooms of the passengers, my quarters are rather extreme.”

“It’s wonderful,” Ditzy said, slowly turning to the left to admire the huge, swirling seashells hanging on the walls.

“Had I designed the ship, it would be less than a third of its size.” He shrugged. “But, as I did not design it, I make use of its gratuitous space.”

“These are all yours?” Ditzy asked, closing one eye to better appreciate a shell of swirling browns and creams.

“It is a personal collection, yes,” he said. “I’m rather fond of the ocean’s natural beauties.”

“Uh-huh!” was all Ditzy could say, overwhelmed by the colors and patterns both her eyes were throwing at her brain. She shook her head clear and turned instead to the calming windows, each six ponylengths long and almost three tall. “Do you own the ship?” she asked the captain.

“I do,” he said, trotting to her side. “I purchased it from an old friend of mine.”

“Ocean Liner?” Ditzy asked.

The captain looked surprise. “Why, yes, in fact! Are you familiar with him?”

Ditzy grinned and nodded, turning to face the captain for the first time. He recoiled slightly, surprised by her wild eyes. She whipped her head back to the window, wilting as she said, “Sorry.”

“Oh, no, please don’t apologize!” the captain said, removing his hat. “It was entirely rude of me to act appalled. I am very sorry, Miss Doo.”

“It’s fine,” Ditzy assured him, waving a hoof, unable to take her focused eye from the blue-meets-blue horizon. “I know it’s pretty shocking, and I’ve seen a lot worse reactions than that.”

The captain chuckled and extended a polite hoof, his long-sleeved jacket wrinkling in all the right places. “My name is Fancypants. I own three Transoatlantic Airships and captain the boats, when I can.”

Ditzy shook his hoof and mimicked his introduction. “I’m Ditzy Doo, full-time mailmare and, um... mother of one. Heheh....”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what is your business in Stirrope, Miss Doo?” Captain Fancypants asked, moving to a sturdy desk near the room’s doorway. “Hiding your sister away?”

“Oh. Heheh… well, not exactly.”

“What’s your destination? Itaily? Cheval?”


Fancypants gave her a sideways glance. “Haissan? Really?”

“Yes, sir.”

The stallion kept his eyes trained on Ditzy’s face as if analyzing her answer. “Aren’t you Equestrian?”

Ditzy giggled. “I am.”

“From where?”


Fancypants suddenly brightened. “Ah! Ponyville! Why, I know a mare or two from your neck of the woods. Tell me, are you familiar with a Miss Rarity Belle?”

Ditzy beamed. “Yeah, of course! She runs the local boutique, and she’s really nice to everypony.”

Fancy’s smile softened. “Indeed she is,” he said thoughtfully, turning back to his work. “Well, that’s splendid. I can’t imagine what business a mare like you would have in Haissan, but I’m sure you’ll manage yourself just fine.” His magic scratched a quill over the bottom of some document and he turned his eyes to the bed. “Your sister, on the other hoof…”

Tilting her head, Ditzy asked, “What do you mean, ‘a mare like me’?”

“Well, you strike me as the type of pony who takes good care of herself,” Fancypants said. “Haissan is a notoriously dangerous country and they don’t take kindly to Equestrians these days. I’d assume that, unless you had a good reason, you’d stay away from such roughness.” He trotted to the bedside and ran his eyes over Daring’s snoring frame. “I may be subjected to a poor first impression, but it seems to me that your sister does not possess the same sense of caution.”

Ditzy laughed. “Yep, that sounds like Daring.”

Fancypants lowered his brow in thought. “Daring?” he repeated. Something flashed behind his sky blue eyes and he lifted his chin knowingly. “Aaaahhhhh, of course. The Great Daring Do. I knew she looked familiar.” He adjusted his monocle and chuckled under his breath. “Ocean Liner is a big fan of the series. I imagine she’s the author?”

Impressed, Ditzy swished her tail. “That’s right.”

“I’ve never read the books myself,” he admitted with a polite shrug.

“You’re not missing much,” Ditzy said, chuckling.

Fancypants grinned without comment and replaced his hat. “Well, then. If you’ll undress her, I’ll go get a bath started. As soon as she is in a more… agreeable state, shall we say… we’ll discuss the matter of repairing my deck.”

Ditzy nodded. “That sounds more than fair. Thank you, Mister Pants.”

The captain’s lips pursed in a small smile. “It’s all one word, ma’am. Fancypants.”

Ditzy blushed. “Oh… sorry.”

“A fair comeback for my earlier rudeness,” he teased, and left the room.

Ditzy found herself smiling, even as she worked to pull the vomit-stained shirt from Daring’s essentially boneless figure.


Rainbow Dash circled the ship like a seagull, keeping below the edge of the deck and out of most ponies’ sights. Occasionally she dove to the ocean surface, working her wings to stay a few feet above the constantly heaving waves. Though exhausting, the difficult practice stole Rainbow’s thoughts away from her recent race and Daring’s taunting.

She swept over three, four, five crests before smashing through the sixth one. Shining streams and particles of water exploded over her coat and wove into her mane. Beating both wings to one side, she lifted a hoof above her head and spun like a prismatic cyclone. The water blossomed around her in beautiful patterns reflecting her mane.

She closed her eyes and listened as millions of droplets returned to their home in a lingering patter of spray. Grinning, and without opening her eyes, Rainbow took off from the ocean’s surface, climbing higher toward the ship on quickly drying feathers. By the time she broke over the edge of the ship and landed gently on its deck, her azure coat was sheen and dry and her mane had returned to its natural clumps.

Her stomach gurgled painfully and she headed for the wall of doors, wondering which level of the ship housed the cafeteria Ditzy had used. Fifteen or twenty minutes later, she resorted to asking for directions.

“Second level,” the skinny stallion said with a smile, pointing up, “toward the back of the ship. When you get close, you’ll hear it. They’re always noisy in there.”

“Thanks,” Rainbow said, returning his smile with a sheepish one. “Awesome hoodie, by the way.”

The stallion’s grin widened and he adjusted the blue and yellow jacket. “You a fan of the Wonderbolts?”

“The biggest!” Rainbow said. “I hope to join ‘em someday.”

“Whoa, really? That’s rad!” He ruffled his pair of stark white wings that Rainbow hadn’t noticed. “I’m not much a flier myself, but I always admire the ponies who are!”

“You’re a pegasus,” Rainbow acknowledged. “I didn’t think there were many on the ship.”

“There aren’t,” he said, smirking. “You ever been to Stirrope?”

Rainbow shook her head. The stallion rolled his bright green eyes.

“It’s, uh… well, they’ve had a lot of trouble with griffons in the past, so I can’t really blame ‘em, but Stirropeans aren’t exactly mane over tail for us wingéd sort.”

Rainbow snickered. “Yeah, I sorta know about that. What’re you goin’ over there for?”

He waved a hoof. “Nyaw, it’s a long story. I don’t wanna keep you from the cafeteria.”

“What are you tryin’ to say?” she asked, leaning toward the stallion and squinting hard.


His shrinking pupils broke Rainbow’s resolve and she let out a short, brash laugh. “I’m just joking! Thanks for the directions.”

His wings drooped in relief. “Heh… yeah, no problem, uh…?”

“Rainbow Dash,” she finished, turning toward the staircase for higher levels. Something held her in place, and a voice that sounded suspiciously like Twilight’s whispered something about friendship in her head. She stifled a groan and looked over her shoulder.

“You, uh… you wanna come with?” she asked the white pegasus. With a wry smile, she added, “You look like you could use a meal or two.”

The stallion glanced down at his bony body and snorted. “S’genetic. The hoodie doesn’t quite hide it, eh?”

“Not even close.”

“Heheh…” He bit his lip. “Thanks for the offer, but I’d rather not go in there. Too many ponies for my taste.”

“Gotcha,” Rainbow said, saluting him. “See ya around.”


Rainbow ducked into the stairwell, hurrying up a couple of flights with a few helpful beats of her wings. Reaching the second level, she wove through a hallway of ponies toward the back end of the ship and, true to the stallion’s word, noticed a cacophony of chatter and utensil use steadily growing the farther she went.

With the noise as her guide, it wasn’t long before she entered a large, plain area where scores of ponies were eating from trays. It was a far better maintained facility than the bar, well lit and clean, with several stations along the walls offering a variety of food. Licking her lips, Rainbow flew over tables from station to station, gathering as much as could fit on one tray and ignoring the glares from the many seated eaters.

Though it wasn’t crammed, Rainbow could see how a pony might feel claustrophobic in the cafeteria. She wasn’t in the mood to sit elbow-to-elbow with anypony she hadn’t met, and the only round table that wasn’t already in use by some five or six ponies was a small one in the corner at which a single griffon sat, drumming his talon on an empty plate. Shrugging to herself, Rainbow darted to a seat across the table from the griffon, slamming her tray onto its plastic surface and digging into a small bowl of seedless grapes.

The griffon balled his tapping talons into a loose fist that he tucked under the table. He tilted his head, covered in grey and white feathers that spiked upward in the back, and stared at Rainbow Dash long enough to make her feel uneasy.

“Is it okay if I sit here?” she asked through a mouthful of grapes.

He snickered. “Sure thing, pony,” he said in a deep, raspy voice. “I’m just making sure you really want to.”

Rainbow swept her hoof at the rest of the room. “Nowhere else to sit, really.”

The griffon grunted and Rainbow went back to her gorge, filling her rumbling belly. That apple Ditzy gave her was the only thing she had eaten in way too long. She barely chewed, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of red and blue berries.

“Do they feed you in Equestria?” the griffon asked, crossing his forearms amusedly.

Rainbow laughed a little. “I’m just hungry, okay?”

“Clearly.” He narrowed his eyes in thought. “Hey… are you the pony that was racing around the balloon not too long ago?”

The next hoofful of berries missed her mouth completely. She winced as they splattered on the ground behind her and avoided eye contact with the griffon. “Uh… yeah, that was me.”

“Impressive stuff,” he said, nodding. “I’ve never seen a pony fly that fast.”

A proud grin returned to Rainbow’s face. “Thanks. I learned a thing or two from a griffon friend of mine, as a matter of fact.”

“Aaaahhh…” He tilted his head back and leered down his beak. “So that’s it. I was wondering why you sat here.”

Rainbow’s brow creased. “Huh?”

“These ponies are all too scared to eat with a big, bad griffon,” he said, leaning halfway across the table to lower his voice. “You’re the only one who’s even gotten close to me since I walked in here.”

“Are you serious?” Rainbow asked, raising an eyebrow. She glanced around, noticing how deliberately the ponies were avoiding that corner. “What the hay? That’s messed up.”

“Hardly,” he said, examining the tips of his talons. “I try to stay away from them, too.”

Rainbow guffawed. “You want me to leave?” she asked, spreading her wings with half closed eyes.

“Nah, you seem pretty cool,” he admitted, shrugging his large, charcoal wings. “But most of you ponies are lame.”

Rainbow grimaced at the word. “Hmm. Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”

“From your griffon friend?”

Her frown deepened. “I don’t really know if I can call her my ‘friend’ anymore.”

“Heheh… see? We stay away from each other.” He leaned back again and popped his shoulder with a quick movement. “That’s just the way things go.”

Rainbow pushed a strawberry around her tray. “Yeah, well… it sucks.”


She scowled. “It sucks. I… I don’t care that you’re a griffon and I’m a pony. We can both talk, we can both fly, we can both… I dunno, make friends and stuff. What’s the big deal?”

His beady eyes followed her strawberry for a long, speechless minute. Finally he said, “Ponies think they’re better because they have natural magic, and their princesses cycle the days.”

“I don’t have magic!” Rainbow argued.

He held up his claws. “You asked a question, I’m just answering. Besides, you’re not the only ones at fault. Deep down, griffons are jealous of ponies’ unity, I think. Our society has never seen the peace yours has maintained for thousands of years. We compensate for that by thinking of you as small, frilly, lame… y’know, weak.” He shrugged. “We’re both wrong, of course, but like I said: that’s just the way things go.”

Rainbow blinked.

“And yeah,” he continued, “it does suck. I made a few pony friends while I was in Equestria over the last few months, but am I gonna keep in touch with them? Am I ever gonna see them again? No way. My friends back home would never let me hear the end of it.”

A lump grew in Rainbow’s throat. “R-really?”

“Oh, yeah. Sympathizing with ponies is the equivalent of social suicide in Aquila.”

Ak-wuh-luh?” Rainbow repeated.

“It’s our homeland,” the griffon explained, “a little country north of Itaily and Haissan.”


“I thought you had a griffon friend, pony.”

“Yeah, but she was born and raised in Equestria.” Rainbow waved a hoof around. “Mount Griffon, or something like that.”

“Griffon Mount,” he corrected with a lopsided smile. “Heheh… we don’t think too highly of them, either.”

“Wow.” Rainbow pulled at a green lock of her mane. “I didn’t know that.” She stared through her messy tray with a distant expression.

“You going to Itaily or something?” the griffon asked, stretching his lion legs beneath the table. “I hear lots of ponies think it’s pretty there or something.”

“Haissan,” Rainbow answered without raising her head.

He whistled through a beak, a loud and screeching noise. “Woo-wee. Why the heck are you doin’ that?”

Rainbow didn’t answer, prompting the griffon to crack his neck and ask a different question.

“Who was that pony you were racing earlier? Your sister?”

Her eyes darted up to meet his sharply purple pair. “Huh? No, way. Why would you think that?”

“Sibling rivalry, I guess,” he said. “You two were really going at it. Besides, you look almost exactly the same.”

What? We do not!”

“Sure you do. I may not have been very close to the crash, but I saw you two flying; us griffons have pretty good eyesight.”

“Ha! Yeah you do! I remember Gilda spotted an apple tree in the middle of a forest once. We must have been a mile up!”

He shook his head. “Heh. That’s nothing. But speaking of eyes—” He pointed one talon at Rainbow’s pair. “—yours match your not-sister’s exactly.”

“We’re ponies,” Rainbow said with a twitch of her wings. “There are only so many colors, y’know.”

“I do,” he said, staring at her mane.

She tousled her bangs with a hoof and bit off half an apple.

“So it wasn’t sibling rivalry, eh?” the griffon asked, folding his forearms over his dark feathered chest. “How do you know her?”

“She’s my, uh… partner,” Rainbow said.

“Ooooooh-ho-ho,” he crooned, winking at her. “So that’s it.”

Rainbow paled. “What? No! No, no, no, I… we’re on an adventure!”

Rowwr. Is that what they call it these days?”

“Gaah!” Rainbow slapped her hooves over her eyes. “No! Her name is Daring Do, she’s a famous explorer, and I’m helping her find… something.”

“And what’s your name, pony?” he asked.

Rainbow peeked over the edges of her hooves at the griffon’s sincere expression. She lowered them into her lap and took a deep breath before saying, “Rainbow Dash.”

“I’m Filoplume,” he said, extending a claw halfway across the table. “You can call me Filo.”

Rainbow grinned at the golden talons curled into a familiar fist. With a nostalgic tilt of her brow, she reached forward and bumped the flat of her hoof against it. “Good to meetcha.”


Daring awoke in a sea of warm bubbles, and that scared the living daylights out of her.

“What the gak!?” she spat, nearly swallowing a mouthful of sudsy bathwater. Spluttering and splashing, she tried to get to her hooves.

“Calm down, Daring!” said a high-pitched voice that froze the thrashing mare. “You're spilling water everywhere!”

“Ditzy?” She parted the wall of tiny bubbles surrounding the edge of the tub, revealing Ditzy’s scowling face inside a spacious, spotless bathroom. “Whooooaaa…” she said, dragging her sparkling eyes over the practical gold and white décor. “Are we, like… dead?”

Ditzy blinked. “Excuse me?”

“Did we die?” Daring asked again in a floaty voice, pupils slowly enlarging. “Are we in Pony Heavennnnn?”

“Are you still drunk, Daring?” the mailmare asked with a squint.

“Probably,” said Daring, flicking a hoofful of foam into Ditzy’s face.

“Gaah! Daring, quit it!” she complained, brushing the tiny bubbles from her cheek.

“Quit what?” the adventuress asked, pushing an entire section of the bubble wall onto her sister.

Ditzy started to giggle. “Daring, what are you doing? Do you even know what’s going on?”

“You’re being annoying,” Daring said with a smile, dumping another chunk of foam over the edge.

Ditzy shrieked with laughter, leaping away from the large, porcelain bath. “Eeeeheehee! Don’t do that!”

“I thought you liked bubbles!” Daring said, scooping a ball of the weightless stuff and trying to throw it across the room. It didn’t work, landing on the tiles just outside the tub. Both of them cracked up, wiggling their hooves helplessly. More water splashed onto the floor making Ditzy cringe and snort as she struggled to contain her snickers.

“Daring, stop! This is the captain’s bathroom. We don’t want to ruin it!”

“The captain?” Daring’s goofy grin vanished. “Oh, ship!”

“Right, we’re crossing the ocean,” Ditzy said, “heading for Haissan. Do you remember what we’re doing there?”

“Uh…” Daring squeezed her eyes shut, running a hoof along her dripping grey mane matted against the side of her neck. “We’re… oh! We’re rescuing those foals!”

With a sigh, Ditzy approached the tub again. “And… do you remember how you got—”

“Ah, crap,” Daring said, rubbing the circles under her eyes. “The race.” She cracked one eye open and glanced around the bathroom. “Is the kid okay?”

Ditzy pushed her mouth over to one side. “I hope so.”

“I think I…” She creased her brow and reached for her memory. Slowly, a wry smile stretched across her face. “I think I won.”

Ditzy pulled her head back. “What?”

Daring beamed. “Ha! I did! I totally beat her!” She pumped her hoof a few times, cackling to herself. “Ah, yeah! I beat the Best Young Flier! Take that, Prism Speeder!”

“Her name is Rainbow Dash!” Ditzy yelled. “You know her name is Rainbow Dash!”

“Her name might as well be ‘Loser’ now! Haa haaa!”

“Uuuugggh!” Ditzy spun on the slick floor and stomped out of the bathroom as Daring hooted behind her. Infuriated, she slammed the bathroom door closed and startled Fancypants writing something at his desk.

“I take it she’s awake,” he said, eyeing her expression with a curious air.

“Awake and idiotic,” she growled. “They go hoof in hoof for Daring.”

Fancypants’ mouth curved into a small smile and he released the magic around his quill. “How long will she be in there, do you think?”

“I dunno. I brushed the tangles from her mane while she was out. I don’t know if she’ll realize how clean she is. We might have to wait a while.”

The bathroom door suddenly swung open and Daring slid past her sister, grinding to a stop between her and Fancypants. He raised his eyebrows in surprise as she tossed a white towel over her back, flicking her wings open and posing heroically. To Ditzy’s bewildernment, her golden coat was sheen and dry and her mane had returned to its natural clumps.

“Did I miss anything?” she asked with a thin half-smile.

“Ah, Miss Do,” Fancypants greeted. “It’s a pleasure to meet you consciously.”

“Heheh!” Daring stretched her neck and gave Fancypants a sideways glance. “Sorry about that, Cap. Guess I had one too many drinks at your awesome bar. You know how it is.”

“Hardly,” he said in an even tone. “How do you feel?”

“Fresh as a cool night breeze!” she said, bouncing her hind hooves a few times. “Thanks for the hospitality, Cap! That was sure nice o’ ya.”

He blinked at the gratitude and exchanged a quick glance with Ditzy, whose scowl had only deepened. “Er… you’re quite welcome.” His monocle gleamed in the windows’ Sunlight as he lifted his head. “Did you manage to get all the splinters out of your mane?”

Daring frowned. “Splinters?”

“Your crash created quite the imprint on my deck,” he said. “I worried you may have been injured; the health care in Haissan is far from affordable for someone of your nationality.”

“Nyeh, I’m fine,” Daring said, shaking out one leg at a time. “And even if I wasn’t, a few hundred bits is no fur off my coat.”

“Excellent,” Fancypants said. “Let’s discuss your bill of repair, then.”

Daring’s ears drooped. “Huh?”

“As you were responsible for the damage to my ship, I believe you should contribute to its restoration. Don’t you agree?”

A strangled cough came from Daring’s throat as she flapped in place. “I-it wasn’t my fault! Raindash made me do it!”

Ditzy opened her mouth to correct her but ended up shrugging. “Eh, close enough.”

Daring didn’t let Fancypants ask any questions. “I’m not payin’ nothin’! I didn’t do anything wrong!”

Ditzy gaped. “Eh-hexcuuuse me?”

“It was the kid’s fault!” she argued, turning to her sister. “I shouldn’t have to pay a bit. She totally grabbed my wings!”

“Your participation in the race was witnessed by an irrefutable number of ponies—”

“So what? It costs money to race now?”

“When the race inflicts substantial damage on somepony else’s property, yes.”

“That’s stupid!” Daring’s flapping lifted her into a jerky hover. “I refuse!”

“Daring!” Ditzy hissed. “Take some responsibility, will you? We both know you have plenty of money! It’s the least you can do for—”

“Oh, shut up, you,” Daring said, swooping in front of her sister and shoving a hoof over her mouth. “The grownups are talking.”

Ditzy’s eyes widened and swiveled in opposite directions. Her face donned a scarlet hue and she screamed into Daring’s hoof, forcing her to pull away.

“Whoa-ho-ho! That tickles!”

“Daring, you… you thankless brat!” Ditzy’s furious stomping rattled the seashells on the nearest wall. “You stupid, thankless, selfish brat!”

“Miss Doo…” Fancypants said quietly.

“I can’t stand you, Daring!” Ditzy growled. “I… nnnrrng... I... hate you! I hate you so much!”

Daring stared at her for a moment and folded her wings at her sides. After an uncomfortable silence, she cast her eyes toward the ceiling and said, “Meh.”

Howling behind tightly closed lips, Ditzy darted to the chamber’s main door.

“Miss Doo!” Fancypants called out, but she paid him no mind, yanking the door open and flying down the long hallway as fast as she could. By the time she burst through the wall of doors into the late morning Sun, a few hot tears were building at the corner of her eyes. She groaned and brushed them away, landing hard on the deck and trotting absentmindedly toward Daring’s crater.

“Why do you let her get to you like this?” Ditzy asked herself in a tight voice. “We used to be so happy… and just now, with the bubbles, she was so….” She sighed in defeat and collapsed against the banister, staring at the endless ocean sloshing far below. “…friendly.”

She didn’t even have to try to ignore the ponies along the edge of the deck giving her strange looks. Her mind was in a completely different place and time, and her eyesight was blurred in more than one way.

“I hate her,” she mumbled under her breath. “I hate her so much.”


“It’s not like I hate her or anything,” Rainbow said, tugging at her ears, “but… she was so mean! Totally different than the Gilda I knew at Junior Speedsters!”

“What was she like, then?” Filo asked.

Rainbow spun her hooves around each other. “I dunno… nice? Nice to me, anyway. We started there the same year and just clicked, I guess. We were always the best fliers, so we practiced together a lot… and we both had problems with our dads, so… I dunno, we just clicked!”

“I understand, Rainbow,” Filo said with a chuckle.

Rainbow stuck out her jaw. “What’s so funny?”

“You’re getting pretty worked up over this,” he said. “It’s amusing.”

“It’s not amusing! It sucks!” Rainbow yelled, throwing her hooves above her head. “I… I haven’t seen her in, like, a year! I’ll probably never see her again!”

“And that’s—”

“—just the way things goooo,” Rainbow mocked, rolling her eyes. She dropped a foreleg onto the tabletop and rested her face on her hoof. “I dunno… it’s just weird when you think you know someone, and they turn out to be totally different.”

“Is that what happened with your partner?” he asked.

Rainbow’s lips pushed into a pout. “Yeah. She’s just… she’s such a flip flop.”

“Cool one minute and lame the next?” the griffon asked.

Rainbow snorted. “Not really. I guess she’s pretty consistent. But she’s consistently selfish.”

“Ha!” Filo twirled a claw as if to say “Go on.”

“I dunno, dude… she’s a total jerk! She just wants to be better than everypony else at, like, everything. And she’s loud about it, too, like she needs everyone to know exactly how awesome she thinks she is.”


“Totally! Like this race we just had… I couldn’t believe she was serious at first, but she was so eager to prove that she was a better flier.”

The corners of Filo’s beak twitched. “Can you blame her?”

Rainbow glanced up. “Huh?”

“You’re telling me you’ve never competed with your friends?” he asked. “Or that you’ve never wanted to prove you were the best at something?”

Rainbow was frozen. “But… but I am the best!”

“Hahaa!” The griffon leaned back and pointed at Rainbow. “I see what’s going on here. You two really are like sisters. You have very similar personalities, and they’re clashing.”

“What!? No, way! Daring is a total jerk. I’m nice to my friends!”

“So you consider yourself a friend of hers?”

Unexpectedly, Rainbow’s heart started to hammer. “Uh… well… yeah, I guess so.”

Filo nodded. “And what about Gilda? Is she your friend?”

Rainbow lowered her head. “No. I guess not.”

“Don’t be disheartened,” Filo said, shaking one extended talon. “There’s a valuable lesson to be learned here, Rainbow.”

Her eyes shimmered. “There is?”

“What do you like about Gilda?”

“Um…” Her brow wrinkled. “We used to fly together a lot, and she used to—”

“Not ‘used to’. None of that. What do you like about her, right now?”

Rainbow swallowed. “Oh. Well… nothing, really.” She winced. “Huh. That’s kinda sad, isn’t it?”

“And what do you like about Daring?”

A warmth spread beneath Rainbow’s ribs as a smile slowly stretched across her face. “Daring is… funny. Really funny. And she’s super confident; doesn’t care who’s around, she says and does whatever she wants.”

Her smile was mirrored on Filo’s face. “What else?”

“She’s super talented,” Rainbow said. “Like, she can do a whole bunch of cool stuff. She’s a really fast flier when she tries hard—I mean, she kept up with me! That’s pretty impressive! And she can write like nopony’s business. The way she writes her books, it’s, like… it’s like you’re right there with her, going on all her adventures and braving the dangers! It’s really crazy and exciting and just cool.”

“What else?”

“She… heh, I know this kinda goes against what I said before, but most of the time she’s actually really nice to me. Like, she kinda has this snarky way of doing it, but she compliments me a lot and makes me feel like she’s glad I’m here.”

The dark feathered griffon drew in a deep breath and offered Rainbow a thoughtful nod. “She sounds like a friend.”

Rainbow’s stomach tightened. “Well, yeah, but—”

“Rainbow Dash, there’s a big difference between friends and enemies,” Filo said, leaning across the table and looking directly into Rainbow’s wide, ruby eyes. “Though they might act in very similar ways at times, in the end, your friends want to help you, and your enemies want to help themselves. I’ve never met Gilda or Daring, but the way you talk about them makes it very clear to me which of them is your friend and which is your enemy.” He stroked the bottom of his beak and glanced around the room as he continued. “There will always be moments when your friends act like your enemies—some more often than others—but when it gets down to the wire, the distinction becomes undeniably clear.”

The warmth in her top half overpowered the tension in her gut as Rainbow Dash’s smile grew stretched from ear to ear. “Wow… you’re totally right!”

Filo shrugged. “I like to think so.”

“Rainbow Dash!”

The Element of Loyalty and her advisor turned toward the shout. Ditzy Doo was weaving between the emptying tables in the cafeteria as quickly as her uncooperative eyes would allow.

“Well, I think that’s my cue to go,” Filo said, rising from his seat. “It was honestly a pleasure to meet you, Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow beamed. “You too, Filo! See ya around, right?”

“I hope so. Good luck.” With a brief stretch of his huge wings, the impressive creature sauntered away from the table several seconds before Ditzy plopped into the seat at Rainbow’s right.

“Who was that?” she asked, watching the griffon leave with one eye.

“A new friend,” Rainbow said. “What’s up?”

Ditzy ground her teeth. “Daring is… well, she’s just such a… grrr!”

“Hahah! I know what you mean.”

The mailmare buried her face in her hooves. “I’m so sorry about her, Rainbow Dash. I bet she said some nasty things during that race.”

“Yeah. She did.”

Ditzy sighed and laid her head on the table facing Rainbow. “At least now you can see why I hate her,” she said, taking an apple from Rainbow’s tray and spinning it under her hoof.

The blue mare gave her a wary look. “Uh… no, actually, I can’t.”

Ditzy’s head popped up and she dropped the fruit into her lap. “What?”

“She was drunk,” Rainbow said, shrugging. “It’s not like she would say that stuff to me right now.”

“Of course she would!” Ditzy said loudly, scooting to the edge of her chair. “Rainbow, don’t let her fool you. She’s a mean, manipulative, selfish pony.”

Rainbow’s eyebrow knitted as she said, “Not to me. She compliments me all the time, and I think she can be really funny.”

“What!? She is as far from funny as Discord!”

“Oh, please. I’ve seen you smile at her dumb jokes.”

Ditzy’s jaw dropped. “Rainbow Dash, are you serious? You can’t be serious!”

Rainbow donned a serious expression. “Come on, Ditzy. Daring might be an idiot sometimes, but she’s still your sister, and she’s my friend. We can’t get so mad at her that we lose our cool.”

Three whole seconds of silence went by before Ditzy got up and left.

“Hey! Where are you going?”

“I cannot believe you, Rainbow Dash!” Ditzy screamed without turning around, drawing the attention of several eating ponies. Her face flushing, Ditzy used her wings to hurry out of the cafeteria and head for their little room. She hoped a nice rest would calm her down.

As the cafeteria was on the same level as their room, it didn’t take long to get back. Unnervingly, the door was already open when the frazzled mailmare reached it. Daring was inside, sitting on Rainbow’s cot, rolling up the sleeves of her freshly laundered canvas shirt.

“What the hay are you doing here!?” Ditzy exploded.

Daring didn’t look at her. “Fancypants said we’ll reach Stirrope around sunset,” she said. “Guess the trips are faster these days. Better engines or something.”

Ditzy fumed and twitched in the doorway.

“I’m gonna go get something to eat,” Daring continued, adjusting her collar and flexing her wings. “The cafeteria in the same place?”

The silence in the room was colder than ice. Daring clicked her tongue and moved toward the door. Ditzy stepped aside and glared at the copy of Daring Do and the Poison Whispered Kiss on Rainbow’s pillow.

“See ya, Sis,” Daring grunted on her way out the door. Ditzy slammed it shut as soon as her sister’s greyscale tail was in the hallway. Her breathing quickened as she stormed to the cot, glaring golden daggers at the smug, stupid mare on the book’s garish cover.

“Grrr-raaaauugh!” Ditzy roared, pounding her hooves into the novel’s hard exterior. Again and again she slammed them down until her forelegs became a blur of ferocious movement, pummeling the artwork into unrecognizable blurs of dull color.

16 - Show Some Manners

View Online

Chapter Sixteen
Show Some Manners

Daring pulled her wings in briefly to let a family of earth ponies pass her in the hall. Alone, she spread them until the tips nearly touched the opposite walls of the corridor. She sighed, stretching and rolling the muscles in her neck and back to relieve their unbearable soreness. “Sweet Celestia, I hate winning,” she said with a little chuckle. “Now where the heck is that cafeteria?”

Groping through the dusty corners of her memory, Daring managed to find the noisy room that offered every basic food on Equus. Eagerly, she filled her tray and moved to the closest table, many of which were empty by that late in the morning.

“Hey, Daring!” called a scratchy voice. The adventuress looked toward the noise and noticed a blue hoof waving vivaciously over the small crowd. “Over here!”

“Huh?” She flapped her wings for a better view and squinted her still-blurry eyes, but there was no mistaking that multi-colored mane. “Uh oh.” Gulping, she timidly waved back, catching her tray before it fell. Lowering herself into one of the chairs around the nearest table, she ducked her head and started to eat, hoping Rainbow wouldn’t make a scene. As much as she loved the attention, right then wasn’t the time: she was hung up, hung over, and hungry.

Rainbow Dash suddenly slammed into the seat at Daring’s side. The yellow mare yelped and lost her grip on an apple, watching it roll away.

Rainbow rubbed the back of her neck. “Whoops… sorry. Heheh….”

Daring shrugged. “Nyeh, it’s all right. They got plenty more where that came from.”

“I wonder how many of these came from Sweet Apple Acres,” Rainbow said, glancing at the apple station in the center of a far wall. “They seem to pump out a lot of fruit every year.”

Daring furrowed her brow. “Is that, uh… Flapjack’s place?”

Rainbow laughed. “Applejack. Close enough.”

Rolling her eyes, Daring said, “You’d think I could remember that one,” and took a big bite of another green apple.

A small smile came over Rainbow’s face and she shrugged. “Eh, at least you’re trying.”

Daring cast a sideways glance at her partner. “You seem… happy.”

Rainbow beamed. “I am happy!”

“Well, that’s great. But, I mean… you don’t seem… y’know… mad.”

“Aawww, it’s fine. You were drunker than I can ever relate to. I know you didn’t mean it.” In a painfully familiar manner, Rainbow thumped her hoof against the space between Daring Do’s wings.

“Aaaah-ha-ha-hooowww…” Daring whined, pushing herself away from Rainbow’s hoof. “Don’t do thaaat.”

Rainbow scrunched up her face and snickered. “You sore, Doctor Do?”

“Doctor?” Daring snorted. “Kid, that’s a name for the books alone. I’m not a doctor of anything. And yeah, I’m frickin’ sore as Tartarus.”

Rainbow cackled to the ceiling, clutching her diaphragm. “Oh, I bet you are! Nopony keeps up with Rainbow Dash and doesn’t feel the burn!”

“Not just keeps up,” Daring said with a wink.

Rainbow raised her hooves and stifled her giggles. “Well, I can’t say it was fair and square, but you’re right, Doc: you beat me.”

“What’s with this Doc stuff all o’ the sudden, kid?”

“What’s with calling me ‘kid’ when we both know you know my name?”

Daring smirked at that. “Oh, yeah. What was it again, uh… Thunder Clap? Prism Bash? Tender Hoof?”

“Hey!” Rainbow punched her partner playfully in the shoulder while they laughed.

“Do you even remember the crap you said?” Rainbow asked.

“Not all of it,” Daring answered. Her tail swished. “But… enough to know you should be mad.”

“Yeah, prob’ly.” Rainbow stole one of the carrots on top of Daring’s pile and chewed off the end of it with her back teeth. “I’m no good at staying mad at my friends.”

With raised eyebrows, Daring turned halfway and looked at the shine in Rainbow’s ruby eyes. She couldn’t think of anything to say, but the involuntary grin growing under her snout was more than enough for Rainbow Dash.

“So I guess Ditzy and I are on our own, huh?” the weathermare said with a mouth full of carrot. “Since you quit and all.”

“Quit?” Daring guffawed and flicked her hoof dismissively. “Pssshh. Did I say that? That was either the alcohol talking, or you’re just making stuff up.”

“Could be!” Rainbow laughed, spinning the last bite of carrot on the upturned flat of her hoof. “It’s not like I’m the Element of Honesty over here.”

Daring took her next bite with her teeth wrapped in a warm smile.


A unicorn wearing the blue vest of an on-ship employee shocked a couple of levers with a beam of red magic. Immediately, four enormous ramps extended from the edge of the deck all the way down to the Stirropean harbor where several more unicorns secured them to the ends of docks.

Wide-eyed foals—mostly earth ponies—stared in awe at the compact cityscape starting at the very coast and stretching halfway to the orange horizon where the Sun was nearing its set. Dull reds and browns dominated the old, sturdy buildings and narrow streets of the blooming Chevallian port-town.

Rainbow Dash relished the inklings of wind that surged back and forth on the coastline and tossed her prismatic bangs around her ears. “Oh, boy… I’ve missed that.”

Daring snorted. “It’s been, like, one day, kid.”

“Yeah, well, a day without wind is like a day without the Sun!”

She hurried to another part of the deck to get a better view of the city. Daring shook her head at Rainbow’s words. “I know someone who’d be very happy to hear you say that,” she murmured to herself, following her partner’s lead.

Ditzy emerged from the wall of doors with two dozen other passengers chattering about how quick the trip was. She pushed past them and easily spotted Rainbow Dash at the base of the stairs that led to the upper deck.

“Rainbow!” she called out, trotting forward… and suddenly noticing her sister at the blue pony’s hip leaning over the banister to point out landmarks. Ditzy twitched, groaned, and continued her march.

“…and that’s the opera house, which I’ve never been to, but I hear it’s pretty special… oh! And see that tall thing over there on the hill? That’s an old basilica, Notre-Jument de la Garde, Our Mare of the Guard. It’s super cool and old and stuff. You’d like it. We should go there—”

“Ahem!” Ditzy coughed.

Daring spun around. “—after we find the foals, of course.” She narrowed her eyes at her sister and turned back to the city. “Yeah, kid, Mareseille is beautiful. Been around for thousands and thousands of years, way before Equestria was founded.”

“What’s that shiny thing on top of the… Noter Shumont day luh Gard?” Rainbow asked.

Daring laughed. “That’s a golden statue of Celestia. Biggest in the world, I’m pretty sure.”

“Celestia?” Rainbow blinked. “But isn’t she our princess?”

“Ponies all over Equus love Celestia, kid,” Daring explained. “Y’know how we say she ‘raises the Sun’? Well, it’s more like she ‘keeps it in orbit’. Sun shines everywhere, believe it or not.”

Rainbow pushed her jaw to one side. “But then… how did Nightmare Moon plan to keep the whole world in eternal night or whatever?”

“Not the whole world,” Ditzy said from behind them. “Nightmare Moon wanted her very own nation to rule over, free from what she saw as Celestia’s supremacy.”


“She was pissed at her sister,” Daring explained. “Didn’t you read Daring Do and the Hollow of the Moon? I sorta philosophized about it in there.”

“Uh…” Rainbow pulled a timid smile. “I tend to skip the wordy parts that don’t have tons of action.”

“Hey, no worries. So do I!” Daring snickered. “Back when I was searching for the Moonstone—”

We were searching.”

“—rumored to be part of Nightmare Moon’s fortress built beneath the surface of the natural satellite—”

“Nice work, Rainbow Dash. You turned on her prose.”

“—I met with a stallion who had been studying Nightmare Moon’s banishment and prophesied return for more than half of his life. He believed that everything Luna did and everything she became was due to her jealousy toward Celestia.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Well, duh.”

“It might seem obvious now,” Daring admitted, “but at the time, Nightmare Moon was nothing more than an old mare’s tale.” Her eyes glazed over and she donned a distant smile. “That book saw a huge resurgence in sales when Nightmare Moon returned. Turns out most of my predictions about her disappearance were right on the money.”

Our predictions!” Ditzy snapped.

“So, wait… are you saying she wanted to raise the Sun?” Rainbow asked.

Several ponies stationed at the tops of the ramps nodded to their counterparts below and started to herd the hundreds of passengers on deck into a new country.

“She didn’t want anything to do with the Sun!” Daring yelled over the increased volume of the surrounding ponies. “That’s the whole point! She was sick of Celestia getting all the attention, but more than that, she hated her sister for acting like a, uhm…”

“Like an enemy,” Rainbow finished, taking slow steps with the flow of the crowd.

“Yeah, exactly!” Daring grinned. “See? You get it.” She turned to a random pony on her other side and elbowed them in the ribs, gesturing to Rainbow Dash with her other hoof. “Best partner ever!”

Rainbow snickered at the stallion’s confused expression, hiding a flattered blush with one of her own hooves. Ditzy grit her teeth and sort of rolled her eyes, but nopony would have guessed it.

“Hey, hold on!” Daring said, stopping in her tracks. “I gotta go thank Fancypants.”

Rainbow blinked. “Fancypants? You mean Rarity’s uppity friend in Canterlot?”

“You know Fancypants?” Ditzy asked.

“Sure, I’ve met him a few times.”

“Well, come on, then!” Daring encouraged, linking her foreleg with one of Rainbow’s and lifting them both into the air above the masses. “You can say hello!”

“He’s on the ship?”

“He’s the captain!”

“Hey, wait up!” Ditzy grumbled, flying behind the pair. She couldn’t believe how swimmingly they were suddenly getting along. What about the race? What about the insults? Had they already forgotten how different they were? Eyes and lips twitching, Ditzy trained one eye on their destination: the upper deck, where Captain Fancypants was watching his happy passengers depart.

“Ah, Miss Do!” he said as the yellow pegasus landed. “And Miss Doo! And… Miss Dash?”

“Hiya!” Rainbow said with a smirk.

Fancypants’ monocle popped out of place. “I say… were you the other pony involved in the race?”

“Yup, that was me!” Rainbow said, flipping her mane.

“I should have known,” Fancypants chuckled, wiping his monocle once on his jacket before setting it back in its place. “Though you’re not quite the Wonderbolts’ trainer, you’ve certainly a passion for flying fast.”

“Ha!” Rainbow wagged her eyebrows. “Rarity has been spending more time with Applejack since the wedding, just so you know.”

“I would hope so,” he said with a smirk of his own, turning to the clueless Sisters Doo. “Sorry about that. Private joke.”

“I just had to thank you before we left, Cap’n,” Daring said earnestly. “What you did for me… and said to me… well, it was really nice. I’m very sorry about your deck.”

“It’s quite all right, Miss Do,” he assured her, shaking her shoulder. “Thank you for being cooperative in the plans for its repair.”

Ditzy perked up. “You… paid the fine?”

“Fine!?” Rainbow yelped. “Oh, shoot! I should have helped out!”

“Nah, it’s no problem,” Daring said, adjusting her hat. “It was my fault and my responsibility—” She bit her lip. “—even if I didn’t see that right at first.”

Ditzy’s jaw dropped at the humble expression on Daring’s face, lowering even more at Fancypants’ approving nod.

“It was a pleasure to you meet both of you,” he said, “and to see you again, Miss Dash. Please take care in Haissan, whatever business you have there.”

“Wouldn’t dream of otherwise!” Rainbow said, saluting the captain. “Hey, by the way, does Rarity know you fly this thing?”

He tilted his head. “She is aware that I captain air vessels, yes.”

“But this one? Like, trans-oh-she-ant-tic, or whatever?”

Fancypants grinned. “Well, perhaps. I’ve never brought it up.”

“You should tell her,” Rainbow said, nodding suggestively. “She’d think it’s so awesome.”

Another sort of smile twitched at the corners of the captain’s mouth. “I shall certainly remember to address it.” He tipped his hat. “Thank you, Miss Dash.”

“It’s Rainbow Dash!” She dove over the edge of the upper deck and back into the dwindling crowd.

“Heehee! She’s awesome,” Daring said, quickly following suit.

Fancypants’ smiled at the diving pegasi, but his expression fell as soon as he noticed the tears building in Ditzy’s quivering eyes. “My dear Miss Doo, are you all right?”

“Why are they so… happy?” she choked. Fancypants took a step closer to hear her quiet words. “I try so hard to do the right thing, and... Daring is just so... so mean, and Rainbow Dash… she keeps… I don’t know, forgetting or something! One minute they’re fighting, and now they’re best friends, and… they’re acting like—”

“Sisters?” Fancypants offered.

Ditzy tilted her head forward, staring down at the blue and yellow pegasi laughing and chatting on the main deck. Her golden eyes flashed and suddenly focused for only a couple of seconds.

“I can’t pretend to know your history, Miss Doo,” Fancypants said, draping a comforting foreleg just behind Ditzy’s green collar, “but I can assure you, as a stallion with a sibling of my own, that family relationships are not only the most difficult, but also the most important… and the most rewarding.”

Blinking away tears, she looked up into his gentle smile.

“I promise you that things will improve with time and effort,” he said, never breaking contact with her momentarily steady right eye. “You are a delightful, sensible pony, Miss Doo. Your sister is remarkably different, though she, too, has her set of charms. I only implore that you do not give up on her… or Miss Dash, for that matter. From what Rarity has told me, that rascal of a pony is enough to handle on her own. I do not envy your position.”

The bubbly tone in his voice lifted Ditzy’s spirits. She giggled behind a lifted hoof. “Thanks, Mister Pants. Er, I mean…!”

He tapped her snout. “That will do just fine,” he said with a nod. “Now, you’d better catch up with your company.”

She swiveled her neck to see Rainbow and Daring approaching the top of the nearest ramp. With a little squeak, she smiled a final “thank you” to the debonair stallion and swooped down to complete the adventuring trio.

“You okay, Ditzy?” Rainbow asked, squinting at her reddened eyes.

The mailmare sniffed once and forced a smile. “I will be,” she said, and they started their descent.


Rainbow’s hooves were the first to hit Stirropean ground.

“Gah, this is so awesome!” she said, bouncing between her front and back hooves. “We’re in a totally different country! Across the freaking ocean!”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s pretty great. Cool your jets,” Daring said, grinning as she yanked her partner’s tail.

Rainbow grimaced and pulled away, sticking out her tongue. “Gosh, when did you turn into Applejack?”


“Stay focused, girls,” Ditzy said as the group drifted farther from the dock and its droves of noisy travelers. “Who knows how long the foalnappers have been here? They might be in Haissan already.”

Rainbow’s face paled and she straightened into a serious position. “Ah, horseapples, you’re right. We better get going!” She hovered and glanced in all direction. “Uhhm… which way to Haissan?”

“It’s another long trip, kid,” Daring said, pointing east. “We’re on the coast, and it’s in the dead center of Stirrope, all the way through Cheval and Germaney.”

Rainbow dropped to the cobblestone and groaned. “How long is that gonna take?”

“It doesn’t matter, because—” Ditzy started.

“Back in our hay day, Ditzy and I flew there in, like, six hours.” Daring looked to the sky and tongued one corner of her mouth, flicking her sore wings nostalgically. “Do you remember that, Ditz?”

The mailmare snorted. “It was more like eight hours.”

“No way! We were lightning fast back then.”

“I could still do it.”

“I beat the Best Young Flier!”

Rainbow yelled, “How long is it gonna take us?”

The feuding sisters realized they were nose to nose and backed away quickly; Daring pretended to calculate on her hooves.

“Prob’ly, like, a day,” she guessed.

“I told you, it doesn’t matter how long it would take for us to get to Haissan, because we’re—”

“Rainbow Dash?”

The mare in question whirled around. A large, dark-feathered griffon had stopped between the trio and the emptying streets of Mareseilles. His beak curled into a smile. “I thought that was you.”

“Hi, Filo!” she said. “Where are you going?”

“Back home to Aquila.”

Ditzy gasped and stepped forward to speak.

Rainbow didn’t notice. “How are you getting there?”

He popped the joints of his massive wings. “It’s not far. Just a few hours north if you don’t stop along the way.”

Rainbow tilted her head to the side. “Really? Well, that’s pretty close. No wonder there’ve been so many conflicts between ponies and griffons.”

“There’s a mountain range that separates our territory from theirs,” he said, taking a few steps closer to the group. “It isn’t hard to fly over, but it does a good job at keeping us separate.” He smirked. “Usually.”

“Well, at least there are no wars going on right now,” Rainbow said with a weak chuckle.

He nodded and sat on his haunches, swishing his lion tail behind his angular head. “And you? Are these the ponies taking you to Haissan?”

“Ohhhh, okay,” Daring sighed. “So you two met on the ship. That’s good to know. I was all like ‘Whaaa?’ for a second there,” she said, waving her hooves wildly.

Rainbow laughed. “Filo, this is Daring.” She made a face as if to ask how much of her story he remembered. “Daring Do.”

He dropped his head in a firm nod. “Ah, yes. The funny friend of yours. Good to meet you.”

Daring beamed at the back of Rainbow Dash’s head even while addressing the griffon. “Yeah, dude, you too!”

“And this is Ditzy,” Rainbow said, rotating her upper body to look at the impatient mailmare. “Her sister.”

“A pleasure,” the griffon said.

“Yeah, yeah, listen: you said you were going to Aquila?”

“Ditzy!” Daring scolded, reaching over to slap her sister’s outstretched hoof. “Show some manners, huh?”

Her angry eyes swirled in their sockets while Rainbow smiled sheepishly.

“Heheh… so, yep. We’re all goin’ to Haissan.”

“I wish you safety and the best of luck,” Filo said with a little bow. “Now, if you’ll excuse me—” He bent into an impressive crouch and spread his enormous wings. “—I must be off.”

“We’re coming with you!” Ditzy said.

All eyes darted to her wonky pair.

“Huh?” Daring’s voice cracked.

“We’re going with him to the mountains of Aquila,” Ditzy repeated, lifting her head higher.

“Why the heck would we do that?” Rainbow asked. She stole a quick glance at the griffon before trotting closer to Ditzy and whispering, “The foals might be in Haissan already. You said so yourself! We don’t have time for detours.”

“Believe me, this will be the fastest way,” Ditzy whispered back.

Daring used her wings to hop into the quiet circle, wincing at the tightness in her muscles, and stuck her head between her partner’s and her sister’s. “What are we hissing about over here?”

“Ditzy says the fastest way to Haissan is by going north to the griffon mountains.”

“That’s stupid,” Daring said matter-of-factly, poking a hoof under Ditzy’s chin. “Are you feeling okay?”

Ditzy swatted the hoof away. “There are things I know about this place, Daring,” she said, flexing her lower eyelids, “that you were never around to learn.”

Daring’s jaw clenched. “Oh, like the size of Alula’s mattress? Lemme guess, king sized.”

“Daring!” Rainbow and Ditzy said together, pounding her on the crown of her helmet. In a fit of surprise, both mares snorted back laughter to maintain the moment’s seriousness, but by the time Daring yanked the headgear from her flattened mane, the Ponyvilleans were wheezing with laughter.

“I’m sorry… am I free to go now?” Filo asked.

“Uh, no! No, sorry,” Ditzy stammered, breaking away from her little group to approach the worried griffon. She cleared her throat. “Uh, we’d actually like to come with you to the borders of griffon territory.”

He frowned. “Why? Isn’t Haissan your destination?”

“Uh, yes.” Ditzy nodded. “Yes, it is, but… there’s a very important mountain we need to visit first.”

“An important… mountain?” the griffon repeated.

“What are you talking about, Ditzy?” Daring asked, sauntering up to her sister’s side and brushing off the top of her pith helmet.

“It’s… literally impossible to explain,” Ditzy said. “But just trust me, this is the right way to go.”

“Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?” Rainbow asked, appearing at the mailmare’s other side.

“Because you would have wanted an explanation,” Ditzy said, “and I don’t have one. You’ll just have to believe me.”

Daring and Rainbow shared an unsure glance behind Ditzy’s head. The griffon shrugged his wings and said, “If you’re going to follow me to the border, that’s fine, but I’m going all the way in one flight. My visa doesn’t allow for any pit stops in Chevallian villages.”

“No problem,” Ditzy said quickly.

Daring shot her a disbelieving look. “What? Uh, actually, there’s a big problem. I’m sore as heck, Ditz! I can barely fly!”

“Hopefully you’ll think about that next time you want to get drunk and race a pony half your age.”

“She’s not half my age!”

Filo snorted in amusement and took off without another word into the late evening sky. Ditzy followed him, breathing evenly between heavy pumps of her wings.

Daring whimpered and looked to Rainbow Dash. “Well… we better get goin’.” She gulped and prepped for takeoff with a painful spread of her feathered appendages. “Hey, how old are you, anyway?”

“Twenty one.”

Daring blinked. “Ah, ponyfeathers.” Donning a scowl, she flapped past the pain and ascended after Filo. Rainbow Dash laughed under her breath and rocketed straight up into the air, flying lazy circles around her suffering partner.


“There it is. Do you see it, Rainbow?”

The blue pony followed Ditzy’s hoof to a dark, jagged mountain on the blurry horizon. It stood out like a lame hoof from the marble-based mountain range along Aquila’s border, nearly twice as tall and infinitely more black.

“Are you kidding me?” Daring squeaked, struggling to flap her twitching wings. “That thing looks super evil!”

“Griffons do not approach that mountain,” Filo called down, flying above the ponies. “There is dangerous magic around it.”

“Dangerous magic!?” Daring yelped. Growling, she turned her head as far toward her sister as her tight neck would allow. “You trying to kill us off, Ditz?”

“Come on, Daring,” Rainbow said, rolling in the air to whisper over her partner’s ear. “Give her a chance, will ya? If Twilight’s taught me anything about magic, it’s that it can be really helpful. Maybe Ditzy knows something in that mountain that’ll help us find the foals.”

Daring crossed her forelegs, but said no more. Rainbow winked at Ditzy who smiled gratefully.

“Thank you for your guidance, Filo,” Ditzy yelled up to the griffon. “We can find our way from here.”

“Are you sure, ponies?” he asked, swooping closer. “I would hate for you to fall victim to the Dark Mountain.”

“I know its secrets,” Ditzy assured him. “Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine.”

With a nod to her and a smile at Rainbow Dash, the griffon put all his strength into his wings and took off for a southern dip in the mountain range. Ditzy led their flapping trio north toward the pointy peak of obsidian stone.

Rainbow maneuvered around the sisters to coast at Ditzy’s left. “What did you mean about its secrets?” she asked. “When have you been here?”

“I’ll tell the story soon,” Ditzy promised, staring ahead, “and hopefully I’ll have some help with the details.”

“If that’s a request to me, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Daring grumbled.

“It wasn’t.”

Rainbow and Daring exchanged a curious glance. With a shrug, the yellow pony went back to maintaining her altitude on trembling wings. Rainbow looked down at the greyish landscape far below, marked with dozens of tiny villages—maybe a third the size of Ponyville—between weatherworn hills and lake-filled valleys.

“This place is beautiful,” she found herself saying to no one. “My friends would love it.”

Ditzy smiled at her. “I’m glad you’re thinking of your friends back home, Rainbow,” she said. “Your real friends.”

Rainbow wasn’t listening; she pulled her wings in for a hundred foot dive, weaving between wispy clouds barely visible in the twilight. The vapor swirled in her wake and twinkled in emerging starlight.

Ditzy glanced over her shoulder. “We’d better hurry, girls,” she said, noticing the tip of the Moon on the horizon behind them. “I can’t see well in the dark.”

“You pronounced ‘at all’ wrong,” Daring teased, grunting. “Gaah, I don’t know if I can do this! My back is killing me!”

“Oh, please, you little—”

“You can do it, Daring!” Rainbow said, rising from her dive to loop around her partner. “It’s not much farther now! Just pretend you’re racing me!”

“Ha! Yeah, right,” Daring said, reaching out a hoof in an attempt to slap one of Rainbow’s wings. The speedster darted away without a problem.

“You sure you’re the same mare who beat the Best Young Flier, Daring?” Rainbow asked, barreling below her partner for just long enough to poke her in the belly.

Daring wheezed and lost her balance, fumbling in the air for a moment. “Aw, come on! Quit it, kid, I’m serious!”

Ditzy giggled and shook her head. “How on Equus did you ever keep up with Rainbow Dash?”

Daring was silent for a moment. She dropped her head and pulled off her hat, twirling it on the end of one hoof. “I…” She took a deep breath, looking away from Ditzy’s interested squint. “I cheated.”

Rainbow appeared directly above her. “Whoa, what?”

Daring growled and kicked her hind hooves. “I cheated!” she yelled.

Ditzy banked closer. “What? How?”

She let out a raspy sigh and dangled her legs helplessly. “Well… y’know that stallion I was making out with in the bar, Rainbow?”

“Yeah,” she answered with a grimace. Ditzy shuddered.

“He was a salesman,” Daring explained, “taking his product over to Stirrope for the first time. It’s this… I dunno, some kind of potion, I guess. He called it an ‘energy drink’ and named it Manticore or something rad like that. Anyway… it tasted nasty, but I bought some, loaded it with vodka, and chugged way too much.” She shrugged. “Revved me up. Made me feel twenty again.”

Rainbow’s mouth was wide open. “So… it was just some drink? You can’t actually fly as fast as me?”

Daring frowned. “Yeah, I just said that. No need to rub it in.”

Ditzy cackled. “More like every need to rub it in! You’re a cheater!”

“You totally cheated!” Rainbow screeched, beaming. “Ha haaa! I am faster than Daring Do!”

She took off, rotating forward like a torpedo before throwing her wings open and backflipping twice.

“Is it really that surprising?” Daring asked, blowing a lock of her bangs out of her face and replacing her helmet. “You’re faster than everypony in the frickin’ world, kid!”

“Haaaa ha ha ha!”

Rainbow’s laughter and impromptu stunts were enough to distract the Sisters Doo from the unexpected chunks of rock hurtling toward them. One of Ditzy’s eyes drifted just in time.

“Aaack! Rainbow, look out!” she gasped, narrowly diving below a sharp, black boulder.

“Holy Smooze!” Daring swore, avoiding a cluster of much smaller rocks by the breadth of a few tailhairs. “What was that?”

Rainbow swept her body to the left of one boulder and slammed her front hooves into another, thrusting its cracked surface to the distant ground. “I hope that doesn’t hit any Chevallians!”

“Ditzy!” Daring said, forcing her wings to carry her to her sister’s side. “Did those come from the mountain? Did something throw them at us?”

The mailmare gulped. “I-I don’t know! I can’t see very well, remember? It’s already pitch black!”

“Well, you said you know the mountain’s creepy secrets. Anything about cannonballs of shattered stone we should know about?”

Ditzy bit her lip. “Well… there are some freak avalanches, but… we’re not that close yet, are we?”

“Ow!” Rainbow said, slamming into the side of the mountain. Daring closed her wings in fright and plowed into a ledge of black gravel. Ditzy—gasping—smacked her front leg into a protruding slab of ebon granite. It spun her out of control and she landed on a pile of cake-sized rocks.

“Where in Tartarus did this thing come from!?” Daring yelled, kicking the gravel every which way as she scrambled to her hooves. “We were just, like, two miles away!”

“Filo wasn’t kidding about dangerous magic,” Rainbow groaned, shaking out dust from her mane. “Where’s Ditzy?”

“Right here,” the mailmare whimpered into the dark, poking her right leg tenderly. “I think I broke my hoof.”

What?” Rainbow leapt into the air, confused by the inky blackness of the mountain, almost indistinguishable from the expansive night sky. She noticed Ditzy’s blonde mane and green shirt behind a natural column, flying around it to examine the injury. “Oh, shoot! That looks bad!”

Too sore to open her wings, Daring found a way around the back of the column, joining the other pegasi below the mountain’s peak. “Is it cracked?”

“Looks like it,” Rainbow hissed, holding Ditzy’s damaged hoof between her own. “Might be a broken bone in there, too,”

Ditzy tried to laugh. “It’s all right, Rainbow. I’ve had a lot worse.”

“Oh, this is just great,” Daring said, kicking at a flat part of the mountain. “Thanks a lot, you big, dumb rock! Now we have a pony who can’t walk, a pony who can’t fly, and pony who lost her helmet.”

Rainbow blinked. “Like, two days ago!”

“That was a nice helmet!” Daring wailed, dropping her own protected head against the obsidian wall. “Thanks a lot, Ditz. Now we’re stranded on an evil mountain a billion miles from Haissan.”

“Geez, Daring,” Rainbow said, smirking. “Is it that time of month or something?”

Daring shot her a look. “What, you don’t think this situation sucks?”

“I don’t think Ditzy’s plan is done,” Rainbow said, helping the grey mare to her three good hooves, “is it, cap’n?”

Ditzy smiled gratefully and sniffed. “No, it isn’t. We’ll be fine. Rainbow, would you mind flying out a ways and seeing how high up the mountain we are?”

“You got it,” Rainbow said with a salute. She flung herself into the night just as the Moon broke free from the world’s edge, providing enough light for Rainbow to make a good judgment. Once she was a dozen good pumps of her wings away from the towering crag, she spun around and squinted. Two little dots of yellow and green stood out of the blackness nine-tenths of the way to the top.

“Whoa,” she said, diving back to the Sisters to report. “We’re really close to the peak!” she said when she could see the whites of Ditzy’s eyes.

The mailmare blinked. “Oh, really?” She looked up the side of the incredibly steep mountain. “All right, then. We gotta go down.”

Daring tilted her head. “Why down?”

“That’s where the cave is,” Ditzy said, hobbling forward. “It shouldn’t be far. We’ll be there in ten minutes.”

Rainbow landed between the other mares. “Cave? I didn’t see a cave…”

Ditzy smiled. “No, I don’t imagine you would’ve.”

With a snort, Daring followed her sister, wincing with every step. Tail twitching, Rainbow finished the line of three as they inched their way down the mountain and toward its northernmost face.

True to her word, Ditzy stopped the train mere minutes into their trek. “Here it is,” she said, jerking her head at a horizontal, crescent-shaped gap in the rock, barely wide enough for a pony to squeeze through the widest point.

Daring raised an eyebrow. “That looks like the grinning mouth of a mountain monster eager to peel the flesh from our bones.”

“Thanks for that lovely visual, Daring,” Ditzy said with a sweet smile. “Why don’t you go first?”

Daring stepped back. “Uh… I delegate my partner.”

Rainbow grinned. “Deal!” Launching from her hind legs, Rainbow Dash dove through the crack and followed its bumpy tunnel deep into the mountain.

“Rainbow, wait!” Ditzy called out behind her, but the speedster didn’t listen. Her crackly laughter echoed in the narrow path, just wide enough for her to keep flapping. The tunnel curved left, right, up, down, challenging Rainbow’s attention in the dimness. And then—very suddenly—it opened into an enormous chamber filled with bronze light. Pencil-thin stalactites of glimmering copper oozed from the ceiling; their counterparts on the ground were thick and conical, tipped with the color of molten gold.

“What the hay…” Rainbow murmured, looking all around the bright, spherical chamber. Her words were echoed by the stir of movement at the bottom of the sphere. She gasped and lifted her hooves into a defensive position, scanning her eyes over the portly stalagmites as she hovered.

“My word,” a deep, gravelly voice shook the walls of the chamber. “I haven’t seen a mane like that for centuries.”

Rainbow grit her teeth and draped her hooves over her head. “Yeah, well, you can’t have it!”

After a moment of silence, the disembodied voice started to laugh. “What—haa haa!—wh-what do you think I would want with your mane, child?”

Rainbow scrunched up her nose. “I dunno… you might eat it or something. I don’t even know what you are!”

The copper-colored stone at the lowest curve of the sphere buckled and inflated like some kind of clay. Rainbow watched with wide eyes as the liquid rock formed into a tall, equine shape, complete with enormous, regal wings and a spiraling horn. A pair of clear grey eyes opened below the magical spire and focused on Rainbow’s pinprick pupils.

“I am Piedra,” he said in a voice that rumbled the cavern. “Welcome to my home.”

Rainbow couldn’t speak, staring at the pony that continued to take form amidst the cones of glowing bronze.

As soon as a mouth appeared below his narrow snout, the alicorn offered her a calming smile. “There is no need to be afraid of me, child. I assume my old friend Ditzy sent you?”

17 - Especially Pleasant

View Online

Chapter Seventeen
Especially Pleasant

“Did I hear someone say my name?” Ditzy asked, flapping through the entrance of the copper cavern to hover by Rainbow Dash.

The alicorn below rose to his hind legs with a thunderous whinny. “Ditzy Doo, my dearest friend!” he cried. Every feature in the chamber glowed as he lifted into the air on hawk-like wings. Rainbow leaned away as Ditzy dove into his embrace, expecting the regal stallion to explode into globs of clay. Instead, Ditzy nuzzled the soft, bronze fur of his chest; his slender hooves knocked aside her helmet and ran through her golden mane. “What a delight to see you again, my dear!”

“Sweet emergency edible boots!” Daring yelled as her head popped into the chamber. “Who the heck are you and why are you cuddling my sister?”

The alicorn’s bright grey eyes studied Daring for a moment. His brow lifted in realization and he gave the pony in his embrace a questioning look. Ditzy only had to nod for the stallion’s long, scarlet mane to whip around his face like fire.

“You,” he breathed in a voice like molten lava. “What purpose do you have here? For your sake, I hope it is a very, very good one.”

Lifting an eyebrow, Daring relaxed in the miniature tunnel and stretched her wings. “Dude, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing here. All I know is we’d be more than halfway to Haissan by now if somepony didn’t make us stop and visit creepy hermits.”

“You insufferable maggot!” he thundered, reaching a hoof in Daring’s direction. A number of thin stalactites extended from the dome to wrap around Daring’s body, yanking her into the chamber. She yelped and squirmed in their stony grasp as they carried her, upside-down, to dangle before Piedra’s twitching face.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What’s going on?” Her helmet slipped from her mane, landing beside her sister’s in between two thick stalagmites. Spotting Rainbow Dash, Daring yelled, “Kid! Kid, get me outta here!”

With another flick of his hoof, Piedra caused the wiry rocks above Rainbow to stretch to the ground, creating an effective cage that kept the blue pony in place. “Hey!”

Piedra snorted steam into Daring’s wincing eyes as his own pair glowed with a silvery malice.

“What do you want!?” she shrieked.

“What I want cannot be captured, you slimy, selfish sack of sinew.”

“Ditzy! Tell him to quit it!” Rainbow shouted from her cage.

“Quit?” Piedra sneered. “Now there’s a word you should be familiar with, Daring,” he spat, tightening the stalactites’ grip around her ribs.

“What are you—hckkt!—talking about!?”

He snarled. “You left her. Your selfish, jealous rage drove you to leave your beautiful sister in the hooves of a dangerous tyrant.”

“What? I didn’t know he—kkk-gooaaahh-hng-hnnnnng…”

“You knew better than anypony what he was capable of, and don’t you dare pretend otherwise.”

“She was fine!” Daring kicked and gnashed her teeth. “Everything turned out fine! All of that happened eight years ago!”

The alicorn gasped. His grip on Daring loosened enough for her to suck in a deep breath.

“Eight… years?” he said, blinking. “By the Wabe… has it really been that long?” He looked at Ditzy’s face pressed against the warmth of his chest. She nodded, rubbing her cheek on his fur.

The stalactites around both Daring and Rainbow retreated. Unable to fly, Daring dropped to the bottom of the sphere onto a fat, hard rock where she flopped to her side and groaned in pain as the others conversed overhead.

“I’m sorry, Piedra,” Ditzy breathed. “I know I told you I’d be back sooner than that, but I couldn’t find a way to—”

“Shhh….” The alicorn stroked the back of Ditzy’s neck and descended to the concave ground, sitting on his haunches while he held her close. “I did not expect you to return soon, child. I am simply surprised that so much time has passed. I have not left the cave since we were last together.”

Ditzy gasped and pounded his sternum with her good forehoof. “Piedra! You promised me you would fly at least once a month!”

The alicorn chuckled. “I suppose I did. I apologize, dear friend.”

“What’s going on?” Rainbow interrupted, diving to hover in front of the pair. “What’s with torturing my partner?”

Piedra’s eyes narrowed. “I am not done with her,” he said, peering around Rainbow at the moaning pony. At Piedra’s beckon, the fat rock beneath her slid over the ground and dropped Daring at his hooves. Rainbow landed in front of her and glared up at the alicorn.

He smirked. “I admire your loyalty, pegasus, but you do not know this pathetic pony’s crimes.”

“I was right here while you were yelling about ‘em,” Rainbow said. “So she left Haissan when Ditzy got the guy. What’s so bad about that?”

“When Ditzy… got the guy?” Piedra hissed. His mane began to flare again. “You misunderstand, little pony. Alula’s love was not a reward this poor adventuress sought. She was—”

Mrrmmh,” Ditzy said into the alicorn’s chest.

His eyes softened and looked down to her. “What was that, child?”

Ditzy peeled herself from his hide, eyes shut tightly. “Lying,” she whispered. “I was lying when I told you he… forced his love on me.”

Piedra blinked. “You were?”

Ditzy’s ears flattened against her head as tears leaked from the inner corners of her eyes. “I-I didn’t know how else to get your help if you didn’t feel sorry for me and—”

Piedra grabbed the little pegasus by her shoulders and set her on the ground several ponylengths away from Daring. He lifted her chin and swept her bangs out of her face, gazing into her eyes with his solemn, silver pair. “Please explain, my friend. I want to know the whole truth before I change any opinions.”

Ditzy nodded and brushed her tears away, training one eye on her grounded sister. “I’ll need Daring’s help, I think.”

Piedra reached over and smacked the yellow pony between her ears. “Youch!” she said, trying to roll onto her hooves. Rainbow helped and led her to Ditzy’s side where all three ponies sat with a copper-coated alicorn twice their size.

Ditzy took a deep breath and nodded to herself. “Most of the story I told you was true. I went to Haissan with Daring on commission to find the fabled Magic Carpet, capable of permanent enchantment. Our anonymous informant turned out to be Alula himself. He claimed to be an admirer of ours and invited us to stay with him in the palace for a time as his guests, to learn of Haissanic culture and ask us about Equestria’s.” She turned her head toward her sister. “Isn’t that right, Daring?”

With a wary glance at Piedra’s stoic face, Daring said, “Yeah, as far I can remember. I didn’t wanna stay at first; thought it was gonna be boring. But then…”

She clamped her mouth shut and looked at the ground. Ditzy reached over with a wing and nudged her sister in the side, whispering, “Go on.”

Daring sighed. “Then I fell in love with him. So did Ditzy. He was so charming and clever and thoughtful and… I dunno, mysterious, I guess.”

“Hmm,” was all Piedra said, unmoving.

“We stayed with him for a long time,” Daring said. “I think it was more than a week before we even mentioned leaving.”

“Two weeks,” Ditzy corrected, “and then there was the banquet.”

Daring shuddered.

“During the festivities, there was a lion tamer cracking his whip,” Ditzy said. “It made us think of our dying father, and how we were forsaking the search for his cure by staying with Alula. He stopped the show and asked for an explanation of our distress. Daring decided to—”

“I made the mistake of telling him everything,” Daring interrupted. “I opened up to him, and that only made things worse. He comforted me, and that’s when I fell mane over tail for him.” She opened her mouth to continue, but dropped her head in silent shame.

“We couldn’t leave,” Ditzy said. “Neither of us could tear ourselves away from him. And even though we never talked about it, we knew there was a competition. We knew he was struggling to decide which of us he loved back. Two whole months we were there, until…”

“He kissed me,” Daring breathed. A knot formed in Rainbow’s stomach as she watched a tear fall from Daring’s hanging head. “On the night of the ball, he… he brought me to his room. He kissed me on the balcony.” She laughed harshly, lifting her face to reveal reddened eyes. “I thought I won. I thought he’d chosen me. He whispered in my ear, and he kissed me…”

Even Piedra leaned away as Daring’s face screwed into a fuming scowl.

“But that kiss—and that whisper—were laced with poison.”

Rainbow gasped. “The poison whispered kiss…”

Daring nodded. “As you can imagine, I didn’t keep it a secret. You’ve seen firsthoof how excited I get when I win, kid, whether or not I deserve to. I found Ditzy as soon as I could and rubbed it in her face.” She snorted, shaking her head. “She got mad and… we started to fight.”

“Our tempers went up,” Ditzy said with the ghost of a smile, “and we went up.”

“Hahaa!” Daring laughed, rolling her achy shoulders. “Exactly. We were screaming and kicking and flying, higher and higher and higher, until… gosh, we were probably duking it out at half the height of this mountain, right over the palace. Everypony was watching.”

“Daring always does better with an audience,” Ditzy said. “One good punch at that altitude—” She tapped herself between the eyes. “—and I was out cold. I fell all the way to the central garden.”

“And I didn’t do anything to help her,” Daring muttered. “I just… watched her fall.”

Piedra shifted, but stayed silent.

“My head hit a rock or a stump or something. I can’t remember anymore.” Ditzy let out a joyless chuckle. “I guess my skull split open and—”

“It was so gross!” Daring jumped to her hooves, pacing behind the other pegasi and tossing her mane several times. “Once it hit me up there, what I had done, I dove down and found her in the garden and… gah, it was nasty. I almost threw up. I mean, her brain was, like… right there! I could see it! And the blood, oh Celestia, there was so much blood…”

“Thank you, Daring, that’s quite enough,” Piedra said in a very low tone. Daring dropped to her rear and pursed her lips.

“Alula saved me,” Ditzy said. “He used his magic to heal me, and probably brought me back to life. Of course there were side effects… heheh… but I was alive and healthy. I couldn’t believe he cared about me enough to use that much power.”

Piedra was stunned. “I cannot even imagine healing such a wound. Even with the love I have for you, I doubt my magic would be enough.”

“It was a miracle,” Ditzy said in an airy voice. “That same night, he asked me to stay in his chambers. I assumed it was part of my recovery.” Her ears squeezed her head until strands of blonde hair stuck out in all directions. Rainbow felt her cheeks flush just by staring at Ditzy’s glow. “We… also kissed,” she mumbled.

Daring grunted, scraping the stone under hoof.

“I never told Daring,” Ditzy continued.

“I didn’t give you the chance to,” the yellow pony said, resuming her spot between Ditzy and Rainbow. “When I saw how much he loved you, I realized I didn’t stand a chance.” Her snout wrinkled. “So I left. I gave up, not only on Alula, but on my family, and my promise to Dad, and… everything but myself.”

Ditzy’s eyes narrowed at her sister. “You’re… admitting that?”

Daring cracked her neck and shrugged. “It’s pretty obvious by now. And it’s not like I had much of a choice.” A deep growl from the alicorn encouraged her to add, “Well, okay, I guess I had a choice, but… what I did was… easier.”

“And it was wrong,” Piedra said, turning to Ditzy. “Continue, friend.”

Comforted by the title, the grey mare breathed through her nose. “I didn’t know what to do. My sister disappeared without a trace and I didn’t know where she was or what she was doing. I realized all of my stupid mistakes and wanted to get back to my life and save my dad… but Alula would have none of it. He wanted to marry me and keep me in the palace. I kept putting it off, but I couldn’t see a permanent way out. I didn’t want to offend him, but I needed to go home. I felt trapped there for a long time. I was sick and confused and moody… and then I felt the kicks.”

A distant smile appeared on Piedra’s face.

“I realized I was pregnant,” Ditzy said, “with the child of an alicorn, likely an alicorn itself. That’s what sent me over the edge, I think. I realized that, if I stayed there, my lover and my child would live forever, and I would age and die and be forgotten. So I followed Daring’s lead: in the dead of night, I ran. I tried to fly away, but the guards apprehended me and brought me to Alula. I hadn’t told him about the pregnancy, but it didn’t take long for him to figure it out.

“I pled with him to let me go back to Equestria and raise my child with my own family, but he refused. He… locked me away. He said it was for my own good. It was a comfortable chamber deep underground, and he sent me company and food and tried to make me happy, but I was too distraught. I cried all the time and prayed for help.” She laughed briefly. “I didn’t even know what I was praying to at the time, but… something answered.”

A warm smile brightened her face as she looked into the copper alicorn’s silver eyes. “Piedra, the Alicorn of the Earth, came to my rescue.” She glanced over at four wide, ruby eyes. “He opened a tunnel that led to this mountain where he let me tell my story.” She cringed. “I bent the truth, eager for his help… and he gave it.”

“I am disappointed that you lied to me,” Piedra said in an even tone, “but I understand why you did it, and I am glad for your honesty now. Know that I would have helped you even with the truth.”

Ditzy said nothing and shuffled her hooves.

“What did he do?” Rainbow asked Ditzy. Before the mailmare answered, Rainbow rolled her eyes at herself and looked instead at Piedra. “What did you do?”

“What she asked me to do.” His tone was solemn and sent shivers up Rainbow’s spine. “I used my magic to divide the alicorn child in her womb into one pegasus and one unicorn, and helped her escape to the shore where she sailed a ship home to Equestria.”

“I was lucky,” Ditzy said. “Alula hadn’t realized I was missing yet. The winds stopped the day after I reached Equestrian soil, probably in an attempt to keep me from leaving Haissan.”

Daring’s jaw had dropped to her chest. “You… you split your kid in half?”

One of Ditzy’s eyes twitched. “I was going home, and the last thing I wanted was to foal an alicorn. Can you imagine the repercussions?”

Rainbow blinked. “Not really. I think it’d be cool.”

“And it would make it very easy for Alula if he was ever to come looking for his child,” Ditzy said with misty, skewed eyes. “N-not to mention the social alienation, and the possibility of attracting government attention… no, I-I couldn’t risk it.”

Daring’s expression hadn’t changed. “You split your freaking kid in half!?”

“We divided one extraordinary infant into two, less shocking foals,” Piedra said, narrowing his eyes. “If it serves as any comfort to you, it was extremely difficult and very dangerous.” His chest lifted in a silent gasp and he whipped his head toward Ditzy. “Oh, my. Did… did it work, child?”

Though she tried to keep her composure, Ditzy’s back crumpled and she burst into tears. The light emanating from the rocks in the chamber dimmed as Piedra’s posture fell. He scooted forward and wrapped his hooves around the crying pony, tucking her into his warm embrace. Nopony made a sound over the mailmare’s echoing sobs for a long time.

“I’m sorry,” Piedra whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“Ponyfeathers, Ditz…” Daring whimpered. “That kid of yours, the unicorn... was she a twin?”

Rainbow reeled. “Whoa… Dinky’s your actual daughter? I thought you adopted her!”

“That’s what I told everypony,” Ditzy said between heavy sniffs, “but it was just another lie. When I got home, I almost wished I had stayed in Haissan. D-Daring was off on her own writing books, and my father…” She sucked a breath through her teeth and her voice raised in pitch. “My d-daddy was gone. He died while we were… while we were fighting over a sultan!”

She buried her face into Piedra’s shoulder and wailed.

“Oh, gosh, Ditzy!” Rainbow’s voice cracked as she pulled at her own face. “I-I had no idea! That’s so sad....”

Daring ran her hoof up and down a dark lock of her hair. “How long did you stay with Mom?”

“Um…” Ditzy sniffed and repositioned herself, taking control of her breaths. “I-It must have been a few months,” she said, rubbing her good hoof over her eyes as Piedra stroked her wings. “She took me to the hospital when it was time to have the… hckt, the babies.”

“And only one survived, my darling?” Piedra carefully asked. The tremor of his voice reminded Rainbow of a cat’s purr.

Ditzy nodded. “The p-pegasus was stillborn.”

Rainbow gasped. Daring’s head sunk even lower.

“I feared that would be the case,” Piedra admitted. “I could create two bodies, but no magic can divide a soul.” He breathed through his nose and squeezed the trembling pony closer. “I am so sorry, Ditzy.”

There was nothing else to say. Piedra wrapped his wings around Ditzy and carried her to a far bend of the cavern to cry in peace. Rainbow and Daring moved in the opposite direction, searching for Daring’s pith helmet among the rocks sprouting from the bottom of the sphere.

“How many alicorns are there?” Rainbow whispered to Daring.

“How the heck would I know?” she grumbled, spotting her hat between two cones of caramel stone.

Rainbow raised her head enough to see the large pony. “What the heck is an ‘alicorn of the earth’? Is that, like, an earth pony alicorn? That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Uh, duh,” Daring said, rolling her eyes. “Y’know how Princess Celestia controls the Sun and Alula makes the wind blow? This guy must have power over dirt and rocks and stuff.” She pointed at the pencil-thin stalactites overhead. “How else do you think he was directing those pricks?”

Rainbow’s brow furrowed. “So… is there an alicorn for everything?”

Daring blew a strand of hair out of her face and replaced her helmet. “I’unno.”

“Why hasn’t Twilight told me about this?”

“Well, obviously she doesn’t know.” Daring sat up and stretched her wings with a hiss. “I never knew about this guy. Doesn’t seem like Ditzy even knew about him until she, uh… prayed, or whatever.”

“So, what, there are secret alicorns just hiding out all over Equus?”

“I have no idea, kid! I’m more concerned about my sister right now, if you don’t mind.”

Rainbow grit her teeth and pulled on her ears. “Ugh. It’s hard for me to think about. I had no idea she was so… sad.”

“Pfff. How do you think I feel?”

“Like a piece of crap.”

“Hey, thanks, kid.”

“You kinda deserve it,” Rainbow said without looking at Daring. “You did some pretty stupid stuff.”

Though her face reddened, Daring only snorted.

“So what do you think we’re gonna do now?” Rainbow asked, dropping to her belly and pattering her hooves on the base of a thick stalagmite. “I think Ditzy’s leg is pretty hurt, and you can barely fly. Am I gonna have to get the foals by myself?”

“I will make a path for you.” Piedra’s voice carried throughout the chamber, startling the pegasi despite its softness. “Ditzy will stay here with me and nurse her ankle. You two must retrieve the foalnapped children from the palace and bring them back here as swiftly as possible, without detection.”

Daring scoffed. “What? Are you kidding me, Ditz? I thought you said the whole point of coming to Haissan was to talk face to face with Alula and clean up this whole mess.”

“I’ll speak with him when I can,” Ditzy said. “For now, we need to focus on getting those foals home.”

Rainbow jumped up and saluted. “Can do, cap’n.”

Daring shoulders drooped. “If that’s what’ll help, I’ll do my best.”

“I sincerely hope you will,” Piedra said with a stern glare at the adventuress. Then, with a wave of his hoof, a pony-sized hole opened at the trough of the cave. Rainbow and Daring approached it, peering into the endless black within.

“Good luck, girls,” Ditzy called out.

Rainbow smiled in her direction. “Don’t need it,” she said, diving into the magical tunnel.

Daring clicked her tongue. “I sure do,” she mumbled, and jumped.


“Uugghhh! How much farther do you think it is?”

“You just asked me that two minutes ago!”

“I can’t remember what you said.”

“I didn’t say anything!”

Nyyeeehh… I’m bored.”

“Just keep walking.”

“But I’m tiiired and my knee hurts!”

“Which knee?”

“…My wing hurts, and I have to go to the bathroom!”

“Sshhh! Look!”

Two pairs of scarlet eyes glimmered in the distant light of an overhead opening. Rainbow beamed and picked up her pace, trotting down the narrow tunnel on quiet hooves. Daring was far slower and far less quiet.

“Tell me if you can see the palace!” she whisper-yelled to Rainbow.

The blue pony pulled her legs closer to her body and flapped twice, rocketing down the path like a bullet. She skidded to a stop just under the bright hole and poked her head through it. With a sharp gasp, she ducked back into the tunnel and flattened herself against its wall.

Daring froze. “What? What is it? Where are we?”

Rainbow’s eyes darted to her yellow companion. “I think we’re in the palace.”

“What!?” Daring tip-hoofed forward as fast as she could, squeezing past Rainbow Dash to peer aboveground. “Oh, crap… you’re right.”

Rainbow wheezed. “What the heck was that guy thinking? I thought he wanted us to be all sneaky!”

“Well, depending on what room we’re in,” Daring said, lifting her forehooves out of the hole, “he made our job a lot easier.”


Daring grunted, pulling herself out of the tight, dark tunnel and into a well-lit chamber. “Come on, kid, there’s nopony in here.”

After shaking out her mane, Rainbow used her wings to follow Daring into the palace. Blinking her eyes rapidly, she took note of the chamber’s impressive features. “Whoa… is this a ballroom?”

“Sure is, kid,” Daring said, running her eyes over the gold-plated entablature high above their heads. Her hooves echoed off the granite floor as she approached the center, trotting away from the corner where their tunnel ended. “Wow. I forgot how big this place was.”

“This is crazy,” Rainbow breathed, her eyes bouncing from one enormous chandelier to the next. “Why would Piedra send us here?”

“Because nopony comes in the ballroom unless there’s a ball,” Daring answered, grinning. “Heh… that’s actually pretty cool.”

Rainbow’s wings ruffled at her sides. “So… we’re just supposed to search the whole palace for the Cake’s kids and bring them back to this giant room without anypony noticing?”

“Shouldn’t be that hard,” Daring said, cracking her neck and shuddering. “In fact, I’d go so far as to call it… a piece of cake.”

Rainbow blinked. “What?”

“Never mind,” Daring said, waving a hoof. “High comedy.”

They moved to the double ivory doors of the ballroom’s entrance. Rainbow noticed carvings of elephants, snakes, and bizarre creatures she had never seen before etched into their surfaces. The heavy silence of the room was punctuated by Daring as she reached to open the door with one hoof, covering her mouth with the other while she squinted at Rainbow. The blue pegasus nodded, arching her back into a stealthy crouch.

It opened with a low thunk. As fast as they dared, the duo dove through the crack between the doors and left it barely open for their return. Rainbow followed Daring through the hallway they had entered, slinking along the wall and keeping their ears perked for incoming hoofsteps.

“What are we up against here?” Rainbow whispered. “How many ponies guard this place?”

“Hundreds, usually,” Daring said, pausing at a corner, “but it’s the middle of the night. The only ponies out and about now are servants keeping things clean and orderly. The actual armored guards are outside the palace and around Alula’s throne room.”

“Where’s that?”

“Not close,” Daring said, drawing an invisible rectangle on the wall. “The palace is built around a huge central garden. We’re right here—” She pointed to the northeast corner. “—and the throne room’s over here.” Tapping the center of the right side, Daring used her other hoof to gesture in the actual direction of the throne room. “We’ve got a whole garden between us.”

Rainbow nodded. “Okay, then… where do you think the foals are?”

“No freakin’ idea,” Daring answered, peeking around the corner into a perpendicular hallway, “so we better keep moving.”

The mustard mare led them down a hall to their left where a grand staircase brought them up to another level. Rainbow grinned at the wide, polished steps and the decorative banister leading up the middle. “Wow!” she said. “What a mansion!”

At the top of the stairs, a huge, clear window gave Rainbow a view of the expansive central garden, filled with a beautiful variety of plant life swaying in a warm night wind and riddled with curving paths shining silver in the Moonlight. “Hey!” she said, tugging Daring’s tail. “You wrote about that place!”

Daring slapped the other mare’s hoof. “Obviously!” she hissed, pulling Rainbow’s gaze away from the garden by her chin. “Focus, kid!”

Startled, Rainbow nodded and watched Daring zip down the hallway. A smile tugged at one corner of her mouth to see Daring so serious about something. No more complaining, no more jokes. It was finally time to find the foals. She was in her element, Rainbow realized. This was the Daring Do of the adventure novels. This was the hero Rainbow had expected to meet.

Rainbow let out a quiet laugh. “You got it, Doc,” she whispered, and bolted after the helmeted pegasus.

Daring led them to one significant room after another, her grunts of frustration increasing in volume with each empty chamber. They had to hide from a number of Haissanic servants making their rounds, but Daring’s keen ear and attention to their surroundings kept them from being detected. Rainbow’s adrenaline soared to new heights as she wrapped her mind around her situation. Every twitch of Daring’s head or silent roll around a corner sent jitters through her bones.

“Dang it!” Daring growled, slamming her hoof against the doorframe of yet another empty room. “I thought for sure they’d be in the nursery.”

Rainbow tried to stifle her excited grin by clearing her throat. “Do you think maybe they’re with Alula?”

Daring sighed and dragged her hat over her face. “Yeah, I do,” she said, muffled by the helmet.

Rainbow bit her lip. “Where is he this time of night?”

“Either up in his chambers or in the throne room.”

“Which should we try first?”

Daring snorted, dropping the pith helmet over her mane. “We can check the throne room if you want, but there’s no way I’m going into his tower. You read my new book. I’ve tried to sneak in there before. It doesn’t work.”

Rainbow nodded. “Okay, fine… where’s the throne room, again?”

Daring led the way—north, east, south, avoiding the stray servant or sleepy guard roaming the long halls—until they peeked around a corner at a pair of slender doors shaped together like a stalk of asparagus. Two long-snouted guards brandishing spears stood before the entryway with threatening stillness.

“How do we get past ‘em?” Rainbow whispered, hovering above Daring at the corner.

The mustard mare shrugged. “Take ‘em out, I guess.”

Rainbow blinked. “Uh… like, distract them?”

Daring smirked. “Yeah, you could call it that.”

Pushing Rainbow out of the way by her snout, Daring stealthily took to the air. The hallway’s ceilings were high enough for her to fly unnoticed above the guards staring straight ahead. After climbing to a predatory height, Daring grit her teeth and angled her wings, diving into the side of one of the sentries. His hooves gave way to the pressure and he slammed into his partner. As both tumbled to the ground, Daring delivered swift kicks to the bridges of their snouts, leaving them unconscious.

“Wow!” Rainbow cheered, pumping a hoof above her head. Daring grimaced and swung her hooves, making preventive gestures at Rainbow. She tilted her head to one side, prismatic bangs sweeping over her forehead. “What is it?”

Khalas!” a foreign voice shouted from behind. Rainbow winced and threw her gaze over her shoulder. Another guard galloped toward her, shouting in a language Rainbow didn’t understand.

“Uh oh,” she squeaked, lifting off with a multicolored streak. Following Daring’s antics, she dove at the Haissanic stallion, thrusting out one of her shoulders and curving her path to ram his ribcage. His horseshoes screeched as they ground across the marble floor, echoing with his yelp before his jaw smashed into the wall. Though he slumped into the corner, Rainbow punctuated her attack with a sharp punch between his ears.

Taking to the air, she rounded the corner to the throne room’s hallway. “Sorry, Daring, I didn’t know there were other guards in the—”

She froze and gaped at the scene below. Daring was crouched between four Haissanic guards, bouncing her eyes from one to the next in quick succession. Two more armored ponies thundered toward the confrontation from the other end of the hall. Rainbow soared to the approaching ponies with a battle cry. Holding a hoof in front of her, she flattened a cream-colored stallion’s snout and threw him down by his neck, whirling to deflect the other’s spear with the back of her hoof.

Twenty yards away, directly in front of the throne room, Daring lashed out with a hind leg, catching one guard of the guards in the knee. His neighbor lunged at her extended leg with a spear. She wrapped around its point with her tail, pulling it from the nervous stallion’s grip and using its blunt end to whack him under the jaw.

A third guard jumped forward and punched Daring in neck. Grunting, she spread her sore wings, startling the stallion with a feathery slap to the face. Knocking his metal helmet from his skull, Daring grabbed him by the ears and threw him into the fourth stallion.

The first guard had recovered, charging at her with his head held low. Daring sidestepped and coiled a foreleg around his neck, using his momentum to steer him toward the grounded guards struggling to rise. His collision sent all three scattering, giving her time to focus on the older, skinny stallion rubbing his bruised jawbone.

“You should not be here, Daring Doo,” he said in Haissanic. “The Sultan will not be pleased.”

“I’ve never been especially pleasant,” Daring spat, pushing herself forward with a pump of her wings. Twisting in midair, she aimed her hind hooves and bucked the stallion in his sternum. Something cracked under the force, sending him coughing and stumbling into the double doors.

Down the hall, Rainbow dodged lunge after lunge of her apt opponent’s spear. As its point narrowly missed her head, slicing a few green strands of hair, she turned and bit the middle of the pole in time to see Daring kick a thin guard into the throne room doors. His weight was enough to push them open. Unable to see inside from her angle, Rainbow spat out the spear and dashed to Daring’s side, ready to face the foalnapping ruler of Haissan.

She didn’t get a good look before a big hoof clapped her in the ear from behind. “Graaaugh!” she shouted, trying to shake the ring out of her head. A goldenrod streak passed in front of her blurry vision, followed by the sounds of merciless hooves and the helpless whimpers of a stallion.

“Keep your hooves—” Daring’s voice rang out as she bounced from guard to wobbly guard. “—off—” She smacked one in the temple, using her wing to push his face into the marble while kicking the next one in the shins. “—my—” With a dramatic leap into the air, Daring brought her hoof down like a hammer on the exposed mane of the de-helmeted guard, sending his eyes into a swirl. “—partner!”

Enough!” A deep voice, rich and clear, burst and echoed from the throne room, grating against Rainbow’s sensitive eardrum.

A twinkling, periwinkle aura surrounded every fighting pony. The guards were arranged into a line and set on their damaged hooves while the adventuresses floated into the highly ornamented chamber. “Leave us,” the smooth voice washed over the guards. Limping and bleeding, they immediately complied. The asparagus-shaped entry closed once more by the same magic, and the rosy-eyed pegasi were carried to the golden throne at the other wall.

As Rainbow’s eyes uncrossed, an impressive pony came into view. His long, thick mane was of a hue not far from that of her coat, streaked with silver locks. His narrowed eyes glistened with the softest of violet, glowing against his dark blue coat, much like that of Princess Luna’s. His muzzle, though angular and quite long, was not Haissanic, a detail that, for some reason, troubled Rainbow Dash. His spiraling horn and hawk-like wings reminded her of his power, but not enough to stop her from shouting, “Hey! Put us down, chump!”

He paid her no mind, his eyes locked on the yellow pony looking at the ground. The room’s only noises came from Rainbow’s struggling grunts and shouts. “Come on, lemme go!” Her voice cracked and beads of sweat dripped from her hairline.

The alicorn’s jaw moved to one side as he eyed the mustard mare. “Daring Doo,” he finally said, exhaling amicably. “I can honestly say that I never expected to see you again in this life.”

“Yeah, well, you wouldn’t have,” Daring grunted, glaring at Rainbow, “if it weren’t for Cheerfest over here.”

“Hey! You coulda warned me, y’know!”

“Warned you about all the guards we snuck past together?”

“Puh-lease! We only saw, like, three! It’s the middle of the night!”

“So you think the palace is just free reign after dark?”

Alula’s magic clamped over both pony’s snouts, silencing their banter. He chuckled and set them both on their hindquarters, rising from his throne to join them on the polished floor. “I see that these eight years have not drained you of your spunk, Miss Doo.”

Daring snorted as the magic disappeared. “Nor you of your charm, Alula,” she said, straight-faced.

Her terseness did nothing to quell his soft smile. “What forces have carried you back to my country?”

“Don’t play dumb, Alula!” Rainbow Dash shouted, pointing a scrutinizing hoof in his direction. “We know you took the foals!”

The hint of a frown twitched at the Sultan’s lips as his eyes slowly shifted to meet the brash pony’s. “I am afraid I do not recognize you, young one. Before we speak about the foals, may I be made aware of your name and purpose here?”

“So you admit you have the foals!” Rainbow exclaimed with a victorious grin.

“Indeed I do,” Alula answered calmly. “Your name?”

Surprised, Rainbow’s accusing hoof dropped to the ground with a resounding clop. “Uh… Rainbow Dash.”

“And your purpose?”

“She’s with me,” Daring piped up. “My new partner.”

The alicorn’s brow lifted. “Ah… I see. You replaced your sister.” With a single nod, he added, “How wise of you.”

Rainbow narrowed her eyes. “Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?”

“We will get to each of your questions in turn, Miss Dash,” Alula promised. “For now, let us focus our conversation on the foals you seek.”

“Where are they?” Rainbow growled, spreading her wings.

Alula’s horn glowed as a reminder of his restrictive power. “They are here in the palace, safe and warm.”

Daring reeled. “Where?”

“In the guest loft, of course,” Alula said, “where I keep everything of value.”

Daring blushed as his eyes lingered on her. Rainbow slammed a hoof into her face. “You didn’t think to check the guest loft?”

“I wasn’t exactly thinking of the foals as guests, was I?”

Rainbow’s face scrunched up. “Wait a minute… yeah! Why are they in guest loft? You keeping ‘em over for breakfast or something?”

“I have kept them well fed, if that is the purpose of your question,” Alula said. “I will gladly allow you to return with them, as I assure you this was all a deplorable mistake.”

Rainbow and Daring leaned back in surprise. “What!?”

“A mistake?”

Daring’s shoulders dropped with relief, but Rainbow immediately took the air, hovering in front of the Sultan. “You want us to believe you accidentally sent your boys to Ponyville and they just happened to pick up a couple o’ baby ponies as souvenirs?”

Alula laughed. “No, I certainly do not want you to believe that. I only wish for you to believe the truth.”

“Which is what, exactly?” Rainbow asked.

The alicorn politely cleared his throat and invited Rainbow to resume her seat with a wave of his hoof. She complied, crossing her forelegs.

“I did send ponies into your country—over a dozen of them—to search for a single foal, nearly three years ago. Their instructions were to find an alicorn infant in proximity to a grey pegasus with whom I assume you are both well familiar. She was eventually located in the town you mentioned, Ponyville, by two of my…” He paused, tonguing the inside of his cheek for a moment. “…less qualified seekers. According to their report, the only infants they found in the town lived in a bakery, which Ditzy visited at least once a day. They came to the conclusion that the alicorn infant they sought did not exist, and that the mare had instead foaled multi-racial twins who she placed in the care of—”

“Alula, it’s been eight years,” Daring interrupted. “Why were they searching for a baby?”

“Alicorns age very slowly,” the large pony explained, “reaching adulthood well after the first century of their lives, where they stay for the remainder of time.”

Rainbow’s eye twitched. “Okay, so… you were trying to find your kid, but they made an assumption and took the wrong ponies. That makes sense, I guess.” She rubbed the back of her head. “But… why were you trying to foalnap your own kid in the first place?”

“Not to foalnap, Miss Dash,” Alula said with a serious glare. “To rescue.”

Rainbow guffawed. “Rescue? From what, Ditzy?”


“What the heck, dude?” Rainbow scowled. “Ditzy’s, like, the best mom ever. That’s what Fluttershy says, at least.”

“And for that I am grateful,” Alula said with a nod. “Let us count ourselves lucky that no harm has befallen either of them.”

“Lucky? Luck’s got nothin’ to do with it! Ditzy works super hard for her daughter. Everypony knows that!”

Alula’s breath left him. “Her… daughter,” he repeated, blinking rapidly. “She bore a filly.” His eyes moistened above a shocked smile.

Rainbow Dash was having none of it. “Cut the crap, Alula! What’s so dangerous about Ditzy that you had to ‘rescue’ your kid?”

Daring stayed silent, though her eyes begged the same question.

Alula sighed and ruffled his wings. “She was a victim of a terrible accident here in the palace,” he began. “I was able to save her life, but not without repercussions. Her eyes are not the only side-affect to magically reversing brain damage.”

“What else happened?” Daring asked.

“The trauma took its psychological toll,” Alula explained in a steady voice. “During particular episodes brought on by extreme stress, Ditzy is prone to act without reason, sacrificing the welfare of those around her in exchange for her own immediate gratification.” His brow tilted sadly. “It is not a matter of spite, but exists as a handicap out of her control. She may not even realize when she slips in and out of that state.”

“This is ridiculous!” Rainbow yelled. “You must be thinking of a different mare or something. Ditzy always does the right thing!”

“Does she?” Alula questioned, tilting his head forward. “Have you never once witnessed her lose focus? Have there been no strange accidents a mare of her integrity could normally prevent? Has she not, in your presence, become a different pony?”

Rainbow blinked as memories passed through her mind: Winter Wrap Up, Town Hall reconstruction, Twilight’s debilitating accident with Hoover’s Movers…

“No!” Rainbow blurted, shaking her head. “No way! Everypony makes mistakes. No one’s perfect all the time. Besides, she’s got that whole—” She circled her hoof in front of her face. “—eye… thing. Sure, she messes up, but she’s not crazy!”

“You are correct. ‘Crazy’ is a very poor term for our dear Ditzy.” Alula closed his eyes. “Rather, I submit she is confused and unbalanced. I recognized the symptoms within days of her recovery, even if she refused to address them herself. Whether we like it or not, Ditzy loses control, and I cannot trust her with my child any longer.”

“This is stupid! This is just stupid!” Rainbow jumped to her hooves and snarled. “You’re just trying to… to trick us into… I dunno, giving up her location or something!”

Alula raised an eyebrow. “Whose location, Miss Dash?”

Rainbow bit her lip.

Another kind of smile pulled at one corner of the alicorn’s mouth. “Aahhh… she’s here.”

“I didn’t say she was!” Rainbow snapped. “Urgh! Look, you can’t have Dinky, okay? Ditzy’s a great mom and I promise there’s nothing wrong with her. Your daughter is totally safe in Ponyville.” With a few flaps of her wings, she rose to a hover. “So if you’ll just give back the foals you accidentally took, Daring and I will get out of your mane and… Daring?”

The goldenrod pony was sitting stock still, staring into space with her dulled, ruby eyes.

“Daring, you okay?” Rainbow asked, landing beside her partner.

“It’s true,” the adventuress muttered.

Rainbow gulped. “Uh… what was that?”

“What he said about Ditzy,” Daring expounded, pressing a hoof over her eyes. “It’s true. It must be. Remember how she let the foals go at the docks?”

Guffawing, Rainbow took a step away. “What are you talking about? You had the foals in your hooves, and you gave them back for some cheap thrill! Isn’t Ditzy allowed to make a bad choice, too?”

“It’s different, kid,” Daring said. “My whole goal was to get a good scene for the book, but Ditzy was there to save the foals. And she didn’t. She… she sacrificed another’s welfare—”

“Are you frickin’ serious?”

“—in exchange for her own immediate gratification.”

“You’ve gotta be joshin’ me!” Rainbow groaned, pulling on the back of her mane. “Daring, listen to yourself? This is Ditzy we’re talking about. Your own sister! She’s not out to hurt anypony, ever! She just wants to help—”

“She was out to hurt me!” Daring bellowed, glaring at Rainbow. “She’s always been out to hurt me, just ‘cause Dad liked me more. I was always a little cooler, a little smarter, a little faster, a little better… until…” Her eyes darted to Alula for a fraction of a second. “She finally beat me, but at a huge cost. She’s always been the type to do crazy things to get what she wants, Rainbow. It makes sense that an accident as bad as hers would only make that habit worse!”

“You’re as bad as him!” Rainbow shouted, whipping a hoof at the alicorn. She gasped, flying away from the pair. “Oh my gosh… you’re just agreeing with him now because he’s against Ditzy. You want this to be true. You want her to be some kinda psycho.”

“Of course I don’t want that for her,” Daring rebuked, “but you have to admit it makes sense!”

“No! No, it doesn’t!” Rainbow Dash cracked her tail like a whip and glared daggers at the ponies sitting at the foot of the throne. “Ditzy Doo is a good, sweet pony. She hasn’t done anything wrong that she doesn’t feel terrible about, and she’s doing everything in her power to make it right.” Narrowing in on Daring, she added, “I can’t believe you’re just switching sides at the drop of a hat! How do you know we can trust this guy? He stole babies!”

“He just told us it was an accide—”

“And how do we know he’s tellin’ the truth, huh? How do we know he’s… he’s not…” Frustrated, Rainbow let out a final grunt and rocketed to the chamber’s exit. Alula reached out with a tendril of magic but underestimated Rainbow’s speed. Soon she had yanked one door open and disappeared down the hall.

“Goodness,” Alula said as her rainbow trail faded away. “I have not seen a pony like her for… hmm.” He shook his head, rubbing the muscles beneath his eyes with the edge of his hoof. “Where do you think she will go?”

Daring tore her eyes from the entryway. “Uhh… I dunno. Probably back to—”

She fell silent, dropping her head to the floor.

Alula leaned closer to her; his warm breath pushed at her exposed, grey bangs. “Miss Doo, I know you. You are not the type of pony to be blinded by that which you wish to be true like your colorful friend. You see the truth for what it is and incorporate it into the way you live. I admire that.” He stretched one of his wings forward, lifting her gaze by the chin to meet his. “Please, Daring. Tell me where they’ve gone, where Ditzy is hiding. Who can know how deeply she has fallen at this point? She is a danger to herself and those around her, especially my… my daughter.” He gulped, blinking fresh tears from his eyes. “Where are they, Daring? I cannot but keep my country and kin safe from madness, and you must help me. The poor foals in the guest room are yours to take back to their family. All I ask is that you help me reunite with mine. Do you know where she’s gone? Do you know where Ditzy is hiding?”

Daring’s eyes danced between his periwinkle pair. Timidly, she reached out with a hoof and stroked the azure feathers of his wing. Warm nostalgia filled her troubled mind like a steaming cup of tea on a cold winter’s day. Fighting chokes and sobs, she swallowed hard and finally nodded. “Yes. I know exactly where they are.”

18 - Get 'Em Back to Pony Town

View Online

Chapter Eighteen
Get ‘Em Back to Pony Town

Daring opened the lid of the basket. Two baby foals—one creamy pegasus and one yellow unicorn—slept peacefully inside, huddled together in innocent slumber. “Heh. These squirts are pretty cute,” she said, flicking the chocolate brown mane of the pegasus.

“I can only hope their parents will forgive me,” Alula said, bowing his head. “Do you promise to deliver them safely?”

“Absolutely,” Daring answered with a bold salute. “I’ll get ‘em back to Pony Town as fast as I can.”

“I have sent word to the docks. You are to take our fastest submarine. I will expect you to return with my daughter in two evenings at the latest.” Alula breathed through his nostrils and narrowed his eyes at the goldenrod adventuress. “Is that clear?”

Daring’s firm nod accidentally flung her helmet at Alula’s hooves. Her face flushed as she trotted around the basket to retrieve it. Alula scooped it off the ground and pulled Daring close with a wing, brushing her bangs aside before fitting the hat over her ears. She shivered as he nuzzled her. “Thank you, Miss Doo. I will be forever grateful.”

Daring gulped. “N-no problem,” she stuttered. The alicorn folded his great wing back at his side, but Daring didn’t move. She pressed her head against the fur of his chest and attempted to rub her cheek against it, but his gentle hoof pushed her toward the basket.

“Make haste now,” he said. “I cannot give you what you want until I have that which I need.”

Daring looked over her shoulders with wide eyes. “And then?”

Alula smirked. “We shall see.”

Smiling like a schoolfilly, Daring closed the basket’s lid and fitted its handle in the crook of her forelegs. As she lifted into the air, she asked Alula, “What are you gonna do with Ditzy?”

The Sultan smiled. “My guards will escort her back to the palace. I will tend to her and your young friend personally.”

Daring sighed. “Thanks, Alula.”

“Thank you, my dear.”

With that, Daring dove from the guest loft’s window and flew west for the coast, carrying her quest’s ultimate prize. She chuckled and readjusted the basket. “Take that, Ditz.”

Alula stood at the windowsill and watched her fly away. Nothing in his expression changed as his eyes refocused on the black spire of a mountain on the distant horizon.


Huddled in a curve of the alicorn’s cave, Ditzy watched an aura of silver magic lick at her wounded hoof and ankle. The loving concentration in Piedra’s face added to her ease enough to let her close her eyes.

After listening to the distinctive twinkle of magic for a few minutes, Ditzy heard Piedra sigh and stop his flow of power. “That is all I can do for now,” he said.

Rotating her partially healed hoof, Ditzy offered a smile. “You’ve done more than enough,” she said. “Thank you.”

His reply was interrupted by a shout from the narrow entrance on the cavern’s wall. “Hey! Are you guys in there?”

Ditzy blinked. “Rainbow Dash?”

“Finally!” A streak of spectral light filled and faded from the copper cave as Rainbow flew to hover next to a surprised Piedra. “I couldn’t remember where the heck the entrance was!”

“Why did you not use the tunnel?” Piedra asked, pointing to the hole at the center of the sphere.

Rainbow gasped and jabbed a foreleg at the cavity. “Close it! Close it right now!”

Though his eyebrow lifted, Piedra waved a hoof to make the tunnel disappear. Rainbow sighed and dropped to the cave floor.

“What’s going on?” Ditzy asked. “Where’s Daring?”

“She’s… back at the palace,” Rainbow panted, “with Alula.”

Piedra’s mane flared for a moment.

Ditzy struggled to sit up straighter. “Wh-what is she still doing there?”

“You’re not gonna believe this—” Rainbow paused and put a hoof to her chin. “Actually, you probably will.”

“Believe what, child?” Piedra pressed.

Rainbow took a deep breath and rattled off a report. “So we snuck into the palace and we looked for the foals but we couldn’t find ‘em so we went to the throne room and got in a big fight and then Alula brought us in alone and tried to convince us that you’re crazy and shouldn’t be raising Dinky and Daring was starting to believe him but I flew away to warn you!”

While Ditzy sat speechless, Piedra’s silvery irises shrunk. “You flew away?”

“Yeah,” Rainbow said with a flap of her wings. “Duh!”

“Without resistance? No ponies tried to stop you?”

Rainbow bit her lip. “Um… no?”

The alicorn’s shoulders slumped. “Oh dear….”

Shaking herself out of a trance, Ditzy took his hoof and asked, “What is it?”

“Alula is the alicorn of the wind,” Piedra reminded them. “If he knows which direction you went, he will be able to trace your flight.”

Rainbow gulped. “Oh, crap. I-I didn’t know!”

“Hope is not yet lost, child,” Piedra said, looking at the crag-entrance of his home. “If he did not see your trajectory, he will be unable to distinguish your flight path from the others in Haissanic air.”

“Yeah, but what if Daring told him where…”

A low, ominous rushing, like the sound at the start of an earthquake, rumbled in the distance. It grew louder and harsher until an earsplitting hiss whistled through the crescent-shaped entrance.

Piedra closed his eyes in defeat, maintaining a serene posture even as Ditzy’s little hooves trembled around his own. “Wh-what’s that?” she asked.

In an instant, like water puncturing a deep-sea submarine, the chamber filled with a howling wind that swept the ponies from their haunches. The invisible cyclone drowned out the screams of Ditzy Doo and Rainbow Dash as it swirled ferociously, slamming their bodies into stray stalactites. At Piedra’s will, the structures sunk into the ceiling, but he was not swift enough to save them from many collisions. Sharp chunks of shattered stone joined their uncontrollable gyrations, cutting through fur and flesh in the gale. Rainbow and Ditzy used their wings to cover and protect their faces, subjecting their ribcages to painful battering.

The indoor tornado stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Their bodies were thrown into separate sections of the cave. Ditzy landed closest to the crescent entrance; past the ringing in her ears, she heard voices shouting in Haissanic. Alula’s guards had come.

Groaning, the pegasus lifted her head to survey the cave for her companions. Rainbow’s bright mane and cerulean coat were easy to see against the dull copper cave, but Piedra’s body was more difficult to spot, especially with her handicap.

She noticed his orange mane first. It took her a moment to decide whether its quiver was real or an illusion of her own. The more she focused, the clearer it became that he was shivering, twitching, pressed against the wall. As Ditzy began to lose consciousness, a large, hazy, dark blue shape approached the cowering alicorn. She stayed awake for long enough to watch him sink into the mountain, but had no time to question his retreat before the world faded to black.


Tiny snowflakes swirled in a figure eight outside Ditzy’s window. They were so small she compared them to fleas, though they were far more beautiful.

Daring appeared, her big round eyes and messy grey mane making Ditzy giggle. The yellow filly waved through glass and collected all of the swirling snow into an icy sphere. She and the sphere played outside. They played every game that Ditzy loved, and Daring was having so much fun.

Ditzy frowned. She wanted to have as much fun as Daring, but she knew it was far too cold outside. There was a risk of getting sick, just like daddy, and mommy would be really sad if Ditzy got sick, too.

She tapped on the window, beckoning for Daring to come inside. The filly ignored her, or shook her head, or laughed in her face. Ditzy got angrier and angrier. She opened the window and took Daring’s snowball. She licked it and squeezed it between her hooves until it broke and fell to the ground in pieces. Daring started to cry.

So did Ditzy.

“Ditzy! Come on, Ditzy, wake up! Oh, gosh… nnngggh… Ditzy!”

The mailmare’s eyes flew open and she sat bolt upright, her forehead knocking into Rainbow Dash’s. Both ponies scooted away, groaning in pain.

“Aaaahh-ha-haaaooww!” Rainbow whined, rubbing the bump beneath her bangs. “As if I don’t have enough bruises already!”

“Whuh… where are we?” Ditzy asked, gasping at the sharp stings along her sides as she stood.

“Some kinda jail,” Rainbow said. “Underground, I think, judging by how freakin’ cold it is.”

Ditzy shuddered. “H-how long have we been d-d-down here?”

“No idea.” Rainbow shook out her mane and held her wings tighter against her body. “I just woke up a minute ago and saw you bawling on the ground. I figured you were having a nightmare or something.”

Ditzy lifted a tender hoof and felt the tearstains on her cheeks. Blinking the blackness from the corners of her vision, she glanced around as the freezing dungeon came into focus. It was a tiny cavity cut into moist grey stone; the floor was shaped like a raindrop with the entrance at the wider end, blocked by a narrow door of rusted iron bars. It was only five ponylengths long and three wide at the most. Cold water on the low, curved ceiling shone in the torchlight from the hallway just outside the door.

Rainbow stood in the center, a confused and worried look on her face. Crushed by their circumstances, Ditzy didn’t say a word as she wrapped her forelegs around Rainbow’s neck and rested her head on the poor pony’s multicolored mane. They stood that way for some time before Rainbow snorted. “Ditzy, what’s going on? Why are we… I mean, I didn’t think… what did we do wrong? How are we gonna get out?”

Ditzy backed away, shaking her head. “I’m so sorry, Rainbow Dash. I should never have let you come.”

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. It’s not your fault. I made the decision to go with Daring.” Her ears drooped. “I just don’t understand. Why is Alula doing this? I thought he would be happy to see you! Didn’t he, like, fall in love with you and all that?”

Ditzy’s mouth twitched. “He did. He probably still is.” She glanced at the rusty bars holding them in. “But… I never really loved him back.”

Rainbow leaned closer. “Huh? But I thought you and Daring—”

“Daring loves him,” Ditzy interrupted. “She did from the moment we saw him. But me? Heh. I couldn’t have cared less about charming stallions. I just wanted to find the Flying Carpet for whoever commissioned us and get back to saving my dad.”

“So… why didn’t you?”

Ditzy winced. “Because… well, because there was something I wanted even more. I... I-I wanted to be...” She rubbed her temples with the flats of her hooves. “I wanted to be better than Daring. I wanted to finally beat her at something. E-Ever since we were little, she was always... the favorite, you know? Always the captain, always the hero, always so… daring.” Chuckling, she scraped the stone below. “She was so daring, and I was just ditzy. I was the cute one, the silly one, the one that did all the research and figured out the puzzles. She was the mare of action, the awesome one, everypony’s hero… even to my dad.” The barest hint of a snarl tugged at her upper lip. “Daring didn’t care. She expected to be the best and have everypony love her for it. I had to try so hard to get any attention from my dad. I was always the sidekick. Every night he said he loved us to the Moon and back… but when he left the room, Daring explained that he loved her to the Moon, and me on the way back. I don’t think she meant anything by it; that was just her way of dividing up the love, I guess. But I always felt like I was… less. Like I was the afterthought. I only got whatever was left once Daring had her fill.”

She paused, giving Rainbow enough time to say, “But that can’t be true. Your dad sounds like a great guy. I bet he loved you just as much as he loved Daring.”

“Of course he did,” Ditzy said, smiling. “I understood that as I grew up, but that feeling of being less was always there. So when Daring fell in love with Alula… but he fell in love with me….” She dropped her head. “Well… I used it to my advantage.”

Rainbow squinted. “So you never actually loved him? Even though you… y’know, slept with him?”

Ditzy nodded. “It was stupid, I knew it was. I was so selfish and thoughtless. I broke both of their hearts.” A tear dripped from her misaligned eyes and sizzled on the floor.

“You seem to do that a lot.”

Ditzy blinked and looked up. “Excuse me?”

Rainbow was frowning. “Make dumb choices when it benefits you, even if it hurts other ponies.”

More tears collected in Ditzy’s golden eyes. “I don’t m-mean to. I just….” She faltered for words. As if something broke in her back, she crumpled to the ground and choked on sobs. “I don’t want to hurt ponies. I never want that! I just… I don’t think—”

“Exactly,” said Rainbow. On slow hooves, she moved to Ditzy’s side and lay on her stomach so that both of them faced the point of the raindrop cell. “I do that too, sometimes. I’ve hurt my friends’ feelings with some of the stuff I’ve said, especially Fluttershy.” She turned her head to look at Ditzy. “I can’t say what you did was okay, but I know where you’re coming from, and I’m on your side, if that makes any difference.” She draped a wing over Ditzy’s scratched, bruised back. “Did you ever tell Alula that you didn’t love him?”

Ditzy sniffled and leaned into Rainbow’s embrace. “Yes. We had a big fight about it. He thought something was wrong with me, that my head didn’t heal right after my accident. That’s when he locked me up and I met Piedra. That cell was a lot nicer than this place, though.”

Rainbow chuckled. “Maybe Piedra will help us here, too.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Ditzy forced a lopsided grin.

For a long time they lay there, sharing in each other’s warmth, wondering what would happen next. When their stomachs started rumbling, Rainbow asked, “Do you think they’ll give us food down here?”

Ditzy shrugged. “I guess we’ll see.”

The cell’s floor was made up of large, oddly shaped slabs of smooth stone, like large puzzle pieces. Rainbow ran the edge of her hoof along the crack between the two in front of her, growing more impatient with every passing second. “So, what, they’re just gonna starve us down here?”

“I don’t know,” Ditzy said. “We can only wait.”

“Or try to break out,” Rainbow said, rising and spinning to face the heavy door. Taking a few steps closer, she pressed her hooves against two of its bars and pushed with all her might; they didn’t budge. Switching tactics, she pumped her wings to pull them inward, flapping faster and harder until her hooves slipped from the metal. Frowning, Ditzy sidestepped as the blue pegasus spun through the air and crashed into the pointed corner at the other end. “Dang it!”

“I’ve been locked up plenty of times,” Ditzy said, removing her helmet and trying to smooth down her mane. “The best thing we can do right now is just sit tight.”

“But that’s so boring!” Rainbow said, throwing herself at the bars. They rung with a metallic note as her hooves struck them hard. “And cold!” She backed up, ramming the door again. “And frickin’ scary!” With a final fruitless lunge, she slumped against the thick rods of iron and groaned. “Where the heck is Piedra?”

“Try to be patient, Rainbow Dash,” Ditzy said. “Come here. Why don’t you tell me more about your father?”

Rainbow grimaced. “I don’t wanna talk about him.”

“All right, what about your mother?”

Blinking, a tiny smile appeared on Rainbow’s face. “Well… my mom’s pretty cool.”

“I’d love to hear why.”

Rainbow gave the bars one final, half-hearted tug. With a sigh, she plodded to Ditzy’s side and dropped to the puzzle-like slabs. The pegasi sat together against one curve of the raindrop room.

“My mom’s a singer,” Rainbow began. “Not professionally or anything, even though she prob’ly could have been. She has a really pretty voice, which makes sense ‘cause she’s a super pretty pony.”

Ditzy smiled. “What does she look like?”

“Her coat’s as white as a cloud, and her mane’s all, like... fluffy. Not as crazy as Pinkie Pie’s or anything, but it’s real smooth and… y’know, round.” She outlined the shape of her mother’s mane above her own head with a hoof. “It’s got three stripes in it: red, orange, and yellow, like the top of mine. And her eyes are bluer than the sky—probably where I got my coat!”

“She does sound pretty,” Ditzy said, closing her eyes to imagine the mare.

“I used to want to be as pretty as her,” Rainbow admitted, “when I was a little kid. Especially when….” Her jaw pushed forward a little. “Especially when the colts at flight camp made fun of how I looked.”

“What did they say?”

“That I looked like a boy.” Rainbow shrugged. “It’s true, I kinda did. My mane was all messy and spiky all the time. Heheh… I thought it looked pretty cool. So did Mom.” She smiled. “Eventually I grew into my own style. I’m not as pretty as my mom, but whatever. I don’t have to be.”

“I think you’re very pretty, Rainbow Dash,” Ditzy complimented.

“Pfff. Not helping, Derpy,” Rainbow teased, pointing at her wonky eyes.

The grey pony giggled. “When did your mom sing if she wasn’t professional?”

“Oh, y’know… lullabies and stuff.” She bit her lip. “She would sing to me whenever I got scared. It made me feel better.”

Ditzy’s brow tilted. “Scared of what? Your dad?”

Cringing, Rainbow nodded. “Yeah. I remember he used to yell at me really loud, and mom would come galloping in like some kinda superhero. Ha! Dad would shut up right away. I think I told you, he was never violent, and he really did love my mom. He just couldn’t stand me… and my wings. And he wasn’t afraid to remind me of that whenever he got drunk.”

“I’m so sorry, Rainbow.”

“Hey, who am I to complain? My mom was on my side, right?” She grinned at her own words. “Yeah. Mom was on my side. And she’d lead me up to my room and tuck me in, and… and she’d cuddle up close to me….” Rainbow blinked rapidly, clearing her throat a few times. “…and, uh. Y’know, sing me a lullaby or whatever. It was cute.”

Ditzy tried to hide her smile. “What did she sing?”

Rainbow looked away, waving her hoof. “Oh, you know. Whatever. Hush Now and all those classics. Plus some songs she made up.”

“Do you remember any of those?”

There was silence as Rainbow Dash swallowed a lump in her throat. “Uh… yeah, of course. I remember all of ‘em. They meant a lot to me. Made me feel safe, y’know?”

“It’d mean a lot to me if you’d sing one right now,” Ditzy said.

“What? Heck no, I can’t sing.”

“Of course you can!”

“Not like my mom.”

“Try it anyway. Sing one of the songs she wrote for you.”

Rainbow squinted at her mailmare. Her ears twitched a few times before she finally shrugged. “All right, fine. Don’t be expecting some Sapphire Shores hit single or anything.”

Ditzy laughed. “I was never a big fan of pop music. I’m sure I’ll love it.”

Rainbow ran a hoof through her mane, took a deep breath, and started to sing.

Dashie mine, don’t you cry,

Dashie mine, dry your eyes.

Rest your head close to my heart,

Never to part,

Dashie of mine.

Little one, when you fly

Don’t you mind, don’t be shy.

Let those wings flutter and glide,

Never to fall,

Dashie of mine.

If they saw how you could soar,

‘Rainbow Crash’ you’d be no more.

All those same colts that scold you,

What they’d give to just fly half like you!

From your nose down to your tail,

You’re made to fly, made to sail!

And you’re just so precious to me,

Fast as can be,

Dashie of mine.

Ditzy wiped her eye as Rainbow stopped singing. “That’s beautiful, Rainbow Dash.”

The fastest pony in Equestria giggled. “Yeah. My mom’s awesome.” She rolled her eyes at Ditzy’s tears and swished her tail against the wall. “What about your mom? Is she pretty cool?”

Ditzy sighed. “Yes, she was a wonderful mother. She passed away a few years ago.”

Rainbow gasped. “Oh, gosh. I’m so sorry.”

“Happens to everypony sooner or later,” Ditzy said with a sad grin. “She lived a great life. I’m sure she was ready to go.”

Running her forehooves over each other, Rainbow tried to ask, “How did she, uh…”

“Old age,” Ditzy answered. “You’ve got to remember, Rainbow, I’m almost twenty years older than you. I’m probably close to your mom’s age.”

Rainbow shook her head. “Whoa. That’s crazy. You’re in pretty great shape for an old mare.”

“Ha!” Ditzy punched her in the shoulder. “I’m not old. She was, though. My mom was almost forty when she foaled Daring, and even older when I came along. My dad took her on all sorts of adventures and explorations before they settled down.” She snorted once. “Of course, he never really settled down at all.”

“Yeah. I’m sorry about that, too.”

“Nothing to be sorry about. I loved my dad to death.”

“Literally,” Rainbow said, wincing at her own remark.

Ditzy chuckled. Wriggling on her belly, she scooted closer to Rainbow, fighting the tiny cell’s chill with their combined warmth. “Tell me more about flight camp. It couldn’t have been all bad, considering how amazing of a flier you are.”

“Heh. Thanks. Yeah, it had some really great moments. I may have had to deal with some bullies, but I was more than capable of holding my own around them. Besides, I made a bunch of friends there, too.”

“Like who?”

“Well, Fluttershy, for one.” Rainbow suddenly beamed. “She was great! It was fun to have somepony who liked me so much. There were these three colts who would never leave her alone, just because she had some trouble flying at first. I always stood up for her.” Even lying down, Rainbow’s chest stuck out with pride. “That’s how I got my Cutie Mark, y’know: racing to defend Fluttershy’s honor.”

“Sounds like you’ve been the Element of Loyalty your whole life,” Ditzy said.

Rainbow’s head tilted at that. “Hey, you’re right! Wow.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I’ve never thought about that....”

“I didn’t have any friends growing up,” said Ditzy. “Mom and Dad homeschooled us. I realized later that he had been preparing us in his brand of archaeology from the time we could hover. That’s probably why we were so good at it.”

“Did you two get along back then?” Rainbow asked. “You and Daring, I mean.”

Ditzy smirked. “More or less. We certainly didn’t have any reason to hate each other.” She sighed dreamily. “I remember how excited we used to get imagining our future. We’d set up our room with booby traps and search for the Philosopher’s Gem, or the Alicorn Amulet, or the Journal of Star Swirl the Bearded. Heehee... we were always so full of hope and optimism.” Her smile faltered and she lowered her head. “I miss those days. I really do.”

“Being a kid?” Rainbow asked.

“Sort of. More like… being excited. Looking forward to something. It feels like all I have these days are happy memories. I always dread what’s coming next. I feel afraid of the future, rather than chomping at the bit for it.”

“I hope that doesn’t happen to me,” Rainbow admitted. “My life just keeps getting better and better.” She paused and glanced around the raindrop room. “Well… y’know, until now.”

Ditzy laughed and nodded. “I hope you stay that way, too, Rainbow Dash. It’s no fun to be afraid.”

Rainbow pawed at the ground below her chin. “What are you so afraid of?”

Ditzy had no answer at first. She chewed on her tongue and stared at the door for many seconds of silence. “Lots of things,” she finally answered. “I was afraid that Alula would find Dinky. I was afraid that I would never see Daring again… and, at the same time, that I would see her again. Now I’m afraid that we might not get out of this cell, and what will happen to my daughter. And if we do get out, I’m afraid of what will happen between Daring and I, and how my life will change when everypony finds out who I really am and what I’ve been hiding from them.”

“Gosh, that’s a lot to be afraid of,” Rainbow said with shrunken pupils.

“It can be pretty stressful,” Ditzy said, forcing a wry smile. “What about you? Does the great Rainbow Dash have any fear at all?”

“Ha! No way, I’m not scared of anything!” Rainbow said in an exaggerated voice. Ditzy laughed at her cocky expression. Wiping it from her face, Rainbow bit one half of her lip. “But seriously? Yeah, I guess I’m pretty scared of some stuff. Not really the future, though, like you were saying.”

“What, then?”

“Like…” She wobbled her head unsurely. “Well, y’know… I don’t like to lose. I’m kinda worried that some kid’ll pop out of Fillydelphia and do a double sonic rainboom or something like that. Sometimes I get worried that Princess Celestia will ask me and my friends to do something really dangerous and one of us will get hurt, or that Discord will break free and make us hate each other again. But I don’t actually think that stuff will happen. It’s just something I worry about every once in a while.”

“I get that,” Ditzy said. “Anything else?”

Rainbow blushed, surprising her companion. “Well, uh… sometimes I get scared that… aw, never mind.” She looked away, tucking her forelegs close to her ribs.

Ditzy laughed. “Uh-oh. Does Rainbow Dash have a crush?”

Rainbow’s whole body twitched. “What? No! No way! Why would you even… no, that’s not it at all.”

Her burning cheeks spoke otherwise.

“Come on, Rainbow,” Ditzy said, nudging her with a wing. “Look where we are. Do you think anypony’s gonna hear this but me?”

“I dunno, maybe! And why would I tell you, anyway?”

“Because we’re having a gab session!” Ditzy said, shaking her head incredulously. “That’s what you do! And how else are we gonna pass the time?”

“Let’s keep talking about our parents, that was more fun.”

“Tell me, Rainbow!”

“One time I snuck out of the house to see a Wonderbolts show with my friends—”

“Does he live in Ponyville?”

“I don’t have a crush!” Rainbow blurted. “That’s the whole problem! I see all these couples around town, like Caramel and Wind Whistler or Thunderlane and Blossomforth—”

“Oh, they’re adorable.”

“—and I think, why can’t I have a very special somepony? And will I ever?”

“Of course you will, Rainbow!”

“Really? Who? Where will I find him?” She groaned and dropped her head into the crook of her leg. “I spend so much time hanging out with my friends, which is great! But… Rarity’s the only one who goes on dates at all. The rest of us… well, Twilight has her student stuff, Fluttershy’s got her animals, AJ’s got her farm, and Pinkie Pie’s just clueless. Me? I don’t have any excuse!”

“You’re Ponyville’s lead weathermare—”

“Yeah, well, Thunderlane and Blossomforth are both on my team, and they seem to have plenty of time for each other!” Rainbow rolled her eyes and flipped her mane over her face. “I’m just… I’m just scared, that’s all. Scared that I’ll never get married or have any kids.”

“Whoa. That was a big jump.”

“Well, that’s where it all comes from,” Rainbow mumbled. “I’m scared that even if I do find somepony I like, they won’t like me back. I’m too… well, I would say ‘awesome’, but that’s not what I mean. I’m too… brash, y’know? Like, sometimes I think I like myself too much for anypony else to like me.”

“That’s silly. Everypony loves you, Rainbow Dash.”

“Yeah, as the awesome one!” Rainbow exclaimed, pounding her hooves together as her voice cracked. “I’m the hero, the celebrity, the mascot! I’m not just a pony like Blossomforth who can go out and fall in love. I’m this—” She waved her hoof toward the ceiling. “—other… thing. Unreachable. Not because I want to be, that’s just the role I’ve filled.” She brought her hoof to her forehead and dragged it down her face. “And it sucks.”

Ditzy chortled. “I think there’s a lot of truth to that,” she said, “but I also think you’re making a lot of assumptions. I bet there isn’t a stallion in Ponyville who hasn’t dreamt of asking Rainbow Dash on a date.”

Rainbow’s brow furrowed. “Well, then, why don’t they?”

“Because of what you said,” Ditzy answered, pointing to the same spot on the ceiling. “You’re the celebrity: the unattainable mare.”

Rainbow groaned.

“But you don’t have to be!” Ditzy continued, setting her hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. “I had absolutely no idea that you wanted to find a special somepony, Rainbow, and neither does anypony else! I think you’ll have to put yourself out there a little bit. Maybe talk to Rarity about this, or ask out a cute stallion yourself!”

“What?” Rainbow blanched. “No way, I-I couldn’t do that.”

“Sure you can!” Ditzy encouraged. “My mom asked my dad out on their first date.”

Rainbow reeled. “For real?”

“Yeah! My dad was a little like you, I think, filling his role as an incredibly successful archaeologist. He wanted to fall in love, but he felt like it wasn’t possible in his position. My mom thought otherwise.” She winked. “She had the hots for him, so she asked him out! They went to a museum together, and he got to point out all of the artifacts he had personally collected for it. The rest is history.”

Rainbow was fighting a grin. “Huh. I didn’t know it could work like that.”

“Of course it can. That’s the beauty of love: it doesn’t have a whole lot of rules. You don’t have to keep filling that role you’ve imagined for yourself. You can be whatever kind of pony you want to be.” Ditzy tightened her lips and dropped her ears. “I gave up finding a special somepony when I had Dinky. I had too many secrets and lies to keep. And besides, who wants a mare who can’t look at their husband?” Her eyes swirled in their sockets, making Rainbow laugh. “But you? No, it’s definitely not too late for you. You’re young, fun, talented, beautiful, and full to the brim with energy. I’m sure there’s a pony out there searching for someone just like you.”

Blushing again, Rainbow leaned into the mailmare’s warmth. “Wow... thanks, Ditzy. That’s really nice.”

“I meant every word.”

Rainbow hummed as her heavy eyelids tried to close on their own. “Gosh, I can’t believe you’re the same crazy pony who delivers my mail every morning. I had no idea you were so… thoughtful.” She immediately covered her mouth with one hoof. “Oops… sorry, that was kinda rude.”

Ditzy’s giggle turned into a yawn. “No, it’s true! I kept to myself in Ponyville. I always thought I had too many secrets to make close friends.”

“Well, I probably wouldn’t have been a very good one before I met Twilight,” Rainbow admitted, “but I like to think I’m a better pony than I was a couple years ago.”

“I think you’re a better pony than you were a couple days ago,” Ditzy said, resting her head on her forelimbs.

Rainbow laughed. “Yeah, you’re prob’ly right!”

“What time do you think it is?” Ditzy mumbled.

“Naptime,” Rainbow answered, dropping her head. “G’night, Ditzy.”

“Good night, Rainbow Dash.”

They fell asleep to silence.

19 - The Circle in the Square

View Online

Chapter Nineteen
The Circle in the Square

There was no way to measure time within the raindrop room. Nopony entered the dungeons to give the freezing mares food or water, and Rainbow Dash paid attention to the increasingly frequent growls of her stomach as a means to estimate how many hours were passing.

After their first sleep in the cell, Ditzy and Rainbow paced its outline and speculated what Alula might be planning for them. Why had no food been sent? Was he trying to starve them? Was he merely deciding what to do? Where was Daring? Where was Piedra? And the most pressing question of all weighed heavily on both their minds: how long would they have to wait?

Hours upon hours passed, many in total silence, and the perplexed Ponyvilleans ran out of ideas. Faster than they had anticipated, the mares were struck with fatigue, and they wondered if the oxygen was low inside their chamber or if time was simply passing faster than they were assuming. Comforted by the constant firelight from the torches in the jagged hallway leading to the prison, they huddled together and fell asleep again in the center of their cage.

Many hours later—or perhaps only a few—they woke to the angry sounds of a nearby struggle.

“Lemme go! What the heck do you think you’re doing? Hrrgh… stop it! Nyeeaauh!”

The cell door opened. Rainbow and Ditzy leapt to their hooves and spread their wings, ready to bolt if given the chance. Two tall, Haissanic ponies with dark coats threw a third prisoner into the cell. Rainbow dove forward, but the stallions closed the door, locking it with a key twice the size of their hooves. Rainbow growled at them and tried to shake the bars. “You tell Alula that we’re frickin’ starving down here, ya hear me!?” She blinked as the pair trotted away. “And also to let us out!”

“Oooaaahh…” the pony on the stone floor moaned.

Ditzy gaped at the newcomer. “Daring?”

The pony’s head popped up instantly. “Ditzy! Oh, thank frickin’ everything!” She jumped on her sister, wrapping the grey pony in all four of her hooves. “I thought he would have killed you or something!”

“He might as well have!” Rainbow shouted from behind. “We haven’t eaten forever!”

“Kid!” Daring squeaked, leaping from one grappling hug to the next. “You’re okay, too!”

“Did you not just hear me?”

“S’okay, I totally brought food!” Daring said, searching her pockets until she produced a single, tiny carrot. “Uh… sorta.”

Rainbow slumped. “Aw, whatever. Give it to Ditzy.”

“I’m not that hungry,” the mailmare said. “You can have it, Rai—”

“All right!” Rainbow dove for the vegetable, devouring it whole. “Mmmm! Thanks!”

The goldenrod pegasus frowned. “Yeah, you bet.”

“What are you doing here, Daring?” Ditzy asked. “I thought you must have made some kind of deal with Alula.”

“I did,” she spat, stomping a hoof. “I told him where you were and he gave me the foals.”

Ditzy’s eyes flashed and she opened her mouth to shout, but Daring lifted a preventive hoof. “Hold on, I’m not done! Look, I knew he was gonna lock you guys up, but… not like this! He said he would take care of you! I thought I could just go give the foals to their parents and by the time I got back here he would have convinced you to... I dunno, like....” Her lip quivered. “Oh, geez, what was I thinking?”

“We’ll get to that later,” Ditzy said through clenched teeth. “Keep going. What happened?”

“I t-t-took the foals back to Ponyland,” Daring said, hugging herself, “and gave ‘em to their parents. I was supposed to... bring your daughter back to Haissan.”


“I didn’t, though!” Daring said, waving her hooves emphatically.

Ditzy sighed. “Oh, thank goodness.”

Rainbow’s brow creased. “Why not?” she asked harshly.

“Bec-c-cause she… Luna’s nipple, it’s freezing down here…”

“Because she what, Daring?” Ditzy hissed.

“Because she’s missing!” Daring shouted. “A bunch of ponies are! The baker couple told me all their names.” She shut her eyes tightly and tapped her hooves together. “Uh… there’s Dinky and Sweetie and Apple Blossom and Doodle-Loo…”

“Scootaloo!” Rainbow corrected, tugging on her ears. “The Cutie Mark Crusaders!”

“Right!” Daring yelled, pointing happily. “That’s what she called ‘em!”

“Who else?” Ditzy snapped. “You said a bunch of ponies were missing!”

“Yeah, there’s a couple more. Adults.” She pounded her own skull. “Two of your friends, kid. Twilight somethin’ and the pink one.”

“Twilight and Pinkie Pie?” Rainbow blurted. “Where are they?”

“Heck if I know! That’s what missing means!”

Ditzy paced between the mares, chewing on her lower lip. “So the Cakes’ twins are safe?”

“Yeah. Safe and sound,” Daring said, nodding, “but when I came back without your daughter, Alula blew up in my face! He told his guards to do the same to me as he did with you two. I thought that meant he killed you!” She couldn’t stop a few hot tears from leaking down her face. “Oh, Sweet Celestia, I’m so glad you’re okay!”

She hurried forward to hug Ditzy again, but the grey mare decked her sister right in the snout.

“Ouch!” Daring yelped, stumbling back. “What was that for?”

“You told him where we were!” Ditzy roared. “You told him about Piedra’s cave!”

“Well, yeah! He said you were—”

“Crazy, I’m aware,” Ditzy interrupted. “And you believed him?”

Rubbing her muzzle, Daring said, “Well, now I still kinda do!”

Ditzy dove for her sister, but Rainbow caught her by the tail, pulling the mailmare as far away from Daring as she could in the little space. “She was joking, Ditzy,” Rainbow said around the blonde tail in her mouth.

“Thanks, kid,” Daring said, wrinkling her reddened snout. “At least somepony gets my sense of humor.”

Ditzy blinked. “Wait, so… you don’t believe him?”

“No!” Daring said, scrambling to her hooves. “Not anymore, at least. When he got that mad about your missing kid, I figured he had some ulterior motive. I’m sorry, okay? I was… I wasn’t thinking.”

“Yeah, well, you haven’t been the only one.” Rainbow smirked and patted Ditzy on the back.

The glowering mare pulled away from Rainbow’s gesture and stomped closer to Daring. “How dare you even think about bringing my daughter to him!”

“I thought you were crazy! He was very convincing!”

Notreally,” Rainbow coughed into her hoof.

“He has no right to take my daughter from me, and you’re crazy to have almost gone through with it!”

“Shouldn’t you be a little more worried about where she is now, Sis?”

“How about first we worry about getting out of this stupid cage!” Rainbow piped up.

Daring snorted and walked in tiny circles. “What the heck is this place, anyway?”

“I was hoping you could tell us,” Ditzy admitted, still shouting. “How far down is it?”

“Crazy far!” she answered. “And it’s right under the palace, too. They used some kinda secret tunnel in the garden to drag me down here.”

Ditzy’s eyes widened. “In the garden?”

“Did I stutter, Bubbles?” Daring snapped.

Ditzy put a hoof over her sister’s mouth. “In. The. Garden?”

Bewildered, Daring’s eyes flicked between Ditzy’s. The longer she stared, the higher her brow rose, until she said into Ditzy’s hoof, “Ooohhhhh!”

“What? What about the garden?” Rainbow asked, joining the sisters near the bars.

“We once asked Alula about the Flying Carpet,” Ditzy explained.

Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Yeah, and it doesn’t exist. I read that in the book.”

Daring shook her head and pulled Ditzy’s hoof away from her mouth. “I made that up. It does exist! It’s just that Alula doesn’t want anypony stealing it.”

Rainbow tilted her head. “Why not? What’s the big deal about floating fabric?”

“It’s not just that it can fly,” Daring said as a light danced behind her eyes. “That’s just what it got famous for. The carpet is the only object that can be permanently enchanted. Any spell that’s cast on it will never go away.”

“So what?” Rainbow shrugged. “Isn’t that normal?”

“All magic fades with time,” Ditzy said, “but this carpet denies entropy. Can you imagine how dangerous it would be if enchanted with a fire spell, or multiplied, or if it harnessed the ability to continually heal its owner?”

“Plus it’s a sweet ride!” Daring said. “Can you imagine pulling up to a party on a flying carpet? Heck yeah! Life o’ the party!”

Rainbow blinked. “So… Alula’s keeping it for himself?”

“He buried it thousands of years ago,” Ditzy said, “to keep it from devious hooves.”

“The only information we ever got from him,” Daring added, “was that the entrance to its cave was hidden in the garden!”

“He also warned us never to look for it,” Ditzy remembered, “and that the traps he set to catch its would-be thieves were impassable.”

“Do you think that’s where we are?” Rainbow asked, glancing around the cell. “The Flying Carpet’s hiding place?”

“It’s possible,” Ditzy allowed, tapping on the iron bars. “Perhaps this is the first trap. There’s no way back—only forward.”

Rainbow blinked. “Forward where?”

“The way it’s pointing, of course!” Daring said, curving her hooves in a raindrop shape and thrusting them toward the small end of the cell.

Rainbow stuck her nose into the corner. “Uh… there’s nowhere to go.”

Ditzy’s wonky eyes swept over the ground. “The slabs,” she said, tapping one of the smooth, stone pieces that made up the floor. “It must have something to do with the slabs.”

Daring looked down and beamed. “Good eye, Ditz!” she said, crouching low to get a better look. “Well, not literally, but… you know what I mean.”

“Hold on, I’m confused,” Rainbow said, lifting a hoof above her head. “What has to do with what, again?”

“You see the strange tiles on the ground?” Ditzy asked, tapping one with her hoof.

Rainbow nodded. “Yeah, they look like puzzle pieces.”

“Exactly,” said Ditzy. “That’s because they are part of a puzzle, and if we figure them out, we’ll be one step closer to the Flying Carpet.”

“Which means one step closer to freedom!” Daring said, trying to pry one of the slabs from its place. “I’m already sick of this dump.”

“You haven’t even been here for five minutes!” Rainbow shouted.

“Yeah, well, let’s not make it ten. Come on, kid, help me look for something!”

Rainbow crouched beside her. “Like what?”

“I dunno. Anything out of the ordinary.”

All three ponies snooped around the tiny cell, poking and prodding the smooth, grey tiles of various, curving shape. None of them stood out from the others, and none depressed even with all of their combined weight.

“It’s no use! We’re done for!” Daring exclaimed, flopping against the wall. “Oh, yuck! It’s all slimy in here.”

Ditzy scraped her hoof along the wall, examining the damp residue on her hoof. Rainbow continued to scour the ground with her eyes, noticing a little speck of black on one of the stones near the doorway. “Hey Ditzy, did you see this?” she asked.

With a quick glance, Ditzy nodded. “It’s just a teardrop from last night.”

Rainbow’s brow knitted. “Why is it still here?”

“Because it’s cold.”

Rainbow pushed her jaw to one side. The mark didn’t seem wet or icy; if anything, it looked burnt. “A teardrop…” she mumbled to herself, standing up straight and surveying the cell. “A teardrop… ah-ha!”

The sisters jumped at Rainbow’s exclamation. “What is it, kid?”

“A teardrop!” she repeated, gesturing all around her. “That’s what this little cave is shaped like, isn’t it? A drop of water? Maybe the stones do something when they get wet.”

Daring smirked. “Unless you’ve got a copy Trotanic on ya, don’t be expecting any tears from me. How are you gonna get the whole floor wet?”

“With this,” Ditzy said, lifting the residue on her hoof. It glistened in the dim light from the lanterns in the hallway. She reached down and wiped the stuff on one of the tiles, watching it sizzle and blacken under the moisture to become as brittle as charred paper.

“Quick, burn it all!” Daring yelled, coating all four of her hooves in the slime and dragging her legs over the floor. The other mares followed suit, and soon every tile crumbled into slates of ash.

“Now what?” Rainbow asked.

“Brush it away,” Ditzy instructed, pushing as much of the dry remains against the walls as she could. When their hooves had cleared the center of the cell, a symbol carved into the earth was easy to make out.

“The circle in the square,” Daring mused.

“The universal symbol of our world’s relationship with the unseen realm of magic,” Ditzy expounded for Rainbow Dash’s sake. “It appears in every civilization since the dawn of time.”

“Cool,” Rainbow said. “Uh… what does it do?”

“Prob’ly opens a door,” Daring said with a smirk, pressing her hoof into the symbol’s center.

“Wait, no, Daring, stop!” Ditzy yelled as a metal beam broke through the point of the raindrop. All three mares dove out of the way just before it skewered them. Ditzy groaned and peeked under the cell’s new obstruction at her panting sister. “Nice one, Daring! You almost got us killed!”

“Wow!” the goldenrod mare exclaimed, adjusting her hat. “I forgot how exciting this stuff can be!”

Exciting is different than surprising, Daring,” Ditzy scolded. “Be more careful, okay?”

“Uh, girls? Check it out.” Rainbow nodded at the small end of the room where the beam had smashed the wall. It left a hole large enough for a pony to squeeze through.

“Me first!” Daring squealed, leaping for the exit.

“Please! Be! Careful!” Ditzy hissed through clenched teeth. “I want all three of us to get out of here alive.”

When Daring had passed through the hole, Rainbow ducked under the beam and stood next to Ditzy. “Why would Alula put us in this room?” she asked. “Do you think he wanted us to go this way?”

Ditzy gulped. “It’s… very possible. But it doesn’t look like we have much of a choice.”

Smiling sadly, Rainbow nodded, flying through the little hole and out of sight.

Taking a deep breath, Ditzy straightened her own pith helmet and brought up the rear of the trio, wiggling out of the raindrop room and into a much brighter chamber.

“Whoa,” Rainbow breathed. Her companions were speechless.

They had entered a dome more than twice as large as the raindrop room. Like their first puzzle, the cavity’s walls were coated in a peculiar slime... that glowed bright green.

“What the heck is this stuff?” Daring asked, moving toward one of the cavern’s curved walls.

“Don’t touch it before we know what it is!”

Daring froze with her hoof mere inches from the wall. “Well, how will we know until one of us pokes it?”

Ditzy’s eyelids drooped. “Are you volunteering?”

Daring blinked and pulled her hoof away, coughing into its side nonchalantly.

“I… I think I’ve seen this stuff before,” Rainbow said. “Not as much as there is in here, but… I think Twilight has some in her library, down in the basement. She’s got a whole lab set up down there. One time she showed us some project she was working on... I dunno, it was boring... but this same glowy stuff was in a little vial on a table. I wanted to play with it, but Twilight said it could be dangerous if it got mixed with any of the other chemicals she had lying around.”

“Hm… doesn’t sound that bad,” Daring said, reaching out to scoop some of the slime. Instead, her hoof hit something more like glass. “What the heck?”

“It’s solid!” Ditzy realized, cantering to Daring’s side and running her hoof over the emerald stone. With a swift kick to its surface, Ditzy shattered a large section of the wall. Chunks of glowing, green glass fell to the ground; the pegasi leapt away.

“Whoa, Ditzy, what are you doing?” Daring asked in a mocking voice, tugging down on her hat. “Be more carefullll!”

“Oh, shut up,” Ditzy grumbled, picking up one of the shards. “I wonder what it does.”

“Look like there’s a way out,” Rainbow said, pointing to an archway at the other side of the luminescent dome. Once Ditzy had tucked the glass into one of her pockets, the ponies ran across the length of the cave and ducked through the small doorway. After passing through a short corridor, they found themselves in a similar cavern infused with yellow stone.

“What the heck?” Daring’s shout echoed through the bright hollow. “Are these just here to light our way?”

Ditzy felt her breast pocket heat up. She glanced down in time to see green steam leaking from its cracks. As fast as she could, she pulled the chunk of green glass from her pocket and threw it across the cave. When it neared one of the yellow walls, the shard of green exploded in a ball of gas and fire.

“Holy crap!” Daring yelled, shuffling away from the blast. “What was that?”

“The substances are reactionary,” Ditzy explained, breathing hard. “Green doesn’t react well to yellow.”

“Let’s keep that in mind,” Rainbow suggested. Swallowing, Ditzy nodded.

Another small corridor led them to a third room coated in dark red crystals. The difference in texture from the green room encouraged them to backtrack and take a closer look at the yellow walls. They were lined with tiny ridges, as if they had solidified while rippling.

“This is weird,” Daring complained. “I don’t like this at all.”

“There was another corridor past the red cave,” Rainbow said. “We better see how many rooms there are.”

Racing through the cave of blood-red crystals, the ponies found the third corridor to be much longer than its predecessors. Rather than leading them to a dome covered in glowing gemstone, the ponies were faced with a circular machine mounted to the wall in a much smaller room.

“What is it?” Rainbow asked, walking to its side to get a better look.

The machine consisted of three flat circles carved with geometric patterns. The largest of the three, sealed to the wall, was as tall as a stallion; the second, held in front of the first by several thin, metal rods around its circumference, was slightly smaller. The third, suspended even further from the wall, followed the shrinking trend. A pony could easily fit their head in the space between each circle.

“What does it do?” Rainbow inquired when nopony could answer her first question.

“Kinda looks like it’s s’posed to…” Daring twisted the smallest circle, setting the entire contraption into kaleidoscopic motion. Panicking, Ditzy jumped forward and stopped the rotation, shooting her sister a lethal glare. Daring smiled weakly. “…spin.”

“It can’t be as simple as turning them,” Ditzy said. “It must have something to do with the glass in the caves.”

Rainbow squinted at the machine, rubbing a hoof against the side of her head. “Maybe we have to…” She gasped, pointing at the largest circle. “Look! There are little spaces to put gems in!”

Daring flew to the other side of the machine and nodded. “Yeah, I see ‘em, too. All three of these things have little notches to fill.” She turned to her wall-eyed sister. “What do we do, Sis?”

Surprised, Ditzy couldn’t help but smile a little as she thought it through. “Well, seeing how easily the glass breaks into pieces, we must need to bring some of it in here and… hm. Make some kind of pattern?” She ruffled her wings. “The biggest problem is that—”

“They explode when they get near each other?” Daring guessed with a smirk.

Rainbow’s ears drooped. “Well, what are we supposed to do?”

“There must be some kind of order,” Ditzy said. “Like… maybe certain colors don’t have any reaction on each other.”

“I’ll find out!” Rainbow said, rocketing from the little room. Ditzy watched her go with worried eyes.

Daring scoffed. “Oh, so you don’t tell her to sit down and shut up?”

“She thinks through her decisions,” Ditzy said, “unlike either of us.”

“Pff. She does not.”

“How do you know? You barely know her.”

“Whatever! I’ve been hanging out with her for, like, three days.”

Hanging out?”

“What else am I s’posed to call it?”

BOOM! An explosion rocked their little cavern, making both the sisters gasp.



“I’m okay!” Her scratchy voice called through the cavern several seconds before she appeared, panting hard. “Okay… green reacts to yellow, yellow reacts to red, but nothing happens between red and green.”

Daring smiled. “Good to know. Way to go, kid!”

“Green to yellow, yellow to red…” Ditzy mumbled, running her hooves over the face of the smallest circle. “Green to yellow, yellow to red, nothing between green and…” She flicked her tail and spun around. “I got it. Rainbow, will you bring a red crystal in here?”

The blue pony saluted, zipping out of the room as fast as she had appeared.

“What’s the plan?” Daring asked.

“To leave me alone.”

Daring slumped and blew her bangs out of her face. “Come on, Sis, I know you’re still mad, but I can help if you’ll just—”

“Here ya go!” Rainbow said, tossing a large red gem into Ditzy’s hooves. She crushed it against the ground under her hoof and picked up three smaller pieces, fitting them into place among the center circle.

“Okay, now bring me green.”

“Gotcha!” In another flash of spectral light, the mare was gone.

“Luna’s nipple, she’s fast.”

“Will you stop saying that vulgar phrase?”

“Vulgar? I think it’s funny!”

“That’s not even the proper terminology.”

“Well, saw-ree. ‘Luna’s teat’ doesn’t sound quite as funny.”


Daring cracked a smile. “Yeah, I was about to say!”

“Got a bunch!” Rainbow said, diving into the sanctum with a dozen green-glowing gems in her forelimbs. “Had to leave some steamers behind in the yellow room.”

“That’s fine. This is plenty.”

As Ditzy went to work fitting the green stones into the biggest circle, Daring turned her attention to Rainbow Dash. “Hey, kid. You’re not still mad at me too, are you?”

The Element of Loyalty’s ruby eyes narrowed. “Of course I am. You fell for Alula’s lies like a tree to an axe.”

Daring’s jaw dropped. “What the heck? Doesn’t anypony like me anymore?”

“I didn’t say I didn’t like you,” Rainbow clarified. “I’m just… unhappy with your choices.”

“Gee, thanks, Mom.”


“Done!” Ditzy said. “Okay, last time: bring me some of the yellow glass.” She tugged at her collar. “And everypony be on the edge of your hooves. We might have to be fast with this.”

The other pegasi nodded and Rainbow rushed away. Daring asked, “Won’t the yellow ones blow up when they get close to the red?”

“And the green when they get close to the yellow,” Ditzy confirmed. “Like I said, we might have to go fast.”

Daring chuckled nervously, pattering her forehooves.

Rainbow barreled through the corridor with four yellow chunks in her grasp. As she brought them closer to Ditzy, both the yellow stones and the green ones in the largest circle started to steam. “Back up! Back up!” Ditzy yelled. When Rainbow increased the distance, the gemstones stopped reacting.

“Darn it,” Ditzy said under her breath, eyeing the colorful stones. “How are we gonna do this?”

Rainbow set the yellow rocks on the ground and scooted them away from the machine. “Do you think there’s another type of glass we’re missing?”

Ditzy shook her head. “No, there are only three circles.”

“Well what if—”

“Compounds!” Daring shouted.

The other mares gave her startled looks.

“No, listen for a sec. What if, like, green and red together make yellow not blow up?” She shuffled her hooves in front of her body.

“Together?” Ditzy asked. “How are we supposed to fuse these gems together?”

Daring dropped her hooves. “You don’t have to fuse ‘em. They react just by getting close to each other. So… just put those rocks close to each other!” She jabbed her legs at the green and red gems stuck in the circles.

Ditzy’s faced screwed up in thought. “Hmm… perhaps….” She removed one of each color from the machine and set them close to each other on the floor. “See how close you can get these to the yellow ones, Rainbow,” she said, sliding the two gems toward the young pegasus.

Rainbow took the two gems between her hooves and inched toward the group of yellows.

“Maybe try just one!” Daring offered in a squeaky voice. She trotted over to help, separating one of the yellow stones from the rest of its group. Rainbow nodded in thanks and held her compound of crystals closer to the yellow rock. No matter how close she pushed her hooves, nothing happened to any of the rocks.

“Nice thinking, Daring!” Rainbow complimented.

Daring donned a smug smile as Ditzy rearranged the rocks, making sure there was an even amount of red and green on both of the larger circles. “That should do it,” she said, a bead of sweat sliding down her neck. “Rainbow, hoof me the yellow ones.”

Moving slowly, Rainbow complied. When none of the gems steamed, Rainbow started to squeal with delight. Her hooves trembling, Ditzy fitted each of the yellow shards into place on the smallest circle.

Daring grinned. “Okay, sweet! Uh… now what?”

“Now… we spin it,” Ditzy said, pulling down on the edge of the first wheel. As each segment of the machine rotated, drawing nearer together against the wall, it created a continuously morphing crisscross of colors.

“Whoooaaa…” Daring and Rainbow said together, watching the show straight on. Ditzy, keeping close to the machine, watched for any signs of pre-explosive steam.

The wheels clicked and turned in their places, ever so slowly retreating in on themselves. Daring rocked back and forth, watching them turn with strangled fascination. “Come on, hurry up,” she hissed. “Ditzy, spin ‘em faster!”

“No!” the sweating pegasus said. “We can’t risk any of the stones falling out of place.”

They twisted and spun, casting strange and colorful shadows onto the walls and ponies within them. As an entire minute passed, Daring began to chew on her tongue, pattering her front hooves against the cold ground. “Okay, this is getting ridiculous,” she said. “I don’t think it’s working.”

“It’s definitely working,” Ditzy argued.

Daring bobbed her head from side to side. “Yep. For sure. But I think it could afford to work a bit faster, don’t you?”

“Daring, will you just—”

“You’ll thank me later!” The goldenrod pegasus threw herself forward and spun the first wheel with both hooves.


Two green stones flew out of place and shattered against the ceiling as the machine swirled out of control. Rainbow jumped into a low hover. “Should I grab more?”

Yellow steam billowed from the gyrating bomb.

“Too late!” yelled Ditzy. “Get out of here!”

“No, no, it’s fine!” Daring shouted over the amplifying whir of the machine. “We can just take out two red ones and—”

She reached forward with a swift wing, aiming to knock out two of the central circle’s stones. At that moment, all three wheels collapsed in on themselves, becoming a single, beautiful design of glowing gems—and catching Daring’s wing among them.

GgggeeEEAAAAUUUUGGHHH!” she shrieked as half of her wing crunched between the connected wheels. The new circle sunk deeper into the wall as yellow and green steam billowed from its crevices, filling Daring’s screaming lungs with stinging fumes. “Noooo, no, no, NO! Gaaaah-hah-haaaaugh!”

“Daring!” Rainbow Dash screamed, hurrying to the trapped pony’s side. “Daring, are you okay?”

Sweet mother of frickin’ crap!”

“Ditzy! Get over here!”

The grey pony’s empty gaze was locked on the sputtering wheel. “It’s supposed to blow up,” she whispered.

“Ditzy! What are you doing!?”

The mailmare stared at Rainbow Dash with horror in her golden eyes. “It’s a controlled explosion. It’s gonna bring this place down.”

Rainbow stopped pulling at Daring for long enough to scream, “What!?”

“Alula was serious,” Ditzy said, running her hooves down her face. “This place is inescapable. It’s designed to kill its thieves.”

“No way!” Daring shouted, half delirious. “He’s fair! He’s always fair! He gives us chance! He—nnyyeaaaAAHH!”

A sickening crunch from her wing brought tears to Rainbow’s eyes. “Come on, you have to help me get her loose!”

Ditzy started to hyperventilate, throwing her head every which way for means of escape.

“We’ll find a way out!” Rainbow shouted as the whistling steam filled the room. “We’re going to be okay! But first you have to help Daring!”

Ditzy froze. For a moment, both of her eyes swiveled to rest on Rainbow Dash as she heaved at Daring’s motionless body. The wounded mare had lost consciousness. “What did you say?” Ditzy asked.

“We’ll all make it out of this,” she called above the noise, her voice cracking at every other word, “but you have to help Daring!”

“Why?” Ditzy asked. The glimmer in her focused eyes trembled with emotion. “Why should I help her?”

Those ruby eyes lit up and her powerful wings spread at her sides as Rainbow yelled at the top of her voice, “Because she’s your sister!”

Ditzy wanted to argue. That doesn’t matter! What does that change? She put herself in that situation! Look at all the things she’s done to me! Instead, she found herself galloping forward and grabbing Daring around the middle. “Pull with me!” she said to Rainbow.

“But… her wing is stuck!”

Pull with me!”

Rainbow grimaced and wrapped herself around Daring’s hind legs. Together, the blue and grey pegasi pulled, yanked, and flapped their wings away from the fuming machine set to blow.

“One!” Ditzy shouted, tugging at Daring’s limp form.

The steam’s whistle reached a high point.


Rainbow Dash whimpered and closed her eyes.




With a final jerk of their entire bodies, Ditzy Doo and Rainbow Dash tore away from the wall with a screaming Daring Do held tight in their forelegs.

Rainbow’s eyes darted to what was left of Daring’s wing. “Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!”

“Get her on my back, Rainbow!”

Fighting dry heaves, Rainbow unzipped her own green shirt and wrapped it tight around the wound. She tried to avoid touching the growing dark spot behind Daring’s left shoulder as she draped the shaking figure over Ditzy’s waiting back.

Just before they bolted for the corridor behind them, one of Ditzy’s eyes drifted toward the wheel machine. Without Daring’s body holding it back, it slid far enough into the wall to reveal another passage.

“Rainbow, this way!” Ditzy yelled, galloping with all her speed through the thick, colored smog and into the escape route. Lined with clear blue crystals, the hidden tunnel wove away from the caverns full of explosive gems. The two Ponyvilleans didn’t dare slow down as the sound of their hooves thundered in the snaking corridor—but that was nothing compared to the blast that sounded off behind them.

A wave of heat slammed into their backs and singed the hair of their tails as a sound like a hundred firing cannons shattered the blue gems around them. Sprinting through the falling specks of glittering gemstone, Rainbow and Ditzy tried to outrun the roar of approaching fire.

Miraculously, the tunnel opened up into a mile-deep well. A perfect tube shot upward through the earth—a tiny pinprick of Moonlight could be seen far above their heads. Hovering over a slab of granite at center of the well was a masterfully embroidered rug of the most exquisite threads. It seemed shine even in the low light of the distant night—or perhaps it was reflecting the imminent column of horizontal flame rounding a bend of the tunnel.

“Take the Carpet!” Rainbow urged, shoving Ditzy toward the artifact. “I’ll take Daring!”

“What? No!”

“Look at that thing, it’s tiny!” Rainbow said. “There’s no way we’re all fitting on there.”

“Then let’s both carry her up!”

“Take the frickin’ Carpet, Ditzy!” Rainbow shouted, dragging the yellow pegasus from Ditzy’s back and tucking her under her forelimbs. “You have to find your daughter! You have to stop Alula!”

Ditzy could hardly breathe. “But… b-but I—”

“Go! I’ll get us out of here, I promise!”

Gritting her teeth, Ditzy leapt onto the Flying Carpet and pulled on its tassels; true to its name, the artifact hurtled skyward at two times the speed necessary for a sonic rainboom.

As Rainbow watched her mailmare ascend to safety, she glanced back at the nearing inferno and snorted at her promise. “Good thing I’m not the Element of Honesty,” she mumbled, and climbed toward the light as fast as her wings could manage with a flaccid passenger in her hooves.

20 - Until She Lowers Her Guard

View Online

Chapter Twenty
Until She Lowers Her Guard

Ditzy clutched the carpet’s tassels as she barreled toward the sky. Her lips flapped around her teeth, her eyes watered and stung from the wind, and her mane flattened against her skull while the carpet carried her away from her friend, her sister, and the raging inferno below them all.

She burst through the top of the chute, entering a glade of tall, skinny trees. Almost instantly, she passed them, too, opening her wings in an attempt to slow the carpet. Focusing with all her might on controlling its magic, the enchanted carpet eventually slowed to a stop among the wispy clouds. Ditzy took only a few seconds to glance at the Moon glowing silver overhead while the blinking stars applauded her escape.

Tearing her distorted gaze away from the beauty of Haissan’s sky, she peered over the edge of the carpet at the glade below. Blinking, she focused her eyes enough to gauge its distance from the nearby palace. It stood, in all its majesty, not terribly far from where she hovered; from her height Ditzy could see over the walls into the large central garden. If the entrance to their prison truly lay among those shrubs, they must have traveled more than a mile underground to emerge from the small gathering of tall trees below.

A jet of flame suddenly burst from the hidden entrance to the carpet’s chamber. Even from a hundred feet above, Ditzy’s mane billowed in the wave of heat it threw in all directions.

Suddenly, the door swung open, bringing in a gust of wind to tousle Ditzy’s hair. Danger Doo bounded into the room, tossing his glorious golden mane for it to glimmer in the firelight. His daughters stumbled over their short, ecstatic legs on their way to his embrace, giggling and shrieking all the way. He laughed, rich and low and fast, like a happy train speeding down the tracks. The fillies buried themselves in the dark grey fur of his chest, wrestling with each other to be closest to his heartbeat.

“Did you find it, Daddy?” Daring asked. “Did you find what you went looking for?”

His rosy eyes twinkled at her. His teeth sparkled in an impish, goading smile. “Do you think I found it, darling?”

“Of course you did! Of course you did!” Daring and Ditzy chorused, nuzzling their father’s neck and laughing with pride and delight. He would hold up whatever he found—a statue, a crystal, a goblet, a scroll—and let the firelight dance across its surface. He would let the fillies hold it sometimes, cradling it between their hooves as if it was made of golden sand, while he took time to kiss his patient wife and tell her that he loved her.

“How much do you love Mommy?”

“I love your mother all the way to the Moon.”

“And how much do you love us, Daddy?”

“I love you to the Moon and back, my darlings.”

Everypony’s special. What you do matters.

“What have I done?”

Ditzy coughed on fumes as the pillar of fire burnt itself out, leaving a charred circle in the midst of the thirty odd trees. She couldn’t blink or breathe. Her lungs convulsed, pushing her ribcage in and out in sickly, jolting rhythms. “Daring!” she wheezed, collapsing on the carpet. She dropped a forehoof over the edge and reached as far down as she dared. “Oh, no… Daring, I…”

She clenched her jaw and rolled onto her back, fighting the tears for as long as she could. One eye examined a distant constellation while the other stared directly at the Moon.

“I love you to the Moon and back, my darlings.”

“Daddy… I didn’t mean to…”

Her ribs contracted against her insides until boiling tears squeezed from the outer corners of her eyes, darkening the light grey fur on the sides of her head just below her ears. They disappeared into her crumpled yellow mane, one after another, until she was sure a puddle had built on the surface of the carpet under her head.

“Daring…” she choked again, expecting to complete a sentence. Instead, her throat tightened, casting a tormented whine into the quiet air. “Ohhh, Daring…” Curling into a ball in the center of the rug, Ditzy lay on her side and sobbed, clutching her tail between her forelegs.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered into the tips of her tail hairs. “I should have… we were both… I’m so, so sorry.”

In an instant, her eyes flew open and focused perfectly on the Moon. She glared at its glory from under her brow, and though the chemical fire had long died out, its light burned behind her golden orbs.

“I swear he’ll pay for this,” she seethed, another wave of tears spilling onto her cheeks. “All of it!”

Thrusting aside her mourning for an unmarked future point, Ditzy took control of the carpet and sped back to the palace.


Beads of sweat ran all the way down Rainbow Dash’s body, dripping from the end of her tail and into the hissing tongues of fire below. Though a pressure wave caused by the heat was keeping her ahead of the flames, she couldn’t outfly the explosion for long, not with Daring in her grasp. Her eyes spiraled frantically along the walls of the well-like chamber, searching for some kind of alternate escape.

Miraculously, she found one—an offshoot so nearly invisible that, were it not for the shadow cast by the fire, she may never have noticed. Without a second glance, Rainbow screamed and directed every ounce of energy into her wings. Angling herself and her passenger just right, she slipped into the narrow tunnel, too confined to spread her wings. Rearranging Daring on her back, Rainbow ran as fast as she could until she collapsed some fifteen yards along the upward sloping path. Certain it wasn’t far enough to escape the flames, she spread herself over Daring and ground her teeth together, waiting for the wicked heat to roast them both alive.

The volume of her quickening breath drowned out every other sound. She squeezed her eyes shut tighter, angry at Alula, angry at the fire, angry at how long it was taking to…

One of her eyes popped open. The steady roar of the fire had stopped. She sat up and looked back, expecting a wall of flame, but saw instead a wall of solid stone.

“What the…?” She tried to stand up, only for her exhausted body to fail after such a narrow escape. Pushing herself against the wall of the tunnel, she leaned into its cold relief and coughed out a long string of laughter. “Thanks, Piedra!” she shouted, pounding weakly on the rock. “I knew you wouldn’t let us down.”

The absent alicorn didn’t answer, but he didn’t have to. Rainbow smiled, checking herself for any major burns. The ends of her mane, wings, and tail were singed black from the sheer heat, but other than a slight irritation in her lungs, she felt fine.

“Phew!” she sighed, pulling Daring’s body close to her side and slumping onto her shoulder. “That was way too frickin’ close. Right, Daring?”

The limp mare twitched.

Rainbow nodded. “Right.”

After taking three deep breaths, Rainbow hopped back onto her hooves and shook a dozen heat-curled feathers from her wings. “All right, no time to sit around. Ditzy prob’ly thinks we’re dead, and that means we oughtta find her as soon as possible. I’m sure you’ll agree.” Lifting the mute pony onto her back, Rainbow marched further up the slope. “Well, Daring, you may have lost most of your wing,” she continued, her voice bouncing off the tunnel walls, “but you can’t say you didn’t get a pretty darn good story for your next book.”

She followed Piedra’s tunnel for a good ten minutes before stepping into a large, dim cube of rock filled with boxed treasures and sheet-covered statues.

“This must be the palace’s basement or something,” Rainbow whispered to Daring. “Look at all this stuff! Your dad would have had a hay day.”

“Rainbow? Rainbow Dash!”

The pegasus jumped at hearing that studious voice in such an unexpected place. “Twilight?” she asked, glancing around the obstructive objects.

The answer sounded muffled, like Twilight was shouting through a window. “Rainbow, I’m over here! In the mirror!”

Wilting at the prospect, Rainbow glanced at a tall, oval mirror leaned against the far side of the basement. “T-T-Twilight?” she stuttered, dropping Daring before hurrying to the looking-glass. “Twilight, how are you doing that?”

The blessedly familiar unicorn rolled her eyes. “Never mind me,” she snapped, clearly agitated by something. “Where in the world are you?” Her mane was frizzy and her eyes very wide, but other than that she seemed unscathed

Rainbow didn’t quite understand the question. “Huh?”

“Where are you!?” Twilight shrieked, startling Rainbow with her forcefulness.

“Uhhh… Haissan!” she said, rearranging her wings. “I’m in some kinda… I dunno, basement thing… connected to a big old chute that hid a flying carpet…”


Rainbow stomped a hoof. “Psh, it doesn’t matter! What are you doing here?”

“I’m not there,” Twilight said, adopting a philosophical tone. “I’m in the Wabe, but I can explain all that later. Well… I’ll try, anyway.” She leaned as if trying to peek around Rainbow. “Where’s Ditzy?”

“She made it out a different way. I’m gonna go find her right now.”

“Yes, okay, that’s great!” Twilight said, clapping her hooves. “Before you go, there’s something really important I need to tell you about the Sultan Alula!”

“What, that he’s evil?” Rainbow guessed.

Somehow, Twilight’s eyes widened even more. “How did you—”

“He locked us in a big creepy cave that nearly blew us to smithereens,” Rainbow summarized.

Twilight gasped. “Oh my gosh! Are you okay?”

Rainbow pointed a hoof at Daring. “She’s not. But yeah, I’m fine.”

Twilight’s lower eyelids tensed. “Oh, Rainbow, I hate to tell you, but I’m afraid it gets even worse. He’s planning on unleashing the creatures of Tartarus back into Equestria!”

Rainbow jumped. “What!? Why?”

“To overthrow Celestia! I saw him through this same portal. The conversation must have happened some time ago. Wait… when is this happening? When are you?”

Rainbow pulled her head back. “When am I? What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

Twilight bumped a hoof against the inside of the mirror. “How long ago did you leave Ponyville?”

Rainbow tried to work it out in her mind. “I dunno, like… three or four days ago?”

Twilight sighed. “Oh, good. That’s lucky.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m sorry, Dash, but I don’t think we have much time,” she rattled. “Pinkie’s hurt, and apparently so is Daring. Go find Ditzy as fast as you can and let her know that Alula is planning to take over Equestria, but not until he finds his daughter, who I think must be Dinky.”

“Yeah, it is,” Rainbow confirmed, wincing for her friend. “Don’t tell anypony though, okay? She’s really embarrassed by it.”

“Who am I going to tell?” Twilight deadpanned. “The Bandersnatch?”

“The what now?” Rainbow asked, frowning.

Twilight swished her hoof around. “Never mind, go now! I’ll… I’ll see you back in Ponyville! Sooner than later!”

The weak smile on Twilight’s lips was far from reassuring, but Rainbow faked one of her own and returned to Daring’s side. “We sure will,” she called to her friend, replacing her partner on her back. Remembering something she had said, Rainbow added, “I’m glad you’re okay, Twi. Daring said you’ve been missing.”

“More than she’ll ever know,” Twilight replied. “Good luck, Dash!”

“Uh…” She shrugged. “You, too, I guess.”

A million questions fired in Rainbow’s head, but she pushed them down and turned her full attention to finding Ditzy. She raced up the steep cellar staircase to an overhead hatch. Pushing it open with the top of her head, Rainbow found herself in a small closet lit only by the torchlight that passed beneath the door.

“This better be the palace,” Rainbow muttered, “or we’re pretty much screwed.”

Tilting the hatch back, she sprung up to the higher ground and heaved Daring out of the hole. Shutting the trapdoor with her tail, Rainbow cracked the closet’s wooden door open and poked her eye into the hallway. Its familiarity was both a delight and a terror.

“We’re in!” Rainbow whispered. “Okay, now… if you were Ditzy, and you thought your sister was dead, where would you enter the palace from?”

“Don’t end sentences with from, kid. And I would just run away.”

Rainbow sat bolt upright and clicked the door shut before spinning around. “Daring! You’re awake!”

“Am I?” Daring droned, lying flat on her face. “I can’t tell yet.”

Rainbow laughed. “Come on, sit up! How do you feel?”

The adventuress wheezed through her teeth as Rainbow helped her to her haunches. Daring lifted a hoof to rub her head and habitually rotated her wings. She froze with a sharp gasp, locking her head straight before it could turn around on its own. “How bad is it?” she asked Rainbow.

“Uhh…” The singed pony bit her lip. “I haven’t really checked that closely, but… it’s pretty bad.”

“Well, duh. It’s totally numb. I can’t even feel it. Check right now,” Daring said, turning her back toward Rainbow.

“Ew! No way!” Rainbow yelped, scooting away from the tightly wrapped wound.

“Take off this stupid canvas thing you tied into my flesh and tell me how bad it is!” Daring snapped.

“Hey! That stupid canvas thing is my awesome shirt which I sacrificed for your life, thank you very much,” Rainbow yelled back. “And there’s no way in Tartarus you’re getting me to—hyyeuh!

“What, what is it?”

“Tartarus!” Rainbow flapped her wings in agitation. “Alula’s gonna let loose the monsters in Tartarus so he can take over Equestria or something!”

Daring reeled on her. “What? How do you know that?”

“Twilight told me!”

“Your purple friend?”

“Yeah! She was inside a mirror downstairs!”

Daring’s eyelids drooped. “Oh. Um… how much of that colored smoke stuff did you breathe in?”

“I’m not kidding, Daring!” Rainbow yelled, pointing a serious hoof between the bleary mare’s eyes. “Twilight said she’s in someplace called the Wave or something, and she has some kinda portal that… I dunno, lets her see through mirrors!” Rainbow frowned at the stupidity of her own words, but shook away the doubt. “She saw Alula planning to overthrow Celestia, but first he wants to get his child out of harm’s way.”

Daring narrowed her eyes. “Well, if you’re telling your truth, that would make perfect sense.”

Rainbow blinked. “It would?”

“Sure. He always hated Celestia.” Daring shrugged. “In the book I made them out as a couple of old friends, but in reality he never wanted to talk about her, and whenever Ditzy or I would try to bring her up he’d get this freaky scowl on his face.” Her eyebrows crept up to her scalp. “Oh my gosh… I almost forgot. One time I did get him to say something about her.”

Rainbow moved closer. “Really? What?”

Daring knocked a hoof against the side of her head. “Ummm… I asked him something about… about why he didn’t like her? Maybe… oh!” She slammed her hooves together, beaming. “I asked him where he and other alicorns came from and why he wasn’t well known in Equestria. He told me that once he lived in Equestria, but that Celestia made him leave!”

Rainbow gaped. “No way!”

“That’s what he said! I asked him if he’d ever come back, and he told me, ‘Not until she lowers her guard.’ Now, that was back when nopony really knew much about Luna, so he must have been talking about Celestia, right? I didn’t really think much about it after that, but… maybe it’s important.”

“Well, yeah, I’d think so,” Rainbow scoffed. “But I’m no good at this kinda stuff! Maybe we should go down and see if Twilight’s still in the mirror. Or if we hurry, maybe we can find Dit—”

Something knocked three times on the closet door. Daring and Rainbow shut up instantly, sharing a terrified glance before fumbling with the hatch underhoof.

“Get off it!” Rainbow hissed.

“Move! I can’t—”

“Just hover a bit!”

“Oh, yeah, real funny!”

“What? Oh, gosh! Sorry, I forgot—”

“How’d you like me to make sure you never forget?”

“You ungrateful little… I just carried your fat flank on my back for—”

“Okay, I may not be in the best shape of my life, but I am not fat!”

“Come on, Daring, just—”

The door to the hallway opened; automatically, Rainbow lashed out a hind hoof. It connected with a pony’s jaw, followed by a girlish “Yoowch!”

Daring and Rainbow both turned to the newcomer. “Ditzy?”

“Geez, Rainbow Dash!” the blonde mare said through clenched teeth. “Here I was, all happy that you’re alive, and you buck me right in the face!”

“Ditzy, get in here!” Daring said, leaning forward to pull her sister into the tiny space. Rainbow closed the door behind her and they sat in a tight triangle.

Ditzy’s anger soon melted away. “Daring, I can’t believe you’re alive!” she said, throwing her hooves around her sister’s tender neck. “I heard you two shouting in here and I could hardly believe it! How did you escape the fire?”

“Piedra opened a tunnel for us,” Rainbow said, grinning. “Sorry about that, uh—”

Ditzy shushed her. “Piedra? Did you see him?”

“Well… no,” Rainbow admitted, “but this hole just, like… opened. And as soon as we were through, it closed again. And the tunnel led right to this underground storage place down these stairs.” She thumped her hoof on the hatch.

“That definitely sounds like Piedra,” Ditzy said with a sigh. “Oh, Rainbow, I’m so happy you’re okay!”

“We’ll hug and stuff later,” Rainbow said. “First, I have to tell you something that sounds crazy, but I promise it’s the truth. Like, Applejack promise.”

“Don’t you mean Pinkie Promise?” Ditzy asked with a giggle.

“I’m being serious!” Rainbow squeaked, wiggling her hooves above her head. “Listen, Ditzy: Twilight appeared in a mirror downstairs through some kind of portal, and she told me that she saw Alula plotting to take over Equestria by, like, opening the gates of Tartarus, but first he’s trying to find his kid.”

Ditzy gasped. “That’s why he tried to foalnap Dinky!”

“Yes, exactly!”

“So, wait,” Daring said, removing her hat. “Are you saying that by stopping Alula we’re not just saving foals, but the entire country from imminent destruction?”

“Um… well, yeah, I guess.”

Daring grinned. “Heck yeah! This is gonna make the best book ever!”

Grunting, Ditzy punched her sister in the shoulder to silence her. “I’m gonna try really hard not to be mad at you because I was surprisingly sad when I thought you died, but don’t expect that to last for very long if you keep focusing on your stupid book.”

“Hey, if it wasn’t for my book, we never would have discovered Alula’s plan and saved Equestria.”

“We haven’t saved Equestria yet,” Ditzy reminded her, “but… yes, I guess you’re right.”

Satisfied, Daring crossed her forelegs over her chest and donned a proud smirk.

“Just so you know, you lost one of your wings,” Rainbow muttered. “It’s, like, ripped clean off.”

Daring’s face paled. “What!?” She jumped to all four hooves and turned her head around to view her left side. In a craze, she tore away the blood-soaked wrapping with her teeth to reveal a mangled stump of oozing flesh and crushed bone, surrounded by a halo of stained, crumpled feathers. Rainbow looked away in disgust while Ditzy watched her sister stare at her newest restriction.

A wave of pain dropped on Daring harder than a tsunami of lead. She screamed at the ceiling from the bottom of her lungs; blue and grey hooves were quick to cover her mouth. When the dulled shriek died with the light in her eyes, Daring dropped to the floor in a heap, and the greatest mare in all of Equestria bawled like a newborn foal.

“My wing! My frickin’ beautiful, glorious wing!” She choked and hiccupped into the hard, indifferent ground. “Sweet Celestia’s secret suitor, my wing is gone!”

“Calm down, Daring!” Rainbow said. “You’re gonna give us away!”

“Shut up! I don’t care! Let them find us!” She wiggled her hooves in the air and shook her face, distorted with grief. “You can tell me to calm down once your wing is ripped out of its socket, Miss Junior Speedster!”

“It wasn’t ripped out of its socket…” Rainbow mumbled under her breath.

Ditzy tried to wrap her hooves around one of Daring’s flailing appendages. “Daring, it’ll be okay…”

“Ruined! Disgraced! Cut down! Disabled!”

“Daring, listen to me.”

“Landbound for the rest of my life, cursed to spiral when I fall!”

“Daring, the carpet will heal you!”

Daring stopped her sobs at once, hope shining in her eyes. “Really?”

“Of course! All we need to do is get you and the carpet to a skilled unicorn and your wing will be healed.”

“Yussss!” Daring cheered, punching one hoof into the air as she stood on her hind legs. “Daring Do is back in aaAAHH!” With only one wing to stabilize herself, Daring toppled over and landed on Rainbow, collapsing both of them into the corner of the closet.

“All right, that’s quite enough,” Ditzy said, helping to unscramble them. “Rainbow, what else did Twilight tell you?”

“Uh… nothing much.” Shoving Daring away, she tried to smooth out her tail as she rehearsed the unicorn’s message. “Just that Alula wants to take over Equestria, something about Pinkie being hurt…”

“Oh no! Should we be worried?”

Rainbow lifted an eyebrow. “About Pinkie Pie? Uh, no. That pony will survive the apocalypse.”

Ditzy smirked. “Well, then, I guess the only thing we can do is face Alula together and try to talk some sense into him.”

“Pffff… whaaa?” Daring snorted. “Geez, Ditz, for being the smart one, you sure come up with some dumb ideas. Alula’s not gonna listen to us. The best thing we can do is fly home on the carpet and get my wing fixed.”

Ditzy opened her mouth to argue, but Rainbow held up a hoof.

“She’s kinda right! We need help, and we need to keep Dinky out of his hooves. As long as she’s in Equestria, he won’t attack. We can tell Princess Celestia… or, heck, Twilight’s probably already doing that! The best thing for all of us is to get out of here without any more… accidents.”

Daring nodded through her every word. “Yeah! Yeah, exactly. See, Ditz? The kid’s got it.”

Ditzy sighed. “Okay, fine. I hid the carpet near the window where I snuck in. The room is just down the hall. But we need to be careful; Alula’s throne room is right above us. Don’t make too much noise.”

“Aye-aye, Sis,” Daring said.

Rainbow saluted.

With an encouraging nod, Ditzy swung open the closet door—and froze in her tracks.



“Rainbow Dash!”


“Daring Do!”

“Sup, kid.”

The periwinkle foal dove into her mother’s arms while an orange filly wrapped herself around her hero’s leg. Sweetie Belle’s bright green eyes magnetized on Daring’s missing wing, and Apple Bloom just sort of stood there and scuffed at the ground.

“Dinky!” Ditzy hissed angrily, even while she held her daughter in a tight embrace. “What are you doing here?”

“Adventuring!” the foal squeaked. “Just like you!”

“How did you get here?” Rainbow asked the orange filly at her knee.

She and Apple Bloom exchanged a glance. “It’s a long story,” Scootaloo said, backing away from Rainbow to look into her eyes. “We’re trying to find the foals for you!”

Ditzy’s eyes zoned in on the pink-haired pegasus. “How dare you pull my daughter into your half-brained, dangerous—”

“It’s okay, Ditzy!” Rainbow said, stopping her rant. “It was stupid of them, yeah, but what can we do now? At least they’re alive—somehow—and at least we found them before anypony else.”

Ditzy’s eye twitched, but after a few deep breaths, she nodded. “You’re right, of course. I’m sorry, Scootaloo.”

The filly gulped and bowed her head. “It’s okay, Miss Derpy.”

Ditzy,” Sweetie whispered.

“Ditzy,” Scootaloo said in the same monotone. “I didn’t think you’d be mad at us.”

Daring looked from filly to filly with an amused expression. “Your parents let you travel halfway across the globe by yourselves?”

“Of course they didn’t, Daring,” Ditzy chastised with an eye roll, stroking her daughter’s mane.

“Applejack must be freaking out!” Rainbow said to Apple Bloom. “Do you guys know how long you’ve been gone?”

“Just a couple of days!” Scootaloo said, beaming. “After the foalnappers got away, we thought it was gonna take years to cross the ocean, but—oof!" Rubbing the spot on her ribs where Sweetie Belle had just kicked her, Scootaloo smiled weakly. "Uhhh... but it didn't! Isn’t that cool?”

“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Dinky asked as her mother’s teardrops reached the top of her head.

Ditzy blew a long sigh through her nose and bent to Dinky’s eye level. “Honey, it’s very unsafe for you to be here,” she said with all the seriousness she could muster.

Dinky’s brow creased with worry. “It is? Why?”

Grimacing, Ditzy said, “I can’t explain it right now, but you need to get back to Equestria as soon as possible.” Turning her head, she continued, “Rainbow Dash, I need you to take Dinky back to the coast right now. Keep her hidden, and find a way home.”

“But why, Mommy?” Dinky asked again.

Ditzy ignored her, speaking to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. “You three are going to stick very close to Daring and I. We’ll get you home safely… somehow.”

“What about my wing and the carpet?” Daring whined.

Ditzy shot her a silencing glare. Daring averted her eyes to the ground, flattening her ears.

“Mommy, I—”

“You need to go with Rainbow Dash, darling,” Ditzy prompted, nudging her toward the hesitant blue pegasus with the end of her snout.

Dinky glanced at Sweetie Belle. They shared a short and solemn look that instantly broadened the tiny pony’s shoulders. She slammed her hooves into the ground as a golden spark jumped from the tip of her horn. “No!” she exclaimed, a sudden gust of wind whipping through her mane. “I’m a big girl, Mommy. I’m smart and I’m strong, and I want to know the truth. Why do I have to go back to Equestria? Why can’t I help you find the Cakes' twins?”

Ditzy stepped back, shocked into silence.

“The Cakes are safe, kid,” Rainbow Dash said. “Daring took them back home.”

Scootaloo wilted on the spot. “What? Aaahhh, come on! Every time I try to…” She grunted as her words trailed off, spinning away from Rainbow Dash and storming off to stare at the hallway’s far wall.

“Well, that’s good,” Dinky admitted to Rainbow, “but I still want to know why you think it’s so dangerous for me, Mommy. Look how far I’ve already come! I’m not a little pony anymore. I’ll get my Cutie Mark soon, and I’m old enough to know you’ve been keeping lots of secrets.”

Ditzy bit her lip and turned her face away from her daughter. Immediately, Dinky rushed forward, lifting her hooves to rest them against her mother’s chest. “I’m not mad at you, Mommy,” Dinky assured her. “I understand you can’t tell me everything right away, but at least tell me why I’m not allowed to stay with you!”

The poor mailmare’s breath quickened as her brow wrinkled. “Dinky, darling, I wish I could say, but there’s just so much you wouldn’t—”

“I’ll understand!” Dinky said, tapping her hooves into Ditzy’s fur. “You’re always telling me how smart I am and how quick I pick up on things. I promise I’ll listen very close, and if there are parts I don’t understand, I’ll ask about them when we get home.”

One of Ditzy’s eyes swiveled fast to meet her daughter’s pleading gaze.

“Please, Mommy?” Dinky asked, pressed her cheek into Ditzy’s sternum. “Please, I really need to know.”

Ditzy looked to Daring first, and then to Rainbow Dash. Though she looked as if she was in pain, Rainbow nodded firmly. After a long moment, Ditzy nodded, too. “All right,” she said, kneeling down. “All right, here it is. The honest truth.”

Dinky’s eyes and ears tuned in on her mother’s face, etched with every sign of love and effort.

“This is all about your father, Dinky,” she bravely said. Dinky let out a quick sigh and stole another glance at Sweetie, but nodded at her mother and continued to listen. “I met him eight years ago right here in this palace. He’s the ruler of this country, Dinky, and he’s a very powerful pony.”

“He’s an alicorn, isn’t he?” Sweetie Belle asked.

Ditzy’s jaw wavered with surprise, but she composed herself quickly and answered, “Yes, he’s an alicorn.”

Scootaloo bounded across the hall and stood by Apple Bloom. “That is so cool!” she squealed.

“No, Scootaloo, it’s not,” Ditzy said, crushed to see her daughter’s momentary smile fall.

“It’s not?”

“No,” Ditzy repeated, shaking her head. “Your father, Alula, is planning to break open the gates of Tartarus and let all of the scary monsters out so that he can defeat Celestia while she tries to save her subjects.”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders, including their honorary member, gasped in unison. “He’s aimin’ to kill the princess?” Apple Bloom asked.

“He wants to dethrone her and rule Equestria,” Ditzy clarified, bringing her forehooves to her daughter’s shoulders. “I know this must be very hard for you, Dinky, but the only reason he hasn’t attacked yet is because he’s been looking for you.”

The little pony’s golden eyes, so much like her mother’s, shrunk. “Me?”

“Yes. He doesn’t want you to be there when he lets the monsters out,” Ditzy explained. “If he finds you here, he will not hesitate to begin his plan, so you must get back as soon as possible."

Dinky’s lower jaw stuck forward. “Why does he want to do that?”

Ditzy blinked. “Do what, darling?”

“Why does he want to dethrone Celestia?”

“Because… well, because he doesn’t like her.”

“Why not?”

“I’m not sure, Dinky. He never told me.”

Dinky took a number of deep, thoughtful breaths in her mother’s grasp, staring at a spot on the ground. Finally she nodded to herself, backed out of Ditzy’s reach, and took off running down the hallway.

“Dinky!” Ditzy called out, chasing after the foal. “Dinky, stop right now!”

“We have to know, Mommy!”

“Dinky, you stop right now! You don’t have to know everything to be—”

The unicorn looked over her shoulder without slowing her sprint. “It’s not for me. We all have to know, or it will never end.”

For some reason, the words made Ditzy stop in the center of the hallway. Her rational mind screamed at her to keep going, to flap her wings once or twice and scoop her daughter off the floor, but something kept her frozen until Dinky disappeared around a corner.

“Whattaya doin’, Ditz?” Daring screamed, snapping the grey mare out of her trance. “We can’t let the poor thing face Alula alone!”

“We can’t let her face him at all!” Ditzy said, galloping forward. “Dinky, wait! You can’t do this!”

Scootaloo nervously trotted in place. “Oh gosh, Rainbow Dash! What do we do?”

“I, for one, am following my sister and my adorable niece!” Daring cheered, whinnying before she tore off down the marble hallway.

Rainbow grimaced and tugged at her ears. “Uhhhh… I think we should find the Magic Carpet!”

Apple Bloom tilted her head. “Excuuuse me?”

“Come on, girls, I think Ditzy said it was this way!” Rainbow said, leading the CMC down the hall in the opposite direction.

Apple Bloom ran alongside Scootaloo to ask, “Is she pullin’ our tails?”

“Psh… as if I’d be the one to understand Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo pouted, picking up her pace.

Apple Bloom frowned after her friend, waiting for Sweetie Belle to catch up with her. “I think Scootaloo’s real upset that Rainbow Dash is still ignorin’ her.”

“Well then hopefully she’ll take that nice pony’s advice,” Sweetie whispered back.

Apple Bloom snorted. “Well, I can’t rightly blame her if she has a hard time takin’ an alicorn floatin’ in the middle o’ the ocean seriously.”

“I liked him,” Sweetie chimed.

“Just ‘cause he sang that dumb song with ya.”

“He was so funny!”

“Girls, in here!” Rainbow called out. “I think this is the room where she hid it!”

As she ducked out of the hallway, Apple Bloom asked, “Why do I get the feelin’ there ain’t no Magic Carpet?”

“Maybe because one of us has to be realistic,” Sweetie supposed, “and it’s sure not gonna be me or Scootaloo.”

Apple Bloom pulled one half of her mouth back. “Dinky better hurry up and show her dad who’s boss. It’s no fun bein’ the serious one.”

21 - What You Do Matters

View Online

Chapter Twenty One
What You Do Matters

“Dinky? Dinkyyyy! Oh, where did she go, where did she go?”

“You lost your own kid?”

“Gah! Oh, Daring… don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“Her legs are like tiny little marshmallows! How could she have possibly outrun you?”

“What? Ng’oh, I don’t know!”

“Well… keep looking!”

“I am!”

“I’ll go upstairs, you check down that hall.”

“But what if she runs into somep—”

“Then we should already be at full speed! Go, Ditz! Hurry!”


Dinky’s horn stopped glowing when she heard the low window click back into place. Shaking dirt from her knees, she turned around to survey her location: a lush, enormous garden, laced with interweaving paths, trees, shrubs, and flowers, sprawled before her tiny form. The tall, rectangular palace surrounded the entire garden, as if protecting its beauty from the world outside. She nodded firmly to herself and marched along one of the dirt paths, aiming for the wall against the far side of the garden.

The filly raced down path after adjacent path, watching plants of every color slide across her peripherals, until she hopped around a squat palm tree and gasped at the flowerbed on the top of a small hill… or rather, at the regal stallion standing over its moonlit blossoms.

Her shrill cry made him turn around, one eyebrow arched. He said something in a language she didn’t understand. Struck with fear, she backed away, but did not take her eyes off of his large, shimmering pair—exactly the color of her coat.

He seemed to sense her lack of comprehension. “Oh… hello there,” he spoke with slight concern. “Have you lost your way, child?”

Planting her hooves firmly into the path, Dinky shook her head.

Alula smiled and ruffled his wings. “Have you come all the way from the city? That is quite a walk for a lonely young pony.”

“I’ve come a lot farther than that to learn the truth,” Dinky announced in as forceful a tone as she could muster.

The Sultan observed her rounded snout. “You are Equestrian,” he noted.

“I am,” Dinky said. “Born and raised.”

“That voice…” Alula blinked, trotting down his grassy mound to join Dinky on the level pathway. “You sound a great deal like a pony I once knew very well.”

“You’re right,” Dinky said. “I’m the daughter of Ditzy Doo. And that means I’m your daughter, too.”

Alula froze and stayed completely quiet. Not an insect chirped among the garden. He shivered at a sudden chill and steadied himself as his front knees trembled. “My… daughter…” he repeated.

“My name is Dinky,” the unicorn said, “and I have some questions for you.”

“You are my daughter,” he repeated with a flighty laugh, dropping to his belly and tucking all four of his legs close to his body. “I will be happy to answer anything.”

“When did you find out about me?”

Alula’s wide eyes scanned her scrunched face. “I discovered that Ditzy was pregnant when she tried to run away,” he answered bluntly.

“Have you ever seen me before?”

“No,” Alula said, shaking his head, unable to stifle another short laugh. “Never.”

“Why aren’t I an alicorn?”

“That is an excellent question, and I am afraid I do not know the answer. Perhaps your mother will be of help.”

Dinky nodded. “She will, if she knows. How old are you?”

Alula laughed. “Excuse me?”

“How old are you?”

“Very old.”

“How many years?”

“I have no answer,” he said. “Many thousands.”

“When did you meet my mother?”

“Eight and a half years ago,” Alula answered. “I had heard a great deal about the Sisters Doo and I wanted to meet them for myself, and so I brought them to my palace by way of a fallacious commission. Your mother and I fell in love during the following months.”

“Then why don’t you live with us?”

Alula had to clear his throat before he could say, “I beg your pardon.”

“Why has Mommy never even talked about you?” little Dinky asked with tears in her eyes.

The stallion’s lower jaw jutted forward. He rose to his haunches and loosened his wings, eyeing Dinky down the length of his muzzle. “I have horrible news for you, Dinky, but I feel I must be honest. Your mother’s mind is not of sound composition. I am glad she has kept you safe for so long, but now it is my duty to keep you safe from her.”

Dinky immediately backed further away. “What? Mommy would never hurt me…”

“Then why has she been keeping secrets?” Alula asked. “My daughter, I will never lie to you. Anything you wish to know, I will divulge it fully, including this difficult truth: Ditzy Doo is not sane, and she cannot be allowed to raise you any longer.”

A new scowl covered Dinky’s face. “What are you saying?”

“I am telling you the frightening truth: that you must stay with me here, in the palace, as the Princess of Haissan, and allow your mother to be treated in her own country by trained professionals. I am very sorry to say that you might never see her again.”

“Do you know Princess Celestia?”

Alula blinked. “I… do,” he said with a curious wince.

“Do you hate her?”

The Sultan’s periwinkle eyes shifted between his daughter’s piercing golden pair. After another long pause, he grunted, “I do.”


Alula tossed his mane and sat up straighter. “What makes you ask this?”

“You promised to tell me the truth,” she reminded him. “Why do you hate Celestia?”

A perturbed smile tightened Alula’s face. “It is a very long story. I will tell it to you someday, but tonight is not the time. We must rejoice at our meeting after so long!”

“I want to know now,” Dinky said, stomping her hoof. “I’m a patient pony, but this is important. I don’t need to know the whole story, just why you hate my princess.”

Alula was quiet. His front teeth ground together as he stared at his daughter, but long before he began to speak she could tell he was breaking down. The slow downturn of his ears was enough to betray his emotions.

“Is she your sister?” Dinky asked in a sweet, quiet tone.

The muscles in his jaw flexed briefly. “How did you know that?”

“I came across the ocean with three of my friends,” she explained. “On the way, we met an alicorn who… well, I think he lives in the water.”

A smile flashed across Alula’s face quicker than a bolt of lightning. “Calupan,” he breathed.

Dinky beamed. “Yes! Yes, that’s him! He said that Celestia was his sister, and… well, it made me think that maybe all alicorns are part of the same family.”

“You are a perceptive child,” Alula said. “I am glad for that.”

“My mommy taught me,” Dinky said proudly, sticking out her chest. “Now, tell me, why do you hate your own sister?”

“Did Calupan tell you I hated her?”

“No. It doesn’t matter how I found out. I want to hear your story and how it really happened.”

Alula tonged the inside of his cheek. After a long sigh, he nodded his lengthy head. As it bobbed up and down, the alicorn began his tale. “I have heard rumors of ponies born with both wings and horn in your country, but they are not true alicorns. Their magic cannot sculpt the world; it cannot tame the seas; it cannot cause the winds to blow, nor the Sun to rise… nor the Moon.”

Dinky was surprised to see a tear build at the corner of his tightly closed eye.

“We did not come from this world, my siblings and I. We were brought into it during a period of great turmoil. We had compassion for the ponies of this world, and we saved them from their doom. For that, they revered us as their great superiors. We had never been so loved, nor held such great responsibilities. We took upon ourselves the duties of their world, keeping the cycles in motion that governed their lives. Day and night, rain and shine, life and death… we each took upon ourselves an element of nature, along with our Elements of Harmony.”

Dinky’s ears shot up. “Elements of Harmony?”

Her father smiled. “I am glad you know of them. We six used the Elements to stop the reign of the Jabberwock, a creature of discord and chaos. It was then that the united tribes of Equestria appointed us as their leaders, and we ruled with great love for our subjects.

“It did not take long, however, for our new emotions to cause trouble. Before living in this world, we were not affected by such things as joy, justice, or jealousy. Here, despite our thousands of years of life, we may as well have been children, unable to properly understand or control our emotions. Celestia is the eldest and had always been our leader, but when the citizens of Equestria elevated her to a divine status, dedicating shrines to the worship of her and her Sun, the rest of us grew envious.”

“So you hate her because she got more attention than you?” Dinky asked.

The Sultan scowled, but not at his daughter. “No. I am a… quiet pony, and have never thirsted for the spotlight. Celestia, however, basked in it. She lapped up their attentions like a spoiled dog from its silver bowl and did not hesitate to bite when others tried to share.”

“She bit you?”

Alula cracked a smile and the strain in his voice disappeared. “No, my dear. Celestia was very happy with her position as the god over us all, even while some of her siblings longed for—and needed—more attention, especially…” His eyes found the Moon behind soft clouds overhead.

“Luna,” Dinky finished.

“She is my youngest sister,” Alula whispered, “and… she was always my favorite. We were very close, she and I. She came to me whenever Celestia dashed her hopes of becoming as loved by the ponies as she. Poor Luna worked far harder than Celestia to make her nights as beautiful as possible, hoping to receive some recognition from the Equestrians, but felt that they shunned her Moon in favor of the day. It drove her mad.”

“I know that story,” Dinky said, nodding sadly.

“Celestia could have stopped it,” Alula growled. “At any time she could have spread the news of Luna’s glorious night to her adoring subjects, but she so craved the corrupting limelight that she left her starving sister to become—!” He swung his head down, snorting heavily. With a few slow breaths he calmed himself and, sitting up, continued. “What is worst, dear daughter, and the reason I so despise Celestia, is perhaps too shocking for you to take in.”

“It won’t be!” Dinky said, taking several braves steps nearer to the alicorn. “Tell me, please!”

“It is a familiar tale,” he muttered, “one that is probably hailed in your country as a great sacrifice made by the ever-loving Princess of the Day.”

Dinky’s winced. “You mean… when she sent her to the Moon?”

A snarl curled the stallion’s upper lip. “Without the consent of her siblings—who, I remind you, were each connected to one of the Elements—Celestia took upon herself all six, separating us from their power, and banished Luna to her own beautiful orb, staining it with the visage of the monster that grew from Celestia’s shadow.”

A sincere frown skewered Dinky’s tiny face. “Then what happened?”

“The citizens rejoiced,” Alula droned in a cold voice dripping with malice.

“And you left Equestria?”

Their eyes met. “We could not bear it any longer,” Alula confessed. “Each of us took our leave. We continued to provide our magic for the cycles of the world, but I do not think anypony in Equestria even noticed.”

“Where did you all go?”

“My brother Calupan took to the ocean as, somehow, you know. I have always thought it was to hide the Element of Laughter’s tears from the rest of Equus. I had heard that Piedra lived among the griffons, but recently discovered that to be only partly true.”

“What was his Element?” Dinky asked.

Alula squinted for a moment. “Honesty,” he said, smiling sadly. “Forgive my poor memory; it has been over a thousand years now.”

“And what happened to your sixth sibling?”

“My sister Beatrix—the Element of Kindness—disappeared completely. I saw it happen myself. She just…” He waved his hoof through the air before him. “…vanished. She governed the most beautiful and difficult cycle of all, and did it entirely on her own: Life and, consequently, Death. Sometimes I think she must have become one with that great force, unable to face the sorrows of our faux-mortality.”

“And how did you end up here?”

“I was the bearer of Generosity for good reason,” Alula said. “I could not let my powers go to waste, despite my tribulations. I found this country in a state of great unrest and worked for several hundred years to bring it to its current order. I have not spoken with any of my siblings since.”

Dinky’s brow wrinkled in thought. “So you hate Celestia… because she broke up your family.”

“I consider that an accurate observation.”

“And yet… you want to break up my family?” Dinky asked. “You want to take me away from my mother?”

Alula’s jaw hung open. “It was not I, dear daughter, who ran from the love of their life to fend for herself with a child on the way, leaving behind, with no explanation, a world of safety, comfort, and love.”

“She must have had a reason!” Dinky yelled.

“Of course she did,” Alula said, leaning lower. “She is insane. I tried to heal her from a terrible accident, but though I saved her life, I did not entirely succeed.” He had to pause to blink away a fresh film of tears. “But we need not worry about her ever again, my darling,” he continued, reaching out with a shaking hoof to stroke Dinky’s mane. “You need never think of Ditzy, your princess, or Equestria ever again.”

“Why?” Dinky asked, jumping away before he could touch her. “Because you’re going to kill them all?”

Alula blinked. “Kill who?”

“The ponies of Equestria!” Dinky shouted. “Now that I’m here and Celestia’s no longer connected to the Elements, are you going to break open the gates of Tartarus and send Equestria to its doom?”

“Tartarus?” Alula asked. “I am not aware of that word’s meaning, my dear.”

“I thought you said you wouldn’t lie to me,” Dinky seethed, narrowing her eyes.

Alula smirked. “I did not. If ‘Tartarus’ is a name Celestia has given the Wabe, then yes, I am planning to release its creatures back into my sister’s country.”

“But why? She and Luna rule together now, with love and friendship!”

A cruel laugh crawled up from the bottom of Alula’s throat. “Do not pretend to know my sister better than I. Luna is as much a prisoner there as she was on the Moon.”

“That’s a lie! Princess Celestia has changed!”

“Oh, has she?”

“Yes! She welcomed Luna back and honored her in front of everypony. I was there! She wants everypony to know the magic of friendship. She gave the Elements to normal mares in my town! Isn't that proof of her being humble?”

“Humble!?” Another spiteful laughed echoed through the garden. “Humble! Now, there is a word I would never use to describe my sister.”

“I bet she’s sorry for what she did. Why not talk to her before you try to ruin Equestria? Why not give her a chance to fix her mistakes?”

“Her mistakes are far past fixing.”

“There’s no such thing,” Dinky said, lifting her chin. “I’ve made lots of mistakes. So have you, so has my mom, so has Aunt Daring, and so has Princess Celestia. But guess what? Even though my mom can't stand her sister, she still tries to understand her and help her and get her on the right path, because she loves her and they’re family.” Dinky stopped short, her eyes growing to take up most of her face. “Oh my gosh! I’m related to Princess Celestia!”

Alula chuckled. “I admire your concern for the wellbeing of those you love, but I am afraid there is a major flaw in your philosophy. Ditzy and Daring do not love each other. From my observations, which are undeniably more extensive than yours, they would like nothing more than to see the other suffer.”

“That’s not true. They might fight and not get along, but in the end they’re still friends. They’d do anything for each other. Princess Celestia has taught me and my town that there is powerful magic in friendship, so imagine how much power there is in family, the most important friendship of all!”

“We must agree to disagree for now,” Alula said flatly. “Someday you will learn the truth and see that I am right, but since neither of us will ever meet the Sisters Doo again, I suppose we will have to wait.”

“And Wrong-o was his name-o!”

Alula flinched at the scratchy voice, throwing his gaze to the second floor window where a mustard-yellow mare cackled, waving her pith helmet over her head. “What?” the alicorn shouted. “No!”

“Ha ha haaaa! Hiya, Dinks! Sup, Alula!” Daring rested her elbows on the open windowsill. “Long time, no see, eh, kid?”

“Hi, Aunt Daring!” Dinky yelled up to her.

“Aunt Daring, huh? Well, I guess that’s kinda cute.” She shrugged and cracked her neck. “So you met your dad, didja?”

“Yeah!” Dinky chirped happily, unaware of the wicked scowl screwing up her father’s face.

“What’d’ya think? Has the old windbag bored you to death with his history of Haissan lessons yet?”

Dinky snorted a giggle. “You’re funny, Aunt Daring!”

“I try,” Daring said with an exaggerated shrug. She gasped in pain and smiled past a wince, trying to hide the tears that sprung to her eyes.

Dinky’s eyes shone among the darkness of the garden. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah! Yeah, of course!” Daring said through clenched teeth. “Never better.”

“Fly down here, Daring Doo,” Alula bellowed. “Explain yourself at once. Did you escape my guards?”

“Guards?” Dinky squeaked. “What guards?”

“I did better than that, Lulu!” Daring shouted, teeth glinting in the Moonlight as she leaned out the window. “Me and Ditz and Reindeer Bash escaped your stupid prison, and found the Flying Carpet to boot!”

What!?” A stormcloud in the distance smacked the ground with lightning, punctuating Alula’s shout with a roll of ominous thunder.

“That’s right, Windy! It wasn’t even that hard, really. Little bitta green, little bitta red, toss in some nice yellow…”

“I saw the explosion!” Alula shouted. “I watched the fire consume the grove not twenty minutes ago! How could you have possibly escaped?”

“You’re not the only alicorn around these parts, are ya, Lulu?” Daring went back to laughing hysterically, wiggling her hooves like giant noodles.

“You put my mommy in an explosion?” Dinky yelled, turning on Alula with a hard stare.

Hate continued to pulse from the sultan’s eyes in Daring Do’s direction. “You say that all of you survived? Then where are—” He clamped his mouth shut, spinning around just in time to knock a diving Ditzy out of the air.



The pegasus slammed into the nearby flowerbed, spraying roses and tulips every which way. “It’s all right, Dinky!” she grunted, struggling to her hooves. “Get out of here!”

“How ironic,” Alula droned, walking up the small mound to the patch of dirt and flowers. “Do you know what lies beneath this hill, my dear?”

Ditzy ignored him, using her wings to regain a position of defense. She snorted, locking one cooperative eye on the father of her child.

“It is the rock on which you fell and nearly lost your life,” he hissed. “I wanted to forget that day; the day I lost my love to madness.”

“I’m not crazy, Alula,” Ditzy said, ready to dart in any direction. “You healed my mind perfectly. The only things to suffer from that fall were my eyesight… and my relationship with my sister.”

Daring smiled in surprise and disappeared from the window.

“And, apparently, your sense,” Alula added to her list, “and your love for me.”

“I didn’t lose my love for you, Alula,” Ditzy said. Her shoulder’s fell a little before she said, “It never existed in the first place.”

Alula halted his approach. “How do you mean?”

Ditzy closed her eyes. “Alula, I can’t count how many time I’ve tried to tell you that I never loved you. The only reason I… acted like I loved you… was to spite Daring.”

Alula’s eye twitched. “That is impossible. You have forgotten, is all. You have lost your mind.”

“I have not,” Ditzy repeated, flapping her wings for emphasis. “I lied to you, Alula. It was wrong—it was so very, very wrong of me—but I did it, and I’m sorry. The truth is that I never loved you, and I… I had to get away from it all. Don’t you see? I couldn’t spend the rest of my life with an alicorn I didn’t love… watching him and my own child stay forever young as I withered away without a purpose.”

“Why did you not tell me the truth?”

“I did! I tried!” Ditzy screamed. “I tried so many times, but you didn’t believe me! You thought I was crazy! You couldn’t let yourself believe that I never loved you. But now there’s too much proof.” She pointed to the filly behind him. “I’ve raised our daughter as any perfectly sensible mother would. There is nothing wrong with me, Alula, except that I keep far too many secrets.”

The black stormcloud drew ever nearer to the palace, along with a steady wind that spun through the garden, bringing a constant, whistling drone to the background of their reunion. Branches, leaves, and manes whipped in its cyclonic wake.

Alula hung his head, ignoring the angry wind that tossed his tail around his flank. The motion of his ribs accelerated with the storm. Finally he turned his head to look upon his daughter, standing still and frightened several ponylengths behind him. “And now you see that I was right,” he said to her, just loud enough to hear over the rush of the wind. “The hatred between siblings knows no bounds. It will crush the hearts of any and all unsuspecting victims along its path of unstoppable destruction. Who am I to pretend that I can deflect what Celestia has coming to her?”

“No, you’re still wrong!” Dinky shouted, shielding her eyes from the leaves and dirt that swirled among the storm. “Something really bad happened to your family, and something really bad happened to mine, but look where they are now! They’re working together to help me! Don’t let Celestia’s mistakes feed your own. You have to stop the chain, if not for Celestia’s sake, then for yours! For Luna’s! For everypony in Equestria!”

“I do not care about any of them!” Alula thundered, accompanied by a great flash of lightning just beyond the palace walls. “I have been wronged and disgraced by Celestia! Now she must receive her consequences!”

“She already has!” Dinky yelled. “For a thousand years! Give her another chance! Just talk to her, try to see it from her side! Forgive her!”

“No!” her father shouted, spinning around to face her. “I cannot!”

“You can! You have to!” Dinky pleaded. “Never hate a sibling or give up on your family. They need you just as much as you need them!”


“Please, Daddy!”


A mighty gust ripped a tree from its roots on the other end of the garden. The circling windstorm carried the entire trunk toward the trio of ponies. Alula and Ditzy gasped when its branches slammed against a stronger tree, changing the airborne plant’s trajectory directly at Dinky.

“Dinky!” Ditzy shouted, jumping forward—only to be pushed back by wall of air. She landed in the dirt again, throwing her hooves around angrily. “No! How dare you? How dare—”

“I did nothing!” Alula shouted at her. Ditzy looked up to find Alula on the ground as well, struggling back to his hooves. “It came from—”

They both gaped in Dinky’s direction. The tiny unicorn’s horn was glowing bright amidst the dirty air, and swirling around her was an upside-down cone of wind separate from Alula’s wrathful storm. Circling inside the child’s miniature tornado was the uprooted tree.

“Dinky…” Ditzy said breathlessly. “You… you can do…”

“Wind magic,” the unicorn finished proudly. “Why do you think I’m so good at the flute?”

Ditzy laughed. “Oh, honey! That’s amazing!”

Alula said nothing, hypnotized by the swirling tree.

With a strobe of her horn, Dinky redirected the wind, tossing the tree beneath a well-grounded shrub where it stayed safe from the storm.

“Stop this at once, Alula!” Ditzy shouted. “It nearly killed our daughter!”

He blinked and stared blankly at the ground. “My daughter,” he said under his breath.

“Did you hear me, Alula?” Ditzy yelled.

With a terrifying glint in his eyes, Alula turned his face toward Ditzy and firmly repeated, “My daughter.”

Ditzy barely had time to open her mouth before a startling gust caught her under the wings. She yelped as it lifted her off the ground and pushed her across the garden, slamming her into the trunk of a great palm tree.

“What are you doing!?” Dinky shouted. “Stop it!”

Alula ignored her. With the slightest tilt of his head, another powerful force swept up Ditzy from the side and drove her into the dirt, grinding her face along a pathway before flinging her into a bed of thorny roses.

Stop it!” Dinky shrieked, conjuring another small tornado around her father. Alula’s horn sparked and it disappeared. “No! No, no, no, no!” Dinky shouted, running up to the alicorn’s side and pounding her hooves against his knees. “Don’t hurt my mommy! Stop it right now!”

“You believe so much in family?” Alula droned as Ditzy’s body was carried into yet another concussive slam. “Then remember that you are my daughter and must do as I say.”

Dinky started to sob. “Don’t do this! Please, stop hurting her!”

“I’d listen to her if I were you, chump!” Rainbow Dash shouted just before her hoof collided with the side of Alula’s snout.

“Graaaugh!” The alicorn pulled away and Ditzy’s body dropped out of the air.

“Go to your mom, kid,” Rainbow whispered in Dinky’s ear. “I’ll handle this bully.”

Dinky sniffled and managed to smile. “Thank you, Rainbow Dash.”

“Don’t mention it,” she said with a wink, pushing her toward the spot where her mother had fallen. Tilting one wing expertly, Rainbow caught the rushing wind and used it to gather altitude. “Come and get me, big guy!”

He glared up at the sky blue nuisance. “How do you fly in this? Not even I can fly in this!”

“I’m the best flier in all of Equestria!” Rainbow Dash bragged. “You think I’d be put off by a little Haissanic breeze?”

Growling, Alula opened his giant wings and rocketed toward Rainbow.

“Wuh-oh!” she said, barreling to one side.

“I will deal with you quickly,” Alula said as he flapped hard against his own wind.

“We’ll see about that!” Rainbow quipped, diving through the harsh gale to a stream that snaked through the garden. Alula followed, roaring with rage.

Dinky found her mother surrounded by three familiar fillies. “Scootaloo! Apple Bloom! Sweetie Belle!”

“And Daring Do!” the mare announced, galloping up to the join the group. “How bad is she?”

“We just got here, like, five seconds ago,” Sweetie Belle said.

“Where’s the carpet?”

“We hadn’t found it when you told us to come help—”

“Never mind all that,” Daring said, pushing Apple Bloom out of the way. “Look out, yellow kid, I’ll do it myself. Orange kid, how’s the blue kid?”

Scootaloo tilted her head to one side. “Huh?”

“Check the sky, Pink Head! How’s our mutual friend getting along with Ditzy’s ex-love bird?”

“Uhh…” Scootaloo scanned the garden’s treetops. “I don’t see them… oh, wait! Rainbow Dash is climbing! He’s chasing her!”

“Catching up?”

“Heck no!”

“Didn’t think so!” Daring pressed her ear against the side of Ditzy’s ribcage. “Yeah, she’s totally alive, but it seems to me that she’s also totally unconscious.”

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. “Thanks a bunch, Doctor Do.”

“My pleasure!” Daring said, saluting. “Now, let’s get her out of here!”

“How?” Sweetie asked. “On your back?”

“On my back?” Daring asked. “Uh, yeah, that’s a huge no.”

“But she’s yer sister!” said Apple Bloom.

“It’s because of her wing, you guys,” Dinky explained. “Come on, we’ll lift her onto all three of you. Line up!”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders swiftly obeyed, bracing themselves for Ditzy’s dead weight. Before Dinky and Daring could even get the mailmare off the ground, Scootaloo gasped and jump out of formation.

“Luna’s nipple, kid! Can’t you stay still for ten seconds?”

“Rainbow Dash is in trouble!” Scootaloo yelled, pointing to the sky.

Above them, Rainbow was spinning out of control. She flexed her wings hopelessly against Alula’s impossible wind, but the downward gust kept pushing her into his waiting embrace.

“That’s not fair!” Rainbow screamed, trying to jerk herself out of the current. “You’re cheating!”

“Wind is very natural,” Alula replied, flapping his wings in a steady rhythm and hovering over a tall, twitching tree, “as is your defeat against a god.”

“Nnnnnyaaaugh!” Rainbow shrieked, throwing herself in every direction until Alula’s forelegs wrapped around her helpless form. With an inward swipe of his hoof, he cracked the bone of her right wing in half. “Ghaaaugh-ee-aaaahh!”

Raaainboooow!” Scootaloo cried as Alula tossed her exhausted body haphazardly into the gale.

“Meh, she got it easy,” Daring said, rolling her eyes. “Keep helping Ditzy, I’ll go find the kid.”

“Why is this garden so freaking huge?” Scootaloo shouted furiously.

“Because this is Stirrope, kid!” Daring said, ruffling her mane. “Just focus on getting my sister out of here. I’ll keep Alula off your tails.”

“Promise?” Sweetie Belle asked.

Daring winked. “You bet.”

The adventuress tore away as the Cutie Mark Crusaders realigned. “Okay, I’m gonna lift her onto your backs on the count of three!” Dinky said, tucking her hooves under her mother’s body.

“This oughtta be good,” Apple Bloom drawled.

Their voices faded into the whine of the storm as Daring ducked under broken branches and hopped over shrubbery. Weaving and darting and ignoring the painful stub on her back, she kept her eyes peeled for a grounded rainbow in the ghostly Moonlight. Once she reached the other side of the garden, her partner’s mane was not hard to spot.

“Kid! Hey, kid, can you hear me?” she asked as she approached the writhing mare.

“Ngaaaah, horseapples!” Rainbow hissed. “He broke my wing!”

“I know, I watched,” Daring said, turning Rainbow on her side to examine the appendage. “You’re gonna be fine. Especially compared to me.”

Rainbow chuckled. “Guess I had it coming.”

“What for? You’ve been nothing but good to me, kid, even when I totally didn’t deserve it.”

“Well, that’s not totally true…”

“It’s true enough to say. Now come on, let’s get you out of his—”

“Sights?” Alula asked from above, dropping onto Daring’s back.

“Ooomphhh!” She flattened under his weight, expelling every drop of air in her lungs.

“Daring!” Rainbow shouted, leaping to her hooves. “Get off of her, ya melon fudge!”

“Fly for help, little pony,” Alula said in a mocking tone. “Fly for dear Ditzy, or for the little filly weeping at her side.”

“You’re breaking her back, you big alicrap!” Rainbow yelled right into his face. “Get off!”

“She can take it,” Alula sneered, watching at the pony under his hooves wriggle and wheeze. His eyes darted to what remained of her left wing. “Oh, my… it appears you did not quite make it out of my trap unscathed, Miss Doo.” He bent low and snickered into her ear. “Tell me, did Ditzy push you into the Patternica, or leave you behind for the flames?”

“She did it to herself!” Rainbow yelled. “Ditzy helped save her life!”

Alula frowned. “Did she? I am surprised at that.” A wicked grin slithered over his mouth. “You had a hoof in convincing her, no doubt.”

“I did not! Ditzy would have… helped… even if I wasn’t…” Rainbow’s words vanished with the confidence behind her stare.

Alula laughed. “Do you hear that, Daring? Ditzy would have left you to die were it not for this vivacious young thing.” He offered a grateful smile to Rainbow Dash. “We are ever so grateful, my dear, for keeping them together. Just look where it has gotten us now!” He burst into another long string of maniacal laughter while blinding bolts of lightning struck the garden’s tallest trees.

“Don’t listen to him, Daring!” Rainbow said, slamming herself into Alula in an attempt to topple him. “Ditzy definitely would have saved you! I promise!”

“You ought to spend more time with my brother,” Alula said. “He once bore the Element of Honesty.”

A light sparked deep in Rainbow’s soul. She let out a terrific battle cry and flapped her one good wing hard, driving the top of her head into the center of Alula’s chest. He coughed and tumbled to the side, allowing Daring to suck in an enormous breath and roll away, groaning in pain. She steadied herself on a short bush and rose back to her hooves as Rainbow wrestled Alula in a small creek.

“Do not bite me, you fiend!” Alula yelped, splashing water with his twisting wings.

“It’s natural for a horse to bite!” Rainbow yelled back, chomping her teeth again and again around his fetlock.

“Enough!” Alula shouted, pushing Rainbow away with a loud gust of strong wind. She landed on her broken wing and whinnied in pain.

“Get outta here, Rainbow!” Daring exclaimed.

“No way!” Rainbow shook away tears and faced Alula where she stood. “I’m sticking with you, Daring!”

“How very touching,” Alula spat. “You remind me of my sister before she was blinded by the bright lights of adoration. If only she had kept that sense of loyalty.”

“Loyalty’s my middle name,” Rainbow said, “and my Element of Harmony.”

Alula’s brow furrowed. “Your Element of…” His eyes shot open as his great blue wings, dark as the sky, flared in surprise. “You are one of the ponies who took the Elements from my sister?”

“I didn’t take it,” Rainbow said. “I earned it by being a good friend to the Element of Magic and standing up against Nightmare Moon.”

“The Element of Magic…” Alula repeated. His eyelids tensed as a memory danced inside his angry mind. “How I wish the Loyalty and Magic I knew had been good friends. All of this… every hardship might have been avoided.”

“But it did happen, Alula,” Daring said between heavy pants. “It all happened, already. But that kid of yours is right. You don’t have to let it ruin you, and you sure as Tartarus don’t have to ruin anypony else’s lives because of it.”

“Do not lecture me on the subject of familial harmony, Miss Doo,” Alula seethed, jutting a hoof at her. “I will not be patronized by the very embodiment of a poor sibling.”

“Well, that’s a little harsh,” Daring mumbled.

“If anything, it is not harsh enough,” Alula said. “You are a selfish, thoughtless, arrogant fool of a pony with no redeeming features I have ever observed.”

Daring wilted. “What? I… I’ve got plenty of…”

“Your treatment of those who care for you is deplorable,” he went on, “and your absolute lack of gratitude and respect brings your worth to zero. You are less valuable to your sister than the dirt on her snout.”

Shut up!”

All three ponies spun around. “Ditzy!” Rainbow shouted. “You’re okay!”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Ditzy groaned, “but at least I’m alive.”

“And neither of your wings are broken,” Rainbow noticed.

“Or ripped off,” Daring grumbled.

Dinky jumped through a bush and slid to her mother’s side. “Mommy, we gotta get out of here!” She winced in Daring’s direction. “I’m sorry, Aunt Daring, she just woke up and—”

“Dinky, I can handle myself!” Ditzy said. “You have to get away from the palace with the Crusaders!”

“She will not be leaving,” Alula said. “Ever.”

To that, everypony started shouting at once, blending into the maddening howl of the worsening wind.

“I’m not going to leave my daughter with a deranged alicorn—”

“—better than you ever could—”

“—she hasn’t done anything wrong—”

“—under the supervision of a god—”

“—can’t expect everything to go your—”

“—won’t be an Equestria to go back—”

“—forgive her, just find it in your—”

Frightened by the ferocity in each adult’s face, Dinky trotted backwards from the shouting contest. She could feel the heat of the air rise with Alula’s temper, and soon large beads of sweat were sliding down her face. Dinky shivered and pressed herself against the base of a very odd tree, tall and red and seemingly unaffected by the destructive storm.

As she took deep, calming breaths with her face pressed against the soft, red leaves of the unusual plant, an incredibly clarity came to her mind. The chaos and fear of the moment slipped away, replaced by an overwhelming focus and confidence in herself. Rising from her cower, Dinky shut her eyes in tranquil silence and ignited her horn.

The tempest instantly ceased, leaving four ponies screaming at each other in a still, Moonlit garden. They quickly dropped their arguments and glanced around in shock. Ditzy was the first to notice Dinky’s glowing horn.

“Dinky,” she asked, “did you do that?”

Alula took one look at his daughter and the tree behind her and began to chortle. “Ahhh, the power of the tumtum tree. Remarkable, is it not?”

Dinky opened her eyes, alight with surety, and stared down her father with an air of perfect calm.

“I hate to break your concentration, little one,” he said, “but you are just a unicorn, and I am a god.”

“You’re becoming exactly what you hated about Celestia,” she said without blinking.

Alula grimaced. “What?”

“Maybe it's natural. You said emotions are new to you.”

“I have had them for a thousand years,” Alula said.

Dinky shook her head. “Not these; not like this.” She sighed. “It’s sad that you hate Celestia for something out of her control, especially when you're making the same mistake.”

“Silence,” Alula growled.

Dinky continued without a quaver in her voice. “It’s so sad that you hate someone who could be your best friend if you forgave her. She already knows about this problem.”

“I have no problem!” Alula screamed, bringing back the fullness of his raging storm with a bright flash of his horn. “Celestia is the one with a problem!”

Dinky’s horn began to glow as well and the winds softened. “It will be hard, but you can change your mind. You can have a better relationship with Celestia.”

“I cannot!”

“You will not, but you can.”


A veritable hurricane exploded to life around them. The CMC tumbled into view, huddling close around Ditzy.

“What’s going on?” Sweetie Belle shouted over the new roar of the wind.

“Looks like Dinky’s fighting her dad!” Scootaloo answered.


“Stay close to me, girls!” Ditzy yelled, wrapping her forelegs and wings around the young Crusaders. She beckoned to Rainbow and Daring to come closer, and they began to push themselves against the mighty gale to join the little group.

Some ways off, Alula and Dinky glared into each other's faces in the calm eye of the storm. Their horns sparked and shone as the huge tornado buckled and grew, shattering the palace windows and pulling painted bricks from the walls. Scootaloo yelped and lifted her head as a shard of glass whizzed past her snout.

“Stay down, Scootaloo!” Ditzy yelled, lifting one of her wings to push the filly’s head down. The wind caught below her feathers and she was sucked into the cyclone, disappearing with a scream among the dust and debris.

“Derpy!” Apple Bloom screamed.

Rainbow and Daring shared a horrified glance and looked at their disabled wings. Daring chuckled. “Well, look at that. I’ve got a right wing, you’ve got a left one.” She offered her left foreleg. “Wanna share?”

Rainbow grimaced. “That’s crazy!”

“Hey, according to Ditzy, we’re basically the same mare, anyway!” Daring pulled a nervous smile.

Rainbow gulped, nodded, and linked her right foreleg with Daring’s. “For the record,” she yelled into her partner’s ear, “I’m nowhere near as cocky as you!”

“Not yet!” Daring said. “Give it another twenty years!”

They crouched and spread their good wings in unison. The interlocked duo caught the ferocious wind and rose three hundred feet in a matter of seconds.

“Close up, close up!” Daring yelled.

“I’m trying!” Rainbow said, her voice cracking. They folded up their wings just in time to see the entire palace engulfed by Alula’s tornado. With mutual terror, they flapped in sync to hover high above the hurricane and watched the beautiful building crumble in the wind, breaking into hundreds of sections and throwing its contents into the storm. Walls, books, furniture, chandeliers, and several dozen ponies joined the unforgiving spiral, or else were flung into the airspace over the capital of Haissan.

“Luna’s nipple…” muttered Rainbow Dash.

“Amen,” said Daring. Then she gasped, startling Rainbow, and pointed with her free hoof to an object flipping in the wind.

“The carpet! The Magic Carpet! We have to go get it before it shoots outta here!”

“What about Ditzy?”

“We’ll find her once we have the—”

“Wait, there she is!” Rainbow pointed downward, too, following the grey mare with her hoof. “Oh my gosh, I think she’s passed out again!”

“What!? Can’t that pony stay awake for, like, two frickin’ minutes?”

“Daring, she’s gonna get hurt in there!”

“Okay, we’ll get her as soon as we snag the Carpet!”

“We don’t have time, Daring! We have to dive now! She gonna crash through that window on the next revolution!”

Daring’s eyes flicked between the floppy pony and the carpet on opposites sides of the giant funnel.


The pony... or the wing...


Daring rolled her eyes. “What are you waiting for kid?” she shouted. “That bubbly plot ain’t gonna save itself!”

Rainbow laughed and angled her wing parallel to Daring’s. They launched downward and reentered the storm, catching Ditzy under her flailing forelegs and yanking her away from a number of dangerous chunks of palace spinning in the wind. Working with shared instincts, the ponies carried Ditzy safely to the eye of the storm.

“Y’know,” Daring yelled to Rainbow as they neared Alula, “I knew Ditzy’s clumsy hooves would make themselves useful one day.”

“What do you mean?” Rainbow asked.

Daring winked and clicked her tongue. “Derp’s away!”


Daring let go of Ditzy at just the right moment; the wind pulled her from Rainbow’s grip and drove her limp hind hooves into the side Alula’s long horn. The alicorn howled as a long crack shot down the length of his spire. He crumpled to the ground with Ditzy while his cyclone whisked away, leaving only the bare remnants of a once majestic palace and a ruined, earthy garden holding eight exhausted equines.

Dinky’s strange trance finally broke. She gasped and leapt on her mother, brushing the hair from her face. “Mommy? Mommy, are you okay!?”

Alula moaned and rolled onto his side. “My horn…”

“Aw, shut up,” Daring said as she and Rainbow landed nearby. “A little crack in your horn is nothin’ compared to losing your wing for good.” She leaned close to the Sultan’s face and smirked. “Of course, we could always show you what that feels like, too.”

His irises shrunk, inspiring a long laugh from Daring.

“How’s she doing, Dinky?” Rainbow asked, trotting to Ditzy’s other side.

“She’s waking up!” Dinky exclaimed.

Sure enough, the mailmare’s wonky golden eyes—pointing in opposite directions—fluttered open while her daughter stroked her mane. “Dinky?” she croaked.

“It’s me, Mommy,” Dinky assured her, nodding and smiling as bravely as she could. “It’s all right now. Everypony’s safe, and the storm is gone.”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders made their way over piles of broken branches and loose dirt to stand around Rainbow Dash. Scootaloo was shivering, but kept her distance from Rainbow. The older mare smiled and wrapped her wing around the filly’s shoulder, pulling her close. “You all right, kid?” Rainbow whispered.

“I nearly k-killed Derpy…” Scootaloo stuttered, fighting back embarrassing tears.

“No, you didn’t,” Rainbow said, shaking the little pony playfully. “All you did was give Daring a chance to show how much she loves her sister.”

Scootaloo sniffled. “Really?”

“Yeah! And on top of that, you gave me one more reason to fly! Thanks to this sucker—” She gestured to her right wing, bent and broken. “—I don’t see me getting a lotta airtime for the next couple o’ weeks.”

Scootaloo managed to smile at her hero. “M-Maybe I could teach you a few tricks on my scooter… y’know, while you’re waiting to get better.”

Rainbow brightened a little. “Heh, sure. Though you might have to be extra awesome! I tend to get pretty bored when I’m not up in the air.”

Scootaloo peeked over her shoulder and beamed at Sweetie Belle. The filly winked and smiled just as widely back at her friend.

Dinky helped her mother to her haunches where, despite swaying slightly, she managed to stay. “Are you sure you’re all right?” Dinky asked.

“I’m fine, sweetheart,” Ditzy said, steadying herself with a foreleg around her daughter’s shoulder. “I will be, anyway, thanks to you.” She turned her head to the grounded alicorn. “And no thanks to you! Do you realize that you nearly killed me? In front of our daughter?”

Alula’s eyes were tightly shut and leaking warm tears. “Yes,” he breathed.

“Do you realize that there were several more innocents involved who you might have killed, or seriously injured?”

One of his eyes cracked open. “If you also plan to ask me if I realize that I have destroyed my entire palace and any shreds of integrity I had among the ponies of this country, then know that my answer is yes, yes, yes…” He brought his forelegs to his face.

Dinky’s jaw set and she trotted to her father, planting herself in front of his snout. “Promise that you won’t hurt my mommy ever again.”

He uncovered his glistening eyes. “What?”

“Promise that you won’t hurt me, or my mommy, or my friends, or my country, or my Aun—er, Princess Celestia, ever, ever again!”

A look of anger flashed across Alula’s brow, but the adamancy in Dinky’s voice lingered in her unwavering expression until his rage melted into shame.

“I… I cannot promise that,” he whispered.

The periwinkle unicorn sighed through her nostrils. “Then at least promise me that you’ll talk to Celestia and try to understand her before you make any more stupid decisions.”

Alula blinked and looked away, unable to make eye contact with his only offspring. “I… I can…” He grit his teeth as his wings drooped closer to the ground. “I cannot. I am not ready. Not yet.”

“Then leave us alone until you are,” Dinky commanded.

After a moment of perfect stillness, Alula nodded. “I will go the way of Beatrix,” he said in a quiet voice that came from all directions, “until I am ready to face her.”

The seven surrounding mares stepped away from the cowering alicorn as his body began to disintegrate, fading before their eyes from the tips of his wings, tail, and horn toward the center of his chest. Even Dinky’s brave resolve faltered under the awing spell of his merging with the wind. A cool night breeze, far removed from the recent tempest, blew across their backs and through their colorful manes, lifted the wispy remnants of Alula’s disappearing body, and carried them into the night until his figure was no more.

“What in Ponyville was that?” Apple Bloom blared.

“He gave up,” Ditzy murmured, swallowing a hard lump down her throat and staring into the empty air. “We’re safe.”

“You sure?” Apple Bloom asked, glancing over both her shoulders. “He’s not gonna pop outtuva a breeze and strangle us’r nothin’?”

“I very much doubt it,” Ditzy said, holding Dinky close. “It may not be apparent now, but Alula is just as unsure of himself as any one of us.”

“Except for me!” Daring said.

Especially you,” Ditzy and Rainbow said together.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders laughed at the uncharacteristic blush on Daring’s face. Sweetie Belle’s giggling morphed into a gasp and she stretched out one her hooves to point. “Dinky, look at your flank!”

The filly blinked her amber eyes and quickly turned her head. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom rushed forward to get a better look. There, among the little pony’s periwinkle fur, a brand new emblem gleamed: a golden flute beside three wavy markings of a summer breeze.

A squeak of exasperation leapt from Ditzy’s throat. “Oh, Dinky! You…”

“I got my Cutie Mark,” Dinky whispered, wide-eyed.

Scootaloo stole a glance at her own flank and promptly deflated. “Awww, come on! She’s, like, a year younger than us!”

Rainbow laughed. “You’ll get your turn, kid!”

“As if yer one to talk!” Apple Bloom piped up. “Weren’tchu the first in yer class to get a Cutie Mark?”

“Well… yeah,” Rainbow mumbled, “but that doesn’t mean—”

“Rainbow’s absolutely right, kids,” Daring said in a genuine tone that caught Ditzy’s full attention. “Dinky found her special talent, and it’s a doozy to say the least, but that doesn’t make yours any less special, whatever it will be.” She smiled briefly at her sister, and then at three blank flanks sitting close together. “Everypony matters. What you do matters. I… I’ve been taught that for—heh—a long time… but I think I’m finally starting to learn exactly what it means.”

Ditzy’s misaligned eyes sparkled with tears. Whether they were from pain or joy she couldn’t tell, but she let out a happy sigh anyway. “Well, I think we all know what to do next,” she said.

Daring grinned. “Go home?”

Ditzy ran a loving hoof through her beaming daughter’s mane and nodded. “Go home.”


View Online

My Secret Selflessness

“Good morning, Rainbow Dash!”

“Hi, Ditzy.” Rainbow smiled and rubbed one of her eyes, leaning against her front door’s frame. “Got a package for me?”

“And a letter.” Ditzy hoofed both to the weathermare. “Looks like the envelope’s from griffon country. Maybe it’s from Filoplume. Remember him?”

Rainbow’s countenance brightened a bit. “Of course I do! Wonder how he got my address.” Lifting the letter aside, Rainbow beamed at the rectangular, cardboard box in her grasp. “Hey, this looks familiar! Is her new book out already?”

Ditzy’s eyes whirled. “What? No, of course not! It’s only been two months since the last one’s release.”

Biting its tape away, Rainbow opened the package to reveal a tall stack of paper covered in quick mouthwriting.

“What is it?” Ditzy asked.

Rainbow spat the tape over her shoulder. “Whoa! I think it’s…” She set the box down on her cloud and lifted one sheet of paper, running her eyes back and forth over the lines of scribbled text. “It is! Ditzy, these are her notes and outlines!”


Rainbow pulled another page from the box and pointed at the middle. “See? ‘She stares down the statue, shrugs, and picks it up in mouth. Temple rumbles, starts collapse. Tiles on floor explode, revealing lava.’ This is, like, a pre-rough draft to Sapphire Stone!”

“Wow. That’s pretty cool, Rainbow.”

“Pretty cool? It’s awesome!” Rainbow squealed and shoved the pages back in the box, along with the foreign envelope. “I gotta go get reading. These are gonna give me great ideas for my own novel!”

Ditzy raised an eyebrow. “Your novel? Don’t tell me it’s about a speedy pegasus who becomes captain of the Wonderbolts.”

Rainbow smiled weakly. “Uh… like I said, gotta go.” She started to close the door, but stopped for just long enough to poke her head through the crack. “Good seeing you, Ditzy! Don’t be such a stranger!”

She slammed the door shut before Ditzy could reply. The grey mare giggled again, tightened the empty mailbag around her middle, and leapt from Rainbow’s spongy porch, gliding back to the edge of Ponyville through the serene Equestrian air.

“Ditzy Doo!” a friendly voice called up when she passed the schoolhouse. A burgundy pony waved from the fence.

“Hello, Cheerilee!” Ditzy shouted, tilting into a spiral that landed her in front of the teacher. “How are you this morning?”

“Terrific! I just wanted to make sure you knew,” she said with a tender smile, “that Dinky has been absolutely wonderful since she got her Cutie Mark.”

Ditzy smirked. “Implying she used to be a hoofful?”

Cheerilee blushed. “Oh, no, no, not at all! It’s just that, many children tend to brag or make fun of other students after they receive their Marks, but Dinky has been nothing but supportive of all her classmates. I wish I had thirty just like her!”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Ditzy said, grinning from ear to ear.

“You must be so proud of her,” Cheerilee continued. “Heaven knows I am!”

“I couldn’t be more proud, Miss Cheerilee,” Ditzy said, lifting her chin. “Not one bit.”

With a conclusive smile, Cheerilee turned to enter the schoolhouse. Just before Ditzy took off, the earth pony added, “Oh! Are you still coming to Family Appreciation Day next week? Dinky tells us you have quite the story to share!”

Ditzy chuckled. “I’ll let you be the judge of that.”

Cheerilee nodded. “See you then!” she chirped, and trotted toward the school.

Ditzy headed to her own house, waving at the Cakes and Pinkie Pie through the front window of Sugarcube Corner. She was stopped by Applejack in the marketplace to be thanked—for the hundredth time—for bringing Apple Bloom home safely, and she made it a point to avoid the library, tired of forgiving Twilight’s endless apologies for shirking her “responsibility.”

Upon arriving home, Ditzy found the front door ajar. Her heart jumped into her throat and she barreled into the living room, poised to strike an intruder in their long, narrow snout.

“…but which should she choose? More than a hundred intricate cups covered the altar. How would she know which was the Griffon’s Goblet, the true enchanted chalice? Time was running out; surely the Emperor’s guards were on her tail!”

Ditzy blew a heavy sigh through her nostrils. “What Emperor?” she asked.

Daring Do and Dinky looked up from their spots by the unlit fireplace. Under Ditzy’s squint, Daring bore a sheepish grin while Dinky launched into detail.

“The Griffon Emperor, Mommy!” She jumped to her hooves and pranced in little circles. “He’s the descendant of the Griffon Wizard who enchanted the goblet, and he wants to use its powers to gain infernal life!”

Eternal life,” Daring whispered.

“Yeah! A-And he’s, he’s trying to stop Daring from finding it first, ‘cause she’s gonna give it to a museum in Equestria for everypony to see and keep it safe from bad guys, and he almost killed her already, two times!”

Her daughter’s excitement brushed away Ditzy’s disapproval. “Oh, really?” she asked, smiling with half-lidded eyes.

“But she escaped!” Dinky continued, leaping onto a chair. “And she had to pass all these deadly traps that the Griffon Wizard left behind to protect his goblet, and now she’s in the final chamber but she doesn’t know which—”

“If her faithful assistant, Blondie, was there,” Ditzy interrupted, glaring squarely at Daring, “she’d be able to tell her that the Griffon Wizard’s limited magic only allowed him to enchant natural substances, so the goblet would have to be made of wood.”

Daring clicked her tongue and slammed the book shut. “Dang it, Ditzy! Daring was just about to figure that out! You ruined the end of the book.”

Dinky slumped and dropped her jaw. “Mmmmoooooooomm!”

Ditzy kind of rolled her eyes. “When did you get here, Daring? Have you been reading all day?”

“Nah, I showed up an hour ago. This little squirt was reading Griffon’s Goblet at the table, so I asked her if she wanted a dramatic reading from the author herself.”

“Aunt Daring rocks at reading!” Dinky cheered, jumping off the chair and using a magical gust of indoor wind to carry her across the room and land on her mother’s back.

“Rocks?” Ditzy sighed. “I didn’t know you were rereading the series, Dinky.”

“Now that I know my own mom did all this stuff, how could I not?” Dinky hugged her mother around the neck, burying her face into her mane.

Ditzy hummed happily and leaned into her daughter’s warmth. “I love you, Dinky,” she said.

“I love you, too, Mommy. Even if you ruined the end of the book.”

“Haha! I didn’t ruin anything. You still have to read how she gets out of the chamber alive!”

Dinky gasped and looked to Daring for confirmation. The yellow mare put a hoof to her chin and flicked the novel open to the end. “Did I write about that? Huh… I guess I did include my final battle with the Griffon Emperor and his evil daughter… who’s a witch!”

Ditzy had to cover her ears from Dinky’s squeal of delight as the little pony scrambled across the floor, grabbed the book in her magic, and tore up the stairs to her room.

Daring started to laugh when she heard the bedroom door close. “She’s sure a cute kid, Ditz.”

Ditzy took in her sister’s appearance. Her helmet was gone, as was her button-up canvas shirt. Instead, a dull-green hoodie covered her upper half, hiding her wing. Unimpressed, the mailmare offset her jaw. “Griffon Emperor?” she criticized.

“Oh, come on! I’ll admit that Ahuizotl was a stretch, but the Emperor is an awesome villain. And there really was a griffon witch!”

“Yes, I remember,” Ditzy chuckled. She dropped her mailbag by the door and sat across from her sister by the hearth. “What are you doing here, Daring? No warning note this time?”

“I’m not here to ask for another favor, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Daring said, adjusting the sleeves of her hoodie. “Well… not like the last one, anyway.”

“How did I guess.”

Daring held up her forehooves. “It’s not what you think! Look… this is hard for me to say, but… I need someplace to stay for a while.”

Ditzy grinned crookedly. “What, your big house got too lonely?”

“Actually I, uh… sold it,” Daring mumbled, clicking her hooves together.

Ditzy frowned. “You sold it? Why?”

“I couldn’t afford it anymore,” Daring admitted.

“Okay, I know that’s not true.”

“It is!”

“Daring, I saw how many bits are in your bank account. You could afford Celestia’s palace loft for five years.”

“No, really, Ditz. I can’t afford anything. I’m practically broke.”

The seriousness in Daring’s face finally rubbed off on Ditzy. She glanced back to make sure the front door was closed before whispering, “Were you robbed?”

Daring snorted. “No, Ditzy.”

“You didn’t gamble it all away, did you?”

“Ew, heck no! I spent it all.”

Ditzy’s eyes bulged. “You spent it all? On what?”

“A few different things,” Daring said. “I gave a bunch to charity and stuff, for the warm fuzzies, but… most of it went to this.”

She stood up, slid off the green hoodie, letting it crumple in front of her hooves, and stretched her wingspan to its full—and complete—length.

Ditzy gasped. “Daring… what is that?”

“Like it?” Daring beamed, rotating the sleek, mechanical limb in perfect sync with her real one. It was featherless, like a batwing, the “arm” and “fingers” of which were as grey as the darkest part of her mane. The leathery material that stretched between each section of the solid, moveable frame was amber, closer in color to Ditzy’s eyes than Daring’s coat. The base of the machine wrapped around the stub on her left side and sunk seamlessly into her skin. Ditzy could see small, surgical scars along the yellow fur of her spine.

“Daring… it’s…” Ditzy blinked and swallowed hard. “It’s incredible!”

“It’s expensive,” Daring said. “I’ll be fine once I publish Daring Do and the Orphan Foals, but for now I’m sorta… in need. Heh.”

“Does it work?”

“Heck yeah it does!” Daring answered, jumping into a steady hover. “You think I’d spend my whole life’s savings and almost a month in a hospital for a new wing that didn’t work?”

“I can’t believe it!” Ditzy brought her hooves to her open mouth as Daring dove into the kitchen, swerving expertly around a light fixture and landing on top of the Doo’s round table. “Daring, I’m so happy for you!”

“Well, it’s no Magic Carpet,” Daring said with a shrug, dropping to the ground, “but at least I can fly, and we’re all still alive.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Ditzy said, facing her sister. “Rainbow told me what happened.”

Daring cleared her throat innocently and flexed her mechanical wing. “What happened when?”

“That you sacrificed the carpet for my life without a second thought,” Ditzy said, trotting closer.

Daring scanned the floor, and then the ceiling, keeping her eyes away from Ditzy. “Yeah, well… I might have had a second thought. Maybe a third and a fourth, too.”

Ditzy giggled. “That’s the not the point. You saved me.”

“You thought I wouldn’t?”

“I’m not sure what I would have thought you’d done, if I was conscious,” Ditzy said, “but I was surprised when Rainbow told me, if that answers your question.”

Daring scrunched up her snout. “Um… I think I kinda understood what you might have been trying to say.”

Ditzy laughed and sat at the table. “You know, you’re funny when you’re being nice.”

“Heh… how’s the kid doin’?”

“Rainbow? She’s fine.”

“Have you been talking to her a lot?”

“Not really. More than usual, but hardly every day. Why?”

“Well, if she’s been telling you all about my secret selflessness—“

“Heehee… no, she told me right after you left on the train.”

“Ah.” There was silence for a moment as Daring scuffed at the ground awkwardly. “Um… speaking of stuff the kid said to one of us about the other,” she said, taking a seat at the round, wooden table across from her sister, “I have a question for you.”

Ditzy’s brow creased and she shifted her stance. “Okay. Shoot.”

“When we were, like, battling Alula,” she started, “he was trying to get in my head, asking how I lost my wing and if you had anything to do with it. He asked Rainbow if you would have saved me even if she wasn’t there to convince you, and… she hesitated.”

Ditzy pursed her lips.

“So, I just have to know: would you have pulled me out of that wheel thingy if it was just me and you down there?”

A heavy silence choked the sisters while Ditzy searched for the right words. Finally, her wings and ears drooped. “I’m not sure, Daring. I really don’t know. I was so angry at you, for so many things, and… I’ve thought about it a lot since it happened, but I still don’t have an answer. I want to say I would have, but I really can’t be sure.” A tear dripped from her muzzle.

“Frick, Ditz, don’t cry!” Daring said, taking a step around the table. “It’s totally fine! I’m not mad at you at all!”

One of Ditzy’s eyes met Daring’s earnest gaze. “Really?”

“Psh, yeah! Duh! How could I be mad at that? I mean… I was being a total jerk. I’m not gonna say I’ve seen the light and made a full one-eighty or anything, but… I can definitely see that I was being really selfish. Like, the whole time. From the minute I showed up in this house, all I cared about was me. First it was just getting a new adventure for my book, and then it was to show you that I didn’t need your help, but then… well, after everything that happened, and everyone we met, and when even Alula told me how mean I was to you… gah, I dunno.”

She dropped to her haunches, lifting her hoof to adjust a pith helmet that wasn’t there. Scratching the top of her head instead, Daring continued. “Dad wouldn’t have wanted that, y’know? That’s what I kept thinking about while I was getting this thing installed.” She flapped her new wing. “I always thought his mantra was just for me: all that ‘everypony’s special’ stuff. I thought he was just trying to make me feel better ‘cause… I was so much less of a pony than you.”

Ditzy guffawed. “What are you talking about?”

Daring rolled her eyes. “Forget it, that’s not the point.”

“No, it is!” Ditzy said, rising from her seat as well to stand in front of Daring. “I always thought you were Dad’s favorite.”

“Hah! What? No way, he couldn’t stand me.”

“He loved you to death!”

“Well, sure, but he didn’t like me. I was a little brat. You were his precious little pony.” Daring waved her hooves between them. “But no, that’s not the point! Lemme finish my thought! What I’m trying to say is, I really messed up. I let my broken heart get in the way of my relationship with my family, and thanks to that, both of my parents died hating me. I’m not gonna make the same mistake with my sister.”

“Oh, Daring!” Ditzy took her sister’s hoof between both of her own and was surprised to find it shaking. “They didn’t hate you. Neither of them hated you. In all the letters Mom wrote to me after Dad died, she never once failed to mention how much she missed you and wished you would forgive yourself.”

Daring frowned automatically. “Forgive myself? I wasn’t…!” She trailed off, biting her lip, and slowly lowered her head. “Nyeh, who am I kidding? I was… I did need to do that. I was just so mad, and… and so…”

“Scared?” Ditzy asked. “Scared that we wouldn’t forgive you?”

Daring’s face tensed and she nodded silently, moisture building in her narrowed eyes.

“Oh, Daring,” Ditzy said again, moving as if to place her hoof on the slumped mare’s neck. She hesitated, suspending her hoof in the air. “Uh… do you mind?”

“Oh, shut up,” Daring grumbled, launching into her sister’s hold. She squeezed her forelegs around Ditzy, pressing the side of her head into her yellow locks.

“Daring!” Ditzy yelped, freezing up. When the yellow mare didn’t back away, Ditzy choked on a laugh and melted into an equally emphatic embrace. “Geez, Daring. You’re so…”

“Stupid? Selfish? Mean? Old?”

“Weird,” Ditzy finished, nuzzling her sister. “You’re very weird.”

Daring sniffed and returned to her haunches, wiping her eyes with the back of a hoof. “Yeah, well… back atcha.”

Ditzy snickered. “For the record, you are absolutely welcome to stay here for as long as you need to. And I promise that our parents didn’t hate you, Daring. Both of them loved you very much, and they knew you loved them, too.”

“Thanks, Ditz. But… how could they have known that?” Daring asked glumly. “I sure as Tartarus didn’t show it.”

“Sure you did! You dedicated most of your life to finding a cure for Dad with me.”

“Yeah, well, it didn’t help,” Daring said with a snort.

“No,” Ditzy agreed. “It didn’t.” She sighed and touched her sister’s foreleg. “Sometimes I wonder if there even was a cure for Dad anywhere in the world.”

A sad smile came to Daring. “Yeah, I was just thinking that, too, reading to your kid. I mean, if drinking from the Griffon’s Goblet didn’t save him, and all the other crazy stuff we found, what could have?”

“Maybe the carpet,” Ditzy mumbled.

“Heh. Well, if so, we sure screwed that one up.”

“Yes we did.”

They shared a smile and looked out the window at the sunny town beyond.

“It’s still out there.”

Ditzy turned. “Huh?”

“The carpet. Your kid’s storm tossed it somewhere.” She made a wild motion with her hoof. “But it’s still out there, waiting to be found.”

“Maybe some Haissanic pony picked it up.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

They shared a mutual sigh, scooting a bit closer together and ogling the big, blue sky behind a pane of glass.

“Or maybe…” Ditzy said after a moment.

Daring gave her a hopeful glance. “Maybe it’s lying under a big ol’ pile of palace?”

Ditzy couldn’t help but grin. “There’s really only one way to find out.”

“Who would watch Dinky?”

“We can ask Twilight.”

“Can we bring the kid?”

“Who, Rainbow?”


“Only if she wants to. And if you start calling her by her name. We all know you know it.”

“Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it goes.”

“Haha!” Ditzy hurried to the bottom of the stairs. “Dinky! Can you hear me?”

A muffled “What, Mom?” came from above.

“Daring and I are going to the library! Would you like to come?”

“Sure! I can borrow the next book in the series!”

Daring trotted back into the living room with a swagger in her step. “Y’know, she’s got great taste in literature.”

Ditzy shook her head. “It’s those kinds of comments that make me question your apologies, Daring.”

“What apologies? I haven’t said sorry once this whole time!” She made a scrunchy face and pulled the dull green hoodie over her head. “Which reminds me: I’m really sorry about being such a jerk.”

Ditzy chortled. “It’s okay, Daring. I forgive you.”

The startled adventuress blinked. “Already?”

“Why not?” Ditzy asked as Dinky bounded down the stairs. “That’s what sisters do.”