Tick. Tick. Tick.
It was strangely quiet in the employee lounge at Equestria Speedy Shipping Services. The only sounds were the ticking of the wall clock, and the low, vibrating hum emitting from Watt, as was normal for him when he was actually sitting still. Glow and Cloudcover had already been sent on assignment, and, more worryingly, Ditzy hadn't shown up yet at all.
Breeze glanced once again at the clock. "Where in Equestria is Ditzy?" he asked absently to Watt. "She's been a little late before, but she should have been here over an hour ago."
"Maybe she's taking the day off," Watt suggested.
Breeze frowned. "Maybe. But I think she would have told me yesterday if she was planning to take vacation today."
Watt squinted, thinking hard. "Maybe she got abducted by spaceponies, then?"
Breeze stared blankly at his coworker, who apparently was under the impression that spaceponies were a completely legitimate possibility.
"I doubt that, Watt."
Watt shrugged. "You never know."
Breeze shook his head. "Pinkie Pie is rubbing off on you, dude."
Watt burst into a huge grin. "I won't deny that!"
Watt was about to say something else, but suddenly he stopped dead. His ears swiveled toward the door.
"Somepony's coming. Maybe it's Ditzy."
Breeze listened as well. There were indeed approaching hoofsteps. Very, very slow approaching hoofsteps. When the door finally swung open, Breeze found himself stifling a cry of shock.
The approaching pony was Ditzy, but Breeze had never seen her like this before. The mare's head hung so low that the tip of her badly unkempt mane dragged on the ground. She had clearly gotten absolutely no sleep the previous night; her eyes were bloodshot and teary, and dark circles rimmed their undersides.
But the thing that alarmed Breeze the most about the mare's eyes was not the apparent lack of sleep or the evidence of extended crying. Rather, it was the lack of a certain quality he had become used to seeing there; a sort of light that always graced Ditzy's expression had vanished from her eyes now. The disappearance of this indescribable but essential quality left the mare looking hollow, almost lifeless, and that was a matter of major concern for the male pegasus observing her.
Watt was the first to speak. Breeze was not particularly happy with what the yellow stallion chose to say.
"Yep. That's what I looked like the day after I got abducted by spaceponies, too."
Breeze shot such a glare in Watt's direction that the earth pony actually cowered as if he feared being physically struck by the force of the gaze alone. Luckily, respite from the tense situation came for him a moment later.
"Kilowatt Hour, please report to my office for an assignment. Thank you."
Watt just nodded in the direction of his coworkers before bolting from the room so quickly that he left a Watt-shaped cloud of dust where he had originally been standing.
Breeze ran across the room to Ditzy, who looked like she was about to collapse. "Ditzy, what's wrong?" he asked. "Are you sick? Or did something happen?"
One of Ditzy's dull eyes rolled slowly to face Breeze, feeling grateful that at least Breeze wanted to help. Of course, there was nothing he could do.
didn't exactly go my way yesterday, Breeze."
Breeze raised an eyebrow. "What, you failed another assignment? Why has that got you so down though?"
"No, I completed the assignment," Ditzy mumbled. "It was what happened afterwards that got me."
In a dull, monotone voice, the pathetic-looking mare recounted the events of the previous night; both Raindrops' bad news, and Dinky's rejection from the Academy. She watched Breeze's expression grow gradually more shocked and outraged as she proceeded through the monologue.
how could they
?" Breeze sputtered.
Ditzy shook her head. "Simple. Cloudsdale Mail and Freight got hit with the debt, and they pushed it onto me. It makes sense, I guess; it wouldn't be good if Equestria's main mail service went out of business, and I did technically cause the damage
"Don't say that!" Breeze answered. "This is ridiculous and you know it!"
"What difference does that make?" Ditzy said. "It's not like I can go up against Canterlot in my own case. If Cloudsdale Mail and Freight couldn't beat them, then why would I be able to?"
She sighed. "Besides, I'm more upset that Dinky has to suffer this with me."
"Does Dinky know about this yet?" the male pegasus asked.
Ditzy shook her head. "She was already asleep when the news came last night. I'll tell her this evening, but she's going to be so disappointed to learn that she won't be going to the Academy
"Can't you just get Dinky a magic tutor?" Breeze asked. "Maybe if she learns the basics and re-applies, she'll get in to the Academy."
"I already thought of that," said Ditzy glumly. "But Dinky needs to learn everything that she apparently should have been learning during the first few years of her life. Even with a tutor, that would take ages, and Dinky will be exceeding the maximum entry age for first-years at the Academy within a year; the staff claims that advanced magical training isn't really effective if the unicorn is already too old by the time they start. If only I'd learned about the place sooner!"
Ditzy flopped to the floor and covered her face with her hooves, groaning. "I've lived on very little money before, and I can do it again. I'll live quietly in debt for the rest of my life if I have to. But why
why does Dinky have to get caught up in all this as well?! She's such a little angel; she doesn't deserve a punishment like this! And now that her one way out of it all has rejected her, there's nowhere she can turn!"
The mare's eyes brimmed with tears again. "I
I can't protect her this time
Feeling defeated, Breeze stared down at his quietly sobbing friend. "There must be something we can do
" he said weakly. "I don't think either of you should have to live with this debt."
He paused. "And, forgive me for asking, but are you really not worried about yourself at all? I understand Dinky is important, but
Ditzy stopped crying long enough to glance up at Breeze; judging by her expression, it was almost as if the question made no sense to her.
"Dinky will always be the most important to me," she whispered. "Because
it's a long story. A long story that I've never actually told anypony before."
Ditzy's lightless eyes met with Breeze's bright green ones, and at that moment, she made an important decision.
I'd like to tell you that story Breeze. If you don't mind."
Breeze backed up defensively. "I don't know Ditzy. Is this story hard for you to talk about? I don't want to make you any more upset than you already are."
Ditzy shook her head. "No, I think it's time I shared this with somepony else. I've been keeping it for years; it'll make me feel a little better to share it with somepony I trust. And I do trust you, Breeze."
Breeze nodded slowly. "Alright. Go ahead."
Ditzy stood and gave a long, deep sigh. "It all started nearly six years ago, back when my husband was still around, on the day Dinky was born
Date: Year of Luna's banishment 995
Location: Ponyville Urgent Care: Maternity Ward
A handsome brown unicorn stallion with a white mane trotted nervously around the empty tiled room. Surely, it had to be almost over by now? The whole process seemed to be taking too long; perhaps there had been some kind of complication?
No, no no. The stallion shook his head to clear his thoughts. Don't think these things. You know they would tell you if anything was wrong.
But he couldn't quite shake the worry away. It was normal, he supposed; any new father would probably be thinking the same things. Right now, he'd just have to wait it out.
The minutes passed slowly in the nearly silent waiting room. The stallion jumped at the slight sound of the door swinging open, admitting the chief of hospital staff, Nurse Redheart, into the room.
The nurse checked her clipboard. "You're Mr. Dashing Doo, right?" she asked tentatively.
The stallion nodded. "How's Ditzy? Did everything go alright?"
Redheart smiled. "Absolutely. The new baby has been taken for its initial checkup, and your wife is resting in the next room."
Dashing Doo breathed a sigh of relief. "May I see her?"
"Of course," said the nurse. "She's just through here. Follow me."
A few moments later, the stallion peered into the room where the pegasus he loved was lying, partially covered by a blanket. Ditzy looked a bit shaken, but smiled and waved feebly as her husband entered.
"The baby's a girl," she said, once the stallion stood at her side. "She's really an adorable little filly. And she's a unicorn."
Dashing grinned. "Just like her old man, huh?"
"She looks more like me, though," Ditzy teased. "She's got my mane. And my eyes."
Again, the stallion grinned at the thought of the filly, who must look a bit like Ditzy in miniature. He was glad the filly had inherited her mother's eye color. Ditzy had such beautiful eyes; their lovely shine was what had first caught his attention when the pair had first met. It would be such a shame if anything were ever to ruin that beautiful gaze.
"Go on," Ditzy said quietly. "Go out and see her."
"Are you okay in here without me?" Dashing asked.
Ditzy glanced around. "Dashing, we're surrounded by doctors and nurses. I think they've got it covered."
Dashing nodded, and waved goodbye to his favorite mare before proceeding next door to peer through the glass at the sleeping newborns.
He recognized their filly immediately. There, in the corner, slept a tiny purplish-grey unicorn, curled up in a pink woolen blanket and sleeping soundly. The stallion's heart melted at the sight of the innocent newborn.
The sound of nearby hoofsteps shook him from his dreamlike state. He turned to see an orange earth filly, probably about six or seven years old, approaching; when she reached the window, she stood up, placing her forehooves on the glass so she could peer inside more easily.
"Do you have a new brother or sister in there?" Dashing asked.
The filly nodded, smiling broadly. "I reckon I do, mister," she answered. "That little yella-colored one in the front. Ma says we're namin' her Applebloom."
The filly looked around at the other newborns, before turning to Dashing again.
"What about you? Are you somepony's pa now?"
It was Dashing's turn to smile proudly. "Yes. Look in the corner there, it's the little unicorn with the yellow mane."
"Aww," the filly cooed. "She's plum adorable, she is. But she sure is a dinky little thing; she's tiny even for a newborn." The earth pony turned back to Dashing. "What're y'all gonna' name her?"
Dashing blinked in surprise. "I
don't know. We haven't discussed it yet."
The filly nodded. "Well, alright. Good luck with your new filly, mister."
The stallion nodded. "Thank you. Good luck with your new sister."
The orange filly giggled before trotting away. Dashing quickly returned to the room where Ditzy was still resting to ask her the inevitable question.
"Ditzy, what are we going to name her?" he asked. "I hadn't really thought about it."
Ditzy tapped her hoof against her chin in thought. "Gee, I don't know. Do you have any suggestions?"
"Not yet," Dashing admitted. "All I noticed about her is that she's just a little smaller than normal, but I'm sure she'll catch up to everypony else pretty quickly. The filly out in the hallway called her a 'dinky little thing'
Ditzy's eyes lit up. "That's so cute, and it gives me an idea! What if we name her 'Dinky'?"
Dashing thought about that. "Little Dinky Doo, huh? That's just about as cute of a name as you can have."
"She's just about as cute a filly as there can be," Ditzy argued.
"Good point," laughed Dashing. "Dinky Doo it is."
Both ponies smiled broadly at the thought.
Date: Year of Luna's banishment 996
Location: The Doo cottage
Little Dinky made delighted burbling noises as Ditzy waved around a spoonful of mashed carrots, before she gently placed the mouthful of food into the filly's mouth. Dinky giggled, spilling half the carrots back out again.
"You're a messy little filly sometimes, aren't you Dinky?" Ditzy chuckled as she wiped up the spilled baby food.
"Yes!" Dinky cried excitedly, elated to use one of the few words she knew.
Ditzy smiled and glanced over to her husband, who was approaching quickly to help clean up. "I think it's about time we all go to bed," he mentioned. "Dinky's got a checkup tomorrow morning, remember?"
Ditzy nodded. "Yeah. And I could use a break too. This little filly can be quite a hoofful sometimes."
Dinky giggled, as if trying to agree with her mother.
Ditzy lifted the filly onto her back and carried her up to her room. Dashing blew out the lantern, before trotting up the steps as well. Sounds could be heard above as the happy couple helped their merry little filly get tucked into bed.
A thin tendril of smoke issued from the extinguished lantern. A single spark emitted from a dying ember within its confines, bringing a tiny flame back to life inside.
Ditzy awoke suddenly; she was only about half-conscious. Something was wrong. Her vision was blurry, and an unpleasant smell filled her nose. Struggling to make sense of her surroundings, the mare rolled over and sat up in bed. The smell intensified, causing her to cough. It was strange; her eyes couldn't seem to adjust to the darkness. It was as if the air was harder to see through than usual
Then, near the doorway, Ditzy spied the flickering red light, and realized at once what was wrong.
"Dashing!" she cried, shaking her soundly sleeping partner. "Wake up! Now!"
Dashing groaned. "Hmm? Whuzzat?"
"Get up! Get up! There's a fire!"
That got Dashing up really quick, and in an instant, both ponies were on their hooves. Smoke was rapidly filling the room, and they both had to duck to stay below the thickest of it.
In a moment, they arrived on the second-floor landing, and were temporarily stunned by the spectacle. Angry red and orange flames licked the floor, blazing up from below. The cottage, constructed mostly of wood and straw, allowed the deadly fire to spread at an enormous rate. Most of the furniture downstairs was flaming, and lines of fire snaked across the floor. It appeared to be the most intense around the table, at the center of which sat the now half-melted lantern.
Flames had climbed the walls and supports and reached the edges of the upper landing, which was already beginning to make dangerous cracking sounds as the heat and flames attacked it.
"Get outside!" Dashing said immediately. "I'll get Dinky."
"No, let me-" Ditzy started.
"No!" the stallion yelled. "I can carry her with magic. It's quicker. Now please, go! Hurry!"
Obediently, Ditzy turned and scampered down the stairs. But the fire continued to spread at an amazing rate. Several more floorboards suddenly burst into flames, and Ditzy instinctively leapt up, floating above the fire with her wings. Quickly, she navigated toward the door, fighting through the smoke. Finally, she landed at a spot that was still not burned. She glanced back onto the landing, where the silhouette of her husband was barely visible.
"I've got Dinky! Get outside now!"
A squeal confirmed that Dinky was with the stallion, and so the mare reluctantly turned to go.
The doorposts had already caught fire. To avoid getting burned, Ditzy turned and bucked the door open, allowing a burst of cool night air into the room. She turned around, and attempted to leap through the door.
At that moment, the flames proved too much for the door lintel to take. The wood cracked through on one side, causing the wooden beam above the door to swing downwards. The heavy block of wood struck the mare in the face with brutal force.
"Gah!" Ditzy cried, reeling from the impact. She slammed her eyes shut in pain as she staggered outside, managing to get a few yards from the burning building before collapsing. Her skull pounded from the injury, and the lack of oxygen due to all the smoke wasn't helping either.
But despite it all, the mare managed to pry one eye open for a few moments, just long enough to catch a final glimpse of movement. An outline appeared in the doorway of what she could only hope was her husband. Yet as much as she tried, the throbbing in her head soon became too intense, and finally she gave up, slipping from the conscious world in the shadow of her doomed home.
Date: Year of Luna's banishment 996
Location: Ponyville Urgent Care: Recovery Unit
"Is she awake yet?"
"I don't think so. She hasn't moved, but all the bandages hide her eyes."
"How severe is the nerve damage?"
"There is no nerve damage as far as we know."
but an injury like that
surely, there must have been some damage to brain tissue
"Believe me, I'm as shocked as you are. This is one lucky mare, coming out of this with only small injuries."
Ditzy groaned and shifted slightly. She had no idea who the voices belonged to, or where they were coming from, but she wished they would go away, so she could sleep. The thought briefly crossed her mind of where she was, but she was too weak to care very much. She plumbed the depths of her foggy mind for details of her last memory.
I fed Dinky her dinner. Then I put her to bed. Then
oh yeah, there was the fire
The fire! Ditzy sat bolt upright in the bed, scaring the living daylights out of nurse Redheart and the intern that had been reviewing the mare's chart.
"Where's the fire? What's going on? Why is it so dark now?"
"Miss, please calm down!" Redheart urged. "You're safe. The fire's gone. You're at Ponyville Urgent Care. Please, you must relax."
Ditzy settled a bit. "That still doesn't answer my last question," she mumbled.
Nurse Redheart chuckled. "Don't worry, dear. You've just got bandages wrapped around the top of your head. We had to treat that whack you took trying to get out of the house."
The memory of the last few seconds came flooding back to Ditzy, and with them came another thought.
"Wait. Where's Dashing and Dinky? Are they okay!?"
"Dinky is fine," the nurse said. "She suffered no injury or burns. She's already been treated for minor smoke inhalation and is now resting just down the hall."
Ditzy sighed with relief. "And Dashing is with her, right?"
"Nurse Redheart? I asked if Dashing is with her."
The nurse cleared her throat. "Erm
that Dashing didn't fare quite as well as your daughter."
Ditzy's stomach tightened. "He's hurt? What happened?"
"Mr. Dashing appears to have used himself to shield Dinky from harm," the nurse said. "Since he was carrying her with magic, he was unable to form a shield for himself. He was sent to emergency treatment as soon as the paramedics got you three here, but
but the burns and injuries were
Nurse Redheart finally began to lose her nearly unbreakable composure. Her voice cracked slightly as she continued to speak.
"His condition is poor, but perhaps... you'd like to see him for yourself
Ditzy sat stone still. The nurse waited tensely for her to respond.
"I want to see him now. Can we take the bandages off?"
"I think so," said Nurse Redheart. "But let me warn you, while your nervous tissues escaped unharmed, there was some moderate
Gently, she unwrapped the gauze encircling Ditzy's head, exposing her at last to the light. The pegasus blinked a few times, waiting for her view to come into focus. It never did.
"Oh dear," said the nurse once she got a good look. "I was afraid that might happen
"What?" Ditzy asked, trying various positions as she attempted to get the two images she viewed to blend into one.
Sighing, the nurse held up a mirror; Ditzy's reflection left her stunned. Aside from the bruising on her forehead, everything appeared normal
except the positioning of her pupils. One looked down into the mirror as was normal; the other drifted lazily around near the top of her head. Ditzy struggled to bring both back to their normal positions. It worked; two separate images melted into one.
Unfortunately, the instant she relaxed her face, both eyes flew into separate positions again.
not likely that that condition will correct itself," Nurse Redheart admitted.
"I'll worry about it later," Ditzy said resolutely, climbing out of bed. "First take me to Dashing."
The nurse nodded and trotted from the room. Ditzy made to follow, but smacked face first into the doorframe on the way out.
" Ditzy moaned. "This is going to take some getting used to
More carefully, the pegasus followed the nurse to the end of the hall. Just as they arrived, a male doctor exited the room, looking glum.
"Something wrong, doctor?" the nurse asked.
The doctor sighed. "The patient has passed away."
Both Ditzy and Nurse Redheart gasped. Ditzy barreled forward, knocking the doctor out of the way and running to the bed within the dim chamber. She clutched the hoof of the stallion lying there, but he did not respond.
Ditzy collapsed, sobbing into the chest of her now-deceased husband, as Nurse Redheart watched sympathetically from the doorway.
You gave yourself up to save Dinky. I don't know why it had to happen this way; I don't know what I should do next. But I do know one thing.
I won't let your life be in vain. I promise to keep Dinky safe.
At last, Ditzy finished her story, barely managing to choke out the last few sentences. Breeze wiped the tears from his muzzle before speaking.
I didn't know it happened like that. I think we all assumed that your husband died of natural causes. And I didn't know your eyes hadn't always been that way, either."
Ditzy nodded. "You're the first pony other than Nurse Redheart to know the whole story, and it's been five years since the fire. They took me in at Cloudsdale Mail and freight, on the recommendation of my friend Raindrops, and that's where I worked until a year ago. Now I hope you can see why Dinky is so important to me. If I can't care for her, I'm not only letting her down, I'm letting my husband down too. "
The pegasi sat in total silence for a few moments, wondering what to do next.
"There must be a way to fix this," Breeze said sternly. "Neither of you deserve the punishment they're trying to give you. We just need to find somepony who can help-"
Breeze was cut off by the grating screech of the intercom. Candyfloss's voice filled the room, and from the sound of it, the unicorn was unusually antsy.
"Ditzy? Breeze? I believe you two are the only ones here right now. Please, I need to see you both immediately. Hurry, this is important!"
"Candyfloss needs us," Breeze said. "Are you in any condition to go on assignment?"
"What choice do I have?" Ditzy asked. "Assignments mean pay, and I need as much of that as I can get right now. The first bill will be arriving any day."
Breeze scowled at the thought and trotted down to Candyfloss's office, with Ditzy following behind.
At that same moment, a certain blue unicorn returned from assignment. Overhearing the sound of the approaching pegasi, she decided on a whim to conceal herself with an invisibility spell once again so she could spy on her rival. Unaware of their malicious hidden coworker, the other two ponies entered the office.
Candyfloss looked flustered, shifting nervously in his chair as his employees entered.
"Ah, good, the two of you are here," he said, apparently oblivious to the disheveled appearance of one of his employees. "We seem to have received an assignment of phenomenal importance today. I just received a phone call from none other than Princess Luna, who, shockingly, has requested the aid of our humble company. I would like the both of you to head to Canterlot immediately; an assignment like this one could do big things for our corporation if you are successful, which is why I feel it is appropriate to send the both of you. I'll send the others along to back you up once they return from their normal assignments."
"Princess Luna," Breeze gasped in awe. "You're right about that, Doc. Luna is certainly the highest-profile pony ever to request our service. We won't let you down."
Candyfloss nodded. "Then go, please. You mustn't keep the princess waiting."
The pegasi quickly turned to exit the room, but were held up by Candyfloss's final warning.
"And remember, Princess Luna can be a bit harsher and more judgmental than Princess Celestia! Watch your behavior!"
Once back in the hallway, Ditzy gave Breeze an unhappy glance.
"I don't know about this, Breeze; I'm not exactly sure I'm feeling up to a high-stress assignment today
"But that's just it!" Breeze said, prancing around in nervous excitement. "Ditzy, stop and think for a second. This is the Princess we're dealing with! Maybe, if we can succeed, we'll get a particularly large reward
and maybe we can use that reward to pay off your debt!"
Ditzy gasped. It was a faint hope, sure, but it was a hope nonetheless. Breeze smiled as the tiniest spark of energy reappeared in the mare's eyes. This was their only chance, and Breeze planned to make sure they succeeded.
After the pegasi had left the building, Glow reappeared, frowning to herself.
The Princess? She thought to herself incredulously. If those two featherbrains succeed, not only will Ditzy surpass my record, but she'll be remembered forever for her success in such a prestigious assignment! I can't let that happen; I'll be totally overshadowed! And I'm the greatest shipper at this company!
A diabolical smile spread across the unicorn's face. Which means
I need to intervene to protect my title. I think it's time for a little good old-fashioned sabotage.
Two royal guards silently led Ditzy and Breeze through the massive interior hallways of Canterlot Castle. The pegasi trotted nervously along; neither of them had ever met Princess Luna in person before.
The guards stopped at the entrance to a high tower, motioning toward the stairs. Breeze walked briskly up the stone spiral staircase, with Ditzy following closely behind. The walls were adorned with royal blue tapestries depicting stylized renditions of the princess of the night.
Finally, the pair reached the great wooden doors at the top of the staircase. The ponies looked at one another, and then Ditzy gently rapped at the door.
"YOU MAY ENTER!"
The force of the announcement was so great that the doors were blown open solely from the massive air displacement. Shocked, both pegasi stared through the gateway thrown-wide, at the tall, midnight blue alicorn standing regally at the center of the room.
"GREETINGS," Princess Luna bellowed. "I AM PRINCESS LUNA. AND YOU TWO MUST BE THE
The Princess paused when she noticed the two new arrivals were cowering in the doorway. A light blush crept across her face.
my apologies," she said. "It sometimes can be so difficult to realize when one is speaking in the Royal Canterlot voice. Sister insists that I'll break the habit eventually, but that theory has yet to come to fruition."
Breeze stood fully again and shook his mane so it reassumed its usual style. "No problem, your majesty," he said. "Um
the two of us were sent by from Equestria Speedy Shipping Services. Were you in need of our services?"
"Ah, yes," said Luna with relief. "I admit I was a bit nervous about contacting your service; I wish to enlist your help on a most unusual assignment."
"We're the ones who're nervous," Ditzy admitted. "We've never gotten a call from royalty before."
Luna smiled. "I must ask you not to concern yourself with that, my dear mare. I insist you treat me like any normal Equestrian citizen during the course of our encounter, as sister insists this promotes decreased nervousness and overall better focus and performance in average ponies. Is that clear?"
Ditzy and Breeze just nodded.
"Excellent." The Princess said. "There's one more thing I would like to discuss. I am unfamiliar with the system of repayment for services within your establishment. What is the cost of your aid?"
"We usually just work that out based on the customer and the type of job," Breeze explained. "It's different every time."
Luna smiled. "Then, would it be deviation from protocol to suggest that we wait and see what events unfold today? I feel proper payment can be better determined upon looking back on events then before they occur."
"Of course," Ditzy said. "We'll wait until we're finished if you'd like to do it that way."
"Spectacular," Luna said. "And, of course, as the princess, I will be sure to give you a generous reward in exchange for successful service. I believe I can afford to part with a fee substantially higher than that which the average pony can afford. I'd be willing to pay a rather high price if I am pleased with today's events; within reason, of course, but certainly enough to make you both particularly wealthy."
Ditzy's eyes went wide. She and Breeze quickly exchanged a glance, both thinking the same thing.
I wonder if a million bits is 'within reason?'
that's good," Ditzy stuttered awkwardly.
Luna nodded. "However," she added ominously. "In exchange for this offer, I expect quality aid from the two of you. The situation I wish to create today is little more than a casual meet-up; it should be an easy job for ponies such as you. So understand that, if we do not meet with success this day, I stand by no obligation to reward either of you."
"That's standard policy," Breeze said. "If you aren't satisfied, don't pay."
"Good!" Luna announced. "I believe this concludes our discussion of the business aspect of shipping. Now, let us move on to the task at hoof. Today, I wish to become better acquainted with a special pony I met in the months since my return to Equestria, and whose close friendship I hope to gain."
"Yes," Breeze coaxed. "And this pony is
Luna smiled. "None other than my sister's prized pupil; a unicorn by the name of Twilight Sparkle."
Ditzy reminisced about her days as a mailmare as she fluttered over Ponyville; after all, it had been a long time since she was tasked with carrying a special delivery. Yet here she was, enjoying the cool air and early afternoon sun as she carried an invitation bearing the royal seal to the arboreal home of Twilight Sparkle.
The plan she and Breeze had devised to fulfill Luna's request was a simple one; Breeze would remain in Canterlot and provide the princess with necessary information on modern casual social interaction, since the deep blue pony was still having some minor troubles adjusting to the mindset of a society one-thousand years ahead of the one she remembered.
Ditzy's half of the plan was even simpler; deliver a very straightforward message to Twilight, stating that Luna was requesting her presence for a lunch date in Canterlot. Presumably, with Ditzy and Breeze hidden nearby to provide support for the princess, the two would have a delightful afternoon, and get to know one another on a friendlier and less formal level. This would leave the princess's request fulfilled, and mean a possibly huge reward for Ditzy and Breeze. The strategy seemed pretty foolproof.
Ditzy tried not to dwell on the disheartening events of the previous evening; she kept focused on her task, repeatedly reminding herself that this one assignment could fix everything if it went well. She couldn't afford to be distracted.
At last, the mare landed, albeit a bit too closely to the door. She skidded on the loose gravel and fell against the door.
"What was that?" came a female voice from inside. "Spike, go check if somepony's at the front door, please."
Tiny feet scampered across the floorboards, and a moment later, Spike opened the door.
"Oh, hey Ditzy!" the baby dragon greeted. "I haven't seen you in a while."
"Hello, Spike," Ditzy answered. "Could you get Twilight for me?"
"Uh, sure," Spike said. "One sec."
Ditzy watched Spike run up the stairs, and a few moments later, the purple unicorn Ditzy was searching for trotted down the steps.
"Special delivery!" Ditzy sang, issuing the envelope to the approaching pony.
Twilight took the delivery with interest. "Thanks but
I thought I heard that you weren't a mailmare any more, Ditzy."
"This isn't mail," Ditzy responded. "It's a special message. It didn't travel through the postal service."
Twilight raised her eyebrows. "Really? Let me see
Twilight opened the message and read through it quickly. Ditzy watched closely and was relieved as surprise and delight appeared on the unicorn's face.
"I've been invited to lunch with Princess Luna?" Twilight squealed excitedly. "I haven't seen her since last Nightmare Night! Ooh, we'll have so much to catch up on!"
In a flash, the unicorn was upstairs, hastily preparing for an unplanned trip to Canterlot. In less than a minute, she was back in the main library, her saddlebags stuffed and her mane newly groomed.
"Spike," Twilight instructed. "Keep an eye on the library. I'll be back by tomorrow."
"Yes, ma'am," Spike said, saluting.
Twilight giggled with glee. "Thank you so much, Ditzy," she said. "I don't know how you wound up being tasked with this delivery, but you have my sincerest gratitude."
And with that, she was out the door.
Spike watched his companion disappear, before turning to Ditzy with a suspicious expression.
"Twilight just became part of Equestria Speedy Shipping Services' latest job, didn't she?" he asked slyly.
Ditzy just winked at the baby dragon before launching out the door to begin her own journey back to Canterlot.
"There you are," Breeze said with relief when his friend reappeared at the castle. "I think Luna is prepared for her date now; she's in her room getting ready. Is Twilight coming?"
"She should be here any minute," Ditzy said. "I flew as fast as I could to get back here before her."
Breeze nodded before continuing. "Luna has had a meal prepared for them already. They'll be eating in the royal dining hall. It's a big, somewhat secluded room, and you and I will be disguised as members of the culinary staff so as not to attract attention from Twilight."
"Great idea!" Ditzy affirmed. "Twilight doesn't even know you, so you should probably be the one to interact with them if necessary, but hopefully, we can both just stand by the kitchen doors and let the real staff handle the food."
"I hope so," said Breeze. "And I gotta say, I think we've got a solid plan here. Luna and Twilight already know each other, and we've gone to all necessary lengths to give them a relaxing and casual afternoon. This assignment's practically in the bag."
Ditzy took a deep breath, hopeful that her friend was right.
Bedecked in white coats and chef's hats (and in Ditzy's case, a pair of dark glasses to hide her telltale eyes) the two shipping ponies watched as a pair of royal guards escorted Twilight Sparkle into the royal dining hall. Princess Luna, who was seated at the large table, smiled and motioned for Twilight to join her. Beaming, the purple unicorn obliged.
"Twilight Sparkle!" Luna said merrily. "It had been too long since we last saw one another. I'm glad you were able to join me on such short notice."
"Oh, it was no inconvenience, princess," Twilight said. "I was happy to take a break and come to Canterlot for the day."
"Then I hope you shall not refuse my hospitality," Luna said. "Chefs! Please bring to us our meal!"
Ditzy and Breeze stepped aside as a half dozen ponies, clad in the same outfit as the disguise the shippers wore, rushed into the dining area, holding trays aloft in their magical auras. Luna, in a surprising display of foresight, had asked for a relatively small and average meal to be prepared; a large banquet with fine dishes would present the illusion of formality, which was not the mood the princess wished to instill.
Soon, the meal was underway, and Twilight and Luna appeared to be enjoying a friendly conversation about recent events in Ponyville and Canterlot. Both ponies seemed content.
"This is going great," Breeze whispered as he and Ditzy stood by the kitchen doors. "Luna's getting exactly what she wanted."
Ditzy opened her mouth to respond, but stopped herself suddenly as something caught her eye. The chandelier, dangling from the high vaulted ceiling of the grand hall, was swinging slightly; the pegasus would never have looked up high enough to notice the motion had her one eye not been lazing about near the top of its socket as usual.
"Breeze, look up there. Why is the chandelier moving?"
Breeze glanced up at the large light fixture. There were no open windows, so it was unlikely that it was a simple air movement. Breeze squinted at it more closely and noticed a shocking detail.
"Ditzy, the chain! Look, there's an aura around it. Somepony's manipulating the chain!"
Both of the shippers glanced at Twilight and Luna, but neither one showed any sign of use of magic. Somepony else, hidden from sight, was discreetly messing with the suspended chandelier.
"They might be trying to disconnect it!" Breeze whispered suddenly. "It would fall right on the table! I don't think it would hit Twilight or the princess, but it would certainly give them quite a scare."
"Are you saying somepony is trying to sabotage us?" asked Ditzy nervously.
"I don't know," Breeze said. "But we have to act fast. You go up there and make sure that chandelier doesn't fall. I'll try to find the unicorn manipulating it."
There was no time to lose. Ditzy trotted nonchalantly around the outer edge of the room, until she was out of view of both Twilight and the princess, and then quickly flew up to the ceiling.
The chain holding the lights up was surrounded by a light blue aura, which appeared to be attempting to disconnect one of the links. Ditzy wasn't sure what to do; she couldn't do anything to cancel the magic, so she simply held onto the chain below the affected link, hoping to Celestia that it wouldn't come undone.
Breeze trotted briskly into the kitchen. The chefs all seemed hard at work; none were aware of a crisis outside. Breeze looked around quickly, searching for any sign of a hidden pony among the chaotic room, but there appeared to be nopony present save for the kitchen staff. Breeze turned to return to the dining area, and almost bumped into one of the other workers.
"Sorry," he said quickly, brushing past the mare as he walked by. But he hadn't gone two steps when a sudden realization dawned on him, and he turned back to glance at the pony. The staff member was a blue mare; most of her face was hidden beneath the brim of her hat. She said nothing; she seemed to be ignoring Breeze completely.
It can't be
In one swift movement, Breeze leapt forward and snatched the hat away, revealing a teal-maned unicorn in the middle of a spell. Upon being discovered, she ceased her magic immediately.
"Glow!" Breeze cried angrily, pinning the unicorn against the wall. "Why are you here? And what in Celestia's name do you think you're doing!?"
Glow smirked. "That should be obvious by now, I'm afraid."
Breeze's lips curled into a snarl. "Are you telling me that you're actually trying to sabotage Ditzy and me?"
"My, what a brilliant deduction," Glow mused.
Breeze was flabbergasted. "But
why? I mean, I knew you didn't like us, but
"I gave Ditzy ample warnings," Glow said calmly. "Now she's going to pay for trying to pass my record."
"You have got to be kidding me!" Breeze cried. "Glow, do you even know what Ditzy is going through right now? Do you have any notion in that apparently empty head of yours at how important this particular assignment is to her?"
"The fate of Equestria could hang in the balance and it wouldn't make any difference," Glow said. "Ditzy will not steal my fame and my title. That's all there is to it."
" Breeze began. "If you think I'm going to let you go and cause more trouble, you're sorely mistaken, Glow."
"Oh, that doesn't matter," said Glow. "It's too late to do anything anyway."
Breeze raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"The chain is already too weak. It should be breaking any second now."
Breeze glanced out the window into the dining hall, and Glow's prediction immediately came true. The chain suddenly separated, and Ditzy lurched forward, her body stretched to its limit as she struggled to hold the now detached chandelier in one hoof, while grasping the dangling chain above with the other. The red pegasus gasped and immediately let go of Glow, racing out to help his friend.
Walking quickly through the hall while still avoiding the notice of Twilight and Luna, Breeze reached the back of the room and leapt into the air. Within seconds, he hovered next to Ditzy.
" Ditzy croaked pathetically as she struggled to maintain her position.
"Okay, just hang on," Breeze whispered back as he searched for the best way to support the chandelier. He flew up to the upper chain and discarded the broken link.
"There. Now we just need to lift the chandelier and reattach the-"
He was cut off as Ditzy lost her grip on the upper chain, gasping as she and the chandelier began to fall.
In a fraction of a second, the mare stopped again in midair; her mind reeled as she tried to figure out what had happened. She craned her neck to peer behind herself.
Breeze dangled above her, his teeth firmly clenched on her tail, as he somehow maintained a grip on the chain above with his back hooves. Ditzy silently rejoiced that Breeze was such an athletic pony; she would never have been able to do that.
Flapping madly, Breeze slowly began to lift his passenger and the large light fixture she supported back toward the ceiling. The pair only moved about an inch at a time, but they were, in fact, making progress. Breeze could only hope his energy didn't run out.
Finally, the two pegasi reached a height at which Ditzy could finally reconnect the links of the chain. She cautiously let go, and the chandelier stayed in place. Both ponies sighed with relief and exhaustion. Far below, Twilight and Luna continued to chat merrily, unaware that anything had happened.
From the kitchen, Glow cursed under her breath; she hadn't expected the pegasi to repair the damage she had caused in time, but the two of them made a better team then she thought. Knowing her coworkers would be coming immediately to confront her, she hastily teleported away.
A moment later, Ditzy and Breeze burst into the kitchen.
"She's gone," Breeze grumbled.
"Who?" asked Ditzy. "Who was it?"
"Glow," Breeze growled. "She's trying to sabotage us."
Ditzy looked horrified. "Are
are you serious?"
Breeze nodded, still glancing around the kitchen for the missing unicorn.
"Well, maybe it doesn't matter," Ditzy said. "I think Twilight and Luna are almost done. Look."
The disguised ponies peered out the kitchen's window, and saw the two dining ponies get to their hooves. They exchanged a few muffled words, Twilight nodded eagerly, and the ponies went their separate ways. A moment later, Luna entered the kitchen.
"PHASE ONE IS COMPLETE!" She bellowed.
"Princess, watch the volume please," Breeze said, gingerly removing his hooves from his ears. "And what do you mean, phase one?"
"Let me explain," the princess said. "Twilight Sparkle and I got into a discussion about the rest of her wonderful friends, all of whom were slightly apprehensive of me when I last visited Ponyville. It would please Twilight most greatly if I were on as good of terms with them as I am with her. And so, we have decided to throw a party, this evening, in the ballroom; all of Twilight's friends from Ponyville shall be attending. And of course, this means I will be in need of your services for a while longer, to make sure the festivities go smoothly."
Ditzy gulped. "Uh
okay Princess. We'll start preparing for the party immediately."
Luna nodded in affirmation and left the kitchen, leaving Ditzy and Breeze alone.
"Well, this gives Glow another chance to mess us up," Ditzy mumbled.
"At least we know what she's up to now," Breeze said. "She's just one unicorn; you and I can probably stop anything she has planned. We just have to keep our eyes open for signs of her mischief."
Noticing Ditzy didn't look particularly reassured, Breeze continued. "Besides, Candyfloss said he'd be sending along the others to help us. Cloudcover and Watt will be here to back us up by the time the party starts. Together, I'm sure the four of us can handle anything Glow whips up!"
Ditzy smiled at the thought of her other coworkers. "I guess you're right. It's going to be a heck of an evening, but we can do this. I know we can."
Cosmic Glow paced slowly through the castle gardens, lost in thought. She needed a truly magnificent plan if she wanted to ruin Ditzy's assignment. After overhearing plans for the party from a well-concealed hiding spot, the unicorn knew it would be her last chance to defeat her rival.
But what can I do? She thought repeatedly to herself as she ambled along outside the castle. Watt and Cloudcover might be showing up; I don't think my magic is strong enough to do anything when all four of them are on the lookout for me.
Glow wondered briefly what sort of trouble Ditzy had gotten herself into; whatever it was, it must have been pretty severe, given the way Breeze reacted during their brief confrontation.
Now don't go getting all sympathetic, the mare thought to herself. It's probably all part of their plan to overthrow me anyway. I will not let Ditzy succeed in this assignment; that wacky pegasus needs to be taught her place!
Glow was so busy staring at the ground and scheming that she crashed head-first into a large, very solid object. Teetering slightly from the impact, the unicorn looked up at the obstruction she had run into.
It was one of the statues scattered throughout the castle grounds. There were many such statues littering the area, but this one was different; it depicted a tall, thin being composed of a bizarre amalgamation of elements.
This was the statue of Discord.
Curiosity got the better of Glow. Gingerly, she placed a hoof against the side of the statue, and nearly retracted it when a loud but silky male voice rang out in her head.
"Oh look, a fan has come to visit me! I do so love getting visitors. I would sign an autograph for you, but unfortunately, I seem to be encased in stone."
I can hear him, Glow thought. I wonder if he can hear me?
"Of course I can hear you," the voice in her head said again. "As long as you don't remove your hoof from the statue, that is. Now really, what do you want?"
A wild idea came to Glow suddenly. She wasn't desperate enough to do something stupid, like try to release Discord, just to make sure Ditzy failed an assignment. But maybe she could take advantage of the situation in a less detrimental way.
I came for some advice," Glow said. "I'm trying to ruin an important social event, but the ponies running the event are on to me; they'll be on the lookout for my magic. Can you think of any ideas?"
Discord laughed heartily. "Ah, it warms my heart to see a pony so willing to cause a little chaos in this boring and orderly land. Of course I will help such a wonderful cause."
"I'm not releasing you, before you ask," Glow said quickly. "I'm talking about chaos that I can cause."
Again, Discord chuckled. "Don't worry, my little pony, I wouldn't expect you to attempt something so drastic. But I can help you indirectly; what sort of chaos do you want to wreak?"
"Anything!" Glow admitted. "As long as it's as extreme as possible, without actually physically hurting anypony."
"Extreme, you say?" Discord mused excitedly. "Well, I may know somepony that can help you with that
A bright image suddenly flashed into Glow's mind, causing her to blink in surprise.
"That is a map," Discord explained. "Follow it, and you'll find a cave around the back of this mountain. Once there, call for a pony named Screwball. She is my finest creation, a willing agent of pure chaos, and she'd probably be happy to help you out. You won't be disappointed in her abilities, I assure you."
Glow nodded slowly. "Screwball, huh? Well, okay
"No problem at all," said Discord. "Enjoy the chaos, my dear."
Glow removed her hoof from the statue, and the voice fell silent. Immediately, she set off, following the instructions ingrained into her mind.
The sun was setting when Glow finally reached the location. Before her was a large, grassy field flanking the mountainside, and carved into the rock was a wide, dark cave. On closer inspection, Glow could see all sorts of bizarre and colorful drawings on the cave walls. Cautiously, she approached the mouth of the cavern.
"Screwball? Are you here?"
Several seconds passed, and then a pony appeared from the depths of the cave. She was pinkish-purple, and she was an earth pony- no, that wasn't quite the word for it. After all, she was flying, but without the aid of wings. Only a tiny propeller beanie kept her aloft. Her eyes contained no pupils, just colorful swirls.
" said Glow awkwardly as the strange thing came to hover in front of her. "You're Screwball, right?"
The strange pony responded by peeling off its own Cutie Mark as if it were no more than a sticker. She showed the symbol to Glow; a baseball next to a spiral screw.
"I'll take that as a yes," Glow mumbled as she watched Screwball reapply the picture to her flank. "So listen, Discord said you could help me-"
"Discord!" Screwball chirped happily, clapping her front hooves together.
"Yes. Discord. He needs you to help me cause some chaos. Can you do that?"
"Batteries are not included," Screwball said.
Glow blinked. "R
just follow me if you understand."
Glow turned to go, and luckily, Screwball floated along behind her. The chaos pony may not have made any sense, but apparently she, in fact, comprehended Glow's speech.
A moment later, the unicorn and her strange new companion stood on a ridge, looking down toward Canterlot castle, which gleamed in the setting sun.
Glow smiled darkly. "Alright, Ditzy Doo. Let's see if you can keep your party running smoothly once I bring along an uninvited guest