Soft, classical music echoed through the halls and rooms of the humble abode that night. It was a gentle tune, violins and bass bringing forth a powerful, yet emotional crescendo. For some reason, ponies liked playing Posh Ball's 'Canon in D Major' at weddings, possibly to reflect what they hoped the future would bring. Meanwhile, Derpy Hooves busied herself with fixing her dinner: she was not nearly conceited enough to play this sort of thing while reading.
The amber-eyed pony hummed along with the tune as she chopped up some celery to put in her salad, looking out her window and into the night sky. Although it grew warmer in her house by the minute, she didn't dare open the windows or else succumb to the horrid stench that came when hundreds of ponies expelled the contents of their stomachs. Derpy shook her head at the thought, dumping the chopped vegetable into her salad.
It all started out innocently enough. The town threw a massive party to celebrate its founding, so Pinkie naturally had to bake a magnificent cake for all in attendance. However, unbeknownst to the pink baker, the ingredients for the cake had spoiled. Needless to say, anypony who had a piece of the massive confection quickly ended up having their stomach pumped before the virus could get into their bloodstream. Some moulds can be pretty nasty.
Grabbing a bottle of milk from inside her fridge, the mailmare emptied the contents into a waiting glass, the record playing out its final notes as she took her first bite. It was a perfectly normal meal fitting a rather abnormal pony. Nights like this made the Pegasus realize how alone she really was in the world, and how much the hurt of past pains continued to vex her. Even though she had largely moved on, some of them could never be forgotten.
Unlike most Pegasus ponies, Derpy was born and raised in Hoofington, a town twice the size of Ponyville. All things considered, it was a good place to grow up, though not as homey or friendly as her new home. Where the ponies here mostly tolerated her... peculiarities... her old town was much less kind. Her inability to speak properly and curious eyes inspired the notion of mental incompetence in the rest of the town. She was, predictably, bullied and called names by the other foals, and even some of the more brazen adults.
Still, the mare never let that stop her, not for an instant. Despite everything they did to make her feel worthless and stupid, she demonstrated a learning capacity beyond her years, having learned to fly first out of all the Pegasus ponies of her year. Not to mention her Cutie Mark... but that would be a story for another day. Eventually, after having been told that she could never teach due to her disability, Derpy settled for a job as a mailmare in the Royal Equestrian Postal Service.
For the time being, Derpy focused on the meal before her, trying to push past those bad memories of the past and focus on the happier ones. The tantalizing aroma of her salad, complete with dressing of her own blend, floated into her nostrils as she ate. Bits of onions, peppers, tomato and pieces of stale bread brought forward an incomparable texture to the normally dull meal. It was almost enough for her to not notice when her lazy eyes acted up again.
An unknown amount of time later, the gray mare cleaned her plate. Gently taking the delicate porcelain into her mouth, Derpy fluttered over to the kitchen sink to clean up. A quick scrub of the plate later, the straw-maned Pegasus trotted over to her fridge and drew her favourite dessert of all time: a chocolate muffin. She wished she knew who first made this wonderful pastry. If she did, and had a time machine to meet them, she would like nothing more than to shake their hoof and thank them from the bottom of her heart.
However, halfway through her precious muffin, a terrible, awful sound filled her ears and made the hair in her mane stand on-end. The bell's toll rung in her ears like a terrible cry, chilling the grey Pegasus to her very soul. Derpy sprang into action immediately, forgetting about her delicious dessert. She dashed up the stairs and into her room at full gallop, thrusting aside the sliding doors of her wardrobe.
With a flurry of hooves, the mare quickly shuffled her attire down the metal rod, aiming for the last on the rack. It was a brown jacket with long sleeves and reflective, yellow tape circling the cuffs and lining the back. The jacket bore her name on the front, just below the neckline. The number fifteen was embroidered on the back in bold, black lettering. She grabbed it in her teeth and quickly stepped into it, pulling down a yellow helmet from the shelf above, placing it gingerly on her head.
A last minute adjustment had her wings pop out of the slits on either side of the firepony uniform, allowing her to spread her wings and take flight out of the window. It did not take long to see the source of the flames and smoke from her aerial vantage point: a small house on the other side of town. Wasting no time, the volunteer firemare took off to join her comrades. In a town with buildings made of wood and hay, time was definitely a factor.
Despite her quick reaction time, Derpy found that she was not the first pony to arrive on the scene. Her fellow Pegasus and good friend Raindrop hovered over about half a dozen other ponies as they started attaching the hoses to the closest fire hydrant. Other airborne ponies gathered up as many clouds as they could, pouring water into them to get them as wet as possible. In Ponyville, hovering rainclouds over the scene of a fire served as a delaying tactic to stall the flames as much as possible.
Meanwhile, two other teams would address any other issues that needed handling. Unicorns would lead teams that attached hoses to the fire hydrants and direct them to douse the flames, since the water pressure could easily overpower most earth ponies. In addition, the final team would brave the fires and head inside to ensure everypony got out as safely as possible. Of course, sometimes things would not go as planned, or ponies would be too slow and become injured or, unfortunately, die.
Raindrop, as Ponyville's chief firemare, directed new ponies as they ran down the streets, or flew across the skies overhead, many of them not in uniform. In a town this size, everypony had a job to do during a fire to help put it out and to stop it from spreading. Already, flames began to lick the adjacent houses, their occupants evacuating the area. "Derpy!" the golden Pegasus addressed her friend. "Always one of the first on the scene, aren't you? Listen closely: I want you to round up a team of five ponies to get in there and get any stragglers out."
A front hoof swiftly met the straw-maned pony's forehead as Derpy saluted the Chief. "Wagon jam!" she chirped in reply. With great haste, the mailmare flew down to the ground to round up a team. Since every pony knew of her disability, they devised a series of hoof-signals for her to use in times of crisis, rather than trying to decipher her inane babbling. "Squirrels cuddle fish in lighthouses!" It did not really mean anything; she just wanted to say something to get their attention.
The firemare pulled aside three Earth ponies and two other Pegasus ponies to aid her in her search. "Jackal, Mongoose, Rabbit. Tickle gophers lightly!" the wall-eyed Pegasus ordered, using her signals as well to tell the three earth ponies to check the ground floor. "Zebu, Daffodil. Kick sky potatoes," she continued, telling the other two Pegasus ponies to join her checking the top floor.
"Hey!" voiced the white mare Derpy addressed as Daffodil. "How come they get animals, but I'm a plant!?" Obviously, she didn't know her well enough to know there was no rhyme or reason to her outbursts.
"We've got more important things to worry about right now!" shouted a cyan earth pony, already galloping off to the supply cart. Derpy and the rest of the fire ponies quickly followed suit, fitting on oxygen tanks and masks. Although they were a little cumbersome, the tanks still allowed for flight, even if only just. The masks covered their entire faces and curved to form an air-tight seal to protect them from smoke inhalation.
"Monkey, hop!" the mailmare chirped to the other ponies in her group. They did not need signals to tell them she meant for them to go in, thankfully. With the ferocity of a hurricane, the six ponies braved the tongues of flame and penetrated into the heart of the fire. Derpy entered the upstairs hall to find walls of flames dancing around her, the heat nearly unbearable.
She called out every few steps, random words replacing her pleas for a pony to call out in aid. Hopefully, just the sound of a voice calling out would suffice. Derpy strained to see through the blinding grey smoke, depending completely on her other senses to navigate. Still, she kept calling out as loud as she could, secretly hoping that nopony but the six fireponies currently dwelt within.
However, her heart sank when a shrill "HELP!" echoed forth from somewhere beyond the torrent of smoke and flame. Derpy Hooves called out louder than before, hoping the voice would continue to communicate. Eventually, she came upon a door, the cries for help clearly echoing from beyond. Remembering her training, the Pegasus placed her hoof lightly on the door, feeling for any heat for fear of a backdraft. If there was fire in the room that used up most of the oxygen, it would burst forward and incinerate anything in its path when more air rushed in from the open door. She shuddered as she remembered watching the dramatization.
Feeling no heat on the other side of the door, the gray mare turned around and bucked with all her strength, breaking the door open. The shrill voice cried out in surprise at the sudden intrusion, but Derpy ignored it and pressed forward. Hidden under the bed cowered a small unicorn foal, mane a pale blonde and coat a purplish-gray with amber eyes that screamed in terror.
The firemare quickly closed the gap between her and the cowering foal, wasting no time in her trot. She reached under the bed to grab her, the unicorn quickly latching on to the mare in desperation. It was just in the nick of time as a flaming timber landed on top of the bed she took refuge under, prompting a scream from the small filly. Derpy hugged the tiny thing close to her and slowly backed away from the flaming wreckage, feeling the floor underhoof begin to give way.
Thinking quickly, the mare flapped her wings with all her strength, lifting the filly as well as the heavy equipment right before the floor fell through. A wall of flames shot up around the pair, the little unicorn screaming and kicking in complete terror as Derpy tried to keep them aloft. It would be only a matter of seconds before the rest of the room caught on fire, meaning she needed to act fast.
Spying a window to her right, the gray Pegasus charged flying head-first into the second story window. The glass shattered around her as she made impact, her jacket and helmet mostly protecting her from the myriad of razor-sharp shards. With the filly tucked in close to her, the mailmare could only hope her own body shielded the fragile filly enough.
Derpy gently placed the shaking filly on the ground and into the waiting hooves of the nurse ponies as she landed on the ground. She took off her mask and helmet, wiping her sweating brow in triumph over saving the young foal. "Derpy!" exclaimed Nurse Headheart. "You're bleeding! Come with me in the tent, now!" At first, the mailmare tried to resist the nurse. She and doctors had never been on the best of terms, but seeing her wings dripping small streams of blood prompted her to give in.
Reluctantly, she took off her jacket and air tank, wincing as the tiny shards of glass cut deeper into her wings as she removed the article of clothing. She hardly noticed the tiny unicorn clutching her forehoof as if her life depended upon it. "Dear," spoke the nurse. "I can't make sure you're okay if you keep clutching to her like that!"
"No!" the little filly cried. "Not until Mommy and Daddy come!" Derpy gave the nurse a look, gesturing that she did not mind, as long as it made the poor thing feel better. The mare brought her hoof in closer, and used her other forehoof to gently stroke the sobbing and scared filly as the nurse gingerly removed the glass from her wings. Derpy winced slightly with each shard removed from her tender wings. Looking over the sobbing unicorn, the Pegasus figured she could not be more than five years old or so.
Frowning, the nurse applied an ointment to prevent infection, then bandaged her wings. "Now, Derpy," the nurse started. "You won't be able to fly for a week, okay?" The blonde Pegasus nodded her head in reply and climbed onto one of the hospital beds, to make sure the filly clutching her was comfortable. "What's your name, little one?" The nurse asked the poor, traumatized foal.
"D-D-Dinky," she muttered, still shaking from the recent events.
"Well, Dinky, wouldn't you be a little more comfortable on a bed of your own?"
"NO!" She screeched, clutching the grown Pegasus with enough strength to cut off the blood circulation. Derpy frowned a little at the poor foal, nuzzling her gently, which seemed to calm her down. Defeated, the nurse trotted out of the tent, allowing the unicorn and her saviour to be alone.
"Coconut harness," the blonde Pegasus muttered into her ear, hoping to calm her down, even if she could not understand. She tried to tell her that everything would be okay, but as usual, her stupid disability got in the way of any meaningful communication. Perhaps she should go through with that spell Twilight offered. The one to let her communicate with other ponies for once.
Together, the two laid down on the bed: the small filly's shaking eventually fading away as time passed on. However, deep in the mind of the firemare, she began to worry about the poor foal's parents. Surely, her team must have found them by now, right? Sadly, no answer came to her as she continued to comfort the sobbing unicorn, the minutes slowly passing into hours.
Eventually, three ponies lead by the nurse entered the tent. It was the mayor and two of Derpy's search ponies, each of them dragging a white sack filled with something heavy. The blond Pegasus' heart dropped as she realized the solemn look on their faces: forcing herself to fight back tears for the little filly's sake. Instead, she put on a brave face and continued to comfort the unicorn.
"Doesn't she have anypony else in town?" the nurse asked the mayor in whispers as the two bags were set on some beds.
"No, sadly," the political pony replied, "I'm not sure what we're going to do with her. We can't simply give her away to an orphanage, but she has no place to stay while I look for any kin in another town." A rare sigh passed the composed mares lips, her head lowered in mourning. It was times like this that made her regret a career in politics.
Unnoticed by any of the adults present, the little unicorn had slipped off the hoof of the grown Pegasus, curiosity over the bags temporarily overpowering her distraught. She blinked before using her mouth to open the zipper on the closest bag, seeing her mother napping inside of it. "Oh, Mommy, you're so silly!" she chirped. "Taking a nap inside of a bag like that? Is Daddy playing the same game? Is this like hide-and-go seek, 'cause I'm really good at it!"
A moment passed in the tent when the most audible sound was their own breathing as the adults looked at the filly with a mixture of surprise and sorrow. Derpy got to her hooves and slowly walked over to her, for the moment when realization would hit. "Come on, Mommy. Wake up. You win! I give up!" She fell silent for a minute, waiting for a reply that would never come.
"Mommy?" she asked, prodding a little with her hoof. "M-mommy? Wake up, Mommy... you're scaring me... Mommy? Mommy! Wake up, Mommy, this isn't funny... MOMMY!!!"
"Dinky..." started Nurse Redheart. "She... she's never going to wake up... Daddy either. They... they breathed in too much bad stuff and... well... they stopped breathing. We tried as hard as we could, but they just wouldn't start again... I'm so very sorry, Dinky."
"No!" the little filly cried out in pain. "Mommy's just... just playing with Dinky! She'll wake up! She always does! Mommy? The other ponies say you won't wake up... please, please show them that you're just playing. Please, Mommy!" After a while of shaking, prodding and screaming, the poor little filly came to realize that her mom was not playing. She really was never going to wake up... she was just going to leave her, alone and cold in the world.
Derpy cuddled the crying foal close as a cascade of tears rivalling a large waterfall fell down her cheeks and onto the dirt. The blonde mare could not help but cry too as she gently ran her hoof down her back, whispering quiet nothings into her ear to help soothe her. Meanwhile, the other ponies present silently bowed their heads as the nurse zipped up the bag containing the deceased mare.
The mayor quietly walked over to the sobbing filly, lowering her head to talk to her. "Dinky, do you have any family here in Ponyville? An aunt, or uncle, or cousins or something you can stay with? Perhaps a friend or two if not?" She frowned as the filly shook her head and continued to sob, but spying the look on the mailmare gave her an idea. "Well... how about you stay with Ms. Derpy for a while? At least, until we figure out how to help you, okay?"
All she could do was shudder and nod her head, too swept up in emotion and sorrow to really register what was being said. She needed something warm to latch onto and the Pegasus proved to be the closest thing available. "I'm willing to give you some time off, Derpy, so please don't worry about going to work in the morning," the mayor continued. "Consider yourself on paid vacation, until things settle, at least."
The mailmare nodded her head and picked up the sobbing filly, placing her gently on her back before trotting slowly out of the medical tent. She purposefully avoided the charred remains of the once handsome home, moving slowly through the darkened streets, the cries from the unicorn the only sound above that of her hooves clopping against the cobblestone streets.
Arriving at home a few short minutes later, Derpy found that the poor little foal had sobbed herself to sleep. She quietly walked up the stairs and deposited her in her own bed before returning to the kitchen to finish her muffin. It had been a very long night for the both of them, and the blonde Pegasus could not help but frown at the poor thing's loss. To have her parents taken from her so young must have been heartbreaking. After finishing the baked good, she returned upstairs and laid in bed beside her, so that when she woke up, she would find at least a little comfort.
"Stars yip, muffin," Derpy spoke softly to Dinky before giving her a hug, drifting off to sleep soon after.
The next few days passed slowly for Derpy and Dinky, the sorrow in the house quite apparent to even the most socially inept pony. A sizable crowd came out to mourn the loss of the young foal's parents, mostly those involved in the attempt to save them from the flames. Up until that point, the blonde unicorn refused to wander more than a hoof away from the mare that saved her life.
It was the Monday after the funeral that Derpy stopped cuddling the mourning filly near constantly. The day started out as the others did, except the pair woke up far earlier than usual. Placing a bowl of cereal in front of the pouting unicorn, the mailmare tried to put on a stern face as she refused to eat, pushing the food away every time she brought it closer to her.
"I don't wanna go to school!" the filly whined. "I miss Mommy and Daddy and I don't feel good and my tummy hurts and my hoof hurts and..." A stern look from the Pegasus made the young unicorn stop with her complaining, seeing that she would not take those excuses.
"Jewels sparkle dimly, muffin," Derpy started. "Pickle, pies taste like sprinkles." She held out a spoon to Dinky's mouth, planning to feed her like a newborn, if need be. However, the young filly's expression took an unusual turn, going from pouting to shocked, then finally, a smile cracked across her face, making her giggle.
"Oh, lady," she chirped. "You're so silly! Dinky wants to try!" Just then, the filly tried to cross her amber eyes, telling Derpy that her own eyes did that thing again. Thinking quickly, the grown mare started making faces at the foal, prompting more giggles and ever full-on laughter. "Ow! That hurts!" she exclaimed after trying to make her eyes do the same thing, "Why can't I do it too? I want to make super silly faces too!"
The mailmare chuckled and played with the little one's mane a bit, smiling as she finally decided to eat on her own. It would be a long time yet before the filly would come even close to being her normal self, but Derpy did not mind tending to the poor thing in the meantime. She just hoped that if she did have an aunt or uncle able to take her, they would be able to give her the love and attention she deserved.
After a little bit of effort, the pair left the house and started the somewhat lengthy walk to school, which resided on the outskirts of town. Derpy never attended school in Ponyville, but she knew the building well from the times she would deliver mail to the town's teacher, Cheerilee. Unlike most of the adults in town, the teacher was one of the few to treat the mailmare the same as anypony else, where other treated her as... mentally incompetent (a nice word for it) despite their tolerance for her.
"Dinky!" the purple earth pony exclaimed as the pair drew close, "We've all been so worried about you. It's so nice to see you back, especially after what happened." She drew the purplish-grey filly in for a gentle hug. "Are you doing okay, Derpy?" Cheerilee added, seeing the bandages on the Pegasus' wings.
Derpy nodded with a smile on her face: her wings stung a little, but they were fine nonetheless. "Well, lady there wanted me to come to school really badly. So badly she made funny faces at me to cheer me up a little!"
Cheerilee laughed a little at the innocence of her charge. "Yes, that sounds like something Derpy would do. She's a really smart pony who loves to see little ponies learn," she smiled, looking to the mailmare warmly. "Don't worry about a thing. I'll make sure she's all right."
The mailmare nodded her head and smiled, nuzzling the little filly gently. "Kelp love tuna, muffin," she wished her a good day. Reluctantly, the grey Pegasus slowly trotted away from the schoolhouse, watching as Dinky walked beside her teacher and inside to begin her lessons anew. It brought a smile to Derpy's face to see such a brave little filly, knowing that at her age she did not even have half the courage the foal possessed.
Suddenly, the trot over to the postal office took a lot longer then she remembered, half of her mind lingering on the schoolhouse. Would she really be okay? What if the other foals were cruel to her? She shook her head as these questions entered her head. Sure, Derpy had saved her life, but had it really grown to the point that she already cared for the little filly as more than a saviour for a distraught survivor? It confounded her, to say the least.
"Derpy, you came in today?" spoke her boss, that grizzle-faced Pegasus known as Boxxy Brown. "Well, you missed morning pick-up. Although, Star Chaser called in sick, so if you don't mind, I suppose you could be on the front desk." The grey mailmare nodded her head, accepting the job at the front desk. They usually got out around the time the little ponies at school did, so it worked perfectly for her.
Usually, sitting at the front desk would be one of the jobs she would never do, yet Derpy knew the ins and outs of it simply by observation. Although it required talking, she had long developed a system just in case she ever got put on it. She smiled, as this would be the prime opportunity for her to show she could do any job, regardless of her disability. Then, maybe she could receive a promotion and a pay raise. Sure, she could support two ponies on her salary, but it did not exactly facilitate anything fancy.
Wait, was she seriously thinking about supporting TWO ponies? Derpy shook her head as she arrived at the desk, trying to shake this conundrum from her waking mind. Dinky probably had family in Manehatten or something, and she would be setting herself up for disappointment when the time came to let her go. She simply could not afford to grow attached to her. Not yet, anyway.
Using a series of signals she developed, Derpy expertly directed the questions and concerns of anypony that walked into the post office that day. That is, to say, nopony. The only time a pony would come to the post office for anything would be if they were dropping off, or picking up a package far too big for a mailpony to bring in their saddle bags. Thankfully, the quiet solitude gave her some much needed time to think.
Alas, the day passed slowly for her as her waking thoughts constantly drifted back to Dinky. Sure, it was normal for a pony to worry about such a vulnerable and hurt filly, but quite another to obsess over them. It spooked her somewhat just how much she worried, enough to go out to the schoolhouse on her lunch break just to see her having fun with the other foals. Seeing her relatively happy like that did far better for her then any muffin could ever do, and that was saying something.
The rest of the day progressed just as the morning had. It was with great joy that the wall-eyed Pegasus finally left the post office, heading back to the schoolhouse in a canter. However, upon arriving at the school, the cool, light breeze carried with it echos of a confrontation.
"My DAD said that she was... oh, how did he put it? RETARDED," echoed the voice of a snobbish filly, "Aw, what's the matter, blank-flank?"
"Yeah," her partner in crime chortled. "Your life must really SUCK. You've got no cutie mark, you've lost your parents, AND you're living with the most retarded pony in the country!" Derpy immediately identified the pair as Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara. Her mind recalled a label applied to them by some of the adults, at least the one unsuitable to be spoken of in pleasant company.
"Ahem," the mailmare cleared her throat sanding right behind the pair. She tapped her hoof against the ground impatiently and met their looks of contempt with one that said 'I know what you were talking about, and I'm not impressed.' Meanwhile, Dinky looked up from her lying position on the ground, eyes still flowing with tears.
"Whatever," Silver Spoon continued, "See you around, blank-flank," they both uttered in unison as they made their retreat.
Derpy trotted over to the sobbing filly and nuzzled against her wet face. "Mingle carp, muffin," she tried to soothe. "Ham loves turnip, and so does Rocky." With a gentle push, the pair walked home in silence, taking time to enjoy the scenery. Deep inside, the words of the two... fillies cut deeply into the mare, if only for the memories that word brought up. It was bad enough being the one called that, but hearing that the pony who saved you is one? She could not even imagine how that must have hurt.
It was that abysmal day in town history: The Reckoning. Not far from the heart of Ponyville, a grey Pegasus and her unicorn charge sat outside of Mr. Shake's Milkshake Emporium. It was a quiet, bright and early afternoon before all the Sorrel Hells broke loose. Derpy would remember that day well: she and Dinky drank their shakes outside in the open air, sitting across from each other at the modest wooden table.
To be precise, it was the Saturday after Dinky's first day back at school, the trip to the favoured late-spring-time haven a treat for the glowing report Cheerilee gave about her progress. "Oh, Derpy, you're so funny!" the small filly chirped as the mailmares' eyes 'derped' again. The grown Pegasus replied in kind by making some silly faces for her, causing the unicorn to giggle and clap her front hooves together in delight.
Although conversation was not really big between them, considering the adult's disorder, the two seemed to be connecting nonetheless. Dinky had managed to find confidence and happiness around Derpy despite her enormous and recent loss. Meanwhile, the Pegasus had found companionship and a pony quickly growing to mean more to her than anything else in the world. Even if the mayor found her kin soon, perhaps the mailmare could benefit from becoming close to the foal.
However, the calm of the day broke down into chaos and disorder, as events playing out across town came to a head. Just as the pair finished their milkshakes, a loud noise sounded from a distance away, causing the tables, chairs, and even the glass in the shop windows to vibrate dangerously. Ponies screamed and ran as splinters of raining wood fell across the street: the familiar shape of Sugarcube Corner in the distance shattered and deformed. Soon after the initial blast, that awful bell began to toll as Derpy could see the remains of the once iconic building burst into flames. An unknown streak of lavender shot across the sky like a bullet, leaving the mailmare to wonder what could fly so fast, other than Rainbow Dash.
With no time to think, the Pegasus quickly swept up the tiny unicorn and rushed her down the street to Town Hall. At first, the receptionist looked confused at her sudden appearance, until a wave of understanding swept across the butterscotch mare's face. "Oh, right. I'll look after her," the earth pony receptionist spoke, her voice echoing in the large circular room, "Just be safe."
At that, the door to the mayor's office opened with a slam. The grey-maned earth pony galloped around the hall and down the stairs. "Come on, we don't have a lot of time!" she nearly screamed at the Pegasus, "The fire's already spreading, now go!" Derpy galloped out of the building and took flight to her house to gather her firemare uniform.
From her lofty perch, the wall-eyed Pegasus could already see ponies trying to tackle the flames on the sweet shop, others trying to save what they could from their homes as the flames jumped from one building to the next. Already, the acrid smoke began to fill the skies to choke and blind the Pegasus until she dropped below the plume, nearly flying into somepony's roof.
The streets below were total chaos as the firemare landed outside her door: the ponies here were not exactly known to keep a level head during any sort of crisis. Still, they managed to get by, even if only just. Derpy emerged from her home moments later, wearing her uniform with some measure of pride before taking flight again. Drills had told the mare that her boss, the fire chief, would be talking to the mayor as they formed a plan of attack.
After another somewhat chaotic flight, this time dodging panicking Pegasus ponies as they raced to the town square, Derpy finally arrived to see her boss huddled in a small group around the mayor. "All right," the mayor started. "Big Mac and Caramel: I need you two to evacuate all the foals and elderly and take them to Sweet Apple Acres so they don't get into trouble."
"Eyup!" the burly red stallion replied before he and his friend went off to do as instructed.
"Sunny," the mayor continued, "Since Rainbow Dash is laid up right now, you are in charge of the weather squad. I need you all to get as many clouds over town, and create as big a rainstorm as possible! Priority goes to buildings adjacent to ones on fire. Move!" With that, the white Pegasus took to the sky with as much speed as she could muster.
"Raindrop, I need you and the other fireponies to put buildings that have just caught on fire as high priority. Sugarcube Corner, for example, is too far gone to save, so don't waste the resources. Hopefully, everypony will have evacuated by then, but I want you to still conduct quick searches, at least at the beginning."
"Yes mayor," the yellow Pegasus responded before she too took to the sky. Derpy immediately followed suit, flying behind the chief. With all the speed of a hurricane, the two quickly descended to a rendezvous point, several other member of the volunteer firepony brigade waiting for them. "All right, everypony," Raindrop addressed. "I want four teams of thirty in all cardinal directions! Priority goes to buildings that have just caught on fire! Conduct quick searches on those front-line buildings only!"
After effectively splitting the Ponyville Fire Department into quarters, the teams broke up to tackle their jobs. Derpy found herself assigned to the western team who would cover the road leading to Sweet Apple Acres. Foals and elderly ponies rushed by as the flames slowly tried to cross the road and block the path. Thankfully, the weather team spotted their plight and brought forward a deluge of rain to help halt the advancing flames.
The rainwater soaked through her coat, and the hose tasted akin to mud, but not quite as pleasant. Derpy strained to keep her moral up, but the more they battled the persistent flames, the more it became apparent that they would lose this battle. No matter what they did, or how much water they used, the fireponies could only slow or stall the advancement of the fires. It was almost as if they had a mind of their own.
Thankfully, for this level of emergency, all able-bodied ponies were conscripted to aid in whatever capacity they could. It was somewhat of a load off of the blond Pegasus' mind, but a great deal of anxiety rested on it nonetheless. Ever since arriving to battle the flames, she had neither seen nor heard Dinky pass by with the others escaping to the farm. She silently prayed that Dinky had fled before she came to fight the fires.
Suddenly, a shrill scream that the blonde Pegasus knew all too well sounded through the abandoned streets, chilling her to the bone. Derpy literally dropped everything as instinct kicked in: flying off with all haste in the direction the scream had come from. She flew through the air like a rocket, not caring for her own safety as she recklessly dodged between buildings and ponies.
Dinky stood in the middle of a street beyond the firewall, scared and alone, her body pressed to the ground in an effort to cool herself from the roasting flames. How could she have been so careless and become separated from the group? No pony probably realized she was gone, and probably would not until it was far too late.
Flames encircled the cringing unicorn, like a pack of ravenous wolves surrounding a deer. The filly sobbed and cried freely as she began to realize this would be her end. On the other hoof, she would be reunited with her mom and dad again, so maybe it wouldn't be so bad. "MUFFIN!?" came a shout overhead. Dinkys eyes widened as she realized it was the mare who took her in.
"Derpy!" she cried out, hoping she could be heard, "Help me!" Derpy looked down to find the filly in the middle of a ring of fire the likes of which she had never seen. They danced and crackled menacingly as they moved forward, slowly approaching the filly. Wasting no time, the mare dove down after her, the wind nearly deafening her as it blew across her ears.
The ground raced towards her, but Derpy did not dare pull up until she could see each cobblestone individually. The Pegasus rocketed forward out of the dive, hurtling to Dinky with speeds that would make Rainbow Dash proud. In fact, if she did not know any better, she could have sworn she left a hay-coloured trail in her wake. She raced through the flames with her front legs outstretched, grabbing her muffin right before pulling up sharply.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!" Dinky cried, blurring her words together as she hugged the Pegasus tightly. Derpy hugged her back, heart still racing as adrenaline pumped through her body. All that mattered to her at that moment was the purplish-grey unicorn foal clutched in her hooves. The mailmare nuzzled against her gently, as the filly had broken down into crying once more.
Eventually, the two arrived at Sweet Apple Acres, the big red stallion greeting them with a measure of worry in his eyes for the filly. "Do you really have to go?" Dinky asked with tears still streaming down her eyes. Derpy nodded her head sadly. She really did not want to leave the filly alone, but the town needed her, and she could not shrug off her duty to the other ponies.
"Crabs bark, muffin," she soothed. "Chipmunks nip at squirrels nicely." The mailmare gently stroked the filly's mane with her hoof, hoping that she understood her promise to keep safe. Without another word, the Pegasus took to the skies once more to battle the stubborn and surprisingly vigorous flames. Knowing that her charge was safe, the firepony could finally concentrate on the task at hoof. However, it would not be until sometime in the afternoon that the fires suddenly gave up the fight: extinguishing as easily as a match.
However, the damage had been done. Derpy and Dinky walked together through the charred and smouldering streets. The clouds overhead continued to rain, just in case the fires decided to reignite. It was a sombre and awe-inspiring sight as the two clopped down their street. It had not dawned on the Pegasus before that her house could have been among the casualties, but the possibility rapidly sprung to mind as she saw ponies dig through the wreckage to unearth any valuables that might have survived.
The streets echoed with the sounds of crying and despair. Derpy kept her head low and pondered: just what could have caused all of this mindless destruction? Dinky could feel the anxiety and sorrow build up in her two-time saviour and nuzzled her side gently as they walked. "It's okay, Derpy," she chirped, "Even if the house is gone... at least we still have each other!" The Pegasus looked to the small unicorn, eyes shimmering with tears at the wisdom and courage she possessed. Derpy nuzzled her back softly, sniffing a tiny bit as they turned the corner.
Standing there was Derpy's house: untouched by the flames that had completely gutted a house not more than three doors down. Walking closer, she found no markings of any kind on the door, telling her that everything inside was just as they left it. A smile crossed her muzzle for the first time since the explosion... she and Dinky had finally been given a break. Maybe now things would finally begin to look up for the pair of troubled ponies.
It is simply amazing how fast the sands of time can move, depending on the situation. For some, it feels as if there is never enough time, while for others, it drags on and tortures them mercilessly. Six months had passed since that horrible late-spring day. Flakes of snow drifted lazily to the ground that afternoon, creating a picture-perfect image for any aspiring artist or photographer.
All physical evidence of that terrible day vanished over the half year delay. Sugarcube Corner stood once more in all its glory, and somewhat more beautiful than before. Like a phoenix from the ashes, the bakery celebrated its grand re-opening just before the Running of the Leaves, and experienced an unprecedented surge in popularity since then. Of course, the rumours of that day had reached the ears of the blonde Pegasus.
She trotted through the light snowfall with a measure of pride on her face. Just last week, the mayor had promoted Derpy Hooves to Head Mail Carrier. It meant she could take any route she wanted, morning or afternoon, and secured a paycheque to provide a comfortable living for herself and Dinky. A stream of visible breath left her muzzle as she approached the facade of the bakery. She was so glad that Pinkie had her home back, and that her filly could actually help with something.
The tiny bell jingled overhead as Derpy stepped inside the warm building, wiping the rapidly melting snow off of her hooves before moving inside. "Muffin! Shadows can tuna!" she called out into the shop. A clang of pots and pans met her cheerful greeting, a small unicorn filly emerging from the back room. The Pegasus giggled as she trotted from behind the counter and nuzzled against her.
"Derpy!" she chirped happily, "Pinkie Pie taught me how to make cupcakes today! I was so good at it she might teach me how to make a whole CAKE tomorrow!" Derpy practically beamed with pride at the little filly nuzzling against her, rubbing off some of the flour that shrouded her like a ghost. Moments like this made her glad she chose Pinkie to watch after Dinky while she was at work.
Speaking of the devil, the pink mare herself emerged from the back rooms. Between the two of them, they must have had a whole sack of flour on their coats. "Hi, Derpy!" she said. "How was your day at work today? Mine was super-dee-duper fun with Dinky here! We made a big mess, but it was still fun because she's just a filly and learning, plus we have a lot of flour anyway so it's not really a big deal if we used a whole lot of it while she practiced."
Convinced her spiel was finished, Derpy answered, "Monkeys flip turnips to chase weasels. Hop on the magic bus, tickets buy you." She blinked as looks of recognition registered across both face.
"Oh dear," the filly spoke, eyes watering at how she slipped and popped her shoulder. "Are you sure you're okay? It sounds like you had a nasty fall!"
Derpy smiled, forgetting for a brief moment that Pinkie was tutoring her in how to interpret her inane outbursts. "Cats bark, muffin," she said, ruffling her little muffin's mane a little, brushing off the flour while she did so. "Chortle lightly, piggy!"
"See you tomorrow, Derpy!" Pinkie waved with enthusiasm as they put on their scarves and walked out the door. Derpy never really paid much attention to the cold, or the heat for that matter. It must have come from years of delivering the mail in both conditions that numbed her against it. Other ponies, however, galloped from one place to the other, wanting to spend as little time outside today as they could.
The pair of grey ponies, however, proceeded through the snow-filled streets at a slight canter, looking in windows of shops as they passed to see what was new for the season. Naturally, if it were not for Derpy, Dinky could very well spend all day gazing wistfully into the window of the toy shop. As usual, the blonde Pegasus had to pull her away after about five minutes of wide-eyed awe over the newest gizmos and dolls they had in stock.
Arriving at home, the two wiped their hooves against the mat and removed their scarves and Derpy her hat before they settled into the living room. "I wanna continue the story with the fish and the big boat that could go underwater today, Derpy!" Now there was a request the blonde Pegasus would be happy to oblige. Gathering her copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea off the shelf, she cracked the book open and began to read aloud.
Dinky lay on the couch beside her and listened intently as a tale of an unlived marvel echoed through her ears. Granted, some of the words would become garbled because of her lack of prowess at understanding her saviour, but what counted was that she actually read to her. It reminded her of the cold nights her old mom would do much the same for her before bedtime.
They only took a break from the spellbinding tale to eat supper, the story just too thrilling for the blonde unicorn to stop drinking in. It was not until well into Luna's night that the gentle calls of dreamland finally took the filly on the wisps of sleep. Derpy looked to her side and noticed the sleeping filly, probably already dreaming of Captain Nemo and his fantastic machine. A smile crept over her weary face before gently lifting her muffin onto her back and up the stairs. Formerly a barren and cramped spare bedroom, Dinky's room radiated in all different colours of the rainbow, a small collection of dolls stacked against the hoof of her bed, all to calm the filly as she slept.
Gently tucking the sleeping foal under the warm and soft covers, the mailmare offered a soft wish for a good night's sleep before turning out the light. Shutting the door with a soft click, the Pegasus silently fluttered into her room and got herself ready for bed. A brief moment of reflection reminded Derpy that this was not the life she had wanted for herself, but she smiled nonetheless. The creators moved in mysterious ways, often seeming unfair at times... but Derpy could not deny that she had found true happiness for the first time in a very long while.
It only made what happened the next day even more unfair.
It was cold, the carriage ride was long, and to top it all off, he had to miss breakfast if he wanted to get there in due time. Candid sat in the pony-drawn carriage in utter contempt over his newest assignment. The unicorn stallion had a coat almost as white as the snow outside, with a dusty brown mane and sea-green eyes. Ponyville was not that far away, but it was not like he was important enough to warrant a Pegasus Chariot. Sure, it would have been colder, but it did not mean he would miss breakfast either.
Normally, the unicorn carried himself with dignity and pride in his work, wearing a tailor-made black suit and tie. Sure, it was part of the uniform for an agent of the FPS, but he made it look good, especially when he added the dark sunglasses to the mix. Of course, he did not feel dignified being carted around in such a decrepit carriage, never mind the fact he nearly lost his non-existent breakfast countless times due to the bumps in the road.
After three stomach-churning hours, the colt from Canterlot finally arrived at the square of Ponyville. He was thankful to step out of the carriage (he really was) but this town screamed 'hickville' to him. No, no, it was probably his mood making him prejudiced. Candid shook his head and stepped away, the carriage moving to find a place to park until his work was complete.
Looking at the brief his superiors had given him, the snowy unicorn moved with celerity through the surprisingly busy thoroughfares of the small town before coming up to one of the larger houses near the square. His horn dazzled in a soft blue glow as he knocked gently on the door. Not more than a moment later, an emerald green earth pony mare answered the door. "Hello, how can I help you?" she asked politely, but with a measure of irritation in her voice.
"My name is Agent Candid of the FPS," he addressed. "You are the same Miss Viridian Gem who contacted us, correct?"
"Oh!" she gasped in recognition. "Why yes, please come in." The alabaster unicorn stepped beyond the threshold of the door, politely wiping his hooves on the mat before trotting into the living room. Meanwhile, the mare continued on deeper into the house, perhaps the kitchen. As far as living rooms went, it was fairly spacious and well decorated, but he was not here to admire the decor. After a couple of minutes, Viridian confirmed his suspicions by bringing in a bowl of lemon drops and some soda.
"Yes, please, and thank you, ma'am," he replied to her kind offer to help himself to the treats. "I am ashamed to say I was denied breakfast, so your hospitality is most welcome." After helping himself to a polite number of the sour treats, he got back into the swing of things. "Now, let us get down to business. I'm afraid I wasn't given most of the details, so please enlighten me as to why you think Miss..." He looked down briefly to check his notes. "...Derpy Hooves, is an unfit caretaker?"
"Well," the mare started with a tone that nearly made Candid cringe. He knew he was about to hear a long winded spiel and he braced himself for it as best he could. "For one thing, she is developmentally delayed, has a communication disability and... her eyes do the MOST perverse thing ever. No, they don't cross, but they...well, they go off in different directions in some cases."
"I greatly doubt that lazy eyes constitute bad parenting, ma'am. But I must confess the other two are slightly worrying."
"And rightly so!" the green earth pony piped up. "That is why I wrote to you lot in the first place! I trust you are going to do what's right for the poor foal?"
"After a thorough investigation, I assure you, miss," Candid replied honestly. "If you will please excuse me, I would like to get started." He stood to attention, giving the mare of the house a polite nod before taking his exit, making sure he was excused before he did so.
The day progressed much how the unicorn expected it to. In a town as small as this one, Candid banked on everypony knowing each other, at least to some extent. Thankfully, Miss Derpy seemed to be very well known in town, and was regarded as an excellent mailmare and firepony... but in terms of personality, the reviews were less than stunning. Nearly every pony relayed the same story the emerald mare had: that Miss Hooves was mentally incompetent. Even the local medical authorities concurred that, while Derpy was good at working, she was not really all there.
Later that evening, already deep into Luna's night despite the early hour, Agent Candid approached the mailmare's house, flanked by two members of the local police. A carriage pulled by two Pegasus colts, whom he had to charter with his own bits, rested behind them as they walked briskly through the cold evening air. He really hated this part of the job, but protocol forbade him from communicating with the parents because they would always lie to keep their foals. Reluctantly, he put his hoof to the door and knocked.
A grey Pegasus mare with straw-like blonde hair answered the door. "Jays whisper lightly, pickles?" She blinked, obviously dumbfounded by the sudden police presence.
"My name is Candid, ma'am. I represent the Foal Protection Services. I am afraid we have received some disturbing reports about you from various members of the community. Following an investigation, I regret to inform you that we find you unable to raise a foal. As she is without any kin, we have no choice but to place her in an orphanage."
Derpy's mouth hung open in shock. Had the other townsfolk really said such things about her? Especially knowing who this stallion was and probably why he was there. How could they betray her like that when she had finally found a slice of happiness to call her own!? She hardly noticed as the three colts pushed past her. "Jackal!" she cried, running up to them. "F-f-fire ants... don't like cheese!" As much as she tried to talk normally, her mouth would not co-operate.
"Wait!" Dinky cried as they advanced on her, "Why are you here... and why is Derpy saying she's not funny in the head? I know she's not funny in the head, even if she is funny."
"I'm sorry," Candid spoke earnestly as he got down to the young unicorn's level. "She's not related to you, Dinky, and she can't look after you anymore. I'm afraid you'll have to come with me now."
"No! I don't want to leave! Derpy takes care of me and I don't want to go!"
"You don't have a choice, Dinky." He nodded to the two police officers who picked her up, causing her to wiggle and cry hopelessly in their grasp. The unicorn was always mindful to keep himself between the police ponies and the crying Pegasus as they moved out to the carriage.
"Muffin!" she cried, trying desperately to jump after her once they got outside.
"Miss Hooves," the unicorn spoke, using his magic to keep her grounded, "If you try to go after her again, I'm afraid I will have to place you under arrest." With the crying filly inside the carriage, the police ponies and agent swapped places. Derpy's amber eyes continued to stream with tears as the sharply-dressed unicorn stepped into the carriage as well, causing it to lurch forward suddenly as the pegasi pulling it ran down the street.
"Muffin!" Derpy cried out one last time, waving her hoof goodbye, just in case they never saw each other again. Only when the carriage flew out of sight did the police ponies drop their guard and trot away, leaving her to sob outside in the cold streets. The mailmare was no fool: she knew she had the right to an appeal, and she would pursue it with all her heart. But in order to do so, she needed help... a lot of help, and only one pony in town could provide it for her.
A giggle sounded somewhere beside her, chilling her more than the winter's night ever could. Derpy turned her head to see the sickeningly green neighbour of hers stand outside of her door, obviously amused by the spectacle before her. "I hope this teaches you a lesson, Derpy," she smiled wickedly. "You should have never tried to contaminate that poor, innocent foal with your stupidity. I can only hope the damage you did to her isn't permanent."
Anger unlike anything Derpy ever experienced before coursed through her veins. If only she could rush over and strangle that... that... she dare not say, until her eyes bugged out of their sockets. She wanted, more than anything, to rip, mutilate and kill that disgustingly smug earth pony, and she could probably get away with it too, since everypony thought she was touched in the head.
No! She would have justice, but she would not stoop down to that dastardly mare's level and seek revenge. She would get her muffin back... even if it was the last thing she would ever do!