Chapter Eleven - The Longest Night - Part Four
Yet again, I stepped aside as a doctor barreled past me through the castle hallways. This was, unfortunately, an alarmingly frequent occurrence as I wandered about, looking for wherever Trixie had disappeared to.
As I explored, it because increasingly clear that the entire castle had been converted into a hospital – excepting the archives, kitchen, and dining hall – and that there were thousands of ponies who had lost everything. Cadance had told me that the crown would reimburse everypony, but a stack of bits wouldn’t be a good replacement for home.
Paradoxically, it seemed that the ponies not caught up in the disaster were alternately ecstatic about the sudden rise in property values – from the increased scarcity – and worried that public perception of danger might cause them to crash.
“Ponies,” I mumbled.
Feeling a pair of eyes on me, I turned around quickly, nearly throwing Spike off my back. Nopony was there, but Spike was giggling from the brief excitement. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but I would swear somepony had been watching me for at least a half-hour now. It could be one of Celestia’s goons, but it didn’t feel like that kind of stalking.
Sighing, I directed my gaze out a window as I walked by. The sky was practically littered with pegasi working round-the-clock to bring summer to Canterlot. As much as ponies emotionally needed a regular Hearth’s Warming right now, Canterlot as a whole needed warm temperatures more with the mass influx of homeless ponies.
I paused a moment to watch one strange pegasus flitter about, leaving a rainbow colored contrail in its wake. It was a vaguely entertaining singular spectacle. Luna was right, as always; I had a lot to learn about pegasus magic. The Wonderbolts did their little lightning cloud thing, but I’d had no clue pegasi could trail rainbows.
Oh well. There’d be time for that in the future; I’d have to be at least passingly familiar with pegasus magic to ascend.
A few minutes later, that feeling of being watched resurfaced. It was time to consider my options.
I could simply scry behind me. If there was anypony there, I’d be able to find them without any problem. Unless they were warded. If they were, it’d have to be a changeling or one of Celestia’s spies. I could live with the former seeing me use complex magic, but not the latter.
Sure, I could always erase a memory, but so long as Celestia wasn’t a gibbering idiot – which she wasn’t – she’d check for memory loss when her spy reported back.
Ugh. I couldn’t take the risk.
On the other hoof, maybe I could make this work to my advantage. If I were watched while talking to Trixie, I could potentially make it seem like I knew less than I did. Then again, if this persisted beyond my stay in Canterlot Castle, I’d need to deal with my stalker on a more permanent basis.
I heard a clatter behind me. It could have been some of the other many ponies walking past bumping into each other, or something, but I hadn’t seen anypony carrying anything that would make such a racket. It had to be the stalker, then, and clearly it was probably not a professional.
Spinning around, I found a butterscotch colored pegasus mare buried under a small pile of medical…stuff.
“Hello?” I hazarded.
No response. Whoever this was, she didn’t seem interested in talking. Or meeting my eyes. Or looking at anything, really; she had her wings and forehooves covering her face.
This was like Twinkleshine all over again, but multiplied a hundred times over. Did I want to deal with this? No, not at all. Did I have time to deal with this? Nope. Could I resist my curiosity? Unfortunately, also no.
Using my magic, I quickly stacked the spilled implements off to the side. “Hello,” I repeated, hoping to get any kind of response out of the pegasus.
There was none; however, when Spike echoed my greeting, the pegasus’s head snapped up. I took a half-step back, and her head moved with me – no, with Spike. Her eyes were focused on him; it was as if I weren’t even here.
“Oh my. You can talk already? But you’re so young. My name’s Fluttershy. What’s yours?”
And like that, I had lost interest. Still, at least this Fluttershy was interested in Spike the dragon instead of the dragon, Spike. Hopefully she wouldn’t tell me to put him on a leash, send him away, or otherwise treat him as a feral animal.
Even if he did bite in his sleep.
“Spike!” Spike answered.
“Hello?” I said yet again, once more getting no response.
Completely ignoring me, Fluttershy asked, “How old are you, Spike?”
After some embarrassingly long time – not fair, Twilight, he was one, maybe two, in pony years – Spike replied, “Four!”
Sighing, I turned so that Spike was completely out of Fluttershy’s line of sight and tried one last time. If this didn’t work, I was just going to walk away.
“Hello, Fluttershy,” I said. “What do you want?”
Fluttershy moved backward in a flurry of wings and hooves, crashing into the wall and getting a few scowls from ponies she had nearly bumped into.
“H-h-hi,” she replied, barely audible over the noise of the hallway. Rolling my eyes, I cast a quick spell to improve my hearing. I’d like to amend my previous statement. This was nothing like Twinkleshine; she had at least talked to ponies before I got her to open up.
Smiling this time, I asked, “You didn’t get hurt when you fell, did you?”
“No,” she whispered.
“That’s good. Would you like to play with Spike some more?”
In what was definitely not a whisper, Fluttershy said, “More than anything.” Blushing and turning away, she added, “If – if you don’t mind, that is.”
“It’s fine with me. Spike, would you like to play with Fluttershy?”
Happy giggling meant yes. Then the only question was should I ditch Spike now or tell Fluttershy to come back later? I was kind of hoping to use him as a buffer between Trixie and myself, but I would only be fooling myself if I said I expected that to help.
I should probably just let Spike have his fun. But then again, Fluttershy was probably in the midst of…
Ha! No. I had felt somepony – probably Fluttershy the whole time – watching me for a good while now; whatever purpose Fluttershy had for those miscellaneous medical supplies was likely over and done with long ago. Nothing in the pile looked terribly important, so hopefully she hadn’t caused anypony any real trouble.
Speaking of which, was there really such a labor shortage that random civilians were being recruited? Fluttershy looked about the same age as Pinkie Pie – maybe older – but I couldn’t see her as a doctor or nurse at her age, her temperament ignored.
“Well, Fluttershy, if you want, I can leave you and Spike with my parents. I have somepony I have to find right now.”
“Oh, yes. That would be wonderful.”
“Alright, follow me, then.” As we walked, I asked, “So, do you live” – maybe lived, now – “in Canterlot? Fluttershy?” I turned my head back and found Spike and Fluttershy making faces at each other.
Sighing, I slowed my pace to bring myself abreast of Fluttershy. I wasn’t sure if I should be surprised that she didn’t notice.
“Fluttershy,” I tried again. This time I got a response.
“Oh, um, I’m terribly sorry. Did you say something?”
My eye not so much as twitching, I said, “I just asked if you were from Canterlot or not.”
“Oh. Oh, no. I live in Cloudsdale with my family right now.”
“I, uh, didn’t mean right now, right now” – facing forward away from Fluttershy, I rolled my eyes for good measure – “but I usually do, for, um, for now. Not that they’re pressuring me to move out; they’re such nice ponies to have raised me and everything, and I wish I could’ve been a pony they could be proud of.” Whispering lower than normal hearing could pick up, she added, “I’m only graduating this spring.”
Oh, goody. I’d gotten myself involved with an idiot.
Sigh. That wasn’t fair. For all I knew, Fluttershy had gone through some horrible illness which magic couldn’t cure or something. She certainly fit the part: lanky, apparently behind in her education, shy as if she had spent a lot of time alone in a hospital, et cetera.
“So what brings you to Canterlot?” I couldn’t imagine somepony as shy as Fluttershy voluntarily rushing here to help ponies, but apparently dragons were a-okay. Not that there were any other dragons in Equestria outside of the migration routes.
“I’m here to help…” Fluttershy’s eyes widened. It was sort of impressive that it took her this long to realize she’d abandoned her post, whatever it was. “Oh dear, oh dear. I’m supposed to be helping my dad.”
Her dad, eh? Odd. Considering she lived in Cloudsdale, he was probably a pegasus.
Then again, pegasus doctors weren’t unheard of, but medicine was a pretty heavily unicorn dominated field for good reason. Zebras were, of course, second in number with their potions, but even they accounted for at most ten percent.
In the end, the probability of him being a unicorn given doctor and Cloudsdale was probably higher than him being a pegasus.
Shaking my head free of that triviality, I said, “You’re free to go back to what you were doing, if you wish.”
“Oh, but I – well, maybe – I should, but – but Spike, and…oh dear. I’m so sorry. Could I – could I come back later?”
So much for letting Spike have his fun right away.
“That’s fine. Just ask the guards to direct you to Twilight Sparkle. They all know me.”
Ear twitching, I giggled like a madmare to myself. Finally, finally, I had found Trixie. I’d had to tear apart practically the entire castle to do it, but here she was in a secluded corner of the archives of all places. This was almost literally the last place I’d expected to find her.
Okay, Twilight, pull yourself together. It wasn’t like Trixie had intentionally forced me to walk the entire castle from top to bottom and get lost a dozen times in the castle’s foul geometry that didn’t obey the rules. Deep breaths, Twilight. Deep breaths. In, and out.
Right then. Spike still on my back, I made my approach.
“Hello again, Trixie.”
Trixie’s head shot up from the table, her face the perfect picture of shock and…guilt? What?
“I – uh – hello, Twilight. Hey, Spike.” Trixie smiled, her previous mood all but forgotten. There was still the tiniest downward curve at the ends of her mouth, but nothing more. At this point, I made sure I wasn’t in a dream.
Spike, completely oblivious, hopped off my back and ran over to Trixie. Now that I got a better look at her as she hugged Spike, her eyes were well-past bloodshot. That was something she couldn’t hide. Not without magic, at least, and she hadn’t used any.
A sad Trixie, now that made sense. I didn’t exactly take the revelation that I was a replacement well, and I didn’t even like Celestia. Trixie probably took it much worse, assuming Luna’s and my guesses were right.
But I knew Trixie felt guilty. Her eyes had widened for an instant after the initial surprise had worn off; she refused to meet my eyes, even as she looked at me; and if I hadn’t misheard, she’d aborted a soft gasp when I’d first spoken.
The only thing I could think of for Trixie to feel guilty about was being my replacement, but that was almost an incomprehensible idea to me. I would probably feel a little guilty if I had taken somepony’s place – if I weren’t the better choice – but I would mostly be absorbed in my own sense of inadequacy.
And Trixie, I knew how ponies like her worked; it had been one of Luna’s classic examples. Trixie craved attention. She would push herself to be the best and pretend she was, even if she weren’t. She should be very upset with me, or at the very least, she should be trying to prove herself the better pony, even if she didn’t consciously realize that was what she was doing.
Something wasn’t adding up.
“Trixie, would you be willing to talk?”
“Of – of course. Trixie is always willing to talk to intelligent ponies.”
Oddly enough, I couldn’t tell if Trixie’s heart was in her words. The flattery aside – which weakly implied she had learned a great deal about me in addition to whatever else – it sounded as if she weren’t sure if she wanted to talk to me or not. Not that I would accept no as an answer.
“Thank you,” I said, seating myself directly across from Trixie. “Given…the given, I take it you learned what you wanted to know?”
“I… Yes. I did.”
I waited, hoping Trixie would say something without prompting, but it seemed she had fallen into her own little world. It sounded like she still had her memories – whatever they consisted of – but I wasn’t sure yet. Still, I did have to stop myself from leaning forward in anticipation.
And either way, Spike was the one to move the conversation along, literally shaking Trixie out of her rumination.
“I–” Trixie shouted. She calmed herself down quickly enough, but she had briefly shown me that guilty face again. “What is it, Spike?”
“Don’t be sad,” he said, hugging her.
On a completely unrelated note, Spike was adorable. He was high-maintenance, troublesome, and expensive to feed – usually – but adopting him was definitely the right choice. Even now, he managed to bring an inappropriate smile to my face.
“Trixie is not sad,” asserted Trixie.
I raised an eyebrow suggestively. Luna had said a raised eyebrow could say more than most speeches, and I was inclined to agree.
Still refusing to meet my gaze, Trixie asked, “What did you want to talk about, Twilight?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me what you found out.”
“I… I’m not supposed to talk about it. Sorry.”
I sighed dramatically. “That’s troubling, because I don’t know how much you know.”
Trixie finally looked me in the eye.
“But you know I at least know there’s a secret,” I continued, “and I know you at least know there’s a secret. That’s really all that matters. We are, after all, intelligent ponies. I was hoping we might share information with each other. And keep the exchange secret, if we can. Cadance and Celestia were not happy when they thought I’d fed you information.”
Holding my gaze for some time, Trixie finally asked, “Why?”
I said with my best wistful smile, “Would it make sense to you if I said I wanted closure?” Trixie nodded. “Great. I’ve found my own little slice of happiness, and I want to put the past behind me, starting with learning exactly what it is I’ve lost.”
It wasn’t a lie. I did want to ‘put the past behind me’. The only catch was the process of doing so ended rather unpleasantly for Celestia.
“I – I’m not supposed to,” Trixie mumbled. I briefly considered the possibility of her being under a geas but discarded the idea when she continued. “Do you… How should I put it? Do you know what’s wrong with the royal family?”
“It’s missing an alicorn,” I answered immediately. “Do you know her name?”
Head cocked to the side, Trixie said, “Nightmare Moon. But…”
I smiled. It appeared Trixie was smart after all, or at least smart enough to sniff out hidden meanings in questions. “Her real name is Luna.”
Nodding, Trixie asked, “What does S.S. stand for?”
“Sunset Shimmer. Do you know what a Flare is?”
“Yes,” Trixie answered, looking away from me completely. Not even bothering to phrase it cryptically, she asked, “Do you know about the Elements of Harmony?”
“I do. I think we both have enough base knowledge to talk freely. Do you agree?”
“Yes, I – oh. What about Spike?”
Both of us looked over to him. He had gotten bored and had taken to playing with books as if they were building blocks.
“He’s young.” It was answer enough for both of us as we turned back to each other.
“So,” Trixie began, “you said Nightmare Moon’s real name is Luna?”
I sighed inwardly. Apparently I would be giving information first. How irritating.
“Luna is the Alicorn of the Night. I could tell you about the histories I’ve uncovered, but I honestly don’t think you’d find them all that interesting.”
“There’s really not much more to say other than that she’s Celestia’s little sister.”
Both points were only technically true.
The first was true because no matter how much Trixie disliked Celestia right now – if at all – deep down I had little doubt she still loved her mentor. There was practically nothing relevant I could say about Luna that wouldn’t make Celestia look bad.
The second was true in a chronological sense only. In terms of conscious hours, however, Luna was much older than Celestia; Luna was always conscious.
“Although, I suppose it also bears mentioning that Luna was never a monster and never ate foals.”
“Of course not. Trixie is not a fool. That whole cannibalism shtick is obviously just an old mares’ tale.” Sighing, Trixie asked, “Do you hate Princess Celestia?”
Choosing my words carefully, I said, “I have little reason to love her, unlike you.”
“You’re right,” Trixie said, a frown winning out over a smile on her face. “I can’t bring myself to so much as dislike her, even if she wouldn’t have given me the time of day back when we were eight if she didn’t need me to use the elements for her.”
Oh, how I wanted to pounce on that admission and to drag every last piece of information Trixie had screaming out of her immediately, but that just wouldn’t do. It would never do again. This time I would think before I acted.
Celestia needed Trixie to use the elements. Why? Did that mean Celestia was unable to use them, or was it just more convenient to have Trixie wield them? Honestly, from the information she had, Celestia didn’t even need the elements to win. She had Cadance on her side, after all. She only needed them to banish Luna for another thousand years.
Trixie could be a reserve plan on the extremely unlikely chance Celestia didn’t plan to banish Luna again, but I couldn’t think of any reason why she would trouble herself with subduing Luna another way when the elements worked so well.
So the main plan had to be Trixie banishing Luna. That was an incomprehensible decision if Celestia could wield them herself. Trixie was so weak and fragile in comparison to her. It would be so easy to simply kill Trixie, but there wouldn’t be much of a point with our plans. Not that Luna or I would stoop to that; we weren’t Celestia. Even if we found another artifact for me to ascend off of, I’d still try to hunt down the elements first.
But even Cadance would have to be a better choice. Yeah, she was bad at magic, but surely in the approximately two decades she will have been an alicorn, she could learn to wield the elements.
It wasn’t as if Luna and I had never considered the possibility of Trixie wielding the elements before, but the idea was just so confusing. And when something was confusing, as Luna had told me time and time again, it usually meant something else I believed was wrong.
The simple answer was Celestia had lied to Trixie. However, that didn’t seem consistent with the other facts, particularly the fact that Trixie was Celestia’s apprentice at all. Celestia could still have lied, but why would she? She could easily have come up with something more believable if she had some reason to lie to Trixie.
What if she had lied to get Trixie to feed me false information? Would that imply she knew I was Luna’s apprentice? Probably, but then why wouldn’t she just deal with me directly? To make Luna overconfident? Was Celestia that twisty?
No. No, that was ridiculous. That was the kind of gambit you ran when you were bored, desperate, or insane – usually in conjunction with dozens of other ones. The former was possible, but not probable, of Celestia, and the middle was simply not the case for her. The latter wasn’t something I had any evidence for, so I had no reason to believe it.
Was Trixie lying to me? Not unless she was a Luna-class actor. As far as I could tell, she’d only spoken the truth. I didn’t see any reason for her not to, either.
“Twilight,” Trixie said, poking me with her magic. “Are you alright?”
Horseapples. “Oh…um…yeah. Sorry.” I really needed to learn how to think and talk at the same time.
“No, I’m sorry. I should have put that better. But as you put it, that’s what you lost: the chance to fight an insane goddess with Equestria at stake.”
I ignored the prickle of annoyance at Luna being called insane. “No, it’s alright. I just – I didn’t expect it to be something so important. Can Celestia not wield the elements herself?”
“That’s what she said…”
Good to know for sure. But that still left the ‘why not Cadance?’ question. I doubted Trixie knew the answer, but – “Why can’t Cadance wield the elements?”
“Oh well. I’m sure there’s some reason.”
We fell into a silence broken only by the sound of Spike playing with books, neither of us wanting to speak.
“Heh,” Trixie said sometime later.
I looked toward Trixie and silently asked her to elaborate on what she found funny.
“What a pair we make, Twilight. We’re just…” Trixie paused to gnaw on her lip, trying to find the right words. “You know what the real joke of all this is?”
I shook my head. “But there’s a lot of irony we could pick through, I’m sure.”
That pulled a rather sardonic smile out of Trixie. “Absolutely. But no, it’s something Princess Cadance told me. Sunset Shimmer is still alive. Apparently, Princess Celestia can still feel her tugging on the sun somehow every on rare occasions. She could just waltz back in and render both of us moot.”
Not letting me dwell on that, Trixie continued, “You know, Princess Celestia and Princess Cadance are always telling me to make a few more friends.”
A snort escaped me. Smiling, I interjected, “Cadance gets on my case about that on occasion, too.”
“She’s such a busybody, isn’t she?”
“You have no idea.”
“Heh. Maybe not. Still, do you want to be friends?”
I cocked my head to the side. “Sure, why not? It’d be nice to have somepony my age that I could talk about magic with.”
It would make life harder for Pupa, but being Trixie’s friend was too good of an opportunity to pass up given that she was supposed to wield the elements; it opened up some options we hadn’t been available to us before, such as talking Trixie around to our side. Or at least confusing her long enough to steal the elements and ascend if I failed to recover them.
And if it really became too much – say, if Celestia became too watchful – Pupa could just break the friendship or let it wane out of existence.
“So,” I began, after a long, awkward silence, “what now?”
“Yeah, I…don’t know. The only thing I ever do with Moondancer is homework.”
Cooperation on homework? At a level that Moondancer could actually help?
What exactly was Celestia teaching Trixie? Trixie should be years ahead of her peers with a breadth of knowledge none of them could match. I’d never talked to Moondancer much, but from what Twinkleshine had told me, she wasn’t smart enough or self-motivated enough to keep pace, even if she was the best in her year.
“Is she actually any help? I mean, there’s an accelerated program, and then there’s being Celestia’s student.”
“Well…she’s not a detriment to Trixie. But what does that make the self-taught Twilight Sparkle?” Trixie’s eyes widened. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean–”
“It’s fine, Trixie. Anyway, I only get to learn the theory” – I still shivered every time I thought of that; Twilight the earth pony was no joke – “so I’m probably way ahead of you.”
Well, it was true that I did mostly book reading when I was awake. It also helped a lot that my days were half again longer than anypony else’s.
“Ha! You dare challenge the Great and Powerful Trixie, Twilight Sparkle?”
“Well,” I began, suppressing a laugh at Trixie’s posing, “my magic is unrestricted for the next day or so, but I really shouldn’t.”
“Oh. Right.” Trixie fell back onto her chair with a heavy thump. “I’m sorry.”
“Trixie, it’s fine. You don’t have to walk on eggshells around me. You’re not acting like the Great and Powerful Trixie everypony knows at all.”
Sighing weakly, I asked, “Do you want to talk about it, Trixie? I can keep secrets, and I know enough about everything for you to speak freely. And I’m not Cadance or Celestia.”
“No, I…” Trixie began, biting her lip. “No. Trixie’s problems are her own. I’m sorry, Twilight.”
I couldn’t put my hoof on what exactly, but something in Trixie’s voice sounded a lot more sincere in that last apology. It felt like it meant something more.
“Anyway,” Trixie continued, veering the topic wildly away, “I heard you managed to turn Moondancer’s below average roommate into an A-plus student. How did that happen?”
“I didn’t do anything special. A good tutor makes a world of difference is all.”
“Pfft. Boring. You don’t secretly do her homework, do you?”
I rolled my eyes. “If I did, how would you explain her test scores?”
“Steal ‘em in advance, secret agent style.”
“Trixie, I know neither of us actually attends that school, but I’m sure we both know their tests are mostly one on one and specific to the pony.”
“Oh, come on. For a Flare, you have no sense of flair, Twilight.”
Oh, ha ha.
“Magic isn’t magic unless you make it magic. Get it?”
“Trixie, theater is your shtick, not mine. What do you want me to do, run around shouting, ‘I’ll show them. I’ll show them all,’ and laughing maniacally?”
Humming to herself, Trixie looked me up and down. “That’s not exactly what Trixie would recommend, but it could work. Have you tried it yet?”
“Dear Celestia, you have!”
Curse my capillaries!
“Once. I did it once. Once!”
Trixie just smirked at me.
“It’s true! And I only did it because I got the idea from a book!”
“Oh? What book?”
“It’s…not important which one. Laughter has proven stress relieving effects.”
“Whatever lets you sleep at night.”
“Ugh! Fine!” I slumped to the table. “I don’t care anymore. Think what you will.”
After an extended silence, I looked back up at Trixie. She was waiting patiently for…something. Cocking my head to the side, I silently asked, “What?”
“Trixie is still waiting for you to say, ‘But I’ll show you,’ or something to that effect.”
I let my head slam back onto the table.
I never found out what Trixie’s problem was nor why she had to be the pony to wield the elements. The former I could live with. The latter…well, I could also live with it, but it seemed like an important mystery to deduce the answer to. I suspected Trixie didn’t know herself, and I certainly wasn’t going to ask Cadance or Celestia. Hopefully, Luna would know when I saw her tonight; my sleep schedule was in chaos from all the extra naps I’d gotten recently.
In unrelated news, I’d found out why Spike liked Trixie. Underneath the illeisms, the drama, the arrogance, the sheer hamminess, and the extroversion – stars above, when she got going, she couldn’t shut up – Trixie was actually fairly interesting and intelligent. She and I had a lot in common once she stopped being annoying.
Trixie had, as she had said, a flair for magic which I could admit to liking and which Spike adored. She could easily be a fantastic stage magician, and if Celestia taught her properly, she could bend her talent to just about anything. It all came so naturally to her that I found myself a little bit jealous on occasion. Not that I’d ever give up my talent for hers.
Anyway, I was nearly back to Shining’s room when I came up behind a pair of pegasi, one of whom was familiar.
“Come on. You want to talk to this Spike, right?”
Fluttershy nodded weakly, but she gave no ground. Literally. Her…friend, perhaps…was trying to push her forward to no effect.
“Then just go on in there and talk to him and get this over with.”
“B-b-but, Dash, there’s g-guards. And there’s a p-princess in there. I couldn’t–”
“Sounds pretty cool to me. Now stop being a foal and get in there, Flutters.”
“No!” Fluttershy whispered.
“Yeeeees,” grunted the pony who was probably Dash as she redoubled her efforts to marginal success. That was the name Fluttershy had used, if I hadn’t misheard.
Alright, it was time to interrupt this comedy act.
“Hello again,” I said, a few hooves behind the pair.
Fluttershy unsurprisingly eeped, but Dash turned around like a normal pony who didn’t have any kind of social dysfunction. How strange.
“Heya,” Dash said, looking me up and down and paying special attention to Spike. “You must be Twilight Sparkle.” Flying over to get a better look, she continued, “And this must be Spike. Never thought I’d get to meet a dragon up close like this and live to tell the tale.”
I strained my neck to get a better view of Dash talking to Spike on my back.
“Hey…what do you call a baby dragon? Whatever. Hey, Kid. Name’s Rainbow Dash. Fastest pegasus in the world.”
Lifting Spike off my back and into my waiting hooves, I asked, “You do realize the superlative implies there is literally nopony faster than you, right?”
“What, you think I’m lying or something?”
“It’s more likely you’re exaggerating than not.” Said the most powerful unicorn. I silently chuckled to myself over the irony.
“Ha! As if. I’ll have you know there’s not a single pony that comes close to my speed. Why when I was just your age, I was already breaking the sound barrier with the legendary sonic rainboom.”
My eye twitched before I could help it. Here was the pony who had set off my first flare. I didn’t know if I should buck her in the head or…ehem…buck her in gratitude.
Neither, probably. She hadn’t made me flare on purpose, and I would’ve been discovered as a Flare eventually regardless. Possibly under worse circumstances…
“Anyway, I take it you two are friends?”
Dash flew to Fluttershy and flew her over, one foreleg holding her around the barrel. That was actually pretty impressive. Fluttershy was significantly taller – and heavier – than Dash, and the positioning seemed all around awkward for flight.
“Totally. Me and Fluttershy go way back. I’m sure you’ve noticed she needs some looking after.”
I had, but I wasn’t going to comment. It seemed Fluttershy didn’t intend to defend herself either.
“Right, so why don’t we find somewhere more private?” I asked, looking suggestively toward Fluttershy.
“What, and not meet the princess? Cause that’d be super uncool, Twilight.”
And how is it that you somehow felt entitled to meet Cadance? It wasn’t like she wouldn’t say hi to anypony, but I didn’t like it when ponies put promises in my mouth.
“Dash, we shouldn’t–” Fluttershy whispered.
“Fluttershy, you told me you were too scared to meet a princess–”
“That’s not exactly what I said…”
“–and now I’m all psyched up to meet a princess myself.”
Facehoofing, I said, “Ugh. Look, why don’t we just head to Cadance’s room and pass the time until she comes looking for me? You can meet her then. I’m supposed to be in bed anyway.”
The things I put up with for Spike.
I sat on the edge of a spare bed that had been set up for me in Cadance’s room. While I would have preferred Cadance’s bed, it was made of clouds, and I wasn’t going to publicly cast a cloud walking spell.
Fluttershy and Spike were playing together and not interacting with anypony else in the slightest bit. I might have just told the guard outside to not let her leave with Spike and have taken a nap, if it weren’t for the other pony in the room.
Rainbow ‘Danger’ Dash, as she had reintroduced herself to me, rather than Spike, had grown bored with ‘the totally cool dragon’ and was backstroking lazily through the air above me. That – that just blew my mind. Luna had told me I needed to learn more about pegasus magic; I had told myself I needed to learn more about pegasus magic.
But this – this was just plain breaking the rules. Pegasus magic shouldn’t be able to do that!
It even looked like Dash was pushing air upward! That should have sent her barreling into the floor!
And the worst part, the absolutely most irritating aspect, was that Dash didn’t even know how she was doing it.
“Yeah, so I totally blew through school. There was no keeping a pony as awesome as me back. Skipped a few grades with my sheer awesomeness and stayed my senior year to help out Flutters.”
Argh! Deep breaths, Twilight. Deep breaths. Dash wasn’t immortal enough to survive everything she deserved.
“I pulled all-nighters before the exams to ace the theory stuff and flushed it all outta my head right after.”
Easy, Twilight. No amount of ingenuity, or cleverness, or luck will get you out of destroying Canterlot Castle as collateral damage for your first outrageously justified act of smiting. Your divine retribution would have to come later.
Easing up on grinding my teeth and forcing a smile, I asked, “So what are you going to do after spring? You’re graduating rather early to strike out on your own.”
It was a safe question. I didn’t see how Dash could possibly find an answer which would dig herself deeper into her hole; she’d already tunneled straight into Diamondia.
Dash performed a backflip and hovered a bit above and in front of me. She positioned herself as if she were lying on a bed, or a cloud, or anything flat. I swallowed another urge to scream in exasperation. It was official. Dash didn’t obey physics.
“I figured I’d hang out with Fluttershy for a few years. Help her get used to wherever she finds work, maybe join the local weather team, practice my flying. You know, that kind of stuff. Then when I’m old enough, I’m gonna join the Wonderbolts.”
I wondered if it were really possible to burst a blood vessel from sheer anger. I could barely believe Dash had managed to find a response so…so…so awful. All that raw magical talent, and she wanted to waste it on being a Wonderbolt. Even Trixie wanted to be more than just a performer, and she behaved like she was born to be one.
Argh! It sickened me to admit it, but this was like watching myself aspiring to be a mere librarian, but with wings instead of a horn.
This time I’d change the topic away from Dash completely. Surely she couldn’t mess that up. “So then what’s Fluttershy going to do?”
“Ah, Flutters wants to find herself someplace nice, quiet, and boring on the ground to work with animals.”
My ears perked up at the first non-irritating thing Dash had said all afternoon. I turned my head to get a full-on look at Fluttershy playing with Spike, both clearly enjoying themselves. An idea took shape in my head, a wonderfully, beautifully idiotic idea.
“Exactly what kind of job does she want?” I asked.
“Huh? Anything with animals, really. Like, literally anything. Why?”
“Well, if she just wants a job with animals somewhere she wouldn’t have to talk to many ponies, I know of the perfect opportunity.”
“Really?” Dash asked, floating directly in front of my face and invading my personal space. “You’re not just trying to pull one over on ole Fluttershy, are you?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Cool,” Dash said, flying to face Fluttershy. “Hey, Flutters.” When no response came, Dash flew over to Fluttershy and tapped her on the withers, causing her to shriek, take to the air, and then clumsily fall back to the ground.
Was Fluttershy unable to fly? That would certainly explain wanting to find a job on the ground. Oh well. I didn’t need her to be capable of flight in space.
Once Dash had dragged Fluttershy back over – not literally this time – Fluttershy said, “Um…Dash said you might know of a job for me. I mean, I wouldn’t want to impose or anything, but I have been looking…unsuccessfully…and I could really use some help, if it isn’t too much bother, that is.”
I was about to automatically reply yes when I remembered something I’d said to Twinkleshine. The ponies I took with me would become like family. I’d met Twinkleshine when she was still young and moldable, but Fluttershy was probably going to be this shy her entire life. She even seemed uncomfortable around Dash to some extent. Was I willing to put up with that?
Probably not. But then again, I could always just ignore her. There’d be somepony, Spike if nopony else, to keep her company, and I doubted she’d be offended or miserable if I didn’t talk to her often. Yes, this could work out just fine.
“Yeah, I–” A knock came on the door, and I quickly finished, “Come find me in Ponyville in a week or so, and I’ll introduce you to the job.”
“Twilight,” Cadance began, opening the door, “Hearth’s Warming Dinner is almost ready. Are you awa–” Gasping and backpedaling, Cadance asked, “Were you making friends?”
I sighed and chose to ignore her question. “This is Fluttershy and Rain–”
Somehow, the mare in question was already hovering right in front of Cadance. “Name’s Rainbow Dash.” She might have made the slightest of head nods in substitution for a bow. Then, extending a hoof, she added, “Nice to meet you, Princess.”
Cadance took the time to flash a grin toward me before turning her attention back to Dash. After bumping hooves, she said, “Hello, Rainbow Dash. It’s always a pleasant surprise to meet a friend of Twilight’s. And where did Fluttershy disappear to?”
I gestured behind my bed, and Cadance crossed the room to look at Fluttershy trembling behind it.
“Hello there, Fluttershy. I’m Princess Cadance. It’s very nice to…meet you… Hmm… Twilight? Is she…”
Shrugging, I said, “As far as I can tell, she has equinophobia and xenophilia.”
“Oh. That’s rather unfortunate.” Falling to the floor, Cadance stared straight at Fluttershy’s forehooves, which were covering her eyes.
And that was my cue to stop paying attention. Instead, I went to fetch Spike from the walk-in closet he’d wandered off into. Fortunately – very fortunately – he hadn’t set fire to anything. The only chaos he’d brought down upon Cadance’s rather extensive collection of clothing was getting caught in a sweater large enough for…Shining…
Huh. I’d never really noticed it before, but Cadance was still growing. How long would it take her to reach Luna’s height? Based on her age when she’d ascended, she likely had been fully grown as a normal pony. How much had she grown since I’d met her? A decimeter at most, I’d guess. That still left her with a long way to go.
Oh no. How long would it take me? I’d been having growing pains on occasion recently, and I did not look forward to having an extra four decades or more of them. Worse, Mom was short, which meant I’d probably be short. Would that make me take even longer?
Sigh… Well, as Luna had said, a finite pain in exchange for eternity was still a good deal, even if that pain would be incredibly annoying.
“Come on, Spike.” I said, spinning a giggling Spike out of the tangled mess he’d trapped himself in. “It’s supper time.”
I sat Spike down on my back. As I left, I said, “No, Spike. Supper.”
“If you behave, I’ll make you one later.” Diamonds were surprisingly easy for me to make. I’d once entertained the idea of crashing the gem market, but Luna had intervened and told me in no uncertain terms that I should not.
I left the closet, and to my great surprise, found Cadance chatting with Dash and Fluttershy like it was the most normal thing in the world. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve accused her of cheating by using her connection to love.
Waving me over, Cadance said, “Fluttershy has something she wants to tell you, Twilight.”
“Oh – um, yes. I, uh, thank you. For helping me, that is. You really didn’t have to, but–”
“You’re welcome,” I said, preempting the otherwise inevitable drivel that would’ve followed. I really didn’t want to listen to it again.
“Come on, Flutters,” Dash said, hovering in the air as always. Didn’t she ever get tired? “Let’s go find our parents. I’ve heard this Hearth’s Warming dinner thing is supposed to be amazing.”
“I wouldn’t say amazing,” Cadance said, “but the kitchen staff did work hard to make dinner for thousands. If you see any of them, please give them your thanks.”
“Will do,” Dash called back as she left the room with Fluttershy.
As soon as they were out of sight, Cadance’s smile sagged. What little smile I had myself disappeared.
“Hey,” called Dash, flying back into the room alone. “Really, Twi, thanks for your help. Fluttershy’s a real mess and needs a hoof or two to lead her with some stuff. So just, you know, thanks a lot.”
“I, uh…” Wow, was I knocked off balance. There was no way I could’ve expected Dash to say something like that, especially not so sincerely. “It’s – it’s no problem. Really.”
“Still, thanks again. And it was cool meeting you, too, Princess Cadance.”
Cadance smiled and waved a hoof as she watched Dash fly back out of the room. Still not looking at me, she said, “That was a very nice thing you did, Twilight. I’m proud of you.”
Sighing, I said, “It really wasn’t. It cost me nothing to tell her about the job.”
Indeed, it cost me nothing, and hopefully it would net me an animal specialist. An animal specialist who also happened to have some basic medical knowledge. Quite a catch, really. It was just my own needs incidentally making other ponies better off in the process.
“Perhaps,” Cadance said, “but it still wasn’t very dark of you.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a small smirk on Cadance’s face. A comment like that deserved my full attention.
“Ehem.” Cadance and I turned toward each other, and I let the usual dark flames flow from my eyes. “It really was nothing. You see, my summoned Tartarian demons get all testy when my virgin sacrifices turn out to be missing one of the prerequisites, and I figured that Fluttershy would be good to have around, just in case.”
“Oh dear. You know, Twilight, I don’t think sacrificing ponies is technically illegal. I can’t imagine Princess Celestia sitting down with her council and saying, ‘Hey, we need to outlaw sacrificing ponies to demons.’ It should sort of go without saying that you shouldn’t.”
“Hey, I always keep my sacrifices in pairs. If they really didn’t want to be sacrificed, all they have to do is…um…” Oh, this was awkward. Shining had walked in – well, limped in on three legs, supporting himself with his magic in place of the fourth – through the open door while I hadn’t been paying attention. I still couldn’t bring myself to properly look at the bandages covering Shining’s stub.
For her part, Cadance had shot Shining a concerned and reprimanding look before bursting into laughter. I could see how this would be funny from her perspective, but personally, I was more of a fan of situational humor when I wasn’t in the situation.
Shining started to facehoof, only to think better of it before his hoof had even reached his withers. He tried to hide it, but I saw his legs bending in the telltale sign of losing his balance, and I noticed a grimace flash through his face.
“Please tell me this isn’t going to be a regular topic of discussion in the future,” Shining said. “And please tell me dark magic doesn’t involve sacrifices of any kind.”
“It doesn’t,” I answered, remembering to turn off the dark fire I had going while Cadance continued to laugh.
“Well that’s good, I guess…” Shining sighed slowly and quite obviously deliberately. “Now if you’d be so kind as to lift whatever curse you’ve placed on Cadance, we should get to supper.”
I let my withers sag and worked up a sad filly pout. “I didn’t do anything to Cadance, Big Brother.” Pretending to wipe a tear out of my eye, I continued over Cadance’s redoubled laughter, “How could you even think something like that? Don’t you trust me? Don’t you love me anymore?”
“Wha – Twily, I didn’t mean – I know you didn’t – I – I’m sorry.”
Once I had gotten my own laugh in, I said, “I know, Shining. I’m just teasing.”
It was nice that we could pretend everything was normal like this. I had no clue what we were going to do to make things be normal again – hopefully it wouldn’t involve any yelling, passive aggressiveness, or fear of me and or Cadance – but this was good enough for now.
Not that we would be able to do that during the imminent dinner. Everypony who had no place to go was going to attend to eat, drink, and be merry, but only until the end. When it was over, Cadance was going to publicly take the blame and apologize for what I had done. Annoying and troubling, but there was nothing I could do about it; Cadance was dead set on this, and some kind of explanation was necessary for the public.
I sighed. At least it would be over and done with soon. Then the three of us could run off to Ponyville to spend time alone together. Smiling faintly, I couldn’t help but look forward to it.