Fluttershy found her eyes glued to the paper she was holding, her brain having difficulties coming to terms with the information it was receiving. Other letters lay abandoned around her hooves, outshone by a loud, purple envelope. She was compelled to keep reading in hopes of reaching the end of the letter and breaking its paralyzing spell.
“Oh.” The pony swallowed. “My.”
The ending signature made no attempt to prod the pegasus out of her stupor, choosing instead to hypnotize her further. Her mind fumbled for exactly what course of action would keep her from standing by her mailbox forever. The grass rustled while a squirrel scurried across the nearby lawn, stopping to cock its head at the living statue. Using her last thimble-full reserves of willpower, the mare managed to tear her eyes away from the letter just enough to stare back at the creature. The animal raised an eyebrow, shrugged, and continued along its path. Stirred, the mental floodgates opened, restoring full control of her faculties to the nervous pony, enabling her to gallop back to her house.
Coming to a halt inside her doorway, the pegasus suddenly realized she was holding the letter in her mouth. She was tempted to peer at it again to make sure it hadn’t changed to something more palatable in the last few seconds but she resisted, instead releasing it and watching it spiral lazily to the floor. A portion of her brain suggested a plan of running upstairs and seeking refuge under a bed, but the idea was quickly shoved down. In its stead she sat down in the middle of her living room and bit her bottom lip, her mind spinning. “Okay, Fluttershy, you can do this. Just weigh out your options.” The mare closed her eyes. “On one hoof, this is a big opportunity. On the other hoof, it’s a big commitment.” She waited for more pros and cons to hit her but instead her thoughts turned back into a swirling mass of confusion. “Oh, this isn’t helping.” She stamped her hooves on the floor.
A rapid tapping sounded in the doorway, signaling the presence of a bunny-- a bunny with narrowed eyes and crossed forelegs.
Being the closest thing with an ear, Fluttershy laid her thoughts bare. “Oh, Angel. I can’t make up my mind. I mean, it’s so far but it’s not too far, and I can stay in contact, but what about my animals? I’ll have to find someone to take care of you, and it can’t be Spike, I mean, he meant well but he just wasn’t up to the task. And… and… what about the help I do around Ponyville?”
The rabbit tuned the babbling equine out. He spotted the open letter sitting on the floor and made his way to it, maneuvering past aggravated movements as the Worrytron 3000 started making emphatic gestures. He shook his head and picked up the paper to read its contents.
Dear Miss Fluttershy,
I am the manager of a popular stage show in Manehattan-- The Mane Event.
“…And my cottage needs to be cleaned regularly. Oh, and my plants!”
We have recently come into the possession of a rare chimera.
“…She’ll need help! I’m always the one called when Sugarcube Corner’s in a bind.”
By rare we mean we had to get special approval from Celestia to present it in our show.
“…It’ll probably get me sick. I might have to turn around but then maybe they won’t be able to…”
Our usual animal handlers, however, proved inadequate in keeping the chimera orderly, much less entertaining. There was, how shall we say, a mishap that might have involved the eradication of the entire third row of the theater (no ponies were seriously harmed and neither was the chimera, we take good care of animals under our ownership, better care than our audience apparently).
“Do I know their customs? Maybe they do things differently in Manehattan. Maybe ‘hello’ means ‘goodbye.’ Oh…”
Word has reached us that you are one of the best in Equestria when it comes to soothing the savage beast, so I am offering you the invitation to come work for us as the chimera’s personal handler during our main season.
“…Well that seems easy to fix. I think. But, but…”
You will be well compensated (just don’t expect me to provide any health insurance).
“…So in conclusion, I can’t go because I don’t have the money to pay for travel or board.”
Looking up from the letter, Angel discovered that a yellow pony had somehow managed to wind up on its back in the middle of the living room. He frowned and walked over to the pegasus, waving the letter in front of her face. She shifted her head to the side to examine it.
“That’s the letter,” Fluttershy said.
The bunny brought the letter even closer to the mare’s face and pointed at the bottom paragraph.
P.S. It just occurred to me that you might not have bits falling out of your ears (though I’m sure our magician could arrange that if it be your fancy). Any extra expenses you might need help with I’d be happy to provide, including paying for your travel, room, and board.
It took a few seconds for the new information to register. The mare smiled weakly at Angel. “I suppose I should have read all of it.” Blushing, she started to stand up before pausing thoughtfully. "Well, I guess I’m going,” she said, letting the words linger in the air. “No, no, I am going,” she said with determination. A smile broke out. “This will be such an adventure.” Her mouth took a downturn. “Do you think I’m suited for adventures?” she asked Angel.
The bunny tossed the invitation. It lightly bounced off the pegasus's forehead. She winced and quickly started writing a reply.
The room fell silent as each of the ponies digested the news. Two eyes peered out from a length of pink mane, waiting for reactions.
“Fluttershy, that’s amazing! What an opportunity!” Twilight beamed.
“Hay yeah! Go and show those Manehattan ponies what a pegasus from Cloudsdale can do!” Rainbow Dash playfully punched the yellow pony in the shoulder, forcing her to flap her wings to keep from tipping over.
“So what exactly is your job?” Applejack asked.
Relieved that her friends were taking her decision so well, some of Fluttershy’s excitement crept back up. “Well, I’ll be in charge of teaching the Chimera how to do tricks, making sure it’s well taken care of, and giving it directions on stage.”
“That is so cool!” Pinkie jumped forward to quickly hug the pegasus. “You’ll have to invite us to one of your shows! And you need to go to a party! I’ve heard Manehattan has big-big-big parties! In fact, invite us to one of those, too!”
“Oh, Fluttershy, I’m just so proud.” Rarity sniffed. “You’ll be going to one of the biggest stages in Manehattan.” The unicorn’s voice cracked. “I’ll miss you.” She bit her bottom lip in attempt to hold herself together.
“Don’t worry, Rarity,” Pinkie said. “She’s only going to be gone for a few months. Well, unless they hire her permanently. She is really good. Then I guess she’ll be gone for years and years.”
The water level of Rarity’s eyes quickly rose. She shoved Pinkie out of the way and hugged Fluttershy in a vice-like embrace.
The earth pony righted herself and patted her sobbing friend on the shoulder. “It’s okay, Rarity. Fluttershy will write. Well,” she said, putting a hoof to her chin, “unless she’s too busy.”
A torrent of liquid splashed onto Fluttershy’s hooves. She would have attempted to back away, but she was too busy gasping for breath as the white forelegs wrapped around her neck tightened their grip.
Applejack rolled her eyes. “Uh, Pinkie, I think ya best keep the comforting to the rest of us.”
The party mare furrowed her brow. “What did I do wrong?”
“Okay, Rarity, I think Fluttershy’s gone without breathing for long enough.” Rainbow Dash forcibly pulled back the purple and white entrapment. It instantly switched targets, latching onto the rainbow maned pony, eliciting a groan. “You’re going to get my wings all wet.”
“You will write, won’t you?” Twilight asked.
“Yes.” Fluttershy gasped for air. “Of course I will.”
“So.” Applejack glanced at Rarity as she continued to saturate Rainbow Dash’s shoulder. “When exactly are ya leaving?”
“Well the letter I got today included a ticket for next week’s train.” Fluttershy averted her eyes from her friends as she realized just how short of an amount of time that was.
“What’s the matter?” asked Twilight.
“Well, it’s just… do you think ponies at Manehattan will be nice?”
“Oh, Fluttershy, you have nothing to worry about.” Twilight smiled reassuringly. "Those ponies are probably just as nice as the ones here in Ponyville."
“Twilight’s right, Fluttershy," said Applejack. "I remember my stay there as a little filly.” She smirked lopsidedly. “As long as you stay away from them nose-in-the-air ponies then the folks there are real nice.”
“Trixie will absolutely not have anypony stay with her! Trixie values her privacy and space, something she will have none of if some amateur ‘animal caretaker’ rooms with her!”
Trixie stared lightning bolts at her manager.
Big Entrance’s sunglasses callously absorbed the electricity directed its way. The unicorn tilted his head to throw a responding stare right back at the mare over his shades. “Listen, Trix, honey, she doesn’t have the money to get her own place.”
“You have the money to pay for her. No, there’s some other reason Trixie’s abode is about to be ransacked.”
The stallion sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ve heard she’s a… wallflower, so to speak. She’s gonna have a lot of ice that needs breaking. I figured rooming her with you would be good for her, you know, get her prepared for the life of the stage. After all you are…” He gestured with his hoof searchingly.
The mare turned to look at herself in the mirror. “The Queen of the Raised Platform? The Premiere Lady of Bedazzling Magic?”
"...An explosive personality,” finished Big Entrance, “Listen, Trix, I took you on my show because I liked your style. You had talent, yeah, but you also had that pride, you know? And you went from being small-time filly to one of my primary acts because of that. You, more than anypony, could make her a mare with presence.”
The magician closed her eyes and lifted her nose into the air. “Trixie has no desire to share her secrets.”
The stage manager’s tone grew harder. “Trix, babe, your pride is not a secret and I’m not giving you a choice. You’re taking her in. I could turn this into a big long discussion but I’m not.” He gave her another narrow look and left the room.
“Has a lot of ice,” Trixie mocked, “Trixie should break it.” She snorted. “Oh, Trixie can break it alright.” She paused as she actually registered her image in the mirror. Her nose scrunched up in the realization that her face was missing an essential element. “Peaches! Cream! Trixie needs her makeup!”
Two earth ponies with coats true to their names and manes directly opposite entered from a side curtain.
“So what was the talk with Big about?” Peach opened up her makeup kit and got to work.
It took most of her self-control for Trixie to remain still as she let her boiling blood be heard. “The foal feels the need to house the newcomer with Trixie! Can you believe the nerve?”
“The newcomer?” Cream spoke through the eyeliner brush she was holding. “You mean that pegasus mare?”
“The same. As if the she’s going to get that monstrosity of a creature to do anything but kill the audience.” Trixie snorted for the umpteenth time that day.
“I don’t know,” said Peach. “I’ve heard she’s really good with animals. Rumor has it she healed the Princess’s pet phoenix. Celestia came to Ponyville to seek her out.”
“I heard she single-hoofedly took down a dragon,” Cream said with awe. “It was terrorizing Ponyville before she put it in its place.”
“Trixie doesn’t believe a word of these rumors. Big told me she’s very shy. She’s probably one of those nervous types who is scared of their own shadow. Trixie, on the other hoof, has no fear.”
“Oh, I forgot, you defeated an Ursa-Major,” Peaches said under her breath, smiling.
“What?” The unicorn jerked her head to face the joking mare, causing Cream’s eyeliner to brush across her cheek.
The two makeup assistants traded looks and giggled while the stage pony let her facial expression clearly show how unamused she was at their behavior. Cream rolled her eyes. “Can you blame us for being interested in a new member of the team?”
“Are you talking about that Fluttershy filly?” Another earth pony, this one a brown and deep red colored stallion, pulled in a wheeled rack of costumes behind the trio.
“Who else, Hue?” asked Peaches. “She sounds interesting.”
“Did you know she was a model?” asked Hue while he rifled through his clothes rack. “She was in Fashion Equestria and Maremoiselle Magazine.” He whistled appreciatively. “She is quite the looker.”
Cream dabbed at the errant streak across Trixie’s face. “Of course you would know that.” She shook her head. “We were just talking about how she took down a dragon.”
Hue pulled out a star decorated cape and hat. “Wow, she can model and kick dragon flank? I think I’m in love with her already.”
“Enough!” Trixie yelled, glaring at her co-workers. “Trixie will hear no more of this ridiculousness.” The unicorn grabbed her costume and stalked out of the room.
This pegasus was already going to be a thorn in her side by living with her. If she had to hear another word of her exploits, she was going strangle the pony as soon as she arrived at her door.
Her hoof lingered in the air as Fluttershy mentally steeled herself. After a little self-coaxing, she plucked up the courage to knock on the door. She didn’t know why she was so nervous. Meeting a new pony would be… fun. She never would have met Twilight if she had just run away from all forms of pony contact. Besides, her friends had reassured her that she had nothing to worry about.
The door opened. An azure unicorn stared at her. The pegasus smiled. They held that pose for longer than she expected. For a split second there was a flash of violence in the unicorn’s eyes but just like that it was gone, leaving a wake of exasperation.
“The new animal handler, right?”
“Yes.” Fluttershy looked at the mare warily. “Is now a bad time? I can come back later.”
“No, no. Please.” Trixie forced the words out. “Come in.” She gestured inside.
The pegasus stepped inside the apartment. It struck her that she had never been in one before. It was awfully modern. The lack of sunlight and earthy themes bothered her but she supposed she could get readjusted. At least it was fairly roomy. She always did have a slight case of claustrophobia… and agoraphobia... and sciophobia... and…
“The Great and Powerful Trixie.” The magician proffered a hoof towards the fear-riddled pony.
With a swift kick to her worries, the yellow pony shook the hoof. “I’m Fluttershy. I don’t know if you remember me, we never really talked, but I’m a friend of Twilight’s. I saw your show when you came to Ponyville.”
“You’re a friend of Twilight?” A vein throbbed on Trixie’s forehead. There was a cough. “What Trixie means is… how interesting.” She opened her mouth, held it there for a few moments, and closed it. She motioned for Fluttershy to follow her farther into the apartment.
“Trixie will give you the ‘grand’ tour. This is the living room.” The unicorn gestured to a well furnished space to her right. Between its large sofa and well cushioned chairs it easily could have fit about eight ponies comfortably. The furniture encircled an object Fluttershy had never seen before. It was a cube with glass on the front of it. It had to be electric given she could see cords run from the back of it into an outlet.
“This is the kitchen.”
Peering into the adjoining room, the newcomer found a moderate sized table and every kitchen convenience to be expected: a microwave, a toaster, a coffee maker, an oven, and, the only appliance that looked well used, the refrigerator.
The unicorn led the way to a side hallway. “My room.” She pointed to her right.
Fluttershy eyed the panel graining on the closed door presented to her.
“And your room.” Further down the hall was a small bedroom. “This is where your… empty saddlebags go.” There was a raised eyebrow at her luggage.
“Oh, they have things in them. I just don’t need much.” The pegasus smiled, hoping her new roommate would appreciate that fact.
With a shrug the unicorn went silent, regarding her new roommate as if she was a stray animal she had no idea what to do with. “Trixie is having dinner.” She stalked away to the kitchen.
The guest room was a bare affair, but it was cozy, the only attribute Fluttershy really cared about in a room. She plopped her saddlebags onto her bed and stood in her room pondering. Now what? She supposed dinner sounded nice.
Trixie was hard at work reheating something in a microwave when the pegasus arrived. THe unicorn looked impatiently at the microwave before noticing the newcomer in the doorway. "Trixie would offer you some of this to eat but there’s only enough for one.” She smirked. “Though you are welcome to make something from what I have.”
“Oh, thank you,” Fluttershy said, thankful for the offer. She set about collecting various things throughout the kitchen. Her new roommate’s cupboards were filled with numerous items that seemed serviceable. Most of the base ingredients seemed hardly touched. She attempted to ask Trixie where most of the utensils and baking items were but she soon realized all she was going to get was a shrug or an “over there somewhere” and a wave of a hoof that encompassed most of the kitchen. Eventually, the unicorn just left the kitchen altogether. Fortunately, the pegasus managed to find all the items she needed on her own.
The yellow pony started humming to herself, getting into a rhythm. After the long train ride and the nervousness of entering a strange place she was ready to do something familiar. She was always making things for herself and her animals back at home; there was something relaxing about it. Pinkie might be considered the ‘baker’ amongst her friends, but Pinkie's specialty was sweets. Fluttershy, however, specialized in wholesome meals. After all, a lot of animals didn’t need sugar, or at least that’s what she had to constantly remind Angel.
Soon enough, Fluttershy had produced a nice batch of buttered rolls, a pleasantly steaming casserole, and a side of boiled green beans.
“Did you manage to make anything edible yet?” Trixie called out as she made her way back into the kitchen. She stopped in her tracks as she eyed her kitchen table.
The creator of the feast smiled. “What do you think? I usually mix several different greens when I make my casseroles but all you had was clovers. I think it still turned out pretty well.”
The unicorn glanced at her cupboards and then back to her food-laden table. “Was all of this in Trixie’s kitchen?”
“Mm-hm. Do you want any?”
She shouldn’t have taken it. It was wrong. It was taking handouts from the enemy. An enemy who not only was taking up space in her living quarters but was also a friend of that no-good Ponyville unicorn. But… It was… It was just so good. She had a whole plate full of the homemade food. Trixie winced. Two whole plates. The unicorn grumbled and shifted in her bed to look at the ceiling in shame.
Was it her fault she never learned to cook? It was never a skill that she needed, what with prepackaged foods and carryout. And restaurants. Restaurants that didn’t compare with that delicious—
The blue pony closed her eyes and turned to her side. Enough was enough. She would think about her moment of weakness no longer.
“She did what?” Trixie’s hat fell off as she backed up suddenly and stared at the pony in front of her.
Ivy, the mare in charge of the stage prep crew, was wide-eyed as she explained to Trixie. “She got the Chimera to eat out of the palm of her hoof! Can you believe it? With just two hours before the show she had it ready to perform in front of the public! Not only that, it enjoyed it! I don’t think I’ve ever seen all of its heads smile at once before.”
“That cannot possibly true. That beast has been eternally bad-tempered.” The magician frowned.
“I saw it with my own eyes before I went and did my performance. Wait, I think she’s coming,” Ivy exclaimed.
Fresh from her glorious victory on the battlefield of the stage with an almost visible glow about her, Fluttershy walked into the two mares’ backstage room followed by a throng of other ponies, with the majority of them carrying cameras and shouting out questions.
“Please, please everypony, take your snappers out of this room and inhale your questions. I know the performance blew your socks off but hold out a bit, huh?” Big Entrance ushered the media out of the room.
That only removed half of the crowd. The other half consisted entirely of Trixie’s co-workers.
“How did you get it to blow flames like that?”
“You have to let me in on how you got it to recite Shakesmare!”
“My favorite part was when you got it to shoot arcs of lightning that flashed just over the audience’s heads!”
The all-powerful animal handler blushed the entire time, her head bowed. “Oh it was nothing. It’s really a wonderful creature. It did most of the work.”
“Nonsense, sister. That was one mane-sizzling performance back there. When you said you thought it was ready to perform I was about to say you would have to pay for the carcasses, but crumb did you prove me wrong. And here I thought you would have ice that needed breaking. Ha! Trixie,” Big Entrance said nonchalantly, turning to the speechless unicorn, “you’re fired.”
“Wha?” Trixie felt her eyes approach maximum widening.
“We only got room for one big performance, babe. You’re out, the Wonder Beast and Miss Flutter is in.” The stallion put his hoof around Fluttershy. “Yeah, and that apartment will be going to her as well.”
Her jaw might have hit the floor. Trixie couldn’t tell with the numbness that was overtaking her. A blindingly bright yellow pony approached the unicorn. “It’s okay, Trixie, you can still stay with me. In fact,” she looked at Big Entrance sadly. “Are you sure she can’t still work here? I don’t want to cause anypony to be fired.”
The stage manager twisted the side of his mouth and stood there silently. He sighed. “Alright, alright, I guess we can keep her, but it’ll be a smaller gig. Trix, you had better not forget that Fluttershy here is to thank for your continued employment.”
The magician thought she was about to choke. Her co-workers didn’t seem to notice.
“Isn’t she so nice?”
“Oh wow, kills dragons, models, twists exotic creatures around her hoof, and she’s a sweetheart.”
“You should be so grateful, Trixie!”
Fluttershy went to pat the quivering unicorn on the head. “We can even swap places every other day if you like.”
The blue mare spluttered but was incapable of getting a coherent word out.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you Trixie.” Fluttershy embraced her roommate in a big hug.
Trixie screamed at the top of her lungs.
The covers flew up into the air as Trixie jumped up from her bed. She stared unblinkingly at the wall in front of her as she panted heavily. The air conditioner kicked on and blew across the cold sweat on her forehead causing her to shiver. She had never had a nightmare as bad as the Ursa Major one… until now. The unicorn swallowed. No, it was worse than that dream. Stupid, pegasus. Stupid, stupid, stupid, pegasus.
The magician let her brain run over this mantra until she settled down. She managed to ease back down to sleep, eager to wake up and prove that things would happen differently in reality.
Ivy’s words turned into a distant echo as her figure became blurry.
No, no, no, no, no…
“Trixie? Trixie, are you in there?” A tan colored face shoved itself into Trixie’s personal space.
The unicorn carefully upturned the sides of her mouth and blinked. “Trixie apologizes, but she thinks she might have misheard you. Just, um, just what did you say?”
“I asked if you saw Fluttershy’s performance out there? She actually got the chimera to perform on her first day on the job.” Ivy beamed. Trixie’s eye twitched. “Where were you anyway?”
“Trixie was getting ready for her encore act,” the magician said distantly.
“Oh, well you got off the hook. Fluttershy took that spot.”
The blue pony started drifting into a faraway land. “Trixie sees that,” she whispered.
“Um,” Ivy tilted her head, “are you okay?”
“That was something, Shy, some-thing. Better than I could even hope for. I’m so glad I got you on board.” Big Entrance’s voice carried as he and Fluttershy walked into the backstage room. “Little suggestion, though, let’s see if we can work on not hiding from the audience quite so much. They want to see the handler just as much as the beastie. Especially if it’s a pretty, young thing like you.” The stallion winked.
Fluttershy’s face looked like it was going to burn off from her blushing. She quickly went from hiding most of her face to hiding all of it behind her mane.
“Trixie!” The manager made his way to the catatonic unicorn. “Great performance as usual. Uh, can I see you over here for a second?” He motioned to the far side of the room.
It took a few seconds for the mare to navigate her way back to reality. She nodded. Her hoofsteps were slow as she followed her manager to privacy.
“Phew, where to begin?” Big Entrance shook his head, his spiky black mane somehow staying perfectly intact. “Okay, it’s like this. Envision a flower. It’s a nice flower. A beautiful royal garden specimen. I mean it’s a real paragon of plant life. Probably imported. Now let’s say that you’re a nice pony and you want to share its beauty to your neighbors, so you open your garden to the public. Well all the eager ponies gather round your flower and... it wilts. Right there then and there. Deader than a coffin nail. I mean, it’s a such a beautiful thing but it simply can’t handle an audience. Fortunately you know that flower has it in it somewhere so you set about hiring a gardener, one who has proven herself in the halls of the great green hooves. You get this gardener to nurture this lovely plant into one that can truly shine and bloom to its viewers.”
“Is this allegory going to end anytime soon?” asked Trixie. Her mind was still in a haze and was having a hard time portraying all the images being thrown at it.
“Fine, look, you’re the hired gardener. I mean, did you see Flutter’s performance? She got that chimera to do more than her predecessors ever did, sure, but she was jittery, un-confident, and she had absolutely no presence. You’re going to have to do more than just rub your talent off on her. Starting tomorrow I want you to actively give her some lessons. We’ve got the cake but we are in sore need of some icing.”
“Wait, is Fluttershy a flower or a cake?”
“Hey, don’t mix my metaphors. Just double-time this whole ice-breaking thing.”
“So... Trixie is breaking the cake’s icing?”
Big Entrance narrowed his eyes. “If this is an objection, then I’m hearing none of it. It’s not hard to understand. Just... do your thing.”
Her mind having finally returned to its full capacity, Trixie saw there was no way out of the arrangement. She sighed resignedly. What Big Entrance wanted he always got at some point or other. Fortunately, there was a comforting side. Her manager didn’t just fire her and replace her with Fluttershy, proving that she hadn’t suddenly developed any prophetical powers.
The unicorn turned to look at Fluttershy who was having a conversation with Ivy. They seemed to be enjoying each others' company.
The magician ground her teeth. Trixie wouldn’t let it happen. She would keep her job. She would keep her spot as the primary show. She would be the better mare.
The stage pony suddenly envisioned Fluttershy’s wings transforming into crimson claws, her tongue grew forked, and her eyes turned an eerie green as she grinned evilly at Ivy.
That sinister pony was now her nemesis.