Most equestrian magic users have a very good clock in their heads. The sun and the moon are powerful magical bodies and their influence can always be felt. If you know where the celestial orbs are positioned, then you must know the time. It’s just a matter of accuracy and experience. Because of the nature of my earth magic, I’m proud to say that my magical clock is very accurate. Celestia knows, I don’t have a lot else to crow about.
I knew, instinctively, that I had spent less than 20 minutes asleep before I was awoken by a pounding at my caravan door.
‘Can’t a pony catch a break? Ugh, it feels like every muscle in my body has been liquified.’
I was so tired and discombobulated that I made a crippling mistake. 3 years on the road and I had always been careful. I had always locked the caravan door and kept the tools of my trade well hidden. It worked to enhance the mystery of my stage persona but it also acted as a precautionary measure against anypony sticking their nose too far into my business.
Tonight the fatigue had made me careless. The door was not latched.
I responded around a yawn without pausing to think. “Yes, what is it?”
My visitor took that as permission to open the caravan door. It was the librarian. “Look, I know that it’s late but I really need to talk with you about...” She stopped dead halfway through the door, her mouth open.
It took me a good half second to realise what was wrong. My hat and cloak were in the corner of the room. She could see everything. ‘Oh, horseapples. I am so sprung. Damage control! Quickly!’
Cool, calm and collected. Act like nothing is wrong. “Please, young Miss. Would you come in and close the door?”
She was looking me up and down and she was certainly not admiring my physique. I could almost see the callipers in her eyes measuring me up.
Seemingly satisfied with her appraisal, she spoke: “The distance between your shoulders is too great and your ribcage is the wrong shape. Your eyebrow ridges are wrong and so is the shape of the top of your skull. Your flank is wrong too.”
Well that was different. I lifted an eyebrow. “My flank is ... wrong? What don’t you like about it?” I gave the offending flank a serious look.
She coloured up in a delightful way. Well, it would have been delightful under other any other circumstances than these.
She stammered through a sudden blush “I, It’s not a matter of personal preference. It’s wrong for a unicorn. Everything about you is wrong.” She stepped forward into my personal space and lowered her brow. “You’re an earth pony. This explains a lot. Especially...” Her gaze slid upwards towards my conspicuously hornless head.
I offered her a wide pie-eating smile “Yes, I guess it does. Now would you care to close that door?”
The mauve mare rested on a cushion in my caravan, her legs folded primly under her body in a businesslike manner, her saddle bags leaning against the cupboard next to her. They had made a heavy ‘thunk’ noise when she had set them down.
Those lavender eyes were drilling holes through me again. She took a sip of hot chocolate and levitated a doughnut from the proffered box.
“Pony Joe’s doughnuts?” I haven’t tasted these since the night of the Gala! Fresh too! Oh, I see... You’ve enchanted the box.” She squinted at the box like a carpenter assessing a dubious chair at a yard sale. I could see those mental callipers at work again.
She seemed satisfied with her scrutiny. “Proudmane’s Produce Protector. Nice work. It’s hard to use that spell without altering the taste of things. Food always seemed to come out tasting like almonds when I used it. I usually go for a temporal spell instead like Starswirl’s Super Specific Spherical Slowage.”
I shrugged off the mild compliment. I certainly did not want to talk about my magic or Starswirl the Bearded and his maniacally difficult and twitchy spells. I decided to derail the conversation a little with some gossip. “You attended the last Grand Galloping Gala? I heard it was a fiasco.” ‘And you look way too young to be invited to the GGG. Daughter of some figure of nobility perhaps?’
Something was tickling in the recesses of my memory. I realised that I knew this unicorn from somewhere, or at least knew of her. Was she a minor celebrity of some sort?
“Oh, yes. It kinda was..” She looked sheepish for a moment. “The Princess invited my friends and I because she thought it would lighten the mood a little... but things got out of hand. She wasn’t angry though, she said she had more fun at the last Gala than any other.”
A dreadful suspicion was forming in my mind. “You were invited by Princess Celestia herself?”
She beamed. “I’m her personal student!” she proudly proclaimed.
‘Oh sweet bucking Celestia’s rosy flanks, no...’ “You’re Twilight Sparkle.”
There was no way now I that could just throw this young mare out if she became a problem. She had the ear of the Princess and had to be handled carefully. Travelling performers who displeased nobility or their hangers-on could find themselves without permits for working the big cities. Or harassed by the Guard, something I could Ill-afford.
She giggled. “I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce myself didn’t I? I get so caught up in things sometimes I forget little social niceties like that. Like when I find a good mystery, especially one that is relevant to my personal studies.” She narrowed her gaze. Her scrutiny made me feel like I was a test subject in a lab.
I began to sweat, just a little.
Twilight Sparkle... she was an infamous item of gossip amongst the academy’s cognoscenti. The day she had left Canterlot for good you could almost feel a wave of relief pass through the school. There had been a betting pool on how long it would take before she accidentally levelled the city. Of course, you had to be alive after such an event to collect your money, which made it all a bit whimsical.
The rumour mill said that she had already nearly destroyed her new hometown twice.
The town I was in right now!
I had to be sure. “You are the same Twilight Sparkle that blew the roof off the training hall on your entrance exam?”
She recoiled a little. “Do they still talk about that? I was just a little filly... I couldn’t control my magic at all back then.”
Twilight’s explanation did not help me feel any more at ease. Her power could only have increased since then. Although the official story was that she had been sent out to do field research, some said around the academy that she was exiled from Canterlot by Princess Celestia for being too dangerous for such a populated area.
My magic was thoroughly depleted now, rather than float the pot over to refill our cups I turned away to reach for it physically. I felt a tendril of magic behind me. There was a soft ‘pop’ followed by Twilight’s startled “Oops..”
I turned back with the pot hanging from my mouth and froze. Twilight’s horn was in the doughnut box, several brightly coloured iced doughnuts were stuck to it’s surface dripping liberal amounts of jam. As my mouth fell open the pot dropped to the floor. Her predicament was amusing but not entirely the cause of my shock. My eyes were glued to her cutie mark.
Cutie marks can tell you a lot about a pony. I guess that is what the royal sisters intended when they devised the system all those thousands of years ago.
Those ponies gifted with strong magic will usually have a star as part of their mark, often juxtaposed with some hint of the field in which their strongest magic lies. My mark was a star and a lodestone marking me as a geomancer, an earth pony who is good at locating wells, measuring the depth of the water table or feeling the right spot to place the foundations of a building, that sort of thing. That’s about as magical as earth ponies get. Usually.
Twilight’s cutie mark was frankly terrifying. A huge red star with entirely too many rays was placed centrally, denoting enormous power. This star was flanked on all sides by smaller stars, probably showing an ability to master any field of magic and to do so with crushing force. I swear the only pony I have ever seen with a larger central star was Princess Celestia herself with her majestic golden sun cutie mark. And why the hay was Twilight’s central star an evil looking red?
Twilight coughed. “Hey, my eyes are over here.”
I realised that I had been staring wide eyed at Twilight’s rump for far too long to offer a convenient explanation.
“Um, I - ah - was just looking at your cutie mark.”
Twilight rolled her eyes a little. Every mare, and not a few colts have heard that a hundred times. Or perhaps she was just looking in exasperation at her horn, which was covered in frosting. I hoofed her a cloth from my cupboard.
BIushing a little, I inspected the doughnut box. Watching Twilight trying to clean her sticky horn was considerably more disquieting than being caught staring at her cutie mark. “You’ve destroyed the stasis spell around the doughnuts.”
“It was an accident." She grumbled, her attention focused on the serious business of clearing jam from inside the ridges of her horn.
I was most certainly not catching glances of the whole intriguing process in the reflection of the caravan's window.
"It’s a more succinct version of the spell than the one I have stored in the library. I was trying to unravel a little of it to study its structure but it exploded.” She frowned a little. “It shouldn’t have done that. The structure of the spell was all scrambled. It felt like it was cast by four different unicorns at once.”
‘Uh oh. That’s striking too close to home. Change the subject!’
Suddenly, I had a truly brilliant idea. I could have a little fun and ensure that this inquisitive mare would be in no state to meddle any further with my person or my property.
“Well Miss Sparkle, I’m out of magic and you don’t know the spell so there is only one thing we can do now.”
I hoofed two plates from the cupboard and began to divide the untidy pile of remaining doughnuts between them. “These will be stale by tomorrow.”
Her eyes widened as I placed a plate of 23 of Pony Joe’s finest in front of her and another in front of me. “Are you serious?”
“Are you saying Princess Celestia’s personal prodigy can’t hold her doughnuts?" I affected a snobbish nose-tilt worthy of the most inbred nobility Canterlot could offer. "I thought you were a graduate of the Canterlot Royal Magical Academy. This village must be making you soft.” I gave her a suitably evil leer over the intimidating pile as I filled her cup from the rescued pot of chocolate.
Twilight hardened her gaze. “Oh, a challenge. I practically lived at Pony Joe’s. It. Is. On.”