The dim, almost nonexistent light of the early morning sifted through the large window that composed most of the wall of the front room of Twilight’s library, but it gave no more illumination than the pony eye’s bare requirements for navigation. It was dark, almost comfortably so, but reading would’ve been impossible if not for the red glow of a certain librarian’s horn. She had been instructed by Spike to sit still on the rug in the center of the room, but she had simply grown restless over time, and had resorted to her usual habit of skimming through books. She normally did this simply to pass the time, but this time around, she was looking for something.
She shivered, her avian limbs twitching as her assistant slathered a clawful of antibiotic gel onto her back and gently rubbed it along the length of the wound. Regardless of his medical prowess, it had become infected. The bandages Spike had previously wrapped around the laceration had slipped off during the night, exposing the injury to the open air and the most-likely-not-very-clean surface of Twilight’s bed. It stung. Thankfully, the pain was slowly burning away as the surface nerves of her back were tranquilized by the gel.
“It’s not going to heal very fast at this rate...” Spike commented, pressing the transparent gooey substance into the purple pony’s withers. He wore thick gloves so the gel wouldn’t numb his claws, and thought it would be amusing to wear a doctor’s mirror on his head. “You really should go to the hospital...”
Twilight looked over her shoulder and shook her head vehemently. “No, everypony will see me. And I’m busy right now!” she growled, telekinetically grabbing another book off of a nearby bookshelf and skimming through it. She was holding nearly three dozen titles already, searching for a certain passage that she had stumbled across the previous night. It was... something that could explain what was happening to her, with her wings. It was in a book on magical theory, explaining exactly how a unicorn’s magic worked, and the tome contained... something that might elaborate her current situation. She couldn’t recall what it had said -- she had not paid much attention to the books she skimmed the night previous. But... It had to be here somewhere.
She dragged more books off of the shelves. ‘It has to be here,’ she thought to herself. She merely glanced at the titles, skimming through each one before moving on to the next, her horn shining with increasing intensity as she simultaneously manipulated more and more hardcovers. The red light of her horn easily overpowered the dim light of the morning and bathed the room in a crimson glow, the bookshelves casting shadows on the walls behind them.
“Where is it?!” she hissed to herself, flicking her gaze back and forth at each of the books that passed by her face. She grunted with frustration, and pulled more off of the shelves, moving them around haphazardly in search of the one passage that would answer all of her questions.
“Twilight, stop!” Spike shouted, leaping into the air to grab one of the floating books in the hurricane of tomes flying about the library. He yelled as he was relentlessly flicked back and forth by the title he gripped.
“No, I know it’s here! I... I saw it somewhere!” the mare replied, frantically whipping her head back and forth as she psychically manipulated every book in her library, along with multiple pieces of furniture. “I know it’s here!”
The dragon yelped as the book he held onto for dear life was flicked in front of his older sister, who telekinetically opened it and read fervently. He cautiously peeked over the top of the hardcover, observing Twilight as she focused intently, before her purple eyes snapped up to meet his. He gulped. “Twilight, calm down! What are you looking for?”
“C... Calm down!? I’m not worked up!” she shouted in reply, whipping her wings out for a moment to assert her proclamation. She snapped the book closed, causing her assistant to let go and fall to the floor on his rear. ‘I know I saw it somewhere. It was... It was in...’
“Yes you are, Twilight,” Spike insisted, gazing at the pieces of furniture floating amidst the books, which included one two-hundred-pound bookcase. “Just release your magic. Put everything down.”
“NO!” the filly barked at her assistant, her eye twitching slightly as she panted. “I know it’s here, and I’m going to find it!”
The young dragon simply stared up at her as he was bathed in the red light of her shining horn. “Twilight. Calm, down,” he slowly dotted.
The frustrated pony gave a strained growl in response, her wings twitching erratically as a few strands of her mane sprung out of place. “I’m FINE, Spike,” she snarled through grit teeth, her irises constricted. “I WILL find that book!”
He retreated slightly -- the deep red glow of his older sister’s horn gave her features an almost hellish visage. The two locked eyes for a few creepingly slow seconds, before Twilight twitched and collapsed with a painful grunt, dropping her head into her hooves and letting the glow on her horn fizzle out. She lay there, panting for a few moments, letting the hundreds of books around her clatter to the floor in a auditory swarm of dull thuds. They were soon accompanied by two loud BANGS as the heavy bookshelves floating among them crashed into the floor and left damaged indents in the paneling.
She felt two scaly wrists gently rubbing her temples, and lifted her head slightly, gazing at her considerate little brother. He seemed to know that she liked the pressure points on her head to be stimulated. He always did it when she was overcome with stress.
“Twilight... You need to stop overexerting yourself. When you use that much magic, you always get frustrated, and you always...” he trailed off, beckoning her to lift her head higher.
Twilight frowned. Her assistant was right; She very often did absent-mindedly overwork her magic with her wild multitasking. And this time, just like all the others, her mind felt like a wet match afterwards. She looked at a nearby book, her horn glowing again as she picked it up and brought it to her. But, before she was able to read it, the small dragon slapped it away from her and poked her horn with one of his clawtips.
“No. You can read more later. Right now, we need to take you to the hospital to have that wound treated,” he insisted, pushing her head backwards a few inches.
The winged unicorn whimpered sadly, her ears folding behind her head as she stared up at her housemate with pleading violet eyes. “No... Please, Spike...” she begged. The Ponyville hospital was undeniably the best place for her to receive treatment, but for the doctor ponies to work on her back, they would have to see her wings. And the only thing worse than ponies finding out about her in public, was ponies being told that she was ‘discovered’ in a hospital. That would send out the ‘freak’ message more than anything.
“Well... We could go and visit Fluttershy, if you wanted... But I still think you should go to the hospital. That wound’s only going to get worse,” Spike warned, taking his finger off of her horn.
Twilight buried her face in her hooves again, groaning to herself. Fluttershy...? Another friend she would have to explain herself to? After what happened with Rarity and Dash... No, the yellow pegasus was more sensitive than that. She did take care of injured animals, after all. But... still, how would she react? Would it be problematic? Would she be... scared? The lavender spellcaster wasn’t exactly normal any more, and the animal caregiver most certainly wasn’t the bravest pony in Equestria.
She shivered to herself. Her assistant was right; the wound on her back was only going to get much worse as time passed. It was a large laceration, and her muscle tissue was very much exposed to the open air. Most likely, she would soon become very sick from a contact virus, at which point a trip to the hospital would be inevitable. She needed medical help, and she needed it soon.
She had two choices: She could either go to the hospital, or pay a visit to a close friend who... just might not pay her wings any mind. Her thoughts drifted to how Applejack had acted the previous night. The farm filly didn’t even know about her wings for a fact, and yet... she was still concerned. Worried, even. But not shocked. Even though the applebucker had only heard mere rumors about Twilight’s changes, she only wished to help, just in case they were true. It was as if AJ knew how her friend was going to feel about her not-hypothetical developments.
Maybe... Maybe having another friend who knew wouldn’t be such a bad thing? Despite Rarity’s initial reaction, she seemed to view the violet mare the same as she did before, more or less... And the way that Applejack had attempted to comfort her the night before had made her realize just how... how alone she had made herself. Twilight had come to rely on her friends for just about everything, even if it was just a hoof on her shoulder and a friendly smile, and no matter the problem, she always knew who to turn to. But when she forced herself to keep something a secret, and felt that not even her friends could understand, then... who did she have left?
The scaly, comforting touch of Spike’s hand on the side of her head snapped her away from her thoughts. She slowly peered up from the polished wooden floor to see Spike gazing down at her, concern emanating from his slitted green eyes. “Twilight... It’s just Fluttershy. She’ll help,” he began, a warm, encouraging smile spreading across his face. “You might as well show her your wings now. She’s going to find out eventually.”
The purple filly turned away, grumbling. Why did social situations have to be so hard? She wasn’t a very social mare. She had been... very isolated from the rest of the world for most of her childhood. She didn’t know how to explain something like this. She groaned and placed her front hooves on top of her head. Ponies were unpredictable. Her mind worked in a mathematical way -- every situation was supposed to have a certain set of outcomes that could possibly happen, and she always thought she could predictably control the outcome of an event by changing the circumstances. That worked with scientific formulas, and astronomical studies. It didn’t work with ponies.
Fluttershy... The pegasus was shy, as was her namesake, but... she would be fine with seeing Twilight, right? She just... she just had wings now. It didn’t mean anything. Would Fluttershy think it meant something? Would she think it meant she was a... a... a princess, like Rarity did?
The lavender pony shook her head vigorously, before gripping it with both hooves, her eyes shut tight, her teeth clenched. ‘No,’ she asserted to herself. ‘I’m not a princess. I don’t run this country. I don’t manage the sun. I don’t solve the nation’s problems. I’m not royalty. I’m not even upper-class. I’m... I’m just a pony. Just because I look like a princess doesn’t mean I am one. I’m just a pony.
‘A winged pony with disproportionally powerful magic, who probably could move the sun if she wanted to. Stop lying to yourself. You have a horn and wings. Who else has a horn and wings? All the data only points to one thing. You know it’s true, miss I’m-Not-a-Princess,’ her own voice whispered to her from the back of her head.
Twilight’s eyes snapped wide open, her irises constricting as a fire alighted in her lungs. “NO!” she screamed at the floor, startling Spike with the sheer volume of her outburst.
“Twilight!?” he exclaimed, approaching the whimpering filly. “W-what happened!? What is it!?”
“Shut up... Shut up... Shut up...” she whimpered, as if each word served as another punch to beat the voice back into the dark trench it crawled out from. That voice... It was her own. That one side of her that always whispered to her the things she didn’t want to hear, a hypothetical sadistic grin carved into its purple face. It was always there, always watching, always laughing.
Her body convulsed and released a sharp gasp as she felt her assistant’s scaly hand touch her cheek, her wings flaring up in self-defense.
“Twilight, what’s gotten into you?” He asked, concerned.
The purple pony blinked several times, before giving a miserable glance to the dragon in front of her. She removed her hooves from her head and placed them on the floor, her purple eyes steadily drifting downward from Spike to the rug she sat on. An upset frown spread across her muzzle. If all of this was exactly what it seemed, if she really was an alicorn, she didn’t want to be placed in a royal position of power. She didn’t want to oversee the nation, or raise the sun, or... whatever else it was alicorns did. She wanted her life to stay the same.
She cast a glance behind her, glaring at the feathered appendages on her back. ‘You don’t define who I am,’ she thought harshly at them, as if they could understand her. They seemed to sag with dismay. She tore her gaze away from them and looked at her assistant again, her expression somewhere in-between angry and upset.
“Spike... I...” she muttered, disheartened. Every explanation she’d explored had always pointed back to the same answer, regardless of how much she wanted one to say something different, anything different. She couldn’t be an alicorn. She... she just couldn’t be. It had to be something else. A mutation, perhaps? No... That would have made sense if she had possessed her feathered aeronautical limbs from birth, that maybe her parents had given her a strange amalgamation of unicorn and pegasus genes, or perhaps a dual phenotype, but she had acquired her wings over the course of one night. It definitely wasn’t due to natural causes. Something happened. But... What was it?
Twilight’s eyes drifted over to another book on the wooden floor. Using her magic to bring it to her, she flipped the cover and began to read. Spike soon took it away from her, however.
“Twilight... You’re not gonna find your answer in these books,” he commented, setting the tome aside. His eyes, green as polished emeralds, seemed to glint in the dim light. He turned and walked to a desk on the far side of the room, his footsteps pattering softly across the floor, before he grasped a tall white candle resting on a nightstand. He inhaled, before blowing a small wisp of green flame to light the wick. Now a source of gentle, flickering emerald light, he brought the candle back to his older sister and sat down in front of her, placing it on the floor.
The light illuminated the winged pony’s distraught face, the purple fur on her visage casting small, jagged shadows and giving her a somewhat rugged look. She drew what little comfort she could from the tiny flame. “I don’t want to go anywhere today, Spike...” she whimpered. “Can’t I just stay here? Where... Where nopony can see me?” She swallowed. “I... I...” she stuttered, trembling, staring at the floor. She didn’t feel like inevitably slipping up and revealing herself to the public today. But, the wound on her back... She needed medical treatment. She didn’t have a choice. Fluttershy’s house was far away, but at least she lived in a rather unpopulated area of Ponyville. Actually, ‘unpopulated’ was an understatement -- the yellow filly was the the only resident, if you didn’t count all of the wildlife.
Spike wiped a lone tear from the mare’s cheek with an index claw. “Twilight... You can just wear that dress of yours, right?” he pointed out, giving a reassuring smile. “Nopony will see your wings.”
“I... Okay...” she conceded, blinking at her friend.
Spike stood up, exiting the room and leaving Twilight to stare at the gentle, flickering green flame. While water had always calmed the scientist, its elemental opposite, fire, had always intrigued her. It was always changing, never the same. She intently watched the dancing blaze, observing how it flicked this way and that, forever changing form. She could stare at an open flame for ages. It was just so... interesting. Sometimes she wished she knew a spell to conjure a conflagration, to ignite an object, just so she could study the ever-changing pattern on a large scale. But, such a spell was most likely locked away somewhere, kept hidden from the public because of how potentially destructive it could be. Spells intended solely to hurt other ponies were not taught at magic schools, were shelved in no libraries, were shrouded from the scouring eyes of anypony and anything. Fire had uses other than that, but not in large amounts.
Fire was just superheated gas. Twilight fantasized about setting a large object ablaze by simply heating the air around it with her magic until it ignited, but when logic stepped in and questioned how much energy that would require, she relinquished the thought. She never bothered to learn or develop an advanced enkindling spell -- she had Spike. She was capable of lighting candles with her magic, but the spell she used for it was designed to work in a small area only, and her assistant usually took care of large-scale operations such as lighting campfires.
The dragon soon returned, the robe that Rarity had designed for the self-conscious mare in tow. “Here you go,” he said as he held it to the pony, who took it gratefully with her psychokinesis.
She stood up and unfolded the garment, before slipping it on and buttoning the clasp with a slight amount of difficulty. Was it just her, or was the cloak... tighter? It didn’t feel like it fit right. It might have just been the fact that it was early in the morning; the skin under her fur always felt dry when she woke up, and made all surfaces feel uncomfortable. She shifted to slide the fabric into a more natural position, but it wouldn’t move. The cloak felt snug around her wings, instead of comfortably loose, and squeezed the appendages just a tad. Did it shrink? She twisted her neck to look at her side, and gaped when she spotted the faint bulge of a wing. Had Spike washed it? It wasn’t even dirty! And now... now it almost didn’t hide her wings at all!
She made a mental note to berate him for it later, but right now she really didn’t feel like giving a lecture. She simply gripped the garment again and hastily pulled it off of her, giving a pained yelp as she accidentally yanked her wings forward. “Ow!”
The small dragon flinched at her vocalization and ran to her side, but Twilight tried to reassure him with a pained smile.
“I’m okay, Spike... I don’t want to wear the robe, though. I’ll just... cast an invisibility spell,” she stated, beginning to filter magic into her horn. This time, she wouldn’t jeopardize the incantation by sprinting to her destination. But she still had to be careful -- one bump from a pony, and the sorcery would shatter like a glass window. She hoped to Celestia that Ponyville wasn’t as bustling as it was yesterday. She could barely get around before, and she didn’t have her cloak this time, so a dense crowd would probably doom her.
The magic flowed faster than it did previously -- before she knew it, she had enough for the spell. Unfortunately, upon trying to cast the illusion, she found it difficult to activate. ‘Come on...’ she thought, shutting her eyes as her horn sparked with unapplicated energy.
After a few seconds of searing heat in her horn, the spell ignited, and the wings on her back faded out of the visible spectrum. She exhaled raggedly, and her knees buckled, almost dropping her to the floor. Her magic had been acting up all morning. Yesterday, it had felt incredibly weak, and today, it felt... It felt unworkable. It was strong; she could feel it surging through her like hot water, perhaps even stronger than it was previously, but when she tried to form it into a spell, it just wouldn’t co-operate. It felt... different. Almost like its fundamental properties had changed. She felt as if she was inexperienced with it, because she couldn’t effectively use it. She knew it was hers... It felt like hers... It was just different, somehow. It was like an apple pie and an apple fritter. They both tasted somewhat like apples, but didn’t quite taste the same.
She shook her head gently. ‘Now I’m thinking about food...’ Her stomach growled in approval, having apparently been awakened at the concept of nourishment. She hadn’t been hungry that morning, oddly. Spike had even cooked a meal for her, but she had politely denied when it was offered, instead choosing to search through her library for the passage she had glossed over the night previous.
“...Oh, are you hungry now?” the dragon asked. “I can go get the toast and jam, if you want,” he continued, pointing a purple thumb over his shoulder.
“That’d be nice,” was her reply, accompanied by a nod and a smile. She couldn’t keep the spell up forever, so a quick breakfast, and then she would head out. She grunted as she focused on severing the flow of energy to her horn, before mentally tugging it apart like a blade of grass, the feathered limbs on her back now entirely visible. She exhaled, and followed Spike to her kitchen, leading her to find him digging through the pantry for the aforementioned breakfast.
He soon extracted a plate of toasted slices of bread with strawberry jelly spread over them, and closed the door of the small storage room before treading to his housemate. “Do you want me to heat them up? It’s hard for me to breathe fire on foods like this without burning them. Makes me wish we had one of those ‘microwaves’ or whatever they’re called,” he commented, placing the tray in front of the pony sitting at the table. “The Cakes have one... They have a toaster, too.”
“Those are really expensive, Spike,” Twilight retorted with the tone of a mother lecturing her child about how they don’t need an abysmal expensive trinket. “And I heard the microwaves make a lot of foods soggy.” She looked around at the beige walls and white-tiled floor of the kitchen. Cooking materials were actually kept in cupboards bolted to the walls directly above the counters, which lined the entirety of three walls, the fourth possessing two entrances to the room. From her perspective in the center of the alcove, one entrance was behind her and to the right, and another was on the left side of the wall to her left. The lamp formerly hanging above her head had been taken down, replaced by a small arcane shaded lamp on a stand in a nearby corner, casting a soft yellow light over its territory of the room. There were three more, one in each respective corner of the kitchen, effectively lending a calm atmosphere to the area.
Spike inhaled, before blowing a thin curtain of flame directly over the slices of bread until the jelly on top of them began to bubble. It seemed to be his method of cooking flammable foods without setting them alight. He smiled at the purple pony, before uttering a chipper “Enjoy!” and heading back to the pantry, presumably to retrieve something for himself.
Twilight telekinetically picked up one of the slices and took a bite. Toast was pretty dull-tasting to begin with, was her opinion, and eating it reheated sapped away the little flavor that was there. The jam was nice, though. She absent-mindedly ate quickly, only chewing each bite once or twice before swallowing. She could feel each hunk of grain and sugar slide down her throat, the gritty surface of the toast scraping against her esophagus and sometimes leaving a bit of grainy residue. She inhaled, before having a coughing fit as her body mistook a small piece of grain as something much more dangerous. She doubled over and leaned on the wooden table for support as her body tried to eject the foreign substance, before it eventually ceased, leaving her swallowing painfully and gasping for air.
Spike set down a glass of water next to her on the table, which she quickly downed to wash away the flecks of grain that dotted her windpipe. She exhaled explosively, before managing to slow her breathing. “Th-thanks,” she muttered.
“No problem. I learned how to deal with a coughing pony during those few days you made me stay at Pinkie’s.” He chuckled, grinning and shaking his head. “That pony and her pop-tarts.” The two shared a laugh.
She continued eating, deliberately slowing herself to avoid another mishap, and consumed her meal in relative silence.
Spike was mostly quiet, pulling up his personal chair next to his older sister and sitting contently. He casually rested his head against Twilight’s right wing and smiled gently up at her, as if the limb had always been there. His very presence was comforting to her, only strengthened by him using her wings, the cause of her despair, as mere pillows.
The lavender pony smiled over her shoulder at her assistant, shifting her flight appendage slightly to better cradle his head. Well... at least Spike liked them. He snuggled into the plumage, closing his eyes as he gently rubbed his cheek against the feathers, their owner’s smile growing. Having wings really wasn’t so bad, now that she thought about it... They must’ve been soft -- he sure seemed to like pressing his face against them. The gentle nuzzling felt rather intense to her; to the point where she felt it would be an invasion of privacy if anyone else did it, possibly only because the nerves in the limbs were new and had no prior exposure to the world. But the warm, fuzzy feeling she received from the reptile’s actions seemed to sever her from her troubles, if only for a blissful moment.
She followed the last bite of her meal with another drink of water, before wiping her face with a cloth. She curled her neck around and nuzzled her small purple friend in thanks, before standing up and pushing his head off of her wing.
“So, Twilight, should we go to Fluttershy’s now?” Spike asked, hopping to his feet. He reached up and gripped the base of his housemate’s right wing to comfort her, softly running his claws down the length of the solid part of the limb. “You seem like you’re ready.”
Twilight smiled back at him again, shivering involuntarily as she reveled in the oddly pleasant sensation. The psychological effect was greater than the actual feel of his claws, seeming to melt away her icy fear of everypony’s hypothetical reaction to her transformed body. Though it really did feel quite nice; he was gentle, as if he was rubbing thin glass that would shatter at the slightest touch. Perhaps he was doing it because he knew that she liked it. “Y... Yeah, I-I’m ready,” she answered. She nuzzled him again, before directing her magical energy to her horn, letting it gather and coalesce. Her mind calmed from Spike’s actions, it was just a little bit easier to form the spell.
With a resonating burst, the spell took effect, the limbs on her back disappearing once again. It couldn’t be too hard to avoid the early-morning townsponies; she just had to move quickly and avoid any sort of physical contact. A simple brush would make the spell flicker, and a bump could shatter it. She nodded at her assistant, who nodded back.
“Ready?” he asked her with a warm smile.
“Ready,” she replied, returning the expression with a confident grin before exiting the kitchen and opening the front door with her magic. She passed through the portal, Spike shutting it behind her.
It was still dark out. Very dark. It was essentially before dawn -- faint auroras reached out from the horizon, but the burning sphere of warmth and light had yet to actually emerge from its resting place. Twilight squinted; she would have barely been able to see anything if it weren’t for the occasional street lamp. Only a few ponies were out; perhaps many were still sleeping. She had risen unusually early due to hitting the hay early the previous night. Perhaps that was why the town was so vacant... She remembered how prematurely she had woken up on the day of her first Winter Wrap-Up; the sky was still laden with stars. It was very similar here, only with the addition of a faint wereglow on the horizon. Dawn was... perhaps half an hour away. She smiled to herself -- perhaps she wouldn’t run into any difficulties on the way to Fluttershy’s.
She began trotting, invisibly stretching her wings out to release the heat build-up in the cool, moist morning air. It felt... pretty great. Right now, nopony walked the streets. She was alone, seldom for Spike, who softly walked alongside her, smiling up at her. As they followed the simple cobblestone path from her house to the outskirts of the city, passing by many houses that lacked even a light in a window, she considered deactivating her invisibility spell and conserving her energy for when she really needed it; during the trip back. The sorcery gradually sipped away at her reserves of magical power, and would eventually suck it dry after some time, so... maybe it wouldn’t hurt to release the spell, just until ponies began walking around again.
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, pulling apart the metaphorical blade of grass that served as the transfer unit for her magic. She heard her assistant gasp softly, and turned her head to face him as he quickly scanned the nearby area for ponies.
“Twilight, what are you doing? Recast the spell! Somepony’ll see you!” Spike whispered, gripping and shaking the mare in his concerned panic.
The exposed pony simply smiled down at him. “I’ll be fine, Spike... Nopony is out right now,” she whispered, nuzzling the small green reptile.
“But...!” he continued, before his older sister embraced him with her wing and hoisted him onto her back. He instinctively wrapped his arms around her neck, apparently a tad scared that he would fall off if the winged unicorn suddenly took flight. A rather unfounded fear, since she could not fly as such, but it seemed valid to him.
Twilight smiled over her shoulder at him, before picking up her pace, giving the small dragon a reason to hold on tight anyway. They dashed through the twilit land together, occasionally casting their gaze up at the stars above and the steadily-strengthening glow of the rising sun. She unintentionally flapped her wings a few times as she ran -- an instinct to keep her balance, she supposed. Her hoofsteps made very noticeable clopping noises as she galloped, but she doubted anypony was awake to hear them. Before long, she neared the outskirts of the city, passing by Ponyville Elementary and the vacancy within. Or, so she initially thought.
“Awwgghh... I’m sooooo tired... Why did you wake us up so early, Sweetie Belle...?” a voice groaned from nearby. Twilight skid to a stop, her purple wings flapping a few times to help counter her inertia.
“Couldn’t we just ask Twilight later, Sweetie Belle? Ah reckon she wouldn’t even be up at this hour... She likes to stay up late and lookit the stars all night,” a southern twang replied as three young fillies turned a corner around the building, heading directly for the mare in question.
Twilight stared at the foals, but they seemed to entirely not notice her. It was very dark, and her colors were dark... Perhaps they couldn’t make her out against the black silhouettes of the nearby trees and structures. She held her breath and kept absolutely still to take advantage of her momentary camouflage, although she could feel her assistant shifting on her winged back. “Spike... Be quiet...!” she whispered, so quietly that she wasn’t even sure if he had heard her.
“That’s the thing, isn’t it? She's always up when everypony else is in bed. I mean, she's gotta be called 'Twilight' for a reason!” Sweetie Belle rationalized, hopping with glee. “And I had to go to bed early last night, so this our first chance to catch her. Anyway, you guys aren’t gonna believe what I saw!”
“Yeah yeah...” Scootaloo yawned, rubbing her malrested eyes with a hoof. “Twilight has wings, you told us like a million times... I’m not even sure if you weren’t just hallucinating or something... I think I hallucinated the weird way Apple Bloom was running on the way here... What’s up with that anyway, Apple Bloom?”
“Huh? Ah don’t know what ya’ mean.”
Twilight flinched. “No...” she breathed. They knew about her. Sweetie had told them. And knowing how talkative foals were, it wouldn’t be long before they blabbed her secret to everypony they knew. Panicked, she forced energy into her horn and hastily recast the invisibility spell on her wings with an audible zap. The sound caused the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ ears to perk up and turn to face her, which almost made her yelp in surprise. ‘Okay Twilight, they can’t see your wings now. Just play dumb if they ask, and don’t let them touch you,’ she instructed herself.
“Hello?” Apple Bloom asked aloud, blinking her large, tired orange eyes. “Is somepony there?”
“Hold on,” Sweetie Belle said, bending over and grunting for a moment, before her horn sparked with a pale violet glow, the small illumination quickly growing into a bright white light. It enveloped the surrounding area, including one adult mare. “Hah... I... I did it...! Rarity’ll be so proud of me...!” the young school filly panted, smiling to herself at her apparent accomplishment.
The purple pony froze solid, her irises shrinking as she was suddenly placed under a spotlight. Wait, Sweetie Belle could use magic? Had Rarity been teaching her?
“Hey Twilight... Sweetie here was tellin’ us that ya’ll suddenly sprouted a pair a’ wings, but Ah don’t see no wings...” Apple Bloom greeted, her bound red hair swishing as she turned to give a quizzical orange glare to her white friend. “I think ya’ll need glasses, Sweetie Belle.”
The unicorn filly in question quickly stood up straight, her ears folding as she looked intermittently from Twilight to her two friends. The light source on the tip of her horn moved with her head, creating dancing shadows with the surrounding ponies’ bodies. “But I... Yesterday morning, she had wings! I swear!” She turned to the disguised magician. “Tell ‘em, Twilight!”
Twilight could feel herself trembling, her fuzzy purple ears folding. The dragon on her back gently rubbed her neck with a claw, trying to calm her nerves. Since Spike had been in contact with her upon her casting the spell, the sorcery was technically attuned to him as well, and he could touch her without shattering it. Well, as long as he never dismounted her.
“Twilight, are you okay?” Scootaloo asked, staring at her with concern after another rubbing of her tired eyes. “You’re shaking.”
“I... I... I-I’m just fine, thank you... Sweetie, I think you were just hallucinating...” Twilight stuttered, forcing a smile to her face as the trio approached her.
“What?” Sweetie Belle squeaked indignantly. “But... I saw you with them yesterday at breakfast! We had pancakes! Remember?”
The group of fillies stared up at their elder, Sweetie Belle providing an effective source of light in the middle. Apple Bloom trotted to the false-unicorn’s side, causing her tremors to strengthen as she stared down at the earth filly. One touch, and it was all over. She should just run away. Now. They couldn’t possibly keep up with her; she had longer legs.
“See? Right here. No wings,” the red-haired foal stated to Sweetie Belle, pointing at Twilight. “You’re shakin’ an awful lot though, Twi... Are ya’ll okay?” she asked, raising a hoof to lay it gently on the lavender mare’s torso, but the nervous pony jerked away in fright before she could.
“Gah!” Twilight yelled, horrified. “I... I mean, yes, I-I’m fine.” She began backing away, her heart thudding rapidly, painfully, in her chest. She hadn’t felt this much fight-or-flight adrenaline in all of her life. One part of her wondered if the fillies could see the large wound on her withers, but she quickly silenced it with the conclusion that it was too dark, and the trio’s short statures probably prevented them from noticing it anyway.
“...Twi? What’s wrong? Are you scared a’ somethin’?” Apple Bloom asked with a rather nonchalant amount of concern as she and her two friends steadily followed the older mare. “Oh, and hey, Spike.”
The dragon sitting on her back gave a small wave, but her own breaths were coming just a tad too quickly. She wanted to just turn tail and take off. If they found out, that would be the absolute end of it. Game over.
Her assistant leaned up to whisper in her ear, “Twilight, calm down. They’re just fillies.” He was ignored.
“Girls, I-I’m sorry, but I need to be somewhere!” Twilight spouted, flicking her head left and right before beginning to gallop away from the trio. The heck with it; she was just going to run.
“Twilight, wait! What’s going on?” Scootaloo shouted after her as the disguised mare broke into an all-out sprint, her purple hooves hitting the dark cobbles at an uncharacteristically rapid pace.
Good, she was getting away. None of them were quick enough to follow her; Scootaloo couldn’t fly proficiently and didn’t have her scooter, Sweetie couldn’t teleport, and Apple Bloom simply had short legs. Her wings invisibly flapped to keep her balance as she ran, making small flitting noises, but the sound was overpowered by the rapid clopping of her hooves. A small voice spoke up in the back of her mind, telling her that sprinting would jeopardize her invisibility spell, but she forced it back.
“Twi...? Why’re ya’ll runnin’?” a young voice asked from next to her, causing her to whip her head in its direction. She blinked with disbelief. Lo and behold, Applejack’s younger sister was actually keeping up with her, taking incredibly long strides that caused her to appear to be leaping from her back hooves to her front hooves. Apple Bloom’s long strides completely compensated for her short legs as the two crossed over the transition from the hard pavement to the soft dirt road.
Twilight’s brain quickly launched into a plethora of calculations. A pony’s running speed was determined primarily by two factors; the rapidity of their steps, and the length of their strides. If a pony could train themself to increase either of them, then their overall velocity would increase accordingly. It appeared that Apple Bloom had trained herself to rapidly leap forward, almost like a cheetah, instead of using the traditional gallop, and effortlessly kept up with the fleeing mare.
“A-Apple Bloom... I-I... I need to be somewhere for something important!” Twilight shouted down at her, pumping her legs faster to attempt to outrun the clever filly. Unfortunately, the young pony had no trouble matching her speed with her super-efficient method of running. “S-stop following me!”
There had to be a way for her to get away. But apparently she was incorrect in her presumption that none of the three fillies could keep up with her, so simply running away would not play in her favor. Should she teleport? That would probably be a bad idea; using a complicated spell while trying to keep up another complicated spell would disrupt the ongoing sorcery. In other words, if she teleported, she would have to break her invisibility spell for a few seconds while she charged it. Apple Bloom stared at her unwaveringly. If she tried to teleport away, the farmer filly would see her wings. No.
In the absence of Sweetie Belle’s illumination spell (which Twilight almost still couldn’t believe that the filly had learned), the winged unicorn and the auburn-haired foal that ran alongside her bolted through almost complete darkness, sporadically lit by the occasional street lamp. Twilight concluded that Apple Bloom could only keep track of her because she was moving quickly and making noise; it was too dark to see her in the shadows due to her coat and mane being a dark shade of purple. Regardless, she was fairly certain that the foal could see a silhouette of her, and a silhouette included her wings. Perhaps if she suddenly halted and let the filly dash ahead of her, she could slip off the path without her ever knowing. She thanked the beings above for giving her such dark colors at birth -- in her time of need, they helped her.
“Why’re ya’ll runnin’ so fast if ya’ just need to be somewhere? Cain’t be that urgent, can it?” the young one asked, calmly, not even panting. She seemed to have an endless amount of stamina. Why wasn’t she getting tired?
Twilight didn’t respond, instead putting her plan into action. She timed the approach of a dark patch unlit by the lamps and abruptly ground to a halt, her invisible wings flitting as they again countered her inertia. Spike, who currently held onto her neck for dear life, grunted as his own inertia threw him into the back of her head. As quickly and as quietly as she could, she scampered to the shadowed wall of a nearby building, her lungs burning for air as she tried to suppress her breathing.
Apple Bloom took a few more bounds, before stopping and looking around. “Twi? Where’d ya’ go?” she twanged, continuing forward to search her incredibly dark surroundings for any trace of the purple mare.
Twilight held her breath, eyeing the filly, hoping that she wouldn’t be discovered. Spike shifted on her back, causing a faint rustling sound against her feathers, but she dared not shush him.
“Twilight?” the southern foal called again, louder, her small voice echoing throughout the buildings and trees. Her light hoofsteps clopped slowly as she backtracked, looking around to see where the pony in question had run off to. “Where are you?” Moments passed, the red-haired filly growing a tad frustrated from lack of any hints, before the other two Crusaders approached, panting from exhaustion.
“Hahh... Hahhh... Slow down next time!” Scootaloo wheezed, sitting on her haunches and trying to catch her breath. “We’re not as fast as you, Apple Bloom...!”
“Oh... Sorry, ya’ll. I was just tryin’ to keep up with Twilight,” Apple Bloom apologized, smiling bashfully. “She’s actin’ a might weird... Whaddya think’s wrong with her?”
Sweetie Belle swallowed, still panting heavily despite her orange friend’s breathing already slowing to a normal pace. The light shining from the tip of her horn flickered, indicating her exhaustion. “It... It’s because...” she began, her eyes beginning to glaze over as she gently swayed back and forth on her hooves. “It’s because she...”
Twilight quietly released a breath, keeping as silent as possible as she observed the unicorn filly, who was suffering from magical exhaustion. Even though the illumination spell is one of the simplest, it can still tire out a beginner, especially if they physically spend themselves during it. She swallowed. Sweetie was about to pass out; she could see it in the white foal’s eyes. Concern and perhaps maternal instinct demanded she jump out to assist her, but she bit her tongue to keep herself from blowing the little cover she had. ‘Stop the spell, Sweetie! You’re going to faint!’
Sweetie Belle clenched her eyelids, and her horn stopped shining, allowing her to come back to her senses. “Wh... Whoa... M-my head hurts...” she muttered, stabilizing herself with a hoof. Her two friends supported her with their shoulders, and she shook her head softly to clear it. “Ahh... M-maybe Twilight doesn’t want anypony to know that she’s a princess... She kept telling me that she wasn’t one at breakfast yesterday...”
“A princess?” Scootaloo echoed.
Twilight couldn’t stop herself; she flinched at the words, a small gasp escaping her throat. A flame lighted in her lungs, preparing her to shout out a denial to Sweetie’s statement, but she held her tongue, trying to ignore the icy water that washed down her back.
The ears of the three fillies simultaneously perked up at the noise, and hidden mare shivered as the aforementioned icy water solidified into hard ice. Apple Bloom’s head turned towards her, and Twilight froze, hoping to Celestia that the filly couldn’t tell her apart from the shadows. All four ponies, and one dragon, remained dead silent for a moment, the Crusaders awaiting another noise to confirm their suspicions.
“...Did ya’ll hear that?” The yellow filly whispered, her eyes darting to her friends.
“Maybe it was just our imaginations,” Scootaloo fearfully whispered back.
Twilight’s irises trembled at her own inner self’s quiet chuckling. ‘Princess Twilight... It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?’ her own voice whispered cynically to her. ‘Shut up!’ she yelled back. She shook her head to dispel the betraying thoughts, and quietly began moving away from the scene, towards the dirt path that led into the forest. She made sure that her steps were silent, to avoid detection by the trio of fillies that continued to stare at her previous location.
As she quietly breathed in and out, her vision began to swim, just as it did yesterday when she physically exerted herself during a spell. ‘Ngh... Not now...!’ she thought, panicked. All that futile sprinting had tired her, and now, at what could very well be the most inopportune time possible, she had to cancel her spell to stay conscious. No... Not right here. She needed to move just a bit farther, so the faint flash of light from the dispelling wouldn’t betray her presence to the three nosy fillies mere meters behind her.
She continued trotting, slowly, her vision focusing and unfocusing as she began to lose her balance. She cantered to the end of the shadowed wall she walked against, before slipping behind it, her legs threatening to give out and her mind threatening to shut down. Taking a deep breath to buy herself just a few more seconds of consciousness, she mentally tugged apart the flow of magic, its draining effect halting. Her haunches fell to the scattered orange leaves on the ground, making a very soft rustling noise that she hoped didn’t reach the ears of the Crusaders.
After taking a moment to catch her breath, her eyes creaked open, and she cast a brief desultory glance at the masses of feather and muscle on her back. The sun began to peek over the distant horizon, casting a small curtain of deep red light across the land that seemed to weave in-between the nearby trees. It wasn’t bright, but it tinted the existing darkness a faint, almost intimidating red.
Exhaustion caused Twilight’s thoughts to wander away from the situation at hoof. This color of red... Was it the same color as her magic? Her magic had always been sort of been the color of strawberry jam, a deep red with hints of pink, but... She recalled her recent research sessions, more specifically the glow that surrounded the books at the time. The magic that enveloped the tomes was a very solid red color, almost like the red alarm lights of one of the more advanced facilities in Ponyville. Had her magic color changed? It wasn’t completely unheard of for this sort of thing to happen; some unicorns experienced their magic color altering slightly as they matured. One of her classmates back in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns had arrived with his magic a pale yellow, but it steadily changed to a light orange as the years passed. Was the same thing happening to her? She looked accusingly at her avian appendages again. Did they cause it...?
She shook her head, dispelling the irrelevant thought. Spike had hopped off of her back and was gently scratching behind her right ear, which caused it to occasionally flick. “Stop it,” she whispered, and he took his hand off. Her body still coursed with adrenaline despite her own magic having taken a toll on her mind, and at the time she did not welcome the oddly pleasant sensation.
She picked herself up, the leaves beneath her rump rustling again, and gestured for Spike to hop onto her back. He climbed up, and she resumed trotting, intending to slip away into the woods. The dirt path nearby was surrounded by trees, a trail that led directly to Fluttershy’s cottage at the edge of the Everfree Forest.
Her fuzzy ears perked up as she listened to the various whispers of the trio of fillies that grew ever-farther behind her.
“Hey... You said Twilight’s a princess, right? So uh,” Scootaloo began, causing the mare in question to flinch. “Should we really be chasing her into the forest against her will? I mean, think what she could do to us if she’s a princess! She could banish us!”
Twilight abruptly stopped, blinking. ‘What...?’ Why would she do that? Even if she was royalty, she wouldn’t punish a small filly for something so trivial. It would be cruel.
“Why would she go n’ do that? Twi’s a nice pony, an’ Princess Celestia is real nice too,” Apple Bloom refuted, raising her voice to normal levels.
“Twilight isn’t Princess Celestia! She might have different rules!” the young orange pegasus whimpered, beginning to panic.
The not-princess’s eyebrows pointed upwards. Did... Did they really think she would banish them...? That she was a tyrant...? How many other ponies would think that? She shook her head rapidly, her mane whipping back and forth. She couldn’t be a tyrant if she wasn’t a princess. And she wasn’t a princess. She was just a unicorn with wings.
‘You’re lying to yourself again,’ the darkest part of her mind piped up, forcing needles of ice into the back of her neck. ‘SHUT UP!’ she screamed back at it, shutting her eyes tight and letting loose the quietest of whimpers in reality.
“Uhm... You think Twilight went back to her library?” Scootaloo queried, suddenly near the hiding spot of the pony in question.
Twilight stared at the edge of the wall, holding her breath. All Scoots had to do was look around it.
“Well... Maybe. I really wanted you guys to see her wings. They’re really soft and stuff, and it looks like she takes good care of them,” The unicorn filly added, joining her orange friend.
“I don’t know, ya’ll... She seemed real scared when I was followin’ her,” the farmer filly added, somewhat concerned. “Ah still think you were hallucinatin’, Sweetie Belle. And Scootaloo, Ah still think you’re bein’ ridiculous. But still... Somethin’s gotta be goin’ on...”
“C’mon guys. I don’t think we should be hunting for her in the forest. I-it’s... It’s too dark,” the pegasus piped up, starting to head back the way they came. The other two fillies followed without another word.
Twilight waited until she could no longer hear the tiny clops of the fillies’ hoofsteps before leaving her hiding spot, looking left and right just to be sure there was nopony to see her. Nopony to... to think that she would banish them.
Spike cleared his throat. “Twilight...” he muttered sympathetically, shifting himself to move his grip on her neck into something more closely resembling a hug. It was as if he could sense that the mare was upset. Not very surprising, seeing as he was in direct contact with her and could feel things such as the stiffness of her muscles, the beating of her heart, and any movements she made.
The lavender filly simply stood still, staring straight ahead as her eyes burned. After a shaking breath, a few silver tears rolled down her cheeks, and she shut her eyes tight. “Spike... I...” she whimpered, her voice quivering.
“Twilight... It’s okay...” he whispered, his limbs softly squeezing her neck. “It’s okay...” As simple as they were, his words were all she really needed to hear. Someone to tell her that things would turn out alright, to directly contrast her fears and worries.
The sun drifted lazily upwards from the horizon, rising ever-higher into the sky. Not a pony was out; the houses nearby were actually rather vacant. Still, the sun’s curtain of red light had shifted to a light orange as it rose above the horizon, indicating that Twilight probably needed to get moving if she were to make it to Fluttershy’s cottage before the town became bustling again.
She opened her eyes again, her tear-blurred corneas burning from the sudden assault of warm light after being kept in darkness for a few consecutive minutes. She took a deep breath, and squinted, shielding her irises with a forehoof until they adjusted to the glare. She felt Spike shift on her back. The rough feeling of the dragon’s scales would have irritated her laceration, but the antibiotic ointment he applied earlier had dulled any and all sensation, including pain. She almost couldn’t feel him there at all. The gel itself had since soaked into her skin, so it didn’t tranquilize anything else that were to touch the area.
She shut her eyes and took a final, calming breath, before slowly opening them and resuming her trot along the pathway that led to the abode of her yellow friend. She didn’t utter a word, her mind blank.
“Twilight... Are you okay? I know you wouldn’t banish anyone,” Spike commented, laying a comforting hand on her neck. “You know that, right?... Twilight?”
“I... I don’t wanna talk about it,” she answered quietly, her voice hoarse. She didn’t want to continue thinking about the impression she would definitely make on the public. It... it could wait. She walked blankly into the forest pathway, the flecks of light beaming through the treetops beginning to dance across the ground as a gentle zephyr rolled past.
“Spike, please...” she begged, not looking at the dragon, her voice as soft as the wind in her folded ears. She couldn’t do this anymore. The Cutie Mark Crusaders knew, so all things considered, her secret was already out. Soon she would have to endure stares, whispers, and rumors from the public, and before long she wouldn’t even be able to go outside without being besieged by news reporter ponies, or something. ‘Twilight Sparkle, rumor has it that you’re actually an alicorn!’ ‘Is it true that you have a pair of wings under that cloak? May we take pictures of them?’ ‘Should we call you Princess Twilight?’
And the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen... was most likely inevitable. Word would reach Princess Celestia. When that day finally came... her life as she knew it would be over.
Twilight let out a soft whimper, her face dropping a few inches and twisting with anguish. Continuing to worry about it would not help her right now. She unenthusiastically shook her head, trying to clear it, before raising it once more and pointedly watching the terrain in front of her. It was a simple dirt pathway wide enough for four ponies, lined with trees. Hay, it was wide enough to drag a carriage through. She had walked this path many times on previous visits to her pegasus friend, but only now had it seemed so very daunting.
The forest was quiet... Well, not really. There was the occasional bird calling for a mate, the scampering of a common squirrel darting up a tree to store another acorn in its growing stockpile, and the quiet rattling of rattlesnakes (which definitely did not help to calm Twilight). Nevertheless, she could hear little over the pounding of her own heart, which steadily accelerated as she pondered her friend’s reaction to her new limbs. Panic began to overtake her, and she started to hyperventilate, but the dragon sitting on her back simply stroked her mane to calm her, whispering a soft “Shh...”
Twilight was suddenly grateful for having brought Spike along with her. He seemed to be keeping her nerves in-line, if only with rudimentary actions such as gentle brushing. If it weren’t for him, she probably wouldn’t have been able to think clearly enough to escape the Crusaders, and would have found herself in a far less pleasant scenario. She probably wouldn’t have been able to think in any drunken interpretation of ‘clearly’ if not for him. She couldn’t focus when she was worked up... She couldn’t focus while panicking. As such, she may have been caught while trying to get away from the bombastic trio of fillies, if not for him. She twisted her neck to briefly nuzzle the dragon in thanks.
The various sounds of her friend’s cottage were what initially alerted her to its proximity. A cacophony of early-morning birdsong steadily began to cut through the near-silent mist of the forest as she approached, the music of a hundred birds seeming to welcome her. As she and Spike drew nearer, the ruckus seemed to beckon to the pair, guiding them through the lighter outcroppings of the woods to the clearing that encompassed Fluttershy’s humble dwelling. With every hoofstep, the symphony of scratching and rustling and calling and fluttering became more clear, until it was foal’s play to tell them apart.
Fuzzy little rodents scampered with oblivious glee all around Twilight, but mostly kept to the shadows and leapt through the trees. Tiny insects began to gather around them, but thankfully they kept a relatively-comfortable distance -- the purple pony was not a fan of bugs. Bird after vividly-colored bird swooped down next to the pair, chirping excitedly to eachother as they moved synchronously in one organized flock.
‘Well... At least they aren’t afraid of me...’
Bright orange sunbeams cut through the dingy blue mist of the forest as the pair neared the clearing, the sun grazing distant hills beyond Ponyville and heralding the dawn. As they navigated the last of the trees that fringed the clearing, a familiar little cottage finally came into view. Hundreds of little animals flitted and frolicked around the area as they awaited the appearance of a certain yellow pegasus mare with a butterfly cutie mark.
And yet... Despite the tranquil scene before her, Twilight couldn’t shake the feeling that she shouldn’t be there.
‘When did this place become so foreboding...? Maybe... Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea...’
The lavender pony halted abruptly. ‘I should go... After... After Sweetie and the others... This isn’t going to work... I should leave, I-’
A gentle hand patted the back of her neck, startling her out of her thoughts. She turned to glance at the baby dragon nestled on her withers, who in turn offered her a soft, encouraging smile and a gentle nod. Swallowing, she forced herself to look forward and took a shuddering breath. ‘I... I... I can’t do this...’
“I can’t do this...” she repeated out loud, shutting her eyes tight. “I... I can’t do this anymore... I just...” She struggled to fight back tears, scrunching up her muzzle as her eyes began to wet. With all the things that had already happened that morning, she just wanted to go home. ‘Home... Where nopony can see me... Where I don’t have to explain myself to anypony...’
“Of course you can,” Spike whispered reassuringly, gently stroking her neck. “It’s Fluttershy. She’s one of your best friends, Twilight. You’ll be fine.”
Twilight sniffed, rubbing a hoof over her eyes to wipe away the tears that blurred her eyesight. Spike was right -- Fluttershy really wasn’t one to turn down a friend who needed help, but...
“Look,” he continued. “You need a friend, Twilight... You need somepony to help you through this.” She winced as Spike pushed his feet against her wounded back to gently wrap his short arms around her neck, her mane rustling as he nestled his face against it. “Trust me.”
Twilight opened her mouth to reply, but her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden storm of loose plumage and tiny beating wings as seemingly hundreds of birds dropped from every nearby branch and flocked excitedly around her. The commotion died down almost immediately, the flapping and pattering and scratching silenced by the sweet humming of a soft voice. As gentle as a summer breeze, it seemed to sift in-between the tree trunks, its clarity suggesting the source was within mere meters of the purple pony.
“Here you go mister seal, your favorite kind of fish...” a gentle voice whispered, causing Twilight and Spike to whip their heads in the direction it came from. It was followed by a soft plopping noise, the excited yelp of an aquatic mammal and the barely-audible spluttering of a familiar shy pony.
Craning her neck to get a better view without compromising her position, Twilight glanced over a nearby thicket that was almost as tall as she was, barely able to make out the frame of a pink-maned pegasus with pond water dripping from her face. The damp saddlebags over her flanks seemed to be mostly empty, appearing to carry near-depleted supplies of birdfeed.
Fluttershy spat and shook her head, wiping at her visage with her hooves and her wings in an attempt to dry it, before casting a wry glance at the chipper seal that ‘arfed’ gleefully up at her. Well, ‘wry’ for her, which simply meant that she was staring at the mammal intently. “Now now, mister seal, don’t do that... I don’t like water quite as much as you do,” she chided, smiling. The grey animal obliviously ‘arfed’ at her again.
The lavender mare stared intently at the yellow pony from behind the thicket, a surge of energy running through her chest and legs. Her heart rate and her breathing yet accelerated, but she found that she didn’t feel as panicked as she thought she would. Seeing her good friend in such a... normal situation, seemed to calm her. She’d just be talking to a friend, like a normal pony would. Everything would be fine...
Spike hopped down from his partner’s back, careful to avoid tugging at the area around her wound. “Go on,” he whispered, nudging the winged unicorn’s leg.
Twilight stared down at her assistant with trepidation. “W-Wait,” she began quietly, closing her eyes and filtering some of her magic into her horn. A faint zap, and the wings at her sides faded out of visible existence. She took a deep breath, opening her eyelids again. She was still exhausted from her running just moments ago, and wasn’t entirely sure if she could keep the distortion spell up, so she cast a cautious glance over her back to make sure it was holding. Good, it was; not even a flicker of purple feathers was visible through the sorcery. She looked forward again, taking a calm breath.
‘Stay calm, Twilight... She looks fine. She won’t react...’ she told herself, swallowing. She tightened her chest, raising her head and filling her lungs. “F-Fluttershy?” she called out, raising her voice so it would carry through the dense thickets.
The shy filly in question gasped sharply, her irises constricting as she whipped her head left and right. “Who’s there?!” she shouted in fright, gritting her teeth as her wings flared up behind her. “I-Is somepony there?” She looked all around her, searching for the source of the voice that had just called her name. “Who is it?” She halted her startled spasms for a moment, her eyes unfocusing in thought. “...Twilight? Is that you?” she asked, suddenly recognizing the voice.
The magician cast one more glance over her shoulders to make absolutely sure her precarious spell was holding, before swallowing again and stepping forward through the bushes, making herself visible. “H...Hey Fluttershy,” she forced herself to say. Alarms were going off in the ‘self-preservation’ section of her brain, but the other parts insisted she stay put instead of running away.
Fluttershy turned to face her, blinking a few times, before her startled expression melted into a warm and welcoming one. “Oh... It’s just you, Twilight...” she said, her voice gentle. “It’s really early; I’m not even done feeding my animals... Do you need something?” she asked with a friendly smile.
Twilight’s irises trembled with concealed fear, but she forced herself to smile back nonetheless. “I... Yeah, actually... I need help with… with something... Is this a bad time?” she asked, looking behind her at her invisible limbs.
“Oh, no, just let me finish giving the animals their breakfast, and I’ll help you with whatever it is you need,” the caretaker replied with a smile, flapping her wings and soaring to a different group of creatures a few yards away.
Twilight found her eyes glued to her friend’s cream-colored wings as she flew away. Wings. Wings. She shuddered, her irises shrinking and her ears folding. She shot a glance behind her at the approaching Spike. “Spike... I-”
“You’re doing great, Twilight. And...” he began, placing a claw on the spellcaster’s foreleg. “You’ll be fine. I promise,” He smiled warmly, but the action only somewhat calmed the fretting mare -- she continued to tremble. The pseudo-invisibility spell flickered momentarily at the contact, Twilight’s violet wings blinking in and out of sight, but resettled as he withdrew his claw. She flicked her wings experimentally, ensuring the spell was securely placed.
Fluttershy soon flew back to her two guests, slowing to a hover just above them. “You don’t have to stay out here if you don’t want to; You can go inside my house to wait for m-” she began, before suddenly gasping, her irises shrinking. “Oh... Oh dear!” she sympathized, landing next to the purple pony. “Twilight, what happened to your back?” The pegasus reached for the laceration on her friend’s withers with a hoof, but the lavender mare jerked away.
“W-wait!” Twilight shouted, panicked. If her friend were to touch her, it would disrupt the spell. “D... Don’t touch it! I...” She cleared her throat. “Can we go inside first? I-I don’t think we should mess with it out here...”
Fluttershy blinked. “Oh, yes, good point,” she agreed, speaking significantly more quickly than usual. Perhaps it was her veterinary mindset taking over. “I should treat it inside the house. Come with me,” she instructed, trotting rather briskly to her cottage door and opening it. Her pink mane vanished as she slipped inside, beckoning for her two guests to follow her.
The disguised pony looked at Spike again, a small whimper escaping her throat. She had managed to buy herself just a little more time, but she was only delaying something that she knew she had to do. The reptile looked back at her optimistically.
“Come on... That’s the whole reason we came here, remember?” he reminded, beginning to walk to the open entrance to her friend’s abode.
Twilight took a shaky breath. He was right. It was either this, or the incredibly public Ponyville Hospital. The wound on her back began to sting in the chilly air, reminding her of her dilemma, and the reason why she was here. She slowly tread after her assistant, trembling. ‘She... She won’t freak out... She’ll understand...’ she told herself, although she didn’t believe her own words.
As she approached and entered her friend’s house, a fire surged into her legs, and she bit her lip to keep herself from running back out. ‘She won’t be afraid of me... She’ll accept me... She’ll still be my friend...’ she reassured herself. Oddly, the inside of Fluttershy’s abode seemed to imply that she was a woodworker rather than a veterinarian; many stylized wooden structures and complex tunnels were present in the home. The wooden floor looked almost the same as Twilight’s library’s, except perhaps less polished, and appeared to be hoof-carved. There was a soft click as her assistant shut the door behind them, closing off the nervous pony’s only exit.
Without warning, the owner of the house darted around a corner, no longer wearing the saddlebags and holding a tube of antibacterial medicine in her jaw. She dropped it on the floor next to Twilight, before smiling up at her. “Okay, let Doctor Fluttershy see your injur-oh...” she began, stopping short when she took a closer look at the laceration on her friend’s back. “I’m going to need more bandages... W-would you like some tea too, then?” she asked gently, gesturing to her kitchen. “You know, since you might be here for a while... I... I want to be a good host...” she explained, flipping her pink mane and hiding behind it with a soft smile.
“I would!” Spike chirped, raising his hand with a grin, before recoiling slightly as his elder sister shot him a glare.
“Err...” Twilight cleared her throat and looked back up at her pegasus friend. “Tea would be great, thanks,” she affirmed, managing a semi-casual smile that she hoped drew attention away from her trembling irises, her folded ears, and other features that betrayed her emotions.
“Three teas, got it,” Fluttershy confirmed, turning around and heading for the kitchen. “U-uh... Make yourselves comfortable...” she instructed with a bashful grin as she exited the room.
Twilight’s casual smile shattered like a stained glass window the moment the cream-colored pegasus was out of sight. She flicked her gaze behind her at the closed door, every muscle in her body demanding she bolt for it. Taking several deep breaths to calm herself, she rejected her primal instincts and cantered to a nearby green couch, lying down tentatively on it. ‘She’ll still be my friend...’ she thought, commanding her body to stop quivering. It refused to obey her.
‘Correct. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with royalty?’ her own voice sarcastically sneered inside her head. Twilight whimpered loudly in response, tucking her head underneath her purple front hooves. ‘Sh-shut up! I’m not a princess! I’m not!’
One side of her mind demanded she run away, and the other side demanded she stay and explain herself to an understanding friend. The small scuffle between Self-preservation and Logic & Reason had escalated into a full-scale war, complete with armies of hundreds of thousands that clashed ruthlessly and stained the battlefield a violent red. Or, whatever color metaphorical ponies bled.
She was scared. Scared. Logic & Reason was losing the war. More than anything, she just wanted to leave. She told herself that she wasn’t afraid, she told herself that things would turn out okay, but the darkest part of her was right; she was lying to herself. So far, nothing had turned out okay. Rarity seemed to understand... but she kept calling Twilight a princess. Sweetie Belle thought she was a princess, and... and she still did! She even told Apple Bloom and Scootaloo about it! And thanks to the orange pegasus’s ridiculous assumption, all three of them probably thought she was a tyrant!
Spike began to run his claws through her mane again, attempting to calm the upset mare, even uttering the occasional “Shh...” to her. It didn’t help very much.
“Spike... I’m not a... a tyrant... a-am I...?” she rhetorically whimpered, her voice quivering as her purple eyes drifted up to meet his. “I... I...”
“No, you’re not...” he whispered. “Shh... Come on now, sit up... You two can talk about it over tea.”
Twilight simply stared at him, trembling with simultaneous sadness and fear. After a moment, he simply beckoned for her to get up. Sucking in a breath, she complied and uncurled herself, pushing on the couch with her front hooves and raising the top half of her body. She frowned at him, blinking watery eyes. “Spike... How do I tell her...?” she asked softly, casting a glance at her sides. The smooth flow of magic had been disrupted by her emotions, and the spell occasionally flickered, her plumage flashing in and out of sight. She took another deep breath, trying to calm herself.
She wasn’t entirely sure if this was how other unicorns worked, but her emotions had always drastically affected her magical abilities. Happiness made it smoother, more fluid, but slightly weaker. Anger made it more powerful, but far less stable. Distress made it difficult to control. It was most efficient when she was calm, both strong enough for any incantation she could think of, and precise enough to actually cast it. She needed to reel in her emotions, or her pegasus friend would discover her new limbs far earlier than the purple mare intended. ‘Calm.... Be calm...’ she told herself as she breathed in and out, her body finally beginning to relax.
A terrifying thought flashed across her mind. She had been nervous, scared, and anxious ever since she stepped into the area surrounding the cottage. Had her spell been flickering this whole time? Had... Had Fluttershy already seen her wings? Her stomach dropped like lead, her emotions already breaking free of the restraint she was trying to place on them. She whipped her head to Spike again, her pupils constricted.
“Twilight, calm down... You’re freaking out... It won’t be that bad, okay?”
Twilight’s frantic breathing gradually slowed as the dragon squeezed her rib cage, her tense muscles relaxing.
“That’s it... Don’t worry...”
A few moments passed before the anxious pony had completely calmed herself, her breathing returning to a normal pace, her muscles not screaming at her to run away. She stood from the couch, instead deciding to seat herself on the plush carpet to await Fluttershy’s arrival. The next minute or two passed in silence, Spike twiddling his thumbs, before a careful clopping noise emanated from the hallway nearby.
Fluttershy appeared from behind the doorway, carrying a large first-aid kit in her teeth and wearing a doctor’s mirror on her head. Her wings were spread to precariously balance a tray with a steaming kettle and three cups on her back, and she stepped slowly to avoid dropping them. Apparently the pegasus had deemed her friend’s wound as ‘severe’ and prepared accordingly -- that medkit was enormous.
She trotted to her two guests, before placing the box of medical supplies on the hardwood floor and smiling at the two. She laid down and carefully nudged the tray off of her back with her wings, careful to avoid spilling its contents, before standing up again. The gleam of the doctor’s mirror on her head was almost blinding. “I’m back... I brought the tea,” she announced softly, her smile growing warmer as she stared at the purple pony sitting mere feet from her.
Twilight’s flame of anxiety, previously doused, threatened to flare up again. She closed her eyes for a few seconds and mentally poured more water on it. ‘She’s not going to react,’ she assured herself one last time, opening her violet eyes and returning the golden filly’s warm smile.
Fluttershy had gripped the handle of the tea kettle with her jaw and had begun pouring it into the three (rather large) cups, the transparent beige liquid emanating a large amount of steam as it touched the cool air. After setting the ivory canister back onto the tray, she picked up one of the cups with a wing tip, blowing daintily on her scalding-hot drink. After gazing at the purple mare sitting across from her for a moment, she took a breath. “Twilight... Did you get taller?”
The lavender pony gave her a quizzical look. “Huh?” she asked, staring at her yellow friend. Taller? Taller how? She didn’t understand what she meant; looking at the pink-maned pony, her face was at eye-level.
At seeing Twilight’s questioning expression, the pegasus raised her eyebrows, before wiping at her eyes with a hoof. “Nevermind... I think I might just be seeing things. It is really early...” She took a sip from her cup, the margin of the wing that held it tensing as it was bent slightly out of its normal range of movement.
Twilight shuffled her front hooves for a moment, before her horn lit with a gleaming red aura as she lifted one of the cups with her psychokinesis. She brought it up to her mouth, blowing on it as her gaze flicked from Fluttershy to the dragon at her side. Spike had grabbed a cup as well, his slitted green irises darting in-between the two ponies as he settled himself back on the couch. Moments passed without any conversation, causing Twilight’s heart to sink as she thought of the only thing that could happen next.
“Do... Do you want me to get started on your back? I brought the supplies,” the animal caretaker asked, gesturing to the box next to her with a yellow hoof. Her purple friend did not respond, instead nervously looking off to the side, her friendly smile faltering. The timid filly downed the last of her drink and stood up, folding her wings against her sides once again and staring with concern at the violet mare.
Twilight’s irises slowly drifted down to her own hooves. ‘Here we go...’
The soft sound of clopping reached her ears as Fluttershy took a few steps forward. “...Uhmm... Twilight?”
The anxious pony’s heart pounded against her chest as her own crippling fear plowed through the defenses she had set up against it. Her ears burned, deafened by the sound of her own blood coursing through them. Every muscle tensed up, the trembling in her hooves soon spreading to the rest of her body, ignoring her attempts to control herself. The false unicorn drew a deep, shuddering breath, her constricted irises once again hidden in the shadows of her fringes. ‘Calm down... Calm...’ she whispered to herself within her mind, her wings quivering underneath their veil of light distortion. She slowly raised her her head, looking her friend in the eye with magenta orbs that trembled with absolute terror and reluctance.
‘This is it... Please...’
“F-Fluttershy...” she began, losing the fight to keep her voice steady. “I... I-I need to tell you something... W-well, show you something...” She swallowed hard, her tremors breaking through her restraints and causing her whole body to shake with fear.
The cream-yellow mare blinked, her expression melting into one of concern, before cocking her head to one side, confused. “Oh, what is it?” she asked sweetly, with a hint of worry. “Does it have something to do with how you got hurt?”
“U-uhh... kind of...” Twilight replied, looking away and taking another deep breath, trying to calm herself. Her wings had indirectly caused her injury -- She had attempted to fly, hit a bookshelf, and it fell on her. “It's... It’s...” The relentless pounding in her chest was almost painful, and it forced her to breathe faster to gather the oxygen her muscles would need if she were to run away. She wanted to run away.
As the purple pony fumbled for words, Fluttershy trotted across the plush green rug that separated the pair, rocking back onto her haunches right in front of her friend. A delicate hoof lightly touched Twilight’s shoulder, causing her to recoil in fright -- even the slightest touch would cause her illusion spell to flicker. She pulled her hidden wings tighter against her torso. She had to make sure that the golden filly wouldn’t see them before the proper time -- if she accidentally broke the spell and found out early, her reaction might be even worse.
“Twilight, are you okay...?” Fluttershy asked softly, her hesitant words shaking the mare from her thoughts.
‘Okay Twilight, just... get it over with. She’s your friend. She’ll understand. It’ll be fine.’
Twilight willed herself to stop trembling, and turned to look straight into kind, teal eyes. “L-Listen, Fluttershy... I...” she began, before swallowing to remove the saliva that would’ve otherwise caused her breath to hitch in the middle of a sentence. “I... I... I need t-to tell you something... Something r-really important... It’s... It’s a big thing, and I... I really need you not to freak out...” Mirroring the yellow mare's gesture, she reached out with a trembling forehoof and laid it on her friend's shoulder. “Please... don’t freak out...” she pleaded, lowering her voice to a near-whisper. “Can you do that for me...?”
Fluttershy lowered her hoof and set it on the ground. “Uhm... O-okay...” she squeaked, even more worried than before.
Twilight shut her eyes and nodded to herself. ‘This is about as good of a response as I'm going to get...’ she thought to herself miserably. In preparation, she unfurled her invisible wings, holding them loosely at her sides. ‘Deep breaths...’ Taking a blind step back, she summoned forth the strand of magic in her mind that fed the psuedo-invisibility spell. She breathed slowly, more for the purpose of dispelling her anxiety than concentrating on the sorcery.
Using her magic, Twilight mentally grasped the strand...
...and tugged it apart.