The next three or four months were some of the happiest times Ditzy had had in years. With the cat finally out of the bag about her job, the mare found herself able to be honest with her daughter more fully than she had since beginning her employment there. Breeze was promptly invited to dinner once again, and this time, the three ponies were able to have a proper conversation, in which the two adult ponies discussed some of their funniest and most memorable moments in the business. Dinky had laughed herself almost to tears by the time Ditzy finished her story about her visit to Pinkie Pie's imaginary world.
Ditzy still often found herself wondering about Glow's strangely sound logic that countered Candyfloss's theory of shipping. But the generally positive nature of her home life, combined with continued support from her friends at work and her still phenomenal success rates at her assignments left her with little reason to dwell on it. Glow herself seemed content for the moment to allow Ditzy to stew in her own thoughts, and the pegasus was glad her rival hadn't tried to add any more misery to her life lately.
Rumors were going around that Glow's already impressive shipping success rates were increasing as well, but not as fast as Ditzy's. At this rate, it wouldn't be much longer until the grey mare passed Glow's totals and obtained the company record. The other employees encouraged Ditzy to continue to shine, since their opinions of Glow (Breeze's in particular) had plummeted since Ditzy's arrival had led the unicorn to display the full extent of her nastiness. Ditzy was often met with congratulations from her more sociable coworkers when she returned triumphant from yet another assignment, often just as much for the purpose of spiting Glow then celebrating the pegasus' success.
One more new item kept Ditzy's agenda quite busy; the application process to get Dinky into Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns. Almost immediately after Cloudcover's visit, Ditzy had delved into research about the prestigious school, and was amazed to learn about the many awards it had won and fantastic students it had produced; Ponyville held a notable example in the form of Twilight Sparkle. It was unquestionably the best institution for magical study anywhere in Equestria. Princess Celestia herself even took the time to teach one of the most advanced classes, and Princess Luna, who had far fewer royal duties, taught several. The application process, however, was lengthy; Ditzy found herself plagued with paperwork as she tried to send just about every bit of existing information about her daughter to the office of the Academy's dean in Canterlot. It was a taxing process; Ditzy spent hours sifting through her family records. But perhaps it would be worth it if Dinky could have a shot at getting Equestria's best magical education.
And so, it was business as usual, until one sunny autumn afternoon; Ditzy trotted back into headquarters, already through with her assignment, and unaware that a very eventful day was actually just getting started.
The lounge door swung open, and the mare took two steps into the room before finding herself suddenly nose to nose with Glow. The unicorn wore an almost bored expression, staring at Ditzy with her cold eyes.
"Ditzy," she greeted, with no hint of emotion in her voice. "How are you?"
Ditzy took a step back to prevent Glow's continued impingement on her personal space. "I'm… fine. Why?"
"I suspect you were successful today, as usual?" Glow continued, still acting as if she could hardly care less about the other mare's answer.
"Why?" asked Ditzy curtly.
Glow opened her mouth to respond, but closed it again after a moment. The blank stare the unicorn was delivering was beginning to put the grey mare on edge.
"Look, Glow, get to the point," Ditzy chanced, knowing Glow would be reluctant to let her anger explode when the others were present. "What do you actually want?"
"I took a peek at some of the recent assignment files," the unicorn said. I can't help but notice the numbers there. They're… intriguing, to say the least."
"I hadn't noticed," Ditzy answered honestly. "I haven't looked at the records in months."
"Well, the records show the current total success rates for our assignments. And I believe as of last night, they showed a most startling proportion. It seems that you, Ditzy dear, are now only one success behind me. A single mission; that's all that keeps you trailing my lofty record."
"Well, how about that," said Ditzy with a smirk. "I bet now you're worried that we're tied. But you'll get a little break today; I failed my assignment this morning."
Glow's features showed relief, but only for an instant, before she caught herself and molded them back into the thoughtless stare once again. "I see."
"But it shouldn't matter, really," Ditzy said. "I've told you ages ago, I don't care about the numbers, Glow. I care about helping ponies who need me."
Glow's temper flared, but she didn't yell; instead she responded in more of an angry hiss.
"Listen you wall-eyed waste of space. I will always be the best here at Equestria Speedy Shipping Services. Don't you dare let yourself believe that you will overtake my record."
"We'll see," said Ditzy defiantly.
A conveniently timed call from Candyfloss sent Glow away to her assignment. Ditzy watched her disappear, and with an indignant snort, turned and trotted over to Breeze as usual.
"That's the spirit," Breeze said as his coworker arrived at his side. "Don't let her get to you; she's just full of hot air like always."
"It still bugs me though…" Ditzy said. "I just can't find a way around Glow's argument about how shipping really works. I mean, I failed today's mission, and because of her, I have to wonder if I just messed up the future of another couple of love-struck ponies."
"But why would Candyfloss lie to you?" Breeze asked. "You've got his explanation, and you've got Glow's. How is that even a contest?"
"I know what you mean," Ditzy answered. "I'm kind of conflicted. On one hoof, Candyfloss is a pony I can trust; he's friendly and supportive and has no reason to lie to me, as far as I know, while Glow has given me every reason to mistrust her. But on the other hoof, all Candyfloss has is a theory; believing him is based on faith in his wisdom, not fact. Glow's argument uses hard evidence to disprove what he says."
"Maybe there's a hole in Glow's logic somewhere?" Breeze suggested. "Are you sure she isn't just giving you a partial view of the situation, so that from her custom vantage point, it only looks like she's right?"
"I've been trying to find a hole like that for months now," Ditzy claimed. "But, as much as I hate to admit it, Glow isn't the easiest pony to outsmart."
"You're getting under her skin as much as she's getting under yours, though," Breeze said slyly. "She is not too happy about you attempting to pass her record. Watt follows her around sometimes, and he mentioned to me that Glow spends a lot of time ranting about you when outside the office."
Ditzy grinned. "Well, I suppose anypony would be a little miffed if somepony beat their record without even trying."
"And in such a short time, too," Breeze commented. "How long have you been working here anyway?"
"Well, tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I was fired from Cloudsdale Mail and Freight," Ditzy pointed out. "Which means the day after that is the anniversary of the day I was hired here."
Breeze shook his head in disbelief. "It only took you a year to catch up to Glow? That's pretty darn impressive, Ditzy."
"Thanks," the mare responded. "Everything I told Glow is true, though. I really don't care if my record is better than hers. But I suppose I won't complain if it is!"
The pegasi laughed for a moment, but were suddenly interrupted by the grating sound preceding an announcement on the loudspeaker.
"Mr. Breeze and Miss Ditzy, I would like to see you both in my office."
"Wonder what Candyfloss wants?" Breeze remarked. Ditzy shrugged as she followed the stallion down the narrow stairwell to Candyfloss's office.
"Ah, good, you're here," the unicorn said as his two employees entered. "Breeze, here's an assignment for you," he handed Breeze the usual slip of paper with a few lines scrawled on the front. "And Ditzy, I'm quite aware that you've already been out once today, but might I trouble you to take a second job?"
"Sure, I guess," Ditzy replied. "Two jobs in one day is kind of strange, though. What's the occasion?"
"It is a most unusual circumstance, actually," Candyfloss observed. "The pony on the line sounded quite flustered. He claimed that if he couldn't get a shipper today, he would never have a chance again. It's possible that this was an exaggeration, but the urgency in the poor stallion's voice led me to agree to his plea. Would you please go and hear his request, at least?"
"Of course," Ditzy answered. "I don't mind taking another mission today."
"Excellent," Candyfloss replied. "Here's the address. Good luck to both of you, as always."
Both pegasi trotted out of the building and took off in separate directions, launching into their next adventure.
The grey mare glanced around, bewildered. She stood out in the open, perched on a grassy knoll in the center of a large, empty clearing on the edge of the Everfree Forest. Nearly a mile from the nearest sign of civilization, Ditzy wondered what kind of pony could possibly want to meet her here… and why they hadn't shown themselves yet…
"Hello?!" she called, much more loudly. "Is anypony here?"
The light sound of hoofsteps on the grass behind her caused Ditzy's ears to perk up. She turned around, locking eyes with a unicorn half-concealed between the trees.
"Well, come on out," the mare insisted. "You're the one looking for me, aren't you?"
The unicorn took a few more steps forward, so that his whole figure was visible. Ditzy didn't recognize him at all, and that in itself was uncanny; her years as a mailmare had led her to recognize almost everypony in Ponyville and the surrounding area, by sight if not by name. But she couldn't recall having ever laid her misaligned eyes on this pony before.
The stallion staring cautiously towards her from the edge of the clearing sported a dull yellow coat and a short, somewhat spiky red mane. His teal eyes were wide, and darted around nervously. From this distance, it was difficult for Ditzy to make out his Cutie Mark; it looked like… some sort of cube?
"I don't have all day," said Ditzy impatiently. "Did you call Equestria Speedy Shipping Services or not?"
"It… it is you…" the unicorn mumbled, his voice full of wonder as he strode cautiously up to Ditzy. "Dear Celestia, it… it's really Derpy Hooves!"
"Who?" Ditzy asked.
The unicorn seemed not to hear. "Derpy! I can't believe I'm really meeting you!"
Ditzy scrunched up her nose. "Sir, I think you might have me confused with somepony else. My name's Ditzy Doo."
"Oh. Yeah, okay," said the unicorn thoughtfully. But his pensive expression quickly returned to excitement. "That's not the point, though! I'm actually meeting you, and that means I'm actually here!"
"Actually… where?" Ditzy asked.
"In Equestria, of course," the unicorn replied in a matter-of-fact sort of way. "And I thought the guys in Research and Development would never get the portal working!"
Ditzy raised an eyebrow. "I don't follow. Are you feeling alright, sir?"
"That's irrelevant too!" he announced. "But I see I'm confusing you a little. So let me tell you a little secret to make things clearer…"
The unicorn leaned over, glancing once more around the obviously empty clearing to make sure no one was watching or listening in.
"The truth is… I'm from another dimension!"
There was a long, long pause. Ditzy stared blankly at the unicorn, who simply stared right back with an enormous grin plastered on his face.
"Look, sir," Ditzy said as calmly as possible. "I've already had a busy day. Can you please just tell me your name and the pony you want to be shipped with?"
"My name?" the yellow pony asked. "Uh… I'm not sure I can say. If I tell you, it might cause both our dimensions to collapse. At least, that's what they told me in the lab before they threw me through the gateway…"
Ditzy pounded her hoof against her forehead in frustration. "Fine. Then what should I call you?"
"Uhh…" the unicorn tapped his hoof in thought for a few moments, but didn't come to any conclusion.
"How about 'Cube'?" Ditzy suggested, again eyeing the pony's Cutie Mark, which was indeed a cube, covered in mysterious red designs. "You know, because of your Cutie Mark."
The stallion blinked. "Cube, huh?" he repeated. "Not bad I guess. At least for today."
"Good," Ditzy grumbled. "Now, can we please get on with this?"
"Oh, before we do the shipping thing," Cube started. "Could you do me a favor first?"
Ditzy groaned. "Now what do you want?"
Cube scraped his hoof on the ground in mild embarrassment. "Well, uh… I kind of need to make sure I can actually get home after this is over. You wouldn't happen to know anypony who might know how to get me back home again later today?"
Ditzy gave her client an incredulous expression. "Even if you did travel here from another dimension, what kind of featherbrain would do so without a solid way to get back again?"
"Call it a minor oversight," Cube said, blushing slightly.
Ditzy frowned. "I can't tell if you're telling the truth about all this, or if you're just a nutcase. But lucky for you, I know somepony who can answer both our questions."
Cube brightened. "Cool! Let's go see them right now!"
"Fine," Ditzy sighed. "Once we talk to him, then can we work on your actual assignment?"
"Sure thing, Derpy!"
The heavy wooden door swung open, knocking into the tiny brass bell that signaled the arrival of customers. Ditzy trotted into Ponyville's only curiosity shop, a small, musty, somewhat dark wooden building full nearly to bursting with all manner of random assorted collectibles. The unicorn currently known as Cube crept in behind her, gazing around the small store in wonder.
The room was full of hundreds of items, not conforming to any one theme, time period, or standard of quality. In other words, the room held something for just about everypony. A lopsided bookcase was stuffed with dozens of texts, ranging from strange, ancient tomes to colorful children's books. A stack of knickknacks sat in the corner, gathering dust. One wall was covered in clocks; each one displayed a different time.
"What's this place?" Cube asked. "I've never seen it on the show…"
Ditzy glanced back at her bewildering companion. "What show?"
"Err… never mind!" Cube said quickly. "Why don't we meet that friend of yours now?"
Shaking her head in frustration, the mare placed her front hooves on the counter, looking toward the door to the back room.
"Doctor! It's Ditzy! Are you here?" she called.
"One moment," replied an accented voice. A few seconds passed, and then a brown earth pony with an hourglass for a Cutie Mark emerged from the storage area to greet the customers.
"Ah, Ditzy!" the earth pony said happily. "It's been quite some time since I've seen you here. And I see you brought a friend today!"
The stallion trotted over to the surprised yellow unicorn, who was once again wearing the bizarre expression of recognition he had sported when he first laid eyes on Ditzy.
"Hello!" greeted the shop owner cheerfully. "I'm the Doctor."
"Doctor Whooves!" Cube announced, greeting him like he'd known the pony for ages.
"Yes, some ponies do call me that," the Doctor admitted. "I quite like it actually; it's a bit of a play on an old joke if you get my meaning."
The Doctor and Cube both laughed delightedly at their inside joke, leaving Ditzy feeling even more confused than before.
"Look, Doctor," Ditzy said finally. "I need your help. This pony keeps claiming he's from another dimension, and I figured you might know something about that, since you told me once that you were from another dimension, too."
"Really?" asked the Doctor curiously, glancing at Cube with interest. "Well, imagine that. Let's take a look."
The Doctor walked slowly in a circle around the yellow unicorn, examining him carefully as if looking for some telltale feature that would prove the newcomer's claim.
"Well, would you look at that," the earth pony said finally. "He's right. He's not a pony at all; or at least, he wasn't originally."
Ditzy's jaw dropped. "Then what is he?"
"Seems to be human, as far as I can tell," the Doctor said slowly, continuing to examine the unusual unicorn. "But you wouldn't know anything about that, Ditzy. It's not a species native to Equestria." The Doctor turned back to Cube. "What interests me is how you managed to get yourself turned into a pony in the first place," he said to the unicorn.
"Oh, that's easy," Cube said. "The Research team back at… well, back where I came from… figured out how to turn us all into ponies months ago. The hard part was figuring out how to get to Equestria after that."
"So…" the Doctor continued. "You're only looking for a way back to your own place and time, not a way to become human again, am I correct?"
Cube nodded. The Doctor looked relieved.
"Excellent. Because I haven't figured out how to reverse the transformation yet either."
"You two are giving me a headache!" Ditzy complained. "I don't care if either of you are really ponies or not! I just want to know if you can help Cube get back to where he came from!"
"Oh," the Doctor chuckled. "Well, of course. Calibrations will take a few hours, but I can whip up a little something to get you home by the end of the day."
Cube's expression brightened considerably. "Really? That's great news! Now I can go do what I came to Equestria to do in the first place, and then tonight, I can get back home in time for the Nightly Roundup."
Both the Doctor and Ditzy stared uncomprehendingly at the unicorn.
"Do I dare ask what a Nightly Roundup is?" Ditzy asked.
Cube grinned a little awkwardly. "Err… it would be hard to explain… let's just get going, shall we? I think the Doctor has everything taken care of here."
The Doctor nodded in agreement.
Ditzy sighed. "Okay. Where do we need to go?"
Cube scrunched up his nose in thought. "I'm guessing the mare I'm looking for will probably be at the edge of the woods between here and Canterlot."
"Then let's get started," Ditzy replied. "Canterlot isn't exactly a short walking distance away, you know."
Cube nodded. "Lead the way then, Derpy!"
The afternoon wore on as the two ponies trotted briskly along the main roadway. Cube never gave Ditzy a moment to herself; the curious unicorn bombarded her with question after question about all matters of daily life in Equestria, many of which concerned matters simple enough that any colt of filly could have answered them instantly. Ditzy was left with no choice but to believe that her client really was a resident of another dimension, as bizarre as the idea was. But if the Doctor was from the same world as Cube, the earth pony certainly did a better job of hiding it in public.
"Hey, Cube," Ditzy said loudly, cutting off the stallion's one-hundred-and-forty-sixth question about the Equestrian world. "Let me give you one piece of advice that will apply regardless of who you want me to ship you with."
Cube's ears perked up. "Yes?"
"You need to stop doing… everything you've been doing since you got here," Ditzy deadpanned. "Nopony is going to like a guy who rants about being from another dimension and asking all sorts of obvious questions. Just… just try to act like a normal pony for an hour or two, okay?"
Cube frowned. "But… what if I don't know the proper Equestrian mannerism for a certain situation? I don't want to make a fool of myself."
"That's what I'm here for," Ditzy said. "To give you advice and instruction to make your date interested in you, without her being aware of my presence."
"Oh," Cube replied. "Gotcha. Thanks for the clarification, Derpy."
"Look, how many times am I going to have to correct you about-"
"Shh!" Cube cut her off. "She's coming! Hide!" The unicorn leapt into the bushes along the roadside, and Ditzy, somewhat startled, decided to do the same.
As the two ponies watched silently from the cover of the brush, a vehicle that could only be described as a cottage on wheels came rolling slowly down the bumpy pathway. The small building was built of yellow painted planks, with a red roof. A pair of shutters adorned with heart patterns covered the only window, and above the small side door hung a purple flag with a light blue symbol on it. The wheeled building rolled to a stop at the edge of the road, just down the embankment from the spot where Ditzy and Cube were concealed. There were a few moments of silence, and then the door to the traveling cottage slammed open, and out strode a mare that both of the hidden ponies immediately recognized.
The owner of the unusual traveling house was a light blue unicorn with a flowing, silvery-blue mane and tail. Her fierce purple eyes matched nicely with the gaudy cape and pointed hat she wore. Both of her accessories were emblazoned with blue and yellow stars, and the cape fastened with a buckle crafted from a large gemstone. The flashy outfit really caused the mare to stand out.
"You're kidding," Ditzy whispered to her client. "That's the pony you want to get shipped with?"
Cube nodded eagerly.
"But… but that's The Great and Powerful Trixie!" Ditzy replied incredulously. "Nopony likes Trixie around here!"
"I do…" Cube replied dreamily, gazing contently at the showmare. "Just look at her. She's gorgeous."
Ditzy looked. Trixie was now attempting rather unceremoniously to dislodge a pinecone fragment that had become trapped between her front teeth. Ditzy glanced at her client once more in disbelief as he uttered an infatuated sigh.
"Okay, fine," the pegasus whispered. "Go down there and say hello. Tell her you're a fan, then ask her to dinner or something. But don't be surprised if her response is less than friendly."
"And if she does accept?" Cube asked.
"Then tell her to meet you there later, so we'll have time to plan your date."
"But how do I even begin a conversation with a mare as perfect as her?" Cube asked. "This isn't just any unicorn. This is the Great and Powerful Trixie!"
"I know she's an attention hog," Ditzy mentioned. "So copious compliments would probably be a good idea."
Cube looked nervous, but he steeled himself and cautiously descended the ridge toward where Trixie sat. The blue unicorn grunted with frustration as she furiously picked at her teeth with her front hoof, still trying in vain to remove the pinecone flake.
"You… you could just do that with magic, you know…" Cube said quietly.
Trixie froze. Her eyes darted over to glance at the newcomer that had suddenly appeared. Immediately, she yanked out the offending bit of pinecone out with a tiny burst of magic, and then rapidly turned and gave her rolling cottage a good hard buck, which caused the walls to collapse outwards, revealing the traveling stage concealed inside. The mare leapt onto the stage to give herself a more imposing appearance before finally addressing Cube.
"Who dares approach the Great and Powerful Trixie?" she yelled.
Cube hunkered down somewhat in front of the intimidating mare, further increasing her illusion of superiority. "Uh, hi my name's C-Cube, and I heard you were traveling near Ponyville, s-so I-"
"You're from Ponyville?" Trixie hissed, her face already twisted in a scowl. "So you've come to berate Trixie, like every other resident of that filthy rat hole, have you?"
"No!" Cube cried. "Absolutely not, oh Great and Powerful Trixie! I came looking for you, because I'm such a big fan, and I really wanted to meet you in person."
Shock crossed Trixie's features briefly, but it was quickly replaced with an arrogant smirk. "Well, isn't that a pleasant surprise. Trixie never thought she'd find somepony from Ponyville who actually carried an ounce of sense in their seemingly empty skull."
Trixie stood on her hind legs, her cape blowing in the breeze, before continuing. "But apparently there is at least one stallion from that dump who actually has class. One who can fully appreciate the magnificence that is The Great and Powerful TRIXIE!"
A string of colorful fireworks erupted in the air behind the mare as she cried out her own name. Cube clapped his front hooves appreciatively at the small display of magic.
"So, adoring fan," Trixie continued. "Why have you sought Trixie out this afternoon?"
"To… to let you know how much I appreciate your show," Cube replied. "And maybe ask for an autograph."
Trixie scoffed. "The Great and Powerful Trixie doesn't distribute autographs to just anypony."
Cube's face fell.
"But…" Trixie continued. "Perhaps a pony who has come all the way out here just to bask in the glory of Trixie is deserving of a few moments of Trixie's time."
Positively giggling with glee, the male unicorn produced a sheet of paper from his saddlebag, passing it over to Trixie in a cloud of his magic. Trixie raised a quill in her own magical aura, and with a little flourish, quickly scrawled her name on the parchment.
"There you are," Trixie mused. "Let it ever remind you of the greatest and most powerful unicorn in Equestria."
Trixie turned and began to lift one of the walls of her unfolded stage back up with her magic in an effort to return the vehicle to its original state.
"Hey, wait," Cube called. "Um, I was wondering, before you go… would you like to get some dinner or something? Unless you're busy, of course."
Trixie produced a most unusual expression; a combination of curiosity and haughtiness. "Is the Great and Powerful Trixie to assume that she has just been asked out on a date by a fan she has only just met?"
Cube blushed profusely. "Well… y-yeah, if you want…"
Trixie snorted. "The Great and Powerful Trixie believes that you should consider yourself very lucky that Trixie will not be busy this evening. Perhaps Trixie will humor you and join you on such an outing."
The stallion grinned in excitement, but Trixie held up a hoof before he could speak.
"However," the mare continued. "The matter of venue could be a problem. You see, the Great and Powerful Trixie is no longer welcome in the eateries of Ponyville, nor would she wish to dirty herself in one of that town's nasty grease traps anyway. Canterlot, on the other hoof, is quite a distance from here; it would be far too late by the time we arrived."
Cube put a hoof to his chin in thought. "Maybe… I could go pick up some food at the market, and we could just eat here, by your caravan?"
"Fine," Trixie said dully. "But make haste, peasant, or Trixie shall grow bored and move on."
"Yes, ma'am! I'll be back in a flash!" the stallion proclaimed, before turning tail and bolting down the path toward Ponyville.
Shortly after Cube was out of Trixie's sight, his grey pegasus partner swooped in.
"I have to say, that went better than I thought it would," Ditzy admitted as she followed her client back toward Ponyville. "I wouldn't say Trixie is interested in you, but she appears to tolerate you, and that's enough if you're only after one date with her anyway."
"Yeah!" Cube agreed as he ran. "But I still need your help! This is my one night in Equestria, and I want to make sure it's perfect!"
"Don't worry, I'm not leaving until you're satisfied," Ditzy assured him. "But that reminds me; how much are you going to pay me for this job? You do have some bits, right?"
"Don't worry, I can afford it," Cube chuckled. "How's eight-hundred sound?"
"Eight-hundred bits?!" Ditzy gasped. "That's… that's quite a ways above my usual fare…"
"It's nothing, really," Cube insisted. "I would give you a little more, but I need to pay for the groceries."
Ponyville came into view as the unicorn and the pegasus reached the top of the next hill. "I can get the food," Cube said. "You go back and make sure Trixie doesn't leave. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Ditzy nodded, watching silently as her puzzling client darted away into town.
That unicorn really likes Trixie, she thought to herself. I just wish I could understand why…
"Trixie! I'm back!"
Trixie glanced up at the rapidly approaching unicorn, squinting against the light of the setting sun. Cube was carrying a large basket and a blanket in his mouth. The pony staggered to a halt in front of her, setting the basket and its contents carefully on the ground.
"Hmph. It's about time," Trixie complained. "Trixie has met turtles faster than you."
"My apologies, Great and Powerful Trixie," Cube responded, seeming absolutely undeterred by the mare's insult.
Ditzy watched from the bushes once again, unable to understand how her client put up with the stuck-up mare's insults at all, let alone had romantic interest in her despite them. Either way, her job was to ensure his success in whatever endeavor he chose, so she continued to analyze the situation, so she could answer her client's questions when he came asking.
Cube spread the blanket out with his magic, and Trixie plopped down upon it immediately. "I hope you brought something good," the mare grumbled. "The last thing Trixie needs is a dining partner with poor tastes."
"Here," Cube offered, pushing the basket over to his date. "Pick out whatever you'd like."
Trixie glanced down into the basket, and her violet eyes widened in shock. Cube had supplied an astounding assortment of food. A large loaf of fresh bread was still warm beneath its wrappings. A few bright, delicious red apples, as round and juicy as Trixie had ever seen, lay scattered among the other foods. An assortment of fresh vegetables and a large stack of corn fritters filled most of the rest of the basket. One corner held a glass jug of cold milk, and another held a small cardboard box; Trixie couldn't see inside, but Cube had scrawled 'dessert' on the lid with a magic marker.
"Trixie is… impressed," Trixie finally admitted. "Trixie's daily funds do not usually allow her to eat food of this quality. It's a crime, that's what it is! With this level of talent, the Great and Powerful Trixie should be able to afford meals of this caliber thrice a day!"
"Well, until that dream comes true, I hope you enjoy this one, at least," Cube said politely.
Trixie extracted a large slice of bread and one of the apples from the basket, and began to eat. Her dining partner took what was left.
"So," Trixie asked through a mouthful of food. "How did you become such a fan of the Great and Powerful Trixie?"
"Oh, uh…" Cube stuttered. "Well I saw your show in Ponyville, and I thought it was awesome. I've been dying to meet you ever since."
Trixie took a swig of milk. "You didn't think Twilight Sparkle was infinitely better?" she began. "And you didn't wish to shun Trixie, like all of Ponyville's other ponies?"
"No way!" Cube responded. "I mean, Twilight is great and all, but I felt like you didn't get the respect you deserved."
Trixie grinned arrogantly. "Certainly right! The Great and Powerful Trixie has more talent than Twilight Sparkle will ever have!"
Cube finished eating an apple, and watched Trixie do the same. "So, would you like some dessert?"
"That depends," Trixie said. "What did you bring?"
Cube lifted the box with his magic, and flipped open the lid, displaying the contents to Trixie. Again, the mare was caught by surprise. In the box were a half-dozen of her favorite treats; cinnamon-coated pinecones.
From her vantage point, Ditzy caught a hint of some new emotion as it played across Trixie's features for just a moment. The pegasus rubbed her eyes, not sure if she had interpreted the expression correctly.
Could that really have been… gratitude?
Trixie gingerly lifted a pinecone with her magic, gazing at it as her partner set down the box. She took a bite, smiling in satisfaction at the sweet and earthy flavors of her preferred snack.
"Exquisite," she said simply, earning another smile from Cube. "Would you like one?"
"They're for you," the stallion said. "I don't like pinecones anyway."
Trixie looked skeptical. "Don't like pinecones?" she asked. "Or never tried a pinecone?"
Good question, Ditzy thought from her hideaway, realizing she'd never tried a pinecone either. She couldn't think of anypony who had, save for Trixie. The pegasus briefly wondered where the blue unicorn had picked up the habit.
"Okay, you caught me," Cube said. "I can't say I've ever thought them… appetizing."
Wordlessly, Trixie lifted another cinnamon pinecone, and dangled it in front of the yellow unicorn's face. Cube sighed and took the spiny object from the mare, and gingerly took a bite. Trixie smiled smugly as his eyes lit up in surprise.
"Whoa! Way better than I was expecting!"
"Trixie told you," Trixie cooed.
It only took a few minutes for the pair to polish off the entire box of treats. Once they had finished, Cube began packing the supplies back into the basket.
"Well," said Cube slowly. "It's starting to get late. As much as I'd like to hang around, I suppose I should be going."
Trixie said nothing, watching as her date finished packing. He turned to go.
Cube turned back around. "Yes?"
Trixie pointed to the woods. "Trixie knows this lovely trail in the woods. It circles a small lake and looks most beautiful in the moonlight."
Cube raised an eyebrow. "And…?"
Trixie sighed. "And Trixie was wondering… if you'd like to join her for a quick stroll. It should only take a few minutes."
Cube thought for a moment. As pressing as his schedule was, Trixie was actually offering to spend a little more time with him. A few more minutes couldn't hurt.
"Okay, why not."
"Excellent," Trixie declared. "Give Trixie a moment to retrieve her thicker cape. It's beginning to get chilly."
The unicorn trotted into her caravan.
Cube glanced at the tree line expectantly, and after a moment, Ditzy came creeping forward.
"How are you doing that?" the pegasus asked incredulously. "I mean… I don't know how you did it, but you actually might have gotten Trixie to like you!"
"I know!" The stallion whispered excitedly. "What should I do next?"
"I don't know," said Ditzy. "You had your nice dinner with her. Was there anything more you were after?"
"Not really," Cube admitted. "I wanted to meet her and show her I appreciate her more than anything else. What should I say to her while we're in the woods?"
Ditzy pondered this for a moment. "I think you just need to continue showing her your appreciation. If you're never going to see her again, try to make her time with you something she'll remember for a long time."
Cube nodded. "That's good advice. I'll do that."
The sound of hoofsteps approached, and so Ditzy darted back into the brush again.
"This way," Trixie said quietly, pointing to a gap in the trees. The yellow stallion followed the magician along the trail. For a few moments, they walked in silence.
"Um…" Trixie mumbled awkwardly. "Trixie wanted to… to thank you for the meal. It was very pleasant, to say the least."
"Oh, it was no big deal," Cube responded. "I'm just glad I got to share it with my long-time idol."
Trixie produced a tiny smile. "Trixie admits that dining with a fan is not necessarily a bad thing. This evening was more enjoyable than Trixie had anticipated."
Cube chuckled, but was soon quieted by the sight that appeared between the trees. They had reached the lake. The water's surface was completely still, and Luna's moon bathed it in rich silvery light.
"Wow," Cube said softly. "You're right. It's beautiful out here."
Trixie nodded. The two ponies sat quietly for several minutes, staring out at the lake. Several times, Trixie looked like she wanted to say something, but she repeatedly thought better of it and kept quiet. Ditzy watched intently from nearby, interested to see if anything else would come from this quiet moment the ponies shared.
"Trixie has a question for you, Cube," Trixie said suddenly.
Cube glanced at the mare next to him. "Yes?"
Trixie took a deep breath, her expression indiscernible.
"Why…why does everypony hate me?"
This caught both Cube and Ditzy by surprise. For one thing, it was the first time all night Trixie hadn't referred to herself in the third person. And second… the question itself was somewhat shocking. For the first time, Ditzy realized that on the inside, Trixie might not be as hopelessly self-centered as she appeared.
"Everypony doesn't hate you!" Cube responded vehemently. "I mean sure, some of the ponies in Ponyville were less than impressed by your magic, but that's just-"
"It's not just Ponyville," Trixie interrupted. "I receive the same unpleasant welcome in almost every city and town in Equestria. I've grown used to it; it seems nopony is interested in my show. I try to make it bigger and flashier at each new location, but it's never enough. If anything, it increases their dislike."
Trixie looked up, staring at the lake as she continued to speak.
"And then tonight… I met you. And I was reminded of the earliest days of my career; the days when ponies were thrilled to enjoy the spectacular magic show I produced for them. And I have to wonder… what happened to those ponies? Are you the only one left?"
Cube didn't know what to say. He awkwardly gazed at their reflections in the water. A tiny impact distorted the image with ripples; a single tear had fallen from the mare's muzzle.
"Tell me, Cube," Trixie continued in a voice barely above a whisper. "Has all of ponykind become unable to appreciate my honest entertainment anymore? Does a pony like me still have a place among the citizens of this nation?"
"Trixie, I think I might be able to answer that," Cube replied. "But if you want to know, you have to allow me to be painfully, brutally honest with you. I refuse to lash out at the pride of a pony like you without your permission."
Trixie glanced around. "Oh… go ahead. There's nopony else around anyway."
Cube nodded, wondering where to begin. "Trixie, tell me, what kind of performances did you used to put on, back at the beginning of your professional career?"
Trixie's eyes glazed over with memories of a happier time. "The shows were nothing much; any unicorn could perform the type of magic I did back then; I just added a bit of mystery and sleight-of-hoof to it, and the audience ate it up. Certainly, now that I have moved on from those humble beginnings to the dazzling effects I can now produce, it only makes sense that I should be able to wow even more ponies. But it always seems to have the opposite effect."
Cube once again bobbed his head in understanding. "Trixie, I really hate to tell you this, but I don't think your magic is the problem at all; I think it's your showmare attitude."
Trixie started. "What… what do you mean?"
"Something other than your magic has changed since you started your career," Cube answered. "It's how you build yourself up at your performances. Your claims of being Equestria's most powerful unicorn, your insistence that nopony can best you in any skill… and your constant reference to yourself in the third person probably doesn't help either."
"But…" Trixie stuttered. "But that's all necessary! How can I impress an audience if any old pony in the crowd can just walk right on in and upstage me? I need to appear to be the greatest to garner their respect."
"You're missing the point," Cube said. "It's one thing to be good at what you do. It's another to try to be better than other ponies, especially in the field of their own special talent. They're only robbing you of your chance to shine because you insist on robbing them of theirs first."
"But I just… I just wanted to put on a performance so spectacular that everypony could enjoy it," Trixie whimpered. "I never meant to hurt anypony; at least, not until they began to shun me. You can't blame me for becoming bitter…"
"I know that," Cube replied. "But everypony else… well, they only see you as a braggart now; a self-centered unicorn that's only interested in making herself look better than everypony around her."
Cube leaned in closer, staring straight into Trixie's watery eyes. "But that's not what you want at all, is it?"
There was a long silence, but Cube refused to break eye contact with the other unicorn as she processed the information. Finally, Trixie wailed in despair, throwing her forelegs around the stallion and sobbing into his shoulder.
"What have I done!?" she cried. "I've let myself become such a horrible, thoughtless pony. I've made an enemy of everypony I know!"
From her hiding spot, Ditzy could only watch in amazement, utterly dumbfounded. Everything she thought she knew about the blue unicorn's true personality was completely wrong.
"The only thing left that I still don't understand…" Trixie mumbled as she hiccupped away the last of the fit of sobs, "…is how you were able to see the real me. Even I had lost sight of the real me, quite a long time ago, I suppose."
"I've… had a lot of time to think about it," Cube admitted. "And a lot of others to talk it over with." A determined expression came over his face. "Listen to me, Trixie. It's not too late for you to turn everything around and have the career you've always dreamed of. The ponies of Equestria are not as cold and unforgiving as you've always taken them to be."
Trixie gasped. "You think… you think they could still accept me? I haven't ruined my chances to bring the genuine fun of a magic show to Equestria?"
"Of course not," Cube said. "Show a little humility, and soon you'll be the most popular magician around!"
Trixie suddenly gasped. "I just had a brilliant idea!" she announced. "You could come with me and help me with promotions until I can prove to everypony that I've changed!"
Cube shook his head. "As much as I'd love to, I have to leave. In fact… I have to leave right now; I've been here way too long already."
Trixie looked distraught. "Where are you going?"
"Back to where I came from," Cube responded simply. "There are a lot of ponies who need me. And… I don't know when, or if, I'll ever be back."
Trixie was horrified. "You can't! You're the only pony who was able to help me find the part of me I lost. What if I need your help again?"
"You won't," Cube said with a smile. "After all, you're the Great and Powerful Trixie. I'm sure you can handle it."
Trixie smiled weakly. "Well, I suppose…"
Cube's horn began to glow with magic as he prepared to teleport. "If I ever come back, I'll visit and see how you're doing. I promise."
"And one more thing," Cube said, as the air around him began to distort. "Where I come from, you have thousands… no, make that tens of thousands of fans."
"Tens… of thousands?" Trixie asked, with stars in her eyes.
Cube nodded, and then disappeared in a bright flash of yellow light.
Trixie sat on the silent pathway, staring at the spot where the pony who turned her life around had just vanished.
"Thank you, Cube," she said aloud. "I swear, I won't let you down. Equestria is about to meet the new and vastly improved Great and Powerful TRIXIE!"
The unicorn leapt into the air, shooting off a dazzling array of fireworks, which, invigorated by the mare's rekindled spirit, were brighter and more beautiful than they had been in years.
Ditzy Doo burst through the door of the Doctor's curiosity shop to find the Doctor himself delivering final travel instructions to Cube. Setting behind the ponies was the Doctor's time-and-space transcending machine, a tall blue rectangular structure that looked somewhat at home among all the strange objects lying around.
"There you are!" Cube said when Ditzy walked in. "I was going to just leave your pay with the Doctor if you didn't make it back in time, but here, take it now."
He tossed the bag of coins to Ditzy, who smiled gratefully.
"So Doctor," the pegasus began. "You're going to take Cube home in your magic outhouse?"
The Doctor glared at the mare. "It is not an outhouse, as you know full well Ditzy. And yes, the two of us were just about to depart. Come along, Cube."
The Doctor stepped into the confines of the strange machine, and Cube moved to follow.
"Cube, hang on," Ditzy said quickly.
The unicorn turned to the pegasus with a curious glance.
"I just wanted to tell you… that that was amazing," Ditzy said. "Nopony here knew the truth about Trixie. I'm sure she's going to owe a lot to you in the future."
"I'm just glad I could help her out," Cube said. "Maybe now she'll have a chance in appearing in Season three."
Ditzy raised an eyebrow. "Appearing in what now?"
Cube laughed. "Never mind. But keep an eye on her in my absence, will you?"
"Well then, bye Derpy!" the stallion called as he ducked back into the Doctor's device. "I'll try to come back and visit someday!"
Ditzy didn't even attempt to correct the unicorn as he slid the door shut. A moment later, the large box vanished into thin air, spiriting away the Doctor and the enigmatic unicorn who had left his legacy on both Trixie and Ditzy today.
There was a loud thump as the big blue police call box clunked onto the pavement. The door slid open, allowing Cube and the Doctor to gaze out at their surroundings.
They had landed in front of a tall skyscraper, the center of a complex of buildings all operated by ponies.
…Which, considering this was Earth and not Equestria, was a strange thing indeed to the humans living nearby.
The Doctor peered up to the top of the skyscraper, where a gigantic globe was perched atop the pinnacle, spinning slowly. The letters "EQD" were fastened to its side.
"Is this the place?" the Doctor asked.
His traveling companion nodded. "Yep. Thanks for the ride!"
"Oh, it was no trouble," the Doctor insisted, before disappearing inside his machine and vanishing once again. The unicorn watched him disappear before trotting into the building. One unicorn-magic-operated elevator ride to the top floor later, the yellow stallion arrived at the executive office, immediately drawing the attention of the two other ponies present there. One was a white pegasus mare with a hot pink mane, who had been typing away furiously at one of the computers, and the other was a dark grey unicorn stallion with a navy blue mane, who stood on his hind legs with his back against a bulging door, desperately trying to contain whatever was behind it.
"Dude!" The grey unicorn cried indignantly. "Where the heck have you been, Seth? I can't hold these frickin' emails back much longer!"
"What?" the unicorn whose name was really Seth replied, equally indignant. "You can't complain to me about that, Cereal Velocity. You're the one who threw me through your prototype portal in the first place!"
"Oh yeah, how'd that work out?" Cereal asked, abruptly forgetting the crisis at hand.
"Not bad," Seth said. "I got to meet Derpy, and the Doctor, and hang out with Trixie for a while of course."
"Awesome," Cereal said. "Too bad the power supply died right after you went through. Looks like I need to make some more modifications."
"Uh, guys," the pegasus in the corner piped up. "You know, we do kind of have a situation on our hooves here…"
"Well, you haven't exactly been much help, Phoe," Cereal grumbled. "I'm over here barely containing a flood of emails, and you're just sitting on the computer, browsing through pictures of Lyra all day!"
Phoe blushed and hurriedly closed her browser.
Seth trotted to his computer, and loaded up his blog, Equestria Daily. "To your station, Cereal," he commanded.
Cereal leapt from the door, landing in the chair in front of his computer. A moment later, the door burst open, letting the emails flow forth.
Seth gazed at the oncoming flood of pixilated envelopes with determination.
"Alright guys. Let's post some pony!"
Meanwhile, back in Equestria, Ditzy Doo was just arriving home as well. It was getting late, and Dinky had already gone to bed. Ditzy smiled at the thought of her filly being so responsible.
The mare was just about to collapse weakly on her couch when she heard a knock at the front door.
Now who could be visiting at this hour? She wondered as she moved quickly to her front door. Upon opening it, she found herself facing a pony she hadn't seen in a long time; a yellow pegasus with a turquoise mane and light blue eyes.
"Raindrops!" Ditzy cried excitedly, recognizing at once her best friend from her days working at Cloudsdale Mail and Freight. "It's so nice to see you! Come in!"
Raindrops smiled back, but her expression betrayed something other than joy. "Hi Ditzy," she said softly as she trotted inside. "Sorry, I came by earlier, but you weren't here. Dinky said you'd be back tonight."
Ditzy nodded. "Yep, it was a long day at work. Speaking of which, how are things going at Cloudsdale Mail and Freight? I've been gone a year now; has much changed?"
Raindrops frowned. "Well… that's actually what I needed to come and talk to you about. You see… there's been this, uh, nasty lawsuit dragging on between our company and the Canterlot Treasury for months now."
Ditzy's brow knitted in concern. "Why? What happened?"
"Well, uh…" Raindrops looked uncomfortable. "Remember the Canterlot riots that occurred because you had some… difficulties delivering that last message to Princess Celestia?"
Ditzy nodded, recalling the sour memory.
"Well, it was discovered a few days later that the damages were more extensive than expected," Raindrops continued. "One of the buildings destroyed was a treasury building containing ancient artifacts dating back to the era prior to Luna's banishment. The bill for this was shoved onto Cloudsdale Mail and Freight; the sum was astronomical, and so a court case started up over it."
"That's not good," Ditzy agreed. "What happened?"
"Well, the court came to a decision this morning," Raindrops said, her voice cracking a little. "After all evidence regarding the incident was reviewed, the jury decided that… that the sum shouldn't be posed to Cloudsdale Mail and Freight."
"That's good," said Ditzy. "It could have put them out of business."
"You don't understand," Raindrops said. "Instead, the one the court determined owes the sum is the… the pony most directly responsible for the damages…"
Ditzy gasped, and watched in horror as Raindrops reached slowly into her mailbag and withdrew a bill, addressed directly to Ditzy Doo… for a sum of no less than one-million bits.
Ditzy teared up as she stared at the piece of paper. "But I… I can't possibly afford…"
Raindrops had tears in her eyes as well. "I'm so sorry Ditzy. We really tried not to let this happen."
"…It was our boss, wasn't it," Ditzy whispered. "He singled me out to save the company."
"No!" Raindrops cried. "Mr. Brown worked harder than any of us to try and prevent this! He told the jury all about you, your disability, and the fact that you were a single parent. He begged, he pleaded, literally on his knees, not to afflict you with this debt. But, Canterlot had very convincing lawyers. The jury could not be swayed."
Ditzy shook her head, flinging tears around the room. "We'll go back to living in poverty for the rest of our lives if I have to pay this…" she moaned.
Raindrops hugged her old friend. "I really hate that this happened to you," she said. "I did everything I could."
Ditzy sniffled. "Thanks Raindrops. You're always a good friend."
Still sobbing, Raindrops left Ditzy's cottage.
Something caught Ditzy's eye as she glanced at the pile of mail under the intimidating bill. A purple, sparkling envelope glittered there, stamped with the Royal Seal, and the mare realized at once what it was.
Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns! She thought gleefully. If Dinky lives there, she will be spared living in enormous debt with me! As long as Dinky's ok, I don't care what happens to me! This is the answer I've been looking for!
Excitedly, Ditzy tore open the letter she had received from the Academy, perusing the short note.
Dear Ms. Ditzy Doo,
This letter has been sent in regards to your daughter, Dinky Doo, who has applied for enrollment at Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns. We have reviewed Dinky's applications; her health records seem to be in order, and her current elementary school grades are spectacular.
However, it has come to our attention that young Dinky lacks any basic magical training, which most fillies and colts receive from a parent or guardian by this age. Celestia's Academy is an advanced school, and as such, holds to the standard that students must be properly trained in basic magical arts before enrolling, so as not to be left behind by the complex topics often discussed in even the simplest classes.
Regrettably, as Dinky is without these basic skills, she simply cannot be considered for enrollment at our establishment. This may come as a disappointment, but I assure you, allowing her to enroll at her current level would put her at a severe disadvantage among our students. This is what's best for her.
Regardless, thank you for your interest in enrollment in the Academy.
Acting Dean- Celestia's Academy for Gifted Unicorns
Ditzy was numb. Her eyes scanned the paper again and again, hoping futilely that she had misread something. She couldn't bring herself to believe the awful turn of events. Without a chance to attend the Academy, Dinky would be stuck here, living with her mother, and trapped beneath the cloud of imposing debt. She would have to suffer along with her mother, living off only the barest essentials for survival for years to come. And there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.
Ditzy's head fell to the tabletop, and she wept.