“Oohh…where is it?”
Spike ducked as hardcover novels, sheaves of research notes and a pair of weighty math textbooks went flying past. “Maybe you left it in the-“ he started, but cut himself off as a quill flew past with lethal force, the sharpened tip embedding itself a full inch into the solid oak of Twilight’s workbench.
The dragon settled for resting his elbow on a discarded stack of spell tomes, tapping his claws against his chin and watching with resigned disinterest the mess that Twilight was making of her library. The lavender unicorn had herself worked into a full-blown panic searching for some obscure theory textbook, as happened roughly once a month.
Spike himself had formulated several possible theories as to why this happened, fortified with some misinterpreted and out-of-context theory taken from several of Twilight’s books. His current favourite was that all matter naturally and spontaneously fell into a higher degree of disorder. Twilight, being obsessed with organization, contradicted this rule, and every so often, needed to make a complete mess of things to get the tendency toward disorder out of her system.
Unfortunately, no matter what theories he came up with to explain her behaviour, he was still stuck with cleaning up the mess while Twilight trotted happily away, all anxiety forgotten, the book in question hovering beside her.
It usually took about fifteen minutes for her to pull nearly every book off the shelf and fling them around the library before finding the one she was looking for on a table or something. However, this particular episode had already gone on for nearly twenty minutes, and showed no sign of stopping.
In fact, if she didn't find it soon, she might literally attempt to turn the library upside down -
Spike yelped in terror and dropped to the floor as Twilight's prized bust of Tim the Enchanter came hurtling past and out the nearest window in a cacophony of shattering glass. A loud bang from the center of the room implied that Twilight had now flipped over the round, solid ironwood table that she sometimes used as an impromptu workbench. The dragon winced as he imagined the kind of dent that thing would have just put in the floor, and rubbed his claws against his temple as he felt a familiar stress-migraine coming on.
He snuck a quick glance over his protective wall of books, to find that the unicorn was now frantically digging through the small filing cabinet beside her writing desk, as if a thousand-page hardcover book would even fit in there.
Spike sighed and hunkered back down behind the pile of books, taking some comfort in the fact that she was no longer hurling heavy objects around any more. The files would probably last her a couple minutes, giving him some breathing room to try and find the book himself.
A cursory examination of the room quickly turned up the tome she was looking for: a hardcover, fully annotated version of A Field Study on the Regenerative Capabilities of Hydras, Volume III, propped up against a wall. It had probably been flung there by her initial, explosive panic attack, as usually happened in these situations.
The dragon darted out from behind his shelter and scooped up the book. Not a moment too soon, either; Twilight had just picked up the filing cabinet with her magic and was carelessly dumping the contents onto the floor. When it was empty, she gave a frustrated groan and flung it aside, where it landed an inch from an antique Germane armchair, and instead demolished the matching end table.
Spike managed to get to her just as she was attempting to rip her desk out of the floor; thankfully, due to the delicate equipment she kept in the drawers, Twilight had had the foresight to rivet it to a block of concrete buried a meter below the floor. But it was still painfully clear that it wouldn't hold for long, and so Spike wasted no time in leaping onto Twilight's back, yanking on her mane as hard as he could, and jamming the book in her face.
The unicorn paused, eyes scanning the title, mouthing the words emblazoned on the cover in gold leaf. Then she gave a satisfied "Ah!" and wrapped the book in her magic, trotting off to her workbench, which, apart for the quill embedded in the wood, was remarkably untouched.
Spike let out a sigh of relief, and grimly surveyed the interior of the library. Luckily, the force of the ironwood table's upending had been cushioned by several of Twilight's first editions, and the hardwood floor seemed unscathed. Unfortunately, the first editions themselves didn't seem quite so lucky. The side window had been completely obliterated by the bust, the filing cabinet was now sporting some nice dents, and the antique end table...well, calling it kindling now would have been generous. At least the nine-and-a-quarter inch catadioptric telescope, which had set them back nearly two thousand bits, had been spared.
Twilight, of course, was completely oblivious to the mess she had just created, and was happily poring through the field study, making occasional notes on a scrap of paper with the quill that had recently been embedded in the desk. After a moment, she frowned at something in the book, and started flipping through a sheaf of notes. "Spike," she asked, "Could you fetch me that copy of Cell Anagenesis? Something here doesn't really make sense."
The dragon directed a morose look at the book in question - which was currently being crushed under three hundred pounds of ironwood. "I'll...uh...get right on it."
Twilight looked over, spying the copy, and chuckled. "I know what you're thinking, Hercules. Don't even try it." A purple aura surrounded the table, and it flipped back to its proper orientation and position.
Spike bent over and picked up the book, frowning at the crushed spine. To be honest, he wasn't thinking about moving the table at all. In his current temperament, he was more inclined to just burn the thing.
As he walked over, book in claw, Twilight looked around, seeming to notice for the first time what a mess she'd made of the library. "Wow," she said, chuckling nervously. "Looks like I really went to town this time."
She smiled awkwardly at Spike, who had folded his arms across his chest and was tapping a foot impatiently. "I know. I'll help you clean it up this time. I promise."
Spike sighed. "You owe me some turquoise for this," he grumbled, slamming the book onto her workbench and going off to retrieve the bust.
Twilight flipped the book to its appropriate page and started reading. From outside, she could hear Spike grunting and biting back a string of extremely colourful obscenities (she had to have another chat with Rainbow Dash about her language) while he tried to extricate the bust from where it was lodged in the burrow of a very irate badger.
A pang of guilt touched her heart as she turned another page. Spike shouldn't be saddled with cleanup duty. It was her mess, after all.
Twilight turned around and surveyed the library. The absolute least she could do was get that filing cabinet straightened up. As for the end table...well, she'd never liked that old thing anyway.
She quickly swept up the papers she'd shaken out of the filing cabinet, and began shoving them into their respective folders. Invoices and bills went in the blue folder, future checklists and notes to self in the red folder...
The unicorn smiled as she brought together a bundle of copied friendship reports. She'd begun collecting them after the Discord incident, after inventing an enchantment that transcribed what Spike was writing on a separate piece of parchment.
She quickly scanned over the most recent one, which she (or rather, Spike) had written the previous day. It detailed her account of a minor incident in which Twilight had assumed all griffons had personalities and temperaments similar to Gilda, who ended up being a less-than-sterling example. Rainbow Dash, who happened to have known several griffons other than Gilda, had...well, she hadn't been impressed, to say the least. Thankfully, Rarity had been present at the time and was able to mediate the situation before it came to blows.
Dear Princess Celestia, the letter read.
Today, I learned that you can't judge an entire group based on what you've seen from one individual. I made the mistake of assuming all griffons were like Gilda, and ended up paying for it. There actually quite nice, and...
Twilight frowned. Something in that last sentence looked off. She quickly reread the passage again.
There actually quite nice -
For a moment, she could only stare at the parchment, her mouth hanging open in shock. Finally, she found her voice.
Outside, Spike jumped as Twilight's voice tore through the air. A happy consequence of this was that he finally dislodged the bust from the burrow, much to the relief of the badger attempting to show the dragon the error of his ways by blunting its teeth on his armoured scales. While the badger was convinced its efforts were actually accomplishing something, it was resulting in a severe pain in its lower jaw.
Indeed, at this point, the badger found itself wondering why it was suddenly the focus of the story, especially considering the interesting predicament Spike now found himself in.
Seeing as he didn't have any clues to go on, the only thing his mind could do was leap to conclusions. Oh, Celestia, he thought, his eyes widening. Did she find those Playmare magazines? I knew I should have gotten rid of those!
He ran to the front door, keeping his face blank. Keep it cool, he told himself. Try to play dumb. Don't give her any ammunition!
"Yes?" he asked, poking his head through the door.
Twilight jammed the letter in his face, simmering with rage. "What is this?" she snapped.
It took the dragon a panicked moment to realize it wasn't a Playmare magazine being held an inch away from his nose. It was Twilight's most recent friendship report. He breathed a quick sigh of relief before responding. "Uh...a friendship report?"
"I know what it is!" Twilight yelled, stomping a hoof. "Read the third sentence in the first paragraph!"
Spike read the relevant passage, frowning. "I don't know what's-"
"There actually quite nice?" Twilight shrieked. "That's the wrong homonym entirely! 'There' denotes a place! 'They're', the correct version, is a contraction of 'they are', and denotes possessive qualities!"
The dragon scowled at her. First she turned the library upside down, and now this? "Twilight, it's a simple mistake."
"Maybe," the unicorn said, turning away and flinging the letter down on a worktable. "But this was a letter to the Princess! Everything I send to her has to be perfect!" She stamped a hoof with the last word, jostling an inkwell on a nearby table.
Spike gently pinched the bridge of his nose between his claws. "Remember what happened the last time you panicked like this? If I hadn't talked to the princess, you probably would have destroyed-"
Twilight gasped. "Of course! Spike, you're a genius!"
"Ponyville," the dragon finished, his voice trailing off. "I'm sorry, what?"
Twilight looked away and began pacing back and forth. "I can send a letter to the Princess explaining that it was a mistake, and then she won't banish me to the dark side of the moon!"
Spike folded his arms. "And where did you hear she might do that?"
The unicorn paused. "Well...okay, maybe that won't happen. But I have to try to reason with her!"
"Twilight, she probably didn't even notice!"
"But what if she did?" Twilight snapped. "What if she's waiting to see if I'll do anything? What if she's-"
Spike clapped his claws over her mouth, cutting her off. "Twilight. Relax."
Twilight sighed. "I'm sorry, Spike. I just get so worked up sometimes..."
"Tell me about it," the dragon muttered.
"But I still need to clear this up. A mistake like that is inexcusable."
With that, she trotted off to her workbench and retrieved a piece of parchment. "Dear Princess Celestia," she said, scribbling with a quill. "It has come to my attention that there was a minor error in my last friendship report. I wish to apologize for said error, and pass along my assurances that it will not happen again."
"Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle," she finished, signing her name with a flourish. "There we go. Now if you'll just send it, we can put this whole mess behind us."
Spike rolled his eyes and blew out a tongue of flame, sending the letter on its way. "Now, can we get started on cleaning up the library?"
Twilight glanced at the piles of books behind her. "You know...how about you take a break? It's my mess, after all."
Spike frowned. "Uh, Twilight? Are you feeling okay? What about your project?"
"Oh, the project can wait," Twilight responded, picking up a few battered tomes. "It's the least I can do for averting potential disaster."
Spike was about to point out that using the wrong word was just about the farthest possible thing from disaster when he felt a familiar feeling in his gut. Already? he thought with vague surprise, as he belched out a tongue of green flame, from which appeared a sealed scroll.
Twilight's ears perked up. "Gimme!" she squeaked, and snatched the scroll out of the air.
"My dearest Twilight," she read. "I've looked over your last friendship report, but I can't seem to..."
She frowned. "I can't seem to find the error you mentioned. There really wasn't any need to point it out to me, anyway. Everypony makes a mistake every now and then. And besides, I'm sure a minor error in a friendship report won't change it's message at all..."
She jerked her eyes back along the sentence. Won't change it's message...
Her eye twitched.
"Uh, Twilight?" Spike asked. "You're looking all weird again..."
She ignored him, scrubbing at the offending apostrophe with magic, hoping that it was perhaps a fleck of dust that had fallen on the page.
That failing, the unicorn scanned the sentence again, hoping she had just missed some sort of context that made it correct. But there was no other possibility. Staring her in the face was the worst sort of grammatical blasphemy; a mockery of everything any literate pony held dear.
“Spike,” she heard herself say, in a tone that seemed absurdly calm to her. “Get me every record you have of my previous correspondence with the princess.”
“What’s that supposed to accom-“
“Spike?” she asked, in that same flat tone. “Please.”
In her mind, something was taking shape. To her knowledge, Celestia had never made an error of any kind. Like Twilight, she praised the written word in all its forms, and regarded any sort of error in that field as inexcusable. But to find one here…it meant something had changed. Not only that, but she had all but ignored Twilight’s admission of a mistake! Surely that sort of thing was tantamount to the highest form of treason!
“I’ve got it,” Spike piped up, carrying a massive armload of scrolls. “But I really have no idea why-“
“Thank you, Spike,” she said coolly, beginning to rifle through the scrolls. It was a massive undertaking, but she had to be sure.
Even after skimming the first few scrolls, her certainty deepened. Every letter was written in her mentor’s familiar, absurdly precise penmareship. The letters flowed with a nitpicking precision that would be nearly impossible to duplicate.
And there wasn’t a single mistake among them.
What was it that Applejack sometimes said? There was a first for everything?
Maybe. But if there was one thing she’d learned, it was that every rule had exceptions.
Without another word, she turned and headed to the door. “Twilight!” Spike called after her. “Where are you going?”
“I need to think,” she replied. “I just…I need to think.”
Spike frowned, but let her go. A moment after the door closed behind her, though, he bent and picked up the scroll from where it had been discarded on the floor. His eyebrows met as he scanned the parchment, and came across the improperly used apostrophe. That’s what she’s getting worked up about? An apostrophe?
He let out a heavy sigh. There was only one thing to do.
A few moments later, Spike tapped a pencil against his chin, wondering how to phrase the letter he was about to write. No point beating around the bush like he did when Twilight realized her latest friendship report was at risk of being "tardy". But he couldn't rightly say that she'd gone stark raving mad again. Mainly because she hadn’t. This was just… a precaution.
Dear Princess Celestia, he finally decided.
Twilight's been acting weird again. I think it has something to do with finding an error in your last letter (you used an apostrophe incorrectly, or something).
The dragon blinked, and his thoughts went fuzzy, as if someone had just thrown a thick, woollen blanket over his brain. For an instant, if you looked at him out of the corner of your eye, it looked like a shadow of some sort was standing behind him: a twisted, spindly thing that was a mockery of the equine shape. Then the moment passed, and it was gone.
Spike frowned. What had he been doing, again? Right.
He picked up the pencil again and continued writing.
Anyway, I'm getting worrried about her. Could you com down and-
He frowned. How many "r's" were there in "worried", again? And was there supposed to be an "e" on the end of "come"?
Spike shook his head. It had to be right. Twilight had spent uncountable hours drilling him on proper spelling and grammar. Maybe it was just the stress of nearly being murdered by an enraged badger. It was messing with his thinking.
Look at me, he thought, finishing the letter. I'm starting to act like Twilight.
The dragon quickly breathed a gout of flame over the scroll, sending it to the princess. Then he turned and surveyed the library. Looked like he was stuck cleaning it all up anyway.
To be continued...
I have never been so self-conscious of my grammar as when I was writing this, for reasons that should be obvious. For that reason, my pre-reader Bronius Maximus gets an extra-special credit.