Twilight’s eyes twitched, disturbed by the bright sunlight that seemed to pass straight through her eyelids. The light burned away any figments her dreams left behind, and forced her mind to wake up, no matter how much it wanted to remain in darkness and keep dreaming. Her eyes creaked open, bloodshot from the light-induced migraine she was currently suffering from, and she groaned in discontent.
She glared at the east-facing window on the wall, the very window that allowed the morning sun to bore into her corneas. I need to buy some window blinds, she thought to herself groggily. She often stayed up to ungodly hours of the night gazing through her telescope at the night sky, so having to abide by a literal ‘crack at dawn’ schedule often robbed her of a few precious hours of sleep. Last night, she had the stupid notion to stay up until five in the morning. ‘Oh, it’ll be fine, I can just sleep late,’ she had told herself. Of course, she had neglected to consider that she had a library to manage -- a library that opens at eight-thirty. She looked at the clock on the wall opposite from her bed. It was about eight o’ clock. Oh great, the library would open in thirty minutes, and she had three hours of sleep to run on.
While every fiber of her being opposed it, she dragged herself off of her mattress and fell to the floor with a loud thump, taking most of her comforter with her. She stretched her limbs out on the floor, and lifted herself to a standing position, angrily blowing a disobedient strand of purple mane out of her face. Scowling, she hobbled tiredly to the door of her room, gripping the knob with her telekinesis and attempting to open it. Her exhaustion caused the simple act of turning a doorknob to be as difficult as moving a mountain. She grumbled angrily, biting the doorknob with her teeth and opening it manually.
As she walked down the carved wooden hallway, she couldn’t find the strength to raise her head up. She didn’t really care, though; she knew her library inside-out. She could probably navigate it with her eyes closed, so obviously she could navigate it while looking at the floor. Upon approaching the kitchen, the familiar aroma of steamed daffodils met her nostrils, but the pleasant odor might as well have been intoxicating a tree stump in regards to how responsive she was.
Twilight entered the kitchen and seated her haunches at the center table, resting her chin on the wooden tabletop. Her eyelids weighed more than lead. One eye twitched. The irritating natural light of the sun had been replaced with the even more irritating artificial light from the lamps above. An ugly, sickeningly fake white light. She looked up at the lamp shining on her face, but the bright light coupled with her migraine threw her stomach into a tailspin, and she looked away to avoid throwing up the breakfast she hadn’t eaten yet. Spike, who was currently cooking the meal in question, said something to her. Probably a friendly morning greeting, but she didn’t listen to it. Maybe the dragon would leave, and possibly even turn off the lights. Then she could go back to sleep. Hoo boy, that would be nice.
A sudden sharp clatter of metal sliced through the muddy haze of Twilight’s slumbering mind. She let out a pained whimper at the auditory onslaught, dropping her forehead to the table and covering it with her hooves. The warm embrace of sleep was simply too tempting, and she was reluctant to relinquish it. She made a mental note to berate Spike for dropping... whatever it was he dropped. Couldn’t he be more careful?
Spike stuttered something, but Twilight couldn’t understand it with her brain in its addled state. ‘Please turn off the lights, Spike. I wanna go back to sleep,’ she thought. She heard her assistant’s light steps patter around behind her, and felt his scaly hand grip... something... on her back. She lifted her head an inch off the table and looked behind her, catching sight of him gawking at the back of her torso. Her eyes followed his, and she saw that the dragon had gripped one of the lavender-feathered wings sprouting from her dorsals.
He stared intermittently between the purple pony and her unfamiliar limb, an expression of shock on his face, but Twilight regarded the new appendages with half-closed eyes. ‘Oh hey, I have wings... How nice.’ She blinked in annoyance, shifting herself forwards and resting her head on the table once more, her eyelids sliding shut. A trick of the tired eye, nothing more. ‘Can you turn the lights off now, Spike?’
She allowed the weightless sensation of drowsiness to wash over her, feeling content to just lie in blind peace. After a moment, she began to feel herself drifting off, seeing nothing. Hearing silence. Feeling... something...
She realized that Spike still gripped the wing on her back, and she whipped her head around to glare at the baby dragon, causing him to recoil slightly. “Will you cut it out!?” she snapped, her bloodshot eyes narrowing dangerously. It wasn’t very comfortable to have someone tugging on your feathers so hard that it feels like they’re going to be ripped ou-... Wait... Her eyes widened as her gaze returned to the wings. They were still there. She remained silent, gawking at the two additional appendages that had somehow found their home on her back.
A moment passed, and her expression fell flat with skepticism. “Real funny, Spike,” she growled. “I’m too tired to deal with your pranks. Take these fake wings off!” she demanded, intensifying her glare. Her assistant shook his head vigorously, raising both of his palms.
“Twilight, I didn’t do this! And I don’t think they’re fake... They felt warm.” Spike shuffled awkwardly. “Can you... I dunno... move them?”
Twilight snorted in disbelief. “Move them? And just how would I do that?” she growled, her voice dripping with irritation. She had to give it to him; he was a pretty good actor. Still, as much as she didn’t want to admit it, she was curious about the wings. Her brain fired a few neurons down into her back, but most of them missed their target. Her eye twitched as she concentrated on operating muscles she had no experience with. It was like a newborn foal trying to walk; she had absolutely no idea how to do this. Shots in the dark. She... She could feel the wings, now that she thought about it. They were there. Their nerves were active. Blood was definitely coursing through them. If she could feel them, then she should be able to move them.
A few moments passed with no results, and yet the purple pony strained to move the phantom limbs. She began to feel foalish, her speculative nature kicking in. But then... one of her wings unfurled. She felt it, too. She felt the sudden chill of the inner surface being exposed to the outside air, and the light tickling sensation of her feathers brushing past her coat. Her eyes widening with curiosity, she promptly tried to unfurl the other. It worked.
Well, this was certainly new...
Wait. She had wings, real, functional wings, in addition to her already-present horn. Only one type of creature in Equestria had both wings and a horn. This... could only mean that she was an alicorn. She had apparently just joined an entirely different species, a very rare species with only two other members in existence. Two members that were responsible for two important celestial bodies, and by extent, everypony’s lives. The public opinion of alicorns was that they were all-powerful, and everypony had absurdly high expectations for them, so... If Twilight was one of them, did that mean that she would have to live up to these expectations? Would she have to move to Canterlot, or something? What about her friends? She wouldn’t have to leave her best friends, would she? How did this happen, anyway?
She bit her lip in trepidation as a desultory thought pushed all others out of her mind. This might be a big deal. A thousand plus arduous years of ruling might incite Princess Celestia to step down if there is another pony to take up her duties. Would she pick her own personal student? Did that mean that Twilight would have to raise and guide the sun? But she didn’t know how to do that! Multiple worries wrestled for attention in her mind, one overtaking the other for no more than a few seconds before another butted in.
And, her friends... What would they think? Would they assume she didn’t need them anymore, having moved up to a higher plane of living, and just... just leave? Her ears dropped as she pondered worst-case scenarios, staring off into space, her emotions gnawing a horrible hole in her stomach as desperation began to set in.
Spike unexpectedly climbed onto her back and began massaging her temples with his claws. “Twilight, you’re shaking... Are you okay?” he asked with concern, gently stimulating the two nerve clusters on the sides of her head.
The supposed alicorn in question merely blinked. “Spike... How am I going to explain this to my friends?” she inquired, worried. The dragon’s fingers on her cranial pressure points helped to alleviate her stress just a little.
“Do you need to?” was her little brother’s query. “It’s not a big deal, is it?”
“It is!” she shouted, leaping to an upright position and almost throwing him through the ceiling. “What... What if they think I don’t care about them anymore? That I’m a terrible friend because I’m going to leave them, to go be a... a princess, or something?!”
Spike, detaching himself from the wall on the other side of the room, climbed onto her back again and resumed his little massage. “C’mon Twilight, why would they think that? They’re your friends!” he rationalized, tracing important blood vessels from the pony’s temples to her chin with his clawtips.
Twilight swallowed to quell her anxiety. Maybe Spike was right. Her friends would understand; she just needed to tell them. The princesses, on the other hand... apparently she would have to repla-... Wait, no. She didn’t want to be a princess. She didn’t want to have to be responsible for the sun, or the government, or the country of Equestria. She needed to tell Celestia as soon as possible, so the princess wouldn’t try to place any huge responsibilities on her. She wasn’t ready for them.
“Spike, t-take a letter,” she blurted out, without realizing it.
The dragon hopped off her back and retrieved a quill and parchment from a nearby desk, before re-approaching her. “Ready,” he announced.
The mare swallowed again, clearing her throat. “D-dear Princess Celestia...” she began, before stopping short. Wait, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea... The princess, upon seeing her, might think that her sudden developments were a historical event, and announce it to the masses! Every corner of Equestria would know that Celestia’s personal student was now an alicorn. The only other alicorns in existence ruled the nation, and were fundamental in the very workings of the world. If the other ponies knew about Twilight, what would they think? What would they want from her? She certainly wasn’t royalty, but the princesses were both related. Ponies would assume Twilight was a royal, and therefore a princess, and then what? What would they expect of her?
"Twilight?” Spike asked, breaking the silence that had developed.
The pony in question stood stock-still, unknowingly holding her breath. Her face felt like it was burning. She had wings now. Wings. What happened to her? Unicorns don’t just grow wings. Was she an alicorn now? Her eyes darted between several of her bookshelves, searching for a specific title.
“Spike,” she began, her voice completely devoid of emotion. “Do we still have that reference guide on alicorns?”
Her assistant shook his head, the lime-green fins attached to his cheeks wobbling back and forth. “I don’t think so. Wasn’t that a rental?”
“O- oh yeah...” she muttered in response, her eyes shining for a moment as she stared off to the side. She had rented that book from Canterlot’s library some time after moving to Ponyville. That enormous library... How she missed it. She shook herself back to the present. She couldn’t go and re-rent that book now; she didn’t exactly have a low profile at the moment. If she couldn’t find her answer in a book, then she would have to find some other way to figure out what was going on. She wasn’t entirely sure if a valid explanation was in that tome, anyway.
“Spike, put the letter away for now,” she commanded, and the dragon complied, storing the quill and parchment back in their appropriate containers on a nearby desk. He shot her a worried glance for a moment, before leaving to clean up the breakfast he had dropped.
Twilight sat down on her haunches again, staring behind her at the feathery lavender appendages that partially covered her cutie mark. She would have to do something about them to keep anypony from discovering that there was another winged unicorn in Equestria. No one needed to know. Could she just wear something to cover them? A saddle, maybe? Most ponies didn’t wear clothing, but walking around stark-naked like they did was obviously a bad idea.
A muffled gurgling emanated from her gut. ‘Well, I can’t think on an empty stomach...’ she reasoned, deciding to dismiss her situation until after breakfast. It wasn’t like anyone could see her while she ate breakfast in her own house. Maybe she would take a nap, too. Yeah, that sounded nice.
Twilight realized that her eyes had drifted shut without her noticing, and forced them open, before standing up. She trotted wordlessly through the rooms of her house, searching for something she could use to hide her wings. A scarf? No, too narrow. Now that she thought about it, her wings were slightly larger than those of the average pegasus. They weren’t disproportionately larger, they were just... big. Her Winter-Wrap-Up vest crossed her mind, but then she remembered how tight it felt back when she actually wore it. It would absolutely crush her wings, as they added a few inches to her body width. Her Gala dress? No, way too formal.
She mentally kicked herself for not having many clothes. She didn’t need them. Well, not until now. She extended one of her wings and scowled angrily at it. ‘Stupid wings.’
She suddenly noticed that some of the feathers on the wing were disheveled and out-of-place. Innately, she nudged some of them into line with her muzzle. Some of them complied and aligned, neat and orderly with the rest, but others refused to co-operate. She grabbed a particular disobedient plume with her teeth and jerked it into the proper orientation, but it limply slid back to its previous position. She frowned and jerked harder on the same feather, but with a small jolt of pain, it simply detached from her wing and drifted down lazily to the floor. She simply stared at it for a moment. Whatever, that one felt loose anyway. She kept at it, trying to arrange her feathers as neatly as she arranged the books in her library.
‘This one should be like this. And... and this. Urgh, I know I get a bad bed-mane, but this is ridiculous... What would be the equivalent term for wings?’
“Twilight?” Spike asked, gawking slightly, having passed by the doorway. “Are you... preening your feathers?”
“Huh?” the mare replied, turning her head away from her project to look at the purple dragon. “No, I’m just-...” She fell silent. She was indeed preening her feathers; she just hadn’t realized it. It wasn’t her fault, though -- They weren’t orderly! Everything needed to be organized and easy to navigate. That’s how she’d been successful in life so far. She... she was just tidying them up, that was all.
“Wow Twilight, I didn’t know you’d warm up to this so fast,” Spike chimed, approaching the purple pony with a warm smile.
“W-warm up? How am I going to explain any of this to anypony?!” Twilight exclaimed, standing up. “I haven’t warmed up. I was just trying to... to make my wings less messy, is all...” she trailed off, looking at her wing again. There were still misaligned feathers, and she still felt an urge to groom them, most likely born from her obsessive-compulsive need to organize. Maybe just a few more, and then she would stop. Without another word, she immediately stuck her muzzle into her wing again and continued to nudge and bite at her plumage. ‘This one needs to be like this... All the feathers around it are pointing the same way. Oh, and this one goes this way-Grk! It won’t stay! Whatever, I’ll just take it out. Ow! Okay then, that’s enough. Well, maybe after this one...’
Before she knew it, she sat surrounded by a thin circle of lavender feathers on the carpet around her. She had moved on to her other wing as well, as she had eventually groomed the first one to perfection in her eyes. Wait, wasn’t she going to stop after the first few?
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
Wait. Wait. What time was it!? She stood up and frantically looked around for a clock. It must have been past eight-thirty; somepony was at her door. ‘I can’t let anypony see me!’ she thought, panicked. She galloped noisily down the hallway back to her bedroom, her gaze darting back and forth. There was nothing she could use! Nothing... except for her bedsheets. Whatever, it’d have to do. She focused on the rim of the white sheet she had previously fallen out of bed with, and telekinetically wrapped it around herself, letting the excess fabric drape down to the floor. She no-doubt was suffering from bed-mane, as she had yet to comb her deep-purple hair, so she might be be able to pass herself off as ‘just woken up’ and fool the pony waiting outside her door. Nonetheless, she shook her head vigorously for a moment, just to be sure.
She scrambled haphazardly back to the front room to see Spike greeting the customer, a brown pegasus mare with a rather wavy blonde mane who wore just a tad too much lipstick. Both regarded the ‘unicorn’ for a moment, before the dragon continued speaking.
“As I was saying, welcome to the Ponyville Library! Twilight over there is really... uh... tired, so I’ll be serving you this morning. Do you have anything specific in mind?” Spike asked, giving his trademark warm grin. The chocolate-brown pony cleared her throat.
“Yes, I was wondering, do you have a copy of that new fiction novel that just released? ‘Sharpsteel the Pirate’, if I recall correctly.” The customer’s voice was light and breathy, almost as if she was acting in front of a camera.
“I think we do. Let me check,” the young reptile answered, grabbing his personal ladder from its resting place against the wall and laying it against the bookshelf near the labeled ‘adventure/fiction’ section.
Twilight felt like she was bound with ropes. The bedsheet was tangled around her limbs, and one of her wings was bent the wrong way. Her left wing wasn’t laid neatly against her side; it was bent up over her back. To anypony looking at her, there was no difference, but to her, it burned. She didn’t dare try and move it back into place with that pony watching her, however.
She tried to walk back through the doorway she came from, but tripped over the fabric wrapped around her hooves and fell to the floor. The sheet came undone and flared up as she plummeted, exposing her wings to the cold air for a moment. ‘Oh no!’
She frantically scrambled back to her hooves and shot a worried glance at the customer. The pony in question was currently negotiating her checkout with Spike, and had only cast a glance the blanketed mare’s way after she had risen. Good... Maybe the customer hadn’t seen her new limbs.
Twilight hastily retreated back through the doorway she had entered from, able to avoid tripping now that her legs were unbound, and turned a corner before sitting down on her haunches. She breathed a sigh of despair. She still had nothing to hide her wings with. What was she going to do?
She couldn’t leave the library to go and purchase something to cover her up, but maybe... maybe she could send Spike out to buy a casual outfit that she could wear. It would attract attention, but not nearly as much as her wings would. With nopony to manage the library, she would just have to put up the ‘CLOSED’ sign to deter any more customers.
She leaned against the wall, listening to Spike and the customer pony babble on about things completely unrelated to libraries or books. She resisted the urge to shout at them to get on with it, trying to remain polite despite her having already told the dragon multiple times to avoid small talk.
Twilight’s eye was twitching by the time they had finished. When the click of the front door closing met her ears, she immediately threw off the bedsheet wrapped around her body and rocketed back to the front room. “Spike...” she growled dangerously.
“Oh, hey Twilight. That pony was really nice! I hope she comes back,” he obliviously commented, rolling back and forth on his heels.
“You shouldn’t get chatty with the customers; it holds everything up,” she scolded, her voice gruff.
Spike stared for a moment, before shrugging. “Well, I didn’t see anyone else waiting outside, so...”
“Ugh, just forget it! I need you to go out and get something for me, anyway.”
Twilight looked behind her again, scanning the shiny lavender feathers of her wings. “I... I need you to go and buy a vest for me. Extra-large. Make sure it’s full-torso.” she explained, observing how a white sheen rippled across her feathers as they shifted involuntarily. Her wings were significantly larger, or more accurately, longer than those of an adult pegasus. Hers hitched behind her shoulders, and even when folded up they still reached all the way back to her cutie mark, the primary feathers partially obscuring the deep-red starburst symbol. A regular vest wouldn’t cut it.
“Can do, Twilight! They only have vests like that for racer pegasi, but I’ll get the biggest one they have!” the dragon answered chipperly, grabbing one of his older sister’s saddlebags from a cabinet and wearing it on his back. He opened the front door and hopped out without another word. He did like to focus on speed when shopping.
With a sigh, Twilight focused her magic through her horn and turned the ‘OPEN’ sign on her front window to the side that said ‘CLOSED’. She didn’t want anypony to bother her before Spike returned with that vest. She looked around the room; searching for something to do to pass the time. A book to read? Possibly. Her gaze passed over the table that her little brother usually sorted the morning mail on. Not an envelope in sight. Perhaps he had forgotten? Well, she saw no sense in delaying something as important as that...
She looked out her window at her mailbox, attached to two poles stuck into the ground roughly ten feet away. She concentrated, and the mailbox was surrounded in a deep red glow, before the hatch opened and a stack of envelopes & magazines floated out. She moved herself to the side of the door, before opening it and bringing the papers through, closing it behind them. She couldn’t risk going outside yet; there could be a random passerbyer who would see her and then tell everypony about her. She couldn’t let that happen.
Tearing herself away from that thought, she sorted through the envelopes with her magic, opening each one and giving them a quick skim. Coupons for the Day Spa... A warning of a subscription expiration for Equestria Daily... Letter from Mom & Dad saying they’re coming to visit... ETA notice for Spike and the large mirror he ordered for some reason... Racer Pegasi Monthly...
Wait. She stared at the black vest donned by the yellow pegasus stallion on the cover.
‘“They only have vests like that for racer pegasi...”’
That was the vest that Spike was going to get for her? It had enormous holes for the wings! That wouldn’t hide hers at all! She needed to go catch him and tell him to get a different vest. Jumping up from the pile of letters, she yanked the front door open with her magic, tucked her wings in tight and-
Twilight stopped mid-gallop, mere yards from the door. She had almost rushed straight out in all her winged-unicorn glory before she caught herself. Inwardly cursing at such an early slip-up, she shut the door in front of her. She was lucky that nopony was standing directly outside. She needed to wear something before she went out. But... what? That bedsheet was far too wonky; she couldn’t take more than a few steps without it tangling around her hooves, let alone gallop a large distance.
She looked around the room. Nothing. She groaned to herself. Nothing for it, then. When in doubt, experiment with magic. She began to channel energy into her horn, mentally focusing on her wings. She felt the familiar tingle of raw magical energy flow through her, boiling through her horn as she guided the spell, and after an almighty burst of energy, her wings were gone. To the eye. She had cast a type of invisibility spell on them, but bending light used a lot of magic. She could feel it sapping away at her strength, slowly but surely. She estimated she could only keep the spell up for twenty minutes, at the most. At least, at her normal peak strength. Not only was she tired, but also didn’t yet know if her magical abilities had been affected by her change. If she pushed it any farther than she was capable, she would collapse and fall unconscious. And even then... it still only fooled the eye. If a pony were to bump into her, or perhaps poke her side, they would feel the feathers of her wings. And this tier of illusion spell was fragile; one touch, and the precise incantation could shatter. She had to be careful.
Regardless of the risk involved, she smiled to herself. Twenty minutes should be more than enough time for her to catch Spike, change her request, and get back to the library. She just needed to avoid running into or talking with anypony; she couldn’t waste any time. After shaking herself thoroughly to clear her thoughts, she opened the door again and headed out.
Twilight squinted at the bright sunlight that beamed into her eyes from just above the horizon. It was still early morning; the sun had only begun its ascent into the sky, and the angle of the light washed a beautiful orange over the clouds, casting long shadows across the landscape. The village’s colors were dulled, the sunlight having yet to reach maximum brightness. She breathed in the moist morning air, and felt the dew on the grass beneath her hooves, absent-mindedly wondering if her coat would be soaking wet by the time she returned home.
She stepped off the dark-green grass and onto the cobbles, steadily breaking into a gallop in the direction she knew her assistant had gone; the path that led to a sports equipment store named Academane. It was the only store in Ponyville that sold athletic-tier vests, such as lightning-proof suits for pegasi, and Applejack’s favorite brand of industrial-strength horseshoes. It was also one of the only store lines in the country that sold pants. Tennis ponies wore them.
As she sprinted to catch up to Spike, she noticed that there weren’t many ponies out. Perhaps most were still inside, preparing for their day. However, she gradually started seeing more and more ponies out as she neared the center of town. They looked at her as she zipped by; obviously because she was moving quickly, but at least they weren’t staring at her for a particular other reason.
Twilight gradually slowed as she ran out of energy, beginning to pant heavily. She could run for a lot longer normally, but the invisibility spell she was maintaining had been draining her strength alongside her galloping, and had caused her to tire out much more quickly. Her vision suddenly began to swim, and she shook herself awake. ‘No... I can’t pass out here... Not in front of everypony...’ If she were to lose consciousness, the spell would break, and her little secret would be blown.
She looked around; she appeared to be near the marketplace. She could see ponies walking to and fro, in and out of tents, wearing saddlebags filled to the brim with various commodities. The cobbles beneath her hooves had an oddly intricate colored design to them, rather fancy when compared to the blank paved concrete rodes in the suburbs of Ponyville. The area buzzed with conversation, the air itself seeming to vibrate as countless ponies chatted about various things in their daily lives.
She felt a sudden urge to curl up right there on the road and surrender herself to her dreams, the exhaustion from her spell, her galloping, and her insufficient amount of sleep the previous night all crashing down on her at the same time. She needed to take a break, and drop the spell for a few minutes to catch her breath. But... where? She couldn’t do it here, out in the open. There! She spotted a nearby dark alleyway between two houses, and headed towards it.
As she stepped into the cool shadows, the sounds of the marketplace became muffled and less-clear. Glancing all around her to make sure that nopony could see, she lit up her horn. She cancelled the invisibility spell, and her large lavender flight limbs faded into existence, the spell’s draining effect slowly ebbing away. She practically collapsed next to a dumpster, trying to catch her breath as beads of sweat rolled down her face and dripped off of her chin.
“That spell was supposed to last twenty minutes...” she croaked to herself, taking deep breaths. Her fuzzy purple chest methodically expanded and contracted as she breathed in and out, trying to regain her strength. Using magic had an exhausting effect on a unicorn. The magical energy itself primarily came from passive absorption of ambient energy from the environment, something a unicorn’s body did naturally, but using it, the formation of a spell, drew from a pony’s stamina. Using a complicated spell caused the same amount of physical exhaustion as lifting and carrying a heavy object with her own body. Maintaining a spell and trying to do something athletic at the same time... it limited her ability to do either. ‘Note to self: Walk next time.‘
She scanned the nearby area. The alleyway she sat in was very dark in the scarce morning light; nopony would be able to spot her if they happened to cast a glance her way. It was also roomy, enough for her to wholly stretch herself out without bumping into a wall. In fact, she did, groaning to herself as she wrung out a few cramps in all six of her limbs. The colors of the walls of the buildings were indiscernible in the waxing light; each appearing to be the same shade of dark grey as the other. The two openings out to the sides of the alleyway were the only sources of light, and even then, the illumination was insufficient for anything more than navigation.
Her stomach suddenly growled with the intensity of a territorial wildcat, and she frowned miserably at her belly. She still hadn’t eaten any food since she’d woken up. Well, the Ponyville Marketplace was right over there... but she couldn’t go there as she was. The invisibility spell would have to be recast, and she was too exhausted to do that. Her empty stomach was not helping to recover her energy, either. She was tired, hungry, and out of options.
Various ponies occasionally trotted past the entrance of the alleyway, but none noticed the pony resting within. She cast a glance out the other end, seeing a simple concrete pathway dotted with rather normal-looking houses. The street was familiar; it was the same street that the Carousel Boutique was on. The alley she laid in wasn’t too far from the building, either. She could go there to rest up, and maybe even get some breakfast, with no fear of being exposed to the locals, but...
Rarity... Twilight would have to reveal herself to the dressmaker. ‘No... Please, no...’ she mentally begged, before being interrupted by another thunderous bellow from her gut. She had a choice; either stay here, technically out in the open with an empty stomach, or go visit Rarity in her warm abode and get something to eat. Her brain told her to stay put, but her heart and her stomach told her to go to Rarity’s. The dressmaker wouldn’t freak out, right? Right? Twilight desperately wanted to have somepony to talk to who wouldn’t gawk at her the entire time, somepony who would sympathize and give assistance. The unicorn was a close friend... She would understand. She would help.
The purple mare stood up, trotting carefully and silently to the opening on the other side of the alley. She stuck her head just a few inches out and looked to her left, then to her right, her mane swishing back and forth. The coast was clear, and she had a straight shot to the Boutique. Nopony was in sight... It was now or never.
She steeled herself, and began sneaking to the boutique, quietly but briskly as she hugged the nearest wall. She put an effort into making sure her hoofsteps were silent, but kept a decent pace, as walking too slowly is just as dangerous as walking noisily. The street was barren; the only signs of life being the occasional sounds of chatter within the houses, each sentence sending an icy shock up her spine. Silence was important... All it took was for somepony to open their window curtains, and she was done for.
As she neared the large, circular open space which nestled the Carousel Boutique, she almost choked. Despite most of Ponyville being a ghost town in the early mornings, this particular area was currently very popular, bustling with ponies of all ages talking and playing board games. She cursed under her breath. There was absolutely no way she’d get past them without being noticed. She thought about simply teleporting into her white friend’s living quarters; she was close enough, but she wasn’t sure if she could cast the spell without passing out from the exertion. She still hadn’t recovered from her extended galloping and use of the invisibility spell. She turned to glare at the offending appendages on her back. She had no idea how to fly, and didn’t trust her new limbs not to fail her when she needed them.
Perhaps she could distract them, make them all look in one direction, and slip by before they came to their senses. But how...? Her purple irises scanned the area. There was a large billboard posted on the roof of one of the nearby shops, displaying an advert for a brand of coffee. It seemed to rattle slightly back and forth in the wind, suggesting that the bolts holding it down must have loosened, and were about to give out. With a little telekinetic nudge, the entire thing might come crashing down, and the resulting noise would distract everypony long enough for her to make a break for the Boutique. But... wouldn’t that be vandalism? Well, it was bound to fall sooner or later. At least she could make sure it wouldn’t fall on anypony.
She double-checked the area directly beneath the advertisement; the nearby foals and their parents were wisely taking caution to not stand in its path were it to fall down. Good... Nopony would be hurt from this. Telekinesis, by comparison, was a very easy spell, so perhaps using it wouldn’t tire her out too much. She channeled energy into her horn, and reached out with her mind to the swaying, creaking advertisement, before gripping the top of it and tugging sharply towards the clearing. The steel supports groaned painfully from the sudden force, the sheer weight of the board overtaking the pull from the magic, before the noise escalated to an ear-piercing shriek as the metal ripped apart, the horrible noise echoing throughout the clearing and demanding the attention of all nearby. The adult ponies panicked and the foals screamed as the smiling face of the advertisement leaned ever-closer, before the billboard tore off its supports and came down like a wrecking ball.
BOOM! The ground shook as the sign collided with the gravel hoofpath, spraying small rocks in every direction and leaving a deep indenture in the earth. Several ponies lost their footing from the tremor, mostly the foals, and fell down. Twilight seized her chance and bolted out from her hiding spot, galloping as quickly and silently as her tired limbs would carry her to the door of the Carousel Boutique, darting behind the sights of the startled citizen ponies. She telekinetically opened the oriental wooden door of her friend’s home, and quietly slipped inside, closing it behind her.
She loudly released a breath she hadn’t even known she’d been holding. That was close... but at least nopony saw her. Now she was safe within the confines of her friend’s house, finally away from the outside world. Her ears perked as she began to hear voices, most likely the ponies outside talking.
"Did you see that pony run by after the sign fell?”
“Yeah... I think she had a horn and wings!”
“What are you talking about?”
She felt like somepony had stabbed a frozen dagger directly in-between her shoulder blades. ‘Oh no... no... no... no no no no nonononono!’ she mentally chanted, panicked. A few of them had seen her. She stood trembling for a moment, before collapsing, curling up around herself on the white tiled floor and stroking her own tail with a purple hoof. Her ears twitched erratically, her expression distraught. ‘They...They... It... It’ll be fine... It... They’ll forget... Maybe... Maybe they’ll think... They’ll think they didn’t see anything at all...!’ she thought bluntly and reassuringly as she nervously giggled to herself, her wings twitching involuntarily behind her back. The jig wasn’t up yet... It... It wasn’t up yet... It’s not like they’d keep thinking about it. They’d forget. They wouldn’t tell other ponies about it. They’d forget.
“Hellooo~? Is somepony in here? I know you want your fabulous dress as early as possible, darling, but the Carousel Boutique opens at ten o’ clock,” a particular stylish white unicorn announced, her cultured voice echoing from somewhere else inside the building.
Twilight immediately scrabbled to her hooves and looked at the shadow her friend cast on the wall as she approached the corner of a nearby hallway. The purple pony bit her lip and whipped her head back and forth, looking for a place to hide. She was going to tell Rarity, just... not now. Please, not now...
Perhaps she could hide? The only plausible option was a large upturned cardboard box in the room to her right, just big enough for her to fit into. Seeing no other option, she darted to it and levitated it upwards, frantically emptying it of the white packaging material, before crouching down underneath and placing the container upside-down over her. It almost caught on her unruly mane on the way down, as it was a tight fit, but it would have to do. There was a small cut-out hole in the front of the box, and through it she watched Rarity trot around the corner, looking for any sign of the pony that just entered her house. The unicorn had curlers in her mane & tail, and judging by the way her bleach-white fur appeared to glisten in the light, she may have just finished her morning shower.
"Hellooo~? Is anypony here?” the mare trilled aloud, her gaze darting about for a moment, before she turned around and began to walk back to the hallway she came from. “Huh... Must have just been my imagination... I-I wish sw-... would... nrg... keeping me up all night... beauty sleep...” she yawned incoherently, taking her leave.
Twilight swallowed anxiously, feeling little relief from having successfully evaded the white pony. She couldn’t just keep hiding from her friend. Especially not in her own house. That just felt... wrong.
Why couldn’t she put her trust in Rarity? The fashionista had never steered her wrong before. And, to have somepony to actually talk to about... about this... Twilight needed the company of a friend right now, more than anything.
But what if she reacted adversely...? No, she would understand. She had to understand. The lavender pony took a deep breath and gathered herself, before lifting the cardboard box off of her figure and placing it aside. She opened her mouth to call her friend’s name, but was unable to summon her own voice. She cleared her throat, and mentally commanded her icy fear of rejection to step down.
“R... Rarity...?” Her voice was small, and faint. She shook her head to clear her thoughts, and stood up, trotting after her friend. She turned a corner to lay eyes on the damp mare cantering away, possibly back to her bathroom to continue her grooming. “Rarity!” she almost shouted, causing her friend to turn around to acknowledge her.
Upon sighting her, Rarity appeared slightly irritated for a brief moment, like a pony just woken up from a nap, before her expression softened at the sight of her friend. Judging by the faint bags under her sapphire eyes, she appeared to have not slept well. “Oh, it’s just you, Twil-...” she began, before her tired eyes shot wide open.
Twilight frowned, her eyebrows tilting upwards as the two locked eyes, fearful purple irises gazing into surprised ocean-blue ones. Maybe she shouldn’t have come to the boutique at this hour; exhaustion often inhibits rational thought...
“Rarity, I... Listen... I-”
“W... Wait a minute...” Rarity mumbled, rubbing a white hoof over her eyes, before opening them again with apparent difficulty. “You... You have wings... When... What...” she muttered, squinting for a moment. “You... You’re not Twilight!” she suddenly shouted, her horn shining with a vicious icy-blue glow as she lifted several nearby objects into the air. “Who are you!? I can easily see through that little illusion spell of yours, impostor!” She threw a crate full of clothes at the purple pony, who jumped out of the way as the box bounced off the floor and left a nick in the tile.
“I-Impostor? Wait, Rarity, stop! It is me!” Twilight shouted back, trying in vain to pull in her outstretched wings, which had flared open upon her dodging the heavy wooden box. “Listen!”
“By Celestia, you are stupid! I am not that easy to trick!” Rarity angrily spat, blinking exhausted eyelids as she pulled back another crate and grit her teeth together. “How could you not know that Twilight is a unicorn!? She may be Princess Celestia’s student, but she isn’t a royal and doesn’t have wings! You aren’t her!” She paused to blink a few times, as if formulating her next thought. “Get away from my gems!” she yelled, throwing another crate at the violet mare. “Get out!”
Twilight couldn’t avoid this one; she was literally backed into a corner. She caught the fabric-filled container with her own telekinesis and used it to deflect the subsequent projectiles. “I... I... Why won’t you listen!?” she yelled. “Yes, I have wings now! I-I don’t know what happened! Stop throwing things at me!”
“Not until you leave! You aren’t my friend, I can tell just by looking at you! Twilight is a unicorn, not a... a... whatever it is you are!” Rarity shouted shouted back, throwing a nearby mannequin at the purple pony, who deflected it with the crate she held.
“Listen!! I-I don’t know what happened to make me like this, Rarity, but... Please! It’s me!” Twilight cried, her voice shaking painfully. Why was she acting like this? Nothing ever drove her dressmaking friend to outright attack another pony. Was she just tired? There had to be something to convince Rarity that it was her. Something... something that nopony else knew, something that they swore to never talk about. "Don’t you remember Tom? The giant rock that you thought was a diamond, back when Discord attacked?”
Her assailant gasped, releasing her psychokinetic grasp on the objects nearby and letting them clatter to the floor. "We swore to never speak of that again... How did you find ou-...” Her eyes drew wide with realization. “It... it is you...”
For a moment, the two ponies simply stood on opposing sides of the room, surrounded by shattered wood and packaging material. Twilight gazed fearfully at her friend, before collapsing completely on the floor as both shock and relief crashed into her at the same time. Her body shook as she fought to keep herself from sobbing, her trembling breathing the only sound in the room.
Rarity took slow, cautious steps to her friend, an apologetic expression lining her features. “Darling... I-I’m so sorry, I thought... What happened...?” she asked, her sapphire irises scanning over her friend’s body.
Twilight wiped her eyes with a shaky hoof, remaining silent as her colorless friend reached down to her shoulder. She let her wings lay limp on the floor beside her, the cold tile sending chills up her spine. So far, those two limbs had only been wrecking her life. She didn’t care what happened to them.
The white unicorn lowered herself delicately back onto her haunches, taking a purple hoof gently into hers. Her eyes blinked slowly, tiredly. “Twi-... Twilight...? Please believe me, I...”
The violet mare shook, before suddenly jumping at the dressmaker, pulling her damp friend into a tight embrace. Burning hot tears silently dripped down her cheeks and onto Rarity’s fur, her body jerking slightly as she quietly began to sob. But then... she felt a soft tightness around her withers as her friend gently returned the hug, stroking the purple pony’s winged back with a white hoof. For the first time that day, held in the forelegs of a good friend, Twilight felt... she felt... safe.
The pair simply sat there for uncounted minutes. Rarity said nothing as she comforted her crying friend, gently brushing the winged pony’s dark purple mane in an an attempt to further her apology. She put a conscious effort into not touching her limp wings, which shook with each of her exhalations.
Eventually, Twilight reluctantly broke the embrace, pushing herself away from the ivory mare into a more comfortable sitting position. Her head was bowed, the last of her tears squeezing out from her closed eyelids and rolling down the end of her muzzle. Her breaths were still shaky, but significantly more controlled. She stretched her wings a little, relishing in the brief pleasure of the action after having left them limp for so long.
The sound of hooves shuffling in front of her suggested Rarity had taken a similar position. There was a pause. Now that Twilight’s mind had cleared of the fog of anguish, her momentarily-buried fear of her friend’s reaction to her altered state returned full-force.
Rarity cleared her throat. “Erm... Ah, Tw-... Twilight?” she almost whispered, her voice gentle. The alicorn didn’t move. “Twilight, dear... What... What happened to you?”
Twilight looked up, stirred by the concern in her friend’s voice. She opened her mouth to respond, but found she didn’t yet trust her voice to not break. She blinked, looking away morosely and squinting at the floor in an attempt to avoid breaking down in tears again.
An uncomfortable silence settled over the wrecked room. The purple pony focused on stabilizing her breathing, attempting to calm herself. She let her eyes slide shut as the cool air chilled her lungs and relaxed her mind. She could feel the body warmth of the mare beside her, so very close, but Rarity held her peace, leaving her friend be. It felt like an eternity ticked by.
Finally, Twilight gulped, her breathing returning to its normal pace. She slowly opened her eyes, gazing intently at her purple hooves.
"They’re beautiful, by the way,” Rarity complemented, attempting to converse with her.
Twilight glanced up at her, her eyes glistening, but remained silent.
“Your... your wings. They’re magnificent,” the ivory mare clarified softly with a concerned smile, indicating her friend’s feathered limbs. "I’m sure they’ll do wonders for your visage when you’re a princess,” she said happily, before immediately clapping a hoof over her mouth when the pony in question released a quiet whimper. “W-wait, no! I-... I didn’t mean-... I... Twilight, please...”
“Rarity... I don’t know what’s happening to me...” Twilight whispered, the most her broken voice could muster. A few silver tears dripped from her eyes, creating small, reflective puddles on the tiled floor below. “I... Please, just don’t tell anypony...” she whimpered, her violet irises drifting pleadingly to her friend, who stood next to her, watching over her with sympathy.
“I won’t... I promise,” Rarity breathed, laying a hoof on her guest’s wing and earning a look from her, before drawing it back. "Are you sure, though? I mean...” Her white ears folded as she remembered her recent assault on the transformed pony. “I... I know I reacted like I did... I-I’m so sorry... But, maybe other ponies won’t make the same mistake I did... I thought you were a sub-par burglar disguised as one of my friends, because of your... your...” She bit her lip, blinking with concern and hesitance. "I’m so sorry...”
The purple pony shuddered, before shakily folding her feathery appendages against her sides and sitting up. “It... It’s fine...” she sighed, looking at the floor. Of course Rarity reacted like that. Twilight wasn’t the same mare she was yesterday. What other reaction could she expect from any normal pony?... No, she couldn’t think like that. Rarity just... she just made a mistake, that’s all. She’d move on, and everything would go back to normal. Wouldn’t it...?
Her stomach growled loudly, reminding her that she still had yet to eat a proper meal. She cast a slightly embarrassed glance down to her fuzzy midsection. “Ah...”
Rarity’s white ears perked up at the sound. “Twilight, dear, haven’t you eaten?” her slightly tired voice asked cautiously, garnering the alicorn’s attention.
Twilight blinked, shaking her head slowly at her friend, before returning her gaze to the floor. She narrowed her eyes slightly, her face beginning to burn up as she suddenly felt... self-conscious. She could feel Rarity looking at her. At her wings. ‘Quit... Quit staring at me.’
“Well then, ahh...” The generous mare, usually the first to jump at the chance to accommodate a pony in need, seemed hesitant. “Would... Would you care to- that is, erm, join me for breakfast...? Perhaps...?” she offered, a small, nervous smile playing at her lips.
Twilight gave a small nod in response, standing up. Whatever breakfast Spike had made for her that morning was dropped onto the floor and then thrown away, so she didn’t get to eat any of it. At least Rarity was willing to feed her, if only just this once.
The cultured mare trotted to a nearby hallway and gestured for her friend to follow her, her eyebrows still upturned. “This way... the kitchen is this way. I was just making pancakes,” she informed, sniffing the air, perhaps to see if the breakfast in question had finished cooking. She gazed back at Twilight, beckoning to her.
The violet pony sighed quietly, and cantered after her friend as she exited the room, following her down a hallway and turning through an opened door into a magnificently white-tiled kitchen. The smell of hotcake batter wafted out the entrance, reminding Twilight of just how hungry she was.
“I think you might like it; it’s my own family recipe.” Rarity commented, gazing at her friend as the two entered the room, their hooves making tapping noises on the tile instead of the prototypical clopping. “I don’t make them often. Usually it’s for special occasions, like when Sweetie Belle stays over.” After a few seconds, she suddenly gasped sharply, her eyes snapping wide open. “Sweetie Belle...”
“Hi Twilight! Uh... I mean, Princess Twilight!” the filly in question chirped from her seat at the large circular table in the center of the room, grinning widely and giving a cheerful little wave.
Twilight blanched as she stared at the young white unicorn, the back of her neck surging with white-hot electricity. ‘No... No!’ Her every muscle screamed at her to jump back through the doorway, to run away, but her hooves refused to move.
“S... S-Sweetie Belle, I-I didn’t know you were in here...!” the owner of the house stuttered, her lips shakily parting into a false grin, her eyes darting between the young filly and the winged mare.
Twilight shifted her gaze to Rarity -- Her irises were constricted to tiny blue pinpricks as she rapidly looked between her guest and her own younger sister, the curlers in her mane swaying back and forth.
The achromatic mare swallowed hard, before facing her friend. “T... Twilight, I... I’m sorry, I didn’t know that she...” she muttered quietly, her ears folded back against her head.
“Rarity’s making pancakes; do you want some?” Sweetie Belle asked, obliviously.
"I... I heard,” the pseudo-princess replied absent-mindedly, her eyes and her wings both twitching. ‘She... she thinks I’m a... a... a princess?’ Was that going to be everypony’s perception of her? Her ears folded, and she frowned. This was exactly what she was trying to avoid; ponies confusing her for royalty. If that was the impression that she gave off... How was she going to fit in? She wasn’t royalty. She was just a normal pony. Normal. There was nothing different about her, at all. She just... had both wings and a horn. That was still normal... right? It didn’t mean anything. But... if Sweetie Belle thought it did, then... wouldn’t everypony?
Twilight felt hot tears well up in her eyes at the thought. She looked back at her friend, upset, but her white back was turned.
Rarity quickly begun to tend to the food on the stove, trying to look busy while humming a discordant, noteless tune, but the purple pony could see the neurotic expression on her features. She turned and, with a sorrowful blue gaze, pointedly flicked her head in the direction of the table.
Twilight shook her head near-undetectably, but the white unicorn simply mouthed the words “Please... I’m so sorry,” and turned back to her cooking. The lavender pony unwillingly conceded and trotted slowly to the table, realizing that there was no point in running away now. It was far too late. She sat her haunches opposite from Sweetie Belle, staring down at the red-and-white plaid pattern on the tablecloth.
“So... Twi-... Uh... Princess... When did you get wings?” Sweetie asked curiously, eyeing the large appendages on the adult mare’s back.
The alicorn’s head shot up, and she glared viciously at the younger pony, causing her to retreat slightly in her booster chair and lift a white foreleg in fright. Twilight’s firey gaze quickly softened into a miserable frown, and she returned her eyes to the cloth on the table, taking a deep breath to calm herself. “I don’t want to talk about it...”
“Why not?” the white foal asked obliviously, tilting her head in confusion. The purple pony shook her head sadly.
“I... I just don’t,” she repeated, feeling her temples starting to heat up. Her sadness was slowly being replaced by irritation. She took another deep breath, sibilating.
“But aren’t you a royal pony now? Isn’t it exciting? Why don’t you wanna talk about it?” Sweetie pried, hopping off her seat and trotting around the table to the alicorn, examining her larger-than-average wings.
Twilight could feel her anger steadily bubbling up inside of her. “Sweetie. I don’t. Want. To talk about it,” she dotted, rubbing both of her temples. The filly’s unwavering gaze felt like two burning flames on her side. ‘Stop... stop staring at me...!’
“But I wanted to-”
“Sweetie Belle, please! Twilight is... She’s going through a... a hard time right now. At least try to be sensitive,” Rarity interjected as she flipped each hotcake onto a large polished white ceramic serving plate, her voice still carrying hints of nervousness.
Sweetie Belle apparently did not hear her older sister, as she began brushing the feathers on one of Twilight’s wings with a hoof, causing the winged unicorn to flinch and jerk away.
“Stop it,” she snipped, glaring at the young pony again. The feeling of something touching her new appendages just... it just felt weird. It was uncomfortable. Experiencing a sense of touch with two limbs that her brain wasn’t familiar with felt out-of-place, and it certainly wasn’t helping that a certain little filly was consistently running her hooves over them.
“They’re really soft, Princess...” Sweetie complemented, smiling up at Twilight’s trembling purple irises.
“Stop calling me that!” she shouted down at the young filly, her violet eyes narrowed. “I’m not a princess! I’m just... I’m just a regular pony!”
The foal cowered again for a moment, retracting herself into a tight ball and looking up at the elder mare. “But... you have a horn and wings. Doesn’t that make you a-”
“NO!” the alicorn screamed, her wings flaring out to her sides, causing the lone Cutie Mark Crusader to whimper and back away in fright. She glared for a moment longer, her teeth grit, before her gaze softened as she realized what she was doing. She cast a distraught gaze down at the tablecloth again, folding her avian limbs against her sides. "I... I’m sorry, I...” she began, before falling silent.
Rarity trotted to the table, a large plate of pancakes floating next to her. “Sweetie Belle... I need to be alone to talk with Twilight for a moment. Please, just take these up to your room,” she requested, levitating a smaller plate from a cupboard and transferring some of the hotcakes onto it, “and leave us be. Don’t eavesdrop, either.”
“Okay...” Sweetie Belle complied, defeated. She picked up the plate in her mouth and trotted dejectedly out a nearby doorway.
Rarity set the larger plate on the center of the table and seated herself opposite from her guest. “Now, dear... I don’t wish to intrude, but please, tell me... How did this happen?” she asked, not even touching the steaming flapjacks in front of her.
Twilight was suffering from a similar loss of appetite, and the food in front of her did not appeal to her whatsoever after the intense prying by her host’s younger sister. Regardless, her horn shimmered as she lifted one of the pancakes and forced herself to take a bite. It tasted like wool to her, and she wanted to spit it out, but she kept chewing. It was worth it; the horrible constricted feeling in her gut abated after she swallowed. She shifted her gaze up to the mare sitting across from her. "Thank you for the meal.”
“Oh, it’s not a problem, sweetheart, but...” Rarity began, biting her lip and gazing to the floor beside her, formulating her next sentence. "Really, though... Why do you have wings?”
Twilight frowned miserably, tilting her head downward. "I... I don’t know...” she muttered morosely. ‘Please stop asking...’
A white hoof nervously scuffed at the floor. “O... Okay, then... Can you... use them?” its owner asked slowly, trying to be as sensitive as possible. “I... I’d bet you’d look absolutely marvelous flying through the sky!” she complimented, grinning nervously.
“No...” the winged mare mumbled sadly, tilting her head even lower. Rarity was probably trying to make her feel better, but it wasn’t working. Use her wings? As in, fly? What use would flight be to her? Yes, it would be a nice way to travel, but she didn’t need it. She turned her head behind her and shot an angry scowl at the antagonizing limbs on her back, but they merely rustled involuntarily in reply as a neurological impulse shot through her. She didn’t need the wings, either. As far as they went, they were completely useless. They were just two feathered weights that escalated to burning temperatures by trapping body heat. They were uncomfortable, the light tickle of her own feathers sliding across her torso felt weird, and they felt like two heavy saddlebags that were always there. Useless. Stupid. Wings.
“Well... Twilight... I could convince Rainbow Dash to teach you. I’m certain she’d jump at the chance. I-I mean, if that’s okay with you...” Rarity offered, shuffling awkwardly.
Twilight loosed an inaudible sigh. ‘Now she’s acting like Fluttershy.’
There was a lapse, each pony remaining quiet and steadily consuming their starchy meals. Several minutes passed with no conversation as they each ate their fill, and by the end of it, the purple pony felt like throwing up. She hadn’t even eaten that much, but her anxiety threatened to eject the contents of her stomach nonetheless.
“Dear... did you hear what I said about Rainbow Dash? I can send for her right now, if you need me to...” Rarity pressed, her gaze drifting over to a quill and some parchment resting on the edge of a nearby counter.
“No... not now...” Twilight muttered. Of all the ponies she wanted to know about this, Dash was absolutely not one of them. Considering how fast she could move and how much of a loudmouth she was, if the blue blur found out, it wouldn’t be long before the entire country knew about it. And that, even without Celestia discovering a third alicorn.
She abruptly stood up and shook herself awake. “Thanks for the breakfast, Rarity, but I need to... go... check on Spike,” she lied, attempting to look happy and content, but only succeeding in giving a broken smile. “It was hard getting here without anypony seeing me, but...” she trailed off. She just wanted to be out of here; back home, by herself. Without anypony constantly looking at her...
Her friend raised a white hoof. “Wait, Twilight... A-about that... I could make you a dress to wear, if you wanted. Would you? I’d need some time to purchase the materials I need and put it together, but...”
“That’d be great,” Twilight mumbled as she turned around and headed for the hallway. Wait... There were still ponies outside, and the sun had risen in the sky since she had entered the boutique. The landscape was significantly brighter, and the shadows of the buildings were shorter and less defined. The alleyways wouldn’t hide her now... She needed something to cover herself. Actually, she didn’t want to hide this time, period. She had no sufficient clothing at the library, but maybe Rarity had something she could use.
She turned back to face the dressmaker, clearing her throat. “Uhm... Do you have a... a cloak or something that I could wear?” she asked softly, gazing pleadingly at her friend. It wasn’t much, and it certainly wasn’t subtle, but she would rather appear shady than walk around under a social spotlight.
“A cloak?” Rarity echoed, raising her eyebrows. “Of course... I’ll go fetch some fabric and my tape measure,” she announced, standing up and walking to the doorway on the opposite side of the kitchen, before trotting through it, her coifed purple tail disappearing behind the white doorframe.
Twilight sat down, casting a glance over her shoulder at her wings again. She extended one, to wring out a cramp or two, before its disheveled feathers again snagged her eye. They must have all been ruffled out of place by the fight with Rarity... She pouted, annoyed that all the hard work she’d done organizing her feathers that morning had gone to waste. The urge to groom them surged back into her, but she shook her head dismissively and folded the lavender appendage back against her side. She didn’t want to litter her friend’s floor with purple feathers. She... she’d do that in her own house.
Rarity soon trot back into the kitchen, the curlers removed from her mane and allowing her purple locks to flow free. She seemed to skip with delight as she telekinetically carried several dressmaking supplies in her wake. “Twiliiight! Come here for a moment~!” she sang, beckoning to the alicorn, her sapphire eyes shining.
Twilight raised an eyebrow at her friend’s sudden peppy attitude. Maybe she was just excited to make a garment for a friend, or something. Either way, it seemed to have all but eliminated the apparent exhaustion she had before. Twilight steadily approached her friend, before a tape measure sailed over her back and wrapped under her belly, pulling taut on her wings. She shot an incredulous glance at the grinning fashionista, but she appeared to not notice.
Rarity took a deep breath, and began rambling. “I’ve never been able to make a dress for a pony with such large wings before, darling. It’s just so exciting! I could add all sorts of garnishes, and it won’t look gaudy! I tried to do this with Rainbow Dash, but everything I tried seemed to clash with her mane. I even settled for a wig, but she doesn’t like wigs, you see, so-”
“Rarity! I just... I just need a cloak right now. Not a dress,” Twilight interrupted, slightly embarrassed as her friend telekinetically grabbed her wing and pulled it out to measure the margin of the limb.
The dressmaker pouted. “Oh, alright, if you insist...” she conceded, letting go of her friend’s appendage and snipping at the cloth floating in front of her muzzle with a pair of orange scissors. She continued to work, manually stitching threads in, and before long, a robe of sorts began to take shape. The fabric was purple, but it was dark; It would enable the self-conscious mare to blend in quite well with the shadows. The seams were thick, and they added important structure to the outfit, increasing durability. The color itself melded well with Twilight’s natural coat color, detracting attention from the robe, while the dark shade would help to mask any shadows cast by the bulges of her wings.
Twilight sat back and watched as Rarity worked, her eyes wide with interest. She didn’t know that she was capable of working so fast! Only a few minutes had passed before the garment was finished, each sheet of fabric blending seamlessly.
“Ta-daaaa~!” Rarity trilled with a giggle, holding the finished article aloft for inspection. “What do you think?”
At an eager nod from the unicorn, Twilight levitated the cloak towards herself for a closer look. She delicately turned it this way and that, mouth agape at the impeccable craftsmareship. The dark material was almost the same shade of mystic purple as her own mane, blending in with her natural colors, and the fabric itself was loose and light, but visibly thick enough to render the bulges of her wings near-undetectable. The cloak bunched together slightly at the neck, creating a layered feel to the material and giving a sense of dressy flair to an otherwise plain ensemble. The neck itself consisted of the folded edge of the cloth, the seams sewn down into a triangular shape that pointed down the back of the garment. A loop of thick pink string made for a simplistic button-and-hoop clasp on the front of it, holding its two halves together.
“It’s really good, Rarity! Thank you!” she complimented with a grateful smile. She opened the inside of the garment, before bringing it down over her neck and sliding the fabric over her torso. She shivered slightly as it brushed past her wings, but kept at it, draping the back of it over her flank. It felt more like a winter coat, now that she thought about it, except significantly more comfortable. She turned her neck this way and that, getting a good look at the sides. She couldn’t see any sign of her wings. Excellent.
“No problem at all, dear! I’ll be sure to work on your dress in the meantime... Actually, about that...” her friend began, staring at the robed mare for a moment. “I still need to measure the rest of you...” she hinted, telekinetically tugging at the the vest with a shy smile.
Twilight’s eye twitched. She really needed to go back and find Spike, so he doesn’t purchase that horrible racer’s vest. He didn’t need to now, after all -- Rarity had just made a proper outfit for her to wear. “Uh... I’d love to, but...”
“Please, dear? I can’t even begin to work on it if I don’t know what size it needs to be.”
“I really need to-”
“Pleaaaaassseee?” Rarity begged, folding her ears behind her head and giving the clothed mare a huge-eyed puppy-dog stare.
Twilight tore her eyes from her friend to the new robe draped over her crest. It was a very simple piece, crafted light to serve a short-term purpose. It wouldn’t last long. What if it ripped? Besides, knowing Spike, he was probably already back at the library, wondering where she had run off to. She sighed in defeat, and looked at the floor. Well, she was already here... she might as well let Rarity finish.
“Fine...” she conceded, looking back up at the dressmaker, who perked up with a wide smile at her comment.
“Ohh, thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!” she chanted with glee, hopping on her hooves and pulling the simple robe off of her friend, exposing her feathered wings to the air once more.
The sight of her friend’s joy brought an amused smile to Twilight’s lips. She always got like this when she was excited about trying something new.
The fashionista bounced in a very Pinkie Pie-esque manner to the door leading back to the design room, and tugged at her friend’s shoulder with her magic to come with her.
Twilight complied, her mood significantly brightened, and followed the overexcited mare through another set of hallways, arriving at a room furnished with red curtains and mirrors placed all along the walls.
Rarity motioned for the alicorn to climb up onto a small platform in the center of the room, and she obeyed, staying perfectly still as her friend assaulted her body with several different measuring tools.
“Careful Rarity, you don’t want to mummify me...” Twilight joked with a grin, referring to the several yards of measuring tape wrapped around her body and in-between her limbs.
“Oh, I won’t! I just need to know how big your wings are, so I can design something that’s comfortable for them,” the dressmaker replied, placing a ruler against the carpal joint of her friend’s left wing. “Let’s see... About this much, ooh! They can move about this much...”
The model’s smile faded slightly. Why was Rarity taking all of these precise measurements? Why did she need to know how far her wings could move in one direction? “Uhm... Why do you need to measure all that, again?” she asked with a hint of trepidation.
“Oh! I need to make the holes the right size, so it doesn’t obstruct flight,” the unicorn replied absent-mindedly, before her eyes snapped wide open as she realized what she had just said. “Ah-... Erm...”
Twilight was incredulous. Holes? Did Rarity forget the entire reason she had asked for this? The point of the dress was to hide her wings, not to ‘look good with them’!
“Oh, darling...” Rarity sighed happily, gazing admiringly at the avian limbs on her friend’s back. “If I had wings as beautiful as yours, I would want to show them off to the entire world...”
The alicorn’s jaw dropped, her eye twitching as her friend wrapped the measuring tape along her primaries. “I... I don’t! I don’t want anypony to see me!” she clarified, glaring at the white mare.
Rarity’s eyebrows turned upwards. “Why ever not? I mean, if you’re going to be a princess, then you need to look the par-” She immediately clapped both hooves over her mouth upon recognition of her words, and gave a wide-eyed, sorrowful gaze to her friend, her ears folded.
Twilight looked broken, her irises reduced to tiny dots and her eyebrows pointing upward as she stared at the fashionista. Her expression suddenly became furious, and she growled angrily. “Rarity, I’m not going to be a princess!!” she yelled, her voice searing. “I don’t know why I have wings, I just... do! Okay!?”
The dressmaker was taken aback by her outburst, her mouth working, but nothing coming out. Her ears folded back, she continued her work without another word, avoiding her friend’s gaze.
The pair continued in silence, the model standing stock-still with her wings raised up and out the way. She glared ahead wordlessly as the tape measure engulfed in a faint blue aura whipped expertly around her, her expression completely unreadable as she stared at a wall.
Rarity circled her briskly, taking down measurements from the tape on a small notepad. The purple mare didn’t once look her in the eye. After a time, the ivory unicorn withdrew the measuring tools and stepped back behind her model. “Okay... I’m finished,” she murmured sadly.
Twilight broke eye contact with the wall and let her head droop, releasing a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She tucked her wings back against her sides with a flourish, gazing at the floor.
Her ears perked, and she turned her head at the soft sound of Rarity’s hoofsteps as she quietly left, heading to the front room.
Finally, Twilight was... she was...
She scuffed a hoof on the carpet, frowning.
Perhaps she had acted a little... harshly toward Rarity. She had only been trying to help, after all. And she hadn’t reacted too adversely to her-... Oh, right...
‘Well, that’s no excuse to act that way towards her. Rarity is a friend, Twilight. A friend.’
‘Yes, but for how long?’
Twilight shook her head violently to dispel her conflicting thoughts, trembling slightly. Quickly throwing her new robe over herself, she cantered out of the room after her friend.
The white pony sat on a cushion in the front room, levitating a thin stack of papers in front of her, along with a short pencil. She turned and offered a small, distraught smile.
The winged mare stood still for a moment, before beginning to fumble with her cloak’s clasp with her hooves, trying to fasten it. It would help her apology if she wore the ensemble she had already received from the unicorn, as it showed she was indeed grateful for it. She glanced at her friend. “Look, Rarity, I- nngh... I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting...” The pink cord of string looped over the button, holding the two halves of the cloak together. She gazed awkwardly to the side and began scratching the back of her head with a hoof. “It’s just... I’m having a really hard time, and...”
Rarity’s complexion brightened a little, and she turned back to her papers. "It’s quite alright, Twilight... I understand what you mean...”
‘No, you don-’
Twilight shuffled uneasily, looking at her new robe. "Anyway, thanks... for the cloak,” she ventured, chancing her friend with a small smile. “I don’t know what I would have done without you...”
“Not at all, darling! Thank you for popping in!” The white pony responded, her pencil flicking back and forth as she began to draw something on the paper she held.
The ex-unicorn smiled weakly. It wasn’t like she had a choice, but...
Rarity turned away from her work. “And I must say, you do look marvelous!” she complimented with a smile.
Twilight looked down at her cloak, blushing slightly under her dark coat of fur. Well, the cloak was meant for a practical use, but... it was kinda pretty, wasn’t it?
“Thanks, Rarity,” she said, cheerfully. “I owe you big ti-”
There was a sharp clatter as several papers and a pencil dropped onto the tiled floor. “Oh, nononono nooooooo, darling! You needn’t owe me a thing!” the white pony exclaimed, abruptly standing up and extending a white hoof to the purple mare, shocking her. Twilight’s ears dropped back against her head at her friend’s outburst.
Rarity caught herself, busily picking up the papers and re-sorting them into a neat stack. “I-I mean...” she began, pausing and turning to face her guest, before sighing. “What I mean to say is... You’ve had a very eventful morning, by the looks of it. This is my... gift, to you.” She turned around for a moment to file the papers neatly on a desk, before casting a friendly smile over her shoulder. “Besides... I enjoyed the challenge.”
“Challenge?” Twilight asked, confused. It couldn’t be that much of a challenge to make her a dress, seeing as how the unicorn’s entire career was built around the skill.
“Well, your wings are bigger than average pegasi... They’re no-doubt stronger, too. I had to design a dress that’s stylish, yet it also needed to be loose enough to be comfortable, but structurally stiff enough that it doesn’t outline your wings. So many mediums...” her friend explained, trailing off.
The dressed pony smiled gratefully. “Well, thank you so much for this. It’ll be much easier for me to get around now.”
“My pleasure, dear!” the fashionista cooed, chuckling to herself. “Now... Didn’t you say something about needing to go and find your dragon friend?”
Twilight blinked in realization. “Oh, yes,” she muttered, briskly walking to the front door of the building.
“Come back tomorrow, dear! Your dress will be ready by then!” Rarity called, waving to her purple friend.
“I will! Thanks again!” Twilight replied, opening the front door with her magic and exiting, the door swinging shut with a soft click behind her.
Rarity smiled at the door, sighing deeply as she dropped her facade. She then quickly turned her head and casted a disappointed glare at the nearest doorway, her voice taking on a stern tone.
“Sweetie Belle, I know you’re back there.”
Twilight surveyed the nearby area from her position on her friend’s patio. All the ponies previously standing nearby had gathered around the fallen sign, and the air buzzed with conversation. Among the citizen ponies were a few of Celestia’s royal guards, their intent most likely to investigate the cause of the event, but it appeared they instead had their hooves full trying to control the crowd. Her ears perked as she began to single out individual voices.
“How did the sign fall?”
“I think somepony did it!”
“I dunno... it’s a really old sign...”
“Maybe it was just the wind.”
“That thing’s been creakin’ all day!”
“I’ve heard of persuasive advertisement, but this is ridiculous!”
Her face twisted up as a pang of guilt began to eat at the pit of her stomach. It... it was just a billboard. It didn’t fall on anypony, and it was probably about to tear off its supports anyway. No harm done... right? She dismissed the thought, and began walking nonchalantly around the crowd of ponies. Her robe was buttoned, wasn’t it? Good, it was. Ponies looked at her as she trotted by, some even commenting on her attire, but she found it greatly preferable to being outright gawked at.
She continued walking, taking a rather linear path that dove straight into the marketplace. She instinctively clenched her wings tightly against her sides to make absolutely sure they weren’t making bulges in her cloak; she couldn’t take any risks in such a populated area. After a few minutes, it started to hurt... but she kept it up.
The marketplace was bustling today; ponies everywhere were buying and selling goods at the various multicolored tents and stands set up as far as the eye could see. Her nose wrinkled as many different scents assaulted her nostrils at the same time. ‘Fresh-baked bread... Fruits... Apple pies... Perfume... and... something else,’ she thought, trying to occupy herself during the long walk to Academane. The store was around here somewhere... it was a tall building. Well, amidst other tall buildings. The marketplace was not flat; construction ponies had recently been building large complexes that housed multiple stores. Twilight looked up at all the logos and signs; searching for a large blue letter ‘A’ with a red ring around it, captioned with the text ‘Sports & Outdoors’.
She felt a slowly-escalating burning pain in her wings, but ignored it. She yearned to stretch them out, to counteract the tight constriction they had been experiencing for the past hour. Each second crawled by slower than a snail, and with it, the fire in her avian appendages intensified. It hurt so much... She wanted to find someplace private, to disrobe for a moment and extend her aching limbs. She relaxed them, which caused the fire to recede slightly, but it wasn’t enough. She whipped her head left and right; there had to be someplace private. If not that, someplace dark.
She stood still in the crowded street, ponies autonomously walking around her, most not even sparing a passing glance, too busy to stop and chat. Somewhere... somewhere... ‘Ah ha!’ She spotted a very, very out-of-the-way alleyway in between two buildings, the entrance actually blocked by a dumpster. She galloped to it full-speed, not paying any mind to the ponies she pushed out of the way, and kicked at the ground with her hind legs, sending her sailing over the top of the garbage container and landing on the concrete on the other side. She was out-of-sight now; the other end of the alleyway ended with a brick wall. She sighed in relief and grabbed the button and loop of her outfit with her magic, hastily undoing it and allowing each side to sway free of the other. She began to levitate the garment off of her, feeling the fabric slide across her wings as she disrobed.
Twilight recoiled, her blood freezing solid. She knew that voice. She slowly looked up above her, laying eyes on a sky-blue pegasus with a rainbow mane smiling at her from the eaves of one of the buildings. Her irises shrunk to tiny pinpricks as Rainbow Dash waved at her with a cheerful grin.
“What’s with the cloak?” she asked curiously, staring down at the alicorn-in-disguise with a friendly smile.
<6:54 PM/12:54 AM> Beige: Sorry, popped downstairs to get some Jaffa Cakes
<6:54 PM/12:54 AM> Garuu: What is a Jaffa Cake? o_O
<6:54 PM/12:54 AM> Beige: O.O
<6:55 PM/12:55 AM> Beige: Absolutely gorgeous
“What’s with the cloak?” she asked curiously, staring down at the alicorn-in-disguise with a friendly smile.
Twilight gawked at her cyan friend, her rational thoughts grinding to a halt. ‘Run,’ her mind told her, shutting out her sense of logic and reason. Having begun to disrobe beforehoof, her cutie mark and the tips of her wings were exposed to the air, chilled by a passing breeze. In plain sight. Panicking, she immediately moved the robe back into place with her magic, hoping Dash’s slight obliviousness would play in her favor.
“Twilight? Don’t tell me Rarity’s sense of fashion is rubbing off on you. That thing is huge. If I wore that, I would be mistaken for an earth pony!” the tomboy commented from the rooftop, chuckling to herself.
The purple mare’s ears folded back, and she forced a nonchalant laugh, sneaking a look at the side of her garbed torso. “Y... yeah... How... how ridiculous...” she muttered, forcing a shaky over-smile to her face as she raked her cloak with her eyes for any hint of her wings. Not a bulge in sight, good. But she had to get away somehow. Rainbow wouldn’t understand. Her head whipped to the large dumpster she had leapt over to get into the alley. If she could distract the pegasus, she could probably jump over it and make a break for it. She would definitely be followed, but she might be able to lose the blue blur in the crowd of ponies just outside. She knew better than to try and outrun Rainbow Dash under normal circumstances, but the marketplace was popular today, and the abundance of ponies might confuse the athlete enough to shake her off. And then, Twilight would run all the way back to her house, and be out of this nightmare...
She cast a morose glance at the concrete pavement beneath her hooves, a frown spreading across her muzzle. Going home wouldn’t solve anything. This wasn’t a nightmare that she could just wake up from -- all of this was real. She could never go back to the way things were before; she was stuck like this. But... if she was careful, nopony would ever find out. ‘Wear something, never take it off in public, and don’t ever let anypony ever see you without it,’ she told herself. Right now, the only ones that knew were Spike and Rarity. They wouldn’t tell anyone.
‘Well... there’s also-’
Her ears perked as a torrent of wind blew against her side, interrupting her thoughts. Surprised, she raised her head to see Dash landing next to her and examining her outfit with a pair of rosy eyes.
The blue blur poked the alicorn’s side twice with a hoof, feeling the fabric. “What’s this thing made of? Isn’t it like, hot or something?” she asked, pressing her face against the material.
Twilight moved away, turning to face the cyan pony. Surprisingly, the fabric was extremely light and breathed well -- it didn’t trap heat. She was still sweating slightly, however, but it wasn’t due to the cloak. It was her wings. They trapped her body heat. It seemed to be a genetic device for pegasi, intended to keep the limbs warm so they would remain at peak functionality in the case of an emergency. But, it was rather uncomfortable... She contemplated how they dealt with this -- perhaps they flew often simply to cool off. Rainbow often kept her own wings raised, even when not flying. Perhaps it was her way of staying cool.
Huh... Now that Twilight thought about it, even the princesses did that...
Rainbow Dash frowned. “Twilight? Are you okay?” she asked, blinking with concern. “You’re being really quiet, and... you’re hiding in this really dark alley for some reason...” The speedster craned her neck, scanning the dank environment.
“I’m just dandy. How are you?” Twilight chimed, softening her gaze slightly to make her expression more convincing. But, she was certain she wasn’t fooling anypony. She was smiling a little too hard.
Dash looked at her again, still concerned. “Are you really sure, Twilight? I think something’s up. You look scared.”
The violet pony’s ears folded back again, and her smile vanished. “Uhh... No no, I’m fine... I swear.”
The pegasus stared for a moment longer, before her eyes widened and her expression became slightly smug. “Are you waiting for somepony special here? It’s out-of-the-way, that’s for sure...” she teased, giving a half-lidded grin and laughing to herself.
Twilight’s ears snapped back up, and she gaped. “What?”
“This place is really close to Academane... Were you supposed to meet him here?” the speedster asked, wiggling her eyebrows before bellowing with laughter. “He must be one hunky stallion!”
The appalled pony’s jaw dropped, incredulous. “W-what? No, Dash, I’m not waiting for anypony... err... ‘special!’”
Rainbow raised her eyebrows, her grin widening. “Wow, he must really be something if you’re gonna keep covering for him. Don’t want somepony stealing him?” she asked, roaring with laughter and tipping over onto her back.
Twilight shook her head fervently, her mane whipping back and forth. “No, no! I-I don’t have a coltfriend!” she insisted, her eyes widening slightly as she felt her wings involuntarily extending under her robe. She pulled them back in, holding them tightly against her body.
“Ah hah hah... Look, it’s cool if you don’t wanna talk about him,” the pegasus conceded, waving a blue hoof once from her position on the ground. “Your dress is really pretty though. I bet he’ll like it,” she commented, snickering into her hooves.
“Look Dash, the dress isn’t for-” the purple pony began, before quickly catching herself. Actually, maybe it would be better if her friend thought she was wearing the dress to impress a colt, as opposed to the alternative. What she didn’t know, couldn’t hurt her. “Uh... nevermind.”
“Wait, what were you gonna say?” Dash asked, suddenly interested in the purpose of the dress.
Twilight’s blood ran cold as she stared down at the curious expression of the blue pony on the ground. “Ahh... uhm...” she stuttered, her violet gaze darting off to the side. ‘Oh no... Why did I say that?!’ she thought frantically, biting her lip. A way for her to wriggle out of this had presented itself on a silver platter, and she had just flipped the table. Now her friend wouldn’t leave her alone until she gave her an explanation.
And, if she found out... how would the boisterous filly take it? How long until the rest of Equestria found out?
Rainbow picked herself up off the ground and looked at her friend again. “What’s the dress for, then?” she asked, eyeing the garment. “It isn’t cold out...”
Nervous purple ears folded backwards once more. “N... nothing... I just felt like wearing it...” their owner lied, smiling nervously.
“But Twilight, you never wear clothes!” Dash rationalized, raising her eyebrows, before giving a thoughtful glance to the side. “Uh, and neither does anypony else...” There was a pause. “Why are you so shifty about this, anyway?”
Twilight’s eye twitched. “Don’t you have some clouds to clear?” she snipped, gazing up at the sky for a moment.
The speed demon mimicked her friend, and gaped for a moment at the large scattered cumulonimbus, before bringing her eyes back down. “Uh... yeah, but I’ll do it later. H-hey, where are you going?”
Twilight had seized the opportunity and leapt over the nearby dumpster while her friend was distracted, beginning to briskly trot away in an attempt to outsmart her.
Unfortunately, the pegasus hopped into the air and unfurled her wings, soaring gracefully to her purple friend before touching down next to her. “Twilight, seriously, what’s up?”
“Rainbow Dash, really, just... I need to be somewhere,” the skittish pony replied, using her quick wits to weave in-between the tightly-packed flow of ponies, something the pegasus was unable to reliably emulate. Dodging static obstacles was easy for Rainbow, but when those obstacles were packed tighter than sardines and moving, it wasn’t so simple.
The athlete leapt into the air again to bypass the wall of pedestrians, coming to a mobile hover slightly above Twilight. “Need to be where? What’s the cloak for?” she besieged, bending down to speak into her friend’s ear.
“It’s none of your business, Dash. Just... just leave me alone,” Twilight requested, abruptly passing close to a pillar in an attempt to shake off her pursuer.
Utilizing her natural agility, the blue blur weaved around it with ease. However, in doing so, she lost track of her friend. She whipped her head back and forth, searching for her, before spotting and heading for a nearby dark-maned pony.
“But I want to know!” She exclaimed, her voice almost unintelligible amidst the steadily-increasing volume of chatter as the two neared the center of the marketplace.
“Want to know what?” the violet filly inquired in a relatively deep voice, turning around to reveal a purple earth pony with an oddly-coifed solid black mane and a complexion buried in heavy red makeup.
Rainbow blinked in surprise, her eyes wide open, before looking up and scanning the crowd for her friend. Obviously, she had flown back to the wrong pony. This mare wasn’t even wearing a cloak! She flew higher, avoiding the increased density of other pegasi, and looked down at the crowd. She saw heads, many of them, but none of them were Twilight.
The fleeing mare hastily pushed her way against the flow of the crowd, turning a corner away from the busy clearing. She breathed a sigh of relief. ‘That was close...’ A small piece of ice still nicked at the back of her neck; she did not answer Dash’s questions, and the speedster was no doubt going to track her down now. Whatever... She’d deal with it later.
A sudden surge of liquid fire in her adductor muscles reminded her that she still needed to find someplace to stretch her wings. But, after her unpredictable run-in with Rainbow Dash, she didn’t want to risk doing it anywhere in public. It really hurt, though... The pain was unbearable. A thought crossed her mind; perhaps if she exercised her wings every so often, they wouldn’t suffer from cramps like this. But... Exercise? How would she go about doing that? She didn’t know how to fly. The only method she could think of would be to attempt to fly anyway, but it would be a stupid idea to do it out in the open, and she didn’t want to suffer multiple high-speed meetings of her head and her bookshelves.
The burning, watery pain washed over her wings again, and she let loose an involuntary whimper. The appearance of her wings came with muscles that operated them, including a few on her chest to raise and lower them. Those hurt.
After several agonizingly slow minutes, the crowd began to thin out as she approached the outskirts of the city, the area which held her house-library. She wasn’t paying attention to anything, however -- the unbearable burning in her wing muscles drowned out all external noise and restricted coherent thought.
‘It hurts oh Celestia it burns why does it hurt so much I want to stretch them out wait no there are too many ponies that’ll see me what do I do why is this happening to me it burns it burns IT BURNS!’
She felt a sudden desire to snap her wings out and tear off her cloak, not caring who would see her, not caring that she would destroy her only way of remaining undetected in public. Anything to get rid of the awful pain. She almost did it, too, extending her avian limbs until they physically raised her robe, before she caught herself and pulled them back in. She glanced around in fright -- nopony nearby was looking at her. Good, maybe they hadn’t seen.
She wanted to take off the cloak. Right here. Right now. But, the rational part of her brain told her to keep it on for just a little while longer; the density of the nearby buildings had decreased from a solid wall of signs and advertisements to the occasional occupied house. She was almost to her library.
Her sense of self-preservation was trying to overthrow her long-ruling sense of logic and reason, the two ruthlessly clashing with one another for dominance over her mind. Self-preservation brought in its cavalry, logic and reason defended with long pikes. Self-preservation set up cannons, logic and reason quickly reinforced its stone castle walls. Self-preservation’s soldiers apprehended logic and reason’s king. Checkmate.
Where was her house?!
She gazed up ahead, attempting to spot her abode in the distance. Everything out there was oddly... sharp. Normally she couldn’t make out objects farther than two hundred feet away, but they now appeared crystal-clear to her. Unfortunately, focusing on something off in the distance rendered her oblivious to things close-by, and she walked straight into a passing colt, almost knocking him onto his back.
“Hey!” the beige pony yelled at her, regaining his footing and narrowing his eyes.
Twilight muttered an apology, before leaving with haste -- she didn’t want to attract any attention. Eventually, the soft green flora of her home came into view, and relief washed over her. “Finally...” she moaned, her wings twitching with anticipation under her cloak.
She broke into a gallop, responding to the almost magnetic pull of the shelter and safety of her own house. There weren’t nearly as many ponies out here as there were at the marketplace, but there were still some, and she had to dodge and weave in-between them to avoid a collision. Building after building passed by in a multicolored blur, their details indistinguishable to her. Eventually, she skid to a stop in front of the door to her house and briskly opened it to let herself in. Closing it behind her, she telekinetically gripped the cloak she wore and violently tugged it over her head, throwing it against a wall with a whump and letting it land in a soft heap.
Now free of the constricting garment, she snapped her long wings out to her sides, extending them as far as they would go, and a little farther. She grunted from the simultaneous exertion and relief the action brought, gritting her teeth as her wing muscles moved as far outward as they possibly could. ‘Ahh... Yes...’ she thought, breathing deeply, her knees buckling beneath her.
Her body felt as if it had been dunked in pleasantly warm water after a moment, and she closed her eyes, relishing in the enjoyable feeling. After what felt like hours of holding her wings tightly against her sides, stretching them out brought an immeasurable amount of relief. A small voice of worry spoke up in the back of her mind, telling her that somepony could easily just look through her window and see her ‘glorious’ avian limbs, but at the moment she didn’t care.
Suddenly, a horrible, rigid pain began to replace the pleasant warmth, and she gasped, pulling her new limbs back to her body as her eyes shot wide open. She lost her footing and collapsed on the floor with a cry, whimpering as her new supracoracoideus muscles suffered from the worst Charley Horse she had ever experienced. “Ow! Oww! Oww!!” she yiped, crossing her front legs over her chest and holding it tight in a futile attempt to alleviate the paralyzing sensation. She lay there, panting in agony for a few minutes before the pain finally ebbed away.
That was not enjoyable. That was horrible. Regardless, she picked herself up from the floor and shook herself off, trying to push the memory of what had just happened out of her mind. Her ears turned this way and that, expecting a noise that would indicate the presence of her library assistant. Minutes passed, and yet she heard nothing. There was no one here... she had the entire house to herself.
She looked up at the carved indents of the ceiling, then at the wood paneling of the floor. Having so far taken the day’s events as they came, she found she finally had some time alone to... contemplate. She lowered herself slowly to her haunches, and looked behind her at the large wings that graced her midsection. She shut her eyes tight and took a deep, shaking breath, before exhaling and opening them again. Regardless of how much she wanted to believe it, all of this wasn’t temporary. It wasn’t a joke. She actually had wings... and... by the looks of it, she would have them for the rest of her life...
“I... I-I have...” she stuttered quietly to herself, her mind reeling. She closed her eyes, tearing her gaze away from the twin masses of feather and muscle on her back. “I-I can’t...”
Pacing her breathing, she set her jaw and steeled herself. ‘Say it!’ a part of her demanded. ‘Say it!!’
Whimpering pathetically to herself, she gave her back one final cursory glance. She extended her wings a little, and gulped. The feel of ruffled feathers... her feathers sliding against each other as the wings were lifted... The gentle brush of her secondaries against her sides... The slight discomfort after her violent muscle cramp... The phantom weight of the unfamiliar limbs, twitching slightly to maintain her balance...
She flicked them, shaking her head. There was no denying it. She needed to just accept it. “I... I have...” She cleared her throat, feeling the extra weight on her shoulders shift as she did so. “I have wings!”
The purple mare immediately flinched at the words, ears laid flat against her head as her statement faintly echoed back to her from the wooden corridors. A dreadful silence once again flooded the library after the outburst, giving way to the ever-present ringing in her ears and amplifying it to be as loud as a siren. She sat in place, shutting her eyes tight and shaking her head at the floor as her mind processed the information. She still didn’t want to believe it. The fact itself was strangling her. So far, she had been playing along with her change because she had been forced to, because she had no way to prove that what she was experiencing was false. She had tried to remain hidden because she had to, she requested the dress from Rarity because she had to, she lied to Rainbow Dash because she had to. Everything she had done so far had simply been the most logical option.
But now, to hear it from herself, the truth finally began to set in. It was one thing to accept it and act accordingly, but it was another thing entirely to truly believe it.
She slowly rubbed her forehead with a hoof. “I have wings now...” she muttered to herself, her mind still reeling. “I have wings... Why do I have wings...?”
She knew there was no logical explanation for it. She’d searched for one, but nothing made sense. She had grown two additional limbs. It had happened, and as far as she knew, there was absolutely nothing she could do about it. She was, essentially, a... a freak. Who else had a horn and wings? The princesses did, but they were immortal goddesses, and nopony questioned it.
She was just a unicorn. Not a princess, not a goddess, not immortal. She wasn’t supposed to have wings. Everything she knew had a scientific explanation for why it worked the way it did, but this just made no sense at all!
She frowned as she recalled her initial perception on Pinkie Pie’s ‘Pinkie Sense’. ‘Sometimes a pony just has to accept things the way they are,’ a voice inside her head whispered. She let out a pained sigh. Maybe this was just one of those things in the world that couldn’t be explained. Things like this made her twitch, made her fur stand on end. Nothing happens without a reason. But right now, she had wings, and that was just the way things were. She would just have to learn to... deal with herself.
She still possessed her horn, implying that in some way she was still a unicorn, and yet she had somehow acquired the gift of the pegasi. Was she somewhere in-between? So far, she had assumed by deduction that she had become an alicorn, the only known pony race that naturally had both a horn and wings. At the time, it had seemed like a logical assumption. But weren't alicorns meant to embody all three of the pony races?
'Keep it together, Twilight; it's no good making assumptions. An alicorn has the qualities of the unicorns, pegasi and earth ponies. I only know for certain that... I now have two of them. Unless I start exhibiting... whatever earth pony qualities an alicorn exhibits, all I know is that I am a winged unicorn.
'Am I the first...?'
She opened her eyes, taking a deep breath. Even if she wasn’t an alicorn, she still couldn’t say that she was normal. She shook her head to clear it; there was no more use fretting about her sudden change of species. So, she was a winged unicorn... A pony of magic, and... flight. Flight? Winged ponies, usually pegasi, were often given training at an early age to teach them the skills required for proper aeronautics. She had not received training as such. She didn’t have wings ‘at an early age’. If she was going to learn how to fly, apparently she would just have to teach herself. Standing, she flapped her wings experimentally -- that was easy. The hard part would be flapping them enough to counteract her weight against the pull of gravity. Her wings were large, which meant that they possessed more surface area and would displace more air, so she might have a slightly easier time than a pegasus. But... she didn’t need to fly. She levitated a book off of a nearby shelf to prove a point to herself, but instead of opening it, simply put it back. She didn’t really feel like reading.
She felt her wings shift involuntarily, their purple feathers rustling. She didn’t need to fly... but... some exercise would be nice. Spike had always bugged her about how she never did anything active, and she herself gradually realized that she was rather physically unfit. Besides, she didn’t want another cramping episode, and... she might as well get used to having wings. If she had them, she might as well learn to use them.
Exercise... The obvious method would be to attempt to fly. What better way to work certain muscles than to use them for their intended purpose? But... She looked back at her wings. Well, if it meant they wouldn’t ache any more... She sighed. Of all the things she wanted to do, flying was pretty low on the list. But at least it would get rid of the cramps, as they were probably due to disuse. She took a breath, and telekinetically gripped the curtains on the front window, pulling them together to block any wayward glances that would happen to be cast her way.
She then spread her wings, raising them up into the air. How did the pegasi do this? Well, they always started with a few strong flaps to get them off the ground, right? She faced forward and took a deep breath, before bringing her wings to the floor in a powerful downstroke. She felt weight being taken off of her front hooves, before her upper body rose into the air. It felt almost like rearing up on her hind legs, except... lighter, somehow. She flapped again, harder. The sudden upward thrust tilted her backwards, causing her to rear back a little farther than she intended. With a surprised squeak and a futile wiggle of her forehooves, she toppled and landed in a heap on her back. She lay there for a moment, blinking, before releasing her breath in an angry huff to move her mane out of her eyes. She felt her cheeks burning up from embarrassment, regardless of the fact that nopony was present to witness her blunder. She rolled over and rose to her hooves, preparing herself for another attempt.
She flapped more this time, and experienced the same result, in addition to sending herself sliding backwards into one of her bookshelves and causing a few titles to fall onto her face. The quietest of growls escaped her throat.
Third time’s the charm. Perhaps pegasi actually leapt into the air during their takeoffs. She’d always seen Rainbow Dash do that. She coiled herself, focusing her mind on her bent limbs before bucking at the floor, launching her body upwards. She flapped her wings frantically, managing to keep herself aloft for a second or two before she tilted backwards and careened straight into another bookshelf. She hit it hard, the jarring impact causing her vision to briefly flash white, before she fell to the floor in a heap of lavender feathers.
“Owwww...” she moaned, rubbing the back of her head with a purple hoof. At this rate, she’d have a major concussion in the next half-hour. Her ears perked as she heard a strange creaking noise, before the bookshelf next to her leaned forward and smashed her against the floor. She screamed in pain, her voice echoing throughout her house, her body trapped in-between the two-hundred-pound piece of furniture and the hard wooden floorboards beneath. She instinctively kicked at it, trying to get it off of her, and managed to push the storage unit up enough for her to slip out from underneath. She collapsed on the floor next to the fallen bookcase, panting from both physical exertion and a sudden ripping pain in her back.
She groaned miserably, reaching up to feel the aching area in-between her shoulder blades. It... it felt... She brought her hoof in front of her face, her eyes widening at what met her gaze. Part of the fur on her hoof was matted and stained a deep red. She blinked a few times, her attention steadily being drawn to the area of her back that stung in the cold air. She had injured herself, and she was bleeding... She placed her hooves on the floor and pushed herself up, her injury sending out a sharp jolt of pain in protest. Spike wasn’t here, so she needed to treat the wound herself. She grunted and whimpered simultaneously with each step as she headed into the kitchen, her eyes scanning the room for the cabinet where she kept her medical supplies.
‘There,’ she thought, spotting the white wooden cupboard on the wall. She opened it with her magic, and telekinetically grabbed a roll of sterile white medical gauze, before gripping the seam and pulling outwards. She found it... difficult to both hold the gauze and unroll it at the same time. She panted as she focused, her magic threatening to flicker out. This was more difficult than she remembered it being... she had always been capable of holding and manipulating multiple objects simultaneously, but her magic just seemed to not want to obey her today. ‘Come on... Come on...’ she thought, slowly and carefully wrapping some of the bandage around her torso. She turned her head to see what she was doing, and her eyes widened as she beheld the wound. It looked like a laceration, an ugly, jagged red gully that ran from halfway down her midsection to just below her neck. Thankfully it wasn’t very deep, but it still bled, staining the fur around it a deep crimson. It was most likely caused by a sharp part of the bookshelf digging into her back, and oh Celestia, it hurt.
A sharp clattering filled the otherwise silent room as her magic suddenly flickered out, the bandages dropping to the floor. She simply stared at the medical supply, incredulous. ‘That’s never happened before...’ she thought, completely baffled. Her magic had never just given out like that, for as long as she could remember. She focused on the roll, gritting her teeth and shutting her eyes tight as she called upon her magic. It... Why wouldn’t it...?
After a few seconds, her horn lit up, and the medical supply rose into the air once more, although the amaranthine aura around it was faint and weak. What was going on? Why was using magic so difficult? She felt like a foal again, back when she still studied profusely on how to tap into her own inner powers. Nowadays, her magic just came to her. But now... it wouldn’t work!
She hissed a breath, focusing on her respiration and trying to calm herself down. Her magic had always been weak when she was frustrated. She couldn’t concentrate when she was all riled up. Maybe if she just calmed down, everything would become clear. She slowed her breathing, taking deeper, longer breaths, until the pounding in her chest stopped. ‘Be calm, Twilight...’ she told herself, letting her eyelids slide shut.
After a few moments, she opened her eyes again, refocusing on the bandages. Levitation was... slightly easier now. She continued wrapping them around her midsection, completely covering the laceration that ran from her neck down, before pulling it tight. ‘Apply pressure to stop the bleeding.’ She fixed it in place with some medical tape, before storing the supplies back in the cabinet.
Well... flying was out of the question now. She sighed in discontent. She knew this would happen. She knew she would hurt herself. That’s why she didn’t want to do this in the first place.
A desultory thought crossed her mind. She had wings now... and she felt like her magic was weakening. Was she turning into a... a pegasus? She gaped at nothing in particular, before shaking her head with a crude smile. That’s ridiculous. As ridiculous as her turning into an alicor-... ‘Oh, right...’
She frowned, before dismissing the thought. It was probably nothing. She resisted the urge to scratch the wound on her back -- she didn’t want to exacerbate it, regardless of how very much it itched. She yawned, her eyelids heavy. She was still tired... Icy fear had been keeping her awake almost all day, but now that she was in a safe place... maybe it wouldn’t hurt to rest her eyes for a few minutes. After all, she’d only had three hours of sleep to run on. She painfully cantered to a cobalt-blue couch in the front room and tentatively laid down on it, tucking her wings in and resting her head on a soft pillow. No one could bother her here... No one could see her here... She was completely safe. Just a few minutes...
Twilight’s eyes fluttered open, her ears perking at the sound of her front door opening. As it was followed by a second sound, the door closing, she lifted her head off of her pillow and scanned for the source of the noise. Standing in front of the door was a small purple-and-green dragon, carrying a large black vest designed for a racer pegasus. Oh, it was Spike. She blinked at him, but her assistant seemed to have yet to notice her. She blinked a few more times, wiping her eyes with a purple hoof. Oh, right... She was trying to catch up to him before he bought that thing. He sure had taken a long time... Twilight had been out for a couple hours, but upon her return, he wasn’t in the library. She took a deep breath. Maybe he was just held up by something.
“Spike?” she croaked, her voice somewhat raspy from the position she’d been lying in for some time. She scanned the room with her eyes for a clock, but quickly abandoned the task when she couldn’t find one.
The dragon turned at the sound of his name. “Oh! Hey Twilight, I didn’t see you there. I-I got the vest you wanted,” he greeted, grinning and holding up the racing attire for her to see.
Twilight cast her gaze to the magenta cloak lying against the wall opposite from the door, and she sagged a little. “Uhm... Yeah, about that... You see, I wanted the vest to... to hide my wings, not show them off. I was going to tell you to get a different one, but I couldn’t find you,” she replied, turning to face him again.
He froze for a moment, blinking. “...Oh... you... So you aren’t wanting to fl-” He clapped his claws over his mouth. “Uhhh... Nevermind. I’ll just put this somewhere.”
The purple pony shot him an incredulous glance. “What did you say?”
“Nothing. I-I didn’t say anything,” he replied, briskly walking around a corner with the vest. “I’ll just...”
Twilight simply lay there, blinking in surprise for a moment. Spike was oddly skittish today... And what was he going to say? Did it have something to do with the vest?
“Spike?” she called, gently rising to a sitting position on her couch. She received no answer, but after a half-minute, the dragon in question returned through the doorway, freezing again upon sighting her.
He ran his eyes up and down her figure. “Twilight, what happened? Are you hurt?”
Oh, right... the bandage. Her injury. “Uh... I just hurt myself. Don’t worry; I already fixed it,” she answered, smiling as she attempted to stand up. She winced as the gouge on her back sent another electric jolt of pain through her, and she grunted, falling back to the couch on her stomach. “I-It’s nothing...” she forced through grit teeth.
Spike ran to her side and placed his hand on the bandage covering the wound, inspecting it. She had wrapped it around her wing joints, since she didn’t want to bind the feathered limbs to her body (they were uncomfortable enough as is), and as such the bandages were haphazardly wrapped and had lost their tautness over time.
She frowned. “Don’t touch it, Spike...”
“Twilight... These aren’t going to do much if they aren’t tightened properly. Here, let me,” he offered, undoing the straps around the pony’s midsection and neatly sliding them off, discarding them into a nearby wastebasket.
Twilight winced as the cold air stung her wound, but kept still so the dragon could work. She wasn’t very good at medical practices; that was her assistant’s forte, so it was no surprise to her that she screwed up.
“Ouch... I’ll be right back,” he empathized, darting to the kitchen for a moment to fetch the same roll of gauze that his older sister had used previous, before returning and beginning to gently wrap it around her midsection. He applied the medical strips in an X-shape, with one set of bandages extending from the front of her left wing to behind her right, and another vice versa. He bit the gauze to rip it off, and then fastened it with the medical tape. “Okay, there, I fixed it.”
She shook herself gently, trying the integrity of the straps. They were comfortable, and they didn’t slide around. “Thanks, Spike...” she breathed, smiling at her assistant.
“No problem!” he chirped in response.
Twilight cleared her throat. “Now, Spike? What were you talking about earlier?” she asked, curious.
Spike’s slitted green eyes darted left and right nervously. “Talking about what?”
“With the vest. What were you saying?” she elaborated, her eyebrows furrowing slightly at her assistant.
“I... I... I wasn’t saying anything. I swear,” he insisted, waving his hands in front of his face and shaking his head, his expression distraught. “Just forget it.”
Twilight narrowed her eyes at the dragon, who grit his fanged teeth in trepidation, before she sighed quietly and looked away. “Okay, then...”
“So...What happened over there?”
She looked at him again -- he was pointing a purple index claw to the fallen bookshelf that she had crashed into earlier, the very same object that had carved a laceration in her back. “Uhh...” she mumbled, lighting up her horn and telekinetically gripping the wooden furniture. She tugged upwards, intending to set it upright, but it refused to budge. She grunted in concentration, before releasing her magic, remembering that it was weak at the time. She couldn’t lift heavy objects without intense focus, and even then, she could only do it at her peak strength. That bookcase weighed two hundred pounds; there was absolutely no way she was going to move it.
She tried to stand up again, before another stab of pain grounded her, forcing a loud whimper from her throat. It sounded almost like the bay of an injured dog, and her cheeks flushed, embarrassed of that sound coming out of her mouth.
Spike gently rubbed the back of her neck to soothe her. “Twilight, just... stay here and get comfortable, okay? I’ll get a blanket for you,” he requested, exiting the room to fetch the aforementioned fabric.
Twilight heaved a sigh. She couldn’t even stand up now, and it was all because she had attempted to fly. She absent-mindedly wondered if some of her blood was still on the bookcase that had fallen on her, and turned her head to the furniture in question. She thought she could see a faint red streak on the floor, but dismissed it.
Her assistant returned momentarily with a large blue comforter, and draped it gently over her, tucking the sides under her legs. It was very soft, smoothly outlining her body and wings. “Alright Twilight, that cut on your back wasn’t very deep, so in a couple of days it’ll heal up. It might leave a scar, though...” he informed, trailing off. “...How did it happen, anyway?”
The purple pony shifted nervously, before casting another glance at her inanimate assailant and the faint red streak on the floor. “Ahh... I...” she mumbled, worried. The stain of blood on the wooden floorboards was actually from her scraping her back against the paneling as she dragged herself out from underneath the bookcase. She shuddered at the memory, her ears folding. Should she tell him what happened? She was trying to fly, but hit a bookcase so hard that it caused it to fall on her. Knowing Spike, he might interpret it as her wanting a... a tutor. In flying. ‘Hey guys, you’ll never guess what my newest student is!’ Yes, all of Equestria would love to know what the hypothetical tutor’s newest student was. Not who, what.
Unfortunately, Spike’s gaze followed her own, and he began walking to the fallen bookcase. “Was it something ov-” he began, but abruptly stopped short and gasped upon sighting the crimson stain on the floor. He whipped his head in-between the red markings and the winged unicorn lying on the couch. “W-what happened?” he besieged, panicked.
“It... it’s nothing, Spike,” Twilight reassured, trying to get up again. Another stab of pain, another whimper and another collapse. ‘Stop it!’ she yelled inwardly at herself, her temples hot with frustration. Each time she whimpered, it destroyed the ability of her statements to convince her housemate that she was fine. But it was unintentional, and she couldn’t help it.
Spike ran back to her, placing his claws on the back of her neck. “I-I don’t think it’s nothing, Twilight. There’s blood on the floor, and you keep whimpering when you try to move,” he concluded, his eyebrows upturned.
Her cheeks burned. Of course, it was her whimpering that tipped him off. Grrgh! She decided to try and change the topic. “So Spike, you didn’t seem very surprised this morning at me suddenly having wings,” she began, looking at her assistant as she remembered how this horrible day started. He was only mildly bewildered at her changes, as opposed to... to... to Rarity. Her ears folded as she recalled how the unicorn had thrown various objects at her, thinking she was an impostor. Now that she thought about it, it was rather strange behavior for the white mare. Well, it was also rather early in the morning; the fashionista hadn’t even finished curling her mane when Twilight had arrived at her house. Perhaps she was just being overly cautious -- nopony ever came into the Boutique before it opened without a good reason. And again, it was very early in the morning... Twilight was not a morning pony, and sometimes acted out of conduct when faced with a strange problem in a premature day. Perhaps her alabaster friend was the same way. She shook her head dismissively; She’ll ask Rarity about it later.
Spike shrugged. “It’s not really that strange to me. Dragons are the same way -- we don’t have wings when we’re born; they usually grow in later,” he explained.
The winged unicorn gaped slightly, her mouth forming an understanding ‘o’. “...Really? I didn’t know that. It wasn’t in any of my books,” she replied, blinking. She really didn’t have many books on dragons, and she knew for a fact that she had none on draconian anatomy.
A moment of silence passed between them, Spiking beginning to awkwardly tap his claws together. “Uhm... so... What made that big cut on your back? Was it that bookshelf? Did it fall on you?” he asked, meeting his sister’s purple gaze.
Twilight remained silent, looking into her housemate’s emerald-green eyes. Her ears folded behind her head. She didn’t want Spike to get the wrong idea. Perhaps she could bend the truth just a tad...
“Y... Yes. I was...” she began, her eyes flicking about as she looked for an excuse for the bookshelf to have fallen on her without telling him what had actually happened. “I...”
“You were...?” He echoed, blinking.
The winged pony bit her lip. “I-I was trying to...”
Spike scratched his chin, glancing back at the bookcase, before eyeing his housemate. “Did you knock it over?”
Twilight looked away. “I... Well... Kinda...”
His eyes widened in surprise. “Really?” He turned again to size up the heavy bookcase. “You must have hit it pretty hard to knock it over. What were you even doing?” he asked, a scaly eyebrow raised.
Twilight’s wings rustled involuntarily under her blanket, the quiet sound of the plumage near-deafening in the silence of the library. She ducked her head, ears back, refusing to meet Spike’s concerned gaze. “I...”
A silent moment passed between the two, and she grimaced. She really didn’t want to talk about it... Her attention was suddenly drawn to her avian limbs, and the sensation of their feathers brushing over her sides. ‘Hang on, why am I doing that? Is this some kind of nervous pegasus tick?’ Her ears perked up at the sound of claws clacking against wood.
“Twilight,” Spike began, drumming his fingers on the wall. He reached up and laid a hand on her crest, grinning. “You didn’t try to fly in here, did you?” he teased.
The purple mare flinched in fright. “...N... No,” she lied, slowly turning her head to face her inquirer, who playfully raised his scaly eyebrows.
“Are you lying to me?”
Twilight swallowed with trepidation. How did he know...?
“It’s alright, Twilight,” the dragon said, chuckling outwardly. “I understand -- you want to learn how to fly.” He moved his hand to the soft quilt that covered her right wing, smiling in approval. “Don’t want to let your wings go to waste, right?”
The violet pony frowned sadly. “I... Th... They were hurting... I-I just wanted to...” she whimpered, casting a glance back at her feathered limbs as she fumbled for words. “I... I...”
Spike seemed to be ignoring her. “Just... be careful, okay? That cut on your back looks like it hurts,” he empathized, casting a concerned glance her way. “I can put some mats all over one of the rooms so you can practice without hurting yourself again, if you’d like.”
She blinked a few times, slightly befuddled at the dragon’s support. Mats actually seemed... kind of nice. If she were to fall down while flying, the mats would cushion the force of the impact, instead of letting her body slam against the hard wooden floor. Practice... She would have to practice. But at least she wouldn’t break a bone while doing it. Her expression relaxed, and a small smile graced her lips, her eyes glowing. “Thanks, Spike.”
The reptile simply smiled back in response. “Don’t mention it. I’ll set them up soon, when you’re feeling better.” He pulled the blanket a little farther forward on Twilight’s body, tucking it under her fuzzy purple chest. “If you want to learn on your own, that’s completely fine, I just need to cancel with Rar-” he began, before abruptly stopping, blinking surprised eyes. “...N-nevermind.”
Twilight gave him a curious look. “What?”
“It-it’s nothing,” Spike answered, his slitted pupils darting left and right once more. “Get plenty of rest, okay?”
“A-alright...” she conceded, resting her face on her pillow.
He smiled approvingly, before leaving the room without another word.
She laid in silence, deep in thought as she rested. For once, she wished that there was some sort of noise present. Silence... was actually unnerving. She preferred some kind of noise; something constant and unchanging, like the light pattering of rain, and the occasional boom of thunder... She liked rain. The sound it made on her windows... The dim lighting... The way the air smelled... It relaxed her. What she wouldn’t give for the local weather pegasi to schedule a little drizzle right here, right now...
“Twilight? Your, uh, feathers are still all over the record room,” a voice called from nearby.
Twilight raised her head to look -- Spike was leaning around the doorframe, gazing at her curiously. Her... her feathers? Oh, right, her little ‘session’ that morning... They definitely needed to be cleaned up. If one of her friends were to stop by her library, they would see the plumage all over her carpet, and she wouldn’t have any way to explain it.
“I was going to throw them away, but... do you want to keep them? I mean, they’re pretty big.” He chuckled. “At the rate you preen them, you’d never run out of quills again!”
She gaped at her assistant for a moment, before her eyes narrowed into a hostile glare. “Not funny,” she growled through her teeth, preparing herself to stand upright, before thinking better of it. She could tell that her housemate was restraining himself from laughing, despite his expression being mostly blank -- his cheeks were slightly raised, and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. She growled again, louder. “It’s not funny, Spike!”
“Okay, okay, it’s not,” he surrendered in appeasement, raising one flat palm. “But do you want me to keep them?”
Twilight sighed angrily. “Yes, whatever, keep them.”
He nodded once in response and disappeared behind the doorway, his light footsteps indicating his travel away from the room.
The winged unicorn laid on her pillow once more, closing her eyes. This was stupid. This was all stupid. The wings, the feathers, her supposedly having turned into an alicorn, everything. She was perfectly content with just being a unicorn. But no, some higher power decreed that she not have that luxury. Now, she was stuck as some... some hybrid, something in-between a unicorn and a pegasus. Maybe an alicorn; she wasn’t entirely sure yet.
She growled angrily and stomped weakly at her pillow with a hoof, remembering Spike’s rude joke about her feathers. Use her own feathers as quills? Seriously? That would be way too obvious. Well, actually, most ponies would probably assume that she had a pegasus friend with a coat color similar to hers. Maybe she was just over-thinking this... Her assistant had always told her that she was a very clever pony, and that most other ponies’ wits weren’t quite as quick as hers.
‘Twilight, that’s hardly fair,’ she quickly berated herself for that line of thought.
She raised her head and cast an exhausted gaze at the two wings on her back, lighting up her horn to lift up the blanket that covered them. Her feathers actually were pretty big... They were about the same size as the quills she often used, if a tad longer. The dragon’s suggestion was insensitive, but... it might actually be practical. It would be one less reason for her to leave her house.
She let go of the blanket and returned her head to her pillow. She could already feel her limbs twitching with pent-up energy. Was she going to have to just lie here for the next two days? Wasn’t there something she could do that could help heal the wound? Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to speed up the natural pony healing process with magic. Many had tried, none had succeeded. Magic could not control the actions of individual cells, such as their divisions. Magic could supposedly conjure new cells, but the operating unicorn would have to copy the patient’s genetic code; every single chromosome, every strand of DNA, with one hundred point zero percent accuracy. If one nucleotide was different, the natural cells would attack the conjured ones. Power would do nothing, and the level of precision required was simply beyond the ability of any pony.
Unicorn nurses and surgeons simply held and worked their tools with common telekinesis. Some were even clever enough to make their tools out of magic. Magic could temporarily disable certain nerves to alleviate pain, and it could blanket-kill bacteria when absolute precision wasn’t necessary. But it couldn’t force the body to heal any faster than its normal rate, no matter how great the unicorn’s control over magic.
Still, there were other methods of healing besides magic. Zecora would probably be able to-...
She frowned. ‘Nevermind...’ she thought, sighing into her pillow. She guessed she was out of commission for the next few days. Might as well just lie here, and...
A knocking at the library’s front door interrupted her thoughts. It was calm, it was smooth, but it was hastened. After a moment of contemplation, her muscles tensed up with fear. “Oh no...” she whispered to herself, her head shooting up from her pillow to view the house’s entrance. She was still in the front room! Fortunately the door was locked, so maybe she could-
“Twilight?” a familiar tomboyish voice asked from behind the door, followed by a few harsh raps on the wood. “Are you in here?” it asked again, muffled by the wall.
Spike casually walked into the room in response to the noise, obviously to answer the door, before halting upon hearing the doorknob click back and forth as somepony tried to open it. “Oh... Were you expecting somepony?” he asked to Twilight with a nonchalant shrug.
“Spike? Is that you? Let me in!” the pony outside demanded, her voice cracking.
Twilight felt like she was frozen solid. ‘Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,’ a betraying voice in the back of her head whispered to her. She whipped her gaze to her bipedal assistant, pleading with her purple eyes. “Spike... Can you cover for me? Just pretend I’m not here. Tell her I’m not here!” she whispered in panic, before laying several pillows around her midsection with her teeth and pulling her blanket further up onto her body with her telekinesis. She doubted this would work, pretending to be just a lump of cloth on the couch, but then again, Rainbow wasn’t the sharpest knife in the box of crayons. She pulled the quilt over her head, and attempted to be still.
The sound of claws on wood circled around her, heading to the front door. She felt her lungs burn as she tried to control her breathing, trying to be silent and unmoving. Her wings quivered slightly under her blanket.
The sound of her little brother’s footsteps ceased for a moment. They still sounded too close. He couldn’t be at the door yet. Had Dash left? Had... had she found another way in?
Knock knock knock... “C’mon Twi, open up!”
“Twilight, she’s going to find out eventually,” Spike pointed out, not bothering to lower his voice by much. “She’s your friend, you know. Why don’t you just show her now?”
The concealed mare snapped her head up, throwing the blanket off of her face and glaring incredulously at her assistant. “Spike, are you serious?!” she growled, almost breaking her whisper. “She... she can’t find out! If ponies find out, they’ll think I’m some sort of freak! You can’t tell her!”
Spike turned his head to look at the door, before casting a final, concerned glance Twilight’s way and heading to it without another word.
She quickly ducked her head and brought the blanket back over her, tucking it neatly to disguise herself as an oddly-shaped throw pillow. ‘Please, Spike...’ she thought to herself, shifting nervously to get into a more comfortable position.
She heard a scaly hand grip the steel pin of the lock, before a very sharp clack rippled through the air as the lock mechanism unlatched. The door opened, allowing a brief gust of wind to pass into the room. She clutched the blanket tightly with her hoof.
“Hi, Dash!” Spike greeted, his toes tapping methodically on the floor as he pivoted back and forth on his heels. “What brings you here?”
“Spike, have you seen Twilight around? I’ve been looking for her,” the athlete began, her wings making light flapping noises as she hovered just outside the doorway. “Also, why were all your windows completely locked up?”
A nervous bead of sweat rolled down Twilight’s forehead. ‘Spike...’
“Uh... I don’t know,” the dragon replied, obviously playing dumb.
The hidden mare quietly exhaled in relief, taking care to make absolutely sure she wasn’t moving. She didn’t want to give herself away.
“Hey uh, I heard you saying something before you opened the door,” Rainbow announced, her hooves tapping the concrete patio as they touched down. Her wings rustled as they folded against her sides. “Is somepony in there with you?”
Twilight almost flinched, cursing inwardly at her assistant’s inconsiderate audacity. ‘Darn it, Spike! D-don’t tell her!’
There was silence for a moment. “...Uhh... I was talking to...” Spike began.
Twilight’s blood ran cold, and she grit her teeth. ‘NO!’
“...to... to myself. Yeah, I was just rambling. I talk to myself when I’m thinking,” the dragon lied, tapping his claws together.
The winged unicorn exhaled again in relief, but she could feel herself trembling with anxiety. She shut her eyes tight and concentrated on holding still. Spike was just about pulling through for her so far, but it would all be for nothing if she blew her own cover.
She felt another gust of wind penetrate her blanket as the front door closed. Dash was inside now. ‘Spike, you idiot...’ she thought angrily, realizing that this meant she would have to keep hiding until the cyan pegasus left. And her little disguise wasn’t exactly well-ventilated -- She could feel herself beginning to sweat.
“So... Do you know where Twilight is? I need to talk to her,” Rainbow vocalized, suddenly very close to the purple pony’s location. “I saw her at the marketplace today, but she bolted before I could ask her something.”
Twilight held her breath, her tremors threatening to return.
“Ask her what?” her housemate asked in reply, the claws of his feet tapping the floor as he approached the couch alongside the tomboy.
“Well, she was wearing this really big cloak, and... Wait... That’s it over there, by that wall. Is she here?” Dash rationalized.
A few extra-colorful words ran through the lavender pony’s mind. She had left the cloak there. That was stupid! She should have hung it up! She mentally smacked herself on the forehead. Spike’s soft, clacking footsteps trailed to the wall that held the purple garment, and a rustling sound indicated that he had picked it up.
“Whoa... So this is the dress that Ra-” Spike began, before abruptly stopping. “Uh... It’s a really pretty dress.”
Twilight blinked multiple times underneath her blanket. What was with Spike today? Did... did he know something that he wasn’t letting on?
“Ehm... I’ll just go hang this up in the record room,” the dragon announced, his feet tapping as he left the room with the dress. Soft clopping followed him.
Hold on, the record room...? Twilight threw her head up, her face twisted with fright. Her feathers were still strewn all over the floor in that room! ‘No no no no no no no no no no no no!’ she thought as she hastily climbed out of the pillows that buried her, gritting her teeth to keep from crying out from the ripping pain in her back. If any ponies were to suspect something from seeing her preened plumage, it would definitely be Dash or Fluttershy. They probably preened their feathers too, and as such, probably knew what the results were. She was done for.
Unless... unless she could do something about it before they got there. Multiple options presented themselves to her. She could try casting her invisibility spell on the feathers... No, that was too hard. Something was up with her magic, and she couldn’t even see her target. She could... try to just move them somewhere, she guessed. But again, she couldn’t see her target. She could cast a sealing spell on the door so neither of them could open it... Once again, she couldn’t see her target, and sealing was a difficult spell, relying either on knowledge of the inner-workings of a door lock, or just sheer brute force. The only viable option that remained was to teleport into the record room from where she was and lock the door from the inside, and perhaps take care of her feathers once there. Teleportation was difficult too, but... she’d just have to try. If she didn’t, then this would be the end of her secret.
Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply and concentrated on the image of the room that her two friends were headed to. She called upon the small amount of co-operative magic she could muster, and focused on the teleportation spell, imagining her body traveling across a line of energy from her current position to her destination. Her horn burned at the slow input of energy as opposed to the usual quick injection, and she grunted as she tried to pull enough magic out of her body for the spell.
Just a bit more... Just a bit more... She didn’t feel like she had quite enough magic built up in her horn to cast it correctly. But it would have to do; She couldn’t muster any more than this. Besides, her two friends must have reached the record room by now. She was out of time. She took another deep breath, and activated the spell. She felt her body violently being jerked in one direction, almost as if she had been lassoed with a rope and pulled with the force of a full-throttle freight train, through a curtain of blazing oil. Wait, that last part wasn’t supposed to happen...
Her eyes fluttered open. She was standing in the middle of the record room, in the center of the slew of lavender feathers. She looked around -- the plumage previously formed a thin ring, but it appeared to have been spread out by the wind. She shifted; her fur felt like it was stiff. She turned her head and examined herself. Several parts of her, namely her extremities, were burnt black. Her hooves, the tips of her ears, the tip of her tail... All burnt. The tips of several feathers on her wings were burnt as well, but the rest seemed to be unharmed. Fortunately the wound on her back seemed to have been spared, but-... Wait, where was the bandage? She looked at the floor beneath her; there was a pile of ash at her hooves with the occasional white strip mixed in. She sighed dejectedly; She had messed up the spell. She knew that she needed more power. She had learned from experience that a teleportation spell cast using an insufficient amount of magic caused heavy burns on the passengers.
“...she might have gone to get groceries. You said you saw her at the market, right?” Spike asked from the hallway, the sound of his voice causing Twilight to flinch. Her ears folded as she remembered why she was here, and she quickly tried to close the door with her magic. It didn’t move. She had used every drop of whatever was left of her magic for that teleportation spell. Inhaling sharply, she cantered over to it -- the wound on her back screaming in protest -- and nudged the door closed with her snout. She bit the pin-and-socket locking mechanism, and moved it into its proper position, the device clacking in confirmation.
Good. The door was closed and locked now. They couldn’t get in, and they couldn’t see. She smiled in relief for a moment, before her expression shattered upon realizing that she couldn’t get out. She swore under her breath. Why didn’t she think this through?
“Ohhhkay, that was creepy. You sure your house isn’t haunted, Spike?” Rainbow asked from behind the door, slightly muffled. She must’ve thought the door had closed by itself.
“I have no idea, Dash. There’s nopony else here. And even if there was, that pony probably wouldn’t be in the record room...” Spike lied, trailing off. “Uh, Rainbow, I think you should leave.”
“Wha-... why? What did I do?” the technicolor mare sputtered in response.
“Nothing, I just need to... be alone right now. Thanks for stopping by, but I really need to you leave. No offense,” the young dragon explained nonchalantly.
Twilight, who currently had her ear pressed up against the door, smiled softly. Her little brother was pulling through for her. Oh, thank Celestia, he didn’t decide to blow her cover... Her eyes grew soft. He really was her number-one assistant.
“Uh... Okay... Can you tell me when Twilight gets back, so I can talk to her?” The blue speedster conceded, her hooves clopping as she turned around.
“Err, yeah, I’ll tell you.” Spike shuffled awkwardly. “See ya’ later!”
“A...alright... See ya’...” Rainbow mumbled quietly, sounding rather sad as she walked away.
The lavender pony frowned with concern. She hoped that her housemate would later convince the pegasus that she hadn’t been outright kicked out of the library, because Dash often became mopey when she felt disowned. She would have done it herself, but... She looked back at her slightly-singed wings. ‘Not now...’
A moment passed in complete silence, until the front door thunked as it closed. The faint sound of wings beating reached Twilight’s ears, indicating that her friend had finally left. She let out a shaky breath in relief, sitting back on her haunches and leaning against the door. Rainbow hadn’t found out. She was safe.
A clearing of the throat came from behind the wooden slab. “Twilight, are you in there?” Spike asked, knocking on the locked door before gripping its knob and turning it left and right. “Can I come in?”
Twilight gripped the pin of the lock with her teeth, before pulling it out, allowing the dragon to enter.
He gazed up at the mare with concern, preparing to speak, before his eyes snapped open as he beheld her singed form. “T-Twilight? You’re burnt... What happened?”
The purple-and-black pony frowned. “I... I tried to teleport in here without enough magic,” she confessed, her eyebrows upturned. “I-I didn’t want Rainbow to see the mess in here.” She gestured to the slew of feathers on the carpet.
“O-oh! I-I’m sorry, I completely forgot about this!” he frantically apologized, immediately bending over and beginning to pick up the shed plumage feather by feather with his claws.
Twilight’s smile returned, and she bent down to nuzzle the dragon’s cheek. He had pulled through for her... Maybe she could completely trust him, despite his blunt suggestion that she should come clean with all of her friends. The fins on his cheeks felt oddly fleshy when pressed against her own face.
Spike smiled bashfully and pushed her face away with one claw, chuckling to himself. “Don’t worry Twilight, I’ll get all this cleaned up... Just make sure that when you preen again, it’s not over carpet. It’s hard to get your feathers out of carpet,” he commented, and the two shared an awkward chuckle.
Multiple tomes of different sizes and lengths zipped back and forth across the room, held aloft by a strong deep-red magical aura. Many different titles adorned their covers, from “Pony Genetics: An Overview” to “Ancient History of the Princesses”. The purple winged unicorn in the center of the swarm of texts skimmed over each and every book in no particular order, placing them in their respective places on the shelves only to pull them back off for another read-through. The answer had to be here somewhere. To her knowledge, the only library in Equestria that surpassed her own in quantity was the library of Canterlot, but she couldn’t really go out in public right now, so her best bet was right here in her own house.
The bandages wrapped around her torso shifted as her wings twitched to maintain her balance. Spike, after seeing what her misfueled teleportation spell had done to her previous bandages, had wrapped her in a fresh new set, with a large amount of antibiotic ointment. Well, after a bath, which was not an enjoyable experience for her, especially with the wound on her back. The soap stung every time it washed over the cut, but the bath was probably necessary; she couldn’t walk around with parts of her fur burnt black. And besides, skin breaches needed to be washed, to prevent infection. It didn’t feel too nice when her assistant scrubbed her back with a large brush, though. In addition, the heavy feeling of wet plumage was a new and not-too-welcome one.
Regardless, the pain in her back was mostly numbed by the ointment, so walking wasn’t too difficult of a task. Her magic had returned to her as well, being just as efficient as before, if not slightly moreso. After an entire morning without it co-operating, it seemed to have come back with gusto -- it was somewhat easier for her to perform everyday tasks than it was, say, a week ago. She had begun her reading session some time previous, finding that she could levitate maybe one or two books. Over time, she began to psychokinetically hold seven, then fourteen, then twenty. And soon enough, her entire library was airborne. Amidst the cyclone of books, a few other objects were floating around, such as chairs and candles.
Right... The books. She had been searching her vast collection of tomes for a long period of time, scanning each one for even the slightest hint of what caused her changes, with little success. Unicorns didn’t just grow wings. There had to be some explanation for it... To hay with Pinkie Sense, this was happening to her, and she wasn’t going to just let it slide. She grunted with frustration. Every book she looked through didn’t give even the slightest lead to her answer.
‘A History of Pony Genetics’... No. Glass Beaker? Who the hay is that? Pony races are determined by two alleles, and depending on the mother and father genes, the alleles are determined by three- Urgh! Why isn’t it here?! ‘The Princesses: a Monologue on the Beings That Guide the Sun and the Moon’... No!’
She rubbed her temples with her hooves, attempting to calm herself. She was getting angry. She couldn’t focus when she was angry. “Deep breaths, Twilight...” she whispered to herself. Perhaps her massive magic usage was giving her a headache... Or maybe it was her lack of sleep. Or both. She opened her eyes and glanced at the window on the wall. It was... getting dark. How long had she been at this?
‘I... I need a break...’ she thought miserably, beginning to shelve the hundreds of titles floating around her. She stared blankly at the floor beneath her as the books slid into their proper locations, and by the time the last one was in place, her vision had begun to swim. She deactivated her magic, the amaranthine aura around her horn dissipating, and yawned widely. She wanted to sleep. Her body wanted to just collapse on the floor, curl up, and nod off. Right here...
Her ears perked up as the sound of knocking filled the room. Another visitor? Great... Spike had already fallen asleep in his basket, so she couldn’t rely on him to get the door. She simply remained quiet for a moment in hopes that the pony at the door would assume the library was vacant and leave. Didn’t she switch the sign on the window to ‘CLOSED’ earlier that day? A quick glance at the sign in question told her that she indeed had. Whoever was at the door, it wasn’t a customer...
“Twi? Are you in there?” a thick, accented voice drawled from behind the door, laden with concern.
Twilight sharply gasped, her ears folding behind her head as she froze solid. ‘Applejack...’ she thought, recognizing the voice. This wasn’t good... The apple farmer knew her better than other ponies did, and seemed to be very proficient at detecting when somepony was lying to her.
“Twilight? Ah don’t think you’re out somewhere... Ya’ll never leave your house after dark, except fer when you’re at one of Pinkie’s parties or some’n special like that. And Ah know Pinks ain’t havin’ a party tonight. Are you in there? Is... is everythin’ okay? I wanna talk to you about... about some’n.”
She swallowed. Applejack seemed oddly worried about her. She remained quiet; regardless of the orange mare having good intentions, the hybrid pony absolutely did not want AJ to see her. Maybe she would just leave...
“...Twi...?” Applejack called, knocking on the door again.
The purple mare shifted awkwardly, the feathers on her wings brushing against her torso. Maybe... maybe she should let her in. Her eyes drifted over to the closet which held the cloak Rarity had fashioned for her. She could just wear it... Applejack sounded like she had something important to say.
She took a deep breath and opened the closet door, telekinetically gripping the garment within and bringing it to her. She wrapped it around her, fastening the button-clasp on the front and making sure the fabric fit snugly.
She gulped with trepidation, before softly cantering to her front door and taking psychokinetic hold of it. She opened it slowly, revealing her friend, who gazed back at her with concerned green eyes. The orange mare wasn’t wearing her Stetson hat... Apparently she really was worried about something.
Applejack smiled. “...Hey Twi’. Can Ah come in? Ah need to talk with you...” she greeted, before her smile melted back into a small, concerned frown.
Twilight gestured for her to enter, backing up to allow the farmer’s passage, before closing the door.
Applejack trotted to the rug in the center of the room, before seating her haunches on the floor, gazing with worry at her friend. “Twi’... come here for a min’ or two,” she requested, her eyebrows upturned. What was she so worried about?
The purple mare followed suit, sitting on the rug in front of her friend, her wings twitching slightly under her cloak.
“Twilight... Ah know this is gonna sound ridiculous, but... While I was sellin’ my apple products at my stand in the marketplace today, I heard some ponies talkin’ bout a... a really strange purple pony, or some’n,” the farmer began, her irises moving by minute amounts as she flicked her gaze to Twilight’s horn, then to each of her sides.
Twilight’s blood ran cold, and her ears folded back for a split second, before she quickly snapped them back up to avoid betraying her fear to her friend. “Uh... uh huh...?” she replied, her voice quivering slightly.
“They said she looked like a normal pony, just with a horn and wings. Ah asked them what the pony looked like, and the description they gave me... It matched ya’ to a T. Just, you know, without the wings. Ah know, crazy, right? But...” Applejack’s green eyes grew softer than the clouds in the sky. “Sugarcube... Were they actually talkin’ about you? Did somethin’ happen...? Are ya’ll okay...?”
Twilight simply stared at her friend, trying as hard as she could to not let any part of her body betray her emotions. She kept her face stoic, although she knew that hints of fear still lined her expression. She forced her ears to stay erect, and fought to keep her body from trembling. “I... I... I don’t know what you’re talking about...” she lied, her voice quivering audibly. She knew she hadn’t convinced the earth pony; AJ’s expression grew ever more gentle and concerned. Wait... she heard about her from... rumors? ‘No...! Ponies are already talking about me...!’
“Twi... why are ya’ wearin’ that dress?” Applejack asked softly, eyeing the garment.
The robed mare jumped slightly. “ I... I have a... really nasty injury under this, a-and I don’t think you want to see it...” she explained. It wasn’t a lie, although she did have bandages underneath the garment, so the wound wouldn’t quite be visible if she took it off. But it was irrelevant; the bandages did not cover her wings.
AJ brought a hoof to her mouth in shock, gasping quietly. “What happened, sugarcube?”
Twilight scratched the back of her head with embarrassment, her face red. “I... uhh... I kind of hit one of the bookshelves pretty hard earlier, and it... fell on me,” she explained, gesturing to the now-righted piece of furniture. “Turns out they’re really heavy, even without all the books,” she added with a weak smile.
Her friend gave a light, sympathetic chuckle, her mood immediately, and perhaps intentionally, brightening. “Y’all alright now, though?” she asked, concern still present in her voice.
The lavender filly glanced at her own back. “Yeah, I’ll be fine,” she said, smiling brightly at the earth pony. “It’ll heal.”
The farmer continued to give her a concerned smile, her eyes flicking back and forth by mere centimeters at her friend’s torso.
Twilight could tell that she wasn’t concerned about her back... Her green orbs gazed at her sides, where her wings were. Did she know...? Applejack had apparently heard rumors, rumors which were true, but... Did she actually know?
‘No... she can’t know...’
“Twi’... are ya’ sure you’re alright? Is everythin’ okay?” The hatless pony asked again, her voice soft, comforting, understanding. “If there’s anythin’ ya’ need, I can help...” Applejack gazed at the violet filly with the most sympathetic expression Twilight had ever seen from her.
Twilight calmly met her friend’s eyes, trying to maintain her reassuring smile. “I’m fine, Applejack. Really.”
An orange hoof scuffed at the wooden floorboards. “...I don’t think so, haystack. Ya’ll look sad, and... scared. Ah can see it in your eyes...” its owner muttered, her own eyes gazing up at her friend from her tilted head.
The pony in question remained silent, her small smile vanishing from her expression. She looked at Applejack unwaveringly, a part of her wanting to simply come clean and revel in the comfort of a friend who understands, but the majority of her demanding that she stay quiet. Her face betrayed her emotions for a brief moment, before she reeled them back in, almost wishing that she could explain her entire dilemma with only her eyes. A silence passed between the two, dotted only by the clock face quietly ticking on the wall.
“Sugarcube...” the applebucker whispered in a soft tone, almost pleadingly. She cast her gaze at the floor in defeat and stood up, trotting quietly to the front door. “No matter what happens... If... If ya’ll ever need somepony to talk to... Ah’m here, okay?” she continued, casting a sad look over her shoulder.
The winged unicorn watched her friend as she walked away, her lower lip quivering slightly. Now, more than ever, she just wanted to run to the farmer and collapse in the embrace of an understanding friend. However, she remained quiet out of better judgement, watching as her earth pony friend pulled the front door open. Applejack turned one last time, flashing her friend a smile that was friendly yet still concerned, before taking her leave. Silence filled the library soon after the heavy wooden door clunked shut.
Twilight exhaled deeply in relief. It was a hollow victory, deceiving her friends... especially when she wanted nothing more than to just come clean with them. She wanted to have somepony who understood what she was going through... somepony to lean on...
She shook her head sadly, her ears folded. Of course, she had plenty of friends. Friends that were supposed to take care of one another, friends to console and confide in... but... After seeing how Rarity and Sweetie Belle initially reacted, and how... how nosy Rainbow Dash had been, it simply felt like too much of a risk.
‘...Well, Rarity was tired... It was early in the morning... but...’
Friends drift away when circumstances change... Was this the catalyst? Was this going to pull apart her friends...?
‘Twilight, keep it together!’ she inwardly scolded herself. ‘You’re over-thinking this! What kind of friends would they be if they just left you? Besides, that’s... only two bad reactions, out of everypony you know. Hasty generalizations are inadvisable,’ her inner scientist recited.
It was a fair point; after all -- Applejack certainly had her suspicions that something was awry, but she had seemed more... more concerned than interrogative. She had seemed reluctant to pressure Twilight for information. She had mentioned that she had heard rumors about a winged unicorn, but... the orange mare had seemingly come to check on a friend rather than to chase up gossip, hadn’t she?
Her heart leapt at the thought. Even though she couldn’t yet bring herself to fully confide in Applejack, she felt like she finally had somepony who would reliably value friendships above all else. Perhaps... she could come clean with her. The athletic earth pony probably wouldn’t even care that her friend had sprouted wings. They’re... only wings, after all. So what if she was an alicorn, or a winged unicorn, or whatever it is she was now? She was still the same pony on the inside. If her friendship lessons had taught her anything, it was that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Her circle of friends had proven time and time again that friendship can overcome even the gravest of situations, and this... was simply another challenge. As long as she could tell the rest of her friends carefully, to make sure they don’t freak out, to make sure they realize that she was still the same pony, then... maybe... maybe this could all work out.
Standing, she reached up to her cloak with her forehooves and undid the clasp, letting it hang loosely from her body by gravity alone. Allowing herself a small, confident smile, she quickly whipped out her wings, flinging the cloak aside with an almighty gust.
Regardless of her injury, the action brought no pain, due to the numbing ointment on her back that deactivated its nerves. Her thoughts briefly floated to the wound; it was fine now, but... What if it got infected? She would need some professional medical help for a laceration that big. Hospitals were far too public, but... She had a few friends that were adept at medical practices. Perhaps they could help.
A few stray feathers idly floated across her vision, as if time itself had slowed down to marvel at her. Stretching her new limbs to their limits, briefly as to avoid another muscle cramp, she tipped her head back and smiled wider, her eyes closed.
‘...Maybe this’ll all work out...’
“Girls, Rarity made me swear not to tell anypony, but I saw the coolest thing this morning!”
Garuu slung an arm around Beige’s shoulder, pointing off into the distance with his other hand. “Look, Beige... Friendshipping. Friendshipping everywhere.”
Beige replied unto him, “Perhaps we shall request the [Friendshipping] tag upon the off-chance of our work qualifying for Equestria Daily.”
And the two authors slapped a high-five.
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.
Using her magic, the winged unicorn mentally grasped the strand...
...and tugged it apart.
The faint sound echoed throughout the hallways as the surrounding room, and the rest of the house, fell dead silent. Twilight stood trembling, afraid to open her eyes, afraid to see the no-doubt horrified expression on her yellow friend’s face. ‘First the silence... then the screaming...’ she thought psychoanalytically to herself, taking a shuddering breath. With how quiet the environment was, it almost seemed that if she never opened her eyes, time would stand still until she did.
But, her curiosity eventually got the better of her, and her eyelids creaked open. After blinking a few times to sharpen her vision, she noticed that Fluttershy stared at her with a blank, wide-eyed expression. Worried violet eyes locked with incredulous teal ones for a moment, before Twilight swallowed with trepidation.
“Fluttershy... Please understand, I...” she muttered sadly, braving a step forward. The pegasus took a cautious step back in response. Twilight frowned, her ears folding back against her head. Her friend was afraid of her. “Fluttershy, listen... I know I might look...” She paused to swallow again. “D... different, but I... I’m still the same...!” she whimpered, pleading with her eyes for her friend to look past her external visage.
The yellow pony did not respond aside from the occasional twitch of her ear. When the winged unicorn took another step forward, she took two steps back, keeping her distance.
“Fluttershy, please!” Twilight begged. Her sudden change in volume caused the shy filly to recoil, whimpering. The lavender mare’s eyes shot wide open in realization. “W-wait, no! I’m sorry!” she sputtered, her wings involuntarily flaring up as she reached toward her friend with a violet hoof, which only caused the scared pony to yelp in fear and jump backwards.
Fluttershy’s wings flapped frantically to right herself as she landed further away from the spellcaster, her rump almost pressed up against the wall behind her. “...Are... Are they real...?” she suddenly muttered, her voice quivering. “Th-they weren’t there before...”
Twilight looked at the floor. Obviously, she had not just conjured an illusion of fake wings. She had just dispelled an illusion that was hiding real ones. And now, she had to say ‘Yes, I actually have wings’ to the pegasus, instead of just being able to show her. She didn’t want to say it to anypony else; it was hard enough saying it to herself. She gulped, folding her avian limbs back against her sides and gathering her will. “Y... Yes... They’re real...” she admitted, the words tasting foul as she uttered them.
The reticent mare simply gaped for a moment, before she gasped, covering her mouth with her butter-yellow hooves. Her teal irises constricted to small dots, and she began to cower against the wall behind her.
Twilight let loose a quiet whimper at her friend’s display of fear. This was not how this situation was supposed to go. The two remained silent for a moment, the clock face on the wall ticking away. She glanced briefly glanced at Spike; the small dragon was curled quietly on a couch with a worried expression on his scaly face.
“I... I... I’m sorry, m-ma’am... I-I didn’t know you would be here...” Fluttershy mumbled, immediately drawing her friend’s attention. Her soft words suggested that she was talking to a stranger. A very scary stranger.
Twilight gaped, her eyebrows raised. “Fluttershy, it’s me...!” She stated, taking a few steps toward the cowering filly, but halted when she squeaked with fear. “It’s me... Twilight...” she mumbled, blinking, before reaching out with her telekinesis to the pegasus’s body, enveloping her in a shining red aura and gently tugging the yellow pony towards her.
Fluttershy suddenly released a horrified scream, splitting the air and breaking the spellcaster’s concentration like a glass window.
The ear-piercing cry caused Twilight to flinch and drop the yellow pony, her irises momentarily constricting as she rapidly blinked her eyes. The chrysanthemum mare quickly scrambled to her hooves and darted to another room before the winged unicorn could say anything else, leaving her and Spike alone in the room.
Twilight’s fuzzy face was frozen in an incredulous gawk at the doorway her friend had fled through. Her expression twitched a few times, before she slapped her forehead with a purple hoof. ‘Stupid! STUPID!’ she inwardly screamed at herself. Why did she do that?! Fluttershy was terrified of her, and she thought it would have been a good idea to move her against her will!?
Twilight removed her hoof from her forehead and angrily slammed it down into the floorboards with a loud CRACK, her wings flaring up behind her in response to her frustration. “DAMN IT!” she yelled, the curse word echoing back to her from the nearby hallways, before she immediately flinched at her own language. She cast a tentative glance at Spike, who had folded his arms, a disapproving scowl on his muzzle as he steadily tapped his foot on the couch. She gazed apologetically at him, before directing her eyes to the hoof she had pounded into the floor. She lifted it up, seeing that she had smashed a four-inch-deep hole into the wood paneling. She gawked at the aperture, then at her purple hoof. ‘Wha...? How did I...?’ How did she just do that? She hadn’t even stomped that hard, and now there was a huge hole in the floor!
A long-since-banished thought creeped to the front of her mind, unfazed by her attempts to push it back. ‘Alicorns are meant to embody all three of the pony races... Earth ponies are strong,’ the thought told her, causing her to tremble with fear. “No... No!” she whispered to herself, her ears folding as she began to panic.
‘Yet another piece of the puzzle falls into place, your highness. You have a horn, you have wings, and -- Oh look! -- you have strength. Chances are, you’ll get bigger, too. Remember when Fluttershy asked if you were taller? There goes your last ‘if’. Quit denying it. You’re an alicorn!’ her inner voice insisted in a sadistically cheerful tone, followed by a short laugh.
“NO!” Twilight screamed out loud, gripping her head with her hooves, her sudden outburst causing Spike to flinch.
“Twilight?” the dragon besieged, hopping off of his couch and running to his older sister, before abruptly halting as he saw the hoof-shaped hole in the floor. “Wha-...?”
She collapsed on the rug nearby, burying her face in her hooves. Her brain hopped between each and every situation she’d been in the past two days, looking for something, anything to explain what had just happened without resorting to the one thing she didn’t want to believe. ...There was nothing. She had just punched a hole in the floor, and there was only one possible explanation for it; an explanation she didn’t want to even consider. She was very physically strong now... Her lack of physical strength had been her lifeline, the one thing she fell back on to steer her thoughts away from the conclusion that she was an alicorn. ‘I’m not strong,’ she had told herself. ‘Alicorns exhibit the qualities of all three of the pony races. I only exhibit two,’ she had convinced herself to believe.
Well, here comes quality number three. That was a very neat hole she had stomped into the wooden paneling. If a very strong earth pony tried to do this, they would create a large dent, not a perfectly hoof-shaped hole. Extraordinary strength was required to puncture a neat hole. Her inner physicist jumped into the mental conversation: According to the laws of physics, a force applied over a longer time decreases the average force of a collision. The very fact that wood was solid caused it to push back when stomped -- as mentioned previous, a normal pony trying to do this would leave a dent, not a hole, because they wouldn’t be quite strong enough to apply enough force over a short time to break a circular aperture into the paneling.
Process of elimination, her inner scientist recited. Every other possibility to explain her changes had been eliminated. There was only one left.
Only one left.
‘And you know what it is.’
Her rib cage gently expanded and contracted as she breathed, the cold electricity of adrenaline surging through her veins. She felt a scaly hand on her withers, and she raised her head to face her assistant, who simply stared at her with concern.
A minor spike of pain from her wound reminded her of her initial purpose for visiting her medicinally-experienced friend, and she drew a breath, forcing herself to postpone her discovery until after she had received medical attention. Her head slightly hung, she brought herself to her hooves and began a slow trot after the terrified pegasus, Spike following closely behind her.
As Twilight peered around the doorway that her friend had fled through, she saw neither hide nor hoof of Fluttershy. The room had no other entrance -- the shy filly must’ve been hiding somewhere. Twilight’s violet eyes scanned around each piece of furniture present, looking for a hint of pale yellow or a flash of pink mane. She swallowed, the small motion inciting a small burning from the laceration on her neck and withers. “Fluttershy...? I... I need help...” she managed to say out loud, attempting to convince her friend to show herself. She cast a glance at the laceration on her back, wincing from both the sight of the ugly gully and the pain from twisting her neck. “My... My injury...”
She faced forwards again. “Please...” she begged, distraught. She had no other choice. She needed Fluttershy to tend to her wound, or else she would have to go to the hospital, and that would be the end of her secret. If nothing else, she could at least attempt to talk to the coy mare while she worked, to try and convince her that she needn’t fear the... the alicorn. She winced painfully at that thought. W... Whatever, if the timid pegasus was really her friend, she would see through her changes.
She winced again, harder, as the other edge of that thought’s linguistic sword pointed straight at her. If Fluttershy didn’t see through her changes... she would have lost a friend. No. No. She would eventually understand. It would just take some... some convincing. She sucked in a breath. “Fluttershy... Please come out...” she pleaded, trotting further into the room. She ducked down, her head against the floor, and peered underneath each piece of furniture to search for her friend. She partially extended her wings to improve her balance as she turned her head this way and that, gazing through the small spaces between the upholstery and the floorboards. Finding nothing, she flicked her wings out fully in minor frustration, a white sheen rippling across them, before her ears perked upon hearing a small gasp from above. She stood up, and craned her neck to look at the ceiling.
A scared butter-yellow filly was supporting herself in-between two wooden beams on the ceiling, pressing her hooves against them and staring down at the purple pony below. Her chest shook as she silently breathed in and out, before she flinched and became as still as a statue upon realizing that she had been spotted.
Twilight frowned up at her friend, and folded her wings to make herself appear smaller and less menacing.
Fluttershy held her breath and stared down at her like she was some kind of horrifying monster, which only made her feel worse.
“Fluttershy... Why are you hiding...?” the alicorn asked, her eyebrows arching upward. “I... I came here because of the cut on my back... A-and maybe to talk with you... That’s all, I swear...”
Her friend didn’t respond. The purple pony swallowed. “I... Y-you’re scared of me... I can tell... To tell the truth, I... I’m scared of me too, okay...? Please, just come down and listen...” she begged, her eyes watering. She hadn’t lied. She was scared of herself, afraid of what would happen to her, what she would become, what she could do, and what would be expected of her.
Fluttershy’s face softened slightly as she looked into her friend’s pleading eyes, releasing the breath she’d been holding. A bit of the fear present in her expression ceded to concern, but she held her position and remained silent out of caution.
Twilight sat down on her haunches, staring miserably up at the elevated mare. “I-I don’t know what to do, Fluttershy... I don’t know what any of this means, o-or what it’s going to do to me, or my life...” she confessed, breathing methodically. “D-don’t be afraid of me too... You’re one of the only friends I have...” She trembled, taking shaky breaths as a few tears leaked out of her eyes. “I... I... I’m still me!”
Fluttershy’s horrified expression slowly began to melt away as she stared at her transformed friend, gradually changing into a sympathetic frown. Taking a deep breath, she released her grip on the wooden beams and gently lowered herself to the floor. She flapped her wings as she descended, each stroke negating a fall before it began, before her hooves touched the wooden paneling with four soft clops. She folded her wings against her sides, and swallowed, staring at her upset friend with concern. Her eyes slowly widened again in fear as she beheld the abnormal mare, before she shook her head vigorously for a moment to dispel whatever anxious thought she had. She reopened her teal eyes, and slowly trotted to the crying pony, her concerned frown returning. “T... Twilight...?” she mumbled quietly, hesitantly laying a hoof on the winged unicorn’s shoulder.
Twilight simply stared at her dismally, blinking to clear her vision. Fluttershy’s fear of her had mostly vanished from her visage; she had stopped trembling, and her face simply expressed worry. However, upon looking closer, her expression was inconsistent; it seemed to be flicking back and forth between concern and caution, and her posture would lend itself to her if she were to suddenly jump away. The purple pony wiped her tears with a hoof, before looking at the pegasus again.
“A... Are you a... an...?” Fluttershy trailed off, blinking behind light pink bangs that covered half of her face as her eyes locked on to her friend in circumspection.
Twilight felt her muzzle scrunch up involuntarily as she blinked away loose tears. It was true though, wasn’t it? She wasn’t a unicorn. Not anymore. Her violet irises slowly drifted to the yellow mare, and after swallowing with trepidation, she nodded sadly, a troubled frown crawling across her face. She tried to give a vocal answer, but the knot in her throat combined with her miserable trembling made speech an impossible task.
Fluttershy gaped for a moment, her eyes shooting wide open, before her demeanor allayed to sympathetic as she remembered how upset her friend was. She softly, falteringly tapped one of Twilight’s shoulder blades, before pulling her into a warm embrace, allowing the whimpering mare to hold her tight and sob into her pale yellow shoulder. “...Twilight... I-it’s okay... I-I’m sorry for being afraid of you...” she whispered, her voice slightly quivering with fear, but flowing like a gentle zephyr as she ran a cream-colored hoof over one of her friend’s soft purple wings, careful to avoid touching the lengthy wound on her back.
Twilight whimpered softly under her breath, putting a conscious effort into not holding her friend too tightly. If she was strong enough to punch a hole through a solid piece of wood with a light stomp, a tight hug would probably crush her pegasus friend’s rib cage. It would kill her. She wanted nothing more than to just squeeze as tightly as she could, but she knew that she couldn’t, for her friend’s safety.
“There, there...” Fluttershy breathed, visibly fighting back her own fears to comfort her friend. “I... I don’t mind, if it makes you feel better... Y-you just shocked me... It’s okay...”
Twilight hugged her friend just a little bit tighter, trying to relieve a little bit more of her stress. At least Fluttershy was trying... or at least pretending to understand. At least she was trying to help.
The yellow pony’s hoof slipped and brushed over the lavender pony’s wound, causing her to flinch.
“Oh! I-I’m sorry! I... Oh, yes, uhm... I-I still need to fix up the cut on your back...” Fluttershy remembered, loosening her grip on her friend.
Twilight continued to hold the pegasus for a moment, before trembling and forcing herself to break away. She sat on the floor, her wings limp against her sides, and wiped the soaked fur around her eyes with a hoof, sniffing. Afterwards, she blinked her eyes to clear her vision and gazed at Fluttershy, noticing the patch of wet fur on the pegasus’s shoulder.
The yellow mare stood up and quietly trotted past her friend, her pink tail briskly disappearing through the doorway behind her, presumably to fetch the medkit she had left in the other room.
Twilight laid down on the wooden floor, resting her head on her fuzzy front hooves and letting her eyelids slide shut. She pulled her wings in, tucking them in-between her torso and her back thighs, and simply laid there for a moment or two, enjoying the quiet of a house that... no longer felt so hostile.
For the first time that day, she felt rather... safe... with another pony around. The owner of the house had been afraid of her at first, but the purple mare was thankful that Fluttershy was able to look past her transformation and recognize a friend underneath. Her worst fear had come true... but it was quickly followed by one of her greatest hopes. Funny how life likes to do that to a pony; dealing them both sides of the card and observing what they make of it. Well... At least she didn’t have to hide from her yellow friend any more. That’s one more pony’s company not to fear. She closed her eyes and let a small smile grace her lips, exhaling contentedly.
The icy locks and chains that strangled her heart melted into water, her deep-rooted ever-present fear being replaced by a sense of acceptance. Two of her friends now knew, and they still saw her for who she was, not what she was. Her eyelids drifted open, and her smile vanished as a desultory thought crossed her mind. Fluttershy and Rarity were the two more complacent, mature, and understanding of her friends. Things hadn’t been so bad with them, and they would probably completely accept her in the end. But... what about the other three?
Her eyebrows drew upward. Applejack was stubborn, Dash was a loudmouth and rather rude, and Pinkie was a tad insensitive and more of a loudmouth than Dash was. The easy part was over. It wouldn’t be quite so simple to convince the other three.
Well... Applejack, when Twilight had talked with her the night previous, seemed only concerned, and did not pry. It was almost as if she already knew, for she apparently did not know about her wings for a fact, but her reaction to the rumors she had heard was still not negative. She actually seemed to be more worried than shocked at the prospect of her purple friend having suddenly acquired instruments of flight.
She sighed in defeat. They were all going to find out eventually... so if she could help it, she wanted the next one to be Applejack. She cast a morose glance at Spike, who had sat down next to her, his features laden with concern. “Spike...?” she whimpered quietly, blinking at him.
“Yes, Twilight?” he answered softly, laying a purple claw on his older sister’s mane in an attempt to comfort her.
She frowned, and her gaze fell to the floorboards again. “W... Why is all this happening to me...?” she asked rhetorically, trembling. This situation, this plight that she had been dealing with for the past two days had made her life monstrously difficult, and to this hour, the cause of it all had yet to be revealed. Why was it happening to her? And... why her? Why couldn’t it have been somepony else? Was a higher power getting some kick out of doing it to her? She had never asked for wings, or strength, and did not want them. If she could, she would give up both and return to her life as a regular unicorn. A normal life, without having to... to hide from the public, from her own friends, because she wasn’t entirely sure if they’d understand.
She buried her face in her hooves, wishing that the past two days had simply been a nightmare, and that she would be woken up any minute by Spike. “Why me...?” she whispered, shaking as her dragon friend ran his claws through her messy, unkempt mane.
“I’m so sorry, Twilight... I really don’t know...” Spike whispered, trying to comfort his troubled friend. “But... It’ll all be okay, alright? Everything will be fine... I promise.”
The grieving mare took a shuddering breath, her chest expanding and contracting. “D-don’t make promises you can’t keep, Spike...” she scolded quietly, not lifting her face from her hooves. Her two more understanding friends had been difficult to explain herself to, and the remaining three would only be worse. She saw little reason to believe that all of her friends would understand, and plenty of reasons to believe that they wouldn’t. Most likely... things would not turn out okay.
Her draconian assistant simply continued to comfort her, not uttering so much as a single word as he ran his claws from behind her horn to the tip of her right wing. She shuddered, less from the sensation of his clawtips on her ‘racially unique’ extremities, and more from the action reminding her that she had both.
Minutes passed... Her frayed nerves eventually began to calm as Spike’s light touch began to assuage her negative thoughts. He always knew exactly how to put her at ease, regardless of how upset she was. Even when she simply needed a hoof on her shoulder, he was always on top of things.
“Everything will be okay... I do promise, and I will be right...” the dragon whispered calmingly, reaching under his friend’s chin with a claw and gently lifting it upwards, revealing her bloodshot eyes and tear-stained cheeks. “Nopony says I’m making a promise I can’t keep,” he added with a soft, sympathetic smile.
Twilight’s violet gaze slowly drifted to him, before her horn lit up with a faint red glow and he was gently pulled beside her head. She wrapped her neck around his small body, a small smile tugging at her lips as her purple mane draped over him. The two simply lay there for uncounted minutes, the alicorn finding comfort in her little brother’s presence.
After some time, Fluttershy returned, holding the same box of medical supplies in her teeth as before. She looked at the injured pony and her assistant for a brief moment, scanning her, almost as if she wanted to say something, but then hesitantly looked away.
Twilight looked up at the golden filly from the floor, her purple eyes shining with slight curiosity. Maybe she was still digesting her new appearance... but at least she was trying to act normal. The pegasus simply stood there for a few seconds, sneaking glances at the pony lying on the wooden paneling, before her eyes widened in surprise when she realized that Twilight was looking back at her.
Fluttershy shot her friend a nervous smile, and set the medkit down. She pressed the switch that unlocked the case with her nose and deftly opened it, revealing a plethora of silver, gleaming, pointy tools.
The violet pony’s head shot up upon sighting the slew of sharp needles placed next to several phials of strangely-colored liquids, her face beginning to lose its purple color. She gulped loudly, her eyes widening as an irrational fear began to replace her previous anguish. She... wasn’t a big fan of needles. “Uhh... Uhhh...” she muttered shakily, the skin under her fur crawling as her friend picked up one of the syringes with her wing tip, before sticking it into one of the phials and filling it with the pale yellow fluid it contained.
“O-okay Twilight, hold still... This is an anesthetic; It’ll make it so it doesn’t hurt while I clean out your wound and stitch it up...” the doctor muttered, rubbing the tip of the needle with a clean rag before approaching her friend.
Twilight instinctively shot to her hooves, knocking Spike out from under her, and quickly backed away, her wings involuntarily spreading out to her sides. She had been so worried about Fluttershy‘s reaction to her developments that she completely forgot that the timid pony was a doctor, and a visit with her would include the worst part of any heavy medical procedure; needles. The pegasus was a licensed doctor and veterinarian; that was the entire reason that the she and her assistant had decided to come here. How could she have not realized that this meant Fluttershy would have needles?
“F... F-Fluttershy, wait, can’t we do this some other way?” she beseiged, her irises constricting to tiny pinpricks as her irrational fear slammed into her like a freight train. She focused on the gleaming, sharp tip of the needle filled with pale golden anesthetic, the needle that was going to stick into her, and began to tremble with fear. Not a needle. Anything but a needle. Pieces of metal were not supposed to puncture her flesh. It... It was just wrong!
A small frown appeared on the pink-maned pegasus’s face. “Oh... You don’t like needles... I-I’m really sorry, but I have to do this...” she muttered softly, continuing to trot to the trypanophobic mare. “It won’t hurt, okay Twilight...? You won’t even feel it...”
Twilight’s mostly stoic expression shattered into a horrified gawk. That’s what they all say. They all say ‘It’s not going to hurt!’, but it always hurts. Every single time. During her childhood, when her blood was drawn for allergy tests, her vaccinations, her booster shots, needles always hurt! This time would be no different! She shuddered, backing into a corner of the room as her friend slowly approached her. “No no no no no no no no no!” she chanted in a crescendo, shrinking into the corner as much as she could.
“I’m so sorry, Twilight... But if I don’t do this, it’ll really hurt while I’m working... This won’t even hurt that much, okay...? Just... turn around. I need to put this into your back,” the medicinally-experienced pegasus ordered, gesturing with her hoof.
The lavender alicorn didn’t budge, remaining silent, most of the color having drained from her fuzzy face. “No!” she shouted, terrified, shielding herself with a purple wing. “Can’t-… Can’t I just take a... a-a pill or something?” she asked fervently, still staring directly at the sharp tip of the medical instrument.
“No...” Fluttershy mumbled, shaking her head apologetically. “I have to inject this directly into the area I need to anesthetize... Just be still, Twilight... I promise it won’t hurt if you relax...”
“Come on Twilight, let her do it. We need that cut on your back treated, and this is the way you wanted to do it,” came the deadpan of Twilight’s draconic assistant as he approached from behind the yellow filly, his arms folded, his expression bemused.
Twilight felt a blaze flare up in her lungs, and she inhaled sharply. “I-I didn’t think it would involve needles!” she cried indignantly, trying to compress herself further into the corner of the room. Her two friends simply stared at her for a moment, before she realized that she had to suck it up. She needed to do this. The violent laceration on her back would only get worse -- she needed to have it treated now, not later. If she waited too long, she would get sick from an opportunistic contact virus, and this was the only viable option she had other than a trip to the hospital. She shut her eyes tight and attempted to slow her breathing, forcing her trypanophobia out of her thought patterns.
Swallowing, Twilight soon removed herself from the corner of the room, trotting between her friends to a more open location nearby, before lying down on her stomach and folding her wings neatly against her sides. “J... Just inject it,” she hissed through grit teeth, her heart pounding painfully in her chest. She thought about the sharp pain that the needle would cause when it pierced her skin, the chill as it slid into her flesh, and the unbearable burning of the injected chemical. “D-don’t tell me when it’s coming...” Her ears perked at the sound of hoofsteps and light pattering, indicating that her two friends had followed her.
“A-are you sure...? I usually tell my patients before I stick them with a needle...” Fluttershy asked, scuffing at the floor with a hoof.
Twilight whimpered loudly, covering her head with her purple hooves. “Don’t talk about it either!”
“Twilight, please relax... If your muscles are tense, the needle will stick into their fibers, instead of in-between them...” the yellow filly explained, again wiping the tip of the syringe with an antibacterial cloth.
“R-relax!? H-How am I supposed to relax!? Y-you’re going to stab a hole in my back!” Twilight cried out, raising her head and looking behind her. Bad decision. Her vision zeroed in on the gleaming tip of the needle again, and her fearful tremors returned.
Spike grabbed her head and forced her to look away from the medical instrument, before removing one of his claws to grip her front hoof. “Don’t you know how this stuff works, Twilight?” he asked, squeezing her limb gently to calm her. “It really won’t hurt if you relax. Tensing your muscles will make the needle rip through them, which is what makes it hurt.”
Twilight blinked. Her assistant was the medical expert between them, not her. Honestly, she had not intently studied the medical books in her library, so she most certainly did not know the methods or workings of any doctoring techniques. “It... I-it won’t...?” she asked shakily, attempting to turn her head to look at the dragon, before he forced it away again.
“Don’t look this way. And yes, I promise it won’t hurt,” he confirmed, stroking her mane with a purple claw.
The lavender filly blinked her magenta eyes a few more times, before closing them and taking several slow, deep breaths to calm herself. She looked forward and laid her chin on the floor, hoping Spike wasn’t lying to her. She released the tensity in her muscles, letting them relax as she steadily breathed in and out, completely dropping her guard. “Okay... I’m ready...” she muttered. It better not hurt. If it hurt, she was going to defenestrate Spike.
She felt two hooves press onto her back just below her injury, holding the skin and fur taut. ‘Here it comes...’ She felt a chill creep up her chest, and she wanted to leap away, but beat back the urge. Her fuzzy ears perked as she heard a small noise behind her, almost like the sound of an antibacterial cloth wiping against her fur, followed by a sharp click. When was Fluttershy going to stick the needle in? Twilight doubted that she would wait too long, but-
Her eyes snapped open and she audibly filled her lungs as she felt the cold tip of the syringe penetrate her back just below her wound, the cool metal gently sliding into her flesh. She released a shaky breath as she felt a curtain of burning warmth spread from the injection point, all the way up her withers to her neck. It soon became the only sensation she could feel in that area; she couldn’t feel the cold needle, or the pressure of her pegasus friend’s hooves, or the chill of the cool air. Only the numbing, ghostly warmth. She raised her head, a difficult task due to her having little sensation in the muscle that performed it, and looked behind her. The doctor pulled the needle out of her back, pressing on the small red hole it left behind with a piece of cotton.
“Alright, that’s done...” Fluttershy announced softly, cleaning the syringe’s needle before retracting it and placing it back into the medical case. Holding the piece of cotton on the purple mare’s back with one wing, she reached into the case with her snout and extracted an antibacterial wipe, plus a very reflective steel scalpel.
Twilight fought back a tremor. “W-wait... What are you doing?” She stuttered, her irises shrinking again. Scalpels were used to cut.
The doctor simply looked at her, holding the knife in her teeth and using her yellow wing to hold the germicidal alcohol-soaked cloth. She rubbed it gently on the wounded alicorn’s back, the infected flesh giving off a sort of hissing noise, which caused the purple mare to panic.
“W-what are you doing!?” Twilight repeated through grit teeth, beginning to panic. That wasn’t rubbing alcohol on that cloth, was it? It must’ve been something else!
“I’m getting rid of the dead tissue... It’ll make the infection heal faster. Maybe you shouldn’t look,” Fluttershy answered, lowering her muzzle and pushing the point of the doctor’s knife into the wound.
Before Twilight could see her friend make an incision, Spike gripped her head and again turned it away. She couldn’t feel anything that the pegasus was doing to her, and was terrified of the prospect of not knowing. But... the shy pony was a doctor, right? She knew what she was doing, right?
“Twilight, don’t look,” her draconic assistant commanded, holding her head steady with one claw and squeezing her hoof with the other. Unfortunately, this did not calm her nerves.
The purple pony shivered slightly, staring ahead with trembling purple irises and a scared frown. For all she knew, Fluttershy could be surgically removing her spine, or using her back as a bloody canvas for some sick drawing, or... or something worse! She tried to twist her head to look at what the pegasus was doing, but Spike again stopped her. Her ears perked up at the quiet snick of her flesh being cut, and the occasional tink of a tool being put away. What was she doing?
“O-oh, my... You might start to feel a little lightheaded...” the butter-yellow mare warned, causing her patient’s blood to run cold.
Twilight again tried to look behind her, turning her head the other way, but the muscles in her neck were too numb to overpower her assistant’s grip. “Spike, let go! What is she doing to me!?” she demanded, twisting her head left and right.
“I-I... I’m just cleaning out your wound...” the yellow pony replied through the object held between her teeth.
Snick. Snick. Twilight winced slightly each time the horrible sound met her ears. She hoped to Celestia that her friend knew what she was doing. It sounded like she was cutting away her flesh, although it really might have just been the dead tissue inside her wound, which now that she thought about it, probably wasn’t the best thing to have in there.
She rested her head on the floor again, and tried to relax. “Spike, can you get me a pillow?” she solemnly requested, her chin starting to hurt. A mare’s face, while round, was still rather angular, and wasn’t comfortable when pressed against a hard flat surface.
“Do you promise to not look at what Fluttershy’s doing?” the young dragon asked in response, rather sternly.
“I... I promise,” Twilight conceded, blinking. Although she could not feel what the yellow mare was doing with her back, she could feel the surrounding areas, such as her wings. She could feel her friend’s body heat on them, and the occasional brush of the golden mare’s own feathers.
Spike slowly let go of her head, before walking away to fetch the requested comfort object. Twilight wanted to break her promise and look back to see what Fluttershy was doing, but... with her warning that she might feel lightheaded, she wasn’t sure if she really wanted to know.
“Okay, just one more...” Shhhick. “Oh... Oh no! Uhh... Ahh... T-Twilight, just stay with me, o-okay...?” the pink-maned pony suddenly shouted, panic creeping around the edges of her voice.
Her patient raised her eyebrows, before the fur on the back of her neck stood up as she began to feel something. It was... a sort of wet feeling, at the base of her right wing. Almost like a liquid was being poured on her... Or perhaps, a liquid seeping out of her. Her irises shrunk in panic. “W-what’s happening!?” she yelped, fighting back the urge to whip her head around. She felt a dabbing at her right wing, possibly a small medical cloth being pressed against it.
“It... I-it’s nothing... I can handle it, just stay still...!” her friend reassured, but her tone implied that she had run into a problem.
Although she couldn’t feel any pressure on her back, Twilight could feel her body being pushed downward from the sensation of her stomach pressed against the cool wooden floor.
“I-I can handle it...!” Fluttershy squeaked, a flitting noise meeting the lavender mare’s ears as the pegasus manipulated a large piece of cloth.
The cold hoof of dread gripped Twilight as she felt the liquid flow past her wing, down her side and onto the floor. She inhaled sharply to ask her friend what was going on, but her thoughts were interrupted as she suddenly felt disoriented.
“Spike, help!” the doctor yelled in horror, her voice rising a few octaves. Rapid footsteps signalled the dragon’s approach, followed by a small yelp.
“W-what did you do, Fluttershy?!” the dragon besieged, panicked.
“I... I... J-just take this and press on it!”
Twilight could barely make out what her friends were saying through the gentle, sleepy mist that had filled her head. What was going on? Why were they yelling? Why did her side feel soaking wet? There wasn’t any water nearby... Her breath was forced out of her lungs by a sudden force pressing her torso into the floor, and she gasped for air.
...The room spun...
A few minutes passed before her ability of rational thought returned to her. After blinking a few times, she vehemently shook her head, before twisting her neck to look back at her two friends. They were both pressing a large towel into her back, which was discolored a violent red at the bottom. Her eyes drifted to her wing, and she gasped sharply as she saw that her entire right side was matted and stained with blood. She began to tremble as she stared at it, before directing her gaze toward her two friends. “W-what did you...?” Her vision blurred momentarily, her mind still spinning. “...Nngh... What happened?”
Fluttershy gazed at her sorrowfully, before her teal eyes began to water. “I... I’m so sorry...! I-I think I cut too deep, a-and it started bleeding, and-...!” she rapidly apologized, before her voice caught on the lump in her throat and she fell to a soft whimper.
“Uh... Just stay calm, Twilight. It’ll stop bleeding faster if your heart’s not beating so fast,” Spike requested, pressing all of his weight against his older sister’s injury.
Twilight swallowed, before tearing her gaze away from the unsettling sight and attempting to control her breathing. At a whimper from her pegasus friend, she took a deep breath. “I-it’s okay, Fluttershy... I forgive you,” she said instinctively, although she was far more worried about the actual bleeding part. Well, apparently Fluttershy did not know what she was doing -- Twilight had almost passed out from blood loss. Then again... the sun-yellow mare was removing dead tissue, so overall her actions would make the wound heal faster. After it stopped bleeding, that is. She shook her head. Berating her timid friend for just trying to help was not a good idea. Especially not in this... delicate time.
After a few more minutes, she felt the pressure on her withers lift away as her friends took the towel off of her back. She heard the small noise of Fluttershy cleaning her wound once again with an antibacterial wipe, and then felt the blood stains being wiped off of the fur on her side, before the pegasus rummaged through her medkit again. Twilight felt a few bandages being wrapped around and under her torso (although she could not feel them on her back), before they were pulled tight and affixed with medical tape.
“Okay... I-I’m all done now... I got rid of all the necrotic tissue, so it should heal completely in a couple of days. It actually doesn’t even need stitches...” the butter-yellow pegasus mumbled dejectedly. “It... It might still leave a scar, though...”
Twilight stood up and shook her body, testing the bandages, before turning around to face her friends. Fluttershy was staring down at her yellow hooves, tears dripping to the floor from her eyes. “Uh... Th-thanks, Fluttershy... Now I don’t have to go to the hospital,” she thanked, putting anxious emphasis on ‘hospital’. Her answer was a whimper from the timid pony.
“Y-you should have just gone to the hospital... Th-they wouldn’t screw up, like I did...” she cried, before raising her head and gazing into the alicorn’s purple irises with her own tear-streaked teal ones. “...I... I think you wouldn’t w-want a bunch of ponies to see you, b-but...”
The violet pony’s eyes widened briefly at her friend’s dead-on assumption, before she frowned at her miserable expression. She embraced the coy mare with one front leg. “You did fine, Fluttershy... You fixed me up. And everypony makes mistakes,” she sympathized, before releasing her, managing a small smile. Fluttershy no doubt felt crushing guilt at hurting her friend, but after blinking her yellow eyelids a few times, her lips curved into a small smile as well.
Twilight’s smile soon faded away, and she looked at the floor, pawing at it with a purple hoof. She tried to take a step, but her front leg buckled and she almost fell down. Some of the muscles in her back were vital to walking, and right now they were numbed to the point of being unusable. “Uhm... Can... can I stay here for a little bit? At least until the anesthetic wears off? I-I can’t feel my shoulders, and I don’t think I can walk...” she asked shyly, afraid that she was asking too much. Her hesitant purple gaze floated up to meet her friend’s, and it widened as she saw the pegasus’s surprised expression.
“O-of course you can! The anesthetic is supposed to last an hour or two, j-just in case the... the procedure takes that long...” Fluttershy answered, a guilty frown again appearing on her muzzle as her blue-green eyes drifted to the bloodstain on the wooden paneling at her friend’s hooves. “I... I’m so sorry...”
The alicorn followed her friend’s gaze to the floor beneath her, and her eyebrows rose. “It’s okay, Fluttershy... I’m fine now, I sw- Whoa!” she began, before falling onto her face as she tried to walk to a nearby chair. She tried to pick herself up, but couldn’t quite lift herself up off the floor. “I’m fine... I just can’t walk because of the anesthesia,” she added, smiling up at her coy friend. She began to crawl slowly to the rug nearby, putting one hoof in front of the other, mostly using her back legs for propulsion. Without the use of her shoulders, it was a difficult task, but she made do.
“O-okay...” Fluttershy mumbled to herself, beginning to hover in front of Twilight. Yellow hooves gripped purple, and she hoisted the lavender mare’s torso upward, essentially dragging her onto a nearby couch and gently laying her on the green upholstery. “Just stay there, okay?” she instructed, landing next to the furniture and folding her wings. “...Sorry if you find any yellow feathers on it... They’re mine,” she added with a small embarrassed giggle, hiding her soft face behind her pink mane. “I-I try to clean up after I... Well, you know... I-I don’t always get them all, though.”
The bandaged mare’s head, previously lying on the cushion of the furniture, rose up at the pegasus’s statement. Fluttershy preened her feathers too? Twilight blinked a few times, turning her head to face the doctor. “Uh, hey, um, about that...” she began, looking at the two purple flight limbs that graced her midsection. “I ran into a similar problem...” she muttered, remembering the large mess of lavender feathers she had left on the floor of her own house.
“Oh! You’re already preening your feathers?” the yellow pegasus asked, initially surprised, but then seeming to teem with happiness as a smile spread across her muzzle. “That’s good! It’s a healthy thing for a pegasus to do. Well...” she trailed off, her teal eyes drifting up to an area just above Twilight’s face for a moment. “Uh...” She blinked. “N-nevermind... A-anyway, it’ll help circulation and reduce heat build-up.”
Twilight’s fuzzy ears perked. She was right! Pegasi did suffer from heat build-up in their wings! That explained it! She allowed herself a triumphant grin, but quickly curtailed it to a small smile when she realized that she was slightly creeping out her friend.
“U-uhm... I do it because I don’t want to leave yellow feathers everywhere when I visit my friends... They’d fall off by themselves otherwise, and it’s rude for a pegasus to leave her feathers anywhere but her own home...” Fluttershy muttered, her sapphire gaze trailing back to her wings. “I don’t preen anywhere else, either...”
Twilight blinked. ‘Oh... I guess I shouldn’t preen in public, then...’ she thought, looking back at the occasionally twitching flight limbs behind her. ‘Darn, I never quite finished yesterday... I guess I can do it later.’ She turned back to the pegasus. “Uh, thanks for the warning.”
The timid filly nodded briefly, chancing a tiny smile. “Well... You can stay here as long as you need to, Twilight. I’ll make lunch for three, just in case,” she chimed softly, turning to leave.
The purple pony blinked a few more times, before extending a yearning hoof. “Wait,” she quickly uttered, causing her friend to stop. “W... Why were you afraid of me?” she asked quietly, her ears folding, her tone slightly sad.
Fluttershy’s pink mane swung around as she turned slightly to face her friend again, her expression slightly frightened and her face bright pink. “Uh...” she muttered, before growing silent, sitting down at her haunches and peeking at the violet mare from behind her fuchsia locks, trembling a little. “I... I... I’m sorry...”
Twilight’s eyebrows turned upward. “Fluttershy...” she mewled sadly, retracting her hoof. She could tell that she was making the yellow mare uncomfortable, so she curled up slightly to make herself look smaller. Was she really that intimidating...?
“I... I just thought you were different... O-on the inside,” Fluttershy began, directing her gaze to the transformed pony. “I-I was afraid that you’d changed... But you’re still my friend, r-right...?” She raised her head, her eyes gleaming with hope.
The alicorn blinked, her eyes widening. Right here. Her friend had cast her trust out to her. The one thing she had learned that cements a friendship the most is aiding your friends when they need you the most, when they place their faith in you, and when you pull through for them. Normally, a friendship is like a hook in a block of cement; it can take a while to get that hook in and establish your friendship, and it can take a while to break it out -- one mistake with a friend does not necessarily destroy the companionship. But when a pony is vulnerable... that block of cement turns to jelly. If you help them in their time of need, your hook will immediately move right to the center, and will be there when the pony regains their constitution, securing a friendship. However, when your friend needs you the most and you betray them, the hook is pulled all the way out of that jelly, and the friendship is broken immediately. It was interesting how the mind worked... Twilight wasn’t one for psychology, but being able to read her friends like books was an ability packaged with just getting to know them.
“Of course... I’ll always be,” she softly answered from her position on the couch, giving a gentle smile.
Fluttershy’s expression brightened exponentially, and she stood up, beaming. “Really?” she asked merrily, slowly flapping her wings with joy.
“Absolutely,” the magenta filly affirmed, wishing she could stand up as well. Stupid anesthesia. Her friend broke into a happy grin, trotting to her and embracing her warmly in her yellow front legs. A soft sensation brushed over the less-numb regions of Twilight’s wings, neck and back as she felt the pegasus’s delicate avian limbs wrap around her in a feathery embrace.
“Oh, Twilight... I’m so glad you haven’t changed...” Fluttershy breathed over the lavender mare’s shoulder. “I was so worried...”
Twilight simply smiled at her friend, unable to pick herself up and hug her back. She blinked, trying to direct her wings forward to mimic the bashful pony’s actions. It was harder than it looked; how did Fluttershy do this? She had been holding and manipulating objects with her wings all day, bending them so far that it looked like it hurt. It probably did, too. Twilight grunted as she bent her wings further and further, to the point where it felt like their joints were going to leave their sockets, before her friend released her and backed away.
Fluttershy became surprised as she observed the purple hybrid’s attempts to reach out with her avian limbs. “Oh, Twilight, don’t do that... I know you see me do it, but I’ve been doing it for a while... A pegasus isn’t... uh...” she trailed off, throwing a momentary glance over her friend’s forehead, before shaking her head to dispel an irrelevant thought. “A pegasus isn’t supposed to do what I’m doing... I have to dislocate my wings to move them like I do, a-and a lot of ponies tell me it will eventually permanently damage my ability to fly...” she muttered, frowning and looking at the floor.
Twilight heeded her friend’s warning, and tucked her wings back against her midsection, her eyebrows turned upward. “O-oh...” she mumbled in realization. Fluttershy had been dislocating her wings to do all of those things with them? It seems like it would be useful for a creature without magic, but pegasi were supposed to be able to fly.
“...Listen, I-I don’t fly much... I like having my hooves on the ground, so I can take care of all the animals. Do you ever wonder why I don’t often fly as fast as most other pegasi? I-It’s because it’s really hard for me... I used to be able to move fast whenever I wanted to, a long time ago, but then I started taking care of animals, a-and started using my wings to pick things up,” the shy pony explained, pausing to swallow. “I can’t flap them very hard sometimes... It’s hard for me to fly fast...” she admitted, gazing at the floorboards again. “But...” she raised her head, and smiled at her magenta friend. “E-even if it does damage my flying... I think it’s a fair trade.”
Twilight gaped. Fluttershy would willingly trade away her gift of flight to be able to use her wings like two extra mouths? What pegasus would do that?
The golden filly’s smile vanished. “Y-yes, I don’t mind if I can’t fly very well; I was never a strong flier anyway. But... you shouldn’t throw away the use of your wings like me,” she stated, blinking a few times. “Don’t ever move them in a way that makes them hurt.”
Twilight stared for a moment, before swallowing. Wait... Fluttershy had been doing this for a long time? “Uh... How come I’ve never seen you doing that before?” she asked quietly, her violet eyes flicking from one of her friend’s wings to the other. Had she really been using her avian limbs like that ever since she began taking care of animals? Wasn’t that... most of her life? It would explain why she didn’t like to fly fast...
Fluttershy hid behind her pink mane once again. “I... I’m not supposed to do it... I’m misusing my wings... O-other pegasi frown at it...” she muttered shyly, her teal gaze drifting to the floor. “I don’t want to be ridiculed for it...”
A dreadful silence fell between the two ponies. Twilight looked down at her hooves, then over her shoulder at the flight limbs on her back. The irony of the situation flowed over her like water; apparently her friend also had something to hide in public. How quaint. The timid filly’s was far easier to conceal, however.
Twilight shifted, trying to get into a more comfortable position. She relaxed her lavender wings, letting them sag to the couch’s surface. She felt a tad... well, restless. Even though she was a calm, intelligent, introverted mare that loved inactive pastimes such as reading, she still liked to move around. Not being able to do so was quickly getting on her nerves, especially when it was her body that was stopping her, rather than her own will. She extended a wing and looked at it, noting the disheveled feathers, and had a mind to preen it just for something to do, but then remembered Fluttershy’s statement that it was rude to do that in somepony else’s house. She sighed, before resting her avian limb once again, a single lavender feather coming loose and drifting lazily to the wooden floor. She blinked at it, before looking at the owner of the house apprehensively. “Uhh... I’m sor-”
Fluttershy extended her yellow wings out in front of her, raising them almost like Spike would his palms. “Oh no, it’s alright,” she muttered, shaking her head, before her lips curved into a gentle smile. “I don’t mind...” She reached down with a wing tip and wrapped it around the violet feather, picking it up. “You know, Twilight, you could keep your feathers... You could use them as quills,” she suggested innocently, tilting her head. “I know you do a lot of writing...”
Twilight bit her lip at the irony of the statement and looked away anxiously, her cheeks burning. Spike had suggested that same thing, although she was sure he was mocking her. The dragon in question, who had kept silent while the two mares talked, let out a quiet snicker, finding this humorous. He quickly ceased and stood up straight when his older sister shot him a glare, however. “I don’t think I should. I mean, wouldn’t they break really easily?” she asked, her gaze drifting back to her yellow friend.
Fluttershy calmly shook her head, her pink mane flowing gently back and forth, a soft smile gracing her lips. “No, pegasus feathers are strong; they won’t break... I’m sure alicorn feathers are even stronge-” She stopped short upon realizing what she had said, her smile disappearing and her teal irises shrinking. She blinked, an apologetic look on her face upon sighting her purple friend’s distraught expression. “I... I’m sorry...” she mumbled, hiding behind her mane. “I-I didn’t know that you don’t like to talk about it... I’m sorry...”
The winged unicorn took a deep breath, and audibly released it. “No, no... It’s true... I know what I am... I’m just having a little trouble accepting it, is all...” she uttered, a morose sigh escaping her lungs as she laid her fuzzy chin on her hooves. “...I don’t want to accept it. I... I don’t. But I have to, so... just go ahead and talk about it. It’ll help me suck it up,” she admitted self-mockingly, avoiding the pegasus’s gaze. She frowned, her eyebrows upturning. “A-and I... I’m sorry for breaking a hole in your floor...”
The yellow filly perked up, shooting a gaze out the door at the aforementioned hole in the wooden paneling in the next room. She turned her head back, her pink mane swishing with her head, her expression merely surprised.
“I-I’ll pay for it,” Twilight added, casting a sidelong glance at her friend. “I will. I didn’t mean to break it... I’m really strong now for some reason, probably because I’m a-...” She paused to swallow, shutting her eyes tight. “A... an alicorn.” The word tasted horrible on her tongue. ‘Suck it up, Twilight,’ she scolded herself as she involuntarily began to tremble, taking a shuddering breath.
“N-no, it’s okay, I have plenty of money. I’m sure you need your own to... … ...” Fluttershy’s voice and words faded to the magenta pony as she became lost in her own thoughts, deaf to the world around her.
“Fluttershy,” Twilight cut in, still trembling, opening her eyes to look up at her friend’s teal irises. “Tell me what I am.”
The butter-yellow mare blinked, caught off-guard by the request. She smiled as she took a deep breath. “Well, you’re a really smart, really nice pony that’s one of my best friends, and I really enjoy your company beca-”
“No, Fluttershy,” Twilight interrupted, shaking her head. She shut her eyes tight. “Species. Tell me what species I am,” she specified with a whimper, her body shaking as she braced herself.
“Oh... Ah... Uhm...” Fluttershy stuttered hesitantly. She blinked sorrowfully at her lavender friend on the couch, afraid to answer her question.
“Say it,” Twilight pleaded. “Just say it.” Three words. She took another shuddering breath, her eyes still squeezed shut.
“I... I don’t think I should...” Fluttershy muttered in concern, blinking at her friend on the couch.
“Say it...!” the former patient begged as she lifted her head up, extending her purple wings to support her point. She thought she could feel the burning of tears behind her eyes, but kept their lids shut to keep them from flowing out. She knew what she was; she wanted to hear it from another voice, to drill that fact into her head and force her to accept it. “What am I?”
The pegasus’ ears fell flat on her pink mane, startled by her friend’s outburst. “W-why does it matter...? You’re Twilight...” she mumbled quietly, peeking at the rare-breed from behind her mane. “I-I really don’t mind what you look like on the outside...”
The purple pony filled her lungs, before exhaling in a soft whimper, opening her watery magenta eyes and gazing at her friend. Her wings lay loose against her sides, losing a few more of their purple feathers.
“I-it’s what’s on the inside that counts,” Fluttershy explained, a small smile on her pale yellow muzzle. “Don’t be upset... I know you’re still the pony I’ve known all this time,” she soothed, approaching her friend and seating her haunches before the soft couch that she lay on.
Twilight simply stared at the sweet-smiling mare, her vision beginning to blur as she struggled to keep her eyes focused. She swallowed, vaguely aware that her mouth was hanging open. It... didn’t matter? Really? She had spent the better part of two days thinking about how this... impossible change was to drastically alter her life, how everything was going to change, but... did it really not matter? Could everypony just... simply move past it? Could her life could just carry on as normal? She didn’t think so. Her friends might understand, but the public wasn’t biased towards her like they were. But... they might be able to move past it... They just might...
She blinked, a few tears flowing free from her gleaming magenta eyes and causing the room around her to swim about in a light haze. She lifted her head slightly, trying to focus on an indistinct light-gold shape. “D-do you really mean that?...” she whispered hopefully, struggling to keep her voice from breaking.
A blurred pink mane bobbed slightly as Fluttershy nodded. “Of course I do... You’re my friend.” She giggled lightly, her gentle voice cutting deep into the purple pony’s heart. A bright sunbeam on a gloomy day, she inched herself closer to the injured mare and draped a comforting yellow wing over her. “I’m not going to treat you any differently just because you look different...” she assured quietly, smiling.
Twilight swallowed, looking up at the unfocused image of her sun-yellow friend. She trembled, before gently laying her head against the crook of the pegasus’s wing. She took a shaking breath, burying her face in it. But, despite the tears, she felt a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She was accepted. Regardless of everything that had happened... she was accepted. Fluttershy had proved that it was possible. Rarity had tolerated her, but her occasional verbal slip-up, such as referring to her as a princess, showed that her opinion of her had indeed changed. However, Fluttershy’s opinion had not.
She felt her golden friend lean towards her, enveloping her with her torso and feathered wing. Twilight felt a gentle nuzzle on the side of her head as well, breaking down her last barrier of doubt. She pushed her face against her friend’s wing, the odd scent of flowers filling her nostrils, and a smile slowly crept across her face. This time, the tears leaking out of her closed eyes were tears of happiness and relief, not of misery.
Her timid friend had completely accepted her, even going so far as to embrace her with a wing, a symbol of trust among pegasi. For the first time all day, she began to feel that she wasn’t as much of a freak as she thought she was. She inhaled, preparing to speak, but Fluttershy shushed her softly.
“You might be a little different on the outside... but you’re still the same Twilight on the inside,” Fluttershy soothed, quieting the trembling pony. The pair simply remained silent for some time.
Twilight eventually calmed herself, her breathing slowing to a methodic pace, her brain most likely having now associated the scent of Fluttershy’s feathers and fur to the emotions she was feeling; acceptance, relief, reassurance. Now at peace, her mind began its analyctical processes once again, predicting what she would make of this turn of events. Some ponies are very fond of certain smells, sometimes because they have a certain memory attached to them, and the scent itself reminded them of it. Her brain was most likely attaching the feeling of peace and tranquility to the smell of flowers, now. She called it; next time she decided to stop and smell the flora, she would be reminded of this moment, wrapped in the embrace of the first friend who had completely accepted her, and her mind would be at peace.
Maybe this all wouldn’t be so bad...
“Uhm... Twilight? I... I’m sorry for asking this, but I-I’m curious... How did this happen, exactly?”
Twilight’s eyes opened, and her smile faded. She felt tranquil, yes, but... she wasn’t quite at the point where she was comfortable talking about her wings. She swallowed hesitantly, shaking her head against her friend’s feathers.
“Oh... I-it’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it,” Fluttershy muttered, staring down at the unfortunate hybrid. “I... I want to know, though...”
The purple mare cleared her throat to dislodge the phlegm that had gathered in it, slowly raising her head to look at her friend with a reluctant frown. “I... I don’t know... Y-yesterday I... I just woke up with them...” she stuttered, her purple irises trembling, before she bowed her head back into the pegasus’s pale yellow wing. “Can... can we please talk about something else...?” she asked, her voice muffled by her friend’s soft plumage. Now that it didn’t matter anymore, she wanted to drop the subject of her being an alicorn. It was not a pleasant thing to talk about, at the time being the primary issue in her life. “Please, I...”
Fluttershy brought her distraught purple friend closer with her wing. “Okay...” she muttered softly, waiting until the lavender mare’s breathing slowed before speaking again. She took a deep breath. “...How is the library doing?” she asked quietly, respecting Twilight’s wish for a change of topic.
The purple mare shifted at the question. “It... It’s fine,” was her muffled reply, before she raised her head, her expression still somber. “W-we got some new books last week...” Her library was a small business; she was given monthly checks by Mayor Mare to run it for the convenience of the townsponies. It was both her own personal library, and a public library she agreed to let the citizen ponies use. Actually, she sometimes hoarded books she was reading in her room, to make sure that nopony could check them out before she was done with them.
“Spike and I have been getting a lot more customers lately. Maybe reading is ‘in’ right now, or something,” she added, a small, amused smile appearing on her violet muzzle.
“Do... do you have any books on the behavior of aquatic mammals?” the shy filly asked, her eyes drifting to the upper-left. “I have this rambunctious little seal that doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t splash land creatures, like ponies, without their permission...” she added with a soft giggle.
“I might,” the librarian replied, her expression brightening a bit. This was the most pleasant conversation she’d had since she acquired her wings. Every single time she’d talked to another pony since that point, it had only been about her new limbs, or something related to them. It was really, really nice to have a normal conversation for once. “I’ll have to check in the back.” She chuckled at her own dry humor.
Fluttershy smiled, her teal eyes beaming, and removed her wing from her friend, allowing the lavender pony to raise her head up fully. “I-I actually tried to ask you about it yesterday, but when I got to your library, it was closed... I was going to come back later, but...”
Twilight’s developing smile faltered as she was reminded of the measure she had taken to prevent anypony from seeing her yesterday. “Ah... I... I wasn’t there for most of yesterday, a-and neither was Spike...” she muttered, bending the truth just a tad. She blinked, looking down at her hooves, and then in the direction opposite her friend.
The two mares sat in an uncomfortable silence for a moment, before the yellow filly took a breath. “Twilight...?” she asked with concern, noticing that the lavender pony was avoiding her gaze. The alicorn didn’t answer, only glancing in the light-gold pegasus’s direction for a brief moment.
“I... I’m sure there’s a copy of that training book in my library, though,” the librarian answered, deliberately changing the topic. Her friend seemed to have taken the hint, the chrysanthemum mare’s pink mane bobbing as she nodded.
“Th-thank you... U-uhm...” the pegasus mumbled, her teal eyes flicking to the bandaged mare’s torso for a split second. “Uhh... W-what kind of books do you like?” she asked evasively, giving a small smile that looked just a tad forced.
Twilight frowned. Fluttershy seemed like she was beating around the bush, island-hopping between small topics, almost as if she was deliberately avoiding the subject that her guest did not want to think about. “I... I like all books...” she answered unenthusiastically. The shy pony kept sneaking glances at her sides, more specifically at the large violet wings that graced them. She really didn’t want to talk about them... didn’t her friend understand that?
“Ah... so, uh... do you like to read w-... in-... a-... f-...” the reticent mare stuttered, her eyes darting between several nearby objects. “d-during certain weather?” she blurted, obviously forced. She grinned widely, and Twilight could almost swear that she heard a squeak come from it.
The hybrid mare sighed morosely, looking down at her hooves and closing her eyes. ‘Thanks for at least being sensitive, Fluttershy...’ A moment passed in complete silence, neither pony daring to speak. Twilight’s eyes twitched under her eyelids. Well... if she really wanted to talk about it that much...
She returned her gaze to her friend, her expression worried. “Uhm... Fluttershy, I...” she began, before her voice caught and she cleared her throat. “I’m not sure what... what I’m going to do... a-about...” she mumbled, before frowning and tilting her head downwards. She closed her eyes again, simply extending her purple-feathered avian limbs a little into the air behind her to imply her point, because she didn’t want to say it out loud. “It... It’s just too much...”
“Twilight... They’re only wings,” the bashful pegasus reasoned, causing Twilight to flinch and cast a miserable glance her way at the mention of her flight appendages. Fluttershy bent down to nuzzle the purple pony to comfort her, shushing her softly. “I-if you need me to... I’ll help you through this, okay?” she whispered into a fuzzy violet ear. “I-if there’s anything you need, I can help... You’re my friend... I’m here for you.”
Twilight swallowed. The damage her wings had indirectly caused to her back paled in comparison to the damage they had caused her psyche, but the golden filly’s soft, reassuring words were finally beginning to mend it. She looked down at her chest, inhaling softly and working the inside of her mouth. “I... I’m afraid of what everypony will think of me... What they’ll expect of me...” she spilled, losing her voice. “I... I-I just... I don’t know what to do, Fluttershy... If anypony found out...” she admitted, before her ears folded as she remembered that it was already too late. The Crusaders knew, and they were probably the most talkative bunch of fillies in Ponyville.
Fluttershy nuzzled her again, once more wrapping a wing around her. “Nopony will find out... Not until you’re ready,” she stated, opening her eyes and smiling at the dark-colored mare. “I’ll help you through this. Uhm...” she said softly as she looked off to the side for a moment. “...How did Pinkie Pie say this...?”
Twilight felt a small smile tug at her lips as she watched her friend wrack her brain to remember the premiere party pony’s famed ‘Pinkie Promise’. Instead of waiting for her to recall the correct words, she simply nuzzled the mare’s neck and extended one of her own purple wings to wrap around her withers.
The shy pony’s teal eyes widened at her friend’s embrace, before she smiled softly, closing her eyes and returning the gesture. “It’ll all be okay,” she whispered, holding the bandaged pony close.
The alicorn drew a quiet breath. She had never hugged somepony with her wings before, and... it felt very soft by comparison. Every minute movement of her plumage brushing against her pegasus friend’s soft fur sent shudders through her. The feeling of another living creature on the sensitive underside of her wing felt alien to her, but yet, it was strangely comforting. The aberrant sensation shot a chill down her spine, but it was quickly followed by a pleasant, welcoming warmth, and she trembled as it washed over her. It felt so fragile... like one errant movement would shatter it like thin glass. It was intense, and after a moment she broke the embrace, unable to handle any more of the strange bliss it seemed to bring.
She smiled warmly at Fluttershy as she folded her wing back against her side, every droplet of her anxiety having been washed away by the tidal wave of comfort that she had experienced just moments before. “I... I needed that. Thank you, Fluttershy,” she uttered gratefully, her purple ears perking up. A hug with the wing... seemed to have more power than a normal hug. It... it felt different, it felt better. Almost as if it required complete trust in the recipient, or the tender sensation would quickly turn into pain.
“You’re very welcome... I told you, I’ll help you through this. ...Is there anything else you need?” Fluttershy asked, watching her friend with glee. “I-if not, I should probably go make some food... It’s about lunch time,” she explained, gesturing behind her with a yellow hoof.
Twilight opened her mouth, about to say something, before her eyes widened as her stomach growled. She looked down curiously at her fuzzy lavender chest, before her magenta gaze slowly drifted back to her friend with a small, embarrassed smile. “Uh... Lunch would be... kind of nice,” she muttered awkwardly.
The butter-yellow pegasus simply giggled into a hoof. “Looks like somepony’s hungry...” she playfully chimed, smiling brightly. “I’ll make us something, and maybe get some sapphires for Spike,” she offered, casting a glance at the dragon, who had perked up at the mention of food. “I-it’s not sapphire season, but I’m sure I have some lying around somewhere...” she muttered as she turned to leave the room.
“Thanks, Fluttershy,” Twilight said as her friend exited, shifting to get into a more comfortable position. Maybe she could leave after lunch; the anesthesia was sure to wear off by then. For once that day, she wasn’t worried about anything. The hole that anxiety had gnawed in her stomach had been filled with love and acceptance, and at the time, she felt content. Even when she had to eventually leave her friend’s house, she figured she could get home easily without any problems if she took the path around the outskirts of the city instead of walking straight through the middle. It was the longer path, but it was businesspony-free.
She took a deep breath, exhaling gently as she smiled, letting her eyelids slide shut, her mind at peace. Even if being an alicorn meant something... If it carved out a path in her life that she didn’t quite want to head down... at least Fluttershy would be there to help her along. Maybe some of her other friends would, too. If the yellow pegasus could completely accept her, so could they.
Even if it took some convincing.
Whew... Finally, this monster is done. Chapters 3 and 4 were written adjacent to each other, intended to be one chapter, but broken in half when it got too big. It’s also why there was such a cruel cliffhanger for Chapter 3; we decided to split it in a place that would leave you all ITCHING for more. Yes, we’re evil. When we complete a chapter with a cliffhanger, we sit around our fireplace and twiddle our french mustaches, sip tea, stroke our cats, and cackle evilly for an hour or so. We also share Britishisms (I provide the motherload! -Beige).
Chapter four is Beige’s favorite chapter, actually. We went a little heavy on the d’aww, but you guys like that, right?
Just as a heads-up, this will not become a shipfic. Friendshipping = d’aww, so expect more of that, but we won’t drift into actual shipping territories. Don’t worry.
Special thanks to Super Big Mac for pre-reading this monster!
[Note] Don’t worry, this fic isn’t going to be all doom and gloom. Lots of happy awaits.
“...So, you see, Pinkie Pie was trying to teach me how to use her microwave, but the buttons were too small.” Fluttershy gave her hooves an awkward glance. “I don’t know how she uses it... I figured she presses the buttons with her nose, but...”
Twilight let out a cheerful giggle, sitting up straight. After a small meal composed mostly of daisy sandwiches, she had struck up a conversation with her friend to pass the time. The anesthesia was finally wearing off, and a small pain surfaced from the numbness, but thankfully it really only felt like sandpaper.
“You know, Spike told me that we should buy one earlier today, but I can’t afford it.” She met the dragon’s gaze with a playful raised eyebrow. He sat near Fluttershy, munching on the large sapphire he had received for his own meal. Out of season, yes, but according to him, still delicious.
Spike shrugged dismissively, swallowing. “I thought it would be a good idea?” He was answered with a cheerful giggle.
“Well... Sugar Cube Corner has a lot of expensive things in it, for baking. I guess they can afford them because they get lots of customers.” Fluttershy stared up at a corner of the kitchen ceiling in thought.
Twilight shifted in discomfort. Her properly-treated wound no longer brought intense pain, but it itched. A lot. Her ear flicked a few times as she fought the urge to swing her head around and bite at the awful, nagging pain.
Don’t scratch it. Don’t scratch it. Don’t scratch it. She stared at Fluttershy absentmindedly, forcing a smile.
The purple set of claws waving in front of her eyes registered as little more than a shapeless blur. She flicked her gaze to Spike for a moment, disregarding his concerned expression before returning her eyes to Fluttershy.
“Twilight, are you okay?” Spike asked, gently laying a claw on the purple pony’s withers. She swiftly jerked her torso in his direction, his sharp claws raking across her bandage and the itchy wound beneath.
Twilight grunted in satisfaction, her eyelids sliding halfway shut. She steadily moved away, the dragon’s purple claws grazing her back again, before Spike caught on and retracted his arm.
“Twilight, don’t do that! You’re not supposed to scratch it!” he chided, furrowing his eyebrows.
“I’m not scratching it. You are.” Twilight grinned at him.
He gaped. “W-... Well, you’re making me do it!” he insisted with a point of his index claw.
“No I’m not.” The alicorn snickered into her hoof.
“Twilight, don’t scratch your wound...” Despite herself, Fluttershy couldn’t help but grin at the situation. Twilight lowered her head in mock guilt.
The sound of a tiny yawn came from a nearby doorway. “Oh, hello Angel Bunny... You’re awake.” Fluttershy smiled at the small white rabbit as he walked into the room, his half-closed eyes scanning everything in sight with a quizzical glare. His fur was messy from sleep, and his demeanor suggested he was not in the mood for any funny business.
Twilight froze and gawked at the small mammal as he passed by, but he simply gave her an uninterested glance and raised a paw in greeting as if to say ‘What’s up?’ before sitting down in front of Fluttershy.
He tapped his small foot impatiently, crossing his arms and glaring up at his owner.
“Angel, if you want lunch, you’re going to have to ask nicely.” Fluttershy countered the rabbit’s glare with one of her own.
Meanwhile, the lavender mare across the table stared with genuine surprise at the small mammal. She was expecting a much bigger reaction from him. “Uh...” she quietly muttered, earning another uninterested glance from Angel. He simply gave a brief upward flick of the chin in an indifferent greeting, before returning his gaze to Fluttershy
Their optical duel lasted no less than thirty seconds, before Angel took a deep breath and sighed in defeat. He wrapped his small forelegs around Fluttershy’s foreleg and rubbed his face against it, an irked expression lining his muzzle.
The yellow pony smiled. “That’s better. Now now, don’t get your whiskers in a knot... What would you like?”
The rabbit eagerly performed several complicated gestures, most of which Twilight did not recognize. Fluttershy apparently understood them, nodding occasionally.
“Alright, I’ll make your favorite kind of cucumber salad.” Fluttershy stood up and moved to her pantry before casting a cheerful smile over her shoulder. “Twilight, get acquainted with Angel. He’s really nice once you get to know him, if a bit picky...” she trailed off, extracting some salad leaves from within the cabinet.
Twilight looked at the small rabbit. He seemed disgruntled, his arms crossed with an irritated scowl on his face, but his eyes were locked on the floor beneath him. Did he not care? “Ahem,” Twilight said, causing him to look up at her with curiosity. She blinked at him, before momentarily extending the limbs on her back to assert that she possessed both a horn and wings.
He simply blinked at her and nodded in understanding, before turning back to Fluttershy. After a moment he again scowled, his gaze dropping to the floor.
Twilight raised her eyebrows, bewildered. Did he really not care? Well, he was a rabbit... Perhaps he didn’t understand her predicament. Well, no skin off her bones. She looked at Fluttershy, who hummed a quiet melody as she rinsed some lettuce leaves at her sink.
The purple pony took a deep breath, and exhaled, shuffling her hooves. Her mind now free of any pressing issues, minor thoughts began to surface. She hadn’t really been doing anything with her wings, regardless of the fact that they were apparently permanent body parts that would stay with her for the rest of her life. Even though she had made do just fine without a pegasus’s unique limbs, she felt like she should use her own pair, despite the fact that they were completely unnecessary to her interests. If nothing else... maybe it would be fun.
Her eyes widened at her blunt thought, and she quickly jabbed at it. Fun? What point is there in flying just for fun? Regardless, part of her wanted to fly solely for enjoyment, and that one part was slowly overtaking the majority. Her thoughts drifted to the day previous, when she was trying to fly for exercise. That... didn’t end well, but the few seconds she had managed to stay airborne were filled with fear, and adrenaline, and weightlessness, and freedom. It felt pretty great.
As she examined the memory of that little feeling of weightlessness, her heart rate began to climb, and she felt a delightful surge of energy somewhere in her chest. She took a deep, shaking breath, feeling her heart thumping with adrenaline. It did seem like it would be fun...
She cast another glance to Fluttershy, and the electric fire in her chest bloomed to encompass her entire upper body as she beheld the hovering mare. That could be me...
A smile began to creep across her muzzle. She absent-mindedly extended her wings and flapped them once, shaking herself to work out the kinks.
“Twilight?” Spike asked from behind her. “Uhm, are you okay?”
“Heheh... I’m fine,” she giggled, the warm surge of energy making her slightly giddy. Her assistant raised a single purple claw and opened his mouth to speak, but he was interrupted.
“Twilight, do you want anything else? I don’t know if I gave you enough to eat,” Fluttershy asked, flashing a curious smile over her yellow shoulder.
“No thanks, I’m pretty stuffed.” Well, actually, she was still a little hungry, but didn’t wish to mooch off of her friend. Strange; a daisy sandwich or two usually filled her up. Perhaps they were ‘lean’ sandwiches, insidiously designed for the sole purpose of not having enough calories.
Her thoughts were once again drawn back to the concept of flight as she observed her friend’s flitting wings. She absent-mindedly flapped her own a few times, feeling a minor reduction in her body weight with each stroke. It wasn’t quite enough to lift her off the ground, but it came closer and closer with each flap. Her eyes locked on to Fluttershy’s wings, studying how they moved, and she tried to emulate the motions with her own.
Spike suddenly walked into her line of sight, staring up at her. “Twilight, just ask.” He smiled, motioning to the hovering filly.
“Huh? Ask what?” Fluttershy turned around in surprise. Her teal eyes widened as she looked at her friend’s outstretched purple wings.
Twilight immediately flinched, her eyes widening as her wings snapped back to her torso. “N-nothing,” she stuttered, shaking her head. She already felt like she was asking too much, with the medical operation and the meal, and didn’t wish to continue bugging her friend with requests.
Her wings twitched, begging to differ. ‘Fly,’ they seemed to whisper to her. ‘She can help you.’
Be quiet, she hissed back.
After a moment, Fluttershy turned around and picked up the fancy-looking salad she had prepared and brought it to the table, setting it down neatly in front of Angel. “Here you go, Angel... It’s your favorite.” The bunny climbed up onto the polished wooden surface and examined the food.
He smiled up at the cheery pegasus, thanking her in the form of another chin flick, before quite literally diving into the bowl. Quiet munching sounds filled the room as Fluttershy landed next to her two house guests.
“So Twilight, uhm...” she began, giving a warm smile to her lavender friend. “I know you told me you don’t really know how you got your wings, but... How do you think it happened?”
Twilight simply blinked at her friend’s sudden curiosity. “Uh... I... have no idea, really...” She looked away from the pegasus. In reality, she had spent more time looking for things to disprove that she was an alicorn, rather than an explanation for why she was one. “Nothing I’ve considered makes any sense.”
“Oh...” Fluttershy raised a yellow hoof to her mouth. “Uhm... Have you tried researching things you haven’t considered?” she asked bluntly. A nervous grin spread across her face when the purple pony shot her a quizzical glare. She soon retreated, hiding behind her pink mane. “Erm... Do you think it will mean something for you in the future?”
Twilight’s annoyed expression quickly melted, and she looked away. “I... I don’t want to think about that... I... Just don’t talk about it, okay?”
“New topic then,” Spike piped up, sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the two ponies. He smiled at the winged unicorn. “So, Twilight, if you want to learn how to fly, you really could just ask Flutter-”
Twilight quickly whipped around and shushed him in panic. Her eyes flicked to Fluttershy, before her purple muzzle widened with a nervous grin. “Uhhhh... Just disregard anything he says about that... I-I know you’re busy, a-and I don’t want to suck any more time out of your day.”
The yellow pegasus blinked, before smiling and drawing a breath. “Oh no, I’m free all day today. I could give you a few lessons, if you wanted..” She looked away and bashfully rubbed one of her forelegs with the other.
“That’d be great! I’m sure she-Mmph!” Spike chimed, before a purple hoof was shoved into his mouth.
“Spike, I... I don’t want to be any more of a bother,” Twilight whispered harshly, flicking her eyes between the dragon and Fluttershy. She swallowed with trepidation. Along with not wanting to overburden her timid friend, the prospect of flight frightened her as much as it excited her. The first time she tried to fly, she heavily injured herself.
“N-no, really, it’s not a problem... I can teach you...” Her friend blushed slightly behind her pink bangs. “Come with me,” she instructed, beginning to walk to another room before halting and casting a warm smile over her shoulder.
The purple pony stood still, trembling slightly. Her body demanded that she follow her friend and receive flight instruction, but her mind told her that she should stay put -- flying was too dangerous. She looked at the bandages wrapped around her withers. Look what it’s already done.
Unfortunately, her body seemed to be winning her little internal duel. Adrenaline began to take her, overpowering the little voice of fear that tried to speak up against flying. It’ll be fun, her body insisted. She took a deep breath and cantered after Fluttershy, a small smile on her face as she involuntarily flapped her wings a few times. It’d be fine. She probably wouldn’t injure herself again, since she now had a tutor. And it would be fun!
Spike chuckled brightly as he stood up and followed her. “That’s the spirit!”
Fluttershy led her to a wide-open room near the back of her cottage. The entry doorway was actually halfway up the wall, and a descending staircase ran along next to it. The room itself appeared to be half below ground and half above ground, and looking around, Twilight surmised that it was a similar height to her library’s basement. Trotting down the staircase along the wall, her hooves soon touched the surprisingly soft soil of the room’s floor. The walls were wooden, and the room was sunlit by a very large window near the ceiling that ran the length of one wall. The room itself had an musky air about it, reminiscent of a burrow. The skirting of the walls slanted down from the cottage’s wooden foundations into the earth, connecting the room to half a dozen warrens and dens of varying sizes. Traces of sod could be seen here and there, as if animals had been walking through with filth stuck to their feet, but for the most part the earthy room was surprisingly clean.
Twilight looked around the room in awe at the sheer plainness of it. There were no obstacles of any sort; no furniture, no pillars, no complex structures. It was big, and completely empty. Perfect for a beginner flier.
“Yeah, it’s a big room, isn’t it?” Fluttershy grinned awkwardly at her purple friend. “I use it to help young and injured creatures to fly, like if I have to take care of newly-hatched chicks, or a bat with a broken wing. It just helps to have a big room with nothing in it... Uhm, come to the middle with me.”
The beginner flier nodded in compliance and followed her friend to the center of the room. The two ponies stood facing each other at a comfortable distance, Fluttershy’s smile as warm as the afternoon sun.
“Alright... Are you ready?” Fluttershy spread her majestic golden wings out behind her. She received a hesitant nod in response.
“Good... Now, flying is something that just comes naturally to a pegasus.” Fluttershy’s eyes darted to Twilight’s forehead for a fraction of a second. “It doesn’t really take much thought, or training. It’s the same as when you learn to walk, as a foal. Uhm...” she trailed off, looking at her friend. “Spread your wings.”
Twilight swallowed anxiously, turning her head to look at the limbs in question. Blinking, she unfurled them, feeling the gentle brush of her secondaries against her torso. She held them up behind her, noticing that they were indeed larger than her friend’s. Bathed in the bright sunlight streaming through the large window on the wall, she felt... exposed. Her cheeks started to burn with embarrassment. “O... Okay.”
Fluttershy didn’t respond for a moment, her teal eyes scanning over the alicorn’s plumage.
Twilight frowned as the burning in her cheeks intensified. “I... I’m not a display, okay?” she muttered, her ears folding behind her head.
Fluttershy blinked in surprise and tore her eyes away. “Oh, I-I’m sorry... I didn’t mean...” She frowned. “Uhm...” She scuffed at the ground with a hoof before looking at her temporary student. “So... I don’t really know what to tell you, other than just ‘flap them’... Your wings are bigger than mine. W-when I flap my wings, it counters the weight that would otherwise tilt me forwards, but since yours are so big... I think it might tilt you back.”
Twilight blinked in realization. That explained it! She had been wondering why her flying sessions had always sent her careening backwards. Apparently she’d just have to compensate for her larger-than-average wings pushing her back as well as up.
Why are my wings so big anyway?
...Then again, why do I have wings in the first place? Priorities, Twilight.
“Uhm...” Fluttershy tapped her front hooves together. She delicately kicked the ground with her back legs and jumped into the air, performing a light, near-silent hover. “Try... Try to hover in place... Angle your wings so that you’re pushing the air straight down... Umm... you may want to adjust them first, so you know what it feels like before you start.” Fluttershy touched down on the ground, thoughtfully tapping her mouth with a hoof. “...You may want to give a little hop when you take off, too... um, so that your wings don’t hit the floor...”
Twilight took a deep breath and shook her wings, warming up as best she could. If flapping her wings in the angle that felt most ‘neutral’ would cause her to tilt backwards, then angling them forward a tad would help her stay upright, wouldn’t it? She buckled her knees before jumping into the air, whipping her feathered limbs in a furious sweeping motion. It seemed to be helping to keep her upright, before she felt herself tilting forwards a little more than she intended. Before she could stop herself, she did a forward somersault in the air and landed on her back with a hard thud. “Oof!”
Her eyes fluttered open, her cheeks beginning to burn up again from further embarrassment. Her ears folded. Even though nopony had been around to see her first screw-up, there was a pony and a young dragon observing her this time around. She shut her eyes tight. Any moment now, they would start laughing at her. Fluttershy with her quiet giggling, and Spike with his roaring laughter. Any second now.
“Uhm... It’s okay, just try again...” Fluttershy smiled at the amateur flier.
Twilight opened her eyes again, and looked at her friend. The smile on her yellow face was supportive, not mocking. She mentally berated herself for not having more faith in her friends.
The downed pony rolled over and stood up again for another go. Apparently she had moved the arc of her wings a little too far forward. If she was going to fly, she would have to find neutral ground... or neutral air. She took a deep breath, and glanced at Spike.
The dragon had sat down cross-legged, and was smiling at his older sister not out of amusement, but polite interest.
Twilight smiled gratefully at him, before spreading her front legs and facing forward with confidence. Once again she launched herself into the air, flapping her large purple wings methodically instead of rapidly. Unfortunately, she simply fell back to her hooves after a few seconds, creating a small ring of dust beneath her.
“Umm... You need to flap more than that...” the ‘coach’ instructed, peeking out from behind her pink mane.
“Eh huh, yeah... I figured.” Twilight looked behind her at the additional limbs attached to her back. There had to be some way to do this. All winged ponies instinctively knew how to properly use their wings, so it really couldn’t be that hard.
She jumped into the air again, managing what at first appeared to be a stable hover before she felt herself leaning forwards again. She adjusted her wing arcs to undo it, but unfortunately over-corrected and dropped to the ground on her back with a surprised yelp. Her momentum caused her to slide backwards a few feet, the resulting dust settling on her face. She coughed loudly, wiping at her visage with her forehooves. “Gack!”
“Almost... You were almost able to hover... Keep trying.” Fluttershy was laying down, her wings folded perfectly against her sides. Spike sat next to her, leaning backward and supporting himself with his arms as he casually waved his feet. Both gave warm, encouraging smiles to the flier-in-training.
Twilight stood up once more, shaking the dust off of her. She frowned, her confidence faltering, before shaking her head to dispel whatever anxious thoughts she had. I will do this. I will. It’s just like walking... She flapped her wings, drawing a breath. A voice of irony spoke up in the back of her head, reminding her that she technically owned a flight vest and should have brought it. It probably would have made her crash landings hurt a little bit less. She sighed.
One more try. Again she jumped, managing to keep herself aloft for a few seconds. When she tilted forwards, she moved her wings back. When she tilted backwards, she moved her wings forward. She managed to stay upright, if not for a bit of rocking, and allowed herself a small smile. But then she felt herself tilting sideways, and before she knew it her face was violently skidding against the slightly-rocky soil below. Upon grinding to a painful halt, another cloud of dust rose into the air, leading to another coughing fit as her tired lungs cried for oxygen. She lost hope, her ears folding behind her head. “I... I can’t do it...” she whimpered, trying to cough more dust out of her aching lungs, her eyes watering from the pain. Her cheek burned from where it had scraped across the ground, and she was already out of breath. She simply lay on the floor, her dirt-covered wings limp behind her.
She heard a set of small footsteps approach her. “Twilight, don’t give up! You’ve almost got it!” Spike encouraged, placing his claws on her underbelly and shaking her. Fluttershy approached and stood beside him, a hoof to her mouth as she stared at her miserable friend with worry.
Twilight swallowed, and unenthusiastically rose to a standing position, wiping her eyes with a foreleg in an attempt to get rid of the dust. She needed to learn how to do this. There was no point in having useless limbs. Instead of immediately jumping into the air, she merely flapped her wings from the ground, their tips scuffing the earth as she moved them faster and faster. After a few seconds, she felt herself steadily rising upward, and at the last moment, she lithely kicked off from the ground. When she tilted one way, she adjusted her wing arcs until her orientation corrected. She was careful and conservative, only flapping them just enough to keep her airborne.
It... It was working. She let her lower body sag a little until it seemed to almost hang from her upper torso, where her wings were attached. She’d seen some pegasi hover like this, and she now felt their reason for it -- it moved her center of gravity into her chest and drastically improved her balance. She instinctively curled her forelegs closer to her chest, just like pegasi did. She felt her back legs moving instinctually, as if walking on the air, probably to help keep her balance.
Her lips slowly curled into a smile, her unfocused eyes gazing straight ahead in concentration. She didn’t tilt around; she was maintaining a simple hover. She was still. She was steady. “I... I’m doing it!” she giggled with joy. “Fluttershy, I-I’m doing it!” Her giggling escalated into cheerful laughter, her mood brightened.
“Ooh...! Good job!” Fluttershy congratulated, standing up and marveling at her friend’s accomplishment. “I knew you could do it!”
“Wooo!” Spike cheered, throwing his arms up into the air. “Go Twilight!”
Twilight gave what could have possibly been the biggest smile of her life, right next to the day she had acquired her cutie mark. Even though she was only hovering, it felt like an enormous accomplishment to her. It was a complex task, and demanded a large amount of her attention, which only made her that much happier to have finally achieved it. Flight itself was exciting; she could feel the adrenaline, the joy, the freedom of it, all from a simple hover. For just a moment, she wanted to go outside and show off her new skill to the world; the unicorn who could fly!
Mom, dad, if only you could see me now...!
She remained in the air for another moment, Spike having run a few laps around her in excitement, before she began to tire. She panted heavily, sweat dripping down her face as her wing muscles burned from the sudden exercise. She gently lowered herself to the floor, stabilizing her body on four hooves and tucking her wings in. She had done it! The first step into the unrivaled exhilaration of true flight! As she caught her breath, she fantasized about soaring through the Equestrian skies, tearing through the cloud layers at a hundred miles an hour, just as she had seen pegasi do. It would be incredible. If just hovering felt this great, flying would be... It would be awesome! An overused word, she knew, but it fit perfectly.
Spike jumped up and hugged her neck, paying no mind to the dirt stuck to her fur. “I knew you could do it, Twilight!” he exclaimed, hugging her tighter. “I never doubted you for a second!”
Fluttershy beamed at her friend before lowering her head and coughing. “Yes... Good job!... I might need to replace your bandages, though...”
Twilight stared at the rolls of gauze wrapped around her torso, amused. They were ripped in several places and caked with dirt, stained from a pristine white color to an earthy light-brown. “Uh huh,” she giggled. Her cheeks were starting to hurt from her wide grin.
She could hover. She could use her wings. The very thought made her giddy. She wouldn’t use it to grab books off of her bookshelves -- she could simply use her magic for that. But... flying was fun. That summed up her feelings in a nutshell. It was fun, and she loved it.
“So... I-I don’t really have much to teach, after all... You just need to tilt yourself in the direction you want to go. I-if you want to learn all those neat tricks that some pegasi do, you should probably ask Rainbow Dash...”
“Hey, yeah! How does that sound, Twi?” chirped Spike.
Twilight’s smile faded a little. “Uhh...” The blithe tomboy was most likely the best flight coach she had access to, but Rainbow was far too bumptious to ask without any preparation.
Her smile returned as her positive thoughts chased out the negative. She wanted to keep hovering, actually... She wanted to practice. But she was too tired to immediately fulfill that desire. Her sedentary lifestyle resulted in her not having much stamina for athletic purposes, and flight had proved particularly strenuous. However, if she flew often, it would strengthen her heart and enable her to fly for longer periods of time. After all, it really was just exercise.
She scuffed at the floor with a hoof and looked at the large window on the wall. It was about midday. Maybe I should get back to my library, she thought, remembering that she had a business to run. She didn’t want to overstay her welcome at Fluttershy’s, and closing her library for another full day might appear suspicious.
“Uhm... maybe some other time,” Twilight said, before trotting up to her yellow friend and wrapping her front legs around her in a warm hug. “Thank you so much, Fluttershy! I don’t know how else I would’ve learned, if not for you. But, I should probably get going.” She released the pegasus and looked into her surprised teal eyes. “I... I have a library to manage, after all.”
“O-oh... I won’t keep you, then... But at least let me change your bandages first,” Fluttershy requested, leaning slightly to view the bandages in question. She then walked past her purple friend, motioning with a hoof for her to follow. The group trotted back up the steps and made their way back into the main room.
“Wait here,” Fluttershy instructed, momentarily leaving before returning with a roll of gauze held in one wing. Cleverly using her teeth and both wings, she undid the bandages wrapped around Twilight’s torso, letting them fall to the floor before fluidly discarding them into a wastebasket. Thankfully, the purple fur under her bandages was just about the only part of her that wasn’t dirty. Fluttershy swiftly wrapped a new set around her, using only a minimal amount of bandages instead a multi-layered mass.
“Alright, I’m finished,” Fluttershy announced, smiling sweetly at her patient.
“Thanks! I can wash my hooves and my mane when I get back to the library.”
Spike coughed into his fist, beginning to tap his purple claws together. “Hey, can we go into town on the way there? You know, pick up some food? We’re almost out... All I had to work with this morning was bread and a few condiments.” He gazed hopefully up at the purple pony. “And I know you don’t really like toast.”
The lavender mare smiled at her assistant, before her eyes widened. Her smile vanished like a ghost, and she looked away, biting her lip with worry. “Uhm...” They were out of food? The only convenient place to get more was the Ponyville Marketplace. “Ahh...”
Spike sighed. “Look, you can’t stay cooped up inside forever.” He smiled reassuringly, gently patting Twilight’s neck. “You’ve stretched your wings, now stretch your legs. No one’s going to see you.”
Twilight allowed herself an amused smile at her assistant’s word choice. He had a point, after all: isolating herself from other ponies would eventually cause her to go stir-crazy, and locking herself away from the world for too long would only raise suspicions and concern. Her friends were well aware of her habits.
Fluttershy perked up after a moment of thought. “Oh... I could come with you, if you wanted,” she offered, before her eyes widened with curiosity. “Umm, I-I think you were using a spell to hide your wings when you first came here... Could you just use that? How does it work...?”
Twilight blinked, looking up at her yellow friend. “Uhh... Well, it essentially alters the light reflecting off of my wings so as to render it imperceivable. The spell consumes a lot of magic because the magically-imbued object enchants the reflected light with a delicate, imprecise filter that affects a pony’s perception, rendering it essentially invisible to the mind. If anypony makes physical contact with me during the spell, it’ll move me into a position that the spell isn’t currently calibrated for, causing a flicker as the non-enchanted light reaches the eye. If I’m moved a lot by somepony, the spell will cancel because it’d be unable to properly readjust.” She absentmindedly wondered if she had sounded like a reference book.
Looking at her friends, she noticed that they were both giving her blank stares. Yep.
Fluttershy cleared her throat. “Uhm... What?”
Spike cast her a sympathetic look. “Trust me, just nod when she stops for breath.”
The intellectual in the room sighed, trying to turn down her ‘nerd’ dial. “I would like it if you came with me. Maybe you could keep ponies from making physical contact with me, so the spell remains intact.” She smiled at the dumbfounded pegasus. “Would you do that for me?”
The yellow filly just nodded, giving a confused grin. She leaned down to Spike. “W... What is she talking about...?” she whispered timidly, befuddled.
“She means, don’t let anypony touch her,” he whispered back, casting a glance Twilight’s way. After years of living with her, the dragon had probably learned her ‘language’.
“Oh, okay...” Fluttershy stood upright and looked at Twilight. “A-alright, I’ll come with you.” She cast a glance over her shoulder at Angel, who lay on his back on the wooden tabletop, smiling contently as he patted his swollen belly. “Angel Bunny, can you take care of yourself for an hour or two?”
The white rabbit nodded affirmatively, raising a dismissive paw.
The yellow mare smiled and looked back at her purple friend. “I’m ready when you are.”
The spellcaster lit up her horn for a moment, before two purple saddlebags appeared at her sides in a bright flash of light. They laid neatly over her wings, and bore a graphic of her cutie mark. She smiled at Fluttershy. “Alright, let’s go.”
The forest buzzed with life. The smooth chorus of scratching and pattering and chirping was omnipresent, broken only the presence of two sets of hoofsteps. Twilight shifted uncomfortably as the weight of the dragon sitting on her withers dragged her bandages around, causing them to be too tight in some places and too loose in others. She gulped, her exposed purple wings shifting under her saddlebags as a small tendril of ice creeped through her gut. “U-uhm... Fluttershy, how close are we to Ponyville?” Her voice was quivering. This seemed like a good idea at first, but as they neared their destination, she was beginning to have second thoughts.
“Not too close... I don’t think we’ll run into any ponies quite yet, but... uh... Maybe you should turn on your spell... There could always be a hiker pony...”
The purple pony stopped in her tracks. “No, I need to conserve my magic. I can’t keep up that spell for very long. It drains me very quickly,” she explained, stopping to cast a worried gaze her friend’s way. “I need to only have it activated when there are ponies nearby, otherwise I’m just wasting my magic.” She trembled slightly, scuffing at the dirt road with a violet hoof. “And I might not have enough when I actually need it...”
Twilight had concocted a plan, and had described it to Fluttershy before leaving. She was going to switch her illusion spell on and off when the situation called for it, to conserve magic, since she only had so much. If it ran dry before she left the marketplace, suffice it to say it would be very bad. To be honest, she did not want to go through with it. She wanted to just take the long way, avoiding any and all citizen ponies, and slip back into her library without being noticed. But she needed food.
“So... how many ponies know? I-I don’t want to say anything to anypony who doesn’t know...” Fluttershy asked, hiding behind her pink mane.
“Just two: You and Rarity.” Right now, that was all who needed to know. She would tell her other friends later. But nopony else needed to know. Well, Sweetie Belle knew, and so did the Crusaders... sort of... but... She shook her head. She didn't want to think about that right now.
“It’ll be fine, Twilight. We don’t even need to stay in there that long. We can go in, get some groceries, and get out.” Spike gently squeezed Twilight’s shoulders to coax her to continue walking.
The purple pony twisted her neck and cast an anxious glance at her assistant, before sighing and beginning a soft canter, hanging her head. Spike was right. If she spent as little time as possible in the marketplace, there wouldn’t be a problem. From experience, she knew that her perception filter spell lasted for approximately twenty minutes before it sucked her magic dry. If she didn’t hurry, she would run out of time.
Several minutes passed before the group reached the outskirts of the city where the dirt road transitioned into pavement. Twilight was a bit of a nervous wreck at this point, trembling violently as her wide eyes darted about for any sign of a citizen pony. Spike softly rubbed her temples in an attempt to calm her, noticing that she was freaking out. Should she cast her illusion spell? Were there ponies nearby? Her ears flicked as she picked up on a far-off conversation. Yes, there were. Sucking in a deep breath, she forced energy into her horn, and ignited her trusty light distortion spell. She looked behind her. No wings. Good. Just in time, too; A lilac-colored pony with a white mane immediately turned the corner of a building and trotted past her, uttering a chipper “Hello!”
A faint buzz began to flow through Twilight’s mind, a trickle of water as the spell drew on her internal magic reserve.
“I’ll stay with you, Twilight... I’ll make sure nopony touches you, even if you’re in a line.” Fluttershy smiled warmly.
Twilight returned the smile, before continuing her trot, swallowing with trepidation. The density of the nearby buildings almost caused them to form a solid, impenetrable wall. If something went awry, there would be no way for her to escape aside from teleportation. But to use that spell, she would have to drop her perception filter for a few seconds while she charged it. No.
As usual, the decorated cobbles of the Ponyville Marketplace were crowded. It seemed to have thinned out a bit from yesterday; the nearby ponies acted more like mice scampering around a pony’s house in search of cheese instead of flies swarming a carcass. Ponies of all three races lined up at different stands, most wearing saddlebags filled with different types of food. On a stage in the center of the marketplace was a band of ponies playing a casual, upbeat song, surrounded by a few dancing mares and stallions. Busy ponies walked all around Twilight, although most were trying to avoid bumping into her instead of carelessly pushing her aside. Fluttershy hovered nearby, monitoring the purple pony’s immediate vicinity with hard, vigilant eyes.
Twilight took a deep, shaking breath. “O-okay... S-Spike, what’s first on the list?” She heard a small rustling noise as the dragon shoved a claw into one of her saddlebags, extracting a small slip of paper.
“Okay, first off, we need to get the basics: bread, cheese, butter, and milk.” He paused for a moment as he pondered methods to obtain the items. “There are dairy stands here, right?” His slitted eyes rose from the paper for a moment, slowly scanning the environment. “There!” He pointed at a stand bearing a logo of a cheese wheel with a slice cut out of it. The vendor, unsurprisingly, was a cow. Dairy was an important part of a pony’s balanced diet.
Twilight blinked at the stand before cautiously approaching it, getting in line. It wasn’t a big line, only six or seven ponies, and the vendor was serving them quite quickly. Some of the ponies gazed at her with concern, seemingly noting the bandages wrapped around her torso.
“Uhh... Are you okay?” the stallion in front of her asked, blinking his large yellow eyes. He had a light, airy voice that occasionally cracked. He reached out with a brown hoof before Fluttershy swatted it away.
“Don’t touch her,” she snipped.
“O-okay?” The stallion retracted his hoof in panic.
The hovering pony looked at her violet friend for a moment, before smirking and giving a quick wink.
Twilight returned the smile, moving forward as one more pony received their products and exited the line. A few ponies entered the line behind her, also gawking at her. She absentmindedly held her breath; she had not prepared for this turn of events. Wings or no wings, nearby ponies were still staring at her out of concern for her injury.
Fluttershy hovered very close to Twilight, her teal eyes concentrating on anypony that was too close. The line moved forward again. Only one pony was in front of Twilight now.
“What can I get ya’ today, ma’am?” the shop owner asked, causing Twilight’s ears to twitch. She recognized that Wiscoltson accent. It was Delia.
The pony in front of her placed her order, and the bovine retreated into her tent for a moment to extract a large cheese wheel and a carton of milk. With a clink of coins and a quick thanks, the customer trotted off, allowing Twilight to approach.
The purple pony was reluctant to speak for a moment. Gathering her will, she swallowed and took a breath. “H-hey Delia.” She didn’t have much time. She needed to wrap this up as quickly as possible.
“Oh why hello Twilight! I ‘aven’t seen you in a while, now! How ya’ been?” Delia greeted, smiling at her newest customer.
Twilight blinked. “Uh... D-Delia, I’d really love to stay and chat, but... I need to be somewhere.” She mentally slapped herself for using that excuse again. “Can I just buy some food?”
The cow frowned momentarily. “Oh... Sorry then. I won’t keep ya’ waitin’. What’ll ya’ have?”
“Uhh...” She looked up at the dragon sitting on her withers. “Spike, what do we need again?”
The reptile merely blinked at her, before lifting up the shopping list and clearing his throat. “Uhh, a carton of milk, a cheese wheel, and a... a thing of butter,” he forced, unable to think of the proper term.
“A stick,” Twilight corrected, her eyebrows furrowing.
Spike blinked a few more times, before incredulously bringing a claw to his forehead. “Ohhh, right... Yeah, a stick of butter.”
Delia smiled again, amused. “Alrighty then, I’ll be back in a jiffy.” She retreated into her tent for a moment to retrieve the dairy products. Mere seconds passed before she returned, each item in tow. She set them down on the counter. “That’ll be five bits.”
Twilight lit up her horn and placed five coins in a stack on the counter, tucking each food item into her saddlebags. “Thank you.” She smiled, before briskly walking away from the line and the ponies who were staring at her.
Get used to it now, Princess. It’s only going to get worse when they all find out.
You mean if they all find out. Shut up.
The alicorn shook her head, looking at her midsection. There were no visible wings, but there was an unjustified space in between her body and her saddlebags. They had not been designed for a pegasus or... pegasus-unicorn thing, after all. She took a breath, scolding herself. Nopony pays attention to details like that. Well, nopony but her.
Her ears perked as she picked up on a conversation between two passing ponies.
“...the library? I heard it’s been closed for two days now.”
“I dunno. I have a book due tomorrow. I wonder if something happened to...”
The conversation lost clarity as they moved away, their words drowned out by the nearby music and the buzz of other ponies’ chatter. Twilight bit her lip, reminded that she needed to hurry up and finish her shopping. She had a library to manage. Well, at least showing herself around town might dispel any rumors of her simply vanishing. Perhaps Spike was right; locking herself away would only serve to attract more unwanted attention. If ponies saw her around town from time to time, it wouldn’t credit the idea that something was wrong.
The gentle trickle of magic continued to hum at the back of her mind.
“What’s next, Spike?”
“Uhm... Fruit?” The dragon looked over the list. The group was silent for a moment.
Fluttershy hovered next to Twilight’s ear. “Uhm... I’m sorry to ask this, but... Does Applejack know?”
The question caused Twilight to flinch. She whipped her head to the airborne pegasus, her irises trembling. To be honest... she didn’t know. Applejack seemed to be supportive of her regarding the subject, and didn’t dig for information. She seemed to not quite believe the rumors, even though they were actually true. If she knew... at least she was being quiet about it. But Twilight did not want to go through another awkward conversation with her. She would just avoid her stand, avoid her gaze, and get her apples somewhere else. No apples in Ponyville were as delicious as those from Sweet Apple Acres, but it was a necessary sacrifice.
“N... No, she doesn’t.” That might be a lie. Applejack might know, but Twilight did not want to talk about it with her. At least... not in public. Fluttershy nodded and moved away from her ear, resuming her careful overwatch.
After a few minutes, the three arrived at the ‘farm produce’ sector of the market. They were essentially on the opposite side of the marketplace, and significantly farther away from the band in the center -- its melody was faint, overpowered by the drone of pony chatter.
Take a wild guess. Whose stand was the most popular one?
“Come on Ponyville, get yer apples an’ apple products right here! Sweeeeeet Apple Acres, at yer service!” a familiar southern voice shouted into a megaphone.
“Eeyup,” added a quieter, deeper voice.
Twilight strained her neck to look over the multitude of ponies crowded around a large stand operated by two Apple family members: Applejack and Big Macintosh. A good decision on their part; there were many, many ponies wishing to buy their products, and they probably needed an extra mouth to help dispense their food. No other vendors were present -- they must have packed up and left because they were no match for their competition.
After a moment of thought, Twilight allowed herself an amused smirk. The Apple family would soon have a complete monopoly on the apple market, if they didn’t already. The smirk quickly vanished when she realized that this meant she had nowhere else to buy apples. She liked apples. Most other fruits didn’t appeal to her.
She looked back and forth, scanning the nearby ponies. There couldn’t have been less than two hundred, and they were so tightly-packed that she wasn’t sure if she could walk through them without jeopardizing her perception spell.
“Hey, it’s Applejack! You should go talk to her, Twilight. I’m sure she’d be more than happy to give you a discount,” Spike suggested.
She flinched. Shoot! She hadn’t told Spike about her run-in with Applejack the previous night, or how the farm filly might already know about her wings. And she still wanted to avoid talking to her. “Uhh... Spike?” She twisted her neck around to look at the young dragon, and swallowed. “I... I talked with Applejack last night. I don’t think she knows, but she was telling me that there are rumors going around, about me! She didn’t see my... my... Well, she’s probably going to ask about them again. I-I don’t want to talk to her. Not out here!” she explained, growing upset. If she was to talk to Applejack, she wanted to do it in private. She would probably come clean with the applebucker, just to get it over with, but not here. And not now.
Spike looked concerned. “Oh,” he muttered in quiet realization. “Uhm... Just buy some food from Big Mac, then. He’s really quiet, and I don’t think he’d ask, even if AJ told him.” He pointed to the half of the crowd that was gathered around Macintosh’s side of the stand.
Twilight looked in the direction he pointed, before looking back at him. “O-okay...” She cantered softly to the back of the line before quietly slipping into it. Despite the length and density of the line, it seemed to be moving relatively fast.
Before Fluttershy could prevent it, the pony behind the winged unicorn bumped into her. Twilight gasped in panic, whipping her head around to catch a flickering glimpse of her large violet wings just before they faded away. She looked directly behind her. There was a mint green unicorn yelling at the pony behind her for shoving her forward.
She continued to stare for a moment, her irises trembling, before sweeping her gaze over everypony nearby. None of them were staring at her. Perhaps none of them had seen. She breathed a sigh of relief. Perhaps the crowd’s density was actually working in her favor; no one paid any attention to her due to their present lack of space.
The shimmering pool of magic rippled in her mind, ever draining...
A stallion bumped into her side, again causing her to start as her spell flickered underneath her saddlebags, but still nopony seemed to notice. Twilight looked directly above her at Fluttershy, who was biting her lip in panic.
The yellow pegasus appeared to be trying to prevent anypony from physically touching her friend, using her front hooves to block anyone who strayed too close to her, but she wasn’t able to keep all of them at bay. There were just too many. “Twilight, I-I’m sorry! I can’t...!” she attempted to shout over the drone of conversation, her voice almost unintelligible.
Twilight’s fuzzy ears perked up from their folded position as she picked up on her friend’s voice. Despite how quiet she was, it really wasn’t difficult for the purple mare to single out her voice from the buzzing cacophony of the public. “Uhm... It’s okay, I don’t think they’re looking!” she replied, fully convinced that everypony nearby was far too distracted to care about her. At Fluttershy’s confused expression, she wasn’t entirely sure if the pegasus had heard her.
The purple pony was bumped several more times in the next few minutes, but she simply shrugged it off, quite certain that nopony would notice the flicker of her plumage amidst the tightly-packed crowd. Although she once allowed her gaze to drift around her out of curiosity, and she spotted one pony, a teal stallion, staring directly at her. Upon noticing that she was staring back, he flinched and looked away. Twilight swallowed, her established sense of security shattering like a dropped ice sculpture. She had convinced herself that nopony was looking, but... maybe they were, intentionally looking away when she turned to face them. Were they staring at her because of the rumors? Why did that stallion look away? Was he afraid of her? She began to shake, her wings quivering, before rapidly shaking her head to regain her focus.
Surprisingly, the crowd actually began to thin out as she approached the market stand, the ponies nearby lowering their voices to normal levels. Apparently the citizen ponies had forged an unspoken agreement near the stand: they were to quiet down and form coherent lines. Twilight was thankful; the environment behind her was so chaotic that no pony had really noticed her wings, but here things were quieter and more orderly. There was a minimal chance of somepony bumping into her, but a pony with a horn and wings would very much stand out, and it wouldn’t help that ponies further back were giving envious stares to those closer to the front.
The Apple siblings worked fast; each customer pony remained at the stand for no longer than a half-minute before diving back into the wall of ponies, products in tow. Twilight gulped, hoping to the higher powers that Applejack wouldn’t abruptly turn around and spot her. She also hoped that the customer two ponies behind her wouldn’t knock the line forward again. But... at least Fluttershy should be able to stop anypony were they to come too close to her. And stop them she did; the hovering filly was often swatting away the hooves of those who seemed intent on tapping the purple pony’s shoulder to ask about her bandages.
The constant drain on her magical reserve was steadily becoming noticeable. And yet...
Three... Two... One. The last pony in front of her left, and she stepped up to the counter. Big Macintosh, his unusually well-groomed red coat shining in the sunlight, blinked at her several times before his eyes opened in recognition.
Twilight smiled. “Uh... Hi Big Macintosh. I-I’d like to buy s-...” she began, before her jaw dropped as she witnessed the crimson stallion turn around to whisper something into Applejack’s ear. “N-no, wait!”
The farm filly’s ears perked up as she curiously looked over her shoulder, a smile spreading across her muzzle as she and Big Mac switched positions at the stand. “Howdy, Twilight!” she greeted, her smile faltering as she snuck a glance at the purple pony’s bandaged torso. “Yow... Ya’ll looked real banged up. What happened?”
The injured mare took a deep breath, swallowing as she began to tremble. Unable to find her voice, the only sound her vocal cords were able to generate was a soft, quiet whimper. Her ears folding, she shook her head at the ground for a moment, trying to convince herself to stop shaking. Come on, Twilight; it’s Applejack. She might already know, and if she does, she doesn’t care. Get a hold of yourself.
“Uh... Twi?” Applejack asked solemnly, gazing with concern at her panicking friend. “Are you okay?” She reached out with an orange hoof, before it was smacked away by a yellow one. Drawing her forelimb to her chest, she gazed up at the owner of the hoof that had slapped hers, her green eyes widening. “Fluttershy?”
The pegasus looked down at her friend, her face twisting with regret. “I-I’m sorry... Just... Don’t touch Twilight, okay? Just...” she muttered, trailing off as she searched for a reason for her actions. “Umm... you don’t want to make the injury any worse, do you?”
“Okay then... Twilight?” The farmer’s nose shined at Twilight as she turned her head. Green eyes flicked between the purple pony’s chest and her sides. “Ah understand if ya’ll don’t wanna talk about it...” She turned sideways and gestured to the many food items behind her. “Did ya’ll wanna buy somethin’? I’ll give ya’ a discount.”
Spike snickered. “I told you,” he chipped, amused. He received an eerily blank stare.
Twilight swallowed, and mustered her voice. “Yes, I... I’d like a bushel of apples.” Please, please don’t let her bring up the rumors. She shook her head and stood up straight, flashing a fake warm smile to her friend and trying her best to make it convincing. “And maybe a pie, too,” she added, raising her voice to conversational levels. Her orange friend turned around, nudging some apples into a bag with her snout before lifting the bag onto the counter.
“So, uh... How’s life, sugarcube?” AJ asked, smiling as she retrieved an apple pie from a shelf and placed it next to the sack of fresh fruit.
Twilight worked the inside of her mouth, her ears twitching. She wanted to reply with ‘stressful’, but thought it would be best to completely avoid hinting at her predicament. “It’s been... fine.”
“Uh huh,” Applejack began. “Are ya’ sure you should be up n’ about right now? Especially ‘round here with all these rambunctious hungry ponies? I mean, if ya’ll don’t want anypony to aggravate your injury, you shouldn’t be out here.”
The violet pony swallowed again, her mouth scrunching up at the irony. It wasn’t a heavy injury, it was just big. And the reason she didn’t want anypony to touch her was far more serious than that. “I’ll be fine.”
The orange pony leaned sideways and gazed at her friend’s sides, as if expecting something to be there. After a moment of study, her eyes widened, and she snapped upright.
Twilight’s eyes widened in turn, and she look at the side of her torso in suit. “What are you looking at?” There was nothing to see. Her spell was holding; the only indication of her wings was the slight displacement of her saddleba-... Oh... Don’t be ridiculous, Twilight. Nopony pays attention to that sort of thing, not even Applejack.
“Twi... Can I talk to ya’ll later? Like, in a few hours? I still have somethin’ I wanna talk to you about.” Twilight flinched.
Fluttershy loudly cleared her throat, hiding behind her pink mane as she hovered. “I-I’m sorry Applejack, but Twilight is really busy right now...” Her soft voice was nearly masked by the buzz of nearby conversation.
AJ looked up at her. “Uh, Fluttershy... This might be kind of private, between Twi n’ Ah... An’ it’s real important.” She gave the pegasus a sidelong glance, before looking at Twilight.
“I-I’m sorry, but I am really busy today with the library,” the bookworm added, lighting up her horn and storing the foods into her saddlebags. She placed several coins on the counter in front of Applejack, who simply stared down at it.
“This is too much, sugarcube. Ah don’t charge this much for a bushel of-hey! Where are ya’ll goin’?” she began, lifting her gaze to see her friend quickly walking away. She scooped up the coins in one hoof, using the other to lift herself above the counter, and held the money up. “Twilight! Ya’ overpaid!”
“Just keep it as a tip!” Twilight shouted back over her shoulder, quickening her pace into a gallop.
“A tip? This is way too much to be a tip! Twilight! Twilight!!” The farmer’s voice faded to the fleeing pony’s ears as they grew more distant, giving way to the ear-splitting drone of the crowd. The ponies in the crowd quickly parted to make a path for her, not wishing to suffer an impact, and soon enough she had escaped the bustling congregation. Slowing to a halt, she caught her breath as Spike let go of her neck.
“Geez Twilight, I know you don’t want to talk to her about it, but you didn’t need to just bolt like that.” Spike laid a claw on the mare’s mane.
“I didn’t want to hold up the line,” she lied, resuming her trot. Applejack could keep the extra bits. Twilight didn’t really care, as long as she could get away from her as fast as possible. She didn’t want to take any chances of the farmer raising the subject of her wings, and as she was gawking at the false-unicorn’s saddlebags, she probably knew that something was up.
...The constant hum, the raw power surging through her mind... It should be letting up by now...
Twilight shivered. “Spike... What’s next?”
A sigh came from behind her. “Uhm... We still need to get bread,” Spike specified, looking around. “They sell bread here, right?”
“I think they do.” Fluttershy flew up into the air for a moment before dropping back down. “I-I would go look for a stand that sells them, but I don’t want to leave you alone... Somepony might bump into you.”
The purple pony looked up at her hovering friend, before sighing. “I guess we’ll just have to go look for one,” she concluded, beginning to look around her as she navigated the paved roads of the marketplace. To be honest, she hadn’t a clue where she was. The marketplace was big and confusing, and the locations of the vendors changed every day. She rubbed her eyes with a hoof, remembering how oddly sharp her vision was the other day. At this point, she wasn’t sure if she hadn’t just imagined that. She decided to put her theory to the test. She squinted at a group of stands approximately two hundred yards away, looking at each of their logos in turn. All of them were crystal-clear.
She worked the inside of her mouth, deep in thought. Her eyesight had never been this sharp, not since she was a foal. And even then, she doubted it was this pristine. There was a stand that sold vegetables off in the distance, she could see the logo of a head of cabbage, a stick of celery, and a carrot. Her gaze drifted behind her, locking on to the area of her back where her wings should be. Did it have something to do with her being an alicorn?
She decided to leave that thought to bubble in her mental cauldron of validity. It wasn’t too important right now. “Spike, do we need vegetables?” The young dragon consulted the list.
“Uhm... It’s not on here, but I think we do.” He rubbed his head with a claw.
That was more than enough for her. She began walking to the stand, careful to not bump into any of the customer ponies. Those who strayed too close were moved away by Fluttershy, even those who were simply concerned about her injury. Soon enough, the group approached the stand, and unfortunately there was a very long line of ponies. The pink pegasus who managed the stall was working at top-speed to tend to the customers, but unfortunately still seemed to be completely overworked.
“Wow, Twilight, how did you know this shop was over here?” the voice behind her head asked.
“Uh... I just had a hunch,” she lied, preferring to stay away from the topic of her... species. She nonchalantly slipped in at the back of the line, waiting patiently. Vegetables were just as important as other foods. They lowered cholesterol and stuff.
The line seemed to be at a complete standstill, some of the customer ponies growling angrily. Twilight shuffled on her hooves, biting her lip. She didn’t have time for this... She was fairly certain more than twenty minutes had passed, but the sorcery seemed to have only been sipping at her magical energy instead of greedily drinking it like it had before. It almost seemed like it would last for a couple hours... That is, if it wasn’t shattered by a heavy impact.
The pony at the front of the line eventually left, a grey unicorn with a jet-black mane and monocle that walked with his chin held high, as if looking down at everypony around him. A collective sigh of relief filled the air, many ‘Ugh’s and ‘Finally’s’ reaching Twilight’s ears as the line began moving. Apparently that snobbish-looking unicorn had given the vendor a hard time. Twilight grinned with amusement as she looked to a corner of her vision and fantasized of that ‘sophisticated’ pony being launched out a catapult and slamming into the side of a building. She heavily disliked ponies with superiority complexes, from experience living in Canterlot, and always found it entertaining to imagine them in ridiculous scenarios.
She moved forward with the line, soon arriving at the front, face-to-face with a very nervous pink pegasus that grinned at her from ear to ear at her.
“What can I get for you, ma’am?” The vendor was surprisingly polite, eager to serve. She stepped aside and motioned to the heavenly plethora of assorted vegetables behind her.
Twilight’s mouth moved to one side. She didn’t like most vegetables unless they were cooked, and Spike did most of the cooking in their house. She looked at him. “Uh, you tell her, Spike. You’re the one who cooks.”
The small dragon cleared his throat. “Can I get a head of cabbage, six carrots and six potatoes, if you have them?” He thoughtfully tapped his chin with an index claw.
“Potatoes?” The vendor was silent for a moment, before she grinned widely. “Of course!” She turned around and began to lift each vegetable one by one into a small sack with her teeth. “You know, sometimes I wish I was a unicorn like you. I wouldn’t have to use my mouth for everything.” She smiled at Twilight as she dropped the last carrot into the bag.
“Well, you could just use your wi-” Fluttershy clapped both hooves over her mouth. “N-nevermind...”
Twilight stared up at the hovering pegasus. Oh right, she liked to hold and manipulate objects with her wings. But it wasn’t something pegasi usually did.
The vendor raised an eyebrow at the retreating mare, before looking at Twilight again. “That’ll be four bits.”
Twilight gave her the money and tied the large sack to the saddlebag opposite the sack which held the fruit. She smiled, and took her leave. Alright, one more down... Now she just needed to get bread. She hummed, a hoof to her chin as her head swiveled back and forth.
Another pony suddenly walked into her, a brown earth stallion. He appeared to not be looking where he was going, and stumbled backwards upon colliding with the purple mare.
Alarms went off in Twilight’s head as the pony’s eyes flicked from her horn to her torso. Her panicked gaze whipped to her side, and she flinched. Her wing was entirely visible for a split second, but quickly flickered out of existence as the earth stallion rubbed his eyes.
He blinked, confused, before chuckling to himself. “Oh... My apologies, I was seeing things. I really do need to stop staying up all night calibrating the...” He began to mutter to himself as he walked past the trembling filly, his voice slipping away in the buzz of the crowd’s conversation.
Twilight watched him as he walked into another pony, before she heaved a sigh of relief, swallowing. She went ahead and shifted her threat level up to orange. That was way too close. It was an incredible coincidence that this stallion just happened to be sleep-deprived (and perhaps a tad incompetent), and it had saved her royal flank.
She blinked. Wait, what...?
Blinking again, she shook her head so vigorously that it caused a momentary migraine to bloom in her skull. It was nothing more than a stray thought. She forced herself to think of something else. Bread. Yes, bread. She needed bread. She raised her head, looking around at the various shops. Soon she spotted a nearby stand that wore a logo of a loaf of bread with a single slice cut out of it, surrounded by other grainy foods.
The strain of maintaining a spell for this long should be showing... The spell is still active, isn’t it? ...Yes, yes it is... The constant buzzing, the hum of power continued...
Upon approaching the stall, she realized that its proprietor, an adult yellow earth pony, had not finished setting it up. “Uhh... Can I buy a few loaves of bread?”
The earth pony looked at her, a bag held in his teeth. “Shre! Hhld on a mhhnte...” He smiled at her, before setting the bag down and reaching into it with both front hooves, delicately extracting a few pans of steaming, fresh-baked bread.
Twilight stared down at the food, its aroma causing her to remember how hungry she was. The few calories from those evil ‘lean’ daisy sandwiches were probably already gone. Fluttershy landed next to her, panting from hovering for nearly thirty minutes.
The purple pony’s stomach growled, and she doubled over. “Ohh...” she moaned painfully, pressing a hoof against it.
Her pegasus friend’s ears folded backwards. “Oh... I... I’m sorry, did I not give you enough to eat...?”
Twilight looked back at her. “No no, it was plenty enough, I-” she was interrupted by another growl, her gut begging to differ. She looked down at her fuzzy underbelly. Stop it.
The vendor broke into a bellowing, hearty laugh. “Well, looks like you really do want this bread. It’s fresh out of the oven. I had to put it in a heat-resistant sack!” He pushed the loaves towards the purple pony. “I’ll cut you a deal... Two bits for three.”
She wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead, reluctant to purchase the bread. She felt as if it would be rude to buy it in front of Fluttershy, since she very did much want to eat it, and the shy filly was currently regretting not giving her quite enough lunch. Twilight was still hungry, but it would’ve been disrespectful to ask for more food.
She looked at the yellow pegasus. “Uhm... I think I just might have a bigger appetite than you, Fluttershy... I didn’t want to eat too much of your food.” She levitated two golden coins out of her saddlebags, exchanging it for the bread. Her magic pulled the loaves out of the hot pans and stuck them into her saddlebags, their heavenly warmth easily seeping through the fabric.
“Thank you!” The vendor pony gratefully took the bits in his mouth and dropped them into a box behind the counter.
Twilight nodded and turned, walking away. Purple eyes nervously darted about, scanning for any ponies that could bump into her as she headed back to the entrance of the marketplace. She had everything on her shopping list, so there was no reason to stick around. She entirely bypassed the massive congregation of ponies near Applejack’s stand, although she thought she could hear the farmer calling to her. She dodged and weaved in between other ponies, avoiding physical contact.
“S... Slow down!...” Fluttershy yelled from behind her, making Twilight realize that she was galloping. She slowed to a stop, turning her head to behold the yellow filly weakly trotting to her, panting from exhaustion. “I... I can’t keep up...!”
“I-I’m sorry, I’ll just walk from here on out.” Twilight began an intentionally slow trot. Fluttershy was still tired from her half-hour of continuous hovering, and the purple pony had not given her time to rest.
As she trot, she gazed at the nearby ponies, observing them as they talked to one another and exchanged goods. There was a tall white earth pony carrying a large sack of Fillydelphian rolls, two young pegasi flying around the area as if racing, an adult blue pegasus mare with a multicolored mane trying on a few racing vests to see if they fit...
Twilight flinched upon realizing who she was looking at, a few extra-colorful words dancing across the tip of her tongue. If Dash were to spot her, she would probably demand answers... The purple pony’s illusion spell appeared to be merely sipping her magic, but given how much her magic had been wildly fluctuating as of late, there was no telling if it would suddenly accelerate. And a blue hoof on her side would blow her cover nonetheless.
“Oh, hey... It’s Dash,” Fluttershy commented as she blinked a few times, oblivious to the trembling pony next to her.
Twilight turned and bolted, Spike yelping aloud as she hastily dove into a crook in-between two nearby buildings. Her yellow friend cast her a confused gaze, but her teal eyes soon widened in understanding as the self-conscious mare wildly shook her head, mouthing ‘Not Dash!’
“Hey! Fluttershy!” a tomboyish voice called out from the distance, swiftly growing louder. The violet filly retreated further into her hiding place, letting the shadows mask her from the world as a cyan pegasus wearing a solid black racing vest touched down in front of Fluttershy.
The timid pony simply stared at her blue friend, her eyes flicking in Twilight’s direction for a brief moment. “O-oh... Hi Dash...” she greeted, smiling.
Rainbow smiled back at her. “Hey, how’s it going?”
“Uhm... Everything is going well...” The pair stood in silence for a brief moment.
The speedster’s mouth moved to one side of her face. “Hey, I wanted to ask you something,” she began, causing the nearby alicorn to flinch.
Don’t ask about me, don’t ask about me, don’t ask about me...
Dash turned sideways, flaring her wings up. “Do I look good in this thing? Do I look cool? I would’ve asked Rarity, but I dunno if she knows what ‘cool’ really is.” Her blue muzzle parted into a sheepish grin. A relieved sigh was heard from nearby, but the cyan mare only gave a brief superficial glance in its direction.
Fluttershy continued to stare for a moment. “Uh, sure, it’s... um... cool.” She grinned until her face squeaked.
Her athletic friend raised an eyebrow. “Do you really mean that, or are you just saying it? I don’t wanna waste my bits, you know. Weather patrol only pays so much. I mean, once I get into the Wonderbolts, I’ll have plenty of money to waste, but right now I don’t. Does this thing... uh...” She looked off to the side for a moment, cringing slightly. “...Clash... with my mane?” she hissed through grit teeth. “Eugh... I can’t believe I just said that...”
“No no, it’s fine...” the yellow pegasus replied as she shook her head, curtailing her grin into a small smile.
“Are you sure? I’m thinking of not getting this thing. I mean yeah, it’s warm and comfortable,” Dash began, flapping her wings through the large holes that allowed for a full range of movement. “but I’ve always been fine in really cold places. Does it make me look cooler?”
“Uh... yeah... cooler...” Fluttershy mumbled, casting a concerned gaze at her concealed purple friend.
The drain of magic fluctuated, jolting momentarily. A familiar sensation of internal lethargy lancing through her mind. Magic Fatigue. The feeling left as suddenly as it came. Her internal magic reserves had diminished noticeably, yet by now they should be almost completely depleted.
Twilight had her rump pressed up against an unidentifiable metal object in the darkness, beginning to tremble. Spike shifted his weight on her back, his eyes again seeming to glint in the dim light. “Twilight, you should just tell her,” he suggested quietly, earning a panicked purple gaze.
“No!” she whispered harshly, looking back at her two pegasus friends, her ears twitching as she picked up on their conversation.
“...I mean, my house gets covered with blue feathers, and I hate cleaning them up! They get everywhere!” Rainbow Dash threw her hooves into the air.
“Molting season isn’t that bad, Dash... You just need to keep at it...”
“It is that bad!”
Fluttershy bit her lip, again looking in the direction of her purple friend, unable to distinguish between her purple coat and the surrounding darkness. “Uhm...” Unfortunately, her silence drew the attention of her friend.
“Fluttershy, is there something going on? You seem distracted,” the blue blur commented, pursing one side of her lips.
The timid pegasus snapped her head in her inquirer’s direction, giving it a brief shake. “No?” Her friend simply stared at her in thought.
“...Why are you out here, anyway?” Rainbow asked, her gaze drifting about the environment.
Fluttershy flinched, again briefly scanning the nook that Twilight hid in. “Uh... I... I was just doing some shopping,” she explained, her gaze met by two rosy eyes that glowed with suspicion.
Twilight quickly looked at her saddlebags, realizing that she alone was carrying all of the items she had bought. Her gaze shot back to Fluttershy, and she prayed that Dash would buy the yellow filly’s claim.
“Okay...” Rainbow conceded, again casually scanning the scenery. “So uh...” She looked down at her chest, examining the resilient black fabric, before smiling. “You know what? I’m gonna buy it,” she chimed, directing her smile to the pony on front of her. “Thanks Fluttershy!”
“Uhh... You’re welcome,” the shy pegasus muttered, smiling back.
Dash hopped into the air, looking at the shy filly curiously. “Uh, before I forget... Have you seen Twilight around anywhere? I kinda wanted to talk to her about something.”
The pony in question flinched, letting out a small gasp. She cast a pleading, begging gaze to her yellow friend, but she wasn’t entirely sure if the pegasus could even see her. ‘Please, don’t tell her I’m here!’
Fluttershy remained silent for a moment, as if deep in thought. “Uhm... No, sorry, I haven’t,” she lied, keeping a straight face.
“Oh... Uh, okay, nevermind then.” Dash’s smile returned. “Do you wanna shop with me? I have some stuff to get, and it’s always more fun with a friend,” she asked.
The yellow pegasus blinked up at her. “No thanks, I’m kind of on a tight schedule,” she politely denied, again lying to her friend’s blue face.
“Heh, alright,” Rainbow accepted, saluting. She flicked her hoof out. “See ya’ round!” She turned around and flew off, quickly stopping to pay for her vest before soaring off into the distance.
Twilight cautiously exited her hiding place, her gaze flicking left and right. She trotted to her yellow friend, the last of her tremors leaving her body. “Th-thanks, Fluttershy,” she stuttered, a small smile gracing her lips.
Fluttershy looked off into the distance at the shrinking multicolored dot. “Uh... Don’t worry, I-I won’t tell anypony about you without your permission,” she reassured with a soft smile. “But... Why didn’t you want to talk to Dash?”
Twilight averted her gaze to the cobblestone path. “She... I kinda had a run-in with her before. I think I made her suspicious.” The purple pony locked her eyes onto Fluttershy’s ice-blue orbs. “I don’t think it’s such a good idea for Dash to know just yet. You know how she is...”
“A good friend like Rainbow? I’m sure she’ll keep your secret if you ask her to,” Fluttershy quietly rationalized, ducking her head down.
Twilight sighed, feeling her assistant’s weight shifting on her back. She glanced away. “Fluttershy... You know how you reacted this morning when you first... well...” she trailed off.
The pegasus in question flushed, hiding her face behind her mane. “Oh... I- um... I see your point,” she murmured. “Now that I think about it...” She laid a hoof on her chin. “Couldn’t you just... um... wear a dress or something to hide your...” Cautious teal eyes scanned the nearby area for any ponies within earshot. “...your wings?” she finished in a whisper.
Violet eyes stared back at her. “Uh...” Twilight’s ears folded behind her head. “I-I do have something to wear, but I think Spike washed it -- it’s too small now,” she stated, causing the dragon on her back to shift.
“What? I didn’t wash it!” he denied, leaning slightly to the side to glare at his older sister. Her eyes widened, and she whipped her head around to look back at him.
“Y-you didn’t? But it fit just fine yester-...” Her irises shrunk, and she gaped at the ground in front of her, only vaguely aware that her jaw was hanging open. Her eyebrows pointed upward. If the cloak Rarity had crafted for her hadn’t shrunk due to washing, then the only reason it wouldn’t fit would be...
“Twilight... Did you get taller?”
She rapidly shook her head to banish that thought. She very much doubted she had at all grown in size; neither her friends nor the environment looked or felt shorter to her. Not even by a centimeter. She was just a normal mare anyway, and normal mares didn’t get much bigger than she already was.
After a moment of biting her lip, she perked up. A dress... “O-oh yeah, Rarity was going to make me something new today. Do you mind if we stop by her house and pick it up?” she asked, directing a hopeful gaze to her yellow friend.
Fluttershy smiled. “Not at all,” she replied, gently shaking her head.
Purple hooves clopped against the cobble street, the saddlebags against their owner’s sides bouncing with each step. Gentle yellow hooves followed hers, each step intentional, as if to avoid making noise.
A small buzz of worry reverberated through Twilight’s body as she walked, beginning to question the rate at which her magic was being drained. It was slow, which was nice, but it was beginning to seem far too convenient. She found it difficult to be suspicious of herself, but she knew that she did not have quite this much magic in her reserves. The perception spell would normally have sucked her dry after twenty minutes, but it had been nearly an hour and, barring that one sudden fluctuation, it had barely even made a dent.
Several ponies passed them, some nodding politely at the purple mare, while one or two appeared to be sneaking looks at her while avoiding her gaze. She swallowed as she turned a corner into the clearing which nestled her friend’s store, instinctively looking in the direction of the billboard she had pulled off of a building. Jagged cracks outlined an enormous dent in the pavement, but the sign itself was nowhere to be found. Unlike the previous morning, the area was vacant aside from the occasional pony trotting through.
Two sets of adult hoofsteps trotted onto the patio of the Carousel Boutique, a purple hoof knocking politely on the door. The owner of the hoof breathed deeply to prepare her mind for a proper, polite, confident greeting, but not a peep was heard from inside the building. Moments passed, before she knocked again. Still no answer.
Twilight cleared her throat, looking in a window to see a surprisingly vacant household. “Rarity? Are you in there?” she called aloud. Again, no response. Her eyes drifted up to a window on the second floor, and she felt a brushing of purple feathers at her sides. The window was open just a crack. If she flew up there, she could open it and enter the building... She flinched as she realized that her extended wings were raising her grocery bags, and quickly pulled them back in, her head rapidly flicking all around her. There was a single pony nearby, a pale purple pegasus with an electric-blue mane, but she appeared to not be paying her any attention.
“Uhm... Is Rarity home...?” a soft voice asked,. “Can you tell? I... I heard that unicorns can sense the presence of other unicorns...”
Twilight glanced at the timid mare quizzically, an amused grin teasing at the corners of her mouth. “What? No we can’t. That’s ridiculous. Where did you hear that?”
“It...” The pegasus hid behind her pink mane. “It was on the research column of a magazine...” she muttered, pawing at the ground.
The lavender pony simply stared. “Fluttershy, you really shouldn’t believe everything you re-”
She was interrupted by the shrill cry of three particular small fillies. “Twiliiight!”
Twilight flinched, her ears folding as her gaze slowly drifted to the approaching trio. She swore under her breath, remembering how she had escaped them by the skin of her teeth earlier that day.
“Twilight, we’ve been looking all over for y-...” Scootaloo began, before stopping short, her eyes scanning up and down the mare’s figure. “Uh...”
“Twi, what was goin’ on this mornin’?” Apple Bloom asked, raising an incriminating eyebrow.
The lavender mare stood trembling for a moment, swallowing as she tried to regain her composure. “U-uhm...” She had hoped that she could simply forget her run-in with the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but it appears that fate had other plans for her. She couldn’t run away this time. “Uh... N-nothing... I just needed to meet with Fluttershy for something, a-and I was running late...” she muttered, a shaky grin emerging on her face as she flicked her head to indicate her yellow friend.
Large orange eyes blinked up at her. “What for?”
Sweetie Belle cleared her throat. “Uhh...” Her white hoof pawed at the ground for a moment, as if she was unsure of what to say. “Maybe it was for her bandages... She kinda looks hurt,” she suggested, lifting her emerald gaze.
Scootaloo’s ears folded backward. “D-did you get attacked by something in the f-forest?” she asked anxiously, shrinking back and trembling. “I-I knew there were dangerous things in there!”
Twilight curtailed her grin into a small smile, and intentionally raised her purple ears with a reassuring shake of the head. “Uhm... No, I’m fine.” Her purple eyes flicked in Fluttershy’s direction for a moment. “I-I went to Fluttershy’s because I... uhm... I needed a wound dressed,” she claimed, casting a brief glance at the bandages wrapped around her midsection. Upon returning her gaze to the fillies, she noticed that Sweetie Belle was staring at her intently.
“Uhm... Twilight? Where are your wings?” the small white unicorn asked, blinking up at the purple pony.
Fluttershy’s eyes widened in shock, and she quickly whipped her head to the mare in question, who hid her fears behind a smile. The violet pony let out an amused chuckle. “Sweetie, I’m a unicorn. I don’t have wings,” she lied, her voice quivering ever-so-slightly.
Sweetie’s ears folded behind her head. “Y-yes you do! I know you do! You... I saw you with them yesterday morning!” she exclaimed, drawing the attention of the others. “We had pancakes!”
“Sweetie, take a look. Twi doesn’t have wings,” Apple Bloom stated matter-of-factly, shooting the young unicorn an unamused look.
Fluttershy swallowed, taking a breath. “Y... yes. I was working on Twilight’s back because she hurt herself there, a-and I’m sure I would’ve seen her wings if she had any...” she muttered, smiling at Sweetie Belle. The yellow pegasus’s ice-blue irises flicked to Twilight for a moment.
“Mhm, see?” Spike asked, patting the purple mare’s wings with a claw. Due to him having been in unbroken contact with her since she ignited her illusion spell, it did not flicker, and he appeared to be merely patting her side. “No wings.”
“W-wha-... I... But...!” the white filly squeaked, fumbling over her own words as she glanced over each of her friends, before looking at the ground in defeat.
Twilight’s smile faded, and she took a deep breath. “Sweetie... Can I talk to you in private?” she requested, drawing the filly’s attention.
Sweetie Belle shrunk back closer to her friends. “Uhm... B-but I...” She trailed off into silence, scuffing the ground with a hoof.
Glancing momentarily at her lavender friend, Fluttershy took a step closer to the three fillies. “Sweetie Belle,” she began softly. “Go and talk with Miss Sparkle. It sounds like there may have been a teeny bit of a misunderstanding, and I think it would be a good idea for the two of you to talk it over.”
“Go an’ talk with her,” Apple Bloom piped up at her unicorn-friend’s hesitation. “Get this whole ‘wings’ mess sorted out.”
The unicorn in question stared pointedly at the ground, refusing to move.
Fluttershy cocked her head, smiling as sweetly as she could. “Pleeeease?”
As hard as she seemed to try to ignore it, the sound of the pegasus’ voice was too alluring. Sweetie belle slowly lifted her head to look into Fluttershy’s ice-blue eyes. She sighed dejectedly. “Fine.”
Twilight smiled. Hopefully talking with the filly should stop the constant prying into secrets she would rather be kept secret. She shot Fluttershy a quick grateful glance, mouthing the words ‘thank you’. The yellow pegasus blushed in response.
Before she even turned back to the fillies, Sweetie Belle brushed past her toward the empty boutique. Twilight stiffened in shock from the slight touch on her side, before realizing that the spell had not been interrupted. The filly did not jolt her sufficiently to cause her wings to flicker. Twilight breathed in to calm herself. That had been close.
As she turned to follow the filly into the boutique, she cast an eye over the two young girls standing beside Fluttershy. While Apple Bloom was merely watching as her unicorn friend trotted off, the orange pegasus caught Twilight’s attention. Scootaloo had been standing stock still for the past minute or so, looking directly at her with a neutral, unreadable expression on her face.
Twilight grinned weakly, before following after Sweetie Belle into the fashion store, the young draconian clutching onto her back.
Even in the absence of additional light, Carousel Boutique managed to maintain a light and airy atmosphere with an abundance of bright, organised color, subdued just to the point of avoiding obtrusive exuberance. Tall, richly-colored drapes hung all around the room from any wall that would otherwise be plain. Tidy workbenches and blank canvases stood to the sides of the open space, striking a visual balance between practical objects and decoration. Above all, the room exuded elegance and class without demanding attention.
Twilight stopped in the middle of the room, looking around. A house always seemed so empty to her when the owner wasn’t there.
She flicked her eyes to Sweetie Belle, who had already stomped across the room, dragged a large red cushion closer to the purple ‘unicorn’, and plonked herself down on it. The filly looked pointedly at her forehooves as she lay there, a sour look on her face.
Twilight sighed, and turned to the dragon still perched on her back. “Spike, could you wait outside with Fluttershy, please?”
A look passed between them for a moment. Spike blinked, then nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
As he jumped down from her back, Twilight immediately felt the cold magical feedback as the pseudo-invisibility spell was broken. The buzzing in her mind stopped. Spike shot her a worried glance and a smile, before he turned and headed for the front door, closing it behind him.
Twilight shrugged off her saddlebags, setting them down carefully so as not to damage the food. She then looked back at Sweetie Belle, who was still staring indignantly at her hooves, refusing to meet the older pony’s eye.
Taking a breath to steady herself, Twilight took a few steps toward the filly, extending her wings to stretch out the muscles. “Sweetie, look at me, please,” she said, a stern tone creeping into her voice.
Hesitantly, the young unicorn looked up. Her eyes widened, and she froze, mouth agape.
“Thank you. Now...”
Sweetie Belle leapt to her hooves. “I knew it!”
Twilight leapt forward, pressing a forehoof to the mouth of the startled filly. “Shhh! Sweetie, please keep quiet!” she hissed through her teeth. The young unicorn looked up at her with a look of shock in her eyes, but said nothing. Sighing, Twilight lowered her hoof and sat herself down on the carpet in front of Sweetie Belle.
“Sweetie... why did you tell them?” she asked, feeling a trace of pent-up anger begin to seep into her voice. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to keep herself calm.
Sweetie Belle’s large eyes flicked down. She opened her mouth, but quickly closed it without saying anything.
Noticing that it must have seemed like she was glaring at the filly, Twilight looked away, instead focusing on the regal curtains adorning the room.
“...I’m sorry...” a small voice opposite her squeaked. “I-I’m so sorry, T-Twilight...” Sweetie Belle’s eyes were back on her forehooves, her voice quavering.
Twilight blinked. Even though she was annoyed with the young filly, upsetting her hadn’t been the intention. She sighed, lying down in front of the unicorn in an attempt to appear less intimidating. Sweetie Belle glanced up hesitantly, eyes shining.
“Sweetie...” Twilight began, softening her expression. “...I’m not going to get mad. Please, just tell me.”
Sweetie Belle looked back down at her hooves again. Her voice was quiet and controlled. “...I... I didn’t know it was a secret...”
Twilight frowned. “I thought Rarity told you not to tell anypony.”
“She said to keep it quiet. I only told the girls.”
Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Just Apple Bloom and Scootaloo? No pony else?”
Sweetie looked up, nodding furiously. “Just them, I promise. I didn’t know it was such a big secret.”
Twilight groaned, kneading her forehead. “Okay, fi-... thank you, Sweetie. Could you do me a favour and not tell anypony else from now on?”
“Yes, Miss Twilight.”
The purple pony forced a friendly smile. “Just ‘Twilight’ is fine.”
The young filly nodded, but didn’t reply.
Twilight focused on the curtains again. “...That’s another thing, why did you start calling me ‘Princess’ yesterday?”
Sweetie Belle looked up, somewhat surprised. “But... you’re an alicorn now, aren’t you?”
“...I think so...”
The filly frowned. “I thought all alicorns were royalty.”
Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but promptly closed it. It made sense. Of course it did. Every other known alicorn in existence was a member of the Equestrian royal family. She put on a grudging smile. “I suppose I’m different, then.”
“Oh... Then, how did you become an alicorn? Or... were you always one? Did you have wings all this time?”
The purple mare resisted the urge to groan loudly. She took a moment to form her response. “...No, I didn’t have wings all this time. I told you yesterday, I don’t know why I have wings. I just... woke up with them. I don’t know what they mean, but having them doesn’t make me any more important than any pony else.”
“...You’ve no idea how it happened?”
Twilight smiled weakly. “Not a clue.”
Sweetie Belle lapsed into a brooding silence, looking off to the side, before locking back on to Twilight’s eyes again, grinning. “Oh! What if Princess Celestia has something to do with it?”
The purple mare frowned. “Huh?”
The white filly jumped to her hooves. “Well, she’s your teacher, isn’t she? She’s a really strong alicorn. Maybe she did it!”
“I... don’t think it would be that simple...”
Sweetie Belle bounced in place. “You should go ask Celestia! Have you asked her yet?”
“I bet she knows something about it!” Sweetie Belle stopped jumping and frowned. “Where do alicorns come from?”
Twilight sighed in exasperation. “Sweetie, I’m not going to ask Celestia.”
“Because... because I want to know more about what’s happened before I tell her.” She forced a smile. “Celestia’s my teacher on magic, and this looks to me like a magical incident. I need to know more before I give my full report.”
“Ohh... that makes sense, I guess.” She sat back down on her cushion, looking expectantly at Twilight. “What are you going to do, then?”
“Well... I’m going to continue my studies on magic to see if I can find anything relevant that might be of use. Seeing if it’s reversable may be an option... Come to think of it there was that book I was looking fo-”
“Who are you going to tell about your wings?”
“Erm... I, uhh...” Twilight blinked. “I... I was planning on keeping it secret.” She swallowed and steeled herself. “It’s kind of a big thing, since there aren’t many alicorns in existence. Until I know more about what is happening to me, I need you to promise me not to tell anypony about it.”
“But I already-”
“Promise me,” Twilight said, trying not to sound too harsh.
“Even from the girls?” the young pony squeaked.
“Even from them.”
Sweetie Belle pouted. “How long do I have to keep it secret?”
The alicorn’s expression froze. How long will I have to keep this charade up for? I hadn’t thought that far ahead... “I... don’t know.” She shook her head slightly. “Just... just for now. Keep it secret for now.” She gazed pleadingly at the young unicorn in front of her.
Sweetie Belle shifted in place and looked down at her cushion. “Fine. I promise.”