Twilight Sparkle’s horn glowed, casting a minor cantrip as she looked out at several ponies, who didn’t see her from her crouched position behind her book-laden wagon. As expected upon casting her spell, the unicorns that she could see began to glow brightly in her mind’s eye, while the earth ponies and pegasi remained inert, their normal colorations.
“Ha!” she exclaimed quietly as she closed her eyes and teleported inside of her wagon. “See? See, Trixie? I was right.” She flipped open her book of cantrips – simple spells, usually the first that a unicorn learned after mastering their innate telekinesis, and jabbed a hoof repeatedly on the page she had opened to: the detect magic cantrip. She knew the spell by heart, of course, but she had opened to it and re-read every line several times over just to make absolutely certain that she hadn’t been getting it wrong all these years – and she hadn’t.
“Earth ponies and pegasi don’t glow!” she said. “They do not have magic! The spell is called detect magic and it doesn’t detect them so they’re not magic!” She paused after hearing her own words. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” she exclaimed. “There isn’t!” She dug out a mirror from a pile of books and jabbed a hoof at it. “You are not a tribalist, Twilight Sparkle, just for stating a fact! Nopony would call you a tribalist for saying that only pegasi have wings, or only earth ponies have…” She paused a little, tapping a hoof to her mouth. “Whatever it is that only earth ponies have – oh no!” Twilight leaned away from the mirror in horror. “I can’t think of anything that’s really uniquely earth pony! Maybe I am a tribalist!”
Twilight took a moment to think about that, then shook her head and jabbed a hoof at the mirror again. “No. No you’re not. It’s just Trixie messing with you. Trying to make you look bad. Because…because she’s the jealous one!” Twilight nodded at her realization. “Maybe not jealous. Maybe scared. Scared of the fact that you’re a much better sorceress than she is!”
Twilight began pacing around in the small confines of her wagon, the collected work of the past several years of wandering around Equestria, diving headfirst into magic, learning every spell she could. She had travelled to Manehattan, to Fillydelphia, to Trottingham, to Stalliongrad, practically laying siege to the great libraries of Equestria and devouring all the knowledge of magic that every major library had made available to the public – and even some which were supposed to be off-limits without special permission. Usually she had submitted a request to Canterlot and received that permission. Sometimes she hadn’t gotten it – and once or twice she hadn’t let that stop her.
It was amazing how poorly prepared to deal with teleportation most of Equestria was. She was trying to learn everything she could about magic, after all; she couldn’t let little things like locks and bars and curses and the Equestrian legal code get in the way.
Twilight stopped pacing, looking back to the mirror. “Wait,” she said, “wait. Trixie doesn’t know what kind of sorceress you’re like. She’s seen you, what? Teleport?” Twilight shook her mane. “Teleporting’s easy. And Trixie’s special talent is magic, too. So…” Twilight considered. “Ah! Of course! This is all a test!”
Twilight pranced in place a little when she realized. “Duh, it’s obvious. Of course Trixie wouldn’t bring out her full potential for a silly little carnival like this. Why waste the effort? She didn’t expect to have me in the audience! She expected little foals! And who knows how many ponies before me have tried to learn what she knows about magic? She doesn’t know me from any other two-bit unicorn magician that comes crawling to her looking for attention! She must only accept the best!”
Twilight paused at that. “I am the best,” she said in a low voice, dangerously devoid of emotion. She looked around the mess of books that was her wagon, frantically trying to find some form of inspiration. She would need something big to make up for acting like such a foal in front of Trixie. Something huge. Something gargantuan. Something…
…Twilight’s eyes settled on one book, Creatures of the Everfree Forest, one of her few non-magical tomes. Displayed brazenly on the cover was a megalithic beast, a purple, transparent bear studded with stars: an Ursa Major.
The Everfree Forest was just outside of town.
Twilight Sparkle grinned.
Trixie had just reached Twilight Sparkle’s wagon, parked near the Ponyville library, when there was a familiar pink flash from inside of it, along with a faint popping sound. Eyebrow arched slightly, she raised a hoof and knocked three times on the wagon’s entrance.
“Hello?” she asked. “Twilight Sparkle?”
There was no answer. Trixie tried knocking again. “Twilight, are you in there? It’s Trixie.” She paused a moment to wait for a responce, but got none. “I’m going to open the door, okay?”
Trixie did so, surprised to find it unlocked. Inside the wagon, there was probably a bed and dresser, but most of the space was taken up by books of every shape, size, color, and binding, some stacked in neat piles, some thrown haphazardly across the floor, some sitting on shelves that looked ready to burst. Horn glowing to provide light as the wagon’s door closed behind her, Trixie found that most of the books were about spells and magical theory, with longwinded, often alliterative titles – in fact, Trixie couldn’t find a single book that wasn’t about magic, not just by glancing around, anyway.
Trixie frowned a little as she found a journal, plopped open on Twilight’s bed, or something that was probably a bed underneath all the books it was buried under. She felt a slight sense of invasion as she leaned down to look at it, but quickly found there was no need: the page it was opened to contained a sketch of a magic circle, arcane runes, and notes about how they interacted with each other. Flipping through the pages, she found no personal entries: no comments about seeing a cute stallion or mare; about being overcharged for buying something in a town; not even so innocuous a comment as ‘it was sunny today’ or ‘I saw a bird; it was pretty.’ The “journal” said absolutely nothing about Twilight Sparkle’s life.
Or, on the other hand, she had found out everything about Twilight’s life. This unicorn didn’t just have a talent for magic, from the looks of things – she had an obsession. There was nothing else in her existence besides learning more and more magic, more spells. Twilight Sparkle wasn’t a unicorn, she was a machine: information went in, application came out, occasionally, but only after rigorous study and dissection and experimentation.
Twilight Sparkle didn’t have a life. She had an existence, and that was it. It was a wholly depressing thought, enough to make Trixie turn around and start to leave the unicorn’s wagon, dark humor turning around in her head. Dear Princess Luna, she mentally composed, today I found something horrifically depressing. I might kill myself now, so you should probably start looking for a new representative of your Court to Ponyville, and a new apprentice. I’d recommend a unicorn named Twilight Sparkle, but I think she’d drive you to suicide as well. Your faithful corpse, Trixie.
The blue unicorn stopped, however, when her horn’s glow at last fell on something that wasn’t about magic, pinned to the back of the wagon’s door: a pair of photographs, one of a white-coated mare with a white and purple mane, and the other of a blue-coated stallion with a darker blue mane, both unicorns. The family resemblance was obvious – these were probably Twilight’s parents, then.
“Huh,” Trixie observed in a quiet voice, as she inspected the photos. Sitting beneath it was a well-worn book, set into its own special shelf that even Twilight’s journal hadn’t received. What surprised Trixie was that she recognized the book: Don Rocinante of Equestria. It was one of the most beloved tales of all time, a farce and a comedy, also a little bit of a tragedy. It was, most importantly of all given the wagon she found it in, a work of complete fiction.
Trixie owned the same book. Not the same edition, from the looks of the cover; not even the same publisher – the book had been in the public domain for centuries – but the same fundamental story. Trixie used her telekinesis to lift the book from its stand and open it up, and honestly expected scrawled ink from Twilight’s quill inside of it, complaining about unrealism or making commentary about how magic doesn’t work this way or that way. Instead, she found a wholly unblemished tome, apart from the effects of age and what looked like a marinara sauce stain about halfway through.
Trixie blinked at the sight of it, before that feeling of invasion of privacy came back with a vengeance, and this time nothing came along to stop it. She set the copy of Don Rocinante back where she had found it, and quickly made her way from Twilight’s wagon, shivering a little.
Trixie didn’t know her father, and her mother had died not long after she was born, but that had never bothered her. She had been raised by her aunt Moonsinger, a unicorn and her mother’s sister, and uncle Sky Shaper, a pegasus, and to her they were her parents. And at some point, around the same time that Twilight’s parents had given her a copy of Don Rocinante, Trixie’s uncle and aunt had given her the same book.
It was…unnerving. Here was Trixie the extrovert; there, Twilight the introvert. Here was a blue unicorn who desperately wanted to stop driving ponies away from her; there was a violet one who, from the looks of things, just wanted to be left alone. Here was the personal student of Princess Luna; there was the only unicorn in the history of Equestria to leave Luna’s school of magic with a perfect grade point average, and a year early besides. Yet both had the same book given to them as foals; no doubt the same book had shaped their outlooks on life and turned them into the mares they were today.
Discord’s mismatched horns, Trixie thought, there’s a chance that my aunt and uncle met Twilight’s parents at the book store! It wasn’t hard to imagine that, if circumstances had been only a little different, Twilight could have been the Element of Magic, surrounded by friends, while Trixie wandered the land in her wagon, always alone.
The blue unicorn realized that her trotting away from Twilight’s wagon had turned into a full-on gallop, and stopped herself only with deliberate effort, turning around and finding herself more than a mile from the Ponyville library. I screwed up again, Trixie thought to herself. It was a familiar thought, one she’d had a lot in Canterlot but which had come surprisingly less often in Ponyville. It felt almost like an old friend, or at least something that considered itself an old friend no matter what Trixie herself thought of it.
I screwed up again. Twilight just wanted to do what she does, the only thing she knows how to do. Information goes in. Application comes out. She didn’t mean to interrupt my show. She didn’t mean to be unpleasant to me. It probably never even entered her mind. And because of that, I manipulated things so that she ended up looking like a bigoted, awful mare.
Congratulations. You’ve never managed to drive somepony away and ruin their lives at the same time. Well done, O Great and Powerful Trixie! Was there ever any doubt?
Trixie began galloping again, back to Twilight’s wagon. The lavender unicorn would have to come back at some point, and when she did, Trixie would be waiting.
Twilight’s mane and coat were both a little disheveled from trotting through the Everfree forest, having been caught a few times on thickets and twigs, but she didn’t let her appearance bother her as she moved with determination, horn glowing brightly as she repeatedly chanted the words of the Finder’s spell. From the mental pulse her horn was giving off, she was getting close to –
– a cockatrice leapt from a nearby bush directly in front of Twilight, and screamed, eyes on its rooster-like head glowing blood red.
Twilight didn’t even slow down or look directly at it as her telekinesis grabbed the cockatrice and hurled it high into the air, its shriek changing from one of challenge to fright at being so casually tossed aside. The unicorn was getting close to her destination and really didn’t need to be distracted right now. In fact, just to prevent further distractions, Twilight teleported the rest of the way, trusting her abilities to carry her safely to near wherever the Ursa lay.
Her trust was well-founded. With a pop and a flash of light, Twilight appeared in front of a truly massive cave opening, and the pulse of her Finder’s spell went into overdrive. Chuckling to herself, the unicorn proceeded in, though she made her horn’s glow dim considerably as she did. Her ears were perked high and alert, while her eyes scanned the shadows, looking for any sign of…
Her horn’s light finally fell across something that wasn’t merely rock or lichen. At first, all Twilight saw was a field of speckled white and blue, translucent fur, like looking at the night sky, but as she continued to walk forward, she saw more of the vast creature in front of her: white, sharp claws, a black nose, and an eight-pointed star placed firmly on its forehead.
Best of all, it was asleep. That was perfect, and not just because it made the Ursa significantly less likely to eat Twilight. The lavender unicorn closed her eyes tightly, horn glowing, as she reached out with a sweet, honey-flavored magical aura, which closed around the beast’s head like a halo. The spell she was casting over the sleeping, gigantic blue bear was fantastically illegal for her to know – it had been one of those cases where she’d broken into a library’s sealed vaults and read the grimoire it came from by furtive horn-light. Twilight had never planned on using it before today, and certainly never planned on using it on other ponies.
But an Ursa, that was different.
After several long minutes of concentration, Twilight’s eyes opened again – and, at the same time, so too did the Ursa’s. It looked at Twilight, but its eyes were unfocused and glossed over as though it wasn’t really seeing anything, which was technically true. The Ursa was still, technically speaking, asleep, and was unaware of the world around it. It was essentially sleepwalking, only with Twilight’s mind, rather than the Ursa’s, directing it. The lavender unicorn smiled as she poured more magic into the spell, making the Ursa stand up and begin talking long, lumbering steps forward on all four paws, and out the cave, with Twilight in tow.
Twilight’s grin widened as she and her ursine companion made their way to Ponyville. The way she saw things, there were two possibilities: either Trixie was testing her, in which case such a powerful enchantment and display of her reservoirs of magic – this spell required a continuous influx of eldritch energy – would surely allow Twilight to pass the test; or else Trixie was a blowhard fraud who didn’t really deserve the Element of Magic, in which such a display of power on Twilight’s part would get Trixie to admit that and apologize for the way she treated Twilight, at which point she would return the Ursa to –
The unicorn stumbled a little while walking. She paused in her trot, shaking her head to clear it. She had stumbled over a root, one that was large and should have been fairly obvious with her horn glowing to provide illumination, not to mention the natural, soft glow that the Ursa itself had. Twilight realized that her eyelids felt a little heavy…
Blinking, she teleported atop the Ursa’s back, resolving to ride him into Ponyville. Probably would make a better impression, anyway. The spell was a little more exhausting to maintain than Twilight had anticipated, but surely there would be no problem as long as she didn’t tire herself out with walking…
…or keeping her eyes open…
Trixie wasn’t a mare who could easily sit still and do nothing, so she had been spending the past hour outside of Twilight’s wagon practicing her illusions; in this case, she had created a full deck of fifty-four playing cards and a six-sided die, and was playing a private variant of solitaire she had invented just for her illusions. She was also losing – the illusory die didn’t seem to like her much, and Trixie couldn’t help but wonder if that had anything to do with her current frame of mind. Still, Trixie hated losing, especially to herself at a game she had invented, so in a way it was a welcome relief when she heard a scream of terror.
Trixie blinked, looking up and allowing her game to dissolve into blue ether. In moments, she was on her hooves and running towards the source of the screams, back towards the Eventime festival proper. A quick glance at the position of the moon revealed it to be about half an hour before midnight.
The blue unicorn stumbled a little over something as she ran, a shallow pit that had somehow appeared in the dirt roads of Ponyville. She frowned at the sight of it as she resumed galloping, only to stumble again in another pit. By the time she hit the third, she stopped running and took a moment to look around, horn glowing brightly to provide more illumination than the moon and stars were able to by themselves. Somepony had been digging shallow pits at regular intervals through Ponyville’s west main road, had probably been able to get away with it because everypony was at the town center right now. Trixie climbed out of the latest pit, looking around. They looked almost like footsteps…
It was around then that she heard a roar. A very, very loud roar that completely overwrote the sentient part of her brain and sent her scurrying into a nearby bush for cover at the sound. It was several long moments before thought was possible for the blue unicorn again, and several more before she was composed enough to emerge from her hiding spot and begin charging towards the center of town.
The source of the roar was not hard to spot. It was a gigantic, blue bear with a translucent, star-studded hide, reared up on its hind legs and looking around menacingly. Ponies everywhere were scattering at the sight of it, practically trampling each other down. Trixie had almost resolved to do the same thing, when she spotted her – a purple unicorn with a deep blue mane, lying prone at the feet of the bear, eyes closed, though breathing steadily. The beast didn’t seem to notice Twilight Sparkle beneath its feet, but that didn’t mean that the unicorn was even remotely safe.
Trixie grimaced as she began charging forward, the stampede of other ponies eagerly parting to get around the seemingly suicidal student of Luna.
“Whoa there,” a voice came from above Trixie as she ducked behind a tent, while the giant bear casually knocked over a stand of cherries and, finding that it liked the action, proceeded to do likewise to all the stall within its reach. Trixie looked up, and saw Raindrops, hovering in place behind the tent. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Trixie pointed to Twilight Sparkle. “I’m trying to save the napping idiot,” she said. The two ponies were about a hundred feet from the bear, who was having too much fun causing destruction to notice them.
Raindrops pointed at her wings with her hoof while scoffing slightly. “Yeah, no. I’m the one who can fly out of reach.”
“But you’re a slow flier,” Trixie pointed out. “I can turn invisible.”
Raindrops didn’t argue the point. She looked around a few moments at the debris that had been tossed over in their direction, and settled on a large toy axe from one of the game stalls. “Okay,” she said, hefting it before launching herself straight up into the air, though not before calling down, “I hope you know what you’re doing, Trixie.”
“Me too,” Trixie decided, as she wrapped illusions around herself, bending light around her body, cape, and hat, and turning her into nothing more than a smudge on reality, then began galloping forward as fast as she dared. As she got near the bear, an axe flew down from overhead and knocked the bear on top of its head. Frankly, given its size, Trixie was surprised that it had even noticed, but the bear did indeed look up, and saw Raindrops silhouetted against the moon.
“Hey, ugly!” the jasmine-coated pegasus shouted at the Ursa. “Hi!”
The bear roared, charging to get directly underneath Raindrops and rearing up on its hind legs, swiping at her. She was too far off of the ground, however, her wings beating furiously to make sure that even if the bear was smart enough to try jumping for her, it still wouldn’t reach her. Trixie, meanwhile, had reached Twilight Sparkle’s side. She didn’t appear injured, at least, as Trixie used her telekinesis to heft the fallen pony onto her back and gallop away, letting her invisibility spell fade just as she reached an alleyway. On reaching it, she waved to Raindrops, who spotted her and nodded as she remained stationary, more than a hundred feet up. The bear looked increasingly angry, but so far couldn’t seem to think of any way to get the annoying jasmine pegasus.
Trixie turned back to regard the bear after depositing Twilight in the relative safety of the alley. What was this thing? Why had it wandered into Ponyville? It had seemed just as confused as Trixie was to find itself in the middle of a pony town.
The unicorn steeled herself as she went through every spell she knew. Sooner or later, the bear was going to grow tired of trying to reach Raindrops, and when that happened it would go back to destroying everything – or grabbing a midnight snack, in the form of any ponies it could chase down. Unfortunately, though Luna had trained her in the basics of combat magic, Trixie had never had much of a flare for it – and more importantly, she’d never expected to fight something that was bigger than most of the buildings in Ponyville.
“Urgh…” a voice said from behind Trixie. The unicorn looked, and saw Twilight’s eyes fluttering open, as the mare rubbed her head. “Ow…”
Trixie rushed up to the unicorn. “Twilight!” she exclaimed. “You! You’re the one who’s been doing nothing but learning spells!”
The other unicorn’s eyes locked onto Trixie. “Oh,” she said, her voice dry, “it’s you. You know, I – ”
Any further scathing commentary was cut short by the bear growling, drawing Trixie and Twilight’s attention. It had settled down on all fours again, glaring up at Raindrops but looking like it was trying to decide whether Raindrops was worth the effort anymore.
“…So that’s happening,” Trixie announced, turning back to Twilight, who was staring with wide eyes and flopped ears. “Any ideas?”
Twilight blinked several times. “I – but – how could this have happened?” she demanded, hooves at her mouth in horror at the sight of the bear. “The Ursa was – ”
“Nopony cares how this thing got here!” Trixie exclaimed. “We just need to get rid of it before it destroys Ponyville! I don’t think I know any spells big enough! Do you?”
Twilight’s eyes were still fluttering in shock. “I…maybe…”
“Teleporting. How about teleporting? Could you teleport it?”
“What? No!” Twilight exclaimed, running her hooves through her already disheveled mane. “I mean…maybe! Maybe, if I had time to gather the power to move something so massive…”
“Time?” Trixie asked. “How much time?”
Twilight started using her hoof to draw numbers, variables, and mathematical symbols in the dirt. “Well, um…if I…carry the two…divide…no, wait, was I supposed to…”
“We don’t have time for math!” Trixie exclaimed. “Give me a guess!”
Twilight looked up, somehow even more horror on her face. “Guess? Guess?” she demanded. “I don’t make guesses, I – ”
There was a roar. Twilight and Trixie both turned to see that the beast – apparently an Ursa, if Twilight’s exclamation was anything to go by – had turned around, and was looking at both of them, seeming to be very annoyed at the sight of the two arguing unicorns.
“Five minutes,” Twilight Sparkle guessed, closing her eyes and getting her horn glowing.
Trixie grimaced. Summoning all the bravery she could, she charged forward at the Ursa, horn glowing beneath her hat.
“What are you doing?” Raindrops called down, eliciting a glare from the Ursa but not otherwise drawing its attention away from Trixie.
“Buying Twilight Sparkle time!” Trixie shouted back, as she skidded to a halt in front of the Ursa and made her horn flash. She disappeared from sight for a brief second, and when she re-appeared, she had been replaced by five identical copies, each of whom scattered and began running in circles around the Ursa. It roared in confusion and frustration, beginning to stomp its forelegs at the Trixies, as well as chomp at them with its teeth. Each time it managed to grab one, the Trixie it hit would disappear in a puff of blue-tinted smoke. Eventually, there was only one left, and the Ursa seemed immensely pleased with itself as it brought its paws down on the final Trixie – only to have that one disappear as well, rather than leave a Trixie-colored stain on its coat and the ground. The Ursa roared in frustration.
The real Trixie, meanwhile, had been hard at work after turning herself invisible again. She knew only one decent, purely combat-related spell, how to summon a bolt of lightning. The downside was that she wasn’t certain she could create a cloud, and therefore a lightning bolt, large enough to cause significant damage to such a huge creature. The upside was that there was a weather pony floating in the sky right over Trixie and the Ursa’s head, using her pegasus abilities to build the cloud up from the tiny wisp Trixie had put together into a building-sized nimbus just waiting to release its stored charge. The Ursa noticed the cloud just as Raindrops landed atop it and gave it a good, solid buck with her hind legs. A yellow-white bolt of lightning arched from it and struck the Ursa…
…and singed its fur. Slightly. Worse, the discharge rendered Trixie visible again, as the cloud began to dissipate.
“Huh,” Trixie said as the Ursa turned to regard her again, this time not looking particularly annoyed at all. Absolutely furious and ready to tear her apart, yes, but not annoyed. Trixie gave the bear a polite smile, then began to gallop right at it, eyes closed as her horn glowed again. The Ursa had apparently not expected this move, and reared up in surprise as Trixie managed to shoot between its legs.
“Any more plans?” Raindrops called down.
“Don’t die! That’s my master plan right now!” Trixie exclaimed as the bear began turning, a ponderous prospect for it given its sheer mass. Trixie telekinetically hefted the remains of a nearby pear stall and threw them at the Ursa, succeeding in her brilliant gambit to make it more angry. With a roar, it charged.
Hasn’t it been five minutes yet? Trixie demanded as she squeezed her eyes shut and released a burst of light, as bright as a magnesium flare, from her horn. Upside: the bear roared in pain as it stumbled in its charge, pawing at its eyes. Downside: Trixie fell to the dirt road as well, hooves at her eyes. She gingerly opened her them and found that she could see vague outlines and colors, but nothing else, and that was despite closing her eyes in preparation for the burst of light. Groaning, the unicorn shut her eyes again, picked a direction, and started galloping…right into a large, fuzzy mass.
“Eep!” she shrieked as she forced her eyes open, in time to see something blue and white and large swipe at her. She ducked what she assumed was the Ursa’s claw and began galloping again, only to trip and stumble over a ruined stall, getting tangled up in its banner and landing face-first in what smelled and tasted suspiciously like apple pie.
Great. I’m going to die and Carrot Top is going to think my last action was to pig out on something made by her biggest rival. Provided the Ursa leaves a body behind. Which it won’t.
I don’t even like pie.
Trixie forced her eyes to both open and focus, and saw the Ursa standing up, roaring in furor as it rubbed at its damaged eyes, then brought them into focus on the target of all of its hate. Trixie kicked her hooves furiously, trying to untangle herself from the Apple family’s banner and failing miserably. The Ursa began its charge…
…then it was surrounded in a violet aura. It stumbled slightly at the sensation as the aura flared a moment, before there was a flash and a pop. The Ursa disappeared from sight, and following it was a stiff breeze as the air rushed to fill the vacuum its sudden disappearance left behind.
Trixie looked back to the ally where she’d left Twilight Sparkle. The unicorn was standing, dripping sweat and panting heavily. “That,” she exclaimed loudly, “is real – ”
She didn’t get to finish her proclamation, as her eyes fluttered once, before she fell to the ground, heaving chest revealing that she was still definitely alive, but unconscious.