The Feed Bag’s changed since you were here last night. The beer you’ve been sipping for the past two hours is the same. The tables are the same. Heck, even the background chatter of the pub is the same. The only thing missing from the picture is Trixie. And yet that made all the difference.
Nah. Forget about her. Forget about the whole damn thing. You thought it would be a fresh start for you, a chance to use your magic for an honest gain. But if it’s all faked, how would it be any different than fraud? And fraud is theft. If you agreed to go through with it, that would be admitting that you hadn’t changed at all.
You know what? You should start your own magic show. Real escape artistry. Just you, nopony else. Of course, you’d need a stage. And a safety crew. And props. And publicity. And pretty much everything else that Trixie and her theatre manager had. Where would you go, for starters?
Only then does it occur to you; the only reason you’re not in prison right now is because Trixie agreed to keep an eye on you. Does this mean you’re breaking the law just by walking away?
You check the old clock hanging from the nearby wall. Quarter past seven. Her first show without you is due to start in fifteen minutes. You wonder if she’s got somepony in your stead, or whether she’s just going to try it all by herself. Either way, you’re curious to find out. It’s like watching a crash; a possible disaster, but who’d have the power to look away? Heck, maybe she’d crack under the pressure and beg for you to come back. It’s worth poking around there, at least.
Draining your beer glass, you leave it on the table and make your way back to the theatre.
Every seat in the house is packed. Most of the inhabitants are rich, snooty ponies from the upper crust of Manehatten, maybe a few wealthy visitors from other nearby cities. All of them eager to watch a show.
You made it to the theatre a few minutes later than you thought you would. As a result, Trixie began the show without you. Considering your new-found fame, nopony pays a mind to you opening doors marked ‘staff only’ and trotting around backstage, until you come to a stop by the stage curtains. What better a place to view your own show than stage-side?
Trixie doesn’t seem to have noticed you yet. She’s too engrossed in doing the show by herself, taking volunteers from the audience whenever she needed a spare pair of hooves for a trick. Other times, she’d just use her magic for the sake of splendour, making visual effects and suchlike to dazzle the viewers and keep them occupied. Basically it’s a magical form of filler for the act. You’re surprised that she’s coping well alone, though.
But shouldn’t Whipchat be here somewhere too? It’s almost forty-five minutes into the performance, and he’s nowhere to be found. He’s in charge of health and safety, so he should be behind the stage curtains too.
“Where! Have! You! Beeeen!?”
Never mind. You found him.
“How dare you just waltz right back in here after abandoning us like that!” the clearly distressed landlord snaps, “I have half a mind to send you straight back to that jail, where you belong!”
“You know jail wouldn’t hold me.” you reply quietly. Unlike Whipchat, you don’t want to distract Trixie from her current magic act; sawing a panicking posh patron in half. She pulls it off without a hitch.
“Well, even so,” he mumbles, “you shouldn’t have scared us by running off like that. Trixie has been pretty much inconsolable since you left.”
“You shouldn’t have stopped me from using real padlocks without asking first.” you retort, “And another thing… wait… Trixie was what?”
“Inconsolable. Terribly upset.” the landlord shrugs, “You may not know it, but she’s very good at hiding her feelings. Especially onstage; that’s when she becomes a different pony entirely.”
You nod, if only to end the conversation and get back to watching Trixie work her magic. You’ve never seen her perform alone before, but she seems to be doing just fine. You doubt she could last for more than the first half of the show, however. Two hours by herself with nothing but volunteers to help seems like quite a challenge.
“You know what?” you say, “Let’s work a bargain, Whipchat. I’ve only just discovered how to use my talents for honest work, and I’ll be damned if I’m wasting them on fake padlocks. I’ll come back and help Trixie after the intermission, but only if you let me use real ones from now on.”
“No can do. She’s only performing for the first hour, then packing up. Because a certain somepony walked out on us, she’s going for the grand finale early.”
Almost as if it were on cue, the stage-curtains behind Trixie open, revealing a huge water tank, five times as high as a pony standing upright, and three times as wide. The stage’s spotlight shines brightly on it, glistening on the water that fills it to the brim. It certainly looks stage-worthy as a prop, mostly because of how intimidating it is. It takes a full-sized ladder just to climb up into it.
“And now, for the Great and Powerful Trixie’s Great Escape!” the magician declares to the crowd, “Watch in awe, as Trixie laughs in the face of death, and escapes from a watery grave before your very eyes!”
She casts aside her magician’s hat and cloak, ignoring the occasional wolf-whistle from the rowdier ponies in the audience as she does so. Then she dramatically climbs the steps of the ladder, stopping just by the tank’s edge.
Next, she levitates some props over her; four singular hoof-cuffs, complete with their own padlocks that seem to glint in the limelight (no doubt those dainty silver fakes), a long length of chain and (with great difficulty) a half-ton weight, dropping the last next to her; it was heavy enough just lifting it.
She lets the chains and padlocked cuffs dance around her in the air, before enveloping around her, threading through the hole in the weight and causing the cuffs to wrap around each leg, their padlocks snapping shut. You can’t see perfectly from the odd stage-side angle, but something doesn’t feel right. A bad gut-feeling.
Trixie sits on the edge of the tank. She’s taking deep breaths, gazing into the still water below her.
With one last, deep intake of breath, she nudges the weight.
A splash. It falls into the water, sinking towards the bottom of the glass prison. Another splash. The mare is dragged down with it in a flurry of bubbles.
What you see next makes your heart stop; the padlocks. The silver glisten you saw earlier must have just been a trick of the limelight. In the tank, they show their true colours.
Bronze padlocks. Real padlocks.