There are few things that combine embarrassment and pain more effectively than the sensation of running full speed into a solid wall. It would be worse if the body didn’t instinctively brace for impact the second the obstacle enters line of sight, even if the time to react is practically nil. However, if the wall is invisible, there’s no hope of even the smallest reduction in inertia before impact. I had always imagined levitation and telekinetic ability would be fluffy, like being caught in a cloud, or flexible, like an all-encompassing elastic net.
…Not so much.
Running into the telekinetic field head first had flattened me in an instant. Too stunned to check, I was fairly sure my nose was bleeding. I’m not complaining, since it probably would have been outright broken if my forehead hadn’t taken the brunt of the impact. I was faintly aware that I was swiftly being dragged in the direction of the hollowed out tree as my eyes did their best to align themselves. I was just in the process of deducting that being clubbed over the head and dragged half-conscious into a secluded, darkly lit tree could pose a significant problem to my health when the door slammed, and I was already inside.
I am a staunch supporter of the “big girls don’t cry” movement. Nothing annoys me more than other women that can flip their waterworks on and off, manipulating at will. However, the reality is that emotional barriers can only hold out for so long. In the last six hours, I had recounted my darkest secret, faced death by falling not once but twice, hugged a fictional character, came within a hairs length of being violated by an entire group of other fictional characters, and had topped it all off by running headfirst into an invisible wall. So I’d say my current case of the sniffles was at least somewhat justified.
“Oh no I hurt you… I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry!” The voice and accompanying purple eyes seemed almost as worried about me as I was.
I have developed an incredibly honed sixth sense that serves as a warning for when I’m being seduced. For someone like me, it’s not so much a ‘talent’ as much as it is a ‘necessary survival skill.’ Thereby, distance and mental barriers are usually my allies of choice, until I can get a reading on the person (or pony) in question. However, Twilight Sparkle was making it exceptionally difficult to stay detached. Amazing what the tactical application of a box of tissues, homemade cookies, and a whole heap of understanding can do. Several cookies later I had calmed down and started to talk to her, probably looking three different types of pathetic with soggy eyes and tissue paper still stuck up my nose to stop the bleeding. It had only taken an abridged version of my story, barely delving in to the most unpleasant details before she jumped to her hooves and stalked outside. Peeking through the front window, I could only hear parts of the argument with the crowd of ponies that had gathered in front of Twilight’s door; the parts I could hear, though, were hilariously one sided.
“…Ashamed of yourselves! You should see how much the poor thing is shaking right now! It took her half an hour just to make direct eye contact with me! Is this how we welcome guests Applejack? Threaten to hogtie them?” The group of berated ponies were shrinking back and looking guiltier by the second, flattening ears and pouty lips all around. I would have almost pitied them had they not just recently been trying to TAKE OFF MY PANTS... okay, so maybe I was holding a little bit of a grudge.
Listening to Twilight crusading on my account was oddly heartwarming. Being the only child of a broken home, I quickly learned I had no other option than to fight my own battles, the nature of my ‘condition’ only accentuating the reality that, more often than not, I had no backup. Someone I had just met intervening on my behalf to this degree was practically unprecedented. The warm, fuzzy feeling of affection growing in my chest made it easier to ignore the ongoing ‘lowered defense’ alarms going off in my head.
With the lecture apparently over, the ponies began to disperse, looking largely sheepish and more than a little apologetic- save one. Pinkie Pie, who had previously blended into the crowd stood perfectly still, substantially more cheerful than everpony else around her, staring straight at the window I was looking through. I should have been completely out of sight; I was mostly obscured by the curtain, looking through a very small gap in the blinds. I got the otherworldly chills that were previously reserved only for Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, or the weeping angels in Doctor Who.
There’s no way you can see me… right?
I’m fairly sure the next moment took years off my life. My hand shot to my mouth as Pinkie turned her head sidewise and seemed to nod, very methodically, that yes, she could in fact see me. If that weren’t enough, she abruptly frowned and put a hoof to her mouth to mimic my facial expression, then slowly drew the hoof across her lips, mouth transformed into a wide and sinister grin as she went. The message was clear.
‘Let’s put a SMILE on that face!’
My pulse was probably well over two-hundred beats per minute, and that was before the door suddenly popped open. It… I might have screamed… a little.
To her credit, Twilight’s reaction made more logical sense than mine. From her perspective, she was being ambushed by a screaming alien lying in wait by her door.
You know that old kids rhyme: ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me?’ Anyone who’s been in a verbal argument where things got more than a little poisonous knows better. More literally speaking, so does anyone who’s been hit in the head by a telekinetically launched dictionary. I couldn’t blame her though, it showed on her face that it had been all reflex, and I could see through the encroaching darkness that she looked completely apologetic. I reached out and managed to pat her head comfortingly before the darkness closed in completely. I really wish I’d stop losing consciousness…
“You just don’t get it”
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. What a flaming pile of crap. Even the smallest, most insignificant things can haunt you for years if they catch you in the wrong emotional state at the wrong time. The knowledge that I was abandoned by my mother for another woman stung, sure, for a long time. After a while though, it blended in with my perspective of the world as a fundamentally flawed place. What does haunt me -the words that keep me up at night- were spoken by none other than my disgruntled 1st grade best friend, little Jenny Carpenter; A true prodigy, ahead of her time at both hopscotch and inflicting psychological sabotage. As I remember it, the words in question were spoken in the park playground, just after we’d ‘broken up’ as friends because I’d declined her request, as nicely as I could. She had asked me if I’d marry her when we were old enough. I had asked her why we couldn’t just be friends and well… she gave me an earful.
“You brought this on yourself Kate. You led me on, held my hand, hugged me, just to get my hopes up. You made me suffer in silence only to reject me. You were never my friend. You will never have friends, you’ll only think you do, because you don’t realize what you do to people.”
I was too young to recognize that Jenny had a flair for the dramatic. In retrospect, her little tirade was probably a small fraction of original rhetoric, meshed with paraphrased, badly written dialogue she’d picked up from a ‘Days of Our Lives’ rerun. But to a kid who’s already traumatized at the prospect of losing yet another friend, those words sliced deep. To this day, I’m still overly conscious of touching people. The words themselves wouldn’t affect me so much if I hadn’t watched Jenny’s behavior throughout high school. She dated around, mostly girls, though she experimented with a guy or two. The constant was her new best friend, a ‘Rachel’ something or other. They never dated; Rachel was straight as a board, kept the same boyfriend through senior year. She also looked a lot like me. Somehow, they still stayed friends. It was really, really hard not to hate Rachel. Her existence seemed to imply that there was something wrong with me.
Maybe there was.
I’ve never been particularly comfortable with the concept of sleeping naked, for rather obvious reasons considering my ongoing relationship with Murphy’s Law. I’ve sat through enough slasher movies to know wearing nothing to bed is taunting fate for the average female. For someone with my luck, attempting such a feat would be passive suicide; the equivalent of anyone else opening their window in the middle of the night, yelling at the guy wearing a hockey mask, and promptly giving him the finger. That’s probably why, when I felt sheets shifting against bare skin, my eyes shot open in an instant. I was in a bed, tightly tucked in with a light, purple colored comforter around my shoulders. I was also completely devoid of clothing. My mind would have circulated through all sorts of possible unpleasant scenarios had my thoughts not been imminently interrupted.
“You were making crying noises when you slept. It was kinda freaky.” I held the comforter across my neckline, turning over to glare at the source of the voice. The baby dragon was seated on a stool at my side, arms crossed, fully returning the glare.
“Why, were you taking notes?” I quipped grumpily.
“Doctor’s orders.” Spike held up a notebook, boredom written all over his face. Awkward. “So what were you dreaming about?”
“Onions. Lots of em.” Rolling his eyes, the baby dragon smirked. He obviously didn’t like me. I found myself fascinated with how refreshing it felt to not be liked, though I was getting sidetracked from the more pertinent issue at hand. “Um… What happened to my clothes?”
“After the dictionary…“ He made air quotes with his claws, “’Fell…’ on your head, Twilight started yelling for help, which was where I came in. Whatever it was that actually happened, when you blacked out you hit the stairs and banged your left side pretty hard. It was just a scrape, but you’re a bit of a bleeder so the stuff got everywhere, which I got to clean up.” He wrinkled his nose unhappily.
“Sorry.” I apologized out of habit, as ridiculous as it was. Can’t say I’ve ever felt so guilty about bleeding on someone’s floor before.
“It’s fine. Anyway, after Twilight got your clothes off, she cleaned you up and put you to bed.” Something about that sentence was very bothersome. The faint smell of shampoo on my hair reached my nose, and I felt my face growing hot. It had to be asked, but I had a feeling I knew exactly what the answer would be.
“Cleaned up how?”
“Like gave you a bath and stuff, duh.” There it was; the ridiculously awkward fine print I just had to search for. Effectively ending the conversation, I pulled the covers over my head with a groan.
An hour or so later Spike brought me my clothes, freshly washed. I wasn’t sure what sort of reaction to expect from Twilight. Dictionary be damned, I liked her (platonically, of course): It’s not every day you find somepony willing to save a complete stranger, take her in, feed her, and listen to her problems. It’s even rarer for that same somepony to take your side against her friends, regardless of who’s in the right. I’d spent my life dealing with these sorts of disappointments, yet the idea of her being caught in my ‘thrall’ left an old familiar bitterness in my gut. I slowly walked out of the guest bedroom, dreading every step. I prepared myself for the worst. Twilight was at her desk, flipping through two books simultaneously. I almost held my breath when she glanced up at me, waiting for her reaction.
…Nothing? No bedroom eyes, no awkward leer? Not that I was complaining.
“Kate! You’re finally up, how are you feeling?” She smiled and beckoned me over amicably. I approached her slowly, a bit numb, still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I’m fine, thanks by the way; Spike said you took care of me.” I glanced away when I said it, not wanting her to pick up on the fact that the baby dragon had clued me in on all the details.
“It’s the least I could do, all things considered.” She was exactly the same as before. Perhaps I had jumped to conclusions after all. As she filled me in on everything that had occurred while I was out, I had a growing sense of respect for the mare. For me, an average ‘Productive’ day involves not falling asleep in the middle of class lecture and managing to take legible notes. Twilight had written a letter to the princess on my behalf, and already done a significant amount of research on her own. I finally relaxed, as if exhaling a sigh I hadn’t realized I was holding on to. Once I had relaxed, time started to fly by. She brought me up to speed on equestrian history, and in turn I told her about the human world. We compared species, flora and fauna. I may have not been as dedicated as she was to academics, but I was an academic nonetheless. There was a wealth of new concepts to pick from, and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn as much as she enjoyed the opportunity to teach. What struck me most significantly was the authenticity of it all. I couldn’t say exactly where it happened, but at some point during the conversation I stopped considering the possibility that what I perceived as ‘Equestria’ was all some sort of elaborate dream. With the context of knowledge Twilight was helping to build, I was beginning to form a very real sense of place. We must have spent an entire hour discussing connections we found between Greek mythology and the exploits of Starswirl the bearded.
Before I knew it I was leaning into the conversation, grinning like an idiot, that fact alone was of note: See, I’m more the mysterious, closed lips turned upward kind of girl. For what’s possibly some bizarre genetic reason, I’ve never been able to fake a ‘real’ smile from a young age, especially for pictures, so I got in the habit of smiling lips only. I have to be really engaged or enjoying something to ditch that tendency. In the moment, my real smile was all I had for Twilight Sparkle. How long had it been since I’d let my guard down, and connected this deeply with anyone?
That’s probably why I missed the early warning signs.
The devil is always in the details. While I was feeling happy enough to pen a song that would have made Taylor Swift gag from too much sentimentality, I was missing, or perhaps subconsciously ignoring several increasing oddities in Twilight’s behavior. It started small: her breathing became shallower; she started talking less frequently and having problems articulating, becoming slightly less eloquent than she had been a few minutes prior. Her gesturing slowed down, eventually degrading to the point where her front hoofs were gripping the sides of her chair tightly. I maintained ignorance until we reached the midpoint of our discussion on how magic affected the three pony-types differently, when the color in her cheeks turned to a dull red. It wasn’t a blush, not really; it looked more like the soft, constant glow associated with a fever.
“So earth ponies do have mana, it’s just passive and not associated with leylines.”
“R-right. Because they have n- no way of discharging mana, if they unconsciously drew from leylines the way the rest of us do, over time they would absorb too much and hurt themselves.”
“Wouldn’t the pegasi be the same way?” I asked, too intent on the discussion, tunnel vision fully engaged. I was zoned out, trying to fill the gaps in these complicated theories. If I hadn’t been so introspective, I might have noticed in time.
“Th- the Pegasi have their wings. They’re not as potent as a method of d-d-discharge as a unicorn’s horn, but they sti-… they still store and discharge mana from leylines.” Her eyes lost focus for a moment, and she was suddenly trying to look anywhere other than at me. The stunned expression finally caught my attention, and I noticed how warm and tightly coiled she looked. It was almost like she was trying to hold something in.
“Twi? are you okay?” Concerned, I leaned forward, reaching out to check her temperature with the back of my hand. Two fingers barely brushed against the base of her horn. The reaction was volatile and immediate.
“NGGHHH-“ the unicorn abruptly arched her back as her horn flashed, a glimmering stream of magical energy shot right over my head, smacking against the wall behind me with a fizzle. If there was any doubt as to the nature of the projectile, it was quickly eliminated by the look on her face. Twilight looked absolutely horrified, simultaneously turning four different shades of red, making a monumental effort to articulate yet failing to speak a single coherent word. I was not ready to deal with the implications of what had just happened.
Perception is reality. Practical applications of Philosophy 1301
“Is it always that dangerous when you sneeze?”
Note to self: Even feigned ignorance can be bliss.