“Focus, Twilight, focus…”
For a moment, Twilight’s thoughts were clouded again. The words on the scroll in front of her danced around in her vision, her mind occupied with other thoughts. “Come on, the letter’s almost finished,” she mumbled, “I just need to add-”
“Your faithful student, Twilight Sparkle?”
Twilight turned, giving her assistant a grateful smile. “That’s what I was looking for. Thanks, Spike!”
“No need for thanks,” he assured. “But, and don’t take this the wrong way, you’re a bit…” The dragon paused, drumming his fingers on the couch’s armrest in thought. “…’Off’ today. What’s up?”
Twilight turned away, settling her quill on the paper to finish off her letter. “It’s nothing, Spike. Thanks for asking, though.” With a flourish, she finished scribbling her signature. “Ready, number one assistant?”
Spike nodded. “You know it.”
“Get ready, then.” Standing up and gripping the scroll in her magic, Twilight tossed it towards Spike. She trotted to the window and opened it, just in time to watch her assistant bathe the letter in green flames. A wisp of smoke hovered where the scroll one was, slowly coiling its way towards the unicorn. It did a loop and flew outside, leaving Twilight to close the window behind it. “Nice shot,” she praised.
Spike rubbed his knuckle against his chest, eyeing them. “What’d ya expect?”
The sound of somepony clearing their throat drifted into the living room. “A dragon that doesn’t ham it up, by chance?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Spike said, watching as Applejack walked into the room. “While you’re here, is it about time to go?”
“Weeeellll…” Applejack began, “Rarity’s in the restroom gussyin’ herself up. For who, ah dunno. Ah’d reckon we got about, oh, a half hour ‘til we can go down to the stands.”
Spike nodded. “Sounds good to me.” Noticing something, Spike leaned forward, squinting. “Have a rough night, AJ? Lookin’ a bit tired.”
Applejack shook her head, frowning. “Don’t worry ‘bout me, ah’m fine. Had a bit o’ trouble sleepin’, but that isn’t gonna keep me down.” Applejack raised a hoof to her mouth, yawning. “Anyway, what are y’all up to down here?”
“Contacting Celestia,” Twilight replied.
“Well…” Twilight began. She paused, watching as a green burst lit the room. A letter fell to the floor, having just been deposited by Spike’s flames. The unicorn trotted over, levitating the scroll up to her. “Pardon me, Applejack, this’ll only take a moment. Spike, you can go. This should be the last letter for now, thanks again for all the help.”
“No problem.” Spike stood up, waving goodbye to everypony as he left the room. Applejack watched him go, turning back to see her friend vigorously reading the new letter.
“You were sayin’, sugarcube?”
Twilight sighed, setting the letter aside. “I just don’t get it. With everything that happened yesterday, you’d think the festival would have been shut down, or at least postponed.” The unicorn shook her head, pointing to the scroll. “I’ve been trying to converse with the princess, and maybe get some answers. So far, all I’m getting back is pretty much ‘the show must go on’, ‘Discord hasn’t been active so far’, so on and so forth. I can see why she’d want everypony to relax after all that, but I’m still not completely sure if it was the best idea.”
“Ah can see yer point,” Applejack agreed. “But speakin’ of relaxation, ah got an offer for ya.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Hmm?” She blinked, giving an embarrassed smile. “Oh, right. I’d completely forgotten about you wanting to see me this morning.”
“Yep, and ah gotta say, you’ve been goin’ through a lot lately.” Applejack raised her hoof up, waving it subconsciously as she counted off activities. “Yesterday’s insanity, putting everypony back in their bodies, studying ‘til the wee hours… and let’s not forget, yer current issues with you-know-who.”
Twilight looked downward, heat rising to her face. “Can we skip to the offer?”
“Sure, sure,” Applejack assured. “Ah personally think ya could do with a day of just relaxin’ with yer friends, and something to keep yer mind busy couldn’t hurt either. So, and you’re free to say no, but how ‘bout you come down and help out with the stall today?”
“Wait, really?” Twilight asked. “But I’ve never sold anything to anypony before… I‘ve only purchased things.”
Applejack chuckled, walking forward and wrapping a foreleg around her friend‘s neck. “Don’tcha worry none, hon, ah’ll be there ta keep ya from goin’ off track. And, worst case scenario, keepin’ ya from finding a way to burn the stall down.” Applejack chuckled to herself at her joke, finishing it off with a sigh. “So, ya interested?”
Unsure at first, Twilight’s gaze turned everywhere but towards her friend. Coming to a decision, she turned to Applejack and nodded. “I’d be delighted.”
“Good choice,” Applejack praised, releasing her friend. “We’ve got maybe twenty-five more minutes ‘til Rarity stops abusing the bathroom.” The earth pony started to walk off, heading towards the kitchen. “C’mon, let’s make us some lunch fer later on.”
Twilight just looked at her in confusion. “We’re running a food stand, aren’t we? Why not just eat the apples?”
Her friend just laughed, turning to beckon her friend over. “Sounds like ya really haven’t sold anythin’. C’mon, ah’ll explain while we toast up some daisy tarts.”
Watching her friend go, Twilight simply shrugged and moved to follow. Applejack was right, she definitely could use something to keep her mind busy. This’d be just the thing she needed.
“No, no… focus, Trixie, focus.”
Trixie shifted around on her couch, trying in vain to find a comfortable position. Unable to make herself comfy, she instead set her mind on the barely-worked on papers levitating in front of her face. For just a moment, she had clear concentration as her eyes scanned the pages, only for it to fade away into more images of a certain purple unicorn.
“Confound it!” Trixie tossed the papers away with a frustrated sigh, flopping back onto the couch. She watched as the sheets drifted side to side, lazily descending until they settled on the ground. She gripped the papers with her magic, deciding to at least have the decency to deposit her show plans on the table. Trixie changed her mind at the last moment, leaving them to return to the floor. It could be done later… when she could get these thoughts out of her head.
She absent-mindedly ran a hoof through her mane, finally deciding to give in. The thoughts had been bothering her ever since she’d woken up- thoughts of her past, thoughts of the present… and thoughts of Twilight Sparkle. Somehow, the bookworm had worked her way into Trixie’s mind more than anything else.
Last night’s scene kept running through her mind. Trixie finding out how Twilight felt... and realizing that, deep down, she kind of liked it. Feeling Twilight's arms wrap around her in an embrace... and yet, running away upon realizing that Twilight knew her secret.
Trixie shuddered. She remembered Twilight’s arms wrapped around her as she congratulated her… still holding on as Trixie revealed that she knew about how her friend truly felt… squeezing her tighter just before Twilight had blabbed about her newfound information… up until that point, it’d felt so right. Trixie wondered if she would’ve acted on the situation if Twilight had just remained silent.
Of course, there was the matter that Twilight knew about Trixie’s past now. Trixie had worked so hard to repress it, only for it to be revealed anyway. She couldn’t handle being reminded, nor could she take knowing that somepony else knew about it… the only option she could see had been to flee. Now, here she was, reduced to feeling alone, upset, and unable to keep her mind on her work.
With a sigh, Trixie got up off her couch. Clearly, no work is going to be done today, she thought to herself. Picking her bits pouch off the table and securing it to her side, she stepped over the papers littering the floor and walked to the exit. The fans won’t mind a redo of a previous show; it is the Great and Powerful Trixie, after all. Trixie shall spend the day on the town, and try to collect her thoughts.
Stepping outside and closing the door behind her, she began walking to the staircase, another thought pecking at her mind. The walk will give Trixie time to decide on whether to go through with the plan she thought up. If Twilight doesn’t show her head, it won’t matter… but knowing that bookworm, she will.
Reaching the stairs, Trixie descended to the lobby and out into Canterlot’s streets. As usual, the crowd was thick and the revelers were wild, despite yesterday’s antics. Trixie rolled her eyes and prepared herself, marching forward to join in the crowd. The sounds of joyful revelers blocked out all her thoughts as she entered, allowing only one last question to herself: Is the plan worth it?
Her venture into the crowd seemed to be working a little too well. The sounds of everypony around her blocked out most of her thoughts, but Trixie could feel a small headache coming on. To make matters worse, she had no idea whatsoever how far the crowd had dragged her from the hotel. And frankly, the revelers were starting to get on her nerves.
Trixie flinched back as a couple foals raced by in front of her, causing her to bump into somepony. She ignored the annoyed pony behind her, grumbling under her breath as she resumed moving forward. She was a showpony; she wasn’t meant to move amongst the crowd, she was meant to rise above it. The bumps and bruises she got from her walk amongst the revelers only seemed to prove that.
It didn’t help that she hadn’t found a break in the crowd for far too long, nor did it help that it felt like somepony was tugging at her tail. Trixie twirled around, glaring daggers. “Unhand Trixie you ruffian, before…”
The unicorn turned to find herself looking at a familiar face. A yellow pegasus stood there, quickly dropping Trixie’s tail and dropping her head low. What’s her name again? Trixie asked herself. Flutter…something, wasn’t it? I don’t think we ever talked much. But if she’s here, then… Trixie’ face fell. Sparkle isn’t far behind.
Trixie turned to go, beginning to trot deeper into the crowd. Before she could move a step, she felt another tug at her tail. Turning back to Fluttershy, Trixie sighed. She clearly wasn‘t going anywhere. “What do you want?”
The pegasus let go of her again, scuffing her hoof along the ground. “C-could you help me? If that’s okay…”
Trixie raised an eyebrow, taking a small step to the side to let the crowd surge around them. “With?”
Fluttershy muttered something. Trixie leaned in, trying to catch the quiet words amongst everypony elses shouts and chatter. “Pardon?” Trying again, the pegasus mumbled some more. Trixie raced a hoof to her face, groaning. “If you refuse to speak up, then come with Trixie. She’ll find a quieter space.”
Trixie watched Fluttershy nod and cast her gaze downward. With a shrug, Trixie turned, waiting for the pegasus to grab hold once more. When the tug came, Trixie set off, integrating herself and the meek pegasus back into the crowd.
The duo worked their way through the crowd, seeking an exit. They managed to spot an opening a few times, only for the revelers to shift direction and close off their escape. The ponies seemed to close in around them, and the grip on Trixie's tail tightened. Trixie wondered how much more of the noisy crowd and tail-pulling she could take, until a gap opened up in front of them. Wasting no time, Trixie ran out into the opening, dragging Fluttershy with her.
Feeling the tension on her tail slacken, Trixie turned back to see the gap they’d exited from quickly fill itself in. Fluttershy stood just behind her, breathing a sigh of relief. “Now then, what do you want?” Trixie asked.
“Oh! Um…” Fluttershy bowed her head. “I was going to ask if you could possibly help me get out of the crowd. Angel- one of my animal friends -needed more food, but the crowd swept me away.” She bowed even lower. “T-thank you, Trixie.”
Trixie blinked. “Well, the Great and Powerful Trixie never denies praise. Couldn’t you have, you know, flown away?” Trixie said, pointing to the pegasus’ wings.
“Oh, no, I could never just take off in the middle of the street. And besides, I got separated from somepony in the crowd.” Fluttershy’s mouth fell, her eyes widening. “I left them back in the crowd! Oh no, no…”
Trixie reached forward, clamping a hoof over Fluttershy’s muzzle. “Easy now. Trixie is sure that whoever is looking for you will find you in no time. In the meantime,” she said, dropping her hoof back down and glancing around. “Where are we?”
Looking around, Trixie spotted a wooden archway right where they’d been let out at. The sign attached to the gate next to it declared their location: The Canterlot Gardens. Stepping forward and peeking through the gate, the unicorn let out a low whistle. Rows upon rows of various flowers bloomed all around the park, with dirt paths interwoven between them. Ponies trotted all around (though not in the clusters found outside the park), most of them having stopped to relax on the shore of the pond at the park’s center.
“Oh, my.” Fluttershy stepped forward as well, her gaze being drawn to the small animals dotting the landscape. “It’s so… so…”
“Colorful?” Trixie offered.
“Beautiful.” Fluttershy let out a content sigh. “And it’s where we were supposed to be going anyway.”
“Ah, yes,” Trixie said. “That somepony you were walking around with. Who was it? Trixie has places to be, things to do…” Trixie cleared her throat, subconsciously averting her gaze. “But if she runs into them, she’ll be sure to pass the word along.”
“Oh, you’ve already done so much, I couldn’t possibly…”
A blue blur flew in for a landing, making Trixie leap back. She watched as Rainbow Dash stepped forward, draping a leg over Fluttershy. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you! Where’d ya go?”
“Well… after the crowd separated us, I found somepony we know to guide me out of it. She even took me to the park, too.” Fluttershy waved towards the unicorn. “You remember Trixie, right?”
Rainbow Dash quickly dropped her leg down and turned, eyeing Trixie. Without a word, she turned and began trotting towards the park, guiding Fluttershy along with her. “C’mon, we’ve been waiting long enough. Didja ever manage to get Angel those treats?”
Trixie blinked, processing the reaction. Ignored? Trixie thought, her expression slowly turning into a scowl. She stood there, huffing at the insult.
Fluttershy shot Trixie a worried glance, turning back to look at Rainbow Dash. “What’s wrong? Did Trixie do something? But all she did was help me get where I needed to go…”
The blue pegasus froze, letting out a sigh. She scratched at her head while her companion just watched with concern. With another frustrated sigh, Rainbow Dash looked over her shoulder, locking eyes with Trixie. “You look a bit hungry. You should head over to Applejack's stand; maybe she'll feel a bout of charity and spare you something."
“Huh?” Trixie watched in confusion as Rainbow Dash turned back, continuing her trot into the park. Fluttershy followed after her, shooting Trixie a sympathetic look. Trixie watched the two pegasi for a moment, finally turning to think about what Rainbow Dash had said
Applejack might be able to spare something? Trixie repeated. Trixie reached back to her bit pouch, gently nudging it. A few spare coins jangled within, no doubt unworthy to pay for anything but the smallest meal. “Well, Trixie supposes it couldn’t hurt,” she muttered. Deciding to take the advice, Trixie turned, reluctantly stepping back into the crowd. Throughout her days here, Trixie was slowly starting to keep track of the layout, and she was sure she could get to the stand relatively quickly. That was, of course, provided that the crowd had any mercy on her.
“Gonna need a refill on the tarts, Twi!”
“On their way!” The unicorn called back, moving past Applejack to where the extra treats were kept. Levitating a tray of tarts out of one of the boxes they’d carted over with them, Twilight hurried back to the stand and dropped them off on the counter. She found herself gazing down the line for Applejack’s stand, seeing that the number of customers just kept increasing.
“Woooo-eeee, they’re comin’ in faster than we can send ‘em off,” Applejack shouted as she handed away a couple of plain apples. “Can ya see Rarity’s stand, Twi? How‘s she farin‘?”
Twilight looked through the crowd, unable to see anything but the very top of her other friend’s booth. “Can’t tell, Applejack,” she responded. “The crowd’s too thick. Looks like everypony’s working extra hard to make up for the day that Discord cost them.”
“C’mon, sugahcube, yer not supposed to be thinkin’ about stuff like that.” Applejack stepped away from the counter, turning back long enough to promise her newest customer that they’d get assistance in no time. “Think it’s about time we switched off, anyway. G’luck, Twi!”
Twilight nodded, taking over where her partner left off. Soon, it all became a rhythm to her; a customer ordered something, Twilight repeated it, either she handed it over right away or got Applejack to retrieve some, and then she accepted the pay. Quick, easy, and it didn’t leave much room for thinking. Just what Twilight needed.
The customers keep coming and the food kept flying off the shelves, until it got to a pace where even the unicorn’s magic couldn’t keep up. Thankfully, it started to dim down, to the point where it seemed like the two salesponies could switch off effectively. A few more couldn’t hurt, though… Twilight told herself.
First up was a young foal, whom Twilight sent off with a slice of apple cake. Smiling, she turned back to see who was next. “Hello, how may I help…”
“…you.” Twilight’s eyes widened, mirroring the blue unicorn across the counter. “Um… hello, Trixie.”
The mare nodded towards her, almost unnoticeably. “Is Applejack here? Trixie just needs a moment of her time.”
Twilight’s face fell. She wanted to say something, anything, but the words just wouldn’t come. Giving up, just waved her hoof over in Applejack’s direction. “Over there.”
Trixie nodded again, stepping out of line and behind the counter. Twilight watched her walk up to her friend, turning away as the two ponies started chatting. “Coward,” she mumbled to herself, turning to serve the next customer.
A few satisfied ponies later, Twilight felt a tap on our shoulder. Looking behind her, she spotted Applejack waving towards the storage boxes. “Reckon it’s about time we switch off, sugahcube. Ah promised Trixie ah’d get her some good ol’ Apple family cooking, though. Do me a favor and grab her somethin’, would ya?”
Applejack scooted into place behind the counter, complementing Twilight on her effort as the unicorn stepped towards the storage boxes. Trixie was waiting for her, focusing her gaze on pretty much everything but the approaching unicorn. Twilight stepped past her, flipping open a few boxes with her magic. “Anything in particular you want?” She asked.
Trixie shrugged. “Trixie is fine with anything.”
“Well, that narrows it down.” Peeking into the boxes, Twilight hunted for something that might work. “Tarts”? Trixie shrugged. “Slice of pie?” Another shrug. “Muffin?” Shrug. Twilight felt her eye twitch. “For the love of Celestia, would you help me out here?!”
She covered her mouth, watching as Trixie turned to face her with surprise in her eyes. Twilight smiled awkwardly, already feeling the heat rise to her face. “S-sorry. It’s been pretty stressful the past couple days.”
Not waiting to see Trixie’s reaction, Twilight ducked her head into the crate, searching for anything that would get the unicorn out of there. A thought crossed her mind as her eyes scanned the selection: I’ve already screwed up. How could it possibly get any worse?
“Trixie?” she called out.
“I think this will do,” Twilight stated, picking an extra-tasty looking slice of apple cake from within the crate. “I’ll get you a plate in a moment… but there’s something I have to say, first.
“Look,” she began, “I’m sorry for more than just the outburst. Apparently I did something to upset you, and frankly, I can see how. What you found out yesterday… look, let’s just forget it, okay?” Twilight turned to Trixie, looking her straight in the eye. “If you think I saw some secret of yours… I didn’t; it was just far too repressed to reach. I don’t expect you to believe me, but if nothing else… we could always be friends. And I’d appreciate if you considered that.”
Trixie stood there, wide-eyed. Her gaze flickered back and forth, as if trying to choose between one option or another. Finally, she turned back to the unicorn. “Twi?”
Twilight felt her hopes rising. “Yes?”
The cake slice left Twilight’s grip as Trixie took it in her own magic. “Don’t worry about the plate; Trixie will do without. You have her thanks, though.”
The showpony turned to trot away. Twilight watched, dropping her gaze as the hope quickly blew away. Pausing, Trixie halted mistep and looked back towards her. “Twilight, meet Trixie backstage tonight. Your friends are welcome to join the audience, if they wish.”
“Huh?” Ignoring Twilight’s confusion, Trixie walked off, taking her lunch with her. Twilight’s gazed followed her, her mind trying to wrap itself around Trixie’s request.
“We’re gonna need some more pastries, hon.” Applejack’s voice broke Twilight out of her thoughts as the earth pony stepped into view, her gaze following Trixie. “Anything better between you two?”
Twilight frowned, shaking her head. “I have no idea.”
The rest of the afternoon went relatively smoothly, despite Trixie’s request constantly nagging at the back of Twilight’s mind. Hungry ponies came and went, finally slowing down as the sun started falling. Eager to get something to eat, the two salesponies met up with Rarity and Spike across the street, who’d also met with decent success. Together, they met up with the others, and sat down to a relaxing dinner at a small restaurant.
Afterwards, aside from Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, everypony had agreed to come see Trixie’s show. Once the bill was paid, the two groups split up, and Twilight led her group to the stage.
Once there, Twilight had dropped her friends off in the audience, telling them she’d be right back as she slipped away to the backstage entrance. A little nervous about what may happen behind, Twilight gingerly stepped up to the door and let herself in.
The place seemed the same as it always did the last couple times she’d been back there. Actors flitted about, reciting lines or rehearsing acts. And far back in her usual corner by the stage attire, Trixie sat in front of a mirror, preening herself for that night’s show. Taking a deep breath, Twilight set off, weaving her way through the crowd of performers until she reached the blue unicorn in the back.
Trixie saw her coming, eyeing her in the mirror’s reflection. “Trixie almost didn’t think you’d show up, Sparkle.”
“Well, I did,” she responded. “And… to be trutful, I’ve been more than a little curious why you called me back here.”
“Trixie was getting to that.” Though she already had her cape on, Trixie grabbed her trademark hat off the nearby table and spun to face Twilight, putting the hat on as she turned. “Why do you think Trixie called you back here?”
Twilight scratched her head. “How should I know?”
“Well, Trixie will tell you.” Trixie leaned in close, narrowing her expression into an aggressive smirk. “Trixie requested your presence to declare a challenge.”
“…A what now?”
Trixie laughed. “It means, Trixie challenges you to a duel!”
“…What?! No! I refuse!” Twilight glared at the unicorn, shaking her head. “It’s offensive that you’d even suggest that!”
“Easy now, Twilight,” Trixie soothed. “Trixie has her reasons. Surely you’d consider…”
“No! And I thought you were changing.” Twilight sighed, averting her gaze. “I guess I was wrong.”
Trixie’s expression softened. “Hold on a second, Twilight, just hear Trixie out.”
“Why should I? I apologized to you-”
“Twilight!” Trixie shouted, catching the mare off guard. The showpony cleared her throat. “Now then. Trixie knows from our confrontation in Ponyville that you’re not fond of challenges. Trixie knows this, and she wishes she could provide you with a good enough reason… but she can’t. Just know that this is something Trixie has to do.”
Twilight’s gaze softened, if just for a moment. Trixie let her own scowl fall as well. “Please… it’s just something Trixie must do.”
Twilight groaned. “I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me why?” The showpony shook her head. “I…you… fine.”
Trixie raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
A smile crossed Trixie’s face as she stepped forward, wrapping a leg around her competition for the night. “Excellent! Then Trixie shall explain the stakes.”
“Stakes?” Twilight repeated. “I didn’t agree to tha-”
“There will be three categories,” Trixie interrupted. “Creativity, talent, and power. The winner of all but the last round is determined through the audience’s applause. Everything we need for the event can be found back here,” Trixie said, motioning around the backstage area.
“As for the stakes,” she continued, “they go as follows: If Trixie wins, then you relinquish the letter you hid that one day.”
Twilight looked at her in confusion. “What letter?” Realization flitted across her eyes. “Ooooh. Trixie, that letter isn-”
“Let Trixie finished,” Trixie scolded. “Now then, if you win…” Trixie let go of Twilight, moving to her front. She cast her gaze around, looking like a decision was being tossed back and forth. "Well, Trixie isn't sure whether to believe you when you say you didn't see her memories, but whether you did or not.."
Twilight reached out, patting Trixie on the shoulder. “It’s fine, Trixie, we don’t need to wager anything. It’s bad enough I agreed to this.”
Trixie looked directly into her eyes. “No, no, it almost must done. If you win,” Trixie stated, “Trixie shall tell you of her past herself.”