The room resonated with the sound of a throat clearing. Her badly burnt cape shifted to one side while Trixie fidgeted uncomfortably. Fluttershy hid as much of her face as was possible behind her mane.
“Can one of you explain what just happened?” asked Big Entrance, staring down his nose. “Barring some sort of aggressive trait that I am unaware of, I think I can safely say that the cause of the chimera’s recent behavior is on one of you.” Silence prevailed. The theater manager tapped his hoof on his desk impatiently. “Come on, there isn’t some secret password is there? Open your mouths and let words escape.”
“Um, well,” said Fluttershy, so quietly that Trixie had to lean her head in to hear what she said. “Maribel got angry.
“Really? Angry? What about almost freezing the entire audience, crashing stage equipment, and chasing after one of my artists gave you the indication that it was angry?” The manager’s eyes shifted with irritation between the two ponies in front of him. “That was a joke by the way.” He leaned over his desk. “Now, here’s a question, a good question, an important question. Why, exactly, was it angry?” He tilted his face towards Trixie. “Trix, perhaps you’d like to take a crack at speaking?”
“Trixie has no idea.”
“Oh, so you and Miss Shy here staring scissors at each other earlier had nothing to do with this?”
The unicorn clamped her mouth shut and turned her head.
“Fine, I’ll tell you what I think. I’m thinking that you,” Big Entrance pointed a hoof at Trixie, “Made her,” he pointed a hoof at Fluttershy, “Angry. The chimera picks up on her anger and lashes out at the audience. Then it comes off the stage, sees a blue unicorn, and unleashes Celestia’s fury on it and this building. That sound about right?”
“All in favor of keeping their jobs, speak now.”
With uneasy shuffling the two mares shared a dark glance and suddenly started talking at the same time.
There was a vibrating thud as a large forced collided into the back wall. Fluttershy winced and faced her now prostrate assailant. “Are you okay?”
Trixie lifted herself from the floor and shook her head clear. “Stupid pegasus reflexes,” she grumbled, leveling vengeance-filled eyes at her roommate. “What have you done to Trixie’s room?”
“I made it pink like you said you wanted. Do you not like the other stuff? I might have gotten a bit carried away.”
The unicorn’s left eye twitched and guttural noises clawed their way out of her throat. “No! Trixie does not like the ‘other stuff!’ She doesn’t even like pink! She hates the hearts, she hates the butterflies, and the bunnies can go burn!”
She might have imagined it, but Trixie thought that for a moment a bonfire had been set alight in the pegasus’s eyes. There was no mistaking the gasp.
Seeing she had hit a nerve, the unicorn attacked it full bore. “Trixie hates animals! She has never liked a single animal in her life! If Trixie had her way, she would torch the lot of them!”
A horrified squeal erupted from the pegasus. “You are not a very nice pony.”
Big Entrance blinked. “So that’s what got you two all rivaled up?”
Awkward silence stepped back into the room.
“Alright, fine. I’ll just chock that one up to other-worldly hoodoo because I certainly don’t understand it.” He looked hard at Trixie. “Any other manager might consider separating you two, but…” The stallion’s hardened face burst into a beaming smile. “They’d be idiotic!”
The two mares looked at each and back to their manager in confusion.
“Flutter, you were amazing out there! Out of all your performances, that was the best! You had presence! Real, feel-it-with-your-hooves presence! Who would have thought indignation was the key! I knew sticking you two together was a great idea. Glad you stepped up to the bat so quickly, Trix. ” The pony winked at the magician. “Now I’m hoping this shooting-bursts-of-ice thing is a onetime deal. Do you think you can keep it in line next time, Shy?”
“I think so.”
“Excellent. Now, do you want to know something interesting, Trix? Miss Shy here has been creeping up the popularity charts recently. Turns out, no matter how timid the performance is, ponies love to see a dangerous animal. Now that Flutter here can put on some fetlock shearing performances, she’s a serious contender to you, and I think we both know that there can only be one headliner in this theater. So here’s my new plan: you two are going to fight over it.”
Unbelief worked its way across Trixie’s face. “W-wait, what?”
“You heard me right. Whoever performs better in the following week will take the headline position and the other will just be second rate.”
With a snort, the magician lifted her nose into the air. “Fine. Trixie accepts this challenge.”
“Oh, I have no problem if Trixie keeps her spot as headliner,” said Fluttershy.
Big Entrance’s brow furrowed. “I thought you were angry at her. Don’t you want to, you know, pound her career into dust?”
The pegasus shook her head.
There was a pause. “Did I say that the loser of this popularity contest simply is bumped to second place? What I meant to say is that the loser is fired completely.”
With a start, Fluttershy’s eyes widened. “But what will happen to Maribel?”
“Well I guess she’ll have to be…” Big Entrance trailed off and gestured searchingly with his hoof, “Cut loose. In fact, I don’t even know where she’ll go. No one’s really equipped to handle a beast like that other than us and even if they were they’d need a permit. I guess she’ll, you know, have to be…” The theater manager winced and looked at Fluttershy sadly.
Fluttershy brought a hoof to her mouth. “No!”
Trixie smiled at the idea.
“Yes, ‘fraid so, but see, that doesn’t have to happen if you win this little popularity contest. Keep up the brutal hatred you two, this is show biz.” With that the stallion ushered them out of his office, grinning madly.
Fluttershy was a chaotic wreck upon leaving Big Entrance’s office. The fate of the chimera now depended on her and how well she could beat Trixie. But… competitiveness? Brutal hatred? She was having a hard enough time just being mad at the mare. The nervous energy inside her was making her feel downright dizzy and she wanted nothing more than to run away to some remote location and hope things got better.
“If you think for one second that you have a shot at replacing the Great and Powerful Trixie then allow her to dash your hopes now.” Fluttershy looked up from her floor-staring pondering and met livid unicorn eyes. “Trixie has more skill than you, more drive than you, and more ‘presence’ than you. When all of this is over, ‘Maribel’ will be divided into four different hats.” The magician ripped off what remained of her cape and threw it to the ground. “It’s about time Trixie is rid off you and your ugly beast.” The unicorn stalked off with hard steps, her hat sliding off in the process. Obviously unconcerned at her loss of head wear, she kept going until she disappeared down the hallway.
A pressing feeling suddenly welled up inside Fluttershy. It was similar to what she felt the previous night, only now it was stronger, foreign, and yet oddly appropriate. It compelled her to lower her eyebrows and downturn the edges of her mouth. The dizziness of her emotional confusion left her and cleared the way for solid determination. Maribel would stay on the stage and the mean Trixie would not. She would see the competition to the end no matter how weird the frown stuck to her face felt.
The pegasus went to check on the chimera before she decided to leave. The beast was still riled up but she calmed it down quickly. Saying her goodbyes to Maribel, she made her way to the door. Trixie made her way to the door too, apparently wanting use of the same exit. The two of them narrowed their eyes at each other and quickly turned their heads, each taking half of the double-door.
They made their ways through the streets of Manehattan with nary a word to each other. There were numerous times when the pegasus opened her mouth to comment on how nice the night was or how much she had come to appreciate the city lights but each time she was about to, she remembered their competition and that rivals don’t exchange pleasant small talk.
This stony silence reigned all the way to their apartment door. Fluttershy reached out her hoof to open it for Trixie but suddenly thought better of it. Instead she opened it and went in first herself. As soon as she walked over the threshold she felt bad. Was that too mean? This competition required her to be assertive but what was the limit? She didn’t want to make it look like she hated Trixie. She just really, really, really didn’t like her right now.
Her rival tromped in, slammed the door behind her, and sat down on the couch. She turned the TV on, keeping her eyes glued to it. The pegasus bit down her usual conversation starter after a work day and instead went into the kitchen and started doing what she usually did: make dinner. It was hard to stay in a bad mood while she was actively making food and she soon found herself humming blissfully like always. With a large meal all prepared she started laying food on the table for Trixie and herself when she suddenly remembered their circumstance. She bit her bottom lip in consternation. She knew what she had to do. Taking a deep breath and with heavy hesitation she poked her head into the living room.
“Dinner’s ready,” announced Fluttershy. Trixie did her best statue imitation. “But… but…” She stuttered trying to make the words come out. “But you can only have one helping. I’m supposed to be...” She swallowed. “Pushing back at you. I can’t… I can’t let you… push me over… I’m going to… win this… for… for Maribel…” She started to trail off.
“Do I look like some foal to you?” The unicorn asked simply, eyes still concentrating on the evening news. “Will Trixie be sent to her room next? Perhaps she’ll have a time out? Besides, what makes you think Trixie even wants any of your food?”
“Well… fine,” said Fluttershy as defiantly as she could muster.
“Fine!” threw back Trixie.
The pegasus whirled around and went back into the kitchen. She sat down and tried to eat her meal angrily but when she realized jerky movements didn’t make for smooth eating she slowed down. She had just finished her first plate when her roommate quietly walked into the kitchen.
The unicorn eyed the food and then Fluttershy menacingly. “Not a word,” she spat out before sitting down and plunking some food onto her plate. Fluttershy smiled. Wait, she wasn’t supposed to do that. Fluttershy scowled. Trixie scowled right back.
“Could you please pass the salt?” asked the pegasus, giving up on having a battle of facial expressions across the kitchen table.
Trixie stuck a bite of food in her mouth and chewed slowly.
“Excuse me. Could you please pass the salt?”
Trixie added a few smacking sound effects.
“I’m not going to ask again,” said Fluttershy.
Un-intimidated, Trixie swallowed and stuck another bite of food into her mouth.
Her chair legs screeched as Fluttershy pushed back from the table and stood tall. She marched over to Trixie’s side of the table, picked up the salt, and brought it back to her plate.
Trixie had only one helping.
With a start, Fluttershy’s head flew up from the book she was reading. That was a much stronger reaction than she was expecting. Loud hoofsteps sounded down the hall followed by the pegasus’s door flying open. On the other side of the threshold was an enraged unicorn. A large water spot formed on the carpet while it absorbed the unicorn’s precipitation.
“You. Used. All. The. Hot. Water.” An eye twitched.
The smug reply Fluttershy had planned for the occasion flitted away. “I didn’t think I did. It was still warm when I left.”
“Warm?” Trixie said in shock. “Warm? There is a reason Trixie told you not take a shower longer than fifteen minutes because otherwise it is not the relaxing hot that Trixie is used to enjoying every evening! What is Trixie supposed to with that mess?”
The yellow pony lowered her head and stared at the floor.
“Trixie is going to get you fired so bad there will be a smoking crater named ‘I Love Animals Too Much’ where you once existed!” With that the she left, slamming the door behind her.
The pegasus stared at the closed door. Shouldn’t she feel accomplished? She went out of her way to do want Trixie told her not to. She was being competitive. She was being ornery. She was going to win?
The unicorn made a flustered noise into her pillow when her mind’s haze realized some external force was upsetting its dream world.
A ray of recognition started to make its way through the mental fog.
“Trixie, I need to tell you something.”
The fog finally rolled back and the once sleeping pony raised her head up and looked with bleary eyes at the speaker.
“I have to confess something,” the pegasus said, hanging her head.
“What?” Trixie said with a bare minimum use of mouth muscles.
“I… I…” Fluttershy’s eyes shifted to and fro. “I’m sorry! I didn’t really mean all those things I did! I tried to go to sleep and I just couldn’t! I’m just not cut out for being mean and competitive! Please, please forgive me!” The pegasus made pleading gestures and stared into Trixie’s soul with wide, apologetic eyes. For the barest of seconds the unicorn had the desire to reach out and pat the mare on the shoulder and forgive her. Then her brain came to its senses and chased away the ridiculous notion.
“This is a winner-take-all rivalry. Trixie makes no apologies and neither should you.”
“Oh, but I have to. Nothing good can come out of being mean no matter what the circumstances. I’ve never had anypony hate me before. It feels… awful.” The mare turned her head away.
The magician brushed away her bed mane and took a good look at her roommate. With a sigh she reached out a hoof. “Trixie supposes we can compete a little more civilly and just forget this past day. Do we have an agreement?” The unicorn motioned Fluttershy to shake on it.
The mare instantly perked up. “Oh yes, yes! Thank you!” She shook the hoof emphatically before making a move to hug Trixie. The unicorn responded by shifting back and scrunching up her nose. Fluttershy retracted the motion and blushed. “Once again, I’m so sorry. I’m glad we’re back on good terms again.” The pegasus made her way out the room smiling widely.
Trixie laid her head back down on her pillow, smiling wryly.
“I don’t understand," said Big Entrance. "The other day: presence, today: liver. Miss Shy, you had ‘rawr’ going on. You looked like you had something to prove, but not today. Today looked the same as your first day on the job. You can command that Chimera, I know, the audience knows, but you got to have presence too. With a capital ‘P.’ Ponies don’t come here to see a few tricks. They come here to have their minds zazzed. I don’t want to prod the audience’s boredom with a sharp stick, I want to make their boredom angry. I want their boredom to get fed up and break up with them, leaving in a huff. You’re pulling in the crowds Miss Flutter but I want you to pull raving mobs.” The stallion crossed his front hooves on his desk. “Now I want to know what happened to the bitter hatred between you and your roommate, that wonderfully delicious loathing that caused you to have such a good performance the other day.”
“Oh, I never hated Trixie,” explained Fluttershy, “I just… really didn’t like her at the time… but we’re fine now. We were being so mean to each other and it didn't feel right. So I decided we needed to have a much nicer competition.”
“But, but, why? What about her wanting to burn bunnies? Doesn’t that make your veins boil?”
“Well, I don’t like it when ponies talk about hurting animals but I was letting that get to me. Now I see that being angry about it never does anypony any good.”
Big Entrance sighed. “Yes, yes. Well, um, why don’t you tend to that creature of yours and send my magician in here.”
Fluttershy nodded and made her way out the door, quickly replaced by a unicorn.
“Uh, Trix,” The theater manager clacked his two front hooves together. “I was wondering why by Celestia’s wing feathers you were suddenly on good terms with Miss Shy. Did you seriously make an agreement to be civil, because I was entirely counting on your abundant stubbornness to retain your anger.”
The mare smiled in knowing victory. "Trixie just couldn't stand the thought of being mean to such a considerate pony for an entire week. So we came to a cordial agreement.”
“And by simmering things down you cut off her performance fuel.” The stallion threw up his hooves in frustration. “Fine. You win. You cheated but you know I can’t fire you for that. You’re too good.” The manager rested his cheek on his hoof. “Well this has been a useless attempt. I glue you two together and just when it looked like it was getting results, this happens. You know they’re having an art show tomorrow, right? A lot of Canterlot muzzles are going to show up and I was hoping we could hook a lot of them into watching our show before they leave. Put up a lot of ads. Get them to share some of their deep pockets with ‘exemplary performance arts.’ Well now I guess I’ll only be able to provide them with one astounding show. Great. Thank you for that.”
“Trixie fails to see how this is bad news. She is more than capable of bedazzling a Canterlot crowd.”
“Yes, we’re all well aware but uh, Trix, babe, let’s do some math. One blockbuster performance or two blockbuster performances?”
“There was only ever one blockbuster performance anyway. Now that Fluttershy will be fired, it just solidifies things.” Trixie smirked.
“Hey, whoa now, I’m not firing anypony.”
“But that was part of the agreement of this so called ‘contest,’” the unicorn hissed.
“I lied. Went straight through my teeth. I just needed to motivate Miss Flutter. Sorry, Trix, but she’s still here to stay. She might not be great but she’s still good.” Big Entrance paused pensively. “But I’ll tell you what, I’ll see that Shy gets her own place. It’s obvious bunking you two isn’t going to get anypony anywhere except you complaining to the makeup staff.”
With a sudden wash of relief, Trixie smiled happily. “And Trixie prevails in the end. Now don’t you worry about tomorrow, the Great and Powerful Trixie will put on the best show ever seen by Canterlot eyes.” With that the unicorn high-tailed it out the office before her manager changed his mind.
It was finally done. It took endurance and suffering but she had finally gotten rid of the thorn in her side. All it took was a bit of cunning and opportunism and now the pegasus would be somepony else’s problem. Trixie could taste the freedom already.
It truly was a stupendous performance. The stamping of hooves resounded throughout the auditorium followed by many a cry of ‘encore.’ Of course Trixie couldn’t resist following through with their wishes and continued with her performance far past her cue, much to the delight of the audience. She left the stage tall and completely confident that she had wooed every elite in the building. She eschewed going straight to change out of her stage outfit, choosing instead to waltz into her theater room and request one of her aides to fetch her a hay smoothie.
Enjoying herself, Trixie waited for the rest of the show to be over so she could check in with Big Entrance to hear how many backers she had pulled. It felt like mere seconds before the show came to a close. Time goes by quickly when one is basking in the glory of their own talent. Exiting into the hallway, Trixie was taken aback at the sheer number of ponies clamoring to get close to her manager’s office. Well-dressed ponies and camera-wielding press talked over each other while trying to get a good look inside. The magician smiled and anticipated being flocked as she tried to worm her way to her manager. No doubt some big announcement was about to go down involving her and some hefty investments.
Sure enough, as the unicorn ploughed through the crowd, she was met with showering praise, ever flashing cameras, and shouted questions. Finally she made it to Big Entrance’s office where a pony ushered her in and did his best along with a few other staff members to keep the crowd back.
“Ah, Trix, just the unicorn I wanted to see!” boomed her manager’s voice.
The magician approached Big Entrance’s desk which was flanked by a stallion and a mare, one in a suit and top hat and the other wearing a designer dress and a blindingly reflective diamond necklace.
“Trix, I’d like you to meet High Hat and his wife, Alimonia.” The manager pointed to the two unicorns beside him. “Mr. Hat, as you saw, Trix here put on the best--”
“Charmed to meet you, Miss Trixie,” said High Hat, cutting off Big Entrance. “That truly was an outstanding performance.” He shook the unicorn’s hoof. “Now, Mr. Entrance back to what we were discussing...” He paused and took a good look at Trixie, adjusting his monocle. “Actually, Mr. Entrance, I believe I’ve come upon a brilliant idea. I think I’ve found an excellent coach and she’s standing right before us.”
“Oh, well, um.” The manager fumbled for words. “Yes. Yes, of course. I think she would be perfect for the task.” Big Entrance’s statement carried a subtle tone that made Trixie frown slightly. What exactly were they discussing?
“Now High, dear, are you sure this is who you want to sponsor?” asked Alimonia, examining a pegasus, a yellow coated, pink maned pegasus. Trixie’s eyes widened. She had missed Fluttershy standing behind Big Entrance’s chair looking extremely nervous.
“Quite,” replied High Hat. “You know my penchant for exotic creatures, Ally, and that chimera was the most exotic animal I have ever seen in my life. I have no doubt that with a little improvement in its handler, I can make it the best crowd-drawer in Equestria.”
Though it was intended to be an intelligible question, in Trixie’s shock, the noise that came out of her mouth sounded much like “Gahh?”
“Did you not catch Miss Fluttershy’s performance, Miss Trixie?” High Hat reached over to pull the pegasus to him, much to her obvious chagrin. “It didn’t get quite the reaction your well put together act did but I saw the untapped potential.”
“I believe my husband might actually be right,” said Alimonia, approaching Trixie with a smile. “You’d make an excellent teacher for Miss Fluttershy. With the amazing performance you put on tonight I have no doubt you can bring her up to the same level.”
The muscles on Trixie’s face contorted in a way that was sure to be unhealthy if prolonged. Without her even realizing it, words started leaving the unicorn’s mouth. “I. Am. Going. To —“
“-- Make a fantastic trainer,” said Big Entrance. “And you’ll be more than happy to, right?” The stallion gave the stage pony a harsh look when he was sure no one was looking. It communicated drastic consequences to Trixie if she were to screw any of this up. “Mr. Hat, this theater is more than happy to accept your very, very generous investment, and if your requirements are making the chimera be the queen of our shows and Trixie the trainer for Miss Shy then we are more than happy to oblige.”
The rest of the conversation started to fade as Trixie’s mind reeled. What was the point? There wasn’t one, there couldn’t be. It was a cosmic prank. To pull her out of the dragon’s lair for a breath of fresh air only to throw her back in again could be nothing short of the universe’s vile hatred of her put into action.
A catatonic state made its way over the unicorn. She retreated to a world where everypony knew her name and praised her constantly, where posters of her wonderful visage were plastered all over town, and every place was devoid of nice, quiet pegasi. There was not an animal to be found nor was pink something found in the color spectrum. The showers always had hot water and anypony would argue with her at a moment’s notice.
With a start the dream land was gone and something inside Trixie snapped. She gazed upon Fluttershy and saw the Ruiner of Worlds.