Trixie, as one of the Knights of the Realm who had been trained (and trained herself) for the position for years, naturally had a quite good situational awareness most of the time. However, walking back to her wagon after speaking with Applejack was quite a special case. Trixie was currently recovering from a mission in a safe space, she had also gotten tired from the effort of trying to convince Applejack (which was mostly keeping her composure and not allowing cracks in her determination to appear) as well as using a somewhat powerful illusion, and finally, she was relieved from actually suceeding in her objective. All that could explain why she ended up tripping and falling into a mudpool as she was walking back.
"Argh!" Trixie said, getting up "Trixie is filthy!"
She immediately got out of the pool and started using spells to clean herself off, but after getting rid of the excess, Trixie got an idea.
"Trixie's seen a spa around here. She could go there to clean this whole thing and relax for a bit."
She nodded to herself, that seemed like a good idea since she didn't have anything else pressing to do.
Now, where was the spa again...? Trixie remembered, and started towards there.
Twilight was drinking a cup of coffee as she heard a knock on the door. Pinkie was there.
It didn't take long for the earth pony to be ushered into the house and offered her own cup of coffee. But it was when Twilight asked casually where they should start on the class that the script changed.
"Actually, I have something I need to say to you." Pinkie answered seriously.
"Oh? What?" Twilight inquired.
Pinkie put forward the math book like she was making an offering "I don't understand!"
Twilight took a moment to process what the mare was actually telling her. Then she made the adequate question.
"So... You mean you can't understand anything about the mathematical concepts of diferential and integral?" She asked carefully.
"Yes! That's exactly it! I don't understand!" Pinkie explained animatedly.
"Well..." It was a complicated problem for Twilight, she was a teacher yes, but a teacher of basic magic and didn't have any experience teaching adults, much less teaching math. And it just had always seemed so simple for her...
But before Twilight could finish her ponderings, Pinkie Pie's body suddenly shook, performing a series of localized spasms that were completely non-natural. And after it finished, the mare adopted an expression of horror.
"Was that your Pinkie Sense?" Twilight asked, already focusing for a possible situation.
"Yes! And Fluttershy is in trouble!" Pinkie exclaimed.
"Where do we need to go?" Twilight asked. She would have offered to go by herself, but probably only Pinkie would be able to track the pony in danger.
"Everfree forest. Near the edge. That's all I can tell you." Pinkie said, concentrating hard.
That was enough for now. Twilight charged a teleport and suddenly the library was empty.
Sunset got home and opened the door, already in pre-flinch mode. But when she didn't hear Twilight, the unicorn slowly entered the library.
"Twilight, are you here?" She asked in a raised voice.
There was no response, and Sunset relaxed slightly. It seemed like her sentence had been delayed.
Trixie quickly got to the spa. She entered the building like a conquering heroine returning from a mission... or at least how the stories said such would enter someplace. Trixie had first hand experience with the fact that conquering heroes usually had to be carried back home after a mission, due to overdoing things, but making an illusion of herself being carried into the spa would send the wrong impression. Trixie simply decided to emulate the stories in this point due to the fact that she didn't want to show any weakness from being dirty. Heroes were inspirations to everypony, after all. It wouldn't do to let a little bit of dirt get her down.
The fact that she had considered all those things while she was walking towards the door was proof that the Knight really were ponies who didn't follow the standard.
Still, going back to the story, Trixie entered the spa and walked towards the reception, and besides the counter pony, there was also another unicorn inside, a white mare with a purple mane and a three diamond cutie mark. The mare noticed her, and ran over.
"Oh dear... What happened to your coat?" She asked, sounding completely horrified.
Trixie knew how to answer that "Even the greatest of heroes are still flawed!" She flipped her hat "Despite all of her skill, not even Trixie is immune to possibly losing focus and tripping into a mudpool." Trixie announced grandly "But Trixie remains unbowed, no matter what harms may befall her!" She reared up on her back legs in a galant pose, before coming back down.
The white unicorn nodded "It is certainly important to remain confident in the face of setbacks, but since you're here, you must be looking for a full treatment to recover from such a dreadful experience." She looked at Trixie in understanding.
"That certainly seems like an attractive idea, though Trixie hopes it won't take too long, she wants to go back home early." The azure unicorn remarked.
"Oh, this may be a problem." The pony on the counter entered the conversation "You see, miss Rarity has made a reserve for a full treatment that will start in five minutes, and considering how long it takes..." She trailed off, seeing as the two customers had understood.
"Oh my, this simply won't do." The white unicorn, Rarity, stated with determination "Vera, my dear, isn't there a special doubles option for the full treatment? Couldn't you change my reserve so that Dame Trixie can share the treatment with me?" She stopped and looked at Trixie "Only if she is okay with it, of course." The unicorn smiled.
Trixie couldn't think of a problem "Trixie is okay with that if it is a possibility."
Vera looked at them "I think it should be alright. We'll have to grab more of the products on short notice, but the day is slow and I can help."
"That is perfect then, thank you darling." Rarity did a perfect high-society style bow.
Trixie paid for her part of the doubles ticket (noting that it was cheaper than a normal ticket) and then Rarity caught her attention.
"I see that you are exactly like the rumors said, and how I expected from that show." She then tilted her head to the right "But could you tell me about your fellow Knights? I want to know more about the newest heroes of Equestria."
The Knight smiled, that mare certainly wanted something, even if her interest seemed casual, still, there was no reason to lose a chance to expand the tales of the Knights further, so she started talking about Twilight's studious nature and Sunset's love of challenges.
Rarity was a good listener, and an engaging conversationalist. They were still talking while receiving the treatment from the spa ponies.
The two ponies appeared next to the Everfree forest, and Pinkie ran in, closely followed by Twilight.
Seeing the earth pony running to the rescue, Twilight decided that the first thing she would teach Pinkie Pie would be how to easily use the chaotic movement style. Then, shaking her head while still running, she started casting spells on the path itself, using her chaos magic to examine the route they were taking and also to repel the threats that, while small, would be able to interfere with their ability to proceed with their mission.
Besides that, Twilight was also casting several small protective spells on herself and Pinkie. Subtle things capable of protecting from inhaling dangerous substances, or from being disabled by extreme noises or smells, or even from gaze-based attacks like those from a cockatrice. And that was not even mentioning the more general protections spells against heat, eletricity and normal force.
Twilight Sparkle had researched about every kind of monster and dangerous place she could over her years as Celestia's apprentice, since she knew there was a high possibility that the three would end up going to any of those places and/or fighting any of those creatures. Due to that, she was extremely clear about the dangers of the Everfree forest, from the possibility of monsters like cockatrices and manticores to dangerous plants like the poison joke and the black apple tree. The unicorn knight believed in being prepared, and even though there were always going to be things one couldn't prepare for, there was no reason to not prepare for those you could.
Still, their journey over the relatively small section of the Everfree forest they had to cross was fairly smooth sailing. Which made sense, since she was throwing chaos magic around, and that kind of magic was associated in nature with some of the nastiest and most annoying natural phenomenons in the world, like the endearing mushrooms and the poison joke itself.
Thinking about it, Twilight let a relatively small part of her concentration slip, thinking about all the cool things she could do with her own chaos warped plants. She could carry seeds around which had a variety of effects, and simply make them bloom when necessary to really give her opponents grief. Too bad warping life itself was one of the hardest feats to perform with chaos magic, and was simply too time consuming for her at that point. She could make such cool things were it not the case... Like a flower whose spores could make people tell the truth, so she could extract information from her opponents! Yes, that would be aweso-
Her thoughts were suddenly cut off when she came upon view of the exact problem they were coming to face. It was a group of trees whose branchs were growing and moving recklessly. Their target was a butter yellow pegasus with a pink mane, and the branches had joined up to form a cage around her. A cage that was contantly growing smaller, while extra branches kept attacking the mare and trying to knock her out of the air.
Well, this is something I wasn't prepared for. It looks like some random chaotic effect, even if an effect of this magnitude wasn't supposed to happen so far from the center of the forest, but chaotic magic did often ignore expectations with the glee of a foal with a new toy.
Pinkie then ran in and managed to warp inside the cage, before starting to bash away some of the branches attacking the pegasus (Fluttershy, from what she had said before). Twilight decided that, since she obviously could already do chaotic movements, Pinkie should instead learn to be able to do them freely instead.
The Knight kept moving forward and charged her magic, while being prepared to use a merged spell if it became necessary. It looked like her apprentice was a heroine, and as a Knight of the Realm, she wouldn't allow a heroine to suffer while she was present.
"... And that is how we trained our bodies to be able to recover from any type of poison or similar that may affect us. This also made all three of us unable to become drunk, but really, we wouldn't want to anyway. One time Twilight accidentally got drunk due to a training accident and suddenly all three of us had been turned into modern art. Let me tell you, Trixie didn't like being a modern art piece, and judging by the fact that we got an entirely new kilometer deep hole, Sunset didn't like it either.
"Really, it would have been easier to use this kind of body manipulation magic if we were earth ponies or even pegasi, but it still works well." Trixie finished the latest part of her story.
Since she didn't hear any commentary, she opened her eyes to see that not only Rarity, but also both of the spa ponies (Aloe and Lotus, from what Rarity had called them) looked completely horrified.
"What? Is being unable to get drunk such a big deal?" Trixie didn't understand their reaction.
"No Dear, that is not what we are concerned about..." Rarity spoke, having recovered "Instead, it's this ridiculous 'training' you speak off. Causing this kind of painful damage to your own organs... I cannot imagine being able to do such things while being only sixteen..." She seemed somewhat nauseous.
"Oh, that? It was nothing. The real hard training was the will stuff." Trixie assumed a thousand yard stare, and her audience decided they had better not ask.
Celestia suddenly got the feeling that putting the three in complete sensorial deprivation for a week had been going too far.
Still, Trixie had been completely satisfied with the special treatment given to her by the spa. She would have to return one of those days, maybe she would even make a habit of going there after every mission. She could tell that all that relaxing made her much closer to actually recovering completely.
All good things had to come to an end, though, and eventually their session at the spa was finished. Trixie got back her hat and cape, and Rarity made a small proposal:
"Would you like me to take care of those?" she pointed at Trixie's clothes.
"I am somewhat of a local specialist in clothing, and I could help with returning your things to a pristine condition." Rarity said with a slight smile.
Trixie looked at her for a few seconds... And then a few more seconds... Eventually Rarity caved.
"Okay. I will admit I am not being completely selfless here. I also want to make a few additions and modifications to your emsemble, because I think it could be made even more fabulous if you had themed additions for special occasions." Rarity put a hoof to the air teatrically "And having one of the Knights wearing one of my pieces would result in such a great exposition of my work!"
Trixie smiled, she actually liked the white unicorn, and felt that it would be interesting to get to know her more. As such...
"Then let's go, I want to see some samples of your work before actually deciding."
Rarity smiled at her, and then led her through the streets until they got to Rarity's boutique.
They got there pretty quick, but there was still enough time for Rarity to talk about many of the ideas she had for possible versions of Trixie's clothes. Though Trixie thought Rarity acted kind of weird when she asked about the best materials and cuts to burn and explode for distractions. Wasn't that one of the most important parts?
Once inside, Rarity began to do her magic, in both senses of the word.
Trixie actually considered it a show. Rariy was manipulating every single fiber in her clothes all at once, making them vibrate to remove every last bit of dirt, patching some parts that had become ragged due to the previous mission and even (after consulting with Trixie to make sure it was okay) removing some long term damage that had been patched wrong over the years. It was truly magnificent.
Rarity gave the cloak and hat back to Trixie, who inspected them. And that was when Trixie became certain of what she had to do.
"Ms. Rarity Belle, I would like to you on as my apprentice." Trixie said politely.
"Huh? What?" The fashionista was stunned "What brought this on?"
Trixie gathered her thoughts for a moment, wondering about how to explain.
"As a mage who seeks the highest peak in the art of illusion, Trixie is always at risk at falling out of line with reality itself." She said in a solemn manner "In order to protect herself from such a fate, Trixie has set up several ways of reminding herself of the real world. The many flaws in my cape and hat were so minute and complex that they were almost impossible for anyone other than me to fully detect or replicate, and Trixie's soul remembers them, so if she tries to do it herself, even unconsciously, it will be immediately detected."
"Really...? But... You said..." Rarity was confused.
"As such, this was something of a test. Trixie wanted to see if you would have the eye for detail needed to fix it. Don't worry, she can put the flaws back easily, it will not be a problem." Trixie flipped her hat and put it back, and did the same with the cape "Trixie is interested in seeing if she can see what pathways your magic will take with some help in developing it. She is sure it will be magnificent." Trixie then looked Rarity in the eyes "Of course, if you don't want to, Trixie would still like to buy some clothes made by you. This kind of talent is rare."
Rarity was almost completely speechless, but she still had a question in mind.
"Weren't you looking for an apprentice to learn illusions? You didn't mention anything about it."
Trixie could understand what she was wondering about.
"Actually, Trixie got another apprentice earlier today. She is an expert in truth, something that is opposite but also complementary to illusions. It's not exactly what Trixie had in mind, but it is a talent she wants to help grow. The same way, you are a talent Trixie wants to see developed, she is sure you would do well with illusions, considering your sense of detail and she may even teach you a thing or two. But your path is different, and Trixie is interested in seeing how it will develop. It is going to be a surprise, but Trixie thinks it will be worth it."
Rarity stopped, she thought, and she decided.
"I will accept to become your apprentice, Dame Trixie."
"Glad to have you."
Twilight moved quickly. There was one way to easily reduce the pressure on the two ponies who were inside the cage of brances, and that was to attract the attention of the branches themselves.
Thinking about Trixie, and how she would use such a distraction to great effect, the Knight charged a spell and aimed at the ground.
"Chaos Magic: Earth Shift!" The spell hit the ground and spread out under all the enemy trees. The ground itself started turning to stone.
If there was something trees hated, it was somepony messing with the ground, so Twilight immediately became the target of a prodigious number of branches, removing a lot of the pressure from the pair of ponies.
And that wasn't all, as Pinkie Pie's approach seemed to have revitalized Fluttershy, who started attacking the branches that tried to sneak up on Pinkie from behind.
And suddenly Twilight couldn't look anymore, because the branches were upon her. However, she had begun charging her next spell as soon as the first one completed, and it was already ready.
"Chaos Magic: Black Trap!" And the spell hit most of the branches, but could only affect some of them. It was a high stakes spell, but the results were good enough to justify it.
Because the branches that were affected started to attack and hinder the other branches. Because the spell, at its heart, was based on messing up with friend/foe recognition. Still, even with the effect being more than enough to stop the attack of the branches, Twilight had to go to the next step soon, because the spell also wouldn't last for very long.
Twilight shifted to a new position to the northwest of her previous one, in order to get away from the screen of branches, so that she could see what was the situation with the other two.
The situation hadn't changed in the two and a half seconds she had lost sight of them. They were still managing to hold on and fight against the remaining branches, which meant Twilight had the perfect opportunity to help them escape, while most of the branches were still tied down due to her previous spell.
So, Twilight decided to channel the old saying and fight trees with more trees. The fact that those trees were full of chaos magic actually helped.
"Chaos Magic: Growth Outbreak!" With a blast of magic, she made a three grow inside the cage of branches, separating them with sheer force of growth, and opening a breach.
"Escape through here!" The Knight shouted to them, and started blasting the attacking branches to give the two a chance to escape.
They didn't need to hear it twice, both Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie moved through the opened hole, and Twilight kept the branches off them until they passed her, before following them while still keeping an eye on any possible dangers.
It didn't take long before they got too far for the branches to follow them.
When the trio finally stopped, with Twilight saying the danger had passed (she still kept an eye on the other possible dangers that could appear at any moment in the forest), Fluttershy started breathing heavily from the exertion. Pinkie Pie was better off, but she certainly didn't seem as bouncy and ever-moving as she usually was. This kind of danger situation really took a lot out of ponies who weren't used to it, so Twilight wasn't surprised.
After the pegasus recovered, Twilight decided to try and figure out how things had gotten to that point.
"Hello." She said in a friendly manner "My name is Twilight Sparkle. You are Fluttershy, aren't you?"
The pegasus was somewhat hesitant, but soon answered.
"Yes, I am."
"Okay." Twilight said "So, could you explain what you were doing inside such a dangerous forest?"
"Ah, it's not dangerous at all..." Fluttershy seemed somewhat unconfortable speaking "To me, anyway..." The last words were barely above a whisper.
"Oh, could you explain that?" Twilight asked, noting that Pinkie Pie seemed to be almost vibrating with the need to talk. But she was clearly holding herself back, perhaps understanding that communicating with Fluttershy needed to be done with care.
"It's just... Ms. Zecora told me about the plants I needed to avoid... And to never go in too deep..." Fluttershy seemed to brighten up a little before the next words "And I can talk with the animals."
"Really?" Twilight looked at her cutie mark. That was a rare ability, especially for a pegasus.
"Yeah! Most of the 'dangerous' animals are actually quite nice when you get to know them." Fluttershy nodded confidently (in comparison to her usual), clearly this was a subject close to her heart "And the ones that aren't... Well, we have an understanding." Fluttershy said mysteriously.
"Hmm... I can understand. This kind of event happening so far from the center of the forest is really unlikely." Twilight nodded.
"And I can't talk to plants." The pegasus said sadly.
Twilight somehow didn't like seeing her like that, so her next words were fairly instinctive.
"Would you like to?"
"Eh? What? I..." Fluttershy was confused.
Twilight opened her mouth to say it was nothing, but then she actually thought of it. She thought about Fluttershy's unusual ability, what her words about being able to walk in the forest implied, and how she bravely defended Pinkie Pie when she came to rescue her. She decided to give it a shot.
"Hey Pinkie, what do you think about having a fellow disciple?" She asked the earth pony.
"Yuppers! That would be amazing! You want Fluttershy to be your apprentice?" Pinkie did a hop and supported herself with her front hooves, while keeping her back legs in the air, like she was a circus performer.
"That's right." Then she looked at the pegasus "What do you think? With some instruction from me, you could be able to talk to trees. Do you want to be my apprentice?" She said softly.
"I... I like trees..." Fluttershy said, that seemingly being the only part she could respond to. Twilight was patient and waited for the answer.
"I... I do." Fluttershy finally spoke, seeming to have mustered all her will to do it.
Sunset sighed when she heard the door opening and Twilight's voice. She had been tense for so long it had basically already run its course. Twilight's arrival was pretty much a relief by that point. She wasn't even scared anymore.
Sunset walked to the front entrance.
Twilight heard her coming "Sunset, you will not believe what happe-" Then Twilight saw Sunset and immediately realized what had happened "Sunset Shimmer, did you overload your magic again?!"
Oh, now the fear was back. How wonderful.
Those were Sunset's last thoughts as Twilight was advancing upon her.