“Not the smallest stage I’ve ever performed on but most certainly not the largest ever.” Dazzling Sparkle said to herself, but Spike, as he often did, considering her small circle of friends consisted of only him, answered her question anyway.
“I don’t know, I kind of like it. It gives off a rustic charm, you know?” Spike returned to unpacking the stage equipment that had been provided by the mayor.
Twilight looked down over the stage equipment from her position on top of the stage. She groaned as Spike pulled out decorations from one of the boxes, from what she saw it consisted mostly of bunting from past celebrations. Upon her arrival in Ponyville, Dazzling had been shocked, if not flabbergasted, to learn that the town had been unable to find a pony to decorate main hall for Dazzling’s show. Though, that was just the icing on the proverbial cake. Apparently, Sunset Shimmer had suggested that Dazzling could handle it herself.
How does Celestia expect me to work like this? Yes, pageantry is not what brings a show together but it certainly helps add to the atmosphere! SHOULD I be surprised? No, Celestia never understood my art. Pushing her frustration aside Dazzling calmed herself with a long, slow breath and closed her eyes. Losing focus was the first step to losing control, Celestia had taught her that when teaching her to form her magic years before. She would never admit it to Celestia, and especially not to Sunset Shimmer, but she always repeated Celestia’s words when she needed to find her calm just like she had done so now.
“Let us see what we have to work with, shall we Spike?” Dazzling said and opened her eyes. Slowly she moved her gaze around the main hall, taking in every detail along the way. From the small stage where she stood to the space below where Spike was still unpacking. She looked upward, seeing the second level of the main hall where more ponies would no doubt be seated, the balcony where Celestia herself would appear and watch Dazzling perform. From its base to its peak the main hall was almost shaped like a circular gazebo, when she gazed upward her vision followed an invisible circle that she saw in her mind’s eye. Spinning and spinning upward toward the ceiling. Then, inspiration sparked inside of her.
“Ideeeaa! Spike, would you please take some notes for me?” Dazzling had already been building up the magical power for her illusion before Spike had even responded with an affirmative and had pulled out a notepad and pencil. Dazzling had compared her illusion magic more than once to that of a painter creating a masterpiece. She knew what many did not know was that masterpieces were not created without several, if not dozens of draft works. Dazzling was no different in this regard, she often got caught up in her own imagination and no matter what illusions she created she knew there was always room for improvement, or there would be errors. Spike, as her number one assistant, observed. From his feedback, Dazzling could take her magic to a new level of radiance.
“Imagine the faces of the ponies as they enter the hall. Excited to see Celestia, but even more so to see the young, up-and-coming illusionist from Canterlot! 'I wonder what she will do! I can’t wait to see!' They will say among themselves. Imagine their slowly building confusion as they see no decorations whatsoever! Then the lights go out, except for one…” Twilight conjured in her mind’s eye the image of the sun, and in response her horn flared with magic. In the center of the floor the sun appeared, a mirror image of the same ball of light she saw in her mind.
“Might want to adjust that for above the heads of the ponies. I’d totally freak out if the pony next to me was suddenly swallowed by a ball of fire.” Spike commented out loud as he continued to write notes. Dazzling smiled and nodded in response, she lifted the illusionary sun she had created from the ground and floated it upward toward the ceiling. The moment it was above the height of the second balcony solar fire erupted in all directions outward from the sun. The streaks of fire smashed into the walls and railings of the balcony above and instead of incinerating everything the illusionary fire changed. Some of it unfolded downward, changing into orange-yellow-pink banners with the symbol of Celestia’s cutie mark at the center. Some of the illusionary fire snaked around the balcony railings, leaving a trail of flames which after a few seconds changed into rows of blooming sunflowers, the center of the flower also emblazoned with Celestia’s cutie mark.
“I can almost hear their oooo’s and aaah’s, the thunder of their clapping hooves as they realize my plan all along. They go quiet though, as the sun continues to rise and then grows…” matching Dazzling’s words she imagined the sun she created expanding in her mind and as she did she saw the sun she had created do likewise. It grew and grew as it drifted higher above the second balcony until the entire ceiling was blocked by the image of a blazing sun. Looking closer she could see fiery coronas that danced across the surface of the sun, focusing her magic and mind she made them twirl and dance across the surface of the sun, finally making them form a glowing outline of what could only be Celestia.
“And then the climax…” Dazzling said, dramatically she stood on both of her hind hooves and thrust her front hooves toward the illusionary sun she had made. Next, Dazzling mimed tugging on an invisible rope or cord, before she mimed pulling the rope free and had fallen back on her front hooves. Above her the illusionary sun she had created exploded into what could be described as ‘solar confetti’. Sparkles of red, orange, yellow, and white light fell with illusionary ribbons and even a few falling fireballs. In her mind she imagined the scores of ponies cheering and looking upward with amazement. Inside of her chest, Dazzling’s heart soared at the thought, what she loved more than creating her art was seeing the wonder or joy on the faces of her audience. To know that she had sparked something inside of them…
Dazzling was completely unprepared when she heard the sound of the door to the main hall begin to creak open. In that moment as she turned from her illusion toward the opening set of doors she lost her focus and her magic went where her attention shifted. Instead of falling down, the fireballs and other effects she had created swirled into a tempest, funneling together and sweeping outward toward the set of doors.
No! No! No! No! Stop! Stop! Stop! Dazzling sucked in her breath and reared back her head again, miming like she was pulling on a rope. Her horn’s magic became a violet supernova as she worked to banish the illusions she had created, one by one the illusions faded out of existence. Above her, she saw that the sun she had created seemed to lose its buoyancy and had plummeted toward the ground.
“Mommy!” Spike shouted and toppled down to the floor, tossing out the contents of a box and hopping inside.
If that was a real sun, a cardboard box would not do you any good, Spike. It would probably burst into flames before the sun actually fell on you. Dazzling thought as her sun winked out of existence a few feet above Dazzling’s own head. She refocused on the doorway and cursed when she saw that she had not been quick enough to dispel all of her illusions, as one of her fireballs burst in the face of the pony who had opened the doorway.
The unwitting victim of Dazzling’s illusion spilled forward through the doorway with a panicked shriek, Dazzling saw saddle bags that the pony had been carrying fly off from the pony’s back and spill their contents across the floor of the main hall. Various gemstones scattered across the floor, including from what Dazzling could see, was a large bowling ball that bounced and rolled.
“Oh dear, I’m terribly sorry about that.” Dazzling apologized as she jumped from the stage and rushed to the pony’s side. She felt incredibly guilty at losing control of one of her illusions, and letting it run amok, especially that it had scared or even possibly harmed another pony. She used her magic to lift the pony back up to their hooves, Dazzling slid what she hoped was a pleasant smile on her face and that a calm appearance would stamp out any anxiety in the pony. “Just a little magical mishap. That was just an illusion, nothing to worry about, darling!”
“An illusion? Fascinating, I could have sworn that I felt actual heat from that illusion.” The pony in front of Dazzling composed herself, shaking her head and blinking rapidly which Dazzling guessed was so that she could re-focus her own vision. As the pony, a mare with triple diamonds for a cutie mark, Dazzling felt her eyes take a slippery slope as they picked out every detail of her new audience.
Know your audience and you will know how to wow them. The more she picked over the mare’s appearance however the more an inside voice inside of Dazzling seemed to squee louder. The mare’s appearance seemed to pull at several directions, the style of her mane wrapped in a bun seemed to suggest conservative but Dazzling spied a worn pencil tucked behind the mare’s ear that steered Dazzling’s impression toward an educated pony. However, looking closer Dazzling saw well-built muscle and even some kind of dust or dirt around the mysterious mare’s hooves which pointed Dazzling toward a more outgoing or outdoorsy impression. Dazzling was lead around again by the mysterious mare’s coat, it looked so soft and practically shined despite the smudge of dried dirt here and there. What intrigued Dazzling most of all however was the way the mysterious mare stared right back at her, behind beautiful blue eyes Dazzling sensed she was being studied right back. Wait, did I just think ‘beautiful eyes’?
“Excuse my intrusion, my name is Gem.” The mysterious mare, who Dazzling now knew her name, spoke before Dazzling could get out her next words. Gem’s lips turned upward into a sheepish, unsure smile at Dazzling, and to Dazzling it felt like a firework had burst inside of her chest. She felt her face start to blush, but covered it with her hoof, she hoped Gem would think she was just rubbing her forehead.
“It is a pleasure to meet you Gem, again I must simply apologize for my illusion. I did not think anypony would be coming to the main hall until later.”
“That’s alright, it isn’t the first time I have been surprised like that.” Gem’s smile shrank as she looked away as if recalling a fond memory, “One time I was digging through a sandstone deposit. I had spied a particularly unusual looking quartz formation, I was so eager to inspect it that I did not stop to check how deep in the water table I had gone and unleashed the stored water of the aquifer!”
Dazzling watches as Gem giggled, the words that Gem had spoken bounced in Dazzling’s head but for the life of her she could not make sense of them so she did the next polite thing and laughed along with Gem. Gem however stopped laughing and looked at Dazzling before something that looked like recognition appeared on Gem’s face.
“Oh, um, what I mean is-“Gem fumbled for her words but after a few moments her ears perked up as she seemed to find them, -“That I was digging in the ground and accidentally dug into an underwater lake…well, more like pond. You know. Kind of like the fireball but with water.”
Dazzling was surprised, perhaps Gem had far more experience recognizing polite and confused laughter and having to explain herself than Dazzling had thought. Perhaps, it was I that erred here? That would have worked on any of the stuffed-up nobles in Canterlot but not her.
“Oh, I see, that does sound like quite the surprise. Ahaha.” Dazzling felt the air between herself and Gem grow more awkward by the moment. Why am I feeling so tongue tied around this pony? Dazzling opened her mouth to speak but Gem’s gaze had drifted away, she gasped and then rushed past Dazzling to where her bowling ball had landed before.
“Is it cracked? Please, tell me if it is cracked or not!” Gem said as she wrapped the ball in her magic and twisted it around, inspecting the surface. Dazzling trotted beside Gem for a closer look.
“I haven’t played much bowling ball myself, but if it is cracked I will be happy to replace your ball.” Dazzling said and was surprised again when Gem turned and gave her a quizzical look.
“Bowling ball? What do you mean by that?” Gem turned back toward the stone ball and seemed to finish looking it over, she stamped a hoof hard into the floor, “No cracks at all! Not even a tiny fissure! Drat, why won’t you break, Tom?”
“Tom...?” Dazzling asked, Gem turned to say something to her but Spike beat her to the punch.
“Wow, look at all these gems! They look delicious!” Spike said as he tossed the box he had been hiding under aside, his eyes glued to the gems scattered across the floor. Without waiting a moment, he had already begun to pick up the gems one by one, “It’s not even my birthday, yet!”
“A baby dragon?!?” Gem gasped, freezing in place as she watched Spike waddle across the floor. Dazzling could practically see Gem running calculations behind her beautiful blue eyes as Gem stared at Spike. Beautiful? Not again!
“Oh, hey, are these your gems?” Spike said after finally picking up the last of the gems and seeming to also finally notice Dazzling and Gem. With the pile of gems in his arms he walked over to Dazzling and Gem, holding them out to Gem to take. “They look beautiful! Delicious too! I would love to have one… If that’s alright.”
“You want one of these gems?” Gem asked, using her magic to float one of the gems out from the pile and before Spike’s eyes.
“Yea, uh, that’d be great!” Spike nodded his head vigorously, practically drooling as his eyes focused on the gem.
By now Dazzling had deduced at the very least that Gem appeared to have some sort of great fondness for stones and gems. It was literally in her name after all. Dazzling didn't like the way she was so shocked by Spike’s appearance, dragons ate gems after all, and she knew from experience Spike could eat them by the bucket load. Perhaps, it is best if I let Spike down gently.
“…only if you let me watch you eat.” Gem replied.
“Wait, what?” Dazzling swiveled her head toward Gem, she felt her eyebrows arch with as much skepticism as surprise.
“Dragons are the only known species whose diet entirely consists on gemstones! It is far more important to them than it could ever be for ponykind. For one of the essays I submitted as part of my rockdorate I theorized how dragons gain sustenance from gemstones. Now I have a live dragon in front of me that I can study! Magnifique!” Gem gasped for air before she continued, “Your teeth! Yes, your teeth may be the answer! Here, please, take a bite out of To-I mean this stone. I must know the contents!”
Gem floated the stone ball down in front of Spike, it landed with a gentle thud at his feet. Dazzling had not noticed it before but on the stone ball she saw a strange design engraved into the stone. Spike for his part shrugged his shoulders and picked up the stone.
“Sure! I’m not the kind of guy to throw away a free meal!” Spike opened his mouth wide and chomped down on the stone. Gem leaned in closer, a tiny smile on her face as she stared intently. Dazzling knew something was wrong when Spike furrowed his brow and chomped on the stone again before he spit it out into his hands. It was covered in drool but it was also completely unmarked.
“Youch! I don’t know what this is but it makes my teeth hurt.”
“Noooo! How can that be? It doesn’t make sense!” Gem looked like she was about to cry, she dug her hooves into her mane, the perfect bun her mane was tied in began to fray with stray strands of hair falling out around Gem’s face.
“It’s alright! I can try again! Please don’t cry!” Spike voice sounded panicked as he brought the stone ball back to his mouth and made to bite it again. Dazzling however did not want to see her number one assistant’s teeth broken on the floor and whisked it out of his hands and into the air beside her.
“I’m sorry that Spike was unable to help you, darling” Dazzling extended her hoof to Gem and patted her comfortingly, “I don’t know what is going on between you and this stone, but I am sure you will figure it out.”
“You think I will?” Gem stopped tearing at her mane and turned toward Dazzling, her beautiful blue eyes accented by welling tears. Dazzling stamped down on her thoughts before they could make another stray comment and nodded her head.
“Yes, yes I do! I don’t know much about you Gem but you appear to be a capable mare.” Dazzling replied, ignoring how soft Gem’s coat felt and the stray thought of why couldn’t they make blankets that soft as she continued, “If not, then Dazzling Sparkle isn’t my real name and I’m a monkey’s sister!”
“Dazzling’s mom once told me she did want to name her ‘Twilight’ Sparkle at one point but changed her mind.”
“T-thank you, Dazzling and Spike. I appreciate it.” Gem wiped the tears from her eyes and used her magic to place Tom back into her saddle bags, “You can also have all of those gems, Spike. They are old samples anyway.”
“Aw, really? Awesome! Or should I say, aw-nom-nom-nom” Spike laughed at his own joke before he stuffed his face into the gems and began eating them.
“His appetite appears to be…healthy.” Gem said to Dazzling once she turned her eyes from Spike back to Dazzling. Dazzling sighed and nodded.
“Tell me about it. One time he ate the Sapphire of Starswirl from right on top of Celestia’s desk and I had to stick my hoof down his throat to get it back.”
“Princess Celestia? Oh, I think I know who you are. I heard you were coming to Ponyville.” Gem said, and Dazzling felt herself stand a few inches taller.
“Well, my reputation does tend to precede myself…” Dazzling said, putting every bit of pride she had into those words.
“It does! To have Celestia’s protégé here in Ponyville is an honor for the town no doubt.” Gem’s words pierced Dazzling’s pride like a sewing needle through cloth.
Dazzling’s throat closed, she made a sound but from the way Gem continued she must have not heard Dazzling.
“I don’t suppose you know much about magical gemstones? I was hoping to present this stone to Celestia, and well since you are Celestia’s apprentice…”
“Not…apprentice…” Dazzling muttered, she coughed and ground her teeth together.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Could you repeat that?” Gem asked, a look of concern on her face as she looked at Dazzling.
Is there something wrong with my face? Do I look like Celestia’s apprentice or do I not look like Celestia’s apprentice! I mean, I am about to crush your hope and dream that I Celestia’s apprentice! That is what Celestia does, stomp her big hooves over a little pony’s dreams!
“I…am…not Celestia’s apprentice. What I am…is somepony MUCH better!” Dazzling stomped her hoof, her horn flashed and she was gone from the floor and back on the stage thanks to her teleportation spell.
“She doesn’t like it when other ponies call her Celestia’s apprentice.” Spike said to Gem, picking a stray shard of gemstone from between his teeth. Dazzling ignored Spike and focused her magic, behind her swirling lights appeared and gouts of illusionary light erupted in different colors.
“I am, Dazzling Sparkle! Illusionist Supreme! I wow and amaze, I make what is unreal real! I am a delight and my magic is radiance!” Dazzling stomped her hoof and a rainbow shock wave burst out from the stage, filling the main hall with multi-colored light that forced Gem to close her eyes before disappearing. Dazzling made sure to teleport to the exact same place she had been standing in before, she made sure a smug smile was the first thing Gem saw when she opened her eyes again.
“Oh. Nice to meet you.” Gem replied. Dazzling perked her ears upward to see if she would say more, perhaps squeal and giggle in realization at hearing her name but the silence continued to stretch. However, Gem did seem to pick up that she should say more and coughed before speaking again, “Well, welcome to Ponyville. Unfortunately, since it appears that since not even a dragon’s teeth are able to pierce Tom I have to think of some other way to discover his, I mean, its secrets.”
Gem made to turn around back toward the door and as she did so panic filled Dazzling. If she were to leave unamazed or even disappointed it would be like an arrow through Dazzling’s heart or more likely her ego. She mentally flung herself through her thoughts, trying to think of anything with magic that could get Gem’s attention. Finally, she squealed with delight when the image of a certain story book came to mind.
“Wait! You want to know about magical stones? Well, I may just have the right book that could help you uncover what eludes you!” Dazzling smiled when Gem stopped in her tracks and turned back to look back.
“You do?” Gem asked and Dazzling could practically taste the curiosity on the other mare’s words.
“I do, indeed.” Dazzling replied, feeling very much like the cat that had caught the mouse, and she continued, “I will have Spike fetch it from our lodgings. Would you mind meeting up in a few hours? I still need to finish up on the details of my performance.”
“A few hours?” Gem looked irritated as she spoke, but that expression quickly melted as she seemed to go over something in her head. She nodded, “Very well, a few hours. Please, come right away to my home when you can…”