Twilight Sparkle stood next to her desk, a quill levitating above an open drawer. She stared, eyes wide, at the magical word counter sitting in front of her.
She felt a sinking feeling. Her heart dropped into the pit of her stomach and her eyes glazed over. Her breaths stopped coming as her mind processed what she was seeing. It didn't feel real. Everything had been fine mere minutes ago, and it was as though she had to stay closer to that moment. If she froze, maybe time would freeze too, and not continue to carry her further beyond the point of no return. Perhaps there was even a way to fix it still. But she knew, in her heart, that was not true. And no matter how hard she tried to fight it, time marched ever forward, cruelly dragging her along with it into a future that was already decided.
Her heart began to race faster as reality bit her, bringing her into the present moment and denying her the sweet, delusional fantasy of escape. "No," she whispered. "No, no, no, no, no!" She dropped the quill and picked up the magic counter. Perhaps it was malfunctioning. Maybe the enchantment wore out at '999' and hadn't incremented. She knew that wasn't true, though, as she remembered reenchanting it a week ago, and it would last for months. She checked anyway.
A small growl of frustration escaped her lips. There had to be something. There had to. She recalled what Princess Celestia had said to her.
"Be sure to write me a letter about your trip. Make it, oh, say, a thousand words," Princess Celestia had said with a friendly smile.
A thousand words. One thousand. Not...
She looked at the counter again.
Twilight desperately replayed the memory in her mind over and over. Celestia hadn't said about a thousand, had she? No, that's the kind of detail Twilight would remember. It was an exact number. There was no room to interpret it as anything else.
Wait. Spike had only just sent the letter. She stumbled quickly out of her room and hurriedly trotted to Spike's. She rapped on his door three times, just a little too rapidly.
"Come in!" came his muffled voice from inside.
Twilight threw open his door as soon as she heard him, trying to enter quickly, but not so quickly as to appear desperate. "So... that letter you sent to Princess Celestia. Can you... get it back?"
He shook his head. "Not unless she sends it back, you know that."
"Can you try?" Twilight asked in a desperate whimper.
"No. It doesn't work like that. Why do you want it back?"
Twilight sighed. "Because... she asked for a thousand words and I didn't write enough."
"Aw, come on, Twilight, I'm sure it'll be fine."
"No, Spike!" Twilight said a little more rudely than she had intended. "It really won't be. She said one thousand words."
"Okay. Well, how many did you write?"
Twilight sighed, not wanting to answer that question but knowing she was about to. "Nine hundred ninety nine."
Spike laughed. Twilight scowled at him.
"It's not funny, Spike! I'm serious," she said, annoyed.
"One word, Twilight? That's why you're freaking out? One little word?"
"Yes! She said a thousand and I didn't write a thousand." Twilight sighed deeply as Spike hid a smile behind his claw. "So, you're sure there's no way to get it back?"
"No, I can't get it back. Now just calm down, would you? It's really not a big deal. She probably won't even notice."
Twilight huffed and left, shutting his door just a little too hard.
Where had she made the mistake? She knew she had been a little over one thousand at one point. She had pared it down some to meet the requirement, and... had she forgotten to write 'sincerely'? Was the end of the letter just 'Twilight Sparkle'? Or had she forgotten to add 'Sparkle'? In a formal letter? Oh, please no. That would be even worse.
She trotted hastily to her room, nerves making her body busy. She paced as the worry continued to build. Depending on which word was missing, it could be an absolute disaster.
Twilight's horn lit up as she pulled a fresh piece of parchment from a pile on the corner of her desk. She set it down and retrieved her quill from its drawer, dipping it in ink. She held it above the paper, indecisive. Eventually, she began writing.
Dear Princess Celestia,
I apologize deeply for the
She stopped and crumpled it into a ball, tossing it into a waste basket. She tried again.
Dear Princess Celestia,
We all make mistakes.
No. She crumpled that up as well, throwing it into the basket with the other.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Sincerely, Twilight Sparkle
She tossed that one as well, knowing how ridiculous it sounded. Her hoof was tapping against the floor in a quick rhythm, a metronome setting a tuneless beat for a wordless song that was her anxiety. A prestissimo flow that she didn't control, but rather controlled her.
There was no fixing this. Celestia was going to... well... do what? Twilight was a princess, she wasn't worried about being sent to magic kindergarten anymore. Would Celestia be disappointed? That was a genuinely worrisome thought, but surely it wouldn't be permanent. Twilight had disappointed her mentor before, and they ended up even closer at the end of it.
She was far beyond her comfort zone here, but maybe that was okay. Maybe even the worst case scenario would just be another cloud with a silver lining. And maybe it was good she was outside her safe little bubble. And little it was. But perhaps it could expand over time. She couldn't afford to be so constrained by her fear.
Twilight set down her quill and took a deep calming breath. She would worry now, sure, but next time she would worry less.