Twilight wanted to give herself a good slap to get her mind back on track. She kept getting distracted, all nervous and jittery after spending the previous night practicing her… dream magic? Dream magic was a good, neutral name for it with no connection to Discord. The point had been for her to get used to it so that it wouldn’t cause her any problems; now, though, in the light of day, she still couldn’t shed the feeling that she was going to just reflexively do something with it out of the blue and then everypony would know.
A look around the virtually empty, unfinished tower gave her the impression that the world was rolling its eyes at her, as Spike was the only other person present.
Okay, well, Spike would know.
Spike was what actually made her want to slap some sense into herself; he was just as jumpy as she was, clearly having picked up on her mood. They hadn’t even flown here since she still hadn’t had a chance to look up a sticking spell, so it wasn’t as if there was another reason that he’d be nervous; all they were doing was planning out where in Applejack’s unfinished extension to store some of the furniture and equipment recovered from the ruined palace and marking down some of the smaller things to be moved to Rainbow’s since hers was harder to get to with the large objects.
She had to get ahold of herself. There had already been several instances where Spike had had to repeat himself several times to get her attention, and she’d had to do the same to get his attention while he was no doubt lost in thought wondering what she could possibly be worried about in some circular… nervousness feedback loop.
Unfortunately, there was only one real way that Twilight could think of to calm her nerves and it was the same logic that had gotten her into this mess in the first place. It wasn’t helping anything not knowing if she was a hair’s breadth from causing an incident; she had to know.
If she was being honest with herself—which she wasn’t—the things she could do in dreams weren’t even inherently as awful as she’d first assumed. Yes, puns were somehow one of the avenues of power that could be exploited, but it was more about… connections. Puns worked because they formed an abstract connection between two concepts, but they were hardly the be-all-end-all of dream logic. Animating things to do what they were intended to do, transposing traits from one thing onto another and simply conjuring things from thin air were all child’s play in dreams, so long as you had the right mindset.
Cultivating that mindset, on the other hoof… well, it was no wonder that Discord was the way he was if that sort of thinking was how he’d managed to suffer through the trauma, loss and loneliness of the end of the world. Twilight had had none of that to deal with and she still felt a little wobbly on her hooves, like the world today wasn’t quite the same as it had been yesterday.
Twilight stopped what she was doing and frowned at that thought.
She was going to have to tell Luna about this just in case it started to get the better of her, wasn’t she? Not that she had intended to keep it a secret, she just… hadn’t intended to actually say anything about it just yet. She knew that Luna would be accepting and even interested, but it was also a little weird, if not also questionable to be romping around in other ponies’ dreams.
Well, technically, they were her dreams, but she was dreaming them about other ponies, so, like with the stars inside each pony that were technically hers, part of what they had become very much wasn’t. That was why the issue of her potential archive was such a touchy one and it was why she’d tried to do most of her fooling around in nightmares doing what she could to ‘fix’ them, but nightmares were no less personal and she felt distinctly uncomfortable injecting humor into serious situations.
It went beyond simple matters of privacy, too; she also hadn’t actually found any particular way to identify nightmares other than their forms shifting fitfully in the Desert of Dreams, which had led to some very awkward situations when the tossing and turning turned out to be a sign of an entirely different kind of heightened emotions. The only reason she hadn’t completely sworn off the entire practice was the fact that it was practice, which she desperately needed, and the fact that the whole thing was almost entirely anonymous. In fact, if she stayed away from the dreams of ponies and dragons, there was virtually no chance that she could even run into anypony she knew, and visiting the dreams of all the other races could actually be quite fascinating if she could get over her various hangups.
Twilight blinked, balking away from the claw being waved in her face and flushed at being caught out again. “Sorry, Spike, what were you saying?”
“I said—I, uh—” Spike swallowed, his eyes flitting about nervously like he was looking for a way out of saying what he’d already committed to. “I could actually really use one of those desks and I was wondering if…?”
Twilight glanced over at the desks in question. They were heavy oak office desks and had been really nice, once, before a palace had fallen on them. The fact that they were still salvageable at all was a testament to how well they were built, but… “Are you sure, Spike? They’re pretty banged up and we’ll probably just auction off the lot or even have them broken down for firewood like the rest. I can just have them allocate one for you when the replacements come in instead?”
Spike shook his head rapidly. “No—no! One of these is fine—I mean, I want one of these. The damage, uhh, adds character, and you know it’s just going to get scratched up by my claws eventually anyway.”
Twilight tsked and shook her head. “Why am I not surprised you’ve gone back to scratching up the furniture without me there?” she asked, rolling her eyes at his destructive habits. “Alright then, mark down whichever set of moderately abused fine oak scratching posts you want.”
Spike glanced back at her as if to make sure, then jogged off to check them all out. His search quickly took him into the next room over, which gave her an idea.
“You know, Spike… I wasn’t going to say anything, but your place really does look pretty empty. If you see anything else that you’d like, just mark it all down and I’ll have the salvage workers take it over there at the end of the day. Nobody’s going to miss any of it.”
Twilight cringed at the clatter of several chairs falling over in the next room where Spike had wandered off to. She felt bad for intentionally distracting him, but he really did need some things and she needed a minute or two alone just to prove to herself that her dream magic wasn’t going to run amok on her.
Spike looked up at the large, wooden crate that dominated the room. He looked down at his clipboard. He looked at the crate, its only identifying mark being a ten-digit lot number. He looked at his clipboard, full of nearly identical ten digit lot numbers. He glanced back at the door to the room Twilight was in. She seemed to be staying put.
Did he dare?
It might have seemed like a no-brainer—a gift from Celestia to solve all his problems—but aside from it actually being a gift from Twilight, it wasn’t as simple as it seemed. There’d be a record, for one, and while it might actually put him legally in the clear… the betrayal of trust might actually be worse.
Did he dare?
There was just no time to consider all the ways that it could go wrong. Spike didn’t think he was the type to agonize over problems, but these last few days had ratcheted up his uncertainty and paranoia. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it was now or never.
Did he dare?
No, he didn’t dare…
…but he did it anyway.
Twilight quietly ducked out of the room, putting some extra space between her and Spike just in case she was actually able to do anything. She hoped it wouldn’t be needed, but she didn’t have time to worry about that.
She tried to calm herself as quickly as possible—a paradoxical attempt if ever there was one—and widened her stance, preparing herself to do… something. Set a broom to sweep up the place, maybe? That would be relatively simple, but it was something she could do with unicorn magic and a classic one for apprentices to let get out of hoof. Instead… Instead, she decided to go in the direction of her other recent interests and try to reshape the crystal.
She pictured the walls gaining a relief of a nature scene in her mind and… nothing happened.
Well, obviously not. She hadn’t used any magic, had she? She was tempted to leave it at that and rest secure in the knowledge that she hadn’t opened some pandora’s box by practicing dream magic… but her confidence came out wilted from the start. It hadn’t been a proper attempt, had it? In dreams, things just happened with the slightest flex of her will; normally she’d write it it all off as a purely mental exercise since it was ostensibly happening inside her head, but this wasn’t happening inside her head and she knew that Discord had clearly bridged that gap. There had to be more to it.
The answer was magic, obviously—and not just because magic was a basic requirement for doing magic.
That had sounded less tautological in her head.
In any case, she hadn’t thought about it at the time, but the entire Desert of Dreams had been saturated with her magic and she supposed that the dreams themselves must have been, too. Could it be that simple?
If Discord could figure it out while living in a cave after the end of the world knowing nothing more about magic than scraps and hearsay, it probably was that simple.
Derision for her completely unrelated predecessor in dream magic aside, she probably only had time for one more try before Spike came looking for her, so she’d have to hurry. Utilizing magic after it had been cast into the world wasn’t an entirely alien concept; it was at the heart of how teleportation worked, after all, so she should be able to make this quick. Taking one quick glance in the next room to make sure Spike wasn’t—
“Twilight, are you—”
“Yaaaiiieee!” Twilight yelped, jumping twice her height into the air, her heart lodged firmly in her throat.
Spike just stood there holding the clipboard and blinking at her. “…You okay?”
“Yes,” she insisted, alternatively gasping and huffing in turn. “Tartarus… Spike… don’t… do… that… to… me…”
“Uhh, sorry?” he apologized, sort of. “You disappeared on me. Anyway, I made a list, do you want to sign it now, or…?”
Twilight was still bent over, recovering from the scare that Spike had given her and shook her head mutely. “Just sign it for me like you always do, Spike,” she said, waving him off with a hoof. Tartarus; she guessed she’d have to be happy with what little she’d had a chance to do, for now. To that end, she did her best to focus on Spike.
Spike glanced down at the clipboard with some concern. “Are you sure?” he asked uncertainly. “It’d look kinda bad if somepony noticed.”
Twilight let a snort of laughter escape as she stood back up. “I’m pretty sure that the only way anypony would notice something amiss is if I actually signed it for once,” she said ruffling the spines on the top of his head and heading back out into the main room of the first floor.
Spike squirmed under Twilight’s ruffling and then had to run to catch up to her while straightening out his spines. “There’s no way that’s actually true. You have to have signed for something recently. You have a bank account here in Ponyville, don’t you? I didn’t set that up for you.”
Twilight stopped in place and turned away from Spike, abashed. “I… might have used a spell to copy my signature off of a Quills & Sofas order form for that,” she admitted.
Spike shot her a queer, disbelieving look. “Forget about me—are you sure you should be living on your own?”
It wasn’t long after Spike had interrupted Twilight’s dream magic experimentation that the salvage workers arrived with the load of crates the two of them had been planning out the space for. The two of them stayed a short while to see things started, but once it was clear that everything was in hoof, it was off to the next item on the checklist—something about water permits that didn’t seem too urgent.
Twilight looked at the checklist and frowned. After a moment of consideration, she had Spike move checking in on Fluttershy up to the top of the list. Some things would just never get done if she didn’t make them a priority and she had a bad feeling about how Fluttershy was handling things.
Speaking of priorities, Twilight thought as she made her way out to the edge of town on hoof, Spike’s interruption had arguably been a better test of any hair-trigger powers she might have than any intentional use would have been, but she still wanted to run her tests sooner rather than later.
Twilight chewed at her bottom lip as she gave some thought to just trying something subtle out in the open. It went against every instinct she had, but even if it actually worked and somepony saw it, there shouldn’t be any sign that it had been her.
No, they’d just think it was Discord, which would be awkward since he hadn’t left a body; just a suspiciously large pile of ash that could have come from the sudden and unexpected disintegration of any old chaos god off the street.
Yeah, that would go over well.
Okay, so maybe her anxiousness was getting the better of her. She would just have to resist experimenting until she had another moment to herself.
If it was connected to how teleportation worked, though… that would make an alarming amount of sense for something that made so little.
Teleportation was in an odd situation as far as spells went. It was a spell like any other, and one that any unicorn could learn if they were dedicated enough, but it didn’t involve any manipulation of space no matter how fascinating that would be. It was movement through magic, and that quality brought with it a few small quirks. First and foremost was the fact that, for your magic to take you somewhere, your magic had to go—or already be—there.
For most users of the spell, this was an academic curiosity and nothing more. Simply through the act of casting the spell, the caster’s magic would reach out to the destination to carry them there. There was no magical shot or bolt to signal this part of the spell because it wasn’t actually part of the spell. Instead, it was just an amorphous wave caused by brute-forcing the spell and generally went unnoticed and undetected. If you wanted to calculate the relative range and effort of the spell, however, characterizing this surge of magic was of the utmost importance.
For some reason, Spike always seemed to disagree about that whenever the subject came up, as did anypony else lucky enough to get a chance to hear her lecture on the subject.
The point was that the requirement for the caster’s magic to be at the destination of a teleport was a loose one that could be fulfilled in a number of ways, most of them easier than the brute force reaction that happened as part of the teleportation spell. While it wasn’t possible to regain control of magic after letting go of it, the casting of spells, deliberate overflow and even breathing did spread magic out into the environment that, while otherwise useless, made teleporting around said environment vastly easier.
So, to sum it up, most unicorns who could teleport knew that it took less out of them to do so around familiar areas; very few of them actually understood why and even fewer cared when she tried to tell them about it.
You know what? Twilight hoped that teleportation was the secret to manipulating reality like it was taffy. Everypony who always rolled her eyes at her lectures would deserve it.
Wait, no, that didn’t make any sense because she didn’t want to manipulate reality like taffy; she just wanted to make sure she wouldn’t do it by accident.
That was her story and she was sticking to it.
If only she could get a chance to actually prove her theory.
In what could be called a modern-day miracle, Fluttershy was out tending to her small vegetable garden when Twilight and Spike arrived. There was no emergency going on, no drama and not even a huge orchard to search. They just walked up to the pleasantly smiling mare, greeted her and were greeted in return.
It was nice.
Twilight had previously commented to herself that Applejack had seemed to be the least outwardly-affected pony of her demigoddesses and Rarity the one who had best acclimated, but just standing here looking at Fluttershy going about her business with the help of her animals as always, she could easily believe that Fluttershy had them both beat.
A small part of her objected on the grounds that Fluttershy spreading herself out over her animals was her physical change—and a pretty significant one, too—except that she didn’t even seem to be controlling them… much. Every once in a while, they’d turn yellow as she directed their eyes to something or showed them how the work was done, but it was only a guiding hoof here and there and none of them seemed to mind in the slightest.
“So, how did it go with Rainbow Dash, yesterday?” Twilight asked once obligatory hellos had been exchanged, hopefully adding, “I don’t suppose she’s bounced back yet?”
“Oh, well…” Fluttershy seemed to be trying to decide what to tell Twilight or how to explain something unpleasant, but her actual response was fairly bland. “Pinkie Pie took her to Las Pegasus to party it off. It went alright, I guess?”
Twilight let out a breath that she’d been holding and decided to go for broke. “She’s not too angry at me, I hope?”
Again with the hesitation, then it all came out at once. “You came up, but I don’t think she’s angry at you. Not really. That’s why I didn’t want her to see you. I’m—um—sorry for shooing you off, by the way. I was worried she might say something mean that she didn’t mean. For what it’s worth, I think that what you said to Spitfire was exactly the right amount to say, and—”
“Woah, woah, slow down, Fluttershy,” Twilight interrupted, taking a step back from the uncharacteristic chatter. “Conversations involve two people.”
Fluttershy flushed and hid behind her mane. “Oh… sorry… I just see…” She involuntarily grimaced. “…So much through the animals and haven’t had a chance to actually talk to anypony.”
Twilight winced in sympathy and concern. She… really wasn’t the right pony to talk to someone about getting out more, but the worrying part was what had been implied in that grimace. “I can see anything my starlight touches, but I can focus on anything from an area down to a single pony. Can’t you… not see so much?”
“Oh. Um.” Fluttershy pawed at the ground with her hoof, but her response had no such hesitance or uncertainty. “No.”
Twilight’s heart sank, her horror muted only by the foreshadowing from Fluttershy’s earlier grimace. “You see… everything? Everywhere?”
“Oh.” Fluttershy’s eyes widened and she shook her head. “No. It’s not quite that bad. I can focus on one area, just not one or two animals.”
“Oh, good,” Twilight said, letting out a sigh of relief. “I was worried there for a second. Still, it must be hard, experiencing all that, even if it’s just animals in your immediate vicinity.”
Fluttershy cocked her head in a somewhat birdlike manner. “My immediate vicinity?” she questioned, bemused, before the misunderstanding became clear. “Oh, no. It’s… hrm… About the distance from here, through Whitetail Woods to the far side of the Everfree crater… twice over?”
Twilight had no words.
Spike wasn’t nearly so limited, but he only used one. “Damn.”
“Spike!” Twilight scolded, resisting the urge to rap him on the head like she would Rainbow Dash. “Don’t be insensitive!”
Spike spread his arms in a melodramatic shrug. “I’m just saying—”
“Well, don’t!” she scolded him with a little too much sharpness.
Fluttershy set her hoof on Twilight’s shoulder, getting her attention. “It’s fine, Twilight. I’ve… gotten used to it.”
“Gotten used to it?” Twilight asked incredulously, a horrible feeling rising up inside of her that she couldn’t stop. “You shouldn’t have had to—”
“Really, it’s… fine,” Fluttershy tried to reassure her, but failing completely.
Spike saw what was coming and stepped back just as Twilight teared up and latched onto her friend. “I’m—I’m so sorry!”
Twilight managed to maintain at least a little of her dignity by not actually breaking out in ugly crying like she had with Spike, but it had been a near thing and she still wasn’t letting go.
Fluttershy gave Twilight a pained, but wistful smile as she just stood there letting Twilight squeeze her to death. In an entirely unrelated coincidence, one of the nearby racoons turned yellow and continued working on the garden. “It’s really not that bad,” Fluttershy insisted, then frowned and had to correct herself. “At least, it wasn’t until the dragons showed up, anyway.”
Twilight had to loosen her grip on Fluttershy in order to look at her. “What do the dragons have to do with it?”
“Well, it’s… um… easier when one of my animals is responsible for preying on another,” she explained, taking a hesitant step back away from Twilight. “When it’s a griffon or dragon, it’s… worse. It can be a shock, actually, when there’s no warning.”
“Preying on…” It took Twilight a moment for the implications to click in her head and when they did, all the color drained out of her face and Fluttershy’s attempts to back away proved futile. “They… They…!”
They were eating her. Hunting her—catching her—killing her and eating her! Twilight couldn’t put her renewed horror into words. She hadn’t just burdened Fluttershy with the poisoned chalice of omniscience, she’d made her suffer. She’d doomed her to constant, unending torture.
What had she done?
Fluttershy let out a squeak as Twilight redoubled her effort to crush all the air out of Fluttershy’s lungs, only to pull in a long gasp of air as Twilight realized what she was doing and yanked herself away from the friend she was hurting. What could she do about this? How could she—“The dragons! I’ll—”
“Do what?” Spike asked, rolling his eyes. “Make them vegetarians?”
“They’re dragons! They can live on rocks!” Twilight shouted back before she realized what she was saying and who she was saying it to. “I mean—I—I didn’t mean—if you ever wanted meat all you had to do was say something and—”
Thankfully, before she could dig herself any deeper or fit any more hooves in her mouth, Fluttershy regained her composure from the attempted strangulation and interrupted, her hoof finding its way back to Twilight’s shoulder. “Um, please don’t blame them, Twilight. It’s just something that happens in nature.”
Twilight seemed to deflate. She’d come here to see how Fluttershy was doing and help her if she could, but now she seemed to be the pony who needed consoling. Breathe in—breathe out—think productively. Miraculously, something came to her. “Fluttershy, you’re still flesh and blood in spite of being immortal, right?”
Fluttershy looked perplexed, but agreed. “Um, Yes?”
“As in, a flesh and blood pony, not three beavers standing on each others’ shoulders under a trenchcoat?” Twilight clarified, this being a vital and important distinction for the idea that had struck her like a wagon in the night.
That seemed to stump Fluttershy for a moment. “…Why would I be beavers?” she asked. “Beavers are fine, but I’m really much more of a squirrel, um, if you have to say something like that, I mean.”
Twilight was getting impatient and a little exasperated. “Are you forty-six squirrels?”
“No?” Fluttershy answered tentatively. “At least, I don’t think so? …And do three beavers really equal forty-six squirrels?”
That seemed good enough for Twilight and she took a breath to prepare herself. “Fluttershy, I… I think… I think if I take back your stars—all of them—just temporarily—I think you’ll go back to normal. Do… you want me to?”
“Oh.” Fluttershy calmly shook her head. “That’s really not necessary, Twilight.”
“What? Why?” Twilight asked, as distraught as if she was the one it was happening to. “You’re the only one I think I could do it safely to and you’re having a horrible time of it!”
Fluttershy was notably not distraught, and she said so. “I’m really not…”
“Dragons are eating you!” Twilight vehemently insisted. “Right now! It’s like when Equestria wanted to eat me—”
“You thought Equestria wanted to eat you,” Spike interrupted to correct.
“—like when I thought Equestria wanted to eat me,” Twilight allowed, continuing to work herself up without acknowledging the correction. “But worse because it’s actually happening! You’re being eaten! By dragons!”
“And I’ve gotten over it,” Fluttershy reminded her.
“You’re terrified of dragons!” Twilight argued, raising her voice to a screeching that scared several flocks of birds away.
Fluttershy’s ears flattened at Twilight’s shouting. “They’re less scary from the inside,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Twilight stared at Fluttershy as if she’d never seen her before. “You’re messing with me.”
Fluttershy flushed and nervously measured a small space in front of her between her hooves. “Um… just a little bit, but, um, they are warm and cuddly on the inside in a way, so actually… no?”
Twilight could hardly believe it. “Who are you and what have you done with Fluttershy?” she asked, only mostly joking.
Fluttershy shrank at being caught out. “You, um, have to admit that you were asking for it just a teensy bit, Twilight. I did answer you the first two times.”
Twilight considered the last few things she’d said and suddenly found new interest in the ground at her hooves. “I just can’t believe… Fluttershy… why? Why would you want to stay like this when it means you have to experience all the… the pain and death of every animal in the greater Ponyville area?”
Fluttershy’s response had Twilight thunderstruck. “Why wouldn’t I?”
“Isn’t that obvious?” Twilight all but whimpered. “I feel like that should be obvious. It’s pain! And death! I don’t get up in the morning and shamble to the pain and death machine for my rejuvenating infusion of pain and death to wake me up!”
“That’s what life is, Twilight,” Fluttershy told her, sounding almost motherly as she did so. “Animals live and they die. When I take care of an adorable little mousie… I know that they’ll only be around for a year at most… and sometimes it’s much less. Most of the time, they’ll just be gone one day and I won’t even know if they went off to start a family or to feed one. Now I know—and I can be there for them when it happens. Why wouldn’t I want that?”
Twilight was flummoxed. “Wait, you don’t save them, even from each other?” she asked, though soon felt foolish for it, her shoulders slumping. “I guess you can’t, or they’d starve…”
“Actually, I could,” Fluttershy said, lamentably dropping her head. “I could take control of every single animal in my range and they would never need to eat, sleep, age or do anything at all. I could keep them in their burrows where they’re safe and bring them out for tea parties… but I hope that if I did that then somepony would stop me, because that isn’t living… It’s not even life.”
That sounded horrible, but Twilight didn’t exactly like the alternative, either.
This time, it was Fluttershy that hugged Twilight. “Twilight… I think you did the right thing, making us all immortal.”
“What?” Twilight blurted, wishing she could back off and look at Fluttershy for some clue about what she meant but not actually daring to force the issue. “What does that even have to do with this?”
“I don’t mind, of course,” Fluttershy continued past Twilight’s confusion. “I was always going to live longer than most of my animals, and I don’t expect Mr. Tortoise to spend his entire life with me either.”
Twilight inwardly squirmed, but Fluttershy wasn’t letting go and she eventually gave up at just let the soft-spoken demigoddess hug her. “Okay? Great?”
“That’s why I wonder.” Fluttershy paused, her body tensing just slightly. “Has anypony ever told you that you’re… maybe just a tiny bit condescending?”
“What?”’ That wasn’t something Twilight had been expecting to hear from Fluttershy and this time she found herself being let go so the two of them could look at each other. “What do you mean?”
“Growing up with Princess Celestia and Spike, you’ve always wanted to be immortal,” she said. “It gives you a unique perspective, and I understand that. Really, I do.”
Spike looked uncomfortable at being mentioned, but Twilight was still just trying to figure out where Fluttershy was going with this.
“But… Everypony has stars,” Fluttershy reminded her. “If you had to share their experiences all the time like I do in exchange for that immortality… you’d still do it, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t it be worth it—for love—for friendship—for being able to live without fear of what might happen?”
“I… like what I am, Twilight,” Fluttershy finally asserted. “I appreciate what you’ve given me. It may not be easy, but it’s worth it, and it makes me sad that you don’t think that I can handle the same things you can and make the same sacrifices you would if you were in my situation.”
“Fluttershy, I—I’m not—” Twilight stammered, trying to get the words together to explain that there was a significant misunderstanding going on. “I—that would be… Fluttershy, I don’t know if I could do that,” she admitted. “It would be a nightmare. I don’t think I could. Not even for immortality.”
Fluttershy blinked at her. “…Oh.”
Fluttershy allowed herself to be dragged out of her tar pit of awkwardness and off to lunch, though the sentiment was a little lacking with now two yellow racoons directing the other animals and planting seeds in the garden that they were leaving behind. As far as Twilight was concerned, though, that was fine. She apparently couldn’t expect to have Fluttershy’s undivided attention any more and the real point was to get Fluttershy’s pony body out in public where she could actually talk to ponies.
…And maybe forget that that entire conversation had ever happened.
It went both better and worse than Twilight could ever have expected. As convenient as it would otherwise have been, Ponyville had not, as it so happened, changed entirely in the space of Twilight’s stop over at Fluttershy’s house, and thus, there were still dragons all over the place.
Twilight kept an eye on Fluttershy, but she didn’t even seem to notice. In fact, her almost unnatural serenity reminded Twilight of none other than Celestia, it was that complete. Twilight would almost call it a breakthrough for the traditionally timorous mare if it hadn’t come at the cost of what Twilight was still sure had been a horrifyingly traumatic experience.
Oh, and the fact that her seeming confidence crumpled completely when faced with the prospect of actually talking to somepony or somedragon new, so it was only half of a miraculous breakthrough at best. Squeezing past two adult dragons having it out on the street? Not a peep from her. Ordering lunch from an awkward teenager at the hay burger shack? Spike had had to do it for her. The teenager hadn’t even been a dragon; just a colt with particularly bad acne… though, admittedly, the two were more similar than it would have been polite to mention.
“Have you considered wind manipulation?” Twilight asked out of the blue as she went about squirting a big dollop of ketchup beside her hay fries.
Fluttershy meeped and began to cough, heaving nearly inhaled a hay fry in surprise. Some distress and a glass of water later, her actual response was no more enlightened. “For—” Cough. “For what?”
“Well, you don’t want to go back to how you were and I can’t physically drag you into town every day,” Twilight explained, pausing to dip, chew and swallow a few fries. “So I was trying to figure out ways that you could communicate when you’re, uh, borrowing the animals?
“My first thought was that we could all learn Equestrian Sign Language, but that would only be us and not very practical. Next, I considered cloud writing, but if you have access to your pegasus magic, I think the power and control you have now should be good enough to create speech with direct wind manipulation. The fact that you sing so well should help, since it means you have practice with your voice—or it might even be your magic helping you in the first place, which is even better!”
Fluttershy shrank down in her seat. “I—I don’t know, Twilight. That sounds awfully complicated… and awkward. I can’t even imagine my voice coming from a big old moose or a tiny little squirrel and I’ve listened to Rainbow Dash enough to know that visualization is important in that sort of thing.”
“Oh, well…” Twilight’s mood sank so fast, she managed to give herself a face full of ketchup and greasy paper as her head dropped down onto the table. She stayed that way for a moment, then busied herself cleaning herself up with napkins and magic. “Figures she’d be another one,” she grumbled under her breath, but Fluttershy was more than used to interpreting the tiniest of noises.
“Another what?” Fluttershy asked innocently, not even realizing that Twilight’s grumbling hadn’t been meant for her ears.
Twilight’s first instinct was to clam up, but why? Fluttershy was her friend and it wasn’t like this was any big secret, so instead she let out a sigh and explained. “It’s just… I know you girls didn’t ask for this and you’re all making the best of it. Some of you are even thriving, I guess… but I just feel like you could be doing so much more with it—broaden your horizons—come up with something new—do something you wouldn’t have ever thought you could do…
“You’re probably… not the pony I should be saying this to,” she admitted. “You’ve actually embraced it—um, in your own way—but even so, you’re still just… doing what you do—and I know that’s not a fair complaint, but it’s how I feel. I don’t have enough time to explore all the options I have right now, so seeing you all just dealing with things as they come is a little frustrating.”
Fluttershy frowned. “Twilight… I don’t like repeating myself, especially over this, but… we aren’t you. Your cutie mark is magic, so of course you want to do everything there is to do with it, but that’s not who we are. We all have our own strengths, and just because they’re different doesn’t mean they’re any less.”
Twilight looked askance at the mare across the table from her. “Fluttershy, my cutie mark—my talent—isn’t magic.”
“Um, yes it is?” Fluttershy said, hiding behind a prodigiously large cup of soda that might have been ordered for just that purpose.
Twilight shook her head. “I grew up thinking it was, but it’s just the stars—just like Luna’s is the moon and Celestia’s is—the Celestia’s are—umm—well…” She gestured vaguely skyward. “You get the point.”
“That… still proves my point, doesn’t it?” Fluttershy asked, gaining a little more confidence in what she was saying. “If you’ve done all that without even a cutie mark in it, that’s still just who you are.”
“Well… maybe…” Twilight said, faltering. “I did say it wasn’t a fair complaint, but you might be giving me too much credit. I don’t have a cutie mark in magic, but I do have something that’s just as good.”
“Power,” Twilight said, clapping her hooves on the table and leaning forward. Belatedly, she was glad Rainbow Dash wasn’t there, because she probably would have gotten jumped for resembling a Daring Do villain just then. “There’s a saying—quality over quantity, but quantity has a quality all of its own—and it’s true with magic, too.
“The more power you have, the more flexible you are—the more you can do with it. You girls are still ponies, so you’re still limited to unicorn, pegasus or earth pony magic, respectively, but other than that sort of out-of-context problem, you can all do almost anything I can. Sure, I grew up with power and misconceptions about that power and that definitely colored my outlook, but you’re orders of magnitude more powerful than I was growing up and… It’s just frustrating, especially when you have problems that you could solve if you just tried.”
Fluttershy… Twilight wished she could say that Fluttershy looked convinced, but she just looked cowed instead, which wasn’t what she’d wanted.
“Look, I’m sorry. Just… think about it, okay?”
Fluttershy’s meek “Okay” felt like a buck to the gut and the conversation never really recovered.
Spike had been let off early so he could go prepare things for the ‘furniture’ that was due to arrive at the end of the day. He made it all the way home before it really came back to hit him what he’d done and he began to shake, leaning back on the front door of the ex-library.
He was pretty sure that Twilight hadn’t noticed anything. She’d just been so trusting that it twisted him up inside what he’d done; how he’d abused that trust, and for what? To take a few decades off of his life and enable the haphazard fantasies of a naive runaway princess barely a few days into her conviction to change the world?
She was going to be so disappointed in him.
He sounded like her, didn’t he? Except she’d never done anything that would actually have caused Princess Celestia the slightest amount of concern. Well, except that one time…
Suddenly, he remembered. Back when he was barely more than a hatchling, before he was officially her assistant, he’d still followed her around and helped her—but he’d had a different job, then.
Quick, Spike! Burn it! Burn all the evidence and never speak of this again! It never happened!
Right. He could salvage this. He’d left the most obvious of paper trail there was—an official one—but he could fix that.