It was nearly noon by the time Trixie had managed to wheel her wagon into the town proper, Celestia’s sun shining brightly overhead through what little cloud cover graced the sky. The reactions of the villagers, upon seeing her, had been marginally better than she’d hoped, but no less what she’d expected; most simply scowled or ignored her presence, some just turning and walking the other way. At least she hadn’t gotten outright jeers or ponies shouting at her to leave, or worse. As she’d walked into Ponyville her mind had been swimming with images of herself fleeing an angry mob carrying torches and pitchforks, her wagon in flaming ruins behind her as she ran. It sent a shiver down her spine just thinking about it, and she was still afraid it might happen at any given moment. ‘I would certainly deserve it…’ she considered despondently.
Avoiding the market street made her trip take a bit longer than it should have otherwise been, but she didn’t want to risk marching her wagon through the most densely populated portion of town in broad daylight if she could help it. Though the rest of the town was far from deserted, she was amazed when she finally found the library within her sight, without having at least one rotten vegetable flung in her general direction.
“I’ll bet the princess has something to do with that…” she muttered aloud, rolling her eyes slightly and sticking her tongue out like she’d just tasted something sour. She still couldn’t help feeling distaste for that word as it rolled off her tongue in reference to her former rival. Even though she’d ceased seeing Twilight as a target of her vengeful side, a part of her still couldn’t shrug off how she’d felt all that time so lightly.
‘It was all her fault… All of it! She made me look like such a…’ she stopped trotting abruptly and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before letting it out in a sigh as she got a better handle on her thoughts. ‘Oh who am I kidding, I was acting like a Great and Powerful Fool from the first time we met… She saved me from myself…’
Trixie shuddered at the thought of what might have become of her if Twilight hadn’t tricked her into freeing herself of that cursed amulet. A large part of her was wondering why she was going through all of this in her head yet again, as she thought she’d come to terms with it months ago. But as she gazed at the massive tree approaching quickly ahead of her, one that had been hollowed out and converted into the town library, the very one that housed Celestia’s personal student, she knew exactly why.
The Great and Powerful Trixie was terrified.
Not the jittery, adrenaline-fueled fear of mortal peril, or the cold pit of fear she’d learned to hide away long ago when facing an audience of hundreds of judging faces. It was a sheer, blank terror she couldn’t put a name on. It felt like a wall was rushing towards her; any minute she would inevitably crash into it head on, and there was nothing she could do about it. Now that she was here, about to face her past, Trixie realized she hadn’t even considered what she was going to say or do to break the ice.
‘Hi Twilight, how’s it... been? UGH!’ she facehoofed at her own awkward thoughts. Why hadn’t she rehearsed anything or even thought about what she would say?
She’d been so focused on her decision to finally come back, devoted so much energy into seeing it through, that now that she was here she had no idea what to do next. Her stage persona had always been her most powerful tool for pushing through her fears and anxiety, but she realized that the last thing anypony wanted to hear was the haughty, self-centered third-person of ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie.’ It may have always been her mind’s escape from second guessing herself, but when she had started letting herself get carried away with the act, it had gotten her in the very trouble she found herself ready to make amends for now.
“Maybe Trixie will… just park around back…” she thought aloud, suppressing an urge to gulp as she towed her wagon to the back of the library and unhitched herself from the harness.
It felt wonderful to finally be free of the weight she’d been pulling off and on for days, and she reached a fore hoof back to rub absently at one of the lines the harness had dug in her coat. The hooded brown travelling cloak she’d worn had cushioned most of the weight, as did the enchantments she’d placed on her wagon to lighten the load enough for a mare of her stature to pull it without too much difficulty. The thick, durable cloth covered her back from neck to tail, and hung halfway down her legs, secured in place by a few straps around her chest and stomach. Trixie had pulled the hood back to show her face as she entered Ponyville, not wanting to seem like she was hiding her presence.
She walked around to the front door apprehensively. The Golden Oak Library was still a public building, despite being the personal residence of Equestria’s newest princess, and it appeared to be open for business for the day. Twilight had enchanted the candle painted on the front door so that the flame would vanish from the image when the building was closed, or lit when it was open. Trixie had noticed this on her first visit and had, at the time, grudgingly acknowledged the clever use of a permanent illusion spell. Back then she’d considered how she could work something similar into her own act, and had created a number of new tricks around it; Illusion and Enchantment were her personal forte, after all. Sadly she never got to make much use of it, as after that visit ponies had stopped appreciating her shows…
Trixie stared blankly at the door for what felt like hours, but in reality were only a few minutes. Finally, taking a deep breath to steel her nerves, she pushed the door open with the raw assertive force of a full-on timid-mode Fluttershy and walked inside. The musty smell of knowledge greeted her as she gazed over the room filled with tomes collected from all corners of Equis. A smell somewhat tinged with a hint of burnt toast.
The library proper was in a state of complete disarray, stacks of books towering in random piles on the floor and every corner of the room, notes and papers strewn haphazardly on every table along with quill pens and ink. There was barely anywhere to walk through the colossal mess that she found before her eyes. Stranger still, after a few more minutes of standing apprehensively in the entrance, it dawned on her that nopony or baby dragon had come to greet the library’s latest customer.
“…Hello? Twilight Sparkle, are you even home?” said the stage magician aloud, with only silence as a response. She wandered along one of the clear sides of the room, stopping to look over some of the almost incoherent notes covering a bookstand as curiosity finally got the better of her.
The fresh air was decidedly doing Twilight a world of good. Over the course of the last two hours, she could practically feel the stress and exertion she’d built up over the last week melting out of her shoulders. Not only was she feeling more relaxed, but as the pair had taken to aimlessly wandering through town they had bumped into several of their friends along the way.
Pinkie Pie, for example, had been barking the bakery’s wares as they passed Sugarcube Corner, and had excitedly given them both a new flavor of muffin to taste test when she saw them approach. Twilight still had no idea what a ‘snozberry’ was, but it gave the baked good a somewhat surreal, otherworldly flavor, and she’d felt odd tingles of magic in her horn after eating her muffin. Pinkie had just waved it off as ‘Side effects that still need ironing out’ when Twilight brought it up. They’d both shrugged and left it at that, though Twilight made a mental note to investigate it later.
They had walked past Town Hall and had found an impromptu concert in progress in front of the statue of Ringaling, with Rainbow Dash and Rarity together in the small crowd which had formed. Two of the local musicians, a grey mare with a purple treble clef cutie mark Twilight felt she recognized from somewhere, and the rambunctious DJ she remembered clearly from her brother’s wedding, were putting together a beautiful fusion of electric and classical music.
Twilight rather enjoyed the way the two genres sounded together, and Spike was going crazy cheering the pair on, so she stayed to listen until the music wrapped up for the day. To their credit, the grey earth pony playing the cello hadn’t even batted an eye when she noticed the princess in the crowd, and the white unicorn’s eyes couldn’t be seen behind her sunglasses anyways.
As the concert ended and the crowd dispersed, a conversation about what they’d just heard was struck up between the three girls and dragon. Rainbow Dash was apparently a huge fan of the DJ’s side of the ensemble (‘You know, that Vinyl is almost as awesome as me, and that’s saying something!’), while Rarity decidedly thought the dulcet tones of the cellist’s instrument were what made the music fabulous. Both mares were eager to hear what Twilight and Spike had been doing all cooped up in the library for so long, but Twilight decided just to tell them she was working on a new spell, for now. She felt a little guilty for evading the question, but knew the discussion that would arise when she told them what she was really working on would be a long one, and she just wanted to keep relaxing for a while.
Rarity politely took her leave and parted ways with the group as they passed Carousel Boutique, but not before informing Twilight that she was in the process of designing a whole new line of clothing specifically to suit her friend’s new status as royalty. Twilight tried to protest, but Rarity was having none of it.
“Tut tut, darling, I must simply insist!” cooed Rarity, her eyes sparkling like stars as she felt a wave of inspiration coming on. “It was hard enough getting you to accept a new dress for the last Gala, and this time I am going to have to put my hoof down before you even try to protest! Trust me, I am going to see to it that you have the most regal raiment of any princess Equestria has ever seen!”
Spike stared up at Rarity in awe, little hearts practically floating visibly over his head, while Rainbow just smirked a little, having known Rarity long enough to know where at least some of this was coming from. “Yeah, not to mention getting word out that you’re the personal dressmaker for a princess might bring in a few customers.”
Rarity did her best to feign looking offended, “Why I would never be so callous as to use my friendship with Twilight just to drum up business!” she huffed, turning her nose up and flicking her mane back. After a brief pause she opened one eye, tapping her chin in thought for a moment before speaking up again, “…though it certainly wouldn’t hurt to mention me if anypony were to ask about your new wardrobe.”
Rainbow rolled her eyes while Twilight had to suppress a giggle at her friends’ antics. “Oh alright”, said Twilight, “I suppose it couldn’t hurt to try to look the part for official business. But you’re going to take my money this time, and that’s final,” she noted with the force of a royal decree.
Rarity smiled and nodded softly. “If you insist. Well, I shan’t keep you any longer, and I have plenty of work ahead of me, so I bid you all good afternoon.” With that, the four exchanged waves as the elegant unicorn turned and headed into her shop, with Twilight having to wrap a wing around Spike to keep him from bounding along after her.
Rainbow grinned playfully. “Easy there, lover-boy.”
“Huh? Who, me?” Spike blinked, then looked up at the pegasus innocently, “I uh.. just thought she might need some help, that’s all!”
“Suuure, Spike” she teased, before looking up at Twilight again. “So hey, want to stretch out those wings for real and get some more practice in? I really thought you were getting the hang of it last time.”
“You think so?” beamed Twilight.
“Nah,” Rainbow’s grin grew even bigger, “but you stick with me and I’ll get you flying like a Wonderbolt in no time!” With that she took to the air, doing a quick backflip in front of her friend for emphasis.
“Gee, thanks,” Twilight deadpanned. “Maybe just a quick flight the rest of the way back home? I’m kind of in the mood for a home-cooked lunch, and if I crash again at least I won’t be far from a bed.”
“Fair enough, you lead and I’ll be right behind you. Remember, a strong burst to get airborne, then keep a steady rhythm. Beat, glide, beat, repeat.” Rainbow nodded encouragingly, then let Spike climb onto her back so he wouldn’t have to jog along after them.
Twilight looked down the road toward the Library with a determined look on her face, bending down and stretching her wings out wide. She stuck her tongue out the corner of her mouth and unconsciously wiggled her tail just before leaping into the air, eliciting a snorting giggle from the mare behind her which nearly broke her concentration.
‘Just what is so funn—whoa!’ Twilight surprised herself as she rose into the air nearly ten meters from the first, powerful thrust of her wings, but immediately felt herself teetering precariously forwards as the momentum began to wear off. She tilted her wings just enough to stabilize her flight for a short glide, before beating them again and surging forward awkwardly.
“Phew.. Okay… wait, Rainb—woooahh, is the repeat supposed to be glide, beat, beat, glide or beat, glide, beat, g—ahh!?” she yelped, struggling to avoid careening into a tree.
Twilight focused hard on maintaining her wobbly flight towards home, while her friend tried to gently coach her along. It felt good to be in the air, but it was still hard to suppress the fear of crashing which came hoof in hoof with learning to fly. The first time she’d actually flown, right after her coronation, had come entirely on instinct and been spurred on by her elation from the ceremony. Landing had, unfortunately, been another issue entirely – thankfully her eventual lover’s spat with gravity had occurred away from the eyes of anypony when she splashed down at the bottom of the castle’s waterfall. She’d managed to duck inside her parents’ house and change out of her wet clothes before anypony had come down from the ceremony at the castle grounds. As far as anyone still knew, she simply went home to rest and wash her dress. At least, that was her story, and she was sticking to it, darn it!
As they approached their destination, Twilight could hear Rainbow calling from next to her, “Alright, now just lean back and flap your wings gently to come in for a landing. Wait, no Twi, lean back. Lean ba--!” but her brief flight was interrupted as she barreled into one of the bushes in front of her house, emitting a loud yelp as she came to an abrupt stop. She could have sworn she heard her own yell of surprise echoed inside the library, but ignored it as she blinked to clear the stars from her vision. Nothing really hurt, thankfully; her body was a bit more durable these days thanks to the pegasus and earth pony traits that had been infused within her since her ascension. Just her pride had taken a blow.
“Ouch.. you okay Twi?” asked Dash as she helped the alicorn back to her hooves. Spike quickly hopped off from Dash’s back to help, brushing the twigs out of Twilight’s mane and coat.
Twilight nodded, blushing sheepishly as she shook off the dizziness. “I’m fine, really. Guess I still need to practice landing on my hooves instead of my face, eheh…”
“If you say so,” shrugged Dash. “Hey I’m gonna take off, I need to pick up Tank from Fluttershy’s place, but I’ll catch you later, okay?”
“Alright, take care! Oh, and tell Fluttershy I said hi, and that I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to drop by yet today.” With another nod and hug between the two friends, Rainbow set for the skies once again, leaving Twilight and Spike alone to get back inside.
“Well, Spike, what sounds good for lunch? I’ll cook today!” beamed Twilight, her horn gently glowing as she opened the door with her magic, the two walking into the mess they’d left inside.
“Uh.. are you sure about that? There’s a lot of paper lying around right now, you know. Not that you’re not a good cook I mean,” he was quick to add. As he was saying this, the clock struck noon, and a cuckoo clock on the wall began to chirp out the time.
*Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!*
“Spike it’ll be fine, we’ve just got food for salads or sandwiches today anyways. What could go wrong?”
“Famous last words…” Spike muttered low enough that Twilight could still overhear, and she just rolled her eyes with an amused look on her face.
*Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!*
’Odd,’ she thought to herself as they wound their way through the labyrinth of stacked books, the cuckoo clock looming above the far end of the bookshelves, near the kitchen door, ’I don’t remember the cuckoo bird being blue…’
*Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!*
“Wait a minute…” Twilight stopped and eyed the clock as if seeing it for the first time. “…Since when do we have a cuckoo clock?”
*Cuckoo!* *Cuckoo!* *Cuc—oo?*
Suddenly snared in a lavender glow of magic, the ‘bird’ in the clock was held still in order for Twilight to get a closer look at it, though strangely it was trying to tug back into the light blue clock more fiercely than one normally should. It was a small blue unicorn with a white and blue mane, wearing a brown cloak around it’s… and then recognition dawned in her eyes. “…Trixie?!”
And with that, the magician’s Illusion was disrupted, depositing Trixie unceremoniously in an awkward heap in front of the princess. Twilight could only stare incredulously at the showmare, giving Trixie time to groan and get back on her hooves while dusting herself off a bit. Spike, meanwhile, had wandered ahead into the kitchen when Twilight had stopped; his only response was a sudden “Wait, what?!” from the room beyond.
“Eheh.. um..” Trixie coughed, clearing her throat. “…ah… Hi Twilight. How’s it… been?”
They both immediately facehoofed.