3:14 PM

by SugarPesticide

Keep Dreaming, Shaggy Mare

Pinkie inched her way toward the end of the month. Odd accidents still cropped up around town, but they seemed to be coming on slightly less frequently than they did on the day before the Summer Sun Celebration. That didn’t make them any less distressing, but she always bounced back. Choking on random food tended to become old hat after a while.

Every loop, she would keep her Gala ticket safe in a drawer. During moments in her room, when she was alone and discouraged, she would pull it out and admire its gleaming surface, thinking of graceful ponies dancing and elegant music singing. Then she would feel a measure of guilt for not spending more time with her friends, so she would gather them together for a party. Sometimes it was almost enough to make her forget that her cycle was wearing on and on.

It was strange, really, how slowly time moved when there was so much of it. Or maybe it wasn’t strange at all. On a slow day, an hour could feel like a week. In a time loop, that same hour could feel much, much longer, dragging on in nervous over-the-shoulder glances, nearing an inevitable demise with every second. And that was just the first instance of living through a given period of time … The repetition and monotony wore on her, and she had to suppress an antsy feeling as she waited for the slow path to catch up to where she had last left it.

“I’m moving along,” she half-sang to herself one day, skipping off toward no destination in particular. The streets were strangely quiet at this hour, though the sun hung cheerfully in the sky. “I am slowly but surely making progress. Mrs. Cake would be proud.”

A treacherous part of her hoped that she would suddenly find herself in danger, if only to see whether the blue magic would save her. It hadn’t shown up again since the anvil incident, but Pinkie found it hard to believe that such an occurrence could only happen once in all the loops. Maybe since she was anticipating it, it was less likely to happen. That wasn’t so hard to believe.

“Where is everypony?” she wondered. “Is there a holiday that I never heard about?”

Something cracked. She jumped, looking around for a sign of danger, but she relaxed upon noticing a vivid firework burst in the air some distance away. With a skip in her step, she trotted toward the source of the noise.

In the town square, a stage had been set up. Where it had come from, she had no idea, but she suspected that the loud blue unicorn waving her forelegs everywhere had something to do with it. A large segment of the populace had gathered to watch this unexpected performance; several foals were standing on their parents’ backs, eyes wide with curiosity.

The strange unicorn puffed out her chest, clearly basking in the attention. “Come one, come all, and see the majestic feats of the one, the only, the Great and Powerful Trixie!

Pinkie slunk through the crowd, making her careful way to the front without stopping to imagine the crushing hooves of a panicked mob. There she met the rest of her friends, who were watching the display with varying degrees of skepticism. Fluttershy in particular seemed to find discomfort in every burst of fireworks, as she had taken to hiding behind a perplexed Rarity.

“What’s going on?”

“This pony just came and set up some show,” Applejack said. “Not sure what she’s planning in particular, but I’ll give it the benefit of a doubt.”

“Witness!” Trixie drew an impressive pose. “Witness as the greatest of you, even the strongest and most magical, is brought low by the Great and Powerful Trixie’s might! Who among you dares to contest the Great and Powerful Trixie?”

Pinkie stared. “Can’t you just show off tricks by yourself?”

“Behold!” Trixie’s eyes practically bugged out. “A challenger approaches! Join me on the stage, pink pony, and I will be happy to accommodate your desire to crush you in front of a live audience!”

“I don’t think I actually said—”

“No buts!” With some concentration, she dragged Pinkie onto the stage by the tail. “Tell me, what can you do?”

Pinkie glanced over herself for splinters in vital areas, then cast a cautious glance over the rapt audience. “I, uh, throw parties.”

“Throw parties, she says!” Trixie guffawed. “A trivial pursuit, but Trixie will condescend to your level.” She stood on her hind legs, gesturing broadly. “Behold!”

There was a burst of smoke. When it cleared, several clusters of balloons bobbed lazily around the stage, and confetti rained down from above. In the audience, there were a few hesitant “oohs” of automatic appreciation.

“That’s nice,” Pinkie said dismissively. “Very time efficient. But where’s the food? Did you forget it?”

“Forget? Trixie does not forget. She merely waits to see if anypony else remembers obvious details.” She swept a hoof toward the sky, and another burst heralded the arrival of a table laden with treats. “I trust I have trumped your abilities?”

“Well, it’s not a real party without games.”

“A simple complaint to remedy.” Her tail cracked like a whip, and another table appeared; this one held dice, action figures, and a game master’s screen, all colored pale purple. “Trixie finds that this variety has proven popular in the past.”

Pinkie considered this. “I think I’ll have to remember that one.” Then she held up a hoof before Trixie could gloat. “But you forgot one more thing.”

“Name it!”

“Have you made anypony happy?”

“Of course! Trixie is quite pleased with her accomplishments here.”

“I mean, besides yourself.”

“Well, clearly …” Trixie trailed off as she looked upon the audience. While a few looked interested in what was going on, most seemed to be waiting for a flashier demonstration. “I mean, a party is not exciting from the outside. It stands to reason they cannot sufficiently enjoy it as they stand.”

But Pinkie was shaking her head. “You’ve only really succeeded with a party when you can draw ponies in with the atmosphere. When you throw a party, you have to fulfill expectations. It’s about fun, not proving a point.”

Slow comprehension dawned on Trixie’s features as she realized the trap she’d been led into. “You … you cretin!” she blurted. “Trixie will make you sorry for your smugness!”

“Who’s smug here? Urk!

“That should teach you,” Trixie said with a grin, admiring her handiwork of shoving a blown-up balloon in Pinkie’s mouth. “It is clear that Trixie has won this encounter! Now, is there anypony else who wishes to test their abilities against the Great and Powerful Trixie?”

Pinkie’s jaw ached. She wondered how the balloon could fit in her mouth in the first place … and even as the thought crossed her mind, the balloon exploded. She gagged as the plastic flew down her throat, lodging itself firmly in her throat. Suddenly nervous, she tried to pull in a deep breath, but she only succeeded in making the scraps inside of her flutter unpleasantly against her airpipe. Her vision started to swim as she collapsed, convulsing.

“Anypony at all?” Trixie paused, and Pinkie could make out the sight of the showpony turning around. “Oh, what are you —?” The unicorn shrieked, nearly skipping back. “What are you doing? Stop that this instant! Never fear, Trixie will save you!”

“I think you’ve done enough.” Twilight’s voice was cool, and Pinkie felt her magic pull her jaws apart. Something prodded past her uvula, trying to grasp the remains of the balloon. “Don’t worry, Pinkie. I’ve read enough books to know what to do in this situation.”

But the magic still failed to clear Pinkie’s throat. Her eyes lost focus, and after several terrible seconds of shaking in Twilight’s grasp, her energy failed her, and she grew still.

“Who among you dares to contest the Great and Powerful Trixie?”

Not us, Pinkie thought, saying nothing aloud. We’re staying out of this.

“Anypony?” Trixie swept her gaze upon the ponies. “Anypony at all?” She rubbed her chin as a thought occurred to her. “Perhaps a volunteer?”

No hooves were raised. Somewhere distant, a cricket chirped.

“Aha! A challenger approaches!” Trixie dragged a struggling Rainbow Dash onto the stage. “Trixie supposes your talent has to do with rainbows, yes?”

Dash shot her a sideways look. “It has to do with my speed,” she said. “The rainbows are just the cherry on the awesome sundae.”

“But is it impressive? Trixie is skeptical.”

Never one to disappoint an audience, Dash rocketed upward, burst through a cloud on her way back down, and scattered vivid colors in the gentle shower of condensation that followed. Above the stage, she executed a hairpin turn that left her image in the air, hanging in a mist that refracted the sunlight into a gentle spectrum. When she touched down, her wings fairly sparkled with dew as they flexed. “Yeah, I guess it’s a little impressive.”

Cheers rang out in the square as ponies stomped their hooves in approval. Even Fluttershy was peeking out from behind Rarity, gazing at the display in awe.

Trixie rubbed her chest, nose turned toward the air. With a glow of her horn, she seized a cloud — a feat that made Twilight stare — and pulled it down to shadow Dash, who was preening obliviously.

Dash looked up, wondering where the sun had gone, and received a faceful of lightning for her trouble. She seized up, mane and tail frizzy with electricity, and flared her wings to dissipate the energy. When the afterimages had faded, she was left staring in surprise, her fur sporting patches of soot here and there.

“Clearly your own element contributes to making you look like a fool.” Trixie smirked. “Not that that’s hard.”

Casting her a dirty look, Dash slunk back into the crowd, where her friends comforted her silently.

“Rest assured, that was merely a warmup act! Trixie requires somepony new.” Her eyes fell to Thunderlane. “Ah! You look like a strapping young lad.”

“I’m probably older than you,” he grumbled.

“Trixie was referring to your skill level.”

Thunderlane blushed.

“Come on, don’t be shy! Or would you rather be known as a coward for the rest of your life?”

His ears were pinned back as he reluctantly made his way through the crowd. Near the front, he bumped into Rarity; he paused to apologize, then shamefully stepped onto the stage. “Are you going to assault me too?” he asked sarcastically.

But Trixie paid him no heed. Her eyes were fixed on the front of her audience, her mouth open in a little “o”. “You! Trixie requires your presence!”

Rarity pointed to herself uncertainly. “Me?”

“Not you. Your pegasus friend.”

Fluttershy, who had been briefly exposed, slid deeper into Rarity’s shadow.

“Fluttershy.” Trixie grinned, shark-like. “Fancy meeting you here.”

A squeak was her only response.

“Trixie will not stand for squeaks.” She levitated the frozen pegasus onto the stage. “Word has it that you hold the Element of Magic. Why don’t you show everypony just what you can do?”

“I-I …”

“En garde!”

Fog formed around Fluttershy, obscuring her from view. Pinkie bit her lip as she caught sight of shapeless figures shadowed in the depths, glaring at their captive before vanishing and allowing others to take their place.

“Please.” Fluttershy’s whisper could be heard across the square. “Please stop this.”

“Oh, Trixie will be glad to do so. Eventually.” Seizing a heavy cloud, she set it above her victim, nudging it into producing a light shower. “I hate to rain on your parade, but—”

“That’s enough.” Twilight swept the fog away, dispersing the cloud with a thought. She smiled at Fluttershy, who trembled a little less at the reassuring look. Then she cast a cool gaze on Trixie. “I don’t know who you think you are, but you have no right to harass my friends.”

Trixie sneered. “And who do you think you are? Clearly not somepony who understands the greatness and power of mmph!

“If you’re going to pick a fight with any of us, it’s going to be me.” Twilight watched as Trixie fumbled with her mouth-turned-zipper. “Leave everypony else out of this.”

Managing to unzip her mouth, Trixie pulled in a gasp before shaking herself. “Well! It seems we have a challenger worthy of Trixie after all. Fillies and gentlecolts, Trixie proposes a duel! Here and now, Trixie will prove her dominance over this other pony, and—”

“That’s not what I meant.” Twilight glared. “What I meant is, if you humiliate anypony else, so help me I will hang you by your tail from a tree.”

Trixie paled. “Uh … this concludes the astounding performance of the Great and Powerful Trixie! Autographs will be signed for the next half hour!” In a puff of smoke, she vanished.

The ponies stood awkwardly for a moment. Then, gradually, they dispersed, gravitating toward their usual orders of business, glancing back at the suddenly forlorn stage.

Fluttershy looked up as her friends rushed over. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled, shaking herself dry. “I know I let you all down, but—”

“Dear, there’s no need to apologize.” Rarity hugged her gently. “Only that showmare is to blame. You did nothing wrong.”

“But she’s right.” Fluttershy sniffed. “I’m not a real Bearer of Magic. I'm not a great flier or aeromancer. Somepony who’s good at it should have it, like Rainbow Dash.”

“Don’t say that!” Pinkie smiled at her, brushing her mane out of her face. “It’s not just unicorn or pegasus or earth pony magic that factors into it. It’s the magic of friendship. Remember? You’re Fluttershy, the one who brings out the best in ponies.”

“I’ll say,” said Applejack, tilting her hat. “You’re the one who ties us together. Hay, I can’t imagine what we’d do without you.”

“Although I’d make a pretty awesome Bearer of Magic.” Dash leaned back from the force of four frowns. “Sorry.”

Twilight patted Fluttershy’s shoulder. “Whatever happens, we’re here for you. Just like you’re here for us. If it helps, I’d love to talk with you about pegasus magic sometime.”

The corners of Fluttershy’s mouth tilted upward. “Thank you, everypony. I guess I still need time getting used to all this.” Then she sighed. “I should talk to Trixie.”

“Not to pick at anythin’,” Applejack remarked, “but she knew your name when she was singlin’ you out. You two got a history or somethin’?”

Rarity frowned. “I find it hard to believe that sweet Fluttershy has anything to do with her.”

“No, Applejack’s right. We’ve known each other for a long time.” Fluttershy looked around at the others, as if fearing judgment. “You see, Trixie and I … we're cousins.”