Slick opened his eyes, taking in the late morning sky, his lungs filling with the sweet smell of spring. There was a hint of a smile on his face as he took a moment to enjoy the sounds of nature around them.
The experience was short-lived, as he quickly realized that he was trapped, caught in a position many stallions probably wouldn't have many complaints about. Slick knew better. He knew just how dire his situation was, making him silently curse his fortune.
He was completely coiled up by Sid, who was sleeping peacefully, muzzle pressed into his shoulder. Waking up with scales pressing against him wasn't particularly odd for the stallion, as wrapping around others in her sleep was a habit Sid's had for as long as he'd known her. The problem, was that there were also feathers pressing against him.
Slowly tilting his head, he saw Ember, breathing into his other shoulder. She was still out from last night's activities, a fact he knew would end sooner or later. So he lay there, tightly wrapped between two mares, cursing his luck.
He glanced to Sid, considering waking her, having her let go without waking the other, but knowing the lamia, she'd probably just make things worse in the process.
He then noticed something that made the stallion let out a tired sigh. Ember was starting to stir, her eyes opening shortly after...
With her letter finished, Trixie smiled to herself as she moved around her carriage, opening the side window quietly, before standing on her hind legs and looking in.
Zecora was sitting on the bed in an odd meditative stance that made the mare adopt a confused look. Despite the posture, the zebra seemed to be asleep. Shaking her head, Trixie looked to the candle, bringing her letter over as her magic focused on the wick.
In time with it lighting, a loud boom sounded out from the forest, making Trixie flinch, hitting the back of her head on the window frame. She fell to the ground, letting out a wave of emotionally, and painfully, charged gibberish as she glared at the sky.
It had been such a lovely clearing. Now, it was nothing more than a blackened mess of charred wood and grass.
Slick let out another sigh, a puff of smoke following his exhale as he looked to his companions. Sid was just as sooty as he was, and she was letting out a few sobs as she tried to get the grime out of her eyes. Ember looked completely fine, if a little flustered. Her surprise switched over to annoyance as the lamia let out another sob.
“L- Look, can you stop crying, please?”
“Shut up, you- you- meanie!” Sid replied with a glare, “I was having such a nice dream... What kind of pony blows up her friends!?”
“But we're not friends,” Ember mumbled under her breath, “I woke up caught in a lamia's coil, can you blame me for overreacting?”
“Yes!” she replied without a hint of hesitation. Ember looked to Slick desperately, making her frown when she saw him casually whipping his jacket with a thwack, sending off poofs of soot, before he slid it back on.
“Little help here?” she pressed, “Isn't she your best bud?” Slick gave her a cold look.
“Learn tah clean after yerself,” he said sternly, making the pegasus blush, before he approached the crying mare. He then glanced to the side as he sat next to her. Raising a hoof, he placed in on her head, making her flinch for a moment.
To the pegagus' surprise, Sid's sobs started to die down, and after several moments came to an end. Ember looked on in disbelief, before Slick took his hoof off. “Feelin' better?” he asked in a disinterested voice, getting a small nod from Sid as she rubbed her eyes. “Ember, ya better watch whatcha hit with them sticks,” he said as he gave the pegasus a cold look. “Hear me?” he asked, getting a frown from her as she glanced to the side.
“I said I was sorry,” she mumbled as she glanced to Sid, “And can't you act more your age?” she asked, getting a small frown from the lamia.
“Can't you?” she countered, making Ember's mouth fall open as Sid stuck her tongue out at her.
“Let's not get tah bickerin',” Slick said, making both mares glare at each other for a moment longer. Sid was the first to break away, giving the stallion a small nod. “Let's get cleaned up, then movin'. Want to reach the city 'fore we split up.”
“We're splitting?” Sid asked curiously, getting a nod from the stallion as he started to put away camp.
“If Trixie's headin' southeast, she'll need tah go through the mountains, and we'll hafta follow her,” he explained, making Sid's ears fall at that.
“Mountains...” she said, getting a confused look from Ember.
“What, scared of heights?” she asked, making Sid shake her head, before nodding.
“I mean, yes. Like, really high heights, but that's not the problem,” she added, getting a nod from Slick.
“Lamia like Sid get tired and weak in the cold,” he explained, getting a ponderous look from the pegasus.
“Then, does that mean Reina will be the same?” she asked, concern in her voice, making the others share an odd look.
“Yeah, but that broad she's with will think of somethin' fer that,” he said dismissively, getting a frown from Ember. “Either way, we'll wanna lay low after what happened yesterday,” he added, giving Ember a hard look, “Got it?”
“G- Got it,” she said, glancing to the side. “Well, that's fine, I guess. There's something I wanted to check out in Tall Tale anyways.”
“Do you want me to find Reina and keep an eye out?” Sid asked, getting a nod from the stallion, “Okay. What about you?”
“Gonna do a little fishin'. There's lotsa raccoons to feed in Tall Tale, after all,” he replied, making Sid tilt her head for a moment, before giving him a smile.
“Gotcha!” she replied, leaving Ember with a confused look, as they gathered what little remained intact of camp, and continued on their way.
Trixie rubbed the bump on her head, cursing a certain pegasus' name. With her familial letter sent, she continued pulling the carriage, her frown lifting as the surrounding forest started to give way. They were entering the suburbs of Tall Tale.
The canopy thinned, brightening their surroundings, and shortly after the breeze shifted they could pick up the smell of grapes. It wasn't long before the road passed a vineyard where several earth ponies were working the field, giving Trixie a casual welcome as they continued their tasks.
Trixie and Reina's eyes widened as the forest's roof fully gave way. Ahead of them were many small wooden homes, sporting plenty of green. Beyond those, reaching into the sky, was a line of snow capped mountains that stretched east and west. Before those white peaks was a large cluster of buildings, mostly made of brick, averaging around three stories tall, with some being six to ten high in the city's center. The ground was uneven, leaving city and homes built on varying levels of height.
Compared to its close neighbor, Vanhoover, Tall Tale wasn't nearly as grandiose, but it had an aged feeling to it that gave it a certain kind of charm. The atmosphere around the city reminded Trixie of Canterlot, old and proud. It also felt like the village Twilight now resided, warm and welcoming, Ponyville. And, it was bustling with activity, the road growing more crowded as they continued on.
“Trixie, what's that smell?” Reina asked curiously, making Trixie's nose perk.
“Oh! Those are grapes. Interested?”
“Do you ... eat those?” she asked, getting a confused look from the mare.
“Well yes, just like apples and carrots.”
“But, I drink apples.” Reina then blinked, “That's apple-juice, right?”
“Yes, and you can drink grapes too. Some of it is even for children!” she said with a coy smile, getting a confused look from the filly. “Trixie will buy some juice for you around lunch, sound good?”
“Yeah!” she replied with a grin, which Trixie mirrored. With that, they continued on in silence for several minutes.
Reina's attention turned back to what she was practicing, before something dawned on her. “Trixie, where's The School?”
“School? Which one?” Trixie asked in a confused tone, making the filly blink.
“There's more than one?” Tiko asked, getting a flat look from the mare.
“Schools are very common in Equestria. So where'd this come from?” she asked, making the filly glance to the side.
“Sid. She said that they were suppose to take me to 'The School'.”
“Well, that's not ominous,” Trixie said as her brow furrowed. “So, which school are they referring to?” she asked, more to herself.
“What's a school?”
“It's a place where colts and fillies go to learn,” Trixie explained dismissively. “If they want to take you to a school, then it must be a private one. Someplace where they could keep an eye on you?” she speculated.
“So you don't know where it is?”
“Not without knowing the name.”
“What if its name is The School?” Tiko inquired. In a condescending tone.
“Trixie seriously doubts there's a school out there like that,” the mare replied, before letting out a sigh, “But, she supposes it should still be looked into,” she added, glancing to the city ahead, “Something else to ask about it looks like.”
“The dum-dum will be busy?” the doll asked, getting a fired up look from the pony.
“Yep, we've got a couple of busy days ahead of us!”
“Us?” Reina asked excitedly.
“Of course! In fact, let's get started right now!” Trixie added as she adopted a sly grin, “Now, about your performance yesterday,” she began, getting an eager look from Reina. “As your first show, you did pretty well. Why, those fillies and colts were all over you!”
“Literally!” Tiko added, the filly wearing a beaming grin.
“However,” she showpony added in a stern tone, “if you want to help Trixie make bits, then you're going to have to try harder.”
“Awww, but we were trying really hard!” Tiko whined.
“And you'll need to do harder regardless, because, bits are made by adults.” Trixie had a confident air about her, a note of passion in her voice that drew her assistant in. “You should never perform a show for children expecting bits out of it. Mares and stallions are where the money is, and they're a little harder to amuse than fillies and colts. Adults are more skeptical, busier, experienced, and frugal. To keep the attention, awe, and wonder of an adult, you must appear to be somepony that is larger than life,” she explained, Reina considering her words.
“Is that why you talk odd, and always call yourself Great and Powerful?” she asked, making the mare blink.
“Hah! That's just who the Great and Powerful Trixie is. A magnificent showpony who has dabbled in all kinds of entertainment. Singing, dancing, acting, comedy, acrobatics, and of course, magic! And while those others were fun, being a magician is what Trixie feels the most comfortable with.”
“Y- You tried all that?” Reina asked wide-eyed, getting a proud nod from the mare. “How?”
“Trixie had a lot of time to experiment,” she said with a fond smile.
“So, you can sing? Are you good at it?” Reina asked curiously, getting a put off look from the mare.
“You doubt Trixie?”
“No, it's just,” she said, adopting a focused look, “It's... Well, you don't seem like the singing type.”
“Hmph!” Trixie let out, raising her nose.
“S- Sorry,” the filly added. “So ... there's a bunch of different types of performing,” she said with a thoughtful look, “And being a magician means using magic. So, I'll need to do one of the other types then,” she said, making Trixie frown.
“No you don't,” she replied bluntly.
“Huh?” the filly asked in surprise, making Trixie adopt a contemplative look.
“You don't need to be a unicorn, to be a magician.” Trixie then coughed, “Though being one does have its advantages.”
“But, the only magic I have is...” she let off as she fiddled with her glasses.
“Right, Trixie has some explaining to do!” she let out, pulling her cart to the side of a field, just before reaching the city proper. She then freed herself from the carriage and helped her assistant off the roof. Moving around the cart, they placed themselves out of sight from the road, Trixie's horn summoning a sound canceling bubble as she adopted a very serious look.
“Now listen Reina, what Trixie is about to tell you is really important, and very secretive. You can keep a secret, right?”
“Right!” Reina replied, giving Trixie a spirited look.
“Very well then,” Trixie replied, looking over their surroundings one last time, before taking a deep breath. “There are two kinds of magic in this world,” she began, raising a hoof, bottom up, “There's your everyday magic,” she said as her horn glowed, summoning a small image of herself standing on her hoof, “and there's the magic of the unknown!” She waved her other hoof over the image, making it disappear in the motion, a bit being left in its place. Trixie looked to Reina eagerly, getting a confused look from the filly.
“What's the 'unknown'?”
“The unknown is anything that looks like magic, but isn't. If you don't know better, then you believe it's magic, because it's easier to think that. Something like Zecora's potions, Trixie's tricks, or hypnotism are like that,” she explained, waving her hoof past the bit, making it disappear, “And one thing distinct about this kind of magic is, with practice, most anypony can do it.” She then glanced to Reina, “You can make the bit disappear and reappear, but, you can't copy Trixie's spells.” She then smiled as she rose her empty hooves. “Do you know where the bit is?” she asked, making Reina shake her head, getting a sigh from the mare. She then reached out, the filly blinking as Trixie touched her chin. She then raised her hoof, showing the bit resting on it as Trixie raised an eyebrow. “What if Trixie told you it was under your muzzle the whole time?” Reina's eyes widened as she looked at the coin for a moment.
“So that, that wasn't everyday magic, but the 'unknown'?”
“That's right!” Trixie replied, giving the filly the coin, who nearly fell over when she caught it. Trixie then applauded for her assistant. “But, let's call it what it actually is. A trick. Trixie tricked you.”
“How'd you do that?” the filly inquired, getting a smile from the mare.
“The bit never left Trixie's hoof. She simply made you think it did,” she explained enthusiastically. She then showed Reina the whole trick again, showing how she made the filly glance in the wrong place as the bit switched hooves. How it was tucked out of sight. How she was fooled. “As you can see, a magician tricks their audience into believing the improbable!” She then raised a hoof, adopting a smug look. “As a unicorn, everypony assumes Trixie's magic is the real deal. But when an earth pony does it, or a lamia for that matter, the wonder increases, because the means to which it was accomplished, is unknown.”
“So, if you know the trick, the magic is lost?”
“Exactly!” Trixie said with a proud smile. “That's why it's important to keep the secrets behind the trick, a secret!” She then poked Tiko, “Those fillies and colts believed Tiko was haunted by some sort of spirit. Because he could talk, and they didn't know you were talking for him, the children believed in something improbable, over something as simple as the truth. Do you think it would have been as wonderful, if they knew it was you all along?” She asked, getting a surprised look from the lamia. Reina then glanced to her doll for a moment, her mind racing, before realization lit her face. She then gave Trixie a curious look.
“If you can use real magic, then why do tricks too?”
“Because it's more efficient that way,” the mare replied, unphased, “Trixie can make fireworks with her magic, but using real ones is easier. After all, it takes a troublesome bit of magic to perfectly mirror the flash and boom of the real deal.” She then nodded to herself, “Basically, Trixie sprinkles tricks into her act to help her perform longer.”
“Then, doesn't that mean you're not as Great and Powerful as you say you are?” the filly asked with a flat look, her words instantly popping Trixie's enthusiasm.
“Th- That is- Trixie is Great and Powerful!” the mare insisted, “Her magic just isn't...” she then adopted a sheepish look, before it switched to annoyance. “Look, that doesn't matter!”
“Trixie?” the filly asked, confused by the mare's behavior.
“Don't look at Trixie like that!” she said, giving Reina a hard frown, “She is great! So what if her best friends have more umph in their magic, Trixie can weave a better spell matrix than both of them!”
“Trixie, I didn't say anything like that,” Reina quickly assured in a worried tone, getting a surprised look from the mare, her face turning red.
“F- Forget what Trixie just said!” the mare insisted, before her eyes widened, “And remember not to tell anypony about this, okay! A magician's show relies on the secrets to her tricks!”
“R- Right!” the filly replied.
An awkward silence then fell between them. Trixie glanced to the side, avoiding eye contact with her assistant, as if she was trying to ignore what she just let out. “Trixie,” Reina said, getting a guarded look from the mare.
“Can I learn these tricks?”
“Oh,” she replied, looking a little surprised, before regaining her composure. “Trixie doesn't see why not. You've got talent after all. Few your age can pull off the level of ventriloquism you show. And you've shown that you're pretty slick with your hooves and tail.” Trixie then let out a sigh, “But, there's only so much you can learn while we're here. So for now, Trixie will show you how to assist in her own performance.”
“Also,” the mare said, a thoughtful look in her eyes, “It may be a good idea for you to see other showponies at work. Give you an idea of the competition.”
“Yep, competition! There's only so much attention and bits an adult has to give, after all,” she said confidently, “But, how about we get that lunch Trixie mentioned earlier, before we go see what's going on in Tall Tale today?”
“Sounds good to Tiko!” the doll let out, getting a nod from the filly.
“Excellent!” Trixie replied, both getting back to the cart. As she started to strap herself back in, Reina gave her a concerned look.
“Do you think those goons are still after us?” she asked, getting an briefly worried look from the mare.
“They waited till it was dark, and ran when the police came running,” Trixie pointed out, “We should be fine if we stay in the city,” she explained, getting a nod from the filly. “Assuming those villains can even find us in this hilly place,” she added smugly.
Those villains stared on, shocked looks on their faces. They could clearly see Trixie's gaudy cart, the blue mare pulling it down the road a hundred yards ahead of them. Ember was the first to collect herself, turning to the others with a fired up look in her eyes.
“Come on, let's get them!” she hissed, “Let's get Reina back!”
“Calm down,” Slick said in a commanding tone, getting a confused look from her. “I said we're gonna lay low. Too many witnesses. Too close to Vanhoover.”
“No means no, Ember.” He then gave her a cool look, “Yer free to try all by yerself, just don't count on us tah bail ya out once yer caught.”
“So what, we're giving up!?” she asked.
“Not so loud!” Sid replied, making Ember glance around in alarm, the lamia now invisible. “I'll keep an eye on them, Slick,” the mare added, sounding determined. “Meet up at the Usual Spot tonight?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Slick...” Sid started hesitantly, “Tomorrow, can you take me to the theater?” The stallion considered the question, getting an annoyed look from Ember.
“Find out how long Trixie's stayin'. Then we'll see,” he said, getting an affirming sound from her as he glanced to the pegasus. “Ya know where the Usual Spot is?”
“We're actually abandoning her? You can't be serious! She's right there!” Ember let out in exasperation, pointing in Reina's direction.
“They're takin' the same way to The School,” Slick pointed out, “We tail 'em fer a while, let 'em think they lost us. Then, we get the jump on them.”
“After the mountains?” Sid asked curiously, getting a nod from the stallion. “Okay! See you later Slick, good luck!”
“Stay outa trouble,” the stallion added, getting silence in return, which made him sigh. “And stay away from grapes.”
“Aww!” Sid replied in disappointment.
“I mean it Sid. Not even a sip.”
“I … I promise I won't,” she replied, making Slick let out another sigh. Ember watched in disbelief as he continued on down the road, making her grab her head in frustration.
“Arghh! I can't believe I got assigned to a couple of cowards!”
“Sticks 'n Stones, Ember. Just don't drag us down with you,” he said dismissively, leaving the pegasus all alone.
“...H- Hey, wait! I don't know where the Usual Spot is!” she explained, blushing as she went after him.
“Gotta admit, not too many ponies out to buy this raw,” the sales-mare commented, patting a hoof on the small keg of grape-juice.
“It's really good!” Reina insisted, juice on her lips. Trixie let out a sigh as she parted with the small number of bits she had left.
“It makes Reina's tummy feel warm!” Tiko added, making Trixie pause.
“This is grape-juice, right?” the showpony asked.
“Ya think I'd mess something like that up?” the sales-mare asked indignantly, “If I was peddling that, I'd ask fer yer age! Taste it yerself if you're skeptical!”
“No no, that's fine,” Trixie assured. “So, have any suggestions for where a tourist may want to go?”
“Heh, you do got that look about you,” the mare said with a nod, “Well, there's a convention of sorts going on next few days at the con center. Think it's called … Dino-con?” she then waved a hoof dismissively. “'Sides that, if you're interested in entertainment, you should check out the theater district,” she added as she eyed Trixie's wagon.
“And that would be?”
“See that tall building with the gray-blue roof? Most of the ones around it are part of the theater district.”
“Ahh!” Trixie said as she spotted said landmark, “Thank you very much~” Trixie added, turning back to her wagon.
“Don't mention it. And come on back if ya want more!” the mare let out, before her eyes widened. “Ahh shoot!” she exclaimed, drawing Trixie's attention as the mare dived into her stock, crushing grapes and knocking several things over in the process. Trixie stepped back in surprise as a spray of grape batter flew over her head. “Get back here ya varmit!” the sales-mare shouted, covered in juice as a raccoon skittered away from the mess, taking a small haul with it.
“Another raccoon? Is that common around here?” Trixie asked, getting a defeated sigh from the mare.
“It is. Might wanna keep an eye on yer food while yer here.” She then blinked, her eyes following Reina as she slithered up to her stand.
“Reina?” Trixie asked, getting a small smile from the filly as she pulled out a bit.
“How many grapes for this?” she asked as she placed it on the table, getting a soft smile from the mare.
“For a cutie like yerself, a whole stem,” she said, grabbing a bundle of grapes and presenting it to the filly. “Sound good?”
“Is that fair?” the filly asked skeptically, getting a small laugh from the vendor.
“It's more than fair, I'd even say it's a steal!” she added, getting a considering look from Reina, before she nodded to herself.
“Thank you, for the grapes,” Reina said in a dignified and respectful tone, taking the grapes, before rushing back to the smiling blue mare. “Bits sure are amazing!” the filly exclaimed, presenting her first purchase with a smile.
“Keep being proud of yourself," Trixie said as she shook her head, "That was our last bit. We're broke now,” she added with an amused look. “Let's go, probably going to have to do an odd job if we're going to see any shows today.”
“~Kay!” Reina replied, popping a grape in her mouth, sucking on it for a little bit, before spitting the rest of it away.
“D- Don't just spit them onto the road!” Trixie let out, getting a lightheaded giggle from the filly.
“Okay!” she said, tail swaying side to side as she pulled herself on top of the carriage, to Trixie's surprise. “Thanks for always being so nice to me, Trixie,” she added, her face flushed as she popped another grape in her mouth, getting a concerned look from Trixie.
Do grapes make lamias giddy?