• Published 9th Jul 2013
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Stories and poems too short for individual publication (including some award-winning minifics).

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The Illusion Of Choice, Or Vice Versa

"Well, she's not an average unicorn, is she?"

The filly could see them in her mind's eye. Father, stalking in ever-shrinking spirals like one of the tigers from the animated pictures in her adventure books. The grey-jacketed stallion — beard quivering at the end of his muzzle — waiting, cringing, for the pounce, like the goat who the intrepid heroine swooped in to save.

"No foal is, sir." The stallion's voice was muffled through the heavy door, but she thought she caught a hint of the same tone she used when Mother refused her an after-dinner sweet. "But she's only eleven, and it's very rare for ponies to develop adult levels of control until their teens. With training and nurturing, she's going to make exemplary contributions to thaumaturgy, but everypony will be much happier if we allow that to happen at its own pace."

"She is a prodigy, Meister." Father's voice shifted from fang to frost. "Like her brother is. Like her parents before her. Six generations of mages will not settle for 'average'. Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns will not settle for 'average'. And if you won't help her reach that potential …" Father's voice dropped, almost too soft to hear. "We'll find somepony who will."

The filly's mouth began to water as the butler lifted the lids from the trays. Buttered carrots and fried potatoes! Both of her favorites! And then he reached her own … only to reveal a single bowl of broth, and a spoon so broad and shallow that it more closely resembled a spatula.

"Finish your soup, dearest," Mother said before she could protest. "Good fillies who eat what they're served get to have the rest of their dinner."

Confused, she leaned down to drink it, only to be sharply rapped on the nose with the spoon. "Manners."

She glanced down at it, then back to Mother, and her objection died on her lips at Mother's expression. Swallowing through a dry throat, she pushed energy into her horn, fighting through the feedback as it sputtered weakly to life, wrestling to wrap the inertial link around the utensil's handle as the spell's energy spasmed and wriggled.

As the spoon danced around her side of the table, caroming off the salt shaker and Father's plate, the skin around her horn grew hot. She felt a trickle of sweat drip down her forehead. She didn't dare reach up to wipe it away.

Long minutes later, punctuated only by the clinks of colliding tableware and her brother's uneasy coughing, the spoon ricocheted off the side of her bowl and then hung in midair. She sucked in a breath and held it, eyes locked on the hovering metal. She slowly tilted her head to the side, watching the spoon rotate accordingly.

She lowered her head. The end of the spoon dipped in.

She raised it. The spoon rose, the extra weight of the soup unbalancing it. The soup dribbled out of the shallow depression, splashing onto her plate and tablecloth.

She went to bed hungry.

As Mother stepped out and closed the door, the filly stared at the heavy curtain — the same way she used to spend her study time staring through the window before Father caught her. Still, she could see the outside in her mind's eye: pegasi flying through the crisp Canterlot air; street vendors hauling their carts to the market, luring customers with the scents of exotic spices; foals laughing and shouting, galloping down the streets.

She stomped back to the desk and sat down, glancing at the door, wondering how long Mother would wait outside and listen. She glanced at the six spellbooks — one for each of the classical schools of thaumaturgy — and opened the translocation one at random, flipping loudly through a few pages and then waiting for the sound of receding hoofsteps from the hall.

The filly wrapped her hornfield around the books one by one, grunting only a little as they lifted from the desk, and floated them back to her empty bookshelf.

Her stomach grumbled. She'd mastered the soup spoon, but they'd added a second course of Qilinese fried rice and two simple eating-sticks. She ate so slowly these days that she never felt full.

All we want is to help you get your Cutie Mark, Mother had said. It's time you began using your magical talent to its fullest.

Well, she had thought this morning, perhaps it is.

She stood again — silently this time — and crept to the window, where the thaumigraphic projector she'd liberated from the observatory had been carefully tucked away behind the desk. Touching a hoof to it, she closed her eyes and summoned her focus, hornglow sputtering to uneasy life. The glow of its projector crystal shimmered and faded, and the heavy curtain nailed across the window vanished, to be replaced with evening sky. The bottom pane of glass similarly evaporated. She slipped through the window into the bushes outside.

"And now, for my first spell," she whispered as she crept across the lawn and vaulted the fence, "the great and powerful Trixie will disappear."

Author's Note:

Finalist (14th place out of 104), "Illusion of Choice" minific Writeoff, October 2015. Lightly edited for FIMFiction.

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