• Published 18th Dec 2014
  • 1,968 Views, 91 Comments

Double Trouble: The Flaws Within - Masterius

Two Twilight Sparkles are not better than one, especially when each are stranded in the wrong world! With the Crystal Mirror broken, is there any way for them to find the way back to their respective homes?

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Chapter 16

Chapter Sixteen

Spike’s head was already aching and throbbing, and by the expressions on everypony’s faces, so were theirs. In fact, quite likely the only pony in the room not suffering borderline migraines was Twilight.

Then again, as she was the source of most of those excruciating headaches…

The moment their chariot came to a stop and Twilight was positive solid ground was beneath the wheels, she had scrambled out of the back and, well…

Spike had heard of ponies kissing the ground after a flight, but he had never actually seen it.

Needless to say, Twilight’s behavior—then, and now—had drawn, and was continuing to draw, awkward stares and curious looks. It had started with their landing and subsequent debarkation, then immediately followed by Twilight’s aggressive, borderline hostile demands to be addressed as Miss Sparkle. Her rigid posture, stern expression, and flashing eyes were so unlike their Princess of Friendship that anypony glancing her way immediately knew Something…Was…Up. Canterlot being Canterlot—and particularly the Royal Palace being the Royal Palace—schemes and machinations were bread-and-butter to the residents…especially for the courtiers and nobility.

Within minutes, half the reason—and the more important objective, truth be told—behind requesting Twilight Sparkle’s presence in Canterlot was rendered moot. Although Spike could not see them, he knew beyond doubt that shadowy figures were busy slinking off, either reporting what they had observed to their betters or employers, or to begin plotting amongst themselves.

And when Spike had attempted to coach Twilight, wheedling her into at least trying to be a convincing Princess Twilight Sparkle, her face had grown tighter as eyes glittered harder. “The summons,” she’d sharply clipped through clenched jaws, “said, and I quote: ‘simply seeing her presence here in Canterlot will do much to dispel any growing sense of fear and panic’. Well, I’m here. I’ve fulfilled my assignment.”

Had things been different, had the situation not been so tense and hectic—had Twilight not been battling the residual near-terror from the chariot flight—she might have been more flexible.


As it was, between the adrenaline still coursing through her and her instinctive retreat behind formalities and professionalism, the very last thing Twilight could possibly be considered was ‘flexible’.

Worse, in their own way, were her ears and tail. Over her lifetime, Twilight had learned, out of sheer, desperate survival, how to school her expressions—both facial and body—into revealing only what she chose to reveal. Behind that façade of cold, clinical detachment, however, frequently lurked a host of seething emotions and weaknesses. However, no one ever knew that because Twilight never allowed that to be seen. Unfortunately for her—and for everypony else—pony ears and tails spoke a very distinct language all their own.

Ears in particular were quite expressive. Were they turned out to the side? One, or both, gently swiveling back and forth? Turned back but not pinned? Turned back and pinned? Rapidly swiveling?

How about the tail? Was that raised, or flagged? Clamped down? Rapidly swishing?

Utterly convinced her innermost thoughts—and fears—were safely hidden, locked away deep inside her, Twilight had no idea her ears and tail were clearly revealing her true feelings. Worse, not just revealing them, but loudly broadcasting them for the entire world to see.

“Your Highness: Princess Twilight Sparkle and her chamberlain, Spike the Dragon.”

Outrage boiled up inside her at that address, halted—but not calmed—from erupting free by the gentle touch of a taloned paw against her flank and by the sheer presence of the pony to whom she’d just been introduced.

Her mind busily hummed, instantly analyzing and cataloguing. Alicorn? Check. Title: Highness? Check. Obviously not Celestia. This, then, had to be Princess Luna; Twilight silently snorted before wobbling down into her best approximation of a curtsy, even more awkward having no idea or concept how a quadruped greeted Royalty.

She heard barely-audible murmurs, ending with an “Ah!” of understanding. “Please rise, Miss Sparkle, and warm welcome to you. Welcome to Equestria, and please accept Our thanks for your quick response to Our summons.”

Wobbling her way erect, Twilight met Princess Luna’s gaze. “Thank you, Your Highness, for the warm welcome and reception.”

Spike’s jaw just about hit the floor, for the first time ever hearing such cultured, suave speech from her.

“Would you, please, of Our courtesy, speak with Sunset Shimmer? It is Our hope that, between the two of you, perhaps will be found the solution to my sister’s grave illness,” and for a moment Luna’s controlled demeanor cracked, as did her voice, “as well as her own. Likewise, perchance uncover the explanation behind, and cause of, your and Princess Twilight’s mutual translocations and the destruction of the Crystal Mirror.”

How nice that Celestia comes first and Sunset Shimmer second, while I’m just a distant third! And I’d rather poke my eye with a stick than speak to Sunset Shimmer!

Deeply bowing her head—not wishing to look like a gangly dolt by attempting another curtsy—Twilight smoothly replied, “It would, indeed, be my pleasure.” Although how pleased you’ll be is anyone’s guess!

It was an interesting group traveling through the corridors in the Royal Wing. In the middle were Princess Luna, Twilight Sparkle, and Spike. Surrounding them like an outer core were six senior physicians, easily identifiable by their lab coats, stethoscopes and other paraphernalia specific to their particular specialties. And as the mantle were a bevy of Royal Guardsponies: half Solari, half Nocturne.

By now, everypony in that select group were aware that this was not Princess Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, no matter how she appeared or whom she resembled. Now, who, exactly, she was

Nopony, absolutely nopony, could mistake how detached Twilight appeared. Her motions were mechanical, pared of any unnecessary motion or movement. Her expression was prim, almost prudish, looking as if she had just bitten into a sour persimmon.

Nopony had a clue what was actually percolating behind those distant violet eyes. In some ways that was a good thing, and in others…

Twilight kept reaching up to push nonexistent glasses up her nose; a motion which, by this point of her life, was frequently more instinctive than necessary. However, what was simplicity itself when one was an upright biped with flexible, manipulative digits was something else entirely when one was a quadruped possessing rigid hooves. Twilight kept stumbling, her steps faltering each time she went to push her glasses up with her fingers, as her foreleg would respond to that automatic reflex.

Bumbling like a drunk because of that was not helping her state of mind at all: instead of being a familiar, soothing gesture, it was now an aggravating, embarrassing one. And she couldn’t even retreat behind the familiarity of professional association with fellow scientists—not peers, mind you; Twilight didn’t have anyone equal to her in abilities, qualifications, or background—for simply listening to them as they ambled along had her rolling eyes in disdainful disgust.

Not one true scientist amongst themselves, she mentally condemned. Just listen to them prattle on! It’s like they know what will happen if they do X, Y, and Z, but have no idea about the how and why. “If you put an egg into boiling water for five minutes, it results in a hard-boiled egg!” Knowing that isn’t science: it’s an illiterate, inerudite recipe for goodness sakes! Now, understanding that the proteins in the albumen and yolk coagulate starting at a temperature of—

Abruptly snapping back into the here and now as the gaggle came to a stop outside a door, Twilight scrutinized the two Guards flanking this entrance and contrasting them to the duo at the adjacent door. The two here she catalogued as retainers—subordinate and servile—of Princess Luna, attaining that conclusion based upon virtually identical ones she’d seen attendant to her not minutes ago. Therefore, it stood to good reason—good scientific analysis and deduction—that the other two must be Princess Celestia’s personal Guards. One only needed to contrast their armor—well, barding, to be accurate—and uniforms to deduce that!

Nodding at her Guards warding the entrance, Princess Luna solemnly announced, “Sunset Shimmer is awake, and anxious to meet you, Twilight.” Although totally understandable that the Moon Princess—especially under the stress and fatigue she was laboring under—would, even after having been requested otherwise, reflexively call her “Twilight” instead of the ‘required’ “Miss Sparkle”…

Although Twilight was smugly positive she’d clamped down—as usual—on emotions as her wishes were, once again, ignored and trampled underfoot—underhoof?—unbeknownst to her, her true feelings were loudly shouted out as her ears tightly pinned back and her tail rapidly swished. Fortunately for her—very fortunately for her, as a matter of fact, considering the very short, almost nonexistent fuze of a highly-stressed temper—Luna’s attention was focused on the now-open doorway and so missed seeing Twilight’s anger blatantly directed at her.

Unfortunately for her, everypony else clearly saw the scornful fury directed at Princess Luna…including the Nocturne on duty.

“And no sooner did I overlap both normal sight with Mage sight and then focused on Princess Celestia’s cutie mark, something instantly drained all the magic within me and I passed out cold.”

Had no one told her that this was Sunset Shimmer, Twilight would still have instantly identified her, pony-form notwithstanding. It was the hair and eyes, she understood. Well, mane and eyes…and tail. Actually…the colors weren’t quite identical: Sunset Shimmer, her human nemesis, had a wealth of red and yellow, the same as this Sunset Shimmer had, except her pony analogue’s were more intense—a vivid crimson, a brilliant yellow—when compared to the subdued bright amaranth and light apple green with which she was more familiar.

It was just enough of a difference that Twilight could accept this Sunset Shimmer as an individual in her own right, and so Twilight became—albeit slowly—relaxed in her presence. It also helped that Sunset Shimmer, out of everypony else, understood true scientific methodology, having been educated in the same world as Twilight. Still…

“‘Cutie mark’?” Twilight inquired. “What’s a cutie mark?” What is wrong with these people…err…ponies? she mentally grumbled, for, except for Spike and Princess Luna, everyone else looked at her with stunned eyes, dropped jaws, shocked inhales, or a combination of those.

“See this? This mark on my flank?” Sunset Shimmer gently answered, lightly touching her sun-in-glory with the tip of her horn. “That’s a cutie mark. My cutie mark, to be precise. I wasn’t born with it,” she explained, “Nopony is. We get our cutie marks when we finally discover a unique characteristic that sets us apart from other ponies.”

Well, so much for that hope! Twilight mentally sighed, instantly relegating Sunset Shimmer to the ranks of the unwashed masses. Seriously? What claptrap!

Once again, Twilight felt safe behind the impeccable, impregnable armor of her control…and, once again, her ears and tail—the natural body language of ponies—shouted out her true feelings. Already confused as to how anypony, least of all Twilight Sparkle, could be ignorant about cutie marks, now they were offended at her clear, sneering disdain towards Sunset Shimmer. Before anypony could rebuke Twilight for her gross and offensive lapse of manners—and, quite likely, inadvertently trigger a second cataclysm—the annoyed and frustrated alicorn glanced back at her own flank…

What the—?

Twilight’s reaction was priceless, and the perfect antidote to a potentially dangerous situation, as her emotional control remained quite ragged and frayed. First, she froze in place upon spotting the five, small white sparkles surrounding the larger, pink, six-pointed sparkle decorating her flank. Seconds later, she blinked; then blinked again as her eyes slowly widened. Shifting her gaze to her other flank, then back again…before slowly turning in circles as she sought to “get closer”, resembling a puppy trying to sneak up on their unsuspecting tail.

It was so endearing, in fact, that their animosity simply drained away…save for the Nocturne, remembering Twilight’s slight to their Liege, their Lady of the Night.

I have one, too?

Twilight stared at the cutie mark adorning her flanks, something she had not been aware of possessing at all. She had noticed all the others had them—well, except for the Royal Guards she had seen, as croupiere covered their flanks—but had assumed—apparently mistakenly—they were simply some sort of body decoration. Butt tattoos, as it were.

What in the world?

Coming to a stop, she continued fiercely focusing on hers, dimly perceiving with senses she was utterly unfamiliar with—having acquired them just this morning when she’d been yanked from her world and thrust into this one—that there was more to that mark than met the simple eye.

Head jerking back a bit as eyes rapidly blinked several times, Twilight was startled at detecting…something. It’s like I can suddenly perceive infrared and ultraviolet. Except it’s not those electromagnetic particle waveforms. It’s something else.

Haltingly at first, Twilight—without knowing how, what, or why—began shifting her vision back and forth, alternating between the normalcy of the sense she’d been borne with and the disquieting yet intriguing new one she’d just discovered.

Using that same vision, Twilight slowly examined every other cutie mark she could see. Most of them were mild to moderate in ‘brightness’, save for two:

Princess Luna’s blazed; Twilight instinctively—although unnecessarily—squinting against that intensity…

…while Sunset Shimmer’s, well, shimmered. Twilight sensed the capacity for great power, but the actual specific energy of that capacity was somehow greatly diminished.

And then she looked at hers again…

It’s OK, Twilight. Just relax. It’s just the three of us. Just Spike and me. Just relax: slow, deep inhale; hold a moment; slow, steady exhale. That’s it. Just like that. Slow in-and-out as you ground and center. Let me help you do that.

The words muzzily percolated through the heavy miasma choking and encumbering her mind and thoughts. That fog, unfortunately, was something Twilight was dismally, despairingly familiar with. Although she had not suffered dissociation in just over a year now, it had still hovered in the background, just waiting for the opportunity to strike.

She felt a tremendous flare of panic for, concurrent with that was the swirling, roiling energy within her that she now understood was magic. The same energy she had been researching in her world and now filled her in this one…raw and untamed, and, far worse, uncontrolled.

Feeling the very same as it had just this morning, when she had turned into a raging monster…

…Raw and untamed…powerful…seductive…enticing. Fascinating and beguiling.

as you ground and center. Let me help you do that.

Those words somehow percolated through to her conscious. They were irritating, and, worse, patronizing and condescending. So that voice just assumed Twilight was too dim to know how to do that?

Twilight desperately grabbed onto those affronts like a drowning woman to a life ring, for they helped push back the murkiness of her mind and drag it back to the present. “I do know how to ground and center, you know,” she scornfully retorted, and, suiting action to words, surrendered to the very familiar and well-practiced breathing and mental exercises.

Sunset Shimmer just watched, as did Spike, everypony else having been shooed out by her; an action that took more bravery than she’d ever thought she’d possessed, as that had meant shooing Princess Luna as well. However, much to her surprise—and relief!—Her Highness simply nodded, softly smiling at Sunset Shimmer before taking the lead in said “shooing”. It had been a bad moment there when Twilight’s eyes had ceased blinking, as pupils fully dilated then pinpointed, and all the more so once she’d seen Spike’s reaction to that!

“I’m sorry. About today.”

Twilight slowly turned, facing Sunset Shimmer as she spoke.

“Wow,” the brilliantly colored unicorn softly gusted as she sat upright on her barrel, “You look so much like Twilight! It’s amazing!” Grinning, she added, “I’m still not used to seeing everyo—everypony like this. Especially me. It’s been years,” she melancholily sighed, her gaze looking distant for several heartbeats before crookedly smiling as she looked at Twilight again. “This must be difficult for you. I remember how I felt when I first came to your world.”

“Excuse me?” Twilight clipped, looking and sounding coolly—nay, coldly—reserved and aloof…the same way as she dealt with her RA, Sunset Shimmer.

Gingerly moving, Sunset Shimmer very slowly worked her way off the bed and onto her hooves. “I was born, and grew up, in Equestria. This is my natural form,” she explained. “But for the last several years I’ve been living in your world. I never even knew it existed, and I certainly had no idea what form I would become there. The plain fact is,” she admitted, trembling a little as she remained fully upright, muscles still weak, “all I really knew was that the Crystal Mirror was a Portal to somewhere, and that if I walked through it, I would exit into that ‘somewhere’.”

“You…You travelled through to an entirely different world, having absolutely no idea where that was, what it was like, and what you’d become there?” Twilight simply could not believe what she had just been told. Yes; yes, Twilight was a firm believer in scientific research and experimentalism. But that? That was more reckless daredevilism than research! Suddenly she focused on Sunset Shimmer’s expression as the unicorn abruptly flushed an intense, shamed crimson. Lifting a brow in silent inquiry, Twilight was shocked at the forthcoming explanation.

Hanging her head, Sunset Shimmer softly replied, “I was once Princess Celestia’s prized pupil. Her personal student and protégé.” Twilight’s ears flattened at that, then swiveled forwards in stunned shock as Sunset Shimmer continued. “I grew to hate her,” her voice quivered. “She kept me from attaining my true power; forced me to move slower; required me to socialize, make friends.”

Jaw dropping, Twilight stood there open-mouthed, stunned and frozen. Well, externally frozen, for her insides abruptly blazed in fury, churned with passionate ferocity, remembering how Principle Celestia had robbed her of half-a-year of studies, and, in addition, had almost completely ruined her chances of attending accelerated courses at Everfree University. Remembering, as well, Celestia’s asinine and infuriating thinly-veiled-as-suggestion, insistence that Twilight socialize and make friends.

“I’d finally had enough. I knew—not guessed, not hoped, not dreamed, but knew—I was destined for greater things.” Lifting her head, Sunset Shimmer gazed at Twilight, who was surprised at seeing thick tears pooling in those cyan orbs. “I was destined to rule Equestria as her Queen. And if that meant conquering Equestria, and deposing Princess Celestia in the process, then so be it.

“And so I passed through the Crystal Mirror, not caring where it led, so long as it separated me from the millstone around my neck; so long as I now had the total freedom to work towards claiming my Destiny.”

There was a long pause as Twilight struggled to parse all of that. “So…what happened?” she finally asked.

“I wound up in your world,” Sunset Shimmer replied. “No longer a unicorn. No longer even a pony. Instead, a weak, defenseless, bipedal creature. And, very much to my shock and dismay, discovering your world was absolutely devoid of any and all magicks.”

“But, it isn’t,” Twilight softly disagreed. “Devoid of magic, that is. I’ve been studying it. Measuring it.”

Cheeks blushing again, Sunset Shimmer softly coughed in embarrassment. “That would be because of me,” she shamefacedly admitted.

“Excuse me?” Twilight retorted.

“Well, you see…

Wincing as she bashed her muzzle with a forehoof, having just tried rubbing the bridge of her nose, Twilight struggled with conflicting emotions. First and foremost were sheer disbelief and sneering disdain. Magical crowns? Raging she-demon? Mystical Sirens bent on narcissistic world domination? Seriously? Oh, and let’s not overlook the integrally-interspersed emphasis on friendship. And should a person be ever-so-oblivious to discerning that, let’s clobber them over the head with The Magic of Friendship! Twilight shuddered in unfeigned disgust, hearing the curlicues and calligraphy in that phrase.

However, she could not simply dismiss all of that. For one, that certainly explained why, only recently, those particular and peculiar energy sources had become detectable. In fact, Professor Harmony had approached her; had suggested she investigate and research those recently-detected energies—that magic—as the topic of her Doctorate thesis. For another, unless Sunset Shimmer had invested a great deal of time creating this…story…out of whole cloth, it held together just too well. There were no jarring discontinuities, no conflicts or contradictions. There had been no pause in recitation.

And as icing on that cake, Twilight had kept a surreptitious sideway gaze on Spike, who had during that entire narration seemed neither surprised nor confused; in fact, several times nodding, as if he’d “been there; seen that”. Which, according to Sunset Shimmer’s monologue, Spike had been there.

“Again, I’m sorry. About this morning. And…and, well, everything.”

Jerked back to the present, Twilight sharply gazed at Sunset Shimmer. “Sorry about, what, exactly?”

“About using a sleep spell on you, for one.”

Although curious about what else there was—“for one” definitely indicating more to follow—Twilight was, quite understandably so, focused on the current one. “You…You used magic on me?” she blurted, both outraged and disturbed.

“I had to,” the flamboyantly colored unicorn tremulously admitted. “I didn’t know it was you at the time; I’d thought it was Princess Twilight. But, even had I’d known it was you, I still would have done it.”

Having no idea her ears were now swiveled backwards and pinned flat to her skull, Twilight flatly asked, “Why?” and was quite stunned at the answer. Well, more than simply stunned, as it turned out.

“Because you were acting very strange: confused, disoriented, and panicked. And you’d already winked once, and I was terrified you’d do so again. And that would have been the end of you!” she choked at the finish.


“Winked, yes. Teleported.”

Slowly blinking, Twilight responded, her voice sounding funny even to herself. “But I don’t ‘teleport’. Because I can’t.” Her heart slowly plummeted as both Sunset Shimmer and Spike slowly nodded in contradiction

Sunset Shimmer softly smiled in commiserative camaraderie. “You can, and have, teleported. And you can do a great deal more, as well.” And as Twilight stood there, frozen in growing horror, Sunset Shimmer added, her eyes warm and bright, “And, if you’d like, I’d be very honored to teach, instruct, and guide you, not just with teleporting, but with all the abilities your magic grants you.”

Author's Note:

Pre-read and critiqued by my friend, and fellow equestrian, Toriandthehorse