• 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 19

Chapter Nineteen

The rhythmic crunch of salad being consumed was not very loud. Nevertheless, that regular low grinding was dominating his attention. His normally warm and gleaming—when not outright mischievously twinkling—eyes were subdued, his expression concerned as he watched Twilight work her way through breakfast, and all the more so because, unlike the last two meals, where she had been animated and visibly enjoying and savoring her salads…

The moment Twilight roused, Spike had jolted instantly awake; something that tends to occur when a little dragon—or pony—barely drowses while holding bedside vigil. At some point, Twilight had drifted off into deep slumber, but Spike had been taking no chances, and so had quietly carried the desk chair over to the side of the bed. Digging out some of his old comic books, he sat there, reading while keeping an eye on her. At some point he, too, had drifted off; not as deeply as Twilight, because he would not let himself sink that deep. No matter the cost, he was keeping her safe and sound.

No, she was not his Twilight Sparkle. She was not Princess Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship. His heart ached so very badly, terribly missing his Twilight, and the understanding he might very well never see her again came perilously close to breaking him. However, if he felt that badly, he could not begin imagining what Miss Sparkle was enduring. Alone. Friendless. No idea where she was, what she was, or what that meant. And no idea if she would ever return home.

Home…and reunited with her beloved Spike.

He’d planned on instantly waking should Twilight stir, or even make a peep, but before he could even stifle a yawn…

Twilight had no sooner shown the first indication of rousing before immediately rolling out of bed and onto her hooves, in a single, smooth motion as if she’d done so for years and years. Dead, flat, and emotionless eyes found, then focused on, the little dragon. Spike swallowed, seeing an ice princess regally gazing at him.

“Did…did you sleep well?” he hesitantly asked.

“It adequately fulfilled its function,” she clipped, “as will food. Bring me—well, breakfast, I suppose,” sighing as she rolled eyes in vexation at that necessity. “Please. The sooner as that chore is finished, the sooner I can return. The moment we arrive at the castle, take me to the Crystal Mirror. The sooner I examine it the sooner I will fix it.”

“I’ll be right back with breakfast,” he assured, then opening the door a crack and peering outside. Confirming the coast was clear, Spike slipped out into the corridor, keeping to the shadows as he coasted along.

So now, he was quietly standing there, watching as Twilight mechanically ate. Not only was the bowl on the floor while she grazed standing up, but she might have been an automaton for all the life and interest she displayed.

Lip up a mouthful. Chew thirty times. Swallow. Lip up another…

Methodically, one mouthful at a time, Twilight worked her way through breakfast. The instant the last bite was swallowed, she raised her head and announced, “Let’s go.”

She had actually taken a step towards the door before pausing, turning to look at Spike. “Thank you.” Gazing about the room, she again looked at the little dragon. “Do you—we—need to do anything before we go?” Starting to perk up at that, the moment Spike glanced back at Twilight he drooped once again, for there was no light in her eyes, no life in her expression. Silently sighing, he gently shook his head. “It’ll be taken care of,” he replied. “But, thank you for asking.”

His heart leapt a moment, seeing a fleeting trace of an enigmatic…something…flicker across her face. Yes; yes, it was there and gone, true. But, it had been there, no matter how short-lived.

“You’re welcome,” she curtly replied, in a voice utterly devoid of life and tone. “Now,” she prefaced, turning to face Spike. “What method of transportation is arranged for our return?” Her eyes frighteningly narrowed as she fully focused on the little dragon. “I would most strongly suggest that ‘chariot’ not be a presented option.”

“There really aren’t a lot of choices,” he bluntly admitted, sensing—accurately, as it turned out—that vacillation on this matter would not go over well. “If they’re in a hurry, Earth ponies travel by chariot and hot air balloon. After that, there’s the Friendship Express. Then there’s coach or carriage, and finally, well, just walking,” he rattled off, ticking off each one on the tips of his talons.

Eyes swiveled and locked onto him like a Solari ballistae battery. “‘Earth pony’,” she repeated. “But I’m not an Earth pony. I’m an alicorn, am I not?”

Spike nodded in agreement, then added a few seconds later when Twilight’s eyes narrowed at the continuing silence, “Yep, you are. And alicorns have the additional options of flying and of teleporting.”

A tinge of green flashed across her face before the mantle of detachment settled again. “I think we’ll take a pass on those,” she declared. “If I recall correctly, where we landed and disembarked…there is a switchback path leading down to the main street, yes?”

“Uhhh…yeah,” he faltered, taken quite by surprise. “How did you—oh! Yeah!” he grinned, recalling she possessed eidetic-echoic memory, the same as he did.

That grin instantly vanished, replaced with a bark of surprise and alarm as Twilight simply opened the door and stepped out into the corridor. “Miss Sparkle!” he yelped. “Wait! Hold on a minute!”

Never pausing, and never looking back, taking very precise and measured steps, Twilight coolly replied, “Why? I know where I’m going, and I’ve no intention of wasting another second here.”

“Because—” he started, but it was already far too late.

“There she is!” “There’s Princess Twilight!” “Where have you been? Everypony’s been looking for you!”

Sweet Celestia! Spike vowed. I’ll never read a comic book during a state speech again, if you just see that we get safely out of here!

A small yet vociferous crowd was gathering, with everypony there seemingly competing to see who could be the loudest or most obstructive.

“You’re wanted back with Sunset Shimmer and Princess Celestia,” one particular stuffed-shirt huffed as he looked down his long muzzle at her.

Spike could sense Twilight’s detachment fraying, and his horror rose recalling the last time she’d snapped. But there was nothing he could do: Twilight continued her deliberate pacing while courtiers and servants continued their bleating.

“Why, thank you, Miss Sparkle,” Twilight so-sweetly exclaimed to the thin air before her. “Excellent work curing Sunset Shimmer. And so quickly, too!”

The coldly furious alicorn continued speaking aloud in the same manner for the next minute, finally coming to a stop and ceasing to speak once they’d reached the outer edge of the landing area. Turning about and facing the small horde following her, she spit, “You’re welcome. So glad I could help, and be of service.”

Turning about once more, she continued on her way, pushing through and past everypony thronging about her before walking around the landing field’s edge and towards the small gate marking the top step of the switchback down. Her eyes dangerously flickered, narrowing for an instant before resuming that cold, clinical gaze upon spying the four Solari backwinging to a landing…

Directly in front of the gate and blatantly blocking her path.

Coming to a stop three feet away from them, ears pinned back and plastered against her skull, Twilight mildly demanded—again, completely oblivious to what ears and tail were displaying, “Move. Please. You’re blocking my way.”

“You are needed in Princess Celestia’s quarters,” the lieutenant of the Guard intoned. “Your input is desired regarding the ailment that has struck down Our Lady.”

Spike just watched in horror as the scene unfolded, unable to intervene in any useful fashion, as…

Everypony there loudly gasped, rocking back on their hooves and staring at Twilight in unfeigned revulsion and horror as she curtly declared, “I have no intention of returning with you. And whatever is afflicting Princess Celestia?” Curling her lip, she announced, “Well, that’s your problem, not mine. As is whether she lives or dies. I don’t care either way, nor does it matter to me in the least. Now, for the last time, get out of my way.”

A moment—no longer—passed with the Solari shocked into sheer, stunned immobility. But it was only a moment, and as soon as that instant had passed their demeanor altered, shifting into grim anger and simmering fury. And not just them.

Twilight quickly became aware of a dull, ugly murmur and quickly growing in volume coming from the crowd—now a quickly growing mob—starting to surround her.

Spike was frantically trying to calm everypony, desperately telling them to please excuse Miss Sparkle, because no matter whom she resembled she wasn’t actually Princess Twilight Sparkle at all. That, instead, she was a visitor from another world; that she didn’t know customs or traditions. However, that backfired, and in a big way. Within moments, added to the already vocal throng came the cries of “Imposter!” and “Fake!”, with the occasional “Changeling!” thrown in for good measure.

Try as she might, Twilight could not extricate herself from the angry horde no matter what she did. Pushed, pulled, and shoved, Twilight felt fear constrict her throat as she found herself with the low retaining wall of the landing area behind her…and the gate leading to her escape across the field and totally blocked. Glancing over her shoulder and looking down down down, Twilight could see the glittering spires of Friendship Castle.

Why won’t they just leave me alone? Why won’t they let me leave in peace? I don’t want to be here. I just want to be there. Be there with Doctor Horse and Nurse Redheart. I’m hurting and miserable and...and...I just want to go!

She remembered the well-manicured lawn at the East side of the castle, the peaceful area where the chariot had landed before taking her on that terrifying ride. She’d forced herself to ride that…that horror! And why? Because ‘her presence had been requested’. That’s why! And now, all she desperately wanted was escaping this mob, and just go


“No!” Spike screamed. And as the seconds, then minutes, passed without her reappearing, Spike collapsed to his knees, sobbing his little heart out.

With a squeak, Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Friendship, bolted upright, instantly waking at the touch of a cold and wet something that had just glided over her cheek. “Wha—!?”

“What is it, Twilight?” came the drowsy question from Fluttershy. Moments later, the room was softly illuminated by the small portable lantern Fluttershy had left next to her sleeping bag. Gazing towards Twilight, Fluttershy started giggling, seeing Spike up on her bed…up on her chest…tail blurry as it wagged a mile a minute…and licking her face almost as fast.

“Spike! What is it? Oh. Wait. Yeah. Good boy! Yes you are yes you are! Fluttershy? Little help?”

Giggling again as she wriggled out of her sleeping bag, “He wants his breakfast, I think,” she explained. “And his walkies, too.”

“Ack!” Twilight announced, as Spike enthusiastically responded to the ‘walkies’, squirming and licking even faster while Twilight’s small hands futilely fended him. “OK! OK!” she giggled, relieved to find out nothing was actually wrong with Spike. “What do I do first, Fluttershy?” Twilight asked as she squirmed her way out from beneath Spike and up onto her feet. “Feed or walk?”

Fingercombing hair as she lightly yawned, Fluttershy, after looking closely at Spike for a moment, replied, “Breakfast first. Then a good walkies after.”

“Hungry?” Twilight asked Spike, who gave her a final lick before bounding off the cot and racing over to his dishes. “Ummm…Fluttershy?” Twilight slowly asked, stunned as she looked into the cabinets again. Although she’d seen the insides just yesterday, it was one thing to see can after can of different dog food, and quite another figuring out what to do with them! “Should I be using any particular kind? Are there different cans for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner?”

Being confronted with a myriad of options to consider, ponder, and weigh pros-and-cons about was normally something over which she excitedly squealed, but, for some reason, she was finding her thought processes to be uncommonly sluggish. Before Fluttershy could respond to her question, both jumped and squeaked as the apartment abruptly blazed with light.

What in the—?

Squinting at the brightness, Twilight realized that the illumination was coming from recessed lights in the ceiling. Lights, she noticed, that were cunningly concealed, and didn’t seem controlled by any switch they’d so far discovered. She jumped again as, from also-concealed speakers, came a very familiar voice:

Good morning, Miss Sparkle! Rise and shine! That thesis isn’t going to write itself, you know. Take all the time you need to stay focused. Nothing else is more important. Keep your thoughts on your goals. Your concentrated efforts are paying off! You don’t need anyone else to succeed. Never forget! Needing others is a weakness. Free yourself from distractions. Maintain that singular focus; turn off useless emotion and fully focus. Focus is commitment and you’re worth it!

It took Twilight almost a minute to track down the wakeup alarm switch, during which that—affirmation?—kept repeating. “Five AM?” she blurted, seeing the time display.

“I guess she doesn’t want to waste any daytime?” Fluttershy meekly commented as she opened up a can, spooned it into Spike’s bowl, and then set it back down before the excited dog, who immediately dived right in.

“I…I guess so,” Twilight replied, sadness in her voice. This…this was almost me, she thought once again, heart aching in tragic sympathy for this world’s Twilight. She almost jumped as Fluttershy silently stepped up from behind and rested her hand atop Twilight’s shoulder.

“Are you OK?” she quietly asked.

“This…this is my fault,” Twilight gusted, gesturing to the room in general.

“Why, Twilight!” Fluttershy exclaimed, sounding shocked. “Why would you say that?”

Turning to face her friend, Twilight heavily exhaled. “I should have asked you girls to check up on her,” she confessed. “I mean, think about it, Fluttershy. I knew what I would have become without your…erm…ah…”

Softly giggling at Twilight’s blushing fumbles, “I know what you mean, Twilight: Your world’s me, not me me.”

Lopsidedly smiling, Twilight nodded. “I knew what I would have become without my world’s you you,” including Fluttershy along with absent friends with another gesture, “But I should have figured out that, since all of you were at CHS and none of you actually knew this Twilight Sparkle, that she was friendless and in need of help.”

She was stunned when Fluttershy just softly chided, wagging a forefinger under her nose. “Now that’s just plain silly, Twilight! And you certainly aren’t to blame, either!”

Staring cross-eyed at the wagging finger, Twilight objected, “Now, how do you figure that?”

“Two reasons, actually. Why do you think we were the only five she could ever become friends with? Is making friends here impossible if she wanted friends? Besides,” Fluttershy grew quiet, sorrow in her eyes. “We do know her. Well, knew her,” she amended. Gazing deep into Twilight’s eyes, Fluttershy softly continued and, as she did, Twilight’s jaw dropped as she related the vicious, venomous diatribe this Twilight Sparkle had unleashed on Principle Celestia…back when she, too, had attended Canterlot High.

Fluttershy giggled as Twilight Sparkle closed the front door behind her, having just returned from Spike’s walkies, seeing her scrunched-up nose and left arm stiffly extended in front…holding a black, opaque plastic bag between the barest tips of thumb and forefinger. “Foul! Foul!

Giggling even harder, Fluttershy paused toweling off her hair, smothering mirth behind her hands, then burst out laughing when Twilight muttered, “How can something that small…”

“Just wait until you change a baby!” Fluttershy grinned, eyes merrily sparkling as she continued drying her hair.

Dropping the reeking–of–thrice–dead–cockatrice bag into the bin, Twilight crouched to remove the harness from Spike. “If I could just bottle that essence, I’d never have to worry about another ‘Let’s–Conquer–Equestria’ villain ever again.”

Grinning, Fluttershy finished drying off before getting ready for her volunteer shift at the shelter.

“What’s up?” Twilight asked, sensing something.

“Oh! Well. It’s nothing,” Fluttershy replied…as she started withdrawing behind her hair. “Really.”

“Mmm Hmmm.” Twilight shifted about until her eyes met hers. “Mmm Hmmm,” she repeated.

Sighing in surrender, Fluttershy whispered, “It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the offer,” she peeped at Twilight before forging on. “But, umm, well, that is—”

“The bathroom is a bit on the spartan side?” Twilight helpfully suggested. “And not of the fainting, deprived-Rarity austerity kind?”

“Well, yes,” Fluttershy drew hair forward again.

“Applejack and Pinkie Pie pointed that out to me yesterday,” Twilight smiled. “It’s funny in a way—odd funny, not haha funny,” she clarified, “but this Twilight takes far better care of feeding and grooming her pet than she does herself. Not,” she held up a forestalling hand, “that taking care of her pet isn’t important, because it is. But she needs to take care of herself, too.”

Once Fluttershy had dressed for work, while they waited for Applejack and Pinkie Pie to arrive she patiently explained the particulars for taking care of Spike. No, it didn’t matter which can you selected; they were just different flavors and types, to give Spike variety in his meals. The same with the kibble; just a variety of flavors and textures. Next were the treats; don’t go overboard with them, she warned, as that wouldn’t be healthy for him…brightly blushing as she gave an ecstatic Spike one herself. Don’t worry about the medicines; she’d instruct about those if and when that ever became necessary.

And then came the grooming supplies.

Giggling like loons as Twilight imitated Rarity at her worst, “Dahling, this simply won’t do! I mean, rahlly! How do you possibly expect me to survahve with these simply pitifully inadequate things?” as they examined the cornucopia of available grooming aids.

Fluttershy explained what each tool was used for and how to use them, following each verbal instruction with a practical demonstration. By the time Fluttershy finished, Spike was in canine heaven.

When the phone rang, they both jumped. “Why are you staring at me?” Twilight whispered to Fluttershy.

“Well…it’s your phone, after all.”

“Oh. Well. Yes. Ummm…now what?”

“Ahhh…answer it, I guess? Well…you don’t have to, I suppose. Except if you want to. But you don’t have to?”

Standing back up, Twilight walked over to the phone, licking suddenly dry lips before picking it up as Applejack had shown. “Ah…Hello?”

“The Eagle has landed. I say again, the Eagle has landed. Is the nest empty?”

Whut in tarnation? Pinkie Pah, Ah swear…jes’ give me thet!



“Is that you Applejack?”

“Ayup. Me and Pinkie Pah.” Hi Twi! It’s us! “As if you couldn’t tell,” Applejack sighed.

“What in Equestria is ‘The Eagle has landed’ and ‘Is the nest empty’?”

Ooo! Ooo! Lemme tell! Lemme tell!

“Ow! Pinkie Pah, thet’s mah ribs! Oof!”

“Hey, Twilight! It’s me again!” came Pinkie Pie’s chirpy brightness. “The ‘Eagle has landed’ means ‘We just parked and are here’, and ‘Is the nest empty?’ means ‘Is that meanie poopyhead Sunset Shimmer’—not our Sunset Shimmer, of course! The other one—‘around, and is it safe to come in?’”

Fluttershy never had to ask Twilight who the caller was: the crossed eyes and glazed expression were clear and unmistakable evidence! “What does Pinkie Pie want?”

“She wants to know if it’s safe for her and Applejack to come in.”

Gracefully rising to her feet, Fluttershy padded over to the door, peeking through the peephole before opening the door. Glancing down the hallway and seeing no one about, she turned and looked at Twilight, nodding her head as she softly confirmed, “It looks OK, yes.”

“The ‘nest is empty’, yes,” Twilight relayed, grinning as Pinkie Pie whooped in glee, ecstatic at Twilight playing along.

Hanging up the phone and then walking over to Fluttershy, Twilight firmly hugged her. “Thank you again, so very much, for staying with me last night.”

“It was nothing,” came the self-effacing whisper. “Eep!”

Gently shaking Fluttershy by the shoulders, Twilight stood at arm’s length of her friend. Gazing warmly and deeply, she corrected. “It was everything, Fluttershy. Everything. I mean it.”

Softly blushing, Fluttershy ducked her head for a moment before peeping back at Twilight. Looking crestfallen, she softly said, “I can’t promise to be here every night. Angel Bunny needs me, too, as do my other friends. But I’ll do my very best to keep you company at night.”

Firmly hugging her again, Twilight murmured, “Thank you, Fluttershy. And I know you have other obligations. Which is why I’m so touched with you having stayed with me on such short notice. And for doing so all on your own!”

Fluttershy giggled, hearing an audible rumble from Twilight. “Sounds like somebody else wants her breakfast!” she teased. She giggled even harder when Twilight jerked, startled at the same buzzing sound she’d heard last night.

“What is that?” Twilight grumbled, torn between annoyance and curiosity.

Even after all they had been through together, only then did it truly register just how, well, innocent Twilight was.

“That’s what you hear when someone wants to come into the building,” she explained. Walking over to the front door, Fluttershy pointed to that mysterious plate on the wall there. “This is a door intercom buzzer,” she continued. “When someone wants to come in, they push a button outside and it buzzes here—”

They both jumped, and then giggled, as at that exact moment it buzzed a second time. “When you push this button,” Fluttershy touched, but did not press, the larger pushbutton, “it unlocks the main door. And when you press this button here…” Suiting actions to words, she pressed and held the smaller. “Yes? Who is it?”

No sooner had she spoken, “It’s the Eagle,” a familiar voice “whispered” in a volume easily heard in a crowded nightclub, “Open the Nest. Open the Nest.”

Eyes twinkling as they grinned at each other, Fluttershy then explained, “That’s the intercom button; as long as you hold it down, you can talk to whoever is there, and they can talk to you. And if you want to let them in,” the panel softly buzzed as Fluttershy depressed the first button.

As they waited for Applejack and Pinkie Pie to arrive, Fluttershy took a very deep breath, bracing herself. “Twilight?”


Twilight turned, facing Fluttershy as the silence grew, feeling a flash of consternation at her uncharacteristically serious demeanor. “What is it?”

“Twilight, you’re the smartest, bravest person I know,” she replied and, although her voice was scarcely above a whisper, her words were steel-strong. “And I know you’re also a Princess, and that being a Princess in Equestria means a whole lot more than it does being a Princess here. And I also know that you’re a very fast learner, and hardly ever make the same mistake twice.” Gently nodding as she listened, Twilight wondered just where Fluttershy was headed.

She didn’t have to wait very long.

“But this isn’t Equestria. And, unlike all the other times,” and how Fluttershy hated saying this, no matter how vital it was, “you’re going to be alone a lot. Well, alone except for Spike, that is,” she smiled down at the adorable pooch for a moment. “There’s a lot we take for granted,” she solemnly continued. “Like door intercoms. Blenders. Microwaves. Toasters. Thermostats. Bus routes. Paying bills.” A deep chill flowed through her as Fluttershy kept ticking off items.

Because she was right. Always before, each and every time she’d hit a snag encountering something outside her experience, one of the girls had been right there to help. But, now?

“So, please don’t feel awkward or shy—like I always am—to ask about things when we’re with you. Besides,” her face broadened into a smile, “it’s like Sunset Shimmer always says: ‘No knowledge is ever wasted’.”

*knk* *knk* *knk-knk-knk* *knk**knk*

“That has to—” “—be Pinkie Pie.”

Grinning at each other as they spoke at the same time, Twilight nodded as she walked over to the door. Reaching for the doorknob…

Fluttershy stretched over and rather firmly—for her, anyway—held Twilight’s hand before she could open the door. “Look through the peephole first. That way you can see who is knocking.”

Tipping her head to one side and placing her eye right to the peephole, Twilight jerked back, eeping at seeing an enormous cerulean eye peeking right back. Shaking her head and grinning, Twilight glanced over her shoulder and smiled at Fluttershy. “It’s Pinkie Pie all right!”

“I feel useless,” Twilight muttered, watching as Applejack and Pinkie Pie swarmed about the apartment, either stowing away or setting up their largesse.

“Now, now, Sugarcube” Applejack chided as she plugged in the toaster, “Let’s hear none o’ thet.”

Hotly blushing, as she had not intended being overheard, Twilight scuffed the floor with the toe of her shoe. “It’s true though, you know. I both feel useless, and I am useless. And you know that’s true,” gently emphasizing the honesty aspect.

Looking up from double-checking that the toaster was properly functioning, Applejack started reflexively denying any such thing, but paused at seeing Twilight’s expression. Walking over to Twilight, she stopped just in front of her friend. Lightly tipping the Stetson back a tad, Applejack softly asked, her tone more serious than her wont, “Ah’ve never known ye t’ be this hard on yerself. Whut’s up?”

Looking up from plugging in a lava lamp, Pinkie Pie dusted off her hands as she came over. “This isn’t a private party, is it?”

Silently shaking her head in response, Twilight just sighed, a sound that stabbed both of them in their hearts. “C’mon, Sugarcube,” Applejack said, gently taking Twilight’s hand in hers. “Let’s brew up some joe and have us a chat.”

“So that’s it,” Twilight finished, blindly staring into the depths of her mug. “It never really hit me before,” she admitted, “but Fluttershy is right: I only thought I was an old hoof—errr, hand—at things. But I’m not. Because,” confessing with a deep sigh, “I not only relied on you girls to help me over the speed bumps…”

Twilight started softly crying. “I miss Spike!”

“And this setting here’s for makin’ stuff like smoothies,” Applejack explained, demonstrating the blender to her friend while, at the same time, non-stop kicking her own butt for having dropped the ball with Twilight all this time. It wasn’t until Twilight had broken down and explained things that the reality had truly hit Applejack. Without meaning to do so, and with only the best of intentions, all of them had done Twilight a huge disservice. For, almost every time she’d encountered something unknown and puzzling, one or more of them had stepped in and taken over.

Take the microwave, for example. Twilight had, by now, seen that used often enough to understand that one opened the door, placed inside what you wanted heated up, closed the door, and then pressed the start button. And the first time she’d tried using it for herself and grew frustrated at it not working, Applejack herself had, with a kindly chuckle, stepped over and fixed it for her.

Yes, she had explained about “setting the time” and “selecting the power” before pushing start. However, that was not teaching her how to use it, that had been simply showing her how to pop microwave popcorn.

Glancing at the door intercom buzzer, Applejack internally cringed. She would never have thought to teach Twilight about that; they were just that familiar and common.

The range was even worse in its way. Applejack would have thought to demonstrate the cooktop to Twilight, but only because it was an induction range. It was neither the more familiar gas nor less familiar electric, both of which showed obvious signs of heating, and both of which would easily burn you if you were not careful. In fact, Twilight had been fascinated at the concept, induction-heating seeming more magic than science to her. The problem was, although Twilight could quickly figure out how it scientifically heated, that esoteric knowledge was not at all the same as understanding how to use it.

And she’d never had to learn about things like that, because she and the rest had been so quick to be helpful. Welp, no use crying over spilt milk. ‘Stead of dwellin’ on th’ past, let’s start focusing on th’ future.

When the intercom buzzed, they looked at each other with a smile. “Gotta be Pinkie Pie with th’ rest of th’ cavalry.”

Wiz Kid and Velvet Sky continued their exploration, Wiz dictating as Velvet neatly scribed. After a while, Applejack felt herself getting a bit irked at that arrangement, feeling to her as if Velvet had been unilaterally delegated as ‘secretary’. Fact is, she’d just about worked herself up to take a hand in matters when the two of them paused and, in a motion so fluid it appeared rehearsed, turned and faced each other.

“One. Two. Three.” As Wiz counted, both of them smacked a closed fist against open palm before gesturing with their now-opened hand.

“Ha!” Velvet Sky crowed. “Rock breaks scissors!”

Theatrically groaning, putting Shylock to shame, Wiz took pen and pad from Velvet before they returned to their investigation.

Shore glad Ah kept mah trap shut!

As meals went, it probably was not the healthiest of choices: a family-sized, Thai red curry frozen dinner along with a family-sized bag of tater tots, with bottles of soda to wash them down. But no one was complaining as they took their servings and found a place to sit or perch.

Applejack was keeping a close eye on Twilight as she sat down to eat. She’d never considered it before but, again, being helpful had bit them. Applejack and Pinkie Pie had ‘sat back’ and watched as Twilight ‘cooked’ dinner, ready to intervene in an emergency, and equally available should Twilight become truly stumped or simply had questions.

They’d done the same as Twilight had fed Spike.

Or started feeding him, that is.

They had watched as Twilight topped off the water dish, as she added some fresh kibble to one bowl, and then selected a can for his main meal. Selected it; peeled the lid back and off…

The moment the rich, thick aroma of meat surrounded her, the moment she truly looked at the moist, glistening pâté inside…her gorge heaved, dropping the can, her face turning green as she struggled not to heave.

Yes, Twilight had eaten hamburgers before. Vegetarian ones, the same as Fluttershy. And, yes, she’d helped feed Spike before. Helped feed him; for Applejack, and then Fluttershy, had been the ones opening the cans and filling Spike’s dish.

Applejack and Pinkie Pie had been so careful selecting only vegetarian meals and foods. However, no one had ever thought to equate Spike’s food with something Twilight would find repulsive.

Dragging her thoughts back to the present, Applejack listened as Wiz and Velvet continued relating their findings.

“We’re still going to keep trying to crack Twilight’s laptops’ passwords,” Velvet assured.

“Hack, not crack.”

Rolling her eyes, Velvet continued. “We’d really rather not do so with her desktop, since it’s obviously connected to the school’s mainframe and or servers. One little slipup there, and—”

“The jig is up, I believe it’s called.”

Tragically sighing, Velvet rolled her eyes again before gesturing to her compatriot.

“Vel and I examined the equipment we brought back,” Wiz began, instantly serious and focused. “All of it is damaged to some degree,” Velvet nodding as he explained. “A couple might simply be a matter of just some blown fuses or shorted connections. Some are more seriously damaged. And one is, well,” the two exchanged a look between each other, “One is just melted. We can’t even figure out what it was supposed to be or supposed to do.”

As Wiz leaned forward to make a point, his pen rolled off the pad in his lap. Before it hit the floor…

Surrounded by a barely-perceptible magenta aura, the pen halted in mid-descent…

…halted…then smoothly lifted up before gently settling atop Wiz’s pad.