• Published 7th Feb 2013
  • 6,675 Views, 286 Comments

Brand New Dusk - AlphatheGriffin17



Book II. Returning once more with new determination, new goals and a new hat, Dusk is ready to see what the magic of friendship can offer... and perhaps much more.

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Annual Canterlot Magic Contest

"Is here just fine Rarity?" asked Dusk, as he stood on the other side of the Boutique.

"Yes Dusk, that's fine. Now, just stand absolutely still," she instructed lowering her head and making her horn glow.

Dusk stood his ground, as the black cloth piled up nearby began to whirl around him, obscuring his vision, like somepony had just turned off a light switch. After a few seconds, he shut his eyes to shield them from a bright light. When it subsided, he opened his eyes to see Rarity smiling. He looked down to see himself dressed in a tuxedo, complete with bow tie, frilled undershirt and a top hat.

He was acting as Rarity's 'willing volunteer' for her performance at the Magic Contest in Canterlot, which would be taking place the following evening. Both she and Twilight had been practicing hard over the past few days, using their unique attributes in magic to put on a show for the grand prize that would be awarded to the winner. It was just a trophy, but in Canterlot, it was the pride that you had won using your unique magic that counted.

Rarity had been using the girls and herself as practice for her performance, which was using her magic to create clothing from just the fabrics that she bought. She had also been using him to create male clothing, having already gone through quite a few practice runs with him.

"Marvellous spellwork, as always Rarity," Dusk noted, as he removed the tux and exchanged the top hat for his usual trilby. "I think you're ready."

"Yes... yes, as ready as I'll ever be," she said, with a slight tremor in her voice.

"What's wrong?" he asked, sensing her distress.

"Well... this will be my first visit to Canterlot," she said. "I want to make this display completely spectacular, to show the high-class ponies what I'm made of."

"And it is, your clothing is remarkable. You'll be sure to impress the elite of Canterlot with your performance."

"But Dusk, what if I don't?" She was starting to look distressed. "What if-what if they don't appreciate my style, that they think of it as uncouth, unsophisticated?"

"Rarity, do you remember what I said to you, that day we first had tea?" She nodded. "I said that you would fit right in at Canterlot, that you have the sophistication and grace to make it seem as if you'd lived there your whole life. And I meant it."

"You... you really did, didn't you?"

"Did and do," he corrected. "You're going to be just fine. We'll all be there for you, just like with Rainbow Dash, right there in the audience. Just have faith in yourself, I know I do."

He had good reason to tell her this. He'd witnessed performers at the competition many times. Some of their magic was flashy and eye-catching, some were more reserved but just as special. Rarity's fell into the latter category, but would still earn her recognition.

Like the Young Flyer's Competition in Cloudsdale, the Magic Contest was as much a display of skill in magic for unicorns as flying was for a pegasus. Do well enough and one could receive the top three prizes: the bronze ring, the silver wand and the golden staff. To receive these was a sign of recognition that the Princess acknowledged how special your magic was, which was truly a show of pride.

This year, it would be the first time that Princess Luna would be judging the contest along with Celestia, so that made it even more special. Dusk was rather looking forward to seeing what the younger princess would judge the acts.

Rarity, meanwhile, seemed to have regained her confidence that he knew she had and drew a more determined look on her features.

"Yes... yes, you're right." She drew herself up. "I've put on enough fashion shows to know how to cope with nerves. I shouldn't let them get the better of me. I'll show them I can be just as classy as they can be, just as graceful."

"That's the spirit," said Dusk happily. "You're going to be great."

"Thank you, Dusk, it's good to know I can rely upon you for support," she noted with a smile. "I shall also be looking forward to seeing your display in the competition, I'm sure it will be spectacular."

"Heh... no, it won't..." He didn't say anything further, not wishing to go into more detail about why. Rarity, however, continued to press on.

"But why ever not? Your displays are always spectacular, and I cannot wait to see what you've prepared for this show. I can see it as being large, breathtaking... beautiful. Would I be right in guessing?"

"I uh... I haven't been practicing... anything..." he mumbled pathetically.

"What? Then you'd better get started, we're departing for Canterlot tomorrow morning," she said in a worried tone.

"I know... it's just that... that..." He couldn't quite get the words out, didn't want to admit it to her. But she continued to gaze intently at him.

"Dusk, I can understand that you're nervous about getting up on stage, but once you get going, it'll be fine."

"Um... Rarity... I'm not going to be performing..." Dusk admitted quietly.

"What?" She seemed quite surprised by this news. "But... but how can you? Your puppets are a joy to watch, sparkling and sailing through the air as they do. It's like an undiscovered form of art. You simply must perform!"

"No, Rarity." He sighed sadly. "For one thing I... I've never performed on stage before... all of those faces staring at me... I just don't think I'd be able to cope with that... I'm not that kind of pony..."

"But you performed with Rainbow at the Flyer's Competition, using your talent in front of all of those ponies," she reminded him predictably.

"That was different. I was just brightening Rainbow's performance, remaining offstage the whole time," he told her. "When it was over, I never claimed credit for my part, it was Rainbow's moment of glory, not mine."

"But why didn't you? I could tell everypony loved the effect that you created."

"That brings me to my second point," continued Dusk. "It's sort of my old attitude coming back. You girls think my magic is great, but I'm still not sure what they might think about it... I kind of... don't really want to find out... in case they hate it..."

"Dusk, don't be silly, they won't hate it," she assured. "We all love it and I'm sure that they will too."

"But I don't know that, you don't know that, not for sure. I'm sorry, but I just can't face up to that... not yet anyway..."

"But Dusk-"

"Rarity, please just... drop it..." He shifted his gaze to the floor. Though he felt confident in his decision, he still felt rather ashamed of himself for telling her this, for making her so disappointed. When he looked up, she was still gazing at him in a sympathetic sort of way.

"Very well Dusk. I understand your reasons for not wanting to take part and I shall not question it further," she promised. "If you don't want to do something you're not comfortable with, then there's no point in me trying to pressure you."

"Thanks, Rarity..." he said sincerely, with a grateful smile. He cast his gaze to the horizon. "Well, it's getting late. We've got a big day tomorrow and you need your beauty sleep."

"Indeed," she nodded giggling. "Sleep well Dusk, I shall see you in the morning."

"Night Rarity." He made moves to leave back for his home, as the stars began to twinkle in the sky.

"And Dusk?" He looked back as she called from the threshold of the door. "I do think it's a shame, that you're not taking the opportunity to share your wonderful magic with everypony."

"Rarity-"

"I know, I know, you've said your reasons," she said quickly. "But... I would have really liked to have seen what you might have come up with." She gave him a sad smile. "I hope you enjoy spectating."

Without another word, she stepped inside her home. Dusk stood there for a few minutes, thinking on what she had just said. Should he reconsider his reasons for not taking part, perhaps actually enter himself in? He had a few ideas that might put on a good show, so perhaps...

No, he decided, shaking his head. He had his reasons and he was sticking to them. Even though it may indeed be a missed opportunity, it was one that he would be happy to miss and nothing was going to change that. Absolutely nothing.

Standing firm on that note, he set off back home, ready to wake up early tomorrow, to go back home... in a manner of speaking.

The sun was just beginning to rise over the horizon when Dusk and the girls boarded the train to depart for the royal city of Canterlot. Even though everypony was rather drowsy from being awoken so early, there was still a buzz of excitement in the air, that this would be the first time most of them would have seen the city up close and not just from Ponyville.

As Dusk sat with them in their carriage, he too found himself to be rather excited. This would be the first time he would be back home since he'd departed to Ponyville, all of those months ago. It was the same old city, but he was returning as something, somepony, very different. No longer was he brooding, lonely and silent. Now, he had ponies he could call his friends, something more to his life. Sure, he might still not be very interesting, but at least he had friends who thought that he was. That was definitely an improvement.

He found himself glimpsing towards Twilight at times, as she was in animated discussion with Rarity. Sometimes, she caught his glances and he looked away hurriedly. He found himself wondering what she would think, now that they were both going back to the city they had grown up in, both different to what they used to be. They had both been known at the school as the friendless ponies... the looks on their faces if they could see them now...

He smiled to himself again, turning his eyes elsewhere as Twilight turned in his direction again.

While the girls were all talking about what they might do while they were in Canterlot, Dusk took to gazing quietly out of the window, watching as they climbed higher and higher into the mountains. Just a few more minutes and he would be back at the place where he had grown up... with his friends... he gave a satisfied sigh, a smile on his features reflected in the glass.

"I'm a little glad to be going back home too." He looked to see that Twilight had come over to join him, smiling brightly. "Even if it's just for a day, it'll be nice to be back for a while. May I?"

"Of course," he said, as she sat beside him and he turned his attention to her. "Yes, it will be. It feels like so long, since I... since we," he corrected, "were last there. It feels strange, going back now... but in a good way."

"I know what you mean," she agreed. "We both used to be the secluded ones, back at the school. Can you imagine how they might react, after all that's happened since then?"

"That's just what I was thinking about!" Dusk said excitedely. "Once again, our thoughts seem to be one."

"Ooh, spooky," she said in a mock-scary voice. "I remember, before I left Canterlot, Moon Dancer was having a party in one of the courtyards. I was invited along, but I said that I had studying to do, which was kind of true. I almost wish I'd gone now... see what it would have been like."

"Maybe you can ask her, if you see her," suggested Dusk. "I remember hearing something about that get-together that day. At least you got invited... everypony just stayed away from me mostly..."

"Oh yes... sorry, I forgot..."

"It's fine," he said quietly.

"I'm sorry I did though," she insisted. "You were a lot more lonely than me at the School and I should have known better than to remind you of that..."

"I told you, it's fine, I don't mind. That's just how I was. Like you said though, you and I are both different now." Willing to change the subject, he asked her: "So, are you all set for your performance in the competition?"

"Ready as I'll ever be," she said brightly, glad for the change of subject. "It's gonna be like my entrance exam all over again, only with far more ponies."

"And hopefully a little less stony-faced?"

"Good point," she giggled. "Still, not meaning to brag, but I think I'm going to be fine. I'm going to at least put on a good show; do my best." Her look turned sympathetic. "You're still set on not taking part, aren't you?"

"No, I'm not," he affirmed. "You aren't going to try and convince me to take part, are you?"

"Not at all. I understand your reasons and I don't blame you one bit for feeling how you do. I'm just glad that you're coming along to watch at least... it wouldn't have been the same without you."

"I wouldn't miss you perform for the world." The two exchanged warm smiles, Dusk's from how well his friend knew him. "Thanks Twilight..."

"No problem..." Her gaze lingered on him for a bit, then her smile grew when she looked out the window. "We're here, look!"

Dusk turned to where she looked and he felt his own smile widen when his eyes locked, once more, on his home. It could be seen, as a speck in the distance, down in Ponyville. It was nothing, however, compared to seeing it up close.

It was truly majestic, regal enough to fit the Princesses and the elite that it housed. The towers climbed high enough to touch the sky, connected by lengthy bridges and walkways, built from the purest white marble, royal colours of purple and sparkling gold, capped with images of the sun and moon. Waterfalls, sparkling in the morning sun, cascaded down the cliffs below, falling to goodness knows where. High up in the peaks of the mountains, it seemed like it could overlook the whole of Equestria from its tallest tower.

Dusk had forgotten, or never truly appreciated, how beautiful it was. He glanced at Twilight, and she at him. They both had the same look on their faces, one that seemed to say the same thing: it was good to be home.

They stepped out of the train and onto the station, the very one Dusk had come to begin his new life. The girls were all awing, gazing around at the sheer majesty of it all. They said farewell to Rarity and Twilight, who were off to enter themselves in the Contest, arranging to meet at the School in half an hour, leaving Dusk alone with Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, all of them looking around in wonder.

"I feel so small, everything is so big," gasped Fluttershy.

"Woah, would you look at all of this?" Rainbow marvelled. "And I thought Cloudsdale was awesome... I mean, it still is but this..." She gave a low whistle that she was impressed.

"Hey Dusk," Applejack called, "how 'bout givin' us visitors a tour-a the place?"

"Really? You want me to show you around?" As they nodded, he once again had that feeling of warm acceptance they always inspired on him. "Well, in that case, let me be the first to say 'welcome to Canterlot'! Our tour begins now, if you would kindly follow me..."

"Ooh, I hope there's a gift shop at the end," remarked Pinkie, as she bounced along.

"So, where we going first?" asked Rainbow.

"I think I know just the place," winked Dusk, as he led them through the streets.

The white stone buildings seemed to glow in the morning sun, making the city look even more spectacular. The girls got a few odd looks from some of the Canterlot elite, staring down their high-held noses at them, but they didn't seem to mind, nor did Dusk. That was something he preferred about Ponyville: here, everpony was too reserved and snobbish. He was reminded of that, rather annoyed too, as he saw them with their heads held high.

They arrived at their destination, which they could see from the path they stood upon. It was an oval-shaped ring of clouds set with red clouds flapping in the breeze, with stands containing ponies watching it. Inside the course, a group of very familiar Pegasi in blue uniforms were tensed and ready to fly.

"Here we are, the Wonderbolts Racing Derby!" Dusk announced, as Rainbow gasped. "And it looks like a race is about to start."

"Awesome!" Rainbow's eyes locked on her heroes, studying them. "Hmm... I'm gonna say that Fire Streak has this one."

"Really? I thought you'd bet on Fleetfoot," inquired Fluttershy.

"I would, but she's not having the best year at the minute, so she won't be on form," said Rainbow wisely. "Fire Streak's the second fastest in the team, so he's bound to win this."

"Shoot, ah'm gonna say Spitfire's gonna win this," Applejack decided.

"Spitfire?" Rainbow scoffed. "Come on! I know she's the captain, but speed isn't really her thing."

"Ah know ya know yer stuff about 'em, but maybe this'll be her lucky day."

"It's not about luck, it's about speed and skill, which Fire Streak has more of."

"Well, ah'm sticking ta it," Applejack replied stubbornly.

"Your loss," shrugged the Pegasus, as the announcer signaled the start of the race.

Dusk knew better than to argue with her about the Wonderbolts. She knew as much about them as he did about... well, not much beyond a few select things. He just watched silently as the Pegasi soared a few laps around the track, the wind whipping through their manes. Soon, it was the red-streaked mane of Rainbow's bet that zoomed across the finish line ahead of the others.

After Rainbow was done saying to Applejack 'I told you so', Dusk showed them around other areas of interest, giving them a little bit of history about the place, most of them they were required to stay outside, as they would need to pay to get in. He showed them the opera house, the art gallery, a few cafes that he frequented once upon a time, places that were of significance to either himself or to the city.

Though most of the places were high standing and sophisticated, in other words rather boring, the girls were happy to be guided wherever Dusk took them. It almost like, after they'd given him so much with the magic of friendship, he was finally starting to give something back, showing them the elements of the life he used to lead before he met them.

When they arrived at the Palace of the Princesses, this elicited the greatest expression of awe from any of them, seeing the high towers that housed Celestia, Luna and their royal court. They couldn't enter the castle itself, but they were allowed entry to the Canterlot Sculpture Garden, a place that Dusk had frequented quite a lot. The guard that let him in still recognised him, smiling in approval that he had found some friends at last.

He gestured to the various carvings that symbolised many important and noble qualities that ponies held in high regard: the three filles of friendship, the noble mare of victory, the stallion of bravery. It was when they arrived at the most unique one of the bunch that they stopped for a bit. It depicted a serpent-like creature, that was patchworked with many different body parts from other animals. It looked as if it was in the act of singing an opera piece.

"What the hay is this?" asked Applejack, raising an eyebrow at it.

"It looks funny!" singgered Pinkie.

"This is what's called a Draconequus, a chimera," explained Dusk. "It's a being that's made up of the body parts of different animals. Fluttershy, you're the animal expert. I think you can tell what animals they are." He could have just as easily told them, but he thought it would be good for her confidence to get her involved more.

"I... I think so." She bent forward to examine it, flying up to the face. "It's a pony's head but... oh my... the antler of a deer, the horn of a goat, wing of a bat and Pegasus, a lion's claw, a lizard's leg... none of these parts fit, this doesn't make any sense."

"That just about sums him up," Dusk agreed.

"So, what exactly is this thing?" Rainbow asked. "Did the sculptor just go nuts and throw a bunch of body bits together to see what would happen?"

"Well, girls," said Dusk, standing next to it, "you remember the Paraserpent?" Fluttershy gave a squeal of fear. "Don't worry, he's not here. Anyway, remember how I told you they had a master?"

"Sorta... wait a minute," Rainbow realised, "are you saying that this is their boss?"

"Indeed I am." He turned to gaze up at the statue's face. " Ladies, allow me to introduce you all to Discord, the spirit of disharmony and chaos, the former ruler of Equestria."

"That's the boss?" Applejack looked it up and down. "Well, he sure is an odd-lookin' fella, that's fer sure."

"He's meant to be, he's literally the personification of chaos," he went on. "When Equestria was under his control, it was complete and utter misery and disharmony. Ponies walking on ceilings, flying pigs, patchwork grass, clouds raining chocolate. It was-"

"Wait wait wait wait." Pinkie raised her hoof to stop him. "Did you say 'clouds raining chocolate?'" Dusk nodded. "As in 'chocolate chocolate'?" Another nod. "As in yummy scrummy, melt-in-your-mouth, great-with-a-glass-of-milk chocolate?"

"Yes... what's your point?"

"My point is why did they stop him? That sounds great!"

"Heh..." Dusk rubbed the back of his head nervously. "Believe me, it wasn't... there were also ponies that acted cruelly around one another, altered by his powers. Nopony was friends, they didn't trust each other."

"Oh." She frowned at that. "In that case, not so great then."

"One thing I don't get," Rainbow bought up, "if he's the old ruler of Equestria, the bad guy, why make a statue of him?"

"They didn't." They all looked at him, bewildered. "Well, technically they did, but not in that sense. When the Princesses used the Elements of Harmony against Discord, the magic they used was powerful enough to encase him in stone."

"Ohhhhh," Pinkie nodded. "So, this is the genuine bonified certified stonified ruler of chaos?"

"Exactly," Dusk affirmed. "This is the lord of chaos, in the flesh... well, limestone more like."

"Ain't that a little risky?" Applejack asked, gazing at it warily. "Ah mean, what if he busts outta there?"

"Oh my! That would be awful," squealed Fluttershy.

"Don't worry girls, it was very strong magic they used to imprison him, the power of friendship. The same magic you girls used to defeat Nightmare Moon." To make his point, Dusk rapped the statue with his hoof. "Believe me, he's not going anywhere any day soon."

"That's good to know but... what would happen if he did break out?"

"If he did, Rainbow..." Dusk looked back up at Discord again. "If he did... well, I'd rather not think about it. Anyway, I think Twilight and Rarity are just about done now. Let's go and meet them at the School."

"Okie-dokie-lokie," agreed Pinkie, bouncing alongside Dusk, as they left the sculpture garden behind.

As they left, Dusk considered further on Rainbow's question. Discord had been imprisoned with the power of the Elements, but that had been when Celestia and Luna had wielded them. They had now moved on to the girls. Would that mean that the magic would no longer keep him locked away in stone? Could he actually break free of his prison, to once again reign chaos around them? Again, he tried not to think about it... still...

They soon arrived at the gates of the school, as it wasn't too far away from the sculpture gardens. There, they saw their unicorn friends in an animated discussion with each other. They stopped and smiled when they saw them approaching, Dusk surprised to see Twilight lock eyes on him. He knew that look... that was her studying look... did he have something on his face? But then Rarity greeted him and he didn't have time to consider it further.

They decided to give them a small tour of the School itself, as he and Twilight were former students. Dusk noticed, while they were walking, that all the while, Twilight was still giving him that studying look, like she was analyzing every little bit of his actions. Why was she doing that? Had he done something wrong or said something wrong? The answer soon came when the group split up for a bit, leaving Dusk alone with Rarity, who managed to find a suitable excuse to do so.

"Twilight, why don't you take the girls off elsewhere, whilst Dusk shows me around separately?" she suggested.

"No!" She seemed to realise how loudly she had said that and recovered herself. "I mean... we don't have to split off, we can just stay together."

"Perhaps, but was our gentlecolt friend here who told me that I would definitely fit in at Canterlot and I would rather like him to give me something of a personal tour. If it's alright with you, of course," she said to him.

"Um... sure, I guess... I don't see why not," he said unsurely, wondering what she was up to.

"There, you see?" She began to nudge him off in another direction. "We'll meet you back in the courtyard of the school in a few minutes. Ta-ta for now."

"Okay then..." Twilight seemed to glare at Rarity for a bit, before smiling at Dusk. "We'll meet you in a few minutes then."

"Yeah um... see you later." Rarity ushered him along quickly, until they were out of sight of the others. "So, what did you want to see with me Rare?" he asked her.

"Never mind that, that was just a ruse," she said in a hushed voice, checking around. "I've just been talking with Twilight about a... personal matter. Concerning you."

"Personal matter?" He thought for a moment and realised what she meant. "Rarity, tell me you didn't-"

"Don't worry, your secret is safe still," she said quickly. "I kept that little detail out. I was merely testing her, seeing how she responded to the subject of you romantically."

"Right..." Breathing a sigh of relief, he too found himself checking that they were alone, as they approached a balcony overlooking part of the city. "And...?"

"It's difficult to say. It seems you were right about her views of romance. She denies anything but affection for you as a friend, but it is clear that she's not entirely comfortable on the discussion of the subject at all."

"Oh... right... so she doesn't... you know..." A stone seemed to drop in the pit of his stomach. She didn't feel the same way that he did and she most likely never would. Rarity sensed his distress and quickly elaborated.

"Now, now darling, I didn't say that," she corrected. "Despite her saying otherwise, there are some signs that she does harbour something stronger..."

"How do you mean?" he asked her, almost dreading the answer.

"Well, she gains significant colour to her cheeks, she stammers a little, loses her composure and she did agree with me when I mentioned some of your positive qualities," she elaborated smoothly.

"Wow..." He found himself blushing again at the thought of that. "She... kept staring at me before."

"I should think that she's trying to determine what your feelings are for her," she explained. "I think she's trying to calm her mind, because it's possible her own romantic feelings for you are conflicting with her own views on romance."

"Oh... that makes sense." He looked at her admirably. "You really have a detailed eye, don't you?"

"Thank you. In addition, I think you saw how she reacted with you and I going off alone. She was jealous, perhaps a little scared that I might have romantic intentions for you. Not that I do mind, no offense."

"None taken," he chuckled. "So... should I do anything?"

"Not really. Keep doing what your doing, of course, but Twilight will have to untangle her feelings by herself. That's just the way it is."

"Really? So... there is hope?"

"Of course there is," she said softly. "Soon enough Dusk, she'll come around, I am sure of it. Just give her time."

"Okay... you've not steered me wrong yet Rarity, I trust you," he told her. "Right, let's get to the courtyard and wait for the others. And... thanks."

"It was no trouble at all. Lead the way." He did so and the two of them set off, proceeding to discuss how Rarity was enjoying Canterlot.

Whilst they waited in the courtyard for the others, Dusk wasn't sure whether to feel hopeful or ashamed. In essence, it was his fault that Twilight was confused about her emotions like this, if indirectly. But also, there was a chance she might feel something for him... that seemed to light a fire of hope in his chest and raise his spirits a little. At least nothing would spoil his good mood.

Or so he thought.

"Well, well, if it isn't rats-nest moss-mane," said a high, reedy voice from behind them. "And you, that thing on your head. Is that a hat or did a bird's nest fall on you?"

"What? How dare you-" Rarity stopped as she saw their speaker. "Oh, I should have known that you would be here."

Dusk also turned to look at this newcomer. She was a unicorn, or at least he supposed she was, he couldn't see her horn under the pointed hat that she wore. Her fur was a dark blue colour, her mane a bluish white. The cloak and hat she wore were a deep purple, decorated with magical stars. Her eyes sparked with a contemptuous glow, her very stature radiating arrogance and self-importance.

He didn't like to judge, but she'd insulted him and Rarity without provocation. Dislike was brewing for her. Her description struck a chord in his memory however, something that Twilight had once talked about... a unicorn that matched her description... what was her name again?

"Of course I would be here," she replied in that reedy voice of hers. "I would never miss the chance to show how powerful I really am."

"You're still on that?" She turned to Dusk. "Come along Dusk, we don't have to listen to this."

"Wait a sec..." He looked back at the unicorn, who still regarded him with contempt. "By any chance, are you the pony who calls herself the Great and Powerful Trixie?"

"Trixie sees her reputation preceeds her, even amongst the little noponies," she cackled unpleasantly. "But, then again, Trixie would not have expected any less."

"What are you doing here?" Dusk asked, trying to keep his voice level.

"Well, Trixie was hoping to have a little word with her nemesis, one Twilight Sparkle," she elaborated. "Trixie saw her silly little friend here and assumed she would be nearby... but it seems she was mistaken. And who are you? Trixie doesn't recall seeing you in Ponyville with this one."

"My name is Dusk Noir and I was-"

"Oh, what does it matter what your name is. Trixie will vanquish you soon enough, with her show-stopping magnificence. Even an under-sized colt like you does not stand a chance against her might."

"Now wait a minute," said Rarity, stepping in front of Dusk, as he flushed from her insult, "Twilight has already proven just how much of a big-headed boaster you really are and yet you still insist that you're the best?"

"Oh but I am," she said, unperturbed. "Sparkle may have bested me with the Ursa Minor, but Trixie has entered in this contest for years and every year she has won first prize. What chance do you think you have?"

"Every chance," Dusk said firmly. "Twilight beat you that day and she'll beat you again."

"Hmph." She flicked her mane casually. "Sparkle is an amateur when it comes to the stage. Trixie has had years of experience and practice, amazing ponies from here to Las Pegasus. You see how futile your hopes are, to defeat me in the contest?"

"I wasn't talking about me. I'm not even entered, but Twilight-"

"'Not even entered?'" She laughed scornfully at him. "I suppose you heard that Trixie was competing and realised how pointless even trying was. A little cowardly nopony, just as Trixie thought."

"Trixie, I think you've said enough." Rarity stood between them. "Save your empty boasting for the performance tonight. Twilight isn't here and we certainly wouldn't tell you if she was. Now, if you're just going to insult us, I suggest you leave."

"Hiding behind others, I see," she remarked to Dusk. "Well, Trixie has better things to do anyway. I hope you enjoy my performance when I defeat your precious Twilight, little Dusk."

With one last flick of her cape, she strode away, around a corner and out of sight, leaving Dusk and Rarity glaring after her. Dusk's blood was boiling. He had hoped that, if he ever did meet Trixie, she wouldn't be as bad as Twilight had said, but now he had... she was truly unpleasant and rude. All those things she said about him, about his friends... about Twilight. Ooh, if he could get her back... but how?

Nothing physical or violent, nothing hot words could achieve. Only actions would win this, she had to be shown how wrong she was a performer, she loved the spotlight. That was how he could beat her, he was sure of it. Here, today, there was only one possible way he could do that. He did have a few ideas as to what to do...

Dusk's mind soon formulated an idea, a plan to prove her wrong. He would normally have never even considered this, but, in a way, Trixie had convinced him to see things differently. He was going to keep her from winning... he knew exactly what to do.

"I apologise Dusk," said Rarity, once she'd gone. "I assumed that her experience in Ponyville might have taught her a lesson, but she's just as boastful as ever. Are you alright?"

"Yes, I am," Dusk said in a confident tone, turning to go. "Would you excuse me Rarity? I have to do something."

"Oh... not at all," she said, surprised. "What is it, may I ask?"

"I'm going to enter myself in the Contest," Dusk answered. "Nopony talks to or about my friends like that, especially not Twilight, and I'm going to ensure Trixie doesn't even get third place."


It was the evening of the show. The stars were shining in the sky, the moon glowing like a magical orb. The stage was set, the performers were ready and raring to go and Twilight Sparkle was worried. Not so much for herself, but for Dusk, who was pacing nervously back and forth on the other side of the room.

She had been just as surprised as everypony else when they'd learned from Rarity that he would be in the contest, due an encounter with Trixie. They'd seen him briefly afterwards, to wish him luck and tell him he would be great, especially Rarity. After that, he had requested that he be left alone, so that he could practice and keep his display a surprise until the show.

Twilight, however, during all of the support for him, had been in a worried silence, only really giving a smile, but even that was rather forced. He'd made quite clear his views on performing, of getting up on stage and being stared at by all of those ponies. It even made her a little nervous. This sudden change of heart made her concerned for him. She just had images of him, appearing on stage and completely breaking down in front of the audience... in front of the Princesses.

She had managed to track him down before hand, practicing in his old room at the school. She had then desperately tried to talk him out of it, reminding him of what he himself said. He, however, insisted that he had to do it and had asked her to leave, so he could continue with his practicing. She had done so, but reluctantly. Now, it was her last chance to do so.

She walked up to him, but he seemed so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't notice her approach.

"Dusk, are you nervous?" He didn't answer. "Dusk?"

"Wha-? Oh!" He snapped out of his reverie and turned to face her. "Sorry Twi... guess I am, yes."

"I am too," she admitted. "No matter how many times I go over my routine, I'm still getting the jitters... I've never performed like this before."

"Really? You never even entered while you were being taught here?"

"I knew about yes," she said, "but I didn't think I was ready to do something like that. I still don't think I am."

"You are," he said simply, yet that was enough to calm her a little. "You're going to be great."

"Thank you... I'm sure you will be too..." She tried to say what she had meant to, but she found herself lost for words now. Dusk, however, seemed to sense there was something more and supplied for her.

"But..."

"You read me like a book," she said with a smile.

"I am as avid a reader as you are," he reminded her. "You still don't feel good about me taking part, do you?"

"Well... it's just... Dusk, you don't have to do this," she repeated once more. "Even if Trixie insulted you, you don't have to do this to prove yourself in some way to anypony."

"Yes, I do Twilight. It's not just because of that, you know I'm not really one for pride," he replied. "Ponies like Trixie, they need to be shown the error of their ways through actions, not words. I want to prove that."

"But there's me and Rarity competing, with our own unique magic."

"And now you have me too," he noted. "I know I'm not really needed but... I want to do my bit. It's... it's sort of personal. I feel like I need to do this, even though I don't have to."

"That doesn't make any sense!" she almost screamed. "Dusk, I just don't want you putting yourself into some kind of risk. Please, just think about this."

He didn't answer her, not at first. He stared at her, a kind of disappointed look on his face. "It's strange..."

"What is?" She was rather piqued by the almost cold tone his voice took.

"I thought you, of all ponies, would have faith in me, that you would do your best to support me in this. Like we've always done with each other up to now. I guess.. I was wrong."

"Dusk..." This caught her off-guard. She hadn't thought about that. "I'm not saying that I don't. I'm just worried about you, I mean... this is big Dusk. This isn't like you. I'm just... concerned."

"I understand why, Twilight. You're right. This isn't something I'd normally do. But... ever since I met you girls, I've done a lot of things I wouldn't normally do, things that have changed me for the better. So... why is that a bad thing?"

Twilight had no answer. While she stood by her argument, determined to look out for her friend, Dusk was right about that. She and him were best friends, sharing so many of the same interests. Was she looking at this wrong? Should she be a little more supportive, despite the circumstances?

"Dusk, I didn't mean to-"

"I thought I might see you here, Sparkle," cut in a reedy voice. Trixie had arrived on the scene. "Ready to be humiliated in front of hundreds by the show stopping skill of the Great and Powerful Trixie?"

"I'm ready to do my best, Trixie," she said firmly. "Are you?"

"Trixie is the best, you don't stand a chance," she boasted. She turned to Dusk. "And you... you decided to enter then? Thank you, you'll make Trixie look even better."

"Believe me, that's not my intention," Dusk responded quietly.

"Oh really?" She laughed dismissively. "So, Trixie sees your cutie mark is a scroll. What's your performance going to be? Reorganising a shelf or reading poetry?"

"Just you wait and see," Dusk said, in what he might have thought was a confident voice, but Twilight could hear his voice shaking underneath.

"Oh Trixie will. We could all do with a good laugh when you fail spectacularly," she cackled. Twilight had heard enough.

"Now wait a minute," she began angrily. "His magic is the most wonderful, beautiful thing I've ever seen. You wouldn't believe it if I told you, but it's enough to put your fireworks, bangs and flashes to shame. He's going to be amazing, just you watch."

Trixie seemed caught off guard by this sudden outburst. She recovered herself however. "Trixie supposes we'll soon see. Trixie shall see you at the awards ceremony, Sparkle, when Trixie will be taking first prize." She stalked off onto the stage, as she was called on to begin her performance.

Twilight glared after Trixie for a few minutes. She really had hoped she would have learned her lesson, but it seemed that her experience in Ponyville had just made her even more unpleasant. Perhaps it was a good thing Dusk would be competing, he would make her eat her words. They all would.

She looked back at him, to see him smiling gratefully.

"Thanks Twi, I needed that... I'm not brilliant with confrontations."

"Anything for my friends," she replied. "I'm still worried about you competing, but you are right. Trixie needs to be taught another lesson and we're going to make sure of that."

"Duly noted." He offered a hoof to bump and she did so, lingering for a little. "We go out, we do our best, we beat Trixie."

"Agreed." She felt happier now that bit of disagreement had been avoided. Then, she realised her hoof was still in contact with his and receded it, blushing slightly.

They waited together in silence, watching as other contestants were called out to perform. Afterwards, they were to go and sit in with the audience, so there were less and less ponies backstage by the minute. Rarity would be on before them, followed by Twilight and finally Dusk. She didn't like the idea of leaving him on his own like that, but she had no choice.

Soon, Rarity was called on to perform. She quickly passed by them before she had to leave.

"Well, time to show these Canterlot ponies true style and grace," she said smartly. "I'll see you both later, break a leg."

"You too," they both said at the same time, eliciting a blush from them both and a smirk from Rarity. She turned to Dusk.

"Just keep calm and remember what you've practiced. I'm sure it will be wonderful," she encouraged, stepping gracefully out onto the stage.

Twilight could still remember the conversation they'd had after they'd entered, as they'd been walking through the streets of Canterlot. They'd been discussing Dusk, but not in the way she might have liked. She'd asked her if she considered him to be attractive. At first, Twilight thought Applejack must have said something to her, but then caught herself. Of course she wouldn't have.

Rarity had been saying about how she considered him to be good-looking, intelligent, polite, good-natured, all-in-all a good stallion. Twilight agreed with her, though she didn't say it out loud and had tried to avoid questions directed at her about him. For some reason, she felt annoyed whenever Rarity mentioned anything she found attractive about him. Was she interested in Dusk like that? More to the point, why did that matter to her? She didn't have romantic feelings for Dusk... did she?

She had been trying to find other explanations for her constant thoughts about him, but she always came back to the same conclusion. Though she didn't want to, slowly but surely, she was being forced to accept that... maybe she did. But if she did... what was she meant to do? Did he feel the same? Should she tell him, ask what he thought? This was so confusing!

"Twi? Twi, you're up." Dusk's voice brought her back to reality. Butterflies fluttering in her stomach, she made her way there, looking back once more at Dusk, who smiled. "Break a leg."

"Thanks... see you later." Taking a deep breath, she stepped on stage to appreciative applause from the audience.

Her eyes travelled to see who was watching her, so many unfamiliar faces... then she saw her friends, waving and smiling at her and immediately felt better. The judges were seated before the stage, two of which really were part of the board that judged her for her entrance exam, though they seemed a little more bright now. Also seated was her teacher, Celestia and the younger Luna, who was looking a little bigger than when she last saw her. Both of them were smiling as Twilight began.

Using volunteers from the audience, she performed from her list of twenty-five different magic tricks she could do, demonstrating hair growth, minor and moderate levitation, alteration of an object, sheild magic, among others, and finishing off with teleportation to the back of the audience and back to the stage. She found herself flushed with pride, as everypony cheered her performance.

Still smiling, she exited the stage and went to sit with her friends, all of whom were supportive and amazed from her display of skills. Twilight thanked them, still feeling red in the face and sat to watch the final performance: Dusk Noir's

"Great performin' there," said Applejack. "Ya kept yer head, showed 'em yer stuff an' left feelin' proud. Ya put in some good work there."

"Yeah, sure as hay beat Trixie's performance," added Rainbow. "I think you got her on the ropes now."

"Fabulous performance, darling," Rarity remarked. "You truly outdid yourself and I think to managed to turn a few heads."

"Thanks, you were great too," she said to her friend. "The way you dressed that couple up in regal ball clothes truly showed your skill with cloth and fabric. I think you really helped brighten up their evening."

"Yes, they did seem quite flustered when they left, didn't they?" she noted. "I certainly hope that I did."

"Now… there's just Dusk…" She glanced at the empty seat they were saving for him. "Do you think he'll do okay?"

"Twilight, you and I have both seen his work and how unique it is, we all have. I'm sure he's prepared a spectacular puppet show for all to see, though it is somewhat more sophisticated than an entertainer with marionettes."

"You're always supportive of him, aren't you?" she asked.

"We all are, within reason," she reminded her. "He's had no friends for his whole life, so I would say that he's earned it, wouldn't you?"

"Yes… yes, of course…" Her eyes flickered again back to the seat and Rarity's expression softened.

"He'll be fine. You'll see," she assured her.

"I hope so… I just can't help but worry about him," she mumbled.

"I understand," said Rarity, in a way that let on more than what she said. She only gave a knowing smile at her blush and turned her attention to the stage.

"Alright, let's see what he's made of," whispered Rainbow, as he stepped nervously out onto the stage.

"Oh my, I hope he's not too frightened. I'd be terrified if I were in his position," murmered Fluttershy, who probably understood Dusk's feelings almost as much as Twilight. The two of them were fairly similar.

"Well, hooves crossed everypony, let's see what he does," Applejack said, ending the discussions, Dusk taking centre stage.

He stood there on the stage, removing his trilby so his horn was visible. He then nodded to somepony off-stage and closed his eyes, his horn beginning to glow. A formless red shape appeared in the air that began to mould itself, just as a dramatic orchestral piece started to play.

Everypony gasped as they saw what had taken shape, Twilight only recognising what it was from the books Dusk had shown her. It was the being known as Discord that took form before them, in a blood-red colour, sparkling in the night. Twilight knew it was his puppet show, but she knew the story that he was telling with it. She began to view it in the context of the show.

His mouth opened and he threw his head back in silent laughter. As he did so, he conjured up marionette holders and laughed further, as he played with little ponies that were attached to the strings, an Earth pony, a Pegasus and a Unicorn. They were jumping and dancing, helpless to stop him toying with them like his playthings: Equestria as it was under his rule.

Discord did this for a good few seconds, until two others crashed down from above. Bright white and darkest blue, she knew them as Princesses Celestia and Luna, there to challenge Discord's reign of chaos. Discord saw them, stopped his amusement, pointed at them and laughed further. The two alicorns stood their ground, ready to fight. Finally, Discord seemed to realise that they weren't kidding around and, rather casually, met them in battle, flying up above the audience, everypony craning their heads above to see.

As the music rose in crescendo, a choir singing in accompaniment, Celestia charged forward to attack, the power of the sun shining with her. The beam struck Discord dead-on in a bright flash, eliciting another gasp from the audience. The draconequus, however, caught the beam in his hands, turning it into a pile of custard pies. He promptly then pelted Celestia with them, seemingly exploding on contact, injuring her and knocking her down, Discord laughing all the while.

Luna was next up the plate, flapping her wings and charging with her horn before her. Flashes of lightning emerged from all sides, striking Discord. The lord of chaos countered this attack by holding an umbrella, the wrong way around, above his head and absorbing the bolts of electricity into it. Flicking it casually, the bolts were sent back at Luna, as she tried desperately to dodge them. Despite her efforts, she was struck three times and fell with her sister.

This part continued on, with each Princess trying and failing to fight Discord, with blinding flashes and streaks of colourful magic. Only once did they combine their powers, having Discord on the run for a bit, before he beat them again. Growing bored from them, Discord struck them down one more time, saw they didn't get back up and left them, forlorn and defeated. It seemed as if their fair rulers would have to give in, for Discord was too powerful tor them.

Then, six orbs of light appeared in the air before them, all of different colours. The Elements of Harmony. They gazed in wonder, as each shone in turn: Honesty, Kindness, Laughter, Generosity, Loyalty and Magic. They hovered around them, three to each Princess, before melding into them, making them shine even brighter than before, the Elements imbuing them with their power. The Princesses gazed at each other, nodded and flew off, halting before Discord once more.

He laughed to see them again. The music was beginning to build to a climax. They mimed actions, giving him a chance to stand down and surrender, but he refused, chortling scornfully. They nodded to each other again, glowing even more brightly. As they did, the encircled Discord, flying faster and faster. He seemed to grow wary, tried to leave, but he was trapped by a light, growing brighter with every second. Finally, he was consumed by it, forcing the audience to shield their eyes from the blindness, as the chanting reached its pinnacle.

When it cleared, the Princesses descended back to the stage, Discord now having changed colour to grey, frozen in place. He had been turned to stone. The statue vanished and the Princesses relinquished the Elements, sitting on golden thrones that had appeared behind them. They then vanished too; Dusk opened his eyes and the music now stopped. Harmony had triumphed over chaos. The show was over.

For a long moment, there was a silence. Twilight, who had been so absorbed in the puppets, was bought back to reality. She began to fret for Dusk, who looked unsurely around on stage. At first, she thought nothing would happen. She knew what to do. Beaming at him, she stomped her hooves in applause.

Her friends soon followed, as did the entire crowd after a few minutes, cheering the loudest they had for any other act. They clearly hadn't been expecting that. Dusk was red in the face, placing his hat back on and bowing humbly, before walking off-stage. It didn't take him long to reach their seats, with Twilight and the girls all greeting him, as everypony else was still in discussion of the performance they'd just witnessed.

"Bravo Dusk, bravo!" praised Rarity, who was closest. "That was utterly spell-binding, if you'll pardon the pun."

"Golly, ah knew y'all were good with yer puppets, but ya sure have outdone yerself tonight sugarcube," added Applejack.

"It was nice but… did it have to be so loud… the music made it scary," said Fluttershy timidly. "I mean, I still liked it but um… it was nice…"

"Oh come on Fluttershy, 'nice' is an understatement," berated Rainbow. "That was simply, truly, radical!"

"Radical is an understatement!" squealed Pinkie. "That was… that was… I dunno what it was, but I'm gonna find out, look up in a dictionary and find out, even if I have to make up a whole new word just to say how… whatever it was it was!"

All the while, Dusk remained modestly silent, simply smiling from all of the praise. His eyes sought Twilight, giving her a smile that made her heart glow. She returned it as best she could, silent praise and understanding passing between them.

Unable to resist, Twilight looked over to where Trixie sat, who had done pretty much the same stuff she'd done in Ponyville for her performance. She had looked dismissive of her own display last time she saw her, but it was quite clear she too was amazed by how well Dusk had done, though she was trying hard not to show it. She caught Twilight looking at her, put on her self-confident smug smile again and looked away. Now, they just had to wait…

After a while, everypony was quiet again. The judges were now up on stage to announce the winners, a startled looking Luna taking centre-stage at the encouragement of her sister. She composed herself, drew herself to her fullest height and spoke in a loud, booming voice.

"Fillies and gentlecolts, citizens of Canterlot! We have been in deep discussion, over who should take the prizes of this contest and we have come to our decisions! The envelope please!"

The startled, almost frightened judge levitated the envelope to her, which she opened with her magic. She read it, allowing for dramatic suspense.

"In third place, receiving the bronze ring… Treble Cleft!"

A green unicorn stallion, who had used his magic to play an orchestral piece with multiple instruments, by himself, stood up proudly to receive the ring, placing it proudly on his horn and standing on the stage.

"In second place, for the silver wand… Dusk Noir!"

Everypony applauded once more, as Dusk was utterly dumbstruck, his mouth hanging open. Though he had done his best, he clearly hadn't expected to win anything. A grin slowly growing on his features, he beamed at them all, tears shining in his eyes, as he hurried up to the stage, accepting the wand and standing next to Treble, returning to his usual modest expression and smile. All the while, his eyes never left Twilight and hers never left his.

"And finally, in first place, receiving the grand prize of the golden staff…" Everypony leaned forward, Trixie actually preparing to stand up and walk to the stage. "… Twilight Sparkle!"

The applause was even louder, as Twilight too was completely shocked. She knew she was good at magic, but she never would have expected this. Her friends were the loudest, clearly heard over the din. Somepony gave her a sharp nudge and, rather giddily, stepping up to the stage. She was unable to keep the smile off her face, as accepted the staff from the Princess, stood next to Dusk and beamed out across to her friends.

Then she saw Trixie, frozen in disbelief, at a loss for words. She glanced at Dusk, who grinned with her. How could she have ever been worried?


The train rattled across the tracks on its way back to Ponyville, back down from the heights of the mountains. The girls were all sleeping soundly in their seats, just until they got back. The only member of their group not snoozing soundly in his seat was at the back of the train, watching the lights of Canterlot fade and levitating his prize before him.

Dusk had never felt so proud of himself. He never even suspected that his talent would get him anything in life, let alone a prize at a contest. Yet here he was, holding the silver wand, which he had won. Him alone. It wasn't the golden staff, but he didn't mind. He was happy with what he had achieved.

There was one thing though. All the while he'd been on stage; Luna had been looking at him with a curious expression on her face. She never spoke to him afterward, apart from to offer brief congratulations, but had simply gazed at him, like he was some strange creature she'd never seen before… or something familiar. For now, Dusk paid it no mind. He was still revelling in his triumph and didn't want anything to spoil it.

Trixie had, of course, cornered him afterward and demanded to know how he did that. Gladly, he told her of the circumstances of his magic, how he had never learned it but it had always been with him. Then, he offered her a hoof to shake in friendship, as she had done her best too and he didn't want there to be ill feelings for each other. She had batted it away, vowing that, one day, she would get her own back somehow, on both of them, for stealing her 'rightful place.' Would she ever learn?

Pinkie had, of course, suggested a party to celebrate. They all agreed that it was too late and just decided to go home. That certainly sounded good to Dusk, though he would miss Canterlot. Now, when he returned, it would be for the Grand Galloping Gala. Only a few more months…

"I thought I might find you here." He turned to see that Twilight had joined him, a proud smile on her face and still with the staff. "Deep thinking again?"

"You know me," he replied. "Well done again for winning first, you should be proud of yourself."

"Oh I am, but that's not all I'm happy about." She walked beside him, leaning on the rails. "You won something of your own too and I'm very proud of you."

"It was just a contest," Dusk mumbled, "it's not that big of a deal…"

"Yes it is and I'm not just referring to the contest. You took something else away today."

"And what's that?"

"You learned a lesson that I did a while ago, that there are times when it's good to show off your talent, especially when you use it to stand up for your friends," she said happily.

"Huh... I guess so..."

"But I think you also taught me another lesson about friendship."

"Really? What?"

"That, sometimes, when something important needs to be done for a friend, you need to step out of your comfort zone, to do something that you might not normally do. When that happens, you shouldn't try to discourage them, like I did..."

"You didn't really..." he put in, but she shook her head.

"I think I did. I should have supported you more, had a little more faith in you. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," he dismissed, the incident already forgotten and forgiven, "you were just trying to look out for me, like any good friend would."

"You did a good thing today, and I don't regret you doing it." She cocked her head to one side. "You changed today, I think."

"How do you mean?"

"By doing something you wouldn't normally, you changed yourself for the better. you've become an even better pony and friend. You've really grown today Dusk and... I'm proud of you." She held out her legs and he accepted her hug. "Thank you, for standing up to Trixie with me."

"It was my pleasure. Anything for my friends, especially you."

"Yes, you do that a lot..." She gazed into his eyes for a few minutes, then remembered herself and broke away, her cheeks flushed. "Anyway, I'll write that report when we're back home. For now... I think you and I have earned a rest. Mind if I stay with you?"

"Not at all. I'm... glad of the company."

Together, they watched as Canterlot drifted away, both of them proud of the lesson they'd learned and the work that they had done.

Author's Note:

The song used for Dusk's performance was One-Winged Angel, the Dissidia version.

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