The Ballad of Twilight Sparkle
Chapter 15: All of the Sparks
"YOU'LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE, COPPERS!"
With a grimace, Detective Gummie Horseshoe wiped off the spittle that landed on her face. She stared dumbfounded at the pegasus mare sitting across from her at the interrogation room table as a brief but decidedly awkward silence bloomed from the fallacious outburst. Luckily, it was not to last, as a sudden ire consumed the already high-strung earth pony. "You are alive, you idiot!" Five minutes into the interrogation, and Gummie was already feeling like she was going to have to choke a mare.
The pegasus's brow furrowed as she squinted at her captor for a moment. "...Hmm, seems that I am... Well played," she begrudgingly admitted, nodding sagely. A thought occurred to her as she noticed the sour face the policemare was making for some reason. "You ever wonder about umami?" she asked, looking pensive. "You always hear ponies talking about a sweet face or a bitter smile, but you just never hear anypony saying, 'She was wearing an umami expression as she boarded the midnight train going anywhere.'"
Silence. Pregnant silence. Pregnant with triplets.
The detective was at a loss for words as she gaped at the suspect, completely stupefied at the absurd tangent that had thrown a toaster in her mind's gears. It very quickly dawned on Gummie Horseshoe that the pegasus in front of her was not pretending to be a few trees short of an orchard—it's just that the land itself was completely barren and salted and nothing had ever grown there and never would. She scowled. "I'm not going to ask again," she seethed as her nostrils flared, "Who the buck are these 'Crusaders' you're working for?"
Manehattan was full of gangs and thugs, but Gummie had never heard of any street herd going by that name before. Frankly, the name 'Cutie Mark Crusaders' sounded like some sort of dangerous paramilitary, and the golden-eyed pegasus's salute upon arriving at the police station only furthered that theory. With a furious snort, Horseshoe leaned over the table, tilting her head down to look at the blond mare over her ever-present aviators. "Are you enemies of the Crown? Griffon sympathizers? Leather traffickers?"
The blonde met the pink-maned officer's glare with an even gaze as she uttered her full name as a reply. Before the police pony could get a word in, the gray pegasus continued. "...my rank is Squadron Leader in Their Majesties' Equestrian Royal Air Force, and my Warmare Number is Oh-Fife-Fower-Niner—"
The policemare's eye twitched dangerously as she realized what the gray pony was reciting. "You are not a prisoner of war!" Horseshoe slammed her hooves on the table, adding two more to the worryingly high number of shoe prints already on it. The fact that the pegasus didn't even flinch annoyed the detective deeply. "...You are a suspect in an ongoing investigation," Gummie Horseshoe gritted her teeth, staring down the uncooperative mare, "...and you're going to answer all of my questions, if you know what's good for you."
The suspect brightened at this, a genuine smile quickly finding its way to her lips in spite of her dire situation. "Oh, I know what's good for me!" After a small incident involving her weight in Sugarcube Corner confections and a subsequent stomach pumping at the Ponyville clinic, her friends had been kind enough to introduce new and exciting things to her Whatever's-in-CT's-Fridge Diet Plan. "Let's see: calcium is good, and vitamin D is good, and—"
The light-gray police pony shot up from her chair, sending it crashing loudly to the floor. "Don't. Get. Cute," she hissed, jabbing her hoof towards the pegasus with each word.
The blond pegasus tinged slightly, coyly tilting her head and giving her interrogator a reproaching look. "Um, are you coming on to me? That's not very professional..."
A sharp, loud nicker erupted from the back of the room, drawing the two mares' attention to officer Bobby Flat-Hoof, who sat at a corner of the room, leaning his chair against the wall with a bored expression on his face as he pretended that the sound hadn't come from him.
Turning to face the pegasus once more, Detective Horseshoe's temper flared as she spotted the innocent blush on the perp's cheeks. "Don't flatter yourself, double-bagger!" Horseshoe was never going to hear the end of it from Flat-Hoof.
"D-double... Did you just call me ugly?" The pegasus frowned dejectedly, her snout scrunching a bit. That was so immature of the policemare to say! "Well, uh, your mother is fat!" she replied, deciding to take the high road and be the better mare.
Gummie's shades nearly fell off from her face; just what in the Moon is wrong with ponies from Ponyville? "S-shut your mouth-hole, birdbrain! You don't even know my mom!" she shouted, pointing an accusatory hoof at the soon-to-be-choked pegasus.
The blonde tilted her eyes upward, working her mind as she tried to recall something. "Um," she started, foreleg on the table as she rested her forehead on her hoof. Almost immediately, she raised her head and loudly tapped the table with her shoe. "Oh! Lucky Horseshoe! 123 Everfree Terrace, Barnsfield, EQ, right?"
Gummie's shades fell off from her face. "H-how..." The detective took a couple of steps back as a suffocating feeling gripped at her throat; this mental pegasus knew where her mother lived. Her blood ran cold at the thought. She stared into the golden eyes of this monster in a vain attempt at gauging the psychopathic insanity that was most certainly hiding behind the unusually benign stare.
"Hm, I guess she's not fat..." commented the pegasus as she crossed her forelegs, a look of annoyance adorning her face. "Well, your mother is old!" She smiled earnestly, proud of her analysis.
And just as suddenly, the detective's paralyzing fear turned into burning rage. "I swear, if you don't stop talking crap about my mom I'm going to take all four of my hooves and SHOVE THEM SO FAR UP YOUR—"
With a soft click, Bobby Flat-Hoof closed the door to the interrogation room. Despite the sound-proofed walls, he could still very clearly hear Gummie on the other side, questioning the flippant pegasus mare and being wholly unsuccessful at it. The police stallion checked left and right to make sure the hallway was clear of witnesses. With a raspberry, Flat-Hoof was brought to the floor by a fit of uncontrollable laughter that he'd been holding in since the interrogation began.
Ponyville was two-for-two now against his formerly cool, roguish partner, and he was going to make sure Gummie never, ever forgot her fall from grace. A contented sigh escaped his mouth as he wiped the tears of laughter from his face; he had never been involved in such a fun investigation before—up until Ms. Rarity and now, Ms. Doo, he didn't even know interrogating uncooperative suspects could be fun!
Hearing approaching hoofbeats, Bobby Flat-Hoof quickly got back on his hooves, straightening his uniform and dusting himself off. A green unicorn policemare rounded the corner of the hallway just as Flat-Hoof finished replacing his cap. "What've you got for me, Merry?" he asked, all business.
The unicorn gave him a brief questioning look; she could have sworn she'd heard someone laughing their cutie mark off just a second ago. With a shrug, she magically floated two folders towards the poker-faced dark blue stallion. "These are the public records for Ditzy Doo and her group," she explained, "The Cutie Mark Crusaders are a non-profit organization incorporated in Ponyville, though Ms. Doo does not appear on their roster as a member or director."
Flat-Hoof nodded as he leaned against the interrogation room door and used his forelegs to leaf through one of the folders. "Born in Cloudsdale, honor student all throughout high school... entered officer training right out of Junior Speedsters... Four years active service in the ERAF before being medically discharged due to an injury... Currently employed at the Ponyville Branch of the Equestrian Postal Service." The stallion blinked; that did not sound like the endearingly off-kilter pegasus currently in police custody.
More specifically, it didn't sound like the pegasus that set off the metal detectors at the station doors by bringing in a cake with an industrial metal file and pocket blowtorch baked inside. This didn't add up at all. "She's got no previous arrests, and she sounds like a model citizen. Maybe these Crusaders needed a trusting patsy?"
Merry nodded in agreement as she floated the second folder towards the stallion. "Seems that way. Among the Board members in the Cutie Mark Crusaders is one Sweetie Belle, sister to Ms. Rarity."
Flat-Hoof hitched an eyebrow as he began scanning the document. "Is that so? Talk about sloppy." The Crusaders had all but given themselves away by using Cutie Mark Crusaders-branded stationery to write the crayon-scribbled note that was attached to the cake. From the outside, the foiled plan appeared rather amateurish—childish, even. Flat-Hoof knew better than to assume, though. The terrible writing and grammar was more than likely an attempt by the criminal to conceal his or her mouthwriting. Why use a public organization to send such an obvious, almost cartoony, fraudulent package? Why use the postal service to deliver it?
Were the Cutie Mark Crusaders openly challenging the NYPD?
"Also of note," began Merry as she turned the open folder her way, "Is the fact that Ms. Rarity is a Trustee in the organization, along with two other ponies: one Applejack and one Twilight Sparkle. According to the Board of Trade, they have been standing in for the CMC's Board Members in all matters legal or contractual."
That name! Flat-Hoof's mind flashed back his partner's earlier conclusion: "Ms. Rarity's ex-lover," the police stallion breathed, the weight of that revelation and each and every one of its possible implications falling upon his withers all at once.
The unicorn mare smiled as she enjoyed the show—Bobby Flat-Hoof's face grew comically intense whenever his mind was working on overdrive to crack a case, and today was no exception. It was just about the only way the rest of the police force ever got to see any sort of expression on the young officer aside from his neigh-permanent bored-with-the-world disposition. It was widely agreed upon around the station that Bobby had been a sour, unsmiling Royal Guard in a past life—or in numerous past lives.
"Thanks, Merry. I've got to let Gummie know about this," he said, nodding towards the green pony and grabbing the floating folders with his mouth.
Merry smiled at the other police pony. "No problem, Flat-Hoof. Don't forget about your date in Canterlot!" she replied teasingly as she cantered away.
Flat-Hoof rolled his eyes at the parting comment; word had quickly spread around the station that he and his partner had requested an audience with Princess Celestia in order to question her about her connection to Ms. Rarity and the unicorn's hot-air balloon. Opinion seemed split: half of the police force thought the two investigators were only stopping briefly in Canterlot before continuing their journey straight to the Moon; the other half believed that the sheer atomic weight of Flat-Hoof and Horseshoe's solid plutonium reproductive organs would make escape velocity all but impossible.
The Chief wanted nothing to do with it, and swore that if the two ponies messed up and it became public knowledge that the NYPD was accusing Celestia of being an accomplice to some crime... well, then they wouldn't need to worry about the Princess sending them to the Moon; the Chief herself would personally make sure that the two ponies disappeared from this Earth.
Chuckling nervously at what he hoped was the Chief's idea of a joke, Bobby Flat-Hoof opened the door to the interrogation room and was quickly reminded of why he had stepped out in the first place.
"I thought I told you to STOP MAKING THAT FACE AT ME!" Horseshoe all but shrieked, her voice a little hoarse from all the screaming.
Ms. Doo, Flat-Hoof noticed, appeared to be crossing her eyes. "I told you, I'm not making any faces at you!" she exclaimed, her juvenile voice edged with a small amount of distress. Her wings fluttered unconsciously, her feathers billowing slightly.
One of the first things a pony investigator is taught is that pegasi are terrible, terrible liars. Their wings are a natural lie detector, and it takes a concerted effort for a pegasus to hold them and their feathers still under heavy emotions. "She's not making fun of you, Gummie; in fact, I think you're upsetting her."
A rather audible cracking sound reverberated through the interrogation room walls as Gummie Horseshoe turned her head around to glare at her partner, without turning her neck. "Oh! I'm upsetting HER?" she asked incredulously, a strand from her now-frazzled pink mohawk falling across her face.
Flat-Hoof trotted up to the table and gently guided his partner off of it. "I think you need to cool off for a bit, Gummie. Let me carry on with the interrogation."
Before the slightly aggravated detective could voice her vehement disagreement with her partner's request, the now un-derped blond pegasus chirped in. "Oh!" she exclaimed happily, her eyes sparkling. "Were you guys doing 'Good Cop Bad Cop'? Is that why she's being such a tool?"
Gummie Horseshoe emitted a choked gurgle as her rage caught in her throat; Flat-Hoof almost didn't have enough time to pin down the rampaging mare. Almost immediately, Ditzy crawled over the table to watch the very entertaining spectacle unfolding on the floor of the interrogation room. And to think that Carrot Top had always told her not to believe in all those supposedly 'over-the-top' police dramas!
"C'mon, Rare." Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes—Rarity had been in such high spirits up until she remembered why she had come to Manehattan in the first place. Now? Not so much, thanks to the pegasus's casual mention of Twilight's date with Trixie, taking place at that very moment.
The beautiful silver unicorn cantered speedily around the slower-trotting ponies occupying the sidewalk. Despite her haste, her canter was a perfectly-spaced, perfectly-paced three-beat gait performed with a rhythmic precision that was the envy of metronomes everywhere.
"Sigh. Raaaaaaaare." Rainbow Dash crossed her forelegs as she trailed her friend; rather than push her way through the crowded sidewalk, the sky blue pegasus chose to simply follow the unicorn by air, maintaining a low altitude that barely managed to clear the heads of the grounded ponies below her. Indeed, she had already knocked off plenty of hats and head ornaments, but she figured the wingless ponies were to blame for wearing those big things on their heads in the first place.
Nose upturned and eyes closed, the fashionista seemed to be deftly navigating around other ponies via some sort of haughtiness-induced echolocation. "Rainbow Dash, can you not see that I am ignoring your protests on purpose?" she inquired, flicking her mane for effect.
With a defeated shrug and a loud groan, Rainbow Dash let her forelegs hang limp, carelessly brushing manes or swatting inattentive ponies in the face. "Look, I just don't want you going all medieval on Trixie when you see her, dude."
"Medieval, Rainbow?" An affronted Rarity turned her head towards her friend and brought a hoof to her chest, somehow not breaking her canter. "What sort of ruffian do you take me for?" A moment of silence passed between them as Rainbow Dash's eyebrow hitched so far up her forehead it was threatening to circumnavigate her head via polar route. Rarity blinked, then proceeded to redden. "Yesterday's unpleasantness was strictly in self-defense, Rainbow Dash!"
The chromatic pegasus replied with a wry grin. "Yeah, and you messed up like twenty ponies!" Rainbow Dash flailed excitedly, knocking away a random hat from a passerby's head. "I mean, don't get me wrong, Rare; if you managed to destroy so many ponies that easily, I'd love to see just what sort of unholy suffering you could unleash on a single pony!"
"Rainbow!" Rarity was beyond flustered, horrified, appalled and mortified at the same time. The very small part of her that felt utterly flattered, she chose to ignore.
"Point is, I don't think Twi would like it if you killed Trixie," Rainbow Dash explained, lowering her altitude to just a few inches from the ground to avoid some quickly-approaching store-front awnings. "Besides, she's... she's alright," she added, a bit awkwardly. The pegasus was not used to having to reverse her opinions, much less having to admit said reversal out loud, and much less out loud within earshot of anypony else.
Rarity loosed a sharp "Hmph!" that clearly indicated the exception she took with her friend's statement. "Rainbow Dash, you are my friend and I simply adore you but, really Darling, at times you are far too obtuse for your own good."
"Hey!" Rarity was going to get it as soon as Rainbow Dash asked Twilight what 'obtuse' meant! "Why're you harshing on Trixie so bad, anyways? Even Fluttershy thinks she's okay!"
The indigo-maned pony sighed dramatically, softly shaking her head. "Fluttershy thinks basilisks and wyverns are okay as well, if you'll recall."
The stunt flier raised a hoof to object, but her rebuttal died immediately on her tongue. "...Point."
"Rainbow, Trixie herself admitted to being nothing more than a charlatan and a liar," explained the unicorn, slowing her gait down to a walk. She turned to face her pegasus friend, who alighted at her side and matched her walk. "Twilight is a very tender, wonderfully kind and good-hearted pony; I'd rather her first love not be given to such a vainglorious trollop." Rarity's brow furrowed with concern. "Twilight is setting herself up for inevitable heartbreak—and a sweet, innocent pony such as her does not deserve to have her feelings toyed with by a unicorn like Trixie."
Rainbow Dash remained silent for a minute as she considered Rarity's argument. Stealing a glance at her companion, she caught the unicorn facing straight ahead; an angry, forlorn look marring her features. Now, the Best Young Flier didn't consider herself an expert on mushy stuff like 'feelings' and all that junk but, even she could see that this was really, really bothering the dressmaker; probably more so than she was letting on. "Rare, I think Trixie really likes Twilight, though..." she ventured with some apprehension—her heart was telling her that she could trust Trixie, but it also told her to always trust her friends.
"Darling, I don't doubt for a second that Trixie has designs on our dear friend; Twilight is quite the catch, even if she doesn't realize it herself." Rarity smiled, despite her troubled feelings. "It's just that..." The alabaster pony hesitated for a second, stalling with a sigh. "Rainbow Dash, did you know that unicorns receive special Ethics classes all throughout our primary and secondary education?"
Taking the pegasus's puzzled stare as a 'No', Rarity continued. "I am loath to admit this, but there are a wide array of magical spells that could be used towards... unsavory goals, should the caster be so inclined." Another pause entailed as she gathered her thoughts. "Spells that can affect a pony's feelings towards any object the caster desires, whether it be inanimate or not."
It took a moment for the implication to sink in for Rainbow Dash. "You mean, like, make somepony fall in love with you?" she asked, her wings fluttering with her rising alarm. "Why would they teach you guys something like that in Ethics?"
Rarity, of course, had already anticipated the rather sensible question. "Tell me something, Rainbow Dash," she began, "Could a weather pony such as yourself create a tornado?"
The blue mare grinned insufferably, her wings extending slightly. "Hah! Other weather pegasi wish they could make tornadoes like I do!"
Rarity frowned slightly. "No, Sweetie, I mean a real tornado—a storm big enough to destroy every building in Ponyville, for example."
Rainbow Dash's rising ego instantly deflated, her wings and tail sagging slightly. "Uh..." Her rose-colored eyes flickered between the unicorn and the ground, discomfort plainly readable on her face. She stopped walking. "I guess a bunch of us could... could make one," she admitted, quickly snapping her anxious eyes back to Rarity. "But we'd NEVER—"
"I know you wouldn't, Rainbow." The unicorn brought a calming hoof to her friend's withers. "Now, is safe to assume you were taught how to create such frightful weather?" Receiving an affirmative nod, Rarity continued. "And why is that?"
Rainbow Dash's ears snapped back; she knew Rarity wasn't accusing her of anything, but the pegasus still felt... judged. "We... we gotta know how a tornado forms! It's the only way we'll know how to, you know, unmake it if one appears!" she explained in a huff, raising a foreleg off from the ground.
Rarity nodded, slightly raising an eyebrow and giving her friend time to make the connection.
Rainbow Dash relaxed somewhat, bringing her hoof back down as realization hit her. "...Oh."
"Exactly, my dear; we must know what the spell is in the first place in order to dispel it." The stylish mare resumed her walk down the sidewalk, Rainbow Dash following a few steps behind. "That leaves any well-read unicorn with quite a few emotion spells on hoof, unfortunately."
Rainbow Dash mulled over Rarity's words and insinuations. Why did the unicorn have to go and make her think? That was completely unfair, not to mention, beyond bogus. Screw it—her gut feelings told her Trixie was harmless, especially against Twilight, if one were keeping Ursa Minor vanquishing as score. "Rare, I can totally see what you're saying, but even if she's a lil' bit full of herself, I don't think Trixie's the kind of pony to do anything as uncool as that."
Rarity's pace slowed down until she came to a standstill once more. Rainbow Dash stopped a few steps ahead of her, eyes widening as she caught sight of the miserable smile marring her friend's beautiful face. "Rainbow Dash, love makes ponies do foolish things." Avoiding the pegasus's gaze, Rarity dropped her smile. "You'd be surprised at what even the nicest unicorns you know might resort to."
The Great and Powerful Trixie couldn't do it. She tried to remain angry at Twilight Sparkle, she really did—after all, the lavender unicorn had managed to cheat on her before Trixie had ever gotten around to asking her out! With a building, no less. 'The ignominy! The audacity!' And there she stood, prattling on and on about hyperspace and lateral movement through dimensions, brazenly pretending she hadn't just teleported into the library to fetch some books, despite the very obvious rectangular bulge in her previously slack saddlebag.
Trixie had to begrudgingly admire Twilight Sparkle's uninhibited gall in the face of such damning evidence. The only thing the magician wasn't really sure of was how the other unicorn's newly re-bruised eye fit into all this, considering it had been healing quite nicely after the accidental trampling.
Twilight Sparkle thanked the Sun and the Moon that Trixie hadn't commented on her delay. 'Maybe she didn't notice?' She was especially thankful that the azure mare had yet to spot her injured eye—there was just no graceful way to explain the unheeded warning appended to the title of one of her borrowed books: The Complete Egghead's Illustrated Guide to Pony Anatomy: Pop-Up Edition (Watch your Eyes!), indeed.
Lightly shaking her head to clear away the still-fresh memory of the incident, Twilight turned to face Trixie with a smile as she finished her brief introduction. "Anyways, I guess that about covers paradox avoidance, dimensional stranding, and tidal spaghettification. Any questions so far?"
The Great and Powerful Trixie blinked as she snapped her gaze to meet Twilight's eyes; her musings on Twilight's infidelity had given way to outright staring, much to the detriment of her attention span. Well, that wasn't technically true, she had been paying an inordinate amount of attention to the area surrounding the bookish pony's cutie mark. It occurred to Trixie that this was something very, very new; the last cutie mark area she had admired so lovingly was, well, the one in her mirror.
The Great and Powerful Trixie blinked as she snapped her gaze to meet Twilight's eyes—again. Somehow, she had managed to trace her eyes back to Twilight's aft section while mentally chastising herself for that very action. "Hmph," she humphed, "Is Twilight Sparkle stalling? Trixie does not see what all this has to do with teleportation; just tell Trixie what she needs to do."
The amateur astronomer bit her lip. "Actually... I kinda am," she admitted, her ears folding back. "I'm not exactly sure how... How I teleport. Technically, we're both about to learn how to do it," she explained with an awkward smile on her face. "I know it doesn't make much sense but... I suppose some scrying is involved?" Bringing a pensive hoof to her chin, Twilight cast her gaze skyward, wracking her brain for answers. "Yeah, scrying is definitely involved, but there's clearly more to it than just simple divination. The more I think about it, the more it seems like a convergence of a multitude of spells, held without casting at the base of the horn. I would venture to say that an alicorn's helical form somehow aids in their homogenization—by the time they reach the focal point, they've synthesized into a single multifunction spell that finds the target destination, paradoxically at the same time that the caster is phasing through the 11th dimen—"
Trixie rolled her eyes in exasperation—she didn't need another hour-long seminar on the origin of magic! 'She must really enjoy the sound of her own voice!' Of course, Trixie wasn't quite ready to admit to herself that she shared that sentiment; either way, it was time to cut this new tirade short, and the showmare knew the perfect way to do it. "Just show Trixie the spell one more time; slowly." With condescending flick of her mane, Trixie paced towards the Omega Nerd, once again invading her personal space. "Trixie simply needs to watch Twilight Sparkle closely," she breathily explained, leaning close to Twilight's ear, "Very closely. Trixie will learn all that she needs to know that way." With that, she slowly walked a full circle around the other unicorn, making sure to lightly drape her tail across the lavender pony's body all along the way.
For the first time in longer than she could remember, Twilight was momentarily drained of all cognitive thought. It was a strange, weightless, and blissful period in time whereupon she just existed and nothing more. As her synapses resumed their electrical transmissions and reason began to trickle back into her head, the lavender unicorn became keenly aware of the sensation of pure fire across every inch of skin that Trixie had so lightly caressed during her orbit. Now logically, Twilight knew that she hadn't actually been set ablaze, but the intense sensory overload that presently threatened to buckle her knees was both equally stimulating and worthy of thorough scientific study. And science, broken down to its most basic tenets, was all about reproducible results. Of course, to find out if the results are indeed reproducible, she would need to perform the same experiment a number of times—a very large number of times, for precision's sake. And for that fire.
Twilight Sparkle blinked. 'No! Bad Twilight!' The streak-maned pony did her best to regain her composure, uncontrollable flush notwithstanding. How could she be considering such actions? 'Trixie probably has no idea of what she just did, and here you are thinking... things about her tail!' Twilight raised her head and turned to look at Trixie, who was still sauntering away from her. The librarian sighed inwardly—she had been dead to the world for no longer than a couple of seconds, judging by Trixie's retreating form. And her tail. 'Stop it stop it stop it!'
The Great and Powerful Trixie halted her walk and turned around to face the other mare, catching the most adorable blushing pout she had seen from Twilight yet. Success! She had made the little bookworm turn red for the second time that day! 'Trixie bets no musty old building has accomplished that yet!' The magician was positively giddy with her small victory, in part because it proved that the first time wasn't a fluke, but also because even if it was just a tiny, insignificant blush, Trixie was still having some sort of effect on Twilight, and that had to count for something! "Enough dallying, Twilight Sparkle! Trixie has waited long enough!" she exclaimed, cutting through the relative silence of the library's garden.
"E-eh?" Twilight replied intelligently as she was startled out of a reverie she didn't realize she had embarked on.
"The spell, Twilight Sparkle." The magician raised an eyebrow, smirking at the bewildered unicorn—the fact that she had apparently flustered the lavender pony was incredibly emboldening.
Twilight wasn't sure if she was imagining the sudden wave of smugness that she felt radiating from Trixie. "R-right, right, the spell... Well, here goes," she warned, horn flickering with a very pale, lavender glow.
'Showtime.' The Great and Powerful Trixie hadn't lied when she said she just needed to be shown the spell; the azure mare channeled a small amount of magic to her eyes in preparation. The entire spectrum of magic was largely invisible except when tightly focused, and even then, the aura created around a targeted object was barely perceptible, especially to non-unicorn ponies—Trixie, on the other hoof, had found out at an early age that with minimal effort, she could faintly see the very flow of magic irradiating out of anypony. Of course, there was anypony, and then there was Twilight Sparkle.
In retrospect, The Great and Powerful Trixie should have expected such a sight; after all, Twilight had dispatched an Ursa Minor with a show of magical strength that was largely the purview of winged unicorns. 'Well of course the nerd would be a magic jock,' she mused in spite of her utter astonishment at the display in front of her: Twilight Sparkle was a magical dynamo, energy overflowing out of her entire body like a slowly-expanding explosion. Trixie's heart sank; that was the amount of magical energy required to teleport?
It was then that the showmare caught sight of a few translucent, discrete tendrils of magic slowly arcing towards Twilight's horn. 'Spells!' Trixie watched as the five different spells began spiraling clockwise around the lavender pony's forehead. The spinning caused the spells to coalesce into a single bright spark that began to sizzle at the tip of the librarian's horn.
"Huh, I had never tried to cast it slowly like this," Twilight Sparkle commented, a hint of wonder in her voice. "I'm going to teleport to the fountain," she added with a smile, pointing with her muzzle towards the centerpiece of the library's garden, situated some thirty paces away. "Here I go!"
The Great and Powerful Trixie nodded, only half-listening as she focused on the unfolding demonstration. The spells all fired at the same time, or at least, in very quick succession; a circular pulse rippled outward from Twilight's position, carrying the spark towards the fountain on its wavefront. The lavender pony's body appeared to be under the effects of an anchoring spell, and as the spark reached its target destination, it deposited an anchoring spell of its own. Two very bright, very large sparks drew the attention of many ponies in the garden; those crackling discharges of magic were definitely in the visible spectrum, Trixie concluded.
"I think I got it, Trixie!" Twilight called from the fountain, before launching into an excited gallop back to where the showmare stood. "I was right!"
The Great and Powerful Trixie couldn't help but smirk—she recognized the spells Twilight Sparkle had cast; they were all common enough spells, and each one completely unrelated to the other. 'No wonder nopony ever thought to combine them before!' A scrying spell, normally used to dowse for items or to cheat at hide and seek; two anchoring spells, normally used as temporary glue in many foalhood pranks; a conjuring spell, normally used to bring forth magically stored objects like magazines a young filly isn't supposed to be reading; and a compression spell, normally used to pack lunches into really small lunchboxes.
Trixie's mind couldn't quite wrap itself around a situation where Twilight Sparkle, of all ponies, would have been forced to combine all those spells at the same time.
The streak-maned unicorn stopped her gallop near the magician, a beaming smile gracing her face. "It's a combination of spells, Trixie! There—"
"Yes, yes, Trixie knows," she interrupted, waving a dismissive hoof.
Twilight's smile quickly faded as she quirked an eyebrow. "Huh? What do you mean? How could—"
The Great and Powerful Trixie rolled her eyes theatrically. "Don't you worry your pretty little horn about the how, Twilight Sparkle," she replied condescendingly, "Just let Trixie show you how it's done." Using her magic, Trixie turned the other unicorn around, flicking her foreleg in a shooing motion. "Go on back to your little fountain, Twilight Sparkle, and get ready to be astounded!"
Twilight reluctantly began to trot back towards the center of the garden, casting a questioning glance back to the cerulean pony behind her. "I didn't even get to tell her what the spells are," she muttered to herself, smacking her lips as the residual taste of blue permeated her taste buds.
Trixie had commenced the task of internally gathering each spell needed for teleportation. As she set about this endeavor, it dawned on her just how ridiculous Twilight Sparkle's raw ability was; in the space of a second or two, the studious pony could load and combine five spells and then fire them off immediately. Typically, continuous use of a spell created a certain muscle memory that greatly decreased the time it took to cast it; Twilight probably didn't walk anywhere, considering the speed at which she could cast a teleport.
Twilight Sparkle watched with a healthy dose of skepticism as Trixie's horn pulsated with a pink aura; she'd been gathering magic for at least a minute or two, and didn't appear any closer to accomplishing the complex undertaking. 'Does she really believe she'll be able to pull off the spell just by having seen me do it?'
Four minutes into the spell and The Great and Powerful Trixie was finding it increasingly difficult to actually hold and spin five different spells within her horn; given the relative simplicity of its components, the showmare had greatly underestimated just how much of a challenge moving between dimensions would be. Still, Trixie had to persevere—one didn't become Great and Powerful by giving up on physically impossible goals; besides, she had a girl to impress!
Ten minutes in, and Twilight Sparkle was beginning to worry that Trixie might injure herself out of sheer, dumb stubbornness; holding in a spell for an extended amount of time was incredibly strenuous. If Trixie really did know the components to teleportation, then it meant that she was trying to contain five spells at the same time; something was going to give sooner than later. The star-flanked mare took a step forward. "Trixie, perhaps we—" Twilight's suggestion was cut short as the taste of blue in her mouth intensified and the air around her began to smell strongly of ozone. "No way!"
The Sweating and Overexerted Trixie smirked viciously as she felt the spell finally come together in her horn. "A-HA! Prepare to be amazed, Twilight Sparkle, as Trixie effortlessly and gracefully makes her way to your side, without taking a single step!" Her loud boasting managed to attract the attention of many library patrons; the more curious ones among them slowly stepped towards the pair of unicorns to see what all the noise was about.
Panting, Trixie looked around herself, noticing the growing crowd of ponies. An audience? Perfect. "Stand in reverent awe, simple ponies, as Trixie's fearsome power makes short work of time and space! Distance means nothing to a pony that can fold the very fabric of existence itself with a mere flick of her horn! Look upon and be thunderstruck by the most amazing feat of magic you will ever witness! Take heed!" With a dramatic flourish, Trixie pointed a hoof towards Twilight. "Trixie will instantly teleport to her lovely assistant right before your very eyes!" Her knee almost buckled as she brought her hoof back down, but the entertainer managed to catch herself and maintain some semblance of steadiness.
"W-what?" A crimson hue enveloped Twilight Sparkle as she processed Trixie's words; the fact that the library's entire attendance had seemingly gathered to watch them was not helping. Even worse, the pegasus librarian was right there, front row, hovering above the crowd with a sly grin across her face.
The Great and Powerful Trixie was trembling now as her horn sparked violently. 'Now or never!' Her mind screamed, tunnel vision settling in. With a lick of her lips, she grinned as she scanned the audience one more time, making sure to make eye contact with as many ponies as possible. Summoning every ounce of strength she had left, Trixie stomped her hoof loudly against the ground to bring all eyes to her. "Behold, Trixie's might!" she bellowed, before being enveloped in light.
A loud series of detonations reverberated through the air as the crowd's attention was called towards the fountain, where a series of bright flashes sparked out of thin air, giving the appearance of a miniature fireworks display. All of the gathered ponies gasped—the lavender unicorn had disappeared!
The interjection drew the crowd's attention back to The Great and Powerful Trixie, who was now standing face to face with her lovely assistant, their muzzles centimeters apart. "T-Trixie?"
The crowd watched in rapt fascination as the magician closed her eyes and leaned forward.
To her credit, it didn't take long for Rainbow Dash to pick up on the words Rarity had left unsaid; it did however, take her a minute or two to actually react to the revelation. Despite being on a crowded street, the uncomfortable silence that befell both mares completely drowned out the commotion of their surroundings.
Rarity maintained her downward gaze; it had not been her intention to confess to such a horrid misdeed but, nonetheless, the regretful words had resurfaced for the third time in her life—this time spurred by Rainbow Dash's light-minded approach to their argument. The unicorn dared not meet her friend's eyes, but she could still feel the weight of Rainbow Dash's stare upon her all the same. The fashionista mentally prepared herself for the worst; after all, she had taken somepony's affection, a clear betrayal of trust. Generosity and Loyalty, affronted; she had definitely earned whatever scorn Rainbow Dash had waiting in the wings, so to speak.
Rarity was brought out of her internal turmoil by a pair of forelegs softly wrapping around her neck and pulling her into a hug. This was, by an enormously enormous margin, the response she least expected out of her hot-headed pegasus friend. In fact, this response was suspiciously similar to the one she received the second time she confessed to her indiscretion some time ago, to another pegasus. "Um, Rainbow Dash?"
After a moment's hesitation, Rainbow Dash spoke up. "I did something really bad and really stupid once, a long time ago. Fluttershy, uh, hugged me," she replied plainly, if a little strained. "You ah, looked like you could use a... a Flutterhug?"
Rarity's short-lived stunned silence was most ungraciously dissolved by the most unladylike of chuckle-snorts, an aberrant and uncouth sound that the unicorn will deny—to her grave—ever came from her. "A Flutterh—"
"Oh man this is so embarrassing! Just hug me back already or something, will ya?"
Softly giggling, and with tears forming in her eyes, Rarity obliged her surprisingly kind companion. "I don't know what I did to deserve such a magnanimous friend, but thank you, Rainbow Dash."
The colorful mare wasn't sure she was going to be able to remember that word long enough to ask Twilight about it. "You're killin' me, Rare; can't you just call me 'cool' like a normal pony? By the way," she added, tightening the hug, "All this girly mushy stuff? Totally didn't happen." Rainbow Dash had a very strict limit of feelings that she allowed herself to express monthly—at the behest of Fluttershy—and Rarity had already depleted the rest of her year's allotment in just 24 hours.
"My lips are sealed, Rainbow Dash." she answered, smiling warmly at her friend as they separated.
The pegasus was blushing slightly from the utter embarrassment she still felt. "And don't make this... this hugging and crying and feelings thing a habit!" she huffed, crossing her forelegs.
"Oh," Rarity began, playfully tilting her head, "I wouldn't dream of it," she replied, not a hint of sincerity in her voice as she made a mental note to make three reservations for her next few spa visits. And who knows? Perhaps a little pampering could be a gateway for even more fun for the three of them. Doing each other's manes? Going to the café for brunch? Reading romance novels in the park? A small gasp escaped Rarity's throat. Trying on the latest fashions? She could picture it so clearly now; it was just a matter of time before Rainbow Dash would always be dressing in style!
Rainbow Dash almost tripped over herself as a loud "WAH-HA-HA!" nearly gave her a heart attack.
End Chapter 15
Author's notes: Hey all, thanks for reading! Let's keep this short (pfft) and sweet. First of all, I know we have a canon Derpy now, but her part in this story was actually written well before 'The Last Roundup' aired, so... yeah. Dat Jossing. Besides, I already kinda had plans for her. Just consider The Ballad a complete Alternate Universe from now on, if it's too much to take!
Secondly, The Ballad has its own TVTropes page! Full disclosure, I am an absolute trope whore, and whoever started that page is best brony. Now go on and fill that page with the millions of references found in The Ballad... OR I WILL NEVER UPDATE AGAIN.
Ok, that's a complete lie, but still, go on and give the page some love in order to fill my insatiable trope lust!
Thirdly and most importantly, I'd like to thank the now usual suspects for pre-reading, editing, and generally being made of rubber so that I could bounce ideas off of them. You know who you are, but in case you guys are suffering from some sort of identity crisis, here you are in no particular order:
Armando, The Original Pre-Reader and not at all related to the original sin;
FifthAlicorn, editor and nitpicker extraordinaire and not at all related to the Fifth Element;
Toronado, friendly dictator of the GTPlanet Bronies thread and all around someone who reads way too much into every detail (in other words, his approach to fics is exactly like mine!)
Cátsy, who's followed this fic more closely than even me(!), and who provided great input and lots of stream-of-consciousness dialogue to make sure Fifth and I never caught up to the Gdocs chat;
Rizu-Chan, laziest and sleepiest of my pre-readers; she has an unnatural lust for BBCode and FimFiction—yeah, she's a freaky thing, that one;
CoffeeGrunt, an unknown unknown, possibly the author of the relatively unknown Allegrezza, featuring a relatively unheard of OctoScratch ship.
Thanks, guys, see you next chapter! (And totally before HL3, for sure!)