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All the World’s a Stage

by Starry Tides

Part 1

        Just breathe, Trixie. Keep breathing and everything will be fine. They’ll love you, you just have to get out there and show your stuff!

        The powder blue filly inched forwards, peeking from behind the deep red curtain as stealthily as she could. The school auditorium was filled with parents chatting with each other, and Trixie paused for a moment as she let the conversations wash over her. For a moment she even forgot just why she was there before it all came crashing back. She was about to perform in the school talent show. She, who was absolutely terrified of crowds and suffered from mild social anxiety. She, who would rather spend a whole day doing chores for her mother than spend five minutes talking in front of even just her class.

        Her teacher said she had a talent for magic, but Trixie didn’t think so. If that was her talent, why didn’t she have her Cutie Mark yet? Even so, she found herself nervously awaiting her first ever stage performance, simply because she couldn’t refuse Miss Morning Dew when she had asked her to fill one of the spots. Trixie’s heart was racing as she hid behind that curtain, mane falling over her face in a futile attempt to hide.

        I don’t want to go out there, she thought, but I promised I’d do it. Just act like there’s nopony there and everything will be fine.

        As Trixie waited for Morning Dew to announce her act, she adjusted the hat and cape that her father had sewn her. They were made out of flashy, scratchy material that just wouldn’t sit comfortably, and it was irritating Trixie to no end. In fact, she was so absorbed in her annoyance that she almost missed her cue to enter. Fear filled the filly, rushing through her heart and constricting her lungs. She couldn’t breathe properly, and her knees were weak and shaking. She felt like she was on the verge of collapse.

        What if they hate me? What if I’m not good enough? What if I stuff up? What if my magic fails? What if I can’t remember what I’m supposed to do? What if-

        Trixie axed this train of thought, reining in her panic as she stepped on-stage. All eyes were on her, and all of a sudden she felt the overwhelming urge to make some lights. It was a simple spell, and would distract the audience and give them something to watch other than a frightened filly shakily making her way on-stage. With a soft pink glow, colourful lights faded into existence around her props, the green, purple and blue dancing on the reflective surface of the table. Trixie concentrated for a moment, her horn glowing just a tiny bit brighter, and the orbs started winking in and out, the intensity of the light shifting rapidly as she made her way to the middle of the stage. Taking a deep breath, and adjusting the lights again to a steady glow, the filly started her show.

        Stuttering slightly at first, she began to weave a tale of dragons and princesses and kidnappings of the standard storybook fare. Trixie had gathered props for accompaniment to the story, helping to act out important scenes and add just that little bit of flair and interest, but she simply couldn’t wrap her magic around them. Levitation was one of the simplest tricks in the book, and yet right now it seemed nigh on impossible! Throat closing up and knees weak, Trixie tried her best to carry on with the show, but she just couldn’t. As she sputtered to a halt, a wave of shame washed over the young filly, her head hanging low and a tear falling from her eye as she stood in front of the audience. Trixie could hear muttering and whispering, and she wondered if she should try to continue or just make her way off-stage and hide.

        They hate me, they really do hate me! she cried internally, cheeks on fire and eyes darting around, trying to focus on anything but the auditorium of ponies she was supposed to be entertaining.

        Deep breaths, and everything will be alright, she kept telling herself, time stretching into an eternity. It’s like a play. You like acting, just make yourself a character! Create a version of you that isn’t nervous, and play her!

        Blinking rapidly, Trixie tried to think what this alternate version of herself would be like. She would be strong and brave, never scared in front of a crowd. In fact, she would glow in the attention! This Trixie would live for the stage, always having fun and feeling like the centre of the universe as she performed, never messing up a word. The audiences’ eyes would be fixed on her the whole time as she performed amazing feats of magic and storytelling. She would be.... The Great and Powerful Trixie!

        Like most young fillies, Trixie let her imagination run a little wild as she created this ideal version of herself, but when she focused her attention again, the change was noticeable. She was no longer shaking or tripping over words, and instead stood proud and confident in the spotlight, taking a moment to breathe deeply before continuing with her story. The props were whisked around by a cloud of soft pink magic as the tale rolled on, dancing with imaginary princesses and fighting invisible dragons. Trixie was still nervous, but as she spoke more and more she found that she was actually having fun! The extravagant gestures were becoming easier to make, bringing the story to life as it came to a conclusion, and her words became ever more eloquent. In what seemed like no time at all the tale was finished, and Trixie bowed deeply as the audience thundered applause. The little filly practically glowed from the attention, and she had never felt better in her life than she did right now, with the warmth of a job well done and the pride in overcoming her terror. She was so caught up in the joy of the performance that she didn’t even notice as a wand trailing magic flashed into existence on her flank.

        Her friends were waiting to meet her just behind the curtain, both of them beaming as they gushed about just how amazing she had been. Trixie soaked up the praise like a sponge, so glad to finally have something she was good at. She didn’t even mind the itchy hat and cape now, as they were mementos of her first ever performance. The unicorn resolved to treasure them for the rest of her life, pride swelling in her chest whenever she looked at them.

        I can perform! I did it! I really did it! she rejoiced. Similar phrases danced through her mind continually as she chatted with her friends, waiting eagerly for the end of the show. Trixie’s parents would be so proud of her, she just knew it, and she was so very impatient to hear what they thought of her act. The filly bounced around contentedly, never quite staying still no matter how often Morning Dew asked her to stop. The beaming smile on her face was enough that the teacher grudgingly let her bask in her moment of glory even though there was a show happening on stage. Trixie could barely contain her excitement, bouncing in her chair and pacing around, waiting for her friends to go on and come off the stage so she could talk to them. Nothing seemed to capture her attention for very long.

        After what seemed like an age, the performance was over and the children were free to go home. Trixie practically danced out the door to meet her parents, hat planted firmly on her head and cape trailing behind. She couldn’t wait to hear what they thought of the show.

---

        “No.”

        Trixie stared, heart pounding and legs shaking, eyes widened in disbelief. Surely that wasn’t what she had heard! Perhaps there was a word that sounded like ‘no’, but meant the opposite. Yes, that had to be it. The only other explanation was too horrible to consider, and Trixie knew that if she entertained it for even a moment her world would come crashing down around her. The Canterlot Institute of Performing Arts was a destination she had dreamed of for so many years now, and there was no possible way that her mother could refuse to let her go. It just couldn’t happen!

        “Mother, tell me you didn’t just say that,” Trixie said pleadingly. Star Catcher sighed, running a hoof through her lavender mane.

        “Trixie, you know how I feel about that place. I don’t want you wasting some of the best years of your life studying something that will get you nowhere. You have such a talent for astronomy; why don’t you do that instead?” she responded, exasperated.

        Trixie scowled and turned away slightly, hiding her face behind her mane. “Astronomy isn’t all that interesting,” she grumbled, “at least not to me. You know how much I love performing, even if it terrifies me sometimes. I got my Cutie Mark the day I put on my first successful show! Would you deny me my talent for some half-baked interest that I’ll probably grow out of?”

        Star Catcher snorted, pointing a hoof at her daughter’s flank. “What about the stars in your Mark? You’ve been hovering over my shoulder for years now, looking at the work I do. You seem to love the skies almost as much as me, dear, and I don’t want to see you throwing that away! No is no, and that is final,” she said as firmly as she could.

        Trixie stared at her, mouth hanging open and eyes filling with tears. She couldn’t move no matter how hard she tried, staring unblinkingly at her mother’s retreating form. A wave of emotions flashed through her, but she couldn’t quite decide which one fit, so she decided on numb. While she knew that her mother didn’t mean everything that she had said, it still hurt like nothing else. However, getting into a roaring fight wouldn’t help anypony, Trixie decided with a shake of her head. For now she would just leave it be.

---

        “Leaving it be was easier said than done,” Trixie muttered with a scowl. “Whatever possessed me to ignore my hopes and dreams for a little peace at home?” She sighed and gazed up at the towering spires of Canterlot Castle through her bedroom window, her eyes slowly drifting over to the smaller towers of the city. Trixie could just make out the shape of the Canterlot Institute of Performing Arts, and letting her eyes rest on the graceful shapes for a moment, she felt a pang of longing. She should be up there, honing her art and making a name for herself among the student body. While a small, resentful voice in the back of her mind poked holes in her every dream, she knew that she could do it. Ever since that fateful school production, all Trixie had wanted to do was perform. The thrill of the stage was like nothing else; bright lights and a captive audience, spellbound with tales of romance, terror, magic and adventure. The interplay of sets, props and actors, each and every part doing their best to bring this fantasy into reality, was simply wonderful. A small, contented smile worked its way onto Trixie’s face as she imagined life at the Institute, her imagination conjuring up lessons and landscapes, professors and peers. Surely at the school she would find ponies with the same love and passion for performing as herself. They would understand just what it meant to be on stage, and they would talk long and deep about the intricacies and techniques of theatre and other performing arts.

        With a deep sigh, Trixie shook her head, dislodging the stray images. From now on, all those hopes and dreams would be restricted to the realm of her imagination. Her eyes burned as she strained to hold back tears, and she sniffled into the soft blanket she was lying on. “Why would Mother ruin my dreams like that?” the unicorn asked the empty air. “It makes no sense; she’s known for so long that I want to act.” She frowned, staring sullenly at a patch of dirt next to her right forehoof. “In fact, if you ask me it sounded like she was just making up excuses.” Trixie’s eyes widened in horror, a gasp escaping her mouth. One single line rebounded in her head, one that gave her both pause for thought and a million ideas at once.

        Why would she do that?

---

        As the years drifted by, Trixie’s determination tore apart. Her hopes and dreams were so far away as to be in another dimension. The young mare could so easily walk up to the beautiful wrought-iron gate of the Institute, but without permission from her mother or a legal guardian, there was no way for her to enroll, nor did she have the necessary funds. A heavy sigh escaped her as she gazed towards the spires of the city proper. Trixie’s head bobbed, weariness overtaking her as she lay on her bed, staring out the window. This had become a daily ritual. The powder blue mare would sit listlessly through her lessons, taking notes but not paying full attention. Her mind would drift onto other subjects but never linger. The crushing monotony of the day weighed heavily on Trixie, and she always had to try and squash her impatience into the back of her mind, but it never quite fit. Some part of her was constantly whispering mutiny to the rest, and she couldn’t stop it any more than she could move the sun. Her whole life was masked by an air of inadequacy and disappointment, and it grated on her nerves every second of every minute of every day. Trixie felt like something was eating at her, nibbling her being until one day there would be nothing left but a pony-shaped shell, trudging through day after day with blank, dead eyes. It terrified her in a way that nothing else did, scraping at her insides and filling her with shame and longing for something more, something that would save her from this creeping, loathsome madness.

        “Why doesn’t Mother see that this is killing me?” she whispered, voice choked with tears. The young mare wrapped the soft purple blanket she was lying on around her hooves out of habit, trying to glean a small amount of comfort from the inanimate object. It never worked. She left out a sigh, head hanging low, eyes half-open and staring at the blurry wooden floorboards. Suddenly Trixie shook her head, horn glowing as she dragged a book across the room, hovering the small paperback volume in front of her as she skimmed the familiar words. As she read through passages very nearly memorised, her mouth moved along with the script in her mind, one hoof gesturing in the empty air. A few pages later she was moving around her room, whispering the words to herself in a desperate plea, though she had no idea what she was hoping for. Another chapter and Trixie was standing on a chair in the middle of her room, pouring as much emotion as she could muster into the words, the book lying forgotten on her star-coated bed.

        “Please, Sir Stronghoof, don’t leave me here!” the young mare cried, eyes sparkling with unshed tears, one foreleg extended to her imaginary love. “You’ve heard the stories; the dragons will eat you alive, and you will never return.” Her voice was quavering now, thick with emotion. “I love you, Stronghoof, more than you could ever imagine. I fear I will never be whole without you by my side, and yet you cite duty to your Princess and country, abandoning me for the horrors of war.” Tears were rolling down one cheek now as Trixie snivelled daintily, carefully wiping the tears away as she waited for the imaginary stallion to speak.

        “I know, my love,” she said, voice absurdly low, almost straining. “But I vowed to keep you safe, and if that means risking life and limb to do so, I will take that risk wholeheartedly. You are my world, and I cannot lose you.”

        Trixie was silent for a moment, head bowed in sorrow. “Very well,” she whispered. “Just promise me you’ll come back if things get too dangerous. I cannot be left broken; I could not bear it. Promise me just that much, my darling.”

        Trixie jumped as a resounding thud echoed through the house, almost falling off her chair. She could hear her mother’s hoof-steps below and realised with a flash of despair that she must be home from work. Star Catcher would never forgive her daughter for making such an idiot of herself, even if the one-mare play had felt perfect in Trixie’s eyes. A wave of shame rolled over the power blue mare, and she quickly moved the chair back to its proper residence before flopping down on her bed, weakly floating the book in front of her nose. Staring at the novel, she let out another sigh, listlessly skimming the words.

        “Why do I have to stop my fun just because Mother comes home?” she muttered angrily. “It shouldn’t be up to her to decide what I can and can’t do, especially since this is in no way harmful. There are ponies with much worse hobbies than finding joy in acting.” Trixie frowned, no longer seeing the words in front of her. The mare’s eyes were watering with unshed tears of anger and frustration. “This just isn’t fair!” she yelled, stamping a hoof against the blanket. It sunk into the soft mattress, and Trixie glared at it. She couldn’t even take her frustrations out on her own furniture. Her heart was beating painfully in her chest, and her breathing was heavy with the rage she had allowed to build up over the years. As tears rolled down her burning cheeks, she let out a long, ragged scream.

        Something has to be done!


All the World’s a Stage

by Starry Tides

Part 2

        Trixie raced around her room, scooping objects up with her magic and glancing at them briefly before flinging them away, tossing a scant few onto her bed. Books and clothes flew around the young mare as she raided the bedroom, hunting down any item that might be of use in the journey ahead. A pair of purple saddle-bags lay on her covers, slowing being filled with a variety of Trixie’s possessions. In went the hairbrush and mirror, out went the small stuffed bear that her grandmother had given her so long ago. Trixie scooped up a photograph of herself as a filly, just after the show that had sparked her Cutie Mark, smiling at the expression of pure joy on her younger self’s face. A purple hat covered with blue and yellow stars sat lopsidedly on her head, obscuring part of her face. The matching cape couldn’t be seen at the angle the picture was taken, but Trixie knew it was there. One didn’t forget that itching garment so easily, but the young mare still smirked at the memory. Perhaps she should take her hat and cape with her; they had been a bit too large when her father had made them, but they should fit comfortably now. Sifting through the myriad of clothes in her wardrobe, Trixie finally managed to dig out the cape and pointed hat from where she had shoved them a few years ago.

        As she packed her bags, the young mare couldn’t stop her thoughts turning to things she didn’t want them to linger on: namely, where she was going to go from here. She needed to go somewhere her mother couldn’t find her, and that would mean leaving Canterlot at the very least. Trixie did have money of her own, accumulated after long hours of working to fill the void, but she wasn’t sure just how far it would go.

        “I’m not even sure this is a good idea,” she muttered sullenly, pausing her packing for a moment. “At least I have a future here, even if it isn’t one I want. If I leave, who knows what might happen?” Trixie frowned, her distaste for these thoughts evident. “Maybe Auntie Maple will take me in,” she mused. Her aunt was a kind mare, with no husband or children, and she had always showered Trixie with affection on her rare visits to Canterlot. She lived all the way over in Trottingham, and though Trixie did have enough bits to get there, she wasn’t entirely sure how to send a message. Maple was a bit out of the loop with technology, so really the only way was through the post, and Trixie might very well arrive before a letter did.

        Trixie shook her head, glaring at the carpet. It wouldn’t do to think this through too much, or she’d never get out of this suffocating house. The very air itself seemed to seep into her lungs, leaving her breathless and unable to escape. It followed her everywhere, until she couldn’t remember what fresh, clean air was like. This insidious, dream-crushing poison permeated the very foundations of this place, and Trixie wouldn’t let it invade her system any longer! She had to get out, and if she ended up in the gutter, so be it. She felt confident that her tenacity and intelligence could get her out of almost anything. Crushing creeping tendrils of doubt and uncertainty to the far corners of her mind, she held her head up high, trying to instill confidence in herself. Wish a flash of magenta magic, Trixie slung her saddlebags across her flanks, tossing her starry hat onto her head with a graceful flourish. Proud and confident, she marched out the door, ready for her new life.

---

        The mare’s head hung low, breathing quick and shallow, her hooves dragging on the grey cobblestones as she struggled to drag them forward. Her energy was flagging and she knew it, felt it in her bones, that inexorable pull of exhaustion wrapping around her until there was nothing left but the swaying grey in front of her tired, itching eyes. “I really shouldn’t have left before sleeping,” she groaned, feeling a rush of shame at her stupidity. Of course she would get tired, and of course it would be much worse after a night without sleep. However, Trixie had not expected to suffer so soon and so harshly. She wasn’t even halfway to the small town named Ponyville where she planned to catch her train, but perhaps that was for the best. At least out here on the road she wouldn’t have to pay for accommodation or risk the ire of the townsfolk for sleeping within city limits. All things told, Trixie would rather risk discomfort and save her bits than spend them on frivolities she could not afford. Looking up from the dark, blue-black shades of dirt and grass around her, she realised she had stopped moving. Trixie scowled at this realisation, for she’d not even noticed that she’d sat down. She felt a little nauseous, a tendril of creeping anxiety taking root in her chest, her breathing slightly laboured even though she was frozen still.

        Now is not the time for second thoughts, she growled in her head, berating herself. If there was a way to physically beat the worries out of her mind, she would take it, and happily. Trixie sighed, a cloud of mist accompanying her exhale. The night air pressed in on her, chill and unforgiving, the crickets soft by the gurgling stream nearby. Sighing, Trixie shrugged her saddlebags off. “No sense in getting lost in the dark,” she muttered, pulling a blanket out of the bags and settling down on the rough ground. She was asleep in moments.

---

        Looking around at the brightly coloured buildings and cheerful inhabitants of Ponyville, Trixie couldn’t help but feel a stab of jealousy. Canterlot was a beautiful place by anypony’s standards, but the warm pastels of this little town were welcoming in a way that the grand city could never achieve. Conversations floated to her ears through the fresh air, sunlight beaming down from a sky dotted with puffy white clouds. As Trixie watched, a young pegasus with a golden-brown mane kicked at one of the clouds, triggering an explosion of fine mist that dissipated quickly in the heat. The sunshine was warm and comforting on her face, and she smiled, a happy sigh escaping her lips.

        If she were to settle anywhere permanently, perhaps this would be a nice place, so long as it had something in the way of a local performance venue. Maybe she could even just get a holiday house here and come when she was taking breaks between shows. With a small smile, Trixie nodded happily, lost in her fantasy, barely noticing the other ponies milling around her. It was only when the crowd thickened to a nearly unbearable density that she noticed that she was in the middle of a marketplace. Grimacing, the young mare realised she would have to ask for directions to the train station, as she had no idea where she was going. While she didn’t normally mind asking for help, today she just wanted to enjoy the warm, fresh air and bright sunshine without having to deal with social interaction. However, it would be better to just get it over and done with, rather than milling around, waiting for someone to start talking to her, or something equally unlikely.

        Just as that thought entered her mind, her stomach growled demandingly. Trixie hadn’t even had breakfast that morning, as she was in a hurry to get moving again, but until that moment it had slipped her mind. Now she felt a voracious hunger worming its way into her gut, and she decided to stop for lunch. Trixie scanned the marketplace for a likely food stall, her eyes landing on a worn brown cart piled high with fresh apples and other apple-related foodstuffs. Her mouth watered as she took in the selection of apple pies, fritters, tarts, slices and other wonderful things. Smells from the cart drifted on the breeze to tickle her nose, her eyes going wide with delight. The young mare was positive that she’d never come across better smelling apple treats in her entire life.

        With her eyes fixed on the display before her, she trotted up to the cart, not even bothering to glance at the pony behind the counter as she made her decisions. It was only as bits changed hooves that Trixie remembered she was meant to be asking for directions, and she paused, looking at the young mare behind the cart. She looked to be about Trixie’s age, with an orange coat, blonde mane and a worn brown stetson perched on her head.

        “Somethin’ wrong, sugarcube?” she asked as Trixie paused, trying to form a coherent sentence in the wake of her stomach’s latest demand for food.

        “I don’t suppose you could tell me how to get to the train station, could you?” she finally asked with an awkward smile. The young mare smiled back.

        “Sure can. Just head on past town hall on the road to the east for five minutes and you’ll be right there,” she said, handing Trixie her change. “Town hall’s that way,” she added as an afterthought, indicating the direction with a wave of a hoof.

        “Thankyou,” Trixie said, “and thanks for the food. It smells delicious!” She didn’t even give the orange pony time to answer, her mind set on finding her destination, along with a quiet place to eat. Hopefully there would be a table she could use at the station.

---

        Trottingham was certainly...different...from Canterlot, and Trixie wasn’t entirely sure it was a good change. The streets were crowded and narrow compared to the stately open roads of Canterlot, and the buildings were dark and grimy. She could see a pony dressed in rags wheeling a cart alongside him that was filled with all his worldly possessions. Many of the ponies looked run ragged, and the pegasi chose to brave the crowds rather than expend the energy to fly. Dotted here and there were stalls selling cheap, greasy food that was clearly inferior to the wholesome fare in Ponyville. Trixie’s stomach rumbled, but she ignored it, not wanting to know just how bad the food actually was. She didn’t think anything could quite compare to the heavenly apple fritter she had bought from that orange pony she had asked directions from.

        Sighing, Trixie pushed through the crowds, hoping she could get some decent food when she arrived at Maple’s apartment, but at this rate she would be lucky if she was there before sundown. She hadn’t been to Maple’s place in years, due to the length of the journey. Her aunt usually came to Canterlot every second year or so on business, so they saw each other then. The last time she had been to Trottingham, she hadn’t even been able to walk, let alone remember the place, so before sneaking out of the house she had looked up Maple’s address and found a map, which was proving immensely useful.

        Trotting obliviously down the street, Trixie didn’t even notice the gaunt pony with the stained coat creeping up behind her. Lost in her own thoughts, she didn’t see the soft white glow around her saddlebags, and didn’t so much as twitch when they shifted oddly. She did, however, notice when their weight was removed completely. Whipping around, Trixie caught sight of a pale grey stallion galloping for dear life through the press of ponies, every ounce of energy being expended in a frantic effort to get away. Screaming every oath she knew, the young mare gave chase, shoving the crowd apart with enraged bursts of telekinesis, but it made no difference. The stallion obviously knew the city far better than her, and within moments she lost him. Two purple bits of material flew through the air to land at her hooves; her hat and cape, which had come free from the bags in all the commotion. She gingerly picked them up and dusted them off as carefully as if they were her own foals.

        Exhausted from the chase, she teetered into a nearby alley and collapsed against the cobbled street, angry tears streaming down her face, blurring her vision into a hazy mess. She wanted to scream until she was hoarse, but knew it would achieve nothing but discomfort and the acquisition of strange stares. The entirety of her belongings were in those bags, including all the bits she had managed to save, and now she was stranded in a strange city without anything but her wits, a slightly battered map and her aunt’s address. Trixie didn’t know a single soul, and none of these ponies would give a flying feather if she curled up and died right in that alley. They would go on with their lives without a second thought to the grief-stricken blue mare that they had passed by.

Trixie had never felt so insignificant, teetering there on the edge of paralyzing terror. A million questions flooded her mind, all bearing the prefix of ‘what if’, and she could answer none of them. The young mare was suddenly painfully aware that she had no plan and no way to get home if Maple could not or would not help her. With no money she couldn’t catch a train back to Canterlot, and her knowledge of the city was severely lacking. Squashing the unknowns in the back of her mind, she scrambled to her hooves, fueled with burning determination. Her eyes were red and puffy, and the skin of her cheeks felt stretched and strained, but there was purpose in her stride. Maple’s apartment was only a few blocks away from where the chase had taken her, and she could easily make it before sundown if she kept up a reasonable pace.

---

A tentative smile graced Trixie’s face as she came within sight of the apartment building where her aunt lived. It was becoming more difficult to see in the dying light, and if she had stayed out any longer then she would likely have gotten lost, but she had made it! A rush of pride and exhilaration swept through her body as she trotted up the three stone steps and into the lobby. Maple would give her a place to stay as she struggled to stand on her own four hooves for the first time in her life, and Trixie would be just fine with her assistance. Her imagination wandered off in its own direction as she walked up the stairwell to the third floor. In Trixie’s mind, she could see a shining future on the stage, and rising renown in Canterlot. She would be the pony everypony would talk about - the amazing mare whose talent was matched only by her beauty and presence on stage. She would be practically rolling in bits and following her dreams all the while, happy at last, and free from her mother’s dictatorship.

        With a happy sigh, Trixie reached the door emblazoned with a metallic three-oh-six and rapped a hoof against it. There was a rustle of movement from the other side of the simple white wood before it was flung open by an old stallion that was most certainly not Maple. This stranger was pot-bellied and greying, with a thunderous scowl on his craggy features, the shadow of stubble not making him seem any more inviting. Trixie reeled back in fright as he lurched towards her, filling the doorway.

        “What?” It was just a single word, but carried with it untold menace. The young mare flinched, frantically attempting to gather her wits.

        “I’m sorry,” she squeaked, “I must have the wrong address.” She was just beginning to turn away when the deep voice of the strange stallion halted her attempt at escape.

        “You looking for Maple, kid?” he asked with an exasperated sigh. Trixie merely nodded, hoping she didn’t look as scared as she felt. “She’s gone. Now beat it.” With that, the door slammed shut, leaving Trixie alone in the suddenly uninviting and sterile hallway.

        “Wait!” she cried, “Where has she gone?” There was no response.

---

        As the sun crept below the horizon and bloodied the sky, a powder blue young mare crept through the streets and alleys of Trottingham, the entirety of her worldly possessions perched on her head and draped over her back. In the twilight gloom she curled up in the corner of a narrow dead-end street, not giving a thought to the filthy cobblestones. Her eyes itched, but stubbornly stayed dry as she collapsed, exhausted, and fell into a deep slumber. She would tackle tomorrow when it came. As the bloody light died away, so did her certainty about seeing next week, let alone the shining future on the stage that had seemed so certain.

---

        Author’s Note: I am so sorry for taking so long to write this! Real life caught up with me. Also, if anyone would be willing to give me a hand with proof-reading, it would be deeply appreciated. Email me at starry.tides@gmail.com.

        - Starry