By: Drakin Kovar
Editing assistance by: LlamaLlumps
It was dark in the small room, but just a hint of light filtered through a nearby window from the pre-dawn sky outside. It was that indefinable time between the dark of the night and the break of dawn where the world seemed to hold its breath as if in anticipation for the new day ahead.
Twilight's brain began working to process information, following the same logical processes she had long since perfected during her years as Princess Celestia's student. Even before she was fully awake she had begun to take stock of her situation, going down a mental checklist of sorts. Twilight was stiff, cold, and lying against something hard. She was lying on the floor. What did this mean? Twilight was not in bed. Understood. So, why was she not in bed? Twilight had no answer.
That nagging thought of not knowing something pushed her to speed up the process of waking up. Twilight had a desire to learn. Even in her groggy, sleep addled state of mind, the desire to know even something so small was enough to push her.
Slowly Twilight blinked her eyes open. The first thought that came to mind was this was not her room.
The “wake up” process accelerated further. Perhaps too fast.
Twilight suppressed a yawn as she struggled to her hooves, her legs stiff from the floor. She stumbled against the side of a nearby bed. Her sleep-addled mind took a moment to process the information. Again the thought nagged at why she hadn't been asleep in the bed. Blinking the sleep out of her eyes the answer came to her... it wasn't Twilights bed.
The bed she was blearily focussing on was small with red sheets, while hers was larger with blue sheets patterned with stars. The bed was neatly made too, suggesting that Twilight hadn't been resting on it before she found herself on the floor.
Her brain now finally coming up to speed, Twilight took stock of her surroundings. The room was small: less than five paces long by three wide. Opposite the bed a large vanity mirror was set against the wall. It vaguely reminded Twilight of the one Rarity owned as she paused for a moment to straighten her mane.
It was then that she noticed something small dangling around her neck: a small pendent that hadn't been there before. It was a simple thing, hanging from a delicate chain and shaped like a curved teardrop. Making a note to examine it more later, Twilight continued to look about the room.
To Twilight's left at the far end of the room, there was a simple dutch door which led outside, (judging by the dim morning sky seen through its small window). To her right was another door, this one slightly open, revealing the closet full of various clothes. There were a few which looked average, some cold weather wear, but most looked more ornate and varied in design.
What caught her eyes most though was one outfit in particular, which looked as though it was treated with reverence, being set aside from the rest. The hanger on the inside of the door was adorned with a purple cape speckled with blue stars and moons, as well as a pointed hat -- both of which looked familiar.
Seeing those familiar articles of clothing was enough to make things click in Twilight's mind. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place, centered around one name.
Twilight could recall the day she came to Ponyville all too well. The so-called 'Great and Powerful' Trixie had arrived one afternoon professing to be the most powerful unicorn in Equestria and subsequently performing little more than a few stage tricks and humiliating three of Twilight's friends (Rarity was still fearful of her hair ever turning green again).
Trixie's though had proved to be disastrous as two young colts had believed her when she bragged about her greatest accomplishment -- defeating the very dangerous creature known as an Ursa Major – and had wandered into the Everfree forest looking for one that she might defeat.
Leading it back to town Trixie's lies soon feel apart as she admitted she'd never defeated an Ursa Major and it was left to Twilight to handle, what she explained to others afterwards, the Ursa Minor the colts had attracted.
Trixie had fled soon afterwards, leaving behind her crushed caravan. No one in Ponyville had seen her since.
While Twilight was hardly inclined to believe Trixie had spirited her away for an apology, she almost certainly had a hoof in Twilight's reason for being... wherever she was.
“She must've drugged me or something and kidnapped me in my sleep. But... no that doesn't make sense. Why didn't she tie me up then? Or better still, why risk it at all? Braggart or not Trixie isn't stupid.”
The four walls of her room had no answer to her questions, so Twilight pushed open a nearby door set in one of the smaller walls and stepped out of what she recognized to be Trixie's caravan. It was a slightly bigger model but almost identical to the one Twilight had seen when Trixie visited Ponyville the first time.
“She must be doing ok if she could afford to replace it after the Ursa crushed her last one,” Twilight mused to herself as she looked around.
The air was cold and crisp in the dawn light. The caravan seemed to be parked on the edge of a large forest; green fields with rolling hills swept downwards gently towards a small valley. In the distance a small town could be seen, just starting to appear as the morning fog lifted.
At first Twilight was hopeful it was Ponyville, but her heart sank as she didn't recognize any of the buildings. Figuring it was a good place to start, she started walking. Thankfully she soon discovered there was a well maintained dirt road nearby that led into the town.
It was mid morning by the time she walked into the village, passing a sign on the way which proclaimed 'Welcome to Gildsdale, Friendliest Town Around!' The buildings were small and white, a few scattered shops but mostly residential buildings. The morning sun gleamed off the bright paint so strongly that it was almost painful to look at directly. Silently Twilight wished she had sunglasses, her mind recalling the pair that Rainbow Dash sometimes wore.
Wandering the streets, Twilight looked for something, anything that might help her find a way home. Or maybe I'm just looking for Trixie so I can buck some sense into her. Twilight allowed herself a small smirk at the thought.
Eventually she came across the market. Sellers stood with their stands, calling out the benefits of their wares. Twilight spotted one of the bakers' stalls and wandered over. The smell of fresh-baked bread filled the air.It was delicious and warm, with just a hint of cinnamon. It was enough to make Twilight salivate.
“Excuse me,” she asked, looking at the tan pony with blond hair at the stall, “I'd like a loaf of bread please.”
Twilight reached to pull out her coin purse but stopped when she heard a gruff voice say, “Sorry, we don't have anything available for you.”
With confusion present on her face she turned back to face the stallion, “Pardon?”
“I said,” he repeated, a note of irritation rising in his voice, “We don't have anything for for talentless scam artists.”
Twilight was if anything, even more confused and slightly hurt now too. “What are you talking about?”
“Look, the innocent act won't work, just get out of here before I call the police.”
Twilight backed off, and tried another stall, but everywhere she looked the owners did the same, refusing their wares to her, calling her a trickster and a con artist. Looking around more closely now, Twilight could also see all the other ponies in town were giving her glares or talking about her behind their hooves.
With a groan she stumbled over to one of the nearby benches, “What's going on??”
“The ponies round here don't take kindly ta ones who show off with a whole lotta nothin'.”
For a moment Twilights heart leapt. The accent was so familiar, and yet it was a different voice that spoke. Looking over Twilight spotted a nearby apple stand. The figure behind it was a mare but she sported a yellow coat and a green mane and tail with a lighter stripe. A small pink bow was fixed to the ends of her mane and her cutie mark seemed to be three pastries of some sort.
At the moment Twilight was more concerned about the green eyes staring at her like some mud that needed to be washed off a new cart.
It took Twilight a moment to remember but it did come to her. “Apple Fritter. You were at the Apple Family Reunion right?”
“How da ya know mah name?” the mare replied, glaring (if it were possible) even harder than before.
“We met, at the reunion,” Twilight replied, “The first day I came to Ponyville.”
The mare snorted, “Don't know what'cha talkin' about. I ain't ever seen you b'fore, but Applejack told me all about ya in her letters...”
Twilights heart leapt again.
“...Said ya'll was a sneaky, lyin', low-down trickster claimin' to be somin' special.”
Her heart sank so fast it felt like it might put a hole in her hooves. Seeing how depressed she was the mare sighed and tossed her an apple. “Here, jerk though ya are, I won't let another pony starve on mah watch.”
Twilight thanked her numbly and munched on the apple as she walked out of town, her mind swimming with questions. Where was she? How did she get here? What did Trixie have to do with a whole town of Ponies hating her? Why didn't Fritter recognize her? Why would Applejack have said such things in her letters?
She hadn't even realized she'd walked all the way back to the caravan until she almost bumped into it. Looking up at the side her pupils shank to pinpricks in shock.
On the side was painted the familiar welcoming sign of any show caravan. Done out in intricate swirls and curves with many details, but what hit Twilight the hardest was painted right in the center. It was her, standing proud in Trixie's hat and cape, front legs outstretched in a grandstanding pose. Above her head, swirling words proclaimed:
'The Great and Powerful Twilight'
Twilight honestly thought she'd lost it. Her mind just checked out for a while and went on vacation leaving her without thought of any kind. She probably spent a good five to ten minutes just gibbering nonsensically to herself right there beside the caravan.
Eventually, her mind did put it together. “It can't be, it just can't... And yet, the nasty looks, Fritters reaction, waking up in a strange place, and now this? Either Trixie is playing a prank worthy of a world record, or somehow I'm living her life. I wonder if that means...”
Twilight gasped and turned around, galloping towards Gildsdale again.
In the end it took almost threatening the store manager to get a map of Equestria, but Twilight got it and dropped her bits on the counter before running out, slowing to a walk as she reached the edge of town and unfolding the parchment she looked it over, soon finding Ponyville and then locating Gildsdale.
Twilight couldn't help but let out a groan. At most it would be a two day journey with a stop in another town before she could get close. Looking over the caravan as she returned to it once again, Twilight sighed irritably. She hated it already, and yet she couldn't deny it would be better to have a bed rather than sleeping on the ground.
Wasting no time she began experimenting with getting it to move. In the end she had to walk in front of it and pull it by magic, but thankfully the caravan was lighter than it looked and didn't require loads of effort. Setting off at a brisk pace, Twilight turned towards the road, eager to get the trip underway.
Ten miles later she was hating every step with a passion. Her coat was dirty and dusty, her mouth tasted like a mud-pit, her back ached from pulling the caravan, and in general she just wanted to scream.
Pausing to rest by the side of the road Twilight took the time to reflect on things. This was Trixie's life, or so she guessed from the evidence she'd found, so this was how she had lived for who-knew how many years. Twilight was still mad at her, but she also felt a pang of pity. Still, she would not give up, she would return to Ponyville and confront Trixie with what she had done.
The sun was just setting when she reached the next town, labeled on her map as Locksburg. Slightly bigger than Gildsdale, it looked to be a nice community of farm ponies for the most part. At least six farms, going by the number of barns, surrounded the town in the center. And judging by the three windmills present the town was heavily dependent on the grain they harvested.
Twilight knew it was pointless to notice such things and yet she liked to distract herself as she came over the ridge and started down towards the town, it made the last few miles easier. Checking her coin purse as she walked, the unicorn sighed, noticing she only had a few bits left, barely enough for one small meal. A voice in her head spoke up then, reminding her she had the caravan, maybe she could put on a show and earn some bits that way.
“No,” Twilight whispered to herself, “I don't want to have to resort to that, I'm the student of Princess Celestia, I shouldn't have to perform for others.”
Twilight was a bit surprised at her own slightly prideful statement and winced as her mind reminded her, but you aren't at the moment are you? You're stuck in the life of a performing unicorn mare. How else do you plan to make a living?
“I don't intend to make a living this way at all,” Twilight muttered, “I will find Trixie, and I will get our lives back to normal.”
And condemn her to this life again? Twilights mind asked as she tried to shake away such thoughts as she neared town.
It was getting on evening and Twilight was still undecided on what to do. The darkness creeping in slowly, as if guided by an unseen force to drain away hope. She was really hungry. Her stomach pains were getting to the point they had begun to cloud her judgement as she wheeled the caravan into town. If she was lucky maybe not many ponies would come and then she wouldn't have to stress over it.
Luck was not on her side that night. The caravan ran over a pothole or something as she entered the town square and this must've pulled a lever inside as a speaker began blaring, in Twilights voice no less, “Come one, come all! See the Great and Powerful Twilight! Master of Illusion! Dazzling artist! Performer extraordinare! The most powerful unicorn in all of Equestria here for one night only! Come one, come all!...”
The message continued to repeat as Twilight dashed inside frantically searching for the switch. Eventually she found it behind a section of wall with many switches that apparently controlled the Caravans clockwork stage show. Peering outside Twilight prayed few ponies had actually heard.
Once again luck was not with her as a large crowd had already formed. Most seemed to be a little curious, though Twilight saw more than a few steely-eyed skeptics here and there. Trying not to panic Twilight took a minute to calm down as she realized she would have to perform now. Almost without thinking about it she levitated Trixie's hat and cape onto her figure and already felt her mind calming down. Surely if Trixie could perform such simple stunts Twilight could do far better.
Pulling another lever that lowered the stage she prepared. And almost as if she was watching herself distantly she called through the speaker. “Fillys and Gentile-Colts, prepare yourselves for the Great and Powerful Twilight!”
A moment later she appeared on stage with her teleportation spell. With a broad grin, she felt confident. She could do this...
Twilight galloped as though her life depended on it and, as far as she could tell, it did. The caravan clattered along behind her, the stage dragging in the dirt as she hadn't had time to retract it. From only a hundred feet behind her came the sound of thundering hooves as the ponies from town chased her, some unicorns still flinging various fruits that stained the cape and hat Twilight was clutching as she ran.
It wasn't until about a mile past the end of the bridge that signified the towns border, that the villagers eventually slowed before turning back and Twilight could finally rest and think about the whole event. It was all such a blur.
She remembered starting off with some simple tricks: levitation, teleportation, and some slight-of-hoof (making things appear or vanish). Then came the stories. Her own story of defeating the Ursa Minor was the first, but then came others. An only after each one had been told did she realize she made herself out to be the heroine and the one who saved her friends. She even had a story where she had Fluttershy turned to stone and had then saved her from the cockatrice.
The more Twilight remembered of the performance, the less she wanted to remember. But the next part stuck out the most in her mind, when things had all gone wrong: the challenges. Just like Trixie had done, she'd dared others to match her skills, and just like Trixie she'd humiliated each of them on stage. It was bad enough that she was degrading others without intending to, but when a misstep sent a filly flying into a nearby fruit stand things turned ugly real fast. Twilight had barely had time to grab the cart and run before the villagers were after her screaming in outrage.
The unicorn groaned and slumped against the side of the caravan, “What in the name of Princess Celestia is wrong with me?” she groaned banging her head lightly against the caravan behind her, “I've never been like this before, I've never screwed up with my magic so much, and I've never, never bragged like that to anyone.”
Twilight took the time she needed to calm down. She'd get this all sorted out soon. Catching some sleep for now would help and she was far enough away from the town now to be safe. After accidentally setting off the recording again for a brief moment, Twilight retracted the stage. She locked the doors and settled in for the night, ignoring her growling stomach. By the next day she would be in Ponyville and everything would be sorted out.
Cresting the last hill Twilight spotted the town she'd come to know and love over the past year. She was eager to be home and see Spike and her friends, and just as eager to get everything sorted out with whatever Trixie had done.
As she walked to the town she tried to figure out a plan. Of her friends she trusted two of them who might listen best, Fluttershy and Applejack. The former was too kind to hold a grudge and Applejacks honest nature would let her see Twilight was telling the truth, if she could overcome her own prejudices.
Unfortunately it seemed like Applejack would be the one Twilight would encounter first, as the road leading into town passed by the front gates of Sweet Apple Acres. She was just nearing them when she heard a noise. It sounded like a loud buzzing that was getting louder by the second. By the time she recognized the flapping of those wings it was too late, as the Crusaders chariot bounced over the hill and screeched to a stop just yards away, sending up a cloud of dust from the road.
Coughing and waving the dust away, Twilight looked over the three familiar fillies, the lead pegasus was the first to speak, wiping the dust from her tangerine coat and shaking her lavender hair out of her helmet. “Hey, doesn't she look familiar?”
“Duh,” a yellow earth pony replied shaking out her red mane and tail and adjusting the large bow in her hair, “Remember when that Ursa Minor attacked?”
“Oh yeah,” the third, a off-white unicorn filly with a purple main sporting a pink stripe smiled, “She was the one that tried to stop it.”
“And failed,” the pegasus filly replied.
Twilight just smiled all the same glad to see them. “Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, Sweety Bell,” she addressed each in the order they'd spoken, “Don't you remember me at all?”
“Uh, yeah,” Scootaloo replied, shrugging her wings, “That's what we just said. Why are you back here anyway? Didn't you run off scared after that night?”
“I heard Trixie totally showed her up,” Sweety Bell replied, “Made her look like a total foal in front of the whole town.”
“Now wait just a minute,” Twilight sighed, “Trixie is lying. That's not what happened at all.”
'Ah don't know,” Apple Bloom replied, “We heard it all well and good from Ferocious.”
Not for the first time since this began Twilight was confused “Who? She asked.
“Trixie's assistant at the library, duh.” Scootaloo replied, “Cool name, but there's no way he lives up to it.”
Twilight felt lost for a moment. Spike. They were talking about Spike. The spell went much deeper than she thought. Not only had Twilight and Trixie switched lives, it went far further back than she realized. Trixie had replaced Twilight back at the moment of her entrance exam to Celestias school. She'd named him instead of Twilight. She's raised him instead of Twilight.
She was still thinking along this line of thought when another voice spoke up. “Girls git inside now. I won't have ya'll listin' ta this faker.”
Twilight turned, never had she been so glad to see her friend. “Applejack,” she breathed softly.
“So ya remembered,” the orange earth pony cocked her stetson hat as she looked over Twilight as the fillies scooted past, “I'm mighty surprised, never thought ya to be one ta remember the name o' those ponies ya humiliated.”
“Applejack please just listen to me...” Twilight begged.
“I don't gotta listen ta nothin,” the farm pony snipped, “I reckon every pony needs a chance ta redeem themselves, but I don't trust ya want tiny bit. So just do whatever business ya'll got in Ponyville and git gittin.”
Twilight sniffed, more than a little hurt, as she saw Applejack turn, “You're still my friend AJ,” Twilight muttered, turning back to the road, “always.”
Without a look back, Twilight continued on into town, dragging the caravan behind her. As such she didn't see Applejack stop and glance after her, looking confused... and even a little sad.
Twilight expected one of the next encounters she faced. Dash was a constant presence in the skies above Ponyville, so it wasn't surprising that as soon as she spotted the caravan she was up in Twilights face.
“So back again are ya?” she sneered her pink eyes inches from Twilight's, and her rainbow hair dangling between them slightly, “Gonna put on a real show this time? Or are you just here to trash everyone again?”
Twilight didn't even try to fight back, just gave Dash a deep, soulful look. “No Rainbow Dash, I'm not here to start anything.”
The look was so strong that Dash actually backed off looking worried. “What are you doing? Is this some sort of magic trick? Are you cursing me?”
Twilight managed a small smile, though it failed to reach her eyes, “Rainbow, after Zecora, surely you know there's no such thing as curses.”
That was enough for the pegasus. Looking seriously freaked out she zipped off, no doubt eager to tell the others. Twilight wasn't sure why she didn't try to convince Dash or Applejack of who she was, somehow she knew such attempts would be futile after what she had seen.
Leaving the caravan in the town square, Twilight turned towards the library, every step dreading what she might find there. Still, she had to know, she had to see what had happened.
On the way she had to pass another familiar place, much to her chagrin. She tried to slip past the boutique unnoticed, but as fate would have it, a white unicorn was slipping out the door at that moment. For a moment it looked like she would rather have ignored the purple individual passing by but outrage apparently got the better of her.
“If you turn my hair green again, so help me I'll make sure you won't be able to sit for a month.”
“Rarity,” Twilight smiled, feeling oddly disconnected from the moment like she had with Dash, “Always the one to give, even if the gift isn't what the recipient wants.”
Like Dash this caught her off guard as Rarity blinked in confusion.
“Whatever you think you know about me Rarity,” Twilight sighed, “You're wrong. I can't explain it because I know you won't believe it, but we're friends, we have been for ages.”
“Friends? With you?” Rarity acted like she wanted it to be a stinging comment, but halfway through the bite of the words lost their edge and turned to something doubting.
Twilight sighed, she could see confusion in Raritys eyes, but there was no sign of acceptance either. Again, Twilight didn't know why she didn't stay. Maybe her mind was only on getting to Trixie. Maybe she felt if she could confront Trixie she could get all this sorted out.
Maybe she just didn't want to put Rarity or the others through the confusion of it all.
The tree was still standing at least, that was a good sign she noted as she approached. As she walked up to the door she felt nervous, her body shook slightly as she knocked on the door. “Who wishes to see the unicorn Trixie, apprentice to Princess Celestia and the most powerful unicorn in Ponyville?”
The voice was tired and bored but Twilight recognized it right away. “Someone who has traveled a long way to have some choice words with her.” Twilight replied.
The door opened a moment later and the familiar small purple dragon stepped into view, scowling at her. “Oh, it's you.” Still, despite his irritation Spike/Ferocious let her in.
The library was much the same, if a bit more of a mess than usual. Twilights desk was a mess of papers and broken quills, books were strewn everywhere, some piled in heaps.
“What happened to the library Spike?” Twilight asked, unable to help herself.
It took the dragon a moment to realize she was talking to him. “My name is Ferocious. Trixie named me that, said a dragon should have a powerful name. She wouldn't give me a wimpy name like Spike...” still the dragon paused for a moment in confusion.
Before the moment could drag on any longer, a familiar voice called out from the top of the stairs. “Oh Ferocious, be a dear and fetch our guest some tea? I do wish to talk with her.”
The dragon ran off to do so at the familiar light blue unicorn descended the stairs, oddly sporting a large sun hat and dress that covered her mane and tail. “So Twilight,” she smiled, “You did come back, I would have figured you here sooner. Stop to perform a little on the way?”
“Trixie.” Twilight tried to keep her tone even, “What's going on here? I'd bet every last bit I have that you're behind this.”
The blue unicorn laughed, “Well that wouldn't be much then would it dear? But the fact is you're right. I do know what's going on.”
“Why?” Twilight asked simply, “Why do this?”
“Because I was sick of my life,” Trixie replied simply, “You've had a taste of it. Traveling from town to town, being endlessly judged by others, never having any real friends. I saw you and your little group and I decided I wanted what you had. And this was the best way to get it.”
“So you stole my life?” Twilight was having a hard time keeping her tone level.
“More like a trade,” Trixie replied cooly, “I gave you my life to make something with it, and I got yours in return. I'm not cruel.”
“Debatable.” Twilight countered.
“Not at all. A truly cruel individual would have stolen your life and left you with nothing. Not a name or a face or even a proper existence. I found an old spell that let unicorns swap lives. With a little charm.”
Trixie levitated out a little pendent around her neck. Nearly identical to the one Twilight, only this one was hanging upside down with the tip pointing down and the large part up.
“There is one downside though,” Trixie admitted, “The spell is only meant to be temporary. The longer it stays activated the more permanent it gets. Have you looked in the mirror lately?”
Twilight was just wondering what she meant when Trixie dramatically threw off her sunhat and Twilight gasped. Where Trixie's mane and tail were normally silvery blue, they now were dark navy with a pink stripe. Twilight rushed to a mirror to find her own mane had tail had turned Trixie's silvery color.
“Yes,” Trixie smiled, “The longer it's active the more is swapped. The only thing that won't change is our memories. In the end, you'll be me me and I'll be you in everything but name only.”
“This can't be happening,” Twilight groaned, “You have to stop this!”
“Alas, if only I could,” Trixie mock pouted, “For I do not know how.”
Twilight highly doubted that but wasn't ready to force it out of her. She needed allies, and yet she had none. So even as 'Ferocious' returned with the tea' Twilight stormed off, feeling much more angry on the outside and hollow on the inside, leaving the puzzled dragon and the smirking Trixie in her wake.
Twilight ran, she didn't know where she was going or what she was doing, she just wanted to get away. Trixies comments had left her feeling far more helpless than she’d realized. No friends to turn to, no way to contact Celestia, not even being able to check the library for help. And all the while time was running out. If only she had known, she could have hurried, maybe arrived soon enough to form a plan. No she just didn’t have time. She just wanted to run away from everything.
Unfortunately this blind running didn't help as Twilight ran smack into the one pony she didn't want to see at the moment.
“O-oh deer... I'm so sorry...” The butter yellow pegasus muttered in her tiny voice, “Are you alright?”
“No I'm not,” Twilight groaned looking up at the pair of blue eyes that radiated with tenderness, “But there's nothing that can change that.”
“That's not true...” Fluttershy countered in barely more than a whisper, “Everything changes, Tadpoles become frogs, caterpillars become butterflies...”
“Ponies don't change,” Twilight muttered miserably as she hung her head.
“Yes they do,” Fluttershy smiled, gently lifting Twilights chin with her hoof, “You might not know, but I remember when you first came to town, how boastful and unpleasant you were. But now... I see something different. You are not the same pony from then.”
Twilight laughed, it was a bitter, hurt laugh. “No, I am, and I'm not. Please Fluttershy, just forget you saw me. It would be best for all of you.”
The pegasus looked confused but before she could say anything Twilights horn glowed and she teleported away. A moment later she appeared in town beside the caravan. Looking up she could see the image had changed, not only the hair, but now the color of her fur was blue. Looking over herself twilight saw that the same had happened to her as well.
She had no time. Even if she'd had the resolve to sneak into the library and try to find a cure, she didn't have the time. If Spike had been with her she could have sent a message to Celestia. Again, time was not on her side. Nor was the world, it seemed, as it decided to taunt her again.
Pink. Several shades of pink popped up in Twilights face. With how bright she was it was amazing the earth pony could ever be stealthy.
“I knew I recognized this wagon,” Pinkie smiled in her usual bouncy voice, “And I knew it belonged to you, so I knew if I waited here you'd come back because I just had to talk to you even though you were a big Meany mean-pants the last time you came to town I knew that something had to have changed for you to come back and here you are!”
The pause in the conversation was almost painful. Twilight had hoped to at least avoid this. There was no need for Pinkie to deal with this.
The look Twilight gave her was about as sad and hurting as a lost puppy in the rain. In moments Pinkie's color seemed to drain away and her hair fell as her own mood was like a tiny reflection of Twilight's. As if Pinkie was a living gauge for happiness.
“I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm leaving,” Twilight sighed reaching for the caravan door with her magic.
“No ya ain't!”
Applejack sprang out of the door to the caravan and landed in front of Twilight, her eyes were hard, but not dangerous. Idly it reminded Twilight of nights when she would find an interesting tidbit in a book and spend hours trying to decipher it.
“I'm not lettin' ya leave 'til I have this figured out,” Applejack replied her eyes softening a bit, “I can't explain it but a'fer I met ya taday, I haven't felt right. Like somethin' was jus' plain wrong.”
“Me too,” Dash zipped in from out of nowhere startling everyone as she looked at Twilight, “I can't explain it, but, when I saw you, I felt something. Something I can't explain.”
“Us too,” Rarity replied striding up with Fluttershy, “Now you are going to tell us what's happening right now.”
That was the final straw. Seeing all her friends together, accusing and hurt, Twilight lost control and broke down, sobbing into her hooves uncontrollably. It was unbelievable for her. All that way, all the drive she had had vanished in an afternoon. Twilight couldn't explain how, but it was a deep pain she couldn't shake.
Fluttershy was the first to move.
Without hesitating she curled up next to Twilight and nuzzled her gently. Not saying a word, simply giving the affection she was known for. Pinkie Pie joined her next on Twilight other side, and one by one the others cuddled her close, there in the town square in front of everyone.
“Please,” Fluttershy asked in a whisper when Twilight had calmed down, “Tell us about it.”
For the next hour Twilight told them everything, all she could remember of what was and then what had changed, from the moment she woke in Trixie's caravan to her encounter with the unicorn at the library. When she got to running into Fluttershy again she began to lose it and the yellow pegasus just gently shushed her as she looked at the others.
Nopony said anything for a long minute. Eventually Applejack was the first to speak.
“Well,” she sighed slowly, “I don't rightly know if it's the absolute truth, but ta Twilight at least, it's true enough.”
“Does that mean it really happened?” Rarity gasped, “That this last year with Trixie is all a fake?”
“Ah recon so,” Applejack sighed, “ 'Member when we all firs met? Trixie was differnt then. Fact is, she was more like Twilight is now, back then.”
“Yeah,” Dash replied looking confused, “The last couple days she's been acting all 'holier than thou' and not being all appreciative. She's actually treated Ferocious like dirt. That's not like her at all.”
“Still,” Rarity replied, “It is a huge story to swallow. I mean, all of us, everypony we know, being changed completely? Really, wouldn't it be easier to say it was all a story she made up?”
“Easy, but would it be right?” Amazingly Pinkie was the voice of reason, her color having returned a little in the time they'd been talking. “Think about it. If Trixie isn't who she says she is, and is who Twilight says she is, then she isn't our friend, and Twilight is, isn't she?”
“So, you believe me Pinkie?” Twilight asked, looking unsure.
“Well... Let's just say I'd rather believe the words of a caring stranger than a mean friend.”
“Pinkie, you really scare us when you make sense like that.” Dash muttered.
It was about then a new voice spoke up. “Well well, what's this? Did the braggart attempt one last con before leaving? Can I get in on the tar and feathering?”
Twilight looked up to see... herself. It wasn't really her, she could see small details that showed it was Trixie, but by now the changes were nearly complete as she looked almost exactly like Twilight, save her cutie mark was still different.
“Actually Trixie,” Applejack replied standing up, “We want some answers. Twilight here spun a tale about the two a you having eachothers lives. And ya know whut? Ah'm inclined ta believe her.”
“Oh please, that's what she does,” Trixie replied, “She lies, you know how she told that story of defeating and Ursa Major but couldn't even handle a Ursa Minor. Pathetic.”
“No, what's pathetic is you,” Dash replied standing up as well, “The memories I have said my friend would never call another pony pathetic, never be down on them, and always help.”
“Yeah right,” Trixie countered her eyes darting about as she looked over the six ponies in front of her, “You all cheered when I ran her out of town last time.”
There was a long moment of silence, Twilight could almost hear the muscles tightening on her friends faces, even Fluttershy seemed to be fighting down her anger.
Trixie looked between all of them unsure what to do as it seemed she had just put the final nail in her own coffin.
“Trixie, you're lying,” Dash growled. “It was Twilight in my memories, not you. The pony who ran off that night never looked back. And yet my friend told me 'Let her go, maybe one day she'll learn her lesson'. She never chased you out of town.”
Trixie looked fearful, her horn glowed, but before she could work any magic Rarity snapped a nearby awning off it's poles and bound her rightly, blindfolding Trixie so she couldn't teleport. “What are you doing!? Stop it! I'm your friend, you can't do this to me!”
“So... how d' we fix this?” Applejack asked looking about for ideas.
“I think I know how.” Twilight stood slowly. She didn't know how she knew, but as if she had planned it all along she walked over to Trixie and lifted the necklace around her neck so the two pendants could be seen together.
“What are you doing?” Trixie now seemed in a panic, “No stop! Please! NO!”
Twilight pressed the two halves of what had been one whole pendent together, forming a circle. A bright flash of light washed over them, spreading out across the lands in a billowing wave. Twilight blinked washing the light from her eyes as she looked about. Her friends likewise blinked to get the light out of their eyes.
On a whim Twilight looked at the caravan. Trixie's name had replaced hers and once more it was the blue unicorn on the front. Looking herself over Twilight smiled. Purple fur with her normal mane and tail.
“Did it work?” Twilight asked looking at each in turn.
“It shore did,” Applejack smiled, “I remember Twilight, I remember everything how it's supposed ta be. Yer our friend and always have been.”
“I remember too,” Dash smiled as the others joined in.
“Whoa, what just happened?” Spike asked looking a little woozy, “And who's Ferocious?”
“We'll explain later Spike,” Twilight smiled after hugging the small dragon, so glad to have him back.
“Now what should we do with her?” Rarity asked indicating the still bound bundle that was Trixie.
“Every pony deserves a second chance,” Twilight sighed, “We should give her that at least.”
Twilight careful untied the awning, but nobody was prepared when Trixie rolled out of it, crying like Twilight had been not too long ago. The blue unicorn sobbed, “Why...? Why couldn't you just let me have friends?”
“Is that what this was all about?” Twilight looked at her gently, “Trixie, you can't force others to be your friends...”
“Shut up!” Trixie sobbed, “You don't know anything about me!”
“Well, maybe you should tell us.” Twilight replied, gently lying down in front of her. The others did the same, the six forming a semi-circle around Trixie, but left her room to run if she chose to. Thankfully she didn't.
It took her a few minutes to dry her eyes and regain her composure as she began her story.
Like Twilight she had been born to a pair of nobles in Canterlot, but unlike Twilight's parents, they were never so supporting of her. They never felt she did enough.
“If I levitated a ball they'd ask why I couldn't levitate a desk, If I teleported a few feet they'd ask why I couldn't teleport across the room. And every time I failed they would yell and scream at me to do better.” Trixie looked near tears as she continued but she managed to hold them back.
She went on to say that when she was old enough, her parents had also enrolled her at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. But unlike Twilight, Trixie had failed the entrance exam. Her parents hadn't even bothered to show up to watch and she walked home alone, dreading what would happen every step of the way.
“On the way back I spotted a show pony performing tricks in one of the Canterlot squares,” Trixie sounded almost wistful as she recalled the event, “he was amazing performing all sorts of juggling tricks and stage magic. I lost myself for two hours just watching him. Eventually the show ended and I had to return home, dreading what would come of it for being late as well as failing the exam.”
Trixie winced, “It was the worst point of my life. My parents raged and screamed at me for hours it felt like. Father in particular was livid. I wanted to protest but I couldn't. I felt my anger just build inside until... Something broke. I lost myself for a minute and when my mind cleared Mother was standing over my Father who'd fallen unconscious. I could see a trickle of blood on his head.
“I didn't think, I just ran,” Trixie sobbed ignoring the shocked looks of the ponies around her, “I ran as fast as I could. I ended up running into the performer. He mistook me for a lost foal and took me in. We left the city that night and I never looked back. He taught me the tricks of the trade, gave me a home, I learned how to survive thanks to him.”
“But what about your Father?” Rarity asked, the concern showing in her voice, “Surely you must know.”
Trixie shook her head, “No, I left Canterlot that day and never looked back. I've always assumed the worst, that my spell killed him. ...That I killed my own father...”
Twilight could see she was headed for another break down and tried to stop it. “You don't know that for sure. Maybe if you just went back and found out.”
“No, I'm not going back,” Trixie replied, somewhat angry now, “I was fine on my own, I loved performing. Until...”
“Until the night with the Ursa Minor?” Dash ventured hesitantly.
“I've never felt so helpless,” Trixie moaned, “And afterwards I couldn't stop thinking about Twilight and how she had everything I ever really wanted. Friends, a loving family, strong magic, not to mention being an apprentice to Princess Celestia and her own Dragon servant.”
“Spike is my assistant,” Twilight stated calmly, “Not a servant. I treat him the same way I treat all my friends.” After a pause Twilight sighed, “Didn't you try to make any friends?”
“No,” Trixie sighed, “I'm a traveling performer. Even if they could see past that, no one ever wanted to get near me.”
“I wonder why that was.” Dash rolled her eye, getting a painful nudge from Rarity to be quiet.
“I found the old spell,” Trixie sighed, “Said it would let me swap places with another unicorn. I just wanted the chance to have some friends. I thought if I could get my hoof in the door I could make it work. That I could have friends of my own.”
“Trixie,” Twilight sighed, “You can't make others like you. Friendship has to be something given, something of a common bond that you and the others must share. Something that is grown and nurtured, something to be treasured and cared for.”
There was a long moment of silence that followed. “So whut d' we do now?” Applejack sighed.
“I have an idea,” Twilight sighed, “Could you girls please take Trixie back to the library? I'll be along shortly.”
The blue unicorn didn't even try to run, just hung her head as the girls walked beside her.
“Spike, come on,” Twilight sighed, “We have work to do.”
“What sort of work Twilight?” Spike asked, still a little miffed about being referred to as a servant.
“A pony needs our help, and it's only fair we try and do just that.”
It was almost two hours later when Twilight joined her friends at the library. Stepping through the doorway felt wonderful, as if Twilight had finally made it home. Spike was right behind her, carrying a small stack of scrolls, each with a different colored ribbon wound wound them.
Inside though she was not surprised to see what had happened since she'd last been in the library, and without even asking she could tell what had happened just from the state of things. Rarity had obviously insisted on cleaning things up immediately while Applejack randomly pulled pillows down for everyone to sit on. Pinkie had immediately bounced to the kitchen to make snacks (Twilight knew she'd have a mess in there to deal with later), and judging from the small cloud in the room, Dash had insisted on staying above and behind Trixie to keep an eye on her where she lay.
It was a welcome slice of normality to see everything as she expected it.
“Alright listen up everypony,” Twilight smiled, “I have some important news. First off, I've taken the liberty of writing a letter to princess Celestia asking if she could tell us what happened to Trixies parents. Second, I've also asked the princess if Trixie can be given another chance to take the entrance exam for Celestias school. Third, I've arranged with Mayor Mare to have Trixie offered a job at the local theater as a performer, provided that she keep her acts safe and is not demeaning to others in the process.”
The blue unicorn looked dumbfounded at all this. “Why?” she asked when she finally found her voice, “Why would you do all this for me after what happened?”
“I think my Friendship Report can answer that,” Twilight smiled pulling out a scroll and beginning to read:
“Dearest Princess Celestia,
I've learned today that every pony deserves a second chance. Some ponies have hard times in their lives and can't always control when bad things happen to them. Some ponies may even go through life without having a single friend, leaving them more than a little distant.
But the important thing is to always reach out to those in need. Offer a helping-hoof, even if it means sometimes getting it slapped away. Never stop trying to be a good friend, even to others who might not consider you a friend in turn. Simply be open and honest, helping everyone you can. And who knows, maybe you'll find a new friend in the unlikeliest of places.
Your Faithful Student,
Once again the sound of soft sobs filled the quiet room, but for once they were not tears of sadness.
Leaving the others to comfort Trixie for the moment, Twilight and Spike retreated into the next room.
“Twilight, you mentioned, three things plus your friendship report. Even counting the letter from the mayor to Trixie I've still got an extra scroll here. Who's it to?”
“To my parents Spike,” Twilight smiled, though her eyes watered some in the process, “I haven't seen them in ages... I'd like to let them know I'm ok.”
The house was huge even by Canterlot standards, a small figure strode nervously up to the door and knocked. Moments later it was opened by a pair of unicorns, a mare and a stallion.
The smaller figure on the steps managed a soft smile.
“Mom... Dad... I'm home...”