It’s Not Where You Go...
Chapter 8: Turning Back
Chapter (final): ...But How You Get There
“Okay class! It’s time to get your scores from the last test! Make sure to show your parents when you get home.”
A loud whisper fell across the classroom as Ms. Cheerilee began handing out the numbers that would determine the rest of the foals’ days.
“Here you go Diamond Tiara. While you did quite well in the Reading section, you did rather average in Math and Science.”
“Oddly enough Silver Spoon,” the teacher continued as she passed to Diamond’s sidekick. “You did great in Math and Science, but poorly in Reading. Perhaps you and Diamond Tiara should study together more?”
Diamond Tiara rolled her eyes. “Ms. Cheerilee, Silver and I are too busy planning out the rest of our lives to be studying! As high-class citizens, our future isn’t determined by some random numbers thrown onto a piece of paper.”
“These aren’t just ‘random’ numbers,” Ms. Cheerilee chided. “They are actually a nearly accurate display of your current intellectual levels, and as of right now, you could use some help in two major sections.”
Diamond scoffed at her teacher’s nerve and turned her nose up as Cheerilee continued handing out scores.
“Applebloom, amazing job! A perfect score! Keep up the good work and you will end up in Canterlot University at this rate.”
“Thanks Ms. Cheerilee, ah studied reeeeeal hard!” Applebloom smiled, followed by promptly turning to Diamond Tiara and sticking her tongue out. This caused an audible growl from the pampered filly.
The teacher slyly pretended not to notice Applebloom’s offensive sign language and proceeded down the line of desks, eventually reaching a short blue and plump colt.
“Snips, over all you did above average on all three subjects. Try just a bit harder next test, and you will end up on the exemplary roll of students! Good job!”
“You got it Ms. Cheerilee! I’ll make sure to study extra hard for next test,” Snips responded.
Ms. Cheerilee grew slightly rigid as she moved on to Snips’ friend and partner-in-crime, Snails. The whole class held their breath.
The teacher placed the score down on the lanky colt’s desk, but did not let the slip go. Snails shyly looked up to see a solemn look spread across the adult mares face. “Snails… please talk to me after class.”
Applebloom’s friend Scootaloo let out a laugh as she swiftly peeped over the sulking boy. “A 52! He got a total of 52 points!”
Snails slumped into his desk as the whole classroom burst into laughter at the announcement.
“That Snails is as slow as a sack of ‘taters!” Applebloom joked.
“I may not be a perfect student,” Diamond Tiara said, her rage having been replaced by mockery. “But at least I’ll never be as dumb as YOU Snails!”
Ms. Cheerilee struggled to contain the uproar, but the class continued to ignore her. Finally, the bell signaling the end of the school day rang, and the frantic chatter faded away as the students left for home.
“I’ll uh, see ya outside the room okay buddy?” Snips said.
“Sure… see ya,” Snails returned weakly.
Snails watched as his only friend walked out, leaving just him and the teacher. The empty classroom had a new, completely different feel to it. A feeling of failure.
“Snails what’s wrong?” Ms. Cheerilee began. “You were the only foal to fail in my class.”
“I dunno Ms. Cheerilee… maybe I’m just not smart,” Snails said, shaking his head.
“You want to know something interesting I saw while grading your test? You would start out terrific! I personally thought you were going to be our second perfect score! Then you just ended up circling C for the rest of the questions. Why?”
Snails straightened himself up as if remembering something. “Oh yeah. We would start a section and I would be feeling good because I studied and knew the answers! But then… by the time I would get halfway through the section it would be time to move on. I’m just too slow.”
“Snails, it’s obvious you’re a smart young colt, you just need to work on quickening your pace a bit!” Cheerilee encouraged.
Snails began nodding his head, as if resigned to his teacher’s advice. Suddenly, after a long moment, his head perked back up.
“But you said Cutie Marks show who a pony really is!”
“That’s right Snails, I did.” Cheerilee sighed as her student continued drudging through a simple thought.
“Then how can I get any faster if being slow is just who I am, eh?” Snails replied, looking down at his cutie mark, a snail with a frown on its face.
Cheerilee opened her mouth to say a calculated, well thought out response to counter her student’s failed argument, but none came out. Would she tell the Cake’s to stop baking? The Apple Family to abandon farming?
“Well Snails I… that’s a good question.” She ended abruptly. “How about you go ahead and start at home, and I’ll do some research into the subject myself?”
“Sure Ms. Cheerilee. Thanks,” Snails said, doubt dripping from his words.
“Have a fun weekend!” the teacher called.
As the door shut behind Snails, Ms. Cheerilee let out a soft groan. She had hoped her discussion with her student would have motivated him to action, but all it did was leave her with a lost argument and unanswered questions.
“Hey Snails!” Snips greeted his friend, then quickly lowered his voice. “So uh… how’d it go in there?”
“Aw nothin’,” Snails responded as the two friends began trotting down the school’s halls. Usually this space would be cramped full of foal’s bustling about, but now that class had let out, the corridors had an eerie feeling to them. “Just the teacher telling me to ‘work faster.’”
Snips nodded in response and looked at his downcast friend. “Don’t you worry buddy, I’ll help you study and we’ll get those problems memorized!”
“Yeah thanks.” Snails kept walking as he jumbled Snips words around in his head. “Wait no! I don’t need help with the problems,” he remembered. “It’s just… when I look at the questions I read them slowly and when I do math I take forever to solve the formulas!”
“Oh,” was all Snips could say after such a revelation. “I don’t know what we can do then.”
“Ah don’t worry about it. No one does,” Snails concluded.
The friends reached the door leading to the outside of the school and pushed it open. Outside, the so called ‘Cutie Mark Crusaders’ and the high-class duo of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon were in a heated discussion. All five of the fillies turned to look at Snails.
“Oh look it’s the dumbest pony to ever trot Equestria. Did Ms. Cheerilee sugar-coat your failure? Or did she go and say the truth about how you’re doomed to repeat the 6th grade for the rest of your life?” Diamond Tiara mocked.
Applebloom was about to say something in retaliation before Snails himself responded.
“The doomed part.”
“Ha!” Diamond laughed. “See, Applebloom? Even the teacher agrees he’s a moron! Anyways, Silver Spoon and I have much more pressing matters than a failure. Till next time!”
Snails gave a sad sigh as the duo haughtily trotted off, leaving just Snips, Snails, and the Crusaders.
“Why, that Diamond Tiara!” Applebloom huffed, glaring daggers into their backs. “Snails, Ah’m sorry for callin’ ya slow in class.”
“And I’m sorry for calling out the score you got on your test. That should have been private,” Scootaloo apologized.
Of course, Snails thought. When in the middle of the whole class they would mock him, only to apologize later when they were alone. He wanted to bring this fact to their attention, but put it aside for anoth-
“Snails?” Applebloom called waving her hoof in front of his face.
“Oh yeah! Don’t worry about it eh? It was nothing,” he lied.
“Just keep trying and study a little harder and you’ll pass just fine! See ya at school on Monday you two!” Sweetie Belle called as the Crusaders turned to leave.
“I hope MY cutie mark isn’t a snail,” Snails heard Scootaloo say.
Snips frowned as he saw his friend’s head droop. “Come on, let’s head home.”
Diamond Tiara’s words rang in Snails’ head as they walked the short path between the school and Ponyville. He wasn’t dumb, Snails concluded. Just a bit slow. Still, it was clear that the school was no place for slow ponies, and the dreaded thought of repeating the 6th grade and being passed by his classmates burned his mind. The young colt observed the floating red and gold leaves of autumn that had been knocked down from the annual race. The sights of nature and the simple act of trotting helped clear his mind. Eventually the friends reached Snips’ house, and parted ways.
“Well, uh. See ya tomorrow I guess!” said Snips.
“See ya,” Snails said as Snips entered his home. It was a pretty home, with light red paint that was dangerously close to pink and a well kept garden around the outside. Immediately into the door was the living room where-
Snails snapped back to attention, smacking his forehead in frustration as he began to travel to his own home. After a few minutes of trotting, Snails was at his house. Although it was smaller than most of the other abodes in Ponyville, it was disturbingly clean and well-kept.
“Ma I’m home!” he called as he opened the door. The inside of the house was even cleaner than the outside, as if the owner of the home was afraid of a speck of dust ruining its image.
A yellow unicorn with a white mane came out of the kitchen, her horn giving off a soft glow as she magically cleaned with a broom. Her cutie mark was that of a small duster, revealing her love for cleaning. Although she wore a cheerful smile across her face, she seemed to be a bit more tired and withered as of late.
“Snails, you’re late! I was beginning to get worried!” She said, letting the broom drop and embracing her son.
Snails returned the hug and gave a small laugh. “Late for like… uh… 2 minutes!”
“2 minutes too long. How was your day at school?”
Snails recoiled as he handed his mom the score. As his dear mother saw the score, the look upon her face which he had been preparing for all day still crushed him. It was a look of understanding, yet heavy sadness.
“Oh Snails… it’s the same problem as last test isn’t it?” she said solemnly.
“Yeah, I know all of the answers, but I just can’t get through the problems fast enough!” Snails said, frustration etched across his face.
His mother’s face changed to mild anger as she looked back at the score. “I’ve told the school that you need more time than their average student, but they just won’t listen.”
“Mom, if I keep this up, I won’t pass the 6th grade. What should I do?” Snails asked wearily.
His mothers face quickly turned back to a soft gaze of hope. “If the school won’t accept you, then I’ll just have to teach you myself.”
“But what about your cleaning job?” Snails worried. “You can’t work and teach me at the same time! You already come home every day looking exhausted.”
“Oh don’t you worry about me Snails, I’ll manage,” she said weakly. “Now go take off your saddlebags and make sure to be in the kitchen in one hour for dinner.”
“Alright mom, whatever you say,” Snails said as he went into his room.
He placed his saddlebags down, and pulled out the math homework they had received for the weekend. He looked over the familiar numbers that spread out across the sheet, and began working on the first problem.
6x 4. Simple enough.
The number 6 is six ones. So that would mean he needed to count six times up four times. He wrote down the number 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, then 5, then 6. Now just 3 more times! Carefully he continued to count up, finally reaching his solution: 24.
One hundred percent sure he had his answer, Snails looked at the clock mounted on the wall. It had taken him 3 minutes to complete the problem. The allotted time estimated for one question on the test was 1 minute.
Snails groaned. Ms. Cheerilee had tried to hammer in ‘shortcuts’ into his mind before to help speed his work up, but he always found himself heading right back to the basics. It was just a part of his thought process. He couldn’t stop himself.
After slowly hacking his way through his homework, Snails headed back out of his room and into the kitchen. A sweet aroma of cooked carrot and daisy salad wafted through his nose.
“Dinner’s ready!” his mother said with enthusiasm.
Snails took his seat at the table, closed his eyes and brought his hooves together to give thanks to the princesses. After opening his eyes to chow down on the hot meal, Snails looked across the table to see his mother’s plate.
It was bare.
“Are… aren’t you going to eat anything mom?” Snails stammered.
“No dear!” his mother replied with a light voice. “I, uh, had a big lunch!”
“Oh… ok,” Snails responded, obviously not believing a single word his mother said.
After he had finished eating, his mother let out a soft yawn. “I’m going to bed dear, make sure you give me some notice when you leave the house tomorrow!”
“Yep, see you tomorrow,” Snails said, looking at the kitchen clock. It was only 7:00PM. This was the earliest his mother had ever gone to bed.
Snails went back to his room and finished his homework, sighing in frustration when he looked to see it had taken him 2 hours to complete two different worksheets. Then his thoughts went back to his mother, and he threw himself onto his bed, tears welling up in his eyes.
He had dragged himself down his whole life being so slow, and he grimly accepted it. But now his own mother was exhausting and starving herself just to take care of her failure of a child, and he couldn’t stand it.
Struggling to fall asleep, Snails spent the next 2 hours lying in bed, just thinking. Thinking at his own pace was something he was good at. He thought about how he would repeat the 6th grade, how his weakened mother would be forced to teach him herself, and how he would be mocked more than ever.
He wouldn’t stand it.
Snails threw open his window and let the cool night breeze rush over him, the familiar feel of nature clearing his head once again. He stood there for awhile, just letting the soft wind blow across his mane, until something smacked him in the face.
It was a piece of paper, a poster to be exact, he noticed as he ripped it from his eyes.
‘Come one, come all! The Greatest Sorceress to ever wander the land has graced Trottingham with her presence! Trixie, master magician, will dazzle you with a spectacular display of power and knowledge! Don’t be left out Saturday afternoon at 3:00PM in the middle of Market Square!
Ps. Generous tips are appreciated, and helps her mightiness return with even more stories of bravery!
-The Great and Powerful Trixie’
Snails mind raced as he read through the poster. It wasn’t two weeks ago that Trixie had performed in Ponyville, then ran off after being upstaged by Twilight. Why had it taken her two weeks to get to Trottingham when it was just about a six hours walk away? The village did lie on the other side of the Everfree Forest, perhaps she had been attacked?
As the breeze continued its soft blowing, Snails thought he could hear the road itself calling to him.
He could stay here in Ponyville, slow down his teacher, his mother, his friend…. Or he could walk to Trottingham. What would happen when he met Trixie? Would she be enraged as soon as she set eyes on him due to the Ursa incident? Or maybe she would make him a part of her show if he showed her a few tricks!
It was worth a shot, and if worst came to worst, Ponyville was still just across the Everfree Forest.
Snails laughed at his sudden bravery. He had never feared the Everfree Forest, but the simple thought of him walking alone all the way through its heart would have frightened him a few hours before. This was the new Snails. A Snails with purpose.
The newly energized foal took out all of the paperwork inside of his saddlebags, and gently stored them away so his mother would not have to clean them up. After donning the saddlebags, he carefully took his piggybank and cracked it open as silently as he could. Although the noise was still rather jarring, his mother was a heavy sleeper. He gathered up all of the gold coins, which totaled a whopping 5 bits, and placed them in his bags. He then levitated out a piece of paper and pencil, and began writing a letter to his mother, which proved harder than any writing test he had ever taken.
After school today I realized that I wasn’t doing anything in Ponyville besides slowing people down, even you. I’m going to go traveling on the road, where even if you are slower than a cow in winter, you’ll end up somewhere eventually. Please don’t think this is your fault, I just don’t feel like I’m moving anywhere in Ponyville. Stay well and eat more! You’re starting to look even skinnier than I am! I Don’t know when I’ll be back, it could be the day after tomorrow, or maybe a few months.
Snails placed the note on his desk in plain sight, and then left his room. Giving one last look over the living room, he took a deep breath and pushed the door open, the same gentle breeze returning to his face.
Being that he did not want to take anymore food from his mother, he wanted to buy his food supplies for himself using his own money. There was only one store open at 11:00PM at night, and that was the Sugar Cube Corner owned by the Cake’s with its insane pink employee. Surely enough, light poured out of the bakery when he rounded the street. Snails entered the Corner cautiously, hoping that Pinkie would not question him on why he was out so late.
“Hellllooooo late night customer!” Pinkie cheered as she turned around to greet her nocturnal buyer.
“Heh, hey Pinkie.”
“Oh… Snails? I suppose everyone wants a midnight snack some time right? What will it be?”
Snails looked over all of the sweets and almost called out for a dozen cupcakes, but then remembered where he was going. He needed food that would last long enough to cross the Forest, not bite sized sweets that would keep him energized for 30 seconds. His gaze shifted towards the loaves of bread, which had great value for their cost. Of course he could also buy some-
“Um, Snails? Anyone there?” Pinkie questioned.
“Yeah!” Snails responded snapping back to attention. “I’ll buy two loaves of bread please.”
Pinkie’s smile began to fade a bit, as she took the two loaves of bread and placed them on the counter. “That will be 4 bits. Kind of weird seeing you buy something like loaves of bread.”
Snails stiffened up a bit as he reached his bags and slung the coins on the counter. “Heh, I uh, got a bad craving for bread tonight!”
“Uh huh,” was Pinkie’s only response as she rapidly counted out the money, handing Snails back his change.
Snails turned to leave, but just before he could reach the door, Pinkie called out to him.
“Snails, where are you going?” she asked.
The young colt thought about the strange question for a few seconds. “Uh… I dunno! Bye Pinkie!” Snails said, bolting out the door.
Pinkie shrugged. He always was a strange one, that Snails! At least to her he was.
Relieved to escape an awkward situation, Snails headed towards the edge of town. Nopony was out on the streets tonight, and for some reason, it comforted him. No one was there to cast a curious glance at him, call him names, or tell him to hurry up. Already he felt the relaxed atmosphere of the road washing over him.
It wasn’t long before Snails found himself at the border of a thousand darkened trees. He looked into the forest, preparing himself for any danger that he might find in the wild woods. Casting one last glance back at Ponyville, he realized the only thing he was leaving behind was a dear friend and his mother, and his mother would prosper when she no longer had to carry his dead weight.
Snails took one step forward towards the uncharted territory, and froze as a howl echoed out from the trees. Pinkie’s words rang in his head as he mustered up all of his courage.
“Snails, where are you going?”
He had been throwing these words around in his head ever since the pink mare had spoken them.
“I’m taking control of my life eh?” he said out loud to no one but himself, and trotted into the gaping maw of the Everfree Forest.
Chapter 2: A Dark Trot to Trottingham
6 red eyes pierced the darkness as the beast picked up a new scent, the smell of a midnight snack wafting through its nose. Letting loose a blood-curdling howl and leaping from its stone perch, the hunter began to stalk its prey.
Snails couldn’t stop himself from shaking. He had often come into the Everfree Forest at night, but it had always been with his friend Snips at his side. A full moon loomed overhead the black trees, which brought Snails’ memories back to the tales his mother would often tell him about a full moon and the Everfree forest.
The colt’s slow thought process tried to sift through his thoughts to remember what exactly she had told him. He finally let the subject drop, unable to find the answer. It was Luna after all who provided such a beautiful moon at night, right? What harm could MORE light do to him? Heck, this was actually a stroke of luck for him!
Snails ceased trotting and looked about, taking in his surroundings. He noted that, although the arrow signs pointing the direction to Trottingham had disappeared the further he went into the forest, the beaten dirt road was still in site and easy to follow.
Small. Skinny. Barely any meat. Still, a good toothpick.
Hunger eventually gnawed at Snails’ stomach. He levitated one of the loaves of bread out his saddlebag and attempted to eat it while keeping up a slow trotting pace. After he had taken a bite, he stepped into a small rut in the path, breaking his concentration which caused the bread to fall onto the dirt road. Looking at the dirtied bread, he realized he would have to come to a complete stop if he wanted to eat.
Resting himself besides a nearby tree, Snails levitated up the dirty bread, not wanting to waste any of the bits he had spent. He imagined what his friend Snips would say in such a situation.
“5 second rule right Snails? Chow down!” Snips would joke.
Biting into the nearly ruined bread caused a wave of nausea to overcome him, and he thought about turning back. He could still reach Ponyville before his mother woke up, destroy the letter, and go on as if nothing had happened!
Snails steeled his stomach, taking another bite of the bread without fearing anymore repercussions. He had promised himself that he would see this through, and not doom him and his mother to a life of poverty.
Wolfing down the last bit of bread, Snails got back up, ready to return to the road.
The road. The road! Where was the road? He thought as he looked about in panic. Instead of a simple dirt path in front of him, Snails was surrounded by trees that had no distinguishing look to them. Had he wandered himself out here? Or was the forest playing tricks on him?
It was then that he heard it. Soft at first, it sounded like a faint wind blowing through the forest. Snails began to panic when the sound gained rhythm, morphing into what he presumed to be a small pack of hounds. Unable to deduce where the sound was approaching from, Snails merely froze in place.
Whatever was causing the noise was close enough for him to determine a location, and he spun around. Floating in the midst of the darkness of the trees were 6 glowing eyes, staring him down with an evil glare. Snails wanted to scream as the beast stepped into the moonlight, revealing itself to be just one being – a Cerberus, a creature he thought only existed in nightmares.
Snails’ naturally slow thought process finally caught up to him, and he quickly turned around, beginning a mad dash through the woods. The growing sound of heavy panting confirmed that the monster was chasing him, no need to look back.
The beast loped through the forest, and Snails knew there was no way he could outrun such a demon. Giving one last look about in desperation, the frightened foal dived under the roots of a nearby tree, the front head of the hound gnashing its teeth after him.
Snails gasped for breath as the creature’s maw snapped inches away from his face. This was it right? All he had to do was stay here now until it gave up. The roots of the old tree were too strong for the Cerberus to break through.
Suddenly, a new light came over the forest as the canine’s fur caught fire. Snails sifted through his memories, trying to remember what his mother had told him. The six eyed demon. Full Moon. Ate ponies. Breathed fire. Three heads. Wait, breathed fire?
‘Jump!’ Snails thought, boldly leaping at the hound as the center head breathed a plume of flame at the spot he hid in seconds before. Snails jumped over the beast, his hooves and leg fur singing a little due to the monsters fiery coat. The other two heads barked in frustration and attempted to switch the focus back onto the young colt.
Realizing there was no place left to hide from a flaming demon hound, Snails galloped as fast as he had ever galloped before, breaking through a clearing of trees. Directly in front of him, a rock jutted out into the night sky. If he went back into the forest, he would surely be caught, so he continued galloping out onto the very edge of the giant stone, and looked down.
Directly below the rock was a deep raging river that would swallow him in seconds if he were to land in it. Snails turned around to head back off the rock, but the monster was there waiting for him, hungrily licking its chops.
Snails gave one last look at the river below, and then turned to the Cerberus.
“Hungry eh?” Snails shouted. “Then come and get me.”
Snails leapt from the rock, realizing the act was almost nothing but suicidal. As soon as Snails hit the water, he was dragged under by the crushing waves.
The Cerberus looked down at the river, satisfied with the demise of its prey. Letting out another unearthly howl, the hound surged back through the woods.
Snails fought with all of his might to break free of his new hunter, the water constantly pushing him down. As he tumbled down the river, his head was constantly being smashed by river rocks, causing him to slip further and further to unconsciousness. As the last gasps of air escaped his lungs, Snails began to fade out and examine his predicament.
This was fine. He would simply die here, that was his destiny all along. They would probably panic for a bit at Ponyville when he never returned, but only for a day or two. The town would move on without him, and his mother, while saddened, would live a healthy lifestyle again.
Just before he accepted his fate, Snails’ thought process caught up with him, and gave him a new surge of strength, one he had never felt before. No. This was not ok. This isn’t what his mother would want. This isn’t what he wanted. He was breaking out of here.
A great flash erupted from his horn, and the waves of the river seemed to calm. Snails burst through the surface, coming face-to-face with a monstrous wave of water about to crush him. The world seemed to slow down around him as he doggie-paddled to the opposite bank, lifting himself from the water with one last struggle.
Gasping for breath, Snails looked back towards the river to see the water crash down. But the water wasn’t raging, and the wave hadn’t crashed yet. Snails looked at the river for a moment before noticing just how BRIGHT it was and, taking a second glance at the illuminated waters, felt something odd in his horn.
Not a few seconds later, the forest grew dark again and the river rushed once more. Snails suddenly fell to the ground as a sudden blast of fatigue overcame him.
He couldn’t stay here in the Everfree Forest, especially in this state. He could be attacked by a rabid squirrel and would be unable to defend himself. Snails summoned all of the strength he had left in his body, and picked himself up. Looking around, the colt saw a sign from the princesses themselves: A bridge a bit farther downstream that linked with the main road.
He grimaced in pain as he took a single step, and then began setting a steady pace. After reaching the bridge, he looked up to notice an arrow sign with the word ‘Trottingham’ pointing farther down a path that was rugged from common cart towing.
Snails lifted his head in determination and trudged down the path. He was almost there.
An hour after walking down the path, the road took a quick turn to the right and the forest gave way to a healthy sized village (only a bit smaller than Ponyville) enclosed by mountains.
Snails was taken aback by the site of such large formations, which looked like nothing but masses of grey from Ponyville. Now that he was so close to them, he could see trees lining their bottom and snow beginning to form the further he gazed up. The tops of the mountains themselves were blocked from view due to the heavy overcast of clouds. He would have to come back here some day, just to see what the top of a mountain looked like.
Shaking himself back to reality, Snails painfully began his descent to Trottingham.
As he trot into town, Snails noticed the strange architecture of the buildings. As opposed to the bright houses and shops of his hometown, Trottingham favored browns, blacks, and grays. The buildings themselves seemed to look sharper as well, throwing off the smoothness that Ponyville had.
Snails could concentrate on his new strange setting no more, as his stomach growled and his muscles cried out for rest. Looking around for any food seller to spend his last bit on, Snails spotted a familiar poster on the side of a nearby stand. It was the same poster that had smacked into his face last night, and he breathed sigh of relief knowing that she was still here.
The owner of the stand on which the poster hung popped up behind the counter. She was an orange earth mare with green hair and a carrot across her flanks. “Hello there, interest you in a carrot? Just 1 bit!”
Snails looked up to see himself underneath a banner which read “Fresh Fruit and Vegetables for Sale!” The young colt would have done his usual face smack, but he was too tired and passed over the thought.
“Uh… got any apples? I like carrots, but I really like apples,” said Snails.
“Ha! Silly unicorn, you can’t grow apples in a place like this!” the carrot pony said, spreading her hooves. “You’re the second unicorn to come into town this week, and the first to ask such a silly question. Where are ya from boy?”
“Oh, I’m just stopping by from Ponyville”
“Ponyville! Do you know a ‘Mr. Cake’?” she asked enthusiastically.
“Sure do. Why?”
“Mr. Cake is an expert of making carrot… well… everything! He also happens to be my uncle. When you get back to Ponyville, tell him Sweet Carrot said hello!”
“I will,” said Snails pulling out his last bit from his saddlebag and placing it on the counter. A soggy loaf of bread that would have been his lunch splattered onto the floor. “Can I have one carrot please?”
“Better! You can have two for letting me waste your time,” she said.
Snails immediately began devouring the first carrot, taking the mare by surprise.
“This unicorn…” Snails said with his mouth full, holding up Trixie’s poster. “She’s still in town right?”
“Yes sir, couldn’t ignore her if I tried.” She groaned. “Always going around prepping up her big show! It’s actually in about five hours, you going?”
“Yep,” was the only response Snails could think of as his mind finally began to shut down from exhaustion.
“Well have fun, I definitely ain’t going to see her prance around on stage and make a fool of herself! Unicorns have always been fascinating in our little 100% Earth Pony Population, but she’s just plain out annoying!” Sweet Carrot scoffed.
Snails waved farewell, then stumbled through town, searching for any place to sleep. He did not have any money left, so he had to find someplace nice and quiet that wasn’t an inn.
As he reached the other end of the town, he saw a welcoming shady tree behind a handful of clustered shops. Not caring anymore where he slept, Snails collapsed underneath the branches. The events of merely a few hours ago raced through his mind. Although the Cerberus would probably haunt his nightmares for as long as he lived, the event that stood out in his mind the most was the magic he had used.
Snails thought back to how the river had gone into slow-motion while he channeled a magic he had never felt before in his life. Now that he thought about it, he had never seen any other unicorn slow down something like that either. Had he slowed down time? Could he slow down living things as well? Snails looked down at his cutie mark, seeing the symbol in a new light.
He would ask Trixie after her show, he concluded as he shifted his now-empty saddlebags to serve as a makeshift pillow. Unable to fight exhaustion anymore, Snails dozed off as the sun began to break over the tops of the looming mountains.
Awakening from a deep sleep, Snails slowly pried open his eyes.
Where was he? High above him were enormous gray mountains, then he noticed a strange looking village in front of him. He looked up at the tree he was lying under, his mind beginning to put together the pieces.
Trottingham! He had left Ponyville, was chased through the Everfree Forest, and had barely made it to Trottingham.
Snails peered around, noticing a grand clock tower at the heart of the village that read… uh… the top was 12, then it reset to 1, then went to 2. Noticing the smaller hand, he then searched for its longer partner. Seeing that it rested on the number 10, and that to find the minutes you had to multiply the number by 5, Snails went to work. Snails worked his way up, reaching the number 50, then combined the two to get his current time: 2:50.
Why had he woken up at 2:50? He still felt exhausted. Snails got to his feet, his body still aching. Noticing a poster he had accidentally lied upon while sleeping, the curious colt picked it up. It was his Trixie poster. Trixie! Yes, it was all coming back to him now. The performance, he read, was at 3, so his subconsciousness must have woken him up for the show.
As he entered the town and ventured to the center of the village where Trixie was performing, Snails picked up tidbits of conversation from the villagers he passed by.
“…loud-mouthed blue unicorn thinkin’ she can come in to OUR village and coax money out of us with magic?! This better be the best magic show I’ve ever seen!”
“There’s another one of them unicorns passin’ by right now. Where’d they come from?” A stranger said, not caring that Snails had obviously overheard his comment.
Not wanting to draw any more attention, he picked up the pace and rounded the corner to the village square. A small crowd had gathered at the foot of the clock tower, and Trixie, dressed in her star robe, stood upon its steps. The blue mare was fluffing out her hat, preparing for the show ahead.
Not wanting to reveal to her that he was in Trottingham yet, Snails pushed through the crowd but hid behind the front row of onlookers. Although the audience did not seem to share his enthusiasm, Snails was excited. Sure Trixie wasn’t as powerful as she had said she was, but she HAD demolished Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash when they had attempted to boo her.
Taking a longer look at the sorceress and remembering her stay in Ponyville, Snails noticed a few details.
First, her robe and hat were tattered and dirtied, looking as if they belonged more to a homeless pony than a grand unicorn.
Next, she looked skinny and bony, as if it had been a couple of days since she had eaten a decent meal, or anything at all for that matter.
Finally, where was her awesome stage she had taken with her to Ponyville? Maybe she lost in the Everfree Forest? Or maybe she just didn’t use it for some performances? Or what if…
Then Snails remembered. Oh yeah. It was destroyed, by the bear that he had coaxed to Ponyville. A feeling of guilt came over him, realizing that the stage must have been a big part of her performance, and he was partly to blame for its absence.
Snails snapped out of his thinking as Trixie donned her famous hat. She turned to the crowd, exhaustion etched in her every step.
“Come one! Come all! Come and witness the amazing magic of the Great and Powerful Trixie!” The blue unicorn shouted weakly with a magically amplified voice.
Snails was immediately taken aback. This was NOT the same Trixie he had heard in Ponyville, who boasted out her introduction triumphantly while fireworks dazzled above her. Instead, no light came forth and her voice was hoarse and tired, carrying with it a desperate energy.
“Watch in awe as the Great and Powerful Trixie performs the most spectacular feats of..of…” Trixie suddenly dropped off, her gaunt sides heaving at the stress put on them. “…magic ever witnessed by pony eyes,” she finished, struggling out the last few words.
Although her body was exhausted, Trixie’s mind boiled with rage at her inability to even pull off her natural acting performance. The wearied magician regrouped herself, and began casting her first spell.
Not wanting to overexert herself she settled upon a simple trick to start the show. Trixie closed her eyes, quickly envisioning a bouquet of beautiful roses, daisies and tulips, and began to cast a simple summoning spell. A blue cloud of energy formed in front of her, the bouquet faintly visible inside of it just as she had imagined. As she finished off the spell a tide of exhaustion ran through her body and broke her concentration.
Trixie’s eyes snapped open while she regained her composure. Levitating before her was not the gorgeous bouquet she had wanted, but instead a messy jumble of gray, dead flowers.
The crowd burst into laughter at the sight of the floral abominations.
“Looks like you lack a green hoof there missy!”
“I guess this means I can barf up ma lunch and call it a magic show!” A plump colt called out.
“If this was a stand-up comedy, I’d be showering you with bits right now!”
The blue mare glared angrily at the crowd while gasping for air. She didn’t want to attempt any stronger spells after the drain she had just endured, but she was quickly losing her audiences respect and attention.
“FINE!” Trixie shouted with all of her strength. “You want magic? How about… THIS?”
Trixie’s horn gave off a strong glow, and the image of multi-colored lights and sparks dancing around her flashed through her mind. Stamping her hoof on the ground, she released the energy, eagerly awaiting the pops and crackles that would soon spawn.
Ribbons of sparks and a few little flashes rained down on Trixie like confetti. The sounds of a few small whistles dying out accompanied the pathetic light show, as if mocking her failure.
The crowd laughed again, this time a bit fainter. A few grumbles began to run through the crowd, and Trixie knew she was starting to lose their attention. To make matters worse, the last two spells had made her even more tired than she was before. This had to end with something quick and enthralling.
“This filly is a fraud! I guarantee you I have more talent in my four hooves then she does in that little horn of hers!” A white earth pony commented loudly.
Trixie perked up, her acting senses picking up the opportunity for audience interaction.
“Alright Mr. Magic Hooves!” She jeered. “How about you get up here and show me what you’ve got?”
“Don’t mind if I do!” He called back, trotting up to the top of the steps to confront her, a suitcase held firmly in his mouth.
Trixie quickly looked her opponent over, noticing that he had what seemed to be a black shoe as a cutie mark. This stallion couldn’t possibly do what she thought he was…?
The white pony popped open the suitcase, 4 pieces of tap dancing footwear snuggled neatly inside.
If it wasn’t for the fact that she was completely broke, had no food left, and was completely devoid of a much-needed travelling caravan to sleep in and carry her equipment, she would have laughed him off the stage.
Slipping on the tad dancing the shoes, the white pony puffed up his chest. “Watch… and learn!” He said as he began his small performance.
He moved his hooves in such a distinct way that a nice rhythm began to form, the audience bobbing along. It was actually a slightly impressive sight, Trixie hated to admit. Still, she kept a stern face, not wanting to show any admiration to him or the audience.
The earth pony finished his dance, and a cheer erupted from the audience. “Beat that!” He said triumphantly.
“With pleasure…” Trixie whispered vehemently.
A slight smirk crossing her face, Trixie’s horn once again glowed as she began to cast a channeling spell. Being the quick thinker that she was, the idea had come to her as soon as she saw the corny idiot put on his footwear. She thought up a devious scenario, his precious tap shoes turning against the pony as they slammed him right into the clock tower wall.
The tap-dancer looked down as his shoes gave off a new menacing blue glow. Slowly, his hooves began to move.
Yes! It was working! Just a little… more… magic… Trixie thought as she depleted what little remained of her last reserves of energy. Although she was struggling with all of her might, her horn only gave off a faint glow.
As Trixie reached the height of her energy peak, her opponent’s hooves gave a soft little jump, frightening him a little. As the exhausted magician attempted to give more energy to the channel, her vision blurred and she began to sway. Suddenly, the glow of her horn ceased, and she fell to the ground, blacking out for a split second.
The audience cheered once again as the tap dancer waved his shoe-laden hooves in the air.
“Fillies and gentle colts, I’ll be at the Jolly Dragon tonight for an encore performance! Make sure not to miss out!”
Turning to his defeated fellow actor, a large smile spread across his face as he saw her collapsed on the ground.
“The name’s Taps,” he said, his voice full of pride. “But I guess before the night is over, I’ll be named Tips! Ha ha! Better luck next time!”
Trixie groaned as she seethed in anger at such a stupid and terrible joke. The white stallion trotted away with her audience, and Trixie fought to pick herself up. Her vision blurred and her mind too tired to think straight, she dragged herself into a nearby alley, not noticing her one remaining audience member watching her slink off.
Snails glanced back at the departing audience, not a single one offering the entertainer so much as a single bit. Sadness fell upon him as he turned his gaze back to Trixie, who had solemnly trotted off into a shadowed alleyway and lied down against the wall in fatigue. This was not what he had come to Trottingham hoping to find. His hopes of traveling and learning more about himself and his would-be idol quickly faded. Perhaps he had dreamed up an impossible tale in his mind.
Snails snuck into the darkened aisle, carefully approaching the fallen mare. Having a closer look revealed to him that she was breathing heavily, as if just returning from participating in the annual Running of the Leaves. Her mane was messy and unkempt, obviously taking a back seat to survival. Making sure to respectfully keep his distance, Snails shuffled his hooves as he stood in front of her.
“Uh, hey Trixie.” He said.
Trixie’s eyes snapped open, shifting to where the distinct familiar voice had come from.
“You.” She said.
Unsure of how to respond, the young colt shrunk back as the blue mare pierced him with her violet eyes.
“YOU RUINED ME!” She shouted, eventually giving up her struggle to stand.
“S..s..sorry…” Snails whimpered at the sudden ferocity.
“I can’t believe you followed me here! You’re going to regret…” Trixie’s yelling suddenly ceased as she lay her head back down, still depraved of energy from her recent failure.
Depression began to cloud Snails’ thoughts as his confrontation with the one he had banked his hopes and dreams with began to crash and burn.
“I’ll just… leave you alone then.” Snails said, turning to leave. He had a lot of thinking to do. His thoughts began to drift about how he would get home. If he tried to go through the Everfree Forest right this instant, it would be nightfall as he reached the halfway point. Remembering the monster he had encountered, he decided not to go. But what if he stayed the night in Trottingham? He had no money to eat, and by the time he woke up the following morning, his stomach would be eating him alive, where he might simply not have enough nourishment to make the trip back home. Perhaps he shoul-
“Ugh.” Trixie’s groan came from behind him. “Don’t feel bad about it foal. It was a stupid story to tell while I was in a town so close to the Everfree Forest. A stupid, amateur mistake.”
Although the confession stung Trixie’s pride, it’s not like she had anything left to lose. She lifted her head, ready to confront her young fan once again.
“What are you doing here? Is your family on a trip or something?” She asked.
Snails turned back around, shaking his head. “No I’m here by myself.”
“You walked through the Everfree Forest by yourself?” Trixie asked, raising her eyebrow.
“Yep, and I was chased by a Cerberus too!” He said, remembering the three headed beast vividly.
Trixie rolled her eyes. “Uh huh. So why are you here?”
Why am I here? Snails thought. He had hoped to join Trixie as an assistant, but looking at the downcast entertainer made him wonder if she was even in business anymore. Still, he had abandoned his home and outran death to get here. Mine as well tell her what he wanted, he concluded.
Snails made sure to choose his next words more carefully than he usually did.
“I… uh… want to work as your… assistant while you uh, travel and perform.” He nodded, satisfied.
Trixie began to laugh, her eyes fogging with either tears of amusement or tears of complete depression.
“Snails, right?” She asked.
“Yep!” Snails replied, ecstatic she had remembered his name.
Trixie shook her head and sighed. “I’m out of money, out of supplies, and out of energy. The show’s over. Besides,” Trixie’s angry eyes returned. “There’s no way I would accept you as an assistant. You can barely even use magic yourself! Now why don’t you trot your little hooves back home and leave me be.”
“But you can teach me how to use magic, right?” Snails asked desperately. “When I was being chased by the Cerberus I fell in a river… and then… the river it…” Snails stammered, trying to think through exactly what had happened.
“Enough with your lies!” Trixie said, cutting him off. “You did NOT get chased through the woods by some… MADE up monster to scare little foals!”
“But I DID!” Snails cried, his desperation increasing. “AND I used this… uh.. weird magic! You gotta believe me!”
Before Trixie could attempt to talk any more sense into the young colt, an idea raced across her mind.
“Tell you what Snails. You come back with something nice to eat, and I’ll let you be my assistant. Deal?” She asked.
Snails jumped for joy, then quickly froze again. “But I don’t have any money!”
“Well according to your story you can use magic right? Why don’t you go find an audience, perform your freaky magic for them, and get money! SOUNDS EASY RIGHT?” Trixie said, her voice nearing madness.
Snails began to walk off, then spun back around as he remembered his other problem.
“Uh… how do I cast the spell again though?” Snails questioned.
Trixie gave him a dumb look. “I don’t know! Just remember what happened the last time you cast your super spell or whatever. Bye!”
“Okay. I’ll be back.” Snails promised as he trotted back into the heart of the town.
“Don’t come back unless you have food!” She called.
Trixie gave herself a mental pat-on-the-back for ridding herself of Snails, then allowed herself to drop back down. She was starving, dirty, exhausted, and had no idea what would become of her, but at least the dirt was warm. Letting go of her depressing thoughts, Trixie drifted off to sleep in the alley.
Snails stood at the heart of Trottingham, focusing intently on the clock tower that stood defiantly above him. He must have spent two minutes just watching the seconds hand tick, trying to find out a beat. Finally settling on a familiar word to guide, Snails tested it out, bobbing his head as the seconds fell into place.
1-Po-ny-ville-2-Po-ny-ville-3-Po-ny-ville…. The syllables and seconds lined up perfectly with the clock. His calculations ready, Snails thought back to what had happened in the forest as he began channeling magical energy.
He remembered the waves crushing over him, then calming. He remembered the giant wave, moving slowly at him as he broke the surface of the water. Finally, he remembered the sound of his own voice, gasping for breath and crying out as he rushed onto the bank of the river.
Satisfied with his slow churning of memories, Snails released the energy, pinpointing his attention on the clock.
The clock kept it’s pace, the seconds hand mocking him as it continued to tick away.
“Hey unicorn!” A brown earth pony about his age approached him, a blue pony and black pony following closely behind. “You looked pretty intense there! What spell were ya castin’?”
Snails let out a deep, long sigh. “oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh nnnnnnnnnooooooooooothiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng”
Realizing after a few seconds that the voice was his, Snails immediately closed his mouth, horrified and confused at what was happening. The young earth pony and his two friends, however, had erupted into laughter after hearing his voice.
“Ha Ha! Dude… did you… slow down your voice? THAT’S AWESOME!” The brown pony cheered.
The horror of the situation melted away as Snails thought through what he had done. He wanted to slow down time, not slow down his voice! Why did the spell have this effect? Snails went through what he had remembered. The calmness, the wave… and the sound of his own voice. His voice! That was the last thought that had crossed his mind before the spell! The enlightened colt came back to attention, realizing the three friends were now looking him over.
“Heh, yeah I guess I did!” Said Snails. Noticing that the spell he had cast on himself had ended, Snails breathed a sigh of relief. What determined the duration? He would have to ask Trixie about this.
“Hey, slow down OUR voices!” The black pony said excitedly, his friends joining in on encouraging Snails to go along with the plan.
“Uh, ok. But don’t get mad if I mess up and something bad happens” Snails warned.
“Just do it dude!” The friends shouted, completely ignoring his warnings.
Snails shrugged, his mind drifting back to his friends Snips, who never thought of the consequences of a situation.
Going through the motions once again, Snails first thought of anything slow he could grasp a hold of. The crashing wave, himself! Now all he had to do was think of his own voice…. Snails stopped his line of thinking, still charging the spell as he realized what he had to do. Not HIS voice. Their voice. Snails thought of his own thinking process. Slow. Then, not wanting to overexert himself, focused on the brown earth pony’s ‘dude!’, the recent sound of his voice echoing through Snails’ mind. Finally, he released the energy, which washed over the brown colt.
“Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit woooooooooooooooooork?” The recipient of the spell asked, his voice having dropped to what Snails would equate to Big Macintosh’s voice back in Ponyville.
“SO AWESOME!” The blue pony screamed, laughing at his friend’s horribly morphed voice.
Snails repeated the process for the blue pony and black pony, who despite Snails’ struggling and careful thinking, waited patiently for the spell to be cast. Snails watched as the friends sang, screamed, and even yodeled as their slowed voices entertained them. Lost in thought and excited over what he had done, Snails snapped out of his mind to see the three friends standing in front of him again.
“Hey man, you’ve got some funny tricks! Much better than that loser that showed up here an hour ago!” The Brown colt said enthusiastically, putting 4 bits into Snail’s hoof. “Thanks for letting us mess with your spells!”
The blue pony and black pony soon gave him 5 bits each as well, and waved farewell as they trotted off into other parts of the village. Snails looked down at the 15 bits in his hoof, a grin slowly growing across his face. This was the most money he had ever held in his hoof. Not to mention, he had gotten it through 15 minutes of work! Then he remembered Trixie. She was probably still waiting for him! He had to get food!
Snails looked about the town square, locating a shop with a sign next to the entrance that read ‘Everything from containers to carrots!’
Entering the shop, a thousand different scents pounced upon him. At the front of the shop, saddlebags much like Snails’ lined the wall ranging from filly to stallion-size. Looking for food, Snails trotted up to the counter and noticed an assortment of vegetables and bread, and water containers lining the wall in the back.
“AH LAD!” A booming voice greeted him. “How are ye? Lookin’ fer somethin’ ta eat?”
The voice belonged to a well-built stallion, a beard spread across his muzzle. His cutie mark was that of a register, and he towered above Snails as he peered over the counter.
Snails hesitated for a moment before responding. “Yes sir, 2 loaves of bread please.” He said, putting 4 bits onto the counter.
“2 loaves it is!” He responded, picking out 2 fresh loaves from the back wall. Noticing Snails eyeing the water containers, a sly look fell across his face as he leaned his front hooves on the counter. “You know, those containers are actually DRAGON-HIDE CONTAINERS!” He shouted triumphantly.
“Wha-? Really?” Snails asked, astonished.
“YEP slew one myself while taking a hike through the mountains! Some call me a warrior, but all in a day’s work I say!” He boasted.
Snails went sick to his stomach as gruesome thoughts of Spike being slaughtered and turned into a container began to ooze into his head.
“Want one? 5 bits and its yours! They never break, and are said to purify any water put into it!” He said.
Suddenly, a hefty mare with a loaf of bread for her cutie mark burst into the room and stormed over to the stallion leaning on the counter. “Are you lying to our customers again Bits?” She asked angrily.
“Oh, my dear Breadbox! I thought you were uh, baking!” The big stallion stammered as his wife eyed him down.
The mare named Breadbox turned to Snails, apology etched into her face. “They’re not made from dragon hide dear, my husband couldn’t hurt a fly. They’re actually just made from the leaves of a special plant, and then magically reinforced! We have them shipped from Canterlot. Tell you what, they’re usually 3 bits, but put down 2 and its yours, along with a full fill of water!”
Snails smiled as he realized his sudden luck, and put 2 bits up onto the counter. “That sounds great! I’ll take one!”
The stallion named Bits grumbled as Breadbox wrapped up his bread and handed him his filled container. “Enjoy dear, and do make sure to come back!” She called.
Snails could hear arguing as he closed the door to the shop behind him.
“BEHOLD, THE MIGHT OF THE GREAT AND POWERFUL TRIXIE!” The sorceress shouted as a meteor storm raged behind her. She stood in Canterlot’s throne room, Celestia herself gazing in awe at the magical prowess of the mare in front of her. The audience all began to chant her name as she triumphantly raised her hooves in the air.
“Tri-xie! Tri-xie! Tri-xie! Trixie! Trixie? Trixie..?”
Trixie slowly opened her eyes, her beautiful dream fading into the recesses of her mind. Before her stood Snails, who had a stupid grin across his face.
“You awake Trixie?” He said happily.
“Urgh...” Trixie growled as she lazily woke up. “What do you want?”
“I brought you food like you asked me. Does this mean I get to be your assistant?” He asked.
“FOOD?” Trixie shot up at the sound of the word. Her stomach, which had long-since given up hope of ever being fed again, gurgled with renewed vigor.
Snails proudly pulled out the loaf of bread and handed it to Trixie. Remembering the water container, he unhitched it from his saddlebags and also gave it to his idol. Then he sat down against the wall opposite of her and pulled out his own loaf and began gobbling it up. Noticing after a few seconds that Trixie was frozen in place holding the water and her own loaf, he gave her a quizzical look.
“You gonna eat?” He asked.
Trixie looked down at the bread and water. “You didn’t steal this?” She asked suspiciously.
Snails paused, then gave her a shocked look. “No, I used magic like you told me! Nabbed 15 bits in uh… 15 minutes!” He said proudly.
Looking at the bread and water one last time, Trixie sighed. She had never accepted any charity from anyone. Still, she thought. I guess being on the verge of death was a good time to start. As she wolfed down the soft bread and drank the cool water, her senses screamed in praise and she could feel her strength begin to return. She peered up to see Snails, who seemed to be lost in thought. Before long, he perked his head up.
“So where are we going eh?” He asked.
Trixie gave a haughty laugh, her old vigor returning. “We??” She questioned.
A sad look passed across Snails’ face. “But… you said I could be your assistant if I brought you food…”
Trixie thought the situation over. He was right, she HAD said he could be her assistant if he gave her food, and he had fulfilled his duty. Plus, she had taken the bread without any payment. Trixie was in debt to NO ONE. Then there was the fact that he had somehow used magic to make a nice amount of change. Perhaps he had some unforeseen value that she could exploit?
“Alright, we’re going to Hoofington, and you can be my assistant.” Trixie said slyly.
Snails’ face lit up, reminding her of when she first saw him a few weeks ago in Ponyville. “Will you teach me how to control magic too?” He asked, remembering how he earned his money in the first place.
“Oh of course! I’m actually VERY interested in how much mon- I mean how powerful your magic is!” Trixie replied. Suddenly, her face turned serious.
“Let me make things clear though.” She said, glaring at Snails. “First, you carry the bags, and eventually, when I can buy a caravan, you will pull that as well. Secondly, all profit made from any performance we happen to do goes to me, and only me! Finally, anything I say, you do it. Got all that?” She asked, casting him a venomous glare.
Snails could merely nod as he was dragged through the rules by Trixie, her commanding voice keeping him from asking any questions like he was accustomed to. “Uh… Yes ma’am.”
“Good. Tomorrow we pick up supplies with your remaining bits then leave for Hoofington, and start training you with magic. If your magic is REALLY amusing enough to get 15 bits so fast, maybe I can find a small use for you in the show. Now that we have that clear, get some sleep, and watch out for rats.” Trixie said, laying down and bringing her pointed hat over her eyes.
Although the sun had disappeared behind the tall mountains, Snails noticed that the horizon still lit up the sky, creating beautiful arcs. Turning toward the ground and placing his saddlebags under his head, Snails went through everything Trixie had commanded of him. It sounded like a lot of hard work, but it’s what he wanted. He was excited for the adventure ahead, and when he returned to Ponyville, he would return to his mother not a colt, but a powerful unicorn stallion that had traveled throughout Equestria, discovering new and exotic places. Thoughts of his classmates’ faces when he strode into town as one of the most powerful unicorns in Equestria made him smile. Still, he tried to keep himself level-headed. The journey was only just beginning, and these were only foals’ fantasies, right?
A cold splash rudely awakened Snails, who was still recovering from his perilous adventure to Trottingham. After laboriously lifting himself from the dirt, he looked for his attacker. Trixie was finishing magically closing the water container, a look of dissatisfaction across her face.
“Get up foal, we’re heading out of this hick town.” She spat, the arrogant sorceress’s old self having returned from food and sleep.
Snails staggered about, looking up to the sky. In the absence of magically powered lanterns such as in Ponyville, the stars lit up the night, overloading Snails’ simple mind with thousands of new thoughts to sift through. What was out there, beyond those stars? How far away were they? Where there other-
Trixie angrily shook the wonder-struck colt. “Pay attention! Get your bags and follow me, I don’t want to spend any longer here than I have to.”
“But it’s still night eh?” Snails finally noticed, unable to tell the time due to the darkness hiding the clock tower.
“Exactly.” Trixie said. “Unless we’re having a performance the next day, get used to waking up at the crack of dawn or sooner.”
Still exhausted from having only a precious hoof full of hours to sleep over the last two days, Snails tiredly followed his new teacher out into the town square.
Trixie’s eyes scoured the town square, settling on the only shop with light pouring from it.
“How many bits do you have left?” She asked.
“Uh… let me think.” Snails’ face blanked out as he carefully began to retrace his steps. He had earned 5 bits each from the three earth ponies which was three 5’s. 1 2 3 4 5…. 6 7 8 9 10… 11 12 13 14 15. 15 bits. Then he had spent-
“Just give them to me!” Trixie snapped, her frustration evident through her frightening gaze upon him.
Snails hurriedly levitated the bits to her, which Trixie quickly counted out to be 9.
Trixie frowned as she looked at the meager amount of bits. “At 2 bits per loaf of bread, these won’t get us the supplies we need to get to Hoofington and prepare a show. How much did the loaves cost at the store you went to yesterday?”
The young colt stared at the light-filled store ahead of him, finally recognizing it as the one he had bought from yesterday. “Oh! I bought them from this store right here,” he said, nodding to the shop in front of them “and they were 2 bits a loaf.” Snails perked up again remembering another key detail. “But I did manage to get a container at 2 bits when it was usually 3, if that helps.”
Latching onto Snails’ last comment, Trixie pried him further.
“How did you do that?” She asked, trying to find a solution to her dilemma.
“Oh, uh, the store owner lied to me about the containers being made of… dragons I think? And his wife gave me a discount.” Snails recalled.
Trixie quickly scoured over the precious details her assistant had given her. Her mind assembled a quick, dirty plan that would take advantage of her newfound knowledge.
Turning to Snails, the blue mare gave him a devious smile. “You wanted to learn from me right Snails?”
“Yeah!” He replied excitedly.
“Stay right here, outside the store. Don’t come in. Listen intently to everything I do, and you might learn something.” She said.
As she took her robe from the pack, Trixie strode into the store, fastening her garb and leaving Snails at the door.
A muscular earth pony stood behind the counter, cleaning it with a rag and whistling a merry tune. He immediately tucked the rag away as Trixie approached him.
“AH LASS!” He shouted in a greeting tone. “What can I get for one such as yourself?”
“Nothing right now, just browsing to see if there’s anything interesting before I leave town.” She lied.
“Well do I have something interesting for you young lady! See these water containers here? Made out of the hide of a dragon the town militia and I slew when it mercilessly attacked us! They never break, and will purify any water put into them! Only 5 bits for an item you won’t find anywhere else in Equestria!” The stallion boasted.
Quickly donning her acting mindset, Trixie lunged at the shop owner’s lie.
“Do you think me some fool?” She said, her horn beginning to give off a dull glow. “Those containers are merely magically reinforced leaves taken from a Plantago Major weed!”
Bits the store owner became defensive, recoiling at the sight of the magician’s glowing horn.
“Miss, I didn’t mean… uh… I don’t want any trouble with you…” He squeaked as Trixie increased the light spewing from her horn.
“Oh but apparently you do, trying to deceive someone as powerful as ME!” She shouted, intensifying the light.
“What do you want from me?!” Bits asked, desperation in his voice.
“I want 8 loaves of bread and 4 carrots so my gluttonous servant won’t grow hungry.” She said, putting the 9 bits onto the counter and ceasing the glow of her horn.
“That much food for 9 bits? That’s robbery!”
“I’m only returning the favor you idiot! Now do it!” Trixie commanded.
Bits hastily assembled his enraged customer’s supplies as she glared him down. Not wanting to waste another second with the unruly shopper, he took the 9 bits and passed her the bread and carrots.
“Good.” She said, magically gathering the food. “Next time you seek to cheat a customer, make sure they aren’t one of the most powerful unicorns in Equestria first.”
Trixie trotted defiantly out of the store, Bits groaning behind her as she closed the door behind her and placed the food in the saddlebags Snails was currently carrying.
“Did you catch all of that?” The mare said to her apprentice, who gave her a look of uncertainty.
“Well, yeah… but don’t you think that was a bit mean?” Snails asked.
Trixie smirked at the young colt’s passive thinking. “Lesson number one: Never let ANYONE take advantage of you, and if they try, take advantage of THEM. Got it?”
Snails wanted to argue, to find a flaw in her lesson, but after careful thinking realized he could not. He had better get used to this, he thought. He had left his home to find Trixie and learn from her, and if this is what she had gathered after years of traveling and visiting different towns, then he would take these lessons to heart.
“Yeah, got it!” He finally said.
The sorceress nodded, pleased with his agreement. “Then let’s get out of here. Hoofington is far east of here and will take us a few days to reach. We will have to use every last bit of our supplies if we want to reach the town and put on a decent show.”
Trixie headed towards the path that winded its way out of Trottingham and into the Everfree forest. Snails attempted to follow in step, but the pack weighed him down with its new supplies. The lanky colt gasped, his muscles telling him to drop the pack, lie down, go back to sleep. He denied himself the pleasures of rest, and took one step, then another, and another, until his body got a hold of the feeling of carrying 3 days worth of supplies on his back. He wouldn’t show any weakness to Trixie, whose faith in him, he had observed, hung by a simple thread. Slowly but surely, he fell into place behind his teacher.
At last the two reached the edge of the Everfree Forest, the dirt path they walked extending into the dark trees.
Snails looked behind him as Trixie began to walk into the forest. Once again, he saw the mountains, now lit up by the sun beginning to break over their peaks. Trottingham below began to awaken, tiny specs moving throughout the village to get on with their daily lives. Taking in the sight one last time, Snails realized there would be more to his travels than just learning.
“Are you coming?” Trixie asked, aggravated at the new dead weight she had to carry.
Snails didn’t respond, instead opting to follow her into the forest.
The Everfree Forest during the day time was a safe haven compared to its nocturnal side. Instead of using this fact as an excuse to pace themselves, Trixie used it as an advantage to storm a path through the dangerous territory, hell bent on making it out of the forest before darkness fell.
Snails trailed behind, gasping for breath and battling exhaustion as the heavy pack continued to strain his body and mind. Eventually his detailed thinking and keen inspection of the various sights he saw in the forest gave way to one primal thought: keeping himself moving forward. His vision blurred, his legs wavered, and he still kept pace with Trixie who was somewhere between a trot and a gallop.
“Come on we’re almost there!” She called back to him.
The sun was sinking below the horizon when they broke through the clearing of trees, signaling the end of the deadly woods.
Snails’ legs buckled, and he collapsed, stuffing his face with dirt as he collided with the road.
Trixie caught her breath, then turned to her assistant. “Get up, we’re not done”.
“W…what? Can we just… camp here?” Snails begged, looking up at her with a dirtied face.
“I’m not sleeping this close to the forest! Either get up and trot the last stretch, or go home. Ponyville is that way.” She said, pointing to the north.
Snails laid there, the pain reminding him that this was not what he had hoped for. His mind, on the other side, reminded him that it was either this or failure. Snails slowly thought of how stupid he would look, returning to Ponyville as a dirt-ridden runaway.
Catching a second wind, Snails stood up, nodding to Trixie. They trotted until the forest was a part of the sinking sun behind them, and plains stretched all around, merging with the horizon.
Traveling a small space from the road, Trixie finally stopped. The sun had disappeared, and the last rays of light were fading away.
“Right here.” She said. “Although there is no protection from the weather, there’s nothing anywhere close but the forest that would help us. Tomorrow we can go at a steady pace, and during lunch I will train you with whatever magic you have.”
Snails barely registered her words, dropping the saddlebags from his back. Trixie levitated out 2 loaves of bread, handing one to her apprentice. Snails hastily gobbled the bread down, not having eaten the whole day. Unable to use the saddlebags as pillows anymore due to the new supplies inside them, the tired colt fell to the ground and rested his head on the grass and dirt. Although the autumn wind had a slight chill to it, exhaustion won out and Snails slipped into a deep sleep.
Once again, they both awakened at dawn, each snacking on a carrot to give them the boost of energy they needed to recover from yesterday’s drop-dead run through the forest. Snails donned the pack once again, the extra load of a couple of loaves and a carrot taken from his back.
Despite Snails’ usually being entranced in thought at the simplest things, the plains proved to be uneventful with scarce wildlife and seas of grass. The monotony combined with their trotting pace gave way to conversation. Snails told her of why he had come looking for her, of his failing grades and how he was mocked at school. Trixie gave away sparse information of herself, only telling the young colt that she had technically been a traveling magician for 15 years. Technically.
“Your parents must be missing you right?” Trixie asked, cautiously aware of how tender a subject it might be.
“Eh… nah. When I was a baby my dad drowned saving a filly, and I was always a burden to my mom.” Snails replied solemnly, turning to Trixie. “What about you?” He asked, hesitance in his voice.
“Mother died of disease when I was five, father… died while traveling.” She said simply.
Snails’ curious mind wanted him to push farther, but he thought better of it. Trixie stopped, motioning for Snails to drop the pack and container on the ground.
“You want to learn how to control your magic right?” She asked.
Snails nodded, his excitement rising.
“Let’s eat lunch first. Don’t take too long stuffing your face, I want to be moving again soon.”
Snails ate the bread with gratitude. Now that he thought about it, eating the bread was a win-win situation for him. The extra weight taken off of the saddlebags made carrying them a much easier task, while eating the bread itself gave him strength to-
Trixie clopped her hoof at Snails impatiently, the sorceress having already finished her bread. Snails, finally realizing her rising aggravation, stuffed the rest of the loaf down his throat, swallowing it and giving Trixie an awkward smile.
“So this magic you used… where was it.. in the river? And in Trottingham. Tell me about it.”
Snails racked his brain to make sure his memories were as clear as they could be.
“Let’s see… in Trottingham I slowed down the voice of a colt…”
“Show me.” Trixie said plainly.
Snails hesitated, then stood up, and began charging a spell. How had it gone? Yes… he thought of himself, of how a snail moves. Slow and clumsy, but determined to reach its destination. Then he thought of his voice, still a mess of a wreck from puberty, but slowly forming to a respectable tenor level. Releasing the energy, Snails turned to Trixie.
“Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey Trrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiixxxxiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeee” Snails said, his voice taking on the characteristics of a baritone stallion.
A bit of Trixie’s strict demeanor faded away as she laughed at his trick. Snails was shocked by the clear yet soft sound, which had no mockery or malice in it. For the first time since Trixie decided to take her along with him, his spirits soared.
The sorceress ended her laugh and took back the role of the teacher, putting a critical eye on Snails.
“It’s funny, but too juvenile to be put into my routine show.”
Snails’ hopes crashed as fast as they had risen, and his head drooped in disappointment.
“What about the river? What happened there?” Trixie asked.
Snails thought back even further, to when he was at the edge of his life, the river crashing over him then becoming still. He remembered how everything had slowed down, and how the great wave had slowed while his horn shone.
“I… stopped… no, I slowed down the river.” He said confidently.
“What do you mean by that? You calmed the waters?” Trixie said, confusion in her voice.
“No no… the waves were still big and crashing, but it was as if, uh… time had slowed down.”
Trixie suddenly became more interested. “Show me. I’m going to drop my hat when you tell me to. Slow it down before it hits the ground.”
Snails froze, trying to recall exactly how he had cast the spell, how he felt at the exact moment at the bottom of the river. Every sense was on edge, and he felt as if he knew everything about himself and the river, every detail.
Focusing on the sense of desperation and the river, Snails charged the spell. The cold river, the sight lf the crashing wave, the wonder he felt at the site. He then focused his magic on the hat.
“Go!” Snails shouted, channeling the spell.
Trixie dropped the hat, which quickly plopped to the ground, a cloud of dust rising from the impact point.
“Awww…” Snails moaned, the star-spotted hat seemingly taunting him from the ground.
“Try going through the casting process faster. Sometimes taking too long to charge a spell can ruin it,” Trixie suggested.
Snails nodded and began charging again as Trixie picked up the hat. The River The Wave The Feel. He garbled the thought through his mind, a mess of images flashing through his mind.
“Go!” Snails shouted once again, channeling the spell.
Instead of dropping to the dirt, the hat levitated there, held in place. Snails almost got excited, only to slow realize he was only channeling a levitation spell on the hat.
“I don’t know how to cast the spell again.” Snails said dismally.
“Hmph” Trixie huffed in dissatisfaction. “We’ll try again tomorrow, but at this rate, I probably can’t put you in the show for Hoofington.”
Snails sighed, nodding his head in understanding.
Trixie helped Snails to work toward perfecting his levitation skills, satisfied that he was already fairly decent at lifting all kinds of objects.
“Alright, let’s get moving again.” Trixie said as Snails re-equipped his saddlebags.
“Can you teleport Trixie?” Snails asked.
“Of course!” Trixie boasted. “It just requires a lot of energy compared to normal spells, so I usually only use it for the beginning of my shows.”
Snails nodded, thinking of how cool it would be to be at one place, then in the blink of an eye be somewhere else.
“Can you teach me how to teleport?” Snails’ eyes lit up as he looked at Trixie.
“Hah! Sorry Snails, but only unicorns that have a specialty in magic can teleport, and judging by your cutie mark, your specialty is being slow, not magic.” Trixie joked.
Snails frowned, disappointed at the thought of never being able to teleport.
Seeing the look of sadness across his face, Trixie felt a bit of remorse for her statement.
“Bah, don’t worry about it. Teleporting is overrated and tiring anyways.” She said reassuringly.
Continuing their journey, it wasn’t long until the outline of Whitetail woods stood out along the horizon. A few more hours of trotting along the expansive plains, and they at last approached the entrance to the Woods. Together, the three towns of Ponyville, Hoofington, and Fillydelphia held an annual Running of the Leaves competition to knock down the majority of the trees golden leaves. The time of the race had already passed, and while a great number of the leaves had indeed fallen off, a considerable number still hung from the branches, eventually letting the wind take them. A shower of gold rained down on Snails and Trixie, creating, like the mountains, another amazing scene that would stay with Snails forever.
“Almost to Hoofington. Even when we get there, we won’t be staying in the town. One of the greatest rules to remember of being a magician is to never dwell for too long in a town. Get in, do your performance, and get out. That way you make an impact and leave a bit of mysteriousness.” Trixie informed him.
“Hmmm.. makes sense.” Snails said in affirmation.
As the duo trotted through the forest, Snails could not rid the image of the golden leaves from his mind. He inspected the veins that ran along the leaf, how they all had varying degrees of gold. Some of them had specks on them and some didn’t, some were light and flimsy, others were weighted and hardened. Then he noticed their feel, how some could be rough and some could be smooth how some…
“Wha…” Trixie stammered. “Oh my Goddess…. What is this?”
All around Trixie, the leaves that had been showering upon them at a lazy pace were now almost at a standstill, drifting along at what could only be described as a snail’s pace. It was as if someone was-
Trixie spun around to see Snails who had a blank expression across his face, as if in deep thought. He seemed entranced by the gold leaves. More importantly, Trixie thought, was the fact that his horn gave off a powerful light.
“Snails! How are you doing this?” Trixie asked, excited by something magical for the first time in what seemed an eternity.
Snails snapped back to reality, seeing the leaves slowly fall around him, and feeling the same strangeness he had felt in his horn the night at the river. He wanted to keep the spell going forever, but he was quickly being drained of energy by keeping hundreds of leaves slowed. Slowly he ceased the spell.
“Let me think.” He said to Trixie, turning away from her.
He had been thinking of the leaves intently. Every single detail of the golden objects had gone through his mind, from the specks to how they felt…. The pieces fell into place inside Snails’ head. That was why the hat hadn’t been slowed when it fell. He had been thinking of every detail he remembered of the river NOT the details of the hat.
“I’m going to slow that hat.” Snails said plainly, determination etched into his voice.
Trixie complied, taking out her wrinkled hat from the saddlebags.
Snails focused intently on the pointed headwear, from every star and splotch of color it had on it, to how the brim drooped slightly down on one end and raised at the other and finally to its light purple color.
“Go!” Snails shouted hopefully, channeling the spell.
Trixie dropped the hat, which slowly and gracefully began its descent, every ripple and crease clearly visible.
Snails cheered excitedly, cancelling the spell. Trixie looked at the young colt in a new light.
“This….” She said in wonder. “We can use this.”
The Whitetail Woods began to darken as the sun gave its last hurrah before sinking below the trees. After a quick search, Trixie found a tree with low hanging branches and the two travelers nestled under them, a cramped space but still enough room for both of them to move about.
“Tomorrow we’ll perfect that slowing talent of yours.” Said Trixie. “The following day, we’ll do our performance at Hoofington which is a short trot from here. If your training goes well, you can be a part of the show. Hopefully the performance is good enough to net me a considerable amount of bits. I need a new caravan after all.”
Snails nodded, understanding the pressure to try his hardest in tomorrow’s training. Turning to respond to her, he was shocked speechless seeing the moonlight seep through the leaves and outline Trixie’s form. Seeing the beautiful mare spread out under the branches made his hormones scream, but he fought to quiet them, eventually lying down to go to sleep.
Before he drifted off completely, Trixie raised her head and turned to look at him.
“I know we’re in close quarters here, so no bright ideas. I don’t want to have to fry you after dragging you with me all the way from Trottingham.”
Snails pretended he had already fallen asleep, a soft snore escaping from his muzzle.
Sunshine poured through the branches, causing Snails to stir as the light lit up his eye lids. The young colt blinked away his sleepiness as he took in his surroundings. He had been allowed to sleep until daybreak today, and Trixie was missing from her resting place, a disturbance of grass where the blue mare once lay. The same could be said for the saddlebags, which the sorceress must have taken with her.
Snails stretched a bit, tired but empowered by the journey so far. Although being lanky was a part of who he was, Snails could feel himself becoming stronger. Growth spurts proved to not be uncommon as he quickly caught up with his mentor’s already matured body. Even in light of all of these positive effects, the greatest thing the journey had given him so far was confidence. More than ever he found himself looking excitedly towards his future instead of constantly worrying about it as he had done in Ponyville.
Breaking through the branches, Snails viewed the area which had been too dark for him to observe last night. The trees in this area of the forest still had most of their foliage due to being far off the path of the racing ponies. Despite this, the ground was caked with leaves and only a few bits of grass could be seen poking through the amber forest floor. Far off in the distance, a calm lake with gold petals resting atop it reflected the sunlight that was peeping through the-
Snails jumped at the voice, yelping at the sudden disturbance of his train of thought. Spinning around, the frightened foal was met with a shocked Trixie.
“Whoops, sorry Trixie, you snuck up on me and I got kinda scared.” Snails said, recovering from the fright.
“YOU got scared? I almost dropped dead when you jumped and screeched like a bat!”
“Sorry… It won’t happen again.” Snails apologized, recoiling.
Trixie scoffed at his display of weakness and magically uncoiled her student, raising his drooped head and straightening his bent legs.
“You are my apprentice, Snails, not a slave. Don’t be sorry for anything unless I TELL you to be sorry. Thanks to studying under me, you are on your way to becoming the second most powerful unicorn in all of Equestria! The only thing you should be disappointed about right now is allowing someone to get so close to you unnoticed. Bandits may be uncommon, but I want you to always be prepared, got it?”
Snails nodded in affirmation at the end of the tirade, keeping his promise to himself to follow Trixie’s lessons, whether they dealt with life or magic.
“Anyways…,” the blue mare continued, catching a breath after her lecture. “I went into town and used the poster you had from Trottingham, which I tweaked a bit, to create copies that I posted on various buildings.”
Remembering the performance was still a day away, Snails gave Trixie a quizzical look. “What are we doing for the rest of the day?”
“Preparing you for tomorrow’s show. Determining how well you do, you could be doing up to either 3 acts tomorrow, or none. Look here.”
Trixie’s horn glowed as the leaves around her rustled, moving to form a giant ball levitating high above her.
“Remember how you slowed those leaves yesterday? Do it again.”
“Alright, uh… just give me a second.” Snails said, inspecting the leaves and realizing their color, the specks that-
Trixie released the leaves, giving Snails a look of disappointment as they fluttered back to the ground at their own normal pace.
“Why didn’t you slow them?” She asked, irritated.
“I needed more time to think! I have to know every little thing about what I’m slowing.” Said Snails.
“Not good enough. You need to be able to use your magic the split second you need to. Part of performing and traveling is being able to adapt to any situation!”
Trixie calmed as despair began to appear in Snails’ face.
“Stop looking so upset. Part of training is finding problems and fixing them. Now tell me, what exactly do you do to cast your slowing spell?”
“I think about the object and concentrate on all of the details in my head. Then I just cast the spell and it’s slowed.”
“Quite similar to how I cast my spells… what’s keeping you from quickly sifting through the details?” Asked Trixie.
Snails sighed, having heard many questions like that throughout his entire life.
“I’m just a slow thinker is all. Actually, just a slow everything.” The young colt said, pointing a hoof at the snail on his flank.
“Look, just try your hardest to think a bit faster.” Trixie said, gathering up the leaves again.
Snails sighed again, having heard that same response throughout his whole life as well.
A frustrated Trixie and a struggling Snails soon fell into a cycle of falling leaves and disappointment. No matter how hard the apprentice attempted to think through the tidbits of information, he could not keep up with the blue mares quickened pace.
“I can’t believe this!” Trixie shouted, aggravation intensifying her words. “How hard is it to just THINK about something? It takes me only a split second!”
Having nothing to say, Snails merely kept his head low and weathered his teachers frustration.
“If you REALLY have the inability to control your own mind, then training you will be impossible. After I’m done here in Hoofington, I’ll take you back to-“
“I can’t do it!” The young mare cried in despair, falling to the ground. A blue bubble of magic slowly fizzled away in front of her.
A dark blue stallion, lying next to the caravan with a pipe hanging from his muzzle, observed his daughter with intensity. The duo had been resting on the edge of Whitetail Forest, Canterlot shining like a beacon on the mountainside.
‘Strange…’ he thought. ‘It seems so close… but…’
Hoodwink shook the daydream away, slowly raising to his hooves and approaching the filly.
“What’s the matter Trixie?” He asked in a smooth and calming, yet stern, voice.
“Every time I try to summon flowers like you, they come out dead!”
The magician nodded his head as his daughter looked up at him with solemn eyes.
“What do YOU think the problem is?”
“I don’t know! I see the bouquet clearly in my head like you told me to, but it still won’t work!”
“You say that you see the flowers clearly in your head… but do you really?” The stallion asked. “Do you see each and every petal’s distinct color, how long each of the flowers is? Think that over, then cast the spell again.”
Trixie closed her eyes, a beautiful bouquet of flowers springing into her mind. Taking her father’s advice, she went over every inch of the imaginary petals, trying to envision their… color? Their shape? Uh, one was yellow, maybe make a few red, a couple of blue ones… and they all stood straight out of the bouquet, no wilting!
The blue energy once again formed in front of her. Going over the details one last time, Trixie released the spell snapping open her eyes to see the fruits of her labor.
A bouquet of dead flowers plopped down in front of her, and the aspiring mare collapsed to the ground in defeat.
“I can’t do it.” She repeated. “I’ll never be as good as you.”
Hoodwink silently stood over his daughter, the sight of her giving up her hopes and dreams crushing his heart.
“Trixie, follow me.” He said.
The blue mare obliged, following her father to a small pond that could almost pass as a puddle. As he sat down next to the small body of water, he motioned for his daughter to follow suit.
Trixie sat down beside him, her head lowered from her recent failures.
“If you want to cast something as exotic, beautiful and detailed as a bouquet of flowers at your age, you need to start back at the basics. Raw thought may have summoned you a few sparks or a single rose, but that kind of thinking won’t serve you well if you want to become a master magician.”
Hoodwink pointed at the water with his hoof, the young mare following along with her eyes.
“Water is one of the most basic things in existence. It’s clear, smooth, and easy to manipulate. Instead of trying to think of something as detailed as the flowers you want to conjure, why not start with a simple ball of water? Study the puddle here, then form a small ball of water.”
Trixie observed the liquid, how every once in awhile a small bug would cause it to give out a little ripple, how clear it was, and the overall serenity it made her feel.
After her prolonged observation, something clicked in the filly’s head, and she began channeling her spell, a simple ball of water displayed in front of her. Ironing out the small details of the sphere, she released the spell.
Sure enough, a clear ball of water levitated in front of her, perfectly round and smooth.
“That was too easy!” Trixie scoffed, letting the liquid drop the ground.
“The basics remember?” Hoodwink chided. “Now how about… a simple scroll?”
Accepting the challenge, the foal brought up a coarse scroll in her mind, red bindings keeping the paper sealed shut. Seeking a bigger challenge, Trixie added on little yellow strands of fabric on either side of the top. Mentally looking over her work one last time, she released the spell.
The scroll she had envisioned hovered before her, ready to be written upon.
“Now for that bouquet!” Trixie said, feeling more confident in her conjuring abilities.
“If you think you’re ready….”
Trixie closed her eyes once again, the bouquet of flowers returning to her thoughts. Instead of being a blur of colors as she had seen before, Trixie’s more trained mind saw each flower for its own distinct color. The stems of the plants were strong and stern, while the petals gave off radiant blues, yellows and reds. Satisfied with the display, she released the spell.
A bouquet of flowers appeared out of the blue energy Trixie had created. While half of the bouquet was full of dead, brown and grey flowers, the other half housed luminescent roses that brilliantly reflected the sun as it sunk below the horizon.
Ignoring the failed half of the bouquet, Trixie pranced around in circles, cheering. “I did it! I did It!”
Ceasing her prancing and levitating out one of the lively roses, Trixie approached her father.
“Thanks daddy! This is for you!” She said, magically handing him the rose.
“Oh! It’s beautiful Trixie! Thank you so much, and good work! I hope you understand now that learning magic is more about training the mind than simply casting spells.” He said. “Now come on into the caravan. It’s getting dark, and we need to be well rested for the trip to Hoofington tomorrow.”
Hoodwink held the door open as Trixie trotted into the caravan, following her in. The inside was just big enough to house ponies and a few containers of supplies. Despite the cramped room, the enhanced wood allowed it to stretch out and serve as a stage. Hoodwink took a few steps, and then collapsed onto the bed which took up half the caravan. His daughter jumped into bed beside him, snuggling up to his side.
“Do you think I can start conjuring light and fire like you do?” Trixie asked excitedly.
“Ha! Maybe soon. Just make sure you aren’t anywhere near the caravan while trying.”
“Sure thing dad.” She said happily.
Hoodwink gave off a small smile at his daughter’s determination. ‘She’ll be a great magician one day,’ he thought. ‘Maybe… even make it to Canterlot…’ Hoodwink shook the thought away, and doused the light hanging from the caravan. The father and daughter drifted into sleep, eager for tomorrow’s journey to Hoofington.
The memory had swept through Trixie in an instant, leaving her stunned. Snails wasn’t being a terrible student, she was being a terrible teacher. Instead of training Snails’ mind, she was attempting to shove magic down his throat.
Trixie turned to her depressed apprentice, mentally smacking herself for forgetting her father’s lessons.
“Snails, follow me.” She said.
Leading him to the side of the nearby lake, Trixie sat down at the water’s edge, motioning for him to do the same.
“I messed up.” The blue mare admitted, a rare thing for her to do. “I’ve been trying to force you to be aware and be able to cast your spells quicker. I need to train you. Now look at the water.”
Shocked but glad at his mentor’s sudden about-face in mood, Snails turned to the water and watched as the waves softly lapped at the dirt.
“You said you slowed that river down back in the Everfree Forest right?” Trixie recalled.
“When I fell into it after being chased by the…. Yes. I did.” Said Snails.
“Do you remember how long it took you to cast the spell?”
“Uh… I would say… a few seconds after I went under.” Snails thought, racking his brain.
“There. There’s the proof you need that you shouldn’t take more than 5 seconds to cast your spell. We just need to expand your thinking a bit.” Trixie said. She looked back down at the lake, and pointed at the water. “Water is one of the most basic things in existence. It’s clear, smooth, and easy to manipulate. Instead of starting you on casting faster with leaves, we’ll start with the basics. Water.”
Snails listened intently, interested and greatful for Trixie’s newfound teaching method.
“What do you want me to do?” Snails asked, looking towards the water.
“See the leaves that fall into the lake? They create a ripple when they land. Study the water until you can slow those ripples as soon as they form. Instead of going over one detail at a time… try to think of water as a whole.”
“So you want me to think faster? I-“
“No” Trixie cut him off. “You have the exact opposite problem that I had when I was a filly. I couldn’t get the details into my head, and my spells came out sloppy. You linger on the details too long, and your spells take forever to cast. Magic is precise yes, but it is also wild, a tad sloppy. Imagine yourself as a hoof-painting artist.”
Snails nodded, turning towards the water. The simple, clear liquid’s details were easily identifiable as Trixie had suggested. The only problem was casting the spell.
A leaf drifted in front of him, colliding with the water. As the ripples formed, Snails attempted to follow his teacher’s advice.
‘The water is… smooth… maybe a bit cool to the touch due to the autumn weather… and clear, with a few specks of dirt in it.’ Snails thought.
Before he finished his thought, the ripples had disappeared, leaving him with nothing to work with.
Spotting another leaf, the young colt once again waited for impact. While the leaf came to land on the water, Snails went over ways to quicken his pace.
‘Too many details… too many details…’
The petal collided with the water, ripples once again cracking the water’s silky surface.
‘The water is smooth... cool… clear…’ He thought, releasing the magic.
Snails’ spell was cast just as the ripples faded away, leaving the outcome of the magic unknown.
‘Just a bit more.’
A leaf broke the water directly in front of him.
‘Smooth…clear…’ A simple thought for a deep thinker such as him, but it would have to do.
The ripples slowed, given a few more seconds before the end of their short life. Snails gave out a victorious sigh as the waves disappeared.
Turning around, the colt saw Trixie with her hooves thrown into the air, as if in a triumphant cheer. Spotting her student’s eyes casting her a funny look, the teacher quickly returned to her normal, sophisticated stature.
“Well done.” She said haughtily. “Now, if you want to be in tomorrow’s show, slow this. Don’t cast the spell until I make it drop.”
Trixie gathered up a giant ball of water from the nearby lake, lifting it high between the two.
“Remember. Be precise, but not too precise.”
Snails nodded, waiting for his teachers mark. The light from Trixie’s horn ceased, and the ball of water began its swift descent.
‘Smooth and clear.’ He thought simply.
The ball slowed right as it hit the ground, the arcs of the separating water reflecting the light. Snails and Trixie backed away from the approaching water, both watching with satisfaction as the water finally finished falling to the dirt.
“Perfect! Just remember not to strain so much with the details when casting magic. You can spend all day just standing there thinking about something, but you need to be able to cast a spell anytime you want to.” Said Trixie.
Snails nodded, his excitement renewed for the show tomorrow. Although he didn’t like glossing over the details while casting his spells and didn’t see himself applying this thinking process to his everyday life, he understood the power of being able to slow anything he wanted at anytime. Slowing leaves instantly was still probably a bit past his ‘imprecise’ thinking, but that’s what Trixie’s training was for.
“Tomorrow you will slow water like you just did on stage. That will drive the audience crazy, as even I haven’t seen anything quite like it until you. Now, for the next part of tomorrow’s performance… I need you to be able to slow a pony. A pegasus to be exact.”
Snails was taken aback. “What happened to ‘the basics’?”
“Pah! This is different. You will have all the time you need to study her while you are waiting in a nearby alley. Come here and look at the water.” Trixie commanded. “Look.”
Snails looked down at the water as an image began to form across the surface in front of them. The vision gave the two a view of what seemed to be a town very similar to Ponyville.
“This is Hoofington.” She said. “What I am doing right now is a simple spell called scrying.”
Attempting to ask her all of his sudden questions, Trixie quickly cut Snails off.
“Right now we need to focus on your magic. Not mine. Now pay attention.” The blue mare’s horn flashed, and the vision shifted from the bustling town to a green pegasus with a bright red mane. She was currently in a heated argument (that they could not hear) with a few other pegasi.
“While I was posting my fliers around the town yesterday, this hothead approached me, and started immediately boasting about how she would outperform me at my own show.” Trixie gave a sly smirk at the thought of being outdone. “Obviously I could deal with her myself, but I want to shame her even further. Tomorrow I want you to… race her.”
Snails nodded, understanding the angle his teacher was coming from. “You want me to slow her.”
“Exactly.” Trixie affirmed. “My scrying spell will give you all the time you need to study her while I put on my regular show. We just need to find out if you can actually slow a pony. Since no one else is around, I guess I’ll be the test subject. Don’t mess up or try anything funny! Take as much time as you need.”
Turning to his mentor, Snails began his intense study. Her coat was a soft blue, going along quite nicely with her extremely light blue mane and tail. She stood tall as always, giving even her slim, curved physique a slightly dangerous touch to it. Finally, her eyes were steeled and fiery, but hid a soft violet underneath them that made Snails feel relaxed.
Snails cast the spell, surprised at how easy and natural it felt.
To Trixie, it seemed as if the world had gone into frenzy. The leaves rained down at a surprising speed, and the wind that blew across her face had evolved into a constant nuisance. In front of her, Snails seemed hyperactive, his head occasionally making jolts of movement, and his eyes blinking rapidly. Taking a few steps felt natural, but she could only imagine what it looked like from Snails point of view.
Trixie returned to normal as Snails ceased the spell.
“Got it! What did it feel like?” He asked curiously.
The blue mare shook herself, happy the world was at its old pace again. “It’s as if everything else in the world is moving fast besides yourself. Very… weird… Still, good job. Tomorrow while you are hiding from where I’m performing, I’ll scry you the green pegasus. Whenever she comes up to challenge me, be ready to ‘race’ her.”
“Green pegasus.. right.” Said Snails. Looking at his surroundings, the young colt quickly realized the fading light and looming shadows.
“Eh? It’s sundown already?” He asked.
“You slept throughout most of the day. I wanted to wake you, but you earned the sleep anyways.” Said Trixie. “Come on. We need to sleep well for tomorrow.”
Snails and Trixie returned to their camping spot under the low-hanging branches, each eating a loaf of bread. With only two loaves left which would be consumed tomorrow morning to ensure a full performance, the need to put on a spectacular show rang in both of the ponies minds.
Snails lied down, mental exhaustion opposed to physical exhaustion weighing him down. As he drifted off to sleep, something lingered at the back of Snails’ mind. Something important happened tomorrow, but he couldn’t quite put his hoof on it…
Snails trotted back from parting with his friend Snips, another day of struggling to keep up with the school’s lessons behind him. The day seemed like any other ordinary autumn afternoon, nothing special coming to mind as he opened the door to his well-kept house.
“Surprise!!!” His mother greeted him, embracing him in a warm and loving hug.
“Wha-What’s going on?” Snails asked, confused.
“It’s your 11th birthday dear! Don’t tell me you forgot again!”
“Heh, guess I did eh?”
His mother gave a soft smile at her son’s silliness. “Oh! Come into the kitchen, dear. I made something for you!”
Snails followed the yellow unicorn into the kitchen, the aroma of a freshly baked blueberry pie wafting through his nose.
“Here you are dear, all for you!” She said, revealing the pie to her son.
“Wow thanks mom!” Snails said, his mouth watering. The young colt took a seat at the table, ready to enjoy his birthday present.
The mare cut a slice for him, passing her son a plate of the delicious dessert.
“Mom, aren’t you going to have some pie too?” Asked Snails.
“No dear, I made it all for you.” She said kindly.
Thinking hard on the subject, Snails looked at his pie, then back to his mother’s tender face.
“Well since it’s my pie… I want you to have a piece!” He finished.
His mother laughed, accepting defeat. “Fine fine! But only because you said so!”
Together, the mother and son combo stuffed their faces with the greatest pie ever made, swapping stories of how their day had gone. As the day began to wind down, and the pie depleted, Snails’ mother perked up, remembering something.
“This is for you dear.” She said, taking an envelope from the counter. “It’s 5 bits. Usually I would go out and buy the toy for you, but your becoming a grown man now, and I thought you would want the responsibility of handling the money yourself.”
“Thanks mom! I’ll make sure you spend it wisely!” Snails said, excited at the money in his hooves. “This was the best birthday ever!”
“I’m so glad Snails. You deserve it for being such a kind son and never giving me much fuss. Now make sure to do your homework before it gets too late!” She reminded him.
“Right. Goodnight, and thanks again!” Said Snails trotting into his room.
Going over to his piggy bank, Snails excitedly opened up the envelope, 5 bits dropping into his hooves. That was a lot of money! He carefully levitated all 5 coins into the bank, hoping that he would find something valuable enough to spend them on.
Snails’ eyes snapped open, memories flooding through him. Today, on the 23rd of November, he would turn 12. His thoughts immediately drifted to his mother, who must have been frightened to death of his disappearance. The thought of her worrying about him made him sick to his stomach, and he pushed the thought from his mind. When he returned to Ponyville, she would see that his absence was worth it.
Looking about, Snails caught sight of Trixie already awake, pulling her hat and robe from the saddlebags. She donned the hat, then brought forth the blue gem that held her robe together. Giving the gem a lingering, solemn look, she used it to fasten the garb. The light was shining through the branches as it had yesterday, the strength of the luminescent beams revealing that it was afternoon.
“You slept forever again.” Said Trixie. “One hour until the performance, and you need a warm-up. We eat first.”
The blue mare levitated him one loaf and one carrot, taking one of each for herself as well. With their food supplies depleted, putting on a fantastic show turned from a garner at fame and money to simple survival. Once they finished eating, Trixie parted the branches, waving for Snails to follow.
Trixie drilled Snails on everything he had learned the day before. Double-checking to make sure he could slow the descending water and giving him another vision of the green red-mane pegasus, the two departed for Hoofington satisfied.
While the trot through Whitetail Woods was enjoyable, it was quickly interrupted by the parting of the trees to reveal a considerable sized town. Snails had always heard of how Hoofington was basically a sister town to Ponyville, but seeing it before him confirmed the tale. The only main difference he could spot that separated Hoofington from his hometown was its shocking symbiotic relationship with Whitetail Woods. Half of the town was encircled by the amber forest.
As opposed to the earth-pony-only Trottingham, pegasi could be seen flying above the town, and horns protruding from the heads of quite a few of the ponies confirmed the presence of unicorns.
“Here we are.” Trixie huffed. “We don’t want to walk straight into town. Keeping the audience guessing is a great way to maintain mysteriousness and crowd interest. Follow me.”
Snails followed his teacher around the town as they cut through the woods, refusing to enter through the main entrance. Spotting the alley she had marked out the day before, Trixie galloped into the breach, her apprentice keeping step behind her.
The two magicians popped their heads out of the alley, catching a clear view of the center of Hoofington. They were positioned almost behind the town hall, just out of sight of wandering eyes. With ten minutes left until the performance, the town square was already beginning to fill with curious ponies.
“Dig a small hole.” Trixie commanded, pointing at the dirt in front of Snails.
Snails refused to argue or question his teacher while the anxiousness was running so high. Digging at the ground with his hoof, Snails made a small hole in the ground.
Trixie’s horn lit up as she conjured a stream of water that ran into the hole. Satisfied once it was filled, she ceased her spell.
“As soon as I locate the green pegasus, I’m scrying her to you through this puddle. Study her as best as you can, because when she rears her ugly head, you need to be able to slow her.”
“The water… got it.” He confirmed, his breath coming out a bit ragged due to his nervousness.
Trixie on the other hoof was completely in control, merely inspecting the crowd displayed before her, as if judging them without having ever met any of the ponies.
The bell that sat upon the top of the town hall magically came to life. As soon as the first gong rang out, Trixie disappeared in a flash of smoke, making Snails jump in fright.
Reappearing on the steps of the town hall, Trixie towered above the civilians.
“Come one! Come all! Come and witness the amazing magic of the Great and Powerful Trixie!” The sorceress shouted.
Snails, focusing on the water, grinned in satisfaction while Trixie finished her introduction. With her energy returned, the performance he had seen in Trottingham was already put to shame. Determination, pride, arrogance, and the simple love of fame were all audible in her voice that reverberated throughout the town square.
Suddenly, the image of a green red-mane pegasus appeared in the puddle before him. He began an intense study of the mare focusing on her green coat, fire-like mane and athletic body. The young colt did not notice the dirt quickly soaking the image away from view.
Trixie pulled off her usual tricks. Showing off a few lightshows, animating her hat to act and bark like a dog, and her favorite act, conjuring a bouquet of flowers.
Snails began to panic as the green pegasus disappeared into the dirt. As she completely faded from view, Snails attempted to try and sneak a peak of her from the alley. Much to his dismay, she was obstructed by half of the town hall.
“Sir, let me see your watch.” Trixie demanded, pointing at the gentlecolt in front of her, a monocle adorning his eye.
Shocked by his sudden inclusion in the show, the stallion hesitated. “Oh good heavens! Well… I…”
The rest of the crowd urged him on, until he eventually handed her his golden watch. Placing the watch under hat at the top of the steps, Trixie turned to the crowd.
“I will now make this watch disappear!” She said.
Casting a spell, Trixie lifted the hat back up, revealing nothing to be underneath.
“Wha- Where is my watch!?” The gentlecolt cried in dismay.
“Good sir, open your eyes! It’s right on your hoof!” Trixie pointed out.
Sure enough, lifting his hoof, the golden watch had mysteriously returned to its owner.
“Good show, good show!” He elated.
The rest of the crowd joined in on his cheers, except for one green pegasus who stormed to the front.
“Oh please!” she scoffed, her voice light but piercing. “Do all of you think THIS is skill? Let ME show you skill!” She said taking off into the skies.
The crowd followed the green pegasus, enthralled by loops and intense speed. Behind her, a trail of fire lingered. By the time the mare had finished her flight, the name ‘Wildfire’ was burned into the sky. Returning to the steps, Wildfire landed in a bath of flames.
“You just got flamed!” She jeered.
The crowd erupted into cheer as Trixie scoffed at the pegasus and the crowd. How could somepony make such a terrible joke, and so many people enjoy it? Morons. All of them. Still… morons with money.
Time to end this.
“Say Wildfire, how about a race? Magic versus sheer speed? No teleporting allowed of course.” Trixie said slyly.
Wildfire considered the challenge, knowing there was no way she could turn it down in front of so many people.
“Hmmm… no teleporting huh? You’re on!”
“Oh no! Not me! I would win too easily! You will be racing my apprentice.” She said casually, motioning for Snails to step forward.
Snails stepped forward, depositing his saddlebags and focusing intently on his new nemesis. Without being able to see her throughout the performance, he took advantage of every second she was in his eyesight. ‘Green coat, red mane, athletic physique’, he thought as he studied Wildfire.
The green pegasus burst into laughter at the site of Snails, then laughed again as she saw his snail cutie mark.
“Pretty mean of you to let your apprentice get embarrassed like this, but oh well!” She joked at Trixie, turning to Snails. “Tell you what kid, I’ll make this short and easy so you can lose in front of the whole crowd! See the light pole at the entrance to the town square?” She said, pointing at a black light not too far off into the distance. “Beat me there!” She said taking her place next to the young colt.
Snails continued his abnormal silence, dropping smack talking for simply gleaning every detail of his opponent. Trixie, who was studying her apprentice’s body language, began to understand as her eyes began to show worry.
“Ready…” The green pegasus began. “SetGO!” She cried taking off.
The young colt merely stood there, as if concentrating on winning the race with his mind alone. Trixie covered her eyes with her hooves, unable to withstand the embarrassment about to fall upon her.
Snails released the magic, utilizing his own sense of detail and his ‘hoof-painting’ lessons from yesterday. Unsure of the outcome due to his brief session with the pegasus, Snails snapped back to reality and began galloping towards the light post.
The audience followed the apprentice as he approached the last ten yards to the light.
Flying just above the ground, a look of sure determination spread across her face, Wildfire had been reduced to nothing but a snail’s pace.
The audience gasped as the fastest pegasus they had ever known was quickly passed by a lanky colt. Snails tapped the lamp post, releasing the spell on the still sluggish Wildfire.
Leaving a trail of fire behind her as she skidded to a halt, Wildfire looked towards Snails in disbelief.
“Wha… no way… I can’t… URRRRGH” She growled, stomping out of the town square.
The audience erupted in cheer once again, this time for the mysterious colt. Snails made his way through the crowd, joining Trixie at the steps of the town hall.
“Just had to lay on that suspension huh?” Trixie asked, a smile across her face.
Snails merely nodded, soaking in the appreciation of his audience.
“What did he just do?” A mare called.
“Did he... freeze her?”
“Can he slow down time!?” A lean colt asked.
“Now, now, now, calm down everyone. Before the show ends I know you want to see one more act of my apprentice, so watch this!” She called, conjuring a giant ball of water above her head.
Letting the water drop, a collection of shrieks and cries rang out from the crowd as they dashed away. When they turned around, the ball was making its impact with the ground, arcing in the same way Snails had seen it the day before.
The audience cheered in amazement as the water went through its slowed natural motions for all of them to see.
“How did he do that?”
“Do it again! Do it again!”
Trixie laughed, treating the fascination as an everyday occurrence. “Show is over ladies and gentlecolts! If you enjoyed the show, make sure to leave a tip!”
Almost the entire crowd shuffled up, depositing bits into her levitating hat. Eventually the hat was filled to the brim, and Trixie took up the saddlebags to be filled as well, all the while smiling in glee.
As the crowd finally faded away, Trixie turned to Snails.
“Yes yes yes!” She cheered, raising her hooves in the air.
“I did good eh?” Asked Snails.
“Perfect. I loved how you waited on casting the spell to keep the audience in suspense!”
“Uh… yeah about that…” Snails murmured.
“Enough!” Trixie boomed, turning to a colt that was passing by. “Young boy!”
“Uh-uh y-yes miss?” the colt stammered.
“Where might I find the carpenter of this town?”
“Just uh.. leave town square and turn right. It should be on the right side of the road, on the border to Whitetail Woods.”
“Good. Come Snails.” She said, filling the saddlebags with the coins from her hat and hoisting them onto Snails back.
Rounding the corner out of the town square, the duo turned right, eventually coming across a simple shop with the picture of a caravan engraved onto the sign.
Trotting in, they were hammered with the musk of wood, tools, and metal. Behind the counter, a grey earth pony wearing a black cowpony hat and a green unicorn wearing a hardhat (a hole carved out for his horn) were busy playing cards.
Trixie tapped the counter, catching their attention.
“Howdy miss.” The earth pony said with a thick accent, tipping his hat toward the blue mare.
“Hello there!” The unicorn said in a friendly tone.
“Greetings. I need a custom made caravan…” She said, laying out every detail of what she desired to the two shop owners. “… and I need it finished by tonight.”
“Well I reckon ya came to the right place. How much ya got on ya?” The earth pony asked, his partner putting down the notepad he had been writing Trixie’s instructions on.
“142 bits exactly” Trixie responded, suspicion in her voice.
“95” was all that came out of the cowpony’s mouth.
“85” Trixie shot back.
“90” He said, his voice final.
“Gah! Fine! But if it isn’t done by sundown or has a single flaw, I want my 5 bits back!” She said vehemently, handing the two ponies the bits.
“I can guarantee you won’t find a single scratch on it! Be back here a little before sundown.” The unicorn said, going into the back with his work partner.
“We need to get bedding for the inside of the caravan, and we need to restock on food. Let’s go.” Said Trixie.
Jumping from store to store, Trixie proved herself to be quite the shopper and bargainer. Despite snagging the bedding (covers, pillows, and mattress) for the caravan at a low price of 30 bits, they were still left with only 17 bits for food.
Trixie saw the look of disappointment on Snails’ face as she restocked another 8 loaves of bread and 4 carrots.
“Better get a strong liking for bread Snails.” She said. “Even if we had 100 bits left, I would still only buy what food we need for survival. It is fuel. Nothing more.”
Snails nodded as they left the store, returning to the carpenter’s shop.
“Time’s up! Where’s the caravan?!” She shouted, the two ponies nowhere to be seen.
“Why don’t ya come back here and see fer yerself missy?”
Trixie huffed then trotted behind the counter, Snails following behind. As she entered into the workshop area of the store, her heart skipped a beat.
Before her was almost an exact replica of her old caravan, even containing the sign of her cutie mark hanging from the front. Trixie lost her steely demeanor and pranced forward to the caravan. She opened up the door and looked inside, the bedding she had shipped to the location having already been placed inside by the two workers.
“Wow! It’s… beautiful.” She said with a faint voice.
“So can we keep the 5 bits?” The unicorn joked.
Snails pulled the caravan out of the workshop, a harness attaching himself to the wheeled home. Although he was pulling much more weight than the saddlebags had ever been, the fresh wheels and well-built structure of the caravan made the work much easier than it appeared to be. Trixie trotted triumphantly beside him as the sun went down, signaling the end of one of the most successful days of her life.
“Right here!” She said, pointing to a space beside the town hall. “A perfect spot.”
“Why in the town square though?” Asked Snails. “What if we get robbed?”
“That’s what wards are for Snails.” She said. You probably didn’t see, but as we trotted over here I cast a few spells onto the caravan. If anyone touches the caravan, the ward will wake me up and I’ll pummel the intruder into oblivion with magic. As for why I want to stay right next to the town square? Publicity.” She stated simply.
Trixie opened up the door to the caravan, stepping inside. The smell of fresh wood was pleasant, and the bedding was soft underneath her. She was about to collapse into the welcoming arms of the blankets when she remembered her partner traveling with her. Turning around, Trixie saw Snails giving her a hesitant look.
“Well?” She asked.
“I-I-uh, in the caravan… with-with…” Snails stammered.
“Oh please!” Trixie sighed. “You have two options foal. You either keep drooling and sleep outside, or you contain yourself and sleep in the caravan. Which is it?”
Snails climbed into the caravan, taking the right side of the bed, while Trixie lied down on the left. If not for the fact that Snails had helped pay for this caravan himself, he would be sleeping outside.
But he had earned his place here, Trixie thought. Not to mention, he was a determined, loyal apprentice.
He was also the only pony in seven years that she shared a bond with.
An internal alarm sounded inside Trixie’s head, pulling her out of a deep sleep. Rising to her hooves, she cleared her eyes and gathered her thoughts. The warm shelter of the caravan combined with the soft bedding refreshed the sorceress and made her eager to move.
Snails was still asleep, a small smile on his face as he seemed to revel in the silk covers. Although Trixie had to admit he looked rather cute, she didn’t want to spend any longer in Hoofington then they had to.
“Snails, wake up.” She whispered, shaking the young colt.
A meek grumble was the only response as her apprentice rolled to his side.
“Snails! Wake up!” She repeated loudly, giving him another strong shake.
“Huh… wha..?” Snails grumbled.
“Remember what I told you about keeping a bit of mysteriousness? It’s time to get moving.”
Gathering his thoughts, Snails regrettably abandoned the soft wonderland. He followed Trixie out of the caravan and began making his way towards the front, but was quickly stopped by the blue mare.
“We should eat first.” She said as she levitated two loaves out of the caravan. “We will be traveling for most of the day excluding a break for lunch.”
“Thanks.” Snails said as Trixie passed him the bread.
Together the two sat side by side as they ate, admiring the view of the rising sun turning Whitetail Woods into a brilliant mixture of gold and amber.
Snails took in the scene with awe. The light bark of the trees combined with its vibrant colors and carefree breeze made the forest a complete opposite to its western sister. Rays of the sun pouring through the canopy lit up the floor of the Woods and increased the overall liveliness in an otherwise tame timberland.
Trixie merely glossed over the scene, her mind focused elsewhere. She knew that right now, at this very moment, Celestia herself stood upon the legendary balcony that protruded from her throne room. The princess would finish raising the sun and then descend into Canterlot, basking in her subjects’ praises and affection as they bowed to her.
Trixie wanted that. She wanted to be able to walk through Canterlot itself while everypony around her whispered, gossiped, and shouted out her name. When Celestia walked by, she wanted to be able to remain standing, with no one questioning why she did not bow with them. She wanted to be in Canterlot.
Her father had desired a place in Canterlot as well, not based on wealth, but fame and respect. He was so close to his dream to… if only…
The magician shook herself from her day dreams. If she got lost in thought, who would stop them from simply sitting around the whole day pondering?
Finishing the last bite of her bread, Trixie turned to her apprentice to see him gobbling up the remaining crumbs of his meal.
“Alright, let’s head out. Ponies are starting to wake up, and I don’t want to overstay our welcome.”
Snails gulped down the last of his bread then equipped the harness at the front of the caravan. Giving him an appreciative nod, Trixie guided him through the streets of Hoofington. All around them the town began to come to life. Shopkeepers threw open their doors and foals pranced throughout the streets, making the most of their weekend. Many ponies would wave at the duo, while some would stare at them, still in awe from yesterday’s show. Trixie enjoyed the waves, but the awestruck stares were what pleased her the most.
The paved road abruptly turned to a beaten dirt path as they reached the edge of the town. Shanty shops and petite houses gave way to the vast trees of Whitetail Woods. Trixie turned back towards Hoofington, gazing at the town as if it was nothing more than a trophy.
Snails took advantage of Trixie’s sudden pause and caught his breath. Although pulling the caravan was nowhere near the strain of his first time carrying the saddlebags, it was still a workout.
“Well done Snails. Judging from all of the stares and yesterday’s reaction to our performance, we are the talk of the town.” Trixie said approvingly. “Still… if we want to get any recognition in a place like Fillydelphia, we’ll need to put on a better show. Both of us.”
Snails thought over all of the magic he had learned in just the past week. Evolving from using spells to simply levitate objects to actually utilizing an unique slowing magic was enough to make his head spin. Despite the intense rush that he had set upon himself, he enjoyed the challenge.
“How far away is Fillydelphia?” Snails asked.
“As long as we move at a normal pace, it should be a steady day of traveling. We will repeat what we did here and spend a day outside of town training and giving time for our posters to be recognized. I have no doubt you will be able to slow leaves quickly by the time we perform at Fillydelphia. As for me, I was a bit rusty at this performance, and could use a bit of warming up myself.”
Trixie’s performance had been anything but rusty to Snails, though he admitted he wasn’t the best judge of her full potential. The blue mare’s confidence in him combined with the fuel of yesterday’s successful performance gave Snails a boost of energy. As Trixie motioned for him to follow her into the woods, the hefty caravan he pulled seemed to be light as a feather.
The trees lining the well-trodden path between Hoofington and Fillydelphia were stripped bare of their foilage from the recent Running of the Leaves. The forest floor, laden with recently departed petals, proved to be efficient at distracting Snails from the load he carried.
“What’s your favorite food?” Trixie asked as they trotted along the dirt path.
Snails looked up from his studies, stunned by the question. When Trixie began a conversation, it was almost always about business or training.
“I suppose bread now eh?” He joked.
Trixie’s soft laugh returned, raising Snails’ spirits.
“But really?” She persisted.
“Hmm..” Snails thought back to the Sugar Cube Corner and all of its sweets. Even though he had almost the whole shop memorized and enjoyed all of the decadents inside, he couldn’t really pinpoint a favorite. Snails’ mind eventually drifted away from the shop, and settled back in his home. He imagined his mother baking up a delicious blueberry pie for a special occasion.
“Blueberry Pie made by my mom!” He said, no doubt or hesitance in his voice.
“When we were trotting to Hoofington you said your mother wouldn’t miss you right?”
Snails was shocked to even consider his mother NOT worrying about him. “No no… I just meant that she was better off without me. She wouldn’t eat and constantly came home exhausted. I worry about her worrying, but I think not having to take care of me for a bit will help her until I return.”
Trixie nodded understandingly. “She sounds like a good mom.”
“The best mom!” Snails exclaimed. “She gave me a hug every day I got home from school and accepted any cleaning job she could to get extra bits. Boy does she like cleaning!”
“What’s her name?” Trixie asked curiously.
“Tidy. Uh…” Snails hesitated. “What’s your father’s name? What was he like?”
Trixie froze at the question. She had never really talked to anyone about her father since his death. Being able to open up to anyone at all about such a touchy subject would never have crossed the sorceress’s mind a week ago.
Snails had stopped along with Trixie, and quickly regretted asking the question.
“Sorr- I mean, if you don’t want to talk about it…”
“No it’s fine.” Trixie said, starting up her steady trot again with Snails keeping pace beside her. “His name was Hoodwink. If I could explain him in the simplest way, I would say he was a stallion that wanted nothing more than respect and to further himself… and me. He was gentle but wasn’t afraid to fight. Powerful, but never arrogant.” Trixie smiled. “The arrogance I got from my mother. Sadly, I never really knew her long enough to describe her in detail. She was only alive when I was a small filly, and everything is a blur.”
“He sounded like a good dad.”
“The best dad…” Trixie said.
Snails returned his eyes to the leaves on the ground, seemingly satisfied with Trixie’s answer. Surprisingly, she found herself wanting him to pry her with questions. Even so, she decided she didn’t want to make Snails too uncomfortable, and that he should ask at his own pace.
Satisfied that they had traveled deep into Whitetail Woods, Trixie instructed Snails to park the caravan on the side of the trail. The colt gave a sigh of relief as he left the harness.
Trixie levitated 2 of the carrots out of the saddlebags, handing one to Snails. The two chewed on the orange vegetables, appreciating the increased energy they felt.
“Why can’t you just conjure food?” Snails asked, finishing his carrot. It had been a question that gnawed at the back of his mind throughout their trot through the woods.
Trixie raised her hoof, signaling for him to wait as she swallowed the last remains of her carrot.
“Because, whatever you conjure drains an equal amount of energy.” She said.
Snails gave her a confused look.
“Here’s an example. Say I want to conjure a loaf of bread. So I bring up the loaf in my mind, and then cast it to conjure the bread. Once I’ve finished casting the spell, I would have lost energy equal to what it would be like to eating that same loaf of bread.”
Sifting through the newfound information, Snails understood her explanation. Still, he couldn’t believe how magic could be so complicated in some areas, yet clear as water in others.
“That and getting the flavor down is extremely difficult. Most conjured food ends up tasting quite terrible.” Trixie finished.
The sorceress rose to her hooves and hastily conjured a great ball of water as she had done in Fillydelphia. She levitated the ball out onto the road and released it.
Snails slowed the ball almost as soon as Trixie had let it drop.
“Good. Wanted to make sure you didn’t suddenly forget.” She said approvingly as the ball of water slowly impacted the dirt path.
Scanning the leaf-laden ground, Trixie carefully plucked only the golden leaves and swirled them into a giant mass in front of her.
Snails stood up, understanding his teacher’s plans. As the mare rapidly lifted the mass of leaves above her head, the apprentice’s mind drifted over their color and coarseness.
‘Gold coarse’ Snails thought as Trixie released the leaves.
The foliage fell to the ground slowly as a triumphant grin grew on Snails face. Before he had any more time to celebrate, Trixie had already gathered up a new batch of leaves, this time composed of gold and red. She dropped them, giving Snails little time to react.
‘Gold red coarse speckled’
The leaves slowed right before they impacted the ground, a delay too long for any performer to take advantage of.
Snails wanted to blame it on his slow thinking, but knew that it was nothing more than a lack of control over his own mind. When concentrating on such a variety of colors and features at such a fast pace, his mind wandered and he began focusing on too many details again.
Trixie paid no attention to Snails’ failure, instead gathering even more leaves, this time a simple batch of only red petals. As he had done with the gold batch, Snails immediately slowed them with no hesitation.
His teacher formed a certain pattern, gathering gold and reds then dropping them separately, only to occasionally mix the two colors together. The method proved highly effective, each batch of mixed red and gold being slowed faster and faster. Eventually, Snails had finally been able to match the quick slowing speeds of both pure and mixed colors.
Before he could celebrate, Trixie amassed a group of brown and red leaves and released them. With his trained mind no longer deterred by two colors, Snails had no difficulty slowing this new batch as well.
“Perfect. If I ever feel the need to sit around in some town and rot my life away, I’ll become a magic teacher.” Trixie joked. “Now slow this.”
The sorceress paid no attention to what color of leaves she levitated, a flurry of amber rising above her, then fluttering into the wind.
Snails’ mind became a garbled mess as he tried to comprehend the multitude of colors before him.
‘Coarse brown smooth red… wait… these leaves aren’t smooth.’
By the time Snails had ordered his thoughts, the leaves had long since rested to the ground.
“Good work for a lunchtime break.” Trixie complimented. “Let’s get moving again. I want to make it to Fillydelphia before it becomes completely dark.”
The sun reached its apex as they departed and continued down the beaten trail.
A long day of hauling began to burden Snails as the sun began falling beneath the horizon. Attempting to block out the immense strain the caravan was starting to put on him, Snails ran yesterday’s show through his head. There had been something that stirred his thoughts and interests, but he had trouble remembering. He sifted through his memories of Wildfire, Trixie herself, the spells casted… and the cheers of the audience.
A lean colt sprang forth in his mind. Snails remembered the question the colt had asked and how it had sparked his interest.
“Do you think I can... slow time?” Snails asked, trying to put his thoughts into words.
The question threw Trixie off guard as she gave him a quizzical look.
“Don’t you already slow time?”
Snails lingered on her question. When he slowed something, was he slowing down time? He wasn’t sure, but after all of the thinking he had done over his original query, He knew one thing for certain: He wasn’t slowing time directly, just the object he focused on.
“To slow something I focus on the subject I want to slow, right? Well what if I focused on time and slowed it directly?” He asked.
“How could you focus on time itself?” The mare questioned.
“I dunno…” He said, dropping the subject.
Trixie heard the disappointment in her apprentice’s voice.
“How about this. If we have a good showing in Fillydelphia, I’ll buy you a hoof watch which you can practice slowing time with for as long as you want. Deal?”
“Deal!” Snails said excitedly.
Trixie turned back to the path ahead, quickly noticing the waning amount of trees. Ahead, the trail took a slight curve to the left and stretched further onward. As the last few beams of light lit up the night, the blue mare led Snails off the main path and a minute’s walk into the woods.
“Right here.” Trixie said.
Snails gladly released the harness, nearly collapsing from exhaustion. By the time he had worked his way to the back of the caravan, Trixie had already pulled out the bread for dinner.
The two ate quickly to take advantage of the fading sunset’s light.
“Tomorrow…” Trixie said, finishing off her bread. “I’m going into Fillydelphia to post up fliers, and you’re coming with me. It’s only a quick trot from here, and you won’t have to pull the caravan.”
A strong gust carrying tidings of winter blew through the forest, causing the two ponies to shiver.
“S-s-so c-cold!” Snails exclaimed.
Trixie opened the door to the caravan and they climbed in, both rushing to snuggle up under the covers. Sleeping proved difficult as even when she was buried deep in the soft silk, the cold still nipped away at the sorceress.
Warmth slowly spread through Trixie. Wondering what its source was, she looked back to find Snails almost completely submerged in covers and huddling against her side. His slow breathing and relaxed face revealed him to be asleep, the cold unable to triumph over his pure exhaustion.
Trixie thought of pushing him off, but quickly found herself relaxing and unbothered by the cold.
The mare let out a yawn as sleep began to overtake her. Snails WAS only a foal, and she needed to make sure he didn’t freeze to death after all. No longer troubled by the night chill, Trixie drifted off to sleep.
Snails awoke to the rustling of paper outside of the caravan. Dragging his aching muscles from the silk haven, he opened the door and stepped into the woods. Trixie was sitting directly in front of him wearing her robe and hat, conjuring up a multitude of posters similar to the one he had found so long ago.
Seemingly satisfied with her work, the magician turned around, spotting Snails.
“Ah good you’re awake.” She said. “Let’s post these up in Fillydelphia.”
“Aren’t you afraid of the caravan getting stolen?”
“I’ve made sure it’s well equipped with some… defenses.” Trixie said slyly. “It won’t be stolen. Come on.”
Snails followed her as she ventured back towards the path. Although Trixie talked about visiting towns nonchalantly, to Snails they were one of the most exciting parts of his journey. Staying in Ponyville his whole life, he had only been able to imagine what the other locations he saw on the school map looked like. Seeing them in person was a dream come true.
After reaching the path again and traveling a small left curve, the trees gave way and revealed a giant town in the distance. The city was sliced in two by a considerably sized river, only to be reconnected by giant bridges that seemed to be placed at key locations in the city. Snails couldn’t interpret the town any better from where the two ponies stood due to its immense size. It was definitely bigger than Ponyville, but smaller than Canterlot.
Trixie continued down the now well-worn dirt road, Snails keeping pace while staring at the large buildings. Even the smallest of them seemed to dwarf the Sugar Cube Corner.
Their hooves struck paved stone as they entered the city. Ponies bustled about, the swarm of chatter forming into a steady roar. The main thing that stood out to Snails was the layout of the buildings itself. When amassed together, they formed a giant half circle that stretched from their current position to far into the distance and ended at the river. The middle of the half-circle was filled by smaller buildings and merchants with portable stands selling random wares. Interestingly enough, all the buildings he could see were shops. Not a single house was in sight. He would have to remember to check again when they crossed a bridge to the other side.
“Stay close to me.” Trixie called loudly to him.
Afraid of getting swept up by the mass of civilians, Snails followed closely behind his teacher. A thousand different conversations pounded his ears.
“Hats! Come get the finest hats ever made straight from Mane Co.!”
“Did you see the storm they’re planning tomorrow? Supposed to be downright nasty…”
“… I heard the Princess has been making regular stops to Stalliongrad. I wonder if she’s finally going to fix the rampant gang problems there.”
“Let’s see…. Now I need five apples…”
“… ‘and then they kissed?’ Are you sure that’s a good way to end your novel?”
“Have you heard Sapphire Shores’ new song? It’s absolutely….”
Snails blocked out the sounds, not wanting to become distracted and get lost in such an alien place.
Trixie placed her posters strategically on the largest and busiest shops she could find as she worked her way around the half-circle of the market. When they came to the last store that sat near the river, Trixie crossed one of the many bridges to the other side of the city.
As Snails had suspected, the other half of the city was nothing but a sprawling suburb. Like the shops before them, houses formed a half circle that connected to the river in the middle, with even more homes filling in the middle. What struck Snails the most was the look of the houses themselves, or lack-there-of. The only unique difference between two houses in Fillydelphia was color. Other than that one distinguishing fact, their structure was completely alike, giving them an eerie clone-like feeling.
Trixie only had five remaining poster as she headed straight for the core of the town district. At the heart of the city stood a giant bulletin board that was caked with hundreds of advertisements, announcements and warnings. Trixie spread her five posters out across the board, placing them in locations that would catch a wandering eye.
While Trixie was busy with the posters, Snails heard a distinct jingling. Looking around, Snails’ eyes fell upon a bright-red unicorn mare with a yellow mane and a big smile. A levitating bell that gave a loud jingle followed her closely.
“Donations! Donations! Donations for the poor!” She shouted cheerfully. Catching sight of Trixie in her colorful garb, she pranced up to her, jingling the bell loudly.
“Hello miss! Donations for the poor?”
Trixie finished placing the last poster, then turned to the jolly unicorn.
“Oh! I have 2 bits on me! But I’m not donating either of them. I don’t waste money.” Trixie said vehemently.
Snails was shocked at Trixie’s harsh words, not knowing whether to be upset or follow the golden rule he had set out for himself.
“Come on Snails.” His teacher said, beckoning him to follow. The red unicorn gave Snails a solemn look of hope, her bell giving a small jingle.
“Donations for the poor, sir?”
“I… I don’t have any money” Snails said quickly, running off to follow Trixie.
Catching up to the blue mare, Snails quietly fell into step beside her. Once they had reached the exit to the city and had begun their journey back on the dirt path, Trixie broke the silence.
“Honestly Snails do you actually feel sympathy for poor ponies?” Trixie asked in a mocking tone.
“Well…” Snails thought back to his life at home, his mother struggling to keep both of them fed. “Yeah. I do.” He said, no doubt in his voice.
Trixie scoffed. “Don’t. Poor ponies are simply lazy fools who sit around all day leeching off everypony else. The donations are worthless.”
For the first time with Trixie, Snails’ anger flared. He kept quiet, but in the back of his mind the memories of his mother working overtime any chance she could get screamed for him to argue with his teacher.
For the remainder of the day, an eerie silence hung between them. Snails tore through training utilizing the same technique he had practiced with yesterday. Being able to slow the multi-colored leaves prepared him for tomorrows show and raised his own confidence. With his recent success, his anger toward Trixie simmered down. She was just a little misguided, that’s all.
Their time spent in Fillydelphia had eaten up most of their day, and as darkness began to fall once again, the two ate their bread quickly and entered the caravan.
“If we want to make an impact in a place like Fillydelphia, we’ll have to put on a perfect show tomorrow.” Trixie said, snuggling into the covers.
Snails responded with heavy snoring. ‘At least he’ll be well rested’, Trixie thought as she closed her eyes.
Hoodwink laid down in a caravan a quick trot from Fillydelphia, a lantern illuminating the interior. His daughter chatted away excitedly under the covers next to him.
“That was your best show ever dad! Did you see the way everyone was staring at you and cheering?” Trixie said happily.
“Yes Trixie I saw. That performance was definitely my best…. Hmmm… I wonder why…” He said, exaggerating his words.
“Because it’s my 13th birthday, duh! I wished for you to have a great show! You didn’t forget my birthday did you dad?” Trixie asked, shocked.
“Of course not! I have something very special for you.” Hoodwink said, levitating a sheet off of a container he had tucked away in the caravan. “Go open it!”
Trixie lunged at the container, throwing the lid open. Inside was a star-speckled hat and robe.
The filly gasped, almost fainting at the sight of the clothes.
“Oh my Celestia! Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she squealed, immediately throwing the garb on. The hat barely fit atop her head, threatening to collapse on her face at any second. The robe went past her hooves and she struggled not to trip over herself. Still, she would grow into them, and right now the only thing distracting Trixie was her robe.
“Agh! Dad there’s no way to hold the robe together!” She said desperately as she tried to hold it together with magic.
A blue gem with a pin attached to the back of it floated in front of Trixie’s eyes, then carefully connected the robe.
“This….” She said quietly.
“Yes it was your mothers. Believe me when I say she would have wanted you to have it.”
Trixie pranced up and hugged her father. “Thanks dad. This was the best birthday ever.”
“You deserved it.” Hoodwink said, giving her a soft smile. “You’ve brought so much joy to my life… I don’t know what I would do without you.”
Trixie hugged her father again. “Dad?”
“Are we finally going back to Stalliongrad?”
“Stalliongrad… that sounds like a great idea.” Hoodwink said.
“Do you think Spellslinger is still there?”
Hoodwink laughed. “That old fool? He’s probably been sitting around the whole time we’ve been gone, not even a muscle moved. I’m sure when we get to Stalliongrad, he’ll give us a warm welcome.”
The citizens of Ponyville departed from the town square, forever changed by what they had witnessed. Gossip was rampant, even blasphemous as someponies compared the two unicorns to the Goddesses themselves. They all agreed though, never before had they seen such a sheer display of power and skill.
In the middle of the town, a golden stage draped in orange and blue velvet folded itself into the form of a grand caravan. Seemingly without a cue, six pegasus appeared from the sky and hitched themselves to the gleaming mobile mansion. They took the stance one would expect out of a royal guard, and then stood vigil as they awaited a command from their superiors.
Inside the caravan, two ponies discussed their latest feats while lying upon a sea of pillows stuffed with the finest phoenix down. Between them, a giant bag bulging and spilling with coins served as proof to their recent success.
“It greatly amuses me that they expected another fool’s show like the last time I performed in this rundown village.” A blue mare said as she spread out amongst the pillows. Her star-spotted robe from her recent performance still spread across her back while a matching hat rested next to her.
“It’s only natural, Trixie.” The orange stallion lying across from her said coolly. “Your little display of power grew ten-fold ever since I began assisting you. Also…” He continued, a small smirk appearing on his face. “You weren’t assailed by a certain oversized star-bear this time. At least not yet.”
“Quiet, Snails!” Trixie replied venomously. “Honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that those absent-minded foals fall hooves-over-heels for your silly little time-slowing act, I would have left you all the way back in Hoofington!”
Snails laughed. “Ha! Seems as if I struck a nerve! Anyways, don’t you think it’s about time we started leaving? I don’t want to spend any more time in this savage run down-“
“Um, hello?” A meek voice called from the caravan window.
“Snails buddy, ya there?” A different, squeakier voice followed.
The orange stallion gave an annoyed sigh as he rose to his hooves and trotted to the window. Peering through the silver-trimmed aperture, Snails found himself looking down upon two very incomparable unicorns. On the left was a yellow, white-maned mare giving him a soft smile. Despite her duster cutie mark which denoted cleanliness, her coat, tail and mane were stained with splotches of dirt. To the dirtied mare’s right was a short, plump blue colt who gazed up at Snails with a cheerful face and a wide grin.
“Yes? What do you want?” Snails asked impatiently, eyeing the two intruders.
The blue colt piped up first with an excited voice. “Hey Snails it’s me, Snips! I’m so happy your back, and what you did on stage was AWESOME! Totally better than the lousy magic shows we used to do! I was just thinking ya know, now that you finished your show, maybe we could hang out a bit? Just like old times!” Snips suggested, looking hopefully up at Snails.
“Hmmmmm, let me think. No.” Snails snapped abruptly. “I don’t have enough time for immaturity OR worthless chit-chat.”
“Wha-!? But….” Snips stammered.
The pompous stallion ignored Snips and lazily turned towards the yellow mare.
“It’s your mother, Tidy, Snails! It Must be hard to recognize me when I’m not perfectly clean.” Tidy joked desperately.
Snails said nothing, continuing to stare at her with a raised eyebrow.
“Anyways…” She continued. “I wanted to let you know how proud of you I am. Ever since you left home that night, I’ve been worrying and missing you. I was hoping that maybe we could spend some time together?” Tidy asked hopefully.
Snails scoffed and rolled his eyes. “There are millions of fans across Eq- no. The WORLD who would kill to spend time with me. You’ll have to get in line.”
Tidy’s cheerful demeanor quickly turned sorrowful as her son retreated back into the caravan. “No! Wait! Snails I-“
Slamming the window shut, Snails tiredly trotted back to his original resting place and plopped onto a mound of pillows.
“More crazy fans huh?” Trixie asked.
“Just a couple of dirtied up unicorns who tried to sweet talk me into giving them money.” Snails said wearily.
“You used to sympathize with trash heap ponies like those.” Trixie chided. “What happened?”
“I took your advice and realized them for the lazy slobs they were.” The orange stallion responded, magically digging up a bag with a handful of blue leaves sparkling inside them.
The sorceress chuckled at her partner. “I swear Snails. Every time I begin to lose all respect for you, you give off a small spark of hope. There may be some intelligence in you yet.”
Snails ignored her, rustling the bag of blue leaves around. “We’re almost out of poison joke.”
Trixie frowned, then bent and opened the window behind her. “Hey!” She called out to the six pegasus. “Take us to Canterlot! And don’t land out in the open, we aren’t permforming!”
The blue mare turned around to see Snails levitating a few leaves of poison joke from the bag.
“Pass that over here when you’re done.” Trixie said, lying back down amongst the pillows.
Snips and Tidy watched in dismay as the golden caravan flew away towards the city of Canterlot. As the pegasus-drawn structure faded into the distance, the sun began to sink below the western mountains.
“It’s… it’s as if he didn’t even remember us…” Snips said, hanging his head.
Tidy merely shook her head, tears rolling down her face as she looked toward the sunset. “How did this happen?... Maybe I wasn’t a good mother… Where did I go wrong…?”
The mare continued voicing her hopeless thoughts with Snips staying silent beside her, both unmoving as darkness overcame Ponyville.
Snails stood a short trot from the caravan, letting his mind absorb the serene surroundings. What little foliage remained of Whitetail Wood’s canopy lit up as the morning sun brought in a new day. The forest floor remained damp and shadowed punctuated by shafts of light that lit up the fallen leaves, the dew causing them to glitter like treasure. The young colt found himself entranced by the batches of light-struck petals, studying them intently.
“You’re up early.” Trixie said as she stepped out of the caravan.
“I had trouble sleeping eh?” Snails responded without turning to the sorceress.
Trixie trotted next to her hypnotized apprentice. “Having nightmares?” She joked.
“Yeah.” He said softly, still dwelling on last night’s lucid dream.
Trixie struggled to find the right words to say, taken aback by her partner’s bluntness.
“Oh. Well… you shouldn’t be bothered by childish things such as nightmares!” She said awkwardly, clinging to the first words that came to mind. “I’m sure by the end of today’s show you’ll have forgotten all about them. Now come on, we need to warm up.”
Snails shook himself from his trance as Trixie nudged him.
“Right… just nightmares… let’s do this.” The young colt said with newfound determination as he turned to his teacher.
Trixie breathed a sigh of relief as Snails snapped out of his disturbed stupor. Instead of conjuring water as she usually did, the blue mare lifted the dew directly from the glistening leaves, leaving some clusters untouched. Gathering the dew into a giant ball of water, Trixie merely flung it into the air without a second thought. The sphere of water reflected the sun as it reached its apex above the forest canopy. Snails slowed the liquid with a simple, quick glow from his horn, the simple substance unable to provide even a hint of challenge to him anymore.
During the few seconds Snails was preoccupied with the water, Trixie gathered up the multi-colored leaves from the various sun-lit batches. Some shone like gold, while the ones the sorceress had stripped of their dew remained dull. Coalescing the petals into a flock and lifting them high into the air, they began to flutter to the ground just as the ball of water impacted the earth. Snails quickly refocused onto the falling leaves. The glittering and dulled foliage mixed together momentarily stunned Snails, but he regained his composure and slowed them, satisfying Trixie.
“Excellent.” She said, nodding towards Snails as she levitated the slowed leaves into the caravan. “I doubt there will be any pegasus rearing to challenge us this time. Fillydelphia, along with Stalliongrad and Canterlot, have a much larger unicorn population unlike the other towns we have been visiting. If a unicorn wants to give us any trouble, chances are it will come down to a duel, and you aren’t anywhere near ready for something like that. It’s likely you’ll be stuck slowing water and leaves this time.” Trixie finished as she pulled two loaves and two carrots from the caravan.
Snails nodded as Trixie passed him his meal, content with his teacher’s words. He may have made giant leaps in the past week honing his magic, but there were obviously distinct details he still did not understand. One such subject was a ‘duel’ between unicorns. Growing up in a small, heavily earth-pony populated town like Ponyville, Snails had never even heard of a ‘duel’.
“What is a duel?” The colt asked curiously as he began eating.
Trixie raised a hoof to her chin. “How can I describe this… A duel is magical combat between unicorns, obviously. Barring any restrictions set by either party, anything goes.”
“How many unicorns can duel at a time? Wouldn’t unicorns that can teleport have a huge advantage? When does a duel end?” Snails rained questions onto Trixie, not content with her bare-bones explanation.
Despite Snails’ repeated questioning, Trixie seemed pleased with his curiosity. “For your first question: any number of unicorns may duel at a time. That considered, more than three fighting three is nearly universally agreed to be too chaotic and barbaric. For your second question: you are somewhat right. Teleporting DOES give a nice advantage, but remember what I told you? Teleporting can be exhausting. Many duels end simply because one unicorn collapses from casting too many spells. You have to balance offense, defense, and your own stamina. For your final question-“
“Wait…” Snails interrupted as he slowly mulled over her comments. “The unicorn that put the Ursa Minor to sleep, Twilight Sparkle…”
“What about her?” Trixie asked, aggravated at her sudden remembrance of her Ponyville disaster.
“I saw her teleport, like, four times in a row without getting tired!” Snails said.
“What was she doing while teleporting?”
The colt racked his brain. “Uh…. Nothing much. Just hanging with friends I guess.”
Trixie scoffed, and then disappeared in a puff of blue smoke.
“Like I said,” Trixie called from the entrance to the caravan, causing Snails to wheel around. “teleporting is tiresome, but…” she continued, teleporting once again.
“…in calm, controlled situations like now where a unicorn doesn’t have to worry about stamina or other spells…” Snails turned, spotting Trixie just as she trotted out from behind a tree. As soon as he caught a glimpse of her, she disappeared. In the blink of an eye she reappeared in a burst of blue smoke in front of Snails, momentarily frightening him.
“…teleporting may seem quite simple and energy conserving. Defending against and casting other spells already quickly tire a unicorn out. Teleporting is merely a large factor added into the mix. I’ve seen unicorns that could repeatedly teleport an alarming number of times, only to collapse after a single teleport when put on stage or pushed into a duel. This… ‘Twilight Sparkle’ that thinks she’s so powerful?! I guarantee you, if she ever finds herself in a stressful situation, she’ll either forget how to teleport altogether, or be on the floor after one teleport.” Trixie said, finishing her tirade.
Snails’ head spun at the amount of information he was receiving. After slowly processing his teacher’s words, he continued his questions. “And when does a duel end?”
“A duel ends when an opponent bows out.” Trixie said, putting her front hooves forward and bowing her head. Snails recognized the gesture as the same one his mother had taught to him in case the princess ever visited Ponyville.
“Of course, duels may also end when a pony is either knocked out or doesn’t get up from collapsing. The standing opponent is supposed to respectfully wait for the opponent to stand. If the fallen opponent doesn’t rise back to their hooves after about 5 seconds, they lose.” Trixie finished.
“Has anypony ever…. Died from a duel?” Snails questioned.
Trixie hesitated, and then chose her words carefully. “It’s extremely rare for an opponent to die during a duel. As strong as unicorn magic can get, only the most powerful spells can leave you with permanent damage. The usual cause of death comes from when after an opponent has bowed out of the duel. Whether it be from some past dispute or just pure bloodlust, some ponies like to kill their weakened opponents.”
“What?... why...” asked Snails shakily.
Trixie’s face darkened. “Because they’re so weak-minded they need the satisfaction of killing. Because they have some sick belief that their power gives them the right to deal out death. Because they’re complete monsters, that’s why.”
Snails recoiled at the thought of somepony killing another pony. He had been raised to show respect and kindness to everypony, no matter who they were. The fact that there were ponies who not only got satisfaction from hurting other ponies, but also outright killing them, made the world seem a much scarier place.
Trixie prided herself with a steel heart, but seeing Snails cower at the sudden loss of innocence chipped away at her. “Snails don’t worry.” She said. “I make it sound as if those sort of ponies are all over Equestira. They’re not. Fillydelphia is a nice town. While there may be some unicorns rearing for a duel, I can promise you there aren’t any who want to deliberately hurt you.”
Snails recovered, Trixie’s warm words softening the blow. “Have you ever met somepony like that?” He asked suddenly.
The sorceress stammered, her apprentice’s words impacting her greater than he thought. “Yes. I’ve met one.”
The colt stayed silent, afraid to ask any further questions.
“Come on, it’s almost time to perform.” Trixie said.
Snails hitched himself to the caravan and pulled forward with ease, his growing strength and recent talk with his teacher making its weight feel as light as a feather. Trixie lead the way back to the road, which they then began following towards Fillydelphia. As they neared the town, pegasus began appearing far overhead. The flying ponies looked like bees as they gathered patches of grey clouds and placed them above the forest. Clearing through the trees, Fillydelphia stood off into the near distance. Although pegasus were beginning to place the rain clouds above the city, their work seemed to have only just begun.
“Good.” Trixie said, eyeing the working pegasus. “By the looks of it, we should be wrapping up our show by the time this storm starts”
Following the same trail they had used to enter the city the day before, the two unicorns passed the gates into the city. The looming shadow of the storm only increased the chaos of the city, with everypony trying to get in as much shopping and sight-seeing as they could before rainfall. The girth of the caravan allowed them wide space to maneuver through the business side of the city, and they quickly crossed the main bridge into the residence district. When they approached the same giant billboard they had visited yesterday, Trixie instructed Snails to park the caravan right in front of it.
Unhitching himself from the caravan, Snails followed Trixie as she motioned for him to follow. Together, they entered the caravan just as the first onlookers grew curious of the colorful vehicle.
“Alright.” Trixie said in a low voice. “Same procedure as Hoofington, except this time you don’t have to worry about dealing with any challenging audience members. I’ll call you out, you’ll slow the leaves first after I levitate them out and then the water. Simple right?”
“Right.” Snails affirmed, nodding towards Trixie.
The mare conjured a small ball of water, then scryed the outside of the caravan onto the surface. An audience much grander than the one they had in Hoofington waited anxiously for the show to start.
Trixie evaporated the water then gave a deep breath as her horn began to glow. “Come one, come all! Come and witness the amazing magic of the Great and Powerful Trixiiiiiie!”
The mare’s magically enhanced voice echoed out across the town square, drawing in even more viewers as the right side of the caravan burst forth, forming a stage. After the caravan’s transformation, Trixie teleported in a puff of blue smoke past the closed curtains and into the limelight.
“Behold! Have you ever wondered how far the boundaries of magic could be pushed? Have you ever imagined just how powerful one pony could become? Dream no further, for I, the Great and Powerful Trixie, the most magically adept unicorn in all of Equestria- nay! The world! Have graced Fillydelphia with my presence! Prepare to witness magic redefined!”
Multi-colored streams of sparks and light burst forth from the stage, causing most of the audience to gasp. A select few unicorns in the crowd, however, withheld their amazement and continued to look at the performer disapprovingly.
Trixie performed her rehearsed and perfected show, making sure to enhance every act she did to woo the audience. The lights were brighter and more intense, her animated hat mimicked different animals from a manticore to a phoenix, and interactions with the audience became even more key than ever before. For her favorite act, she even conjured a whole array of bouquet of flowers, magically tossing them out to any audience member lucky enough to catch it.
“The Great and Powerful Trixie has conquered ALL obstacles, even the challenge of training somepony to be almost as powerful as herself! Fillies and gentlecolts, behold my apprentice, Snails!”
Snails burst out from between the curtains, trying his best to make an imposing entrance. Despite his efforts, a small surge of laughter spread throughout the crowd upon seeing the orange lanky colt.
Trixie lifted the leaves from the caravan and rose them above the stage, then dropped them as she had done in the woods. No longer troubled by the multitude of colored petals, Snails slowed the leaves as they rained down upon the audience.
Ponies poked at the leaves with their hooves as they lazily drifted amongst the crowd. Foals squealed with delight as they galloped throughout the town square, easily catching the petals with their mouths. Murmurs, cheers and surprise spread throughout the audience as they realized what had happened.
“Already impressed?” Trixie laughed. “Who wants to see more!?”
The audience cheered in response as Trixie conjured a giant ball of water and lifted it above the stage, dropping the ball as it loomed directly above her. Snails slowed the water as Trixie casually trotted out from underneath it.
Astonished gasps rang out from even the toughest neighsayers of the crowd as the water arched out from its impact point. Trixie prevented the water from soaking the audience by redirecting it away from the mass of ponies. As the last of the liquid faded into the ground, a great cheer erupted from the crowd. As the roar of the audience faded away, a single voice persisted.
“I bet this screeching filly hasn’t even been in a single duel!” A grey unicorn at the front of the audience shouted mockingly. “In fact, I wonder if she even knows what a duel is?”
The audience shifted their gaze from the lean, grey, white maned stallion back to Trixie, waiting with baited breath for a reply to his harsh accusations.
Trixie smirked as the grey stallion fell right into her trap. “Not only do I know what a duel is…” the sorceress announced. “…but I have no doubt in my mind that I can defeat you in one. This stage is magically reinforced. We can duel right here. Step up, if you dare.”
A wave of murmurs spread throughout the crowd at the mare’s heated words, and the stallion narrowed his eyes. A moment later, the grey unicorn leaped up to the stage, a small grey filly that looked like a spitting image of him following closely behind.
“Alright then. A two on two duel right here on stage. My daughter and I against you and your pupil.”
Trixie shook her head. “No. Snails hasn’t had the opportunity to learn anything about duels yet. Let’s keep this between me and you.”
The grey unicorn laughed, then turned to the crowd, his daughter following his every move. As the duo faced away from Snails, he caught a good glimpse of their cutie marks. For the stallion, a water droplet, tornado, and a single green leaf all sitting in a triangle above a magic wand stood out on each side of his flank. For his daughter, the same wand sat behind a snowflake, lightning bolt, and plume of flame. Although he had no idea what the cutie marks meant, the thought of having to go into a duel was already causing him to sweat.
“This ‘Great and Powerful Trixie…” He shouted, waving his hooves in circles in the air. “Is a fraud, too afraid to even face my daughter and I in a duel!”
Trixie shoved the grey unicorn out of the way, sending him stumbling. “Give me ONE minute!” She screeched angrily, more towards the crowd itself than her newfound opponent.
“I’m counting!” The stallion’s daughter cried furiously from across the stage as Trixie trotted up to a nervous Snails.
The mare placed her hooves on her student’s shoulders, her violet eyes drilling holes into his skull. “Look, Snails. All I need you to do is distract his daughter until I take out the stallion. Once one of them is eliminated, the other one will likely quickly back out. Got it?”
Snails gave a distressed nod, looking past Trixie to his filly opponent. She was younger than Snails, displaying a precociousness that belied her age. Her face was stern and ready for combat as she glared at him from across the stage.
“Follow me.” Trixie told him. “We have to shake hooves with our opponents and give our names before we duel.”
The four unicorns trot to the center of the stage, already judging each other’s magical strength. When they met at the heart of the stage, the stallion extended a hoof towards Trixie, with his daughter mimicking his moves.
“Trixie.” The blue mare said, shaking the stallion’s hoof.
“Tropic. Tropic Cyclone.” The stallion responded.
Next to the adult ponies, Snails awkwardly shook hands with the grey filly.
“Hailfire.” She said, saying the name slowly for intimidation.
“Uh… Snails…” He replied. The filly gave a boisterous laugh. As she mocked him, a small jolt ran through Snails hoof, causing him to break away from their hoofshake.
“You are already dead.” Hailfire said, ceasing her laugh and returning to her stern gaze.
A wave of fear and anxiety overcame Snails as the unicorns separated and trotted to opposite sides of the stage. He had no idea what was about to happen, only that he needed to distract Hailfire long enough for Trixie to defeat Tropic Cyclone.
“Ok… I’ll make this quick.” Trixie said as she and Snails stood side by side facing their opponents. “You just be an overall nuisance by slowing them, and I’ll take out Tropic quickly.”
Snails nodded, then locked eyes with Hailfire. The filly seemed almost like an angered statue; with the only thing moving across her whole body her white mane and tail. The cool wind from the gathering storm blew across the stage, making Snails shiver. A dropped pin could have been heard as the opposing unicorns stared each other down and the audience held their breath.
“What are we waiting for?” Snails whispered to Trixie after several seconds of eerie silence.
“My father’s first rule: Always let the opponent move first.” She whispered back without turning her head.
Not a moment later, Tropic’s horn began to glow, and his mane turned a dark blue. Looking toward her father, Hailfire’s horn began to glow and her mane turned a pale blue as if in response.
Suddenly, a torrent of water emerged from Tropic’s horn, shooting out towards Trixie and Snails. The blue mare leaped out of the way, while Snails attempted to slow the water. Before he could finish casting the spell, the wave of water turned to a solid wall of ice. Unable to change his spell fast enough, the wall of ice slammed into him, knocking the colt from the stage and causing a gasp to run through the audience.
Trixie ignored her fallen pupil and magically grabbed the wave of ice, hurling it back towards Tropic. Just as she launched her attack, the stallion turned his attention from the fallen Snails to the blue mare. Noticing the chunk of ice just in time, Tropic dived out of the way, causing a cheer to erupt from the crowd.
“Get her, Tropic!”
“This is already the best duel I’ve seen in months!”
“Popcorn! Get your popcorn! 2 bits!”
“Five bits on Trixie!”
Snails quickly rose to his hooves, shaking the stars from his eyes. As he heaved himself on to the stage, Tropic and Hailfire’s manes once again turned dark and light blue. Instead of sending a torrent of water, Tropic rapidly shot out five bursts into the air. As they fell back down to earth, Snails spotted Hailfire transforming the liquid into ice. A strong gust of wind tore through the air as Tropic’s mane turned a dark grey, sending the now crystallized ice shards gusting towards Trixie.
Understanding the two elemental unicorn’s tactics, Snails channeled his slowing magic around ice instead of liquid water. Before the shards could impact Trixie, they had been reduced to the speed of bubbles floating about on a midsummer day.
The audience cheered as Trixie nodded towards Snails and sidestepped the now useless icicles. Snails dashed forward to return to his teacher’s side. As he galloped forward, Snails froze as Tropic’s white mane turned a dark shade of green and a long knot of grass ruptured from the paved city road, stretching across the length of the stage. Enhancing her father’s wall, Hailfire’s mane turned red and a ball of fire shot out towards the knot of grass, lighting it ablaze.
Satisfied that he had permanently cut off his opponent’s apprentice, Tropic turned just in time to see a massive block of ice slam into him, sending the stallion flying off the stage. Hailfire cried out, then hesitated as she turned back to her magically superior adversary.
Panicking, the filly abandoned any previous tactics she had composed with her father and recklessly launched a stream of fire at her opponent. Taking advantage of the roaring fire behind her, Trixie magically formed a stream of her own flame and outmatched the foal’s power, slowly pushing her back.
While Trixie pulled flames from the wall of fire, Snails caught a glimpse of a small opening his teacher had created. Slowing the section of weakened flames, Snails braced himself and leaped through the wall. Despite a few burnt hairs, the colt came out unscathed as he regained his footing.
Tropic lifted himself back onto the stage as Snails returned to Trixie’s side. Finally returning to a proper two on two, each unicorn took on their respective counterpart. Still utilizing the wall of flame, Trixie shot a stream of fire at Tropic. The grey stallion responded with another torrent of water, a fine mist forming where fire and water impacted.
As their teachers fought, Hailfire began firing a stream of lightning at Snails with abandon, her mane turning a bright yellow. Snails attempted to sidestep the lightning stream but Hailfire followed him with her horn. As the yellow bolts impacted the colt, his vision blurred and an intense heat overtook his body as it convulsed. The pain continued for several seconds until it suddenly ceased and Snails collapsed to the stage floor. Tearing open his eyes after the excruciating agony, Snails spotted Hailfire gasping for breath, exhausted after casting so many spells in such a short time. Taking advantage of her lull in power, Snails studied the unicorn as quickly as his tired mind would allow him. Hailfire ceased panting, then lifted her head back up again, her horn glowing and mane turning a bright yellow once again.
Snails slowed the unicorn just as the bolts of lightning sped towards him. Quickly rolling out of the way, the colt slowly dragged himself towards the filly’s side.
Once there, Snails froze up. What should he do now? The audience’s cheers roared in his head and the world turned sluggish as he considered his options, his stamina quickly being drained as he magically sustained his spell on Hailfire. He could probably just kick her in the head, he thought. No… the thought sickened him, and he didn’t have the strength to even knock her off her hooves. The colt’s eyes drifted towards his opponent’s cutie mark. Ice… Fire…. Lightning... then to Tropic, who was successfully battering back Trixie’s stream of fire with a torrent of water erupting from his horn.
“Remember class,” Cheerilee lectured her students at the front of the classroom. “Water is an electrical conductor, which means….”
Snails could feel the answer on the tip of his tongue, but he still flipped through his science book to double check for the answer. Before he had managed to even reach the definitions section of the textbook, Apple Bloom shot her hoof in the air.
“Yes Apple Bloom?” Cheerilee asked with a smile.
“The electricity is enhanced and is given a medium to travel along!” Apple Bloom said.
Cheerilee clopped her hooves. “Apple Bloom is absolutely correct! Make sure to write this down in your notes class, it will be on your next test…”
Snails snapped back to reality, the slowed Hailfire still shooting lightning where Snails had stood. The fire behind Trixie began to die out as the torrent of water threatened to break through the stream of fire and crush her. Using the last of his strength, Snails nudged Hailfire’s head towards her father’s torrent of water. As the lightning met the liquid, it traveled along the current and into Tropic’s horn. The lightning arced across the stallion’s body as Hailfire’s relentless charges continued. Unable to control his own magic, Tropic could not cease the torrent of water to save himself. The audience remained speechless at the sight before them.
Unable to sustain his slowing spell any longer, Snails released Hailfire and fell to the ground panting. Once the filly realized what was happening, she screamed and stopped the stream of lightning. Every hair on Tropic’s body stood on end as he stood rigid, then collapsed. The audience broke their silence and a deafening roar erupted, spreading throughout the city.
“Daddy!” Hailfire cried, racing to her father’s side.
Trixie was the only pony still standing, and she trotted to Snails, magically lifting him to his hooves.
The blue mare gave a wicked smile to him. “Good work. I think you fried her dad.” Trixie gave a soft chuckle, turning to look back at the sobbing daughter.
“I… I didn’t want to hurt anypony… it was just instinct…” Snails said as he trotted towards Hailfire.
The crowd was now chanting Trixie’s name, drowning the sorceress in a wave of euphoria.
“Snails come on, we have to finish this show!” Trixie called out.
Snails ignored her, trotting to Hailfire’s side. Out of the crowd, a white pony with a red cross on his flank galloped to the side of the stage where Tropic lay.
Trixie rolled her eyes and turned back to the crowd, raising her hooves to silence them. “As you can see, neither water, fire, NOR wind can defeat the Great and Powerful Trixie!”
“Is he dead?!” Hailfire asked, tears forming in her eyes.
“No no dear.” The doctor said as he lifted his stethoscope from the stallion. “He’s just a little stunned is all.”
Tropic slowly opened his eyes, giving a few small coughs.
“Oh daddy!” Hailfire said excitedly, embracing her father.
The grey stallion blinked a few times then sat up. “What happened? Did we lose?”
“I... I accidentally electrocuted you dad... I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened.” His daughter said, shuffling her hooves.
“No! It wasn’t your fault!” Snails exclaimed. “I slowed you then directed your head at your father. I didn’t know it would cause you so much pain, sir. Please forgive me.”
Tropic gave a weak laugh as the colt begged for forgiveness. “Don’t worry about it! Injuries like this are bound to happen in a duel. I’m actually very impressed by your tactics!”
Snails welled up with pride, then thanked the doctor and headed back to Trixie. As he trotted, he could hear the doctor’s ramblings.
“...All of you unicorns are crazy! As soon as I saw another duel was starting, I raced back to the office and grabbed my supplies! You, sir, are lucky this duel didn’t end with you being covered in third degree burns! Why just last week...”
Trixie sat on her haunches at the edge of the stage, her hat levitating in front of the now swarming audience below her. A multitude of ponies came forth and tossed a few coins into the hat to pay tribute to the sorceress, leaving compliments as they left.
“Can you teach me how to make a hat bark like a dog?”
“That apprentice of yours is quite an anomaly, I must say!”
“You trounced Tropic! Not a lot of ponies can do that!”
As Trixie soaked in the cries of affection, Snails sat down next to her, exhausted.
“Your friend over there alright?” She asked mockingly.
“Yeah... I’ve just never seen someone get hurt like that before. The biggest injury I ever saw was a large cut some pegasus got. They just gave her a few stitches and sent her on her way.” Snails remembered.
Trixie laughed. “You thought THAT was bad? Honestly Snails, I know you have a weak heart, but that little shock was nothing compared to some of the more serious duels I’ve witnessed.”
Snails didn’t respond as he looked out over the sea of ponies, then to the blackening sky above the town. In the distance, he heard the piercing sound of a jingling bell.
“Donations! Donations! Donations for the poor!” A bright red mare called out cheerfully as she entered the town square, a small bell magically ringing next to her head.
“No way.” Trixie said as the bright red mare pranced happily toward the caravan. Leaping up onto the stage, the cheerful unicorn rang her bell while she approached Trixie.
“Hello ma’am and sir! Donations for the poor?”
“Remember what I told you yesterday?” Trixie growled, gritting her teeth.
“But ma’am, yesterday you only had two bits! Today you have... uh.. well judging from your hat, a billion! Can’t you spare a few bits for the less fortunate?”
“Give me one reason why.” Trixie said.
The red mare gave a deep breath, then burst into song.
“Imagine their surprise when they see before their eyes
A nice little toy for their bundle of joy
What a joyful mood with a table full of food!
Make a family content with a whole month of rent!
You can keep a room lit for just a sing-le biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!...
So please donate to the poor!”
As she finished, she extended forth a magical bottomless purse, a wide smile across her face.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Trixie magically ripped the floating bell away from the mare and threw it into the nearby river.
“Hey! My bell!” She cried as the instrument plunged into the water.
“Now get off my stage, or I’ll toss your purse in next.”
The red unicorn slowly trotted off the stage, hanging her head.
“Why did you do that?” Snails asked, furrowing his brow as he turned from the mare to Trixie.
The sorceress lifted an eyebrow as she looked disapprovingly at her apprentice. “Didn’t you hear what I said when that air-head attacked us the day before? Donating to the poor is completely useless. Let’s say I pay for one of their meals. So what? The next day those same ponies will be wallowing for more food. If they refuse to stand up and save themselves, let them rot.”
Instead of backing down as he had before, Snails pushed the blue mare farther. “My mother constantly worked overtime and extra hard just to provide for the both of us. No matter what she did, she could never really pull us out of poverty.” He confessed.
“And then what did you do?” Trixie asked with an air of confidence. “You got up on your hooves and left home. Remember when you got excited over 15 bits? Look at how much you are making now.” She said, gesturing towards the now brimming hat. “You and I are trotting examples of how anypony can simply pull themselves together and become famous.”
“But didn’t you help me? You taught me how to use my magic and let me travel with you right?” Snails fought back.
Trixie attempted to form an argument, but her usual quick thinking suddenly fell flat.
“And... and what about you?” He continued.
Trixie gave Snails a confused look. “What do you mean?”
“When I found you in Trottingham you were nearly starving to death! According to you, I shouldn’t have ever given you any food at all!”
Trixie’s violet eyes flared, rage threatening to burst through them. “I never needed your help! I was in a small slump, so what! I’ll never understand why you helped me anyways! Oh, of course! It’s because you’re just a little suck-up who never had an actual role model in their life!”
Snails wanted to recoil from Trixie’s rage. To simply stop talking. To go back to silently disapproving of her actions.
But something had recently clicked inside him ever since his dream. The way Trixie talked down about his mother and placed herself on a godlike pedestal above everypony else brought out a rare emotion in the colt: anger.
“I may have looked up to you...” Snails said defiantly, keeping his eyes locked with Trixie’s. “...but I was also raised to help other ponies and treat them with respect. Even if they aren’t deserving of it.”
“Do you know why?” Trixie seethed. “It’s because you were born in a town full of weak ponies, and raised in a house with a weak mother! That’s what happens when weak ponies are raised together in some low-life town! They all pat each other’s backs to try and forget about how pathetic they are! When you become as powerful as me, you’ll see them for the weak slobs they are and learn to ignore them.”
“If I’m going to be more like you as I grow more powerful...” Snails said as he turned away from Trixie. “... Then I think I’d rather just be Snails, maybe the dumbest, but also one of the nicest ponies in Equestria. Not some cold-hearted pompous jerk.”
The first droplets of rain began to fall as Snails stepped down from the stage and headed towards the main bridge.
“Snails what are you doing!? Get back here! You’ll never make it to Ponyville in this storm!” Trixie called out furiously. Most of the crowd had already dispersed, fleeing into their homes at the sound of thunder echoing through the town streets.
Snails ignored her and crossed the bridge to the other side of the city. Once there, he weaved through the panicking crowd toward the edge of town. Far to his left, the road he and Trixie had entered the town through ran out of the city, a wooden sign with the words ‘To Hoofington’ planted beside the exit. To his near right, a road that ran along the river flowing through the city immediately disappeared into Whitetail Woods, a wooden sign with the words ‘To Ponyville’ stood by the exit.
Taking a deep breath, Snails trotted onto the worn dirt path. As soon as his hooves touched the road, a sheet of grey fell over his eyes and soaked the colt in rain. The initial blast sent him into a temporary shock due to its freezing temperature. The cold pre-winter air was just warm enough to prevent snow, caking the ground with freezing puddles and mud instead of a white wonderland.
Trudging through the Woods quickly took it’s toll on the young colt, every step causing his hooves to sink deep into the mud, followed by a sucking sound as he struggled to pull himself out. The rain itself showed no sign’s of stopping as constant shivering wracked through Snails’ body.
After what seemed like an eternity of battling through mud, freezing puddles, and sleet, exhaustion began to overcome Snails. Not a single tree stood that had still kept its precious foliage, leaving no shelter in sight except for the wood’s gnarled branches. Realizing he couldn’t continue through such harsh conditions, Snails stumbled off of the muddy road and under a tree.
Although no leaves hung to block the downpour of icy rain, the colt was just small enough to squeeze in-between two twisted roots that sprung out from the tree. As he curled up in his newfound sleeping spot, memories of the past few weeks flashed through Snails’ mind.
He remembered how determined he had felt when he left Ponyville. The night air had been calm and warm, a welcoming and helpful guide as opposed to the swirling demon that raged before him.
He remembered how excited he had been when he found Trixie, how he had nursed her back to health, and the pride he felt over the small sense of respect she expressed towards him.
He remembered learning how to control his magic, and how excited it had made him that maybe he wasn’t useless after all. The show in Hoofington had been the pinnacle of the adventure, the first moment he had thought of himself as truly having a purpose.
Then today happened. Had his dream woken him up? Had he been blinded by his own pride that he couldn’t see what a monster Trixie was? Had he overreacted?
No. Above all else, despite everything Trixie had taught him, his mother had taught him how to live, love. and respect. Trixie seemed to lack all of these traits, lashing out at everypony and everything around her. Someone had to change for their relationship to persist, and Snails refused to go against who he was. If Trixie wanted to continue her cold-hearted view of the world, he didn’t want to have anything to do with her.
He was going home.
It’s Not Where You Go...
Chapter (final): ...But How You Get There
Chapter 8: Turning Back
A distinct, faint jingle in the distance roused Snails from his sleep. Although the rain had slowed it’s relentless assault, a sheet of grey and nearly pitch black darkness limited the colt’s view, masking the source of the sound.
Not a moment later a soft light appeared back down the muddy path, hovering and bobbing above the trail. Along with the growing light and now loud piercing jingle, Snails began picking up a faint feminine voice calling out in the night.
Hearing his name, the colt attempted to rise to his hooves. Despite his struggling, aching muscles, an empty stomach, and sleep deprivation kept him firmly rooted under the tree.
The jingling and shouting began to pierce through the downpour as the light grew stronger. Slowly, the illumination revealed a lone blue mare pulling a large caravan. Next to her head, a small bell shook violently, putting out a tone one would not imagine from such a small instrument.
Albeit the voice undoubtedly belonged to Trixie, it lacked the characteristics the sorceress usually boasted. Instead of being laced with arrogance and callousness, her cries were heavy with worry and urgency.
Trixie soon came fully into view as she approached Snails’ resting place. Her hooves and legs were caked with mud and a weary yet concerned gaze searched wildly through the darkened forest.
To any passerby on the path, Snails would be almost invisible due to being covered in mud and blocked by roots. Sure enough, even with her frantic search, Trixie passed over him.
Snails hesitated to call out to her. Would he be proving Trixie right if he revealed himself to her like this? Everything she said in Fillydelphia displayed right in front of her as a muddy failure. Perhaps he should just lay here... silent...
Still, her voice had a newfound sincerity that broke clearly through the forest and rain. Also, Snails realized, Trixie was actually worried for him. It was a simple thought, but Snails still secretly idolized Trixie. To have her concerned for his well-being gave the colt a warm fuzzy feeling he hadn’t felt since he first heard Trixie laugh. The soft, joyous sound coming from the usually withdrawn sorceress had been unexpected yet wonderful. It made Snails believe that, beneath her cold-hearted outer shell, Trixie possessed emotions and feelings just like everypony else. There was also the fact that she had traveled all this way just to find him, and-
Snails suddenly realized how distant Trixie’s voice had become. While he had been lost in thought, the sorceress had long passed him by, with the light from her horn fading into the distance behind the caravan.
“Trixie!” Snails shouted with all of his strength. His cry was quickly drowned out by the rain as the caravan pulled farther away down the darkened path.
While Snails’ previous attempt to raise himself had failed, a second wind had seized the colt. Slowly rising to his hooves, Snails weakly emerged from his hiding place, shuddering as he sunk into the muddy path and the cold rain once again battered him.
Up ahead, Trixie’s cries had ceased and the caravan had become motionless aside from an occasional jerk. Snails slowly trotted to the sorceress, each step wobbly and dangerously unstable. As he approached the caravan’s side, his eyes caught site of the deep ruts the wheels had trapped themselves in. Frustrated yelps and curses came from the front as Trixie pulled on the caravan futilely. Snails stopped at Trixie’s side, the blue mare still oblivious to his presence.
“N-nice w-weather we’re having eh?” Snails asked tiredly. Even though he was happy to see Trixie again, nothing in Equestria could overcome the pure exhaustion he felt.
Trixie spun around in surprise, catching sight of Snails. He was a poor sight, with the majority of his body covered in mud and a dirtied, ruffled mane.
“Snails!” She cried, unhitching herself from the caravan. A look of relief washed over her face as she galloped up to the colt.
Snails recoiled slightly as it seemed Trixie was going to tackle him in pure joy. Halting just before she would crash into her partner, realization of her ecstatic behavior dawned on the sorceress, and she quickly straightened herself in an attempt to save face.
“It’s a miracle you’re ok.” Trixie lightly scolded Snails. “If I hadn’t come to find you, you would have-”
“I would have trotted home to Ponyville the next day.” Snails interrupted determinedly. “Why did you come here?”
Flustered at his sudden impertinence, Trixie stammered “To save you of course! Nopony could survive a storm like thi-”
“I was doing fine by myself. Whether you came or not had nothing to do with my survival. If that’s what you came for, was to ‘save’ me, then you might as well turn back now.”
Trixie was still shocked at Snails’ surge of independence. This was NOT the same colt she had dragged along with her from Trottingham. Then again... she wasn’t the same mare he had helped before either. These past two weeks traveling together had changed both of them. Although Trixie had been journeying for almost her whole life, her time with Snails had left a great impact on her.
Gathering her courage, Trixie began her confession. “You’re the first pony in years I’ve actually been able to talk to. After having wandered for seven years alone, meeting somepony like you with such determination and kindness has made me finally reevaluate myself again. I know it may not feel like it, but talking and training and performing and just... trotting with you has helped me. A lot.”
Snails nodded, surprised but relieved to be hearing Trixie admit his importance to her.
“I came here because I wanted to thank you for staying with me as long as you did. And... I was afraid you’d get hurt in a storm like this on your way back home.”
“Thanks.” Was all Snails could muster as his last reserves of energy began to fade.
Realizing his critical condition, Trixie ushered Snails into the caravan. While she managed to remove most of the mud as they entered, a few clumps still stuck to the colt’s coat. An exhausted Snails collapsed into the silk blankets, welcoming back their warmth.
Trixie laid down beside him, letting out a long sigh. She placed the bell she had been magically carrying with her into the mound of bags that lined the back wall of the caravan.
“Is that the bell the charity mare had?” Snails asked, puzzled.
“It’s the bell I tossed into the river.” Trixie responded. “I tried to find her and give it back, but the streets had been abandoned as soon as the storm began.”
Snails looked back at the pristine bell. “At least you tried...” He said.
“Tomorrow I’ll take you back to Ponyville.” Trixie said regretfully. “The storm should be over by the time we wake up.”
An odd silence soon crept over them. Although she would not express it, Trixie was disappointed. Snails was still wary of her, no matter how hard she tried to appease him. Even so, she couldn’t blame him; the mare had been reckless and vehement in her assault on Snails, his friends, his family, and everything he stood for. Why should he suddenly forgive her?
Tomorrow night, she would be alone again, having pushed away the only pony in seven years to give her a chance. More than ever, Trixie realized how wonderful it had been to have somepony like Snails to talk to.
“Why did you come find me? Why did you leave Ponyville?” Trixie asked.
Snails shifted his head towards Trixie. “After school that day, and seeing my mother like she was... I needed to get out of Ponyville. I found your poster and left for Trottingham hoping you would let me travel with you and be a part of your show.”
“You had a lot of faith in me.” Trixie said quietly.
“I was taught that everypony had some good in them. I thought you’d be no exception.”
As soon as the conversation had started, it dropped off immediately as Trixie took in Snails’ words. Regretting his slightly caustic remark, Snails attempted to carry on the discussion with a question that had been gnawing at the back of his mind.
“You said earlier you had been wandering for... seven years!? What made you do that? What happened to your... I mean...”
Trixie’s mind gave a sigh of relief as her partner asked the question she had been waiting for ever since Hoofington.
“No no! It’s fine.” Trixie supported. “But still... it’s a long story.”
Snails sat up as his interest piqued. His idol’s past was a topic that had been on his mind when he first saw her in Ponyville. “If you wouldn’t mind telling it, I’d love to hear the whole thing. Everything.”
“Everything?” Trixie questioned.
“Yes. Every detail.”
Trixie took a deep breath. “Where to begin.... hmmmmmm-ah! It was a bright cold day in April...”
“Come one! Come all! Everypony in Stalliongrad come and witness the omnipotent magic of the three most powerful unicorns in Equestria!” A deep voice boomed out across the heart of the city, echoing off the grand spires and elegant structures of Stalliongrad.
Three identical pale blue mares dressed in silken gowns trotted out onto the stage. As they approached the front of the audience, all three bowed, followed by a blue flash. Where three mares had stood before, only one remained.
“Behold! The great illusionist, Ocean Mirage!”
The mass of ponies gasped at the mare’s trickery, then burst into applause.
“And now, the fastest spellcaster the world has ever known iiiiiiiiit’s....”
A large crystal plummeted from the sky, stopping to hover just above the wooden floor of the stage. The second the crystal had stopped, a white flash radiated out from its core and a pitch black, copper-maned stallion instantly appeared beside it.
Loud shrieking cheers mixed with a few distinct ‘boos’ rang out from the crowd. The black stallion refused to bow to the audience, instead deciding to nonchalantly toy with his crystal weapon as the show’s intro continued.
“And last, but certainly NOT least, it is I!...”
A puff of blue smoke erupted in between Mirage and Spellslinger, giving way to a dark blue stallion garbed in a star-wrought robe and wizard hat.
“Hoodwink! The greatest conjurer to ever live!”
Hoodwink bowed generously to the crowd as it surged with a loud cheer.
“Together, we form the strongest team in existence! We are the Mystic Triumverate!”
As Hoodwink boasted out their name, a great array of lights, flames, and sparks shot out from the stage and soared across the city.
The audience ooh’d and ah’d at the display of power. Spellslinger scoffed, then trotted to Hoodwink’s side at the middle of the stage, his crystal hovering beside him.
“Is everypony already entertained!?” He shouted with a hint of disappointment.
A massive tide of screaming and shouting rang out.
“I love you Spellslinger! Please marry me!” A mare in the front swooned.
“What a showoff! Shut up and do something!”
“Do that spell you did last time! The one where you teleported REALLY fast!” A colt called out.
Satisfied with the reaction, Spellslinger’s horn glowed as his crystal fractured into four pieces. The black stallion nodded towards Hoodwink as he stepped to the side, the four crystal pieces floating around him.
Returning the nod, Hoodwink began conjuring a variety of objects, ranging from balls of water to fruit and even household accessories.
As soon as an object finished being conjured, Hoodwink fired it like a projectile at Spellslinger.
Acting quickly, Spellslinger arranged two of his crystal fragments to surround the incoming projectiles. The second the fragments found their mark, a beam of light shot out between them, instantly vaporizing an apple. Nearby, a ball of water homed in on the black stallion. Utilizing his other two fragments, Spellslinger annihilated the liquid before it could reach him.
Hoodwink continued his assault, increasing the size and number of the projectiles. Spellslinger easily kept pace, showing no signs of struggle as he shot down his targets.
Finally, Hoodwink concentrated intensely. Out of the massive blue cloud he had summoned, a crude statue of Celestia stood. Giving a wry smile, the blue stallion turned to the audience.
“Who wants to see Spellslinger fry the princess?!” He joked.
The audience laughed and cheered at the blasphemy, begging him to desecrate the statue.
Hoodwink returned his gaze to Spellslinger, giving the black stallion a nod. “Catch this!”
The statue flew into the air, the mass of stone threatening to crush Spellslinger below. Returning the crystal fragments to his side, Spellslinger reformed the crystal and began charging a powerful spell. The audience shielded their eyes in horror as the statue was mere moments away from destroying the stallion.
Right before the statue would kill him, Spellslinger let out a triumphant shout as a bright stream of light fired from the crystal. Uncovering their eyes, the mass of ponies burst into applause and shrieks as Spellslinger casually blew off the smoke wisps rising from his crystal.
Returning to the audience, Hoodwink raised his hooves.
“Truly there is not a faster nor stronger unicorn in all of...”
The blue stallion ceased his announcing as he noticed the crowd beginning to retreat, a look of sheer horror across their faces.
“We’re going to be crushed!” A mare screamed.
“A-a-a tidal wave! The nearby dam must have broken!” A stallion cried out.
Hoodwink spun around, coming face to face with a massive wall of water that towered above the stage. Before he could brace himself for the torrent of water, the blue behemoth collapsed upon him.
To his surprise, instead of a massive force of liquid sweeping him from his feet, the only thing that accompanied the great wave was a small, tranquil breeze.
Hoodwink smirked as he looked over to his wife. While she attempted to appear innocent, her bright eyes and wide grin gave her trick away.
“An illusion, fillies and gentlecolts, by the greatest deceiver in the land! It appears you have all been fooled!” Hoodwink shouted.
Spellslinger angrily stomped over to his partner as the audience excitedly regrouped.
“That wasn’t part of the show!” He growled.
Before Hoodwink could respond, two images of Mirage faded into view on either side of Spellslinger.
“Dear dear Spellslinger.” They both chided. “The best performers are those who can alter their acts on a whim! I trust YOU are competent and open-minded enough to follow along, no?”
Spellslinger hesitated. “I... I can do anything! It’s not ME I’m worried about, it’s those mindless drones out there! Scaring them away and making them afraid of us isn’t going to get us any money!”
The two images frowned, then disappeared. Spellslinger shifted his gaze from the now empty space back to Hoodwink. The blue stallion was giving him a curious look.
“Fear, my dear Spellslinger...” Hoodwink said with a light, feminine voice. Slowly, the stallion’s toned legs and firm features phased out, being replaced by the soft curves and slender legs of a mare. “leads to respect. Respect leads to power! Fame! Grandeur!”
Spellslinger gazed past the doppelganger illusionist and spotted the real Hoodwink at the front of the stage, reassuring the audience of their safety.
“I told you when we started this show-business that I just wanted the money.” He said to Mirage, gritting his teeth. “You may have delusions of grandeur, but as for me, I prefer to keep my hopes and dreams grounded!”
“...And remember, our viewers are our highest priority! We can promise with utmost certainty nopony, besides us, will be harmed during the performance. Now... on with the show!” Hoodwink shouted.
Mirage adjusted her silk gown. “Money is temporary, while power is forever. But whatever! Suit yourself! I’ve got a show to put on.”
The black stallion attempted to argue, but Mirage had already begun trotting to the front of the stage. Spellslinger scowled then retreated to the back of the terrace along with Hoodwink, giving a small snort as he stood next to his partner.
“That mare of yours is nothing but trouble!” He growled.
Hoodwink merely chuckled in response. “That’s why I love her.”
While the two stallions conversed, Mirage weaved visions of great monsters, massive wars, and beautiful kingdoms. The awestruck audience remained completely enthralled as the pale blue mare worked her magic with a devious grin on her face.
“Pssst! Daddy! Spellslinger!” A squeaky voice piped up from behind them.
Both stallions turned around to see the head of a small blue filly poking out from between the curtains. Her horn exuded a soft flickering light while two cups of water wobbled as they precariously levitated in mid-air.
“I got you both a glass of water in case you were thirsty...” The filly whispered loudly as the crowd gasped at the sight of a manticore letting loose a ferocious roar.
Hoodwink gave her a warm smile. “That’s very thoughtful of you Trixie. Here let me take those off your horn-”
“No!” She said, concentrating on keeping the cups of water levitating. “I can do this!”
The first cup floated slowly but surely to Spellslinger, who received it with his own magic, giving Trixie a nod.
“Thanks kiddo.” He said, beginning to chug down the water.
“And one for you daddy!”
Just as the cup reached Hoodwink, the glow of Trixie’s horn disappeared and the cup dropped from the air. Hoodwink caught it right before it would impact the stage.
“Oh drat! I messed up again! Sorry dad...” Trixie said, drooping in despair.
Her father placed his hoof under her chin and raised her head so that her eyes met his. “Trixie, when I was your age, I couldn’t even USE magic. You are hooves-down the most powerful unicorn in your class as well.”
Her father’s reassuring words and kind face quickly rejuvenated the young filly as she straightened herself and puffed her chest.
“It’s good to expect great things from yourself! But sometimes... you just need to take a step back and appreciate where you are and how far you’ve come. Remember, it’s not where you go, but how you get there! Now, promise not to be so hard on yourself?”
“I promise dad!” Trixie said happily.
A great applause arose from the audience and the dazzling images that had graced the stage disappeared, signalling the end of Mirage’s act.
“Oh! Looks like it’s time for my act!” Hoodwink said. The magician quickly gulped down the water, then kissed Trixie on the head. “Wish me luck!”
Hoodwink trotted out to the front of the stage, a sea of ponies that stretched across the town square awaiting his next move with bated breath.To anypony else, it would have been an impressive sight, but to him, it was just the usual monthly crowd.
“Fillies and gentlecolts, it is my pleasure to perform for you on this fine spring day! I’m sure you thoroughly enjoyed the sheer display of power and skill from my partners! To start off, I require a volunteer!”
Nearly everypony in the audience shot their hooves into the air as a loud surge of “me!”’’s echoed through the town square.
“Hmmmmm so many choices so many choices.... ah! You there!” Hoodwink exclaimed, pointing his hoof at a green earth pony at the foot of the stage.
“M-m-me!?” He squealed.
“Yes! You! It’s your lucky day!”
The green stallion excitedly scurried on to the stage with a giddy smile.
“For my first act...” Hoodwink began, turning back towards the audience. “I shall make this stallion DISAPPEAR!”
The glee dropped from the earth pony’s face, being replaced with a look of worry. “Disappear?? That means your going to make me invisible right?”
Hoodwink threw out his cape in response, which grew immensely in size, blocking the earth pony from the view of the audience. As the magician pulled his cape back and returned it to it’s normal state, the crowd of ponies gasped. The green stallion was nowhere to be seen.
“Ok! Now, I need another volunteer!” Hoodwink called out.
While almost all of the audience had struggled to participate in the show before, only a small number of brave ponies dared to raise their hooves after witnessing the fate of the green stallion.
Hoodwink’s eye caught the raised hoof of a young orange unicorn mare. Upon her back, an unamused cat cleaned itself from the safety of it’s owners saddlepurse.
“Young mare with the feline! Step right up!”
The unicorn boldly trotted onto the stage, trying her best to look unafraid and nonchalant.
“That’s a cute cat you got there!” Hoodwink exclaimed as she stood before him.
“Oh thank you! Madeline’s a purebred that was born from an award-winning Chartreux! I make sure to feed her kitty-deluxe brand only, and take her to-AAAAAH”
The orange mare screeched as Hoodwink’s wizard hat jumped to life and began barking like a dog. A clearly disturbed Madeline hissed at the anomaly, then sprang from the saddlepurse in fear. Hoodwink’s hat leaped down from it’s owner’s head and began wildly chasing the frightened feline across the stage. The audience erupted into laughter and applause at the strange sight.
“Oh my goodness!” The distraught mare cried. “Madeline! Madeline! Come to mommy! Sir, please, make it stop!”
Hoodwink gave the mare his best look of honest worry. “I’m so sorry ma’am! He just cant contain himself when he sees a cat! Bow wow stop chasing that cute cat! Bow w-”
The audience ceased their laughter and gasped in horror as the animated hat caught up to the feline and pounced upon it, devouring the yowling furball under it’s brim. Content that it had caught it’s prey, the hat gave one final burp then fell limp and returned to its natural state.
“Uh oh” Hoodwink said guiltily.
“No! Wha-Oh my-But-uuuuuuuh” the orange mare stammered, then passed out and fell to the stage floor.
Hoodwink levitated his hat back into his hooves and reached inside of it. “I’m sure she’s somewhere in here! Let’s see.... ah! I think I got her!”
The magician lifted his hoof from the bag, a small white rabbit in his grasp. “Oh dear that’s not it. Here, just let me see if I can...”
As Hoodwink continued to rummage through the hat, dozens of small animals ranging from birds to mice poured out from it and scattered through the town square. While a few audience members became frightened, almost everypony were in hysterics.
Finally, Hoodwink ceased his frantic search, looking through the audience as if in desperation.
“You! Noble pegasus!” He called out to a pink mare.
The pegasus shied away, afraid she may suffer the same fate as the two attendants before her. “Y-yes?”
“Would you kindly retrieve me a cloud? A rather bulky one will do!”
The pink pegasus hesitated, then darted into the sky. Luckily, the town weather team had created a particularly cloudy day, so the mare returned a few moments later dragging along a chunky cloud.
“Alright, now stand back!”
Hoodwink threw out his cape once more, blocking the cloud from the audience’s view. When Hoodwink pulled his cape back, crowd of ponies gasped, then burst into applause. Where the cloud had once lazily drifted, the green stallion who had happily volunteered before stood in a dazed state along with a frightened Madeline. The orange unicorn lept from the stage floor and embraced her pet. Giving the feline a second look, she scowled at it’s ruffled fur and raced off, grooming it’s coat with a magical brush as she fled.
The green earth pony stumbled off the stage, shaking his head. “Insane... just insane... you wouldn’t believe what I saw!”
After waiting for the audience to die down, Hoodwink raised his hooves in the air. “Fillies and gentlecolts, I would like to thank you all for coming today! I hope you enjoyed the show and the unique display of power from me and my partners. Before you leave today, a present!”
Hoodwink began conjuring bouquets of roses, throwing them out to the audience. Small struggles to capture a falling bouquet would break out, only to resolve peacefully a moment later.
Concentrating intensely, Hoodwink conjured an exceptionally stunning bouquet, grabbing the attention of the audience.
“And now, one for my lovely wife!” He shouted, turning around. Hoodwink was taken aback as he spotted his wife. All 20 of her. “So this is how it’s going to be, huh....”
Behind him, the audience was playing their own guessing game.
“It’s third from the right Hoodwink! I can tell because the blue gem around her neck is shinier than the rest!” A colt called out.
“What!? No way you idiot! They’re all equally shiny!” The colt’s friend scolded. “It’s OBVIOUSLY the one on the far left!”
Although Hoodwink had been momentarily stunned by the sudden challenge, he quickly recollected himself and glanced through the mass of images. Being a master illusionist, distinguishing the real Mirage from her many images would have been difficult for any other pony. For Hoodwink, there was always one small detail he could take advantage of when his wife tried to trick him.
Trotting slowly to the Mirage a few paces to his right, Hoodwink extended the bouquet to her.
“For you, love. You have a hard time hiding that cute blush of yours.”
The mass of images faded away, leaving a smiling Mirage standing in front of her husband. As she took the bouquet from him, Mirage stepped forward and locked the couple into a tender kiss, causing a cheer to rush through the audience.
“Ew....” Trixie said as she watched from between the curtains.
“Ah shut it kid.” Spellslinger chuckled. “I’ve had to watch this for eight years now.”
The two lovers finally broke their kiss, Hoodwink’s face now as red as his wife’s. Giving her a wink, he turned back to the audience.
“Once again, thank you all for coming to the show, and I hope you all-”
“Duel!” A small colt shouted from the front of the audience.
Hoodwink hesitated as the word rang through the town square. “Ha! Not today boy, but you CAN catch me dueling tomorrow at the Iron Hoof at-”
“Duel!” Another shout came forth, this time from a stallion in the back.
Soon, the audience took up the demand and began a steady chant. “Duel! Duel! Duel!”
Spellslinger trotted to Hoodwink’s side with a smirk on his face. “Give the ponies what they want, right?”
Hoodwink ignored his friend, raising his hooves to quiet the audience. “If it’s a duel you want....” He said, removing his hat and throwing it to the back of the stage. “Then it’s a duel you’ll get!”
A powerful roar that dwarfed any cheer they had mustered before erupted from the crowd as Hoodwink retreated, beckoning to Spellslinger. The two stallions converged with Mirage at the center of the terrace.
“Ugh” Hoodwink scowled, shaking his head. “I am NOT ready for a duel.”
“Of course not! You’re never ready for a duel against me!” Spellslinger gloated.
Mirage placed a hoof on her husbands shoulder as she gave him a look of concern. “I can duel if you aren’t feeling well.”
“No offense Mirage, but the audience is rearing for a duel between Hoodwink and I. We wouldn’t want to upset them now would we?”
Before Mirage could respond, Hoodwink shook her hoof from his shoulder. “He’s right. We’ve already come this far, might as well go all the way. I’ll duel.”
Mirage gave her husband a solemn nod as she trotted to her daughter’s side, disappearing behind the curtains.
Hoodwink faced Spellslinger, locking hooves and eyes with his new opponent. The same steely yet mocking gaze the black stallion possessed every time the two friends dueled greeted him once more. While Hoodwink was an excellent duelist and a powerful magician, Spellslinger was unmatched in both speed and power. Still, Hoodwink never entered a duel believing he would lose. Despite his tired state, this time was no different.
“Spellslinger.” The black stallion said in a slightly amused tone. The old tradition of shaking hooves and trading names with an opponent was childish to him.
“Hoodwink.” He replied with a sincere voice, giving Spellslinger a nod of respect.
Breaking hooves, the two stallions trotted to their respective sides of the stage. An excited audience began falling into chaos as they shouted out bets and cheered for their favorite duelist.
Hoodwink gave a deep sigh and closed his eyes, giving a few steady breaths to relax himself. Satisfied, he turned around and peered across the stage at a restless Spellslinger. Although he never compromised his golden rule of giving his opponent the first move, he really had no choice when dueling this particular foe.
In the blink of an eye, Spellslinger fractured his crystal and held them in a rectangular pattern stretching across the width of the stage. Magic sparked from each crystal, generating a wall of pure energy that began hurtling towards Hoodwink.
Instead of attempting to dodge the massive spell, Hoodwink charged directly at it. Right as the wall would impact him, the magician disappeared in a puff of blue smoke, reappearing directly in front of Spellslinger.
Hoodwink quickly conjured a small cloud of sand, blasting it into his opponent’s eyes. Spellslinger cursed as he stumbled backward, his crystal fragments floating wildly about as they fired energy between themselves in a vain attempt to hit their opponent.
Taking advantage of the sudden confusion, Hoodwink seized two of the energy charged crystals and placed them on either side of their master.
Spellslinger cried out as his own magic leaped between the fragments and singed his coat. The audience roared in approval over the combat.
While Hoodwink struggled to hold the wild crystals in place, Spellslinger escaped his own magic by teleporting to a fragment he had moved to the other side of the stage.
Both opponents wheeled around to face each other once again, the battle coming to almost a full reset. A dangerous look of rage pierced Hoodwink as Spellslinger recovered and regathered his crystal. Despite his nearly perfect start, the magician was perhaps even further away from winning than he was when the fight began. Spellslinger’s rage was a sight to behold, and if there was one thing that drove the black stallion into rage, it was being outsmarted.
“Nice start Hoodwink! You should have seen the look on his face when you blasted him with sand!” A red stallion near the front of the stage shouted
“Come on Spellslinger! Don’t let him beat you like that!” A colt cried out.
A now fully recovered Spellslinger charged his crystals with energy then fired them off individually at his enemy. Taking note of the incoming projectiles, Hoodwink swiftly removed his cape, casting it out in front of him. Instead of ripping the soft cloth to ribbons, the fragments impacted the cape as if it were a steel shield, halting them in their tracks.
Attempting to start up his own offense, Hoodwink magically lifted the strengthened cape and hurled it at Spellslinger. His rival dived from the missile’s path, then renewed his assault on Hoodwink with charged fragments. Hoodwink instantly regretted parting ways with his cape as the crystals now assaulted him freely.
The duel soon became an act of frustration for Hoodwink as he attempted to close the distance on his opponent. Teleporting next to Spellslinger only caused his rival to copy his move and teleport to the other side of the stage, while trying to fight him at a range was nearly impossible with the crystal fragments having free reign over him.
After being repeatedly struck by the crystal’s burning energy and a handful of fruitless teleports, exhaustion began to overtake Hoodwink. Either he ended this soon, or Spellslinger would wear him down until he collapsed.
Seizing his discarded hat from the back of the stage, Hoodwink avoided the crystals while filling the headwear with the last remnants of his energy. Satisfied that his coup de grace was prepared, he threw the magic-filled hat across the terrace at Spellslinger.
A great blue explosion rocked the ground where Spellslinger stood, causing screams of fright from the crowd. Hoodwink now lay exhausted on the ground, looking towards the other side of the stage for any signs of his opponent. While most of the audience may have been worried for Spellslinger’s well being, Hoodwink knew better than anyone else that the black stallion had come unscathed from much worse.
As the blue smoke cleared away, the audience gasped as nothing but thin air remained where Spellslinger had once been. Before panic could spread through the audience, a fully reformed crystal floated down from above the stage, landing next to Hoodwink. After a bright flash, Spellslinger appeared at its side, untouched but for a few barely noticeable singe marks on his black coat.
“Give up?” Spellslinger said snidely, waving to the audience as they cheered for him.
Hoodwink struggled to stand, then gave an exhausted sigh and streched his lowered hooves out towards Spellslinger in defeat. The applause of the crowd surged as Spellslinger raised his hooves in victory.
Once he was done showing off, Spellslinger helped his friend to his hooves. Hoodwink limped to the front of the stage and slowly rose a hoof to quiet the audience.
The mass of ponies erupted in cheer in response, causing Hoodwink to have to raise his hoof again to quiet them.
“Thank you all for coming today! If you enjoyed the show, please come to the front of the stage and toss a few bits into the bottomless bag! Don’t forget, we’ll be here next month, same time, with an all new act! See you then!”
Mirage trotted forward with the bottomless bag, holding it out to the crowd while Hoodwink and Spellslinger retreated.
“You pulled a fast one on me there at the beginning!” Spellslinger snorted.
Hoodwink laughed. “Not like it mattered in the end anyway. You still won by a wide margin.”
An excited Trixie bursts out from the curtains and embraced her father. “That was SO cool! I want to duel!”
“When you’re older Trixie!” Hoodwink said, patting his daughter on the head. The blue stallion looked back towards his wife and a mass of ponies eagerly donating their bits in appreciation. “Well, it looks like a big pot today! What do you say we stop by the Iron Hoof after the crowd dies out for a victory dinner Spellslinger? Maybe even catch some rookie duelists and have a good laugh?”
Spellslinger hesitated then, waved his hoof to turn down the offer. “I uh... already have plans for tonight.” He said simply.
Hoodwink opened his mouth to argue, then quickly shut it and turned to his daughter with a smile. “Why don’t you go check up with your mother on getting your allowance for the week?”
Trixie’s eyes brightened as she broke away from her father and dashed to Mirage’s side.
With his daughter out of hearing range, Hoodwink turned back to Spellslinger with a worried expression. “These ‘plans’ wouldn’t happen to have something to do with those Black Mane crooks would they?”
“Uh... well... what does it matter to you!?” Spellslinger snapped back.
Hoodwink shook his head as his friend confirmed his fears. “I just don’t think you should be hanging out with those scum. Everywhere they trot, trouble follows with them. I don’t want you getting into anything over your head.”
“Since when has ‘Hoodwink the Great’ ever cared about law? You’ve done some questionable things in your life too! Well... up until you got that little runt that is.”
“See, that’s what I’m talking about!” Hoodwink flared up at Spellslinger’s words. “Ever since you began your little get-togethers with the Black Mane you’ve been acting more openly hostile. You could sell all the poison joke or rob all of the stores you wanted, but calling my daughter a runt is NOT something the Spellslinger a few months ago would have said!”
Spellslinger snorted then pushed Hoodwink aside as he trotted to Mirage. The audience had nearly disappeared when the blue mare placed the bag onto the stage, a smile on her face.
“438 bits! Not our biggest pot ever, but I’d be lying if I said it was a disappointing amount!”
“I’ll be taking my third of the bits and leaving.” Spellslinger said rudely.
Mirage hesitated at his abruptness, then silently extracted her partner’s bits. Spellslinger snagged them from the air, placed them in his satchel, then trotted off without saying a word.
Mirage approached her husband with a look of worry on her face. “Did I do something to upset Spellslinger again? I can never get along with him very well, even if he is your friend.”
Hoodwink sighed, then gave a small laugh. “No, it’s not you this time honey. He’s just upset about something I said. Don’t worry, he’ll be back tomorrow and won’t remember a darn thing! Now, I say we enjoy ourselves tonight! Where do you two want to eat?”
“Ooh! Ooh! The Iron Hoof! Let’s eat at the Iron Hoof daddy! I want to watch some duels!” Trixie squealed, hopping up and down.
“That’s my girl!” Hoodwink praised her.
After receiving the nod of approval from Mirage, Hoodwink lead his family deeper into Stalliongrad to celebrate their recent success.
“And for the rest of the night we ate at the Iron Hoof. It was some of the most carefree times of my life. Everything was simple and we had a large sum of money without being completely rich. I was, like I mentioned before, the top of my class in spell casting as well. At the time I was thinking it wouldn’t be long until I joined my parents and Spellslinger in their shows.”
Trixie took a quick break as she drank from the water container and caught her breath. Meanwhile, Snails had sat silently throughout the whole story, listening intently with wonder while forming questions of his own.
“How did your parents meet each other? Did you have your cutie mark yet? What was school like in Stalliongrad? Where did Spellslinger get that crystal?”
Trixie waved her hoof in dismissal. “If I told you about how my parents met and what school was like, we would be here for the next couple of days! No, I did not have my cutie mark yet, and I have no idea where Spellslinger’s crystal came from. I asked my father once, and even he didn’t have a clue. It must be some secret.”
Snails nodded in understanding, then looked back towards Trixie with expectant eyes.
The blue mare placed the container back down, then took a deep breath. “I would say a few months after the show I just mentioned, my mother came down with a terrible sickness. She began to grow tired very easily and rarely ever ate. My father took her to the Stalliongrad Central Hospital. The news... wasn’t good....”
Hoodwink paced about the waiting room, a look of worry and depression across his face. Trixie sat on one of the many chairs, anxiously watching her father. The whole ordeal was so surreal to Trixie, who was still only five years old. Unbeknown to the filly, her father was just as confused, worried, and scared as she was.
‘For Celestia’s sake!’ Hoodwink thought. ‘Stuff like this is meant for the aged couples who have lived the majority of their whole lives together! I’m only 25! Mirage and I still have the rest of our lives together! Romantic nights, maybe a few more foals, a cabin out in the country to grow old in... not... this...’
Hoodwink snapped out of his morbid thinking. No. The doctor would come out with a smile, informing him that it was a mild disease that would pass with a week’s treatment. Everything would be fine.
The entrance doors burst open as Spellslinger galloped in. Slowing to a trot, he approached his friend and gave him a quick embrace, placing his hoof on Hoodwink’s shoulder.
“How is she?”
“They’re doing the final check ups on her. With any luck, they’ll identify the disease and have a cure for it.”
The door leading into the inner workings of the hospital cracked open, a brown mare in a white coat standing in the archway. Catching sight of the blue stallion, the doctor beckoned him. “Sir, would you like to talk to me in private in my office?”
Hoodwink nodded, then turned back towards his friend.
“I’ll be right here, whatever happens.” Spellslinger said in support.
“Thank you. Trixie, come with me.” Hoodwink said, motioning to his daughter.
The doctor hesitated at the sight of the young filly, then ushered them through the door. The halls of the hospital were disturbingly clean, trying their best to distract visitors and patients from the strange smell that permeated the entire medical area.
After traveling through what seemed a maze of branching rooms and corridors, the white-clad stallion finally guided them into a small office-space with a desk that nearly split the room in two.
Instead of taking his place behind the desk, the doctor solemnly turned towards Hoodwink, taking a deep breath.
“The final results have come in... your wife is afflicted with a rare disease called ‘Miasmic Wasting’. We currently have no known cure for it despite our hardest efforts to-”
“Will she live?!” Hoodwink interrupted.
The doctor shied away, then straightened himself as he recovered. “My colleagues and I have given her an estimate of three days.”
Hoodwink recoiled violently, fighting back tears in front of his daughter. Trixie became frightened at the sudden vulnerability that had overtaken her father. She had never seen him act this way before. Sure, she had hurt herself sometimes and cried afterwards, but Trixie had seen her father get badly hurt from Spellslinger and not shed a tear. Why was he so sad now? What did the doctor mean when he said three days?
“I know it must be hard for you, being so young. You have my deepest condolences. If there is anything we can do...”
Hoodwink wiped away the tears from his eyes and turned back to the doctor. “C-can we see her?” He stammered.
“Of course. The disease is not contagious, so both of you will be able to meet her directly. Follow me.”
Their second trip through the inner workings of the hospital was completely different to the devastated Hoodwink. The once clean, white walls had turned a rancid yellow, and the strange smell that had lurked before was now a horrible stench that overcame all of his senses. It was as if he was in a world of nightmares come true, and he was being led to the heart of the fear itself.
Just as Hoodwink was about to vomit from the disgusting aura, the doctor opened a door and stepped aside, revealing his sleeping wife. Despite her withered look and malnourished body, Mirage was still beautiful to him.
Trembling, Hoowdink cautiously approached the bed with a still-confused Trixie at his side. Mirage slowly opened her eyes and weakly turned her head toward them, as if she had known they were there all along.
A moment of dread silence hung between the couple. It was an instant of knowing the inevitable future that lied ahead of them, and an overpowering desire to repress it.
“Oh good, you’re here. I was starting to get bored.” Mirage joked, shattering the tension.
Hoodwink gave a small smile, which quickly faded away. “How are you feeling?”
Mirage only slowly shook her head towards her husband, then looked down at her daughter. “Hey sweetie! You’ve been doing your best at school?”
“Still best of the class in the only category that matters! Magic!” She cheered.
“Oh Trixie... you’re going to grow up to be the most powerful unicorn in Equestria! ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’.... that’s what they’ll call you.” Mirage looked back towards her husband. As soon as their eyes met, Hoodwink understood what she wanted him to do.
Without the use of magic, Hoodwink tenderly lifted his daughter from the floor and into her mother’s lap. Although she temporarily fought against him, she soon snuggled up to Mirage’s side. Hoodwink quietly backed away, aware that this could be the last time he saw his daughter and wife together again. The realization quickly swallowed him, causing another fit of emotions and brimming tears.
“Trixie, there’s something very important I need to tell you.” Mirage began.
“What is it mommy?” Trixie asked curiously.
Mirage cringed at the innocence that rang from her voice, soon to be erased. “In a few days... mommy’s going to go into a deep sleep, and you won’t see me ever again.”
“Wh-what?” Trixie asked, horribly confused. “You’re leaving... forever???”
Mirage pulled her daughter closer. “Yes.... and no. I’ll always be there with you. Wherever you go. You just... won’t be able to see me, that’s all.”
A new pain overcame Trixie, one that she had never felt before. More than any bruise, scrape, or scratch, the thought of losing her mother stung and tore at her heart.
“D-do you ha-have to go to sleep?” Trixie asked, sobbing.
“Yes.” Her mother answered sadly. “I’m sorry.”
Trixie didn’t respond, burrowing into her mother’s side as she began to sob loudly. At the side of the bed, Hoodwink had struggled to remain silent. Despite his resolve and determination to remain emotionless in front of his family, the soft, sad smile his wife gave him as she looked up from their daughter caused him to break down into tears. Mirage reached out and extended her hooves around Hoodwink’s neck, bringing the whole family into a tight embrace.
Although the powerful disease had withered Mirage’s body, she was the strongest force in Equestria as she silently held her weeping family.
Trixie sat silently on the floor of her room as she rolled a horse-drawn-carriage toy slowly back and forth along the carpet. Quickly growing bored of the small figure, she rolled it away to join the dozens of other toys that were scattered around the filly. There was a time when these pieces of plastic meant the world to her. Now, they couldn’t hold her attention for more than a few seconds.
Rising to her hooves, Trixie left her room and stepped into the adjourning hallway. the once lively corridors and living room were now cast in shallow darkness, as if it would begin to rain inside the house at any moment. At the center of the living room, Hoodwink sat at a wooden table, studying the twists and knots that had worked themselves through the construct.
“Hey daddy,” Trixie said bluntly, trotting to her father’s side.
Hoodwink roused himself from his deep concentration and turned to his daughter with a small smile. “Hey. How’s the best sorceress in Equestria doing today?”
“Good. Just a little bored.”
“Oh. Well... how about we go to the Iron Hoof? Maybe?”
Trixie lingered on the option, the good memories of eating and watching duels with her father and mother rushing through her head. Her mother....
“Eh, nah. It’s cool daddy. I think I’ll just go play with my toys.”
“Alright.” Hoodwink said, running a hoof through his daughter’s hair. “Come get me if you need anything.”
After giving a nuzzle of affection to her father, Trixie wandered back into her room and sat back down on the floor. Usually, she would be crying after such a flood of memories, but she was simply too emotionally exhausted after the chaos of the past two weeks. Taking one last glance at the toys around her, Trixie scooted over to her toybox and carefully reached inside, pulling out a light blue diary. Before her mother’s death, the little diary had been updated perhaps once a month if she was in the mood. In the past two weeks, it had been updated almost everyday. Writing down how she felt helped to temporarily relieve the stress that constantly weighed on her mind. Magically grabbing a pen from her desk across the room, Trixie began jostling down her current thoughts.
Hoodwink disappointingly ate away at his bowl of cereal, the same dinner he had been eating for the past couple of weeks. Phoenix Burst. A cereal aptly named because the puffs of cereal would come back alive in your mouth as you crunched down on them. While the cereal was quick and easy to prepare, Hoodwink missed the grand meals that would be laid out every night they happened to not be at the Iron Hoof, steaming with an intoxicating aroma. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to cook, its just that he didn’t really have the energy or drive to do so anymore. So cereal it was. Every night.
Slurping down the last bit of milk, Hoodwink deposited the bowl into the growing pile of dishes in the sink. On his way back to the table, something sharp prodded the bottom of his hoof. Taking a step back, Hoodwink looked down to see a puzzle cube lying on the floor. It was a toy Hoodwink had bought Trixie a year ago, only for her to finish it the day she got it and toss it aside. Still, it looked as if it had recently been used.
Hoodwink magically picked up the cube and trotted to Trixie’s room. The door was slightly cracked open, with no light coming from inside. Peeking into the room, he discovered Trixie already asleep in her bed, with toys strewn about the bedroom floor.
‘Weird...’ Hoodwink thought. ‘It was usually a struggle to get her into bed before 10. Now she’s going to sleep on her own by 8.’
The blue stallion creeped into his daughter’s room, silently trotting over to the filly’s toolbox. Gently, he lowered the cube into the box, gazing at the cubed anomaly as it rested at the bottom. Before he could turn away, the only other object inside the toy box caught his attention. A simple diary her mother had given to her when she was in the learning stages of her writing skills. Hoodwink lifted the diary up to his face, and flipped through the pages. She seemed to write at random, jumping from month to month. Eventually, he landed on the date of Mirage’s death, two weeks ago.
‘I shouldn’t be reading this...’ He thought, almost dropping the light-blue diary. ‘But.... it would be helpful for me as a father to know how she is faring.’
Hoodwink slipped from the bedroom, returning to the living room table. Cracking open the diary and returning to the date of his wife’s death, he began scanning through his daughter’s writings.
July 18th, 985AE
Today mommy ‘died’. That’s what uncle Spellslinger told me what happened when I asked him why mommy had to sleep. Even though I asked the daddy real nice if I could see her sleeping, he just shook his head and cried. I cried too. I never thought daddy could cry, but now he does it all the time. I hope we both get better.
July 19th, 985AE
Even though we had been crying about mommy sleeping for a long time now, we had to go to something called a ‘funeral’ to cry even more. We don’t really have a big family in the city, but a lot of fans from mommy and daddy’s show came as well. That was real nice of them.
July 26th, 985AE
I really miss mommy, and I can tell daddy does too. All he ever does anymore is sit at the living room table. Sometimes he’ll cry a bit, but most of the time he just stares at the table with a blank face. We don’t go out to eat or watch duels anymore, and I don’t really want to anyways. Sometimes I just want to leave the city and go exploring, but I doubt daddy wants to, and I don’t want to run away because he’s cried so much already.
August 1st, 985AE
When I was REALLY bored I went sneaking into my parent’s bedroom. A lot of mommy’s stuff was still sitting around, and I found a really cool map on daddy’s cupboard. I never knew Equestria was so big! Or that the Griffons had their own kingdom! Someday, I hope I get to visit places far outside of Stalliongrad. School is going to start up again soon. I don’t want to go back...
Hoodwink closed the diary and rubbed his eyes as he tried to process the torrent of information and ideas that his daughter had written down. She seemed highly interested in leaving Stalliongrad altogether to explore other cities and even kingdoms! How ambitious and reckless for one so young! Even so, what did she have left here? She had more enemies than friends in school, and was apprehensive of returning this year. Ever since her mother’s death, Trixie had even strayed away from her favorite restaurant and dueling area, The Iron Hoof!
Heck, what did HE have left here? His job at the Iron Hoof? He destroyed every other duelist he faced. His matches were novelty unless he was fighting Spellslinger. The show? With his wife’s death, the ‘Mystic Triumvirate’ was broken, an empty shell. That, and it was nearly the same crowd and same location every month. What he would give for some variety! In Stalliongrad, he was heralded as a highly skilled magician and duelist. What if he took his show on the road, gaining recognition from all of Equestria! No, The world! He could become famous while exploring! Perhaps even perform for the princess herself! Then EVERYONE would know his name! Of course, he would train Trixie along the way to be as powerful as him. Eventually, she would even be able to join his shows...
Hoodwink crept back into Trixie’s room and replaced the diary, then excitedly began writing down ideas of his own. Supplies... travel routes.... performances...
Trixie awoke to the smell of cooked food wafting through the house, a pleasant scent she had not smelled for weeks. Leaping from her bed, she quickly trotted into the living room to find an impressive breakfast ranging from pancakes to steamed egg salad. Her father was sitting at his usual place on the table, a chair and full plate prepared just for her on the other end.
“Hungry?” her father asked with a smile.
Trixie eagerly leaped into the chair with a watering mouth. “Sure am! Thanks daddy!”
The cold feeling the house had once retained dissipated as the warmth of the baked food gave off a joyous aura. Once the two were finished, Hoodwink pushed his plate aside and looked towards his daughter.
“You’re starting school again in a week aren’t you?” he asked nonchalantly.
Trixie gave a deep sigh. “Yeah.”
“Do you... want to go?”
The question threw Trixie completely off-guard. “Uh, well... no. I mean, it’s not like I learn anything important outside of magic, and their magic lessons are WAY too easy and really boring!”
“To be honest myself, I’m not looking forward to work in a couple of days either. It’s almost the same old thing every day.”
Trixie merely gave her father a look of confusion, wondering where he was going with his odd questions. Hoodwink realized he was only distorting the situation the more he tried to beat around the bush, so he cut to the chase.
“Trixie, I read your diary.”
His daughter gasped, then crossed her hooves with a pout. “You promised you would never read it!”
“I know, and I’m sorry. I was just worried about you after... after your mother died.”
Trixie uncrossed her hooves, letting her tension dissipate. “It’s ok... don’t worry about any of that stupid stuff I wrote in the diary. I... I was just bored is all.” She lied.
“Really?” Hoodwink shrugged. “Because I was thinking, maybe we could buy ourselves a nice caravan and leave in a few days.”
“Wh-WHAT?!” Trixie shot up in surprise. “Are you serious!?”
“Well, we can either sit around here being bored, or do something. What do you say?”
Trixie leaped up from her chair and galloped to her father, nuzzling his side. “Yes yes yes! Oh thank you daddy!”
“Even though you’re going to be out of school, I’m still going to tutor you a bit, and you need to be on your BEST behavior, Ok?”
“I’ll be the best daughter ever!”
“Then it’s settled!” Hoodwink said, breaking away from his daughter. ”Although we’ll have a caravan, make sure to bring only your favorite toys and clothes; I’d prefer to travel lightly.”
“Sure thing daddy! I’ll start getting packed right away!”
“Perfect! While you’re packing up your stuff and getting ready, I’m going to see if I can find Spellslinger and tell him what we’re up to.”
Hoodwink opened the door to the Iron Hoof, taking in the familiar musk that permeated the restaurant. It was a huge circular building with an elevated square platform in the center which held regular dueling sessions for the diners. Being so early in the day, there was a lull in customers and the dueling ring was empty. Against the back wall of the restaurant, a bar curved along the side, taking up a whole quarter of the circle. Hoodwink trotted to the dark-red stallion who manned the bar, giving him a small wave.
“Now what would a young stallion like you be doing here on a day off?” The red pony jested as Hoodwink approached.
“Just looking for old man Rumsy and Spellslinger. Got any idea where they might be?”
The bartender lifted a hoof to a nearby door that read ‘EMPLOYEES ONLY’. “You’re in luck! Both Rumsy and Spellslinger are in the lunchroom playing a round of cards with those Black Mane folks.”
“Black Mane?” Hoodwink asked, slightly startled.
“Hey, don’t look at me! I didn’t invite them in here!” The red stallion said in defense.
Hoodwink didn’t respond as he turned away and trotted through the employee door. A long, dimly lit hallway stretched in front of him which branched off into smaller rooms all the way to the end. Although there were an intimidating number of doors, Hoodwink had traversed this hall so often he knew it by the back of his hoof. About halfway through the corridor, he opened a door to his right, lingering in the doorway. Inside the lunchroom, he could see Spellslinger, Rumsy, and five other ponies he had met with only once before. Spellslinger had introduced Hoodwink to them, and he quickly grew suspect. Their eyes were always shifty, they stole despite their already stable finances, and were even rumored to be the source of a few cases of missing ponies. He had sworn that he would never affiliate himself with them from that day forward.
“Hoodwink?” Rumsy called out as he finally noticed Hoodwink at the door.
The blue stallion said nothing as he fully entered the room, gazing at the Black Mane members with disapproval.
“Hey, how’s your wife doing?” one of them shouted with a sarcastic tone. The other four stallions erupted into laughter, with Spellslinger hiding a small chuckle. Rumsy remained silent.
Despite his overwhelming desire to throw all five of the Black Mane members across the room and back again, Hoodwink remained calm, turning to Rumsy. “What are they doing here? I thought we both agreed we’d never let such.. ‘pests’ into the restaurant, much less the employee section!”
“Pests!?” The stallion who had joked before scowled, rising from his chair.
“Ah come on Hoodwink!” Spellslinger said, trying to cool down the situation. “It was just a little joke!”
The Black Mane stallion ignored him, a bright light beginning to emit from his horn. As Hoodwink waited for his opponent’s spell, a loud, powerful ringing erupted in his head, threatening to burst his eardrums. Acting quickly, Hoodwink levitated the Black Mane member’s chair and slammed it into the side of its head. The stallion was sent sprawling to the ground and the ringing in his head dissipated.
All four of the stallion’s comrades leaped from their chairs, ready to cut Hoodwink down.
“STOP!” Rumsy roared, pounding his hoof against the table. Although his purple coat was beginning to fade and his mane and mustache were turning white, the old stallion’s hoarse voice echoed across the lunchroom, causing everyone to freeze. “If I see another spell casted, I’m kicking ALL of you out! ALL of you!”
The Black Mane ponies grumbled as they obliged, sitting back down in their seats. Spellslinger remained unmoving, only casting a few quick glances between Hoodwink and the Black Mane.
“Now, is there something you wanted, Hoodwink?” Rumsy asked, returning to his chair.
Hoodwink gave one last glare to the gang of ponies, then turned to his boss. “Yes. I’m quitting my job.”
As quickly as he had sat down, Rumsy shot back up again. “What?! Why?”
“What about the show??” Spellslinger asked in shock.
Hoodwink raised a hoof to try and calm the two stallions. “Trixie and I have both agreed Stalliongrad just.... isn’t the place for us anymore. We’re leaving.”
Rumsy trotted next to Hoodwink, putting a hoof on his shoulder. “I know things have been rough ever since Mirage passed. If there’s anything I can do....”
Hoodwink shook the hoof off. “Look, Rumsy. Thanks for being supportive after everything that happened, but there’s nothing you can do. I’ve already prepared.”
“Then good luck, colt, and be careful. There are some crazy things out there, ponies included.”
“And the show?” Spellslinger asked, trotting up to Hoodwink. “You’re just... abandoning it? It makes up almost half my income!”
“Well, I plan on performing while I travel! It’ll keep me in shape, teach Trixie a few things, and also provide a stable income. Who knows, maybe I’ll learn a few things myself!”
Spellslinger simply gave an aggravated snort.
“Hey, if you want to come, just tell me.” Hoodwink offered.
Spellslinger hesitated, glancing back towards the Black Mane members who were watching them intently. “Hell no!” Spellslinger said loudly. “I’m not the type of stallion who gets pulled into stupid fantasies by small fillies.”
Hoodwink began to flare up in anger. Before he could say anything, Rumsy put himself between the two stallions. “Look, Clef was clearly winning, Spellslinger and I need to get ready for the duels to start. You five get out of the employee’s section, and Hoodwink, thanks for all the hard work.”
Hoodwink nodded to Rumsy, then left without looking back at Spellslinger. Giving one last farewell to the bartender, he left the Iron Hoof for the last time. Taking a deep breath, he started to make his way back home.
“Hey!” Came a shout from behind him. Hoodwink look over his shoulder, spotting all five of the Black Mane trotting towards him. The thought of running came to mind, but he quickly brushed it away. They wouldn’t attack him out on the streets.
Hoodwink turned to meet the group, giving them a curious eye. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah. When are you leaving?” The pony who had attacked him before who he now knew as ‘Clef’ asked. While they conversed, the rest of the Black Mane formed a semi-circle around Hoodwink.
“What business is it to you?” Hoodwink questioned.
Clef narrowed his eyes, then gave an evil grin. “If I were you, I would leave tonight.”
“I’ll leave whenever I see fit!” Hoodwink said, beginning to trot away.
“Just a warning, friend!” The stallion called out.
Hoodwink did his best to visibly ignore him, but in truth, his thoughts were racing. Although he could easily take out one, probably two of them with ease, they were a gang of five. If the Black Mane came in the night, he would be at even greater disadvantage. Not to mention, he had no idea how far their moral code extended, if they had one at all. Would they hurt Trixie? The blue stallion picked up his pace, nearly galloping on his way home.
After zipping through crowds of ponies, Hoodwink threw open the door to his home. At the center of the living room, Trixie was busy ferrying items from her room into an organized pile on the floor. Noticing her father, Trixie galloped to his side and nuzzled him.
“Trixie, there’s been a change of plans.” Hoodwink said simply, trying his best to keep his daughter ignorant of the danger they were in. “We’re leaving tonight.”
“Since I was so young I just assumed he wanted to leave as soon as possible due to pure excitement. Now, I think we left that night because of more... sinister reasons.”
Trixie began to continue her story once more before she was interrupted by a tremendous yawn. The lull in her speech had made her realize just how tired she was. Looking Snails over, the poor colt was struggling to prevent himself from nodding off to sleep.
“Look, I can’t finish the rest being this tired. I’ll save the rest for tomorrow. It’ll give us something to talk about while I... while I walk you home.”
Snails snapped back to attention, stirred by Trixie’s words. He opened his mouth, then closed it again when he was unsure of what he wanted to say in the first place.
“Oh! Before I forget...” Trixie began, rummaging through the back of the caravan. Eventually, she pulled out a small item which Snails could’nt make out due to the dark. “Remember how I promised I would get you a watch if we performed well in Fillydelphia? Well... I think you earned it.”
Snails gratefully received the item, eyeing it with wonder. “Wow... thanks!” The only time he had ever received a gift like this was on his birthday! Rolling the blue hoofwatch around in his hooves, Snails soaked in every detail. To his disappointment, the hands of the watch were nearly invisible due to the darkness.
As if detecting his dissatisfaction, Trixie pointed a hoof towards the watch. “If you need a bit of light and don’t have the energy or extra few seconds to cast a light spell, I enchanted it before I got here. Just give the watch a spark of magic, and it will stay lit for a good minute.”
Snails followed her instructions, infusing the hoofwatch with a bit of magic. A soft blue glow overcame the entire band, illuminating the hands and numbers. 1:30. It was already the next morning. No wonder he felt so tired.
“Anyways...” Trixie said, lying down upon the blankets. “I’ll finish the story tomorrow. Good night.”
Before drifting off to sleep, Snails continued to gaze at the watch. Just as he was sure he had gone over the entire watch twice over, something on the backside of the face caught his attention. Squinting his eyes, Snails could barely read out a hoof-full of words engraved into the watch.
To: Snails, the only other pony to ever give me a chance
“Do you think I could come with you to Stalliongrad?”
Trixie’s head shot up, turning to Snails. “Of course! But... it’s a dangerous place nowadays. Are you sure you want to go?”
In his mind, Snails brushed the warning off. He had braved the Everfree Forest, fought off starvation, and made it to Trottingham by himself. What danger could a couple of law-breakers be compared to those feats?
“Then tomorrow we’ll cut back through Fillydelphia to re-supply and get on the right path. I needed to return that bell anyways.”
Snails latched the hoofwatch onto his hoof, then succumbed to his exhaustion. Although Trixie’s cold heart had thawed a little, there was still the possibility that she could turn again at any second. He just hoped he wouldn’t regret this decision.
Just as sleep began to envelope him, a soft whisper came from the other side of the caravan.