Out of Sight, Out of Mind
"I wouldn't say strawberries, exactly," Spike pondered. "Rubies have more of a peppery taste." He licked his lips, remembering his last meal.
Twilight Sparkle chucked softly as she trotted toward the town center, her young dragon assistant on her back. A thick blanket of new snow covered the rooftops and streets, and churned behind her in a white plume of a wake. As she passed each pony, working on his or her assigned task, she couldn't help but smile at their enthusiasm.
"Everypony's so busy getting ready for the Winter Moon Celebration!"
"It is the biggest party of the year. And now we have Luna here as well," Spike noted.
The Winter Moon Celebration was held on the longest night of the year. All night long, the citizens of Equestria celebrated the moon, ruler of the sky on this, the longest night. Young fillies and colts salivated over Sugar Bombs and Moon Cakes, special treats which were prepared and eaten only on this one occasion. On midnight, at the turning of the new year, the formal Phases of the Moon Dance was performed. It promised to be quite a show.
This year the party would be extra-special. For the first time in a thousand years, the Princess Luna would be joining the celebrations.
Twilight stopped for a moment on a hilltop to take it all in, nodding in approval at the efficient productivity.
"Do you think Pinkie Pie can handle organizing the whole party by herself?" Spike asked.
Scanning the crowd, Twilight spotted the pink pony on the far side of the square, giving Rainbow Dash instructions on where she wanted the party decorations hung. But Dash found the directions a little difficult to follow.
"No! The red streamers go on that tree, and the blue ones over there! Higher! More loopy! Now connect it back up!"
Flying every direction at once, the Pegasus pony suddenly found herself entangled in the very streamers she was trying to hang. "Augh!" she screamed, unable to flap her wings. Tumbling upside-down, she plummeted into a snow drift.
"That's perfect!" Pinkie exclaimed.
"I think she has everything under control," Twilight said. But her smirk quickly vanished as something else caught her eye. In the sky over the empty dance hall, two young unmarked Pegasus ponies were playing trampoline on a storm cloud and kicking up little sparks with their jumps. A third earth pony, their friend, had somehow climbed up on the roof of the building, trying to get closer to the action.
In a heartbeat, Twilight jumped from full stop to a full gallop, racing toward the young trio. Spike was forced to grab a double handful of mane. "Twilight! What's the rush?"
"It's those pegasus ponies playing in that cloud. They're kicking up a lightning storm, and it's going to zap their friend!"
The snow drifts blurred beneath her hooves as the dangerous lightning arced larger beneath the oblivious foals. Twilight was too far away.
She might not be able to beat Rainbow Dash in a sprint, but she wasn't a one-trick pony either. Furrowing her brow in concentration, her horn started to glow and... teleport!
In a flash, Twilight reappeared on the rooftop next to the startled earth filly. She grabbed the little one by the scruff of her mane and leapt off the rooftop. BOOM! A flash of lightning hit the roof, narrowly missing the two ponies. The force of the blast knocked Twilight into the wall of the adjacent building, but she used her body to cushion the filly from the worst of the impact.
With a moan, Twilight wobbled to her feet and shook off the effects of the blast. She nosed the filly whose life she had just saved. "Are you all right?" she asked.
The little filly blinked her eyes open, then looked around. Her pegasus friends looked back at her from the cloud, sheepishly. The rooftop where she had been standing moments before was a charred mess. Seeing the damage that had been done, she squeaked in terror and ran off down an alleyway.
"Huh," Twilight said. "Not even a 'thank you'! I guess that's just our good deed for the day, eh Spike?"
There was no answer. Spike wasn't there. Twilight looked around in puzzlement.
… o O o …
Spike didn't seem to be anywhere in the Ponyville town square. Twilight Sparkle walked back through the recent events in her mind. "I'm sure he was with me when I — oh, no."
Spike had been riding on her back when she teleported.
Teleporting was one of the first spells Twilight had learned. Like so many spells, she could master the basics quickly. But her instructors had warned her, many times, of potential dangers. Most important, she was told, one should never teleport with a rider. It complicated the spell, made it unpredictable, and had serious consequences.
She had teleported with Spike only once before, and he had reappeared with her singed and frightened. But this time she hadn't even meant to include him in the spell. She had forgotten he was riding with her. That meant the potential side-effects could be... well, she didn’t want to think too hard about what that might mean.
Trying to quell her rising panic, Twilight tried to examine the situation rationally. "Okay, what exactly have I done here? It's not so bad. I violated some safety protocols... cast magic spells recklessly... endangered the life of my assistant... It's not like Celestia would banish me to the Moon for a thousand years."
Just like that, Twilight found herself transported to the dreaded Unicorn High Council, where unicorn criminals were held accountable for misuse of their powers. Looming above her, in rising stadium rows, were the most powerful unicorn mages of Equestria. With their faces hidden in shadow, only their disapproving eyes were visible. Biting her lip, Twilight looked down and slid her hooves as close together as possible, trying to fit in the small spot of light on the floor.
Worst of all was the severe expression Twilight saw coming from Princess Celestia, standing directly in front of her. "Twilight Sparkle," she intoned, making her very name sound like an accusation. "I'm so, so disappointed."
Twilight shook her head. "Your Majesty, I can explain—"
"For violating safety procedures, casting magic spells recklessly..."
"It was an emergency! I was the only—"
"For endangering the life of your assistant—"
Celestia rose and leaned forward, looming over her former favorite. Her eyes ignited into twin pools of red fire. "I hereby banish you to the Moon — for TEN THOUSAND YEARS!"
"Nooo!" Twilight screamed — and blinked herself back to reality, back to Ponyville town square. She had curled into a fetal position, huddled against a wall. It took her a few moments to regain her composure, wobbling back to her feet, and taking some deep breaths. Nopony seemed to have noticed her freak-out.
"He's got to be around here somewhere," she muttered to herself. "If I can find him before Celestia finds out, everything will be okay. As long as they don't know it's my fault, I won't get in trouble."
A whoosh of air and her signature rainbow wake announced the arrival of Rainbow Dash. "Somepony's getting in trouble!" she gloated.
"What? No! I— I—"
"Did you see those pegasus fillies?" Rainbow asked, shaking her head in disbelief.
"I... didn't you?"
"Pffft! I was too busy getting untangled from Pinkie Pie's streamers." She spotted a bit of streamer still stuck between the feathers of her wing, and pulled it free with her teeth. "Every pegasus knows you can't play like that on storm clouds. It's Safety 101!"
"Yes..." Twilight said with poorly feigned innocence. "Following proper safety procedures is very important."
Rainbow Dash paused in her preening to look at Twilight more closely. "Are you all right, Twilight?" she asked. "You look kinda pale."
"I'm fine," she said, forcing herself to laugh as if she didn't have a care in the world. "Dash, have you... seen Spike around anywhere?"
"Spike is missing? What, did he wander off?" Before she could reply, the pegasus zoomed up into the sky, made a few passes over the town, and reappeared. "I dunno, Twilight. I could ask the crew to run a sweep, but Pinkie's running us ragged setting up the decor."
An entire team of Pegasus ponies! Even if Twilight raced home to research counter spells, the pegasi could probably find Spike faster. The sooner she found Spike, the better chance she would have to escape notice from the Council. "Please, Dash... you can take a little break, can't you?"
Rainbow was staring cross-eyed at a last, stubborn bit of streamer which had lodged in her mane, right between her eyes. She tossed her head back and forth to try and dislodge it, to no avail. "Augh!" she screamed, giving up. "You know, Twilight, you're right. I've had enough streamers for today!"
It was the first good news she'd had this morning. "Thank you so much, Dash! Now I... I have some really important research I have to do! Bye!"
Rainbow Dash watched the departing pony, shaking her head. "Sheesh. Only Twilight Sparkle could have a research emergency!" Launching herself back up to the clouds, she started issuing new orders to her crew.
Nobody noticed Pinkie Pie, impossibly hanging upside-down from a tree. "Streeeeeammeerrrrss," she moaned, her voice hoarse and raspy.
… o O o …
Twilight worked through the details as she raced back to her library. The strategizing gave her a needed boost of confidence. Nothing helps to make one feel in control like putting together a well-organized plan!
"Step one, physical search. If he's anywhere in Ponyville, Rainbow Dash will find him." Her breath steamed and clouds of snow churned behind her.
"Step two, magical search. I have to find a locating spell that will tell me where Spike is." She ran through her catalog of books in her head. "Let's see, I know I have Reversals and Reconstitutions, that should be useful. Oh! Seeking the Seeking Spell, that's got to have something I can use. Wait a minute—" She snowplowed to a stop, spraying snow over the road sign in front of her.
Rimmed in icicles, it indicated the path down to Sweet Apple Acres. Caravans of horse-drawn carts were carrying food suppplies out to the town, and returning empty to be loaded again.
"He couldn't have gone as far as that, could he?" Twilight wondered. It seemed a remote possibility. But one she should consider nonetheless.
"Change of plan," she said, and galloped down the valley to the farmhouse below.
* * *
The entire ranch bustled with uncommon activity. Crates of apples, preserved goods, and other edibles were fetched from larder, unboxed, and inspected. Then other ponies repackaged them for shipment, loaded them onto carts, and gave directions to the ponies pulling the cargo. Twilight hustled to keep up with Applejack as the work horse directed her team.
"I dunno, Twilight. We're awful busy just delivering treats for the party. And Pinkie Pie ain't exactly the easiest customer to deal with."
Twilight sensed an opening. "Keeps changing her mind all the time, huh?"
Applejack groaned in frustration. "And even when she does make up her mind, half the time it don't make sense! Just look at this." She pulled a work order from her saddlebag. "'Two dozen Purple spotted Moon apples.' There ain't no such thing! And I know apples!"
The offending order levitated up and away from Applejack, out of sight. "You've earned a break. It'll be fun! And nopony is better at rounding up lost critters than you, Applejack."
She beamed at the praise. "When you're right, you're right! Okay then, boys," she said, turning to the ponies manning the work lines. "New orders! Listen up!"
Mentally checking off another action list item made Twilight feel even better. She'd be back together with Spike before any officer of the Court could find out otherwise.
As Applejack handed out new assignments to her crew, an empty cart rolled into the loading dock. Instead of being filled and sent back to town like the others, it sat idle. Another empty cart rolled up, bumping it, and a lonely line began to form. Not everypony was so happy with the change in priorities. A pink head topped with a curly pink mane slowly peeped up from one of the empty carts. This pony observed the interruption in service with dismay, and disappeared back into the cart.
* * *
"I need a hair from his head? He doesn't even have hair!" Twilight had looked up dozens of locating spells, none of which would work to find a lost dragon. As her search grew more desperate the pile of discarded books and scrolls grew ever larger. "I'm glad I've got Applejack and Rainbow Dash out searching for him. One way or another, we'll find him before anypony can ask me where he is."
A knock on her door broke her monologue. "In fact, that's probably one of them now!" Scattering scrolls every which way, she opened her door to find... Rarity.
"Twilight, dear, can you tell me where Spike is?"
It was such a simple question, and yet it somehow managed to turn Twilight's brains to oatmeal. Suddenly it took every ounce of her considerable mental abilities just to maintain the smile on her face. "Why. Would I. Know... that..?"
Twilight must be making a joke, Rarity thought. A rather small joke, so she responded with a rather small laugh. "Well, he is your assistant, after all."
Instead of responding to this like any normal pony would, Twilight simply grinned and stared back at Rarity. As the awkward pause threatened to stretch beyond the bounds of acceptable etiquette, Rarity was forced to continue, "The thing is, his little claws are so very useful in digging up gems for me. We were supposed to meet an hour ago, but he appears to have... stood me up."
Twilight nodded again, looking somewhat like a bobblehead doll. "Right! Dig! Good!" In the back of her mind, Twilight desperately tried to remember some words with more than one syllable.
Really, Rarity thought. She was working against a very tight deadline and had no time for this nonsense. "Can you tell me where I might find him?"
Answering that one simple question seemed more difficult than finals exam at magic school. Location... location... "He... went to the Everfree forest?" Twilight heard herself say.
Rarity wasn’t expecting that. "By himself? And you let him go?"
"Oh, you know Spike! Once he gets an idea in that little head of his, nothing will stop him!"
"But... but what would he.. Oh, this is just too much!" Rarity turned tail and galloped towards the forest. Perhaps she could intercept the dragon before he got too far.
Twilight let out a sigh of relief. Now if she could just find the proper locator spell.
Back in Rarity's Carousel Boutique, row upon row of unfinished party masks hung on the wall. One of the masks had a pair of eyes in it. Blue eyes, set in a pink furred face. The eyes narrowed in frustration.
… o O o …
Rarity stood at the edge of the Everfree Forest, working up the courage to go inside. "Spike...? Spike, can you hear me...?"
Out of the shadows a shape emerged. Rarity looked closely. Was it Spike’s silhouette? "Spike, is that you...?"
The shape came forward, and resolved into Pinkie Pie. Rarity frowned and took a step back. "Pinkie Pie, what are you — hey!" Pinkie hadn't stopped. She simply lowered her head and started bulldozing Rarity back towards town. Rarity tried moving away from the pink bulldozer but only succeeded in kicking up more mounds of dirt. "Pinkie, really, I'm looking for Spike and—"
Pinkie Pie had become the unstoppable force. "No can do. You're coming with me, sister!"
* * *
Twilight still hadn't been able to find an appropriate spell to locate Spike with magic. One book after another flew through the air in her search. "Hmm... Barthog's Sympathy Simplified states that if I don't have any fur or scales from the target, but I do have an object they are closely associated with, then—"
Two sharp knocks interrupted her research, followed by a loud bang as her front door was forced open. A gust of chill winter air swirled through the library. In stormed an angry Pinkie Pie, followed with slightly more circumspection by Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Rarity.
"Pinkie Pie?" asked Twilight. "What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be organizing the Moon Festival?"
"The Winter Moon Festival? Ponyville's most important party of the whole year?" Pinkie swooned and smiled as if Twilight were offering her the position just now. "I'd love to throw that party." Then Pinkie started off on an imaginary dialogue with herself, to the consternation of everyone else in the room.
"But Pinkie Pie, isn't it all a bit much for one pony to handle by herself?" "Fiddlesticks! I'll get my friends to help me" "But what if they just say they're going to help, and then not finish their jobs?" "Hey, don't you talk about my friends like that!" "I dunno, Pinkie. That Rainbow Dash seems kind of—"
Everypony started interrupting, partly from real guilt, and partly just to get Pinkie Pie to stop talking.
"I was just taking a break—"
"You know, some of those instructions were so confusing—"
"I needed Spike to dig up gems, so I could finish the masques—"
"Wait, you're looking for Spike too?"
"I thought he was somewhere in Ponyville!"
"I thought he was in the Everfree Forest?"
"No, Twilight said he's not in town at all!"
The arguing died down, replaced by confusion. And then every pony turned to look at Twilight for answers. Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Applejack... all of them were staring at her, waiting for her explanation.
And that was the end of it. There was no use hiding any more. She sighed and hung her head, defeated.
"Come on inside, girls. I have to tell you the whole story."
* * *
The library was still quite a mess. Rarity was tidying up a small corner, but perhaps she simply needed a clear place to stand.
"And that's all I know," Twilight said. Her eyes were rimmed with tears. "I know he was with me when I started the teleport spell. And he wasn't there when I came out."
Applejack tried to reassure her friend. "He's got to be around here somewheres. He couldn't have disappeared without leaving no trace a'tall," she said.
Pinkie's eyes went wide. "Did he explode?"
"No!" Twilight gasped. "I — I don't think so!" Unable to bear the thought any longer, she broke down, sobbing. "I don't know!"
Applejack and Rarity shared a look of concern.
"I can't put it off any longer," Twilight babbled. "I have to tell Celestia. I'm going to be banished to the Moon for this!"
"We won't let that happen," said Applejack.
"We shall redouble our efforts," Rarity declared. "Who knows, perhaps he is stuck in a tree somewhere—"
"Nope." Rainbow Dash interrupted. "Checked all those."
Rarity glared at Dash, then continued, "Or he is hiding in a cave, or— or wherever he is, we will find him!"
"Find who now?" Spike asked.
Twilight lifted her head up off the ground, blinking tears from her eyes. "Spike...?" Indeed, there he was, safe and sound, standing in the doorway. "Spike!" she cried, tackling him and covering him with kisses.
Spike reeled in horror from the very public display of affection. "Say it, don't spray it," he complained, making a face of disgust and trying to wriggle free from her grasp.
The other ponies crowded around. "But where you been all this time?" Applejack asked.
Spike shrugged. "Twilight's stupid teleport spell dumped me in Canterlot, can you believe it? I hung out there for a while, but when no one even tried to contact me, I was starting to think you had forgotten about me." He finally managed to extract himself from Twilight's grasp, dripping pony slobber. "Maybe I would've been better off staying there," he muttered, stalking back to his room to clean up.
"He was in Canterlot this whole time?" Rainbow Dash wondered.
"Indeed, he made quite the entrance, popping into the middle of my throne room."
The ponies all bowed before their divine ruler, as Twilight's heart sank in her chest.
Celestia knew. She had known all along.
"Your Majesty," she said, as humbly as possible. "I..." and then she couldn't say any more. There was nothing she could say.
"Twilight Sparkle, do you know what you did?"
It was painful to recall. "I wasn't thinking. I lost control of my magic. I—"
"You made a mistake, child. You are a student, and students are expected to make mistakes." Celestia nosed Twilight gently on her shoulder. "As my favorite student, I hope you will make many more mistakes in the future. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn."
Twilight dared to look up, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "I'm still your student? You're not going to banish me to the moon for ten thousand years?"
Celestia chuckled. Someday Twilight would learn to control her fantasies. "No, child, I'm not going to banish you to the moon for ten thousand years. I believe one year will be sufficient."
Twilight felt a moment of vertigo, and then darkness enveloped her. She collapsed to the ground.
Celestia nudged her unconscious student with one hoof while her friends stared in shocked silence. "When she wakes," the Princess said, "Please tell her I was joking."
Pinkie Pie giggled, and then everypony was laughing.