The sun slowly rose over Manehattan as Luna’s night slowly gave way to Celestia’s day. Long shadows stretched across the sleeping city, as the golden light of dawn crept in, slowly eroding the shadows.
And in her small, dingy apartment Trixie slowly surfaced from sleep. Yawning, she stretched, trying to work the knots from her limbs. She threw back the covers and climbed out of bed, shuffling sleepily into the apartment’s cramped bathroom. She had to climb into the shower to get clear of the door, and was able to push it closed without getting back out. She pulled the handle, and with a rattle of old pipes, warm water began to sheet out of the nozzle. Trixie let out a happy sigh which turned into another yawn as the water washed over her.
Once she was done showering and had toweled off, she headed out of the bathroom and through her bedroom into the apartments living room and the tiny kitchenette set against one wall. Brushing out her hair, she pulled open the fridge and peered inside. Yes, it was still empty.
Out of habit she checked the jar she kept coffee in and confirmed that it too was empty.
Trixie sighed and did a few mental calculations. Yes, she had enough money to buy breakfast on the way to work, if only just, and she was getting paid this afternoon which meant she’d be able to stop and pick up groceries on the way home.
The question of breakfast settled, she finished brushing her hair and set the brush down and lifted the pair of worn saddle bags from where they lay next to the door, and settled them on her back.
She locked the apartment door after herself and descended the four floors to street level and stepped out into the gray Manehattan dawn. The streets were nearly deserted this early, soon they would be filled with carts and vendors hawking their wares to the throngs of ponies that were going about their day.
But for now, the streets were quiet enough that the sound of her hoofsteps echoed off the buildings that loomed tall on either side of the street. It was the city that never slept but right now it was drowsing happily. The city was never completely quiet like it got in the country, for which Trixie was glad. She’d grown up in the city, and the background noise was comforting in a way.
Her breath billowed out in small clouds as she walked, the morning air holding a sharp bite that promised even worse cold to come. Winter would be here soon, and the snow it would bring with it would make her morning walk to work even more unpleasant. Maybe she should start putting money aside for a new pair of boots...
Glumly she reviewed her finances as she trudged along, exchanging the occasional greeting with the ponies she recognized, it didn’t take long. Her job wasn’t exactly raking in the cash, despite the fact that she was working a good twelve hours everyday, and with rent and food and such, she didn’t have much to spare for anything other then the bare essentials.
And it was all that blasted unicorn’s fault. Unbidden the memory of Twilight straining to control the magic she was using to bring the Ursa Minor to heel rose to the forefront of her mind. That stupid foal had humiliated her, debunking her greatest claim and exposing her as a fraud in a single stroke. She’d had to flee town, minus all her possessions, to escape the ridicule.
But the news had spread, and soon the Great and Powerful Trixie was viewed throughout all of Equestria as a fraud. Anywhere she went, she’d been met with cat-calls and derision. She’d run out of money, and while the Great and Powerful Trixie hadn’t been able to find work, just plain Trixie had. The hours were horrible and the pay was worse. There were no real benefits, and it was a long walk every morning just to get there. But because of Twilight, it was all she could get.
And her apartment, it was a dump compared to the comfortable and luxurious cart she’d been living out of before. But that had been destroyed by the Ursa Minor, and while the Great and Powerful Trixie would never debase herself by living in such a pathetic place, Trixie had found it wasn’t that bad. Spartan, but comfortable in a way her cart had never been. Still, the memory of the unicorn irked her, and helped sour her already cloudy mood.
As she walked, the city slowly came to life around her as shopkeepers opened their doors and vendors maneuvered carts of merchandise into place. The smell of freshly baked goods filled the air and Trixie inhaled deeply, her stomach twitching with hunger.
Finally, she came to what she had been looking for, a tiny little cafe tucked on the ground floor of a multi-level building. Pushing open the door, Trixie let out a happy sound as she stepped into the cafe, the smell of pastries and coffee hanging heavy and intoxicating in the warm air.
Enjoying the relief from the brisk cold outside, Trixie wove her way through the close pressed tables and chairs until she reached a small, two-person table in the back and sat down, opening the newspaper that lay discarded on the wooden surface. It was yesterday’s paper, but she hadn’t seen it yet, so she flipped through, sifting out the old news from the new.
“Heya Trixie, it’s been a while since we saw you in here last.”
She looked up from her paper to see a lanky colt with a dusty born coat standing next to her table, his wiry mane falling insolently over his eyes.
“Money’s been tight lately,” she said by way of explanation. “But I figured I’d splurge today.”
“Ran out of food again?” the colt asked with a grin and Trixie scowled at him, but he just laughed. “Alright, alright. I get the message, loud and clear. What can I get for ya?”
“Can I get an apple scone and a cup of coffee?”
“Good choice, we just got a load of apples in from Sweet Apple Acres. Nice and fresh too.”
He bustled away as Trixie fumed over the unexpected mention of Ponyville. It seemed like no matter what, the past seemed intent on popping up every five seconds. Luckily the colt was back with her order before she had time to start brooding properly. And the pastry was delicious, she had to admit.
The coffee, though, was what drew her to this cafe when she had the money for it. It was warm and bitter, the earthy taste completely washing away the last traces of sleepiness. She finished her pastry and washed it down with the last of her coffee. Fishing a few loose bits out of her saddle bags she left the change on the table, paying for her food at the counter before stepping back out into the brisk morning.
The city was in full swing by now, the streets crowded by ponies going about their business as carts rumbled by in the street. Trixie wove her way through the crowd as she hurried down the street. After fifteen minutes, she finally reached a small, two-story building tucked between two fairly large buildings, a simple sign in front of the door proclaiming that the building was the Manehatten Free Pediatric Clinic
She strode up and pushed open the glass doors and stepped into a gray carpeted lobby, a simple, utilitarian desk against the far wall, chairs and couches lining the walls. Two hallways branched off from the lobby, leading deeper into the building. The whole place was warm and comforting, though the air smelling faintly of antiseptic.
Seth Oscope looked up from behind the desk and waved cheerfully. He was thin to the point of painfulness, his white coat stretched tight over his bones. But for all that he looked healthy enough, laughter danced in his bottle green eyes and he moved with a subtle confidence and strength that spoke volumes about the iron will hidden beneath his frail body.
Seth owned and ran the clinic, and as far as Trixie knew, had done so for several long years now. After Twilight had ruined her reputation he’d been the only one willing to give her a chance with a job. The Great and Powerful Trixie hated him for this piece of demeaning charity, but Trixie worked hard not to prove him wrong.
“Good morning, Trixie,” he greeted cheerfully. “How are you doing today?”
“Pretty good, actually. I had something other then stale hay and oats for breakfast. What’s on the docket for today?”
“Well, there’s already been one walk in, and we’ve got a handful of appointments after lunch, but it looks pretty clear. I’m sure that’ll change though.”
“And our patients? How are they doing?” Trixie asked, leaning over the desk so she could read the upside down paperwork that Seth had been working on.
“Nightingale checked in on them before she left,” the colt replied, turning the paper around so Trixie could read it easier. “Firefly’s still not doing all that well, but she seems to be improving anyway, so that’s something. Both of them are still asleep, so Nightingale made their breakfasts but left them up in the breakroom.”
“Alright, I’ll go grab their food and wake them up. Page me if you need me.”
Seth nodded and Trixie set off down the hallway behind the desk, her hooves clicking on the bare tile. Unlike the rest of the clinic, this hallway was bare with unfeeling white walls and fluorescent bulbs. It ended at a locked door, and Trixie had to stop and pull the key out of her saddlebag before she could continue up the stairs beyond.
The stairs only went up a single story, emptying into a cafeteria slash breakroom with a few plastic chairs set around a wooden table. There was a stove and refrigerator along one wall. A pair of covered trays sat next to an empty coffee pot on the counter. The room smelled of old, stale coffee and hurried meals.
A short hallway near the top of the steps lead to a supply closet and the room Seth lived out of, though according to Nightingale, who worked the night shift, Seth usually slept on one of the couches in the waiting room, just in case someone ended up knocking on the door with an urgent case, or one of the few residential patients the clinic could support needed him.
Trixie shrugged off her saddlebags, dropping them on the table and checked the trays. The food was still fresh so she picked both up and retraced her steps back down to the lobby, pausing to pull a bundle of cloth our of her saddle bags. She nodded to Seth as she passed and headed down the second hallway. The door on the right led to a small examination room while the door on the left lead to the residential room.
Trixie stopped in front of the door and shook out the cloth bundle. The cloak was the only thing she still owned from her time as the Great and Powerful Trixie. Resentment, red and sullen, flared to life in her breast as she fastened the cloak on. How dare Twilight do that to her? Upstage her front of that stupid town full of hicks. How dare she sully the Great and Powerful Trixie’s reputation as the most powerful unicorn to ever live?
They said living well was the best revenge, well the Great and Powerful Trixie disagreed. The best revenge was the kind that was painfully humiliating, so she’d studied and lrefined her magic, slowly growing more powerful. Powerful enough that Trixie could take her revenge.
She nosed open the door and swept silently into the large room. It was completely quiet, weak sunlight trickling in the window to splash on walls painted a soothing blue. Heavy opaque curtains hung from the ceiling, giving the option of privacy to the beds that sat in each corner of the room. The two nearest the door were occupied, one by a little yellow and blue pegasus, the other by an orange and green earth pony.
Trixie set the trays down and moved quietly over to the little earth pony.
“Good morning, Carrot,” she whispered, gently rousing the young pony. “How are you feeling today?”
“Okay, but I’m still a little dizzy.”
“That’s fine,” she said, pulling out a thermometer and sticking it in his mouth. “Any nausea or stomach pains?”
He shook his head and Trixie smiled. “Good. Well, you don’t seem to have a fever, so you should be able to go home today, like Doctor Oscope said. Do you think you can keep down any food.”
“Yeah,” Carrot nodded vigorously. “I’m starving!”
Trixie set the tray down before him and hit the button to move the bed into an upright position before moving over to the room’s other occupied bed. In it the little pegasus slept fitfully, tossing and turning, letting out the occasional cry or whimper that made Trixie’s heart ache. Magic could do so many things, but it couldn’t heal, couldn’t knit bones or wipe away disease.
“Firefly, honey, wake up, it’s time for breakfast.”
She let out a whimper and slowly opened her eyes, blinking muzzily.
“Right here, honey,” Trixie said, setting the tray down in front of her and gently ruffling her hair. “Are you feeling alright? Headache or anything?”
“Good, I know you’re probably not hungry, but you should try and eat something, alright?”
Firefly nodded and began picking at her food. She was the clinic’s perennial patient, her seizures often of terrifying violence. If Seth hadn’t been in the habit of waving fees for families who couldn’t pull together the money necessary for treatment, he would’ve made a small fortune off of Firefly’s epilepsy by now. As it was, her parents payed whatever they could out of gratitude, even though Seth never pushed.
Come to think of it, Trixie couldn’t think of anyone who’d ever tried to stiff Seth.
Time crawled past as Trixie talked and laughed with her two patients, keeping them company even as she kept their minds off the reason they were here in the first place. That was her job. She wasn’t a trained nurse, but she could keep them entertained while keeping an eye on their health, running to get Seth if anything bad happened.
Around midday, Carrot’s parents came and picked up the young earth pony and Seth checked on Firefly. She was recovering nicely from her last seizure, and he pronounced that she’d be ready to go home that night.
“Trixie? Could... could you tell me a story?” Firefly asked as they sat eating lunch together.
“Sure,” she nodded. “How about the birth of Night Mare Moon? It was a long, long time ago...”
“You’ve already told me that one,” Firefly said. “I want a new story.”
“It’s not my fault you’re in so much that you already know all of my stories,” Trixie teased, ruffling the pegasus’s hair. She paused for a moment, well, she could tell her that story... “Alright,” she said, standing up. “I have one you haven’t heard yet.”
Closing her eyes, her brow furrowed in concentration. Pale silver light began to spill from her horn, filling the room with its gentle radiance. This was why Seth had hired her. Anyone could’ve helped care for the kids, but Trixie could give them something special to remember.
“Not so long ago, there was a unicorn who was great and powerful...”
As she spoke lights shimmered in the air, twisting and dancing until they took the shape of a small, pale blue unicorn floating in the air.
“She used to travel across the land, boasting of her skills and showing off her magic to all she found.”
The little unicorn began to move around the room, sending up little fireworks that burst with tiny pops and shimmering streamers of color. Firefly let out a delighted cry as the lights twinkled and burst.
“But slowly the unicorn became prideful, and what was once an exercise to grow and entertain became fodder for her ego. And then one day, this unicorn came to a small town where her boasting was greeted with great hostility. So she challenged the villagers to a competition, to see who was better.”
Three ponies, a blue pegasus, an orange earth pony and a white unicorn, appeared before the blue unicorn, dancing in the air, shimmering and shifting as the lights spun in an mesmerizing dance.
“The unicorn beat them, using her magic to prove herself, at least in her own mind, superior. But there was one pony who refused to rise to the unicorn’s challenge, a dusky unicorn named Twilight. The unicorn taunted Twilight, but she refused to respond, and so the unicorn retired to her trailer. But that night, in an attempt to see the unicorn show her amazing talent, two young fillies traveled into the nearby Everfree forest and awakened a massive Ursa Major. They returned to town with the angry Ursa dead on their heels, crying for the unicorn to vanquish the beast and prove her might.”
The lights shifted and writhed, and suddenly a massive blue bear loomed over the unicorn and a collection of small buildings.
“The unicorn tried her best, but her magic was nowhere near as powerful as she had boasted, and she could not slow down the Ursa, much less stop it. It had ripped into the defenseless town, shattering buildings and causing mayhem, when Twilight appeared.”
The lights twinkled as the small purple unicorn stepped out of the town, horn glowing brightly, and stood face to face with the massive beast.
“The unicorn watched in amazement as Twilight calmed the Ursa with her magic, lulling it to sleep before picking it up and sending it back to it’s home deep in the Everfree forest.”
A purple glow surrounded the Ursa and then it vanished, leaving only Twilight and the unicorn surrounded by the other ponies.
“With her reputation in shambles, the prideful unicorn fled from the town in disgrace. But the news spread after her, and soon she was welcome nowhere. Tired and penniless she turned to the big city, hoping that there she would find a way to take her revenge.”
“Is that it?” Firefly cried when it became clear that Trixie was finished speaking. “What happened to her? What happened to Twilight?”
“Twilight, as far as I know, still lives quite happily with her friends.”
“And the unicorn? What happened to her in the city? Did she find her revenge?”
Trixie smiled, a bittersweet little expression, and ruffled the younger pegasus’s hair. “I couldn’t tell you, honey, the story’s still unfolding. When I know, I’ll tell you.”
A little while later Firefly’s parents arrived and took their daughter home, thanking Seth and Trixie profusely for their help. The rest of the day rolled by as Trixie helped Seth run the clinic, making appointments and helping with the patients.
It was dark by the time the day was over, Nightingale had arrived to take over for Trixie on the night shift, and she was preparing to head home once she got her pay from Seth.
She found him sitting at his desk waving good bye to a young couple that had come to him for advice on the wife’s first pregnancy. It wasn’t Seth’s line of expertise, but he never turned away a patient.
“Hey Trixie,” he greeted once he’d noticed her presence. “You heading home?”
“Yeah, just need to pick up my check first, a girl’s gotta eat after all.”
Seth coughed uncomfortably, refusing to meet her gaze. “Uh, yeah, about that. Look, Trixie, um... I know it’s a lot to ask, I know you don’t have a lot of extra money even after you’ve been payed, but the clinic’s a little short today,” Seth apologized, his face flushed with embarrassment. “Would it be alright if I payed you tomorrow instead?”
Trixie paused, thinking of an empty fridge and, worse, an empty coffee can. The Great and Powerful Trixie would never accept such an indignity. The Great and Powerful Trixie could not accept such an indignity!
But Trixie just smiled and nodded. “No problem, Seth. Whenever you can afford it’ll be fine.”
The Great and Powerful Trixie could never go without breakfast and her morning cup of coffee, but Trixie could figure something out. She’d make it.
The walk back to her apartment was long and uneventful. Trixie let herself in and, grabbing a book off the battered, second hand bookshelf she’d bought a while back, settled into the couch which was, if anything, even more battered and worn than the bookshelf. But it was comfortable.
She read until the sun had sunk too low to read by and then she lit the oil-lamp she had sitting on a table next to the couch. The apartment had electricity, of course, but the oil-lamp was cheaper.
Eventually, she marked her place and closed the book. She grabbed the oil-lamp and carried it into the bedroom, placing it carefully on the bedside table. Trixie climbed into bed and reached over to extinguish the light, but paused.
Smiling, she looked at the walls of her bedroom, decorated with photos of herself with many of the hospital’s young patients. Most had been inexpertly signed in large, shaky letters, others bore names in the simple cursive of Trixie’s own hand. Interspersed among the photo’s were several letters from parents of the patients, thanking her for helping cheer up their child, or thanking her for easing their foal’s last days. Not all were happy, but they were all treasured.
Smiling, Trixie extinguished the lamp and plunged the room into darkness. She wasn’t Great and Powerful anymore, and no where near powerful enough for revenge. But then again, they did say living well was the best revenge, and Trixie was powerful enough for that. This wasn’t the life she’d dreamed of as a foal, of being the greatest magician that ponykind had ever seen. But she was powerful enough for her patients, and that was enough.
Wherever you are, Twilight, she thought as peaceful, contented sleep claimed her. Thank you.