Among the many busy streets and alleyways of Manehattan there is one that stands out, the golden carrot that dangles before any performer's eyes. All shows, be they vaudeville, musical, play or mere magic acts, crave to be upon this street, for it is a sign that they are the best of the best, reaching the pinnacle of showmareship. That street is Bridleway. Lined in bright lights and paved with gold, everypony wishes to someday have their name grace a marquee on famous Bridleway. It's the source of everything Equestria could need: Art, culture, class, entertainment, and stardom.
Even now, within a small drinks hall barely edging Manehattan's theater district, one worthy star had just finished practicing her craft, hanging up her wizard's hat and cape. While on stage pyrotechnics punctuated her every move in a blaze of smoke, a fanfare of trumpets, and a multicolored array that held the audience in awe. With the merest flick of her horn, hidden beneath her violet star-studded wizard's hat, birds flew free, flowers appeared from nowhere, trumpets blared and daring escapes were made. Be it the disappearing box, the straightjacket escape, or one of her most famous tricks, throwing knives at her assistant while she was chained by all four hooves to the ceiling above her, blindfolded and backwards, nopony could help but marvel at the magical mare on stage.
She was arguably the greatest pony in Equestria, The Great and Powerful Trixie, but when offstage the azure unicorn relaxed as she always did: on a cushion before her vanity with a hay and oats smoothie and a good mane brushing, replaying that day's show once more in her mind's eye. There had not been one snag, not even the tiniest mistake in its execution, and the rush of applause and amazement that followed her off let her know she'd truly wowed them. She nodded approvingly to her reflection, looking into her own magenta eyes as the brush worked its way through her silver mane. “You did well, G&PT. Nopony could dispute that tonight.”
Yet, despite her excellence, it was hard being a showmare. The expectant faces of the adoring fans, the constant strive to look your best, the practiced poses, reading and reacting to the crowd... it really drained it from a mare, even one as young as herself. Trixie sipped from her smoothie, feeling the cool liquid soothe her tired throat. There was just nothing like a cold drink after a show. Now if only there were somepony to complain to, let her chat out the nerves holed up after the excitement of the stage, then her day could be complete. Sure her manager would listen, but he was a yes-colt, not supplying real dialogue. He was only there to make her famous after that whole fiasco in Ponyville, not any good for conversation beyond the next show.
Oh in Celestia's name why had she brought up Ponyville again? Once she was there mentally she couldn't help but run that night through her head, no matter how hard she tried to forget it. The night her traveling show was ruined by one bookish little unicorn.
Twilight Sparkle was her name, a lavender mare with an indigo, pink, and purple tri-toned mane, Ponyville's librarian of all things! With her little purple dragon assistant and her pink six-pointed star cutie mark... That cutie mark haunted Trixie's nightmares to this day.
A cutie mark was a symbol of a pony's special talent, Trixie's being a star tipped wand swirling magic behind it. To most other ponies it was an identifying mark, like a name or fur and eye color, but that six pointed star held a special venom in Trixie's mind. The harpy that owned it wasn't just a librarian, later investigation would turn out, she was Princess Celestia's top student, truly gifted past any other unicorn with raw magical talent, transferred to Ponyville for her own private study.
That night all those months ago was vivid in Trixie's mind. Due to the works of two of her dimmer admirers, an Ursa Minor had wandered into town. They'd brought it for Trixie to prove her greatness, and so she tried, using her show tricks against the rampaging star bear. But of course they were useless, causing nothing but ire from the beast. It turned on her, roaring right in her helpless face. Even now she could feel the hot breath pounding into her as she stared into the cavernous mouth, the teeth as tall as ponies mere inches from her nose. Trixie trembled in front of the terrible maw, making her peace before, suddenly, Sparkle stepped forward from the congregation of frightened and fearful townsponies. Fire burned in Trixie's heart at the memory, first the surprise as in swept Celestia's student, stopping the rampaging Ursa Minor singlehoofedly with feats of magic more powerful than any ever seen by pony eyes, then the jealousy as she realized the magic before her was a couple orders of magnitude above the minor conjurations, levitations, and telekinesis she could manage, forever infinitely out of her league. But the worst part was how easily it had all been done, soothing the massive bear and sending it all the way out of town, lifting what must have been the equivalent of three building's worth of weight, and at the end it hadn't even looked a strain, Sparkle hardly breathing heavily from the exertion. That kind of potential just wasn't fair! And waving it around like that, calling it all up on a whim... Trixie was revealed before the entire town, shown to be the most minor of sorceresses, unable to save the ponies or even her own caravan from the destructive paws of the monster. Ultimately shamed, she fled under the disapproving glances and the angered mutterings of the crowd, everything lost except her hat, her cape, and her hooves as they pounded her along the long road to Manehattan.
The memory of the tears stung her eyes, blurring her vision as she gazed in the mirror. She blinked them away, shaking her head. “No Trixie. You've moved on. You're a better pony than that, above the simple cons of the traveling show. You have new, amazing tricks! Adoring fans! A stage!”
There was a gentle knocking at her door, cutting off her motivational speech and causing her to glare at its reflection. “A manager...” She took one more sip of her smoothie and returned her brush to her mane before responding. “Yes? What is it? Trixie wishes not to be disturbed.”
The head of a yellow pegasus peeked in. “Sorry G and P T. Somepony came by saying they wanted to see you.”
Trixie sighed, moving her brush to her tail. Never had a visitation ended pleasantly, all gushing fans or lusting colts... In the end it was better to avoid the whole thing. “Send them away Light Show. The Great and Powerful Trixie does not give private shows. She must rest until morning. If they wish to be amazed, they must come and see the show tomorrow!”
The pegasus nodded as he slipped out, closing the door behind him. The sound of his hooves retreating let Trixie return to pepping up her reflection. “Your name is growing Trixie. Soon you're going to be big enough to get on Bridleway, and then nopony won't know you. There were a good seven dozen ponies out there, almost a full house, and word of mouth from that is going to be stellar! You'll be as big as the Princess herself in no time flat; all of Equestria will soon be chanting your name, and won't those foals who scorned you be sorry then?”
She smiled at her reflection, but it was hollow, no more than a flash of her brilliantly white teeth. Her beautiful reflection sighed, a sudden weight appearing on her shoulders. “Who am I kidding? I've been here for months and all I have to show for it is a herd of disappointed overzealous stallions. Nopony to talk to but ponies asking about my act. At least there were dim servants when I was on the road that were good for a laugh.” Trixie turned from her mirror, letting her eyes run over the sparse dressing room. Her cape and hat were the most decorative things in the room, the rest of it so dull it wasn't even worth mentioning. It was pathetic! This was no room for a star! No wonder she was so alone. Who would talk to a nopony like her? All it was missing was a mildew stain and a crack in the wall to prove her standing at the bottom of the barrel. “If only I could do something spectacular. Something that would bring me the fame I need for real fans. Something to get me off this one-pony stage and into a real theater. There's got to be a way...”
A knock came at her door a second time, leading Trixie to let out an exasperated sigh. “What could be so important as to warrant a second visit, Light Show? Trixie is busy!” She began the brush on her mane once more, taking another sip of her smoothie and returning her glare to the mirror. If she was going to be bugged she'd at least do so while comfortable.
This time the voice came from behind the door, the coward not even bothering to open it lest he feel the wrath of Trixie. “Yeah, um, your visitor is refusing to leave. She said she knows you. Name of Twilight Sparkle?” Trixie inhaled sharply, the cool liquid catching in her throat. She coughed and sputtered, losing concentration on the brush as she struggled to breathe. The clatter of it hitting the floor surprised her, causing her to jump frightfully, almost losing grip on the smoothie as well. At the last moment she caught it, placing it carefully upon the vanity.
Sparkle was here? What was she doing in Manehattan? And at one of Trixie's shows no less! She must want something. Did she want to blackmail Trixie with her failings in Ponyville? Did she want to take over the show? That caliber of magic could easily go on tour, and Light Show would just jump at the money that would come in... It had taken months and three different towns just to work up the money and status to get back to Manehattan, Sparkle wasn't going to take that away now. And what reason did The Great and Powerful Trixie have to talk to that simple little mare, hmm? Trixie owed her nothing but disdain. In fact, she should just be sent away and not given another thought. But of course that could prove even more dangerous. There was no telling what that pony could do, especially if she was the avid studier she was rumored to be...
Staring at the door Trixie made her decision in a calm, cold voice. “Send her in. Trixie will see her.” The hooves retreated once again, leaving Trixie time to think. The traveling show's loss had been a blow. Months in a wagon moving from town to town to peddle tricks and swindle country ponies had left her with a swelled head, she knew that, but none of those yokels had even once fact checked. But she'd had to go and pick on Sparkle's friends. Showing their skills up by making them look like silly foals was just part of the act, as harmless as her magic itself, but then she got questioned. Sparkle and her assistant had to go and examine her story, spreading doubt through the community, and when the idiots brought her the real challenge... Well, boasts are known for being flimsy.
The traveling was over now, her boasting mitigated to the stage persona and what she could actually perform, and while she wasn't fawned over nearly as much, it was really a better life now, if not nearly as luxurious. But this relic of the past was just begging for trouble. Sparkle had proven her false, gotten her to change her ways, what more could that witch want?
Her question would be answered soon enough as the sounds of two sets of hooves approached. Trixie had just enough time to pick up her brush and begin to run it nonchalantly through her mane again before the door opened.
Trixie watched Twilight Sparkle's reflection enter, smiling back at the door as it closed behind her before standing at the back of the room silently, awkwardly, like she wasn't sure how to broach a topic. What is she doing? What is she waiting for?After much more than an awkward pause Trixie took the first move, finally deigning eye contact through the mirror. “Yes? You wished to see Trixie?”
Sparkle took a nervous step into the room, looking at the walls before sitting on the bare wood floor. “Hello Trixie. I was hoping I could talk to you.”
Trixie snubbed her nose at the reflection, letting the brush continue its work. “Talk? Trixie doesn't just hold an audience on a whim. If you are going to waste her time with idle chat she suggests you leave. Don't you have a library to attend to?”
Twilight's reflection seemed sad, something troubling her. “Little Spike is sick, and the only place to get the medicine was here.”
“Then why are you at a show? Shouldn't you be out caring for your dragon?”
Sparkle turned away, gazing hurtfully at the floor moulding. “I'd be back in Ponyville by now if I could be, but the medicine won't be ready for another three days. And sorry if I thought a magic show would be a good way to take my mind off my assistant for a while.” Her head turned back to Trixie, and seeing that the azure unicorn was continuing to ignore her, she breathed deeply, her sadness dropping away as she got down to business. “Look, the reason I'm here was that I was hoping that we could close the book on that whole Ponyville business. I know when we first met we weren't on the best of terms, but I was hoping we could try again with out best hoof forward and maybe leave here as friends.”
That was what she wanted? That was what Trixie had gotten herself worked up about? That was it? “Friends? Friends?!” Trixie snorted, whirling angrily on Sparkle, her cool composure cracking. “How could you ever think that The Great and Powerful Trixie would want to make friends with the mare that ruined her traveling show? Why should Trixie play nice with the mare that showed her up with a display of raw magical power previously unseen by pony eyes?” She saw the frightened look on Sparkle's face and settled down, feeling a foal for her overreaction. Calmly she went on. “Friendship,” she spat the word like it were a bit of rotten hay, “is quite out of the question.”
Sparkle sat back, ears flat against her head as she tried to diffuse the situation. “Now Trixie, don't be that way. You've had quite an impressive show run since the Ursa Minor stepped on your caravan, and it's not like I've been going around waving my horn about like a showoff. I haven't done magic like that unless it was an emergency since! Besides, most of Ponyville has forgotten the whole incident. I'm sure they wouldn't even recognize you!”
Trixie turned back to her mirror, shocked. “Ha! The Great and Powerful Trixie, Star of Manehattan and Vanquisher of the Monstrous Ursa Major, unremembered? You argue your case poorly, Sparkle.”
Sparkle rolled her eyes, her tone becoming flat. “I heard you admit you never vanquished star bears of any size back in Ponyville, so don't even try to play that card on me. And it's not like your current show is so great. It's not even near Bridleway.”
Trixie's hackles rose, her whole body tensing for a second before she huffed at the mirror, swatting her tail at Sparkle. “Trixie's show is very popular, she'll have you know! Besides, proximity to Bridleway means nothing if it's not a musical or a play.”
Sparkle's tone took on strong hints of annoyance. “Look Trixie, there's no need to be so defensive. I'm trying to extend an olive branch here.” Trixie stared daggers at the reflection. It was the only response she would give for a line like that. Unfazed, Sparkle carried on. “I can't stand the thought of you being so bitter against me. What can I do to make it up to you?”
Trixie was about to offhoofedly request some insane task that was sure to do nothing but anger the unicorn behind her, but just as she was about to speak, she stopped, looking at the violet unicorn's pleading reflection as a thought struck her. Think about this Trixie. You have before you the Princess's Student, and for some Celestia forsaken reason she is dead set on becoming your friend. So let her. Her name holds the fame you are looking for. If you could defeat her, what would that say about you? Your career would skyrocket!
Memories came back of the power radiating from that bookish unicorn's horn, making Trixie's fur stand on end. But she is too powerful. You could never top that! How could you possibly beat somepony that can put on a display like that?
Trixie's stage voice combated her less confident one. It was impressive in strength, surely, but that town was softened by fear. She may be a powerful sorceress, but is she a magician? She may have Trixie's magic beat, but she will never, but she can never match the showstopping power of The Great and Powerful Trixie.
Trixie's other mind mulled the thought over for a moment, unsure of the implications. Would I actually have a chance?
A confident smirk answered her question. There is only one way to know.
The smirk spread from her thoughts to her reflection, filling her face as she spoke. “You must face Trixie in a magic duel.”
Sparkle's brow furrowed. “What?”
Trixie turned around, the smirk now a full grown smile. Just stay calm Trixie. This is your big chance. “You and Trixie, this stage, tomorrow. Magic versus magic, best showpony wins. Do this and Trixie will drop the issue completely.”
Sparkle didn't look any less confused. “Really? A magical competition? We both know my magic is stronger.”
Trixie's smile didn't fade, though her tail did whip angrily behind her. “It is not about power, it is about skill. The audience will decide the winner.”
Sparkle still looked suspicious. “And you want us to fight to become friends? You do know that competitions aren't exactly renowned for their ability to make ponies like each other, right?”
Trixie waved the concern away. “Trixie assures you that, win or lose, friendship shall blossom from the duel.”
“I don't know...” The tone of voice conveyed everything Trixie needed to hear. The argument was already won, she just had to seal the deal.
“You have to wait for your medicine anyway. Trixie's competition will merely help pass the time.” Trixie placed a hoof on Sparkle's shoulder, a bright smile on her face matching one a timber wolf would give a worrisome sheep. “What do you say?”
Sparkle sighed. “Are you sure this is the only way?” Trixie nodded, continuing to smile brightly at the mare. Sparkle gave in, smiling back. “Alright. I accept your challenge.”
“Excellent! Trixie knew you would agree.” Trixie cantered to the door, allowing herself a smug grin. For all the books you read Sparkle it's just as easy to read you. She opened it, looking straight into the startled eyes of Light Show, who had obviously been eavesdropping. Ignoring his transgression, Trixie spoke. “Tomorrow's show shall be a duel between The Great and Powerful Trixie and The Princess's Student, Twilight Sparkle. Make sure to prepare for it. You may show Sparkle out now.”
“A duel...” Light Show's shock turned to a knowing smile as his mind worked over the details. “Yes Trixie. I'll get right on it. Twilight, if you'll follow me.” Light Show beckoned Sparkle over as he walked towards the stage exit.
At Sparkle left, she turned to Trixie looking slightly defeated, but mostly relieved. “I guess I'll see you tomorrow then. May the best pony win.”
Trixie nodded, eyebrow raised smugly as she looked down her nose at her rival. “She shall.” The two ponies outside left, leaving Trixie to close the door and be alone in her dressing room once more. She started to giggle excitedly to herself as she walked to her mirror, and looking at her reflection and couldn't help but beam. “The Great and Powerful Trixie defeats Princess Celestia's top student? That will get me some attention.” She levitated her brush, working her mane, the brush jittering with excitement. In an attempt to calm herself she lifted her shake, sipping at the straw.
The liquid within was tepid, but she didn't care, smiling anyway as she finished it off. “This is going to be good.”
The following evening Trixie was once again in her dressing room, brushing her mane and tail to perfection and mentally preparing herself. Tonight was when she would shine. She would show up that bookish menace and, in doing so, rocket herself straight to Bridleway! She levitated some make up from the vanity, delicately lightening the lids of her eyes and doing her best to accentuate her looks without getting trashy. “Must look your best Trixie! Your adoring crowd will be watching!”
Just as she finished with the make up and donned her wizard's hat and cape, the door slid open slightly, Twilight Sparkle slipping into the room. Trixie glanced at the other unicorn's reflection, seemingly indifferent to her arrival while inwardly appraising the challenge. “Yes Sparkle? What do you want of Trixie?” She turned, seeing that Sparkle looked no different at all from the night before, her mane plain and straight, her face lacking make up, and still lacking of any clothes despite the wardrobe provided for her. She does realize this is a show, right?
Sparkle looked at the floorboards, hoofing at them nervously. “Trixie, are you sure about this? I don't want anything sparking on the stage, and competitions aren't always friendly...”
Trixie laughed haughtily at her. “Of course not! Competitions are tests of top skill! But Trixie assures you that if you truly do wish to be her friend then you will have to go through with her challenge. It is the only way.”
Sparkle sighed. “Alright Trixie, whatever you say.” She turned to leave, but was intercepted by Light Show.
“Ladies, please make your way to the stage. It's show time.”
“Thank you,” said Sparkle to his retreating form. She then walked towards her side of the stage, looking back as she did to see Trixie going to her own side. “Good luck out there Trixie!”
Trixie flipped her mane stylishly. “Luck is not even a factor here.” She flicked her tail at Sparkle before walking to her wing, looking on stage to see Light Show addressing the audience.
“Ladies and Gentlecolts! Tonight we have a special treat for you! A competition between two mighty magical mares to determine which is the greatest magician! And it is you, yes, you that decides the winner!” The crowd cheered, Light Show's attempts to rile and warm it up going spectacularly. He smiled warmly. “Please! Please! You are much too kind, save some for your competitors!” Backing up he extended a wing towards Trixie's side of the stage. “First to arrive, the Mistress of Magic, the Unicorn with the Glowing Horn, Manehattan's own: The Great and Powerful Trixie!”
The instant the final word left his lips Trixie threw a smoke pellet on stage, dashing into it and magically triggering the fireworks she'd placed earlier. As the smoke cleared they sparked and spun, showering her in light as she reared up in her most impressive caster's pose: both front hooves raised before her as though she were in the midst of tracing arcane runes, a confident determination on her face. She scanned the crowd, surprised to see the whole house full, every table packed with ponies and even a line along the back wall. Excitement welled in her chest once more. Perfect! Better than Trixie could have ever hoped!
The stunned crowd cheered, applauding and chanting her name and leaving her to smile and soak it all in while Sparkle nervously padded in the opposite wing. Unfortunately, Light Show put her out of her misery, calming the crowd down. “Now now, don't get worn out already! I haven't even introduced the challenger.” He snapped a wing open, pointing to Sparkle's side of the stage. “The Element of Magic, the Princess's Prize Pupil, Ponyville's Archiver of Archaic Knowledge, give it up for Twilight Sparkle!”
In the corner of her eye Trixie saw Sparkle's horn glow briefly before she simply winked out of existence, reappearing on stage amidst a flash of light. The crowd oohed at her entrance, a polite applause following her appearance, but it wasn't nearly what Trixie had gotten. Trixie smiled to herself, confidence rising. I bet she didn't even place the fireworks LS gave her. What a foal.
As the crowd's underwhelming reaction ended, Light Show took center once more. “The rules are simple. Magic versus magic, whoever gets the better reaction over the course of five tricks wins, so make sure to scream your head off for your favorite mare! Magician's ready?” Both nodded as he looked to them, Trixie confidently, Sparkle with determination on her features. Fading upstage he held a wing above him. “Aaaaaaaaaand...” He shot the wing down in a clear signal. “Begin!”
Trixie stepped forward, beginning the magical duel with a simple trick. She stayed on her back hooves, moving her front ones around mystically before conjuring a bouquet of a dozen roses from the air. She then grabbed them in the crook of her leg, standing like the winner of the Miss Canterlot pageant and sniffing them softly. The audience applauded politely, but this trick had never been meant to wow the audience and so they weren't.
Sparkle stepped up second, levitating a small flower pot from off stage and placing it on the floor before her. With no decorum, no hoof motions or flashy lights, she concentrated, her horn glowing softly. Pop! A rose bush appeared, garnering a similar reaction to Trixie's bouquet and leaving the audience slightly bored.
Trixie can fix that, she thought as she took the spotlight once more, levitating the wizard's hat from her head. With a simple motion she stuffed the bouquet into the hat, then she held it forward, seeming to focus greatly on it as she feathered the hidden fan switch in the floor in front of her. Her hair and cape slowly began to billow, the hat seeming to tremble with energy as her horn began to gently glow. Then there was a puff of flame as flash paper ignited within the hat, hiding the swap, followed by a dozen cardinals that streamed from her hat into the room to flutter elegantly over the ponies assembled. There was a collective “Ooh!” from the crowd and a fair bit of applause, to which Trixie bowed. She then replaced her hat with a magical flourish, smile returning once more to her face. It's all in the presentation.
Sparkle had not seemed to learn that lesson yet, though she was catching on. She looked suspiciously over at Trixie, then let her horn glow once more. The cardinals wheeling about the room transformed, their plumage turning a rainbow of colors while they settled on the tables within. Sparkle followed up her trick with an extended hoof and a feeble “Tada!” that warbled in tone. The audience applauded the birds, but the tada gained her nothing but a few snickers, one of which came from Trixie.
Trixie let the audience quiet once more before starting her next trick, turning on the hidden record player to play a snake charmer's song. To the music she produced a deck of playing cards from her cape, which she pulled free of their box, shuffling them with her magic before sending them in a wide arc above her and landing them in her hoof. From there she spun, letting the cards slip out into a line that twirled around her like a gymnast's ribbon. As she continued to spin they quickly collected from the swirl around her into a deck above her before, after a brief pause for the report of a firework, exploding out into the audience, each card landing before a pony sitting at a table and showing off the back, which had her cutie mark for a design. She remained on stage, her twirling ending in a deep bow just as the music came to an end.
Trixie remained in position while the audience applauded, only looking up from her bow when it was suddenly cut short. The cards from her trick were trembling in a magical glow, lifting from the tables and flying center stage. There they collected, forming into a giant card made of the many smaller ones. It then turned over like it was being drawn from a deck, all cards fusing in the motion as they revealed a giant picture of Twilight Sparkle, a Q and her cutie mark for the rank and suit. The audience cheered, loving the show and causing Sparkle to smile appreciatively as she took her first bow to the ponies in front of her. Trixie felt her face flush red with rage. There had been a hint of foul play from the potted plant and the bird's plumage, but the intention behind this was definitely clear. She was doing an old magician favorite, expanding on the work of others for a greater response. She would pay for that one. Playing with Trixie's tricks, eh? Let's see you follow this one up.
Trixie lit off a bit of flash paper, the flames bringing focus back to her and leaving Sparkle's bows to awkwardly die without attention or applause. As soon as all eyes were on Trixie she materialized a rabbit from her cape, it's beautiful white fur gleaming in the stage lights. She then magicked over a small ornate box on a wheeled pedestal from off stage, stopping it at stage center. She levitated the box, opening it and showing the audience that it was completely ordinary before placing it back on the pedestal and, with a delay to show everypony watching that it was an ordinary animal, placing the rabbit within. With a large flourish she clasped the box, in the same motion willing up several daggers from beside it, which delicately spread into a deadly fan above her. She proved their sharpness when she launched them into the giant card behind her, shredding it to confetti with a few swift swipes and causing Sparkle to look slightly indignant. Trixie merely smiled at her warmly before continuing her set.
With one hoof she spun the pedestal, working up its speed until it was turning at a considerable rate. She then walked away, letting the daggers dance in the air above her as she made her way to the stage's edge. There she turned and, after barely a moment's concentration, sent the first blade tumbling through the air towards the spinning box. Its impact was audible, as was the gasp that came from each and every pony in the crowd as the blade sunk in to the hilt. The second one flew soon after, impacting hard enough to bump the box over and get Sparkle to visibly wince. There was a practiced pause between each throw, just long enough for the audience to truly cringe at each skewering before the next one occurred.
When finally the last blade was thrown and the box had stopped spinning it resembled a porcupine with dagger grips for spines. Trixie walked over to it, her confident smile still unfazed as she turned the entire pedestal around once more for all to see. She then lifted the box up, spinning it top to bottom to show it was still whole. This was where the fun began. Slowly, milking the moment for every drop of tension she could get from the audience, she placed it back on the pedestal, unclasping the box and dramatically reaching a hoof inside, retrieving from the box an intact rabbit. As the relieved sigh rolled through the audience, she reached into the box once more, procuring a carrot, which she gave to the bunny before patting it on the head and setting it hopping on its way.
The crowd went wild, cheering and whistling at the display and leaving Trixie simply no choice but to bask in the adoration, waving and nodding to the audience. As the sound peaked she turned to Sparkle, offering the stage to her while staring into her eyes and raising an eyebrow as if to say 'Your move.' In return she received an angry glare from the rival mare, who turned forward, nerves showing as she started her penultimate trick.
Sparkle walked next to the rose bush from before, focusing her magic on it as her horn started to glow. A gleam of sweat caught Trixie's eye, causing her to watch Sparkle's actions with a bit more interest than she had before. It told her all she needed to know. There! That waver! It was faint, only a good showpony would see it, but there was strain in her opponent's actions, as though she were concentrating far too hard on her trick. Tut tut Sparkle. The match is already Trixie's, you just don't want to admit it yet. It was almost sad, all that magical potential locked inside that nervous, awkward frame. Almost.
The rose bush grew rapidly, within moments becoming tall and wild. This seemed to startle Sparkle, who jumped in place before moving to the next phase of her presentation. The bush began to rotate slowly, leaves, branches and flowers shrinking away and twisting on its form as it changed shape. The flowing changes moved steadily until it stalled, wavering for a moment as a blob between two shapes that, at the end of its third rotation, settled on a form. The pot touched down a quarter turn later containing a topiary of a telescope complete with rose lenses and dials. She then turned to the audience, smiling nervously and presenting the plant with outstretched hooves.
The crowd was mostly silent, the only sounds in the room an awkward cough and the oblivious twittering of the rainbow cardinals. Trixie was almost surprised she didn't hear crickets chirping. Sweat began to bead on Sparkle's forehead as she maintained her smile, knees beginning to visibly shake. Seeing the trembling, nervous mare Trixie couldn't help but wonder how the maker of that feeble display could have possibly frightened her yesterday. Sure, there was magic, but nothing spectacular... Maybe when the show was done Trixie would show her a few tips on showmareship.
Trixie shook her head at her opponent, laughing. “Let Trixie show you how it is done!” She walked towards center stage, heart pounding in excitement as she took position. This is it. The nail to seal the coffin. Next stop: Bridleway.
Trixie began her final trick of the night, unclasping the 'diamond' clasp on her cape and levitating it from her shoulders so that it formed a small star-patterned curtain. Then, with just enough flourish to make the moment snap, she whipped it up into the air, producing from nowhere a cage three times her size that appeared from the bottom up as the cape passed it. Then, as the cape reached the apex of its arc, it gently wafted down in front of the cage, a tiger materializing from top to bottom with its fall and prowling as soon as it was full.
Trixie's cape clasped itself around her neck as it fell and, amidst the oohs of the captivated crowd, she walked around the cage displaying the beast within. As she reached center she looked Sparkle's way, smiling at the fearful, jealous look she received. Now she realizes Trixie is the real deal. With a smile built out of vindication as much as practice Trixie opened the cage door, stepping inside to the gasps of both the crowd and her opponent before locking it behind her with her magic. With a great flourishing bow she turned to the tiger, rearing back on her hooves in a pose of confrontation, her cape flying impressively behind her. The tiger reared as well, growling angrily before crouching low, preparing to pounce.
A tremor ran through the audience as it leaped, deadly claws outstretched and fangs bared towards the confident blue unicorn, a blur of orange and black bearing doom towards the tiny pony. Sparkle closed her eyes, looking away as the two forms connected...
...and vanished in a cloud of white smoke that enveloped the cage. Confused gasps and murmurs made their way through the audience for a few tense moments, all wondering what had become of the mare. A fanfare of trumpets filled the space, cutting them off as Pegasian Candles launched fire from the back of the house, causing all heads to swivel to their source. Standing in the rear doorway in dual spotlights, looking as noble, great, and powerful as possible, was Trixie herself, cape and mane flowing in a mystical wind and fireworks bursting around her. Curious ponies pried their attention from her display to the cage, eager to know the fate of the tiger. The smoke cleared slowly, the white clouds parting to reveal a tiny tiger cub mewling cutely at the crowd.
At once the entire theater burst into uproarious applause, deafening Trixie as her fireworks finally ran out. Slowly, savoring each moment, she walked through the crowd and back to the stage, bowing and waving to her adoring fans. When, after a few minutes, the applause finally ended, Trixie turned to Sparkle with an proud grin. Beat that! she mentally dared.
Yet, instead of the defeated look she expected, Sparkle looked determined, focused despite her trembling. Inside Trixie's own confidence wavered as she looked on in disbelief. Doesn't she know she's lost? She can't be going on.
When finally silence returned to the theater, Sparkle gave the crowd a nervous smile, stepping forward with sweat pouring down her face. Impatiently the crowd waited for her to make her move, but Trixie was having trouble keeping her cool act going. She wouldn't be going on if she couldn't win... Why didn't she surrender? She must have something prepared... Sparkle gulped down the lump in her throat and began to concentrate, closing her eyes and lowering her head as her horn began to glow.
Magic power pulsed and swirled around her, focusing on a point just off from the tip of her horn, which grew larger and brighter until it was visible, then tangible, a swirling ball of energy that steadily grew: starting the size of a marble, then an apple, then a pony's head, then much, much larger. Sparkle's head rose, bringing the massive orb above her to fill the space between her and the roof, and still the power grew.
Trixie's smile was gone as she looked at the brilliant sphere that shone like an opalescent pearl, completely solid, with beams shining off of it in all colors of the rainbow that bathing the audience in their glory. The entire audience was breathless, held in wonder at the show, while Trixie's jaw dropped. No... it's not possible... not again. Lightning arced over the surface of the pearl, forming waves and ripples of power that it hurt to look at as they seemed to bend space itself around them. That same power radiated through the air, causing Trixie's fur to stand on end. It was the Ursa Minor all over again, just a different stage. Trixie's heart fell, feeling a familiar pain creeping up on her. I'm going to lose to her again...
The surface wobbled, Sparkle's face contorting as the lightning and lights grew more wild and more intense. Electricity crackled from the orb, striking out and scorching a table in the third row of the theater. Awe quickly turned to panic in the crowd as everypony tried to duck for cover and cower behind tables and pillars to dodge the randomly striking lightning. Light Show sidled off the stage, putting as much distance between himself and the magic while Trixie just stood stock still, staring into the spell's amorphous surface as it shook violently.
Trixie could feel a smile slowly growing on her face as the moment seemed to stall. The orb rippling, lightning arcing in all directions and the very air vibrating from the unstable dynamo. Just beyond the lights ponies cowered, all fearfully gazing to this great force before them, frightened by this beast they could not tame. And there, trying to hold it all together, Twilight Sparkle, immeasurable strain on her features as she struggled with a power normally kept well hidden. A power only used in emergencies...
The orb stabilized for a moment, the surface still and the electricity gone, a beautiful starry night visible through a milky haze. A calm glade, begging to let Trixie in to enjoy the tranquility. The vision faded, the haze obscuring the stars beyond. Then, unceremoniously, the sphere collapsed in on itself, Trixie's smile shrinking with the orb.
Time seemed to crystallize, freezing completely in a moment of utter clarity. Sparkle was being pushed back by her own magic, mouth silently chanting the mantra that promises to fix all mistakes. “Nonononononono...” Beyond the stage the entire crowd was staring, horror is everypony's eyes. Even Light show had been struck to silence as he cowered behind the tiger's cage, truest worry on his features as the pinprick of magic shone brightly, an otherworldly beacon that seemed to pierce the very walls with its light. All sound was sucked from the room, a true, heavy, unbreakable silence weighing over it. Within the quiet one thought rang in Trixie's mind, so loud that the four whispered words threatened to deafen her.
I went too far...
The pinprick of light exploded, the blinding flash echoed by the cacophonous thunderclap that signaled the return of sound. Cushions flew, curtains whipped wildly, props danced, birds screeched in alarm as a tiger cub landed among them, and ponies screamed as those who weren't in cover were tossed through the air by the magic maelstrom on stage, all the power releasing itself at once before... silence.
Wood popped and the stone foundation of the building plinked and clinked as it cooled, the sounds of destruction eventually quieting one by one until only one remained, a slight sizzling noise coming from the stage. In the center of a swathe of destruction sat Twilight Sparkle, face and forelegs stained black, mane and tail standing on end and whipped every direction, and horn glowing white hot at the tip, smoke streaming from it. The air around her crackled, smelling of ozone as she wavered on the spot, all eyes on her. She shook her head clear, looking around her in worried confusion. The sight of the destruction caused her to stop, sinking to the floor with a sad whimper as her ears pressed themselves against her head. To the side of the stage stood Trixie, partly blinded from the flash, with her hat blown askew and her cape whipped around her ears, but otherwise unstained as she tried to focus on her defeated rival.
The sizzling was the only noise for a few moments, silence reigning as everypony waited for the horseshoe to drop.
“Boo!” It was a single voice, but it was picked up by the multitude in moments, the crowd's reaction decided. “Boo!” “Get off the stage!” “You're a menace!” “You stink!” Twilight sank further into herself under the abuse, forming a tight ball on the stage deck.
Trixie's looked the soot-stained unicorn opposite her, heart twinging at the pathetic little ball her great nemesis had become. She took a step towards the trembling mare, calling out gently. “Twilight?”
Twilight bolted from the stage, ridicule chasing her off and tears streaming from her eyes. Trixie watched her go, wanting to follow but unable to as the jeers and heckling subsided, cut off by Light Show, who had extracted himself from the curtains and made his way center stage. “Well, that sure was something, wasn't it folks? But I think the winner is clear, don't you? Now cheer your lungs out for the greatest magician, the most magical mare, your winner: The Great and Powerful Trixie!” Trixie's hoof was grabbed and raised into the air to the raucous cheers and roars of the crowd.
Responding automatically she gave them a showy smile and a bright wave, bowing deeply before stating the line she'd been saving for this moment. “Was there ever any doubt?” She continued to wave and bow, slowly sickened by her own hollow, mechanical showboating. Every chance she got she glanced towards the wing where Twilight had run off, the gleaming of the stage lights on her tears sticking in Trixie's mind. She'd recognized those tears.
They were her own when she'd run from Ponyville.
As soon as was proper for the showpony, Trixie dropped a final smoke pellet, slipping off stage under its cover. Amid the cheers and chanting of her name Trixie walked quickly backstage, one destination in her mind, but almost immediately she was stopped by Light Show. “Woah! Where are you going Trixie? Are you hearing this? They love you!You've got to get out there and give them more. This could be your big break!”
“Not now. Some things are more important than fame.” Trixie pushed past the confused pegasus, making a straight shot to the assistant's dressing room which currently had a paper pinned to the door reading “Twilight Sparkle.” She listened to the door for a moment, a faint sobbing audible through the wood. Cringing at the sorry sound she opened the door, peeking inside. “Twilight?”
A glow came from Twilight's horn, a red door frame appearing just within the actual one and slamming itself before Trixie's face. “Go away!” The voice was furious, hurt... anypony could have heard that.
Trixie tried to open the false door, but it was locked. She struggled with it for a few moments before realizing what she was doing, instead lifting the frame aside. With it removed she found Twilight sobbing on the cushions, head laying on her front hooves and chest heaving with each breath. Trixie took another careful step into the room, trying not to startle her. “Twilight? Are you okay?”
Twilight's head rose from her forelegs, red rimmed eyes looking at Trixie and lines clearly visible where the tears had cut through the soot on her face. “Oh, go away Trixie.” She turned back around, burying her face into the pillows. Trixie started to speak, but Twilight cut her off. “You got your victory. You're the better magician. Are you happy now?”
Trixie walked over to her, sitting down next to her and removing her hat and cape. “You know, I thought I would be...” The two sat in silence for a moment, Trixie just letting Twilight cry it out. “Hurts, doesn't it?”
Twilight nodded, sniffling. “I sting all over...”
Trixie shook her head. “Not that. Them. The crowd's reaction.”
Twilight nodded again.
Trixie looked over at the vanity, the lights cold and the items on it untouched. “And that was just one room. One tiny theater, a hundred ponies tops. Think what it's like with a whole town.”
Twilight's silence spoke volumes, even her small sobs stopping.
After another moment, Trixie continued her questions. “This was important for you, wasn't it?”
After a brief delay Twilight nodded once more. Trying to get a little more of a reaction, Trixie tried a different approach. “What was that spell you were casting at the end?”
Twilight sighed, still talking into the pillow beneath her. “It was supposed to be Star Swirl's Starry Night on a larger scale. I wanted to transfer everypony to the peaceful glen it normally whisks a pony's mind to when they need to be calmed or think clearly, but I just couldn't maintain its integrity while changing it to apply to the real world.” Twilight looked up, rubbing her face with a hoof and smearing ash through the clean streaks on it. “It's probably for the best anyway. I don't know how I would have gotten everypony out again without waiting hours for the spell to fade...”
Trixie looked at Twilight, stunned by her choice of spells. “Star Swirl's Starry Night? That's a tricky spell normally! There's only maybe a dozen unicorns that can manage it at all, let alone on a large scale. The fact that you'd even try that... Why would you do something so risky?”
Twilight looked to the floor. “I was trying to win. Under all that pressure and your amazing performance it was the only thing I could think of that might bring the crowd to my side. I only had one shot, and I had to win the competition! It was the only way you'd be my friend.”
Trixie shook her head, frowning. As she did, she noticed a stack of books sitting next to the vanity, apparently read just before the show. The titles made Trixie look down at the studious unicorn laying on the floor, suddenly understanding her lack of costume and feeling even worse for her actions. 'A Beginner's Guide to Performing Magic,' 'Qualities of Showmareship,' and worst of all, 'Magic Tricks for Foals.' She'd never done a show before, and she agreed to my challenge... Trixie, you are a mule... “That wasn't the deal. Though I don't understand why you'd want to be my friend in the first place. Especially the way I acted...”
Twilight sat up, facing away from Trixie but looking into her eyes through the mirror, her own eyes sad at what they saw. “It's because you didn't have one. It didn't take a genius to see that. The traveling show, the boasting, the attention grabbing... You were an amazing showmare, doing something that I, honestly, envied your ability to do. You had fans, you had fame, you had ponies catering to you, but there was just one thing missing...” Twilight turned around, smiling as she looked into Trixie's eyes directly. “You needed a friend, somepony to be on your side. When you left Ponyville you were all alone, just you and the world. Nopony should be left like that. When I saw you again here, I thought it was my one chance: that maybe, just maybe I could be that friend for you and somehow make up for what had happened before. But the only way was to win...”
Trixie smiled warmly, magicking a brush over from the vanity and carefully running it through Twilight's mane to remove the charred bits and the ash. This brought a confused look from Twilight, causing Trixie to stall the motion, but when no argument came, she started once more. “Both of our special talents are magic, yours magic itself, mine the magic of show business. I go out there every day for a crowd that wants to eat me alive for my tricks and my Trixie... It's gotten to the point that that routine is all I know how to do anymore. But your magic has unlimited potential. There's nothing that one day you won't be able to do. The pure raw power you displayed both tonight and in Ponyville is just... amazing. Far more than I ever can hope to achieve. And even with all of that power, last time I saw you you had five wonderful friends waiting in Ponyville for you, ready to support you through anything...” Trixie sighed, transferring the brushing to Twilight's tail. “I was jealous. I wanted you to feel what I do every day. Those eyes watching your every move, expecting, judging, ready to pounce on the smallest mistake. I have fans. I might even someday have fame, but I will never have friends like yours.” There was a thoughtful silence between the two unicorns, the only sound the brush going through Twilight's tail.
After a few moments of this, Trixie continued. “It was a mistake. I pushed too hard, making you go for that crazy spell, pushing away the one pony that was smart enough to realize what I really needed...” Trixie stopped her brushing, just smiling at Twilight. “Thank you.” She placed the brush back on the vanity, turning Twilight towards the vanity and floating over a smaller mirror to show her the back of her mane. “There! Good as new.”
Twilight's soot covered reflection looked at Trixie, shaking her head at how silly she looked and chuckling disbelievingly despite the tears still edging her eyes. “Yeah, thanks.” It was then that her eyes went wide, Twilight spinning to face Trixie while looking as though she'd been hit by a sudden revelation. “You're not speaking in third-pony!”
Trixie's smile grew warmer. “Of course not! That's all just an act for the public. It's not nice to wear masks around friends.” The two looked at each other for a moment, the weight of the last sentence hanging between them. Then Trixie tentatively raised a hoof, offering it to Twilight with a hopeful smile. “Friends?”
Twilight nodded, raising her own hoof to bump against Trixie's. “Friends.”
The two hooves connected, the sound of their impact forever a happy resonance in both pony's hearts.