The Sparkle Chronicles: Chapter 4

It seemed to me that Twilight’s visits were becoming a bit more random. No, not in the Pinkie Pie sense of “random,” nothing like that; it’s just that the timing seemed erratic, and she’d stopped sending me email beforehand. (Beforehoof?) This would only be troublesome if she arrived while I wasn’t at home, I suppose, but never underestimate my ability to worry about something that hasn’t happened yet.

So the first item on the agenda for next visit, I decided, would be disclosure of my work schedule. With fifty hours spoken for each week, that left us, um, a hundred and eighteen hours to choose from. Not all of them would be particularly convenient, but a bad time to meet with Twi was far better than no time to meet with Twi.

Still, the lack of notifications was troubling. Perhaps she didn’t schedule her trips in advance because she couldn’t schedule her trips in advance: discontinuities usable as portals are not particularly stable, I reasoned, and besides, by all the available evidence, she had a life, something few would have accused me of having. (There have been those who suggested I should get a life, but that’s another matter. I think.)

For a moment, I actually contemplated sending a letter:

Dear Princess Celestia:

I apologize for being perhaps unnecessarily forward, but I am worried about Twilight Sparkle. Your faithful student is evidently going through some tumultuous times, and …

But I dropped it there, partly because I couldn’t believe I’d trotted out such a cumbersome word as “tumultuous,” but mostly because I couldn’t think of a way to get it to the Princess directly. I didn’t have her email address, and it’s not like I have a dragon by my side to deliver it. Then again, how hard could it be to find a dragon? Surely there must be several of them nearby: I can feel their blast-furnace breath when I walk outside, and I can see its effects when the electric bill comes in. “You pay two thousand bits a year to avoid the weather?” Twilight would ask. And then I felt a rush of guilt — who am I to say what Twilight would ask? — with just a hint of loneliness.

Which shortly thereafter became more than just a hint.

“Where are you, my little pony?”

Yes, I said it out loud. Maybe I’d said it too loud. The email notifier delivered its usual raucous audio clip. and I stared in disbelief at the screen. Evidently Princess Celestia had somehow received that letter I’d never sent.

There was a paragraph full of formalities, inasmuch as we’d never been properly introduced, and then the heart of the matter:

Please be kind to my faithful student Twilight Sparkle. She has been under considerable stress these past few days, and I suggested to her that she might not want to journey back across that time/space divide in her condition. I expect, however, that she will ignore that suggestion.

She left it at that, and left me to puzzle over its implications. Had I been somehow unkind to Twilight? Or had something horrible happened to her since the last time I’d seen her?

Then it dawned on me that the Princess might actually be cutting me some slack. From what I knew about her, she could threaten me with anything from a horde of changelings to the heartbreak of psoriasis, and deliver on that threat without so much as breaking a sweat. Instead, she said simply “Please be kind.” Perhaps she’d decided, as did Ford Prefect once upon a time, that we are harmless. Mostly.

Besides, there’d be no opportunity to be kind to Twilight unless Twilight was coming back, right?

I opened another window to read the mail header, which turned out to be utterly unreadable. Of course.

– = * = –

It was about, oh, a minute and a half later when she entered. “Did you miss me?”

“I missed you about ten seconds after you left,” I said. “And I’m surprised it took that long.”

There was that sideways look again, only longer. I felt like I was being inspected by the drill sergeant before the real inspection by the company commander.

Finally: “She told you, didn’t she?”

“Who told who what?”

“You know perfectly well who told who what! I can’t believe this! Everything that happens in my life is broadcast across the entire bucking galaxy! I should just throw myself into Ghastly Gorge and get it over with!”

I am not having a pony fight in my living room, I thought. “For crying out loud, Twilight J. Sparkle, get hold of yourself!”

She stared at me in what seemed to be more disbelief than rage. “J?”

“Well, um…”

“J?”

“Just kidding” obviously wasn’t going to work this time. “A, then?”

She paused, probably to build up another head of steam. “Is that the best you can do? Make fun of my middle name?”

I threw up my hands, and I couldn’t tell you if it was in defense or in despair. “I didn’t even know you had a middle name. Nor do I know everything that happens in your life. Obviously I’m in some pitiful backwater at the ass end of the galaxy. Would you mind terribly explaining why you went off like, I don’t know, a box of low-grade gunpowder just now?”

A brief flash of aura from her horn — couldn’t have lasted more than a second or so — and then: “You really don’t know, do you?”

“Not a thing. The Princess left me a note asking me to be kind — that was the word, ‘kind’ — what with all the stress you’ve been under. That’s all she said. I didn’t ask for any details.”

“You won’t want them,” she said. “Oh, it was awful! And what’s worse, I let him get away with it! What was I thinking?”

“Him? Him who? Do I need to go kick somepony in the flank?”

“That,” she said, “won’t be necessary. But thank you for offering.”

I saw my opening, and I took it. “Is this something you can talk about?”

– = * = –

“This all started,” said Twilight, “after I’d gone up to Canterlot to report, and things went so smoothly for once that Princess Luna dismissed me early, but not early enough to catch the last train back to Ponyville.”

“Beyond your teleportation range?” I asked.

“That’s a long teleport,” she said. “I’d probably have to sleep for two days to recover from it. Luna said I could stay the night at the Castle.”

“Doesn’t sound horrible so far.”

“Well, I thought I’d have somepony to talk to. But Luna was working on some project she couldn’t say anything about, Celestia had already turned in for the evening, so I decided to go downtown and see if anything interesting was happening. There wasn’t, so I trotted over to a little watering hole I always wanted to go to when I was in school.” She sighed. “Of course, I was underage, and Celestia would have had a fit if she thought that her faithful student was heading out to a bar, so I never did.”

“Okay. Bar in downtown Canterlot. Good, bad, indifferent?”

“Closer to ‘good,’ I would say. It was nicer than anything we have in Ponyville, but we don’t have a lot of two-hooved drinkers in Ponyville, and this place seemed to be designed to get you to consume as many drinks as possible in the least amount of time.”

“May I assume you don’t hold your, um, liquids well?”

“Hmmpf,” she said, tossing her mane. “I’ll have you know that I can outdrink anypony I know. Except Pinkie. Her consumption levels are off the map.”

Now I was looking at Twilight sideways. “How hard can it be to outdrink Fluttershy?”

She smiled. “Okay, you got me that time. Don’t let it happen again.”

“You know,” I said, “the willingness to engage in repartee is considered a sign of healthy social development.”

“It can also get you in trouble.”

“Well, yes, there’s that. Did it get you in trouble?”

“Contributing factor. This stallion strides in, and he draws every eye in the place. Half a dozen mares seemed to be trying to get his attention.”

“We’re talking major looker here?”

“Absolutely major. His coat was a brown so shiny it looked like metal. Perfectly groomed mane and tail. And I shouldn’t say this, but he had himself quite a horn.”

“I am so not going there,” I said.

“I wish I hadn’t. He looked things over for a moment, and then came over and parked himself next to me. I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be flattered or scared.”

“It’s the gorgeous ones you have to worry about, or so I’ve heard.”

“He said his name was Flashy Copper, and that he knew my brother from Royal Guard school. He seemed to be the right age, so I took his word for it. We talked and drank and talked some more, and…”

“I’ve seen enough soap operas to know where this is going,” I said.

The straight face she’d been trying to maintain for the last few minutes suddenly collapsed. “It was terrifying. Nopony had ever come on to me so blatantly before. And his attitude! ‘Every other mare in this town says Yes, why don’t you?’ I told him I wasn’t every other mare, but that didn’t stop him.”

“It’s guys like that who screw it up for the rest of us.” I shook my head. “What did you have to do?”

“I ran outside, and he … he followed me. Spent the next ten minutes yelling at me, about how I was stuck up, how I’d wasted his valuable time, things like that. He’d probably still be yelling if the police hadn’t heard him.”

“So the good guys win one,” I said. “Although it didn’t seem so at the time, I’m sure.”

“And the next day, I met my brother on his lunch break. Oh, yes, he knew him. Washed out of the class right before his. Apparently spent all his time scoping out the mares instead of studying the procedures. He hasn’t changed at all.”

“I apologize on behalf of my half of my species, and of whatever percentage of ponies might actually be male,” I said.

Finally, she smiled. “Approximately forty colts for every hundred fillies, at foaling. And of course mares live longer.”

“Of course,” I said. “And while I’m thinking about it: what is your middle name?”

“I don’t have one. I’m just Twilight Sparkle. I only know two ponies who have middle names.”

“Dare I ask?”

“Well, Pinkie, as you probably know, is actually Pinkamena Diane Pie. And I know Rainbow Dash has one, but I’m not sure what it is.”

“I always thought it was ‘Danger’ or something like that.”

“She’d like you to think that.” Twilight grinned. “All I know is that it starts with an M.”

– = * = –

Dating fails were still on Twi’s mind the next day, and I should not have been surprised when she asked me about some of my own.

“Are you familiar with the concept of the ‘blind date’?” I asked.

She pondered for a moment. “Like when somepony sets you up with somepony else that you’ve never even met?”

“Exactly like that. I think I had the worst one in recorded human history.”

For some reason, this perked her right up. “Tell me about it.”

“I’d thought we’d had a pretty good time,” I said. “At least, she didn’t act like she was particularly horrified at my behavior.”

“Do you normally behave in a horrifying manner?”

“Not if I can help it. Anyway, a couple of nights later I thought I’d drop by and say hello.” I summoned up the most stentorian tones I could manage, and wound up sounding like William Shatner with tonsillitis. “She. Had. Moved. Away.”

Twilight gave me a pure Pull The Other One look. “What do you mean by ‘moved away’?”

“Just like it sounds. She no longer lived there. Apparently she moved out the day after our one and only date. I am forced to conclude that she wanted to make sure it was our one and only date.”

“Did you ever hear from her again?”

“Not yet I haven’t. And it’s been, oh, twenty-five years now.”

Let me tell you: a pony doing an eyeroll is something to behold. “You seem to have recovered nicely from the trauma.”

“In twenty-five years? I should hope so. Although at the time, it bothered me a great deal.”

“Something like that would bother me for a very long time,” she said. “Things that happened to me when I was in school still bother me, and I’m supposed to be all grown up and everything.”

“When you’re young, you think that the world is out to get you. It takes a long time to realize that the world is out to get all of us.”

“But is it supposed to be this way? Couldn’t we grow up without constantly struggling? It would be so much easier on everypony, wouldn’t it? I know it would have been easier on me.”

“One of our wiser humans,” I said, “used to say that good judgment comes from experience, and often as not, we get that experience as a result of bad judgment.”

“You seem … at least somewhat wise.”

I laughed. “I assure you, I got to that point the hard way: by screwing up royally. If it’s possible to do something wrong, I’ve either already done it, or will have done it before too long. It comes with the territory. Perfection is not something we can aspire to. Or, as a teacher of mine would have preferred, perfection is not something to which we can aspire.”

“What I want to know is how you put things like this out of your mind. Every horrible thing that’s ever happened to me comes back to torment me on a regular basis and I want to scream. Spike says sometimes I do scream and it scares him.”

“Is there, like, a small-scale memory spell that could take these out of your head without damaging all the good memories?”

She shook her head. “All the memory spells I’ve seen are for really serious conditions only. I’d be afraid to try one on myself. You remember the ones I did on my friends when we were fighting Discord? I had no idea whether they’d work or if they’d make matters even worse.”

“That figures,” I said. “I know that there are things I’d rather forget, and then something reminds me of one of them, and I think ‘I’m not supposed to be thinking about that,’ and that reminds me of all the other things I’m not supposed to be thinking about. I’ve ruined whole days like that.”

“So have I. There was this one colt …”

I put my hand up in the universal Stop signal. “You don’t have to say it if you don’t want to.” It didn’t occur to me that it might mean something entirely different to ponies.

“I have to,” she said. “Maybe if I tell you, it won’t be a horrible secret anymore and I can put it aside.”

“If you fall, I’ll catch you,” I promised.

“Thank you.” She took a deep breath. “I was twelve years old. I don’t know what worried me more, going through puberty or finally getting my cutie mark. But I was constantly anxious about something. Some days I was anxious about everything. I was miserable and my parents knew it and the Princess knew it and they were sending messages back and forth trying to find some sort of solution. And this one horrible little colt, well, he came on to me, wanting to do a whole lot of indecent things, and I didn’t even know what half of them were but they sounded bad, you know?”

“Trust me, they were bad. Especially at twelve.”

“I told him to go away and he started screaming that I had no right to treat him this way and that he would tell all his friends about me and nopony would ever want me.” She was clearly fighting back the tears. “The rude suggestions, they didn’t matter. But it’s the worst thing in the world to tell a filly that nopony would ever want her, because she’ll believe it every time.”

“Even when she’s wrong?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“Even when she’s wrong. She’ll grow up, maybe she’ll gain experience, but she’ll still believe it.”

I was pretty close to crying myself. “Even though it’s a damned lie.”

She nodded. “Oh, why couldn’t you have been a pony?”

“Unfortunate choice of ancestors, I guess.”

I was so happy to see her laugh at that. “But you’d make a really good pony.”

“Maybe a good earth pony. I’m far too clumsy to fly, and I’m not sure I’d trust me with magic.”

“Derpy is clumsy and she flies,” Twilight pointed out.

“Derpy at least can walk,” I retorted. “I have enough trouble keeping two legs moving. Four would be downright embarrassing.”

“I guess you have to get used to it,” she said.

“And the laws of physics are working against me. As a practicing biped, I have a high center of gravity. I’m much more likely to fall, and it’s a long way down.”

“Do you fall often?”

“Well, no,” I admitted. “I slip and slide when the driveway is covered with ice, and once in a while I trip over something because I wasn’t paying attention. But I do a pretty good job of remaining vertical, I think.”

“Nopony saw you fall?”

“No. Why?”

“It’s worse,” said Twilight, “when somepony sees you fall. I missed a couple of steps at a school dance once and landed right on my flank. For days there were giggles in the hallways. I was so embarrassed.”

“Don’t talk to me about school dances. We were forced into these things, and we didn’t want to be there, and we tried our best to imagine that we were somewhere else. You can imagine the results.”

“So here we are, the two worst dancers in the known universe.” She grinned. “What are we going to do about it?”

“Only one thing we can do,” I said, starting up the record player. “Miss Sparkle, may I have the honor of this dance?”

I’d never seen a pony curtsy before. “Of course you may,” she said, and to my surprise, she planted both front hooves on my shoulders, putting her at an angle where she could look me straight in the eye.

It was a simple box step. I figured I couldn’t mess that up. And the music was slow and deliberate, just in case. We managed to stay nicely synchronized for about a minute and a half. And neither of us saw the throw rug, which I had thought was securely anchored under a sofa leg. The laws of physics, as they will, prevailed, and we landed more or less on our flanks, a hopeless tangle of limbs.

And, seconds later, of lips.

It was like nothing I’d ever imagined; yet it was like everything I’d ever imagined. Everything had been merely prelude; everything was leading up to this moment.

I caught my breath. The record was long over. In a sudden attack of silliness, I did my best Derpy voice: “I just don’t know what went wrong.”

“Shut up,” explained Twilight Sparkle, somehow managing to draw me even closer.

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