The elderly mare in the portrait glanced back at Twilight with a dignified, dispassionate look. The unicorn was undeniably older than Twilight, her deep eyes suggestive of even greater age than was apparent from her face. Yet the resemblance was truly uncanny. A black spider in its web graced her flank, but beyond this mark the similarity could not be mistaken. Twilight stared with wide open eyes at what could have almost seemed like a mirror into her own future.
A cry broke her out of her reverie. "Damn you, Twilight Sparkle!" Too late did she see the blue unicorn charging at her. In a shower of splintered wood Trixie threw herself through the window, and with all her weight she crashed into Twilight who stumbled back with a pained cry and fell on her back with Trixie above her. "Won't you just leave me alone!" the other unicorn cried, but Twilight didn't hear her any more.
The soothing warmth of the fire and the soft, if somewhat crude covering of leaves and papers greeted her aching body as she woke again. As her senses returned she realized her legs were tied with rope. "Trixie?" she called but received no reply. Her head was aching and she reflected that she must have hit it hard in the fall. In the dim light of the fire she glanced around the room. There was no sign of Trixie, but her eyes soon fell upon a piece of paper stuck under a rock just within reach of her head. Stretching her neck she pulled the paper free and held it up in the light of the fire.
I'm sorry I hurt you. I should be thankful that you saved my life yesterday, but I keep thinking it had been better if you hadn't. I know you just want to help me, but I don't want your help. I don't want your pity. Look at what the Great and Powerful Trixie has been reduced to … I spent everything on that last show. I've got nothing left. I'm a failure.
I'm going to the woods, to find peace.
I'm sorry for the bonds. By the time you get free I hope to be gone. If your concern is at all genuine, I ask only this: Bury me in an unmarked grave. I don't want to be remembered this way.
Twilight felt the tears well up in her eyes. "No … she can't …" she whispered as she dropped the letter. She closed her eyes and focused, ignoring her pounding head as she disappeared in a flash, reappearing a second later, still tied. "Curses!" she hissed. She had to get free, quickly. Glancing around for anything to help her, her eyes fell on the flames of the fire. Biting her lip, she focused once more. A piece of burning wood rose from the fire and levitated towards her. She took a deep breath and brought the fire closer. The flame licked against her hooves as she held the burning wood under the rope. Twilight cried and grit her teeth. The searing pain was almost unbearable, but she had to get free.
The smell of burning hair and flesh mixed with that of the rope until finally the rope burst and she was free. Twilight threw the piece of wood back into the fireplace and got up. The pain in her legs was terrible, but she could worry about that later. Forcing herself on, she ran out of the house and glanced around in a panic. Woods. She had to find the woods. Running around the house she spotted a line of trees to the south. "I'm coming Trixie, please don't let it be too late …"
Twilight stormed through the dark woods, her horn lighting the way while her eyes darted from side to side in the vain hope of spotting Trixie. But she knew it was no use. Trixie could be anywhere. Twilight stopped under a large tree, trying to concentrate, trying to think of something. Rarity's gem finding spell, could it find ponies too? She knew she was grasping at straws.
A distant sound barely registered in her desperate mind. "Hoo". Twilight looked around, ran a bit, stopped again. "Hoo!". She began to cry, she would be too late. It was hopeless. "Hoo!" Twilight looked up, the insistent call finally reaching through to her conscious mind. "Hoo!" Feeling a spark of hope ignite within her, Twilight turned and rushed towards the sound as fast as her wounded legs would allow her. It was her only chance. "Hoo!"
Twilight stormed into a small clearing of trees and tripped over her own hooves as she tried to stop. "No! Please don't—" She fell face first on the ground, rolling several feet before coming to a halt.
Trixie turned and stared at the other unicorn. She was sitting on a branch, a long piece of rope around her neck was tied at the other end to the thick branch. "Twilight!?"
Twilight jumped back on her hooves, covered in mud and bruises. "Don't jump, Trixie, I beg you. Let me help you!"
Trixie looked away, hiding her face and tears. "Don't stop me, Twilight. I don't want to live with this shame. I could never be as great as you, and now everypony knows what a big failure I am. I can never show my face again … I can never …" Her voice broke.
Twilight tried to walk in a circle around the tree to look the other unicorn in the eyes. "You're not a failure, Trixie! You have great talent. I don't possess a fraction of the showmareship you do, you just made some silly mistakes, that's all. Everypony makes mistakes."
Trixie didn't reply. She looked up at the night sky through the leaves, her voice faltering as she sang quietly. Twilight didn't recognize the song but the sadness pulled at her heart like strings. "Please come down, Trixie. I can help you … I'll get you back your show, I'll—"
Trixie looked down at her, tears trickling down her cheeks like pearls in the light of the moon. "The show is over, Twilight. I'm sorry." Twilight cried in horror as Trixie bowed one final time and let herself fall off the branch.
The rope around Trixie's neck tightened with a snap, and her body came to a sudden stop mid-air. She hang there for a few seconds, before opening her eyes. Twilight dug her hooves into the ground and grit her teeth, the glow from her horn shining like a little star to engulf the blue unicorn dangling from the tree.
"Let go of me!" Trixie demanded.
Twilight stomped the ground, beads of sweat one her brow. "No! I will not let you kill yourself! Take off the rope, now, or by Celestia I'll tear up this tree, root and all! You know I will!"
Trixie looked away with a pained sigh as she took off the rope around her neck. Twilight let out a deep breath of relief as she brought the blue unicorn back down to the ground. Her entire body was shaking from pain and exertion, but she paid it no heed any more. Trixie lay on the ground, hiding her face under her hooves.
Twilight walked up to her and lay down next to her. "Trixie …" The blue unicorn sobbed quietly. "Trixie …" Twilight continued and placed a hoof on the other unicorn's shoulder. Trixie lifted a hoof from her face and looked at Twilight. "Trixie, I don't think I'll be able to walk back on my own. Will you help me?" Trixie looked at Twilight's burned hooves and slowly nodded. Twilight sighed. "It'll be alright, Trixie. We'll help each other."
Trixie helped Twilight back up, and together they made their way back towards the old mansion. Twilight humped along, leaning on Trixie, her hooves pained and shaking under her weight. Trixie walked with bowed head. Once in a while she glanced at Twilight as if to say something, but paused and turned back to staring at the ground. Twilight didn't want to push her, even if she hadn't also been too tired to speak. They walked in silence and when they were back inside Twilight collapsed on the rough bed in front of the dying flames of the fireplace. Trixie sat down on the cold floor, watching the portrait hanging above Twilight in silence.
"Family of yours?"
Twilight woke as Trixie broke the long silence. She wasn't sure how long she had been lying there. Had she fallen asleep? Blinking at the darkness she glanced up at Trixie, then up at the portrait. She nodded.
Trixie sat there like a gargoyle, looking at the old mare in the picture. "Your family must be proud of you, Twilight." Twilight wasn't sure what to respond. She sat up and turned to face the blue unicorn. "My parents never wanted me," continued Trixie. "I promised them I would become something great one day, that every pony would know my name, that I would make them proud. They never believed in me, or anything I did. When I left, they disowned me, but I didn't care. I knew deep in my heart that I could make it on my own, that I didn't need their support. I would become something great, on my own."
Trixie lowered her head. Twilight dragged herself up and walked over to sit next to her. "I wish I was like you, Twilight. I wish ponies would look at me like they look at you." She lay down on the floor with her hooves under her head. Twilight sat and watched her sadly as Trixie sang quietly to herself.
Trixie wiped a tear from her eye as she finished.
"What is that song?" Twilight asked quietly.
Trixie sighed and looked away. "When I was a filly, I would spend a lot of time in my room. There was a single window, and from it I could look into the room of another filly who lived next to us. Her mother would sing this song to make her sleep. I would lie under my window and pretend the song was for me … that I had a mother who cared too, that there was somepony who loved me."
Twilight lay down next to her and nuzzled her light blue mane a little. "You don't have to be alone, Trixie." The blue unicorn blushed and looked unsure, turning her head away again. "I'm investigating my old family legacy", Twilight said. "I think I'll be staying here in Dappleshore a while, maybe I'll buy this old place … spruce it back up, you know. Would you like to stay and maybe help me?"
Trixie turned back to look at Twilight. "I … I would like that."
Twilight gave Trixie a tired smile. "Then it's a deal," she said and rested her head on her hooves with a tired sigh.
Trixie watched her for a time, before nodding at her hooves. "I'm really sorry about those burns, Twilight. I thought you could … get free of the ropes easily."
Twilight looked at her burnt hooves, then up at Trixie, blushing. "I've … never been good with ropes." Trixie smiled for the first time that night and lay down, with her head propped against Twilight.
There was a soft "Hoo" from the broken window.
Trixie looked up at the owl as it flew in through the hole and landed next to the two unicorns, holding a small package of leaves. Twilight was breathing calmly in her sleep and didn't stir. Trixie took the little bundle the owl had dropped, careful not to wake Twilight. "Hello little one. Are you one of Twilight's friends?"
The owl gave a happy "Hoo" in response and fluttered off back through the window.
Trixie watched the bird until it was out of sight, then turned her attention to the leaves. They smelled strongly, but the scent made Trixie feel relaxed and warm. Unfolding the bundle, Trixie found a small dollop of light green salve. "Do your friends stalk you or something, Twilight?" the blue unicorn muttered, wondering who the package was from as she gently treated Twilight's hooves with the salve and bound them in the long, soft leaves.
"I hope this helps. It's the best I can do, I guess," she whispered and lay back down next to Twilight. With a long sigh, Trixie closed her eyes and fell asleep.
The following day was the last day of the fair. Twilight did her best to deflect all questions about her burnt hooves, or where she had been all night. Everypony was so terribly concerned for her, but she reassured them that she was fine. She spent most of the day at the market, resting her legs and drinking apple cider with extra ice cubes. Holding the icy cold drinks in her hooves dulled the pain a little, at least for a time. Trixie insisted on staying back in Twilight's hotel room. She refused to show herself at the market, or even step a hoof outside the door until nightfall, despite Twilight's offer of introducing her to the others.
A troupe of dancers was performing nearby when another pony settled down next to Twilight. She was so engrossed in watching the dance that she didn't notice the cloaked pony until she spoke. "Oh my, Twilight, what happened to your hooves?"
Twilight jumped a little and turned around. "Oh, hi, I didn't see you there …" Luna looked at her from under her hood. Twilight looked down at her hooves. "Oh right … it's nothing. I'll be fine."
Luna didn't look convinced but decided to leave it be for the moment. She looked down a little timidly and placed a small present on the table in front of Twilight. "I, uh, got you a little gift."
Twilight looked at Luna with surprise. "What for?"
Luna blushed and looked a little uncomfortable. "I just wanted to say thanks, and I … I … I'm sorry if it's inappropriate, I'm really not very good at social customs. I just want you to know that I think about you, that you mean a lot to me." Luna looked down, biting her lip.
Twilight smiled and picked up the present, carefully unwrapping a small, beautifully carved wooden box. She looked at Luna who smiled nervously and gestured for her to open it. She lifted the lid of the box gingerly and peered inside. The inside of the box was lined with a coating of soft, protective fabric, and carefully placed in the middle was a small, gray rock. Twilight looked back at Luna, confused.
"It's a moon rock … a little piece of the moon," the princess explained.
Twilight stared back at the treasure in her hooves, speechless for a moment.
"Do you like it?" Luna asked.
Twilight looked back at Luna with a grin. "Oh Luna, it's wonderful. Thank you! I'll treasure it."
Luna beamed under her shadowy cloak.
"Do you want something to drink, or eat perhaps? I know the fare is not very royal here, but what kind of friend would I be if I didn't offer?"
Luna chuckled softly and nodded at Twilight's drink. "Whatever you're having will be just fine, Twilight. Celestia likes to drag me to all these silly, frilly, formal gatherings and I … well, it's just not me. I don't really think it's her either, but she's really, really good at pretending. You'd be surprised at the faces she can pull off." Luna sighed as Twilight ordered her a glass of apple cider. "I think we both wish we could spend more time with real ponies, not those snobby nobles with their strange ideas of propriety. That's why I like coming here among regular pony folk, even if I have to hide under a cloak to avoid attention. Have you been enjoying the fair, Twilight?" A young, cheerful pony brought over the frosty drink and Luna took it with a thankful nod.
Twilight shrugged a little. "I haven't quite been able to enjoy it as much as I thought I would."
Luna looked at her. "Oh? Why is that?"
Twilight fiddled with the little wooden box, recalling how hectic this weekend had proven to be. "So much has happened. I found out I have ancestors who lived here in Dappleshore. Between you and … everything else, I've just been consumed by this discovery. I think—" she paused, a thought occurring to her. "Luna, you have access to the Canterlot archives don't you?"
Luna nodded between sips of cider. "Of course, I'm a big important pony."
Twilight chuckled, she couldn't help herself, then paused anew before continuing. "I feel I need to get to know this ancestor of mine, and I think some of it may have been covered up by later relatives. I won't be returning to Ponyville tonight, I need to stay here to investigate. If you could find what you can in the archives, I would be grateful for it."
Luna smiled. "Anything for you, Twilight. I'll send what I find with Owlowiscious."
As Twilight had predicted, her friends were not eager to let her stay behind in Dappleshore. She had to assure them that she would be fine, and that she would write as often as she could. She was a little sad to see them go, but she knew she had to stay. At least she had Owlowiscious, and her two new friends, Trixie and Luna, to keep her company and help in her studies. She soon learned that Zecora was still in the area as well, gathering rare herbs from the fertile marshes around Dappleshore. The zebra seemed concerned for her, and frequently sent her herbal salves for her wounded hooves along with cryptic letters of everything from random rhymes to strange warnings. Twilight was thankful for the salves. Zecora's herbs were a great relief and their fresh scent always cheered her up a little, but Twilight suspected the zebra of being a bit superstitious at times.
With the fair over and her friends back in Ponyville, Twilight intensified her studies of Fillystata. She and Trixie scoured the village and its archives, and Luna sent frequent letters with information she had dug up in the archives of Canterlot. She soon realized that the inhabitants of Dappleshore were of little help in her investigation. The few who might know anything were reluctant to speak to Twilight, and the local archives were not much more helpful to her. The bits and pieces scraped together, especially from Luna's tireless work, formed only a crude picture of events.
The rumors surrounding Mrs. Spindle had continued to spread and grow, and her appearances became ever more rare. There were some reports of unseemly sounds from the mansion but none of the papers or records mentioned anything specific, and everything seemed very hushed up. As for Mrs. Spindle's tragic death, most papers simply agreed that she had died in a fire and was buried with no great ceremony. Only some vague remarks suggested that a group of locals had broken into the mansion on the eve of her death and might have been behind the fire, if indeed there had been a fire at all. Twilight seemed at first disappointed by the lack of details, but over time appeared to accept it.
A week after the fair, Twilight acquired the old house at 110 Pedigree Lane. Nopony had lived there for generations, and the ponies of Dappleshore now whispered of it as haunted. Twilight got it for a trifle and with Trixie's help began restoring the old mansion to something at least close to its former self. Twilight had never been one to believe in ghosts or old mares tales, and nothing seemed unusual to her about the old house.
But as time went on, Twilight seemed less and less as her former self to those around her.
Trixie opened the window to let Owlowiscious in. The owl dropped a letter on the desk and sat down on its peg, preening its feathers. Trixie closed the window and looked at the letter. Another message from Luna. The blue unicorn frowned and looked around the room. She was alone. She took the letter and held it for a time, dreaming as she gazed into the flames of the fireplace. She had frequently been tempted to throw Luna's many letters into the fire, but Twilight would just get concerned if Luna stopped writing. Trixie sighed and put the letter back down. What did Twilight see in her? Was it the wings? The royalty? The power? Trixie lay down, looking sadly at the moon through the window. How could she, a simple poor unicorn, compete with that?
What was Twilight doing up there anyway? Trixie saw her less and less as the days went by, and when she was around it was like she was different, like she was obsessed, but not with Trixie. Trixie closed her eyes and imagined if only Twilight would be as obsessed with her, but the image of Luna always intruded, invaded her beautiful dream and made it ugly. Sometimes, when Twilight was in the attic where she always worked alone and didn't allow anypony else, Trixie would lurk outside the door. She would sometimes think she heard voices behind that door. Did Twilight meet with somepony else, was it Luna? Of course it was, it had to be. Who else? The image of Twilight and Luna together … Trixie cursed under her breath. It was all Luna's doing … it had to be. That wicked mare wanted Twilight for herself, she was turning her against Trixie. All those letters, and the gifts. Trixie couldn't afford such gifts. All she had left was her old cape and hat.
Trixie stood up and grabbed the letter with an angry stomp. Curse Luna and her letters. She was about to throw the letter into the flames when she heard the attic door open and hoof steps coming down the stairs. She quickly dropped the letter back on the desk and pretended to be watering the flowers as Twilight walked into the room.
She didn't seem to even notice Trixie as she walked up to the desk and opened the letter. "Oh Luna …" she muttered while reading the letter.
Trixie clenched her teeth and tensed, burying her anger and frustration deep inside. "That wicked … evil … whore!" Oh how she wished she could scream that out loud to the heavens above. She would make the celestial foundations themselves tremble at her voice.
"I'll be out tonight. Is there anything I can get you from the village?"
Trixie broke out of her dark thoughts at Twilight's voice. She seemed so dispassionate, so uncaring, Trixie felt it like a stab in her heart. "Where are you going? You're always gone. I could come with you, I could help you," she blurted out.
Twilight folded the letter up and smiled at her, but to Trixie the smile looked unsatisfying, almost fake. "I'm sorry, Trixie. You know I'd love to spend more time with you, but I'm just so close to a breakthrough. I can't stop now. I need to push on, but I promise it won't be long now. I'm nearly there, I think."
Trixie pouted. "What is it you're working on anyway? You've never said anything. Please Twilight, even I can see that this isn't healthy. You need to put this … work of yours aside and think of something else."
Twilight wrapped an old traveling cloak around her neck and walked past Trixie to open the door. "I'm so close, Trixie. I promise, I'll let you know as soon as I know if I'm correct. I just need to be sure." Twilight walked out the door. "I won't be gone long. I'll bring you something good from town, okay?"
Trixie stomped the old wooden floor in frustration as Twilight disappeared into the night.
Trixie woke up feeling like a great big hole had swallowed her stomach. She had fallen asleep waiting for Twilight and hadn't eaten. She blinked at the light of the sun shining through the window. "Won't be gone for long my flank!" she grumbled and got up. There had to be some hay around. It would do.
Days passed without word. On the evening of the third day, Owlowiscious brought a batch of letters from Ponyville. Always for Twilight, Trixie thought with a sigh as she flipped through the letters. Never anything for her. And where was Twilight now? Trixie had slept on the floor outside the attic door, hoping Twilight would return, but the blue unicorn hadn't heard a sound for days. A terrible thought kept imposing on her mind, and wouldn't let go. Had she abandoned Trixie? Had she gone to be with Luna instead and left Trixie on her own? Trixie frowned and wiped off the tears that welled up in her eyes at the thought.
She looked at the letters. Perhaps she could sneak a peek at them, pretend they were for her. She picked one up, hesitating, then carefully opened it. It was from Spike, asking why she hadn't sent him any letters lately and when she would come back to Ponyville. Trixie read all the letters. It was all the same. They all wanted her to come back. Trixie sighed. "So do I …" She put the letters back down and looked out the window.
"Where are you, Twilight? Won't you come back?"