The unicorn filly danced in front of a full-length mirror. She'd never seen anything so beautiful. She spun, her hooves clattering on the tiles. The green robe and hat she wore moved with her body so perfectly. Yellow runes ran around the edges, spelling out mottoes about being a good student. That would be Twilight’s idea. The ruby clasp was beautiful. She raised the label in the air and read it again.
The Carousel Boutique
Miss Molly Mudd
Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, Canterlot
She squealed, “From Rarity herself!” Life at school had gone from dreadful to amazing so quickly. For the last two years she had constantly lived with the fear of being discovered. Now it was still there a little, but her secret had been revealed to a select few. Even in private she didn't reveal that she was actually a mule, going to a school for unicorns. Her mother was a unicorn, it's true, but her father…
Rarely did she reveal her true appearance even in private. Every night in the dorm was a trial. But now that Twilight had allowed her the use of her private apartment that all changed. What a place it was! It had its own small library and telescope and everything else she could possibly need for school. And a gift from Rarity? The real Rarity. Her designs were so beautiful. She had done a set of five gowns for the Grand Galloping Gala that blew away anything else Molly had ever seen.
Clothing design had been her mother's department. Molly's interests lay in magic and she had a natural talent for it, despite being a hybrid. But she had grown up around sewing and dressmaking. When she found out that Twilight knew her, she was astounded. A school robe made by the one and only Rarity! It was made by her very hooves and her magic. It was all too wonderful.
It fit so perfectly and she knew why. It would be Twilight's doing. They had learned transfiguration together. Molly had been doing it since she was tiny. She had adopted the appearance of a true unicorn before starting fillygarten and had maintained it for years. She had even gotten into Princess Celestia's school at a younger age than usual. Twilight must've transformed into her and acted as a dress dummy. That made Molly uncomfortable somehow. Turning into another pony felt like the most natural thing to her. But the idea of somepony else becoming her was kind of creepy.
When she had entered Ms. Selene's class for the first time she'd been shocked to see a copy of herself. It turned out to be the teacher demonstrating the art of transfiguration. That alone had made her tremble. But the teacher had made her reveal her true appearance. The memory still made her cringe. She thought she was busted, as she'd always feared. But that wasn't the case at all. She was really shocked when the other students accepted her. And they'd kept her secret in the weeks since.
• • •
Trixie practically collapsed on the library table next to Molly. She dumped a load of books and started itching. “You wouldn't believe what I just went through,” she sighed, “Swarms of bugs and hock-deep mud and you really might not believe this, but a genuine wraith!”
Molly snorted, “No way! No one has seen one in centuries.” “But with Princess Luna returning maybe things really are coming out of hiding like you mentioned. How did you get away from it?”
“Crossing running water,” Trixie said, scratching herself all over. Her tail shivered. “I think the mosquitoes were worse,” she continued, “At least a wraith only wants to drain your magical energy, not suck your blood.”
“What were you doing?” Molly asked, her voice filled with genuine concern.
“Collecting herbs in the Everfree Forest for Ms. Selene.” Trixie shook her mane and looked at her tail and winced. It was tangled and full of clingy burrs. “Hey, kid,” she said suddenly, “Where’d you get the new robe?”
Molly beamed. “Do… do you like it?” she asked. Her eyes were wide and for the first time since Trixie had met her she’d brushed her mane properly. Before this she’d only looked well groomed when disguised as somepony else, not herself.
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Trixie said, really meaning it.
Molly threw her hooves around her. “It’s from Rarity!” she squealed, “Isn’t it the most wonderful thing ever?” “I’ve never had a really nice robe. My mother made everything I’ve had up until now,” she continued, “and she can’t afford much.”
Trixie smiled. She thought about the Elements of Harmony. Who else but the pony who embodied the quality of generosity would make such a beautiful robe for a poor student like Molly? Luna had told her about the sacrifice Rarity made to calm a dragon. Trixie couldn’t imagine cutting off her own tail. She’d probably have used some distraction to get past him. Trixie had met Rarity once and left her running away with a bad mane. She giggled.
Trixie nuzzled the filly’s cheek. She smelled wonderful, not perfumed but somehow naturally sweet. The mare forgot her itching for a moment, inhaling the innocent aroma of a filly. It had been a long time and it brought back memories from the long past. “So, what have you been up to, other than unpacking generous gifts?” she asked.
“Oh, Trixie,” she whispered, “I’ve been reading through Twilight’s books.” “It’s amazing how much she left behind. She has a really broad area of interest, I think.” “And,” she said, leaning close, “Our new textbook.”
Trixie had almost forgotten. The textbooks for their private class in the Dark Arts had arrived. “Oh yes,” she whispered. She floated it out of her saddlebag. It had a simple black cover with an image of a moon with stars in the darkness within its crescent. There was no indication of its true nature on the outside. There was a magical clasp like you’d find on a diary. It would only open for a particular student. The spell was especially arcane and far beyond Trixie’s knowledge. She’d only skimmed the contents so far. The chapters were short but very dense with information.
Molly was thinking of the same thing. “It’s such a little book,” she said quietly, “But full of more information than twenty regular textbooks.” She opened her copy to a page full of protective sigils. They looked crudely engraved. “I guess you didn’t read through this chapter before you went gathering herbs,” Molly said chidingly.
“There’s a sigil to stop bloodsuckers, eh?” Trixie asked.
“Yes, but not the kind that have you itching. You’d have learned how to repel them in the natural magic class if you’d taken it,” she said, “There is one for protection against wraiths.” Molly usually didn’t mention Trixie’s lack of knowledge. She was always gentle about nudging her to learn the things she’d missed that the youngest colt in the school already knew. She wouldn’t let Trixie stew about it either.
“I can't wait to learn about teleportation,” Molly squealed, “Just think of popping from one place to another in a moment!” “We'll have Miss Aurora helping teach the class too,” Molly continued, “I've always wanted to learn from her.”
“Nefr hearf of th mare,” Trixie said, while biting her flank.
“She's the advanced magic teacher. I've never even seen her,” Molly said, “According to the campus directory she's a member of the royal court. She doesn't teach regular classes, just special classes for especially gifted students.”
“Just like Miss Selene,” Trixie said.
“Exactly like Miss Selene,” Molly said, “Only she's been with the school for more than twenty years.” She slid over a stack of dusty old yearbooks. “So I thought I'd find out more about her, and see just how long she's been here.” She opened a book from twenty years ago. “Here she is,” she said, pointing to her picture on a staff page.
Trixie gaped at the photo. She was a stunning white unicorn with a flowing golden mane. Her cutie mark was an image of the rising sun. For the moment, Trixie stopped scratching.
“That's not all,” Molly said, opening a second book. This one is from fifty years ago. She pointed to a black and white photo with her hoof. It was Aurora performing in a play. Except for the lack of color she looked identical. The same cutie mark. “And another,” Molly said opening a third yearbook, “This one is from almost a hundred years ago. It's the oldest book I could find with photographs.” She pointed to the teacher in a faded group photo of the school staff. It was obviously the same mare with the same cutie mark.
“How is that even possible?” Trixie asked, “There could be more than one Aurora in a family but you never see anypony who looks the same with the same cutie mark, not even siblings.” She looked at the color photo again. What a beauty.
“I thought about that,” said Molly, “And I think I have a good idea.” She grinned. “Aurora is the goddess of the dawn,” she said, “And I have to think about our transfigurations. What if this Miss Aurora is really The Headmistress in disguise?”
Trixie smiled despite her itching hide. “The Princess,” she said gazing at the photo. She shivered inside. She thought of a little secret she'd kept from Molly and everypony else. She had been very careful about concealing it since she was Molly's age. The two of them moved on to discuss other subjects but Trixie left that yearbook open and kept stealing glances at the lovely unicorn.
If Molly could spot one undercover princess, Trixie thought, she might figure out about Princess Luna too. In fact she might see it herself if she continued her lessons. Maybe their teacher wanted the students to discover the truth about her in their classes. It was a small thing she had to keep from Molly, but a very important trust. She thought to herself that Luna's idea of masquerading as a teacher might not be original. Then she started itching again.
• • •
Sitting on her bed, Trixie levitated the scissors and carefully cut out one picture after another. After Molly headed off to class she'd used the magical copier to make enlargements of Miss Aurora's photos from old yearbooks. She found one taken from behind with her looking back at the camera. Trixie nearly fumbled the scissors as she snipped the borders from the enlargement. It was from two years ago. She found a picture of a gawky younger Molly from her first year in the same book. Trixie slipped that little photo into a frame by her bedside. Molly's face looked so hopeful and uncertain.
The photos of Aurora went into a well-worn album with a magical lock on it. Twilight Sparkle had sent it to her weeks before with the other books salvaged from her wrecked wagon. Trixie could tell the lock hadn't been breached. The enchantment was horribly simple and crude. The much more educated unicorn surely could have opened it if she’d tried. She flipped through page after page of photos. Some were clipped from magazines, others were postcards and other tchatches. A few she had snapped herself with a telephoto lens. The same violet eyes looked out from every image.
She slid the precious photo of Aurora into a prominent place and shivered. Her eyes caressed the curves of the unicorn's milky white rump. Could it really be the princess? She had those lovely eyes. Those violet eyes she couldn't hide. It felt a little like cheating to look at Aurora but in another way it didn't. Celestia must have been playing the same game as Luna for a long time. If so, The Great and Powerful Trixie would find her out.
The closest Trixie had gotten to the princess was on the night of the Harvest Moon festival. But she was distracted by the startling events and the princess was of course accompanied by her guards. Earlier in the day Trixie had gotten a good view of the princess while lurking around Ponyville in a long cloak. Celestia had been waiting for her reviewing stand to be assembled. Trixie blushed.
Ever since Luna had chosen her Trixie had secretly hoped to get closer to the other princess but it hadn't happened. Maybe it would soon.
• • •
The sound of hooves echoed down the hallway. The happy clopping of a young colt wouldn’t have been out of place if he’d been trotting on the floor. Instead he was coming down the corridor on the ceiling. It was Starshine, a colt who had been helping Molly with amulets and artifacts. Trixie and Molly both gaped at him. “Oh, hi Molly,” he said, changing course and trotting down the wall, avoiding a wall sconce. “So,” he asked cheerily, “What’s up?”
“You’re fishing for a punch line kiddo,” Trixie responded, “And I’m not biting.”
Molly spun around on the spot, her hooves clicking on the floor. “What do you think, Star?” she asked. She looked at him shyly from behind her mane. Her new robe swirled around, nearly sweeping the polished floor.
“Um,” he said, “You’re… beautiful.” The young colt was practically drooling. Trixie rolled her eyes. Molly bounced around, her mane and tail sweeping through the air. She sidled up to the colt and nuzzled his neck. He whickered loudly, which seemed to embarrass him.
“What’s with the spidercolt act?” she asked in a whisper.
“Uhhhh,” he said, nearly stumbling, “Some shoes I made in the artifactory. With these you can walk on anything, even water or clouds.” He was suddenly much more comfortable talking about something other than the filly pressing against his side.
“I, uh, call them Unishoes,” he said, a sweat drop appearing on his forehead. “They’re enchanted with a solidification spell like the one that lets you walk on clouds, and it’s stronger but only effective within a short range of the shoe.” “I meant to make shoes that let you walk on clouds for more than a few days, but it turns out they let you stick to solid surfaces too,” he continued, “I don’t know why.”
“I can see how those could come in handy,” Trixie said, peering at the whelp sideways, “Sooooo… I guess I have to run along. I have somewhere I have to be.” “Have fun, you two,” she called over her shoulder. She left Molly beaming happily and rubbing against Starshine.
Trixie made her way across the school’s open quad and into the adjacent square. There was a great open space near the orrery fountain where stages were set up for outdoor events. Somepony was standing on an apple box levitating a ventriloquist dummy. He seemed to be practicing a comedy act. He had an audience of two ponies and a mule with a push broom. Trixie moved on quickly.
She made her way into a hidden portal into the palace complex on the other side of the square. A guard didn’t even look up when she passed. She left the daylight behind, going deeper and deeper into the underground part of the palace and into passages cut into the stone of the mountain itself.
The rough-hewn cavern reached a pair of stone doors. At her approach they opened inward with a slight creaking sound and slid shut after her. The passage was lined with dark marble from that point on. Dim torches in bronze holders lit themselves as she approached and extinguished after she passed.
The corridor opened into a domed space two stories high filled with luxurious furnishings. There was a larger-than-life marble statue of Princess Celestia in the middle of the room. It had a brightly colored mane and gilded crown and shoes.
Trixie nosed around the room, idly wondering if she was Celestia’s biggest admirer. Someone else had centuries of head-start on her. There didn’t seem to be any servants around. She tried knocking on the double-doors at the far side of the room and got an immediate response.
“Please come in, dear,” came the sweet voice. The doors slid sideways to let her into Luna’s private study. “Have you got what I asked for,” she asked.
Trixie levitated the wrapped packages out of her saddlebags. “Henbane picked two hours before dawn in the first quarter of the moon, hellebore root dug after it’s gone dormant for the winter, and freshly fallen white oak leaves,” she rattled off.
“Excellent,” her mistress said, looking up from her desk, “And quickly too. I didn’t expect you to go for it last night. The henbane would’ve been fine for another two nights.”
“Come here and have some tea,” she said.
Trixie gratefully accepted a cup of what she could smell was gunpowder green tea from Luna’s pot. It was sweetened with honey. Trixie recognized it as knotweed honey and probably freshly taken in the fall. For some reason Luna loved exotic honeys and Trixie had taken it upon herself to learn more about them.
The two sat quietly for a while. Luna was writing a letter in violet ink. Her quill looked like a phoenix feather. She finished the letter, which Trixie decidedly did not peep at, and rolled it up. It promptly vanished in a puff of blue smoke.
The princess turned her attention to Trixie’s packages. She went through them one by one and nodded her approval. “You’ve done most excellent work,” she said, “and probably learned more in the journey, right?”
Trixie smiled, “If you mean learning about mosquitoes and wraiths then you’re entirely right.”
“Wraiths?” she asked, “don’t tell me there’s more than one in the forest?”
“Err, not that I saw,” Trixie stumbled, “but there’s definitely one. It spotted me near a cave opening marked on the map.”
“Yes,” Luna said, nodding, “That creature is familiar to me,” she said, “You may have to enter the tunnel on a future quest. He’s guarding quite a treasure.” Luna was looking at the ceiling.
Trixie’s curiosity was definitely aroused. “What sort of treasure would that be?” she asked.
“Always questions, my student,” Luna said, sipping her tea, “There’s a spring with healing water at the end of the tunnel. It loses its quality quickly so if it’s needed it would require a rapid journey there and back.”
Trixie was a little disappointed but not very. Treasure wasn’t her thing really. What was the point of fortune without fame? For a while Luna read scrolls and wrote out some notes. Trixie sat and sipped tea.
Luna looked up after a long pause. “Are you prepared for the teleportation class?” she asked.
Trixie shrugged. “I’ve read the chapter,” she said, “but I’m not sure I understand all of it.” “Most is easy to understand but this sliding stuff is just confusing. It doesn’t make much sense.”
“It’s not something you cant explain in a book,” Luna said, “It has to be felt and experienced.” She leaned toward Trixie and a glittering light appeared on the very tip of her horn. Suddenly the princess wasn’t there anymore. There was no flash of energy.
“It’s not affected by the same range and energy limits as normal teleportation,” she said from behind Trixie.
Trixie jumped, spilling her tea. The liquid stopped in midair and deposited itself back into her cup. The princess walked back to her writing desk. “You’ll see how it works. It’s not your special talent but it’s something you should definitely learn,” she said.
Trixie smiled. “Are you implying I have a special talent?” she asked.
“Of course you do, or you wouldn’t have that mark on your hip,” she said.
Trixie shrugged. “I don’t mean that, really. I’ve always been good at performing tricks so I’ve got a wand and crescent for a cutie mark.”
“Night magic,” the princess said enigmatically, “Which is what you’re so good at. Showmanship is a part of it. It’s another side of diplomacy and deception.” “You’re just beginning to find your real power in magic but you’ve learned more about ponies by entertaining and deceiving them than you would in a century of working magic in a more conventional way.”
“You also see things differently,” she continued, “and see through deceptions in ways no pony else would.” She looked at Trixie with eyes that were momentarily violet instead of green.
“Speaking of that, what’s going on with the teleportation teacher?”
“Seeing through things, are you?”
“Actually not me,” Trixie said, “It was Molly. She wanted to know more about Miss Aurora and found her in yearbook photos from nearly a century ago.”
Luna smiled. “That girl continues to amaze me,” she said, “That’s not an approach I’d think of.”
“I’m so glad I’m guiding her myself” Luna said, “so her talents aren’t being wasted. The examiners at this school only just decided to accept her. If she hadn’t been able to change her appearance she wouldn’t have gotten in the door. She’d be laboring away baking bread or cleaning floors or something equally mundane,” she said, shaking her mane.
Trixie nodded. “But about Aurora?”
“Aurora is somepony you’ll have to experience for yourself.” Luna’s expression was distant and dreamy. That was all Trixie really wanted to know.
• • •
Miss Aurora beamed with an inner light. The dimly lit chamber where the class met was always a bit cold and had a very close atmosphere. With Aurora in the room it seemed so much bigger and warmer. For the first time in weeks all the students arrived as themselves. There was to be no transfiguration in this session.
Molly was busy talking to a unicorn with the odd name of Lucifer Match. Twilight was there of course. This time instead of the little dragon she had an owl with her. She stood between the two teachers, talking with them both. Trixie smirked. Twilight must be Miss Aura’s prize student in teleportation.
Trixie found herself gazing lovingly at the white unicorn. Her beauty and grace were greater than even Trixie had expected. She shone like the sun in the underworld. That is, Trixie thought, exactly what she is. Trixie had been honing her magical perception as much as her horn. That part of the book was very enlightening and she tried the exercises every chance she got.
The blue unicorn closed her eyes and opened her perception. She used the power of her horn to look through Aurora and Selene. She visioned two great lights, one glowing with the light of the sun, one with the soft glow of the moon. There was a third between them shining like a star. Trixie blinked.
Twilight wasn’t paying any attention. She was busy talking with Aurora. The silly owl sat on her back. Trixie closed her eyes again. Twilight’s energy glowed like a shining star. Her heart and her horn pulsed with power. Suddenly Trixie saw the energy directed toward herself. She opened her eyes and stared at Twilight for a moment. The purple unicorn trotted over to her.
“It’s nice to see you again Trixie,” she said, “I hope you’ve learned a lot with Luna and Miss Selene.” The owl swiveled its head, looking all around the room.
“What’s with your new familiar?” Trixie asked.
“Oh, this is Aloysius. He’s my assistant.” The owl blinked at Trixie.
“Good evening class,” Aurora said, “and welcome to an introduction to teleportation.” She winked out and reappeared a few feet away. “I teach those few unicorns gifted in teleportation how to refine their skills. In this class you will be learning about the more occult aspects of normal teleportation.”
The owl suddenly had a notepad and quill in his beak. He beaked them to Twilight. Trixie shook her head.
“If you’ve been reading the section of your books on teleportation you will be familiar with such things as shadow dowsing, sliding, and spontaneous and involuntary teleportation. I must warn you not to try any of these things except under direct supervision. They’ve very dangerous.”
“Tonight,” Selene said, “We will be going on a field trip.”
“Please move in close,” Miss Aurora said, gesturing for the assembled ponies to come closer to her. In a few moments there was a feeling of disorientation and moonlight suddenly shone above them. The owl silently flew off Twilight’s back. He disappeared into the surrounding trees.
A cold breeze blew through the clearing where the class stood. The ground looked like long neglected pavement with weeds and grass growing up through it. One bumpkin unicorn was munching the grass. Tall stones surrounded the circle of pavement. At one end a huge monolith with an upturned crescent on the top thrust into the sky. The lights of Canterlot were visible in the distance.
Aurora addressed the group again. “Many of you may have heard of the rumored place the princess banishes ponies to,” she said, “I can tell you it is a very real place.” “It’s very grim and not reachable by land or sea or sky.”
Selene took over from her narrative. “Only Celestia herself could teleport in or out of the inner keep where the worst of the worst of ponykind are kept.”
“But,” Aurora said, “There is one place even more inaccessible than that. It is very difficult to reach under normal conditions and impossible to leave without help” “Miss Sparkle, she asked, “Would you please explain the factors that can make teleportation easier?”
Twilight cleared her throat. “The primary factors that can make teleportation between one place and another easier are proximity, line-of-sight, and sympathy. The closer together two places are the easier it is to teleport and the energy required follows an inverse-square curve.” Trixie rolled her eyes.
“Having a direct line-of-sight from one spot to another reduces the energy requirement to a linear curve, which is much easier than an inverse-square curve, especially for long distances.” Twilight continued, “There is also sympathy, one of the universal principles of magic. A sympathetic connection between two places reduces the effort even more in proportion to the sympathy.”
“In ancient times,” Twilight said, “before the alliance between unicorns and pegasi there were special unicorns who acted as couriers. They teleported from peak to peak along mountain chains to relay messages faster than any pony on hoof could travel. That was possible because they had a direct line-of-sight between peaks and a sympathetic connection had been set up between their stops.” The owl returned to Twilight’s back with something wriggling in his beak and swallowed it whole.
“Thank you, Twilight,” Miss Aurora said, “Tonight we will be traveling from this place and back using all three of those principles.” She motioned for the class to gather together again. Aurora and Selene came closer until their horns almost touched. They both lit with a blinding light. The whole world seemed to wink out and return just as suddenly.
The class found itself standing in a large courtyard paved with smooth pale stone. At one end there was a tall tower made of the same stone with a huge telescope on its top. At the other end there sat an oversized statue of Celestia rearing on her hind legs with an upturned crescent with sun rays behind her. It was a portrayal of her raising the sun at the Summer Sun Celebration.
The place looked very strange. Everything was cast in an odd blue-green light. The white unicorn who had been idly chewing grass earlier was very animated. He bounced around very oddly. His horn glittered and his eyes emitted a faint white light. His silver crescent cutie mark shined in the strange light.
Selene noticed him. “Mister Pie,” she asked, “How do you feel?”
The unicorn had a strange dreamy expression. “Ah feel,” he said almost in a whisper, “At home.” He gazed up at the statue of Celestia. “All my life I’ve been staring up at the sky and feeling out of place,” he said, “My family thought I was mighty peculiar. Right now I don’t think I ever want to be anywhere else.”
The rest of the class gaped at him and looked around. It was a strange barren place. There was no gate out of the courtyard. There was nowhere to go except into the tower. Some of them trotted around, also bouncing in a peculiar way. Trixie felt light as a feather. It was almost as if she could fly. She jumped a little and found herself soaring and nearly falling when she landed on the stones.
One student lit his horn and walked into the open door of the tower. A unicorn with an artist’s palette as a cutie mark examined the statue closely. Twilight bounced around, her owl circling under her in flight as she bounded.
“Miss Brightmane,” Selene asked, “What can you tell us about this place?”
“Uhm,” she started, looking around, “The stone is set without mortar with very tight joints. From that and the style of the cornices I’d say this courtyard and tower are at least a thousand years old. But it looks in perfect condition as if it’s been very well taken care of.”
Molly asked, “Why does the moonlight look so strange?”
Moon Pie, the white unicorn who was acting oddly, turned toward the group and answered her question. “That’s not moonlight,” he said, “That’s not the moon in the sky.”
Everypony looked up. Except for that one unicorn no pony had noticed the huge blue-green crescent hanging in the sky.
“This place,” Miss Selene said, “may be beautiful but it is also a prison. It is the most secure prison there has ever been.”
“This is the lunar prison that once held Nightmare Moon,” Miss Aurora explained, “Fortunately we won’t have to wait a thousand years to go home.”
Molly deserves to have an easier lot in life than she’s had so far. If Twilight hadn’t offered her place in Canterlot, hopefully Luna would make some better arrangements. But that might take time and she’s probably busy building an unconquerable army of the night or at least setting up raves in barns on the sites of ancient lunar temples.
Miss Aurora? Has Celestia been masquerading as a member of the staff in her own school for centuries? I wouldn’t put it past her. Trixie has a secret obsession with Celestia and now Aurora too? I love that idea.
For a revisit to the cave with the wraith see my story “Thunderstruck.”
“The place the princess banishes you to” is real? You bet. There are no dementor ponies though.
Lucifer Match? Moon Pie? Seriously? I just can’t help myself.
A field trip to the moon? I’d always hoped for that at school but we always ended up at a lame earthly place like Grey Towers, Space Farms, or a coal breaker.