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Sweet Music · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 1000–25000
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A Deck with No Hearts
I like cards.

“Pick a card, any card, but just one card.”

I like magic.

“Now take a look at it—memorise it—but don’t show me your card.”

Not that unicorn magic, of course.

“Show it to the audience. Make sure everyone gets a good look.”

I’m talking real magic, magic that mystifies.

“All right, now put the card back in the deck. That’s it, nice and—right, that’ll do.”

Magic that makes you wonder.

“Now, you’ve selected a card and put it back in the deck.”

Magic that entertains.

“I’m going to shuffle the deck now, and you tell me when to stop.”


“Are you sure?”

I love that question. I love that illusion of giving them control.


“All right then. You told me your first name was Sunshine, correct?”


Fascinating how much we can accomplish with a single deck of cards.

“Sunshine. Eight letters. Now, I never asked for your surname. What would that be?”


A universal game. Thirteen hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades.

“Helix. Right. Five letters. Now I’m going to deal the cards out—remembering that you told me when to stop shuffling, and I didn’t know your surname while I was shuffling—one card per letter.”

Go anywhere in Equestria, and the decks will be the same.

“S, U, N, S, H, I, N, E. Sunshine. That’s eight cards. None of them are your card. We’ve still got five left. H, E, L, I, aaand—is this your card?”

A three of clubs. Always a three of clubs.


I’m surprised, baffled, flabbergasted.

“Really? Are you sure? Can you show it to the audience please. Yes. Is that not her card?”

The crowd erupts. It isn’t her card. They think I’m bested. I throw it behind myself.

“Well of course it isn’t your card, because Sunshine Helix isn’t your full name, is it?”

“N-no. It isn’t.”

Right away, they see I’m still in control.

“Could you please tell the audience your full name.”

“Sunshine Rosemary Helix.”

Eight letters. So perfect.

“R, O, S, E, M, A, R, aaand—the lovely queen of hearts. Is that your card, Miss Helix?”

The audience erupts again, only now with applause. Sunshine holds her hoof to her mouth in astonishment.


I shake her hoof like a proper stallion.

“Thank you very much for your assistance. Could everyone please give this lovely mare a round of applause?”

It’s a stomping ovation. They love it. Everyone loves it. The biggest stage in the theatre, and everyone loves my act.

Everyone except him.

He lingers over the lonely stage of an amateur harpist with longing eyes. No one else is watching the harpist play—everyone else is watching me—but everyone else doesn’t matter. Bloody musicians. I become lost in the scene, even amongst the roaring crowd before me. I only notice I’m still on stage once the roar dies down. The silence gets at me.

I regain my composure and close my act by thanking the audience for coming and being such a wonderful audience. Some of them stick around for the next act, but most shuffle away and head back to their own lives.

I pack my things and head backstage. The theatre owner congratulates me on such a well-received performance, and he offers me a booking for the rest of the week. I ask him who the harpist on stage four is, and he says he doesn’t know, some street musician who felt like upgrading from busking, a nobody. He says he barely had to pay him ten bits for the entire night.

I accept the booking and leave the backstage. I head to the box stand and watch the still performing. I can only faintly hear the music. It’s not even good. He’s just arpeggiating the same chord over and over. I could do that! A daft mule could.

But why then does Blue sit there gazing so longingly at it?

It drives me mad to watch.

The performance goes on for an eternity, as if the harpist has a magic of his own.

Then it finally ends. The harpist stands by his harp and takes a bow, then leaves the stage. Blue tries to lurch up and ask for his name, but the performer is gone before he can reach up to speak.

It’s my time to enter. I come down from the box stand and make to approach him.

What do I say? I’m trained in all ways of psychology and suggestion and misdirection; I’m always in control of an audience. But what do I say to this stallion I love? I haven’t a clue.

I finally muster the courage to walk up to him.

“Blue,” I say.

He looks up at me with this dopey smile. It’s so painfully handsome.

“Hey, how are you?”

I look at him sombrely.

“What’s the matter?”

“Why do you never look at me like that when I perform?”

He’s blushes a little.

“You know how I feel, Blue.”

“I-I, well, I mean, your performances are wonderful, really, but it’s... it’s—”

“It’s what?”

“It’s not romantic.”

Not romantic! Wonderful, amazing, exciting, dazzling, mystifying—but not... romantic?

He rubs the back of his neck, as if my face had given away my thoughts.

“It’s just... it’s not... I can’t watch your performance and be taken away. Card tricks can’t do that. Music can.”

“My, my, my, Blue. There is a card trick for everything! You want romantic? I’ll give you romantic. I have a booking for tomorrow night. Come, and I’ll show you the romance of magic.”

I tell him that I need to stay behind and clean a few things up before leaving. Only once he’s left do I show any sign of panic.

The rest of the night is a complete cacophony. My brain yells forty tricks I might perform, and forty ways to do each. I have wit, style, sleight, skill—magic. I need... I need... Aha! Of course.

Rule number one of magic: Never let a unicorn on stage.

Rule number two of magic: Never let the audience see your initial preparation.

Rule number three of magic: Never perform the same trick twice.

Rule number four of magic: Never tell the audience your secret.

They’re very simple rules. Only with the first could I ever disagree. Unicorns are never impressed. They’re far too haughty for their own good. They think their ‘magic’ is more real than mine. Hah! What they do isn’t magic. It doesn’t defy reality. We all know their tricks. Why they even bother to call it magic is beyond me.

That’s why it’s all the more brilliant to fool them.

“I’m going to need a unicorn from the audience.”

The idea causes a bit of a stir in the audience. I ignore the murmurs and scan the audience for a good candidate. I see Blue in the audience; he’s hopeful, but seemingly disconnected. Then I spot a unicorn who looks to have plenty of aptitude.

“Ah, yes, you’ll do. What would your name be?”

“Twilight Sparkle.”

“Could everyone please welcome Twilight Sparkle as she joins me on stage.”

She comes on stage with a slight blush. The audience’s doubt is drowned out by the applause. Always keep control of the audience. That should be the fifth rule.

“Twilight, how would say your magical abilities fare, then? Are you quite the stellar unicorn?”

She kicks her hoof and tries to hide part of her face with one ear. A modest unicorn? My, that’d be a first.

“Well, I once tamed a rampaging Ursa Minor back to sleep, and I once managed to give another unicorn pegasus wings, and I once made an entire swarm of parasprites start eating buildings instead of food. Oh, and, I guess I’m the personal student of Princess Celestia.”

Forget I said anything about modesty.

“That certainly is an impressive resume. I assume you’re capable of teleportation, then?”


“Wonderful. This won’t be new you to you, then, but it’ll be fun for everyone else. I want to assure everypony present that I have never met this mare before in my life. We’ve never been so much as acquaintances. What you’re about to see is completely unscripted. Is that correct, Twilight?”


“All right. We’re going to start off with something basic. Pick a card, any card, but just one card. Take a look at it—memorise it—but don’t show me your card.”

I turn away to face the back of the stage.

“Show it to the audience. Make sure everyone gets a good look.”

I indicate to a quill on my table.

“Could you please sign your name over the card.”

I give her some time before turning back to face her and the audience.

“Here’s the case. Could please take the deck and place it and your card back in the case. Wonderful.”

I put the case to the side, then pull out another.

“Here’s a new brand new deck. Can you please confirm for the audience that it’s sealed?”

She analyses it thoroughly, then confirms.

“I’m going to place this new, sealed deck on the table over here. It’s just going to sit there. Twilight, can you please close on your eyes and just focus on the deck. Focus only on the deck. There’s no one else here but you, and the deck. I might tap your horn a few times during this, but don’t panic; just focus. Think about the cards, the aces, the twos, the threes, fours, fives, sixes, sevens, eights, nines, tens, jacks, queens, kings. Think about the hearts, the diamonds, the spades, the clubs. Now think about your card. Think very carefully on it. Imagine that card in your hooves as you held it earlier.”

I tap her horn twice, then clop my hooves together.

“Now open your eyes. Unwrap the sealed deck for me please. Very good. Now flip through the deck face down. All of the cards except yours should be face down. When you come across your card please show it to the audience.”

She flips through them, soon coming across a face-up nine of spades. She holds a hoof to her mouth and I swipe it from the deck.

“Fillies and gentlecolts, the nine of spades, with Twilight Sparkle’s lovely signature on the face.”

Another roaring applause, hooves stomping like wild. I take a bow, and look through the audience. Blue isn’t there. He’s listening by the harpist again. My act collapses. The audience disappears from me as I stare. It’s a wicked blast of de ja vu. Then I’m back on stage again, and Twilight has made her way off the stage.

“No, no, Twilight. Stay here, please. We’re only getting started. That was just the warm up.”

Shocked whispers spread across the audience. Twilight makes her way back on stage, and I reach inside my bag to retrieve a few props. I pass Twilight another fifty-two card deck.

“Please confirm for the audience that this is another ordinary deck of cards.”

She takes her time, but eventually confirms. I take the deck and shuffle it, then fan the deck out for her.

“Pick a card, any card, but just one card—only, don’t take it from the deck. All you have to do is think about the card you wish to pick. Visualise the card in your mind. Got it? Good.”

I refold the deck and hold it out to forelegs.

“Now take the deck. Hold it between your forelegs. Keep the grip nice and tight. Close your eyes and again and think intently on your chosen card. I’m going to place a tin-foil bag beneath you, so you’ll just have to lift up your legs a little. All right. Now keep focusing on the deck. Picture the card in your mind.”

Everything is in position. I look over to Blue and the harpist again. The scene is locked in its permanence, with the same shared, sickening gaze between them. Then I look back to Twilight. She’s focused on the deck.

“Picture music. Visualise the tones in your head. Give each sound a colour, an image—the high notes thin and warm, the low notes strong and cool. Paint them together. Are you still with us Twilight?”

She nods dazedly.

“Keep that image in your mind. When I count to three, I want you to rear, holding the deck up high in the air. Rear so high and far that you would fall on your back should I not intervene. I want you to do this as soon as I say ‘Three.’ Understood?”

She nods again. I tap her horn.


Twilight grips the deck a little tighter. I tap her horn again.


The audience is silent, breath bated. I make a third tap.


Twilight throws herself back on her hind legs, and her forelegs lift up with the deck held high in the air. I wait until she’s about to fall before I finally act. My movements are swift, almost unnoticeable to the naked eye. I lift the tin-foil bag over her head in an instant, then throw it away. It flutters away and distracts the audience for the critical seconds. I reach down and place my hooves below to catch the falling pony, but the falling pony is no longer Twilight.

I catch Blue right as he is about to hit the floor. In his forelegs is the ace of hearts, and in my forelegs, him.

“Though these tricks may not woo you, you are the ace of my heart, Blue.”

He looks up at me in a mixture of awe and bewilderment.

The crowd begins an uproar, but the act is yet to finish.

I let Blue up and then indicate to the harpist’s stage. The audience turns in unison. They all stare and see the same scene I had always seen before. Only now, instead of Blue, it was Twilight who gazed into the harpist. Applause rumbles through the theatre.

Then the scene breaks. Twilight shakes her head in a daze, and the harpist stops his playing. The harpist shoots a glare right at me. The glare stares into my soul, and I feel a sharp pain in chest. The eyes are like a basilisk’s; I’m petrified.

He rises from his seat and marches towards me. The audience splinters to give him a path through. All the while he never releases that stinging glare. Finally he gets up on stage and brings his nose up against mine. He keeps that stare for just a short while, then at last speaks:

“You think you are clever stallion. You think you understand ponies. You think you can manipulate them. You think you can make another love you. But you can only trick the mind. You cannot trick the heart.”

He holds a hoof out to Blue.

“Come back to our stage, dear.”

I stand with mouth agape as Blue leaves with him. The audience is silent. Then the scene replays again, with their loving eyes locked.

I’m left alone on my stage, and the audience bursts into laughter.
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