The burnt piece of parchment drifted in front of Trixie's eyes, held up by her magic. The pale light of the moon drifted through the ancient glass of the small window in the dark attic as she focused her mind on the flow of magic around her.
It had been three days since she sent her letter to Luna, yet still there had been no response from the princess. Trixie had no intention of sitting idly by in case Luna never responded. She had scoured the village for everything on the matter of the missing fillies, but she couldn't draw any helpful conclusions from the vague writings of the newspapers or the rumors floating around the village.
She had walked around the village and countryside, mostly at night, in the hope of catching sight of Twilight or her friend Gray, with no luck so far. She had even asked Owlowiscious to keep an eye out for them too, even though she wasn't sure the owl fully understood her.
She was beginning to feel useless. This was her last hope other than pure dumb luck. The pieces of burnt paper she had found in the attic could hold important clues. Perhaps Twilight had burnt them for a reason. If only Trixie could restore them.
Trixie wasn't even sure if it was possible. She recalled back when she was but a filly where a street magician had performed a wonderful trick. He had asked for a valuable possession from the audience and received a silken shawl from a reluctant old mare. He burned the shawl right there in front of the shocked audience, only to restore it moments later from the ashes to much cheer and relief.
It had taken Trixie a long time to get it right herself since the magician refused to teach her, and it was a long time since she had performed it. Even worse, restoring the actual information instead of just the blank paper was an entirely different matter.
Ever since her last argument with Luna, she had felt her magic grow stronger, as if a dam once holding it back had been cracked. She felt stronger than ever, yet still she had tried several times now to restore the paper, each time getting tantalizingly close only to have her hopes dashed. It was exhausting, but the thought of Twilight being in danger forced her to drive herself to the very limit of her ability.
Trixie closed her eyes in concentration once again and felt the magic surge through her and into the burnt fragments of paper. She could feel the raw magic coalescing in front of her. She felt herself lose touch with it, felt her mind slip. With a hopeless cry, she collapsed, exhausted.
A small piece of paper landed on her nose. Trixie opened her eyes and stared at the product of her spell. Had it worked? Did it finally work? Despite having spent herself to the last, she sat up on her haunches and lifted the paper carefully in the light of the moon.
The paper was mostly intact, and there was writing. Feeling her heart skip a beat, Trixie narrowed her eyes. A smile broadened her face as she collapsed again with a sigh.
“I did it!”
The writing was faint, as if the ink had been watered down. Trixie blamed her lack of mental strength for this, but was pleased that she could still read most of the previously burnt note.
“… only temporary. My own blood can sustain them for only a few minutes at a time. It is odd. Is it something wrong with me? I thought I was strong, and Celestia always thought I was. I would give more, but I dare not lose concentration from blood loss during the spell. I must remember the warnings: never call forth that which you can not put down again lest it should command you. Perhaps Trixie? Or Luna. Surely an alicorn's blood … No, it is too risky. My own blood simply must suffice for now.
“The last subject was eventually helpful. At last, with the location of her grave in hoof, I must …”
Trixie shivered at the implications of the note. Had Twilight been playing with blood magic? Was she really considering using her and Luna as … donors? And whose grave did she seek, and for what unseemly purpose?
Perhaps the other notes would help, once restored, but she was too exhausted to try it now. She closed her eyes, trying to clear her mind and rest just for a moment. She couldn't waste too much time, but she couldn’t keep this up without rest either.
A tapping at the window woke her up. Bleary-eyed, she glanced up and squinted before getting up to open the window. There was a flutter as Owlowiscious landed on the window sill with an urgent “Hoo!” The owl then took off again, hovering in the light of the moon as if waiting for Trixie to follow.
“What? What is it?” Trixie tried, still sleepy and confused. The owl gave another “Hoo!” and flapped his wings. It took Trixie a moment to understand, then she was bolting down the stairs and out the door into the night.
Trixie galloped after the owl through the dark streets of Dappleshore. She stopped and panted for her breath as the owl landed on a roof and looked down at her with its large, round eyes. Trixie shivered a little and glanced around, then back at the owl with a questioning look. The owl turned its head to stare down a small alley and nodded its head. Trixie hesitated, then warily walked down the alley.
Soon a pair of hushed voices reached her from up ahead.
“I just … I'm not sure about this.”
Trixie recognized the voice. It was Twilight's. She edged closer, staying within the shadows. Up ahead she spotted Twilight and somepony else. She couldn't make out the face of the other mare, but the cold running down her spine left her no doubt about the mare's identity.
“And why is that, my child?”
Trixie shivered at that voice. She couldn't tell what it was, but there was something very wrong about it.
Twilight looked uncertain, even a little afraid. “I don't … don't know, I'm just—”
Gray held up Twilight's head with a hoof to look in her eyes. “You're starting to doubt, Twilight. That is unwise. You must remain focused. You must always know certainty.” Twilight stared at the other mare as if petrified. “You have been very helpful, Twilight. Don't change that.”
There was an ominous sound to those last words. Trixie could almost feel them compelling her too.
Twilight nodded and looked down without another word.
Gray smiled and looked up. Trixie saw the row of white teeth in the dark. “You go on and do what you must. I will be along shortly to assist you. I need to take care of a little private matter first.”
Twilight nodded again and trotted off into the darkness. The mare watched her disappear, then pulled her hood over her head and trotted down a side alley.
Trixie felt her heart beat, almost fearing the other mare would hear it in the quiet of the night as she crept along in the darkness, following just far enough away to keep Gray in sight.
They walked for what seemed to Trixie like an eternity, through streets and over fields until they reached the woods. Trixie's throat was dry and her heart racing, but she couldn't give up now. She needed answers, and there was only one way to find them. With her heart in her throat she followed Gray into the forest, staying at a distance and hiding behind everything she could find to not be seen.
Gray thankfully seemed oblivious to her lurking presence and walked with purpose through the dark forest. Trixie began to wonder where they were going, what she would find, and if she would be able to find her way back.
After perhaps half an hour of walking, Gray finally stopped in a small glade dotted with large stones, like teeth of a giant strewn about the forest floor. Trixie crept closer, trying to see what she was doing, but the other mare was simply standing there, glancing up at the canopy as if in thought. Trixie was close now and peeked out from behind an ancient oak.
She almost jumped as Gray suddenly spoke without turning. “A trap most deviously wrought, a little insect in the web is caught.”
Trixie stared as a faint purple glow emanated from under the mare's hood. Suddenly struck by immense dread, Trixie began to back away but froze in her tracks as the other mare turned, her deep purple eyes staring straight into Trixie's. Gray smiled under the hood and walked slowly up to Trixie who felt herself left powerless under the gaze.
“The last little insect enjoyed rhymes. I thought you might too. Did you like it? I'm no poet, I shall freely admit.” The mare stood right in front of her now. “You know, I believe Twilight told me about you. Such a fine unicorn,” she half whispered, holding a hoof up to Trixie's cheek. “Such potential … and such a shame. Let me tell you a secret, Trixie.”
Trixie stared as the mare let her hood drop, revealing her face. A gasp escaped Trixie's lips.
Gray smiled a wicked grin, white teeth shining in the blackness of the night. “I prefer younger fare, untainted by experience, but for you I shall make an exception. Tell me, Trixie, what happens to little insects caught in the spider's web?”
Luna landed in front of the old manor and looked at the door with a sigh. She didn't want to see Trixie again. She wasn't even sure she wanted to see Twilight again. The memory of seeing them together on that night still tore at her heart.
For some reason Luna had turned around that night, perhaps feeling that she hadn't said properly farewell. It was a silly thing, but she wished she could forget the moon for one night, maybe let Celestia deal with that, just so she could stay with Twilight. She had flown back only to see Twilight kissing Trixie outside the manor. She should have known better. She shouldn't have dared to hope.
Luna lowered her head, trying to fight back tears, then stepped up to knock on the door. “Trixie?” she called and pushed the door. It hadn't been closed properly and opened with a creak.
Luna stepped inside and looked around, but the mansion was quiet, and there was no sign of Trixie or Owlowiscious. She felt uneasy as she walked from room to room. The house had always been a little odd to her, as old houses sometimes were, but now it seemed positively wrong. It was something few others could sense, but Luna felt her skin crawl at the touch of a dark magic lingering here as she ascended the stairs towards the attic.
The door to the attic opened, and Luna felt herself trembling a little. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before stepping inside. The lingering darkness was strong here, but whatever had caused it was now gone, and the effect was fading.
She looked around, spotting the scattered pieces of burnt paper. Walking up to take a look, she picked up the only piece that seemed intact, slowly reading the troubling words. “Oh Twilight … I have to find you. I just hope it's not too late for you.”
She picked up the rest of the papers and ran back down, placing the burnt remains on the desk before running outside and pausing to glance around.
There came a “Hoo” from somewhere in the distance. Luna's ears perked, and she looked up, responding with a little whistle. A moment of silence, then another “Hoo!” sounded, now more urgently. Luna listened before unfolding her wings, and with a mighty beat she set off in the direction of the sound.
She saw the woods appear behind the mansion and grow closer as she flew. A small pair of eyes looked back at her from among the trees, lit up by the light of her moon. “Hoo!” the night bird called, the eyes blinking as it turned and disappeared among the trees. Luna followed, gliding silently through the woods.
It was not so much the faint purple glow amidst the trees ahead as it was the sudden waves of almost tangible wrongness emanating from it that drew Luna's attention and forced her down close to the ground with a slight gasp. As her hooves touched the ground again she thought she heard a voice up ahead.
“Tell me, Trixie, what happens to little insects caught in the spider's web?”
At first Luna thought it was Twilight speaking, but doubt soon took root in her mind. She moved closer, suddenly hesitating despite a growing urgency.
Luna stumbled forwards, feeling herself tremble. “Sister help me …” she whispered. The sickening purple glow grew stronger, and the voice she had mistakenly attributed to Twilight broke into a dark, chilling laughter.
Luna thought she could hear a faint cry—a long, pained sound like a dying bird—and something collapsing heavily on the ground. The sound of the cry cut through her heart and broke her out of her brief stupor. She ran forwards, beating her wings before standing up on her hind legs as she lifted from the ground. Her horn glowed, and in its light, clashing with the purple glow, she saw a shadowy figure leaning over a unicorn lying among the leaves under a large oak.
The cloaked pony hissed and backed away at the sight of the princess. Luna felt the dark power recede slightly and took the opportunity to advance, trying to conceal her trembling.
“Begone foul creature! I know not what manner of monster you are, but you will not lay your claws upon this innocent pony!” She hovered over the body of the unicorn as she spoke.
The cloaked figure stepped back and laughed. Luna backed away an inch, despite her best effort to remain strong. She kept her eyes firmly on the figure whose purple eyes met hers for a brief second. A tense moment of staring, then the figure turned and fled like a shadow among the trees. A chilling laughter hung in the air behind it.
Luna breathed heavily and sank down on the ground next to the pony. She gasped when she lowered her head to glance upon the unfortunate unicorn. “Trixie!” she called, but the unicorn did not respond.
Trixie’s blue coat had turned a pale and faded color, almost gray like ashes, but was stained a deep crimson by the blood still pouring from the deep cut in her neck. Her eyes had lost their hue and now stared blankly into the darkness of the forest.
Luna gasped. “Oh no!” There was blood everywhere. She pressed a hoof hard against the wound, hoping to stall the flow of blood, hoping to buy herself a few seconds.
The tip of her horn glowed brightly as she lowered her head. Beads of sweat trickled down her face as she concentrated, forcing the flesh of the wound to seal up. It was crude, but it was the best she could do in the situation.
“Don't worry, Trixie. I'll save you!” she said as she lifted the unicorn and placed her on her back between her wings. “I'll take you home, and maybe it's not too late.” Luna spread her wings and rushed back towards the mansion, careful not to drop Trixie on the way.
Luna placed Trixie gently on a bed of blankets in front of the fireplace. Her horn glowed brightly as she lit the fire and called several things to her side. Trixie was breathing only faintly, showing no signs of improvement. She had lost a lot of blood. Luna just hoped it hadn't been too much.
While a pot of water was heating over the flames, Luna examined Trixie closely. She had only a weak pulse, and she was growing cold quickly.
Luna soaked a piece of cloth in the hot water and carefully washed Trixie, hoping to bring some warmth and life back into her body. There was no detectable response, but Luna kept working. “Don't die on me, Trixie. I know we haven't been the best of friends, but I never meant for you to get hurt. And I need you. Twilight needs you.”
Luna closed her eyes, trying to clear her mind, then gently placed the tip of her horn against Trixie's. She focused, extending her senses and trying to feel Trixie’s wavering life force. She could barely sense it any more. It was as if the unicorn had been sucked dry, and not only of blood, leaving behind only an empty husk save for the barest trace of life.
“A spark of life. Just a little. Just … enough,” she whispered to herself. It wasn't exactly her greatest strength. The magic of life and light was more her sister's area of expertise, but Luna had to try. “Better to try and fail than not try at all!”
Luna took a breath and felt the flow of magic gather at the tip of her horn before releasing it. A brief, bright spark jumped between their horns, causing Trixie's body to shudder with a slight gasp. Luna opened her eyes slowly, glancing down hopefully.
A faint hint of color returned to Trixie's coat, and her eyes cleared a little, but it soon faded again. Luna lowered her head. “I'm sorry Trixie. I was too late for you.”
Luna opened her eyes. She hadn't moved, for how long she didn't know, while her mind drifted the oceans of night. Blood. The thought of blood emerged out of the dark, perhaps spurred by Twilight's note in the attic. Had she been dreaming?
Luna looked down. Trixie was still lying there, motionless. Was she dead? Luna placed a hoof against the unicorn's neck. There was only the barest pulse. She looked up at her moon through the window, then back down at the floor in front of her. She hesitated, biting her lip. After a moment she looked back up at the sky.
“I'm sorry sister. I know—” She looked down. “I know I shouldn't perform such magic, but this is to save a life. Surely you can forgive me this.”
Luna held up a hoof as a small knife levitated off the floor. With a quick breath she clenched her teeth and placed the blade against her leg, making a swift cut. The deep crimson blood of the alicorn trickled down Luna's hoof and fell as drops upon Trixie's lips and tongue. A bright glow surrounded them both as Luna closed her eyes, giving herself over to the magic enveloping them both.
With a gasp of exhaustion, Luna collapsed on the floor next to Trixie. Her wound had stopped bleeding. She had given everything she dared, and the magic had been draining on her. Barely able to sit up, Luna simply lay there, watching Trixie.
Color began to return, little by little, to the unicorn's features. Her eyes cleared and blinked before closing in peace. Her breathing grew stronger as she seemed to lapse into a deep and restful sleep.
Luna sighed with relief and closed her eyes as well.
The light of the sun filtered through the window and lit up the desk where Luna was standing, flipping through papers and letters. This was around the time she would normally get some rest, but despite being drained and having stayed up all night watching over Trixie, she couldn't find rest.
Trixie was improving, and now Luna found her mind struggling to puzzle out the situation. Something was going on, and Twilight could be in grave danger if she wasn't actually at the heart of it herself.
Luna had gathered everything she could find in the house; all the letters and papers Trixie had collected since moving in with Twilight. She had also done a little research in the archives of Canterlot before coming here. Luna thought she had found some patterns, but she wasn't sure yet what they meant.
She looked up and turned her head as Trixie stirred a little. Pausing in her work, the princess walked over to the unicorn and knelt down to examine her. The color had almost returned to Trixie's coat, and her breathing was normal. The wound in her neck looked bad, but seemed to cause no trouble. Luna wondered if she would make a full recovery, or suffer permanent scars.
Trixie stirred again, slowly opened her eyes, and turned to look up at Luna who was kneeling next to her. Trixie's eyes had cleared and regained their color like her coat, but they were now filled with confusion.
“How are you feeling?” Luna asked quietly.
Trixie looked at her and the room around them for a time as if trying to remember. “What … happened? I remember—” She paused, clearly unsure of something. Luna sat down, deciding to give the unicorn as much time as she needed. Trixie furrowed her brow, thinking. “I sent you a letter. Did … did you get it?”
Luna nodded. “I did, a few days ago.”
Trixie stared at her, then looked down. “A few … days? I remember little after that.”
Luna smiled sadly at her. “If hazy memories are the worst you come away from this experience with, then consider yourself lucky. You were in a very bad condition when I found you.”
Trixie sighed and lay her head on her hooves. “I feel … strange. Empty.”
Luna nodded and stood up. “You seem to be recovering well enough. Just try to rest, and I'm sure you'll be fine.”
Trixie lay quietly as Luna returned to the desk. “What about Twilight?” she asked after a while.
Luna glanced over her shoulder. “I'm not sure. I found this in the attic. It may be a clue.” Luna held up the piece of paper Trixie had previously restored, while she searched through the other papers on the desk.
Trixie was silent for a few seconds, then let out a shriek.
Luna jumped and spun around, staring at Trixie's horrified face. “What is it? What's wrong?”
Trixie's eyes were tearing up, her face twisted in exertion. “My magic! I can't … I have no magic!”
Luna stared at Trixie, then at the paper Luna was holding up and which Trixie was evidently trying to pick up with her magic, to no effect. Trixie collapsed and burst into full tears. Luna stood for a second, before sitting down next to the distraught mare. “I'm so sorry, Trixie! Maybe it will return. Maybe you just need time to recover fully.”
Trixie looked up at Luna through her tears. “And what if it doesn't?”
Luna sank a little and placed a wing comfortingly over Trixie. The thought of a unicorn losing her magic was a painful one. “I'm sorry, Trixie. I know it may not mean much coming from me, but I mean it!”
“I spoke with the investigators in Canterlot before coming here, and they confirm that all the missing fillies were unicorns and young ones too. Most of them still didn’t have their cutie marks. I see one of the recent disappearances is the sister of Twilight's friend, Rarity.”
Luna glanced at Trixie who just nodded silently, still looking at the paper from the attic which, after having read it, she was trying to levitate off the floor to no effect.
Luna continued, holding up a map of Equestria filled with dots in the lower right corner. “All disappearances happened within a rough line of flight from Dappleshore to Ponyville. All the early disappearances happened here or in the nearest villages, mostly between Dodge City and the Horseshoe Bay. Since then it has spread out as far as Ponyville, but no further. It has largely avoided Baltimare, perhaps because there is a greater risk of guards in the big city.”
“I don't know what the significance of all this is, but that's what I have been able to find,” Luna concluded.
Trixie sighed, giving the map an uninterested glance. “It's more than I could tell.”
Luna looked at her sadly. “You did what you could, Trixie. You didn't have access to the official reports in Canterlot, but I am very impressed with your restoration of that letter. It could prove an important clue.”
Trixie sighed and lay her head down on the floor, staring at the paper in front of her, still not moving the slightest bit. “That's not much consolation if I can't get my magic back or restore any of the other pieces. Only makes the tragedy greater. The Great and Powerful Trixie, finally beginning to live up to her name, only to lose it all.”
Luna watched Trixie sadly, then turned back to her papers with a sigh. “I also found something else in the records. Turns out Twilight bought another place here in Dappleshore not long ago. An old farm in the fields outside the city at 5 Buckskin Road.”
Trixie looked up. “I bet that's where they're staying then.”
Luna nodded. “I bet it just might be. I think we need to check it out, in any case. You should stay here and recover. I'll go take a look and return with what I find.”
Trixie frowned and stood up. “No deal! I have no intention of staying here while you run around and do all the work. Magic or not, I'm not useless, and I won't be treated as such!” Luna opened her mouth, but Trixie gave her a cold stare. “Don't you dare argue. I'm coming along!”