The Great And Powerful Trixie trotted down the path toward Stalliongrad with her head held high—today was a day for grace and poise, after all.
She had a job.
Since the Ponyville Incident with the Ursa Minor … and the Trottingham Accident with the missing half of a foal during the “saw the box in half” trick … and the Manehattan Mishap where she teleported the teeth out of her guest from the audience while trying to send them into the next room …
… suffice to say, since a number of small and entirely not her fault occurrences, she’d had a somewhat bad name in the magic circuit. But she’d preserved. She’d re-tooled. She’d re-branded herself as an illusionist—it was, in a way, the least directly useful magic, but it was the most showy.
It was also the only area she had any real talent in.
She’d flunked out of the Canterlot Academy for Gifted Unicorns because she was simply no good at any other subject—potion brewing, conjuring, fortune telling—and she’d grown rather bitter about it over the years. She’d started to view her illusions as a crutch that held her back from growing.
No more. From now on, she would delight crowds with the greatest illusions Equestria had ever seen. And for the last month, it had been working. She’d started in the small but thriving Appleloosa and had knocked the crowd dead (… metaphorically, for once.) From there, she’d been able to get another shot at Manehattan and had worked support for the Wonderbolts show; she hadn’t had title line, but it had gotten her name out. And when it was time for the newly remodeled Stalliongrad Museum of Historic Sweaters and Socket-Wrenches to put on a show, naturally, they had turned to her.
Because the Museum of Historic Sweaters and Socket-Wrenches didn’t draw huge crowds, and she was within their budget.
Nonetheless, it seemed luck had finally found its way into Trixie’s career. She sped up a little, smiling widely as she made her way through the morning sunlight. She was on the road to Stalliongrad, the road to success, and nothing would stop her.
At that moment, she noticed that the road ahead was blocked by a crowd of ponies. As she drew closer, she was forced to stop; they hadn’t noticed her and did not move out of her way.
“… dentist … electrician … another dentist … hotdog vendor? That’s the best you could do with your magic—eh, I’ll take it anyways … schoolteacher … oh, for the love of me, another dentist? Three dentists in a town of two hundred?”
She hadn’t noticed, but none of the ponies were moving at all. They stood still as stone, their gazes vacant and breathing shallow. She didn’t know how she’d missed it, but there was a spell upon them; they had been paralyzed and bound. And between them, something slithered and slunk, pausing by ponies as it spoke.
She saw a horn vanish each time the shifting creature passed by a body.
“… ah, how disappointing. I’d hoped an entire village’s worth of unicorns would have somepony useful,” said the creature, sliding through the crowd toward where Trixie stood. “You see, miss traveler, these bumpkins barely had as much magic together as I had in just my nose yesterday—and I only had a single pony’s magic then.”
Discord rose from the crowd, facing her with a terrifying gaze … but one eye was different than the last time she’d met the monster, when he’d placed her under the arm of a Ursa Minor like a teddybear. His body was changed as well—his wings were gone, and his horns had turned to two unicorn’s horns, twisted with colors like a chemical-spill rainbow. He had a skeletal look, like a colt who had suddenly grown to a stallion’s size over a summer; his skin looked stretched, and his limbs were thin and wiry.
“But even if the majority have been useless—eleven dentists, can you believe that?” continued Discord, his tone bemoaning his fate. “—even if they have mostly been useless, I’ve the magic of almost thirty unicorns now. As a baseline, I’ve almost doubled the power Twilight Sparkle left with me.”
Trixie shied back a step, but Discord moved like the wind and twisted around her, holding her neck in a clawed hand and bringing them face to face. As he looked into her eyes, she could feel he was sensing her magic.
“W-what did you do to them?” she managed to gasp though the iron grip on her windpipe.
“I gave them a choice. They gave me their magic; I didn’t burn their little bumpkinville to the ground. The noble unicorns were more than happy to give themselves up for their friends and family,” growled Discord, smiling a little as his magic wormed though her retinas. “Illusions, at last. I’ve simply not been funny of late—trapping an earth pony on a cloud is so a thousand years ago, and who laughs at being struck by an anvil anymore?—and I think a little razzle-dazzle may fix that. May I have your magic?”
“No!” she shouted, twisting in his grip. She tried to summon the power to teleport but felt a familiar force clamp down: the magic of Twilight Sparkle, the unicorn who’d utterly humiliated her in Ponyville. The magician had barely even tried back then—Trixie was beyond outmatched.
“Give me your magic,” Discord commanded, holding her in the air by the neck. She felt a tingle about her body, then shrunk, finding herself in his palm. Her body continued to change, her skin changing to yarn and her insides to fluff. Her eyes were now buttons, but she could somehow see. “Or I will cast a Want-It-Need-It spell on you and toss you into the middle of that pack of pathetic peasants … they’ll rip you apart like griffons.”
Trixie would have been shaking if she’d had muscles. Discord’s voice seemed to be inside her fluff-filled head, echoing the command over and over. There was an unspoken promise that she would not be harmed if she gave in.
She’d rather have died than been left without magic. She could no longer do it herself, so she created the illusion of a pair of lips spitting on him. The last thing she saw as her eyes were ripped off was a pack of adoring-looking ponies bearing down upon her.
Exhaling, Twilight Sparkle sat up and gave a goofy smile, the warm sunlight that streamed through her window warming her as she woke.
It had been a rough night’s sleep, but she’d managed—she’d asked the Princess for advice about sleeping with wings and found an enchanted pillow her horns would not rip. The previous evening filtered through her mind; it had been the perfect end to her stressful day. Her parents had stayed with her through dinner and helped her recover from her fate. It had set her at ease—the Guard still fled on sight, and the staff seemed to be waiting to be transmuted into vegetables, but if her parents were able to cope with things, so could she.
Carefully stepping into the shoes lent to her by Celestia, she got out of bed.
She snuck past the still slumbering Spike, pausing as she noticed his blanket was falling off of him. She glanced to her right forehoof … dare she try to magic it into place, or should she simply pull it with her mouth?
She decided against any morning mayhem and simply tugged it over him. He gave a little thankful mumble and immediately resumed snoring.
The castle was thankfully quiet in the mornings, so she was free to walk the halls alone. Her shoes echoed loudly, the metal clanks reverberating from the masonry to the high eaves, so she kept to the carpets. It was pleasant to be back in what had been her home for so many years; as much as she loved Ponyville, her heart had always been for Canterlot.
Heh—I’ve got two hearts now, maybe I can feel that way about Ponyville too, she thought with a snort, the dual heartbeats subtly reminding her of her changes. It was the least intrusive of her changes, but was becoming the one that bothered her the most.
As she passed by a mirror, she had to let out a sigh and come to a halt.
Her new appearance was simply monstrous. She would never get used to it; she didn’t want to, either. She wanted to be Twilight Sparkle, unicorn. Not Twilight Sparkle, dragon-bat-unicorn-thingy.
A thought entered her head: she was to spend the day practicing her magic to try and learn how to control it. Her attempt to hide her appearance yesterday had failed, but Discord had been a master of transformation and illusion. Surely she could change herself to a single form if he could take a thousand in a minute?
She gingerly kicked off a single shoe and tapped it to the floor.
Her reflection stayed the same. There wasn’t even some fanfare or random wackiness—her dumb, ugly mug just looked back. Anger flushed through her veins. Magic wasn’t this hard. Magic had never been this hard for her, even as a foal. Why was it so hard now that she had limitless powers at her disposal?
She tried to smash her hoof into the mirror and fell.
Groaning, she sat up. She’d managed to fall; what a mature pony she was. She looked around to see if anypony had seen her. To her horror she noticed two maids trotting down the hall; they were talking to each other and seemed nervous. She looked around for her shoe and found it on its side. With haste she tried to flip it over so she could leave—and found it immovable.
And then the maids walked through her.
Twilight Sparkle fell back as they continued down the hall, turning out of sight. They had both been earth ponies. And phasing magic was very advanced; even Twilight had trouble with it. So how had they walked through her? Had she made herself incorporeal instead of—oh.
She saw it. Everything in the hall was backwards.
She’d fallen into the mirror and was now inside the reflected world.
With a groan she set to trying to get back out.
Applejack smiled as the little dappled foal leapt from Fluttershy’s grasp onto the grass, rolling in it merrily. He was as happy to be on the ground as any earth pony in his situation had a right to be. A moment later, his mother pounced him into a tight hug.
“Uh, wow,” said Rainbow Dash as she set down the quivering red stallion. He didn’t take to the ground as well, his eyes wide and breathing ragged. “You okay, buddy?”
“Yeah, I’ve never seen an earth pony look so uncomfortable on the ground, mister!” said Pinkie Pie, appearing at his side. Around them the townsponies cheered as Rarity focused on the tracking amulet’s magic. “Come on, whoop it up!”
“He took my horn,” said the stallion, looking to her. “He took my magic. Discord took my magic. I-I’m supposed to tell the Elements of Harmony—you’re the Elements, aren’t you?”
“Y-yes,” said Pinkie, taking a step back.
“H-he put me on the cloud and brought up P-Pip,” said the stallion, gesturing to the foal and his overjoyed mother. “And he said he’d throw Pip to the ground unless I let him take my magic. And then he told me to tell you.”
“Okay, come over here,” said Pinkie Pie, putting a leg around him and taking him to a bench under a tree. Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash and Applejack shared a look.
This was bad news.
Only minutes prior, they had caught up to where Discord had been last night. It was supposed to have brought good news—and now they found that Discord had added a second unicorn’s magic to his abilities by threatening to kill a foal. Granted, the pony was likely not nearly as powerful as Twilight, but still …
“I can not wait to use this,” said Rainbow Dash, hefting the mace in her teeth. “Rarity! Hurry that spell up!”
“I’m—gah!—I’m trying!” shouted Rarity, the silver glow around her horn pulsing. It faded a moment later. “I’ve got him! He’s near Stalliongrad!”
“… that’s like two hundred miles,” Applejack said, her jaw falling. “How in the hay did he go two hundred miles in a night?”
“Teleported,” groaned Rainbow Dash. Fluttershy crept to her side, looking worried. “Or who knows, he’s probably stolen some wings.”
“He can do that?” Pinkie cried in alarm, having re-joined them. The townsponies were helping with the red stallion, allowing the Elements to talk. “How?”
“Well, if he can take magic and Twilight took his, why can’t he take pegasus magic?” said Rainbow Dash with a shrug. “And the first thing you do after losing a pair of wings? Get yourself some more. They’re way too useful.”
“… okay, this is bad,” said Applejack, pulling her friends in close. “As in, bad as last time bad. Twilight’s magic we could deal with. Now it’s gettin’ crazy and he’s way to far away—”
“Wait!” said Rarity, her eyes and the tracking amulet lighting up. “He moved! He’s nearby, ten miles north!”
“That’s like a minute for me!” said Rainbow Dash, leaping into the air. Applejack bit onto her tail, hauling her back down.
“Come on, Dashie, it’s obviously a trap!” grunted Applejack, wrestling the pegasus back to earth.
“And how could you know that?” asked Rainbow Dash with a scowl.
“Common sense. Rarity had to cast the spell last time, right? Why would it suddenly flash?”
“He knows we’re looking for him!” said Pinkie Pie in alarm. “No fair! He’s not supposed to be that smart—he’s tricky, but he’s overconfident! It’s in his character description!”
“… okay, this ain’t still-under-warranty Discord,” said Applejack. “This here is a broken product. He’s like a wolf with a hurt paw; he’s scared and he’s slowed down. He ain’t got his usual tricks, so he has to get creative. And a creative wolf does all sort of things you don’t expect.”
“I-I’m … I’m …” Fluttershy looked ready to faint.
“Don’t get discouraged, darlin’,” said Applejack, steadying her friend. “We just got to be smart. His back’s to the wall and he’s desperate—he’s gonna be tricky, but he’s gonna make mistakes. We need to set a trap for him just the same, and we need it to play to our strengths, not to his.”
“Ok … Dash has Flying …” said Pinkie Pie, listening as she jotted down a list. “And Applejack’s an earth pony, so she’ll have Common Sense … Flutter’s magic is The Stare … Rarity can detect gems and do basic magic, and I’ve got my Pinkie Sense …”
“Which, ah admit, is pretty hard,” sighed Applejack. “‘Bout the only chance I think we got is to set out one of us as bait.”
“Dibs.” Rainbow Dash leapt into the air and took a ready pose.
“Alright, darlin’, here’s how it—”
Applejack had been about to speak when Pinkie Pie cut her off by shushing her and sticking a hoof over her mouth.
“Don’t say it yet!” warned Pinkie Pie, looking to the side of their group at nothing. “We need to wait for the scene to change; if we make the plan off-screen, then it’ll actually work! On-screen plans never work!”
“… okay, Fluttershy?” said Rainbow Dash, turning to the yellow pony. “Your mission is to make sure she doesn’t get any more pixie sticks today. We’re already losing her.”
Such a grunt was rarely heard in the halls of Canterlot. In fact, the last time had been after Twilight Sparkle’s transmutation final, when she’d accidentally turned her favorite doll into a live mule.
“I see your disappearance this morning was not a joyous one,” said Celestia, looking to the side of the hall where her groaning student, Twilight Sparkle, had entered. Luna stood by Celestia’s side—they had been discussing Twilight’s situation—and both of their bodyguard squads were cowering behind them.
“I got trapped in a mirror,” sighed Twilight, looking ready to collapse. “And then I managed to turn my breakfast omelet into a chicken. And then I may have turned the east ballroom into a ballpit.”
“… a ball … pit?” asked Luna, looking to Celestia.
“You’ll see,” said Celestia with a smile. “Twilight, I will assume you have made little progress with your powers.”
“… I’m sorry,” said Twilight, her head drooping. “I’ll get right back to—“
“No, I did not wish to admonish,” said Celestia, nuzzling Twilight to bring her head back up. “But I do have an observation: you are not having fun.”
“Of course I’m not!” said Twilight, looking alarmed. “This is too serious—I didn’t sound like I was goofing off, did I? I would never do that, Princess, I promise!”
“… you will have to break that promise,” said Celestia. “Because Discord’s magic works best when the user is having fun.”
“Do you remember yesterday, with your friend Applejack’s hat?” said Celestia, trotting away from the throne. Twilight followed; Celestia glanced back to Luna. Luna nodded, understanding what her sister wanted—she was to take the guards and make sure none were about to have heart attacks. “You simply tried to fill it with water and it did, because you thought it would be funny.”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“And do not forget, my sister and I once knew Discord,” continued Celestia. “When we were foals, he was … less of what he is today. He could be cruel and hurtful, but there was always a joke or a laugh in it for him, and just as often, he could make us laugh—the chocolate rain was a favorite of Luna’s.”
“… what happened?” Twilight asked, her voice soft. There was fear in it.
“… we do not know,” said Celestia, sensing her student’s misgivings. “But I believe it was because the seed of cruelty was always part of Discord; there is no such seed in you, Twilight. Your use of the magic need not be like his.”
“… okay, next problem …” said Twilight, her spirits quickly bucking up. Celestia had always admired the faith her student could put in others’ support; it was the mare’s greatest strength. “My idea of fun is reading. And studying. So what am I supposed to do, summon up a shelf of books? Make my homework do itself?”
“The latter would make you the envy of foals everywhere,” said Celestia with a smirk; she caught Twilight doing the same. “But perhaps you could try summoning a book—it should be simple enough.”
“… here goes?” asked Twilight, looking up to Celestia. Celestia nodded, and Twilight kicked off a golden shoe, then stomped.
A rumbling sound began to fill the castle.
“… oh dear,” said Celestia, raising a magic barrier around them. Twilight began to stammer apologies. Moments later, every door flew open at once as books began to fly in upon papery wings, whirling around them as a literary tornado. Then they flew back out of the doors they had entered from, and a single tome fell at Twilight’s feet.
Comedy for Eggheads.
“… good choice,” said Celestia as Twilight fell to the floor and let out a happy sigh.
The Captain of the Equestrian Guard was not a happy pony.
In fact, it was in his job description to be grumpy. Today, however, he had a bigger reason to be unhappy than the fact he was paid to scowl. Today, he was faced with the fact that he and his stallions had repeatedly proven themselves cowards in front of the Princesses, the castle staff, and Steeltail’s mother, who had come to the castle to drop off a tray of cookies.
As he munched down on the oatmeal and raisin cookie, the delectable moistness turned to ash.
“So, we’ve got a problem,” he said, addressing his assembled soldiers. The Guard was not huge—in fact, all of the members fit in the meeting chamber they had been assigned, even including Luna’s hoof-picked squad. “We’ve shamed ourselves, lads.”
“Hey, I’m doing okay!” shouted one of the pegasus guards. “I tried to attack Nightmare Moon when she attacked!”
“Dude! She was brainwashed!” shouted one of the black coated stallions from Luna’s squad. “Drop that, will you?”
“Hey, Mr. Batwings, I didn’t see you facing down Twilight Sparkle, did I?” shouted one of the other guards. The captain sighed as the meeting devolved into a number of shouting matches and then came to blows.
At least we’re finally fighting somepony, even if it is ourselves, he thought glumly.