Disclaimer: I don't own My Little Ponies or anything related to it. That belongs to Hasbro or whoever it is that owns it.
The wind passed over Twilight, blowing her mane across the air, and she opened her eyes. The hospital and its long, silent halls were gone. She was outside, warm rays of sunlight falling over her as she stared at her surroundings. Clusters of trees seemed to shoot out of the ground in every direction, and the green pasture underneath her stretched out for as far as she could see. The main road disappeared ahead of her, and next to her a small dirt path curved away, coming to an end under a large gate from which a sign had been hung. The all-too familiar red fruit was clearly visible on it from where she stood, hundreds of identical fruits hanging from the trees that covered the land. Farther behind the sign stood the large wooden barn that was home to the hardest working family in Ponyville.
Twilight blinked in surprise. Sweet Apple Acres. How had she gotten here?
She made her way to the wooden gate, passing under it and turning her head to either side. The whole area seemed completely empty. It didn’t really surprise her. Applejack and Big Machintosh had been with her in the hospital, and Granny Smith would not have reached the farm yet. Even so, the silence surrounding the apple orchard was more than a little unsettling. Never before had she visited the farm without having one of the two older siblings being busy at work. Seeing the place so abandoned made her shiver with unease.
Twilight frowned as another thought occurred to her. Was this even really happening? She had been inside the hospital with the others just moments before. Why was she here now? Had she somehow managed to teleport to the farm? She would never even dream of being able to cover such a large distance with magic, but as impossible as it seemed, she could reach no other conclusion to her sudden arrival at the apple orchard. She remembered the tugging in the back of her mind, the one that had arisen when she had needed a viable distraction to keep from telling the others the events from the night before. Was that the reason why she was now here instead of with Applejack and the rest of her friends?
Whatever had happened, she could not stay here. She needed to get back to the others and work out a plan to find the missing princesses and save Ponyville, no matter how difficult the task ahead seemed.
She closed her eyes and began to clear her mind when she became aware that she was not as alone as she thought. Her eyes flew open and her body grew tense as she searched the farm. There didn’t seem to be anyone there, but she knew she hadn’t imagined things. She had felt a presence in the supposedly abandoned farm, but as to whom it was, she did not know.
All of a sudden the presence returned and she whirled around, still not seeing anyone around her.
“Applebloom?” she called out, remembering how Granny Smith had mentioned to Big Machintosh that she had left the youngest sibling in the farm. But she received no reply, and feeling the presence once more she turned, her horn beginning to glow as she focused her magic, prepared to fire at whoever crossed her path.
The awaiting figure was not Applebloom, nor was it any other member of the Apple family. In fact, it was the last pony Twilight had expected to see. She shook her head as she stared at the figure, her eyes growing wide as the magic surrounding her horn began to fade away.
Princess Celestia smiled at her.
“It is good to see you, my faithful student.”
Twilight remained frozen where she stood. This isn’t happening, a part of her mind told her. The princess had been taken the night before, captured by Trixie along with Princess Luna, and Twilight had been helpless to save either one. It seemed impossible that either of them would manage to free themselves and escape their imprisonment.
And yet here was Princess Celestia standing before her, a sense of calm radiating off of the princess and easing the worst of Twilight’s suspicion. How she had longed to see the princess after all that had happened, her thoughts and concerns revolving on finding Princess Celestia and making sure that she was safe. Now here she stood before Twilight after what felt like an eternity, and all she could do was openly gape in silence.
Seconds ticked by, and when Twilight said nothing Princess Celestia frowned.
“I am sorry to have summoned you like this, Twilight, much less without your consent, but there is much that I need to tell you, and I fear that we must be quick. Time is of the essence.”
Even before she had finished speaking Twilight had closed the distance between them, colliding against the taller white alicorn and remaining by her side.
“It really is you,” she cried, nuzzling the princess. “It’s good to see you, Princess Celestia. I was so worried.”
The princess returned the affectionate gesture, a sigh escaping her as she said, “As was I, my faithful student. Seeing you well brings joy to my heart.”
She closed her eyes and enjoyed her protégé’s closeness, thankful that the other stood before her whole and safe from harm. There was much to talk about, yes, but after the events of the night before and all the tension it had brought, not to mention all the hardships that lay before them, she would not deny a small moment of happiness.
Eventually they stepped away from each other and Twilight said, “You said before that you summoned me here. How did you teleport me all the way here form the hospital?”
Upon hearing the words Princess Celestia’s eyes widened, and she gave a start that made Twilight step back in alarm.
“Why were you in the hospital? Did something happen to you?”
“Not me,” Twilight began. “It’s Applejack. She’s not doing so well.”
Hearing the words, Princess Celestia slightly relaxed even as her frown remained. “Yes, I happened to witness her injury last night. It looked as though she was hurt very badly.”
“They told us she won’t make a full recovery.” Twilight paused, her voice growing weaker as she continued. “She won’t even be able to work on the farm from now on.”
Princess Celestia gazed intently at her student, giving Twilight the impression that she was reading her mind. Finally, she said, “You blame yourself for what happened to Applejack. You think it’s your fault.”
Twilight began to shake her head, but suddenly stopped. It was the truth, after all, and what was the point of lying to the princess? Closing her eyes, she let out a sigh.
“It is my fault, in a way. The masked pony from last night was Trixie. You remember that I wrote to you about her?”
Princess Celestia silently nodded, and she continued.
“Trixie came to Ponyville looking for me. She wanted to get even with me for that whole Ursa Minor incident, but now she’s threatening all of Ponyville instead.” Turning to the princess, forcing away the frustration and fear that lay within her, she asked, “Why would she do all of this? It doesn’t seem anything like the Trixie that first came to Ponyville all those months ago.”
Princess Celestia motioned towards a nearby tree, and Twilight followed after her. Once they had stepped under its shade, the princess turned to Twilight. “That’s because she’s not the Trixie that came to Ponyville so long ago, Twilight. Not completely, anyway. Trixie is being influenced into taking all of these drastic actions, and I believe that they will only become worse from here on out.”
“It’s that mask, isn’t it?” Twilight asked at once. “The mask changed her somehow. Where did it come from? How did she get it?”
Princess Celestia sighed. “You have many questions, Twilight, and I wish I could answer them all, but we do not have much time.” The anxious tone in which she spoke surprised Twilight. It was not one she was used to hearing from the princess. “The connection could break at any moment. We must quickly attend to our business together.”
“Connection?” Twilight blinked confusedly. “You mean a magic connection? But…we’re in Sweet Apple Acres, aren’t we?”
Shaking her head, Princess Celestia said, “Not physically, no. We are communicating through a telepathic link. It’s how I usually keep in touch with Luna as she travels through Equestria. Everything around us is a projection created by your thoughts, which seem to be centered on your friend Applejack.”
Twilight turned to the farm, taking in its familiar surroundings. It seemed like an exact replica of the Apple family’s home, right down to the last detail. The real farm might someday be overcome with moss and decay after years of abandonment, yet in her mind, this small copy would always remain as strong and whole as it was now.
It didn’t seem fair to her, just like Applejack’s injuries didn’t seem fair.
Sensing her thoughts, Princess Celestia said, “I’m sorry, Twilight. I wish there was something I could do to help Applejack, but as it stands my magic cannot heal her. We must first focus on the threat that Trixie represents to Equestria.”
Twilight remained silent, gazing up at her teacher in surprise. She nodded at once, but deep down she felt a hint of anger towards the white alicorn. That’s it, then, she thought bitterly. We just forget about one of my closest friends because she got hurt.
Seeing the look that her protégé was giving her, Princess Celestia shook her head. “I wish there was something I could do to help her, Twilight, truly I do, but from my current place in Canterlot there is nothing that can be done. After we have solved everything we can look into helping her as best we can.”
Twilight snapped back to attention, the feeling of resentment vanishing as quickly as it had come. Why had she doubted the princess? Had she really thought that her mentor would simply abandon Applejack?
“I’m sorry, Princess Celestia,” she said, feeling ashamed of herself. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“You are concerned, that is all. It is completely understandable, and it only serves to show what a good friend you are.”
This time Twilight allowed herself to smile before something caught her attention.
“Wait a minute. How did you even know I was thinking about asking if you could help Applejack?”
“My dear Twilight,” the princess replied, smiling at her student, “I don’t need to read minds to know what’s on yours. I can practically tell what you’re thinking just by looking at you. You could say it’s our own special bond.” She closed her eyes and sighed as she continued. “Unfortunately, it is through a similar bond that the mask is seeking to use Trixie. It can sense her fears and doubts and manipulates them to keep its control over her.”
“But why would it go through all that trouble?” Twilight asked. “What does the mask want with Trixie?”
“It must sense great power within her, otherwise it might have chosen another unicorn to try and control. We must stop it before it manages to combine its own power with Trixie’s and extends its control over her completely. If we do not, I fear the results would be disastrous.”
Twilight frowned. Why was the princess making such a big deal out of this? The answer seemed painfully obvious to her.
“Why don’t we just tell Trixie that the mask is controlling her? She might seem a little overconfident, but she’s not dumb. Surely she’ll listen to reason.”
“That will not do any good, Twilight,” Princess Celestia said. “In her heart, Trixie already knows that she is being used. I have tried to get her to stop following the mask, but I was unable to convince her. What is more, I have reason to believe that the mask is not simply manipulating her. She has shown me that she can be very cunning, and she is very adept at reading others’ emotions. No, there is something else behind everything, I’m sure of it, but what it is, I do not know. All I can say is that, with the mask controlling her, Trixie is a danger to all of Equestria.”
Twilight stared at her mentor in disbelief. “Are you saying that the mask could be just as big of a threat as Discord was? But…it’s just a mask, nothing more than a simple object. How can it be so powerful?”
“The same way that the Elements of Harmony are powerful objects,” Princess Celestia replied. “There is more to magic than spells, Twilight. In any case, that mask is not a mere object. Its origins are linked to many dark rituals, and horrible acts have been carried out by those who wished to control its power. The last time Luna and I faced it, we were unable to defeat it. So strong was the mask that, even with our combined magic and the Elements of Harmony at our side, the most we could do was seal it away in a deep slumber, one that I had hoped would last until the end of time. Unfortunately, that was not the case, and Equestria is in danger once more.”
The insecurity and doubt behind the words came as a surprise to Twilight. Never before had she wondered if Princess Celestia’s power had limits. In her eyes, her mentor was the great ruler of Equestria, whose magic knew no bounds. Now, for the first time, she was seeing that Princess Celestia was not as invincible as she had believed her to be. Even so, Twilight knew that she and her friends would have to depend on the two princesses if they were to put an end to this new threat and save Ponyville along with all of Equestria.
“We need you, Princess Celestia,” Twilight said at last, a desperate undertone carrying her words. “I need you. Tell me where we can find you in Canterlot. Once we free you we can find the Elements of Harmony-”
“No, Twilight. You must not come to Canterlot.”
The words and the desperate tone that carried them came as a blow to Twilight, and she stared at Princess Celestia with wide eyes.
“If you came to Canterlot now you would only draw the mask’s attention. You will not last long against its might on your own. If what Trixie said when we spoke is true then she has other plans for all of you, ones that will not come to pass anytime soon. We can use this time to prepare ourselves for the trials that lie ahead.”
Twilight gave a start, looking up at Princess Celestia with a blank expression. “But how are we supposed to save you if we stay away form Canterlot?”
Princess Celestia hesitated before answering. She smiled ruefully, gazing deep into her young pupil’s eyes. “I’m afraid that I won’t be able to join you for this journey, Twilight. I wish I could help all of you, but that is not a possibility at this time. There are other immediate tasks that require your attention.”
Twilight heard the words without paying attention. A numb sensation began to spread through her as the same words echoed in her mind. They would not have help from the two princesses, and they would be all alone in facing this threat. How could Princess Celestia expect them to succeed?
Not wanting the princess to sense her fear, she asked, “What should we do, then?”
“You mentioned finding the elements before,” Princess Celestia said. “What has happened to them?”
Pushing her fears aside, Twilight thought back to the events from the night before. The image of Trixie floating in the air, deranged and screaming wildly as magic manifested around her, came instantly to Twilight, seeming as vivid as when it had actually happened, and she suppressed a shudder as she addressed Princess Celestia.
“Trixie took them last night. She sent them flying away from Ponyville. I don’t know where they are.”
Princess Celestia remained silent, sorting through her own recent memories regarding the blue unicorn. While her conversation with Trixie might not have gone as she had hoped, the other had carelessly let slip a valuable bit of information, one that the princess was not able to make much of at the time. Now, after speaking with Twilight and learning what had transpired during Trixie’s return to Ponyville, she realized its true importance.
She turned back to her student, and Twilight was surprised to see a gleam in Princess Celesta’s eyes.
“When I spoke to Trixie she mentioned the Elements of Harmony. She said that one of the elements had landed in a forest. By the way she spoke, I would assume that it was the one that landed nearest to Ponyville. It must be in the Everfree Forest.”
Twilight thought it over, noting that the idea made sense. Even so, the thought of one of the Elements of Harmony lying somewhere within the Everfree Forest, alone and unguarded, made her feel more than a little unsettled.
“Listen to me, Twilight.”
The urgent tone in Princess Celestia’s voice snapped Twilight out of her reverie. She stared at her mentor, silence lingering in the air as they gazed at each other.
“You must find the elements, starting with this one. The only way we will be able to defeat the mask is by combining the powers of the Elements of Harmony. Only then will we be able to put an end to its threat.”
“What about you?” Twilight asked. “I can’t just leave you imprisoned.”
“We have no choice, Twilight. As it stands, the mask has continued to spread chaos and destruction, starting with Canterlot. It is only a matter of time before its reign of terror spreads throughout Equestria. Time is of the essence, and I fear that you will have to bear this journey without me.”
Twilight stared back at the princess at a loss for words. She knew that she was strong, her magic having grown at an alarming rate compared to the other students in Canterlot and cementing her place as Princess Celestia’s protégé, but all of that magical ability was nothing next to the magic of her teacher. Yet even as powerful as the regal sisters were, it had almost not been enough for them to successfully subdue the mask. Now Princess Celestia was placing the task of defeating the very same entity on Twilight and her friends.
What difference could they possibly do?
“You are doubtful,” she heard Princess Celestia say, once again giving her the impression that the princess could read her mind. “You believe you won’t be able to succeed.”
“How can I?” Twilight cried out, her body growing tense as the weight of the situation fell over her. She wanted to scream at the princess, the helplessness of it all beginning to seem too much for her, and she stomped the ground in an attempt to push back the overwhelming sense of dread building within her. “My magic is nothing next to yours. How can we make a difference without you?”
“By believing in yourself and in your friends,” Princess Celestia replied. Her voice had adopted a stronger tone, one that caught Twilight by surprise, and her eyes narrowed as she moved closer to her protégé, holding Twilight's gaze as she continued. “You might not have my magical ability, but you have something stronger on your side. The magic of friendship. With it, you were able to shatter the image of Night Mare Moon and help turn Luna away from a dark path, and it also allowed you to overcome Discord and seal him away once more. The Elements of Harmony chose all of you for a reason, but the ties you all share in friendship will only be strong as long as you believe in each other. I have faith that you will be able to succeed.”
Silence followed as Twilight took her words in. Princess Celestia was right, of course. She was not alone, and neither was she solely responsible for the fate of Equestria. She had friends who had stood with her in the face of danger many times before, and they had always succeeded when they worked together. She would have to believe that their friendship could overcome this new threat just as it had done in the past.
She was about to concede when another thought occurred to her.
“What about Applejack?”
For one terrible moment Twilight thought Princess Celestia would not answer. She seemed to take her time weighing over her thoughts, finding the best way to voice her opinion.
“She will have to put her faith on the rest of you, as well,” she said at last, offering Twilight a comforting smile. “It might seem unlikely, but I believe Applejack will play a part in all of this as well.”
Twilight had to agree with the princess there. It did seem hard to believe. Yet as she gazed at Princess Celestia she had the feeling that the princess was keeping something from her. It was a thought that was both comforting and frustrating at the same time. Now was not the time for secrets, but if the princess was this calm amidst their current situation, it had to mean that she was confident that everything would work out in the end.
We have to believe in one another, Twilight thought, and trusting your friends means keeping no secrets from them.
She felt her confidence return as her mind became set. She would not postpone telling her friends the truth any longer.
The world around Twilight seemed to become blurred and distorted as a voice echoed in the distance, and the once familiar image of the apple orchard melted away before reappearing around the purple unicorn and her mentor.
“It seems we must part for now,” Princess Celestia said. “The link won’t last much longer.”
Twilight did not need her teacher’s affirmation to know that their time together was over. She could feel a strong pull on her mind as her attention was being forced away from her current surrounding, and she fought to remain even as the voice rang around her once more, the farm melting away until she could only see the princess standing before her.
“I’ll do it, princess,” she said in a quick but determined voice. “I’ll tell the others. We’ll find the Elements of Harmony, and I’ll do all that I can to make you proud of me.”
The voice called her name once again and Twilight knew that her time was up. Already the pull was taking her, and she felt herself begin to rise as though waking from a dream.
She thought she heard Princess Celestia say, “I already am, my faithful student,” before she felt herself be taken away.
A light-colored hoof waved in front of Twilight's face as she came to. Shaking her head, Twilight turned to Rainbow Dash in confusion.
“Hello!” Rainbow Dash called out to her with a frown. “Anyone home? Geez, Twilight, how long have you been zoning out on us?”
“Huh?” Twilight shook her head once more. “What was that?”
“Rarity asked if you got a good look at the unicorn’s face last night, silly,” Pinkie Pie said, grabbing Twilight’s face and staring intently into her eyes. “Is everything okay in there?”
“Be nice, Pinkie Pie,” Twilight heard Applejack say. “I’m sure Twilight didn’t mean to ignore us. There must be something on her mind.”
Twilight escaped Pinkie Pie’s grip and stepped back. Once again she felt the spotlight rest over her, only this time her fears seemed better controlled. The anxiety she had felt before had diminished under her newfound determination, and the promise she had made to the princess far outweighed the negative thoughts that had plagued her mind moments ago. She turned to her friends, her eyes resting on each face as she silently gathered her thoughts and took a deep breath.
“We need to talk, girls. There’s something you should all know.”
The room swayed before her eyes and she felt her hooves collapse as she returned to the confines of the magic barrier. Shutting her eyes against the bright light that it gave off, she remained strewn over the floor, her body exhausted from the enormous amount of energy she had forced out of it to power her magic. Her breath came in short rasps and a dull throb pounded in her head, the backlash caused by the sudden severing of the telepathic link leaving her with barely enough energy to remain conscious.
In the end, however, it had been worth it. She had managed to reach her faithful student and guide her in the correct direction. She could rest easier now knowing that a plan was underway, and while it still irritated her that she would be unable to help, it was easier to bear her imprisonment knowing that Twilight was okay. The group of friends had suffered trials already, but she knew they would prevail. Like many times before, the fate of Equestria would once again depend on those six friends.
Catching her breath, she decided to get some rest. In her current condition it would be foolish to even think about shattering her magical prison. Nighttime was also quickly approaching, bringing an end to the day and, by extension, her dominion. She would be unable to contact Twilight again until the night was over. In the meantime, she would recuperate her energy and, once sun was visible over the horizon, she would attempt to reach out to her faithful student once more.
Silently wishing them all luck, Princess Celestia closed her eyes and felt blissful sleep overtake her.
The damp smell of earth was the first thing that came to Trixie as the royal chamber faded away and she found herself deep within the canopy of the Everfree Forest. The light from the sun that managed to reach the area did little to help her vision. Darkness spread out all around her, surrounding her in its presence and seeming to hide the many secrets of the forest from any unsuspecting visitors that happened to wander in.
Inspecting her surroundings, Trixie smiled. It was perfect for what she had in mind.
Removing the mask from her face, she held it between her hooves and stared into its bulbous yellow eyes.
“Can you sense where the element is?”
“I can,” the voice of the mask replied deep within her mind, letting out what seemed to be a chuckle. “It has landed in what once was the castle of the royal pony sisters. What delightful irony.”
Ignoring its humor, Trixie tried focusing her eyes against the spreading darkness of the forest. Her vision began to adjust to the lack of light, and she could see enough to know that she was all alone. Her solitude was further confirmed as she strained her ears for any sound nearby and heard nothing. With that concern momentarily quelled, she returned to examining the surrounding forest. Nothing but trees surrounding her, it seemed. Broken chunks of stone lay scattered on the ground nearby, seeming far too heavy for her to lift without magic.
The mask followed her gaze, turning to the crumbled stone that lay nearby. “These must have been a part of the castle long ago.”
Trixie regarded the pieces with a dull expression. “Which way am I supposed to go?”
“We must follow the path ahead. It will lead us directly to the castle. Finding the element will not take long.”
Trixie nodded. “Let us be off, then.”
“You seem rather distracted, if you do not mind my saying so.”
“I’m fine,” Trixie replied, her eyes darting to the narrow gaps between the trees. “I just don’t like the idea of being out here. They say that strange creatures live in the Everfree Forest, and a lot of weird things happen in here.”
“These truly are woods of mystery, but such concerns are better left to small foals, Trixie. There is nothing to fear. I am with you.”
Yes, and it’s because of you that I’m even in this mess, Trixie thought bitterly, but held her tongue. It was important that she keep her emotions controlled or the mask would begin to grow suspicious of her. There was also truth to its words. As long as she did not stray too far, she would not have to worry about the many dangers surrounding her.
Moving in the direction that the mask had told her, Trixie let the shadows of the forest cover her as her mind began to wander.
“That’s all I know.”
The tale now told, Twilight took a deep breath and took a look around. The other five friends had remained silent as she recounted the events that only she had witnessed from the night before, and they had yet to say anything. She could see the same look of surprise on each face as they processed the story of all that had happened. Even Big Machintosh’s calm features had changed, his eyes seeming rounder as he gaped at her.
A minute passed, and they all remained frozen in place. Twilight sighed inwardly, pushing her mounting frustration away. She knew that it was a lot for them all to take at once, but there was no time to stand around doing nothing. They had no way of knowing how far the Elements of Harmony had been scattered, and if Trixie’s words proved correct, they only had seven days to find them all.
“So that pony last night was Trixie,” Applejack began, staring down at the covers of her bed. Her eyes narrowed as her thoughts drifted to her first meeting with the blue unicorn. “I thought her voice sounded familiar. It looks like all your hoping was for nothing, Twilight. I don’t recon that one learned her lesson at all.”
“Who’s Trixie?” Fluttershy asked, turning from Applejack to Twilight. “I’ve never heard that name before.”
“You never did see her when she came to Ponyville, did you, Fluttershy?” Rarity asked. When Fluttershy shook her head she scoffed. “You are better off never meeting her, I say. That pony is nothing more than a shameless fraud with too high an opinion of herself.”
“That’s right,” Pinkie Pie agreed. “She’s just a big fake, a sham, a lying con!”
Rainbow Dash groaned, placing a hoof against her face and shaking her head. “You didn’t meet her, either, Pinkie.”
The pink pony laughed. “Oh, yeah, I guess I forgot.”
“Settle down, you two,” Applejack said. “Now ain’t the time for us to be arguing with one another. We need to find the elements before we worry about Trixie.” She turned to Twilight. “Where do you suppose they could be?”
“Princess Celestia seems to think that one of them is in the Everfree Forest,” Twilight said. “I think she’s right. We should start our search there.”
Applejack nodded, straightening herself and pulling the bed covers aside. “That sounds like a plan to me. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get going.”
She began to move out of the bed when a purple glow surrounded her, pushing her down and forcing her body against the bed. She struggled against its hold on her as Twilight slowly approached the bed.
“Hold on, Applejack,” she began. Here was another conversation that she had not been looking forward to, but she knew it was necessary that she get her point across to Applejack. “You need to stay here and rest. The rest of us will go search for the elements.”
“I ain’t stayin’ here when there’s work to be done,” Applejack said. She began to sit up again, momentarily wincing in pain, when the purple glow surrounded her once more and she was pushed back down. Turning to Twilight, she narrowed her eyes. “Let me go, Twilight.”
“Not until you promise to stay here and get some rest,” Twilight said in a much more forceful tone. She turned to the others girls, silently pleading for their help. “You can’t risk moving around in your condition. You need to lie down and rest.”
“Twilight’s right, Applejack,” Rarity said, cutting the orange pony off before she could protest. “The doctor said you needed to be careful not to strain yourself.”
“Ponyfeathers,” the bed-ridden pony said. She struggled against the purple glow surrounding her, and when she was unable to even budge she groaned in frustration. “Why can’t the two of you understand that I want to help?”
“We do understand,” Fluttershy said, using her wings and coming to rest next to Applejack. Reaching down, she grabbed the strewn bed covers with her mouth and pulled them over the orange pony. “But you have to understand that we don’t want you to get hurt. You need to take the time to heal, or else you’ll only end up feeling worse.”
Pinkie Pie moved to Applejack’s other side, grinning broadly at her friend. “Just lie down and let us take care of it. I’ll be super responsible for both of us, so don’t you worry.”
Applejack turned to the remaining friend who had yet to voice her opinion.
“Don’t tell me you agree with them, Dash?”
Rainbow Dash frowned. She had kept her distance as the others drew closer to Applejack. Now she lowered her gaze, her wings folding tighter against her sides as all within the room awaited her response. It occurred to Twilight how crucial the next words Rainbow Dash spoke would be on convincing Applejack. The two friends might not always get along, but there was a silent respect between them, and amidst the friendly rivalry they kept up they valued and cared deeply for each other. They also seemed to share the same rebellious attitude, both having a stubborn spirit that made them unable to back down from anything, especially when they considered it an insult to their pride.
For one moment Twilight was afraid that the blue pegasus would disagree with the group decision, but Rainbow Dash merely shook her head as she approached the bed.
“Leave finding the elements to us,” she said. “I promise we’ll get them back. You just worry about getting better. You won’t be eating much until you get out of here. Trust me, the food here is terrible.”
Applejack turned from one friend to another, taking in each of their smiling faces, and sighed in defeat. “Alright,” she groaned, “I promise I won’t get out of bed until I feel better.”
“And not a moment sooner,” Twilight added. “Remember to follow the doctor’s orders.”
“I’ll try,” Applejack said. She turned to Big Machintosh, who had remained silent and kept his distance as the group of friends spoke. He moved closer to the bed, Pinkie Pie moving aside so that he could stand next to Applejack.
“Make sure Granny Smith doesn’t tell Applebloom why I’m really here, Machintosh. I don’t want to scare her over this. And don’t you go overworking yourself in the farm again.”
Big Machintosh nodded, nudging his younger sister. “Get some rest, sis. I’ll be back in the morning to see how you’re doing.”
Moving towards the door, he motioned for the others to follow.
“Time to go, Spike,” Twilight said. Faint snoring reached her ears, and she turned to the empty bed, surprised to find Spike curled up over it, his body slowly rising in time with his breathing. Shaking her head, Twilight smiled against herself. It was actually surprising that he hadn’t fallen asleep sooner, considering the fact that he had stayed up through the night, and she realized that his concern for her and the others must have been fueling him throughout the ordeal.
Using her magic, Twilight lifted his sleeping form and placed him over her back.
“We’ll let you get some rest,” she said to Applejack. “We’ll come back as soon as we return from the Everfree Forest.”
Nudging Applejack, Twilight offered her friend a reassuring smile, then turned and followed Big Machintosh out of the room. She stood outside in the narrow hall, waiting for the others to say their own goodbyes. One by one the friends stepped out of the room, filling up the narrow space until at last Rainbow Dash closed the door behind her as she joined the others.
There was a moment of silence as they all stared at each other. Then Fluttershy asked, “What do we do now?”
Immediately all eyes fell over Twilight.
“I need to go home and do some quick research,” Twilight said. “Maybe one of my books will have some information on the elements that I might have overlooked.” She turned from one friend to the other, slightly surprised that each one of them were waiting for her instructions. “Gather anything that might help us in navigating the Everfree Forest. We’ll all meet in Fluttershy’s cottage an hour from now.”
No one argued her decision, her friends all nodding in agreement. A plan formed, the group moved out of the building, Twilight taking care to keep Spike safely balanced over her back as she walked. Once outside, she watched as Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy soared away while Rarity and Pinkie Pie began to move in the opposite direction. Not wanting to fall behind, she began to follow after them when a voice called out to her.
“Twilight, can we talk for a moment?”
Surprised, Twilight turned to Big Machintosh. The red-coated stallion had remained silent during their visit to Applejack, and Twilight had brushed it off as his way of coping with his sister’s condition. Now, she began to grow curious as to what had been on his mind the whole time.
Turning to Rarity and Pinkie Pie she said, “You girls go on ahead. We’ll all meet up at Fluttershy’s place.” Once the two ponies had moved further away she drew closer to him. “What did you want to talk about, Big Machintosh?”
The stallion remained silent at first, and Twilight could see that he was choosing his words carefully. He turned to Twilight, a determined look crossing his face.
“Let me come with you.”
“Come again?” Twilight asked, blinking in surprise. She didn’t know why, but she had been expecting him to say a lot more than just that.
“Let me come with you and the others in my sister’s place,” Big Machintosh said once more. “I know what y’all are planning to do, and I want to help. I promise I won’t hold you back or slow you down. I’ll do all that I can to be of help.”
The usual laid-back tone was gone, and though his words came out through the same soft-spoken voice, Twilight could hear a desperate hint within them. Having the eldest Apple sibling join them could prove to be a good addition to the group, but even so, Twilight found herself shaking her head. Already she was looking beyond the journey through the Everfree Forest, planning for anything that might need to be done. They could use all the help they could get in finding the Elements of Harmony, but this was one request she would not be able to comply.
“I appreciate the offer, Big Machintosh,” she said, “but I think it’s better if you remain here. Someone has to keep an eye on things in Ponyville and make sure that everything remains safe around here, just in case Trixie returns while we’re gone.”
Big Machintosh nodded at once. “You can count on me for that, then. Y’all just focus on findin’ them elements soon.”
“We’ll do all that we can,” Twilight said. “Can I ask you for a favor, too?”
Big Machintosh smiled. “Anythin’ you might need, Twilight.”
“Could you take Spike back with you to the farm? I’d rather he didn’t stay in the library by himself while we're gone. If you could keep an eye on him for me…”
Big Machintosh nodded, and Twilight used her magic to place the young dragon onto the stallion’s back. Making sure that Spike was secure, he began to make his way down the path leading to the farm, the sound of his hooves striking the ground rising above the silence engulfing Ponyville. A short distance away he stopped and turned back to Twilight.
“You girls take care if yourselves out there,” he said. “If things get too rough, you’re always welcome at the farm. Don’t go forgettin’ that.”
“We won’t,” Twilight replied. “We’ll stop by as soon as we can. Thank you, Big Machintosh.”
Big Machintosh gave her one last long, meaningful look, then turned around and continued down the path, Spike’s sleeping form wobbling over his back with every step. Twilight stared after them before following the path that would lead her to the library. As she moved, her eyes darted in different directions as she surveyed Ponyville. Nothing seemed out of place, nor did there seem to be any damage done to the many houses and stores that she passed. Why would Trixie threaten Ponyville and then leave without causing any destruction?
Seeing the library in the distance, Twilight shook her head and pushed her trail of though aside. Time was ticking. From this point on she would have to focus on finding the Elements of Harmony, freeing Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, and saving Ponyville, along with all of Equestria. She might not know the fate that would befall Ponyville should she and her friends fail, but learning that didn’t seem to matter anymore. The mask would eventually spread its destruction across the whole world, and stopping it before that happened would have to be her main concern.
Opening the front door of the library, she ignored the heavy silence that hung in the air as she moved past the many lining bookshelves that covered every corner. A single bookshelf stood at the back of the room, separated from the rest of her collection, containing every book with information regarding the Elements of Harmony that was at her disposal. As she stood before it, her features became set, and a new wave of determination began to stir within her.
You only have one hour, Twilight, she reminded herself. Better make this quick.
Taking a deep breath, her horn radiated with light as the books sprang to life and took to the air. They hovered before her, the sound of covers opening and pages turning filling the air as she went through them all one by one.
The ancient castle loomed before Trixie, towering over her as she crossed the narrow bridge that connected the Everfree Forest with the ruins of what once had been the home of the rulers of Equestria. The stone structure had certainly seen better days. The outer walls had collapsed over time and crumbled away, and the few parts that remained standing had become overgrown with vines and moss. Stepping through the main entrance, she noticed that the infestation was even worse on the inside. The main hall stretched before her eyes and she hurried along, finding the doorway to the next room overlooked by two oversized statues. One of them seemed to have been based on Princess Luna, and had fared well through the years; it stood whole and, aside from minor scratches, did not seem to have suffered any decay with the passing of time. The sculpture on the other side’s top had been completely destroyed, and nothing remained of its upper half but large chunks of stone. Embedded on one of the stones was the image of the sun, easily distinguishable even in the faint light entering the room, and Trixie did not need to guess on whose image the statue had been carved from.
Taking one last look at them, Trixie crossed the hall and continued to the next room. Here the ceiling was nonexistent, and she could make out the shape of the castle’s towers that protruded on either side of the structure. Ahead of her the path continued deeper into the castle.
“Which way?” she asked out loud. “Is the element in the throne room?”
“No,” the mask spoke into her mind, “it is up on the highest tower. The Elements of Harmony once called that tower their home, and the princesses kept them there, safely locked in place, ready to unleash their power should Equestria ever be in danger.”
“I didn’t come here for a history lesson,” Trixie snapped. She turned from one tower to another, noticing that one did in fact seem taller than the other, and moved towards the stairs that branched out of the castle’s main structure. She began to climb up the spiraling path, reaching the landing atop in moments and feeling the cool evening breeze blow by her. Here was another part of the castle that had seen better days. One side of the room had been completely destroyed, as though blasted away by magic. It probably had been destroyed through magical means, Trixie thought, and she realized that it had probably been done just before the beginning of Princess Luna’s banishment.
Across from her stood the broken remains of the threshold leading to the next room. Crossing through it, Trixie quickly spotted the element they had come to find. The magical object gave off a strange glow as she approached it, the radiance seeming to gently pulse into life before slowly fading away.
Reaching up for her face, Trixie gently lifted the mask and held it between her hooves. It immediately began to hover before her, and she moved beyond it and stood before the element.
“Do I pick it up?” she asked. “Or are we using magic to move it back to Canterlot?”
The mask moved next to her. “Who said anything about moving the element?”
Trixie gave a start, surprised at the words, but she caught herself just in time. The mask had not seemed to notice, and she asked, “Aren’t we going to keep Twilight and the others from finding the Elements of Harmony? Taking this one back with us seems like the best way to do that.”
“I have a better idea,” the voice in her mind rang once more, sounding delighted. “Let us have some fun.”
The mask hovered closer to the element, and Trixie remained silent as she watched it circle the magical object.
“This one seems to be the Element of Honesty.”
Suppressing a scoff, Trixie rolled her eyes. “Does it really mater which element it is? What exactly are you planning to do with it?”
“Just a simple game,” the mask’s voice replied. She watched as the mask began to circle the element, a dark aura forming around its edges as it continued to spin faster. The emanation was so strong that Trixie was forced to raise a hoof and shield her eyes. Finally the mask broke away, coming to hover next to her as the intangible material continued to circle around the element, moving closer to it until both converged. The element gave off a dark glow before the strange aura receded and the bright pulse it gave off returned once more.
“It is done,” the voice of the mask spoke in Trixie's mind, and it surprised her to hear that it sounded slightly fatigued. “Once the new wielders of the Elements of Harmony arrive they will be in for a surprise. Let us move on to the next one.”
“Not yet,” Trixie said. “I don’t want to leave until Twilight and the others arrive. I want to see my revenge become a reality firsthand.”
“We must not waste time, Trixie. Their attention will be distracted as they search for this element. It will give us time to find the others and do the same. Twilight Sparkle will suffer in due time. Do not let her fate distract you from our plans.”
Biting back the angry retort that threatened to come out of her mouth, Trixie took a deep breath, pushing her anger back and maintaining her features composed. “You still haven’t told me what will happen once the seven days are over. What did you make me do back in Ponyville? I know it was magic, but I can’t remember what it was supposed to do.”
The mask hovered silently in place, and Trixie knew enough by now to tell that it was wording the answer it would give her. She knew at once that it would not provide her with the information that she had asked, opting instead to give her an empty answer glossed with intricate words meant to assuage her and satisfy her curiosity.
“Once seven days have come and gone,” the mask said, “the game will come to an end. Nothing beyond that need concern you. Rest assured, Ponyville will never doubt your power, and Twilight Sparkle will outshine you no more.”
Trixie nodded, keeping her composure even as she felt her heart sink. Again the same empty words promising only what she wanted to hear. She had grown used to it, and yet every time she would kick herself for not seeing the truth that had been in front of her this whole time. The mask’s words served to confirm what she had known all along: she would not be the one making the decisions, not even to attain her revenge. Something else was happening here, another plan that she could only begin to imagine, and it was clear that she would not be the one in control during the forthcoming events.
Whatever the mask was preparing for, she would be nothing more than its puppet through it all.
“Come, Trixie, let us be on our way.”
Closing her eyes for a moment, Trixie sighed and turned to the mask, moving next to it and keeping her gaze locked ahead. When she spoke again her voice was even and controlled.
“Let us be off, then.”
Moving as one, they descended the spiraling path, leaving the castle behind them as they crossed the narrow bridge and returned to the forest.
The sun was slowly setting as Twilight approached the small cottage on the outskirts of Ponyville. Ahead she could see Fluttershy talking with Rarity as Rainbow Dash soared overhead, seeming eager to begin the journey. Seeing Twilight, the blue pegasus looped in the air and raced towards the ground, lading next to Fluttershy and shaking her body as her wings folded to her side.
“Did you find anything, Twilight?”
Twilight shook her head. “No. My books don’t go into much detail about the Elements of Harmony. I already knew all the bits of information in them.”
“Which means we will have to search through the entire forest before we call it a day,” Rarity said. She rested a hoof against her head and sighed. “I can only imagine what all this travelling is going to do to my mane.”
Fluttershy turned to the path leading into the forest. Her hooves began to shake as she turned back to Twilight.
“We won’t really have to go through the whole forest, will we?”
“I don’t know,” Twilight said. “We might have to, but I’d like to check one place before resorting to a full search. The Elements of Harmony were once kept in the castle within the Everfree Forest, right?”
“Why are you asking us?” Rainbow Dash said. “You’re the one who reads all the boring books around here.”
Shooting a look at the blue pegasus, Twilight continued. “I think we should go there first. I have a feeling that we’ll find the element there, just like we found all of them there last time.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Rainbow Dash said. “Now we just need to wait for Pinkie to show up.”
Turning around to the path she had travelled and not seeing the pink pony caused Twilight to frown. “Where is she, anyways?” she asked Rarity. “I thought the two of you took off together?”
“We did,” Rarity admitted, “but she told me that she had to stop by Sugarcube Corner first to get some things that we might need.” Her expression turned doubtful as she continued. “It would be nice to have some supplies, but knowing Pinkie, well…”
“Wait for me!”
Pinkie Pie came bouncing up to the others, humming one of her songs as she approached the group. To Twilight, she seemed as content as if they were merely going on a picnic. There was a sack strapped to the pink pony’s side, and Twilight stared at it with a hint of apprehension. Knowing Pinkie Pie, there could be anything within the bag and it wouldn’t surprise her.
“Took you long enough to get here, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash said. “What’s in the bag?”
“Oh, just a few things we might need,” Pinkie Pie said, patting the bag and smiling at her friends.
Trusting her instincts, Twilight focused on the bag. It began to glow as it slowly lifted away from Pinkie Pie, who gave a sharp intake of breath and desperately reached for it with a flailing hoof.
Ignoring her, Twilight used her magic to tilt the bag upside down. Its contents spilled out instantly, the flow of materials kept inside beginning to pile up as the others stared in surprise. From where she stood, Twilight could see cupcakes, party hats, invitations, and streamers, amongst other party goods and prank materials, as the pile continued to grow higher.
Eventually, the constant stream spilling out of the bag stopped, and Twilight turned to Pinkie Pie, who offered a guilty smile.
“Only a few things?” Twilight asked in disbelief. She pointed towards the pile. “This is all the stuff you brought?”
“Don’t be silly, Twilight,” Pinkie Pie said. “That’s not all. There’s still more stuff in there.”
Taken aback, Twilight turned back to the bag still floating in the air and used her magic to give it a big shake. Immediately another wave of goods continued to pour out of the bag. Rarity took a step back, her mouth agape as the pile continued to grow larger before her eyes, and Twilight shook her head. Coming from Pinkie Pie, this really shouldn’t have surprised her.
Finally, a rubber chicken fell out of the bag atop the pile, and the constant stream of supplies came to an end.
All eyes were on Pinkie Pie, who merely smiled.
“Now it’s empty!”
Twilight stared at the large pile and groaned. Indeed, there were some things regarding Pinkie Pie that were better left unexplained.
“You can’t take this stuff with you, Pinkie,” Rainbow Dash said, motioning towards the pile. “We won’t need half of this junk.”
“Junk?” the pink pony cried. She reached for the chicken sitting atop the pile. “This isn’t junk. This is comedy gold!”
“What Rainbow Dash is trying to say,” Rarity quickly added, “is that we won’t have time to use any of these things.”
“She’s right, Pinkie,” Twilight said. “We’re on a mission from Princess Celestia to save Equestria. We won’t have time for games and parties.”
“I know that,” Pinkie Pie said, reaching for the bag floating overhead and stepping next to the pile. “I just thought we might need some of these things for later. You know, just in case we forget to laugh.”
Twilight opened her mouth to protest and stopped. Her thoughts had returned to her first journey through the Everfree Forest. She had been accompanied by the others that time, undertaking a perilous journey with what she considered to be complete strangers as she sought to obtain the Elements of Harmony. She had been unsure of some of her other companions, concerned over how helpful they would be during the journey, but her doubts had been focused on Pinkie Pie the most. The pink pony had seemed oblivious at best and foolish at worst, and Twilight had found it difficult to take the “resident party expert” seriously. It was not until the group’s fear had begun to overtake them that Twilight began to understand why Pinkie Pie acted in her own peculiar way. To “giggle at the ghosties”, to be able to laugh at one’s greatest fears and prevent them from overpowering one's own self, was a lesson they had all needed to learn, and it was something they would need to remember in the days to come.
Moving next to the pink pony, Twilight smiled. “You’re right, Pinkie. We’ll all need a good laugh here and then.”
“Exactly,” Pinkie Pie said, strapping the bag around her back and hopping ahead, the pile of materials having vanished once more. “Now let’s get this party started!”
As she went on, Rainbow Dash shook her head and chuckled. “Pinkie Pie, you are so random.”
“She is rather odd at times,” Rarity agreed, “but our dear little Pinkie Pie will always be Pinkie Pie.”
“Yes she will,” Twilight said, watching as Pinkie Pie moved further down the path. She turned to the others, feeling ready for the first time that day to start another adventure.
“Let’s go find the Elements of Harmony, for Applejack and the princesses.”
The others nodded, and together they took off after Pinkie Pie. Twilight paused and turned around, gazing at Ponyville one last time. Would everything be fine while they were gone? She thought it best not to dwell on the matter. All she could do was focus on finding the element in the forest before anything happened to it. Planning their next move would have to come after that.
She was about to turn and follow after the others when she noticed a small figure far down the path moving in her direction. Curious, she squinted and focused on it, but the sun was against her, and all she could make out was the silhouette of a pony as it travelled the dirt path and moved in her direction.
“Hold on, girls,” Twilight called after the group. “I think someone’s coming to see Fluttershy.”
“A guest,” Pinkie Pie cheered, placing the bag on the ground and plunging her hooves deep within it. “I’ll get some tea and cupcakes. They should be in here somewhere.”
Meanwhile, Fluttershy moved next to Twilight and stared down the path, spotting the figure approaching them. “I wasn’t expecting anyone this afternoon,” she said. “I wonder who it could be.”
The words came as a surprise to Twilight, and she turned back to the trail. Is that Big Machintosh, she wondered. A part of her hoped not. She had asked him to remain in Ponyville for a reason, counting on him to keep things calm and take care of any problems that might arise while they were gone, and he had seemed to accept that decision without complaints. And yet here he seemed to be, galloping at a quick pace, no doubt eager to reach the group before they ventured into the forest.
Yet the figure didn’t seem as tall as Big Machintosh, and its mane was far longer than his, flowing behind the pony in a way that seemed very familiar to Twilight.
Shaking her head, Twilight frowned. You’re being paranoid, Twilight, she thought. It’s probably someone from town just passing by. It might even be Zecora returning from visiting her village.
But as the figure approached and Twilight was able to discern the light-colored body, she knew that was not the case. Her eyes widened as she stared at the figure in shock.
No, she thought. It can’t be her. She wouldn’t dare.
All she could do was wait and hope that she was wrong.
The journey back to the Everfree Forest had been a quick one. Trixie had remained silent throughout the return, walking ahead of the mask and letting her mind wander as she moved. The only times she addressed the mask were when it would stop and hover in the air, seeming to focus its power on the forest around it. Why it did this, Trixie could not tell, and the answer she had received upon asking was as cryptic as any other.
“All part of our game,” the mask had said, repeating the words whenever Trixie turned to it with an annoyed expression. “I am sure that Twilight Sparkle and the others will appreciate our effort.”
In no time they had returned to where they had first arrived within the Everfree Forest. Turning back to the mask, Trixie said, “What now?”
“We take our leave. Preparing the forest for our friends has taken its toll on me. I must return to Canterlot and rest. Then, we will search for the other Elements of Harmony.
The mask hovered near Trixie, and she knew it was waiting for her to don it. Even so, she did not reach for it.
“What about Twilight Sparkle?”
“I already told you not to concern yourself with her.”
“I want to be there when they find the element. I want to make sure that Twilight suffers the same way I did.”
”They will find their path to the element hindered soon enough. We must make haste. Already I can sense them gathering ahead and preparing to make their way into the forest. It is time for us to leave, Trixie.”
The urgency in the mask’s tone surprised Trixie, but still she did not move from where she stood. Her eyes moved towards the scattered stone that lay over the ground. Some pieces were almost the same size as her, and she guessed that they must weight just as much, if not more. If so, she would only be able to lift one of them.
It would have to be enough.
“No more stalling, Trixie. I cannot remain suspended much longer. It is time we take our leave.”
Nodding in response, Trixie made as if to place the mask over her face when it slipped between her hooves. The magical object fell over the ground, lying as motionless as if it were devoid of life. In an instant, Trixie had hopped back, her horn beginning to glow with a faint aura as the largest of the stones began to move. It rushed towards the mask, causing the ground to shake as it fell, a storm of leaves showering down around her as a cloud of dust rose to the air.
Her work finished, Trixie slumped over, taking a few moments to catch her breath. The whole act had taken less than five seconds, but the enormous strain had taken its toll on her. The stone had weight more than she thought, and in an attempt to overcompensate she ended up using more energy than she had originally intended. Once her breathing had evened she moved closer to the large object. She could only make out parts of the mask’s outline as it gave off feeble jerks under the crushing stone, but no matter how much it struggled it was unable to overcome the weight that Trixie had placed over it.
“What is the meaning of this, Trixie?” its voice rang in her mind, and whether it was surprise or panic that she heard, she could not tell the difference. She starred down at the crude but effective trap, easily imagining the mask’s yellow eyes in her mind.
“I’m done,” she said. The anger she had fought back so many times before was now rising within her, yet her voice remained controlled. “I won’t follow you anymore. I don’t need you. I can get back at Twilight Sparkle on my own.”
“What are you saying? Do not do this, Trixie.” The mask gave another feeble jerk, but the stone atop did not even budge. “Release me. I will assist you on fulfilling your plans.”
“No you won’t.”
It was a short reply, and yet it seemed to fill the air around her with its undoubtful truth. The voice of the mask in her mind fell silent at once, possibly surprised at how easily the words had been said. They served to solidify Trixie’s resolve, who, having finally spoken what had been on her mind for so long, realized how obvious that truth had been all along.
“This was never about my revenge. You were the one who was always in control, right from the very start. I was just too careless and eager to get what I wanted to notice.”
Tears began to form in the corner of her eyes, and she turned away from the mask. Her breathing was becoming uneven, and her body began to shake as she hung her head.
“I believed in you. I trusted you. All these months I’ve honed my magic, learning control and becoming stronger, counting down the days until I could put my plans in motion, just so you could use me. Was I nothing more than your puppet from the very start?”
The mask did not reply. Its silence told her all that she needed to know, and it hurt. The truth brought betrayal, and she wiped at her eyes as she continued, a small smile forming on her face as soft sobs escaped her.
“A part of me knew it was all a lie, you know? Finding an answer to all your problems, all of your dreams laying before you…it all sounded too good to be true. And it was. I thought you were my friend.”
“I was, Trixie,” the mask said at last, its voice sounding pained. Was it feeling regret? She would have liked to believe so, but she knew all too well how deceptive the right words could be. “I still am. Release me. I want to help you.”
For a moment Trixie was tempted to do so, and she found herself wishing that everything could go back to the way it had been in the beginning. With the mask’s guidance her magic had steadily grown more powerful with each passing day. It had taken care of her, extending its influence to those around her so that she always had a warm meal and a place to rest as they traveled together. Through it all she had grown used to its presence, believing that, just maybe, she had found someone who cared for her.
What she would give to believe that she could release the mask and all would work out, but she knew it was no use. The seed of doubt already lay within her, and her talk with Princess Celestia had only served to further fuel her uncertainty. She knew this would be the end of their journey together.
She could no longer trust the mask. The damage had been done, and now things could never be the same again.
“Believe in me, Trixie. It is not too late.”
“No,” she said, hearing the words come out almost on their own. “It was always too late.”
She could almost feel slap the words caused to the mask, but she did not care. She was seeing clearly for the first time in many months. The separation would bring pain, yes, but she would overcome it. Nothing of her agenda had changed. She would create her own fate, and one day, she would find a way to fulfill her dream.
Trixie turned back to the mask, a pained expression on her face as she tried to smile once more.
“I owe a lot to you,” she said. “You helped me through some difficult times, and you never gave up on me. I could hate you for what you've done to me, for using me and trying to control me, but I won’t. You meant too much to me. I thought you were my friend, and I want to leave now still believing so.”
The mask’s movement became more erratic at her last words, and it began to flail wildly underneath the crushing stone.
“Don’t go, Trixie. Don’t leave me alone.”
Ignoring its cries, Trixie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She began to move, taking slow steps in the direction that the mask had mentioned. Behind her she could hear the mask continue its struggle to break free, its voice echoing in her mind as it screamed after her. It was not long before it fell silent, a much quieter sound replacing its screams, and Trixie felt her heart go cold listening to it. She knew then that the mask had felt true fear before, pleading with her and convincing her to believe in it. Tears streamed down her face as the faint sound of sobbing continued to fill her mind, but on she went. The mask would remain imprisoned, and she knew that it would stay like that for a very long time.
Pushing its fate out of her mind, Trixie let the lingering shadows cover her as she moved deeper into the forest, her showdown with Twilight Sparkle all but ready to begin.