The path is dark, and the night carries an unnatural chill, but these are hardly concerns at the moment. First and foremost is the primal need to get away. I wince as the underbrush tears at my coat, low hanging branches clawing at my cape and flanks, eager to capture me and deliver me to my pursuers. Still, the pain does nothing but spur me on, help me fight the fatigue I feel, remind me of just what lay in store for me if I don’t keep running. As I flee, I cannot help but go over just what went wrong, what led to this terrible chase...
Unsurprisingly, my plight begins with the Ursa. My downfall at the hands of those two foals, eager to see The Great and Powerful Trixie’s most famed feat. Exaggeration for the benefit of the show, but these two, these unicorn colts, were stupid enough to not only buy it, but to wish for me to duplicate it. They led the star bear to the town I had stopped in after my most recent show, roused me from my much needed rest... and expected a miracle.
How completely foalish. No one can defeat an Ursa Major. Or so I thought. A lavender unicorn proceeded to deal with the beast, and then saw fit to inform those gathered that massive star bear was not an Ursa Major at all: It was but a baby, a Minor. My wagon was a casualty of the bear’s attack, the massive creature irritable from being pulled out of its slumber. I was forced to flee for my life, my livelihood lost there in that accursed town, as well as a good chunk of my pride. I fled after doing what I could to save face, but in hindsight, my exit was... less than graceful.
I ran for a good hour after losing my home, heading deeper into the woods, rather uneager to meet the same fate. After I was convinced of my (relative) safety, I took stock of the situation. Alone and tired in the woods. Nothing to my name. A quick cantrip would summon my hat and cape from the wreckage of my cart, but everything else would have to be written off, a major loss. The wagon itself would be incredibly difficult to replace; not only was it my home, but it was entirely custom built, to form a prepared stage with but the touch of a button. The books and fireworks, the tools of my trade, all lost. I would have to start from scratch, work my way up once again. It would be a hungry few years. No matter. I am Trixie, and I have come from nothing before. I will once again be Great and Powerful, in time.
I trotted on through the woods after acquiring my signature attire, grateful for the little warmth they provided. I had oft considered enchanting them, at the very least, with a basic spell to endure the elements, to keep myself warm or cool depending on the environment. An easy feat, but the cost was always an issue in my mind. I wished I had spent the bits, now. Winter was soon to come, and I was bereft of home or shelter. Shivering, I continued to trot through the forest. Soon enough, I was forced to use my horn for light, the moon no longer piercing the thick canopy as I made my way deeper into the Everfree.
Ah, yes. The Everfree Forest. Known far and wide for being untamed, for its bizarre flora and fauna, for the unnatural, uncontrolled growth and weather patterns. I had been in the Everfree once or twice, dealing with a Manticore in one instance, and nearly running afoul of a Creeper Vine patch another. My magic and quick wits saw me through both times, saving life and limb from these deadly predators. Tales told of far worse inhabitants of the woods, but I have always been confident in my abilities. Foalish, now that I think about it. My magic certainly did not protect me in this instance. But I am dwelling. Wallowing, even. A weakness of mine; defeat is a bitter pill, one I've never swallowed well. Here and now, Trixie. Focus on the here and now.
Most ponies don’t know that there are safe parts of the Forest. Relatively safe parts, I mean. It helps that I have always been a light sleeper. If one knows what to look for, and knows the habits of the predator species, a pony can easily avoid them, find areas they refuse to go. So it was that I spent that first night, finding a sturdy tree and making my way carefully into the foliage, taking advantage of the wide branches as I found fitful sleep.
I woke several times, though less due to any outside disturbances (barring a brief scare from an owlbear), and more from the nightmares these accursed woods brought. I once again was in Ponyville, paralyzed as the massive Ursa advanced, snarling and roaring, its deafening voice blocking out any and all sound. I would always wake before the final step crushed me, before the swipe connected with my fragile body, before the wagon it batted in my direction hit, but the damage was cumulative. When morning finally came (or rather, when I estimated it came. I had no way of telling, beyond my internal clock), I felt as fatigued as I had when I ascended the tree. I considered another attempt at sleep, but realized I would be wasting time; my dreams would continue to plague me, and hunger was beginning to set in.
Hunger. That would be an issue. It dawned on me that I had not eaten since the evening in Ponyville. Unfortunately, my knowledge of this forest has never extended to edible flora, and I was not so foalish as to trust in my luck to find something palatable. Or at the very least, safe for equine consumption. Nor was I desperate enough to seek nourishment in pinecones, not just yet. I would need to find real food, a pony, a town, something, to stave off the very real possibility of starvation. Water would be even more important. I knew there was a river somewhere in this beastly forest; it was simply a matter of tracking it down.
Or so I thought at the time. Imagine my surprise when, after descending and trotting for a ways, I found an opening between the trees. Curious, I made my way through this all too convenient passage. Something I regret now, but the opening was clearly pony-made, and hunger and fatigue had me thinking less than clearly. The opening led into a winding path, even darker than the area I had just left behind, the trees forming ominous shapes in the gloom. However, I was not to be deterred by scary trees. What sort of immature foals would balk at such a minor hindrance? Certainly not Trixie.
The labyrinthine stretch of dusky forest soon came to an end, a clearing in the forest bearing a small village. The light of Celestia’s sun was rejuvenating, and I had to stop myself from galloping into this sleepy little burg, wanting to make the best entrance I could, in my current state. As I entered the village, I became painfully aware of the state of my coat and mane, of the bags under my eyes from my restless night. This would not be the best first impression I'd made.
It did not take long for my entry to the village to draw attention, and I was soon greeted by a grey stallion, dark of mane and wide of smile. He introduced himself as Grey Hoof, and welcomed me to Sunny Town. A seemingly apropos moniker at the time. How woefully misleading it turned out to be.
He saw fit to inform me that it had been a while since they’d had any visitors, much less unicorn visitors. Nevertheless, I was welcome to join in on the party. A table was set up with an assortment of positively mouth-watering treats, and several bowls worth of punch. Jackpot.
Let it never be said that I am an ingrate. I thanked him for his hospitality, slipping the mask on as per usual. A show mare’s first weapon is her persona, after all, and my role as The Great and Powerful Trixie added pomp and allure to my shows. The affectation of speaking in the third pony put some off, but it generally garnered positive results, and made people aware of my trade and my skill. The Great and Powerful Trixie was a force to be reckoned with; Trixie was just another unicorn, albeit an attractive and skillful one. I asked, in my own way, if it would be appropriate to put on a show, both to thank him for the life saving nutrition, and as a way to start over after my disastrous time in Ponyville. He sympathized with my plight, and mentioned that while the town was too small to have a stage, the town square would be available for my use.
Here was opportunity. Thanking him (again, in the manner the persona called for), I headed over to the table, positively overjoyed. I would not die in this desolate place. The punch was oddly flavored, but at that moment, it was the nectar of the goddesses. The food, likewise, had a peculiar quality to it that I promptly ignored, grateful for the simple act of chewing. If I did take note of the taste, I hoof-waved it as a possible distinction due to the ingredients used. Here in the Everfree, Celestia only knew what grew.
After getting my fill, and meeting several of the inhabitants of this tiny little town, I thanked Grey Hoof once again, and asked where the town square was. He offered to lead me over, and I took him up on his generous offer, passing by several small houses, a few younger ponies, and another stallion who introduced himself as Gladstone. It occurred to me at this time that of the few ponies I had encountered in this village, not a one possessed a cutie mark. My own mark, the sign of my incredible talent for magic, lay hidden under my cape, but these two stallions lacked any such covering. An oddity, for certain, but one whose ramifications I did not understand until later. The two spoke at length about my offer to put on a show, and Gladstone offered to put up a stage, to make sure that everyone could see it. Sound thinking on his part. I nodded and thanked him, and he moved off, gathering a few other ponies, similarly lacking in marks, to begin putting together a stage. I knew it would take some time to build, so I inquired as to what I might do in the meantime. It was suggested to me that I ‘enjoy myself’, which I took as a sign that this little town had nothing in it.
How right I was.
After a comment from Grey Hoof about a nearby home I could stay at, I soon found myself wandering the town, taking note of the surprising lack of ponies out and about. They likely were just at work in the many buildings, or quietly observing the newcomer. Understandable, in a secluded little hamlet such as this. I met a few more ponies during this time, including an energetic mare named Three Leaf. Had she had a mark, it would not have taken a genius to figure out what it would be, but her flank was as bare as the other’s I had seen in Sunny Town. Unfortunately, I could not bear to break character, to ask what was going on. This many ponies, with no special talents? An unlikelihood quickly stretching into impossibility.
Hours passed, and boredom set in after the fiftieth time mentally running through the list of tricks I could perform. I lacked access to my real show-stoppers, and would not be retelling the Ursa story again; I had learned my lesson in Ponyville. So the show would be severely limited, hardly worthy of the name Trixie. Still, it would likely earn me a few bits, and had already earned a place to sleep for the night. And at this low point in my life, that would have to do. Save wowing them for once I am once again on my hooves.
Finally, it came time to perform. I made sure the facade was in full effect as I examined the stage they had erected; a modest affair, a raised platform with a curtain dividing it in half. Suitable, if plain. I extended my thanks (in character, of course), and ascended the stage, staying behind the curtain as I went over the routine I had decided on one last time. Lighting up my horn, I set off a few bursts in the air with my magic, simple cantrips at best, but they drew a few oohs and aahs as I stepped out into view, accompanied by the bursts of light.
It was disconcerting just how few ponies had shown up to watch: Exactly one more than I had already seen, and the newcomer, a grey mare with a deep red mane, watched with an emotion I had trouble placing. Sadness? Apprehension? These made no sense, so I quickly discarded them, keeping a confident smile on my face as I delivered my typical spiel. I could likely say the entire thing in my sleep, by now; repetition made it easy, and by slipping into that familiar pattern, it made it easy to forget my troubles, forget the oddity of this town, forget the last few nights. I was once again The Great and Powerful Trixie, standing astride the world and basking in their awe. This was home.
Despite my lack of props or pyrotechnics to enhance the show, the crowd, save red-maned mare, was enthralled, clearly hanging on every word, every spell, every basic sleight of hoof. Cantrips and simple spells, so as not to tax my still recharging pool of magic too terribly, and they were dumbfounded. Surprising, even in a town that seemed to contain only Earth Ponies: had they never encountered a unicorn before?
It was then, I know now, that I made my fatal error. Rising to my back hooves to begin the finale, I launched several bursts into the air, destroying the illusory manticore menace I had constructed in the air, and posing for dramatic effect. I expected thunderous applause, gasps, and possibly cheers. What I did not expect was silence. Absolute, chilling silence. Looking over the crowd, I saw several stern faces. Had I done something wrong?
In hindsight, it is obvious just what I did. As I stood, my cape came away from my flank, displaying my pride and joy, the wand and nebula that show the world just who I am. My eyes slid over to the mare from before, whose expression of sadness was obvious now. What did she have to be sad about? Slowly, the crowd dispersed, odd glances being tossed my way as they made their way to their homes. Soon, even the newcomer fled the scene, and I was left alone.
Confused, I made my way to the home I had been directed to earlier, bedding down for the night and going over my performance. There was nothing I could come up with that explained such an odd reaction, and, as I mulled over the events leading up to that sudden change in behavior, fatigue made itself known, and I slipped off into unconsciousness.
I awoke shivering, a cold breeze striking my body. Odd, as the window was closed when I laid down. My eyes slowly opened, and I was shocked at what I saw. The home I was in was in ruins: gaping holes in the wall allowed in chill night air, a beam had collapsed in the middle of the house, and curtains hung in tatters by the shattered window. The damage seemed old, ancient even; certainly not in keeping with the warm, cozy, decidedly intact home I had been in when I drifted into slumber a few hours prior Anxiety began to rise in me, when I heard it.
What had been an indistinct murmur in the corner of my ear clarified into hushed voices. One sounded like Grey Hoof, in a heated discussion with Three Leaf. “She has the mark! She will ruin us all!”
The mare’s voice chimed in next, an odd quaver to it, as if she was speaking through a tunnel. “Then let us deal with her, before the curse mark spreads!”
Curse mark? The mark on my flank? My cutie mark? They could not be serious. Disbelief kept me there, as two creatures slipped into the room with me. As they entered, the chill in the air took an unnatural turn, growing cold and clammy. It took some effort, but I was able to recognize the pair as having once been Grey Hoof and Three Leaf, but whatever they were now, they most certainly were not ponies.
Bones were exposed in their legs, decaying flesh hanging from forelimbs and neck, as glowing red pinpricks of light sparked from ruined eye sockets. Tattered remains of their manes were all that served to identify them before they spoke as one, and I saw the reason for the curious timbre of their voices: these ponies were long dead, lungs visible in Three Leaf’s chest through a hole of rot and disrepair. “For the good of the village, your infection must be destroyed.” Then, with surprising quickness, they struck.
The pain upon their touch was agonizing, and I pulled away, rushing out the nearest hole big enough to allow passage, my flesh aching where it was hit. That same chill that hung about their bodies lingered in the injured area, and panic set in. I dashed out, and saw the city for what it was: A dilapidated ruin, ravaged by time and the elements. Crumbled houses, destroyed street lights... and more shambling ponies. I looked to get my bearings, and charged in the direction of the entrance to the town, putting magic into my hooves to allow me to spring past the blockade of rocks and undead. Gladstone took a swipe at me as I passed, but I quickly dodged, and he fell over in a pile of decay and death.
There was the exit, flanked by the ruined forms of the younger ponies from before. I never got their names, but the mare attacked with startling speed, and I earned myself another bruise for my troubles. Each bit of contact made me feel like my very life was being drained, and I poured more speed into my body, expending even more magic to put distance between myself and the town.
The labyrinth was even more ominous than the last time I passed through, filled with staggering creatures, ponies of bone and dust reaching for me, coming close on occasion, their foul cold adding to the preternatural chill of this accursed night, my body growing numb from whatever lay in that necromantic touch, making it harder to run, harder to flee... harder to save myself from whatever fate the undead had in store for me.
The path is dark, and the night carries an unnatural chill, but these are hardly concerns at the moment. First and foremost is the primal need to get away. I wince as the underbrush tears at my coat, low hanging branches clawing at my cape and flanks, eager to capture me and deliver me to my pursuers. Still, the pain does nothing but spur me on, help me fight the fatigue I feel, remind me of just what lay in store for me if I don’t keep running. My legs and flanks are burning now, chest heaving at the extended exertion of the run, but I cannot stop yet. The undead creatures pop up and take a swipe at me every few seconds; I clearly have not put enough distance between myself and Sunny Town.
Some small part of my mind finds it amusing that the night before, I was plagued by nightmares, trivial things involving a star bear, a unicorn with stupid bangs, and the loss of my livelihood.
A night ago I had no idea just what a nightmare was. A night ago, I had not been on the run from a living nightmare, one that wanted to see me destroyed utterly.
How I wish now for something so simple as being upstaged, of losing my livelihood. Perhaps a new career path might be enjoyable, at least until such time as I can get another wagon. Perhaps one of the local rock farms is looking for an extra hoo-
Up ahead, is that a building? Have I run the wrong way? Trixie, you fool, you've killed yourself with your lack of direc-
No, I couldn’t have. This one is in good condition, cut into a large tree. Safety! Another living soul, a place to hide from the onslaught of blank flanked zombies. I dig deep, giving one more burst of magic to my numbing hooves, one last burst of speed. The tangled undergrowth continues to strike at my wounded body, digging new furrows into my abused coat, but I do not care, I am safe, I am free, I will survive this horror, for I am Trix-
Oh dear Celestia, how did she get in front of me?