Scootaloo watched from the outskirts of Ponyville forlornly, her forehooves resting on the handles of her scooter. How could she have been so stupid to sleep in? Well, it’s not like she could help it; the New Sun wasn’t exactly that bright at sunup, but still! She showed up to the seeing-off herd late, probably hours after Rainbow Dash had already left with those other ponies.
The Pegasus filly turned to face a yellow Earth Pony filly, and a white Unicorn filly. She couldn’t help but smile.
“Hey, girls,” she said sadly. “How’ve things been?”
Apple Bloom gave her new friend a quizzical look.
“Pretty fine, considerin’ it’s only bin ‘bout two hours since we were last here.”
“Really?” Scootaloo asked nervously, her eyes darting around. “No kidding. Has it really only been two hours? It seems like it’s been ages since I’ve seen you two…”
“Scootaloo…” Sweetie Belle stepped forward. “Have you slept at all since Rainbow Dash left?”
“Sleep? Who needs sleep? It’s everlasting night; I can sleep when I want! But I gotta see Rainbow Dash when she gets back, and you never know when she might drop in!”
“C’mon, Scoots,” beckoned Apple Bloom with a dull-yellow hoof. “Ya needjer rest. Do ya really want Rainbow Dash t’see ya lookin’ lahk this?”
Scootaloo’s raggedy cerise mane was even more wild than it usually was, sticking out in more directions than up and back. Her eyes were baggy, and her feathers were badly ruffled; she had not been preening.
Scootaloo sighed. “Fine. Only because it’s you guys.” She smiled at her two fellow crusaders for cutie marks. Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle respectively did a little victory leap and a victory rear-up.
“Should Ah carry yer scooter for ya?” asked Apple Bloom.
“Nah, I’ll use it for support,” replied Scootaloo, slouching over the scooter’s handles and pushing herself along on her hind legs.
Sweetie Belle arched a pink eyebrow. “Are you sure that’s safe?”
“Safer than a buncha creepers, Ah bet,” Apple Bloom commented.
“Actually, I think a group of creepers is called a ‘cataclysm’.”
Scootaloo scoffed. “What are you, a dictionary?” She finished this statement with a yawn.
Apple Bloom gave her friend a sad smile. “Yer dead on yer hooves there, Scoots. Let’s go ta Sugarcube Corner, getcha some sugar in yer system. Then, onta Sweetie Belle’s house.”
“Yeah!” Sweetie Belle said, pronking slightly. “And when we get there, we can start brainstorming about the different ways we can try to get our cutie marks!”
“Sure,” sighed Scootaloo, her eyes drooping a bit. “I just hope that I’m not asleep when Rainbow Dash―”
A booming bellow of a roar shook the air, almost shaking the clouds out of the sky. The three fillies squeaked in terror, grabbing each other in tight three-way foreleg hug.
“Wh-what was that?” Scootaloo asked aquiver, her prior sleepiness forgotten.
“Ah don’t know,” Apple Bloom stuttered. “It didn’t sound like no beast that’s tried t’ ‘tack Sweet Apple Acres.”
“Then… where did it come from…?” Sweetie Belle gasped, eyes fixated in the direction of the roar, past the carriage-stable.
The ground rumbled violently, then went still.
Then it rumbled more violently still.
A pale-magenta glow began to emanate from beyond Ponyville’s edge. The intermittent rumbles were becoming stronger and stronger.
An eight-pointed cornflower star rose into view, on a pale-magenta forehead of translucent fur.
The three cutie mark crusaders cowered as the beast rose up, claws as long as carriages, teeth as thick as tree trunks, its body as large as Town Square speckled with what might have been glowing stars.
When the ursa major roared, the three fillies and all of Ponyville need not have screamed.
“It’s not even been three days, and we’re already returning to Ponyville?” queried Rarity, staring out at the thatched roofs of Ponyville, out under Twilight’s high-noon sun simulation. “The more I think about it, the odder it seems.”
“As prepared as we think we were before setting off for Canterlot, we were too ill-prepared,” Twilight explained.
“I’ll say,” Rainbow Dash frowned, brushing imaginary dust off of her shoulders. “We barely got in and out. We can’t just bank on NightMare Moon hoofing over the keys to her defeat.”
Twilight nodded. It wasn’t quite how she would have worded it, but it was correct in fundamentals.
“I’m sure Angel Bunny will be so glad to know that I’m back early,” Fluttershy said with a faint smile. “I mean, I know that that stallion will have done a great job taking care of him, but I’d really rather not impose Angel on him.”
“I’ll bet,” Twilight murmured so lowly that Fluttershy did not hear, though Rainbow Dash did let out a suspiciously loud cough.
“Alright, everypony,” Applejack said sharply. “We sure we got everythin’ that we left with, more ‘r less?”
“I think so,” Rarity replied, patting at her saddle-bag. A purple glimmer from inside caught Twilight’s eye.
“Rarity, did you leave a flashlight on in there?”
“I… didn’t pack a flashlight, Twilight.”
Rarity used her periwinkle dwimmer shimmer to lift her saddle-bags off of her back, setting them down on the ground. She opened up each saddle-bag, one after the other.
“Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!” Pinkie squealed, jumping up and down and all around her friends. “What is it what is it what is it?”
“The Element pieces in Rarity’s bag…” Twilight started.
“Are… glowing?” Spike finished.
The shards were glowing a bright purple, and yet the pieces of rock themselves seemed to not be hot, or even really warm. They made Twilight feel warm as she put a hoof near them, as if somepony had given her a tremendous gift at their own personal cost.
“Twilight… are these from one Element of Harmony or…?”
“They’re definitely from one,” Twilight replied. “I’d tried fitting them together in our off-time just before we left, so each of the separate piles were each of the five Elements.”
Rainbow Dash palmed her face. “Egghead.”
Twilight scowled at the Pegasus for a moment, who grinned back sheepishly. Once she’d had her fill with glaring at Rainbow, she returned her questioning stare upon the Element fragments in Rarity’s saddle-bags.
“But… how did this happen? Rarity, did you do anything or feel anything weird since we left Ponyville?”
Rarity shook her head.
“I did nothing that I would not have ordinarily done.”
Twilight put a hoof to her scruffy chin, but before she could get very far, a booming ursine roar split the night sky. Fluttershy made a wilting groan not unlike a goat and fell onto her back, her legs pointing straight in the air. Her six other companions did not fare much better, the five other mares either ducking and covering their heads or digging their forehooves in and preparing to bolt. Spike did the latter (because it was what Rarity was doing).
“M-Mom, wh-what was that?” he asked timidly, looking up at Twilight.
“It’s ‘Twilight’,” the lavender Unicorn insisted, looking quite ill at ease. “And I have an idea. I just pray to Queen Celestia that I’m wrong.”
She grabbed Spike in her teeth by one of his spines, tossed him up onto her back, and took off for Ponyville at a gallop. The five other mares galloped, flew, or pronked after her.
“Sweet Celestia!” cried Rose, the raspberry-maned and pale-yellow-coated mare. “It’s an ursa major!”
“NightMare Moon is going to destroy us all!” screamed her sister Daisy, a mare with a pale-magenta coat and bouncy spring-green mane.
“The horror, the horror!” shrieked their sister Lily, a pale-raspberry-coated and amber-maned mare, her hooves at her cheeks as she passed out in horror. The two Earth Pony mares on either side started trying to help her away from the scene, to no avail.
The townspeople of Ponyville stared up in horror at the titanic ursa major, roaring up at the sky, threatening to bring its forelegs down upon the rooftops.
Six more mares and a dragon cub joined the congregation, several of them gaping in awe. The dragon cub fainted on sighting the creature.
“I was afraid of this…” Twilight muttered. “It’s an ursa major. There’s no mistaking it.”
“A bear-titan…” gasped Applejack. “Celestia help us…”
“Queen Celestia isn’t here,” Twilight said, stepping forward, “But I am. Everypony, get away from the ursa major!”
The rest of Ponyville noticed Twilight’s return with her company. In a split-second, they parted to either side of the street, leaving just the Golden Oak Library between Twilight and the ursa major.
Twilight gritted her teeth. “I won’t let you hurt anypony here, or their books.”
Her alicorn glowed brilliantly pink, a ring of light appearing around it as well. Each of her companions stared in awe − Applejack standing watch over Spike − as her horn began to emit a low hum and Twilight herself began to sweat. Finally, after what seemed like forever, a blinding dwimmer-beam shot out from Twilight’s alicorn directly at the ursa major’s heart. It took a few seconds for the beam to reach the ursa major…
Then it shot straight through as though the ursa major was not there.
“But… no!” Twilight screamed. “That was a direct hit! How could that ursa expulsion spell not have worked?”
“What’s going to happen, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked fearfully.
“I don’t know,” replied Twilight in terror, her ears flattened. “I don’t know what to do…”
“Fear not, fair ponies of this town!” boomed out a voice from what seemed like everywhere. Ponyville looked about in confusion, while the ursa major seemed to forget its rage and cast its wide eyes about in fear.
“For you are about to be saved from this ursine menace by…!”
A great pale-magenta cloud of smoke appeared directly before Twilight, sending sparkles out in every direction. Waving a hoof and coughing to get the smoke out of her face, Twilight barely had time to wonder where this all came from before the cloud of smoke and sparkles dissipated dramatically, sending glitter to every corner of this corner of Ponyville.
Standing in place of the cloud of smoke was a Unicorn mare with a coat of most brilliant azure, a luxurious cornflower mane with not a single hair out of place. Her entire existence exuded exuberant assurance. She wore a pale-purple cape fastened with a large blue-white gemstone over her chest, and a tall, pointed hat with a wide brim in the same color. Both were patterned with pale-blue and -yellow stars. Her cutie mark was of a magic wand, a crescent-shaped swirl of stars emerging from the five-pointed tip.
“The Great And Powerful Trixie!” the Unicorn said, her voice still echoing about the streets, her dark-violet eyes sparkling at Twilight. She produced a crooked staff with a flourish of a forehoof.
The ursa major’s eyes contracted at the sight of Trixie, and Twilight could not understand why. As a student of magic, she could tell amateur parlor tricks from genuinely advanced magic, and this Trixie had clearly placed more study into showing off than actually doing anything of substance. Puffs of smoke and loud bangs were more often than not a sign of inept magic.
“Trixie is the scourge of ursae major and minor across Equestria!” the azure Unicorn continued, raising the staff which glowed with a brilliant white light. “And now, The Great And Powerful Trixie shall save you―”
A tremendous ursa major paw fell down upon the azure Unicorn, though one digit would have been more than enough. Ponyville − and Twilight − gasped in horror; this was a sudden and grisly end to meet. But when the ursa major brought its paw up, there was nothing on the ground. No blood, no body, no bent and broken staff. Nothing.
“As The Great And Powerful Trixie was saying…” a voice echoed from atop the balcony of the Golden Oak Library. It was Trixie, once more holding her staff aloft. “She shall save you villagers from this beast, as she has saved many towns before you!”
The light from her staff shot up and impacted the ursa major in the chest. The beast roared in defiance as the light consumed its titanic body, which rose up and into the sky, breaking down into starlike particles of light as it blazed past the Moon and became one with the Big Dipper, shining bright in defiance of Twilight’s sun.
Trixie leapt dramatically down from the balcony to a lower tree-branch, then to a lower one, then to the grassy earth around the Golden Oak Library.
“The ursa major is banished from this town!” she shouted to the skies. “Never more will any abominations strike here!”
Twilight and her five companions gaped. Most of Ponyville simply gaped as well. Spike rose up, rubbing his eyes.
“What happened?” the drake mumbled.
“Something fishy,” Rainbow Dash replied. “How could a showboating Unicorn like that take down something that Twilight couldn’t?”
“I don’t know,” Twilight said, her head bowed slightly as she scratched behind her forelock, “but that was like no ursa major I’ve ever seen.”
“As Mayor of Ponyville,” the Mayor announced clearly, so that everypony could hear as she trotted up to the azure Unicorn in front of the Golden Oak Library, “I would like to heartily commend you for your actions in saving us from that dreadful bear-titan!”
The reaction from Ponyville was mixed. Though many assented the Mayor’s sentiments and started to cheer and stomp their hooves in approval, still many muttered darkly to each other in suspicion of the oddly convenient timing of Trixie’s arrival. Still, Trixie seemed to ignore the voices of these latter neighsayers as she addressed the Mayor:
“The Great And Powerful Trixie thanks you, Mayor of Ponyville. She has journeyed long and far to track that ursa major down before it could reach a settlement, but alas, due to her own tiredness, it arrived ahead of her. It was only our good fortune that The Great And Powerful Trixie arrived before any major damage could be made.”
“Horse-feathers!” cried Rainbow Dash, flying straight up to Trixie’s face, practically muzzle-to-muzzle with the traveling Unicorn. “You faked that somehow, I know it!”
Trixie’s mouth quavered dramatically, streams of tears pouring down her muzzle. Rainbow flapped back a couple paces.
“The… Great And Powerful Trixie… lays her life on the line for you ponies… And this is the thanks she gets?”
Several ponies began to crowd behind Trixie, giving Rainbow Dash dark glowers. She flapped back even further, and an Earth Pony mare with a pale-yellow coat and a bouncy cobalt-and-fuchsia mane snarled, “You leave her alone, Rainbow Dash, and let her explain!”
Rainbow Dash settled on the ground.
“Sorry… I just thought… it looked fishy…”
“Come on, Rainbow,” Twilight said, trotting up and placing a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. “Let it go. Let’s just give her the benefit of the doubt for now. Maybe she does know more about taking down ursae major than I do…”
“Ha! You see?” Trixie said triumphantly, her tears seemingly forgotten. “The Great And Powerful Trixie’s greatness and powerfulness is acknowledged by a fellow Unicorn! She truly is the most accomplished slayer of ursae major and ursae minor in all of Equestria!”
As she reared up in victory, a pair of shafts of pale-magenta light shot up into the sky, bursting with twin BANGs into flowers of sparkles that descended upon them.
“Rainbow Dash!” cried a little filly’s voice, and Rainbow Dash turned just in time for Scootaloo to throw her forelegs around the cyan Pegasus’s neck.
“Whoa, take it easy there, squirt!” Rainbow grinned at the filly. “You’re gonna strangle me one of these days doing that!”
“I’m so sorry I missed you leaving like that, Rainbow Dash!” Scootaloo said sadly. “I overslept and I missed being able to see you off! I’m so sorry!”
Rainbow gave the filly a sad and slightly confused look, patting her on the back.
“C’mon, kiddo. It’s not that big of a deal. I wouldn’t hold a bit of shuteye against you.”
“See what Ah toldja, Scoots?” Apple Bloom said as she and Sweetie Belle trotted up to the pair of Pegasi. “Ah toldja that it weren’t no biggie.”
A throat cleared, and the gathering group turned to see Trixie glowering. Ears going flat and giving the azure Unicorn a dark glare, Rainbow Dash trotted backwards and clamped her jaws shut, Scootaloo giving her idol a bemused look.
“As she was saying, The Great And Powerful Trixie is tired from her long journey, and in need of supplies for her journey to the next town.”
“Anything that you ask of is yours, O Great And Powerful Trixie,” said the Mayor, prostrating herself before Trixie.
“Trixie is glad to hear this,” the azure Unicorn said with aplomb, following the stately Earth Pony along with the herd of supportive ponies. It was noticeably larger than the crowd that had initially supported Trixie; Rainbow Dash’s little stunt had only brought ponies who were tentative more firmly on Trixie’s side.
“I can’t believe you, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash shouted as soon as the posse surrounding Trixie had left the street leading to the Golden Oak Library. “I mean, it’s so obvious that that was a fake-out!”
“It may be, Rainbow Dash, but charging in blindly and flinging accusations around isn’t going to get us anywhere,” Twilight explained. “We’ll need to tackle this with a more logical deductive approach.”
Rainbow Dash folded her forelegs miserably.
“Err, umm… welcome home, Rarity!” piped in Sweetie Belle.
“Oh, Sweetie Belle! Thank you so much!” Rarity replied, embracing her little sister. “I’m so glad to be home!”
“How was yer trip?” Apple Bloom asked her big sister. “Will the Sun be risin’ soon?”
Applejack averted her eyes, rubbing one foreleg.
“Err, not quite. Y’see, we still need t’ find out how t’ activate th’ Elements a’ Harmony t’ begin with.”
“What are the Elements of Harmony?” Scootaloo asked.
“The answer to this mess,” Twilight replied, “and we’ve only managed to activate one of six so far… if making Rarity’s shards glow counts as activating it. We don’t even know how we activated it.”
“Wait. My sister’s Element started glowing first?” Sweetie Belle asked, before beaming and throwing her forelegs around her big sister’s barrel. “Rarity, you’re the best big sister ever!”
“Ah still think Applejack’s the best big sister ever!” Apple Bloom argued.
“No, it’s Rainbow Dash!”
“Girls!” shouted Rarity. “Please stop arguing. It’s giving me a migraine!”
The three fillies smiled innocently.
“We weren’t arguing,” Sweetie Belle said sweetly.
“Yeah, we were jus’ tryin’ t’ get our cutie marks in arguin’!” Apple Bloom added.
“Wait, is arguing really a special talent that we want to have?” Scootaloo asked, raising a cerise eyebrow.
“Yeah, you’re right. And what would it even look like?”
“Ah don’ know. Maybe two ponies shoutin’ at each other…?”
“Well, shouting at each other isn’t going to solve this Trixie situation,” Twilight added, turning to canter into town. Before she left, she turned to Pinkie Pie. “You know, you’ve been awful quiet for a while now, Pinkie.”
Pinkie waved a hoof, loudly shushing Twilight. “I’m thinking of parties.”
Twilight raised a sapphire eyebrow. “What kinds of parties?”
Pinkie began to energetically pronk around the five mares, three fillies and one drake.
“I was thinking of throwing us a welcome-back-to-Ponyville-but-not-quite-done-with-taking-down-NightMare-Moon party, but I thought that that was too long of a title to put on a banner, unless the banner stretched from one side of Ponyville to another, but then ponies would take too long reading it to enjoy the party, and then I started thinking of a shorter way to say ‘welcome-back-to-Ponyville-but-not-quite-done-with-taking-down-NightMare-Moon party’, and then I saw that new Unicorn named Trixie and I did a big mental − ” Pinkie floated up into the air as she did a slightly quieter impression of her gasp upon meeting Twilight “ − when I realized that I’d never seen Trixie in Ponyville before, and I started thinking about throwing a mixed ‘welcome-back-to-Ponyville-but-not-quite-done-with-taking-down-NightMare-Moon-and-Welcome-to-Ponyville-The-Great-And-Powerful-Trixie party’, but then I realized that that was even longer than that old title and I started thinking of how to shorten that party title, but―”
“Okay, okay, okay!” Twilight flapped her forelegs about frantically. “We get it! You think about parties!”
Twilight’s ears twitched; ponies were laughing. Looking about, she saw that pretty much everyone in the group with her − including Spike − was chuckling, giggling, or snickering to her- or himself.
“What’s so funny?” she asked, confused.
Rainbow Dash recovered quickest.
“Well, you gotta know, Twilight, that you’re kind of a stick in the mud.”
“Rainbow!” scolded Applejack, before giving Twilight a soft smile. “Ah think what she’s tryin’ t’ say is that we’re all used t’ Pinkie Pie. We’ve all learned t’ just go with her flow an’ let ‘er say what’s on ‘er mind. Ya gotta learn to laugh at things ya don’ quite understand, or yer gonna go a bit crazy.”
Twilight looked at Pinkie, the bouncy Earth Pony who smiled and laughed at so much in the world that she had no business to laugh or smile at…
And Twilight laughed a little at the absurdity of it.
“See what I mean, Twilight?” Pinkie said, bounding towards Twilight in an energetic double front-flip and holding Twilight’s face in her rubbery hooves. “Laughter is the best medicine!”
Twilight gave a nervous chuckle.
“Sure thing, Pinkie, but would you kindly let my face go? We have a Unicorn to investigate.”
The Everfree Forest was a domain unto itself. Since the Era of Discord, the thaumaturgical ley lines that crossed deep beneath were corroded with a forbidden ancient magic, preventing pony magic from affecting the ways of the land. As such, it was a place that only the most hardy or foolhardy ponies would travel willfully into. The creatures of the forest, from the most miniscule of gnats to the full-grown dragons and ursae that dwelt within the caves at the northern and southern edges of the forest, were completely out of the fine control of pony magic.
In one cave rested an ursa minor and its ursa major mother. The ursa minor’s translucent back rose and fell with each sleepy snore that it took, even as a miasmic mist appeared around it on the ground and drew it away and out of sight.
The ursa major stirred.
The group of ten had trotted − or pronked, in Pinkie’s case − along the street after the herd that followed Trixie. They had a pretty good idea of where the crowd was going; though there were very few threats in Ponyville’s short history that threatened the entire town’s existence, it seemed logical that Town Hall be the center of ceremonies for a savior of Ponyville.
“Whoa, kiddo,” gasped Rainbow Dash, looking at Scootaloo’s wings. Her feathers were ruffled and askew, clumps of dirt worked into the gaps between many of her secondaries. “How long has it been since you’ve preened?”
Scootaloo chuckled nervously. “Uhh… I was waiting for you quite a while.”
Rainbow Dash sighed, looking to her companions.
“Could you guys give us some space? Pegasi don’t usually preen when others are watching.”
Fluttershy nervously shooed her fellow ponies to the side, hiding one side of her face behind a wing.
Once she was sure that everypony − and Spike − was looking away, Rainbow Dash set down upon Scootaloo’s wings.
“Y’know, I can do it myself,” the small orange Pegasus said ruefully, though only halfheartedly.
“Who’s the preening expert between the two of us?”
Rainbow Dash flashed a fangy grin. “You bet I am! How do you think I’m such a good flyer?”
“I always thought you just got up earl―… ohhh…”
Rainbow Dash had just started to preen at Scootaloo’s left wing, her fangs sifting through the feathers, sliding them back into place, pulling out bits of dirt from between her secondaries which Rainbow Dash then spit onto the ground.
“Seriously, kid. You gotta clean your wings a bit more often than this,” the cyan Pegasus said in a mildly scolding tone.
Scootaloo took a deep breath. Somepony else doing the preening for her was… it was…
“I still need to do the other wing.”
Some minutes later, after Rainbow gave Scootaloo time to recover from somepony else preening her feathers, the herd moved on. Scootaloo flapped her wings experimentally, sighing deeply at the feel of the cool air through clean feathers. Her right wing still twinged a bit where a broken feather had to be plucked out, though.
“You feel that, squirt?” Rainbow Dash said with a smirk, picking the filly up in her forelegs. “Nothing beats the feeling of freshly preened feathers flapping in the wind!”
Scootaloo nodded up at her idol.
“You said it, Rainbow Dash!”
“That I did. Now, promise me that you’ll preen every day, and that you won’t neglect them again.”
“But preening takes forever!”
“It does, and believe me, I hated preening when I was a filly, too. But, it’s better to start clean wing habits early, so that when your wings have grown into proper flying strength, you do it without even thinking about it.”
“But most kids at the school my age are already able to fly…!”
“So you’re a late-bloomer. You’ll fly one day, squirt, and you’ll put all of ‘em to shame!”
Scootaloo beamed up at Rainbow Dash at this bit of encouragement.
“I promise, Rainbow Dash.”
Rainbow smirked at the cerise-maned filly between her forehooves, then she felt an uneasy sense that somepony was watching her. Turning her head around, she saw Twilight gaping at her.
“What?” Rainbow asked.
“Well… it’s just… you sound so…”
“Smart? Is that what you were getting at?”
Twilight paused. “Yes, actually.”
Rainbow frowned. “Look. If I just went about flying everywhere without taking care of my wings, do you really think I’d be as awesome at flying as I am?”
Twilight thought for a moment. “No, actually.”
Rainbow Dash smirked. “Exactly. Being a good flyer means taking good care of your wings. I mean, without good wings, what is a flyer, really?”
Twilight nodded slowly. “Wow, Rainbow Dash. I… guess I was kinda wrong about you. You really do know your stuff.”
Rainbow Dash scoffed. “Of course I do. I’m awesome.”
“Yes, you are, Rainbow Dash!” squealed Scootaloo.
Twilight chuckled a little at the rambunctious little Pegasus, before turning towards Town Square, which they had just reached. Virtually everypony in Ponyville was standing around Town Hall, and in front of the double-doors into the Gazebo stood the Mayor at a podium, and The Great And Powerful Trixie trying poorly to look humble and contrite.
“And now, as Mayor of Ponyville, I bestow upon Trixie Lulamoon…” The Mayor produced a very large golden key from behind her podium. “The key to Ponyville, as the reward for saving us from that dreadful ursa major!”
The herd of Ponyvillagers clopped their hooves vigorously against the gravel of Town Square, cheers and whoops filling the twilit air. Trixie reached over with the hoof not holding onto her staff.
Twilight raised an eyebrow at the sight.
“Hey, ‘Great And Powerful’ Trixie!” Rainbow Dash called across the crowd. “Why ain’t you using your magic to take that key?”
Several stallions, mares and foals gave Rainbow startled expressions, and some glowered at her. Up at the Gazebo, the Mayor looked out at Rainbow Dash with a severe expression.
“No, Miss Mayor,” Trixie said loudly, barring the Mayor’s path to Rainbow Dash with her staff. “The Great And Powerful Trixie will have a word with this rowdy birdbrain.”
“‘Birdbrain’…?” Rainbow Dash repeated with gritted teeth.
“Do not interrupt the Great And Powerful Trixie!” scolded the azure Unicorn, waving her staff at the cyan Pegasus.
“Yeah, don’t interrupt her!” shouted Pinot Noir, an Earth Pony mare with a bouncy cerise mane and mulberry coat, a strawberry-and-grapes cutie mark on her flanks. Pretty soon, a small group of ponies around Pinot Noir had started shouting angrily at Rainbow Dash.
“Please, everypony, calm down!” called the Mayor with a sharp stomp of a hoof. The din soon silenced itself.
“As The Great And Powerful Trixie was saying…” Trixie began. “It was long ago, when The Great And Powerful Trixie first began her hunting of ursae major. She became too full of herself, and allowed an ursa minor to get too close. One swipe of its paw, and The Great And Powerful Trixie was knocked out. When she came to, she realized that she had lost the ability to cast magic…” Tears began to slide down her muzzle. “And so… The Great And Powerful Trixie made this magic staff… to do her magic for her…”
Rainbow Dash cocked an eyebrow and made to protest, but Twilight placed a hoof at her side, and when she saw the look on the Unicorn’s face, she set down on the ground, placing Scootaloo before her.
“Come on, Rainbow Dash. Let it go,” Twilight said softly. “Let’s talk about it at the library.”
“Okay, seriously, what gives, Twilight?” Rainbow Dash glared at Twilight, shouting at the lavender Unicorn as soon as the library door shut behind them. “You know just as well as I do that that Trixie isn’t great or powerful at all!”
“I know,” snapped Twilight, “But she saved the town after I failed to… or at least made it look that way. We’re not exactly in a place where we can criticize her.”
“But… in Daring Do and the Griffon’s Goblet, A.K. Yearling said that Unicorns can only not use their magic if their horns are cut off!”
Twilight narrowed her eyes at Rainbow Dash.
“You’re assuming that that’s true just because you read about it in Daring Do?”
Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth, her eyes darting back and forth nervously.
“Who said that I read Daring Do?”
“You did. Just now. But you’re lucky that A.K. Yearling got that fact right about a Unicorn’s alicorn, or you’d be in a lot of hot water right now,” Twilight said, running her own alicorn up and down the cloven gap in her hoof.
“Really? That’s for real?”
“It is indeed,” Rarity interjected. “Why, my own maternal grandfather lost his horn in a dreadful elevator accident. It left the nastiest scar.” The alabaster Unicorn shuddered.
Applejack tilted her head.
“Is there any other way fer a Unicorn t’ lose th’ ability t’ use their magic?”
“No,” Twilight said shortly. “There isn’t. I mean, not in any functional way. A Unicorn could suffer severe head trauma and lose their alicorn’s functionality, but they wouldn’t be able to do much else, either. The level of cranial trauma that a Unicorn would need to sustain to be rendered magically inert would be way beyond that which would be needed to turn her or him into a vegetable.”
“’Vegetables’?” Pinkie Pie cut in. “But ponies eat vegetables! Are you saying that every single bit of carrot and celery and leek and beet and corn and lettuce that I’ve ever eaten before is a pony?” Her forehooves pulled down at her eyelids in terror. “What have I done? I’m a cannibal!”
“She didn’ mean as in literal vegetables, Pinkie,” Applejack replied.
“‘Literate vegetables’?” Pinkie replied, her previous terror forgotten completely. “So carrots can read?”
“Carrots can’t read, Pinkie!” Twilight shouted.
“But… Applejack was just saying that vegetables were literate.”
“Ah heard that too, AJ,” Apple Bloom said confusedly.
“What Ah said was―”
“Girls!” Rarity shouted. “Please. We’re getting off topic. Can we please return to the issue at hoof?”
“Thank you, Rarity,” Twilight said with a sincere smile. “As I was saying, a Unicorn could get hit on the head really hard and lose their ability to use their horn that way, but… they’d also lose the ability to do anything else. A Unicorn who sustained that level of head trauma would be comatose for the rest of her or his life.”
The five mares, three fillies, and drake around her shivered involuntarily. Sweetie Belle wrapped her forelegs around one of Rarity’s, and the older Unicorn nuzzled her little sister tenderly.
“So… You’re saying that Trixie is… faking it?” Spike asked.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, Spike,” Twilight smiled. “As for that ursa major, or the magic staff, and how the former was only affected by the latter… I have no clue.”
“I know,” Pinkie said, scratching her chin. “That ursa major looked pretty convincing.”
The remaining nine members of the posse went still at Pinkie’s choice of words, gaping at her. She looked around at her companions, shrugging her forelegs.
“Pinkie,” Twilight said cautiously. “What did you mean by ‘convincing’?”
“I dunno, Twilight,” the pink Earth Pony replied. “It looked just like in the picture books that Granny Pie would read me and my sisters back on the rock farm, but… my Pinkie Sense just wasn’t telling me that it was dangerous.”
“It’s somethin’ we in Ponyville have just come t’ trust, Twi,” Applejack commented. “Ah’d recommend ya do th’ same.”
Deciding to file the Pinkie Sense away among the gigagross-and-one other things to investigate about Pinkie Pie, Twilight pressed on.
“But a full-grown ursa major… how can that not be dangerous?”
“I don’t know. It just wasn’t.”
Twilight palmed her face in a forehoof. This was getting nowhere fast.
“Okay. Let’s assume for a moment that this ‘Pinkie Sense’ is real,” Twilight mimed quotation marks with her forehooves. “Now, if Pinkie’s Pinkie Sense did not sense anything dangerous about that ursa major, then it stands to reason that no ursa major could have been there.”
“But… we saw it right there,” Fluttershy added.
“An’ we were the ones who saw it first!” Apple Bloom put in.
“You can’t honestly have us believe that there was no ursa major there!” Scootaloo shouted.
“There was no ursa major there,” Twilight said brightly. “Trixie Lulamoon is no mage. She’s a showpony; I could tell just by watching her. All that smoke, all those sparks… no self-respecting mage who knows her stuff would ever be so flashy about that, especially if there really was an ursa major attacking.”
“Then… what did we see?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“If I had to guess, it was an illusion that Trixie set up,” Twilight replied. “In this eternal night of NightMare Moon’s, there will be some ponies out there, trying to take advantage of the panic and high tension that’s arisen because of the lack of a Sun.”
“That low-down snake in the grass…!” Applejack growled.
“Why, that jus’ ain’t right!” Apple Bloom snapped, stomping a forehoof.
“Tricking ponies into thinking they need her help when there would otherwise be no crisis…” Rarity simmered. “That is the! Worst! Possible! Thing!”
“Let’s go call out that sham artist!” Rainbow Dash snarled, her wings flapping faster and faster as she geared up for a bolt back out of the Golden Oak Library’s door.
Twilight’s dwimmer shimmer gleamed around Rainbow Dash, holding her in place.
“Not so quickly, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said sharply. “I already said that we won’t be able to deal with this by openly confronting her. We’ll need to handle this with more tact and subtlety.”
“Ahh, that is the language that I speak, Twilight, darling,” Rarity said softly, trotting to Twilight’s side with a slightly dramatic air. “How shall we approach the citizens of Ponyville regarding this revelation?”
A great roar shook the library, knocking Fluttershy off of her hooves and driving the three fillies to clutch each other and Spike to clutch Twilight’s leg.
“That’s not an ursa major roar,” Twilight gasped lowly. “That’s an ursa minor.”
“A bear-titan’s baby…?” asked Applejack.
“Ehh, no big deal,” Rainbow Dash said with a shake of a hoof. “It’s probably just Trixie pulling another fast one on everypony.”
“I don’t think so,” Twilight said, her pupils dilating and her heart racing. “I think that that’s a real ursa minor.”
“Well, what’s the problem, then?” Pinkie beamed. “I mean, it’s only a baby ursa, right?”
“It is… But what happens when its mother realizes it’s missing?”
A bolt of horror shot through everypony present. An ursa major may ordinarily be ferocious when hunting for a meal, but a mother ursa who had been separated from her baby would stop at nothing to reunite with her child. And if the ursa minor wandered too close to Ponyville proper…
“The ursa major could trash all a Ponyville!” Apple Bloom cried.
“We have to get that ursa minor out of here!” Twilight shouted, galloping out the door, followed by Spike who leapt up onto her back, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy following soon after.
“You three stay here, where it’s safe,” Rarity said sternly, giving Sweetie Belle one last little hug.
“What? But wait! Rarity!” Sweetie Belle shouted, but Rarity was already galloping off after her friends.
“We don’ wantcha facin’ more risk than ya need ta,” Applejack added, removing her Stetson and dropping it onto Apple Bloom’s head, the rim falling down over the Earth Pony filly’s eyes. “Pa’s hat will keep ya safe, Bloom. Ah’ll see ya soon.” And with that, she galloped after Rarity.
Scootaloo looked up at Rainbow Dash, grinning.
“You show that ursa major what-for, Rainbow Dash!”
Rainbow grinned cockily. “I’ll belt it one for you, squirt!” She mussed up Scootaloo’s mane before bolting after the rest of the herd.
A modest party had broken out in Town Square. It was impromptu, and nothing like the sort that Pinkie Pie would throw, but some ponies had gotten impatient waiting for the town party planner to return from the Golden Oak Library and broke out some bottles of hard cider. Trixie had naturally gravitated to the middle of the celebration, posing dramatically and swishing her magic staff this way and that. She evidently did not take to hard cider very well, as she barely noticed her hat slipping off of her head after only one swig.
Then the roar sounded from the north, and ponies began to obey their ancestors’ response to danger and galloped as quickly as they could in the opposite direction.
“Wh-what was that?” asked Snips, a squat Unicorn colt with a scissors cutie mark. He huddled as close to the ground as he could, though it did not do much to make him less visible with how short his legs were.
“Sounded like somethin’ pretty big, eh?” replied Snails, his lanky Unicorn friend with a snail cutie mark. He mimicked Snips’s fearful kneeling, and it did much more for him for how much of his height came from his leg length.
“Remain calm, everypony!” called the Mayor, who had become rooted to the spot, digging her hooves into the ground as firmly as she could. “The Great And Powerful Trixie will protect us from this!”
Trixie, who had dropped her bottle of hard cider at the roar, winced noticeably.
“I − The Great And Powerful Trixie will…?” she replied shakily.
“Yeah… That’s right!” Snips perked up, pronking back to his hooves. “That sounded a lot like that whatchamacallit roar not too long ago!”
“Wasn’t it called a Warsaw Mayor…?” asked Snails slowly.
‘It’s an ursa major!’ cried out a Shire-accented brown Earth Pony stallion with an hourglass cutie mark, pointing off to the north at a baby-blue glow beyond the rooftops to the north of Town Square. The glow grew stronger, and an ursine shape rose up and let loose another roar that shook Ponyville to its foundations.
“Oh sweet Celestia help us…!” murmured the Mayor, sinking to her knees.
“Don’t worry about it!” shouted Snips. “The Great And Powerful Trixie’s defeated an ursa major before; we all saw it!”
“Yeah, and this one looks even smaller!” Snails added.
The gangly Unicorn colt was right. The creature that loomed over Ponyville in the distance was much smaller than the ursa major that had appeared at the edge of the village not even half an hour before. It was still capable of great destruction, though, as it proved when it began to clamber clumsily along the rooftops, beelining for Town Square.
“It’s coming right for us!” screamed a grey Pegasus mare, her golden eyes staring in opposite directions.
“C’mon, Trixie, do something!” Snails complained.
“Yeah, quit lettin’ it break stuff!” Snips snipped.
“Err, well… Okay.” Trixie warily raised up her magic staff. She continued in a stilted, halting fashion, “Umm, everypony might want to look away while I − while The Great And Powerful Trixie vanquishes this ursa.”
Obeying without question, the few Ponyvillagers who had remained in Town Square buried their heads under their forehooves.
Once she was sure that everypony had covered their heads and eyes, Trixie began to tiphoof her way towards the western half of Ponyville…
And came muzzle-to-muzzle with a cross Twilight Sparkle.
“Going somewhere, Great And Powerful Trixie?”
“It’s The Great And Powerful Trixie,” Trixie replied harshly without thinking. “And what are you doing here? The Great And Powerful Trixie thought that you had accepted her greatness compared to you!”
“I was withholding my judgment,” Twilight said, her posse fanning out behind her as the huddled ponies began to look up again. “And now, I want to look more closely at how you do what you say you do. There’s an ursa minor, right there.”
Trixie’s eyes flashed in barely-concealed alarm up at the ursine beast. “That’s only a bab―?” Covering up her outburst with a hasty cough, Trixie quickly assumed a more collected demeanor. “That’s only a baby. Trixie shall vanquish it with ease.”
“Well, if it’s so easy, then I dare you to do it without this magic staff of yours,” Twilight said cunningly, her bright-pink dwimmer shimmer latching around the staff and pulling it out of Trixie’s grip.
Trixie’s eyes widened. “No! Trixie needs it!”
Twilight’s eyebrows rose, then she gave a grin showing all of her teeth. “Trixie, your magic is showing.”
“What…?” Trixie looked up. In her haste, a pale-magenta dwimmer shimmer had lit up around her horn, catching onto her staff as Twilight pulled it away. The ponies who had huddled on the ground stood up and stared in awe and betrayal at Trixie’s clear demonstration of magic.
“The Great And Powerful Trixie… you’re using magic…?” Snips gasped.
“You lied to us…?” Snails breathed.
Trixie took in a deep breath, giving Twilight a look of deepest loathing, before sighing heavily and staring at her hooves.
“I’ve never slain an ursa major or an ursa minor.”
“What?” gaped the Mayor.
“Nopony can slay an ursa, major or minor. I just made the whole story up of being an ursa-slayer so that I could go from town to town and be a hero.”
“But… there was an ursa major right there!” Snips cried, pointing off to the north end of town where the “ursa major” had appeared almost three-dozen-nine minutes prior.
“The Great And − I… am exceptionally gifted at illusion magic. I worked as a sleight-of-hoof artist out in Vanhoover for years, but nothing came of it. I could barely rub two unbits together. Then, I discovered that I could craft tremendous and terrifying illusions with my own imagination. I… created the ursa major out of thin air. That’s why I never used my magic when it was around; the ursae I create are the same color as my dwimmer shimmer. I planned it all out so that I would take it out before it even reached Ponyville’s outskirts, so that nopony would realize that it was just my imagination and that it couldn’t actually touch anything.”
“So that’s why my magic didn’t do anything to it!” Twilight said triumphantly.
“Yes, yes, magic can’t affect what goes on in somepony else’s mind!” Trixie confessed. “But I need time to plan these things out, and I can’t pull up an illusion to get that ursa minor―”
Another roar shook Ponyville, but far deeper and more resonant, every ribcage vibrating in each pony’s barrel. It may very well have been the roar of the Great Devil Lord of Tartarus himself, breaking free of his shackles after being placed there by the Concord Flame.
“What in tarnation…?” Applejack gasped.
“It’s what I feared…” Twilight turned pale at the sight of the large purple-glowing shape rising up beyond the southern outskirts of Ponyville, at the very edge of the Everfree Forest. On its hind legs, it could step easily over even the tallest buildings in Ponyville without scraping the rooftops across its underbelly. Its claws were as long and thick as the double-decker carriages of Manehattan. Yellow teeth as big as trees dripped with saliva in a mouth large enough to swallow a manticore whole. Its glowing eyes darted about over Ponyville, before it let loose a bellowing roar that shook Harmonia to its core.
“Is that…?” Trixie breathed.
“It’s a bear-titan…” Rarity gaped.
“And she wants her baby…” Twilight finished.
Trixie flung herself to the ground, sobbing.
“Oh, what can we do? Nopony can slay an ursa major, and it’s going to stomp me flat before I can get away!”
Every pair of eyes in Town Square narrowed coldly at the snivelling azure Unicorn.
“Maybe nopony can slay an ursa major,” Twilight said decisively, facing the ursa minor to the north. “But there is somepony here who can placate it!”
“Twilight Sparkle…” the Mayor sighed in awe. “We’re so terribly sorry that we let ourselves be swindled.”
“Save the speeches, Mayor,” Twilight replied. “I didn’t save you yet. And I just hope that the ursa major doesn’t notice the ursa minor before it’s outside of Ponyville…”
And Twilight’s alicorn verily shone like a pink sun. Off to the north, the ursa minor became enveloped in a pink dwimmer shimmer, raising slowly up into the air. The ursine infant was perplexed, flapping its limbs about curiously. With a massive shift in the spell matrices in her alicorn, Twilight hefted the ursa minor over the last few rooftops separating the northern blocks of Ponyville from Town Square, passing it over the buildings of the village’s southern blocks.
It was at this point that the ursa major looked down and noticed that her cub was floating towards it in a pony’s dwimmer shimmer! A black rage that would drive a pony to madness filled her titanic heart, visions of the deaths of scores of ponies filling her mind as she caught a sparkle of pink magic in the heart of the wooden hills. As her cub approached, the ursa major became curious; the magic was slowing down, as if the ponies wanted the ursa to take her baby back. Tentatively reaching out her forepaws, the ursa major took her cub in her forearms. The pink magic dissipated. The ursa major cradled her precious one in her forearms, the rage in her heart giving way to the light of love as the cub playfully cuffed at her face.
Looking out to where she’d spotted the pink sparkle, the ursa major let out a low growl of appreciation, before lowering onto her forelegs − her cub clambering up onto her back − and turning to return to her cave at the feet of the South Equinus Mountains.
Overhead, the Big Dipper and Little Dipper glimmered brightly, defying the singular glow of the Moon.
Down in Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle had collapsed, sweat dripping off of her forehead and alicorn liberally. Applejack had lowered herself to her friend’s side, nuzzling her gently as townsponies returned to Town Square cheering.
“Unbelievable!” Rainbow Dash shouted, doing a loop-de-loop to let loose some pent-up energy.
“That was amazing!” Spike called, his claws clenched in excitement.
“Well, looks like we know just what kinda ability ya got, sugarcube,” Applejack said softly. “Somepony get Twilight some water!”
Fluttershy turned to Ponyville and flapped quickly off to the nearest well. Twilight offered a tired smile to Applejack, slowly lifting her head up to nuzzle the Earth Pony.
“Thank you, Applejack,” she breathed. “That took a lot out of me. You can’t imagine how hard that was…”
“Butcha still did it,” Applejack replied, “An’ that’s more’n anypony in Ponyville can say.”
“Oh, I’m sure that there’s somepony here who could’ve done it better than me…”
“Nope!” Pinkie suddenly appeared in Twilight’s vision, as suddenly as though she’d winked out. “I know everypony in Ponyville, and nopony in Ponyville can do all that fancy sort of…” The pink Earth Pony started to flail her forelegs about in the air randomly, making weird zapping noises in her throat. “…like that!”
“Come again?” Twilight groaned; hoisting the ursa minor was hard work, and trying to deal with Pinkie Pie’s shenanigans on top of that was a bridge too far.
“What Pinkie’s tryin’ t’ tell ya, is that there is no pony, Unicorn or not, who coulda got them bear-titans offa our backs.”
Fluttershy appeared at Applejack’s side, carrying a hollowed-out gourd of a bucket and depositing it at the farmer mare’s side.
The yellow Pegasus nodded quickly and withdrew.
“Drink up, sugarcube,” Applejack said, tipping the gourd-bucket slightly as Twilight leaned up and took a sip of water that may have been pure ambrosia to the lavender Unicorn. After she’d had her fill, she smiled up at Applejack.
“Thank you, Applejack, Fluttershy.”
“It’s th’ least we could do, after ya saved all our hides again jus’ now.”
“I’ll say!” Rainbow Dash called, swooshing about in the air. “I’ve never seen a Unicorn lifting something like that!”
“I must vouch for that myself, Twilight, darling,” Rarity put in. “As a fellow Unicorn, I must add that I would never have dreamed that anypony would be capable of even budging such a titanic beast.”
“In any case, it was very commendable!” the Mayor said as she trotted up. She pushed her glasses up her muzzle. “Ponyville is indebted to you deeply, Twilight Sparkle. Because you saved us from a real ursa major attack, I present to you…”
Starting slightly, the Mayor looked back up at the podium in front of the Gazebo, smiled nervously at Twilight and made a Wait just a moment with her forehoof, before cantering briskly up to the podium and grabbing something from beside the podium, carrying up to Twilight in her mouth. She responded by taking it in her dwimmer shimmer and placing it on the ground.
“I present to you the Key to Ponyville!” declared the Mayor, gesturing to the large gold key that Twilight had set down.
Twilight got back to her hooves, lifted the Key into the air…
And passed it back to the Mayor.
“Sorry, Ms. Mayor, but I can’t accept this,” Twilight said. “I don’t want or need any reward for this. I just did what any pupil of Queen Celestia would have done…”
The Mayor shrugged.
“Well, if you insist, Ms. Twilight Sparkle. Though, for your part, at least you merited the Key to Ponyville, unlike you, Trixi―…”
The Mayor had turned a severely stern expression upon the azure Unicorn who had played her own false witness, but the so-called great and powerful Trixie was gone.
“Hey! Where’d she go?” Rainbow Dash growled, her head darting around.
“Ferget about it, RD,” Applejack said lowly. “She’s prob’bly halfway outta the Valley bah now.”
“I know, but…” Rainbow Dash let out a frustrated snarl. “I gotta get the word out that she’s a fake! I’ll start climbin’ the walls if I can’t!”
“That’s her call, really, Rainbow Dash,” Twilight said, setting the Key blade-first into the earth. “If she’s gonna turn over a new leaf on her own, let her. But… if she keeps up this charade, she’ll get caught again. I’m not saying that word shouldn’t spread, but don’t rush it. Trixie Lulamoon is out of our manes now; we should stay out of hers. I’m sure she’ll find a new outlet for her illusion magic.”
Rainbow Dash nodded tentatively.
The Great And Powerful Trixie, bedraggled and humiliated, trudged along under that Celestia-forsaken Moon. Her ears flattened against her skull, her beautiful hat clenched between her perfectly beautiful teeth bared in a grimace.
It was only her birthright to trick ponies into thinking that she was their savior from ursa threats and reap the rewards afforded only to heroes. It was a glorious life for a showmare, much preferable to rotting away in some two-bit Vanhoover theater. She was an illusionary prodigy, her imagination indistinguishable from the real deal once projected outwards. The Great And Powerful Trixie could live out the life of an epic hero that she had so aspired to as a filly, but now, because of Twilight Sparkle…
The Great And Powerful Trixie’s teeth dug more tightly into her hat, fabrics tearing.
Yes, it was all Twilight Sparkle’s fault! She only showed up after the ursa minor had revealed itself! She had to have planted the ursa minor there to make The Great And Powerful Trixie look bad, to make The Great And Powerful Trixie reveal her great shame before the entire town! Even now, Twilight Sparkle was sending word of the truth to every city, town and village in Equestria, The Great And Powerful Trixie was sure of it!
Taking her hat in her dwimmer shimmer and tearing out a corner of the brim in her teeth, The Great And Powerful Trixie slowed her fierce gallop to a simmering canter, then to a determined trot.
If Twilight Sparkle was as powerful as she put on, and as much of a spoilsport to see through any illusion, then The Great And Powerful Trixie would need to become greater and more powerful…
The Ever Greater And Powerfuler Trixie would have revenge!