“Fer the record, I still think this is a mighty stupid idea,” Sheriff Silverstar griped. They stood on a knoll a mile outside Appaloosa, looking out across the empty prairie, tall grass swaying gently in the wind.
“Look at it this way, Sheriff,” Trixie replied. “If it works, Appaloosa is saved. If it doesn’t, we won’t care anymore, because we shall be burned to a crisp.”
“...Somehow, that don’t make me feel better.”
Trixie ignored him. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on her powers, and the land around her. She felt for the strength within her, the churning reservoir of energy just waiting to be tapped, letting it course through her. More and more she pulled in, until she felt she would burst.
She hadn’t held this much power since she’d possessed the Alicorn Amulet. It had been so simple, then, as easy as thought to control and command. Now her body seemed to pulse with the magic she summoned, her fur standing on end.
She could feel herself begin to sweat. It begged for release, demanded to be used. Slowly, with great care, Trixie directed all that energy outward, channeling it through her horn and into reality. Streams of colors burst forth into the air and across the plain, her will shaping them into tangible form. Buildings, streets, even an entire orchard coalesced into being around the two ponies.
Silverstar could only stand there, gaping at the replica of the town he’d lived in for so many years. Little inconsistencies could be seen, here and there, but to someone who’d never visited Appaloosa it would be uncanny. He noted idly that she had indeed gotten the roof of Mudpie’s outhouse right.
Trixie staggered to the side before sitting hard on her rump when her legs simply folded. Her limbs shook with exhaustion while she simply sat, panting, too tired to even examine her work. This was by far one of the most difficult illusions she’d ever performed, unaided (which, for The Great and Powerful Trixie, was saying something). Not merely because of the size, which was daunting by itself, but from strengthening the enchantment so that it would remain long enough for the dragon to show up.
Silverstar shook himself, snapping out of his reverie. He trotted over to the middle of the newly-made street, pulled off his saddlebags, and emptied them into the dirt. Gold coins bounced in the dust, clanking against jeweled crowns and strings of pearls as they landed in a heap.
Now somewhat recovered, Trixie gave the lucre a wistful look. If only she dared take a single piece, she could travel in relative comfort and safety till she made it out of Equestria. Dragon’s, however, were notorious for knowing their hoards intimately. A single missed gem would send one scouring across the continent in pursuit.
“C’mon, missy,” the sheriff called. “Let’s git out of sight ‘fore that lizard shows up.”
“...If you ever meet one, Sheriff,” she replied, “I would strongly recommend that you not call it that. Better for your complexion and its digestion.”
They trotted out of the ersatz village, taking cover in a copse of trees atop a slight rise. Truth be told, Trixie would much prefer to wait somewhere much further away, like the moon. Unfortunately, for her ruse to succeed, she needed to be close enough to manipulate the illusion further. A town that did not combust or without screaming townsponies would certainly be suspicious.
“So, do you think this will work?” Silverstar asked.
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I’ve never tried this before.”
“What, never?” She gave a chuckle.
“I generally try to avoid angering creatures that many times larger than myself, so yes. Never.”
“Y’know, suddenly I do feel better.”
“Oh?” He grinned at her.
“Yeah. I know at least that if I burn, you’ll burn with me.”
The deafening sound of beating wings is drowned out by a bellowing roar, so loud even the earth below seems to tremble. Some puny thing has dared to burgle the hoard of the dreadful Salamantrux, but before they have time to enjoy their pilfered treasure, they shall be taught why a dragon’s wrath is to be feared. Any who would rouse the wyrm shall be crushed, chewed, flayed and seared unto nothingness! Only ash shall remain!
Behold! Here lies the dwelling of these miserable equines, whom had been so graciously permitted to abide on a dragon’s lands. See the tiny ponies, already fleeing for their wretched lives. They shall BURN!
A glint of gold catches the dragon’s eye. The pathetic things have left out the stolen riches, no doubt an attempt to placate the beast’s fury. Those fools! None can escape a dragon’s mighty retribution! Another roar, and he is upon them, igniting homes and townsponies alike. They gallop about in terror, but to no avail.
The winged fiend lands amongst them, reveling in their cries as he scoops up his treasure in his maw, swallowing it for safe keeping. Later, he shall regurgitate it safely back into his hoard, where it will remain. For all time!
But what is this? A ways from the town, two of the equines are huddling in a strand of trees. Did they think they could escape? NO ONE ESCAPES! A flap of his enormous wings, and the dragon is soaring once more, this time toward the lone ponies.
One of them, its coat a dull brown, breaks, galloping away with all the haste its puny form can muster. The dragon’s hunter instinct kicks in, and he hones in on the running pony, overtaking it easily. Diving with claws outstretched, he opens his mouth, preparing to feast.
Then the pony disappears in a puff of smoke. The dragon pulls up sharply, hovering above, gust from his flapping clearing away the obstructing cloud.
What trickery is this? Where there was one pony, there are a dozen! They scatter, each running in a different direction. The beast lets out a roar of fury; each pony is identical, he cannot tell which is real! He shall destroy them all!
One by one he hunts them down, each dissolving into nothingness just as he rakes them with his claws. He grows steadily more frustrated until, at last, he bears down on the only remaining equine. The wretch shall pay dearly for mocking the mighty Salamantrux!
SCREEEEE! He wobbles, and nearly falls from the sky at the sound. Another dragon has come!
He banks, fleeing pony forgotten, to face the newcomer. It is one of the largest of his kind he has ever seen! Her scales are a gorgeous azure, her horns and claws burnished silver. Were it not so much larger that he, and so clearly enraged at him, he might have tried to attract the interest of such a beautiful specimen...
She lets out another thunderous cry (such a voice, she has!), firmly disabusing him of any romantic ideas, and he wheels about once more, this time away from the ruins of his destruction. Back toward his lair. The predator instinct is strong; even the mightiest hunter can be surprised, brought down by an unexpected arrival, so it is best to now to depart.
Besides, his terrible wrath has been served, his hoard reclaimed. Any miserable equines still breathing shall only serve to spread the tale of what befalls those who meddle with dragons.
It has been a good day.
“Here’s to The Great and Powerful Trixie! Savior of towns, hero to ponies!” Mugs of cider, brimming with foam, clinked together, sending the liquid spilling over the sides. Ponies cheered, Sheriff Silverstar loudest of all, praising Trixie for their salvation. She herself sipped sedately on her glass of wine (she would be damned if she would touch anything made by one of Sparkle’s friends).
The saloon, window hastily repaired, was full to bursting. Everypony in the village wanted to shake Trixie’s hoof, to thank their deliverer in person. Many tried to buy her a drink, but she dissuaded them gracefully, pointing out her bottle of berry wine, generously donated by Bottlecap.
After nearly a year on the lam, it felt good to be the center of attention once more. To be adored and sought after was something she had not felt in so long. And yet, for some reason, being thanked and praised for her help felt even better. How curious.
She sipped her wine again. savoring its tangy bite, and wondered what she would do now. No matter how well meaning the townsponies were, word would inevitably get out of her presence here, attract all they kind of attention she didn’t want. Perhaps she would slip out quietly this very night, when the revelry had died down and the ponies were deep in their cups.
After her bath, of course. Bottlecap had promised her one tonight. And maybe she could sleep for at least a few hours on a real bed…
“How is it ya knew so much about dragons, anyhow?” Silverstar asked above the din, pulling Trixie from her thoughts. She smirked back at him.
“Oh,” she replied, “just something I picked up from my years on the road. It helps to be aware of what one is up against out there, you know.”
“Well, however ya did it, I’m mighty grateful ya did. Ya sure saved my sorry hide, yessiree!” This was, in fact, about the tenth time he had thanked her. “If anypony asks, I’ll be sure to tell ‘em how you overpowered me and made your escape despite all I could do.” He winked at her.
They were interrupted by a sudden rush of ponies mobbing Trixie, hoisting her up from her seat at the bar and into the air. Her protests were overwhelmed by their thunderous singing:
“Oh, who is the best pony in all the land?
With looks so fair and mane so grand?
Trixie! Oh Trixie!
Who can best creatures great and small?
Griffons, dragons, she’ll slay them all!
It’s Trixie! Yes Trixie!
Who can cast near any spell?
She’ll outshines any other belle!
Our Trixie! Dear Trixie!
Trixie! The Great And Powerful TRIXIE!”
She could only giggle helplessly, bounced above the crowd by the enthusiastic ponies as they made circuits around the room. Her jubilation was cut short, however, when she spotted a familiar purple unicorn standing in the doorway.
“...You’re not very good at this whole ‘laying low’ thing, are you?”
Twilight bucking Sparkle.
Sparkle. Twilight bucking Sparkle. Pet student to Celestia herself, and bane of Trixie’s existence. If only she had not been so exhausted after that morning’s display of magic, she might have attempted escape, or at least made Sparkle work for it.
As it was, though, she languished in a now-familiar jail cell. Listening to Sparkle natter on yet again, tiresome as ever. It wasn’t until she mentioned the griffon that Trixie sat up and took notice.
“A bounty hunter griffon you say?” She demanded. “Are you saying he TOLD you about me?!” That overgrown housecat! If he’d given her up, after all that talk of honor, she would-
“We~ll…” she said, “not exactly… I met him on the road while tracking you from Las Pegasus. He told me only that he had come from Appaloosa, and he was a bounty hunter. But then I noticed he was injured, one his limbs was broken, and yet didn’t have a bounty with him, and that seemed strange, downright suspicious, really, so I kind of, um, er… read his mind…”
“You? Twilight Sparkle, Goodie goodie extraordinaire, you did such a thing to another pony? Er, griffon?” Trixie laughed, eyeing the other mare speculatively. “I’m almost… impressed!” More impressed with Griswold really, who’d been kind enough to keep his beak shut.
Twilight at least had the decency to blush, looking to the ground and muttering about how much Luna had “demanded her capture”. Trixie took a perverse pleasure in how much she’d managed to apparently ruffle the royal mare’s feathers.
“Miss Sparkle, I should tell ya,” Silverstar finally spoke up; he’d taken a seat in a quiet corner, remaining thus ever since (Trixie could have sworn he was about to start whittling at some point!). “There’s something ya oughta know, I believe, ‘bout Miss Trixie here…” As Sparkle was filled in on the day’s events, and Trixie’s involvement, she found herself staring out the window behind Sparkle’s head, unable to pay attention. The dragon may have made for an excellent story, but it would not dissuade the Crown from its pursuit of her, nor dissuade Twilight from eagerly delivering the fugitive to Her Highness.
While trying to count, in minutes, how much longer she had left as a free mare, Trixie
noticed a bird outside, soaring along with an independence that now seemed envious. Soaring toward her, in fact, getting closer and closer now. Except-
Was that a griffon?
Trixie blinked, sure her eyes were fooling her, but there he was , flying in from the west. With difficulty, it seemed. He wobbled in the air rather frighteningly.
He did not come through the window this time, as she half expected, but did make quite a ruckus as he broke his landing with the jail’s door, making the other two ponies jump.
“What in tarnation?!” the sheriff exclaimed, striding over to the door and flinging it open to reveal a Griswold that looked worse for wear. He appeared wounded even further, clutching feebly at arrow in his side with his broken arm, struggling to keep his feet even as stood before them. Silverstar rushed him into the room, propping the griffon’s bulk as best he could.
“Miss...Twilight... Sparkle?” He gasped out, panting between breaths. “You said…you work… for...the Princess?”
She nodded mutely, stunned by his his abrupt appearance.
“Well,” He continued, still heaving, “Then...you may...be interested...to know…about-” he paused, seeming unable to continue.
“What?” Sparkle demanded, leaning in, eyes wide. “What is it?”
The room was silent.
“...Minotaurs?” Twilight finally asked “From the western Isles? What’s the big deal about that? We had one of them in Ponyville not to long ago…”
“No…” he growled, and Trixie smothered a scream as he ripped the arrow from his ribs, waving it in Twilight’s face with a grimace. “A minotaur... ARMY.”
Then there was chaos. Sparkle and Silverstar went haywire, shouting together at the griffon for more details; was he sure, how many, how far away? Trixie listened in awe as he haltingly told them of meeting the one-thousand-strong regiment on his way into the Palomino desert, armed with pike and bow, towing huge siege weapons in their wake.
“Siege weapons?” The sheriff asked, baffled. “Fer Appaloosa?! Whatever for? We ain’t got but a few buildings, no walls, not even a durn fence!”
“Appaloosa will just be the starting point,” Twilight muttered, pacing back and forth. “They’ll have assumed they can take this tiny place easily, from which they can advance into the heart of Equestria.”
“Fully supplied on our apples, no doubt!” the sheriff griped.
“We’ve got nearly a day before they get here, surely we can come up with something.”
The two of began to debate a course of action, talking back and forth while Trixie mulled over the situation herself. She did not much like the odds of repelling a trained army of bloodthirsty warriors with merely the local militiaponies. Before she could sink too far into despair, however, she noticed something about Twilight and the sheriff.
“Sparkle,” Trixie asked, halting their back and forth, “have I gone crazy, or do you and the sheriff know each other?” Something in the way they addressed each other had seemed to suggest it.
“Oh, well, yes!” Twilight answered. “We met each other back when Applejack was trying to give her cousin a tree…”
She rambled on (naturally), revealing her previous adventures in Appaloosa. As she (finally) came towards the end of her tale, Trixie’s mind grasped a burst of inspiration. The solution was obvious, really.
A smile slowly formed on her face.
Sunlight gleamed of the crudely wrought arms and armor of the minotaur forces, making Trixie squint as she examined their assembled troops. The wind tugged on her serape, now magically resized to fit her form, sending it flapping gently. Across from her small group, it also stirred the army’s banners, unfurling them to display the clan’s emblem, a hammer clenched in an armored fist. War drums pounded, their ominous sound sending a shiver of fear down her spine.
Her party consisted of only three ponies: Sheriff Silverstar, Twilight Sparkle, and herself. Griswold stood with them as well, staring at the massed warriors with eager eyes despite his wounds. He’d insisted on being present, his honor unable to let him languish in a clinic whilst such a battle took place nearby. He had, at least, finally consented to some first aid, and now sported a splinted arm and bandages around his torso. Somehow, they only made him appear more fierce.
As if noticing her watching, he turned his head, meeting Trixie’s gaze with a feral grin.
“Today is a good day to do battle,” he stated. “May the earth soak in the blood of our enemies this day, Lulamoon.”
“If all goes as planned,” she replied, a flag of simple white held aloft in her magic, “there hopefully won’t be much of that.” Despite her words, she had to admit his savage love of violence was fitting. Almost... becoming. It stood in stark contrast to the tiresome ponies she’d spent her life entertaining with
mere FANTASTIC light shows and tricks.
“Pipe down, you two,” Sparkle hissed, “Here he comes!”
Across the plain strode an enormous minotaur, an equally oversized warhammer slung across his shoulders, flanked by two others of his kind. An honor guard of some kind, most likely. All three bore scars as evidence of their previous campaigns on their hides.
Their large steps propelled them quickly through the grass (while for Trixie it came up to nearly her shoulder, for the bipeds it was but knee-high), until they halted abruptly, a scant ten feet between the two groups. They stared, silently, waiting for the ponies to speak first.
“Ahem,” Sparkle began, clearing her throat. “You stand in violation of the Blackrock Treaty between the Minotaur Isles and the nation of Equestria, which states: ‘neither nation may house or transport military troops within the sovereign borders of the other, under threat of cessation of all diplomatic ties and declaration of war.”
The center minotaur glanced briefly at one of his companions, one eyebrow raised, before answering.
“Consider this a declaration of war, then,” he said, voice guttural and deep. “My people have grown weary of Equestria’s arrogance, smugly hoarding all the resources while smaller nations are left to starve. No longer shall we be slaves to your imperialism!”
“...Very well,” Twilight continued. She appeared unfazed by his accusations. “If you persist in your military aggression, you will be met with violent resistance. Are you prepared to forfeit the lives of yourself and your soldiers?”
The three seemed stunned, for a moment, before breaking into riotous laughter. Twilight stood her ground, nonplussed by their reaction.
“You haven’t answered my question,” she stated calmly.
“You...you are...serious?” asked their leader, gasping for breath and wiping tears from his eyes. “Three tiny ponies and a crippled griffon, against the might of a thousand minotaur warriors?”
Griswold shifted, glaring at the large creature with promises of bloodshed. He remained where he was, though, claws of his remaining arm digging furrows in the soil.
“With what strength do you intend to ‘violently resist?’” the minotaur went on. “This ‘magic of friendship’ you ponies are always going on about, perhaps?” He sneered at Twilight.
“Actually, yes.” he blinked. “The magical thing about friendship, you see, is it comes with FRIENDS.”
At Sparkle’s final word, Trixie dropped the flag she was holding, as well as the illusion spell she’d been casting on several hundred buffalo. As their invisibility faded, the prairie came alive with their snorts and stomping hooves, their sudden appearance driving the minotaur delegation back a few steps.
“Pony tricks!” Their leader shouted over the noise. “Do not think this will save you. My warriors will still cut you down like threshed wheat! As shall Equestria!”
“Mebbe,” Silverstar called. “But I reckon ya three, at least, will be dead.” He grinned cruelly.
One of the guards whispered in his liege’s ears, no doubt pointing out the odds of fending off so many with such a small escort. The minotaur warlord seemed willing to try it anyway, for a moment, but at last he nodded. Without another word the three turned tail and fled back toward the armored lines of troops, who seemed agitated, to say the least, at the situation’s developments.
At their leader’s bellow, the mass of minotaurs surged forward, rushing to meet him even as he fled away. The buffalo chief (Thunderhooves, Trixie believed he was called) gave his own warcry, sending his tribe stampeding forth, clumps of earth and grass flying in their wake.
It seemed a doomed gesture, despite their bravado. Heavily outnumbered, without any armor or weapons, and lacking the training and seasoning of their warlike adversaries, the conflict would be short-lived, impossible to win. The minotaurs seemed to sense this as well, howling with bloodlust as they came on.
Then it happened.
The buffalo began to glow, illuminated by a pale pink aura, and slowly they grew, becoming two, three, now four times their size! And still growing! Their thundering hoofbeats could be mistaken for an earthquake, and their cries were so loud they seemed to crack the very sky, across which one determined griffon flapped madly after them.
The minotaur lines had halted, unsure, as an unfamiliar emotion planted seeds in their hearts: fear. The feeling became worse and worser still as the buffalo grew larger and larger. Never had they faced foes so terrible, who seemed to radiate death itself as they charged. The whispers of dread they felt turned into full-throated shouts of dismay.
They began to break, practiced warriors dropping their weapons and running, ignoring the protests of their warlord to turn and fight. Once started, the retreat could not be held back, and the minotaur army disintegrated into a desperate route, minotaurs fleeing. Siege devices, terrible with violent potential, were trampled under hoof and into pieces as the buffalo pursued their enemy, driving them out of Equestria forever.
“Whoo-ee!” Silverstar exclaimed, throwing his hat into the air. “Lookit ‘em go! They’ll think twice ‘for bothering anypony again, I’d wager.”
“Let’s hope so,” Twilight replied, matching his grin. “Minotaurs are a proud people. They won’t forget this humiliation for some time. For his part in their disgrace, I doubt their warlord will survive the night.”
“Yea, they can be the wrathful type, I reckon,” He agreed, deftly catching his hat with an outstretched hoof. “So, miss Sparkle, it seems you’ve saved our town yet again.”
“Actually, I barely did anything this time. This was mostly Trix-” She cut off, looking around suddenly. “Hey! Where’d that mare get to? I still have to turn her in to Princess Luna!”
Miles away now, Trixie gave a whoop of exhilaration. She soared across the sky atop Griswold’s back, enjoying the sensation of the wind running through her mane, throwing back her head in delighted laughter. Griswold himself smiled, the flesh on either side of his beak curling up. Together, they followed the still-running buffalo for a time, reveling in their victory. And together, without another look back, Trixie and her guardian angel raced off into the sunset.