After Discord vanished from the train station, there was little else to say. The ponies waited in silence until the train to Ponyville rolled up to the platform. They then boarded it without a word and began the ride home.
Applejack and Fluttershy sat beside Trixie. Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkamena sat as far away from Trixie as they could get. They didn’t say anything, but they made it clear that they didn’t want to have anything to do with her. The gray Elements had no intention of becoming her friend.
“They’re just upset,” Applejack told Trixie. “They’ll come around eventually. They’re really great ponies, once you get to know them.”
Trixie said nothing. She stared out the window and watched the countryside roll by. The sun was beginning to set; soon the land would be covered in darkness. She wondered if there was any hope at all.
Fluttershy spoke up. “I have an extra room upstairs. It’s nice and cozy. I hope you’ll like it.”
“Thank you,” Trixie replied. “Trixie is sure it will be wonderful.”
“Do you have much luggage?”
Trixie looked at the yellow pegasus. “No, Trixie doesn’t have any luggage. Everything she had was destroyed by rioting griffons. She doesn’t even have a single bit to her name.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
There was more silence.
Applejack spoke up. “So what’re you gonna do in Ponyville? Do you have any plans?”
“I guess I have a lot of reading to do,” Trixie replied. “Celestia wants me to replace Twilight, and that’s not going to be easy. Twilight knew so much about, well, everything. There are spells I need to learn, magical theory I need to understand… it’s going to take a lot of work.”
“Well, I think you’re in luck,” Applejack replied. “Twilight has a whole pile of books in her library – lots of piles of them, actually. She liked readin’ more than anypony I’ve ever seen. In the morning I’ll send Big Mac over to her castle and have him bring you some of her books on magic. That should keep you busy for a while. When you need more just let me know. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
“Thank you. That will make a big difference. Learning how to be Twilight is going to be really hard.”
“Um, Trixie?” Fluttershy said.
“I don’t want to be mean or anything, but I don’t think you should try to replace Twilight. It’s not because I don’t think you’re capable – I’m sure you’re very talented – but Twilight was Twilight, and you are you. You should be who you are, instead of trying to be somepony else. I don’t think Twilight ever intended for you to be her clone.”
Trixie sighed. “Fluttershy, Celestia wants me to become the Element of Magic. That means I’ve got to become Twilight, somehow.”
“Not necessarily. You can bear that Element in your own way. Before we bore them, Celestia and Luna were the bearers of the Elements. The princesses managed them just fine by being themselves. You can be a magical pony without being Twilight, you know.”
“Why do you care?” Trixie asked. “I’m not trying to be rude, but what difference does it make to you?”
“I’m your friend, and you matter a lot to me. I know I was really mean to you earlier, and I am super sorry about that. It’s just that–”
“It’s Celestia,” Applejack interrupted. “When she told us what happened to Twilight, she was really angry. She made you out to be a real bad pony, and I guess somehow her hate infected us. We all hated you – well, I guess some of us still do.”
“But I didn’t hate everyone,” Fluttershy said quickly. “Just you.”
“How wonderful,” Trixie muttered.
“But that’s all behind us now,” Applejack said firmly. “The past is the past. I bet Twilight would have wanted us to all be the best of friends, just like Discord said – in fact, I’m sure of it. And that’s exactly what we’re going to become. Just you wait and see.”
“Unless Trixie kills you first,” Rainbow Dash called out from the back.
Applejack facehoofed. “Just ignore her.”
* * * * *
Trixie found life at Fluttershy’s house to be exceedingly strange. She had heard that the shy yellow pony was good at working with animals, but she was surprised to find out just how much they dominated her life. Her home was filled with all sorts of creatures – birds, rabbits, and even bears seemed to come and go at will.
The first night was the weirdest. As Trixie tried to go to sleep on the second floor of Fluttershy’s cottage, she felt like she was sleeping in a zoo. It wasn’t that she minded animals – after all, they were an important part of the ecosystem – but this was something else entirely. What sane pony allowed bears in their living room? Was it even safe to be in here? How did Trixie know she wouldn’t wake up to find a fox trying to eat her legs? Did these creatures have all of their shots?
But over the next few days she gradually relaxed and got used to it. She was still uncomfortable, but she didn’t dare say anything about it to Fluttershy. After all, if it wasn’t for her she would be homeless. She owed Fluttershy a great deal, and she was very grateful.
True to her word, Applejack did indeed send her brother Big Mac to Twilight’s castle (which Trixie refused to go near, in fear of Rainbow Dash), and he brought a giant cartload of Twilight’s books to Fluttershy’s house. Trixie was impressed at the quality of the material: Twilight really did have all the best books. She was confident that if she could master all of that knowledge, she could indeed become a great and powerful pony.
Of course, she knew she could never actually rival Twilight. After all, Twilight had been an alicorn princess – a possessor of the most powerful kind of magic in all of Equestria. There were spells Twilight could do easily that Trixie would never be able to master. Even so, Trixie knew she had great potential. She might not be able to fight alongside Celestia or Luna, but she was determined to be the most powerful unicorn in all the land.
If Discord was right she had no time to waste; trouble was apparently already on its way. No matter what the danger was, Trixie was determined to rise to the challenge and defeat it. That was her job, after all, and Trixie never gave up. She might not have all of the Elements on her side, but she now had a few friends – and that was a good start.
* * * * *
One day, while Trixie was deep in a book of magical theory, Fluttershy walked up to her and gently tapped her on her flank. “Excuse me. I hate to bother you and all, but I think we need to take a short trip.”
Trixie put her book down. “A trip? Do we need to go to Canterlot or something? Please tell me I don’t have to see Celestia again.”
“Oh no – nothing like that! Maybe I should have called it an errand. You see, I think we need to make some more friends. That is, you need to make some more friends.”
Trixie sighed. “I know how important it is for me to connect to the rest of the Elements – really, I do. I get it. I know I can’t actually become the real Element of Magic until I become friends with the other Elements. But Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash hates me. If I get anywhere near her she’s going to break my neck. Don’t you remember what she said?”
“No no no no,” Fluttershy said quickly. “Not Rainbow Dash. I think she needs more… time to herself. I was thinking that maybe we could visit someone safe and friendly, like Pinkie Pie. She could probably use some cheering up. She hasn’t been herself lately.”
“Doesn’t Pinkie usually cheer other ponies up?”
“Not anymore,” Fluttershy said sadly. “She’s become more like Maud. But not in a good way.”
“Pinkie’s sister. She’s – um, not quite as exuberant as Pinkie. She’s kind of like a rock. She doesn’t live around here, though.”
“I see,” Trixie said. She stood up. “All right – let’s go. I suppose it would be a good thing to become friends with the Element of Laughter.”
However, it didn’t take very long for the two of them to discover that the Element of Laughter was no longer laughing. When Trixie and Fluttershy entered Sugarcube Corner and told Mrs. Cake that they were there to see Pinkie, a troubled look appeared on her face. “Are you sure, dears? Perhaps if you came back later…”
“Do you think that would help?” Fluttershy asked. “I truly want to do whatever is best for our friend. We really want to help her, you know. She’s been there for us so many times.”
Mrs. Cake sighed. “Pinkie’s been so upset for days, and she’s lost all of her color. She doesn’t bake cakes anymore, and the poor dear hardly eats anything. She just stays up in her room. I just don’t know how to help her.”
Mrs. Cake leaned over the counter. “Do you really think you can do something to make her better?” she asked in a low voice.
“Trixie will try,” the blue pony said.
“I’ve just never seen her like this before! She’s normally so cheerful and outgoing. Well, except for that one time when her friends threw her a surprise birthday party, and she got kind of mixed up about what was going on. And there was the time Discord corrupted her. But this seems much worse. Normally she’s the one who cheers other ponies up.”
Fluttershy spoke up. “We’ll do everything we can for her, Mrs. Cake.”
“Thank you. The stairs are right over there.”
Trixie and Fluttershy walked up the staircase in the back and entered Pinkie’s room. They found their friend sitting in the middle of the room, staring at the wall. The formerly-pink pony was now a dark gray, and her curly main was utterly flat. She had a blank look on her face. She vacantly stared at nothing in particular.
Fluttershy walked over to her friend. “Um, Pinkie?”
“Pinkamena,” the gray pony said flatly.
“Oh. Um, what happened to Pinkie?”
“Pinkie was a fool,” the gray pony said bitterly. “Do you know what she did? Pinkie laughed at danger. Laughed! How stupid was that?”
“I don’t think it was stupid at all,” Fluttershy replied gently. “Don’t you remember what happened when we first met Twilight and went with her through the Everfree Forest? We were–”
“Morons,” Pinkamena interrupted. “We were a group of total morons. Do you know what danger does? It kills the ponies you love. And do you know what happens when the ponies you love are dead? It hurts. It means they are gone. Gone and not coming back.”
Fluttershy tried to say something, but Pinkamena just kept on going. “I was such a fool. Instead of protecting ponies from things that might hurt them, I just laughed. Do you know what Twilight really needed? A friend who could protect her from danger. Do you know what she had instead? A totally useless clown. Clowns can’t help anypony! They just make light of danger and then let their friends die, far from home and far from anypony who loves them.”
Trixie spoke up. “That’s a lot of nonsense! Who told you that?”
“Celestia,” Pinkamena replied. “She explained everything to me when she came and told us what happened to Twilight. That’s when I finally understood.”
“Of course she did,” Trixie muttered. “That rotten monster. Listen to me, Pinkie. I don’t care what Celestia told you. The truth is that–”
“You failed her too,” Pinkamena pointed out. “We all did. But I won’t ever fail again. The next time I see danger I will stab it in the face until it dies.”
Trixie sighed. “But that’s not who you are! You’re supposed to be the Element of Laughter.”
“The laughter has died. Now I’m the Element of Vengeance. Next time will be very, very different.”
* * * * *
Despite Trixie’s attempts, she was unable to make any further progress with the Elements. Rarity remained cold and distant, and Rainbow Dash was so hostile that Trixie went out of her way to avoid her.
Pinkie, meanwhile, remained in her room. Her absence from Ponyville caused a noticeable difference in the city’s mood – or so Fluttershy told her. Trixie knew very little about Ponyville, so it was hard for her to judge any changes. The yellow pegasus claimed that before Twilight’s death, Ponyville had been a happy, cheerful place. Now, though, everyone seemed to be angry and irritated. There was a general feeling of darkness and despair that permeated everything. It made both of them dread going into the city.
Trixie had been living with Fluttershy for about three weeks when the pair had an unexpected visitor. After supper, Trixie and Fluttershy were out in front of the house. The sun had set and the moon was high in the sky, but the stars were obscured. It was almost like there was some sort of haze in the air.
“I don’t like it,” Trixie commented. “Have you noticed that the sky has been getting a little darker every night? There’s definitely something wrong.”
Fluttershy nodded. “The animals have been nervous lately too. I’ve noticed that a lot of them have been fleeing from the Everfree Forest. I’m not really sure why, but my friend Zecora might know. Perhaps tomorrow we could visit her and–”
The pegasus was interrupted by the sound of thunder. A wind suddenly picked up and blew through her pink mane. Trixie gasped and pointed up at the sky. “Look!”
The two ponies saw a chariot flying through the air, with a dark blue alicorn riding in the back. The chariot was being pulled by four armored batponies.
“It’s Luna,” Fluttershy said nervously.
Trixie looked at her friend, surprised. “Are you scared of her?”
“Well, not really, I guess. But she is kind of scary. She used to be Nightmare Moon, you know.”
“But she’s not anymore! The Elements removed the darkness from her, remember? She’s good now.”
“I know. But, still. The darkness kind of frightens me, a little. But please don’t tell Luna I said that! I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I know she works so hard to make the night beautiful. I just wish I could appreciate it more.”
A moment later the royal chariot landed in Fluttershy’s yard, and Luna stepped out and approached the two ponies. “Good evening, friends. Are you enjoying my beautiful night?”
“Um, about that,” Fluttershy said nervously. She raised a hoof and pointed at the sky. “I think there might be a cloud, or smog, or something. It makes it hard to see your stars.”
“So you have noticed that as well! You are indeed as clever as I hoped. Yes, there is something wrong with Equestria. I fear that one of our greatest foes have returned.”
“Well, that’s not good,” Fluttershy replied. “Would you like to come inside?”
Luna nodded. Fluttershy opened the front door to her home and let Luna inside. Trixie followed behind her. Fluttershy then entered the house last and closed the door.
“Could I get you some tea or something?” Fluttershy asked.
“No, yellow pony, for I cannot stay. There is still much that I must do tonight. But I have come to talk to the Element of Magic. I fear that we may soon have need of her services.”
“Me?” Trixie asked.
“Yes, of course! Twilight asked you to succeed her, did she not? And I have no doubt that you are capable of doing exactly that. I have heard that you have been doing much studying lately, and that pleases me. Here – you will need this.”
Luna levitated a book she had been carrying and gave it to Trixie, who took it with her hooves and looked at it. “What is this?”
“Those are Twilight’s research notes,” Luna explained. “A number of years ago Twilight studied Equestrian history, and she put together everything she could find on a monster known as the Necromancer. Long ago, in the days when my sister and I ruled over Equestria together, that evil being arose and attempted to cover this land in darkness and death. We were able to defeat him, but it would seem our defeat of him was not as complete as we hoped. Twilight came to believe that the Necromancer was not gone forever, but simply banished back to his realm. She was afraid that if the barriers between our two worlds ever weakened, he might come back and try again.
“I believe that the disharmony my sister Celestia has been spreading has given the Necromancer the chance he needed to re-enter this realm and resume his evil scheme. I do not want to alarm you, but it is now only a matter of time before he launches an attack on Ponyville.”
“Ponyville!” Trixie exclaimed. “Why Ponyville? Wouldn’t Canterlot be a better target?”
“I have seen the cloud of darkness that lingers over the Everfree Forest. I believe the Necromancer has established a base there – and Ponyville is closer to that forest than any other city. It would be the logical first step.”
Trixie looked at the book. “I’ll begin reading this book tonight. How much time do we have?”
“My sister Celestia assures me that it will take him at least another three days before he can mount an attack. How she knows this I do not know, but I trust her judgment. Celestia has also promised to train her troops to defend the land against this threat. She will send them to Ponyville before the Necromancer attacks.”
Fluttershy sighed in relief. “Well, that’s good news. At least we won’t have to fight him all by ourselves.”
“Three days?” Trixie squeaked. “That’s – not a whole lot of time!”
“But you are not alone,” Luna pointed out. “You have Twilight’s notes, and they will help prepare you. Celestia herself will help you defend Ponyville, and I will do whatever I can to aid you. I know this is a mighty task but I believe you can do this. Read Twilight’s notes, find the Necromancer’s weakness, and form a plan to send him back to the world of the undead. I will not ask you if you can do this, for I have faith in you. Instead I ask this: will you do this?”
Trixie swallowed nervously. The Elements of Harmony were not a functional team, and she had little support. She had only just begun her studies and still had so much to learn. But how could she say no?
“Absolutely,” Trixie said confidently. “I won’t let you down.”
What Trixie didn’t realize was that Celestia had already let her down. When Luna approached her sister about the Necromancer threat, Celestia had simply lied to her. She had no actual information about the Lord of the Undead and didn’t care enough to get any. The very next day the Necromancer’s spectral army would march to Ponyville – and the war with the darkness would begin.