SRETTEL EHPORTSOPA TCARTBUS
Twilight’s eyes narrowed in resolve.
“Trixie… Let Queen Selena go.”
Trixie’s face contorted in inequine fury.
“She will never let her go! Trixie has been wronged and sinned against as you could not possibly understand, Twilight Sparkle! You, who have ruined my life!”
Twilight pawed at the ground in readiness even as confusion wracked her brain.
“Ruined your life…? How could I have ruined your life?”
“How could you not know, Twilight Sparkle?” snarled the azure Unicorn. “You let Equestria know of my deep shame: that I cannot slay an ursa major, not even an ursa minor. You spread word from coast to coast, all out of spite and jealousy of The Great And Powerful Trixie’s prodigious illusory talent!”
‘Twilight Sparkle, of what doth she speak?’ asked Queen Selena in her captivity.
“That’s a load of horse-apples!” growled Rainbow Dash. “She’s not jealous of your stupid magic!”
“SILENCE!” Trixie bellowed, and the sky roared with red thunder. “You think that Trixie does not know? Everypony envies her magic. Nopony casts illusions better; illusions so realistic that they seem almost tangible, that most everypony is fooled by them… except for you, Twilight Sparkle, who has broken the unspoken creed shared by all those who practice magic: Never reveal the secret of how it is accomplished!”
“Twilight Sparkle,” cut in Aunt Valencia Orange, “who in Equestria is this mare? Was she NightMare Moon’s right-hoof mare?”
“Has she come back to avenge the Dark Queen’s passing…?” breathed Prince Blueblood in fright.
“She was a show-mare,” Twilight answered shortly, “who tried to take advantage of the eternal night by bilking Ponyville of its food and shelter.”
“An' Twilight didn’ reveal nuthin’!” interjected Applejack. “She ain’ let anypony outside a’ Ponyville in on yer shortcummin’s!”
“You cannot fool The Great And Powerful Trixie!” shouted Trixie. “She works in illusions and misdirection; you think that she cannot recognize a ruse when she sees one? The Great And Powerful Trixie knew as soon as setting hoof at the first town out from Ponyville, that word had already reached them, so The Great And Powerful Trixie immediately began to prostrate herself before them, to let them know that The Great And Powerful Trixie had been had, that she is as capable as they’d heard before. They claimed to not know, but The Great And Powerful Trixie knows better! She knows that they know! They all know!”
Most everypony was stunned into silence by Trixie’s ranting. She was clearly delirious with rage.
“The Great And Powerful Trixie could not put on her show in any city, town or village, so she had to resort to terrible things to make ends meet,” Trixie continued, her eyes burning like coals. “Dreadful dead-end jobs unbefitting of the likes of Trixie! She even had to find work at a rock farm. A ROCK FARM!”
“Hey!” shouted Pinkie Pie, looking angrier than Twilight could remember ever seeing on the Earth Pony’s face. “You’re lucky that a rock farm would take the likes of you!”
“Do not belittle The Great And Powerful Trixie’s suffering with your stupid mouth!” Trixie snapped, a scarlet dwimmer-beam lancing out from her alicorn towards Pinkie faster than anypony could react. Twilight spun about in alarm to face Pinkie.
“Pinkie! Are you alright?”
Pinkie opened her mouth to answer, but no sound came out. Her eyebrows knitted in bemusement as she rubbed a hoof in one ear. She flapped her gums some more and her eyes widened in horror at the realization. Tears leaked down her face as she let out unheard cries.
“Give Pinkie back her voice, now!” Twilight warned Trixie, her own alicorn gleaming pink.
“The Great And Powerful Trixie will not! She is sparing her own ears the chaotic din that she recalls from that mare, at least for a few hours! You Ponyville ponies should be grateful to The Great And Powerful Trixie that she didn’t blast that pink mare’s muzzle off, as you should have been grateful for her gracing you with her great illusion show!”
“That was hardly a show, if I may say,” Rarity said shortly.
“You may not say,” snapped Trixie. “The Great And Powerful Trixie will not suffer any indignation, not when she is able to provide spectacle like nopony has ever seen!”
“‘Spectacle’?” Twilight said. “That ursa major you created could have caused widespread panic, on top of the eternal night of NightMare Moon!”
“What is a little panic, if The Great And Powerful Trixie can make for herself the sort of glory that would make most ponies blanch? If there is one thing that The Great And Powerful Trixie despises, it is the idea of nopony speaking of her. Panic would only spread the knowledge of The Great And Powerful Trixie, and so more ponies would offer her greater rewards for her great illusions!”
Queen Selena gasped, ‘Thou art insane! Egotistical! Dost thou not know the pitfalls of hubris?’
Trixie laughed maniacally, the scarlet lightning clawing its way around Selena far more energetically, and the blue-and-black Alicorn screamed in agony.
Twilight snarled, her alicorn glowing bright.
“Stop it! Let her go!”
“Let Aunt Selly go!” echoed Blueblood, and Rarity nearly swooned at the plea in his voice.
“Not until The Great And Powerful Trixie has spoken her piece!”
“You don’t know what you’re doing! She’s still weak from the Miasma―…”
“A farce!” shouted Trixie. “The Great And Powerful Trixie knows misdirection when she sees it, nopony better!”
“Harken to me, ‘Great And Powerful’ Trixie,” hissed Fuzzhead, taking a step forward. “Speak your piece, let us know your business with Miss Sparkle here, and then let the Alicorn Queen of the Night loose.”
“The Great And Powerful Trixie shall set free your Queen of Air and Darkness,” answered the azure Unicorn, “if Twilight Sparkle consents to a Magic Duel with me!”
Gasps circled through the Ponies in the semicircle facing Trixie. For as long as Unicorns had been studying the art of thaumaturgy and spellcraft, there had been rather more aggressive mares and stallions who would turn their magic upon their fellow pony. Eventually, meggrossia before the arising of Equestria, King Füllhorn of the Unicorn Kingdom of Cornucopia had it decreed that no one Unicorn could cast deadly spellwork on another pony, or allow them to come to indirect harm by their magic, and that any duel between Unicorns would only be allowed to unfold by the mutual consent of both parties. Such laws regarding Magic Duels were so well-accepted that they were more or less brought whole-cloth into the laws of Equestria by Clover the Clever when she drafted the Articles of the United Tribes. With the passing of the Age of Discord, though, Magic Duels largely fell out of style, with only token events transpiring to make political distinctions clear.
This, clearly, was drawing a line in the sand.
“A Magic Duel? You’re forcing my hoof, Trixie,” Twilight growled in response. “It’s not fair to use a hostage to force consent to a Magic Duel.”
“Fair?” Trixie breathed, eyes wide; it was more frightening than shouting. “Do not speak to The Great And Powerful Trixie of fairness. Her life was one of splendor and enjoyment until you had to ruin it by revealing a magician’s secret!”
“I didn’t reveal it!” Twilight insisted, pawing still harder at the ground. “As I recall, you admitted to being unable to stop an ursa yourself!”
“That is not how The Great And Powerful Trixie remembers it!” Trixie replied. “You, Twilight Sparkle, are a golem crafted by envious ponies for the express purpose of bringing about the downfall of Trixie! And she challenges you to a Magic Duel to set things to right!”
Twilight quirked up an amethyst eyebrow at the suggestion of her being a golem, casting her eyes upon Queen Selena. The dark Alicorn’s cyan eyes were wide with fear, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. Twilight met her eyes, and Queen Selena nodded her head nigh-imperceptibly. In the crimson dwimmer shimmer, it was all that she could do. Twilight mirrored that most faint of nods, before turning her gaze back upon Trixie Lulamoon.
“I will consent to duel you, Trixie,” Twilight said slowly, choosing her words with care. “And now, name the terms of this Duel.”
“If The Great And Powerful Trixie should win − which she will − then Twilight Sparkle must depart from Ponyville forever!” Trixie’s cape flared like bat’s wings as a blast of wind accompanied her shout.
Twilight answered, “And if you should lose?”
“The Great And Powerful Trixie will not lose,” came the reply, “but for the sake of your tiny and inflexible mind, Trixie supposes she will set this lowly Alicorn free if she should lose.”
“I accept your terms, Trixie,” said Twilight, pawing at the ground, “but I think I should warn you, it will be over quickly.”
Trixie smirked evilly.
“Yes. It will be.”
Twilight narrowed her eyes at the azure Unicorn.
“I may not be the greatest or most powerful Unicorn to have lived, but all that you have to your name is a decently convincing illusion spell. All it takes to expose an illusion for what it is is to pull aside the curtain.”
“You would know all about that, wouldn’t you?” Trixie spat acidly. “But The Great And Powerful Trixie is greater and more powerful than anypony who has ever lived. For Trixie…” A rapturous expression crossed the azure Unicorn’s face. “Trixie has discovered herself.”
Twilight’s eyes flicked to the silver necklace beset with rubies around Trixie’s neck. “What do you mean?”
Trixie stared off into the sky, drawing confused looks from most ponies facing her, and fearful looks from the six youngest.
“During her time of despair, The Great And Powerful Trixie met a kindly Earth Pony who called himself Nightshade. He listened to Trixie’s tragic story, and he told Trixie of a necklace of untold power, in the possession of a Unicorn in Dodge Junction… only to be sold at a great price. Trixie knew that you were a deceptive Unicorn, Twilight Sparkle, and she knew that the only way to circumvent such subterfuge was to indulge in a little skulduggery herself.
“Those rock farmers were truly careless with their money, but The Great And Powerful Trixie deserved every thoroughbit. Yes, thoroughbits, Twilight Sparkle! More money than Trixie is sure you have ever seen in your life living out here in the sticks. More than enough, Trixie knew, to collect this amulet from Candlelight! And it has been more than worth Trixie’s troubles! You cannot imagine the power that The Great And Powerful Trixie is possessed of now!”
Twilight looked closely at the carcanet around Trixie’s neck again. It looked to be a somewhat gothic tribute to the Alicorn Queens, and it looked vaguely familiar somehow; perhaps she’d seen it at one of Moondancer’s parties before she stopped attending them? Or…
Twilight shuddered. Trixie’s dwimmer shimmer was a rather different color than it was when she had appeared in Ponyville nearly three months prior, and her TQ seemed to be much higher with that amulet on. If it really did boost her power to the level she claimed that it did…
“Trixie…” Twilight implored, “you needn’t have gone to such troubles to try to overcome me. I’m sorry for what I’ve done to ruin your life.”
“You don’t need to apologize to her, Book-horse,” cut in Rainbow Dash. “She set herself up for a pretty bad fall.”
“Rainbow Dash is right, Twilight,” added Scootaloo. “She scared the willies out of me and the Crusaders with her big fake ursa major!”
“Do not interrupt!” Trixie snarled, blasting Rainbow Dash with a flare of crimson light from her alicorn. When the spots in Twilight’s eyes had cleared, she could see − to her horror − that Rainbow Dash’s wings had been transplanted onto her belly. Her aerodynamics fouled up, the cerulean Pegasus swerved out of control off to her left, careening into one of the pylons of the Gazebo and cracking it.
Fluttershy gasped, “Dashie!”
The butter-yellow Pegasus darted up to Rainbow Dash, cradling her in her forelegs.
“Please Dashie, you have to stop flying…”
“I can’t…” gasped Rainbow Dash, her wings beating mutinously in front of Fluttershy’s face. “They won’t stop… flapping…”
Twilight could not take it anymore. She sent a pink dwimmer-beam flying at Trixie, aiming for her heart…
And a crimson dwimmer-shield erected in an instant around Trixie and her captive, deflecting the shot into the sky.
“A cheap shot, as anticipated of you, Twilight Sparkle.”
“You’re casting spells to hurt my friends!”
“The Great And Powerful Trixie was provoked. Do you expect her to allow such slander against her name?”
“I try to apologize to you, and you do this to somepony who has no quarrel with you? My friends have nothing to do with this!”
“They have everything to do with this; they are your hangers-on, Twilight Sparkle. Besides, the time has passed for apologies, and all debts must now be paid, with interest.”
Breathing heavily through her nostrils, Twilight glowered at Trixie with all the hate she could muster. Trixie was clearly a mare beyond reasoning, and there was no accurate way of gauging her power level as things currently stood. Although her repertoire of spells had to be limited to those related to illusion and sleight-of-hoof, the possibility still existed that that amulet Trixie wore would whisper spells to its wearer to give her a better chance at victory.
Still, she had to try and save the Queen’s little sister, or the Queen would…!
“Very well,” Twilight said with resolve, raising her voice over the sounds of Rainbow Dash struggling against her own misplaced wings. “When does our Magic Duel begin, then?”
Trixie bared her teeth manically.
A flash of red light flared out from her horn, and Pinot Noir’s abandoned bottles of fine wine blasted the corks clean out, directly at Twilight. The lavender Unicorn’s party gave out cries of alarm and indignation, Blueblood ducking once more and covering his head even though he did not stand in the line of fire.
Twilight replied with a wink-out away from the wine bottles’ line of fire, reappearing at Trixie’s side.
“Cheap shots in a duel are uncalled for, Trixie, but I’m not so long in the tooth that I would fall for something like that.”
Deciding that caution best not be thrown to the wind, Twilight ensnared the amulet round Trixie’s neck in her dwimmer shimmer, and attempted to pull…
A tremendous pain shot down Twilight’s alicorn, straight through the center of her brain and into the base of her skull.
It would not yield.
A tremendous and completely alien willpower kept the amulet affixed to Trixie’s neck, leaving Twilight baffled and pained.
“NO! DON’T TOUCH ME!” roared a completely unfamiliar voice… from Trixie’s mouth? from the amulet? where?… and Twilight found herself thrown back to her band, landing on her back.
“Mom!” shouted Spike.
“Twilight!” Applejack cried, before stepping over the lavender Unicorn and confronting Trixie. “If ya want trouble, yer barkin’ up th’ wrong tree, Trixie…!”
A bright flash of crimson, and Applejack was gone.
“Applejack!” gasped Twilight. Had Trixie just…?
”Ah’m fine, Twilight,” squeaked a very tiny drawling voice from atop Twilight’s belly. “But ev’rything’s lookin’ a mite bit bigger than b’fore…”
Looking down around her navel, Twilight spotted Applejack, perfectly fine… except for the fact that she was easily the size of a mouse, Stetson and all!
“Applejack!” Apple Bloom cried, before rounding on Trixie. “Ya turn mah sister back, ya big bully!”
‘Prithee, child,’ interjected Queen Selena, ‘provoke not the mad mare!’
“Aunt Selly is right, young rube!” whimpered Blueblood. “Don’t say anything, or you’ll make this insane mare even more mad!”
“‘Young rube’…?” mused Rarity, giving Blueblood a quizzical look. This wasn’t at all like the Blueblood she’d read about…
“The Great And Powerful Trixie,” snarled the azure Unicorn, “is not MAD!”
As Applejack leapt down from Twilight’s midsection to gallop back to the group of increasingly more mangled ponies, Twilight had to ponder the true magical power of what she was dealing with. In all of her time as a student of Queen Celestia, she had never seen the Queen make use of a transsizing spell to either enlarge or reduce an object. It was never a subject of very great study save for her lessons on Burgeoning Earth Ponies, as it was widely considered impractical even for the highest level of Unicorns.
Just what was that amulet…?
Still, Twilight thought, no reason to sink to Trixie’s potentially dangerous spellwork.
A flash of bright-pink light, and Trixie felt something bristling on her muzzle. Looking down, she saw that she now had a full cornflower mustache and beard, reaching down to her hooves.
“Facial hair is unbecoming of The Great And Powerful Trixie,” the azure Unicorn snorted in derision, summoning a set of shears that made quick work of the rapidly grown facial hair.
Trixie’s alicorn glowed red, and clouds suddenly coalesced overhead, darkening the skies over Ponyville. Training her eyes upon the gathering storm, Twilight could discern exactly what type of precipitation was being called forth by these clouds…
And with a flash from her own alicorn, Twilight Sparkle called forth a shield of heat just over the rooftops of Ponyville, the hail dissolving into rain as it crossed the threshold of the hamlet’s airspace.
Flicking her head in another direction, Twilight transfigured the raindrops into beams of rainbow light that swirled about through the air and dazzled the eyes of everypony who beheld it.
“Pretty…!” Sweetie Belle gasped.
“Now dat’s pretty sweet,” mused Babs, smiling broadly.
“Y’all said it,” beamed Apple Bloom.
“Almost as cool as Rainbow Dash…” breathed Scootaloo.
“I haven’t seen anything so cool before…” grinned Butter-And-Eggs.
“Nopony upstages The Great And Powerful Trixie! Nopony!”
The swirling prismatic beams shifted to crimson, veritably transforming into blades that set themselves upon the four Cutie Mark Crusaders, the sound of air being cleaved reaching all ears…
And the red light became pink glitter as it descended upon the heads of the young fillies, whose reactions shifted from abject terror to cheers of glee.
Twilight again snorted out her nostrils, drawing two lines in the earth with a cloven sapphire hoof.
“Leave them out of this, Trixie!” she growled. “You’re not playing fair!”
“Do not press the issue of fairness, Twilight Sparkle!” snarled the azure Unicorn. “You must surely know what it was like for Trixie now to be so humiliated by now. How does it feel to have your simple-minded admirers so far beyond your power? You must know! You must!”
“They’re not simple-minded admirers. They’re my friends!”
“‘Friends’? That is just a word ponies use when they want something from you that they cannot get themselves. It is a ruse, an illusion meant to mislead and misdirect. If they’re really your friends, Twilight Sparkle, why are they not protecting you?”
Twilight gnashed her teeth together.
“You… You don’t understand the first thing about friendship. All you think about is yourself!”
“And you don’t, Twilight Sparkle? You only have this paltry number of followers, and you keep them so close to yourself for fear of losing them. The Great And Powerful Trixie, however, has scores upon scores of adoring ponies to call her followers! And she does not need them to follow her constantly to remind herself that she has them. Everywhere she goes, ponies scream her name: Trixie! Trixie!”
“Where? I never heard of you before you came to Ponyville!”
Trixie looked absolutely outraged.
“You… have never heard of The Great And Powerful Trixie? Surely you have heard of the thwarted Parasprite invasion of Fillydelphia? The savage horde of spectral Buffalo who was driven away from Appleloosa? The banishment of the UFOs over Los Pegasus? All of them the immersive illusion shows of The Great And Powerful Trixie!”
Twilight blinked, suddenly struck. She did recall those stories, appearing as miniscule articles at the back of the Equestria Daily, written in a dismissive tone that spoke volumes of the credibility (or lack thereof) of each account of the events in question. Those were all the work of the same mare? Could they all be this mare before her…?
“That was all you?” Twilight gasped. “Of course I wouldn’t know that that was all you! They all had different names; you used different names each time!”
“A great magician’s identity need not be steady or stable. The greatest ponies to live use different names for each group of ponies who know them, so The Great And Powerful Trixie has followed their example!”
“Ya great dirty trickster!” shouted Applejack at the top of her voice… which carried surprisingly far for her size. “Ma cousin Braeburn almost went ta war with a local Buffalo tribe ‘cause a’ that stunt ya pulled, Sleight-A’-Hoof!”
Trixie laughed, a high insane sound.
“Then Trixie’s illusory Buffalo herd was a true success!”
“Ponies coulda died!”
“That is not Trixie’s problem! Ponies need to not take Trixie’s success so seriously!”
Twilight lit up her alicorn once more, spell matrices aligning within. Just how much of Trixie’s madness was a result of the fell artifact round her neck, and how much had she masked with a silver tongue beforehoof?
“It’s all clear to me now, Trixie,” Twilight hissed. “You’re completely insane. You’re imbalanced, you have identity issues, and you need help.” Her eyes narrowed. “This will be over quickly.”
Trixie yawned, seemingly unbothered by Twilight’s statement. Infuriated by Trixie’s dismissal, Twilight made to conjure up a straitjacket about the azure madmare, a magic inhibitor to place around her alicorn to (hopefully) hold back her mad magic antics…
Trixie flicked her head casually, a crimson beam blasting out at Rarity faster than Twilight could react, the alabaster Unicorn vanishing behind a flash of bright red light.
Sweetie Belle screamed her sister’s name in fright, and most everypony shielded their eyes from the blood-colored glow emanating from Rarity.
The glow faded into black smoke, and weak wheezing coughs reached their ears.
“This smoke…” cried a disconcertingly elderly voice. “Why in Equestria is this smoke irritating me so? I don’t… wait. What’s wrong with my voice?”
When the smoke cleared, it became all too clear why. Sweetie Belle screamed in unmasked terror alongside her three filly friends, Spike wailing in defeat and misery, the remainder of the band who’d accompanied Twilight letting out similar vocalizations of horror.
Rarity was no longer a young and beautiful mare, but old and decrepit, her muzzle creased by a veritable spider’s web of wrinkles, her slender legs bowing under her body’s weight. Her mane and the skirt of her tail had lost all of their color and almost all of their luster, an impossibly curly growth of hair coming from around her mouth and chin.
Twilight found herself short of breath, terror pushing everything else out of her heart.
“An age-changing spell…?” she gasped. “But… the only Unicorn who was ever powerful enough to do that was Star Swirl the Bearded, and…”
Trixie let out a triumphant laugh as Rarity looked at Twilight in disbelief bordering on horror.
“Then, does Twilight Sparkle concede the duel to The Great And Powerful Trixie?”
Looking at Rarity, who was inspecting her hooves and forelegs in rapturous despair, Twilight was filled with a resolve as she had never known before. The obnoxious azure Unicorn thought that she could rob the best years of a mare far better than her… That was unforgivable!
Twilight began to align spell matrices for the age-changing spell within her alicorn, her pink dwimmer shimmer lighting up around the now-aged alabaster Unicorn. The lavender Unicorn brought all that she knew of the age-changing spell to the forefront of her mind, preparing to return Rarity back to her normal age…
And she realized to her dread…
That her information was incomplete.
Most books she’d read regarding the age-changing spell gave no information at all regarding how to cast it, and the remainder gave only fragmented descriptions of the proper alignments to make in the spell matrices of the alicorn. Without complete information on how to cast the spell, then she could end up turning Rarity into a pile of ash, or reduce her age into the negatives, or worse…!
With a sigh, Twilight relaxed the matrices in her horn, her dwimmer shimmer fading from around Rarity.
“I give up. You win, Trixie.”
“What?” gaped Rainbow Dash, angry and indignant. “No, Twilight! You can’t give up!”
But Trixie cackled in mirth.
“Trixie is the most powerful Unicorn to ever live! She has redeemed herself of your humiliation, Twilight Sparkle, and you now have to honor your word! You must leave, Ponyville… FOREVER!”
The sky echoed with the roar of thunder at that last word.
Before Twilight could make a move, her discombobulated collection of friends darted between her and Trixie (Rarity, now being so decrepit, was the slowest).
“Twilight’s not going anywhere!” growled Rainbow Dash, her wingtips smacking against the ground as she struggled against being airborne.
“She’s our friend!” Fluttershy said, and Pinkie nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Ya can’ make us git outta th’ way!” snapped Applejack, pawing at the ground ineffectually.
“You did not win this Duel legitimately,” wheezed Rarity.
Twilight floated up behind her friends, wrapped up in a blood-red dwimmer shimmer that burned every inch of her body.
“Girls…?” Twilight gasped, and her friends turned towards her in fright.
“The Great And Powerful Trixie is justice,” Trixie said with a manic red light dancing in her eyes, “and she will see to it that Twilight Sparkle does not break her word!”
And so Twilight Sparkle found herself being flung bodily from Town Square with all the force of a Buffalo collision, her entire party pursuing the far-flung lavender Unicorn.
Reaching the northern outskirts of Ponyville, Twilight noted detachedly that that mysterious amulet must have gifted Trixie with some exact formulations of force, for she was due to land exactly beyond the edge of the farthest-out house on the outskirts of Ponyville. Trixie clearly did not intend for Twilight to have a safe landing, but even though she had lost the Duel, Twilight knew that such a forceful ejection was uncalled for.
Aligning spell matrices in her alicorn, Twilight felt herself become swept up in her own dwimmer shimmer, and she decelerated, slowing to a simple floating less than a hoof’s length over the knotted grass.
Her hodge-podge group of friends galloped up just as Twilight had righted herself.
“Twilight… Are you alright?” Fluttershy gasped.
Twilight brushed off one of her forelegs.
“I’m fine, but… that was kinda startling.”
‘That fling of yours was quite a fright,’ said Zecora, stepping forward to Twilight’s side. ‘It’s not something of which you should make light.’
Twilight nodded to her Zebra friend. “Point taken, Zecora.”
She turned back towards her friends in Ponyville… and her son.
“But… now that Trixie has had her fun, she can take off that amulet and let me back into―…”
But Twilight, who had been trotting back towards Ponyville as she spoke, found herself interrupted by her nose smacking into a great invisible something. It was exactly like the time when Pinkie Pie had turned angry and mute in Pundamilia and cast up an invisible wall to keep Twilight from comforting her.
As the lavender Unicorn put out a sapphire hoof to feel the wall before her, a great red-tinted sheen fell between her and the one standing closest to her: Spike, whose claw rested on the spot opposite Twilight’s hoof.
“Not so quickly, Twilight Sparkle!” Trixie hissed in victory, appearing in a puff of black smoke and a blast of crimson lightning over the heads of Twilight’s band. She hovered seemingly of her own accord, her star-spangled cape and hat billowing in a nonexistent wind. Queen Selena hung listlessly at her side, still looking rather distressed. “You are a tricky mare, false and wicked! The Great And Powerful Trixie has to take countermeasures to ensure that you never return to Ponyville! She claims that which you call yours, because you took what Trixie claimed as hers! Your all-time home of Ponyville now belongs to The Greatest And All-Powerful Trixie! Nopony can come in, and nopony can leave.”
No doubt there are anti-winking wards as well, Twilight thought. Looking to her left and her right, she saw that the translucent red shield stretched in a perfect circle around Ponyville. Judging by its circumference, it had to engulf even Sweet Apple Acres and Fluttershy’s cottage, so there was no way of seeking refuge in the home of one of her friends, regardless of whether or not they could presently reach those homes.
“You mean we’re trapped in here amidst all of the plebeians?” Prince Blueblood cried, a hoof flying to his forelock. “I’m… feeling quite faint.”
“Duke Prince Blueblood,” implored Rarity, raising a saggy foreleg towards the regal Unicorn, “it’s not quite so bad here in Ponyville as you think.”
“Yes it is; it’s why I left it behind ages ago,” interrupted Valencia Orange, earning sharp glares from her daughters and nieces.
Blueblood recoiled at the sight of Rarity’s aged appearance… and started to wave violently at her with a forehoof.
“Please, get back, bearded nag! What if your decrepity is contagious?”
Rarity’s jaw dropped at the shameless ignorance of her attempt at comfort. Surely he could not have forgotten what a ravishing mare she was before this… before this happened to her.
Her ears flat against her skull, Pinkie breathed heavily against the transparent bubble, fogging it up. Using the very tip of her left forehoof, she traced out a message to Twilight:
PLZ COME BACK SOON
Twilight gave a pitiful look to her pink friend.
“I’ll try, Pinkie,” she said sadly. “I’ll try…”
“Go, Twilight Sparkle!” boomed Trixie, the entire dome electrifying itself and forcing Twilight, Pinkie and Spike backwards from their respective sides of the shield. “Go, and never come back!”
As she and Zecora began to slowly trot away northwards from Ponyville, Twilight could not shake the disturbing feel of how the flap of Trixie’s cape in the wind was becoming altogether more like the flap of a pair of wings…
Spike reached plaintively towards the retreating shapes of his mother and Zecora the Zebra. Less than two hours ago, everything was so swell, even with Mom talking fearfully about rising tensions between Equestria and the Griffons. And now, a self-absorbed madmare with a weird magic necklace had locked down Ponyville and kicked his mom out and foalnapped the Queen of the Night…!
“There are going to be some big changes around here, now,” said Trixie sweetly, like poisoned honey. “You silly little ponies have spent too much time idolizing the wrong mare. Twilight Sparkle is a charlatan and a fraud, envious of truly talented Unicorns. And now…”
Trixie polished the amulet absentmindedly with a hoof, looking down at it with an enraptured expression. Its rubies reflected in her pupils.
“Now… Trixie is complete. Trixie is whole.”
Her eyes traveled up to the herd of ponies and Deer.
“You can’t keep us here against our will!” snarled Mosely Orange, moving between Trixie and his daughters alongside his wife.
“What will do you have to set against mine?” Trixie bore a wide grin that showed all of her teeth (had they always been that sharp?). “Every single one of you is nothing before The Great And Powerful Trixie, who has avenged the gross injustice of her humiliation upon Twilight Sparkle! Now, worship Trixie as she deserves! Worship her as you surely worshipped Twilight Sparkle!”
She presented a dark-purple hoof to the band, who looked back and forth towards each other concernedly.
“We will not worship you!” interjected a familiar and stately voice; the Mayor trotted purposefully towards Trixie, who whirled around to face the stout Earth Pony. “We won’t worship you, and we did not worship Twilight Sparkle! She is a mere supervisor and organizer of activities in Ponyville, one of the very best we’ve ever had, and she would not accept our worship even if we did.”
“Lies!” screamed Trixie. “She is a jealous mare, jealous of the abilities of others! So she surrounds herself with more talented ponies so that she herself might feel more fulfilled! And if somepony else threatens the attention she craves, then she will fight tooth and wall to ensure that that other pony is humiliated!”
“Are you sure you’re not talking about yourself?” barked Rainbow Dash, rolled onto her back with her wings beating at the air.
Trixie’s eyes widened madly, and her expression was inequinely furious as she rounded once more on Twilight’s party. Her eyes flashed a dangerous red the same as the rhomb-cut ruby in her amulet, so bright that the whites of her eyes seemed black. As her cape billowed like bat’s wings, a similar crimson flash could be seen in the swirling stars of her cutie mark.
“The Great And Powerful Trixie is nothing like that no-good two-timing Twilight Sparkle!” she snarled, a disconcerting echo to her words as if the very earth quaked at her whim. “Trixie is a beautiful and selfless mare, gifting so many ponies across Equestria with her magic shows! It is not Trixie who is wrong, but the world!”
As the blood-colored gleam in her eyes diminished, it seemed to those present that Trixie Lulamoon’s eyes were perhaps less purple and more blue than they had been − and the whites of her eyes had gone slightly gray. Those with a less head-on view of the mad Unicorn may have noticed that her cutie mark was no longer a bright blue, but stained with red.
Around her neck, the fur around the amulet had begun to pale…
“And once she is finished with Ponyville, Trixie will show the world that she is its greatest blessing!”
‘Do not despair, my dear Twilight,’ murmured Zecora. ‘Though this is far from the best NightMare Night, remember that eternally springs hope. Come on, chin up! Don’t be a dope.’
Twilight, her ears flat against her skull, looked up at the former Princess of the Zebras.
“I appreciate the pep rally, Zecora, but… I lost a Magic Duel. My friends have been mangled, and I couldn’t help them. I didn’t even get the chance to fix who I could, and…”
She looked over her shoulder at the distant red dome, framed against the South Equinus Mountains. It glimmered in the dusky sunlight, mocking her for her defeat.
“And now… my friends… my parents… Mom… Vati…”
Tears flowed down Twilight’s muzzle.
She pounded a forehoof against the earth beneath her.
“Though separated from home we be,” comforted Zecora in her native tongue, “many avenues of hope have we.”
“That’s it!” Twilight beamed. “Hold on to me, Zecora! I’m going to wink out!”
‘To where, may I ask?’ Zecora looked mildly puzzled. ‘How may it aid us in this task?’
“We’re going back to my home!” Twilight said with a smirk.
Trixie may have been powerful with the amulet, but she was still not very bright. She assumed that Twilight Sparkle was born and raised in Ponyville, when that was far from the truth.
As Twilight and Zecora vanished in a flash of bright pink light, falling through an infinitely compact singularity, Twilight Sparkle was filled with a sense of nostalgia.
For the first time in a month, she would be back.
Back in Canterlot.
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