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In no time at all, all the three-gross-odd residents of Ponyville had been herded into Town Square at the insistence of their new lord. Trixie sent forth billowing clouds of smoke to the very edges of Ponyville, choking away light and air except in what path would lead one to the circle around the Gazebo. The herds of Earth Ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi gazed fearfully at the paling Unicorn standing before her trio of captives, her pale-blue eyes flashing with crimson malevolence. Fillies and colts cowered at her gaze, and all but the most hardy stallions and mares followed suit.
“This is the worst NightMare Night ever,” breathed Fluttershy. “And I’ve seen some terrible ones.”
“You’re telling me!” interjected Duke Prince Blueblood, quite literally shivering with fright. “I never thought that I would spend the duration of a NightMare Night in the company of such… such riff-raff!”
“Be that as it may,” Aunt Orange replied sharply, “would it not behoove you to speak more kindly of those around you?”
“Well spoken, Madam Orange,” nodded Rarity, her head bowed and the Element of Generosity dim.
“Be SILENT!” shouted Trixie, a crack of thunder ringing out through Town Square and flattening the ears of most everypony in the area.
Applejack hunched over across the peak of her sister’s head. “Rainbow Dash is lucky ta not havin’ ta hear any a’ this…”
The selfsame cerulean Pegasus sat miserably next to her childhood friend, wings in place of her ears flapping miserably.
“I can’t fly…!” she grumbled loudly to herself, as if trying to hear herself over her lack of apparent ears and eardrums. “I’ll never be able to fly again!”
Scootaloo looked morosely at her idol.
“At least you’ve been able to fly at all. It must be so great.”
“I’m sorry you girls have had to be trapped like this on my account,” Twilight said. “If I hadn’t tried to use the Elements of Harmony… Trixie wouldn’t have become so… so…”
A soft and plushy hoof touched her shoulder. It was Pinkie Pie, and she was offering Twilight a sad smile. The straight-maned pink pony’s smile and the spark in her eyes told Twilight exactly what was on her mind as if the lavender Unicorn was psychic: Don’t feel bad for yourself, Twilight. We’re just glad that we have you here with us. In response to such unconditional sweetness, Twilight could only return the smile.
“I SAID BE SILENT!” Trixie roared, still more thunder rumbling through ribcages and rattling skulls.
Babs Seed sunk to her chest, forelegs entirely over her head, her hooves and irises glowing a bright green as she swelled up to at least twice as large as Big McIntosh, ponies around her backing away in alarm to make space.
“Too loud…” she whimpered. “I can’t stand all dis thundah…”
Trixie glowered at the Burgeoning filly.
“DO NOT STAND OUT ABOVE THE AMAZING HOCUS-POCUS, THE WONDROUS SMOKE-AND-MIRRORS, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL TRIXIE!”
Her alicorn glowed crimson, and a bolt of light shot out at the over-large filly.
“Oh no ya don’t!” growled Sunflower, darting into the air with a flap of her wings and taking the hit, vanishing in a burst of red smoke.
“SUNFLOWER!” screamed both Mosely and Valencia Orange, fearing the worst.
“Sunny!” gasped Babs, gazing in fear up at the red cloud of smoke as it dissipated. Sunflower was nowhere to be seen.
“Hey little sis!” snapped a tiny voice in Babs’s ear. Turning her head, she saw Sunflower, shrunk down to an even smaller size than Applejack was, even smaller to Babs as she had not reverted to her original size yet. “I’m okay, really. It’d take moah dan just dat ta take down yah big sis. So stop gettin’ all hot an’ bothehd an’ git back down ta size.”
Babs was so filled with overwhelming relief that she felt the world around her growing, the space between her and the rest of the Ponyvillagers growing. As the younger Orange sister returned to her normal size, Sunflower alighted upon her outstretched hoof, both of their parents looking down with mingled fear and concern.
For the first time ever since her arrival in Ponyville, Trixie looked perplexed.
“Why would you take the spell that The Legendary And Almighty Equivoque cast upon somepony else? It is not something that She, The Great And Powerful Trixie, would do. You cannot possibly do something that She would not do! You are out of order! You deserve to be so small as to be squashed! Every single one of you does, before the absolute power of the Spectacular Sleight-of-Hoof! KNEEL before Her!”
Too cowed by fear, the populace acquiesced, while the Mayor and Diamond Tiara looked on respectively in concern and indignation.
Unbeknownst to anypony, the ends of Queen Selena’s mane and tail began to darken, growing wispy and immaterial…
It soon reached half-past-seven, the Sun’s light gone from the Saddle Valley. If Twilight thought that Ponyville was miserable before her attempt with the Elements of Harmony, she found herself sorely mistaken. Though Trixie (or whatever name she chose to apply to herself on a whim) made it all to clear that she despised every single stallion, mare and foal in Ponyville, not a single one was to leave her presence. As far as she was concerned, their sole purpose in life was to lavish praise and affection upon her, and to serve as the odd capering jester for her whimsical amusement.
“Trixie grows bored,” she grumbled. With a flash, her alicorn pointed at Pinkie Pie, “You! Dance for Trixie!”
Her legs glowed red, and Pinkie’s eyes widened in terror as she stood on her hind legs and began to perform a jig with such vigor that her legs would surely pull themselves out of their sockets. With a surprisingly hostile expression, Pinkie stuck her tongue out at Trixie…
And her muzzle vanished, leaving blank pink fur where it used to be.
Twilight and most everypony gaped in horror at the sight of Pinkie robbed of her muzzle. Mr. Carrot Cake gently nudged his wife behind him and pointed angrily at Trixie with a green cloven hoof.
“You put Pinkie’s mouth back where it belongs!”
But Trixie merely zapped a large zipper over his mouth.
“The Glorious Presty Changey does whatever She pleases to the phantom shadows of Her imagination! Surely you must know that.”
For several moments all that could be heard was the madcap clopping of Pinkie’s hind hooves, the pink Earth Pony clearly off her balance from prolonged time on two legs.
“What… What are you talking about?” asked the Mayor from her cage.
Trixie’s cape flapped not unlike a pair of bat wings, carrying Trixie into the air as lightning filled the dome overhead.
“Is it not obvious? It is to Trixie! None of you are real, and The Great And Powerful Trixie is dreaming of all of you! That is why Trixie’s power is so absolute. She was not aware of this until She reclaimed this amulet as a piece of Her.” Trixie’s forehoof, scorched black, touched the ruby in the heart of the Amulet. “Trixie Lulamoon dreamed you up, so worship Her, obey Her and love Her!”
Trixie’s coat shone paler than ever in the light of the bolts over Ponyville, and the whites of her eyes darkened even further as her irises and toothy grin glowed red.
“But, we aren’t just figments of somepony’s imagination!” cried Mrs. Cup Cake, distressed at her husband’s predicament. “I have a life, a livelihood, that you can’t possibly know of.”
“Oh yes?” Trixie asked with a sneer, floating down to the pregnant mare’s level. “Then prove that you are not a thought in Trixie’s mind!”
“I − but − How in the world can I do that?”
“Exactly! You can only prove that one pony exists, no more. And the only pony that is sure to exist is The Great And Powerful Trixie! All of the rest of you, your world, every animal that exists, are mere illusions crafted by Her own mind! And this world… is Hers to craft as She sees fit! Her power is absolute! And for as long as She dreams, The Great And Powerful Trixie will rule!”
Twilight’s eyes flicked from Pinkie’s incessantly forced dancing, to the Cakes trying to pry the zipper off of Mr. Cake’s face, to the agitated Rainbow Dash fruitlessly flapping the miniscule wings on her head…
But then, the lavender Unicorn spotted something.
Something that surely would be the key to removing the Alicorn Amulet from Trixie!
“Hoo.” Spike imagined that Owlowiscious was saying, I wish that I could help Twilight out.
“I hear you, man,” Spike replied glumly, flipping idly through Daring Do and the Forbidden City of Clouds. “But you heard what Mom said. She told me to stay here, ‘cause it could get messy. I mean, it’s not like I can do a lot to help, right? They’re a half-dozen grown-up mares, and me… I’m just a baby dragon. They took out NightMare Moon, and I couldn’t even help to do it.”
“Hoo.” Oh come on, man. You have to have done something to help them out.
“I dunno. I suppose I did kinda help out a little, but not much. I mean, I did help out Rarity at the Crystal Mountains with that freaky statue, and I did find that rainbow conch that King Leo’s ponies were trying to find. But other than that…” Spike sighed, resting his elbow on the table − Mom would not be pleased with such ill manners, he idly thought − and rested his cheek against his claw.
“Hoo.” You’re selling yourself short, dude. You can help Twilight out without saving the whole world. You don’t have to move the Sun and Moon to impress your Rarity.
Spike paused. Owlowiscious was right.
“You know what? That’s right. I don’t have an Element of Harmony, but I did help Mom and her friends all the way through to the end. I mean, if we didn’t find that conch, do you think we would of gotten down to Aquastria? And if I hadn’t been there to pull Rarity back from that statue…” Spike shuddered. “I don’t want to know what would of happened to her.”
“Hoo?” Well, what are you waiting for, Spike? You gotta help out Twilight and be Rarity’s knight in shining armor. You might not save the day, but you’ll help out, and that has to count for something.
“You’re right!” Spike said, standing up from his position at the table and clenching a claw. “I have a part to play in all of this, just like when Mom was doing her thing for Queen Celestia against NightMare Moon!”
The mulberry drake hesitated, glancing at the agave and cactus. His grandparents would need someone to watch over them, and what sort of grandson would he be to leave them where they were unattended?
Owlowiscious flapped up from his post, the tawny owl clearly sensing Spike’s dilemma. What Spike must have imagined him to be saying was clearly at odds with what he truly intended to say with each hoot, but it was as plain as the Sun in the sky what Spike wanted to do and felt he needed to do, and the contradiction of what Spike felt like he should do.
With a bright Hoo, the pet owl alighted upon the handle of the watering can besides the two formerly-equine plants. Flapping his wings furiously, Owlowiscious hoisted the can into the air, sliding the handle along his claws so as to guide the sprinkling water over the agave and cactus.
Spike took this to mean, Don’t worry. I got this.
“Oh no. I couldn’t ask you to look after them, Owlowiscious,” he murmured. “Mom and her friends’ll probably be able to handle Trixie just fine on their own.”
He hesitated again.
“But then… Trixie did make Rarity into an old grey mare. She ain’t what she used to be. She’s… old, maybe dying.” Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. “I don’t want to lose her.”
Slinking up to the agave and cactus on all fours, Spike slowly gave the potted bases of each plant a full and tight hug.
“I’m sorry, Grandmom, Grampa, but… I gotta help out Mom and her friends.”
Spike gave Owlowiscious a serious expression.
“Guard them with your life, Owlowiscious.”
And Spike was out the door.
Trixie’s hat flew back as she let out a grand cackle.
“Very impressive, Trixie,” came a bold and snarky voice. The pale Unicorn looked down in disdain at the one who dared to address her with such a sneer in her tone. It was that infernal plague upon her perfect dream-world, The Small And Petty Twilight Sparkle!
“But tell me,” she continued, “in the waking world, what was your special talent? What sort of magic is your specialty according to your cutie mark?”
Trixie snorted derisively.
“The Wondrous Smoke-and-Mirrors is not inclined to answer you because of your insolence, but She will regardless. It is a riveting tale, of a young city filly whose magic was so great that it could mask the horrible world that would not accept her, that she could spin illusions so great that every pony who witnessed them would bow in wonder at the sight of her! And then, one day, the brand marking her talent for illusion magic appeared on her flanks. And now, in Her eternal rest, The Mare Of Many Names spins the ultimate illusion: that of a world that loves Her!”
Though her voice remained strong and steady, tears streaming down Trixie’s face told Twilight all too much that the formerly azure Unicorn’s life had not been kind to her. A new dimension of pity filled her heart, and she hesitated at the prospect of ruining this mare’s life for the second time.
But resolve filled hesitation’s void, and Twilight knew that whatever she did for Trixie now was preferable to the Alicorn Amulet having its way with her.
“Then let me tell you what it is you’re wearing, Trixie. It’s the Alicorn Amulet, an ancient artifact of powerful forbidden magic that corrupts its user in exchange for giving them absolute power… Or so it would seem.”
‘What dost thou imply, Twilight Sparkle?’ Queen Selena asked, the crimson lightning around her turning her gray-blue coat a deep purple.
“I’m saying,” Twilight answered, “that Trixie’s magic is all misdirection, even now. All it takes to look past an illusion is to know that it’s a ruse. The Alicorn Amulet doesn’t grant its wearer absolute power; it merely amplifies the wearer’s special talent to absolute levels. Not everything is what it appears to be, is it, Trixie?”
Trixie’s alicorn glowed red, and Twilight felt a sudden clenching in her throat. The ponies around her gasped in horror as she was levitated into the air by her neck. Even telling herself that this was all an illusion, that she wasn’t really choking or seeing spots in her eyes or graying out, it still was extremely realistic for an illusion, far more than Trixie’s own ursa major.
Even understanding how the illusion was created did not undermine the wonder and terror of it.
“So you hope to undermine The Great And Powerful Trixie again, Twilight Sparkle? She has no idea why She could have ever conceived of you, and right now She does not care! All that is on Her mind is to banish you to the deepest and darkest recesses of Her mind, where you belong!”
A mulberry blur sped from out of nowhere and tackled Trixie to the ground, the dwimmer shimmer around Twilight’s throat flickering out in an instant. Taking in a deep breath, Twilight took in the sight of Spike with his arms wrapped tightly around Trixie’s neck, keeping her from concentrating on a spell.
“I got her, Mom! Now get the Amulet off of her!”
Torn between elation and terror, Twilight prepared to take that infernal trinket in her own dwimmer shimmer…
But Spike lit up crimson, and Twilight froze.
“Make one wrong move, Twilight Sparkle, and the lizard gets it!”
Another blur tackled Trixie to the ground, this one a bright orange. Spike flopped down onto Applejack’s back, the palomino now full-sized once more.
“If yer gunna mess with Twilight’s kin, yer gunna have ta answer ta me!”
“And me!” snapped Rainbow Dash, her wings now properly in place on her back and her ears flat against her skull, the word illusion scrawled into a dirt patch in front of her by an irate Fluttershy.
“And all of us!” growled Pinkie Pie, her muzzle back in place and clearly no longer muted. “And good Celestia is it good to be able to talk again, because not being able to talk was the absolute worst thing that ever happened to me because I wasn’t able to share a joke with my friends to make them feel better about how terrible this NightMare Night was because I couldn’t talk and then I couldn’t breathe and not being able to talk is way worse than not being able to breathe because just breathing and not talking is just creepy and when you can talk you’re able to tell your friends how much fun it is to make them smile and how I like to make funny faces like the one that I’m making right now and…”
Trixie screamed in frustration.
“Trixie thought that She silenced you for good, you infernal mare from Tartarus! You keep abominable company, Twilight Sparkle!”
Twilight Sparkle smirked.
“And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Nor would I, darling,” replied Rarity, lustrous, young and vibrant as she had ever been.
“Wait a second,” muttered Diamond Tiara, suddenly fearful. “If Daddy and Silvie being turned to blank-flank statues was just an illusion, then…”
Seated to either side of her atop a pile of upturned apple crates were her father and Silver Spoon, both giving her irate and cross expressions.
The small pink filly smiled nervously.
“Uhh… I love you both?”
Before another word could be uttered, a deafening boom echoed through the Saddle Valley, and all eyes and ears turned to the sky. A grand prismatic wave spread across from the west where the Sun had set, the midnight-blue sky shifting along the colors of the rainbow. At the head of the wave was a great trail of golden fire emanating from a singular point of gold light. It paused megagrosses of hooves directly over the Gazebo, wreathed in an aura of flame, before descending in a blast of rainbow and golden light. Though the shield around Ponyville vanished with each villager’s growing awareness that it was in fact an illusion, the descending firenado seemed to be unaware of this, as it broke mightily upon the shield unsensed by anypony but itself. As it turned aside to attack from another angle, Twilight thought that she saw a flash of rainbow from within the gold flames. Who or what was that…?
Was it… the Concord Flame?
If it was, then…
Spell matrices aligned in Twilight's mind, and as her alicorn glowed pink there appeared over the roofs of the tallest buildings in Ponyville large letters glowing in the same hue, bathing Ponyville in a rosy light. To any that were skilled in reading backwards, they would see that the message Twilight had projected read THE SHIELD IS AN ILLUSION.
The gold-fire-spirit-thing was clearly sapient, because it paused at the sight of the words for a split-second, and then charged straight down towards Town Square in a beeline for Queen Selena. The Queen of the Night’s eyes widened in sharp alarm, but the crimson lightning began to fizzle as the golden fire’s light grew upon her. Selena was swept up into the golden fire and carried off and over the rooftops of Ponyville.
“NO!” Trixie shrieked, her coat paling to white and her sclera darkening to black. “Do NOT be a coward, NightMare Moon! Face the one strong enough to ensnare you, The Great And Powerful Trixie! FACE ME!”
Her voice rang through the hamlet, and all of the Saddle Valley, reverberating off of every window and rattling every skull. Mr. Filthy Rich carted his daughter (by the scruff) and Silver Spoon (on his back) off of the pile of apple boxes, the Mayor clamboring down off of a stack of barrels.
The Moon shone brightly overhead, all the more so because of the shrouding dark clouds billowing in from the east and the west. A low growling rumble grew from all directions, as though the Unmaker itself had arrived at last, as if the Kraken rose up from its deathlike sleep in the darkest and deepest ravine of the oceans to crush Equestria in its death-throes.
A torrent of pale lightning-bolts erupted from the point where the specter of golden flame had carried Queen Selena away, arcing along the rooftops and into the sky overhead, dispelling the words which Twilight had spelled.
“What’s… happening…?” Twilight breathed.
A twister arose from the lightning’s point of origin, the fallen leaves of autumn being swept up along with the varying bits of detritus from the failed NightMare Night preparations; corks and muffins and abandoned masks…
And a dark shape rose up through the heart of the tornado, wings flapping and alicorn glowing a deep royal-blue.
‘THOU ART A FOOL, LULAMOON!’ boomed out a great legion of voices.
Twilight felt as though her blood had turned into ice-water. That voice sounded far too much like NightMare Moon, filled with a fell rage. Had Queen Selena fallen again…?
But no, Twilight realized her folly as the nightly Alicorn glided swiftly down to Town Hall to face Trixie. The pale gray-blue coat of her forward half had darkened to a deep blue, the star on her right cheek to the midnight cornflower of her hindquarters. Below the hairbands near the ends of her mane and the skirt of her tail… Twilight had no words for what she saw. It looked like NightMare Moon’s mane and tail, amorphous, almost miasmic… stars and the gleaming lines of constellations showed beautifully. And at the very tips of the her mane and tail… Blackness, with odd dancing purple orbs.
‘Thine actions tonight hath provoked thy Queen of the Night,’ snarled Queen Selena, ‘and hath also led to the hastened restoration of her dark powers!’
Trixie’s alicorn glowed red, along with her eyes and cutie mark and teeth.
“You cannot do that! That is not Trixie’s will! You are Trixie’s dream!”
Selena’s shone white.
‘We are not merely the Queen of the Night-sky, of the Moon and the Stars, but also of the Oneiron, the Realm of Dreams. Were this a dream, we would be aware of it. Thou have erred gravely, young one, and we shalt avenge the injuries these villagers have suffered under thee!’
“Queen Selena!” Twilight cried. “Be careful about Trixie and the Amulet!”
The dark Queen glanced at Twilight out of the corner of her eye.
‘We are aware of this, Twilight Sparkle, as surely as a tarasque has six legs. But you Ponyvillagers hath taken humiliation most dreadful at this Unicorn’s wrath. This shall not be forgiven!’
A bolt of lightning shot out from Selena’s alicorn at Trixie, who shattered like a pane of glass…
Reappearing over Selena’s head, her cape-wings billowing.
“Even the Queen of Dreams cannot hurt Trixie in her own mind!”
A flash of red light that left a blue-green after-blur in Twilight’s eyes, and a crater as wide around as Queen Celestia’s wingspan appeared under where Selena had stood, clouds of dirt and clumps of grass flung in every direction and forcing many ponies to duck and cover their heads to avoid taking dirt or grass in the eyes.
But a shadow had shot out the instant before the blast made contact, and the shadow coalesced back into Queen Selena, now airborne and her swan-white secondaries leaving trails of white light as she flapped.
“Do not violate the sanctity of Trixie’s mind!” snarled the namesake Unicorn, an army of blood-red ursae major larger than any that ever lived appearing in every direction around Ponyville. Their expressions filled with a frightening rage, they walked straight through the homes and businesses of Ponyville straight for Queen Selena, each raising a large paw with claws as large as the minarets of Canterlot.
The dark Alicorn vanished in a flash of deep-blue light, re-appearing directly behind Trixie. The Unicorn was too invested in watching the ursae major dig their claws into the rooftops of Ponyville to regard the Alicorn who had winked out directly behind her.
Twilight squinted; what was happening with Selena’s mane? The amorphous end had grasped Trixie by her leonine tail and the pair of them vanished in a royal-blue flash before the Unicorn could react.
The ursae major, the damage they’d inflicted on Ponyville, the crater and the flung dirt and grass all vanished as Selena and Trixie reconstituted back in the spot that their confrontation began.
And Selena’s leonine tail had whipped around, the miasmic tip of her skirt wrapping itself around the clasp of the Alicorn Amulet.
‘Thy mind is already violated, Lulamoon!’ she cautioned. ‘The carcanet that thou bearest hath robbed thee of thy sense, and it would be in thy greater good to remove it!’
“Yeah, you do it, Selena!” cheered Rainbow Dash, putting a hoof in the air.
“You teach that nasty old Unicorn!” shouted Scootaloo, fluttering for a few moments with her tiny wings.
“Teach dat ovah-sized bully a lesson, new Queen!” grinned Sunflower, flapping away over her parents and sister with a slightly savage grin.
“Preferably a clean and refined lesson, Aunt Selly,” added Blueblood, rubbing a hoof along his chest. “I’d really rather not have to clean any blood out of my beautiful coat.”
Ears bristling at the word Aunt, Trixie’s mouth seized up in a manic grin.
It all happened very quickly, and yet it all seemed to happen very slowly to Twilight, as though her vision was being overcranked by some astral movie-maker: The sound of a dwimmer-beam being launched forth. A squeak of alarm, followed by a shriek of dismay, a clink of metal and a sound of crumpling.
Trixie hastily fired a blast of crimson energy at Blueblood, who grabbed Rarity in his own dwimmer shimmer and hoisted her in front of him to take the spell for him, the alabaster Unicorn squeaking in alarm at being so abruptly toted by magic. The spell made contact with Rarity, whose coat suddenly swelled outwards and gave the impression that she had been transfigured into a giant white puff-ball. Upon realizing what had happened to her, Rarity let out a dismayed scream.
As soon as the blast was sent forth, Queen Selena pulled roughly on the Alicorn Amulet, the clasp coming undone in a metallic clink. Immediately Trixie’s furious expression went blank, her legs giving out underneath her as she crumpled to the earth, all but vanishing beneath her cape.
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