• Published 24th Sep 2011
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The First Light of Dawn - Cold in Gardez



A terrible accident threatens to unmake the world as we know it.

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Revelations

The First Light of Dawn

Chapter 8: Revelations

Twilight Sparkle watched in numb silence as Appleloosa died.

In a way it was worse than the destruction of Canterlot. The immolation of Celestia’s city was shocking and unexpected, its horror abated by the chaos and confusion that had gripped them. It had taken hours for the immensity of their loss to sink in.

Not so with Appleloosa. Twilight and the hundred other ponies escaping by train were forewarned, and could do nothing but watch as the town vanished in fire and light. The rising sun behind the town was eclipsed by a mountain of smoke. Even twenty miles away it cast its shadow upon the train.

For hours they watched. The towering black clouds rose impossibly high into the air, eventually flattening and drifting away as they brushed the edge of the stratosphere. The entire world to the east was hidden behind the pall, like an enormous ashen curtain drawn across the land. An acrid reek stung eyes and filled nostrils, and the bright pastel colors of the ponies around her slowly turned sodden and lifeless.

A hellish glow lit the base of the smoke, shining bright as the hidden sun behind it. The living furnace that was Celestia still walked through the streets of Appleloosa, though to what end Twilight could only guess. The blinding light faded as the train pulled further away, and as noon approached the real sun finally broke through the haze high above them.

“You alright, Sug?” came a quiet voice to her side. She turned to see Applejack, her eyes red-rimmed and her orange coat dull and smeared, looking at her with concern.

Was she? Twilight took her time before answering. The shock of watching yet another town vanish in flames was simply the latest crisis they had stumbled through over the past two days. Had it only been 48 hours ago she and her friends were walking to Canterlot for the Summer Sun Celebration? How could the world have changed so quickly?

She took a deep breath, and coughed as the harsh air assaulted her lungs. Unlike the other ponies she still had trouble with the fumes wafting from the distant fires. Applejack politely waited while she recovered.

“I’m fine, Applejack,” she finally croaked. The earth pony looked dubious, but held her tongue.

They spent a quiet moment watching the roiling smoke. Most of the other ponies on the train did the same; all had long since stopped crying openly, and mourned the loss of their homes in silence.

“So what do we do now?” Applejack asked.

“I don’t know. Get to Las Pegasus and wait for Luna to wake up, I suppose. Maybe Rainbow Dash will be back from wherever Luna sent her by then.”

“That’s a lotta flyin’ for one pegasus,” Applejack observed.

Twilight silently agreed. She glanced over at Luna. The alicorn remained asleep. A faint layer of ash smothered her shining coat and feathers.

“If this pattern holds Celestia will collapse when the sun sets,” Twilight said. “We’ll have a full night to figure something out. Luna might even be able to delay the sunrise, though that’s not a good long-term plan…” she trailed off. An excited murmur replaced the silence of the car.

Far to the east, the glow at the base of the smoke was rising into the air. It lit the column from within, like the world’s largest jack-o-lantern. After a moment it broke through, and a tiny spark as bright as the sun emerged into the sky.

It was hard to tell, Twilight thought, but it seemed to be following them.

***

Trixie was a smart pony. It didn’t take her long to put two and two together.

From her seat in the back of the train she had the best view in the house as Appleloosa ceased to exist. Not having seen Canterlot’s destruction, it was shocking and impressive to behold. And quite horrifying.

She had spent less than a full day in the town. She had only been in one building. It should have meant nothing to her, no more than any of the other hamlets or burgs she visited while performing. A one-night stand on a municipal scale. Still it shocked her.

Beside her Big Mike leaned against the railing, her forelegs draped over the side of the car. The mare had watched the unfolding calamity in silence. Even when nothing remained to see but the slowly rising ocean of smoke, she watched. Her eyes remained sharp despite the chemical sting in the wind blowing from the fires.

Trixie wetted her mouth. Just a few moments of breathing the dry desert air was enough to parch her. “Are you…” she trailed off. For some reason her throat closed around the words. She cleared it, and tried again.

“Are you okay?” she asked the bar mare. Big Mike’s lemon yellow coat had faded to old parchment beneath the ash and dust.

“Hm?” She didn’t look away from the smoke. Above them the sun pierced weakly through the smog. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

She didn’t sound fine, Trixie thought. She didn’t look fine, for that matter. Nopony on the train did.

She tried again. “So, where does this train go, anyway?”

“Las Pegasus,” Big Mike said quietly. “Never been there.”

Silence stretched between them. The train rocked slightly as a stiff gust of wind pushed at the cars. Trixie took another stab at conversation.

“Is that a pegasus town?” She kicked herself mentally. Is that a pegasus town? Seriously?

“No, just earth ponies. Apparently they liked the name.”

Silence again. Big Mike seemed happy with it, and Trixie reluctantly returned to her own thoughts.

Two nights ago she had stolen Celestia’s torc, the most powerful magical item Luna said she had ever seen. A few hours later, according to the ponies at the dig site, Celestia had gone crazy, burning Canterlot to the ground before flying west. The same direction Trixie had gone. With the torc.

She tried to pry her hooftip under the torc again. A burst of pain radiated from the touch, and she lowered her shaking hoof back to the floor. It was like trying to peel off her horn. A thin crimson line trickled down her coat to paint tiny flowers on the weathered wood floor. She shifted her shawl to conceal the blood.

Presumably there was a magical way to remove the torc, but the only other unicorn on the train, as far as she knew, was Luna, and she couldn’t very well approach the princess with her problem. Not until every other avenue was exhausted.

“No unicorns?” she asked, trying to sound nonchalant. Big Mike turned to look at her.

She was slow to answer. “A few, I suppose. It’s a big town, after all. Almost a city.”

Trixie allowed herself a small smile. “That’s good to hear.”

Behind them the incandescent glow began slowly rising from the ruins of Appleloosa, setting the sky aflame. Her smile faded like the stars before the sun.

***

Rainbow Dash had never been a fan of long-distance flying.

Speed was more her thing, as she frequently reminded her friends. She was the fastest pony in Equestria, but only for as long as it took to impress onlookers. After that she was more of a glider, followed shortly by a napper.

It had taken most of a day to fly from Ponyville to the Roof of the World. The flight back was faster, thanks to the huge altitude boost she got from the mountain, as well as a helpful tailwind that pushed her briskly to the south. The extra speed was helpful, but her body still shook with the strain of flying again after two full days without sleep.

By the end of the first hour her back was sore with the effort of staying aloft. Each flap sent a twinge of pain shooting up the sides of her spine to her neck. The thin air at her height made flying faster, but it also made breathing harder. A faint wheeze built in her chest; her lungs protested their abuse.

In through the nose, out through the mouth, she repeated, mantra-like. Tiny icicles formed around her nostrils.

By the second hour trees began to reappear below, where they clung precariously to the sides of the mountains. Their long, wind-warped branches waved to her in passing. The pain in her back extended lower, tugging at her pelvis.

To distract herself from the growing discomfort she replayed the stars’ advice in her mind. The last thing she wanted to do was find Luna and not remember what exactly they had said.

Trixie has the torc near Las Pegasus, she thought. Some paraphrasing was appropriate, she decided. Get it back and Celestia will be fine. Oh, and stay away when she’s awake. That last part was probably unnecessary, but she had seen her friends attempt crazier things.

By the start of the fourth hour she could no longer keep her forelegs raised to split the air. The wind doubled its assault against her creaking wings. She slowed as much as she dared, and slipped through the turbulence in search of a better tailwind.

An hour later her wings began to burn with fatigue. Her pinions shook furiously as she lost control of the tiny muscles anchoring them. She compensated by folding her wings slightly. It was terrible form and would have earned her a harsh lecture in flight school, but she was too tired to care.

Trixie has the torc near Las Pegasus. Noon arrived. Her head slumped, no longer able to look forward. The ground was more interesting to watch anyway, she rationalized. Below her the lunar landscape of the mountains faded beneath aspen forests. A million green and silver leaves winked at her.

A sparkling river wound through the valleys far below. She was fairly certain a river had been the halfway point between the roof and Ponyville. Unfortunately there were quite a few rivers along her route. She swore to never again make fun of Twilight for her love of maps.

Get it back and Celestia will be fine. The sun slowly slipped to the west, vanishing briefly behind a bank of gauzy clouds. Her wing joints felt like they were filled with glass. Each stroke was an agony. She settled for gliding for long periods of time, taking detours to gain altitude from the updrafts wafting up from the exposed stone of the highest mountains. It was slower, but she couldn’t afford to stop and rest.

A curious hawk, taking a break from its daily hunt, shadowed her flight for a few miles. She only noticed it when its banded body passed under her. Eventually it grew tired and went back to doing whatever it is hawks do.

Stay away when she’s awake. The first farm appeared below her, a vineyard filled with rows of grapes, their leaves wide and thick with the promise of summer. She longed to dive down to them and snatch a few for a snack, but she knew she’d never be able to take off again once she landed. This was a non-stop flight.

Two hours later she felt like she was going to die. Part of her wouldn’t have minded. Her legs dangled numbly from her body. Her vision swam like a fish, and it was all she could do not to crash from sheer exhaustion. Every beat of her wings was a nail driven into her back. She had to synchronize her breathing around her flapping – the stabbing pain made it impossible to inhale.

She cried for a while, until the whipping winds dried all her tears. The ground was only a greenish smudge through her clenched eyes. Trixie has the torc near Las Pegasus…

It was almost a surprise when the outskirts of Ponyville appeared below her. She barely had time to descend into a skidding crash that deposited her in the crowded town square.

The cobblestones, hard as they were, felt like the softest of clouds beneath her. Feeling slowly returned to her legs as pooled blood re-circulated. A million stabbing needles replaced the numbness, but she was too tired to care.

Ponies were shouting, she realized. A small crowd had gathered around her, and somepony was running their hooves over her body, starting at her head and moving down her neck and torso. She opened her eyes long enough to make out a white pony with a red cross for a cutie mark. Some wonderful soul placed a dish filled with water next to her head, and she managed to stick her snout into it. Most of it she spilled, but enough got into her mouth to provide a measure of relief.

She closed her eyes for a moment, and when they opened the mayor was sitting next to her. Fluttershy and the white pony from before were talking in the background, though Rainbow Dash was too far away to hear what they said.

“…you hear me?” The mayor’s face was just inches from Dash’s. Her eyes were wide as she took in the pegasus’s condition.

“I’m fine,” she lied. Her words came out as a hoarse whisper, rougher even than her normal scratchy voice. “Where’s Luna?”

The mayor stared at her blankly. Fluttershy and the white pony – Nurse Redheart? – stopped talking and turned to look at her.

“Rainbow Dash,” the mayor said, “Luna left for Appleloosa last night.”

She pondered that for a moment. Was screaming appropriate at a time like this? She decided it was, but twin lances of pain in her sides kept her from drawing a deep enough breath to try. Instead she closed her eyes and sobbed.

But only for a moment. Ignoring the shooting pain in her back, she slowly pushed herself up into a sitting position. Her wings splayed out beside her. They barely twitched when she tried moving them.

“Um, I think you should lie back down, Rainbow Dash,” a soft voice said. She looked up to see Fluttershy in front of her. The look on the yellow pegasus’s face was more serious than Dash could ever recall seeing.

“Can’t,” she grunted. After a few false starts she managed to get her rear legs under her. “Gotta get to Luna.”

“Luna’s very far away, Dash,” Fluttershy said. She moved to stay in front of Dash’s awkward, lurching steps. “And I think you need to rest.”

“Not gonna happen.” She ignored the grinding pain in her back and lifted her wings, and flapped with all the strength she could muster.

When she opened her eyes again she was back on the cobblestones. Her back and wings felt like someone had peeled the muscles from her bones. Fluttershy and Redheart were off to the side, directing a pair of earth ponies carrying a stretcher.

“Please,” she croaked as they approached. The earth ponies set the stretcher down next to her. “You don’t understand. I need to get to Luna. I have to tell her what the stars said!”

“Silly Dashie,” came a perky voice from beside her. When she turned Pinkie Pie was seated next to the mayor, who seemed as shocked as the pegasus by the pink pony’s arrival. “Just have Spike send her a message.”

Have Spike… Oh. Ohhhh! That sounded much easier than flying to Appleloosa. The thought was so wonderful she didn’t even complain as they loaded her belly-down onto the stretcher.

The still-burning fires of Canterlot, miles away though they were, filled the sky with streams of smoke and ash. The sunset that evening – a wild tempest of yellows, oranges, reds and purples – was the most beautiful anypony in the town had ever seen.

***

The spark that was Celestia stopped following the Appleloosan refugees some time ago, around the time the tracks angled north toward Las Pegasus. From her vantage point on the train, Twilight Sparkle saw the errant princess pause in her flight, like an uncertain firefly puzzling over which blade of grass to land upon.

Eventually the setting sun made Celestia’s decision for her. She flickered as the sun touched the horizon, and a few minutes later her light went out. A flash like the glint of sunlight on water lit the horizon, followed by a small column of smoke that rose from her new resting place. Even from dozens of miles away the ponies on the train heard the echoing clap of thunder as she crashed to the desert floor.

“It’s just like last night,” Twilight said to Luna, who watched groggily from her seat beside the lavender unicorn. The lesser princess had woken just minutes before her sister plunged to the ground.

“Why d’ya think she stopped followin’ us?” Applejack asked from Twilight’s other side. She had brushed the dusting of ash from her Stetson hat, and ignored the identical layer blemishing her orange coat. Twilight was pretty sure there was some deep insight into earth pony psychology there.

“Who knows,” she said. “Maybe we just both happened to be going west? We were following her the first day, remember?”

“She stopped in Appleloosa,” Luna said. She rose to her feet and spread her wings to catch the light of the rising moon. The layer of dust and ash coating her faded away, leaving only a lustrous indigo magnificence behind. Her mane flowed like a dark corona, speckled with stars. Twilight suddenly felt every speck of dirt ground into her filthy coat.

“She must have wanted something there,” the alicorn continued, oblivious to Twilight’s sidelong glances. “Something she didn’t find.”

The train rocked gently as it rolled across the desert floor. A line of mountains rose in the distance ahead. As the sun’s light fell from the sky another dim glow took its place – the lights of Las Pegasus, now less than an hour away.

Time enough for some answers.

“Princess,” Twilight said, “what happened to Celestia?”

Luna flinched. Her mane drew around her protectively, and several minutes of tight silence passed before she answered.

“I don’t know, Twilight. All my life I’ve known her, and she has never been anything but the princess we always knew. She has certainly never done this.”

Twilight chewed on that for a while. “What do you mean, ‘this’?” she asked.

Luna waved a hoof behind them. “Losing control. Forgetting herself. I don’t know, Twilight, take your pick.” She sighed. “I watch her raise the sun every day, but still it is so easy to forget what she is.”

“What she is? Aren’t you selling yourself short? I watched you walk through lava like it was water back there.”

“Foals’ play,” Luna muttered. “I am not my sister, Twilight. She is beyond me.” The alicorn settled back onto her haunches, her morose gaze locked on the distant pillar of smoke floating above her sister’s repose.

***

“So what’s the plan, sug?”

Twilight Sparkle winced at the question. She’d known it was coming ever since they stepped off the train in Las Pegasus. The mayor had greeted them – well, she had greeted Luna, who was standing next to them, and together they retreated to a local government office to discuss the twin problems of the Appleloosan refugees and the threat posed by Celestia.

While Luna spoke with the mayor and her aides, Applejack and Twilight went in search of food. They found a street vendor outside selling a variety of unhealthy junk food – hay fries, candied carrots, apple cakes and the like. Twilight’s stomach growled embarrassingly loud at the sight of the food, and she was just about to beg the vendor for a meal when Applejack surprised her by pulling a small purse from her mane. They retreated with their treats across the street to a park, still lit for the night and filled with dozens of ponies from Appleloosa.

She took a large bite from her apple fritter the moment she heard Applejack’s question, partly because she was famished, but mostly to buy time to come up with an answer. Unfortunately all she could think about was the delicious taste of molten apples and cinnamon. And a hint of nutmeg.

Applejack waited patiently while she chewed. Seeing that her friend wasn’t going to simply forget the question, Twilight swallowed her mouthful and let out a sigh.

“I have no idea, AJ,” she said. “We don’t know what happened to Celestia, why she’s doing thing, or what could possibly stop her. We have no data. There’s nothing to base any assumptions on.”

“None of yer books said anythin’ about it?”

She shook her head glumly. Books had never failed her before, and the experience was depressing. Even the delicious apple fritter couldn’t cheer her up. She polished it off anyway.

“Unless Luna knows something she’s not telling us, we might have to wait and see what Celestia does,” she said. “Hopefully she won’t go near any more towns in the process.”

Applejack was silent for a while. Her own meal of fried-melon-balls-on-a-stick lay half-finished in her hooves. Twilight tried to look at it suggestively, without making it too obvious that she wanted a bite.

“Do y’think she is?” Applejack finally asked. “Luna, I mean. Hiding somethin’ from us.”

Luna’s morose expression from before filled Twilight’s mind. “I don’t think so,” she said. “She seems as shook-up about this as everypony else.”

They settled back into silence while Applejack finished her fried-melon-balls-on-a-stick, much to Twilight’s chagrin. She was about to suggest going back to the street vendor when a sickly emerald flame materialized in the air before her. The fire swirled in place for a moment before taking the shape of a rolled-up scroll, which dropped to the ground at her feet. The outside of the scroll bore two words in a tiny, neat handwriting that Twilight instantly recognized.

“For Luna,” it read.

***

Luna and the mayor, an older earth pony mare with a rust red coat and quill cutie mark, had just finished meeting with refugees at the train station when Twilight Sparkle found them. The lavender unicorn panted heavily as she galloped through the crowd to the princess. Beads of sweat dotted her coat, standing out starkly in the thin layer of dust that still covered her.

“Princess!” Luna looked up as her name was called. She mumbled an excuse to the mayor and turned toward Twilight.

The unicorn came to a stop, her sides heaving. An elegant scroll, wrapped in a gentle purple glow, bobbed in the air before her. “It’s… it’s… from Spike!” she finally managed to say.

Luna snagged the scroll from the air with her own magic. She noted the address on the outside, and pulled it open to read.


To Her Majesty Princess Luna,

Rainbow Dash has just returned to Ponyville. She claims to have spoken with the stars, who delivered this message:

A unicorn who calls herself “The Great and Powerful Trixie” has stolen Celestia’s necklace. The necklace is more than just jewelry; it is responsible for subduing Celestia’s power. If it can be returned Celestia will once again be safe.

As of this morning Trixie was west of Canterlot, near Appleloosa.

On behalf of Rainbow Dash,

-Spike


The parchment fell from her nerveless magic. It struck the cobblestones and furled back into a loose scroll, and rolled across the ground toward Twilight. The unicorn looked between it and Luna with a concerned gaze.

Trixie… Reading the name was almost a physical assault. A terrible hollow pit opened in her gut, and the murmur of the crowd around her was replaced by a toneless buzz in her ears. Trixie.

The thought of her friend’s crime was shocking, but the realization that followed was worse by far. The numbness faded as anger grew within her heart. She thought of Canterlot, and Appleloosa, and the anger was replaced by a towering rage.

Ponies cried out and scrambled away as she blasted into the air, her wings stirring a gale that tossed them off their hooves. A quick locating spell found Trixie not so far away, though her signature was surprisingly dim, as though she had found some way to magically hide herself.

It mattered not. The windows below her shattered as she effortlessly broke the speed of sound, en route to her target.

***

Las Pegasus was an easy town to get lost in. Trixie did so as soon as the train stopped.

Big Mike tried to get her to stay with the other refugees. They were being offered free food and shelter, courtesy of a royal proclamation from Luna. Trixie politely declined, and escaped into the bustling city as fast as her hooves would carry her.

Las Pegasus was a surprise to the unicorn. She had never travelled out west, and simply assumed that any towns out there were small outposts like Appleloosa, which had exactly fit her stereotypes of the Mild West. Las Pegasus, however, was a full-sized city, nearly as large as Manehattan or Fillydelphia, and unlike those ancient cities, Las Pegasus was gleaming and young. Every building, every street, every pony seemed filled with energy and optimism. It was as far from Canterlot in style as it was in distance.

She finagled a cheap room in a seedy hotel near the merchant’s district. A simple sob story about escaping from Appleloosa convinced the owners to give her the room for a pittance. For once her story was almost completely true.

The room itself was smaller than the one from Appleloosa, but more lavishly furnished. The bed held a real mattress, not just a sack stuffed with hay. Gas lights filled the interior with a warm glow, and the floors were polished wood, rather than sanded planks. It was a step in the right direction, she thought.

Of course, there was still the matter of the torc, stubbornly stuck to her chest. Not to mention the angry sun goddess chasing her relentlessly across half of Equestria. What she needed, she thought as she settled onto the soft bed, was a plan to deal with both. She drew a deep breath, closed her eyes, and envisioned the plan that would rescue her from this latest predicament.

Absolutely nothing came to mind.

She allowed herself a tiny frown. The expression wore easily on her face, like an old piece of favorite clothing grown soft and loose with time. Had anypony been in the room with her, they would have called it the most relaxed and natural look she had worn in days.

The problem was the torc, obviously. If she could get rid of it, her magic would (presumably) return, and she would be free to return to her life as an itinerant performer. Her future would still be in doubt, depending on whether or not anyone connected her with its theft, but that was something to worry about later. If nothing else she would be in a much better position to flee with her magic than without it. Getting rid of the torc might even solve the second problem, she realized. Celestia might simply be following it, rather than her specifically.

She tried a bit of magic again. As always it failed; the torc absorbed her efforts with mocking silence. It weighed on her neck like a stone.

Finally she came to the only conclusion left – another unicorn would have to help her. There were plenty in the city. They would just need a little convincing.

A bit of the weight on her shoulders lifted away. It wasn’t a great plan, to be sure, but it was a plan, and that was more than she had before. She started grooming her mane and coat as best she could without her magic.

***

Trixie was about to head out the door to find a gullible unicorn stallion when Luna arrived.

There was no grand entrance, no fanfare announcing her royal presence. One moment Trixie was reaching for the doorknob with her mouth, and in the next the temperature of the room dropped fifty degrees.

She paused at the sudden chill, her breath coating the metal knob with beads of condensation that quickly frosted into tiny dots of ice. The gas lamps flickered uncertainly, and for an instant the room was plunged into a hesitant darkness that only reluctantly receded from the glow of the lights. Her coat prickled at the unexpected intrusion of frigid air, which wafted toward her from the closed window across from the door. Tendrils of fog danced along the ceiling as the humid air plunged below its dew point.

Trixie froze in place, her muscles seizing in panic. She stared stupidly at the door for several long seconds, too terrified to turn and confirm what she already knew to be true. Her hasty, ill-conceived plans to find a unicorn and ditch the torc died without a whimper.

“Luna…” she started to say. Her parched mouth stuck on the syllables, and she swallowed several times before continuing. “I’m glad you found me, I was just about too…” she trailed off again as she turned, and beheld the nightmare behind her.

The princess was immense. She filled the room with darkness; her umbra blotted out the light as the moon eclipsed the sun. Her horn, a wicked and shining spire, grazed the high ceiling where she stood, her head and neck tilted imperiously. A bruise-black cloud that sparkled with a million stars flowed from her mane and tail, the only scrap of motion in the room. Only her eyes, bright and shining with barely contained fury, offered a hint that the princess was anything more than a statue.

All of Trixie’s arguments fled; her pleas, about to roll from her tongue, dried up as she drank in the sight before her. Nothing that cared for her excuses shared the small room.

“So it’s true,” Luna whispered. Her words, cold and distant as the moon, echoed in Trixie’s mind.

She unconsciously pulled her shawl tighter around her chest. The bulky metal shape of the torc showed through it like a poorly concealed pregnancy. Her mind raced as she sought an excuse – any excuse – and she forced her best smile onto her face.

“I’ve been looking for you ever since the Celebration,” she said. “I knew you would be able to—"

“Be silent,” Luna interrupted. “Even now, at the very end, you lie to me? Was it only ever lies?”

The alicorn’s horn flared, casting deeper shadows across the room. The shawl wrapped around Trixie’s chest lifted slightly, as though floating in a breeze, and disintegrated in a cloud of glittering dust. The traitorous torc, revealed, gleamed like a jewel in Luna’s presence.

“You foal,” she continued. “You dare to steal from a princess, and flaunt your theft openly? You dare wear that which was made for a god?”

“It was an accident,” Trixie blurted. Her words tumbled out of control. “I didn’t know. Please, Luna, I didn’t—"

“Shut up!” Luna thundered. The room quaked in sympathy as she spoke. “You have no idea the pain and devastation you have caused. Celestia banished me for a thousand years for less than what you have done.”

“I had to!” Trixie quailed. She backed as far from Luna as possible, until her rump pressed against the frosted door. “You said it was the most powerful lens you’d ever seen! I needed it too--”

“ENOUGH!” Luna roared. She moved; in the blink of an eye she was only inches away from Trixie, her horn lowered like a spear. “Remove it now, and I’ll ask Celestia to be merciful for the sake of our former friendship.”

The first tear of the evening ran down Trixie’s face. “I can’t.” Her voice shook with terror. “Please believe me Luna, I can’t! By the stars I wish I could but I can’t. Nothing I’ve done even budges it!”

Luna snarled. An ugly sneer marred her beautiful face. “Then perhaps you aren’t trying hard enough!” Her horn flashed again, and a dark light surrounded the torc.

Trixie’s world vanished in a flood of pain. A sensation like a thousand knives sliding beneath her skin forced anything resembling real thought out of her head. A ragged scream tore from her throat as the agony doubled and redoubled. A terrible tearing sensation split her down the middle.

When her eyes opened she was lying on the floor at Luna’s feet. A fan of blood, slowly crystallizing in the cold air, stained the varnished wood floor beneath her. She trembled as the memory of the pain only slowly receded, leaving an ache that throbbed around her chest. The vile torc still clung to her, the jewel in its center sparkling brighter than she remembered.

“P-please,” she whispered. A thin tendril of drool escaped her quivering lips. “It hurts…”

“Oh, it hurts?” Luna said with sudden softness. She loomed over the fallen unicorn. “At last the Great and Powerful Trixie hurts. To think, I was worried about the hundreds of thousands of ponies your carelessness and avarice have hurt or made homeless, but now I see how little that matters. All that matters to you is your own pain, your own suffering.”

The alicorn’s horn sparkled again, and a scintillating light danced across the torc, followed almost instantly by a blinding flash. When Trixie’s vision returned she was lying several feet further away, in the center of a ring of ash. The floor around her smoked.

Luna narrowed her eyes. “Your thoughtlessness has destroyed two cities so far,” she continued. “And who knows how many more if I don’t stop this madness? It’s either me or her, Trixie; she will pursue you to the ends of the earth. Now give me the torc.”

Despair gripped her. Her pain faded with the realization that she would not be leaving the room alive. “I didn’t mean for this to happen! By Celestia, I didn’t mean—"

“Don’t say that name!” Luna screamed. “My sister was the kindest, wisest pony to ever exist, and you turned her into a monster! History will forget you and remember her as a raving beast! How is that fair? How is that fair?!”

An invisible claw latched onto Trixie’s hindleg, raising her off the ground to dangle like a fish from a line. The world spun around her as the magic dragged her through the air, and then slammed her into the wall with the force of a runaway train. The thin wood-reinforced plaster shattered, and she crashed through the new hole into the next room. She tumbled across the floor like a foal’s rag doll, only stopping when a solid wood credenza blocked her path. For a disorienting moment she forgot where she was or why her body hurt so.

Luna’s frame appeared in the hole. The ragged edges of the broken wall melted as she approached, the pitiful matter dissolving in the face of her terrible will. She stepped into the room with Trixie, and the terrible cold followed her.

“I had a dream,” the princess whispered. She drew closer to the unicorn, who only now began to whimper and stir again. “I had a sister. I had a home. I thought I had a friend.” Her silver-shod hoof crunched the flinders of wood beside Trixie’s head as it descended. No mere sword ever promised so much danger as it.

“But you stole all those things from me,” she continued. Her head lowered until her snout brushed against the weeping unicorn’s mane. “You took what I offered and you spat on it. I trusted you. Celestia help me, I trusted you!”

She raised her head back up, gazing at the ceiling as though seeing through it to the moon high above. A single tear, bright as a diamond against her midnight coat, trickled down her jaw, through the air, to land before Trixie.

“I am responsible for all this,” she said to the ceiling. The anger was gone from her voice, replaced by a sad resignation. “I told you about the torc. I set you on this path, and because of my mistake thousands are suffering again.”

“P-please, Luna…”

“Last time I was too weak. I gave into my petty jealousy, and the whole world suffered for it. I will not make that mistake again.” She looked down at Trixie’s prostrate form, and raised her hoof. “I’m sorry, Trixie.”

Her hoof came down with impossible speed, the silver shoe blurring into a shining streak. It slammed into the amethyst jewel held in the center of the torc, and the room filled with the sun.

***

Trixie woke just moments later. Suffocating smoke filled the room, lit an evil red by the fires that consumed the walls. Her mane curled in the heat as the licking flames advanced toward her. She coughed and stumbled to her hooves.

A draft of cool air grabbed her attention. The outside wall of the room was simply gone; a dark hole faintly filled by the lights of the town outside took its place. She could hear the shouts of ponies in the street below. Ignoring the pain in her body, she stumbled to the edge of the hole. The room was only on the second floor, and it didn’t take her long at all to decide that jumping was a much better course of action than waiting for the burning room to roast her.

And yet… she turned. Barely visible in the smoke was the dark form of the fallen princess, far smaller now than before. The flames danced ominously close to her still shape. Had she seen what Twilight Sparkle had at the camp site – the alicorn wading effortlessly through molten rock – she might have thought twice . Instead it was an easy decision to make.

She stumbled back through the smoke, stepping as best she could around the advancing flames. Unable to use her magic, she grabbed Luna’s mane in her teeth, and slowly, agonizingly dragged the princess across the room to the ragged drop-off. She stepped over her friend, and with her last ounce of strength pushed her off, into the street below.

Trixie balanced precariously on the edge for a moment, too exhausted to leap herself. After a moment the flames caught up with her, and she discovered that she had a bit more strength after all.

The drop to the ground was mercifully short.