• Published 6th May 2013
  • 8,182 Views, 413 Comments

The Sword Coast - AdrianVesper



With a price on Twilight Sparkle’s head and the shadow of death on her heels, her only hope for salvation is the Magic of Friendship. (Baldur’s Gate Crossover)

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Carnival

Carnival

“Ouch.”

Twilight winced. Spike poured some form of strong smelling alcohol into the talon gash on her left shoulder and then tightened a bandage over it. The alcohol stung as much as it cleaned. Her wounds were too minor to warrant a healing potion, but they were painful. She sat on the steps to the second floor, Spike above and behind her, surveying the chaos inside Berry Punch’s Tavern. Four dead bodies populated the formerly jovial and active space. Shattered tables, broken stools, and bloody smears marred the scene. They had done that.

She had done that.

She caught something out of the corner of her eye and did a double take. For a second, in the dim light, the unicorn’s severed head had looked like Star Swirl’s. Killing the young wizard had been so easy. In the moment, there was no hesitation. With one simple stroke, she’d crossed out his life like it was a name on a list. As with the bandit on the road, she felt no remorse.

Pinkie, unable to confront the pony she had killed, had disappeared upstairs into one of their rooms – like a normal pony. Why Twilight remained unaffected by death, she didn’t know. She didn’t enjoy it. In the moment, she felt nothing, no thrill of success, and after the fact, all she felt was a morbid curiosity. She knew each of the two lives she had taken had changed her, probably for the worse.

Rainbow and Applejack were talking down the local militia on the other side of the room, near the door to the tavern. The truth of what had happened, the ponies at the table had drawn weapons first, was easy to tell with the barkeep backing them up. The bounty notes on their bodies only added evidence to their story. Twilight hoped the guards and the barkeep would keep quiet about the price on her head.

The notes had included one segment that hadn’t been there previously: Last seen in the Helping Hoof Inn, causing her mind to boil with questions. Who sold me out out? A passerby? Another guest at the inn? Lyra? Bon-Bon? Whoever they were, did they believe that they were doing their duty, like the Black Knight seemed to, or did they simply want golden bits to fill their coffers? What kind of pony would kill for money?

A whisper filled her mind, You killed a pony for a sword.

The self-conscious voice brought her train of thought to a dead stop. It took her a moment to dismiss it. After the Bandits had her sword, they could have taken everything she and Pinkie had: property and innocence. They had tried to hurt her, and they had payed the price. She was going to live – as best, and as long as she could.

A moment later, another dark thought flashed across her mind, Maybe you should have killed them all to keep them from hurting anyone else.

Applejack broke her silent musings. “Well, that's that; the coin they had will pay for the cleanup, and the guard is going to keep the rest of their stuff,” she said from the bottom of the steps. She paused for a moment before adding, “Next time, tell me which direction to look.”

Twilight’s ears drooped. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. After Rainbow poured the potion down Applejack’s throat, the worst mark she bore from the wizard’s spell was a few singed hairs. Still, one of Twilight’s friends had been hurt because of her inexperienced mistake.

Applejack sighed. “No, I’m sorry, sugarcube.” She sat next to Twilight on the steps and put a hoof around her shoulders. “You did good. It’s partly my fault. I heard you call and thought you were in trouble again.” She chuckled. “Granny told me to look after you, but I need to keep my own hide intact to do that.”

“Yeah, you did good!” Rainbow said from her opposite side. “Your first spell went all fwoosh and ruined that Cleric’s day! And then you took on that griffon in a swordfight, and even I had trouble with that one! Oh man, and that last spell. I’m pretty sure that griffon wet himself!” She guffawed, tears of mirth springing to her eyes. “And then before I got up, you’d taken out the unicorn too!” She regained her composure and said, “You’re a real terror, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight cringed at Rainbow’s statement. Her expression, combined with Applejack’s hard stare, made Rainbow backpedal. “I mean, you did what you had to do, nothing that anypony wouldn’t have done,” she said awkwardly. “But, Applejack is right, communication is key, like how I let you know where the griffon was.”

Twilight nodded. She closed her eyes, remembering the frightened look on the unicorn’s face before he died. She was a terror on the battlefield, a natural killer. During the fight, after Applejack had been hurt, everything had become so clear.

“It’s a good thing you can look after yourself, Twilight, or I’d be stuck in the Celestial Plane forever,” Spike said, no doubt attempting to lighten the mood. She almost smiled, but Spike ruined it by adding, “I mean, with the bounty and all. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about it!”

Twilight ignored Spike. She considered Applejack and Rainbow. She could tell from their demeanor that they had both killed before. Maybe they can tell me something... she thought.

“You’ve both been in a lot of fights, haven’t you?” she asked.

Rainbow nodded vigorously. “Oh yeah, tons!”

“I’ve had my share a’ tussles,” Applejack said.

“What were they like?” Twilight said.

Oddly, they both went silent, even Rainbow. Finally, Applejack broke the pause.

“I’ve only ever had one real big one before I met you,” Applejack began. “A trio of bandits came to our farm. It was just us there in those days. They was running after robbing a place in Ponyville, and they needed a spot to hole up for the night. Once upon a time, Granny coulda’ taken them all without breaking a sweat, but she ain’t as young as she used to be. She let them come in and hide in our house. I didn’t understand why at the moment, but now I know she didn’t want us getting hurt, and she wasn’t sure she could take down all the bandits before something terrible happened to one of us. They were lucky they didn’t hurt Big Mac too bad when he tried to stop ‘em, or Granny woulda really let ‘em have it.”

Applejack’s eyes grew distant as she continued her story. “My lil’ sis Apple Bloom called down from upstairs. She’d been in bed, seeing as she was a teensy filly and it was after her bedtime, but she wanted to know what all the commotion was about. The bandits reached for their weapons, and I knew I couldn’t let ‘em hurt lil’ Apple Bloom. I ran up the stairs to warn her. One of the bandits shouted ‘get her’ and they started chasing me. They must’ve thought I was going to do something, but I was nuthin’ but a scared little filly. I took Apple Bloom, and I ran into my parents old room, shutting the door to keep ‘em back.

“They were right behind me though, and before I knew it they were banging the door down. I was right terrified at that point, I thought they were gonna kill me and Apple Bloom, so I grabbed my pa’s old chain out of a chest at the foot of their bed. I grabbed his hat, even though it was a size too big then, because it made me feel bigger. By the time I had the chain on my tail, the door slammed open. I loosed it, and I closed my eyes and kicked as hard as I could, like Granny had taught me. My rear hooves caught the chain, and launched it hard and fast. No swinging it with my tail, nuthin’ fancy like that, just one hard strike.

“The spike hit the first pony through the door right between his eyes. He didn’t even make a sound as he fell. He was just dead. Everything was instinct at that point. I pulled back the chain with my tail and swung it in an arc, but the second bandit batted it aside like it was nuthin’; I wasn’t strong enough. I thought for sure I was done for, but Granny’s old magic axe came whirling through the doorway. She killed ‘em both in one throw.

“When she got to me, she didn’t scold me, she didn’t say a word, she just held me.” Applejack blinked back tears as she finished her story.

“So... that chain?” Twilight asked, looking closely at the chain on Applejack’s tail. Despite being golden hued, the chain was simple. The spike that had saved both of their lives sat offset on the end, with a chip taken out of the metal near where the spike connected to the chain. A single magic rune was etched into the spike. Seeking, Twilight translated the rune. She guessed it bore some enchantment.

“Yup.” Applejack nodded and hoofed the brim of her hat. “And this hat.”

“And that was that?” Twilight said. She opted against asking about Applejack’s parents. The story she’d been told already seemed hard enough.

Applejack chuckled. “Naw, I bawled like a baby for a week, and I couldn’t sleep alone in my bed without nightmares. I felt terrible, as bad as they were, all they were was ponies that wanted to hide, but instead my actions took their lives. I still wonder if what I did was right or wrong.”

“Oh...” Twilight murmured. Nightmares, she had, but no remorse. Tears? Her eyes were dry. She held up one of her hooves and inspected it. Am I normal? “What about you, Rainbow?” she said.

“I’ve killed loads of ponies, kicking evil’s flank and all that... I’d rather not get into it though,” Rainbow said. “But they all totally deserved it.”

“Okay...” Twilight said, deciding not to press the issue.

The barkeep walked up to them. “That was a helluva fight you folks had, I’m glad you won, you seemed nicer than the other bunch,” he said. He held up the carnival poster in his mouth. “You left this on the bar.”

Rainbow squinted at the poster, and then she lunged forward and snatched it from the barkeep’s mouth. She spread it on the floor and jabbed it with her hoof. “Look!” she said, pointing.

Twilight got up and trotted down the steps to look at the poster. The poster’s title blared, ‘The Carnival: From Canterlot to Manehatten, and the lands far beyond the Sword Coast, Madame Bedouin’s troupe travels far and wide to bring you marvels your mundane eyes have never before beheld!’

Below the title, a sketched unicorn stared up at her brazenly. She wore a pointy hat and a starry robe. She reared on a stage, and a nimbus of sparkling magic surrounded her ostentatiously. Beneath her, the poster read, ‘Featuring: The Great and Powerful Trixie!’ In smaller text, it added, ‘And her lovely assistant, Butterfly!’

A demure pony peeked out from behind Trixie. Her flowing mane delicately covered part of her face, and Rainbow’s hoof obscured the rest. “That’s her! That’s Fluttershy!”

With Trixie’s cape in the way, Twilight couldn’t see the pony’s body to tell if ‘Butterfly’, or Fluttershy, was a pegasus. Rainbow seemed convinced. “Then we’ll go to the carnival tomorrow, and we’ll take a look,” she told Rainbow.


Twilight stepped into the clearing. An array of three stone rings covered the ground. Shadows swarmed around her, grasping. She recognized the clearing, and she ran. She galloped through the gates of the Helping Hoof. Before her loomed a monolith of shadow. Rectangular orange eyes peered down at her. Steps led up to a single door set in the monolith’s side. Inside, she would be safe.

She lifted her foot, steps beneath it, and started to climb toward the door. Fear gripped her when the figure in armor appeared. The Black Knight rose from the shadows at the top of the steps. When he began to walk towards her, each hoof fell silently on the wooden steps. She tried to move away from him, but – no matter how fast she galloped – he effortlessly closed with her. He walked past her without a glance. She looked down, and she couldn’t see her own hooves. Quickly, she darted towards the door, but before she could get there, cool air kissed her flank.

“Nice try,” the Black Knight said, the voice of Tarn Inkstroke emerging from his helmet. His burning eyes fixed on her; he saw her. Nowhere left to run, she drew her sword.

“So be it,” the Black Knight said, his voice his own. He swung the monolith at her, the keep coalescing into his shield, betraying her trust. She lifted Solstice and met the shield with a brilliant flash of violet. Both weapons spun off into the darkness. The Black Knight stood over her with his hoof poised to strike. On her back, she desperately scrambled for her survival. She found his shield. With a cry, she lifted it and swung it in her levitation. The bladed edge bit into the Black Knight’s neck.

Star Swirl’s head rolled in the dust.

A whispered accusation rose from the shadow.

“You killed him.”

“No!” Twilight screamed as she came awake. She lay in a bed, heart racing. With the dim light of a cloudy dawn flitting in through the window, she could see Pinkie stir in a bed a short distance away on the opposite side of the room.

“Twi?” Pinkie said as she looked blearily at Twilight.

Spike shifted, curled in a basket. He murmured, then returned to softly snoring. “Sorry,” Twilight whispered. “It was nothing.”

“Bad dreams too huh?” Pinkie said, careful not to wake Spike.

“Yeah...” Twilight nodded. “Pinkie?” She paused.

“Yeah?”

“Did I kill Star Swirl?” Twilight said.

“What? No. The Black Knight killed him, silly.”

Twilight held one of her hooves above her and stared at it. “But if Star Swirl hadn’t decided to be my guardian, he wouldn’t have died. He died because of me.”

“No! He died because the Black Knight killed him!” Pinkie hissed.

Twilight sighed as she let her hoof drop back onto the sheets. Typical Pinkie Pie, she thought. “You wouldn’t understand,” she murmured.

Pinkie sat up suddenly in her bed. “What? You know I miss him too, right? He was important to me too. If anyone understands, it’s me, and I know that he was one of the kindest, and bestest, and nicest ponies I’ve ever known. I know he wouldn’t have had it any other way.” She stared at Twilight hard.

Twilight met her gaze immediately. “And here you are, blaming yourself,” Pinkie continued. “Twilight, sometimes, ponies will die for you, and sometimes, they’ll join you on some dangerous quest, even if it means they might die or they might have to kill somepony. ‘Cause sometimes – when they have to – that’s what friends do.”

Twilight bristled. “I never wanted them to do that!”

A look of hurt crossed Pinkie’s features. She jumped out of her bed and she stormed toward the door.

Twilight sat up. “Pinkie, wait!”

After opening the door, Pinkie paused in the doorway. “You help, and you want help. That’s what being friends is. Do you even know what a friend is, Twilight Sparkle, or did Star Swirl dying make you too cold to remember?” She stepped forward and slammed the door shut, leaving Twilight behind with only her accusing question.

Spike lifted his head out of his basket. “What was that all about?” he said.

Sighing, Twilight clambered out of the bed. Before Pinkie even finished recovering from having to kill a pony, she pestered her friend with misplaced guilt. She really was a terrible friend. “I said something I shouldn’t have, and she’s been through a lot.”

“Is she gonna be okay?”

“I hope so.”


Awkward tension permeated the morning. Pinkie remained icy over breakfast, and they hardly said a word as they prepared to leave for the carnival. She tried to apologize, but Pinkie cut her off. Pinkie wasn’t ready to talk. Something occupied Rainbow’s mind, probably her friend Fluttershy. Even Applejack seemed distant. Only Spike was in a good mood; the idea of the carnival fascinated him.

Before they left the Tavern, Twilight took a moment to prepare spells. The fight of the previous night had depleted her reserves, and each new day brought new threats their way. Again, she tried spells harder than she’d ever before attempted, and again she found them easier than expected. She felt silly, now, for holding back – even when Star Swirl had encouraged her – because she didn’t want to fail.

Together, they trotted toward the carnival. When they left the town center, the cobble beneath their hooves turned to dirt. “Sweet Apple Acres ain’t far from here,” Applejack mused from beside Twilight.

Twilight blinked at Applejack. “Where?”

“Its mah farm, well, the family’s really. I wonder if Apple Bloom came to the carnival...”

“Alone?” Twilight said.

“Naw, Auntie Fritter’s been looking after her with us all gone. There are a lot more’n just us four farming Sweet Apple Acres these days. It’s a lot of work, but between the Apples and the hired workers we make do,” Applejack said.

“I’ll bet it’s gonna be tons of fun! The carnival, that is,” Spike said from his position on Twilight’s back. “Are carnies really all scum of the earth thieves? I heard that once from a Celestial Archon.”

Applejack chuckled. “They don’t need to actually steal from ya to take all your bits,” she said.

Twilight barely listened while Applejack launched into an exaggerated tale about carnies and their games for Spike’s benefit. She focused instead on Rainbow and Pinkie walking ahead of them.

“And then I said, ‘Weather? I barely knew her!’” Rainbow said loudly as she finished a story. Twilight smiled, not because she found it funny, but because she saw it bring a smile to Pinkie’s face. She was glad the mood of the group had begun to brighten.

After they had walked for a couple minutes, they passed a stand of trees, and the carnival came into view. Brilliantly striped circus pavilions covered a grassy field ahead of them. Only sparse groups of ponies moved through the circus. Twilight guessed that the bulk of the crowds wouldn’t gather until the afternoon.

When they reached the edge of the tents, Twilight gathered the other three ponies off the path. Next to one of the pavilions, she told them, “We should scout the carnival for this pony.” She held up the poster and pointed at Trixie’s assistant. “We’ll cover more ground if we split up. If we don’t find her, we’ll be meeting up at that stage.” She pointed down the path between the tents at a makeshift stage in the middle of the carnival area. “That’s bound to be where Trixie is performing.”

“Right!” Rainbow said and took off, eager to start the search. The normally energetic Pinkie Pie lagged slightly behind. Last to leave, Applejack lingered beside Twilight.

“What do I do?” Spike said.

Twilight smiled. “You can stick with me.” Satisfied, she set out to explore the carnival, and Applejack trailed after her. Twilight rolled her eyes. “You don’t need to watch me all the time. I’ll be fine.”

“It’s not that. I wanted to talk to you about Rainbow Dash,” Applejack said.

Twilight paused beside a game stall that promised fabulous prizes. “Something wrong?”

“She lied to us.”

Twilight blinked. “About what?”

Applejack hoofed the ground moodily. “Well, we got to talking last night, and, long story short, she’s no village hero sent to rescue the town druid.”

“What do you mean?”

“It turns out the pegasi up there aren’t as fond of a druid as she said the first time. They don’t have much use for a pegasus that can barely fly and prefers the ground more than the sky. They kicked Fluttershy out, and Rainbow stole those wingblades and went after her,” Applejack said.

Twilight raised an eyebrow at Applejack. “What’s the problem then?”

“Well, for one, she lied. An’ for two, she’s a thief. An’ for three, how do we know we can trust her?”

“It sounds like she did the right thing to me,” Twilight said. She regarded Applejack. As much as she trusted the earth pony, she hardly knew her. “What do you think we should do?”

Applejack looked off to the side at a colt trying to beat the carnival game instead of meeting Twilight’s eyes. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t help her find Fluttershy. Like you said, it sounds like she did the right thing, but maybe you should convince her to return what she took instead of joining us.” Applejack, resolute so far, seemed unsure.

Twilight frowned. “She’s a good fighter though; she wasn’t lying about that. I’m not sure we would have won that fight without her.”

Applejack nodded. “That she is.” She met Twilight’s gaze. “But, she is also a rebel. Everything I’ve been taught tells me that she’s gonna let you down.”

“Do you think she’ll let us down?” Twilight said.

Applejack shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“I’ll give her the choice, then, after we find Fluttershy. She can come with us, or go wherever she wants.”

“Fair e’nuff,” Applejack said. Satisfied, she turned and ventured off among the pavilions.

Twilight stared after Applejack. “Come on, Rainbow’s not gonna let you down,” Spike said.

“I hope you’re right, Spike,” Twilight said.

A voice caught Twilight’s attention. “One more try!” a colt said irritably as he slammed a bit down on the nearby game booth’s counter, beside where Twilight and Applejack had been talking. He was old enough to have earned his mark, but not quite old enough to be considered an adult. The filly beside him looked bored.

The unicorn in the booth smiled and nodded. “Sure thing, son.” He levitated a ring out from behind the counter for the colt.

Twilight peered into the booth. Clearly, the objective was to land the hoop on one of three poles within the booth, with the middle one labeled ‘Grand Prize’ and set the furthest back. Dolls, pretty rocks, and Zehervian bead necklaces stocked a shelf above the poles, serving as prizes. She saw the colts two previous missed throws lying in the dirt. The colt took the ring in his mouth and tossed it with a flick of his neck.

The colt’s quality throw sent the hoop sailing toward its mark. It hit the Grand Prize post and flipped over it. Twilight squinted. There was something off about the way the ring hit the post. The colt groaned in frustration. “I give up,” he said.

“About time,” the filly said.

“Ooh, I wanna try,” Spike said in her ear.

“I think he’s cheating. The post is enchanted,” Twilight whispered back.

The unicorn took his bit, and moved it into a drawer in the back of the booth. Twilight was about to confront him, but before she could, she noticed the drawer slide open again, this time moved by a blue aura. A pile of bits slipped out the back of the booth, unnoticed by the unicorn.

Rarity stepped into Twilight’s view, a couple tents away. The fashionable sun hat poised perfectly on her head made her look entirely unlike a thief. Twilight noticed that she levitated the bits out of her line of sight around a tent: a challenging skill to master. Still, the bits filed into her saddlebag in a controlled fashion. With a natural confidence, Rarity strode out onto the path. Twilight kept her eyes on the white unicorn, and she spotted Rarity slip one bit into the colt’s bag.

Spike gasped and pointed. “Look, it’s Rarity!” He shoved a claw in his mouth when he realized how loud he’d been. “Are my spines straight?” he whispered, fervently grooming the scales on his head with his claws.

Rarity turned her head and noticed them. She trotted up to Twilight and, eyeing spike, said, “Oh, it’s you. Hello again, and sorry about calling you a ‘strange pet’, by the way.” She inclined her head respectively to Spike. “I made a bit of a faux pas.” She tittered gracefully. “I was so flustered by the pink ruffian.”

Twilight could hear Spike’s breath coming in short, quick gasps. Still, the little fey dragon had the composure to say, “A lady as gracious as you need not apologize.” He nearly fell off Twilight’s back bowing, but Twilight felt him start to slide and caught him with her levitation.

Rarity pretended not to notice Spike overbalance. “How noble of you, so quick to forgive.” The complement left Spike speechless. “Well, ta-ta.” As quickly as she’d appeared, Rarity moved into a growing throng of ponies.

Spike sighed as he watched Rarity leave, starting to flow off Twilight’s back as his legs went weak. This time, she let him fall. She looked down at him while he stared up at the sky. “She’s so amazing...”

“You do realize that she’s a pony and you’re... well...” Twilight said, trailing off as she realized that her statement could be dream crushing for her poor familiar.

“I’m what?” Spike said, semi-alert.

Twilight quickly picked him up and set him on her back. “Nothing.”

She caught a glimpse of Rarity moving around a pavillion, and she followed, curious. “Where are you going?” Spike said.

“I want to know what she does next,” Twilight said. She followed Rarity around the bend. Trailing after the purple flashes of the white unicorn’s tail, she lurked in between the pavilions.

“If she accuses me of stalking her I’m blaming you,” Spike whispered.

“If she does that, blame away,” Twilight hissed back at him. “Now be quiet.”

It wasn’t long before they reached the edge of the carnival. Rarity trotted toward a line of unloaded carnival wagons on the edge of the field beside a well rutted dirt road. Twilight saw a few young, gaunt looking zebras and ponies grazing on the tough, muddy grass beside the road – hands and helpers, no doubt. She watched from the corner of an empty wooden booth while Rarity approached the group. She passed them a few bits. Twilight was out of earshot, but she could see their grateful expressions.

“Huh,” Twilight murmured, starting to like Rarity a little more despite her earlier attempt at taking the bits from Twilight and her friends. She retreated back onto the main carnival grounds and headed for the stage at the center. Her friends were probably gathered there by now.

Twilight arrived just in time to hear, “Come one, come all, come and witness the amazing magic of the Great and Powerful Trixie.”

Over a small crowd, she saw a sparkling display of magic, and, from a cloud of smoke in the middle of the stage, the unicorn from the poster appeared, complete with the same hat, robe, and smirk. Twilight maneuvered her way through the crowd to where she found her friends standing near the front. A murmur of interest rippled through the crowd around her.

“Watch as the Great and Powerful Trixie performs the most spectacular feats of magic ever witnessed by Pony eyes!” Trixie continued with grandiose flair.

“Betcha she’s got nothing on you, Twi. I already know I’m more amazing.” Rainbow said in her ear when Twilight reached the group.

“No sign of Fluttershy?” Twilight said back, rolling her eyes.

“Not yet,” Rainbow answered.

“Stand prepared to be awed, for on this magical journey the Great and Powerful Trixie will take you to faraway lands with her unheard of teleportation abilities. If you do not have the fortitude for such an adventure, the Great and Powerful Trixie must warn you to leave while you still can, for this journey is not for the faint of heart!”

Twilight’s eyes widened at Trixie’s claim. According to what her books said, teleportation magic was exceedingly difficult. While short-distance teleports could be performed with relative ease, long range teleportation required anchored gateways.

Trixie feigned surprise. “No one wishes to leave? Very well! To the Crystal City!” Trixie closed her eyes, her horn glowing brightly.

A flare of white light forced Twilight to close her eyes. When the light faded, she stared in astonishment. Her, her friends, and the entire crowd stood on a polished crystal street. She looked around in confusion. All the normality of the carnival had vanished, replaced by exotic crystalline structures of various hues. In front of them, Trixie stood on a sapphire stage. Behind Trixie, a grand, white crystal spire held up by four massive arches rose to a dizzying height.

The space around them contained both a mystical quality, and a sad, eerie emptiness. The frightened murmuring of the audience surrounded Twilight.

“Have no fear! My little ponies, you are perfectly safe. The Great and Powerful Trixie will protect you!” Trixie assured. “Now, certainly you are all wondering, ‘Why did you bring us here?’ and the Great and Powerful Trixie has the answer. She brought you here because she was once a crystal pony!”

A collective gasp went through the audience, and Twilight found herself joining them. Crystal ponies existed at one point, but no one had either seen or heard of them for a thousand years. It would be impossible for Trixie to be one.

“Oh yes, we all know of the Empire that claims connections to the grand Crystal Empire, but the Great and Powerful Trixie assures you that they are but a candle in comparison to the roaring bonfire of the glory of the crystal ponies!” Trixie continued. “But our tale turns sour, for the crystal ponies were so jealous of the Great and Powerful Trixie that they banished her to faraway lands. Do you want to know what inspired such an insipid jealousy?” Trixie raised her hoof to her ear, waiting for an audience response.

The spellbound crowd cried, “Yes!”

Twilight hoofed the dirt beneath her with unease. This whole thing – in any realm of magic she understood – was thoroughly impossible. The Crystal City was gone, and time travel was even more impossible than ungated mass teleportation. Wait, dirt? She looked down and pulled back her hoof as Trixie continued her tale. Her hoof was pristine, the ground beneath it solid crystal. She set her hoof back down. The ground felt smooth once more.

“Well then, witness as the Great and Powerful Trixie takes you to find an Ursa Major, so that she may do the deed that caused her banishment!”

Before Twilight could fully process what Trixie said, the world around them changed again in a brilliant flash. Trixie stood above the crowd on a rocky outcropping, silhouetted against the night sky. A treeline loomed eerily around them. A distance away, a creature, large as a house, that looked like it ripped its coat from the starry sky itself, stood on the rocks. Its intimidating roar shook Twilight to her core. The crowd screamed.

“Have no fear!” Trixie cried. “It cannot hurt you with The Great and Powerful Trixie near! In order to make this demonstration as authentic as possible though, she shall have to call upon her assistant, Butterfly!”

Between the Ursa and Trixie, a pony with a creamy yellow coat and a long pink mane and tail rippled into existence on the rocky outcropping that Trixie had made into her stage. Twilight stared at the Ursa. It waited, unmoving except for the shimmer of stars on its coat.

“That’s Fluttershy!” Rainbow hissed in her ear.

Twilight flicked her attention back to the new pony on the stage. Cruel manacles held Fluttershy against a stone slab. She had no wings that Twilight could see. The Ursa loomed over Fluttershy.

“We have to help her!” Rainbow shouted as she launched forward with a powerful beat of her wings. Before she closed the distance, a ring of steel appeared, encircling and constricting her wings. She plummeted like a stone, her momentum carrying her face first into the rock beneath Trixie.

Twilight thought she heard a cracking sound. “Rainbow!” She called with worry, her voice joined by Pinkie and Applejack.

Rainbow stirred. “I’m okay!” she grunted. Twilight sighed with relief.

“Do not interfere!” Trixie warned. She flicked her cape, and strode forward to face the Ursa. The bear pulled back a massive paw, eliciting a whimper from Fluttershy. Twilight almost cast a spell to intervene, but Trixie addressed the creature. “Face the Great and Powerful Trixie, foul beast!” Trixie shouted. The Ursa turned its massive head to look at Trixie and began to lumber toward her.

Trixie channeled a spell, her horn consumed by a powerful glow. The Ursa stumbled, then fell as a dark portal opened up beneath its feet. Trying to pull itself up, it clawed angrily at the stone, but its hindquarters drug it down into a black nothingness. The portal closed shut like an iris. In an instant, the Ursa was defeated.

“As you can see, for the Most Magical Pony in Equestria, such a creature was hardly a challenge! And now, the feats that the Great and Powerful Trixie can accomplish are far beyond your imaginations, for she has had over a thousand years to master her art!” Trixie said. “But I am afraid that your time here is done, and the Great and Powerful Trixie must return you back to your mundane existence.”

Another flash of light, and they all stood back in front of the stage at the carnival. Trixie and Fluttershy were gone. Twilight stepped quickly up to the base of the stage to help Rainbow. She noticed distractedly that several of the wooden supports along the base of the stage languished in varying states of disrepair, including the cracked one Rainbow lay next to.

Rainbow groaned and rubbed a rising welt on her face. “I don’t suppose I can have one of those healing potions.”

Twilight shook her head while she helped Rainbow back to her feet. “Nope.” She glanced at the bandage on her own shoulder. “Look what happened to me, and I didn’t use one.”

“Right,” Rainbow grunted. “Well, Trixie is powerful, and she has Fluttershy.” Rainbow removed the hoof from her face. “What in Equestria was that?”

“I’d rather not tangle with her.” Applejack said from behind Twilight. “How much of that do you think was true?”

Twilight glanced at Applejack, a frown crossing her features. “It doesn’t seem possible, but I’m not sure what to believe. We saw what we saw, didn’t we?”

Applejack nodded. “Yup. So what do we do now?”

“I think we should pay a visit to Madame Bedouin. Maybe she will let us see Fluttershy, and we can resolve this whole thing peacefully,” Twilight said.


The air within Madame Bedouin's tent was so heavy with acrid, smoky incense that it made Twilight cough when she breathed too deeply. Unsurprisingly, Madame Bedouin, who lay on a bed of expensive fabrics in the back of the tent on the other side of a low table, was not a pony. Small eyes, and a long, elegant muzzle, identified her as an arabian horse. Her greying mane betrayed her age.

“Midnight Shine, right? Come here, filly,” the Madame said, her voice grating and rough.

Twilight stepped forward and folded her legs beneath her, lying next to the table. Soft fabrics covered the floor of the tent. She was alone; the Madame had only agreed to meet with one of them. “I’m here to talk to you about—”

“Give me your hoof,” the Madame said, interrupting her. “I’d like to know who I’m speaking to before we do business.”

Twilight eyed the Madame skeptically, but she set her hoof on the table. The Madame closed her eyes and seized Twilight’s hoof, then proceeded to probe every line in the keratin. Twilight found the sensation strangely relaxing. With each passing moment, the Madame seemed to grow tenser, until finally, her eyes shot open wide, and she abruptly released Twilight’s hoof.

The Madame gasped theatrically. “I cannot read your fate,” she said. “Your destiny, and your identity, is beyond my sight.” For a moment, Twilight thought the the Madame looked sad. “I only know that great trials await you on the road ahead.”

Twilight snorted inwardly, not wanting to openly disrespect her host. Not only was the Madame, as Twilight suspected, unable to predict anything specific about the future, she couldn’t even tell Twilight something she wanted to hear. She made a poor fraud. Instead of telling Twilight believable lies, she told Twilight nothing.

“So, is a mystery like yourself with a fantastical creature as a companion looking for a spot at the carnival? We are always looking for new talent,” the Madame said.

“No, it’s not that. My friends and I are looking for a pegasus named Fluttershy. I believe she is Trixie’s assistant,” Twilight explained.

Madame arched a brow. “We have a few pegasi in the circus, but none named Fluttershy. The Great and Powerful Trixie’s assistant is an earth pony named Butterfly.”

“Could we speak with her? Just to be sure?” Twilight pleaded.

The Madame shook her head. “I’m sorry, I cannot allow it. We don’t allow slaves to speak to customers.”

Twilight blinked. “She’s a slave?”

“Yes, we purchased her legitimately, I can assure you. All of her documentation is in order,” the Madame said.

“Are you sure you can’t make an exception?” Twilight pressed.

“I cannot.” The Madame’s welcoming attitude turned hard. “Now, unless you have something I can help you with, I suggest you leave.”

Defeated, Twilight stood up and pushed her way out the tent flap. As soon as she stepped blinking into the daylight, Rainbow launched a question at her.

“Well, what did she say?”

“She claimed there is no pegasus named Fluttershy in her troupe. She said that ‘Butterfly’ is an earth pony slave, and she said we couldn’t see her,” Twilight said.

She turned once her hindquarters cleared the tent and started to make her way toward the edge of the carnival grounds. She took a deep breath of fresh outside air. The others followed her, Spike hurrying along on his own two legs.

A thought occurred to Twilight. “Spike, get me a book on with information about Ursas,” she said.

“Coming right up,” Spike said, then produced a book.

Rainbow landed in front of Twilight with a blast of air. “Where are we going! I’m not going to give up!”

Twilight stopped and opened the book that Spike handed her. She flipped through the pages, ignoring Rainbow. “Ursa, Ursa, Ursa... major...” she muttered. “Ah!”

“Twilight!” Rainbow said, seeking a response.

“Here we are... wait, the size is wrong,” Twilight said.

Pinkie stared at Twilight with wide eyes. “What do you mean, Trixie found something bigger?”

“No,” Twilight flipped the book around so that they could see. “Smaller.” The drawing she’d seen on the page made an Ursa Major out to be astoundingly massive. It outsized the pony used for scale a hundredfold at least. A fully grown dragon would be comparable.

Twilight flipped the book around again and turned the page. “Ursa Minor... Juvenile Ursa.” Twilight turned the book so that they could see again. “This is what Trixie fought, not an Ursa Major. She may be powerful, but she is fallible.”

Twilight lowered her voice before continuing. “We’ll sneak into this place after dark, and we’ll save Fluttershy. If Trixie tries to stop us, we’ll find a way to win.”


Several hours later, Twilight found herself wondering how she could have been so monumentally stupid, so staggeringly arrogant, as to even think of confronting a spellcaster with Trixie’s abilities.

It had been easy enough to sneak into the tent where Twilight suspected the Madame kept her slaves. It had been easier still to find the cage where ‘Butterfly’ slept, along with a small white bunny curled in her hair. But, while Rainbow and Applejack argued over the quietest way to get the lock open, Trixie had appeared in the doorway.

Before Twilight could react, a white flash of light had replaced the tent and its dozen cage-bound slaves with an exotic arabian palace, complete with satin curtains, lush velvet rugs, and an ivory throne.

At the moment, she was alone – other than Trixie sitting on the throne looking down at her with contempt. She deserved contempt. She was an arrogant young wizard trifling with magic she didn’t understand.

“Who dares trespass upon the glorious realm of the Great and Powerful Trixie?” Trixie’s impressive voice echoed through the chamber. Rapidly, Twilight scrambled for an excuse that could get her and her friends out of this mess alive. “Well? Speak, worm!” Trixie demanded.

Quickly, Twilight threw herself to the ground, groveling before Trixie. “I’m sorry Tri—”

“Great and Powerful Trixie!”

“I’m sorry, Great—Your Great and Powerfulness, I am a young wizard, and I was so stunned by your magic that I wanted to know more. I didn’t mean to intrude where I didn’t belong.” She looked up at Trixie nervously.

Trixie nodded. “Acceptable.”

Trixie motioned with a hoof, and a pony servant that Twilight hadn’t seen before stepped forward and presented Trixie with a golden goblet. She took the goblet in her levitation, and the servant stepped back while she sipped it. The servant returned to a spot by the wall and stood eerily still. Twilight looked to the opposite wall and rubbed her eyes. A second servant stood there as well.

“The Great and Powerful Trixie appreciates your interest. But... she cannot tell you about her power. As you are so young, you would not understand the sheer complexity of it.”

While Trixie spoke, Twilight couldn’t shake the feeling of something being terribly wrong, beyond her own stupidity. She felt like she did when Trixie had teleported her and the audience at the show across Equestria. There has to be an explanation, she thought.

Trixie’s next statement made Twilight cringe.

“Besides, the Great and Powerful Trixie would never share her secrets with someone conspiring to steal her assistant!” Trixie stood up from her throne and approached Twilight with an attitude of righteous anger. “Don’t look so surprised, Bedouin told her all about your conversation, Midnight Shine.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. Trixie, once again, was faillible. Shouldn’t Trixie know my real name? How could someone be so powerful and still make such simple mistakes? she mused. As much as she and her friends tried to only use her name when other ponies weren’t listening, they hadn’t been all that careful. Just like the Ursa, it would be easy enough to figure out for a normal pony. Trixie should know these details.

“Now what is the Great and Powerful Trixie going to do with you, humm?” Trixie said, standing over her. “You have audacity, she’ll give you that. Perhaps even a worthless individual such as you can be of some use to her.”

For all that Trixie was, her powers were strangely limited. Her main trick seemed to be instant, unlimited, mass teleportation. And then it hit her; it was a trick.

It all came together: The dirt beneath her hoof, the crack when Rainbow hit what was actually the stage support, the way that other creatures stood eerily still, why Trixie would be preforming at some two-bit carnival, and the sheer impossibility of it all. She should have trusted her instincts from the beginning. She knew it was impossible. Instead, she let Trixie’s flair and attitude mislead her and distract her from the truth.

The truth was: Trixie was a fraud, and this was all an illusion.

Twilight picked herself up off the floor and looked around the room. Every imperfection, every place where Trixie had failed, became obvious to her. The way the curtains moved was wrong. The way the servants stood, glassy eyed at their posts, was wrong. The whole place was like the way the ring had struck the stick in the booth: wrong.

“Grovel!” Trixie demanded.

Twilight looked back at Trixie. The truth gave her confidence. “This isn’t real,” she told Trixie.

Twilight saw a hint of fear in Trixie’s eyes, but wrath quickly replaced it. “You will find that this is very real!” Trixie threatened.

The servants grew, towering until they were giants whose heads nearly brushed the ceiling. They stomped toward Twilight, and the floor cracked beneath their hooves as they advanced. The ceiling started to crumble, then the walls, and even Trixie’s form standing in front of her. Fear shot through her as one of the giant’s massive hooves descended toward her, but she repressed her instinct to run and closed her eyes, hoping she was right.

No hoof fell.

When Twilight opened her eyes, she was standing back in the tent. She looked around for her friends. Rainbow Dash shivered on the floor of a cage next to the sleeping Fluttershy, her wingblades discarded on the floor outside. Pinkie Pie had tangled herself up in a pile of ropes until she could no longer move next to the edge of the tent. She giggled uncontrollably. Trixie stood near the entrance of the tent, her horn aglow, and her face twisted in a mixture of concentration and panic.

Bang!

Twilight turned around to face the sudden sound. Applejack relentlessly bucked at the door of a metal cage from the inside, trapped. Her chain lay on the floor of the tent, outside the cage. The slaves, still under the effects of Trixie’s magic, slept on.

“Applejack?” Twilight said in wonder.

Applejack stopped bucking to look at Twilight. “Tell me you ain’t just talking to yourself. Tell me you figured it out.”

Twilight smiled, clapping her hooves together. “Yes! It was an illusion.”

“She tricked me; she tricked us all. Got me to trap myself in this cage before I figured it out. She didn’t trap you though.” Applejack flicked her head toward Trixie. “Go kick her flank.”

Twilight nodded and drew Solstice. Confidently, she advanced on Trixie. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted movement. The white bunny that had been sleeping next to Fluttershy easily slipped through the bars of the cage and bounced toward her. Behind him, Fluttershy raised her head, her eyes opening. While Twilight watched the bunny, she heard the caged pony gasp in fright.

The bunny paused in front of Twilight. Woody vines emerged from the dirt floor of the tent. They picked up the bunny, surrounding him and empowering him. He rose up until he was a creature of bark and wood a head taller than her – a massive, wooden rabbit. Twilight eyed the tree-beast skeptically. She ignored it, not even moving Solstice to guard. Trixie’s illusions couldn’t actually harm her.

“Really, Trixie? I already figured out your illusions. Is this really the best idea—”

Applejack’s voice called from behind her while she spoke, “Twilight, look—”

The rest of Applejack’s words were lost when her head snapped violently to the side; the wooden bunny’s hind leg made contact with her jaw. She spun toward the ground. She remained aware of every moment of falling, but although she was aware, she couldn’t consciously react. Her useless limbs failed to even reflexively protect her from the impact when the floor came up to meet her: hard.

She heard Trixie’s voice over the ringing in her ears. “Oh he is very real, as you can see. And you know what the best part is? He thinks you’re Trixie!” Trixie said with a cruel laugh.

With a groan, Twilight gathered her barely responsive limbs beneath her. She tried to order her thoughts enough to cast a spell as she stood, but long before she could even begin, a second impact hit her side.

The blow knocked her to the ground, where she lay, coughing. Blood trickled out her nose and from a reopened talon gash on her neck. Solstice lay a few hoofspans away where she had dropped it after the first kick. She reached out toward it with her magic, but the rabbit’s foot came down on it as soon as her levitation field glowed around it, trapping the blade flat against the ground.

“Stop it, you varmint!” Applejack bucked the cage again. “She’s...” Slam! “Not...” Slam! “Who you think she is!”

From Twilight’s position on the ground, she saw something white past the flaps covering the entrance to the tent. A bolt of coalesced light blue magic shot from the opening and struck Trixie. Trixie reeled, the glow around her horn dissipated. Relief filled Twilight when the rabbit, formerly looming over her, stopped abruptly and turned his bark covered face toward Trixie with an angry glare.

Rarity strode in the doorway of the tent with a beautifully crafted recurve bow floating in an aura of magic beside her. She stood over Trixie.

“That’s what you get for keeping slaves, hurting ponies, and giving me green hair!”

Author's Note:

Acknowledgements:
Editor: Idle Prose
Editor: Extravagaunte
Editor: Rainbow Twister
Editor: The Music Man

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