• Published 9th Nov 2013
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Adjacency - Frission



Obsessed with uncovering the magic responsible for creating the portal mirror she used to recover her crown, Twilight eventually manages to create a gateway to a series of worlds one step removed from her own.

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Chapter 7: Lost in the Light

”What?!”

“You can’t tell me you’re surprised. I mean, yes, most of us are aware she was basically mind-controlled at the time, but there are some ponies in town that simply don’t care… After what she did, I can’t really blame them.” Octavia frowned, turning away to look out the shop’s window. “It doesn’t mean I agree with them, but I can empathize.”

Twilight grimaced behind her mask. ’I suppose with infinite worlds there are infinite possibilities… I should have expected we’d run into a situation where one of our alternates had done something really bad sooner or later. I guess I didn’t expect it to happen so soon though...’

Twilight hesitated, choosing her words carefully. “Tell me… what exactly happened back then? I wasn’t here for most of it, and I believe that most ponies spared me the details when I came back.”

It was only half true, but Octavia didn’t need to know that right now. The musician just nodded quietly as she took in this information, her eyes taking on a distant expression as she traced back her memories.

“It was a very dark time for Ponyville. It started out mildly enough: Trixie forced your friends to do degrading chores for her, like making Rarity sew dozens of those banners with her face on them to hang up all over town, or making Applejack hoof-mash applesauce for her. Whomever wasn’t directly in the her path pretty much locked themselves in their homes to avoid her, which worked for a while.”

Octavia paused, turning back to look at Twilight. “Then she started getting weird, doing things like banishing the use of wheels for some reason. She got pretty steamed when she caught your friend Fluttershy trying to escape town to pass you a message, but thank Celestia that only happened on the first day.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight raised a brow. ’So in this world Fluttershy never got to warn me about the amulet…’

Octavia sighed and simply shook her head. “I need to gather my thoughts. Ask Vinyl to tell you the rest when she wakes up.”

Silence stretched out between the two for a few minutes, both girls lost in their own thoughts. After a while, Octavia’s expression hardened into a look of determination, and she stamped a forehoof decisively on the floor.

“Right, I’m going out there to find her. I’m trusting that if you brought her here, then she’s a different pony than she was back then.” The earth pony’s gaze met Twilight’s, who nodded in reply.

’More than you realize...’ “Alright. I have a question though. What you did when I first ran into you, it felt like you were speaking directly into my mind… was that telepathy?” Twilight raised a brow.

Octavia shook her head. “No, that little trick only works if I’m maintaining eye contact. It’s not actual telepathy, just hypnosis making you think it was.”

Twilight made a mental note of that. “Alright, then you should go get Spike to help you search. He can send a letter if you two find anything. He should be at the library this time of day, though I could be mistaken…”

“That’s a good suggestion, Princess. Thank you for offering his aid.” Octavia smiled, then bowed before her.

Twilight blushed a little as she watched the musician rise and make her exit into the foggy streets. ’That’s still going to take some getting used to...’ she thought, watching through the window until Octavia vanished into the mists. She considered going out herself to search as well, but that thought was interrupted by the groggy moan of a certain unicorn waking up next to her.

“Ohhh, I feel dizzy… Octy, I think you went a little overboard again…”

Vinyl Scratch stirred on her cot, sitting up slowly. She kept her eyes closed while she felt around for her glasses. Finding them on a table next to the bed, she smiled and immediately put them on. Right as she finished this act, a certain pink ball of energy bounded up, carrying a giant tray of sweets and juice boxes.

“Hey there sleepy-head! You should have a snack. They’re all packed full of sugary goodness and’ll have you back on your hooves and ready to party again in no time! Or rave in your case?” Pinkie giggled energetically, punctuating it with a happy snort. “I’ve got cupcakes and cookies and tarts and pie and doughnuts and cake and a whole buncha kindsa juice to wash it all down!”

“Huh? Oh, hey, thanks Pinks!” Vinyl grinned weakly, grabbing a few cookies and a box of apple juice up in her blue magical aura, levitating them off the tray.

“Welcome!” Pinkie Pie beamed her biggest smile. “Now you take it easy for a bit. Twilight, can you keep an eye on her? Thanks!” She then bounded off again before either could reply.

“...Oh, I give up.” Twilight grumbled, pulling off her mask and letting it hang loosely around her neck.

“Hey, don’t feel bad, Twi. She always sees through my disguises too. No idea how she always knows who’s who, but that’s Pinkie for ya.” Vinyl smiled tiredly, then scarfed down her cookies like a starved wildebeest, sending crumbs flying everywhere and even making little ‘nom nom nom’ noises as she went. “Mmmm, so gooood.”

“Some day I’ll figure out how she does that.” Twilight deadpanned, then turned back to Vinyl. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah, I’m gettin’ there. Kinda used to it by now.” She smiled. “Nice to see ya again, Twilight. Or is it ‘Princess’ now, eh?” Vinyl playfully nudged Twilight’s shoulder with her hoof. “Big step up since I saw ya at the wedding.”

Twilight smiled a little, but it quickly faded—she was too worried to keep it up. “Hey, Vinyl? Your friend Octavia was telling me about what happened when Trixie took over the town a while back, but she stopped after describing how Fluttershy got caught trying to escape. Would you mind filling in the rest?”

Vinyl whistled low, leaning back into her cot and looking up at the ceiling. “Wow. I’m amazed you got her to talk about it even that much; she’s still got some emotional scars from back then. Octy must really respect you, Twi.”

Twilight started to accept the compliment, but then felt her blood run cold. Her eyes quickly went wide as something occurred to her, and she gasped loudly while flaring her wings. “Wait, she told me there were ponies that wanted Trixie dead. Don’t tell me she’s one of them?!”

“Octy? Nah.” Vinyl shrugged, completely nonchalant about the accusation that had just been flung. “She wouldn’t hurt a fly. I know she’s been through some… interesting changes the last few years, and she can come off kinda fierce sometimes because of it, but she’s really a big sweetie under it all. Trust me, you’d be hard pressed to find a more noble or kind pony.” Vinyl smiled, then paused, leaning up to look at Twilight. “Uh... just don’t tell anypony I said that gushy stuff. I’ve got an image to worry about.”

Twilight relaxed her tense muscles and tucked her wings back to her sides. “Ahh… Just, how did she end up like that, anyways?”

“Heh, y’know most of the peeps who ask that seem to expect some weird or tragic backstory, but it’s nothin’ like that. One day a few years back she just decided ‘I’m going to be a vampony’, found somepony to make it happen, and that was that. When that mare decides something, Luna herself wouldn’t be able to stop her. She’s kinda scary when she gets like that.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah, that’s what they usually say, too.” Vinyl smirked.

“Anyways, let’s get back on topic. What happened when Trixie took over the town, while I was trapped outside of it? After Fluttershy was caught?”

“Oh! Right. Let’s see.. well, she hadn’t really gone completely crazy at that point, so she let Flutters off with a warning. Still, every day that passed she just got worse and worse. She made crazy demands like ‘all apples must be grown to be skinless and perfect dodecahedrons in shape’, and she started snapping at anyone who disobeyed her. She’d use her magic to torture anyone who talked back, and she didn’t stick to feathers for that for very long…” Vinyl grimaced.

“By the time she’d been in charge for a week, Ponyville was a complete nightmare. She went totally paranoid, started claiming you were coming back any moment to ‘usurp her throne.’ She tortured ponies in the streets, left them there writhing in pain as a warning for the rest of us. Half a building blew up one night because she swore she saw something purple in the window. Thank Luna nopony was in there. But that’s just what she did to the normal ponies.”

“From the moment she put that amulet on it was like she was dimetri—diya—reicly?” Vinyl paused, scratching her head. “Well she suddenly just started absolutely hating vamponies out of the blue. She cancelled the monthly Hunt, and declared no vampony could leave their homes. Not all of them lived with their donors, though, and after a few days a few of them had to try to reach their friends. When Trixie found out, she was furious…” Vinyl looked down, shuddering. “She started blasting this horrible red lightning at any vamponies she saw, even if they’d obeyed her and stayed indoors. If she caught so much as a gliimpse of one in a window, boom.”

Twilight couldn’t hide the shock or horror on her face, and she didn’t try. Meanwhile, Vinyl sat up on the edge of her cot and continued. “Poor Roseluck got cornered in an alley while trying to sneak over to see Thunderlane. She couldn’t help it, Rose was starving, but Trixie didn’t care. She probably would have killed Rose right then and there, when out of nowhere who of all ponies suddenly drops out of the sky right between them? Fluttershy!”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. She could barely imagine her timid friend being the one to charge into danger. Yet Fluttershy had proven on several occasions that she could push past her fears when her friends were on the line, like the time she had stared down a cockatrice to protect the crusaders.

“Flutters put on her hardest stare at Trixie and started yelling at her, I mean actually yelling. Nopony could believe it! For a minute it almost looked like she was getting through to Trixie, but it didn’t last long before she started laughing all crazy-like and monologuing right back at her. Well, Flutters took that chance and got Rose to sneak away while she kept Trixie talking.”

Vinyl smiled a little at what Twilight assumed was the memory of a sweet, shy pegasus outwitting a raving madmare, but the smile faded and vanished as she continued. “It took almost two full minutes before Trixie managed to realize she’d been duped. Trixie was already mad at her for trying to leave town, but now? All that rage she’d been about to throw at Rose boiled over and found a new victim…” Vinyl swallowed hard. “I’ll never forget the screams… Fluttershy… she… s-she never even tried to run….”

Twilight felt warm wet trails flow down from her watering eyes. Her emotions overwhelmed her as every memory she had of the yellow and pink pegasus flitted through her mind. “…N-no…”

“Well that’s when you showed up, though! Somehow you just popped into the middle of town right there behind Trixie like the shield she’d put up was nothing! And your eyes were all glowing this crazy bright white and you were talking in like three voices at once, it was unreal! Then you two started fighting and there was magic and lasers and explosions flying everywh—whoa!” Vinyl was waving her hooves and gesturing wildly, and managed to fall off her cot in the process. She got back up on her hooves and brushed herself off like nothing happened, taking a sip of her juice before continuing.

“Anyways, as awesome as it was seeing Trixie get her flank handed to her, I couldn’t just stand there and watch.”

“W-wait,” Twilight interrupted after wiping her eyes with a hoof. “You were there?”

“Oh, yeah. When I saw what Trixie was doing to Flutters I had to try to help. When you showed up and got Trixie’s attention, I snuck in and got her. Man, I could feel the raw magic pouring off of you, being that close to you felt like my skin was on fire… I heard afterwards that somehow you managed to force Trixie to take off that amulet! How did you manage to learn to do something like that? Can that Zecora lady teach me that or is it someth—”

Vinyl!

Vinyl settled down again, this time blushing sheepishly. “Right, heh, sorry… Anyways, I got her to the hospital, and thank Luna we’ve got some of the best doctors around. They saved her.” She sighed, her last word carrying a bitter undertone, “Mostly.”

Twilight nodded weakly, afraid to ask any further. ’It’s terrifying to think that some of this might have happened in our world if I’d never been warned... But the way Vinyl painted that fantastic picture of my return, the things this version of me allegedly did... Am I really capable of that much power?’

“Say Twi? Why are you suddenly so interested in all that, anyways? It’s been months, and you already knew what happened there at the end.”

Snapped out of her thoughts, Twilight was reminded of the urgency of the situation. “Oh right, I brought Trixie he—err, back to Ponyville with me a little while ago, but we got separated in the fog.”

Vinyl’s jaw hit the floor. “Wait, what?!

“It’s okay, she’s good now!”

Vinyl leaned back just so she could facehoof with both hooves. “Twilight, are you nuts?! Don’t answer that—we’ve always known you are, just a little bit.”

“Hey!” Twilight frowned, which just got a chuckle from Vinyl. “Very funny,” she rolled her eyes, “but seriously, can I get your help, if you’re feeling up to it yet that is. I can’t just sit here knowing all that and hope Octavia finds Trixie first. I’m going out to try to help find her, can I count on you and Pinkie to join me?”

Vinyl finished her juice box and slammed it on the table next to her cot, then turned to Twilight and gave her an uncharacteristic salute. “Yes ma’am, Princess! HEY PINKS!” she yelled back into the shop. There was no response other than a curious look from Nurse Redheart. “...Pinkie? Huh, where’d she go?”

Darkness was the first thing which met Trixie’s eyes as she returned to consciousness. The sound of dripping water slowly echoed around her in steady, regular intervals. The air felt cool as well, suggesting she was likely to be underground. ’Am I in a cave?’ There was pressure around her head, something rough and uncomfortably warm wrapped around it and over her eyes. ’So I’ve been blindfolded...’ As her senses returned to her, she realized she was laying down on something rough, like hay, and her limbs ached almost as much as the back of her head. She couldn’t move them; a colder, hard pressure was binding her fore and rear hooves together in pairs. The sounds of rattling chains echoed above and below her when she tried to struggle against them. ’...and chained up. Well this is a good sign.’

“Finally awake, are we?” came a raspy whisper from right next to her ear, sending a wave of panic through Trixie’s body. As she tried to struggle against her chains, the voice laughed, cruelly mocking her. “Oh you poor thing, did I frighten you? Good…” it chuckled.

“Who are you?!” Trixie tried to shriek, but all that came out were muffled noises. Trying to move her muzzle woke up the muscles within, which were now reporting the sensation of being bound tightly shut. ’Oh ponyfeathers.’

The cruel laugh came again, this time in her other ear. Her captor was pacing around her as they spoke. “Oh, don’t bother trying to get free… I’ve had a long time to plan for this, you see. You’ll find your magic is useless against your chains. The metal is infused with null crystals from the Empire. They’re woven into the cloth as well.”

Trixie couldn’t recognize the voice, but then she wasn’t as familiar with the ponies of this town as she could’ve been. Whomever was speaking was female, but that was all she could determine—they seemed to be whispering to intentionally disguise their voice.

“To think, I almost let you go when you wandered by in your little disguise. I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it, either. But when you passed I could smell it was you, little monster… That unique stench of candle wax and lilacs…”

Suddenly Trixie felt a hoof press harshly against her chest, making her yelp more from fright than pain. “You hurt so many ponies when you were here. Even the Princess couldn’t fully forgive you. You tried to claim it was the amulet controlling you, but you and I both know that was a lie. You knew exactly what you were doing, and you enjoyed it, didn’t you?” the voice angrily hissed.

The pressure on her chest got harder and harder as her captor spoke, making Trixie whimper as it started to get painful. “I don’t know how you got out of prison early, but I’m going to make you wish you’d stayed there…”

Just like that, the hoof was removed. Trixie gulped, afraid to make a sound. She was certain that was going to leave a mark, and definitely noticed her protective outfit had been removed. The sound of hooves started to move away, echoing in the chamber.

“I’ll just let you stew on that for a while… Sweet dreams…”

Chains rattled in the distance, and a loud, heavy creak rang out. As the sounds of hoofsteps left the chamber, the creaking returned along with a loud, heavy thud which thundered through the cavern. Trixie’s ears picked up the faint sound of something metallic slide and click into place after that. ’Well if nothing else, the acoustics in this prison are amazing. Heh. … Oh Celestia, I am in sooo much trouble…’

“Oh my, is somepony there?”

“Hello! It’s just me, dear. I came out to check up on you.”

Trixie could just make out the sound of two voices coming from outside. The first voice was quiet and demure compared to the second, and had a familiar tone to it. The other was entirely foreign to her—at least, she couldn’t recognize it, though it sounded female. Trixie strained her ears to listen; It was hard to make any of the words out, but neither voice sounded like the one that had just been tormenting her.

The conversation swiftly moved out of earshot, leaving Trixie alone with her thoughts. ’Right, okay. I just need to think. Let’s be logical about this—It sounded like a heavy, locked door is barring the exit, yet I could hear the voices outside. The air is only partly stale… Okay, but all that means is there has to be air shafts. How’s that… help?’

Trixie imagined a light bulb turning on over her head as an idea began to form. ’Oh, that could work. Now I just need to get out of these...’ Trixie forced her body to relax, taking several long, deep breaths. She began to wriggle her muzzle and hooves with a more focused purpose, smiling inwardly as her studies of the famous magician Hoofdini came back to her. ’Whoever did this to me made one fatal mistake. They forgot that there’s more than one kind of magic!’

“Alright, Vinyl I’ll need you to round up everypony you can who would be willing to help bring back Trixie safely. If you find anything, throw up a signal with your horn.”

“That’s… not going to be a lot of ponies. The only ones I can think of would be Rares, AJ and Dash. Pinks too, but well, yeah.” Vinyl shrugged.

“I understand. Do what you can, please. Let me worry about finding Rainbow Dash, I was going to ask her to do something about this fog, anyways.” Twilight looked back and stretched her wings a little, shaking them out. “Maybe I’ll be able to see something from the air.” ’The self-preservation center of the brain would like to mention it does not support this idea!’ ‘Quiet, you.’

“Hey, sounds like a plan to me!” Vinyl beamed.

Twilight then turned and got the nurse’s attention. “Nurse Redheart? If another pony shows up dressed like me, but in blue, please make sure they stay here and they stay safe.”

Redheart looked up from her current patient and nodded. “You can count on me, Princess.”

“Right. Let’s go!”

Vinyl snagged one more juice box for the road up in her sparkling blue aura and headed outside, Twilight right behind her. Once they got into the fog, Vinyl immediately broke into a full gallop towards Carousel Boutique to start her recruitment efforts. Twilight looked all around her—the fog was just as dense as it was when she arrived half an hour ago. It wasn’t a lot of time to have been split up, but considering the dangers she now knew of this world, she could feel her fears starting to get the better of her.

’I can’t think like that. How’s the saying go, hope for the best?’ Twilight slightly nodded to herself and spread her wings wide, shifting her hooves into a running stance for takeoff. “Alright, takeoff checklist!” Her horn lit up faintly, drawing a scroll out of her saddlebag to float in front of her.

“Step one, bend down into proper takeoff posture. Check!” Twilight fixed her face into a determined look. “Step two, use a strong burst from wings and legs together to get airborne. Step three, keep a steady wing beat-glide rhythm to maintain altitude without tiring out.” She nodded to herself again, putting the scroll back in her saddlebag and securing it.

“Here goes nothing!” She leaned down low, sticking out her tongue slightly. She gave her tail a little unconscious wiggle and flapped down hard, leaping into the air with a powerful burst that sent her soaring almost halfway through the fog in one shot. She felt her body start to tip forward at the top of her trajectory, but maintained her composure this time, flapping her wings again and beginning a steady rhythm which brought her higher and higher, climbing swiftly into the sky until the fog suddenly vanished beneath her.

The sight of the oddly lavender mid-afternoon sky nearly sent her plummeting back into that vast mattress of fluffy whiteness, when she spotted the sun itself on her ascent. Her flight faltered, and she nearly went into a barrel roll as one wing kept flapping while the other forgot to for a moment. “I-it’s purple! Why is the sun purple?!” she shouted to nopony in particular.

Unfortunately, Twilight was so preoccupied with this astrological conundrum, and maintaining her wobbly attempt at flight, that she didn’t notice the sleeping Rainbow Dash on the cloud up ahead until she barreled right into her.

“See anything yet?” asked Spike, who was riding on Octavia’s back as they scoured the fog-filled village.

Meanwhile, Octavia scanned the obscured landscape with her eyes aglow, looking all around herself while trotting at a brisk pace, “No, though I sense we are on the right track.”

“How can you even tell?”

She looked back at him with a warm smile and tapped the side of her nose. “By using all of my senses, of course.”

Shops and stalls faded eerily in and out of the fog around them as they continued, and hardly a sound carried through the still air, giving the town a ghostly atmosphere. Droplets of water clung to her coat, and while the chill and damp didn’t bother her, she could feel the young dragon starting to shiver on her back. Fortunately the perfect shop came into view just up ahead, one of the last ones before they reached the outskirts of town. Octavia gently set Spike down next to the shop’s entrance and gave his spines a little ruffle.

“Wait right here, please. I’ll be right back. Keep your eyes and ears open while I’m inside, alright?”

“Huh? Okay, I guess.” Spike nodded while she stepped inside, then turned to look out into the town while he waited, rubbing his arms for warmth.

Around fifteen minutes later the door opened again and Octavia stepped back outside, smiling when she saw Spike still looking away out into the fog. He must have heard her approach, as he looked up just as she leaned over behind him and wrapped a warm red scarf around the little guy’s neck.

“There, that’s better.” Octavia said, leaning down to let him climb onto her back again. She was wearing a small blanket draped over her back now as well, making the perch much more comfortable for him.

“Awww, thanks Miss Octavia, you didn’t have to do that!”

“Nonsense, you can’t be expected to endure this weather like I can without protection.”

He nodded as they set off again, Octavia sniffing the air and tilting her ears forward as she strained to pick up a trail. “I didn’t see anything while you were inside. What took so long, anyways? Were they low on cold weather gear?” asked Spike, leaning forward to one side a bit to see her face in the fog.

Octavia paused, smirking as she glanced back at him, just enough to show a little fang. “Well, I can’t be expected to endure this hunt without a little snack, either.” She winked at him, getting a quiet noise of comprehension from Spike.

Her ears twitched and she glanced towards the sky, listening intently to something in the distance. ’Pegasi overhead… Hmm, they’re starting to clear the fog? A bit early for that; Twilight must have something to do with it,’ she pondered, following their path with her senses until twin trails streaked through the fog cover directly overhead, starting to break up the dense weather. As they did so, the winds began to stir and a peculiar scent caught her nose, causing Octavia to jolt her attention back down the road towards it.

“W-whoa, what is it?” asked Spike

“This way!”

Her steady pace picked up into a swift canter, bringing the two of them towards the edge of Ponyville. They passed over the bridge and through the park in minutes, with Spike hanging on tightly to Octavia’s neck so he didn’t fall. When they finally stopped, they were staring face to face with the Everfree Forest, looming only meters ahead of the edge of the drifting fog bank.

“Oh man, are you telling me Trixie went in there?” groaned Spike. He looked up at the sky, judging the time. “That’s really not good, it’s going to get dark soon!”

“Agreed. You should send a letter to Twilight now. Tell her we’ve caught her trail heading into the Everfree, and we’ll wait here for instructions.” Octavia frowned, looking away from Spike back into the forest. “No sense going in after her alone.”

“Right.” Spike pulled out a quill and paper from Octavia’s saddlebag and scribbled a quick note down. Satisfied after giving it a second check, he rolled it up and breathed his magical flame onto it, burning the letter and sending it off. In turning away from his companion to do so, he spotted a familiar cottage off in the distance.

“Oh hey, Fluttershy’s cottage is pretty close, maybe we can wait there?”

Octavia smiled and opened her mouth as if to say something but then a series of emotions flickered across her face, starting with a frown and a raised eyebrow, then a grimace, and finally settling on a sigh and a shake of her head. “No, I don’t think so. She doesn’t need to get involved with this, considering who we’re looking for.”

Teams of pegasi streaked across the cloud cover above ponyville, tearing long lines through the top of the fog. From Twilight’s perch on a small cloud above the action, it looked like great beasts were raking the fog with giant claws, rapidly beginning to disperse the mist. A short distance away, Rainbow Dash was coordinating the groups of fliers. When the lines torn through the fog crossed, the other half of the weather team would swoop in and lift the remnant pieces of cloud away to be reused elsewhere.

“Alright, looking good so far everypony! Flitter, Cloudchaser and Thunderlane, I want you guys clearing the south sky. Snowflake, can you head over and give Blossomforth and Dust Devil a hoof taking out those cloud chunks?” called out Dash.

“YEAAAAH!”

“Thanks, buddy!”

Dash observed the progress for a few more minutes, then flitted over to where Twilight was watching the show. “Hey Twi, we should have this wrapped up in about twenty minutes or so. You sure you don’t wanna give it a try?”

Twilight shook her head and looked back down, sweeping her eyes across the town. The fog, however, was still covering too much of the area to see anything useful. “Ohhh, no. I learned my lesson on jumping into jobs without experience or training from Winter Wrap-Up, thank you very much. I’ll just help you keep things organized from here. Hopefully somepony will spot you-know-who soon.”

Dash just smirked and folded her forehooves over her chest. “Well you’re not gonna learn about being part pegasus if you don’t dive in and try, y’know.”

“I got up here, didn’t I?” Twilight countered.

“Yeaaah, we still gotta work on that, too,” Rainbow shot back with a grin, rubbing the side where Twilight had crashed into her.

Twilight was just about to retort, when a flash of green flame signalled the arrival of a letter. A small scroll swirled into existence in front of Twilight, which she barely caught in her magic before gravity or wind could decide to take hold.

“What’s it say?” Dash asked, leaning in to peek as Twilight opened the scroll.

“It’s from Spike. He says Octavia found her trail out by the edge of the Everfree, and they’re waiting to hear back from me.” Twilight stood up, trying to hide a furtive glance at the alien sun while she shook out her wings. “I’m... going to head over and give them a hoof. We probably know the forest a bit better than she does, by now.”

“Awesome! I’m going—”

“—To stay here and keep these teams coordinated?” Twilight interrupted, raising a brow and shooting a knowing smile at her friend.

Rainbow almost pouted in response, but caught herself in time to keep up appearances for anypony but those who knew her best. “Errr, yeah. I guess I’d better do that first.”

Twilight smiled warmly, reaching over to give the suddenly surprised Rainbow Dash a hug. “Thanks so much for helping. I know Trixie’s persona non grata around here, and it means a lot that you can get so much help towards finding her.”

“Hey, I don’t know what the fancy words mean, but I never have a problem helping you out, Twi. Just, try not to lose your psycho again after you find her, kay?”

Twilight tilted her head a little. “Would you feel better if I told you she was literally a different Trixie?”

“…You lost me.”

“I figured as much. Goodbye!” Twilight waved to Rainbow, then stuck her tongue out slightly and wiggled her tail just before she leaped off the cloud. Even though she heard a snorting giggle ring out behind her, she kept her composure and spread out her wings wide, using them to glide towards the spot on the edge of town Spike mentioned in his brief letter.

’I still don’t understand what’s so funny.’

Despite the apparent darkness, Trixie knew the first step in her escape was being able to see what she was doing again. Slowly and calmly she rubbed the side of her head against her foreleg. Over and over, she would rub in the same direction, lift her head, lower it and repeat. Bit by bit the blindfold inched higher, until what felt like hours later the first crack of light was visible to the bottoms of her eyes. She couldn’t give up there, though, and with several more long minutes of single-minded persistence in her task, the rough cloth had slid up to the tops of her eyelids, finally giving her a good view of her surroundings.

She had been partially right in her earlier assumption. This was a cave, or at least, it had been originally. Somepony had fashioned an existing cavern into a storage cellar, as evidenced by rows of jar-filled shelves lining the walls deeper inside. At the other end of the room was a curving stone staircase, which followed the natural contour of the cavern upwards to a heavy wooden door. There were no windows or lights present, though a bit of natural light was filtering down through the air shaft she had correctly assumed was cut into the roof. The ‘bed’ she was laying on was simply a bit of straw that had been thrown down on the cold, natural cavern floor. The only other feature in the room with her was a small table just out of reach, with a single unlit candle on top.

The chained manacles binding her hooves, a rather unusual feature for a cellar, seemed to be a recent addition—there was still fresh stone dust around the impact points where they’d been driven into the wall and floor. Trixie tried giving a solid, coordinated tug, hoping the connections might be loose, but even after several minutes of exertion they hadn’t budged a bit.

’Right. Can’t break the mortar… What about the lock?’ Trixie recalled reading about several occasions where Hoofdini had proven he could escape from cuffs simply by banging the lock against something hard, should they have been constructed crudely enough. She looked down to the manacles binding her rear legs together and tried to twist them so they were facing the ground. Then with all the strength and leverage she could manage in her position, she bucked them hard against the ground right on the locks—to no avail. All she got for her effort was several sparks and an ache in her legs.

She winced, biting her lip gently. ’Oww… okay… plenty of methods left to try. What’s next?’ Trixie blinked a few times, forcing the slipping blindfold back to the top of her eyelids again. She screwed up her face in concentration and lit up her horn, illuminating the room momentarily in the soft blue of her aura. She used it to lift a long, supple length of straw from the floor and up towards the tumbler of one of the locks binding her forelegs. Carefully, she stuck the straw into the hole, but as soon as it entered she felt her control of the straw inside the lock fail. The magic-proof material was keeping her from manipulating anything once it got inside; she would have to do this the hard way.

Trixie maintained her breathing in long, smooth breaths, forcing herself to remain calm and steady as she worked. The straw was pushed carefully into the lock in a way so it would curve around the back wall of the tumbler and come back out across from where it entered, but it was slow going. Precious time ticked by, though she couldn’t tell how long this was taking her. She pulled the straw out and was about to start again when she realized the end had completely frayed inside the lock.

’Oh ponyfeathers, now what?’ She sighed, tossing the straw aside and looking away, trying to collect her thoughts. She stared at features of the room some more, searching for inspiration. When her eyes fell on the candle sitting on the table, it finally struck.

Aiming carefully, Trixie shot a short firework spark from her horn, cheering inwardly when the magic hit its mark and ignited the candle. She then levitated a fresh length of straw over to it. When the wax began to melt and build up, she dipped the ends of the straw into the wax carefully, then brought it back over to have another go at the lock. The now sealed end of the straw had no problem slipping around the inside of the lock and coming back out the other side, effectively lassoing the screw inside. With a final, solid yank, the bolt clicked into place and the first manacle fell open at last.

Trixie yanked the muzzle off her face and smiled triumphantly, setting herself to the task of freeing the rest of her limbs. 'If only Hoofdini could see me now.'

Octavia scanned the bushes at the edge of the forest, looking for some clue they could start with when whatever backup was coming arrived. She tested the air for the scent she’d followed this far, but just got a noseful of the unnatural flora of the Everfree. Very little sunlight was filtering into this section of the forest as well, cutting visibility beyond a few yards of underbrush.

“I don’t get it, why would she have come through here?” asked Spike, hopping off her back. “Not only is going in there alone crazy—well unless you’re Zecora, I guess—but the only path in and out of the forest is down by Fluttershy’s place!”

“I cannot presume to understand the mind of somepony like Trixie.” Octavia shrugged, somewhat distracted from the conversation as she tried to focus on finding some signs of passage. “Though considering her first order of business was to get separated from Princess Twilight, I’m not certain what to think of this situation.”

“Yeah, like I said, I don’t get it.” Spike threw up his arms in exasperation. “And why’d Twi decide to bring her to Ponyville today of all days, anyways? It’s almost like she wanted Trixie to get eaten by a bunch of angry vampires.”

Octavia paused in what she was doing, glancing back to Spike after a moment. “It isn’t my place to question a Princess.” She frowned, turning her attention back to a somewhat displaced bush she’d just noticed.

That concentration was broken when a cheerful “Hiya!” from her immediate left nearly sent her jumping out of her skin.

“Augh!” shrieked Octavia, her eyes going wide as saucers while her pupils shrunk to pinpricks. Pinkie Pie, standing right next to her now, devolved into a fit of giggles, giving Octavia enough time to regain her composure. She chose to do this by carefully applying a hoof to her forehead and sighing. “Oh, hello Miss Pie.”

“Hiya! Oh I said that already, didn’t I? Hee!” Pinkie beamed at the two. "Whatchadoin' Tavi?"

"Tavi?" Spike asked.

"Please do not call me that..." warned Octavia, glancing specifically back at Spike.

"Why not? I think it's cute—eeaugh!!" He backpedaled as Octavia hissed fiercely at him with all her vampiric might—an expression that turned simply to a deadpan glare at Pinkie when the bouncy pony wrapped a hoof around her neck and pulled her close in a one-armed hug.

"Oooh, that was a good one, Tavi! You're getting really scary!" Pinkie grinned and giggled playfully. Octavia just sighed and rolled her eyes.

"Hey, how come she gets to call you that?"

"Because," grumbled the musician, adjusting her bowtie back into place, "I learned a long time ago that there's no fighting it whenever Miss Pie is involved. Isn't that right, Diane?"

"Huh?" He blinked, even more confused than ever.

Octavia smirked. "She gets to call me 'Tavi', I get to call her 'Diane'. It's the only remotely proper name she has."

"And believe me, I have a lot of names!" Pinkie laughed.

The sound of flapping wings approaching behind and above the group alerted Octavia to the one she’d been waiting for. As she turned to gaze at the sky, she noticed the fog was starting to disperse across the town, and spotted groups of pegasi streaking through the clouds. She also spotted Twilight gliding down to meet them. Her enhanced sense of hearing picked up Twilight muttering, “Alright, now lean back…” to herself.

“It’s working! W-whoa!” Twilight cried as she swooped down, but then she leaned a little too far back. Everyone present winced and covered their eyes as the princess unceremoniously bounced off the ground, then skidded a dozen feet on her rump before coming to a stop.

“Oh man, are you okay Twi?” shouted Spike, while he and Pinkie ran over immediately to see if she was hurt.

“Nnhhh… oww… y-yeah… I think I’m okay… Good thing I’m a bit more durable than I used to be, heh.” Her cheeks burned an unsubtle shade of crimson while Spike helped her up. “I guess I still need to work on those landings.”

Pinkie grinned. “Hee, yeah, I can see why you still just teleport everywhere!”

“Pinkie? What are you doing here?” asked Twilight with a puzzled expression.

“Well I overheard that Trixie was lost and needed somepony to find her, so I went and I checked all over Ponyville but she wasn’t here at all! But then Berry Punch told me she saw her going into the forest and even though she was big mean meaniepants last time she was in town, it seemed so important to you that she got brought back safe so I went in and looked for her! Buuuuut I just finished checking the forest and she’s not in there anymore either.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Oh… kay. Wait, you already checked the whole town? And the entire Everfree Forest? By yourself. How?! It’s only been an hour!”

“With my eyes, uh-doy!” replied Pinkie.

Twilight looked like she was starting to say something, but it was muffled by the lavender hoof suddenly covering her face.

Octavia decided enough was enough, walking over to gently comfort Twilight with a hoof on her shoulder. “Try not to think about it too hard.”

“Does that help?”

“...Not really, no,” Octavia deadpanned.

Twilight sighed, took a deep breath while moving her hoof to her chest, and then slowly let it out as she extended her hoof forward. Octavia could sense the tension releasing from the princess as she did, much to her relief. “Alright. Well if she’s not in there anymore then maybe we can figure out where she went? Let’s go over and check the path for clues.”

Pinkie beamed, breaking out the Sherlock and Watson hats, magnifying glass and bubble pipe. However, before they could get any further, the amethyst pendant hanging from Twilight’s neck began to glow. It rapidly brightened from a faint glimmer to a brilliant shine, illuminating the field. Octavia had to cover her eyes to avoid being blinded until the light faded to a less blinding, but still constant glow, but by then Twilight was already quietly walking towards Fluttershy’s cottage.

“My goodness, what was that?” The vampony winced and blinked several times while releasing the focus she’d put on her vision, still shielding her eyes until they faded from glowing red to their natural lavender color.

“Hey guys?” called Pinkie Pie, waving a hoof in front of Twilight’s eyes as she walked, “Something’s wrong with Twilight!”

“Twilight? Hey, snap out of it!” pleaded Spike, but her walk started to pick up speed instead. In moments she was charging towards Fluttershy’s home at a full gallop, closing the distance of a football field in under a minute with her companions in chase.

Trixie rubbed her sore hooves after the final lock clicked, thrilled not only to be free at last, but that her studies in practical stage magic had paid off so well.

’Hmm, maybe I should start doing my act again purely as an escape artist? Heh, if I wasn’t fearing for my life right now, I’d say that was almost... fun!’

She smirked to herself at the thought and got up on her hooves, taking a better look around. Candlelight now illuminated most of the cellar, and with the darkness dispelled she was able to find her discarded gear. It had been thrown into a haphazard pile at the back of one of the aisles of shelves, but other than a generous coating of floor dust it looked no worse for wear.

’Well, Rarity isn’t going to like this, but at least I didn’t lose my investment already...’

She grumbled a little and dusted the expensive ‘exploration outfit’ off, then used her magic to aid in quickly getting dressed. It definitely seemed easier now to her; the clothes and saddlebags felt lighter in her magical grasp than they had that morning, and she could even lift and put on the heavier vest with it now. Once finished getting dressed, she started examining the contents of the cellar for something she could use if her attacker returned.

There were at least a dozen shelves and many more boxes filled with food: mason jars filled with preserved fruit, scores of canned vegetables, two pallets of food-grade hay (sealed in serving-sized bags), and three untapped barrels of cider. The other half of the storage area was filled with food obviously meant for small animals, such as bird seed, acorns, carrots and the like. She certainly wouldn’t go hungry or thirsty if she ended up trapped in here. However, nothing stuck out as useful as a means of defense or escape.

She walked to the other end of the room to examine the door leading to freedom, pausing along the way to examine the magic-negating cloth that had been used to blind and muzzle her. They looked like ordinary blue strips of fabric, but her magic simply failed when she tried to lift them in it.

’Strange stuff, I’ve never heard of null crystals in my world. Who knows, maybe this could be useful? Or valuable...’

With a small smile she scooped the two pieces of fabric up and stuffed them in one of her suit’s pouches, then climbed the stone steps to the door. She tried pushing it open, but the door only budged a few millimeters before it thudded against the bolt latching it shut. Blue light shone from under her hood as she tried to telekinetically open the bolt, but just like the null fabric, her magic simply slid right off without finding purchase.

’Great, whoever she is even planned for if I got this far! There isn’t even a window or a keyhole to work with here! Great. I guess it’s time for my desperation plan. Now where are those air shafts?’

Twilight couldn’t remember ever feeling this bizarre sensation before, having no control over her own body. It was frightening, but from the standpoint of a scholar of magic, exhilarating at the same time. At least seven—no, eight questions had popped in her mind just in the short trip across the field to the cottage, and she couldn’t wait to ask Princess Celestia all of them when she got home.

’Okay, sure, this is a little scary, and maybe a bit inconvenient, and I can see it happening at a terrible time on another world and being unable to do anything about it, but Princess Celestia made it, I should be perfectly safe! Right? Though it is experimental magic, with possibly unforeseen side effects and maybe a glitch or two to be ironed—oh dear…’

Fortunately, before her thoughts could make way for abject terror, Twilight started to feel control of her body returning to her. The glow of the pendant dimmed as she opened the front door to Fluttershy’s home and stepped inside. Finally it went dark again, leaving a puzzled and somewhat worried Twilight Sparkle standing in front of Fluttershy’s coffee table, staring at the cover of a thick, purple book.

Twilight blinked a few times, shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, and read the cover out loud. The others finally caught up with her as she did, filtering into the room with her. “The Curse of Queen Vespa?”

“Oh hello Twilight!” came a voice from the other end of the room. Looking up, Twilight spotted a yellow-coated mare smiling back at her, with olive green eyes and a two-tone rose colored mane. Upon her flank was the image of a single rose. “Yeah, Discord was reading that this morning. Something about ‘catching up on what he missed.’”

“Wait, Discord was actually reading? But… but that actually makes sense! He usually just eats the paper...” grumbled Twilight, recalling the time he ate the pages out of a whole section of her spellbook collection.

“Yes, once he did that with my sheet music,” added Octavia. “Then he replaced it with sour eggnog.” She shivered at the memory. “Most unpleasant. Good evening, Roseluck.”

“Nice to see you again, Octavia.” Roseluck smiled, then shrugged helplessly. “Anyways, you got me there, Twi. I practically live with these two and I still don’t understand him most of the time.”

“Hmmm…” Twilight furrowed her brow and brought her attention back to the book. ’Something about this, I think it’s what was calling me...’

She sat down on the couch and turned the book towards herself, flipping it open to the first page. Spike and Pinkie Pie turned to each other and shrugged, then wandered over to make small talk with Roseluck, but she tuned out the spoken words and turned her entire focus to the written ones. Meanwhile, Octavia simply sat quietly on the other side of the couch, observing the princess with a curious gleam in her eyes.

The Curse of Queen Vespa

In the year 1262 PD, Princess Luna surprised her sister on her birthday with a beautiful rearrangement of the night sky, especially in her honor. However, the stars streaming across the night sky for Luna's presentation had the unforeseen side effect of triggering a stellar alignment. As a result, the spirit of King Sombra was set free, and he returned from his banishment to once again attempt a takeover of Equestria.

As the Crystal Empire was still lost to him, sealed away in a bubble in time by the princesses, he turned his attention to a race of creatures who had taken to living near the Crystal Mountains: The Changelings. At the time they were a peaceful race, coexisting in harmony with the pony and gryphon tribes, but Sombra planted a seed of darkness in their hearts. Before anypony had realized what was going on, Vespa, Queen of the Changelings, had been corrupted by the Shadow King, their two minds occupying one body.

She began leading a silent and bloodless revolution, taking over the land one city at a time. Thanks to the natural stealth of their people, it was months before anypony even realized what was happening. In this time Sombra and Vespa had enslaved nearly a quarter of the pony population.

Upon learning of the crisis their nation was faced with, the Princesses rallied the forces of Equestria to stand in defense against the dark alliance. Armed conflict was imminent, but Celestia insisted upon attempting a diplomatic solution, despite the warnings of her younger sister. She arrived at the front line of the standoff, escorted by half a legion of the Celestial Guard, and found Queen Vespa waiting to state her terms.

Sadly, Celestia’s downfall came in not knowing the true power behind Vespa’s sudden aggression against her ponies: As she began her speech to try to dissuade the changelings from fighting, Sombra’s spirit rose into the back ranks of her guard, spreading his corrupting influence through the crowd and warping their minds. Before Celestia knew what was happening, she was surrounded by her own guard, now Sombra’s willing puppets. She tried to fight back, but was eventually subdued by the combined forces of the changelings and the corrupted guardsponies, allowing Sombra to twist her mind. The mighty Sol Invictus had become a slave to evil.

Survivors of the ensuing battle warned Luna of what happened, and the Princess of the Night decided to bring the Elements of Harmony to bear in one massive, final confrontation to end the war as soon as possible. History knows but fragments of the ensuing clash between the sisters, only that both the Elements strengthened Luna and her Night Guard to become immune to Sombra’s influence, and made them an even match for the three villains combined.

Vespa, now fully twisted by Sombra, hatched a vile and desperate plan to try to tip the scales back in their favor. She ordered Celestia to blacken out the sun with dark magic, reasoning that their dark-magic enhanced army would become even more powerful under its altered rays. This was just the trigger Luna needed to stop holding back, however, and before Celestia could finish altering the sun she fired the full force of the Elements of Harmony at her sister, catching Vespa in the blast wave as well.

Miraculously, Celestia was freed of Sombra’s control by the elements, her mind and body returning to normal by the power of Harmony. Vespa and Sombra weren’t so lucky: both of them vanished without a trace. It is theorized that they were both too far gone to save, and so the Elements simply eradicated them. Regardless, the war had ended.

The curse Vespa ordered placed upon the sun, however, proved irreversible, despite many attempts to restore it. The shift in our celestial body did however have many positive and unintended side effects. Magic as a whole has become stronger and easier to wield in the light of day, which in turn has enhanced the growth of plants across Equis rather than stunting it. Vamponies, now able to walk in the light of the sun without fear, also eventually emerged from their isolation and joined pony society at large during a period of peaceful cultural exchange now known as ‘The Melding.’

“Wow…” spoke Twilight breathlessly as she finished the first chapter of the book. ’Hmmm, 1262 PD? That’s Post Discordia, the last calendar system before CR. If I remember correctly, that puts this date at… 72 CR: 930 years ago.’

Twilight triple checked her math and nodded silently to herself. Then her eyes widened in realization. “So there was never a Nightmare Moon?” she blurted out before she could stop herself.

Octavia tilted her head, regarding Twilight with intrigue. “Pardon me, nightmare what?”

“Err…. Don’t worry about it, it’s probably not important, eheh...” bluffed Twilight, scratching the back of her head and chuckling unconvincingly. She turned the next page, but instead of finding the second chapter, a hole had been carved into the remaining pages and a small jewelry box had been placed in the hollowed-out square inside.

“Oh come on!” Twilight exclaimed, flaring her wings irately while she lifted the box out of the destroyed book in her magic. “Why does he always have to destroy a perfectly good boo…” She trailed off as soon as she opened the box, where inside rested a shining lavender mote of energy. She watched, mesmerised, as it floated merrily up from the box and melted into her horn, causing the entire room to light up for just a second. Familiar memories of her brother and Cadence when she was a filly flitted through her mind, and she felt a warm sense of love spread through her body from head to tail. When the light faded, everypony was staring at Twilight, jaws agape at what they’d just seen.

“Whoa… Twilight, what was with the light show just now?” asked Spike, walking over next to her.

“W-well, it’s a little hard to explain,” she began to say.

“Ooh, look, there’s a note!” chimed in Pinkie, who had popped up behind the couch to look over Twilight’s shoulder. Sure enough, a notecard was resting on the bottom of the box, which Twilight picked up and read:

My Dearest Twilight 2.0,

Enjoy the book? By the way, I do believe this belongs to you!

Do try to keep better track of your things, would you? You seem to be losing them with alarming frequency lately.

-Discord, Lord of Chaos, Draconequus Extraordinaire Esquire, blah blah etceteras.

P.S. Be a dear and tell me I said 'Hello', would you?

“I— but— how— what?” Twilight screwed up her face, struggling for the right words.

While Pinkie gave Twilight a comforting hug, Octavia scooted over and read the note herself. “Ahhhh, I see.”

“I-It’s not scientifically possible!” Twilight complained.

Octavia smirked slightly and nodded. “Remember my advice for Diane? It goes double for Discord.”

Twilight gently placed her hoof over her face and shook her head, while Pinkie just hugged all the more. Roseluck chuckled softly and turned back to the dishes she was washing, though her attention was focused out the window above the sink, overlooking the backyard.

“I still don’t get it,” said Spike.

“Yes, I would like to know exactly what just happened as well, if that’s alright?” chimed in Octavia.

“Well…” Twilight frowned a little. ’What can I say without giving too much away?’ “It’s a side effect of some of my research. I lost a few things, and for whatever reason Discord had one of them here.” When the others just looked more confused, she added, “Don’t worry, assuming we find Tr—umm, you know who, I should be back to the Twilight you all know by the end of the day.”

Octavia nodded again. “Right. Speaking of which, we should probably get back to that,” she said, hopping off the couch with the others following suit.

“Right. Um, goodbye Roseluck, it was nice to see you?” Twilight smiled awkwardly.

“Leaving already?” asked Roseluck, turning back to Twilight with a small smile on her face. “You really should say hi to Fluttershy before you go, I’m sure she’d like that.” Rose set the last dish in the drying rack and pointed out the window facing the backyard. When Twilight’s eyes followed the hoof, she finally saw her.

Fluttershy was wearing a leg brace on her right foreleg, and when she moved she took slow, careful steps. Her wings were in little better condition: they looked unkempt and wet, perhaps from some kind of ointment, with feathers out of place from a lack of preening—though Twilight caught a few glints of metal among them as she moved. Her mane was also disheveled and limp, and it seemed to Twilight that she hadn’t been taking care of it like she normally would. On top of all of this, Fluttershy was wearing an aquamarine cloth around her eyes like a blindfold, tucked mostly under her mane.

“Fluttershy…” Twilight felt an ache inside, seeing her most gentle friend in such a state.

“The physical therapy has been going well so far, Dr. Trauma says she should finally be free of the braces in a few more months.” Roseluck smiled a little. “This morning she said she wanted to join everypony for the Running of the Leaves when they come off.”

Rose sighed quietly, her smile fading, and looked Twilight in the eyes. “Still not much hope for her vision, though… I just wish we could figure out some way to convince her to just let Discord use his powers to heal her. He keeps offering, she keeps refusing, and I can’t understand for the life of me why. Whatever it is, she still won’t tell anypony.”

Roseluck looked back out the window, watching Fluttershy tend to her chickens. “Well, whatever the case, I’ll just keep doing what I always do and help her take care of herself. I owe so much more, but for now it’s the least I can do.”

Twilight nodded, gazing back through the window to her friend until she felt a hoof on her shoulder. It was Octavia, who gave her a faint smile, but her eyes were stern. “We should go. She doesn’t need to get more involved.”

“Twitcha TWITCHA twitch..!” All eyes suddenly fell on Pinkie Pie and her alarmingly twitching tail.

”Take cover!” yelled Spike, diving under the coffee table.

Then Pinkie’s left eyelid blinked rapidly, followed by her ears flopping twice. “Ooohh, I love fireworks!” she beamed.

Outside, the sky erupted as a tower of brilliant golden sparks shot up in a thin stream nearby, coming out of the top of a large rocky mound where Fluttershy’s cellar was built. A loud, heavy thud and an ear-splitting clattering of metal accompanied the abrupt landing of the remains of a stovepipe style spout cover. It came crashing to the ground just yards away from Fluttershy and her animals, causing the timid pegasus to shriek in terror. In the sky, the sparks erupted into a display of fireworks in the shape of Trixie’s moon-and-wand cutie mark.

“What the buck?!” yelled Roseluck, dashing out the back door immediately.

“She’s involved now. Let’s go!” commanded Twilight, leading the rest outside to see what was going on.

’Where on Equis did that much energy come from? I just meant to send up a flare, not fire a cannon!’

Trixie furrowed her brow, getting into position behind the door. ’It just happened when I felt the light hit my horn… Oh well. Everypony will have seen that, including whoever put me down here. But I’m ready for her, whoever she is won’t catch Trixie by surprise again!’

Trixie braced herself as she heard the bolt raggedly being thrown open. She could hear yelling outside, multiple voices coming closer in a hurry, but Trixie assumed whoever had gotten here first must be the one that put her here in the first place. The door creaked outwards, a figure appeared in the light and Trixie bucked with all her might—busting through a weak and hastily thrown up magic barrier and sending Twilight flying backwards into a pile of hay.

“Hah! Nopony assaults Trixie and gets away wi—S-Sparkle? Uh oh...”

Trixie walked out into the waning sunlight at last, getting a look at everypony gathered in front of Fluttershy’s winter storage. There was Twilight, thankfully was getting up from the buck looking none the worse for wear. Fluttershy herself was hobbling her way across the yard with some help from Spike.

A musician she vaguely remembered from Canterlot was there as well, furtively glancing between Trixie and an irate-looking mare whose eyes were suddenly glowing a bright red. They might have complimented her mane nicely if the stranger didn’t look like she was trying to fire death beams at her with them. She snarled menacingly at Trixie, baring her fangs and losing herself rapidly to rage.

“Uh-” began Trixie, her eyes widening as far as they could go.

”You! I’ll tear you APART! shrieked Roseluck, her voice warping frighteningly mid-sentence into a twisted facsimile of the Royal Canterlot Voice. She charged and lunged only to get tackled by Octavia, whose eyes were now glowing just as red.

“Control yourself! Rosel—Roseluck! Listen to me! S-she is not your enemy!” Octavia yelled, struggling to keep the furious vampony pinned to the ground.

Trixie backpedaled until she hit the cellar door, but didn’t dare to tear her eyes away from the scene to find an escape route. “Oh p-ponyfeathered horseapples! L-listen to her! I’m not b-b-bad!”

You hurt everypony! You wanted to kill me! You tried to kill Fluttershy! SHE’S BLIND BECAUSE OF YOU!!

“It w-wasn’t m-me! I’m a dif-f-ferent pony! I’m not th-that Trixie!” she cried, starting to panic.

“I believe you.”

Everything stopped when the voice of Fluttershy rang out, her words somehow cutting cleanly through all the rage and silencing it. She hobbled serenely over between Roseluck and Trixie, facing the terrified magician.

“It’s been a long time, Trixie. I was worried about you.”

“Fluttershy..?” asked Roseluck, her eyes losing their murderous gleam.

“I knew you weren’t an evil pony, you know. Yes, the things you were doing were scary and bad, but you couldn’t help yourself, it was that curse! Oh you must have been so scared... When I tried to stop you, for just a moment I saw the real you underneath it all, in your eyes. You looked more terrified than anypony I’d ever seen! So when you started to lose yourself again I did the only thing I knew was right. I stayed, and I kept on trying to help you come back, because no matter what that amulet was making you do to us, you needed someone there for you.”

Trixie bit her lip while her eyes roamed over Fluttershy’s disabled body, and she found tears welling up in her eyes from the demure pegasus’ words, despite not understanding the whole story. ’The other me here did… Then I could have… Oh, Celestia…’

“When I woke up, they told me you wouldn’t be coming back. I’m glad you did, though, because I’ve waited a long time to say this: I forgive you, Trixie. And I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough to help you.”

......Kindness......

Fluttershy smiled and hugged the stunned Trixie, who weakly returned the gesture. She then hobbled over to where Octavia was letting the now calmer Roseluck back up on her hooves. Trixie couldn’t help but see the fresh wet trails rolling down Fluttershy’s cheeks from under her blindfold. She hugged Roseluck tightly and her body shuddered in a quiet sob, which dissolved the remains of the flower vendor’s anger.

“Roseluck, you’ve done so much for me. Thank you. But I think… I think everything’s going to be okay now.”

Nearby, Spike tugged Twilight down so he could whisper in her ear. “Isn’t anypony going to ask how Trixie ended up in Fluttershy’s cellar?”

Twilight just smiled wryly down to the little dragon and ruffled his spines, whispering back, “Don’t ruin the moment.”

Hours later, everypony had said their goodbyes and parted, leaving Twilight and Trixie walking back through Ponyville towards their gateway home. The air was clear and warm now, and not a hint that there had ever been any fog remained. This world’s night sky looked no different than the night sky back home, which was a refreshing change from the world’s bizarre sun.

“Did you really have to sneak into your own library and steal some books before we left?” chuckled Trixie, her smirk once again hidden behind her mask.

“I didn’t steal them, I borrowed them. There’s a difference! I just want to make a copy of these studies on vamponies when we get home. Plus now I’m really curious what’s in the rest of this book,” she claimed, pointing at a floating and fully intact copy of ‘The Curse of Queen Vespa’ before tucking it back in her saddlebag.

“You’ve read every other book in your library already, haven’t you?”

Twilight hesitated for just a moment. “At least twice,” she admitted.

“Heh. Sooo, Find your mote?”

“Mhmm, did you find yours?”

“Yes,” Trixie nodded. “and then I got blackjacked on the back of the head and locked in a cellar.”

Twilight uttered a small laugh. “Yikes. This has been quite an adventure for only… what’s it been, six hours?”

“Something like that.” Trixie sighed, looking back towards the forest as they reached the fountain. “It gave me a lot to think about…”

They stepped over the edge of the dry fountain and through the disguised portal back to their own world.

“Me too. And this is just the beginning!” She stopped just long enough to yawn. “Still, that’s more than enough for one day, I’m going straight to bed after this.”

Discord sat in a tall velvet chair in front of a lit fireplace, the only source of light in the unfamiliar reading room. He casually ate a few pages from a book as a cloaked figure walked up next to him, whom he smiled down towards.

“Well done, my dear, well done indeed! I say, your cutie mark should have been in acting, instead of… well, whatever bubbles are supposed to represent.” He smirked and snapped his fingers, making a muffin appear floating in the air.

“Thanks!” beamed the cloaked mare as she took the gift. “It was actually kinda fun. I hope I didn’t hurt her too much, though.”

“Oh don’t be silly, my young protege, she’ll be fine.”

Discord pulled out a plastic bubble pipe and puffed on it, blowing smoke rings out his ears. “You know, even I didn’t see this one coming, and that’s saying something. Another Trixie, and already reformed to boot? Quite fortuitous, I must say. This town needed some closure, especially my dear Fluttershy.”

He snapped his claws again, a pair of reading glasses appearing on his face simply so he could take them off and rub the bridge of his nose. “It recently became clear to me that my dearest friend bore her injuries as a sign of tribute, after failing to save Trixie.“

The cloaked mare tilted her head curiously up at him. “If that’s the case, why didn’t we just get the real Trixie to help?”

Discord turned and looked out a window into the night sky. “Because the real Trixie, well, our Trixie that is, didn’t survive Twilight’s greatest mistake. That nonsense about sending her to prison? Just a cover story to make the poor citizens of Ponyville feel better. The Alicorn Amulet was never meant to be removed by force, after all, and by then its influence had deeply taken root. They rushed her to Canterlot Hospital right away, but alas, poor Lulamoon’s heart simply couldn’t take the strain…”

He leaned down and booped the mare on the nose with the tip of his pipe, causing smoke rings to pop out of her ears as well. “Let that be a lesson to you, young lady—never use a magical macguffin from a shady shop without at least reading the manual. Otherwise things get, messy.”

The mare rubbed her nose and nodded. “Does anypony else know?”

“Aside from the princesses, just you and I, though I suspect Fluttershy was aware as well. Oh, and you, of course” he finished, pointing a finger straight at the one viewing these events. “Do try not to forget, would you?”

Twilight woke up with a start, looking around her bedroom blearily.

“Dsscor?” She blinked a few times, laying back down. “Mmh, jussa dream..?”

As she fell back asleep, a fine stream of pink mist flowed off of her horn and out the window, coalescing into a small pink cloud before it drifted away.

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