"You know, Flare, that really doesn't sound so bad."
“You haven’t lived with it! Do you know what it’s like-”
“Flare, Flare, settle down, bro. You’re taking this waaaaaay too seriously-”
“Hey! Shut up and listen, all right? Let me finish!” barked Dash impatiently. Firework complied with a snort, adjusting his position on the hospital bed and looking pointedly out the room’s sole window. “Okay, good. Now, you’re right, I haven’t lived with it, but from what I can tell, you're not that different from anypony else. You were born prematurely- that's pretty common. You're pretty short- it happens to plenty of foals. You have a weak wing- so do a lot of other ponies. You just took each of those to a little bit of an extreme, that's all." Flare sat still, looking out the window.
“If it makes you feel better, I don’t think of you any differently now than I did before. You’re still the same loser that tried to beat me and failed miserably,” smirked Rainbow humorously.
Her jest pierced his indifferent mask, his face breaking into a small smile. Unable to stop himself, he jumped up off the bed and gave Dash a bear hug. The blue mare felt her cheeks grow warmer by a degree before she put a hoof around his shoulder as well.
“Thanks a bunch, Dash. I’m... It’s still a little awkward, but when you put it like that, I can’t really-” Mid-sentence, he realized that he was still hugging the blue pony. He let go rather quickly and took a step or two back. “I don’t know, it’s still embarassing, but not so much so, when you put it like that.”
The red pony smiled sheepishly.
“So, you want to go map out our routine now? I think I have some cool ideas,” he suggested.
“You know what, that sounds pretty good. As long as you’re staying on the ground,” teased the rainbow pegasus. In return she received a playful punch on the shoulder.
“Gee, thanks a bunch, mom. This will be sooo much fun, won’t it? You flying, me sitting and watching. Yep, fantastic,” grumbled Firework.
“Hey, it could be worse, you know. You could be stuck on the ground forever.”
“Yeah, well that’s not going to happen, now, is it?”
“Not as long as I’m around to save you every time you mess up,” said Rainbow, her voice dripping with her trademark cockiness.
Flare groaned melodramatically and trotted out of the room. The cyan pegasus hovered after him through the hallway of the Ponyville Clinic.
“My, aren’t we feeling snarky today,” chided Dash in an awful attempt at impersonating the stuffy, high-class Canterlot voice. She laughed, then added, “You are just so much fun to mess with, Flare. I need to hang out with you more often. Oh! I know, I’ll introduce you to some of my other friends; I’m sure they’d love to meet a slow-poke like you.”
Flare ignored the bait as the pair exited the medical building through the rear entrance, hopefully avoiding any clinic staff that might protest his early departure. The red pegasus followed the blue one through some of the streets and alleys of Ponyville, which were not very crowded. Even though he wasn’t familiar with the town, something in Firework’s gut told him that there was something wrong with that.
“I wonder what’s going on, Rainbow. Is Ponyville usually this empty?”
“No, it isn’t. It’s bothering me...” Dash trailed off, thinking. All of a sudden, she rushed forward and grabbed the nearest passing pony, who had been briskly cantering in the direction of the Ponyville Library. “Hey, you, Derpy- do you know where everypony is?”
The blond pegasus’ right eye focused on the rainbow mare’s eyes, while the other was busy examining Flare’s. Slightly creeped out, the red pony took a step back.
“W-well, um, muffin was just on her way to the L-library Square, to see the magic show. Muffin thought that l-little muffin might enjoy it,” said the gray mailmare quietly, even as a little unicorn filly smiled eagerly from atop her mother’s back. Satisfied, the blue pegasus released Ditzy, who resumed her wavering course through Ponyville.
“We should see what’s going on,” said both the red and blue pegasi simultaneously. They looked at each other in surprise for a split second, then started laughing as the pair trotted off towards the Library. After only a few moments, they saw a familiar yellow pegasus trotting in the opposite direction.
“Fluttershy? What’s going on at this show thing that Derpy mentioned?” asked Rainbow.
“Well, um, you see, Dash, that showmare, Trixie, she, uh, she’s back, and I don’t think she means well... I’m just on my way home to take care of my animals, I don’t want to leave them alone all day. So, um, bye then,” said Fluttershy quietly to the cyan mare, giving Flare a wide berth as she trotted away. Flare wore a blank expression for a few moments, wondering what he might have done wrong.
“Wait a sec, is she like that with everypony?” asked the fiery red colt.
“Yeah, pretty much,” replied Dash. “Now come on and hurry, I remember Trixie from last time, and she isn’t exactly the friendliest pony.”
“No,” said Twilight adamantly, staring Trixie right in the eyes. The two mares stood so close to each other that their iron gazes were separated only by their foreheads pressing roughly together. The scant air between the two mares crackled with tension, each trying to push the other back but unable to do so.
“So be it, Sparkle.”
Twilight’s world went blue.
Twilight opened her eyes in a snap, and a few things rushed to the forefront of her mind. Firstly, her fur was singed, harsh blue and black splotches lacing her body. Second, and perhaps more importantly, she was in the air, her flight path just barely past its apex. Her eyes opening wide in shock, the unicorn flailed her hooves about trying to right herself. Twilight was accelerating towards the ground at a frightening pace. For one very long second the purple pony’s mind thought about what would happen when she impacted in another second or two. Then her rational side took over and she immediately brought to mind the feather-fall spell that the Princess had taught her, and as she cast it Twilight prayed that she hadn’t been too late.
Twilight’s sense of orientation was wrecked for a moment as the spell took effect, slowing her downward momentum to a crawl. Finally able to properly orient herself, she flipped herself over and gently placed her hooves on the ground not three hoof-lengths below. She looked around, but instead of answers, she got more questions; the unicorn was standing on a massive raised platform of stone in the middle of the Library Square, with a large, growing crowd of ponies gathering around with worried, inquisitive, and startled expressions.
That was too close for comfort, thought the magician. How did I get up there? Did Trixie...? Twilight paused mid-thought, her face freezing in an expression of that heart-stopping mixture of shock and fear that paralyzed her.
Where is Trixie-
Her base unicorn instincts took over her body, folding her left legs beneath her and rolling off to the side just as a bolt of sizzling, shrieking blue energy screamed through the space that had housed her head only a moment before. Twilight leaped back to her hooves even as a blazing blue figure burst out of the library, which, to the purple pony’s horror, she now realized had a smoking hole in its roof.
Her senses were dragged back to reality as the blue alicorn landed with a tremendous thud on the platform. Twilight sank down into a low, defensive stance as Trixie began circling around the edge of the stage, her purple prey standing her ground in the middle. All around, the crowd stood with bated breath, wondering whether this was all part of the show or if there was something truly heinous going on before their eyes.
As if sensing the uneasiness of the crowd, Trixie huffed and charged a quick burst of magic. Twilight sensed the showmare’s magic activating some runes that had already been inscribed around the base of the platform. Sucking in a breath, Twilight felt a powerful containment spell form around the edge of the raised stage. Not only was this an incredibly potent spell, but there was some kind of strange energy that permeated it, nearly drowning out Trixie’s own magic. The energy had a nebulous feel to it, resisting Twilight’s quick attempts to probe it.
Twilight’s stomach churned as she realized that there was absolutely no way she was getting through this magical, invisible barrier without several minutes of absolute calm and focus. Once again, Trixie smiled smugly at the purple pony’s dismay.
“Problem, Twilight Sparkle?”
“Trixie... what’s going on? Where did you get all of this power from? I know that it’s not yours,” said the purple pony warily.
“Ha! Continue lying to yourself, Sparkle, if it makes you happy. The power that Trixie has gained is her own, from long months of rigorous training,” denied the alicorn in a loud voice. “After Trixie’s mishap with the Ursa Minor, she was rendered homeless! Poor! Because of you, Twilight Sparkle, the Great and Powerful Trixie was a beggar! Nopony took her seriously, laughing at her when they thought Trixie wasn’t looking. Can you even begin to comprehend such an existence, foal? Having nothing to your name but your very name? Of course not; you’ve always had your precious books and your little library, Sparkle.
“So, Twilight, Trixie has decided; you, the reason for her misfortune and shame, will know exactly what she felt. You will know homelessness, and scorn, and loss, and then...”
Trixie grinned like a predator, like no equine Twilight had ever seen, sending chills down Twilight’s spine.
“...Then, Trixie will crush you under her hoof.”
Twilight felt beads of sweat beginning to form like little needles on her body, then running down her sides in the heat of Celestia’s sun.
The sun shone upon the tall spires of Canterlot, the Royal Capitol City of Equestria, causing them to gleam and sparkle if one looked from far enough away. At the heart of the city sat a large castle, a good number of towers protruding from its bright, tall walls. Within the walls rested a large, ornate palace, the rooms within like a labyrinth to any not already acquainted with the layout. One such room was nestled in the top floor of the castle, taking up a large portion of the floor; all of the windows in this room had their midnight blue drapes pulled tightly shut, blocking out as much midday sun as possible. The rest of this suite was decorated similarly, from the carpet, to the paint on the wall, to the blue-sheeted bed, and even the alicorn lying on the bed.
The midnight blue alicorn slowly opened her eyes, her recent memories as blurry as her vision. All around her there was dimness, soothing to her pounding head. Luna could only distantly remember something about a nightclub. She must have had a lot of cider, then; it took far more of the liquor to make her or Celestia drunk than any normal pony.
Maybe it was something I ate... Luna wondered. A troubling thought wormed its way into her sluggish train of thought. I wonder if somepony tried to assassinate me. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a poison slipped into my food... No, that can’t be right.
Are you sure? came the smallest whisper in her mind. Sure that there isn’t somepony who wouldn’t try and drag you under?
Having no satisfactory answer on hoof, and not feeling peppy enough to come up with one, Luna simply ignored the question. She lurched to her hooves, feeling the blood rush its way through her body and creating that annoying tingly feeling when one has been inactive for too long. Grumbling at her headache and not paying too much attention to what she was doing, the Night Princess went through a very familiar routine.
Trotting over to her large, walk-in closet, she lit the darkened room a bit more with her magic and stepped in front of the mirror. She took a look at herself, paused, blinked, rubbed her eyes with her hooves, and looked again. Satisfied with what she now saw, she let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. For a moment, she’d been afraid that what the mirror reflected had been accurate, that she’d actually transformed back into Nightmare Moon. Shuddering at the thought, she turned away from the mirror and began brushing her star-mane absently.
Luna began sifting through her recent memories using an old alicorn mind trick, something akin to taking salt water and boiling it to leave the salt in the pan. She focused her magical and mental power, searing away the fog clouding her vision. As she concentrated more and more, she felt the haze blunting her assault, like the ‘salt water’ had suddenly become sticky black tar. It took an exorbitant amount of effort to finally oust the obstructive cloud, piquing Luna’s curiosity and suspicion.
That was most bizarre. No cider could have caused that, nor a poison, at least none that I know of... I sensed no magic, either. It was like that hazy substance was actively resisting my magic, diffusing it. What could have it been?
Perhaps it was somepony doing something nasty to you? Suggested a familiar voice only slightly deeper and more resonant than Luna’s own. Celestia was always a fan of pranks, you know. She isn’t above making you look like a foal, Luna; surely you remember?
No, I don’t, and I wouldn’t care for you to remind me, Nightmare. How did you get here, anyway? The Elements locked you away, there’s no way you could get out without... Luna breathed in sharply, a thought hitting her like a ton of bricks. You couldn’t get out without me letting you out.
Luna could feel Nightmare Moon smiling and laughing, tainting the recesses of her mind with icy blue fire as the nebulous cloud slowly but surely oozed its way back into her mind. Gritting her teeth, the Night Princess refused to accept that outcome. Seizing the opportunity, Luna’s analytical mind created a dreamscape rendering of her mind, including a phantasmal version of herself, and started tracking the flow of the nebula, using its own vagueness as the ‘scent’ that she followed back to its source.
As she followed the ooze’s trail, Luna began to encounter resistance, the fog clinging hungrily to her ghostly hooves like tar. Undaunted, the midnight alicorn pressed further towards the source of the toxin, plodding methodically, inexorably to the blue fountain she could now make out in the distance. The withering blue tar rose as she got closer and closer, so that she was wading through it.
Such close, sustained contact with the stuff began to take its toll on Luna, her body feeling like millions of tiny needles were stabbing all over her from the hotness of the ooze, as well as her muscle strength being leeched by the fog’s iciness. It really was a most curious sensation, and the Princess would have loved to study it, if it weren’t so painful and draining.
She was almost to the source of the cloud when a terrifying form rose up out of the miasma; it was a black pony with wings and a horn, and neon, glowing blue eyes like a dragon’s. The Nightmare sprang at Luna, a gleeful and hungry smile laced with fangs gracing her face. The lighter alicorn tried to dodge to one side, but found the blue slime forcefully restricting her movement.
With only a second left, she tried to summon her magic, only for the posion to conduct it away from her and disperse it like a drop of molten steel doused in a bucket of water. Eyes widening in panic, Luna thrashed in the ooze for the last few milliseconds before Nightmare engulfed her.
The gears in Twilight’s brain spun rapidly, trying to think of a way out besides fighting. She knew she was powerful, but she wanted to avoid a duel to the death, especially one which she was not sure she could win. As she turned slowly to keep pace with the pacing, prowling Trixie, Twilight noticed a familiar pair of pegasi approaching the stage through the crowd, a light blue mare and a bright red stallion. She made eye contact only briefly with Rainbow Dash, seeing in the eyes of her friend worry and confusion. Twilight tried to convey as little of her nervousness as she could through the glance.
The observant showmare noticed her adversary’s shift of attention and turned to look in that direction. Seeing the tell-tale rainbow mane, Trixie grinned maliciously. With the alicorn’s back turned, a plan began to form in Twilight’s mind.
“Well, Sparkle, it looks like one of your friends is here to see you-”
Trixie was suddenly caught off guard as a telekinetic wave bowled her over and pinned her to the ground. The purple unicorn turned her focus to the shield, taking the available time to probe it, search it for weaknesses. Between holding the thrashing Trixie down and trying to analyze the barrier, her attention was completely divided, so that she didn’t notice when several ponies began bucking and attacking the shield from the outside. The runes that shaped the chaotic blue energy only provided direction for it, and as such were now the target of her mental attack. She poked and prodded at the runes, trying to find a loophole, her mind racing at ludicrous speeds.
Then Trixie started laughing.
“Okay, Sparkle, play time is over.”
Twilight’s telekinetic barrier was obliterated in a massive burst of energy, knocking the lavender mare off her hooves. She rolled to her right just as a concussive bolt of that enigmatic energy blasted into the spot she’d just occupied. Twilight instinctively threw up a magical shield around her, just like the Princess had taught her. As expected, a blue bolt impacted on the magic shield; what she didn’t expect was for the bolt to pierce through it like a hot knife through butter, shattering her defense like it was glass.
The crackling, burning energy grazed her right shoulder, sending waves of pain through her body as some of her flesh was boiled off. Twilight’s normally purple hide was now marred by a blue-black, crispy gash in her skin, exposing the quivering muscle beneath. It took a moment, but Twilight finally found her voice and let out a gut-wrenching shriek, the pain of the burn constantly flaring up; it was like there was suddenly fire flowing through her veins. Though her eyes were closed and her teeth ground together, she could distinctively hear the condescending, triumphant laughter of Trixie.
Something about that made her snap. She couldn’t tell if it was the laughter or the pain or perhaps something else entirely, but Twilight would not have any more of it. She growled, her trusty unicorn instincts taking over. Primal Twilight yelled in anger as she let out a blast of magical energy rivaling Trixie’s, standing up just afterwards. The pain in her shoulder and throughout her body was shunted off into a far corner of her mind, as it was detrimental to the task at hoof. It was time to beat the tar out of that little-
Twilight’s rational mind reeled back in shock. It wasn’t like her to be so vicious, it just hurt so much...
The unicorn had no time to continue that line of thought as she found herself sidestepping another energy attack. Anger and frustration gripping her once more, she retaliated with a magical wave projectile designed to stun an opponent and knock them to the ground. The spread of energy simply broke around Trixie like an ocean wave on an immovable boulder.
Eyes widening in surprise, Twilight started sprinting around the arena, leaping and rolling, dodging haphazardly thrown bolts from the cackling alicorn. There was a lull in the explosions, and Twilight looked over to see Trixie rising into the air on her wings, charging up a large amount of blue energy in her horn. Taking the opportunity, the lavender unicorn also charged up her magical reservoir, wrenching the floodgates wide open. Just in time, magic poured into Twilight’s horn, causing it to glow and even send off little sparks of purple lightning; the purple mare aimed the surge of magic at the flying blue menace, and let loose at the same instant as the alicorn.
There was a titanic explosion, then everything went dark.
Applejack hadn’t been able to find Pinkie at Sugarcube corner, which made her regret choosing Pinkie over Twilight as her first stop. She galloped out of the confectionery shop, determined to make up for lost time and stop whatever Trixie was plotting. She hastily passed the familiar faces and shops in the streets of Ponyville, oblivious to the fact that they all seemed to be going in the same direction as her.
With a plethora of bumps and apologies, the farmpony made her way through a large group of gossiping mares and into the Library Square. Two things immediately impressed themselves upon her vision, even through the crowded space; a large round stage made of stone raised up in the middle of the square, and a dark gray mare lounging in a dark corner opposite the library munching on an apple. On top of the stone pedestal was a chillingly familiar blue pony in a cape and hat talking with Twilight.
For the second time that day, Applejack was torn.
Do I go help out Twilight? She’s my friend, and I can’t leave a friend in need. But that mare might not be around again, this might be my last chance to settle things.
She saw Trixie begin circling around Twilight. Still with a painful, undecided look on her face, Applejack slowly began trotting to the stage, stealing a last look at the gray thief. She stopped dead in her tracks, other thoughts forgotten as the orange pony saw the gray one toss the now-finished apple’s core haphazardly aside.
A few ponies thought they felt the ground vibrating, as though there were some great beast stomping around. Eyes widening in fright, they looked around for a source, until a few pairs of eyes locked onto the orange mare in a stetson trotting slowly towards a strange pony in sunglasses, leaving small, hoof-sized craters in her wake. Suddenly noticing the incarnation of wrath trotting towards her, the gray mare froze up for a moment.
After a moment, Applejack stood directly in front of the mare, glaring right into her sunglasses. Unfazed, at least in appearance, the gray mare looked right back.
“You know, that was one of the best apples I’ve ever had,” said the mare smoothly, a small upward crease forming at the edges of her mouth.
“Don’t give me that!” shouted the angry orange farmer. “I know you stole that apple from my cart!”
“I didn’t steal it,” protested the gray mare. “I paid a fair price for it.”
“Fair?! Ya call one bit fair? I might jus’ have to put a little more ‘fair’ into your face, you thievin'-”
Applejack was interrupted by a loud blast from behind her, then a myriad of stampeding hooves as a good portion of the crown fled in a panic. Growling at the distraction, the farmer whirled around to see a sight which would haunt her nightmares for a long while; Trixie was standing triumphantly surrounded by a thin blue aura, and Twilight was lying on the ground, dazed. Applejack saw her friend dodge a bolt of energy, then throw up a shield of magic, only to have it blown away in a heartbeat. The farmer’s blood ran cold when she heard Twilight scream in pain.
Her anger forgotten, Applejack galloped the short distance to the stage and tried to jump up on it, only to be blocked by an invisible barrier. Falling back to the ground, the farmer started bucking the invisible shield for all she was worth, only to have her hooves begin stinging with a hot pain. She ignored it as long as her endurance would allow, but soon the pain in her hooves was too much and she let herself collapse to the ground, hot tears threatening to burst out at any moment.
“AJ, what are we gonna do?” asked a familiar voice, devoid of its usual cockiness.
The orange mare lifted up her head slowly, seeing Rainbow Dash standing dejectedly next to that red pony, Firework. He looked just as bad as Dash, especially since he still had a good number of bandages and scrapes on him. Just to keep from looking at the battle she knew to be taking place, Applejack looked around the less-crowded square. There were a few ponies still in the square that were rooted to whatever spot they stood, shock paralyzing them. One, though, was sitting lazily against a carrot stand, chewing on one of the crunchy orange vegetables.
“Why, you no-good, low-down-” started Applejack. Cutting herself off, she galloped over to the offending party and leaped at her in a flying tackle. Spotting the orange projectile mid-pounce, the gray mare side-stepped lithely, letting the farmer land on the ground roughly and slide a small distance. Snorting, Applejack whipped around and tried to bull rush the gray mare to the ground. Again the mare in the sunglasses dodged the attack.
“Stand still, you-” growled the orange mare.
“Please. It’s Puzzle, to you,” condescended the gray mare.
Applejack was about to charge at Puzzle again when she felt a pair of strong hooves holding her back.
“Rainbow, let me go this instant! Let me get her-” protested the farmer, struggling against the cyan pegasus.
“AJ, what they hay? Why are you-?”
“Because, Dash! Because she’s rude, because she stole from me, because my friend is bein’ hurt bad on my watch and it’s my fault ‘cause of HER!” Applejack sat down on her haunches, breathing heavily, shakily. “I coulda stopped it, Rainbow. I had the chance, but I didn’t take it. I jus’ need to do somethin’ about Twi, but I can’t!” shouted the orange mare.
Dash put a hoof around her shaking friend, trying to comfort her.
“I know, Applejack. I’m the Element of Loyalty, I know you want to help. So we will. We’ll figure out something, AJ,” said the rainbow-maned pegasus evenly.
The earth shook from the force of a massive explosion, knocking the ponies in the square to the ground. Along with the blast was a great flash of light as the force of the explosion tried to escape the barrier spell but was contained, roiling around inside the energy field in great coils of purple and blue energy. Eventually, the roar and the glare settled down, leaving the square in deafening serenity.
Getting slowly to her hooves, Applejack heard Flare mutter something.
“Now THAT is how you do a firework.”
In return he received a sharp jab from Rainbow Dash. Grimacing wryly, he replied “Sorry, it’s an old habit.”
The orange farmer shook her head to try and clear the ringing in her ears, then inspected the square again. Several ponies were lying around, some not moving. There were huge cracks running through the ground like spiderwebs, emanating out from the stage. The once-large pedestal had been devastated, reduced to little more than a pile of rubble. The glowing runes that had once surrounded the stage now hung floating in the air, maintaining the encompassing barrier. Inside the ring, Applejack could see with horror the limp body of her friend, covered in black scorch marks so that not even one speck of her purple coat could be seen.
The orange mare, along with the two pegasi, rushed up to the barrier, ignoring the stinging as they pressed their hooves against the impenetrable field.
“Twilight! Get up, you’re okay, ya have to be! Don’t do this to me, Twi!” cried Applejack, tears threatening to break out.
“Yeah, come on, Twilight! You’re tough, you can do it! Don’t give up!” encouraged Dash, her hopes high as the sky.
Both of their spirits soared with relief as they saw their friend begin to twitch, slowly at first, but then getting stronger and more frequent. The two mares hugged each other in relief.
Then they saw another figure stirring in the rubble.
Twilight could only barely feel anything, she was so numb. The magical shockwave from the two powerful attacks had rendered her nearly useless, draining off a good deal of her magic. A stray thought threaded its way through her dazed stupor.
I really should have been disintegrated by that explosion. That magical fallout was powerful enough to level a city block, and yet I survived? I need to do some tests...
Twilight heard the sounds of ponies shouting things at her, voices that sounded familiar. She tried lifting her head, but that ignited a violent spasm of pain in her body, so she just lay there for a moment longer. The voices shouting at her got louder as she heard the sounds of hooves slipping and crunching on rubble. Getting a vague feeling that she was in danger, Twilight opened her eyes. Staring down at her was Trixie, whose pupils had shrunk to the size of a pea and whose hat and cape had been incinerated. The alicorn’s body was glowing a harsh blue, and as Trixie opened her mouth to take a deep breath, Twilight caught a glimpse of what she thought were fangs.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to think for much longer as Trixie lifted the blackened unicorn into the air with magic, laughing haphazardly, maniacally.
“Sparkle, you have no idea how much I am going to enjoy this,” gloated the alicorn, just as she slammed Twilight’s body down into the ground. The air was forced from her lungs in a rough groan, her mind beginning to distance itself from her body in an effort to keep out the pain.
Hm, that’s odd, thought the unicorn lazily as her body was once again smashed into the ground. As if from far away, she heard the clear, crisp sound of bones breaking. Trixie didn’t refer to herself in the third person. I wonder if that energy she’s using has some kind of psychoactive quality. Smash. Perhaps it even has other potential effects, maybe even on equine anatomy; is that how Trixie got those wings? Crash. Hm...
There was a pause in the rhythm of her body hitting the ground. Twilight’s rational mind felt like a creeping, cool darkness was seeping up from her subconscious, inviting her to come down and forget about the pain. The unicorn gave it thought, then let herself drift down into the darkness, like sinking slowly through a frozen lake. Down at the bottom, Twilight could see several statues scattered around, depicting things that she remembered as important in her life; there was one of Princess Celestia with her parents, frozen in the moment she’d been accepted into the School for Gifted Unicorns. Nearby was Mr. Smartypants, lying next to a stuffed dragon doll resembling Spike. Lastly, she saw a marble rendition of six ponies in a group hug, five of which were wearing the various elements of harmony. The sixth in the group was made out of clear glass, and the Element of Magic rested on its head; whereas the other Elements were white marble, her Element appeared in full color, seemingly real. Twilight felt drawn to the last statue, and when she was almost completely engulfed in the darkness she reached out a hoof and slowly grabbed hold of the tiara.
A pair of pure white, glowing eyes snapped open. The body which those eyes belonged to began crackling with pure magical energy, shooting off massive bolts of excess power. It floated into the air of its own accord, hanging as if by strings. Trixie backed away from it hastily, dodging a few stray bursts of energy. The lungs of the body expanded, drawing in air, then contracted and pushed the air through its vocal cords, which vibrated in a certain pattern to create a recognizable sound.
The body of the purple unicorn floated up higher, raining down white-hot concussive blasts on the hapless blue alicorn. The blue pony threw up an energy shield, but it only took three bolts in quick succession to batter it to pieces. The blue mare desperately, angrily took to the air, flying around the magical attacks. She launched a huge, roiling sphere of chaotic blue energy at the floating body, which didn’t so much as bat an eye when the sphere impacted, simply absorbing the projectile like a piece of popcorn one might catch in their mouth.
With a sense of finality permeating the air in the vicinity, Twilight’s body let out a low, rumbling growl not unlike thunder in both volume and intensity. A fierce, white spark of magic appeared at the tip of the body’s horn, then expanded into a shaft of blinding white power that lanced through the air almost instantaneously, running straight through Trixie. The ex-showmare’s eyes widened in shock and pain, taking on the look of complete clarity that ponies get when they know that they are about to die.
“I- I... I h-ha...” Trixie struggled to speak, but was unable to finish. The mare seemed to hang in the air for a moment before her wings buckled, sending her spiralling to the ground. She struggled for a few moments, trying to get to her hooves. Failing, she took in a long, slow final breath, and let it all out in a bestial scream, accompanied by a self-consuming explosion of blue ichor and energy.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash were shouting at Twilight to get up, to do something, to stop Trixie, who was advancing menacingly, if unsteadily, on their friend’s prone form. The two, along with Flare, watched in horror as Trixie lifted Twilight up into the air. They each pressed their hooves even harder against the cursed shield as the body of the unicorn was thrown forcefully into the ground, shaking the stone with the power of it. Red blood began leaking in terrifying spurts from the blackened body, spattering the rubble below in an unholy arrangement of blue, red, and black. Applejack couldn’t handle any more, turning away and slumping to the ground, crying. She felt the quivering, shaking body of another pony curl up beside her, feeling the tickling of Rainbow’s wing feathers against her side.
The two mares cried for a small eternity before Dash stood herself up, wiping her eyes with a hoof. She felt a comforting wing extended around her shoulder, and leaned against the stone platform for support.
“Hey, relax. We’re the good guys! Justice will prevail, and all that stuff... right, AJ?” Dash said, hoping to cheer her friend up a bit.
Applejack hiccuped, a sob and laugh mixed together. She looked away, when an interesting sight caught her attention; that mare, Puzzle, was standing right in front of the energy barrier, her horn surrounded by a dark green aura. The farmer gazed with apathy at first, but looked more closely when she saw the runes on the shield begin to flicker in impossibly rapid patterns.
Puzzle scowled and sat on her haunches, giving the orange mare her first good look at the gray pony’s cutie mark; it was a rope tangled into some incredibly complex knot that made the apple farmer dizzy just looking at it. She heard Puzzle mutter something under her breath.
“Just a great big sudoku...”
The gray mare shook her head as if trying to clear something out, her un-combed, neon-green and yellow-striped mane bouncing crazily. Focusing even more intently on her magic, Puzzle’s horn glowed darker than before. The flashing of the runes slowed to the point where Applejack could occasionally make out familiar shapes and patterns. She saw Puzzle smirk confidently.
“Gotcha!” said two mares at once. The gray mare yelped and tried to leap back in shock, but was caught in a blue aura before she had the chance. As Puzzle floated into the air, Trixie’s smooth, arrogant voice rang out.
“You foal, you thought you could break into my containment spell and not have me notice? You shouldn’t have gotten involved.” Trixie laughed haughtily, then looked at the floundering mare as though making an important decision. Eventually settling on a shrug, Trixie’s horn lit up brighter, and Puzzle began screaming in agony, writhing and flailing about in mid-air as a nauseating sizzling sound came out of her hide. A bitter look appeared in Trixie’s eyes before an extra blue aura formed a collar around the gray mare’s neck, and the screaming stopped. It was replaced by an even more haunting silence as Puzzle thrashed wildly, her hooves clawing at her throat as wisps of smoke began curling off of the mare’s fur.
Then, as suddenly as it had appeared, the blue field around the gray mare vanished, dropping her unceremoniously to the ground with a huge gasp of air. Rainbow and Firework raced over to Puzzle’s side, making sure she was okay. Applejack was riveted instead on the goings-on inside the shield; Twilight was shooting energy out like there was no tomorrow, and the farmer could tell that it was having a devastating effect on the shield. The runes were dimming and occasionally sparking, a few even winking out.
Hypnotized by the sheer scope of the battle, Applejack watched in a trance as Twilight pounded bolt after bolt into or at Trixie, then delivered the death blow, making the apple farmer recoil and shield her eyes with a hoof. There was an ear-splitting shriek. When she could see again, Applejack noticed Rainbow and Flare helping the still-smoking Puzzle to her hooves, as well as Twilight’s body sinking to the ground. Trixie was nowhere to be seen, although there was a large, blue-coated blast crater where the stage had been. Hearing the body of her unicorn friend hit the ground with a disturbing thump snapped her out of her stupor, and she galloped over to her friend's figure, which was smoking and charred, and still. The farmer placed a hoof on Twilight’s chest, hoping to feel a rise and fall, but no such oscillation was felt. Desperate, she put an ear to Twilight’s snout, and sighed with relief.
“I can hear her breathing.”