• Published 24th Feb 2016
  • 3,524 Views, 273 Comments

Phantasmare - Emperor



The Alicorn Amulet tainted Trixie. Over time, she recovered, yet it haunts her still. Exploring Equestria, Trixie is determined to finally achieve Greatness and true power, no matter what. In Phantasia, a mare shall defy destiny.

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Upon the Wings of Freedom: Red Wings

"You are...Tricky, was it?"

"Trixie," she corrected, looking up from her notes. "Oh, hello. Who might you be?" She asked the changeling sitting down across from her.

"My name is Thelax, son of Aphid, son of Stern, though you may just call me Thelax," said the changeling.

Trixie blinked. Oh dear, please don't be one of those types. She had encountered in her lifetime three nobles who recited their family lines, and that was three too many times. She decided to grin and bear with it. "Hello Thelax, it is good to meet you," she greeted.

"It is nice to meet you as well, Trixie, daughter of Cicada," said Thelax. Trixie wondered if it would be rude to ask him to back up. It was easier for her to keep track of which changeling was which by the holes in their hooves rather than their faces, but Thelax' hooves were blocked from sight by the table. "I am curious. I heard from other changelings about what you did for a living. 'Performances', was it?"

Ah. It was one of those. Trixie would be more than glad to chat Thelax' ear off about that, especially if she could use it as an excuse to get away from reading for several minutes. "Yes, that is what I did for several years. What did you want to know about?"

Thelax clicked his tongue a few times, sounding apprehensive. "Is it fun to do your shows?"

Trixie chuckled, and relied on Thelax to sense the good humour behind it so he didn't think she was making fun of him. "Oh, it's many things, Thelax. Yes, it's fun. It's exhilarating. It's also incredibly scary. Every time I've done a show, I've always been chewing at my hoofs mere minutes before starting it, wondering if the audience will like it. But nearly every time, my show has gone off without a hitch, and it's always a glorious moment when the crowd applauds you after. When they exalt me with the wild stomping of their hooves, it always felt like I was on top of the world."

"Wow, that sounds incredible. Wait, you said nearly every time. What happened the other few times?"

She hoped he couldn't sense her sly use of words. "I've had the occasional show that was a disaster. I let one of them get to me really bad, enough that I stopped for a while. There were a few more that made me upset, but I didn't stop then. I always bounced back each time. Have you ever seen a show, out of curiosity?" Trixie asked.

The changeling nodded. "A few times. From what I've read of the books here, however, the plays here are amateurish. We learn to imitate ponies as perfectly as possible so we can take their places, but when we come home to the hive, we seem to lose any acting ability we had."

It was disconcerting to hear a changeling so freely talk about taking the place of a pony, but Trixie brushed it aside. She had known about that for a long time. Now was not the time to be getting caught up in that. "I see. Well, you know, I do two different types of shows. I do plays, where I tell stories, usually with both physical props and magical illusions, and then I do magic shows. In the case of the latter, the things I do are usually far greater than the average unicorn will ever strive to reach in her lifetime."

"I see," Thelax said. "It's unfortunate, I guess, that the biggest advantage a changeling has over any other species in performing a show is, well..." He trailed off.

Trixie sympathised with Thelax. A changeling existed to change, it was in the name of their very species. The main reason they tripped up when in disguise was because they didn't mimic their target well enough, if they were replacing an actual pony. The second biggest reason, however, was because a changeling had a single-minded focus to always be changing, always be adapting. It was why her father, and the few changeling 'uncles' she had (and occasional aunt, but since they never had any children her father was less likely to visit them, bringing Trixie and his wife with), always tended to art or mechanics of some sort. Be it under their hooves or by their magic, shaping and changing the form of a wooden block into a piece of art or metal trinkets into a machine always helped to alleviate the urge.

A changeling who was undercover, however, trying to gather energy for his hive, simply did not have the time or wherewithal to dedicate to a hobby or a job like that. There were few who could make a living on art, and not many changelings were mechanically inclined, given every changeling could use externally-shaped magic like a unicorn. As a result, changelings would soon have to ditch disguises and move onto the next pony when others got suspicious of their current form.

"Perhaps in a few years it will be doable," Trixie said. "I have been to the land of the zebras and of the deers before. I can't be fully confident, but I believe most of them would accept a changeling if he was to use his shapeshifting abilities in order to perform a play."

"Do you really think so?" Thelax asked. It was difficult to see, given his solid blue eyes, but Trixie could still tell that he was excited.

"Yes, I think so," she replied. She let a surge of certainty and enthusiasm bubble up to the surface, and watched as the changeling perked up, taking in her freely given emotion.

"Alright! Thanks, Miss Trixie," Thelax said, giving her a bow. Trixie blinked. That had been a quick turnaround from a changeling who had introduced himself by his two immediate forefathers. She smiled, however. Even if the end of her chat with Red had been a disaster, it was good to know she could still lift the spirits of others. "I'm going to go practice! I hope to be able to show you something before you leave!" Quickly, the changeling turned around to leave, practically hopping as he moved.

"Wait."

Thelax interrupted his pronking, turning around. "Is something the matter?"

Trixie stood their, looking ahead dumbly for a few seconds. It was a stupid thought. It was outrageous, absurd, impossible, ludicrous. It was a plausible thought. The last time Trixie had suffered a moment of inspiration, she had barreled straight ahead, and everything had come out the better for it. This time, however, Trixie wouldn't be just gambling with her own life in the event she used up all her magic. She would be betting another pony's life, too.

"Can I see your transformation?" Trixie blurted out. "Not just one time, a few times, please. It's been several years since I last saw my father. I was always fascinated by it."

The changeling raised his eyes, rightfully bewildered by her odd request. However, he quickly acquiesced, humouring the pony who had both given him a boost of emotion and hopefully would give him tips before he went. "Sure, Miss Trixie!" He said, as green fire lit his body up, and he turned into an Earth pony.

Trixie's eyes glittered with energy.

Change.

A changeling could Change.

With the exception of Icarus, who suffered from a disease, all changelings could regrow their forms with enough energy.


Four days passed. During that time, Trixie absorbed the writings of Icarus, until she felt she could learn no more from him. Further reading of The Wingless Changeling wouldn't help her. Trixie instead needed to practice, modify her spell, and practice some more, until through trial-and-error she could fully execute it. She occasionally entertained Thelax, and observed his transformations again and again, learning something new each time. However, it would never fill the free time she had now that she was done with Icarus.

Instead, Trixie sifted through some of the other books in the library, mostly on more magic that she could adapt to her own purposes, but also cracking a few books open on changeling culture. Part of it was for the day Trixie would meet that changeling at Colt Springs, perhaps not too far away now, but mostly, Trixie desired to understand her dead father better. Trixie still missed her mother, September Midsummer, but the mare had been dead for far longer. Trixie lived and breathed pony culture every day. It was high time she understand a little of the history of her father's species.

After their second day in the hive, Noire and Iceheart joined her, finding the cavernous library amazing. Trixie took the time to tutor Noire in a new spell, collecting moisture out of the air, finding it relevant given the main environmental hazard to the library in the cool, damp underground. Iceheart, meanwhile, spent the better part of the day lecturing to a few changelings who had wandered in about Crystal Pony lore, and giving them a first-hand account of the last days of the former Princess Amore and the reign of King Sombra, as well as her own adventures fighting Windigos. The changelings had been quite captivated, and they had feted the former commander far more than they did even Trixie and Noire, two daughters of changelings from their own hive.

On the fourth day, Trixie still went to the library, but she also finally accepted going on a tour of the hive, finding herself amazed at how extensive a network of tunnels and chambers the changelings had built for themselves in the badlands. She wasn't sure if Red's theory of the hive being built in the inside of the large hills was correct, or if it was actually underground. In either case, the changelings had still done a phenomenal job with their architecture.

It was that evening that Red had finally worked up the will to come back to the library, where Trixie was. He was far more brusque this time, cutting straight to the chase.

"You do recall that I said I was charging you an extra fee for every day extra we stayed in the Hive, right?"

Trixie looked up to face him. First, she had to get over her surprise that he had finally come back to speak with her. She decided not to give him any heck about his avoiding her the last few days. At least, that was what it had felt like to her. "Yes, I do remember. Don't worry too much, we have more than enough money. If you want, I can pay you out what we owe you up so fa-"

"That doesn't matter!" Red snapped back, flicking his wing against the table, creating an odd snapping sound. "I'd like to leave the hive soon, please."

She found herself baffled. Was he getting itchy hooves again? Trixie had to admit, she was feeling a little bit cramped already in the hive herself. She couldn't understand how some changelings were able to live here their entire life.

Wait. Trixie took a closer feel at Red's emotions, letting them simmer before she tasted them. There was nervousness in great quantities. However, instead of the fear that usually went along with trepidation in ponies, he was experiencing more embarrassed than anything else. Oh, this had to be good. If only his entire body wasn't already red, she might even have been able to elicit a visible blush out of him.

"What's happening?" Trixie asked.

"I-it's Queen Chrysalis," Red blurted out. "She found another changeling she's trying to set me up with, but this one, Manti, she's even more clingy than the last two! I didn't realise any mare, pony or changeling, could be that forward!"

Trixie didn't know whether to be amused at Red's suffering, or insulted at his backhoof comment about her gender. She chose to join in the laughter that percolated through the group, including the few changelings who were conversing with Iceheart to the side. It seemed this Manti had a reputation if even the changelings found Red's situation funny.

"It's not funny!" Red said indignant.

Trixie wiped a few tears away from her eyes, finally getting herself under control. "Oh, I'm sorry, heh, Red. In all honesty, haha, we were thinking about leaving tomorrow. It's been a learning experience here, but none of us are particularly fond of it. We're glad to all of you, thank you very much, but we just aren't used to living indoors like this," Trixie said, directing her words at the changelings Iceheart was entertaining.

There was a chorus of replies, generally assenting to Trixie's words.

Red sighed. "Ah, that's good. My pegasus instincts are still blaring at me, too. I can't fly worth two spits, but I still crave the open air as well. This is one of the largest chambers in the hive, and it still doesn't do a thing for me."

Trixie cringed at his words. She had seen the way his eyes had creased and heard the light exhale of pain every time some other pony or changeling had flown around over the last few days. Hopefully, if all went well, today was the last full day she would have to hear words of that ilk from the one-winged pegasi.


"The weather is predicted to be typical today, with no abnormally high wind or heat," said the changeling standing next to Queen Chrysalis, reciting a weather report. "There is a small chance of lightning travelling from the eastern sea. In the event that it occurs, it could potentially start a bush fire, so you should be aware of that."

"When he says small, he means tiny is more like it," Red said from next to the three mares. "Thunder can travel over a hundred thousand hoofsteps from its origin in the sky, but it truly is rare."

"That may be, but it still has happened," said Queen Chrysalis. "We lost a dozen changelings once to a freak thunderstorm. The only consolation we have is that it occurred during a time of peace. Had it happened during a war, we would likely have blamed their electrocution on an enemy spell. You would do wise, Red Wing, not to brush aside rare occurrences."

Red shifted under the Queen's gaze.

Oh, she used his full name. Trixie thought. Reminding him of his own incident is a little underhooved, but that's her prerogative. You know, I don't know how old Chrysalis is. She's not a thousand years old, but she's several hundred at least from what she's mentioned before. I suppose for her, 'rare' events are bound to happen when you live that long.

Chrysalis turned to Trixie and Noire. "Thank you for coming, you two. I have heard from my changelings that you were open with them, and gave freely of your emotions. You may feel free to return any time, so long as you go to Mirage's Gorge and wait for my children to pick you up." Then she turned to Iceheart. "The same goes for you, Iceheart. You may not be one of us, but my race long warred against the Windigos, who sought to incite and feed off the hatred of others, which is anathema to us. They may not be around any longer, but we will always value a pony who fought on the front-lines against them."

Iceheart took an awkward bow, not used to the praise from somebody who wasn't serving directly under her. "Thank you, your Majesty."

"And for you Red Wing, I hope you come back again. Perhaps Manti wasn't the best choice, but I'm sure I can find some other changeling." This time the smile on Chrysalis' face was unmistakable for what it was: that of a predator, seeking to make her prey squirm in embarrassment.

"I-I'll try, Queen Ch-Chrysalis," Red stuttered. It was obvious to all he wanted to get out of there right that moment. "It likely won't be until another pony or changeling wishes to visit the hive."

It really is disappointing that he's all red. He would look cute blushing, Trixie thought, before shaking her head. Where did that thought come from?

It would have to wait, however, for later. Trixie had one last thing to say. "Queen Chrysalis, thank you for hosting us here," She said in her most heartfelt manner. "I loved my father, but given his situation, there were fundamental ways we would just never have been able to connect. I am glad that I was able to learn some things of his species, and bring home his story. If I ever come back, it will be with some of the woodwork that he created in his last days."

"The same sentiment goes for me," Noire added.

"If only all ponies were like you," Queen Chrysalis said. She sighed. "Some days, I wish I had never committed to that invasion."

Trixie was surprised. For the first time since she had been here, the Queen had finally called it an invasion, as opposed to merely 'the wedding'. She didn't let it faze her, however, as Trixie said what she was planning to say, "Perhaps, but what is done is done. I learned that from my own past. But, you know, Queen Chrysalis. Reconciliation isn't something changelings have to do alone." Trixie took in a deep breath to steady her nerves as she carried on. "I hope to make an impact in Equestrian society, somehow, someway. I don't know how. I already helped to destroy the Windigo ice in the north, so it's not for a lack of possible magical talent. I have the drive. I'll do something, something that will cause ponies to look up to me and ask for advice. And when I do, I'll push for a new understanding between ponies and changelings."

She scanned the small crowd of changelings, but couldn't identify Thelax by his limb holes. "That said, I've already mentioned to one of your children that it may be easier to get a start with the deerfolk, who are very welcoming of other species, through an exchange of art and culture. It's something that needs to be worked hard at by both sides. But you can count on me. Within a few years, I'll accomplish something great, something that will spread my name wide. And you'll have a partner when you approach the ponies again."

There was a stunned silence by every pony and changeling in the room. Tense emotions hung in the background, and Trixie suddenly wasn't sure if this was the best idea.

Slowly, Chrysalis walked forward. The Changeling Queen of the Badlands Hive looked Trixie directly in the eye, green eyes meeting pink. Trixie wasn't sure why Chrysalis did that, when she could just as easily detect her emotions. The unicorn stood firm nevertheless.

"That was the sappiest thing I've ever heard from a pony, and I've heard many a ridiculous sentiment from them," Chrysalis pronounced.

The mood in the room deflated.

Then Chrysalis smiled again, a genuine smile. "But I appreciate it all the same. I hope you succeed, Trixie. I would be glad to work with you if you climb the ladder of your own society. Enough of that, however. Sweet dreams."

Trixie breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't worry too much about her rapidly beating heart, as Queen Chrysalis was readying a spell to be cast from her horn. As they had entered the hive, they were to leave by the same method. Even as hybrids, one who had fought Windigos, and one who seemed well-liked by the changelings, they still were not fully trusted. Within moments, Trixie felt her eyes drift close, and she drooped forward, falling into a deep sleep.


Compared to the last time Trixie had been put to sleep and then awoken, the blue-coated unicorn did it with far more grace this time.

"Who-wha-where am I?!" Trixie took a half jump up, only to fall back down, sprawled out on all four limbs. Her belly flop kicked up a small amount of dirt, and she coughed on the briefly dusty air.

"We're back in the Gorge," said a masculine voice.

Trixie craned her head over to look at the speaker. She confirmed it to be Red, matching it up with his deep, slightly scratchy voice. Slowly, she picked herself up, and saw that Iceheart was also up already, leaving just Noire still snoozing. Standing across from them were eight changelings. She was able to pick out Atlas. It had taken her a few days to really hone in and notice it, but Atlas had wisps of a blue proto-mane growing from the back of his head. It was potentially a sign of importance within the hive, but Trixie had never dared to ask.

"The fourth one is beginning to show signs of stirring," stated Atlas, and it was true. Noire was fidgeting slightly, and her limbs occasionally twitching, signs that she was no longer in a magically-induced deep sleep. She even occasionally mumbled a few nonsensical words out loud. "With that, we will be off." Atlas looked over, and gave Red a salute. "Until next we meet, Red Wing."

Red returned the salute. "Until next time."

The eight changelings turned around, and each took a single hoofstep forward before hopping into the air, with their buzzing wings carrying them forward. Trixie thought about how easily they could be tracked when leaving witnesses behind like this. Her theory was quickly shot down as the changelings disappeared behind a hill, staying low enough in the gorge that no pony could follow them and hope to find out where the hive was.

Good, though. The changelings were gone. Soon, she would confront Red.

Noire began to rouse herself, finally flipping over onto her back. The harsh rays of the sun appeared to do the trick, as she curled a wing over her eyes. "Gurgh, bright light, too early," She mumbled, before realising that she was sitting in dirt. Sitting up onto her haunches, Noire took a look around. "Oh, that's where we are," said the batpony.

Trixie snorted. At least Noire wasn't awake to watch Trixie leaving her sleep, or else she would be teasing her for days about that.

"In any event, let us be off," said Red.

"Wait."

Red frowned, turning to face Trixie. "Is there something you needed to do first?"

"Something like that," Trixie said. It's now or never. This is what I've been thinking and researching towards the last few days. "No doubt you're going to wonder where I'm going with this, but do you recall how I said I destroyed the Windigo ice in the north only a week ago?" Has it really been only a week? That sounds so weird, like something out of a play. 'Yeah, I destroyed a massive magic-resistant block left by the Windigos, that was just last week.

"Yeeeees," Red dragged his lone word out, indeed wondering where Trixie was going with it.

"Did you ever wonder just how I destroyed the ice? Take a guess, I won't think you stupid or anything."

The stallion frowned. "I assume maybe it was with fire, or perhaps a massive heat spell. Or maybe you bludgeoned it apart with pure force, bit by bit."

Trixie sighed. "If only it had been that simple. The honest truth is, I still don't know myself. Oh, I know generally what I did," she hastened to add as she felt him become annoyed. "What I did was nothing less than to make an illusion that was so powerful that it actually affected reality itself."

Red digested that for a few seconds. "You mean like a daydream or a nightmare or something?"

Trixie shook her head. She briefly took a glance at both Noire and Iceheart. They were both confused, but no doubt they were expecting this to lead to something big. "No, not like that at all. Think of, say, fire. When a pony creates an illusion of fire, it can look very realistic. It can crackle like fire, it can look like fire, it might even look so realistic that your body will be fooled into sweating by the feel of the heat of the fire on your coat. But it's still not real. What I did was like creating an illusion of fire so realistic that it actually crossed over into essentially conjuring real fire, capable of scorching and burning and leaving behind ash."

"Alright, I think I understand that. So you, what, you used an illusion on the block? Is there really a difference between using an illusion of a fire that creates an actual fire then, and just straight up summoning an actual fire?"

Trixie nodded. "It makes all the difference. The latter is easily doable. The former isn't supposed to be possible, because what it's effectively doing is telling the world, reality itself, 'this is the way things is', and reality accepts it. It's a way of making an illusion permanent. I cast the illusion of the Windigo ice disappearing, as if it were never there at all, and as far as the world was concerned, that was a fundamental truth of reality."

Red stumbled back, finally understanding. "I think I understand that, except I can't. If it's doable, think about what you could do with that! You could create real bits that can't be picked out by a counterfeiting spell. You could make yourself the most elaborate house you ever desired! You could produce water in this river valley! You can—"

"Regrow wings," Trixie said.

Pure shock. Trixie thought she had understood what shock was already, having felt it from many ponies over her two decades and change of life. Trixie had failed to understand just how deep it could go, up until now.

Noire was the first to speak. "Didn't you say before you couldn't do it on living things?"

"Yes," Trixie conceded, deciding to get that conception dispelled. "That was the case. Back when we were on tour, however, I went off on my own for a little bit, and found one of the caves where they were growing mushrooms. That changeling, Thelax...even as I taught him a few things, he taught me simply by virtue of his transformations. Changelings don't cast a mere illusion, they actually physically transform, creating mass where there was none before or occasionally reducing mass. I experimented with mushrooms, and it worked. That wasn't the only thing I-"

"What are the risks?" Red asked, sharply interrupting her.

"I-I'm sorry?"

"What. Are. The risks," Red repeated himself, with an added dash of frustration. "You don't strike me as the type to make something up about something like this, Trixie. Noire, you can sense deceit. Is she lying?"

"N-no," Noire said. "No, she isn't."

"Then all I want to know are the risks."

"If the spell fails, if, it could result in a magical backlash that might maim you. It could potentially kill you immediately. I might die, but that's only from running out of magic," Trixie said. She had already prepared the possible effects in her head. She just hadn't expected him to leap straight to them.

"Then let's do it," Red said, looking around the gorge. "Right here, right now."

"Wait, what? Don't you want to get back to Dodge Junction first? If there's a backlash, at least you can get medical attention there."

Red snorted. "Oh? So why did you decide to tell me about this, all the way out here, deep in the badlands?"

Trixie made to retort, only to stop short. Why had she done that? It had seemed rather hasty of her. She hadn't asked Iceheart to take them out on a tour, and only then reveal to her the possibility of using an illusion to destroy the ice. It was stupid of her.

"Maybe you sensed it in me or something, Trixie, I don't know how much you can truly feel emotions, or even all that changelings can do either, for that matter," Red continued. "You told me that you have two passions: the stage and magic. I'm like you. I have two things that give my life meaning: flight, and wandering. For the longest time, I thought wandering Equestria was enough of a life." Red sighed, and brushed his hoof through his mane. "I'm sorry girls, I don't want to sound like I'm pressuring you, but I need to fly. If I cannot, then one day, sooner rather than later, I'm going to decide I can't deal with this any longer."

"What a foolish sentiment," Iceheart scolded him. "Once you throw your life away, that is it. There are no takebacks."

"That's true," said Red. "I thought the same about the day I lost my wing. There was no taking that back. But now, Trixie, you claim you could give me my wing back, through something I only half-understand? Even a one percent chance is something I'm willing to take. Let me be clear. Even a one percent change of a restored wing against a fifty percent chance of death is something I'm willing to take, when the value of one so greatly outweighs the other in my head."

"Trixie? What do you think?" Iceheart asked, turning around to face the unicorn.

Trixie swallowed, feeling out of her depth at the way the conversation suddenly had turned. Red was thinking about suicide? She...I cannot allow that to happen. "The odds are significantly better than that. It's something I've never done before, but I never tried what I did with the ice before I actually succeeded, so perhaps fifty percent? And five percent chance of serious maiming or death?"

Red smirked. "Those are odds I would take any day."

"But why here?" Noire asked, desperately trying to steer the topic back around. "Even if Trixie fails, you'll still have medical attention, and she might fail not because it has no chance of working, but just because she hasn't got the experience, and she could do it on a second try!"

"That...that is true," Red conceded, and Noire felt optimistic. "Except, I feel like she'll do it on her first try."

"You feel?" Trixie asked, feeling strange. "You're just going to put your fate into my hooves like that, because you 'feel' I'll succeed?"

Red shrugged. "Call it gut instinct. The same instinct that lead me to disperse that first tornado so long ago that got me my Cutie Mark. The same instinct that warned me against tackling the last one, which I so foolishly went against and ignored, and lost my wing in the process. The same instinct that told me perhaps changelings could be reasoned with, even made friends with. The-the same instinct that told me these three mares who wanted to, to go to the hive, they could be trusted."

He was crying. Trixie found herself startled to realise she didn't want him to cry, because it made her sad too, in a way that no other crying pony except for her mother on her deathbed had ever made her feel. "Please," Red choked out in between sobs. "Just-just give it a chance. I have faith in you, Trixie."

Trixie could say no. She could wait until they were in town, and find a secluded area to do all this. But she had faith in herself, and Red had faith in her too.

"OK."

Both Noire and Iceheart had varying degrees of disgust, but they each conceded to her decision. "If that is what you think, then I will accept that," Iceheart said. "You stuck your neck out for me before, and it worked. Let us hope this does as well."

They cleared out a small section of larger rocks, before using the same rocks to create a rough circle nearly two horse-spans in diameter. The geometry wasn't truly essential for the spell, but Trixie felt it would help nevertheless. In the event, the several minutes it took gave Trixie time to calm her nerves.

At last, the moment of truth was upon her, and Trixie found herself facing Red, who stood in the circle. She stood a hundred hoofsteps away from him, both Noire and Iceheart behind her, staying a decent distance apart in the event of the magical backlash Trixie had warned could occur.

The living wind howled.

With a moment's hesitation, Trixie cast.


Trixie had researched the anatomy of birds and pegasi, looking to gain deeper insight into wings. Wings were rather fascinating, with many of the bones resembling those in limbs of other beings, though they were more similar to the upper limbs of bipeds than limbs of quadrupeds such as ponies themselves. She could take Red's nub and plant the humerus bone from there, connecting a new tendon also from the shoulder until it reached the intersection of the new metacarpus, radius and ulna, and create new muscles and plumage over the reformed bone structure.

Later, Trixie had considered changing it just a simple concept: implanting the idea that 'Red has both wings', and rejecting the idea that he had ever lost a wing. Instead of regrowing a wing, she could simply make it that he had never lost a wing. Everypony alive who had ever met him would remember that Red had lost a wing, but the world itself would not. The world itself would believe that he had always had two wings, that that had never not been the case, and so Red have his left wing again.

Unfortunately, Trixie had struggled with that, as she quickly fell into painfully squaring the metaphysics with the metathaumics and ending up with nothing but a headache. Had she been able to stay at Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, then perhaps the philosophy classes she would have eventually taken would have helped. Then again, had she stayed there, Trixie might never have developed her illusionary magic. She would have never met Iceheart, and she would never have met Red.

Instead, Trixie struck upon a novel, yet ingenious solution. Red still had one wing. The anatomy of a wing did not vary between sides, except for the left and the right being mirrored opposites. What if she was to go a slightly different route, and say, "Red has a wing on his right side. He also has a wing that is on his left side that is identical to his right wing, but mirrored." It was this solution Trixie ultimately decided on, after a few tests to ensure it was plausible. Thankfully, a test with glucose for a chirality switch proved negative, and so her theory was set.

Much like how a changeling could transform his body in green fire, Trixie would transform Red's body, giving him an extra wing.

But manipulating mushrooms appeared to be very different from working with a sapient being. Even in her trance-like state, Trixie could still feel the sweat dripping through her closed eyelids, the taste of salt on her tongue, and the heavy breathing of her body as it struggled to cope with the concentration she needed for this feat. Reality encompassed all of creation, from the planet they lived on, to the sun and the moon, to the stars beyond, and all the space they lived in between. Creation did not like to be pushed around by something that was but an ant to it -neigh, like a tiny fruit fly before the might of an alicorn princess. It had been tamed the last time with the power of the Crystal Heart, but this time it pushed back.

It held strong. It had a greater sense of identity once, but it had lost it. Things like gender and name were meaningless now. All it was focused on was pushing through this Idea.

'Red has two wings.'

'Red has two wings.'

'Red has two wings.'


Trixie woke up, sweating hard. The wind had subsided. Despite this, she felt a draft of cool air. Was her body suffering an illness or a delusion, that she was feeling cold in her last moments before heat death?

She blinked, and felt the magic around her body. No, that was just a cooling spell. Trixie smirked. It had been worth it teaching Noire how to use cooling spells.

She took a deep breath of air, and wiped the sweat out of her eyes. Opening them, she was instantly reminded of the near-ethereal state she had just been in.

"Your wing..." Trixie whispered.

Red flexed his left wing, looking at it, entranced. He still seemed incapable of believing what his eyes saw. Trixie couldn't blame him.

"He already tried them before you woke up," Noire spoke from beside Trixie. "They work, both of them. He flapped his wings, and he achieved lift-off. I chased up after him, and we bumped hooves. There's no way any illusion could simulate all that, in real-time, without direction from its unconscious caster." Noire hugged Trixie, unminding of the unicorn's sweat-drenched fur. "I don't know how, Trixie, but you did it again."

"Y-yeah..." Trixie trailed off. "I, I did it. I did it. Did you heard that?!" She yelled, looking up at the sky. "I did it! I really bucking did it!"

"My reluctance about having done it out here still stands, Trixie," Iceheart said from the other side of the blue-coated mare. The purple-coated Crystal pony smiled. "Nevertheless, I'm glad you succeeded. I can't speak for knowing what it's like to fly, but I think you've made one stallion very happy today."

"She's right, you know," Red suddenly said, at last breaking out of his reverie. "I-I still don't believe this is happening, but it seems to be true. I bit my tongue really hard and I didn't wake up, this is really true." The red-coated pegasus spat out a small dollop of blood from his mouth, showing just how hard he had bitten. "I don't think you need to pay the rest of your expedition fee anymore."

Trixie laughed at that. Then a random thought came to her, and she giggled again. "You know what I just realised, Red?"

Red was still on cloud nine, with a perpetual dopey grin plastered over his face, as he flexed his left wing once more. "You could realise hundreds of things, Trixie, and right now I would listen to all of them."

"Hehe, but no, no seriously, I just realised something. When you attacked those policeponies in Baltimare, they saw a pegasus who only had one wing." Trixie giggled again, unable to make it through her entire point without laughing out of a combination of nervousness and joy. "No pony has ever had a lost wing restored, so even if you strongly resemble this other red pegasus, you can't be him, you have both wings! You can call yourself Red Wing in the open again."

"Red Wings."

Trixie blinked. She thought he had said 'Red Wing', but something was just a little bit off about that sentence. "Huh?"

"My name, my true name, is Red Wings, as in two wings," Red, no, Red Wings said as he looked up towards the pale blue sky. "Oh Celestia, I haven't said that in years. Not since I lost my wing and dropped the plural. A one-winged pegasus being called 'wings' never sounded right, and so I became Red Wing, and then Red. No more."

"Oh. Yeah, that makes sense," Trixie said.

"Never mind that, though. It's more than about the expedition fee," Red Wings said, before he suddenly dropped down on all four limbs in front of Trixie. "Trixie Lulamoon, I owe you so unfathomably much that I couldn't possibly hope to repay you. No, I don't think even money would be enough to feel I paid off my debt. I'd like to travel with you, and offer you my services wherever you go as your servant."

"Guh?"

Trixie supposed she should at least have seen part of that coming. Red had little to truly keep him attached to Dodge Junction when it truly came down to it. Yes, he had friends here, but he had no family, and he was a self-admitted wanderer. If Iceheart, who had siblings living in the Empire and a second family at the fortress had decided to tag along with Trixie and Noire, Red, neigh, Red Wings would no doubt do the same.

Having Red Wings pledge himself as a servant was something else entirely together.

"We, we can talk about that later," Trixie said, working her way up to her hooves. Images of two idiotic colts flashed through her mind, and how she had made them slave to satisfy her whims. Her stomach roiled at that. "I don't want a servant, but a friend who'll travel with us, I'll accept that. Again, we, let's talk about that la, la-whoa!" Trixie hollered, nearly tripping over her hooves. "Sorry girls, Red Wings, I think I'm still a little out of order from casting that spell."

"That's alright. I can carry you as we go back," Red Wings said.

"Say what?" Trixie asked, as her cheeks brightened.

Red grinned. The pegasus was still on a dopey high that it seemed he might never come down from. ""What was it you said before? For me to fly again would be to fly upon the wings of freedom? I can fly again. Some mere extra weight doesn't matter a wit to me at this point!"

Noire looked back and forth between the two. "Hmm. It's doable. We don't exactly have the supplies to make it easy, and you can't fly too high, Red Wings. Remember, Dodge Junction doesn't know you have your wing restored. You should keep it that way. If they see you flying, Trixie's talent and magic will be exposed."

"You want to keep that secret?" Red asked, astonished. "Think of how much good she could do with other similarly crippled ponies! I don't think even the princesses could do something like what she did now!"

"Yes," Noire bit back. "After all, she derived this magic from observing a changeling's transformation."

Red recoiled at that. "Right...yeah, I guess that wouldn't be the smartest thing right now. Well, let's return to Dodge Junction first. I'll put a cloak on as we get closer to hide this," he said, flexing his left wing. "On second thought, we may have to tie it up against my body. It's been so long since I've had to control muscle function on this wing, I can't guarantee it won't pop out."

"Good idea," Iceheart said. "While I would prefer less talking and more moving now, Trixie, Noire, there is one thing I am curious about. Where should we be heading next after we get to Dodge Junction?"

West, of course, Trixie thought to herself. She opened her mouth to say as much.

The living wind howled.

"W-w-north, north," Trixie said. Where did that come from? "I don't know why, but suddenly I felt as if something important is north."

"How...odd. I feel the same all of a sudden, as if something is drawing me up there too. Not perfectly north, perhaps, but in that direction. You two feel it too?" Iceheart asked, directing the question at Noire and Red Wings.

"This is freaking me out," Noire said, answering Iceheart's question at the same time.

"Something is drawing us north, yes," Trixie restated. "I had something like this happen to me before," She said, gulping. "But that was different. I could feel the taint even on the call of the Amulet. This is something different. This is...not so much passive, but neutral? Yes, neutral, maybe even positive." She looked around at the other three. "And if it isn't, I have you three together to help me, right, everypony?"

Nothing made Trixie happier than to get three nods back. So this was what it was like to have multiple good friends, each who would be willing to walk into the unknown with you to provide security in numbers.

"In that case, let's go back to Dodge Junction."

Trixie grumbled a little bit, but she finally assented to riding Red Wings. The embarrassing part was how tight she had to hug onto him, given the lack of a saddle or any other mechanism to keep her secured to his back. Thankfully, the stallion had the good sense not to do any tricky maneuvers in the air so soon after getting his lost wing restored. She enjoyed the warm breeze washing through her fur, wondering if this was what it would be like when at last she deciphered the secrets of self-levitation.

Slowly, however, joy turned to boredom, as she had little to contribute to the march back, and everypony else kept chatter to a minimum. Perhaps...yes, there was the other spell that Trixie had figured out while reading in the hive's library. That one was worth using.

Trixie had been weak, so very, very weak. Queen Chrysalis had not even been trying, and she had known all along what Trixie was trying to get. Chrysalis only giving it to her because the Queen had been so generous in the first place, and wished to look good in front of Iceheart, Fighter of Windigos. Even with her love of magic, Trixie grew bored of reading easily. She still had her moments where she found herself wanting for tact. She was still arrogant, selfish, and greedy. Had she even really cured Red Wings for his sake, or had she done it to test herself, with the useful bonus of nabbing a loyal pony?

Those thoughts clouded her mind, and so Trixie cast.

Author's Note:

Oh look, here's the author going "Blahblahblah" again.

This ended up a long chapter much like the last chapter of Stasis. Fortunately, since the first two chapters of this arc were a combined 7k words shorter than Stasis, that made this one easier to write. I had to nip one subplot that almost formed in this chapter (Trixie deciding to put on a play in front of the changeling hive), because that would have gotten the word count out of hand. I could have split this into two or even three chapters, but because I'm stupid and stubborn I keep aiming for exactly three chapters per arc.

Not to spark drama in the comments section (oh who am I kidding, if this chapter gets 3 comments I'd be stoked), but Trixie's recollection of the past is certainly going to be biased in her favour, so keep that in mind.

The careful reader may have noted that the text has been very careful to stay away from directly referencing Twilight Sparkle since the first chapter. This chapter has a few moments that get very close, but not by name. That's a deliberate theme to this story. This story is very much not about the Mane 6 at all.

Given the naming pattern of the prior two arcs, I wonder how many of you actually spotted the plural form in the chapter title and went, 'Hey wait a minute, Red Wings? Wha?!' Well, I already did it with Noire, though obviously the pattern hadn't been established yet.

Red Wings was a difficult character to write at times throughout this chapter, as I attempt to transition from his rough characterisation in the first chapter of his arc, to his more open personality in the second chapter, to the transformation he goes throughout in this chapter. I may tinker a little with the earlier segments of the final chapter of the arc to make his character arc a bit smoother. I had a little bit of difficulty with the ending, as well. Originally, he sounded demanding of Trixie, guilting her into casting her spell. He still does, but I worked on making him less manipulative and more desperate. I will still likely change this a bit further, because I do not want to give the impression of him meaning mean or manipulative.

The next arc is Eldest. Just like how the New Moon arc wasn't a Twilight homage, this one won't be an Eragon homage.

"Brother, is that you? You have grown so...since the last time I left town, intending to return home that same day."