• Published 4th Sep 2012
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Flim and Flam Save an Orphanage - KFDirector

They're not gonna catch us. We're on a mission from Goddess!

  • ...

Flim, Flam, Trixie, and a New-Found Passion

“Well, that’s it, then. They must be dead,” a white-coated member of the Night Guard said, peering over the edge of a cliff, where a five-yard section of guard rail had been completely demolished. The rising sun was just finishing the work of cooking away the light dawn fog.

“Maybe so,” said a green pegasus with a crew-cut grey mane and a cigar cutie mark, getting out of his carriage, “but if I’m going to report to the Princesses that somepony died at a Summer Sun Celebration, I’m going to need you to walk me through it.”

“El Jefe!” The white pegasus saluted.

“At ease,” El Jefe said. “Where’d this all start?”

Patrolling the streets, the Night Guard trotted carefully, ears open for suspicious sounds – and he was rewarded for so doing by the clamor of three arguing unicorns.

“Where’s the throttle – for the love of Luna, are you sitting on it? Move your flank, brother!”

“Excuse me, citizens!” the Night Guard called, catching air to fly closer to the carriage with the argument. “Is everything quite all right?”

“Aw buck, it’s the feathers! Gun it! Gun it!”

“The…‘feathers’?” El Jefe said, raising a brow.

“Slang for the Night Guard, sir, given the large proportion of pegasus ponies in our ranks.”

El Jefe snorted. “I’ll have to remember that one. So then what?”

The white pegasus led the green one down the Canterlot street. “Up there, you can see where they glanced off a gaslight post and went careening at a new angle down the road – a few inches off and they would have plowed squarely into TC&R’s Glass Figurine Emporium.”

His white foreleg pointed out further tracks down the street, tracing the path of the carriage. “And there, you can see where they hit a pothole, catching air and just missing a collision with four different florists’ street carts.”

El Jefe nodded. “Have somepony fix that pothole.”

“And then they overcorrected, and were rolling their carriage on its two right-side wheels, missing what would have been a bounce with a mailbox, and that kept them from crashing into Madame Honeywell’s Urban Apiary.”

“We really should look into the zoning rules again – that just doesn’t sound safe.”

“Then they began spinning wildly, still generally heading in the same direction but making cookies on the road – just past this office building here, the Canterlot Repair Committee’s Office of General Contracting Clearinghouse. Finally, they regained control of their vehicle, gunned the throttle to maximum, and propelled themselves right through this guard rail.”

El Jefe looked over the edge. “Well, I suppose if they went over at just the right angle, they could have hit that viaduct right down there – that’s a pretty short fall, all told, perfectly survivable, if a bit hard on the shocks.”

“Indeed, sir, but if they had, there’d be some kind of marks or something down there from their impact point, or turning and steering to make a right-angle turn and get oriented with the road – it’s just the normal traffic tracks down there.”

El Jefe nodded again. “So, they must have missed the viaduct and fallen all the way down Canterlot Mountain. And that’s a…well, pegasus ponies could have survived that fall, especially if they somehow happened to land in a flock of butterflies, but you said they were all unicorns?”

“The patrol officer saw three horns, sir.”

“We know who they were?”

The pegasus reached into his uniform vest and mouthed out three golden ticket stubs. “Three ponies who left a little early from the Closing Ceremonies last night. The coordinators recorded the tickets as sold to one Jet Set, one Upper Crust, and one of Jet Set’s cousins.”

El Jefe allowed himself a sigh. “Three unicorns. I guess that’s it, then. Try to keep out the rubberneckers – I’ll go inform their next of kin, and make an appointment with the Princesses to explain this mess.”

Trixie’s eyes were shut, but her other senses were telling her quite a bit. Warmth and odors and the sounds of breathing told her that she was snuggling between two familiar unicorn stallions, and the light bristles of a moustache brushing on her right shoulder told her that one of them was Flam. The twisting feeling in the base of her gut told her that she had far too much to drink on far too little to eat – as if the other circumstances hadn’t made that exceedingly obvious – and a small twinge of pain at the back of her skull, like a crack in a dam, told her that she was due to be transported to a magical realm of infinite hangovers when she got up.

As soon as I admit I am awake, the situation is going to be extremely awkward. These two are my fillyhood friends, and I knew long ago that was all they could, would, should ever be. But I can delay reality just a little longer.” She nuzzled closer to Flim.

A smile crept onto her feigning-sleeping face. “I’ll bet that purple little unicorn nerd in Ponyville never woke up between two handsome stallions.” For some reason, that thought made her happier than anything had in quite some time.

Something tugged on her mane. She giggled softly. It tugged a little harder, and then harder still – as it started to hurt, she turned her head, blinking gingerly, towards whatever was responsible –

Just above the muzzle that was chewing on her mane, there, staring with cold judgment deep into her soul, were two horizontal, rectangular-slit eyes.

This is deeply wrong,” Flim was thinking to himself, head pounding, moments before. “She’s our friend, our colthood friend. She’s charming, yes, but – no, Flam and I agreed years ago that no – oh, this is so wrong. But it’s not as if anything’s happened! We just – were drunk, and for some reason all landed in a pile, and ended up snuggling – oh, Celestia, what if she’s enjoying it? Oh, this is going to be so difficult to – please, Luna, Princess of the Night, Patroness of Redemption, hit me with my penance now so we can all just move on – ”

Trixie’s scream, drawn all the way from the most abyssal depths of her diaphragm and encompassing the shrillest pitches the mare could muster, blasted directly into his ear.

Trixie continued to scream, backing away from the monstrosity, blinking her tear-filled bloodshot eyes.

Flim shouted in pain, clutching his head with his hooves.

Flam turned over, covering his ears, curling into a fetal position, yelling a stream of profanity.

A gray goat, wearing a necktie, said “Ba-ah.”

The unicorns continued shrieking at the nonchalant goat, not hearing the approaching steps. In front of them, behind the goat, a door opened, backlighting a great, imposing figure, bipedal – with arms ending in hands! – head adorned with two horns.

The screams – two of pain, one of panic – realigned to being all of panic, and focused solidly on the new arrival.

The two-horned figure rubbed his head. “It is far too early in the morning for Iron Will to have to deal with this.”

“It’s not what it looks like, I swear!” Flim shouted fearfully, backing up against a wall.

The minotaur looked around the room. “It isn’t?”

“No!” Trixie yelped. “It’s not!”

“Because it certainly looks to Iron Will like three unicorn ponies crashed their carriage through the roof of Iron Will’s M-squared-C-squared™. Iron Will is rather curious how.”

Flam coughed, casting a hangover-curing spell on himself, and blinked to clear his vision. He looked up, and saw the driver side of the old Mareland carriage sticking out of the ceiling. “Ah. You have us cold, my good sir. It is indeed exactly what it looks like.”

“Flam,” Flim muttered, “hit me with some of that.”

“Trixie too,” she whispered.

El Jefe scratched his head with his hoof. “Mister Jet Set, Missus Upper Crust, I have the regrettable – and somewhat surreal – duty of informing you that you were in all likelihood killed in a single-carriage traffic accident last night.”

The unicorn couple in the doorway of their Canterlot townhome stared back in confusion.

A lantern went on over the pegasus pony’s head, and he sighed. “Who got your tickets to the Closing Ceremonies?”

“Having been profiled a time or two for WWB, Iron Will can respect the need to evade the Night Guard from time to time,” the minotaur began, as the ponies followed him forward through several small rooms, “but Iron Will must admit that this is the first time anypony has docked their carriage with Iron Will’s M-squared-C-squared™ as a result.”

“WWB?” Flim asked.

“M-squared-C-squared™?” Flam asked a half-second later, being careful to pronounce the ™, in case it was a vital element of the name.

“Walking While Bipedal, and the Mobile Motivational Command Center, respectively.” Iron Will knocked on a wall with his hands. “This ferrous beauty of an omnibus, with its six steam turbines, serves all of Iron Will’s requirements on the Equestrian motivational speaking circuit. Patent pending.”

“Aah!” Trixie said with a start. “You’re that Iron Will!”

Iron Will turned to the cornflower mare with a raised eyebrow. “You know of others?”

“No, but – we met last year! At the Equestrian Pyrotechnics Association Convention! At the round table breakout session, you - ”

Iron Will looked harder at the unicorn. “Great and Powerful Trixie?” He stroked his chin. “You’re doing something different with your mane.”

“Oh – ” Trixie glanced back, self-consciously, toward the part that was still sticking out from having a goat chew on it, applied a touch of magic to smooth it, frowned when that failed, and finally refocused her attention forward. “ – well, yes, that isn’t at all important right now.”

“Indeed. The pointers you had on the best budget fireworks for small business owners who worked on the road – ”

“Trixie is flattered that you found them useful, but there is something still more important – ”

“We’ll just be letting you two catch up, then,” Flim said, walking forward in the carriage. “Come on, brother, let’s talk.”

The two brothers trotted further forward, to the next room of the omnibus – a storage area for Iron Will’s stage equipment, apparently.

“Brother, what you said last night – ”

Nothing happened last night, Flam.”

“Calm down, Flim – not the thing that didn’t happen – the thing you said. ‘The Show?’”

Recollection of his epiphany seized Flim’s consciousness, after striking from ambush out of his subconscious. “Right! The Show! Yes, indeed.” The two kept forward, at a slow trot. “See, we’ve always had a gift for the pitch, the advertising – the song-and-dance number to get everypony on board with our product. The problem we have right now is that we have no product. But why should that stop us from putting on a show?”

Flam’s face contorted with thoughtfulness. “You mean we put on a sales pitch, get them to pay us, and deliver them nothing? Isn’t that fraud? Even more so than normal?”

“Not if they’re paying us for the show itself – entertainment, Flam! We can sing, we can dance – let’s just sell that! And the old girl – well, she’s got her magic tricks, and a few other talents – she knows a few things about putting on a show for entertainment’s sake alone – ”

The brothers halted, having trotted all the way forward to the front of the vehicle, an enclosed cab of the carriage. A white goat wearing a necktie spared them a brief glance before returning his attention to the helm of the omnibus, which was making quite good time along hard-packed salt flats.

“I say, my good fellow, where in the hoof are we?” Flam asked.

“Ba-aah,” replied the goat.

“Perhaps you are suggesting that we would be better served on this matter by inquiring with our involuntary host?” Flim said.

“Ba-ah,” the goat said.

“Brother,” Flam said, as the two retreated back through the omnibus, “he lets the goat drive.”

“We appear to be in the middle of a very large desert, Flam. It’s not as if the goat’s going to run into anything – which, by at least one reasonable and objective standard, would make him a better driver than you.”

Flam snorted as the brothers walked back into the room with Iron Will and Trixie – with Iron Will currently seated on the floor, rubbing wet eyes, while Trixie looked solemn.

“Iron Will – Iron Will doesn’t understand! Why do these little ponies have nopony else to take them in? No friends, no other relatives?”

Trixie sighed dramatically. “While we unicorns are graced with magical talent and great beauty, ours is to struggle against pride and selfishness. In the great cities especially, we are far less gifted than earth ponies and pegasus ponies at looking out for each other. Many of these orphans have living relatives, not even all that distant, who simply can’t be bothered to tear themselves from their social lives and careers to care for somepony else’s foal.”

The minotaur sniffled. Not one to miss a cue, Flim stepped up. “For many of those little fillies and colts, that orphanage is the first place they’ve really had to experience love and friendship, and yet the bonds they’ve formed are about to be torn apart – maybe forever.”

Just as Iron Will was about to sob, Flam magically passed him a handkerchief. The minotaur nodded appreciatively and dabbed his eyes. He sat for a moment, the unicorns giving him silence, before leaping to his hooves and posing dramatically, kissing his own biceps reflexively. “Iron Will has made up Iron Will’s mind!”

Flim briefly wondered whom else’s mind Iron Will could make up but his own.

“As soon as Iron Will fulfills the promise made to Iron Will’s assistants, Iron Will shall help you little ponies save your orphanage!”

“Splendid! What promise is that?” Flam asked.

“And where exactly are we?” Flim followed up.

“Two questions, one answer, friends.” Iron Will threw his arms wide, pulled open a set of blinds on the window of this room of the carriage, and gestured to a distant spire across the salt flats. “The Iron Will Company is going to Burning Mare!”

A howling wind swept across the salt flats, peppering the unicorns’ coats with stinging sand. Iron Will and the goats, they noted, had come prepared with face wrappings and goggles; for themselves, they had for the moment only to squint tightly and hope the worst would pass.

Burning Mare was a semi-circle of carriages (which now included the M-squared-C-squared™ and the Flimflam’s carriage emerging from the top of it), tents, and dugout shelters, surrounding a central complex built of lumber – referred to as a Temple – which itself supported a wooden sculpture: a rampant mare, one hundred feet tall.

It would be more proper to say that such was the physical place in which Burning Mare was set; what Burning Mare truly was, that was a deeper question, perhaps even a metaphysical one, with as many answers as attendees.

Each of the three unicorns prayed in their hearts that they wouldn’t actually have to learn that answer.

The two goats in neckties had quickly disappeared on the streets of the impromptu village, and Flim found himself with astonishingly little interest in their affairs. He did, however, have a pressing query for Iron Will: “I say, my fellow, how long will we be here?”

“Iron Will promised Iron Will’s road crew that we would remain until the Mare burned.”

Flam looked down the street, noting a pegasus pony on an oversized unicycle, balancing a sword, tip down, on the end of her muzzle. “And…when do they burn the Mare?”

“Four nights from now.”

The brothers gulped. For Trixie’s part, the circle of fourteen earth ponies on pogo sticks, engaging in elaborate multi-pony juggling with a flaming loop-di-hoop and long metal rods held in their mouths, had her attention more than what Iron Will was saying.

“But your exact words to them were – that you would remain until the Mare burned?”

“Right. So don’t go thinking Iron Will’s word is kept just because we’re here for four days – until the Mare burns, we aren’t leaving. Might as well enjoy yourselves,” Iron Will concluded, heading down the road in search of – something. Whether even the minotaur knew what, precisely, was unclear, but with such a mindset he was not greatly different from most of the other attendees.

“Four days – that’s – oh no. That would only leave us with two days to get the money.” Flam looked around. “Unless we could get the money…here?”

A unicorn stallion ran by, a bedsheet clamped in his mouth, that bedsheet tied to another, and another in turn – ten in all – and at the end of the last, a sled, bearing a large ceramic sculpture. The three watched it sail by.

“Was that meant to be Princess Celestia?” Flim asked.

“Trixie believes so.”

“Were we meant to take that other bit as an over-sized phallus?” Flim followed up.

“Trixie regrets so.”

Flam sighed, rubbing the base of his horn with his hoof. “This is all very thought-provoking and counter-cultural, but I have my doubts that we shall find so many as two bits to rub together. Perhaps if we were to perform for the sake of performance, we would find this a more meaningful experience.”

“But we would be no closer to saving our home,” Trixie reminded.

“Indeed, we would be four days closer to it being impossible. And we’ll never find our way back to the civilized parts of Equestria on our own. Well, the matter is settled.”

“Is it?” Trixie smiled, seeing what was coming, but letting Flam make his dramatic assertion.

“We shall have to burn the Mare. Tonight.”

“Tonight, brother? Not right now?”

“Nay, Flim. These fine creatures all came out to see the Burning Mare, and it would be cruel to deny them the spectacle of that rampant beauty lit up against the desert night. There’s pragmatism, and there’s just being an ass. Ah, no offense, my fellow,” Flam offered up in apology, as a donkey trotted near them, wearing a table laden with dozens of coconut halves as a saddle.

“None taken,” the donkey said, approaching them. “Just glad I’m not a mule – equal numbers of unflattering comparisons from ponies, and also no chance of having kids.”

“Er…yes,” Flim offered, as the only reply he could imagine.

“You ponies look parched; need a drink?”

“We’d love one, my fellow. What charge?”

The donkey regarded Flam. Flam wasn’t quite certain as what he was being regarded as, being quite unused to being regarded by donkeys under any circumstances, but doubted the metaphors involved were generous ones. “Your first time at Burning Mare, then?”

“Yes – for all of us – ” Trixie interjected. “ – and our arrival here wasn’t precisely planned, or intentional.”

“Well,” the donkey said, leaning forward with the coconut halves, “we have rules here, and then we have principles. ‘Participate, don’t spectate’ is a principle. ‘No money’ is a rule.”

“What are the penalties?”

The donkey shrugged. “If you break a rule, we run you out into the desert to die.”

The unicorns nodded. It was nice and straightforward, leaving one absolutely clear about where they stood.

“And a principle?”

“If you violate a principle…” The donkey gave each unicorn a long, piercing look. “…you won’t have a creative experience.” The wind, which had for a minute calmed, picked up in a brief gust, sweeping vicious alkali sands down the street.

The unicorns shuddered in fear.

“So.” The donkey stared at them again, with deliberation. “Would. You. Like. A drink?”

“Absolutely!” The magic of each of the three grasped a coconut half, bringing it swiftly to their lips for imbibing. “Thank you v-very much, my g-good sir!” Flam stammered before slamming his drink back.

Trixie smacked her tongue on her lips. “An unfamiliar flavor, to Trixie. What was it?”

“Cactus juice,” the donkey said, nodding, for no particular reason that they could tell. “It’ll quench ya.”

“It’ll…what?” Flam asked.

Another blistering gust arose, bringing on white-out conditions for half a minute; the unicorns squinted again. When the wind died again, the donkey was nowhere in sight, though they looked both ways up and down the street.

“Well, now, that may just be the most disturbing thing to yet happen today.”

“Indeed, Flam, indeed – because nothing else happened today.”

“Absolutely,” Trixie agreed. “A plan of action, then? Disperse, figure out how to burn, and meet back here?”

The brothers nodded, and the three unicorns went their separate ways.

“Something is not right here…” Flim said, almost but not entirely out loud, as his hooves slipped on the earth for the fourth time in as many attempts to take a single step forward. Sweat was roiling from under his mane: more than beads, there were in fact steady rivulets of the stuff streaming down, into his eyes, across his muzzle, down his neck.

Still prone on the ground, acutely aware of every stitch of cotton in his shirt and silk in his vest, Flim turned his head to see how far he had gone from the M-squared-C-squared™. Despite the fact that he could definitely see it, he had to admit that, if he was being truly honest with himself, he didn’t really know how far it was.

After all, what was distance, anyway? Distance was separation, yes, but really, there were only three kinds of distance that mattered:
1.) Separation that would someday be undone, bringing union once more.
2.) Fried cheese drizzled over a crisp garden salad with a side of daisies.
3.) Separation that was destined to remain eternally.

And he wasn’t even one hundred percent on the bit about the fried cheese. There was a substantial possibility that he had overlooked something important before including it in the definition of distance, and his mind spun elaborate hypotheses on this lingering issue.

A buffalo dressed in a tutu rolled Flim onto a litter, and grasping the handle with his mouth, dragged Flim forty yards down the road to a dark tent.

“Maybe heat exhaustion, maybe something else,” the buffalo offered to the tent’s staff, before heading back out into the desert heat to look for others in need of assistance.

The world had fallen away, casting the M-squared-C-squared™ into the realm of type 3 distance, and Flim realized what this meant: either (a) Discord had returned again to bring his dominion of chaos over all Equestria or (b) Flim’s brain was actively melting, and he had at most minutes to live. He tapped at his ears with his fore hooves, and feeling no slime emerging from them, concluded that the world was ending for everypony, not just himself.

But he hadn’t come this far – wherever, exactly, in the infinite void that he had come – to be destroyed so ignominiously. If only he could find order – stability – some sort of immutable pattern that even the chaotic lord himself could not overwrite – find such a rock in the storm, and cling to it, forever.

He turned himself again, so that his hooves were on ground instead of the air, and stared fiercely into the darkness, demanding that it reveal to him some secret sign that he could use to save all creation. At long last, a voice called out:

“So you need not make the trip twice,
See to also bring back some ice.”

Perfection! A melody, a rhyme – vocal order. But what could one do with a voice alone, as wonderfully feminine and mystical as it was?

Another voice – one that didn’t matter, since it belonged to neither him nor the perfection – replied, and received its own response in turn:

“Thank you again once more, my dear;
The patients and I will be right here!”

And then the origin of perfection stepped into view - and it was even better than he imagined. Stripes: a regular pattern of stripes. White! Black! White! Black! Perfect order in sight and sound!

This mare was the key to fighting back against doomsday. He just needed to keep close to her. Focusing on the order she created, he commanded the earth beneath him to become stable once more, and to accept his hooves without complaint. Step, step, step, step, push, and rise: and now he was standing.

The world was his oyster. Wait, ponies didn’t eat oysters. And they were disgusting just to look at.

Truffle. The world was his truffle. Oh yeah: that was the stuff.

“Beautiful,” Flim croaked.

“Ah,” Zecora said, “surely you know it would be best,
If you lied back down and got your rest.”

“Your concern is sweet,” Flim said, taking very carefully measured steps forward, “but I don’t need rest. I need you.”

The zebra raised an eyebrow.

“You, my mare, are, without question, the most sublime being upon which I have ever laid eyes; and this from a stallion who was at the Summer Sun Celebration yesterday. Maybe. If yesterday is when I thought it was. Irregardless – regardlessness – point being: I don’t see any path forward in my life, my existence, except to spend the rest of it by your side.” Flim then magically pressed his hat against his heart, facing Zecora, except for two minor difficulties: his hat had been removed some time ago by the medical tent staff and hung up, and he was seeing the zebra mare about forty-five degrees and ten feet off of from where she actually was standing.

She snorted. “Your flattery I do not mind,
But your breath stinks of cactus rind.”

“Oh, don’t let that bother you, my filly,” Flim said, continuing to be speaking not quite at Zecora. “Normally I just drink cider. Oh! But I could quit, my beauty, if you asked it. And that, my dear, is saying a lot – I didn’t even quit for the feathers – the Night Guard – you probably aren’t related to any pegasus ponies but no offense intended if you are – and they had me in the dungeon for almost a year! The Night Guard, not pegasus ponies in general. But whatever it takes, my lovely little striped sunbeam – you and me, we’ve got to save the world together!”

Zecora watched Flim wave his foreleg repeatedly at the air nearby her, apparently trying for an embrace. She stepped to the other side, grasping a bowl of bubbling blue liquid with her mouth, and setting it nearby Flim.

“To your ‘offer’ I may agree,
But first, please share this brew with me.”

Flim carefully reoriented himself, as Zecora lifted the bowl with her mouth again, proffering it. Nodding eagerly, Flim seized the bowl with his magic, and greedily drank the whole of it.

Zecora smiled.

Flim blinked.

“How they shine,” he started, “like little – ” and at once fell over on his side.

Zecora pushed him back onto his cot, and laid a damp cloth over his head. It was, she had to admit, one of the more creative propositions she had heard in some time. The unicorn scored points for that, though little else.

Flam’s hooves pounded hard on the sand as he continued his hot pursuit.

“That’s my carriage, you rodents born out of wedlock!” he bellowed, the steady rhythm of his gallop punctuating his syllables. “Bring it back! You don’t know what you’re doing with it!”

The confused looks on the faces of the half-dozen unicorns riding on the top of the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 only confirmed to him that they had no business being there. Though he normally enjoyed high speed as a product of magic and mechanization, he didn’t have those here – just him and his muscles, like an earth pony: dirty, primal, real. He commanded his aching body to cease its complaints and comply with his will: faster, by Luna, faster!

“Hey, Sea Swirl, you’ve been to waaaay more of these than me. Is he just sun-baked out of his gourd, or is this part of the show?”

The pink unicorn atop the vehicle considered the pale olive unicorn pursuing it. “Well, who’s to say? Burning Mare is really about radical self-expression, and perhaps he is trying to communicate a post-absurdist response to our – whoa horse apples!”

Her analysis had been interrupted by Flam finally finding the surge of energy to leap onto the carriage, where determined hoof by determined hoof, he pulled himself onto the top of it. Trails of spit and dried salt lingered below his mouth, and his furious eyes darted around the top of the vehicle.

“You’ve changed – you’ve changed everything, you maniacs! What have you done to my machine? My magnificent, beautiful, glorious, passionate, intemperate, tempestuous machine?

“Do we play along, Sea Swirl?” her friend asked quietly. The pink unicorn shook her head no.

“Sir, I don’t think this is what you seem to think it is.”

“Of course it’s not! Not anymore!” Flam snorted violently. “The press! The extractor! It’s gone, all gone! But I’ll bring it back – ” His horn took on a powerful glow, and his mouth, a wide grin. “I’ll bring it all back.”

“…I’m gonna go get some grub from Camp Funnel Cake. Anypony want anything?”

“Wait for me!” “Me too!” “Hold up!”

Sea Swirl noted that she was now alone atop a speeding carriage, save for this mad one. She saw nothing to be gained by remaining in this situation, and extricated herself from it, by tucking and rolling off the side of the carriage.

Flam looked around, cackling madly. “First, a systems check!” He fired a bolt of magic into the carriage’s collector, the one part that still looked familiar. “Power! Receive my power! Unlimited power! Bwa-hee-hee-hee-ha-ha!”

The turbines within the carriage howled, and this pleased Flam greatly.

“Now! Where did they put the press?” He trotted to the side of the speeding carriage, and bending over, examined it upside down. Not only were all the controls absent, but the thing had even been re-labeled! He read the new label, spitting with contempt. “‘Top off your tikis: kerosene refills for bawdy limericks.’”

A voice of reason came clawing up out of the abyss, and waved one desperate hoof over the edge, begging for his attention.

His eyes widened in realization.

“This isn’t the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 at all! It’s a decoy!”

And having grasped about fifty percent of the truth, he leapt from the carriage.

“Everyone needs to get clear of here,” a gruff buffalo in a tutu said. “Ponies, buffalo, zebras, griffins, whatever – we need everyone out to at least the fifth ring. Come on, move it, move it!” The buffalo nodded with his head and horns at a red-maned, yellow-coated unicorn. “You, buddy – you need to get that mare up there to shift her flank! There’s a major kerosene spill at the Temple – everyone needs to get out to a safe distance while it dries up.”

The red-maned unicorn stallion shrugged helplessly. The buffalo security volunteer sighed. “How long has she been up there?”

“About an hour now,” the pony replied. “So graceful. So elegant.”

Balanced on hoof atop a smooth steel sphere, her fore hooves outstretched for balance, Trixie continued to spin, around and around and around.

“Hello again, Ponyville! Did you miss Trixie? Trixie missed you!”

Trixie waved at the assembled population of Ponyville, which for some reason was the equal of Canterlot and Manehattan combined as it stood in a vast stone arena, and she greedily exulted in their shrieks, cheers, and stomps of adoration.

“But the Great and Powerful Trixie will lie to you no more! Nay, all that Trixie will show to you will be the truth: the mighty, invincible, divine truth!” With a wave of her hooves, streams of magic shot out across the assembled myriads, descending as individual perfect gems upon each of her devoted admirers.

Their breaths were taken in, as they gasped for a long moment at the beauty revealed to them, and then as one they cheered, voices raw with unrestrained and passionate worship for their inspiration and guiding light, the Great and Powerful Trixie Lulamoon.

And then came a great crash, and a wave of screams – an Ursa Major! “Save us, oh Trixie,” they cried, “from the dread and terrible Ursa Major!” And indeed, Trixie saw, that terrible blue bear had stormed into the arena.

“Nay, Ponyville,” Trixie said, “For you already have your own hero. Let Twilight Sparkle save you!”

A tiny, insignificant little unicorn, far below Trixie’s stage, gulped with fear and stepped out to face the Ursa Major. The little lavender thing summoned magical power to herself, but the Ursa just applied a single flicked finger of force, and propelled her, screaming, over the horizon.

“Please Trixie!” Ponyville cried again. “You must save us!”

“Very well,” she said, and she began to gather her magic. She couldn’t be arrogant: she had tried this once before on a lesser target, and had been woefully insufficient. But nor could she be afraid: hesitation would only cripple her chances.

From out of nothing, dark clouds began to conjure themselves over the top of the Mare.

“She’s amazing!” The red-maned unicorn cried. “She’s magically conjuring a rainclouds to save the day! She must be part-pegasus pony – oh, wow, do you think she’s related to the Princesses?” The stallion smoothed his mane with his magic, grinning happily.

The buffalo security volunteer looked warily at each unicorn in turn, and then at the dark patch in the skies over the Mare. “You think those are…rainclouds?”

She would get only one shot at this, and it needed to be everything. The Ursa Major stared at her, daring her to make her best move – well, Trixie would show it what she had. Not for Ponyville. Not for Carriage Callow, not for Penny Wing. Not for birth parents she had never known, nor for her uncles and aunts in Canterlot who just couldn’t be bothered. Not to show anypony up. Not for her admirers, not for her haters.

“Pony, we are leaving!” The buffalo finally declared, bouncing the stallion up onto his back and regarding the mare a lost cause, he started into a determined gallop as far and as fast away as he could manage.

“Wait!” the stallion cried. “I need to get her name!”

Trixie’s spin slowed at last to a halt: her horn was white-hot with power; her forelegs were poised in a mystic stance. She spoke aloud at last, her voice seated within a throne of such power as she had never before known and speaking with authority and majesty to dozens of square miles of desert:

“This isn’t about any of you: this is for Trixie!”

“Oooh,” said some ponies.

“Aaah,” said some others.

“Baaah,” said two goats wearing neckties.

“Iron Will must admit, it was even better than you described,” the minotaur said, patting his assistants on their heads. “Iron Will shall make it a point to come next year as well.”

The lightning was but a flash and a crack, the fireball just an overlapping flash and a pressing rumble, but the conflagration was lasting. The temple was gone; the rampant Mare sprawled forward, diving flaming into the desert like Nightmare descending to Tartarus; and two full rings of the town had been committed, in full and in flames, to the Burning Mare principle of “leave no trace.”

“Baah”, the gray goat wearing a necktie said.

“If you’re ready to pack it in, then Iron Will is, too. Go get the M-squared-C-squared™; Iron Will shall find our guests.” The minotaur stood up, dusting himself off.

A sharp whistle began to pierce through the chatter of ponies, growing steadily louder and lower, and the minotaur looked around. Left, right, backwards, and then – up. Knowing faster than he could think, in the manner of all effective athletes, he spread out his arms, and caught the Great and Powerful Trixie.

“Oof,” she said, her pupils dilated to the size of bit coins.

Iron Will nodded. “Iron Will is happy that Trixie is well. Now, if only - ” And so he was immediately interrupted by a voice from behind:

“Pardon me, my fine horned fellow,
Are these two yours, with coats of yellow?”

Iron Will turned around, to see a zebra mare dragging two stretchers, loaded with one hundred percent of the members of the Flimflam family whom Iron Will had met personally.

“Wonderful! How can Iron Will thank you, Miss?”

Zecora shook her head.

“Your thanks, though welcome, I need not,
For the playa always provides.
Return next year to desert hot,
See art and life from dif’rent sides.”

Iron Will bowed in admiration. “That’s good – that’s real good. Iron Will respects a catchy, off-the-cuff rhyming piece of advice.” He bellowed, grabbing the scruffs of the necks of both Flim and Flam with one hand, and hold Trixie in the other. “Now, c’mon, you three! Let’s go save all those little ponies!”

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