• Published 2nd Dec 2012
  • 14,669 Views, 189 Comments

Crucible - Luminary

Equestria, beset by the changeling invasion, must deal with a dawning golden age. Without Celestia.

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Ten - Trixie: Subterfuge

There was dead silence in the market square as Trixie casually walked out of the much-diminished doorway to face the waiting semicircle of changelings, taking no apparent notice of the dozens of small, bleeding wounds scattered around her body. It would have been properly in theme for your average movie if the only sound had been the clop of her hooves against stone, but it wasn’t to be. Flashes of green light and the low, distant reverb of magical detonations from various directions told the story of a city under siege. Those flashes revealed hints of flying figures, both pegasi and more foreign shapes. Most of it was from the east, in the direction of the military camp. That was an ominous sign, one which explained the complete lack of any rescue or assistance. Trixie had been chalking it up to a distinct lack of Greatness until then.

Trixie scanned the faces of those who hunted her, purple eyes meeting glassy blue ones, most wearing looks of smug victory. She noted those few that showed more wariness. Those would be the smart ones. They would have to go first. The more of those there were, the better the communal instincts of the nearby changelings would be.

A new set of hoofsteps sounded through the square, accompanied by the rustle of plate armor. The way her insectoid foes didn’t react kept her from pinning any hope on it. Her instincts proved true, as the unicorn stallion her detection spell had previously had difficulty pinning down entered the circle of meager, remaining lamplight around the temple’s entrance. Several of the changelings stepped aside for him. He had an ashy teal coat and a darker turquoise mane and tail. He was huge, for a unicorn, large enough to bear earth pony warplate without any great awkwardness. His helm wasn’t a perfect match, being intended for a unicorn, with smoother and more polished in style and made of enchantment-receptive silvered steel at odds with the darker iron of the hulking body armor.

The soldier’s voice was practically low enough to be a tectonic rumble. “Miss Beatrix Lulamoon, we meet again. This time in less favorable circumstances for y—”

“Trixie,” the wounded wizard irately cut in. “It bothered me when Princess Celestia used that name. I won’t have it from somepony else. You’re the changeling that was trying to replace Storm Front in the forest, aren’t you?”

“Indeed I am.” The stallion inclined his head, as if conceding a point. “Your instincts are keen. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected less.”

Trixie raised a hoof to give her mane a self-indulgent toss with it. “It was hardly some great deduction. You said you knew Trixie, but she would remember a unicorn like that. And the others moved respectfully out of your way. They wouldn’t do that for a pony in thrall, or an equal. The earth pony armor is likely the only thing that would still fit if you changed into your true form.” The surrounded mare allowed herself a small smirk. “And the fact that you couldn’t bring yourself to lose the advantage of a horn to get a better disguise told me that you rightfully fear Trixie’s power. Once burned, twice shy.”

“This time I’m not overly concerned with keeping my disguise. You won’t be getting any free hits. The Queen would prefer you alive, but she was quite explicit that we shouldn’t risk changeling lives to achieve that end.” The Raider raised one enormous hoof to motion toward the ground in front of the showmare’s forelegs. “Lay on the ground. You’ll be cocooned and taken with us to see Her Majesty. It won’t hurt. You may even find it pleasant.” The stallion looked to one of his subordinate drones. “Check her for fireworks. She may still be able to conjure enough of a spark inside the cocoon to set one off.”

Trixie’s ears folded back as if she was nervous. She didn’t need to reach far for that bit of acting. “Kindly keep your hooves off Trixie. She can give you the fireworks herself.” She ignited her horn, as if making to activate her telekinesis and hand over her stage effects. Her muscles were tense with electrifying fear. She half expected to feel a burst of lethal heat and force in response, but apparently her tone of fearful compliance stilled their spells, at least for a second or two. Long enough, she hoped. The wizard reached out for the familiar resonance of the tiny slivers of volcanic obsidian at the heart of each of her fireworks. The prepared gemstones needed only a tiny brush of the proper magic to release their stored energy as a spike of heat. The familiar hiss of igniting rockets and short, burning fuses emerged from the temple door, loud for their number alone.

The massive ‘stallion’ was the first to react. His voice bellowed like a horn. “Kill h—”

Trixie didn’t hear the rest. For one thing, it was drowned out by a rising shriek as the rockets started to launch. For the other, even that pyrotechnic cacophony was diminished by a magical shield slamming down over Trixie. It took the form of something more like an upside down glass fishbowl than a delicate magical bubble. It lacked mobility and grace, but more than made up for it in stubborn stability and durability. The former virtue was important, since Trixie had to squeeze her eyes shut to avoid being dazzled by the sudden fountain of bright light pouring into the relative darkness outside of the temple doors. The latter quality meant that the shield weathered over half a dozen reflexively cast battle spells from the changelings, even if each magical explosion against that glassy surface felt like a kick in the horn for the showmare.

Being purely on the defense was a losing proposition. They would just hammer her shield until she was exhausted. Perhaps she could have outlasted the group until their spells ran dry, but that was the problem with changelings. They generally weren’t as proficient with magic as the ponies they imitated, but they were practically miniature alicorns. Once their unicorn magic fizzled out, they could call up an earth pony’s fearsome strength and endurance. When they exhausted themselves physically, they could gather storm clouds and rain down lightning like pegasi. Then there was the raider to consider. She had no idea how much power an elder changeling could bring to bear. He wouldn’t let her simply pound away at him for the sake of keeping his disguise intact this time. He’d explicitly said as much.

Trixie set herself down low, to minimize the target she would provide, and dropped her shield. She had to act quickly, while the changelings were blinded by the sudden light of her fireworks and confused by the sound. She reached her magic out to grab hold of the largest threat, intending to simply fling the raider as she had in the forest, albeit into a nice solid building instead of a tree. She might well have been trying to pick up the building to drop it on the changeling. Her magic could find no purchase at all. It was a trivial affair to brush away another pony’s levitation spell from oneself. It was practically the first thing any unicorn foal learned, right after the actual levitation spell. Presumably that meant that the raider wasn’t so dazzled as his kin.

Trixie didn’t waste seconds checking. She instead grabbed a couple of the smaller drones, trying for those she remembered as as showing some meager illusion of intellect. It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that they were essentially all reeling and stumbling around in an identical manner, trying to avoid the rockets jetting, ricocheting and exploding around the square. Trixie flung them at the false unicorn instead. Their wings buzzed in futility, and their horns ignited with identical emerald light as they tried to shake off Trixie’s hold. Said hold was already gone by then, the force delivered in a single impulse, which was the first lesson during the very first day of Basic Defensive Magic at Celestia’s School. They did succeed quite effectively in keeping their superior from using his own levitation to stop them in midair. The pair impacted the larger changeling, each in turn, and quite unsatisfyingly for Trixie, bounced off without so much as making the huge, armored unicorn shift a hoof.

Well, fine then, Trixie mentally groused.

The wizard gathered power into her horn as her current nemesis began an arrogantly unhurried advance. Certainly he had time on his side. He just had to wait a few seconds, and the other changelings would recover and blast her. Trixie had no such luxury. Her spell burst directly from her horn as a thick bolt of lightning. Omitting the cloud made the spell far less efficient, magically, but calling the bolt directly had the benefit of speed. There was a flash, and a sizzling crack as the stroke of raw energy met the chestplate of the changeling’s armor.

Once Trixie had blinked away the aftereffects of the flash, her heart found itself skipping a beat in her chest. The struck armor was glowing a dull lambent hue just around the site of the impact, visible only for the darkness returning as the fireworks burned out. Tiny, clinging wisps of pegasus-fire gathered at the edges of the armor plates, just like they would around the feathers of a high-flying pegasus on a stormy night. Trixie could see those details clearly for the simple, distressing fact that the unicorn had gotten much, much closer to her than she’d have preferred in the previous second.

The impact was jarring; the false stallion bowled her over with no effort at all. As far as Trixie had been able to discover, changelings could only call the pony tribes’ magic in any great strength when disguised as the appropriate kind of pony, so there wasn’t likely much earth-pony cheating in the collision. It still felt like getting hit by a train.

In the several seconds it took for Trixie’s much-abused self to put things back together, things had become rather... worrying.

Those bizarre hole-filled changeling legs were holding her down on her back and pressing under her chin to painfully hold the tip of her horn against the square’s flagstones. She could see other shiny black insectoid forms closing in around her, but that was secondary to the warmth of a pony presence moving over top of her. Green fire swirled at the extreme edge of her sight, making her heart skip another beat before she realized that no burning pain came with it. Armor-clad, chitinous forelegs settled to either side of her vision. The raider, disguise thrown aside, was looming above her. Trixie gathered her rear legs to buck the offending insect. It would be a futile gesture, but it would make her feel better. To say nothing of the fact that it was disturbing having a creature that ate love and lust, and was a stallion until at least a moment ago, so intimately atop her.

A green tint washed across the magician’s sight, the result of being wrapped in another pony’s levitation aura. It wasn’t something she’d experienced much since getting too big to be picked up and placed on her mother’s back, to ride. She found her head being pulled down, so that she was staring into the eyes of the creature perched over her. Those huge jewel-like things were closer to green than blue. Glassy eyes flashed then, tinting even further toward that unusual hue as they filled with the green magic that its ignited horn shared. Trixie didn’t speculate about that. She just coiled her legs more tightly. Being able to look the creature in the eye just meant that she would get to see the look on its face when her hooves slammed it right in the—

Trixie’s tensed legs twitched, then eased toward relaxation. Wait, why would I want to kick, again? Trixie has too much class to hurt such a lovely vision of—

—of... of... disgusting, equicidal parasitical buggishness? Trixie blinked. What in Celestia’s name was with that thought? The creature above her narrowed its eyes. Its horn shimmered with a more intense light. Trixie slammed power through her horn in turn, to use her magic to—

—to lovingly trace a telekinetic caress down the creature’s back, under its thick armor. She let the pull of the creature’s own levitation magic lift her head toward it, to seek the press of its lips.

Its shiny, probably unfeeling chitiny lips. The ones that didn’t even cover those horrible fangs. The showmare recoiled with enough force that she slammed the back of her head against the ground. The pain was a very welcome sensation. It cut through some of the strange fuzziness afflicting her mind. Her stomach seemed to drop out from under her as panic flooded her awareness. It’s trying to control my thoughts! Nopony controls Trixie but Trixie!

“Stop that!” the raider hissed in frustration. “This is for your own good.”

Trixie most certainly didn’t stop. The mind-shielding spells she’d studied in the panicked days after finding out about Sweet Relief’s identity were called from memory. She began to weave the flows of magic into that familiar pattern. Her efforts were cut short by a hole-filled hoof snapping against her chin, making her head swing back so that her lit horn slammed sharply against the stone beneath her. The aura pouring from her horn snapped like a popped bubble, the spell losing cohesion as the lance of pain from chin and horn distracted the unicorn and allowed its energies to ground out.

When Trixie looked back up, she caught sight of one of the huge forehooves of the raider lifted to strike her. She squeezed her eyes shut and turned her head in a wince against the coming blow. It didn’t come. A steady glow shone through the lids of her eyes, and warmth poured through her coat, quite contrary to the chill of the night. When she opened her eyes once more, the first thing she noticed was the sun climbing with absurd rapidity toward zenith. The changelings were looking up at it with worried confusion.

Daybreak wasn’t scheduled for another twelve hours, at least, but questioning it could come later, after survival. The wizard did manage a quiet prayer, in her own fashion. Trixie will never call you a nag ever again, Luna.

Direct attack wouldn’t work well against her tormentor. Not with that warplate, and his inherent toughness. She doubted telekinesis would buy her much, even if she managed to hurl him into a building as hard as she could. That left more indirect methods, even if the thought brought a foul taste to Trixie’s mouth.

The days following the Ursa attack in Ponyville had been dark ones for Trixie. Homeless, with her pride and self-worth in tatters, she had harbored a keen desire for revenge. Revenge against those idiot colts, and against the mare that had made her look so small and helpless. Yet what revenge could she get, being so clearly outmatched? She’d needed some method that Sparkle wouldn’t know how to counter, since a horn-to-horn conflict would have been so pathetically one-sided.

The graduates of Celestia’s School had special dispensation to search the locked wings of the Canterlot Archives. After all, they’d been trained and tested on responsible and ethical uses of magic, and each graduation was given final approval by Celestia herself. She’d made up some need to access the records of the many, many failed or banned studies on anatomical magic, telling the administrator in charge of that part of the library that she was nominally to research methods of magical disguise for her show. The review process for the request had taken all of an hour. Spellthrift, who now oversaw that part of the Archives, had once been her Intermediate Spellcraft teacher, and they’d always gotten along well enough. Some instructors valued her natural talent.

She hadn’t gained any new insights into disguise spells, but she certainly learned quite a bit about banned techniques to alter the pony body. To meld, grow, or even remove living flesh as if it was nothing more than cloth or paper. Even more trivial was the ability to induce a desired sensation, like pain, for example.

Trixie had made it as far as her first revenge fantasy about actually using those spells on her ‘enemies’ before her stomach turned, and enough guilt welled up in her that a week of solid booze and salt hadn’t so much as put a dent into it.

The thing about guilt, however, was that one had to be alive to have the luxury of feeling it. She really had no idea if a changeling could just shapeshift away any drastic alteration to its body, so that narrowed her choices. In the seconds during which the changelings puzzled at the rising sun, Trixie lit her horn and paradoxically called all of her sweet, love-born strength into one of the darkest, most hateful spells that she knew.

The working manifested as a slender, jagged bolt of pink lightning. Unlike the actual electrical bolt earlier, this one ignored the dense layer of metal plate and sunk deep into her target. The results were more dramatic than Trixie had anticipated. The raider shrieked, throwing itself off of Trixie to writhe spastically and contort in unnatural-seeming ways to try to escape a sourceless and all-consuming agony. That much was expected. The fact that the elder changeling’s pain seemed to inspire the same in the rest of the group in some kind of strange sympathy was not. The square was filled with a horrid, nightmarish cacophony of wailing and aimless thrashing. It was a Tartaran image even worse than the thoughts that scared Trixie back into trying to salvage her pre-Ursa life.

I’ll take the bad dreams. Not an unfair price for a world that’s still Trixieful, the unicorn thought as she rolled onto her hooves.

The gathered changelings were quick to begin recovering from her spell, so with her ears folded to try to block out the screams that would follow, she conjured another dose of that pure, undiluted torture and directed it at the raider. The ear-splaying didn’t help. The idea of having to face a third application of the spell twisted the wizard’s stomach, so she beat a hasty retreat, breaking into a painful gallop to remove herself from the square as fast as she could manage. Since that was a disappointing pace indeed, she did what any self-respecting mage would do: she turned to her magic.

She hadn’t had to cast her body-bolstering spells since she settled into Hoofington, leaving her long-travelling, cart-dragging existence behind. Grueling physical effort had seemed like a necessary evil for spreading her reputation back then. That was stupid. It was far better to use one’s head, in proper unicorn fashion, and leave the toil to the earth ponies. As such, she hadn’t had the need to erase the the pains of exertion and feed energy into overstrained muscle in quite some time. Where once the magic would work out some knots and give her the boost of a few cups of coffee, suddenly that same effort expended on the spell had her surging forward, her body feeling like it weighed nothing at all. The ache of cuts, bruises and punctures fell to the wayside.

Despite herself, she found a laugh bubbling up from her throat as she suddenly began clearing a half dozen paces in single effortless hops. The joyous freedom of movement was intoxicating. The simple, breezy euphoria of it even banished much of the gloom and trauma of the last hour, at least temporarily. The sudden swing of mood was startling, but not something Trixie was going to begrudge herself.

This is the only way for a Great and Powerful unicorn to travel! Catch Trixie now, foals!

Trixie gathered her hind legs under her and vaulted up, first onto the top of the abandoned fry-maker’s stall, then to the roof of the building behind it. A few strides took her over the peak of the roof, and to the other side, where a new leap sent her soaring across the narrow street to the top of the next building. It was official, she was never going to stop channelling that spell through every waking hour, for the rest of her life. She had to admit to a distinct spike of jealousy of pegasi, who got to enjoy an even better version of that freedom their whole lives. Not that losing magic would really have been a fair trade.

Alicornhood, Trixie decided, is the only possible solution. But before becoming a goddess, I need to get Leaf Swirl. Then the hospital. Then kicking enough bug flank to make me feel better. Which is a lot. Trixie worked hard to win the adoration of Hoofington. She isn’t letting a bunch of parasites have it.

* * *

A flashing glint of reflected sunlight shot across Trixie’s vision, low and in front of her. Her hooves slid across the roof’s shingles as instinct screamed at her to stop. The speed of her travel suddenly became a negative as momentum reared its unforgiving head. A woody thunk came before a sharp blossom of pain in her front foreleg. A graceless tumble followed, leaving the mage far nearer to the roof’s edge than she’d have cared for, her rear hooves dug into the eaves. She ignored the disorientation of her fall and the agony in her leg. She could guess how bad it was by the feel of blood pouring down her fetlock. She forced her attention to what had tripped her. A Unicorn Sword. The name was a misnomer, to be sure. It was a bladed wheel meant to be wielded with levitation. They covered a range of shapes from simple circles with a sharpened outer edge to elaborate star-shaped weapons. This one was more like the latter, a metal ring with three cruelly hooked blades, each several hoofspans long. One of those blades dripped with a red liquid that had no business being outside of Trixie. Still, Celestia provided small favors. The weapon wasn’t glowing with anypony’s aura. It was probably flung from too long a range to sustain a grip. The wizard took it up in her own magical hold, yanking it out of the shingles with some effort. She sent it whipping around with as much speed as she could muster, with barely a sidelong glance to guide it. The haste was vital, since—

A loud, shrill clang echoed, as metal found metal.

—Unicorn Swords were rarely used singly. Steel shrieked as the sword locked and pushed against its opposite number. Small white sparks leapt from the point of contact as levitation spells, green and pink, interfered with each other at the bounding edges. Trixie couldn’t focus on the aesthetics of that. Her eyes went immediately to a new glinting flash as a third spinning star swooped down toward her with killing intent.

There wasn’t any time for the usual Trixie flair. The simplest of all possible battle spells, little more than a telekinetic fist, swatted the star to the side, sending it spinning away, off-axis, until her attacker regained control. It was a losing proposition in any kind of long run. It was far easier to levitate a real, material object than to throw around base force. There was a reason unicorn soldiers used weapons.

There was nowhere to run. Trixie couldn’t leap to a nearby roof with her foreleg out of commission. So long as her attacker didn’t deign to show his or herself, and could press the attack with impunity with no threat of counterattack, Trixie was at a severe—

A rush of displaced air and a thump of hooves on wood heralded the landing of a pegasus guard on the opposite roof. Well, a pegasus guard sporting a unicorn horn glowing with sickly green light, as the case might have been.

Good news, Trixie’s enemy is an idiot! the showmare thought, with a note of rather refreshing hope. She’d been starting to forget what that felt like.

“You’ve really let yourself go, Princess. You seem to have shrunk and let your coat go grey.” Trixie taunted, as she struggled to three hooves on the sloped roof’s surface. She held her injured foreleg up against her chest. It was doing a worrying amount of dripping and tingling unpleasantly, which was almost worse than the pain. After a few foiling twists of her stolen blade to make sure its counterpart was well locked, she spared a tiny bit of magic to tear off the bottom of her cape, and began to wrap it tightly around her injured foreleg. She would never perform such horrors upon her real cape, but that was presumably still in Ponyville, apparently in Sparkle’s library. For once she was happy to have the knock-off. Trixie bandaged her leg with as much unworried, casual disregard as she could. As if the changeling was barely there at all, trying to kill her. There was always room for a bit of psychological warfare. “Somepony might think you were a changeling getting creative.”

The shapeshifter yanked back the blade that had been tangled with Trixie’s, bringing it to a hover beside the one that had been swatted aside earlier. Green fire poured over its form. In its wake, grey fur and steel armor had given way to polished silver and a rich, midnight blue coat. An enormous black cutie mark, adorned with an almost luminously white image of a crescent moon adorned its flank. Princess Luna, dressed for war. The only flaw in the image was in her mane and tail; they were a flat, pale blue, not a shimmering star field. “Doth thou prefer this, then?”

Imperfect though the transformation was, it made the azure unicorn pause. That voice was honey. Her wings were far larger and more luxuriant than any pegasus could claim. Her legs were long and deliciously graceful. Trixie couldn’t say she spent any great amount of time ogling other ponies, but even the risk of death and some minor spine-chilling agony from that bandage squeezing down on her wound could quite erase the fact that Princess Luna was, almost literally, stunning in person.

Okay, new plan. The trip to Las Pegasus with Sweet is cancelled, we’re going to Canterlot, Trixie wistfully mused. Just one minor, trifling detail first.

‘Luna’ grinned with a very unprincess-like wolfishness. “Well well, little pony...” The changeling stepped off the edge of the roof, those great wings almost lazily pushing her into the air. Trixie found herself edging carefully backward along the slope of the roof. “... if we’d known it was so easy to impress, we’d have sent someone like this for you ages ago. You could have her like this, if you wanted. Or Celestia, maybe? It’s a bit of risque fantasy, I’m sure. But a mare like you deserves no less.” The faux alicorn glanced to her levitating blades. They began to spin where they hovered at the ready. The polished steel caught the dawn sun, sending little motes and flashes of light dancing across the nearby rooftops. Trixie could understand the attempt at showmareship, even if it all was a big cliche. “It’s certainly better than the alternative. You could be our guest until all this calms down. We’ll give you our word to leave you unharmed. Nopony benefits from your death. You can’t escape with that leg. Take the kind offer.”

“A counteroffer! For your generosity. The Great and Powerful Trixie...” The showmare managed her usual hop with only a single foreleg. She threw it out dramatically, giving her somewhat diminished cape a proper flourish. She spared a trickle of magic for some sparkling swirls of light, and the opening notes of her theme. “... will show a feat of magic beyond the grasp of all but the most powerful of unicorns!” She landed harder than she’d intended. Her hoof slipped along the shingles. The azure mare managed to turn the stumble into an aggressive slouch, at least. She brought her captive weapon up over her head. Her horn gathered layers of bright overglow, starting to give her poor scuffed hat a visible illumination from within. The bladed ring sparkled, and a sharp metallic snap was heard as Trixie pulled in two separate directions. Instead of two halves of the unicorn sword, there was a pair of full rings. The spectacle was repeated a second time, then a third, leaving eight of the deadly weapons slowly rotating around her, each glowing with a pink aura. “Matter duplication. Trixie has barely tried it before today. At the risk of being immodest, I would say it’s excellent work. They look sharper than the original. What do you think?”

The changeling stopped her slow advance. Those oh-so-pretty, stolen eyes went wide.

“Trixie understands your speechlessness. Is it not the most beautiful spellcraft ever seen by pony, or changeling, eyes?” All eight rings rose in perfect synchronicity. “Maybe you need a closer look?”

The cloud of steely death swooped down on the false goddess. Panic filled the shapeshifter’s eyes. Her own pair of blades swung upward, angling to deflect as many of the opposing weapons as possible. There was no clang of steel on steel. The green-glowing rings passed through four of their counterparts with no more resistance than air, breaking them apart into puffs of cheerful pink smoke. Three others broke against her chest with similar displays as the illusions collapsed into base magic. The last, thrown low and off to the side, away from the others, found the changeling’s side with a strange thunk. It seemed there was still chitin under that disguise, and it fared poorly against sharpened steel. One of those hooked blades was buried more than a hoofspan into the midnight-coated side. ‘Luna’ immediately pitched forward in the air, heading for an impact with the eaves near Trixie’s hooves. The thought of that triple-bladed wheel getting pushed deeper into the changeling upon impact wasn’t something that the wizard wanted to contemplate. She yanked it out of her enemy’s ribs, loosing a spray of greenish ichor. The blue mare squeezed her eyes shut tightly against the sight. It didn’t do anything to block out the vibration of the impact with the roof’s edge, not the dull sound of the changeling striking the street after the fall. The only reason she couldn’t think of it as the body hitting the ground was the pained wail that followed.

Oh Celestia. Not again. I think I’m going to be sick.

Trixie refused to let go of the offending Sword, but she held it as far away from herself as she dared. She limped on three hooves to the roof’s edge, to peer over it to the street below. The changeling was there, its false form shed. It wasn’t as big as the Raider from the square, not by a long shot, but it was certainly large for a drone. It was also writhing around in a growing puddle of its own gross, green blood. That ill, hollow feeling in Trixie’s stomach didn’t get any better with the sight.

Knocking her enemies senseless and then putting them all the way out with sleep spells was Trixie’s usual way of dealing with changelings. Doubtless the worst had happened a few times. Suspecting herself of being a bit too free with lightning in a life-or-death struggle was very different from plotting out and flawlessly executing the evisceration of her enemy. She never had to see the bodies before. Or the soon-to-be body in this case. Trixie squeezed her eyes shut once more, fighting back tears.

Ponies aren’t meant for this, Trixie thought, hopelessly trying to distract herself. There’s a reason Princess Celestia keeps us out of wars. Ponies don’t kill. And they don’t let others die.

The showmare forced her eyes open, to quickly search the empty street. She chose the awning of a nearby building, a long downslope of striped yellow and white cloth. She ripped it from the building with a great tearing sound. A bit of transmutation magic applied to the cloth, a technique grudgingly copied from the rat-nest unicorn in Ponyville, turned it into a long cloth chute, sloping from the roof’s edge at her foot to the street below as a slide. A gluing spell anchored the ends. With that done, Trixie backed herself down onto her construction, carefully arranging herself so that her short trip downward was done on the side opposite her injured foreleg, and ended with her taking her weight onto her rear hooves.

She tore off a section of that cloth slide as she limped her way over to the fallen changeling, bundling it up in the air. Her once-foe was almost still now, seemingly struggling to take short, wet-sounding breaths. Trixie stopped at the edge of the pool of strange blood. She couldn’t quite bring herself to step out into it. She levitated the collected cloth over and pressed it down against the wound. She didn’t need to think hard to know that applying a bit of pressure wouldn’t do much at that point. The creature wouldn’t make it to a hospital, if they would even take it when there were bound to be real ponies flooding in, and Trixie herself certainly hadn’t spent the years needed to learn medical magic. At best she could manage a few spells to heal scrapes and clean out wounds, the sort of first aid needed when one often travelled across the wilderness.

“Trixie is sorry.” The mare whispered to her fallen foe. “I’m sorry. Maybe a better mare could figure out a way to love her enemies, and save you that way. But while I might be an excellent unicorn, I’m not a very good pony.”

The changeling seemed to quiet, it weakly raised its head to look over toward her. Its eyes, alien as they were, carried a clear message of painful, hopeless desperation. The expression hurt more than the throbbing fire in Trixie’s foreleg. She found herself limping forward, one awkward step at a time, without making any real conscious decision to do so. The tacky feel of blood underhoof made a shudder travel down her spine, but she didn’t stop, not until she was right beside her former attacker. She even went so far as to crane her head down to touch her muzzletip to the changeling’s. Maybe contact would help?

“I don’t know how all this works, exactly. But maybe I can tell you about Sweet Relief. She’s the mare Trixie loves.” The magician winced imperceptibly, as she found herself slipping back into referring to herself in the third pony. It just made it... easier, to talk about things that way. “Trixie has never really had time for it before. Little flings and crushes, sure. But love? Who would be worth it? She is. She—”

Trixie received a moment of surprise, drawing back briefly, when the changeling’s body was wracked with a wet cough, blood spattered against Trixie’s fetlock. “You’re conflicted,” the changeling rasped, “because you suspect she betrayed you.” The creature took another shallow breath. “She did.”

“I—” Trixie tripped over her words as she began to speak. She took a few breaths to collect herself, though the heavy, metallic smell of blood didn’t exactly make that a pleasant experience. “Probably. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure she had reasons. Trixie would be dead, or in a cocoon on her way to death, without the proof that Sweet still loves her.”

Trixie gave the changeling another look, seeing if it would respond. It didn’t. Its breathing was slower now, but not any less shallow. The unicorn had no idea if that was a bad sign or a good one. She breathed a soft sigh, lowering her head to touch the creature’s cheek with her nose. “Idiot. Trying to poison your own medicine? Trixie was coming here. It was probably the only place where some might remember her with fondness, after that thing with the Beast of Hoofington. And Trixie was tired, and hungry, and so sick of grazing on grass that she made the decision to cut through the edge of the Everfree to get here a few days sooner. With a cart, not on hoof. Cue rain. The ground giving out under one of the wheels, and the Celestia-damned contraption dragging Trixie down into a ravine. And pinning her there. The less Trixie says about the giant scorpion in the ravine the better. Suffice to say, by the time the pony who owned the cabbage farm at the edge of the Everfree pulled her out from under the cart and dead bug, Trixie needed a Life Flight team badly. Sweet swooping down was like an angel descending, she...”

Trixie’s words trailed off into silence. The changeling was still. Unnaturally so. There weren’t any of those struggling breaths. No twitches of its limbs as it battled the pain in its side. Trixie swallowed a lump in her throat, squeezing her burning eyes shut again. “R-right.”

The wizard took a shuffling step back, barely feeling the blood sluggishly moving around her hooves. She pulled her cape off with her magic, levitating it over top of her fallen foe, and letting it drift gently down to cover it. It was only after that was done that she gained enough courage to open her glistening eyes once more. “I’m sorry,” she whispered again, for all the good it would do.

The mare turned and fled with an awkward, three-legged canter. It took all of her will to keep her bleary vision locked forward, away from the tragedy of pony suffering she’d wrought behind her.

* * *

“What do you mean they took her!?”

“Just that, Miss Trixie.” The temple’s groundskeeper was holding a towel, one with The Magic Bean’s logo embroidered onto it, against his head with a hoof. It was soaked through in a few places with blood, though thankfully not overly much. The stallion’s side looked like Trixie’s rear end felt: burned and scraped, with small oozing wounds in a dozen places. “Didn’t see much myself. One of them landed right beside me, and exploded, if you’ll believe it. By the time I could see straight, a pair of them were flying Miss Swirl off. Doubt it was ten seconds.”

Trixie’s eye twitched. “Trixie reviles changelings, Mister Flower. She hates them so very, very much more with every one of Celestia’s days.”

“Yes, Miss Trixie.”

The blue-coated magician allowed herself a moment of quiet, using her horn to pull the brim of her hat down over her eyes. Couldn’t this day give her a few minutes to catch her breath? She’d just killed somepony. That was the sort of thing a pony should be allowed to digest and brood over... or at least cry into a sympathetic pony’s shoulder. “F-fine. Trixie can do this. She can do anything.”

The stallion was thankfully silent on the ‘talking to herself like a madmare’ point.

Trixie took a breath, silently promising herself that she would pull up her hat and face things when she was finished with it. When that failed to happen, she revised the promise for the exhale.

A hoof lightly touched her barrel. She jumped, well, hopped with pathetic three-legged ungainliness, and yanked her hat up with enough haste to almost fling it off. It was just the gardener again, reaching out in the sympathetic fashion of a normal pony. Eyes wide, she reflexively looked around in a panic, just to be sure, but noticed nothing black with strange holes in its legs.

Holding her injured leg to her chest, as if that would slow her wildly beating heart, Trixie shot the stallion a nasty look. “What part of The Great and Powerful Trixie’s battle-scarred visage hinted that it was a good idea to scare her today, exactly?” Before the earth pony could say anything, the mare continued on. “Just tell Trixie which direction they went off in, and how long ago.”

The stallion pointed off toward the southeast, toward the forest, but away from the flashes and popping of distant detonations that marked the continuing battle by the army camp. “Fifteen minutes ago, more or less.”

Without a word, the magician started off in that direction with a hopping limp. In fifteen minutes a flyer could have reached the Everfree, and there was no catching anything with wings through there, unless one also had them. What else was she to do, though? She’d asked Leaf Swirl to come and be her guide, and the filly had gotten snatched as a result. It was Trixie’s responsibility to save her, and that was that. It wasn’t as if there was anypony more capable she could turn to for help.

The repetition of single-minded travel was strangely hypnotic, especially if she kept that most excellent bolstering spell on the tip of her horn. She could almost travel at something approaching a normal walking speed with it, which was positively miraculous. Intellectually, the showmare knew it was an incredibly stupid thing to do. By the time she hit The Rows, a district of apartments that was much like the Manehatten streets, blood was once again dripping from her cradled hoof as a result of all the jostling. However, purely intellectual concerns weren’t for a day when her fans were getting foalnapped and bug monsters were making repeated attempts to kill her.

“Trixie!” Came a shout from above, startling the unicorn out of her trance.

The mare looked around from one ugly grid-windowed box to the next. Unlike in Manehatten, there wasn’t a drop of beauty to be found. No embellishments, no decorative arches, no handsome lamps, no concerns for aesthetics at all. Style and Hoofington had a horrible falling out years ago, and still refused to so much as talk to each other.

That particular clash of utilitarian hideousness was familiar to Trixie, however. As her voice found the source of the call, she was beginning to feel that emptiness in the pit of her stomach again; panic and she were becoming intimate companions indeed. Sixth floor, facing the street, sort of in the middle of the building. That one bit of the wall had been blown inward, probably by magic. An orange unicorn mare was standing in the brick-studded hole, a hoof cupped at the side of her muzzle. “Up here!’

Honeydew’s sister. Honey Drop’s aunt. Trixie couldn’t remember her name, but the face was familiar. Trixie reached out with her magic, her pink aura surrounding the other unicorn, who wailed in dismay as she suddenly found nothing but empty air under her hooves.

She was stock-still, with her eyes squeezed shut, shaking like a leaf by the time her hooves touched the ground by Trixie. Her pupils were tiny when her yellow-orange eyes opened, wide and panicked. “Oh Celestia. Please never do that again,” she breathlessly begged.

“Don’t tell Trixie they were taken.”

The expression on the mare’s face said it all, even before she could speak a single word. Her eyes were red and puffy, and clean paths had been cut by tears through the ash and brick dust on her cheeks.

“I just saved them.” The magician’s voice was barely more than a whimper.

It had been the afternoon before the whole mess with Celestia began. Her detection spell had found a changeling, and of course, she’d gone to play hero. The changelings had learned some of their lessons well from Trixie. The city wasn’t a safe feeding ground, so that particular monster, disguised as a herd’s stallion, had worked quickly. By the time Trixie went about oh-so-dramatically kicking down the doors, there wasn’t much left of the herd. A mare and her filly, half-drained to death, sleeping fitfully instead of eternally, unlike those in the home’s other rooms. Two ponies, out of a family with six mares and three little ones. It had taken the creature only two days of gluttony to go through all of them.

To be sure, the love-gorged creature had been fearsome for a drone. It had healed almost as quickly as Trixie could hurt it... for a respectable while, anyway, though certainly not long enough for Trixie to work out all her rage.

“It wasn’t even half an hour ago. They just came right in through the wall of my apartment.” Fresh tears were starting to gather in the orange unicorn’s eyes. “‘Dew and I tried to hold them off so Drop could get away, but it happened so fast. One just looked Honeydew in the eyes, and she froze right up. Another bucked me into a corner and held me at hornpoint while the rest grabbed Drop. They left the second they had them. Like that was all they came for.”

The hollow feeling deep in the unicorn mage’s core was only getting worse, and she began to see the beginnings of a horrible pattern. The tinkerer, Mainspring, had a shop he lived in not too far away. He’d shared it with his wife, Pinion, before she’d been replaced by the changeling destined to be the eighth point on Trixie’s scorecard. That was her next stop.

“Please, Trixie. Try to get them back for me,” the orange mare pleaded. She actually lowered herself down in front of the wizard, holding the uninjured, changeling-blood-soaked forehoof between her own. “I’ll protect them better next time, I promise.”

“There wasn’t anything you could do,” Trixie answered, entirely on automatic. “D-don’t worry, I’ll find them.”

Somehow. Someway.

* * *

“Where is Leaf Swirl?!” Trixie screamed at the changeling in her grasp, over the din of the battle swirling above her. Changelings battled nimble pegasi for dominance of the sky between the two opposing armies, who were lined up along either side of the wizard. The captive insect squirmed and hissed in terror, its wings unable to flutter for the constriction of her magical hold. It lit its curved horn to disperse her levitation spell. Trixie’s own horn flared with overglow, pushing an artless gale of her own magic around the drone to disperse the forming pattern. With such an absurd imbalance of magical power, Trixie could be wasteful. “Where are Honeydew and Honey Drop?!”

A pair of nearby changelings swooped downward to aid their beleaguered hivemate, green fire beginning to pour around them in that dreadful, signature changeling dive. Trixie swatted them out of the air with a hammerblow of force, sending them spinning back into the more cohesive parts of the changeling lines. The bite of overstressed magic clamping down on her horn was handily ignored in her rage. The captive changeling’s huge blue eyes got even wider. The wizard shook her captive violently. “Where is Mainspring?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” the drone squealed in the sibilant tone of its kind.

Trixie made a wordless sound of disgust. She flung the drone with sudden violence into one of its kin flying low overhead. The two of them dropped from the sky somewhere into the no-pony’s land between the lines.

The pony lines, which had mostly been locked in place for fear of getting too far from the defensive magic of unicorn mages and becoming vulnerable to massed battle spell fire from the changelings, began to bulge toward Trixie. With her hostage discarded, Trixie had to face the overwhelming magical dominance of Equestria’s insectoid enemies on her own. Bolts of explosive magic converged on her by the dozens in a luminous green cone of destruction. No single pony, save perhaps the famed Captain of the Royal Guard or That Other Unicorn could weather such an assault, so Trixie didn’t bother to try.

She pushed herself Outside. The world whirled away in a dizzying twist. The wizard suffered the seconds or hours within the bright darkness of the nonspace between spaces. It threatened to turn her inside-out, or knot her whole body up, or any number of other spatially impossible things, all at once. In desperation Trixie yanked, or glacially oozed, her way back In. Reality punched its way into her senses in a rush. Colour, light, sound and place assaulted the azure showmare no less savagely than the changelings had intended to. The unicorn unceremoniously fell forward onto her face in the grass, retching, her pelt smoking and singed.

How do some unicorns make teleportation look easy? It’s horrible! Still, if Sparkle could do it, then Trixie could, by Luna. She woozily raised her head above the grass, surveying her position. She was, at least, where she had intended to go, not too far from her original position. She gulped some air back into her lungs and flung herself back up to her hooves, almost pitching forward onto her face once again before catching herself.

Thankfully, the unicorn mare’s magic was less scrambled than her body. She reached out toward the shiny black ranks of the changelings and grabbed another drone, intending to pull it toward her. The magical backlash of a few dozen changelings’ combined, meager attempts to counter her magic gave her a solid shock to the horn. She stumbled back with a start, almost putting weight on her injured foreleg, which would have had her collapsing in short order. A snarl and a second attempt yielded similar results, except with a magical retort strong enough to cause an audible sizzle and drag a yelp from Trixie’s lips.

“It’s not the day to get on The Great and Powerful Trixie’s bad side!” the lone mare screamed at the gathered horde. She shook off her hat, then braced herself as best she could on three legs. A familiar bit of light magic, certainly one of her strong suits, and one that required little effort, wove a hatefully familiar figure into the air in front of her. Not her brilliant glyph array, but Sparkle’s. How often had she drawn it, and studied it, and attempted to refute it, to know it so well? Too often. Yet she needed results, not wishful thinking. So Trixie swallowed her pride and allowed that figure to guide the path of her thoughts, letting a tendril of magic trace the paths of power it implied, preparing her to channel.

Trixie carelessly, even violently slammed power through her horn, keeping the bizarre, exotic feel of the flow permitted by Twilight’s design in mind as she did so. Sparks leapt from her horn, each one making her twitch at the shock of the instability. Layer after layer of pink aura gathered atop her head despite those small flaws in her spell. The inner core of the overglow shone a stark white. The pain of those shocks, and the squirming tingle as magical discharges danced across her coat, were easy to disregard. She was too concerned with the heady, intoxicating, and distinctly novel sensation of her magic rushing through her like a flood-swollen river.

The magician’s conjuring would have been an attractive target if it had still been night. The sunshine washing out the light was likely the only thing that kept her from absorbing a new fusillade of killing spells. Her own spellwork provided enough of a distraction in the seconds that followed to ensure her safety.

Massive clouds, black enough to seem more like coal smoke, impinged upon the cheerful blue of the sky, swirling out of nothing above the changeling army in banks fifty ponylengths wide. Thunder rumbled as they crashed violently together at a roll toward a common center. Shadow fell across the land under them, broken only by surges of lightning leaping across the roiling thunderhead. Black forms, almost invisible in the gloom, began to leap up from the changeling lines. Green flame enveloped them as they took pegasus form, to better use that tribe’s magic to disperse the storm. Clearly they’d had some instruction in dealing with pegasus siegecraft. If it had been a normal storm, they probably would’ve had the ponypower to turn the clouds toward their own ends. However, it wasn’t a slow, natural, pegasus-gathered construct.

Euphoria had fled. Trixie’s body was drained to numbness, all except her horn, which certainly felt like it was about to shatter on her forehead. The heat of her aura was scalding enough that she could smell burning hair, and she could hardly see for the pain behind her eyes, making them water. It felt like all the vitality in her body was pouring out through that one stubby spire atop her head. But it was enough. She didn’t even have to call the lightning after that; she just loosened her control on the forces she’d gathered and flung together. The second that a point of weakness formed, the world in front of Trixie exploded in white light.

She didn’t watch her Greatest pyrotechnic display. She sank down bonelessly into the grass once more, gasping raggedly, desperately, for breath that she couldn’t seem to catch. A curtain of lightning tore across the changelings lines, picking the false-pegasi from the air and ravaging the ones on the ground. The explosive release of energy sent the compressed cloud surging outward in an expanding ring, deafening thunder heralding the wave.

The darkness of the cloud passing overhead made no difference to the showmare’s eyes. The world, to her sight, was already growing too dim to see. She clutched a foreleg to her chest, trying to choke more air down into her lungs, but nothing seemed to want to work properly. The only relief was that the numbness in the rest of her body seemed to have reached her horn.

Trixie, you stupid, moronic, bumbling foal! The mare would have shrieked those words out to the world if she could have, but her lips and tongue seemed just as useless. Was a flashy light show worth overchanneling?

She couldn’t bring herself to append the word ‘terminal’ to her description, because it was completely absurd. No normal unicorn could channel enough magic in so short a space of time to inflict fatal, or even irreparable damage. Normal unicorns would probably have to suffer through a half-hour of agonizing strain before they got to that point, and nopony had the will to endure that length of torture.

But the Great and Powerful Trixie, as she was so fond of reminding everypony, was no normal unicorn.

Well, at least I’ll get to be remembered for saving Hoofington. That’s something. Maybe that’ll let them forget that I’m the first pony stupid enough to pour enough magic out of herself to leave none for living.

The showmare forced her body to relax. What else was there to do? Struggling and thrashing would do nothing but make the the end come more quickly, she would imagine. If she hung on long enough, maybe she’d get to hear General Sunshine call her a hero or something. She’d probably choke while saying it, which would ruin the effect, but would still be very satisfying to see.

Maybe I’ll get a statue.

A low reverberation rumbled through the ground below Trixie, rustling grass and shaking the unicorn’s bones within her, without quite being heard as a sound. At first, she assumed it was the army’s battlemages going on the offense. Lightning probably wouldn’t keep changelings down too long. Pegasus magic and earth pony toughness made it a poor choice for actually killing the little monsters, which is why it was one of Trixie’s weapons of choice. But surely enough of them would be wounded, disabled or stunned for the ponies to make a decisive blow.

However, in the wake of that tremble came a sudden brightening of light, and the return of the warmth of sunlight on Trixie’s back. An indescribable, lovely chiming sound washed over the battlefield, leaving silence in its wake. Feeling returned to Trixie all at once, albeit mostly as an unpleasant, full-body case of pins and needles. The once-dying mare blinked her eyes, looking up at the returned blue sky. The remains of her cloud were breaking up at the crest of a huge, colourful wave of rainbow light, which stretched from one horizon to the other. Nopony in central Equestria could fail to recognize a Rainboom when they saw it. They’d had a habit of cropping up again and again in the last few years, purportedly made by one of the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony. None of that really interested Trixie. All she was thinking about was the sweetness of suddenly magic-rich air flooding into her as she pulled in the most wonderful breath of her life.

I don’t even care if it’s Sparkle who makes those. I’d marry that mare right now.

The fallen unicorn’s horn ached, which matched the rest of her head quite well. The remaining tingling was incredibly maddening, and she felt wretched and more worn out than she’d ever been in her life. And yet, she was alive to feel it, and so the sensation was sheer bliss. She’d certainly never considered that she might relish the idea of pain, weakness, and discomfort.

Oh, someone was touching her shoulder too. A hoof was shaking her. She cracked her eyes open again and glanced toward that side. It was an earth pony mare, a soldier in the grey plate of Heavy Infantry barding. It looked a bit ridiculous, since she was both rather slight in build, and eye-searingly lemon yellow, like Sweet’s mane. Trixie probably wouldn’t have been able to move in that armor, despite being larger, but the soldier barely seemed to notice the weight of the steel she wore. “Miss Trixie? Are you okay?”

Not even Trixie’s unenviable state of health could ward off the surge of pride that came with a random stranger knowing her name. Even though the unicorn felt like she could happily avoid moving for the next week, she forced herself to gather her rubbery legs under herself. “Trixie is fine,” she replied, hoping her voice didn’t sound as haggard to others as it did to her own ears. “Not even the most magical unicorn in Equestria can break the back of an army without needing a few moments to recover.”

The magician glanced around quickly to make sure that the opposing army really was in dire straits. It would be embarrassing if she made that boast only to find that the Equestrian Army had fled in terror at the sight of her Greatest spellwork and she was talking to a disguised changeling that was teasing her. She’d normally consider that to be just her luck. Having been saved twice by incidental weirdness originating in Canterlot, assuming Luna and the Elements were still there, Trixie was now quite willing to believe that she led a charmed existence. Maybe Luna secretly blessed those who insulted her in her own places of worship. What Trixie saw nicely supported that happy theory. The army had fiercely pushed forward after Trixie’s modest display, and the black forms of the changelings were beating a fighting retreat back toward the Everfree. The pegasi of the Cavalry were harrying them bitterly, but nopony really wanted to face hundreds of monsters who could each fling explosive spells like a unicorn battlemage.

Trixie struggled to her hooves and began to limp, with the aching slowness and typical awkwardness of a pony holding up one leg, toward one of the dazed changelings struggling toward consciousness under the spear-points of pony soldiers. There was certainly no shortage of them; they littered the ground behind the pony lines, and probably in front of it. Trixie picked out the largest changeling within sight. She probably could have found a more senior one if she went further afield, but she didn’t have the energy for that.

“Miss Trixie?” The lemon-yellow mare easily kept pace with her, even with the soldier’s barding. “I think I’d better get you to the medical tents.”

Trixie answered only with a dismissive flick of her silver tail. She reached out, magically, and yanked her chosen, bulky drone away from the soldiers that guarded it. She didn’t even try to take all of its weight; magic was rich enough in the air that her surroundings could supply some of the magical burden, but Trixie didn’t want to test how much. So her chosen target was dragged unsteadily over the hoof-churned grass. It was conscious enough to hiss in protest, but not quite enough to conjure a spell to break her hold. Using her horn made the magician’s head throb, and her aura was flickering unsteadily, which was worrying. However, it wouldn’t exactly make the proper impression for her to meekly poke the shapeshifter with a hoof and quietly ask for the information she needed, which was probably the best she could actually manage in the wake of her spellstorm.

“Leaf Swirl. Honeydew, and her daughter Honey Drop. Mainspring. Tall Order. Snowgleam. Blue Yonder. Sweetmint and April Shower. All the ponies Trixie saved from you creatures before.” Trixie shoved her muzzle up against the insect’s, her eyes narrowing dangerously. Anger made it all so much easier, as it had when she called the thundercloud. Even her aura grew more solid. “You took them. Where?”

The changeling tried to recoil, but Trixie firmly held it in place. “You’re the wizard,” the drone hissed, fear replacing dizzy confusion. “The Day Mare’s assassin.”

A chill went through Trixie at that latter title. The unwanted image of a broken, ponylike form covered in her tattered cape flashed in her mind’s eye. She didn’t let any pain show on her face; the look she wore must have been quite intimidating, since once quick glance at the pony soldiers coming to reclaim their prisoner made them pause in mid-step. “You grabbed those ponies out of town. Not the ones around them, just them. Why? Where did you take them?”

Comprehension dawned in blue, jewel-like eyes. It was disturbing to Trixie how ponylike the creature’s expressions were. A fangy grin spread across its muzzle, replacing its terror with smug satisfaction. “You escaped, but they didn’t. They’re ours now. Our Queen is wise. Cunning. Devious. You harmed us. You won your victories. Now the Queen will make them nothing but ash in your mouth.” The creature’s voice began to edge toward laughter.

Tell me where the hive is!” the showmare shrieked in response, very nearly hysterical with frustrated anger. Her horn brightened, and the laughing stopped with a dismayed squeak. Chitin flexed strangely under her magical grasp. The creature began to thrash about in panic and pain. An armored hoof touched her on the side, and maybe the yellow soldier tried to talk to her, but all Trixie could hear was the rushing of blood in her ears.

The pink aura around the changeling snapped off, suddenly, letting it sprawl out onto the ground, where it scrambled away from Trixie to the dubious safety of the pair of ponies that had been guarding it before. The magician couldn’t quite be sure why she’d let go. Was it the image of that cape-covered form in the pool of blood that haunted her? Or just a self-serving pause due to the numbness starting to creep up her fetlocks once more? She hoped it was the former. Trixie closed her eyes, turning her head in the direction of the earth pony mare to her side. “Just... take Trixie to General Sunshine, please,” she pleaded, voice barely above a hoarse whisper.

* * *

Trixie lurched toward wakefulness. Since she couldn’t recall ever lying down or going to sleep, her first response was confusion. “Flmblah,” she incomprehensibly mumbled. The pure mushiness of those words made her pause to take stock of things.

For one, she felt strangely disconnected, as if all of her senses were buffered by a thick layer of cotton. She steadfastly hoped that was drugs or a pain-deadening spell, and not a sign that the Rainboom’s rather slipshod transfusion of magic was temporary, which would have meant she was now dying of magic starvation. Again. For the other, she was in a small medical tent. She could see the symbol as a darker shadow woven into the top of the structure. That meant she was probably still in the army camp, something borne out by the metallic sound of armored ponies walking outside. Neither of those things discounted the dying theory, unfortunately, and since she was alone in the tent lying on a cot, there wasn’t anypony immediately available to ask. There was, however, sound of mares talking outside of the tent flap.

Trixie cleared her throat, wiggled her jaw, and ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth, to confirm the working order of everything before she spoke. “Hello?” she called, and sounded passably normal while doing so, thanks to her preparations.

A white face, crowned by a wild mane of sunshine yellow, shoved itself through the flap. “Trixie!” Sweet Relief cried out in clear, well, relief. She threw herself across the room, with a flutter of her wings, and landed all but atop the unicorn to haul her up in a crushing embrace with her forelegs.

The fact that Trixie wasn’t screaming in pain, even with her injured foreleg pressed between herself and her fillyfriend, was something the magician counted as a point in favor of the painkiller theory.

The helmed head of a pink Heavy Infantrymare nosed its way through the flap of the tent. “Ma’am, you’ll have to come back out and get tested by our unicorns. You can’t just fly into a military camp after a battle and—”

“It’s okay, it’s Trixie’s fillyfriend,” the unicorn wheezed. The breathless quality of it made Sweet release her, with a sheepish look, and ease her back down onto the cot. The squeezed mare continued on, as if nothing at all had happened. “If she’s a secret changeling infiltrator, who better than Trixie to find out?”

The irony of the claim wasn’t lost on Trixie, but the soldier seemed to accept it as having the same weight as if Celestia herself had winged down from the heavens to decree it. She even fractionally bowed her helmed head down. “I’ll give you a little space,” the soldier offered. “Just call out if you need me.” She then withdrew from the tent.

“Respect. Definitely worth Trixie—” Killing herself. “—wearing herself out.”

Sweet’s pretty, sunset-orange eyes gave her a skeptical, trained look-over. She promptly hopped off the cot and went to a nearby table. She nosed open a covered clipboard. Perhaps a medical chart?

“Hey, none of that!” Trixie protested. She lit her horn to pull it away from Sweet, but the pegasus snatched it out of the air with her mouth, and gave it a quick whack against the table she’d found it on. The rather pathetic aura around it dissipated with the stress of the violent motion. “H-how dare you!” the magician primly complained, more than a little shaken by the effortless way her magic was defied. Pegasus ponies didn’t casually brush away Trixie’s magic. Dozens of changelings working in concert did, no doubt feeling like gnats trying to stop a rolling boulder. That was the proper order of things.

Trixie was surprised that angry storm clouds didn’t gather around Sweet Relief’s head as she read through the chart, occasionally turning the page with her muzzletip. The look on her pale face made her azure fillyfriend’s ears nervously splay back.

Calling that guard back was becoming an increasingly attractive option.

“You... you...” Sweet turned, wings flaring out at her sides, in that usual pegasus way to aggressively make herself seem larger. She stomped over to Trixie’s bedside and shoved a hoof at her nose. “... stupid, bucking, stubborn, arrogant, self-ab—”

Trixie turned her muzzle away with lordly dismissiveness, which seemed to trip the pegasus up quite readily, as the magician knew it would. “You’re not really angry at Trixie.”

“Oh, you are so bucking wrong. Critical magic exhaustion? It that even a thing? Like, outside a theoretical textbook?” The pegasus energetically waved a hoof over Trixie’s prone body. She seemed to be regaining a bit of steam after that abrupt pause. “How did you do that to yourself!? There’s warning signs ages in adv—”

The wounded mare managed to lift a foreleg, her injured one, as it turned out. There were enough bandages around the hoof and fetlock to practically form a ball at the end of her limb. She accusingly shoved it against Sweet’s chest. “Trixie has been fighting all day. She’s been blown up, twice, hit, cut, singed, mesmerised and then wrung out like a wet rag. And she had to ki—” Trixie practically choked on the word. It was less fun than imagining other ponies stuttering and stammering, as it turned out. She wasn’t going to let herself off that easy, not around Sweet. She couldn’t let herself actually look at the other mare while doing it, however, as much as she tried. She chose a bit of canvas on the opposite side of herself to focus her gaze upon instead. “Trixie killed a pony. Or a person, I suppose, a changeling. Trixie is supposed to be too good to need to do something like that.” She glanced back toward Sweet, out of the corner of her eye. “And you feel bad because you think that’s your fault.”

Trixie looked toward the mare more fully. She reached out again with an accusing hoof, poking it at the pegasus’s chest once more. “Well you should. Because it mostly is,” the mare accused. It sounded a little too petulant to Trixie’s ears, so she quickly added an addendum. “Trixie made her own stupid mistakes. But you put her in that position.”

“W-what?” the pegasus stammered, taking a half-step back.

“Trixie can forgive. She can. You probably told them where I was going. Fine. It was never much of a secret. But the replaced ponies’ families? Where they were moved after Trixie saved them? There were never enough changelings in Hoofington to justify them knowing all that. I saw to that.” The unicorn couldn’t bring herself to try to stand, but she rolled a little more securely onto her side, facing the other mare. “There certainly was one that knew all of it, though. So I want to know why, and more importantly, where.”

“What?” Sweet repeated, numbly, a look of abject horror on her face.

Why did you tell the other changelings? I know you love me. For real, not as an act. Where is the hive, or wherever they took all those ponies?”

“I... how would I know?” The yellow and white mare barely managed even a token measure of indignation. Mostly, she seemed struck with shock.

It only made Trixie bristle with frustration. She lit her horn again, with more force this time, grabbing hold of the pegasus’s mane and pulling her forward. Sweet squealed in surprise and stumbled forward to alleviate the pressure on her scalp. She ended up nose-to-nose with the bedridden unicorn.

“Don’t think I don’t have it in me to rip that pretty little disguise off of you, cloudseed. Trixie has let you wear some poor mare’s stolen shape for a long time, because it was such a cute shape indeed. Trixie is too tired to play dress-up now.” Oh, it was mostly a bluff. She’d had a few hours of rest. She suspected that annoying medic stallion cast a sleep spell on her when her back was turned, despite her forbidding it, for which she would have words with him later. However, she doubted she was up for pitting her magic against another pony’s. She would try anyway, if she had to, to prove the point.

Sweet seemed to believe her. The pale mare wilted, wings dropping down and ears splaying. “Please don’t. You’ll hurt yourself,” she whispered, in a shattered tone that cut into Trixie like a knife, despite the armor of her indignation. “And this isn’t like the city. It’s small enough that there’ll always be somepony watching. They’ll notice if my disguise breaks.”

Oh, horse-apples, the magician swore to herself as her righteous anger evaporated. She’d wanted to hold onto that for a while. She released her hold on the other male’s scalp, letting her slump down at the cot’s side. This wasn’t going at all like how Trixie had visualized this moment. She’d always pictured some great production of herself standing proud, while Sweet weepily grovelled for forgiveness at her hooves. Or perhaps she would casually break the secret with a passing word. She would silence the false mare’s protests with a kiss, and go on with the day as if nothing of any importance at all had happened. It seemed like something a Great pony would do. None of that was really like this mess. The showmare sighed, deciding on sincerity. Sweet liked that sort of thing. “Please, Sweet. Tell me? I need to know.”

The normally fiery pegasus snuck a sullen look up at Trixie from under her riotous mane. She too indulged in a sigh, nodding her head and raising a hoof to rub at her scalp where it had been so cruelly pulled a moment before. “Yeah. Okay. Just, give me a second, okay? I thought— I hoped that I wouldn’t have to do all this.”

She was quiet for a time, and Trixie allowed as much, trying to peek through the cloud of lemon-yellow mane to see her face. “I do love you. You need to know as much. Changelings aren’t so different from ponies. We were ponies, ages ago, and time can’t erase that. Love isn’t a zero sum game, we don’t lose anything by indulging in it.” The mare lifted her chin up, looking at Trixie more squarely. “And I didn’t steal this form. Not like you’re thinking. I didn’t kill anypony. I wear it so I don’t forget, ever, that ponies deserve more than to be food. Surprise, the mare who I sorta look like, was good to me. She was a little filly who loved everypony. Even a wretched, fake pegasus that had failed its mission and was lost and half-delirious with starvation in Cloudsdale. She could just give and give. It was like drinking out of the ocean. You could feed until you exploded, and you’d never notice the loss in her. But preying on her was... it was just wrong. It’d never felt wrong before that.”

Trixie probably should have been annoyed at the continued evasion of her question. She wasn’t. She actually found herself smiling a little. It wasn’t on-topic, sure, but it was important. Pretty flanks couldn’t make up for eating ponies. She allowed herself to stretch herself forward to nuzzle at the white pegasus’s cheek. It seemed like it would be the proper thing for a marefriend to do.

“You’re nothing like her.” The changeling’s tone became somewhat sardonic, more in line with her usual attitude. The nuzzle seemed to have returned some of her usual fire.

Still, Trixie found herself frowning. What was that supposed to mean?

“You don’t love anypony freely. Except maybe those with a blue coat, a silver mane and a purple hat with stars on it.”

“Hey!” Trixie protested. “I’ll have you know that Trixie is very loving. Did you see that nuzzle? You were practically drunk on Trixie this morning!”

Sweet continued on, deliberately oblivious to the interruption. “But that’s okay. You’re brave, and really, truly Great. And not even so deep inside anymore, you want to be a good pony. I can love a pony for being wonderful in ways besides their nutritional content. I was getting a bit pudgy on all the gratitude for saving ponies as a Life Flight medic anyway. I could use a diet.”

Trixie tried for a glare. The kind that burned holes clear through a pony, but Sweet was looking down again, seemingly at a random point on the floor by the cot.

“They sent a myrmidon. One of the Queen’s own royal soldiers. I normally meet with a drone to give my tithe, and I wasn’t expecting anything else...” The white-coated mare looked up again, at least partially. “Um, the tithe is some of the love we collect. Not bits. It all goes back to Queen Nympha’s reign, and the bad times a few centuries back, when the Queen couldn’t provide for her hive. A lot of changelings had to scatter. You can leave the hive if you pay tribute, right? Yeah.” Sweet’s gaze dropped back down without ever quite meeting Trixie’s. She scraped her hoof against the canvas floor. “A drone couldn’t compel me. Not even what you ponies call a raider...”

“... Because you are one.” Trixie cut in with a guess. “Trixie’s cape was barely good at sensing you past the front door. And the real detection spell was almost worse. Before today I figured it was because you were some kind of young or weak changeling, without enough magic to set off my spells. But I had the same problem with the raider in town. He wasn’t weak. At all. Trixie probably has his hoofprint somewhere on her face.”

Sweet’s lips curled up at the edge with a small smile, even if she didn’t raise her head. “Yeah. We get better at the disguise as time goes on, and learn to trap more of our magic inside it. Doubt any normal unicorn would get even a hint without real close study. S’why I can fly right in here without worry. There’s bound to be a few like me, or stronger, around this camp. Should have known not to underestimate the Great and Powerful Trixie.”

Trixie gave a little toss of her head to flourish her mane. The quick motion made her vision fuzz toward grey at the edges, and caused a wave of muddled disorientation, like getting up too quickly from sleep. “There was never any doubt. Continue.”

“Right. Well, myrmidons are old, and they get more than their share of the love in the hive. When they ask, you answer. You can’t not. At least not without half a century of good eating more than I have claim on.” Sweet sighed once more, her smile long forgotten. She laid her chin down on one of Trixie’s fetlocks. “I swear I tried to shut my mouth. But the only way it could have been worse was if the Queen herself had showed up. And with her, she can tell you to go fold your wings and jump off a cliff, and you’ll do it with a stupid, happy smile on your face, right up until the splat. Even an independent changeling is only so free as they’re allowed to be. It’s only ever been just a convenience, to keep those with a dissenting streak from mucking up the groupmind, and the hive’s unity of purpose, while still getting some use out of them. So, I talked. And I kept my mouth shut after, just like I was told, like a good little drone, and hoped, and prayed that you’d be okay.”

Trixie reached up with her injured foreleg, brushing the absurdly swaddled hoof gently over the other mare’s mane.

Sweet miserably buried her face into the blankets piled around Trixie. “Maybe I didn’t even try as hard as I could have.”

The magician’s hoof paused in its stroking. “What? Why?”

For almost the first time since the start of the conversation, the mare lifted her eyes to meet Trixie’s. “Because as long as I’m useful, it seems like I’m part of the plan. Nobody objects to me loving the most hated mare of the changeling race if they think it’s all a cunning charade orchestrated by the Queen.” Sweet craned her head forward, nuzzling it under Trixie’s chin, clearly seeking some measure of comfort in the touch. “I don’t want to get taken away from you. I just got you how I wanted you.”

“Wait, what does that mean?” Trixie hissed, but shook her head right after. “Nevermind. So that’s the why. Fine. Trixie benevolently forgives you. And still loves your for all your weird hole-legged chitininess. It would be unfair to expect ponies to brush off changeling mind control as well as Equestria’s premiere unicorn. Where’s the hive?”

Sweet shrugged, her wings making a feathery rustle with the movement. “Don’t know. I could tell you where it was thirty years ago, when I last saw it. But that wasn’t even in Equestria. Haven’t set foot in one since.”

The azure mare groaned and slumped down into the cot melodramatically. “There goes the charmed life theory, too.” Trixie peeked from under the bandaged foreleg placed swooningly across her brow. “Wait, can you find out?”

“Might be able to draw the information out of the groupmind, if enough changelings were around. To get a clear enough voice to get something so factual and specific, though, I’d probably have to be inside the hive. So that’s pretty useless. Could tell you if we were getting close while searching, probably. But then they’d know that they’d been found out. The sensing process goes both ways.” If Sweet could have dipped her head lower in contrition, she clearly would have. As it was, she winced. “Sorry.”

“Can you just order a drone to tell you?”

Sweet looked positively surprised at the question, which was an answer in itself. “To betray the Queen? Not unless they’re like me. And I doubt they’d have been sent out to where they might get captured if they were. Not at a time like this.”

“Nothing is ever easy, is it, little cloudseed?” Trixie buried her muzzletip in the lemony mane. There wasn’t really much of the usual scent of citrus mane shampoo that she swore Sweet used as a joke. Mostly there was smoke and hard exertion. Life Flight must have been working overtime today. “All this violence and trouble for Trixie. It’s right and proper, and flattering in a twisted way. But it seems idiotic.”

Sweet jerked her head away, her sunset orange eyes giving the azure mare a disbelieving look. “Wow, I was just pissed before, but you really are self-absorbed. Yeah, surely they didn’t grab hundreds of ponies for, you know, food and power. It was all to snub one Greatly and Powerfully arrogant Trixie.”

Trixie ignored the criticism, which was a feat that well illustrated the sudden chill she felt inside her. “H-hundreds? Nopony said anything to Trixie about hundreds. I just checked on a few after Leaf, Honeydew and Honey Drop. Is it as bad as Trixie thinks, for them to have that many ponies to feed from?”

Sweet’s look softened, probably satisfied that Trixie was dismayed to the correct degree. “Probably. It’s an enormous windfall. Even if they just cocoon them all for long-term feeding, and even counting all the ones the army captured, the Hive will be stronger than it ever has been. The attack was just a distraction, to keep the army locked down. They grabbed as many ponies as they could from the north and south parts of town.”

The pegasus lifted her gaze to a section of the tent wall, as if she was looking in the direction of some distant point. “To make matters worse, something is going on in Canterlot. I’m sure you saw Luna raising the sun. But there was a Rainboom right after your stupid cloud, too. Now there’s a shield around the capital again. Maybe the Army here knows more about that, but it’s practically like the end of the world out on the streets since word spread. As if things weren’t nightmarish enough, with the attack.”

Trixie groaned, covering her eyes with a foreleg again. “New rule. No more news. Ever. Isn’t there an alicorn to deal with something like this? Or ancient holy artifacts held by five country bumpkins and Her. Why does Trixie feel like she has to be responsible for this?”

The pegasus smiled sweetly. “Because you’re a good pony.”

No. No Trixie isn’t,” the showmare whined, uncharacteristically, from under her leg. “Ask the lynch mobs. Ask Sparkle. Trixie is vain and self-centered, and only does things to make herself look better. Which isn’t easy, considering how far ahead of the curve she already is.”

“So, just going to sit this one out?”

“Yes!” Trixie ignited her horn, if gently, to pull up her covers. “I’m not moving from this cot until I’m recovered. I’m guessing a week. Maybe two.”

“Uh-huh. Should I go get your hat and cape? For when you ignore the incredibly good idea to actually get some rest, and go out to be all Great and Powerful and Heroic?”

Trixie glared balefully at her marefriend. Sweet stared back, looking quite pleased with herself.

After a few seconds the showmare breathed a martyred sigh, and spoke with a quiet voice. “Yes, please. Just the hat. I’ll need a new cape.”

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Comments ( 58 )

This chapter really expanded from its original state, after the chapter split.
I don't regret it at all.

Trixie bringing wanton destruction with the power of love (and then regretting it immediately) is the only subject worth writing. :trixieshiftright:

Thanks to my anonymous editor, as always. Without him... well, I shudder to think.

Next up is a return to fabulosity.

Really, really, really dig the idea of Trixie's lover being a changeling, and you've explored the idea nicely already, like when Trixie contemplated how she imagined how the confrontation would go. I greatly look forward to where you go from here, especially if and when they head to Canterlot.

Fight scenes in this chapter were pretty good too, and I gotta commend Trixie for being such a trooper. Very resourceful and determined, with the death scene where she tried to comfort her foe being a highlight for me. You handle Trixie nicely, letting her pride and arrogance shine while maintaining something fundamentally charitable and caring within her.

Sorry I haven't commented in a while, I'm going to go back and offer my thoughts soon.

I slightly loved it. That's it.

I keep a list of stories that I refer new authors to for examples on how to best portray the mane 6.

"How am I Pinkie Pie" is my go-to reference for all things Pinkie, and this story has been my Rarity reference for several chapters now.

But now it's my Trixie reference as well.

Awesome chapter! Keep up the great work! :trixieshiftright::heart::trixieshiftleft:

These kind of comments citing specific happenings in the chapter, and what was thought of them? Pure author-euphoria.
It could be entirely negative, but it would still be oh-so-sweet. Thanks Varanus.

I... have no idea what that means. Presumably it's better than slightly liking it. And definitely better than slightly hating it.
So... thanks? Slightly?

That's actually very likely to be the most flattering comment I've yet received.

It likely means even more to me, since I know you can be properly harsh with your criticism, if needed. That sharp smack upside the head you gave me when I originally posted Crucible in the P, PR and E group is still guiding my planning, for the better. Certainly it's a key consideration as I do a bit of track-changing for the next four or so chapters. Though it might mean a bit less Rarity than was originally intended. :raritycry:

Though maybe not. We'll see if the temptation of a villain chapter, or some Cadance overwhelms my ever-growing Rarity adoration.

I am really liking this story...

Also, you made me NOT hate a Trixie that is still close to her show version. That takes some doing!

Looking forward to more sir. :moustache:

awesome chapter! im still amazed that you manage to portray trixie as a very very powerful unicorn, while maintaining her personality and NOT have me hating her, i actually rather like her in a way as i've said before, and this chapter only helped. im glad that trixie and sweet got past the whole 'sweet is a changeling' deal rather easily.

could someone remind me why there's a shield around canterlot?


You are slightly welcome. No, actually. You're mostly welcome.


could someone remind me why there's a shield around canterlot?

It's a sign from the fuuuuuture.
No, really.

We'll actually be jumping backward a short while when we go back to Canterlot.

ah, i was worried i had forgotten something important.

I've been following this story for a while, but for some unfathomable reason, didn't favorite until recently. Well, I've corrected that little oversight.

Like Varanus, I really like how you've handled the characters, especially Trixie. There's nothing like reading a heroic take on her that doesn't butcher her egotism. Nicely done!

I'll be keeping an eye on things, so keep at it!

Wow, I fucking love Trixie in this story. The Day Mare's Assassin. Awesome.

THEORY TIME: With Twilight being all "Million years dungeon. No trial." at the moment, my guess is that Trixie will be able to use the Element of Magic if and when the mane 6 need to use their elements in this story. She's definitely earned it.

I would love an excuse to put the 'big crown-thingie' on Trixie. Really I would. A lot. It's been an almost irresistible urge since you mentioned it.

I would be sitting there cackling madly as I wrote all the gloating and arrogance. And you just know she'd find cool things to do with it, that Twilight wouldn't have ever tried, with her modesty and respect for the seriousness of such things. Trixie would probably try to use it to do everything from ascending to alicornhood all the way down to killing a spider on her bedroom wall. It would be the most fun thing to write ever.

Certainly Trixie has the skills required. She'd have lots of motivation to use it. She might even deserve the chance. Unfortunately, those aren't really the only criteria.

It would be Spike as the New Rainbow Dash all over again. Worse even. At least the Mane 6 and Spike actually like one another (hopefully). Half of the Mane 6 would probably pay five bits to hoof-punch Trixie in the face. :trixieshiftleft:

Damn, this chapter was long!

Ne ne~ How does Trixie know that Sweet Relief loved her for real? Ever since the green glow in her eyes, I'd been wondering how and when Trixie would confront her about it. Oh well! Turned out alright. That's a relief (badum tss)

Rarity chapter next~ :raritywink:

Trixie's been getting a power boost from Sweet's love, so she knows empirically that it's true love - she figures she'll eventually be stronger than Twilight once she understands the depth of how to use the love she shares with the changeling.

I'm guessing the story runs with the idea that Twilight's been getting a similar boost to her capabilities through her friendships with the rest of the Mane 6, and potentially Celestia's affection as well.

That makes sense... I mean, of course I knew that!

Is there nothing Varanus can't do?
He(or she) Composes, he captains the best ship of all, and he explains my own work for me!
He is truly the most useful of readers.

But yes, what he said, to quote this chapter:

“I—” Trixie tripped over her words as she began to speak. She took a few breaths to collect herself, though the heavy, metallic smell of blood didn’t exactly make that a pleasant experience. “Probably. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure she had reasons. Trixie would be dead, or in a cocoon on her way to death, without the proof that Sweet still loves her.”

Yeesh, it sounds so trite to just explain it as love-power, but darn it, Friendship is Magic in the show. And not in any feel-good, nebulous manner. It kills Windigos, holds back dark unicorn sorcerers, feeds a species of monsters and can banish armies.

Poor Trixie was just so universally unloved before, that now that she has her own adoring shapeshifting bug plaything, and the love and respect of a community, the difference to her is clear as day. And all without the insanity and (totally justified) mistrust of wheels that's to come in the future.

The link between RL and fiction, when it comes to "Friendship is Magic", is just so concrete to me. I mean, Relief started loving Trixie, in my eyes, for one reason only : She recognized that she was a bad pony and tries to better herself. The pursuit of integrity is a strong drive indeed, although Trixie should probably be careful with the self-deprecating. Otherwise, it is a very noble thing indeed, worthy of love.

He(or she) Composes, he captains the best ship of all, and he explains my own work for me!

Yeah, she's pretty good.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that if this was a Shakespearean tragedy, that self-flagellation would not be Trixie's fatal flaw. :trixieshiftleft:

Sweet totally fell for Trixie because she had a cool hat, nice hair and flanks that never quit. Don't let anyone (including probably me in future chapters) tell you otherwise!

It might even have been true, at first! I know there's a tendency in fiction to make everything always about soul mates and true love, but that's never been a particularly realistic notion. Luna's crush, and the thing between Rarity and the Royal Couple, as we'll see, are very much matters of simple attraction or admiration as much as anything else. Twi and 'Tia, or Trixie and her bug? Probably a bit deeper.

I'm loving the Swixie relationship! I hope they get some scenes after the dust settles. Now that Sweet knows that Trixie accepts her for what she is there are so many possibilities.

With as self-absorbed as Trixie can be, it would be hilarious to see Sweet transform in to her Great and Powerful marefriend and tease her. I'm not entirely sure Trixie would mind if she did. :trixieshiftright::heart::trixieshiftleft:. Alternatively, Sweet could transform in to the other unicorn. (Trixie most certainly would mind). :twilightoops:. Trixie could show Sweet that she even loves her in her original changeling form. I started reading for the Twilestia, but Swixie is amazing!

I also love the changeling world building. The tithe is a great idea, as are the class structure and the idea of exiles. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Not going to lie kind of want to see what's going to happen to twilight


very little about fiction is real. Using that as a justification to is a poor idea to me, that hurts all kinds of stories. Writers will justify all kinds of unrealistic behavior for a negative but won't bend on a positive idea.

I like this story a lot, though the Trixie stuff isn't doing much for me, I love what you've done with the other characters and hope to see more soon.

I would never really use 'realism' as the reason to do anything in any story (and if my characters should ever do something you'd see as out of left field, happily call me on it). Because, yeah, you're right, it's a bad idea. I'm an escapist reader, for the most part. Real life is mundane. I want to read about cool stuff that isn't in my everyday life.

That being said, I did have a dark tag for more than the Celestial barbeque in chapter one, and Luna cracking under the strain. I'm not aiming for some grimdark nightmare, but not everything the characters do will necessarily be healthy, or the correct choice. Nor will every relationship be based on equally sound footing. Honestly, I'm sure I could conjure up plenty of reasons and justifications, but when it comes down to it, it's just the story I want to tell.

Fair enough on the Trixieness. We won't be seeing her for at least another four chapters, and when we do, she'll be out of the OC-Ghetto, and the Mane 6 will be around. I would love to know why you're 'meh' on the Trixie chapters in particular, but every writer always wants to know that sort of thing.

Two of the next four chapters will be Twilight-centric. Her situation will also be touched on a bit in Rarity's.
Honestly, I have almost as much of chapter twelve (Twi's next) done as eleven. Been a bit rough lately, and so I've just been writing where the mood has struck. I'm hoping to get Rarity out within a week. Twi's shouldn't be too long after that. It's slated to be shorter as well as much less... touchy.


Trixie's just not a character designed for me to like. I'm not a big fan of ego as a primary character trait, I prefer it when others tell me how great a character is. For example, Rainbow Dash. She's got an ego, but she'd pretty much rather be doing something amazing than talking about how amazing she is Nothing you can do about it, since you're writing her pretty much in character.

Ahh, fair enough.
Thanks for the response! At least I shan't be dying of curiosity and such.

Obviously Trixie is not a character everyone will like. Her unlikeability is practically a character trait! Yet, I have a weakness for Large Hams, like her and Luna. They're so very, very fun to write.

Just read the story today and I love it. Hope the hiatus goes well and you get to the story soon.

how's the hiatus coming along? im not in any hurry, but it would be nice to get an update on the situation :twilightsheepish:

Distinctly not-well!

One must understand that I was lucky enough to have a job whereby I could sit at a computer with minimal responsibilities, and write pony.
Which was good!

And presumably pony powered me along quite well. Hence, promotion.
Also good! In theory.

Except now I don't really have that spare time to sit around and write for eight to twelve hours. The job is far busier and more involved.
Which is bad.

And I'm patently unable to write at home. Just as a quirk of my personality. (I also could never do homework at home, back in the school years, way in the past).
Also bad.

However, the stress-level of the new job seems to be falling a bit. And the Fluttershy level hoof-biting of my psyche stressing itself to shreds is starting to seemingly diminish. The ability to even consider writing is creeping back in.
Which, I think, is good.

So... I perhaps rather underestimated the hiatus, by underestimating how much the drastic job change would do me in, mentally, and time-wise.
There remains hope.

Though I'm starting to wonder if I should put Crucible aside and focus on a smaller project until things are settled. Meh, we'll see.

heh, im happy for you about the promotion:pinkiehappy: the loss of ponies as the consequence is hardly funny, but we'll live until you can find a time which you can write during; to consider writing something else until you're sure you can continue with crucible might be a good idea:applejackunsure:

2684245 Well I hope once things have settled down you'll have more free time to write.

Got linked here from spacebattles. Really excellent story. Hope to see you continue it someday.

I was wondering about the random increase in favorites and watches. Thanks for telling me!

And yeah, I hope to as well. The story is never really far from the back of my mind.

3208565 alright I feel like I can consider this fic dead due to lack of updates or even a journal about it in months
could you please tell me the status of the next chapter? :twilightsmile:

Sitting at 75% complete, as has been the case for many months.

The only thing that has kept me from putting it to 'cancelled' is that I still really want to tell the story. But chances are I probably won't do that until I publish something else I'm working on, first.

I feel like I've really grown when it comes to the theories and technicalities of writing. Critiquing, proofing and pre-reading for six months will do that. It really makes you focus on the craft, and be far more conscious about things. And it has made me increasingly unsatisfied with many of the decisions I made with Crucible. Which I wrote as my first thing, essentially ever.

Not to say I'm not proud of a lot of it. I am. I think it's a pretty bad-flanked offering for a newb, in a lot of places. But the urge to see what I can do now is pretty strong.

This was quite good.

I hope to change the tense of that statement sometime in the future, but given it's been almost a year I doubt that's likely.

I'm infected with the writing bug again, so chances have never been better! Especially since Unbound Skies is a collab. And I can't work on it all the time, even if I wanted to.

3473419 Here's to infections, then?

Very cool fanfic, am liking the variety of emotions and the characterization. Rarity is particularly impressive.

If I have a criticism, it's that Trixie's chapters seem very distant and disconnected to the story in Canterlot. Not that it isn't a good story and one worth reading, but instead of a story where we switch between subplots, Trixie feels like an entirely different story that just also happens to be about Changelings. But I'm sure it's going somewhere, of course, so I expect it'll all come together later. Which I look forward too, I'm eager for more :):twilightsmile:

Well, the intent, post-chapter... 14, I think?... was to merge the two storylines. The plot in Canterlot, with Celestia and Twi, would be coming to a head then. After which it would fall out of the focus, as most (though not all) of the cast went to Hoofington.

3748642 So is this story dead?:fluttercry:

It exists in some horrible, unknowable Lovecraftian state. Dead but dreaming.

I've been working on other projects and things-written-for-fun.

I won't rule out coming back to it someday, when the stars are right. But it's not the plan in the near term.

3827267 I see...... (Wipes away a tear)
In any case it can't be helped. Great half story though.


Thanks for writing back I appreciate it. I am now upvoting and favoriting this piece so that if you do update it I will know. If you do I will be looking forward to it since the drama that you seem to be creating here will be right up my alley.

Poor Pinkie though I can totally see her doing that and that is not a fun place to be. To be in love with somebody else but feeling like you can't say anything for fear of losing what you already all the while this other pony is trying to court her who also seems to dislike you and not trust you.

Now you got me wanting you to go back and write this story! (by the way good work :yay: )

Well, I've now favourited all three of your stories. On the positive side, now, whichever of them you're working on, I can look forward to an update. On the negative side, time you spend working on one is time not spent working on the others. Whichever you turn you attention to, though, keep up the good work.

In this case, just finished the next chapter of Moonlit Rise. :twilightsmile:

Just need to give it a look-over and send it off to pre-readers/proofers.

Just 't get out of the "gotta save everyone for myself" thing, can ya, Trixie? Don't worry, it makes you endearing.

Also, Sweet gets sympathy points.

I await the day you can restart this, Luminary.


When I first started reading this I thought you were going the annoying tyrant Celestia rout,

I couldn't resist the fake-out potential in changeling story.

. Another thing I liked was that you referred to Celestia and Luna as goddesses.

You turned my attention back to the story. So I've set to reading it over myself.

And I actually rather regret going quite so heavy on the 'goddess' talk myself. It feels hamhanded to me, these days. (As with so many things. I think we all facepalm a bit at our first efforts).

It's not to say I regret the concept. I don't. Divine alicorns are a huge interest of mine. I just wish I'd used 'alicorn' or 'princess' more where I once used the word 'goddess'. And leaned more heavily on Celestia and Luna (especially) mostly being the ones who think of themselves that way, after centuries of dealing with that view.

Maybe if I pick it up again and decide to give EqD a try, I'll do some further light editing.

But thank you!

Aaand finally caught up!:pinkiehappy::twilightsheepish:
If I haven't made it clear yet, this is an astounding thing you've got building up. Seriously, between the disparate plotlines, threat of war, divine angst, and worldbuilding, this almost feels like the second coming of The Immortal Game, even in its dormant state.
I actually pictured something way different from the vague summary, maybe more of a political thriller (i.e. Twilight's studies & other facets of the "new golden age" somehow causing a rift with Celestia, sort of what "Just Progress, My Friend." was shooting for, only much more epic).:twilightsheepish: No matter. Thank you for what you've put into this so far!

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