• Published 2nd Dec 2012
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Three Wishes - TimeBaby



Trixie assembles an unlikely team to help her find a magic stone that grants its bearer three wishes

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Chapter 3

For most of her life, Void Nightshade had slept through the day so that she could spend her nights observing the sky. As a pegasus, she lacked the unicorns’ magical connection to the celestial bodies, but that disadvantage had only increased her devotion. As soon as she had learned to read, she had started studying books on astronomy. However, what had really captured her heart and mind were the stories her grandmother told her of the Mare in the Moon, that fearsome alicorn forever watching from the heavens, waiting on the opportunity to bring about a night that would never end. Though most dismissed these as mere bedtime stories, Void fervently believed them, and longed for their realization. As a child, she simply longed for the prospect of a lifetime of uninterrupted star-gazing. As a teenager, she had discovered that she was not alone in her desire for a world ruled by Nightmare Moon rather than Princess Celestia. When she became aware of the existence of a small group of fellow devotees, she left home to join them in their hidden mountain sanctuary, and never looked back.

At first, they had been little more than a group of teenagers rebelling against families and society, their rituals little more than poetry readings and long nights of watching the stars' journey across the night sky. That had changed the previous summer, when a devotee received a magical communication from a unicorn friend in Ponyville telling her that Nightmare Moon had returned, attacking the Summer Sun Celebration, but was promptly defeated by a pony named Twilight Sparkle and her friends. Their magic revealed her to be the exiled princess Luna, and she had agreed to rule alongside her sister, Celestia. This account had been received by the coven with scorn, but the more magically adept unicorns in the group had verified that there was a new, incredibly powerful presence residing in Canterlot.

For a few days, the group had despaired, and a couple even left. However, a counter-narrative had quickly arisen among those who stayed, that the princesses of the sun and moon had not truly reconciled. Nightmare Moon had allowed Celestia to believe that she had been reformed, and was now plotting from within to become the one true ruler of Equestria. Void believed this story, but found herself unable to be as excited by it as others in the coven, some of whom were arguing that they should attempt to relocate their sanctuary to a location nearer the Equestrian capital. Unlike the more powerful unicorns, she couldn’t reach out and feel Nightmare Moon’s magical presence. For her, Canterlot was a distant place that had almost no bearing on her everyday life, and her daily routine continued more or less unchanged, at least until Mother Darkstar arrived.

Darkstar, a middle-aged unicorn from the Tall Tale region in the northwest, had been invited to become the coven’s head priestess after a couple of the sisters had met her family while on a pilgrimage to one of the sites considered holy by Nightmare Moon worshippers. Void had been unsure at first, afraid that as a pegasus, she would be pushed out of the group if they became a proper coven rather than the loose association of believers they had always been. However, Darkstar’s arrival had actually reinvigorated her. A more structured set of rituals had pulled Void’s faith out of the rut into which it had settled. Then, within a couple of weeks of arriving, Darkstar announced that her scrying had revealed the presence of an extremely powerful magical item residing in Equestria’s northern reaches—one she believed would allow the coven to play a vital role in helping to usher in the Lunar Monarchy. The item, she told them, was the legendary Wishing Stone.

Void knew of the Wishing Stone, but like Nightmare Moon, she had learned of it as a child through her grandmother’s stories. She had received this news in much the same way as that of Nightmare Moon’s return to Equestria. She trusted that Mother Darkstar, as the most powerful unicorn she knew, was not mistaken about the Wishing Stone’s presence. However, it was another distant legend, one that had filled her with delight as a child, but which was difficult to accept as a real part of the world in which she went about her daily business. In fact, while she intended to do whatever she had to in order to see the coven’s plans through to completion, the Wishing Stone’s existence had not felt real to her until earlier that evening, when the arrival of an unexpected visitor had solidified her faith in Mother Darkstar’s plans.

In the years that Void had been living in the sanctuary, nopony who was not a devotee of Nightmare Moon had ever happened upon the place. From the outside, it was a nondescript cave not accessible by any obvious path. It was the sort of place that one could only find if one knew of its existence, or accidentally stumbled across it. The former was clearly the case with the visitor, a tan Earth pony stallion who had staggered up the path just as Void was coming outside for her early evening meditation. The pegasus was frozen with shock and fear at the sight of an outsider, but that had quickly changed to concern as the frantic, exhausted pony collapsed at her hooves. Before he passed out, he uttered a few, portentous words.

“Help...gotta find...Wishing Stone...”

A hundred possible scenarios had played out in Void’s head in the seconds after those words escaped his lips, but in the end there was only one she could accept. This pony needed her help, and she was going to give it even if it meant violating the secrecy of the sanctuary. She rushed inside, frantically explained the situation to the first ponies she saw, and was soon dragging the unconscious traveler inside. Mother Darkstar, who was also on her way outside to prepare for the evening’s rituals, saw the intrusion and protested, but was cut short by Void’s explanation that the pony knew about the Wishing Stone, and it was in their best interest to take care of him. A room was made, and his immediate needs were seen to, then the coven distractedly made their way through the night’s rituals.

Void had lingered outside after the others had returned to the sanctuary. Things were moving so quickly. That day, she had realized that, for the first time in her life, she truly believed that Nightmare Moon’s return was not only possible, but inevitable. For the first time, she had seen the signs the other sisters all claimed to have seen. As the first rays of the morning sun peeked over the horizon, Void started to make her way back to the sanctuary, and her own welcoming bed. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of something in the southern sky. Her first instinct was to hurry to get out of sight, but thoughts of the other visitor she had received that day gave her pause, and she watched as what had started as an indistinct shadow resolved into a clearer shape. At first, she thought it was a pegasus with particularly long wings, but as the form drew closer, she realized what it actually was: a griffon, being ridden by a pony. Not just any pony, but a unicorn—a unicorn she recognized. As the griffon and her rider touched down on the rocky path leading to the sanctuary’s entrance, Void rushed to meet them.

“Trixie Lulamoon!” she exclaimed, her excitement overcoming her exhaustion. “I thought you would never return!”

***

"Wow, you've really fixed the place up since the last time I was here."

Trixie looked around the interior of the cave with a hint of genuine admiration. The soft light of magical torches lent an eerie glow to the natural curvature of the walls, not to mention the numerous images of Nightmare Moon. At the far end of the sanctuary stood a large altar engraved with astrological and magical symbols. Several corridors snaked off from the main hall, leading to rooms that the coven used for various non-devotional purposes.

"We were mere foals when you left, Trixie," Void said, "only playing at our devotion to the Princess of the Night. Since Mother Darkstar arrived to guide us, we’ve built a truly great temple to Nightmare Moon!"

Gilda shot Void a quizzical look. "Nightmare Moon? But isn't she back in Canterlot now, with her sister?"

“Some would say so,” Void replied, “but perhaps there’s more to the situation than meets the eye.”

“Really?” Gilda pressed on, “Because I know one of the ponies who helped turn her back into Princess Luna, and she didn’t seem to think there was anything else to worry about.”

“Gilda,” Trixie interrupted, the fire in her eyes belying her neutral tone, “maybe we should defer to Void’s expertise in the matter.”

"So tell me," Void asked, obviously trying to shake off Gilda’s tactlessness, "what brings you back to the sanctuary? The circumstances of your arrival do not suggest that you wish to join us in our rituals."

"No," Trixie said, trying her best to look humble. "Gilda and I are simply traveling. We just got caught out in the dark, and hoped we could spend the night here."

Void eyed them suspiciously for a moment. “There is always more to the story than you tell, Trixie. Fortunately for you, the day has already been portentous. I wonder if, for once, even you don’t know the whole story.”

Trixie thought she heard Gilda barely suppress a snicker, and quickly spoke up again to cover for her. “Do tell,” she said, feigning genuine curiosity.

“Perhaps it would be better if you just saw for yourself,” Void replied. “Follow me.”

With that, she split off down one of the side corridors, beckoning Trixie and Gilda to follow. Gilda looked at her companion, her expression clearly asking for an assurance of safety. Trixie nodded and led the way. Void and her “sisters” may have been pretentious, even a little delusional, but Trixie had never known them to be dangerous. While she had never heard of this Mother Darkstar character, she assumed that she would be another harmless blowhard. They followed Void the short distance down the passage until they came to a small room at the end with several straw mats on the floor. On one of them lay a tan Earth pony stallion with an apple cutie mark who was sleeping soundly, a vest and cowpony hat laid neatly beside him.

“He arrived here at dusk, just as we were about to begin the night’s ceremonies,” Void whispered “He was lost, completely exhausted. He was babbling as we brought him inside, though we believe that what he said was not entirely incoherent.”

Void motioned for them to follow again, and led them back to the opening of the corridor. “You know that no stallion has ever discovered our sanctuary,” she said, no longer needing to whisper. “Mother Darkstar thinks that there could be great significance to his arrival. I have a feeling that two more unexpected visitors will only strengthen that belief.”

“Not to be rude, Void, but we've traveled a long way tonight. We’d be glad to talk more about this in the morning—er, the evening, after we've had some rest. If we can stay, that is.”

“Yes, of course,” said Void. “As long as you don’t mind sharing a room with our other visitor. I’m afraid all of our other beds are taken at the moment.”

“Right now, I could fall asleep standing up,” Gilda said. “If I get a bed, that’s just a bonus.”

“Then, please, make yourselves at home, and we will talk again after you've slept.”

With that, the two travelers separated from Void, and headed back to the small room she had shown them before. As soon as they were in the hallway by themselves, Gilda stopped and whispered to Trixie.

“You weren't kidding about them taking themselves seriously. How do you know these nutjobs, anyway?”

“It’s a long story. One that Trixie prefers not to tell.”

“Whatever. Let’s just crash.”

Gilda settled down on one of the straw mats, but Trixie stayed at the entrance to the room, looking askance at the Earth pony who still lay there unconscious.

“What is it?” Gilda asked.

“Yes, well...Trixie normally doesn't sleep well around strangers.”

“You didn’t bring anything with you from the tavern,” Gilda pointed out. “What’s he gonna steal, your horn?”

“Very funny,” Trixie said, remaining on her hooves. “But we know nothing about this pony. Fortunately for you, there are some magical precautions I can take.”

“Knock yourself out, Lulamoon,” Gilda said dismissively, then rolled over so that she was facing away from Trixie. Undeterred, the unicorn set about casting an alarm spell. As her horn glowed with magical energy, a circle of the same color briefly appeared on the cave floor, surrounding her and Gilda, then disappeared. Once the spell was cast, anypony who entered the circle would trigger an alarm that would be audible to all those within its area of protection, but unheard by anyone else.

Satisfied that the spell would be enough protection for what she doubted was actually a dangerous situation, Trixie finally situated herself on the straw mat. As she closed her eyes, images began to swirl in her mind—the Crystal Mountains, the Wishing Stone, and Princess Celestia flanked by a retinue of her royal guards. A shiver of excitement ran through her as she thought about the possibility of her plan actually succeeding. One by one the figures in her imagination faded away until Trixie stood all by herself, staring into the facets of the Wishing Stone. As she imagined it, the stone resembled a large, trillion cut amethyst. The soft magical glow it emitted bathed her face in a pale light, and a wicked smile spread across her lips as she savored the nearness of the power she had craved for so long.

Gradually, she became aware of a sound coming from somewhere behind her. She tried to block it out, to focus on the stone before her. The stone...the stone—

“Where is the stone?”

Trixie's eyes snapped open and she was immediately aware that the sounds were not just in her dream, but were actually coming from elsewhere in the sanctuary. She quickly took stock of her situation. Gilda was still there, sleeping soundly, but the Earth pony from before was gone. In the sanctuary, she heard a brief exchange, too quiet for her to actually make out what was being said. However, what sounded like the muffled cries of another pony were now clearly audible.

Trixie's first thought was to wake Gilda and try to sneak out before anyone from the coven returned for them. After all, she couldn't be sure that the “stone” being asked about was the Wishing Stone. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Maybe there was another magical stone that would cause Void’s coven—which as far as Trixie knew had never harmed anypony—to start violently interrogating strangers who happened to wander into the vicinity of their secret hideout. Maybe Porter Stout was wrong, and tales of the Wishing Stone weren't really circulating throughout the Equestrian underworld.

And maybe, Trixie thought, she could one day get as good at deluding herself as Void and her “sisters”.

Of course there was a chance that the Earth pony knew nothing about the Wishing Stone, but after Void’s cryptic comments about his “babbling”, Trixie doubted that was the case. If he had any new information, Trixie wanted to make sure it was in her hooves, and nopony else’s. And Porter had told her that she would need the help of an Earth pony to retrieve the stone. She was not likely to find a better opportunity to recruit another companion.

Trying to stay as quiet as possible, Trixie crawled over to where Gilda still slept, blissfully unaware of the trouble in which she was about to find herself. A pink glow once again surrounded Trixie’s horn as she held Gilda’s beak closed with a spell, then shook her gently.

The griffon’s sleep continued unabated.

Trixie ground her teeth and shot a glance back down the hall to make sure nopony was coming. “Gilda!” she growled, shaking the griffon as hard as she could. “Wake up!”

After several seconds of throttling, Gilda woke, her wings shooting out in surprise and knocking Trixie back onto her rump. Gilda glared at her, but thanks to Trixie’s spell was only able to grunt her disapproval.

“Finally!” Trixie hissed. “We have to go, now! And we have to take that Earth pony with us. It’s not safe here.”
Trixie released her spell, and Gilda looked ready to spring at her, but she restrained herself.

“First of all, never use your stupid unicorn magic on me!” she hissed. “Second, what the hay’s going on? I thought you said we could trust these ponies!”

“They’ve changed. That stallion knows something about the Wishing Stone, and they’re trying to get it out of him. We need to save him before he cracks.”

Gilda grumbled a curse and stood. The noise that had woken Trixie had stopped. She hoped it was just because the cultists had realized that they were likely to wake their other unexpected guests, and not because the investigation had taken a more sinister turn.

“What’s the plan, then?” Gilda asked. “Do we just rush ‘em?”

“I don’t know what kind of magic the unicorns here are capable of now, and there’s no time to find out. When I lived here, most of them were—”

“Wait. You lived here?”

Trixie sighed. “This is the only time I’m going to say this, so get the laughs out now. I may have gone through a Nightmare Moon worship phase when I was younger—much younger. I lived here for a few months, before I started doing my stage show.”

Trixie looked over to see Gilda smiling sarcastically back at her. “You are just full of surprises, Lulamoon.”

“And since you seem to love mocking my name so much, you might like to know that Void Nightshade’s real name is Flitterheart.”

“Of course it is,” Gilda said.

“So as Trixie was saying,” the unicorn continued, reverting to third person in the desperate hope of regaining some authority, “the unicorns might be powerful, or they might be useless. And Trixie has no idea who this 'Mother Darkstar' is. We can’t really know until we confront them.”

“How about this,” Gilda said. “You distract ‘em, I grab our mystery stallion, and hopefully we get out of here before they know what happened.”

“Trixie would prefer doing it the other way around," she said. “It sounds less dangerous that way.”

"Sure,” Gilda said, her patience obviously at its limits, “as long as Trixie can fly with a half-conscious pony on her back.”

Trixie gritted her teeth and glowered at Gilda. “Fine. We’ll do it your way. Just try to keep up.” She strode confidently down the hallway, then carefully peeked out into the sanctuary. No guards had been posted at the entrance to the corridor, but what Trixie did see left her even more disturbed. The entirety of the coven’s membership (no more than ten ponies) was gathered around the great stone altar that stood at the opposite end of the sanctuary from the entrance to the sleeping quarters. The Earth pony was stretched out on the altar, a gag wrapped around his muzzle. Void herself stood at his feet while an older looking dark gray unicorn, who Trixie assumed was Mother Darkstar, stood over his head. The rest of the coven encircled the altar. All of them were wearing purple ceremonial robes emblazoned on the back with Nightmare Moon’s cutie mark.

Trixie turned and gestured at Gilda to say that she was proceeding, and just before she turned her attention back to the altar, she saw the griffon beginning to creep up the hallway. Taking a deep breath, the unicorn stepped out into the sanctuary.

“Really, Void, Trixie thought you were above this sort of thing.”

Suddenly, all eyes were on Trixie, though with her experience as a performer, that did nothing to make the situation any more unnerving than it already was.

“Trixie,” Void said, almost sadly, “please, I didn't want you to get involved in this.”

“Well, Trixie has involved herself. Now, if you would all be so kind, please step away from your little altar and let that pony go.”

Not for the first time in her life, Trixie found herself facing a hostile crowd. None of the ponies moved, but those with their backs to her did turn to face her. The unicorns looked ready to start casting spells in her direction at any moment, but almost appeared to be awaiting orders. It was obvious that the dynamics of the coven had changed since her brief time there, when it was a small collection of young, rebellious mares. Trixie knew that she had to find a way to break the coven’s ranks so Gilda would be able to get to the stallion with minimal difficulty.

Then, an idea came to her. Even if the coven had become more disciplined, that didn’t mean that they weren’t still predictable. Before she could consider the possible consequences of what she was about to do, Trixie fired off a spell at Mother Darkstar. The magical energy burst against her robe, which, when the flash of pink magic dispersed, was no longer the deep shade of purple it had been before. Instead, it had been transformed to a brilliant white, adorned with pale pink, blue and green piping that shimmered in the sanctuary’s magical torchlight.

On the back, in resplendent gold, was a perfect recreation of Princess Celestia’s cutie mark.

The matronly unicorn seemed to know what had happened even before she craned her neck around to get a look at the state of her robes. “No! Get it off of me!” she cried as soon as she took in the extent of Trixie’s vandalism. For a moment her compatriots were frozen where they stood, but then the shouting started. The head priestess was thrashing around, trying to remove the robe while her acolytes clumsily attempted to assist her.

Trixie felt more than saw Gilda streak past her toward the altar, where she was easily able to grab the Earth pony and sling him onto her back before anypony in the coven could make a move to stop her. Only Void was not involved in the chaos, but a mere look from Gilda rooted the pegasus where she stood.

In the blink of an eye, the griffon was in the air again, rushing toward the sanctuary’s entrance. Trixie stayed behind, wanting to ensure that nopony would follow them. However, no sooner had Gilda and the Earth pony escaped than Mother Darkstar managed to throw off her defaced robes, bringing a quick end to the tumult around her.

“Stop them!” the unicorn cried. At once, the other unicorns’ horns began to glow with the preparation of spells, but Trixie had known all along that that would be the eventual result of her interruption. Fortunately for her, escaping unhappy audiences was a key component of her act. She reared up and waved her hooves in front of her, the little action she always did to distract the audience from the sleight of hoof that allowed her to drop a smoke bomb to aid in her escape.

There was only one problem: acting primarily on instinct, she had forgotten that her smoke bombs were with all of her other belongings back in Hollow Shades. Trixie crashed back down to all fours, with no puff of smoke to cover her escape. She flashed the coven a sheepish grin, then turned and galloped for the entrance as fast as her legs would carry her. Fortunately the unicorns on hoof seemed to be inexperienced in using magic for anything other than scanning Equestria for signs of Nightmare Moon’s return, and one spell after another zipped past her, blasting away chunks of the walls and floor in the process.

As Trixie closed in on the sanctuary’s entrance, she shot a quick look back over her shoulder, and was surprised to see that Void had thrown off her own robe, and was flying behind her in pursuit. At once the irony hit her, that the pegasus’s presence in the line of fire was probably what was causing the unicorns’ aim to be as bad as it was. She couldn’t savor the moment for long, though; she doubted she could outrun even a relatively sedentary pegasus like Void for more than a few seconds. That meant she had to throw her off her game somehow.

“Come on, Flitterheart!” Trixie yelled at what she assumed was now her former friend. “Can’t you even catch a unicorn with those sad little wings of yours?”

“Trixie, I can’t let you ruin this for us!” Once more, there was a sadness in Void’s voice that might have given Trixie pause, were the pegasus’s friends not trying to cause her serious bodily harm. Pouring on a burst of speed, Trixie lunged through the sanctuary’s entrance and into the early afternoon sunlight.

Almost immediately, she found herself struggling to remain on her hooves as she slid on the loose stones that lay scattered all about the ground in front of the cave entrance. When she had gotten control of her legs again, Trixie immediately had an idea. Rather than continuing to run, she skidded to a halt, rotating to face Void as she slid. At the same time, she readied a levitation spell with which she was able to raise most of the stones within an area roughly ten feet in diameter, which she immediately sent flying in Void’s direction. While she was neither powerful nor vicious enough to do any lasting harm to her pursuer, she knew that the barrage would at least suffice to stop her advance.

“Heads up, Lulamoon!” Gilda’s voice coming from behind Trixie broke her concentration. The hail of rocks stopped, but a second later it didn't matter. Gilda wrapped her forelegs around Trixie's midsection, lifting her off the ground and into a nearly vertical ascent.

“What are you doing?” Trixie cried. “Where’s the Earth pony?”

“He’s safe—let’s just say griffons have a talent for finding places to nest!”

Trixie looked down to see the ground—and Void, who seemed to have little interest in giving chase—quickly receding into the distance. Finally, Gilda reached an outcropping high in the rocky cliffs where the tan Earth pony sat looking simultaneously panicked and exhausted. Gilda set Trixie down next to him, then carefully joined them, the three bodies taking up the entirety of the outcropping.

“Th-thank y’all for savin' my skin,” the Earth pony said cautiously. “Name’s Braeburn.”

“I’m Trixie, and my griffon friend here is called Gilda. So did you actually know about the coven, or were you just unfortunate enough to stumble across it?”

“I wasn't headed there, but...I got a little off course. But now that y’all rescued me, I can get back on track.”

“It’s odd,” Trixie said, ignoring Braeburn’s obvious desire to get away from them. “Trixie knows those ponies, and they don’t have a history of carrying out violent interrogations. They must have had a good reason for making an exception in your case.”

Braeburn lowered his head and eyed Trixie suspiciously. “That was just a misunderstanding,” he said, unconvincingly. “They thought I was somepony else.”

Trixie could see the desperation on Braeburn’s face. He was clearly still tired and afraid after his ordeal. Nevertheless, there was an underlying determination there that convinced her she was not going to get much out of him without taking some drastic measures. The thought of simply having Gilda dangle him over the ledge for a few seconds occurred to her, but that was unlikely to serve the end of getting him to join them. She was fairly certain she knew how to make him to open up, though even as she started to speak, she still wasn't sure that her tactics wouldn't backfire on her.

“Then where did they get the idea that you know about the Wishing Stone?”

Braeburn lept to his hooves, his suspicion turning to hostility as he stared Trixie down. “I shoulda known, everypony here’s just out for themselves!”

“I’d calm down if I were you,” Gilda said, quickly rising to meet him. “Don’t forget, you can’t fly.”

“The Wishing Stone’s my town’s last hope,” Braeburn said, turning his attention to Gilda. “I can’t let anypony else get their hooves on it!”

With what she hoped was a magnanimous laugh, Trixie broke the tense silence that had fallen. “Why don’t we all just calm down for a minute here. Braeburn, Trixie and Gilda aren't like those deluded cultists back there. Yes, we do want to find the stone. But we aren't going to hurt anypony to do it. As a show of good faith, Trixie will tell you something only she knows about the Wishing Stone.”

Braeburn was still eyeing them warily, but he did seem to relax a little. “An’ what might that be?”

“The stone is protected in such a way that only an alicorn could get to it without help. But a unicorn, a griffon and an Earth pony combined would also have a chance.”

“So y’all want me to help you get the Wishing Stone? How do I know ya won’t just double cross me when it’s in your hooves?”

“Right now, we don’t know exactly what we’ll find when we get to where we’re going,” Trixie said, dodging the question. “But we do know that we’ll need three ponies to succeed. So you can join us, or you can push ahead by yourself—which, let’s be honest, doesn't seem to have worked out all that well so far.”

Braeburn looked at the unicorn and griffon before him, then slowly lowered his head. “I’ll tell ya right now, I don’t trust y’all. But it seems like I ain't got no other choice. I’ll go along with ya...for now.”

“Good,” said Trixie. “Now, let’s all get going before those idiot unicorns start trying to teleport up here and get us all killed.”