• 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 4

Once Gilda had Trixie and Braeburn safely back on the ground, the trio began their trip north, headed in the general direction of a small village Trixie recalled from her travels, which she believed had an inn at which they would be able to safely spend the night. By the time the sun began its slow descent in the late afternoon, Trixie was barely able to stay on her hooves by her own power. Even Braeburn, having passed out from exhaustion little more than a day before, was doing a better job of keeping up the pace as the trio soldiered on. Only Gilda seemed unaffected by the rigors of the last two days, dividing her time between leading the group and occasionally taking to the air to make sure neither the coven nor the Royal Guard was following them.

Despite Gilda’s abrasive personality, Trixie was thankful that Porter had persuaded her to seek the griffon’s help, though she would never admit it to anypony. A pegasus might have been less obnoxious, but Gilda’s take-no-prisoners attitude had already served her well on a couple of occasions. With or without her help, though, Trixie was fairly confident that they would be able to avoid the two factions that were now pursuing them for at least a little bit longer. The coven almost certainly would not follow them during the day. Void and her friends were too devoted to their misguided idea of Princess Luna to even consider operating outdoors under Celestia's sun. Even though she scoffed at their naïveté, Trixie knew that the coven's nocturnal lifestyle could work to her detriment in this case. During the day, it would be next to impossible for anypony in the coven to get the drop on Gilda; at night, that advantage would be largely negated. Still, Trixie took some comfort in the knowledge that Mother Darkstar and her followers wanted the Wishing Stone for themselves, and had far more to gain from letting Trixie lead them to it than from trying to capture her and torture the information of its whereabouts out of her.

The Royal Guard remained Trixie's primary concern. Chances were they knew nothing of the Wishing Stone, and saw Trixie and Gilda as mere fugitives to be hunted down and brought to justice. The fact that Gilda hadn't managed to spot any of guardsponies since they had gotten back on the road might have meant that their brief layover with the coven had actually managed to throw Celestia’s soldiers off their trail. Still, the Equestrian Royal Guard was not a force to be taken lightly. That Trixie and Gilda had managed to escape from them once was due in no small part to the fact that they had only faced off against a single member. Even with the addition of Braeburn, it was highly unlikely that they would be so lucky upon a second encounter.

Gilda, who had been on one of her forays into the sky as Trixie contemplated their situation, landed softly next to the unicorn, out of earshot of Braeburn. "Yo, Trix, I think I can see that village we're headed for. Shouldn't take us more than an hour to get there if we keep up the pace. But, we need supplies and a place to stay, and we don’t have two bits between us.”

"Leave room and board to me,” Trixie said, gratified that Gilda was finally deferring to her on something, even if it was a relatively small matter. “You and our mystery stallion can scrounge up some supplies. Maybe you can even get him to open up a little while you're at it."

Braeburn had been almost completely silent since the three of them escaped from the coven earlier in the day, and was even keeping a physical distance from them. Trixie wasn’t too concerned about his obvious distrust, as long as he was willing to help her get what she wanted. Still, she liked to minimize uncertainty in her schemes, and at the moment, the Earth pony represented a major uncertainty. His moralizing might have been genuine, or it might have been a show he was putting on to gain their confidence so he could catch them off guard later.

Gilda reacted with the sarcasm that seemed to be her default response to every situation. "Yeah, sounds thrilling," the griffon said, rolling her eyes.

The trio continued on in silence until they were able to see their destination just a couple hundred yards ahead of them. At most, they had a couple of hours before nightfall, which meant that Trixie had a very limited amount of time to put her plan into action. The thought of finally getting a good meal and a night of sound sleep gave her just enough energy to psych herself up for what she was about to do, and for the first time in hours she found herself trotting ahead at a normal pace.

"Meet me at the inn after sundown," she said to Gilda and Braeburn as she hurried on ahead. "I'll have the room ready."

***

"Come one, come all, to witness the magnificent magical stylings of the Great and Powerful Trixie!"

Even though it had been months since Trixie's last performance, she found herself falling comfortably back into her old routine. Performing was, after all, her special talent, and even without her stage, costumes and props, she found it easy to draw the attention of everypony in the market. She started with a few simple cantrips to impress the colts and fillies accompanying their parents around the stalls. This was an Earth pony town, and most of the foals had never seen magic up-close before. As a result, the minor illusions Trixie could easily cast inspired a glee that soon had the parents taking notice as well. Before long, most of the shoppers in the market had drifted over to see what the commotion was about, and Trixie was able to segue into her usual routine.

"Perhaps somepony in the audience sees, but does not believe, the power of Trixie's magic. Well, Trixie invites any and all neighsayers to come forward and put her talents to the test! Any feat of strength or skill you perform, Trixie will magically match!"

After her encounter with Twilight Sparkle, Trixie had rethought the open hostility with which she had previously approached her audiences. While she had to be boastful in order to make ponies want to challenge her (since without such challenges, she had no show) she had grudgingly learned to play more fairly with her audience. Of course she still easily bested everypony who tried to show her up, but now she did so with more good humor than she had displayed in the past. While the change was one she adopted grudgingly and only out of necessity, she had eventually been forced to acknowledge its merits. When she was able to find an audience that hadn’t heard the story of the Ponyville incident, her softer approach usually ended with them happily throwing their bits her way, rather than throwing her out of town.

The result was the same that day. As Trixie faced down one challenge after another, the crowd cheered and laughed, and each pony who found herself bested by the unicorn’s magic encouraged a friend to step forward and attempt to avenge the small defeat. By the time the sun began to set, Trixie had faced off with about half of the ponies in the market, and everypony seemed to be having a good time.

"And now Trixie must take her leave of your fair village," she said, bringing the performance to a close as the sun began to sink beneath the horizon. "The journey to the next town will not be an easy one, though, so Trixie...humbly...asks that if you found yourself enthralled by her sorcery, you donate but a few bits to ease the burden of a traveling magician!"

The words never came easily, but they were a vital part of Trixie’s revamped act. Adding them almost always resulted in a bigger take, which was all that allowed her to get through the spiel without betraying to the audience her contempt for the very notion of humility. Especially when faced with wasting her talents in front of such a tiny audience, she preferred the thought of simply swiping a bag of bits from one of the vendors in the market. Had she and her companions not been in such desperate need of rest and food, and therefore particularly risk averse, she would have seriously considered doing just that.

At least the scaled down show earned Trixie enough bits to secure a room and dinner for the night, with, she hoped, enough left over to purchase some warm clothes and saddlebags for the coming journey into Equestria’s perpetually frozen northern reaches. She couldn’t be sure that Gilda and Braeburn had been as successful at their tasks. She had seen them prowling the market when they first arrived in town, but had quickly lost sight of them as she began to focus on her act. While waiting on their return, Trixie rented their room at the inn, happily accepting the inn-keeper's offer of a discount for the entertainer who had brought a rare spark of excitement to the village's mundane routine.

When her companions finally returned, Trixie knew at once that something was wrong. Gilda entered the room first, throwing the door open so hard that it banged against the wall. Braeburn came behind her, saying nothing, but with a darkness clouding his face. Despite the two of them obviously not having gotten on well, Trixie couldn't help noticing the burlap sack Braeburn had slung over his back, which, while not particularly full, looked like it would make a decent back-up supply if the money she had earned ran out.

"Well," the unicorn said, "it looks like your little mission was a success."

Neither the pony nor the griffon responded immediately. Braeburn carelessly tossed the bag onto one of the beds.

"We got some wildflowers, and some fruits and vegetables that had fallen on the ground while the ponies were bringing them to market," he said at last. "And we didn't have to resort to stealing from anypony," he added, with an angry look at Gilda.

"Yeah," Gilda said sarcastically as she lay down on one of the room's beds, "our white knight here is fine with swiping an all-powerful magical artifact, but taking a few apples from a fruit stand, that would be wrong."

"And I already told ya, those are two totally different things! The Wishing Stone is like the food we got off the ground. It don't belong to anypony right now. But those ponies in the market, they worked hard to grow and harvest that food. I ain't about to just take it from ‘em."

"Well," Trixie said, cutting Gilda off before she could further escalate the fight, "at least we've all learned a little bit about each other, right?"

Braeburn and Gilda both shot her irritated looks. "Are you sure you aren't really from Ponyville?" Gilda asked.
Before Trixie could respond to the taunt, Braeburn whirled on Gilda. "And what do you know about Ponyville?" he demanded.

"Oh, for—" Gilda began, covering her face with a talon. "Don't tell me you know those dweebs."

"My cousin is from Ponyville! If not for her and her friends, Appleloosa wouldn't have lasted long enough to see its first harvest!"

Trixie instinctively recoiled at the mention of Ponyville, especially when it involved a group of friends that went around meddling in other ponies' business. However, she knew she had to keep the situation under control. The last thing she needed was for Gilda to get riled up and cost them an ally who was necessary to achieving their goal.

"All right, you two, Trixie thinks you're missing the more important issue here. We have our differences, and we’re not all going to agree with how the others want to do things. But what matters is that at the end of the day, we all have the same goal: we all want to get the Wishing Stone.”

Trixie’s words appeared to have their intended effect on Gilda, but to her surprise, they only seemed to make Braeburn more agitated. “And just why do you two want the Wishing Stone, anyhow?”

Once again, Trixie found herself forced to suppress her anger. “Do you really want to have this conversation right now?” she asked. “Trixie was hoping we could just have a nice, relaxing night with nopony being interrogated.”

Trixie was surprised when it was Gilda who pressed the issue. “Much as I hate to admit it, he’s got a point,” Gilda said, sitting up on the edge of the bed. “I mean, you and me know each other’s reasons, but I don’t see why we should keep them secret from Braeburn. Like you said, we all have to work together regardless.”

Trixie clenched her jaw, but knew that she was outnumbered. With a huff, she replied, “Fine then, Gilda, you start.”

Trixie then saw something she never expected to see: Gilda almost appeared to be blushing. “Well...not too long ago, my, uh, best friend hooked up with some ponies who convinced her I wasn’t worth her time anymore. And I...just want to make everything right between us.” The griffon pawed at the floor, obviously uncomfortable with discussing her feelings even in such vague terms. After an awkward silence, Trixie spoke up.

“Well, then. As a show of good faith, Trixie will go next. As much as it pains her to admit it, Trixie...lost a magic battle with another unicorn a few months ago. She wants a rematch on, shall we say, more equal terms.”

“So you want your magic to be more powerful,” Braeburn said.

“Yes, but it’s not like Trixie is after ultimate power,” she lied. “I just want to level the playing field and take this unicorn on again. Now, Braeburn, it’s your turn.”

“My wish is simple,” he said. “Appleloosa lives or dies on its apple harvest...and this year, we had a bad one. About as bad as a harvest can get. We don't have enough for ourselves to eat, let alone to sell. I just want one wish, to fix this year’s harvest, so we’ll be around to try again next year.”

Despite the dire circumstances Braeburn described, Trixie continued to fix him with a suspicious gaze. “Yes, that does all sound very simple. Except for one minor detail. Just how does an ordinary Earth pony farmer know about a magical artifact like the Wishing Stone? Are there a lot of unicorns working the orchards there in Appleloosa?”

“No. But we are friendly with a buffalo tribe that lives nearby. I talked to their chief when our crop failed, and he told me that his shaman had been having visions of a magical stone, trapped in ice, that would be able to solve all of our problems. There was nothin’ I could do to help back in Appleloosa, but I thought maybe I could find whatever it was he was talkin’ about...if it even existed.”

Once more, the room fell into silence. At last, Trixie smiled and said “There, now everything is out in the open. And just so we’re all on the same page, Gilda, Trixie isn’t bothered by a little petty theft as a means to an end. But Braeburn was right in this case. Don’t steal from the ponies in a town where you need to spend the night—at least not until you're leaving the next morning." Trixie stood up from the bed and walked imperiously to the door. “Now, let’s go have some dinner,” she said, levitating her bag of coins to her side. “And don’t worry, Braeburn, Trixie earned this money honestly.”

***

While the conversation at dinner had ranged from terse to non-existent, Trixie was satisfied to awaken the next morning to find that both of her companions were still sleeping soundly in their beds. She doubted the air between them would stay clear for long, but if Braeburn was willing to stick around after getting confirmation of Trixie’s lax moral code, she knew she could persuade him to stay with them for the long haul.

In fact, she was now more concerned with Gilda. So far, she had assumed that the griffon shared her disgust for Ponyville and its inhabitants. She had even entertained the vague hope that Gilda wanted to use her wish to get back at Twilight Sparkle’s friends for humiliating her, which could only help Trixie’s own revenge plot. But what she had said the night before had sounded more forlorn than outraged. If Gilda wanted to waste her wish to force Rainbow Dash to be her friend again, that was her mistake to make. But Trixie wanted to know that the griffon wasn’t going to start getting soft on her before then.

More than anything, though, Trixie wanted a bath.

Crawling out of bed as quietly as she could and creeping out of the room, she headed to the inn's small communal bath, hoping she was up early enough to get there ahead of anypony else. The rest of the trip to the Crystal Mountains was going to take the three of them across wilderness and rough terrain, and the best Trixie would be able to hope for in terms of hygiene would be a quick dip in a river. While Trixie had never been pampered, the one part of life on the road that she had never really been able to adjust to was the sporadic access to plumbing.

After a short but satisfying soak, Trixie returned to their room to find Braeburn and Gilda up and—predictably—arguing.

"We should go through Manehattan," Braeburn was pleading. "We can cover more ground faster if we use the public transportation there. No reason to waste time trudgin' through the wilderness if we don't have to."

"I don't have to trudge through the wilderness," Gilda countered. "I can fly anytime I want to."

"Then you can fly over Manehattan while me and Trixie take a train!"

"Trixie can't leave you two alone for a minute, can she?" the unicorn asked, making no effort to hide the condescension in her voice. "We're not going through Manehattan, Braeburn. We don't want to draw attention to ourselves, and walking around the second biggest city in Equestria with a griffon is a great way to do that."

"Do you really think the coven has a Manehattan branch?"

"No, but the Equestrian Royal Guard does."

Braeburn's jaw literally dropped as he searched for his next words. "You mean you two are wanted by the Guard, too?"

"Don't be so naive," Trixie chastised him. "Of course Princess Celestia has her underlings looking for the Wishing Stone. I only know as much as I do about it because I conned a couple of them into telling me everything they knew. Now the guard wants to stop Gilda and me from getting the stone before the princess does. The whole story is a bit more complicated, but now you know the important part."

"I can't be part of this," Braeburn said, nervously pacing back and forth. "I wanna save Appleloosa, but not by betraying Princess Celestia."

"Oh come on, Braeburn," Gilda said, "stop playing innocent. You say you wanna use the stone to fix this year's harvest, but once you get your hooves on it, how are you gonna resist permanently changing the weather so there will never be another bad harvest again? I mean, I’m not even from Equestria, and even I know that’s a criminal offense here. I'm pretty sure it's punishable by bani—"

"That's enough!" Braeburn said, and for a moment the look of anguish on his face almost made Trixie feel sorry for him. "I know what I wanna do may not be strictly legal. But I don't think the princess would punish me for doin' it if it's gonna save ponies' lives. I just...just didn't wanna get involved in anything worse than that. But now it looks like I don't have a choice."

"Welcome to the life of a treasure hunter, Braeburn," Trixie said, being careful to sound as matter-of-fact as she could. "If we could always operate within the law, we would. But we can't. That's just the way it works."

"Don't worry," Braeburn said, somewhat caustically. "I ain't gonna desert you two, now. Y'all are my best chance at savin' Appleloosa, which I intend to do, even if savin' it turns out to be the lesser of two evils."

There was a moment of heavy silence before Trixie spoke again.

"If that's all settled, then we need to get back on the road. We'll head toward Manehattan, just so we can pick up more supplies on the outskirts of the city. We'll need some winter clothes, and extra food, just in case we encounter anything in the mountains that we aren't expecting. I have enough bits left over from my show yesterday to set us all up with that.”

"I'll do a quick flyover while you two are packing up," Gilda said somberly. "The Guard probably hasn't given up on chasing us."

With that, the griffon slipped out through a window, taking to the sky with less flash than was her usual practice. As Trixie packed, she stole the occasional glance at Braeburn. The sadness on the Earth pony's face was like nothing Trixie had seen before. For some reason it made her think back to Porter Stout, and whether the old barkeep had escaped punishment for his part in her escape. She chided herself for caring about whether he had, and got back to her preparations.