• 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 7

Once Gilda had been dragged unconscious into the safety of the cave, Trixie set about exploring to make sure there were no other hostile inhabitants. A light spell radiating from her horn, she easily made her way through the short passage, which turned out to be little more than a curved hallway leading to another opening at the opposite end. There were other narrow passages branching off here and there, but none were of a size that would accommodate anything larger than bats or rodents―if any such creatures even existed in the Crystal Mountains’ forbidding climate.

As she walked the short distance back to where Braeburn was tending to Gilda's wounds, Trixie tried not to let anger overtake her. For the time being, she had no way of knowing what had happened before she and Braeburn arrived at the scene of the fight, but she suspected Gilda's recklessness had played a major role. Now the griffon was incapacitated with a broken wing at best, a concussion or internal injuries at worst. Even though Trixie couldn't be entirely sure of what tests lay between her and the Wishing Stone, she had only brought Gilda along because of her skill as a flier. Without that, she would be nothing more than a noisy hindrance.

Braeburn was just finishing up his hasty first aid job as Trixie returned to what would have to serve as their camp. "How bad is it?" she asked.

"Broken," he said simply, making a few final checks of his work.

"Are you sure? Have you done first aid on a griffon before?"

"No, but I've worked on a couple of pegasi. Their wings ain't that much different, just a little smaller."

The Earth pony stood, but continued looking solemnly at the incapacitated griffon lying at his hooves. "What'd you find?"

"Nothing. The cave just winds around to another opening at the other end."

"We need to set a trap, then. Just in case that yeti thing comes back."

"I'll cast an alarm spell by this opening," Trixie said.

"All I got's some rope, but I should be able to rig up something that’ll keep us safe for the night."

Braeburn seemed to be talking more to himself than Trixie. There was no mistaking the frustration and anxiety on his face as he absently broke off the conversation and wandered away, stopping to pick up his rope as he went. Trixie knew he wouldn't say so while Gilda was unconscious and unable to defend herself, but he was as unhappy with the griffon as she was. Not only had Gilda's refusal to flee from the fight with the yeti put their chances of finding the Wishing Stone in serious jeopardy, the avalanche that battle caused had placed all of their lives at risk.

As Trixie cast her alarm spell at the cave’s newly expanded front entrance, Gilda seemed to be doing her best to distract her, snorting and murmuring wordlessly. Trixie grumbled to herself, but blocked out the noise long enough to successfully perform the incantation. As she made her way back to her bedroll, she noticed Gilda’s sounds starting to take the form of actual words. The thought of the griffon inadvertently giving up some embarrassing secret was bait that Trixie couldn't resist, and she sat perfectly still, making sure she wouldn’t miss a word.

"...figured out..." Gilda mumbled, "...what it means to be..."

Gilda trailed off just as Braeburn returned, but he hadn’t completely missed what had happened. "Ain't that a surprise," he said, sitting down on his own bedroll. "Even when she's unconscious, she's still runnin' her mouth."

"Look on the bright side," Trixie said, only half playfully. "We might learn some deep, dark secret we can use to shut her up when she's awake."

Braeburn laughed, a little humorlessly, as Gilda segued once more into intelligible words.

"...a real griffon...Rainbow Dash..."

At the mention of Rainbow Dash's name, Braeburn's face immediately twisted in confusion, and Trixie thought her blood had frozen in her veins.

"Rainbow Dash," Braeburn repeated blankly. "How does Gilda know that name?"

"I don't know," Trixie lied. "This is the first time she's mentioned her."

"But you know it's a 'her', and not a 'he'," Braeburn said, suddenly displaying a suspicion and cleverness of which Trixie would never have thought him capable.

"What, it was a lucky guess!" she protested. "Stop being so―"

"Rainbow Dash is the friend Gilda wants back, ain't she?" Braeburn's voice was rising as he stood again. "I knew there was somethin' off about the way you two talked about Ponyville! Nopony who goes to a town like that with good intentions comes away not likin' it. What did you two do there?"

Trixie sighed, and shot another disdainful look at Gilda.

"We didn't do anything," she said. "Gilda and I have only known each other a few hours longer than we've known you. But we were...united by the bad experiences we had in Ponyville."

"And now you wanna use the Wishing Stone to get revenge?"

“You heard Gilda before,” Trixie said, trying to diffuse Braeburn's anger. “She’s not looking for revenge. She just wants her friend back.”

“But it’s a different story with you. You say you just wanna have another go at some unicorn who showed you up, but that ain’t the whole truth, is it?”

"Braeburn,” Trixie said, struggling to maintain a calm, even tone, “Trixie shouldn't have to remind you why you're here. You want to save Appleloosa at any cost. But maybe you don't want to know what the cost is."

"The unicorn―what's her name?"

"Braeburn―"

"Tell me," the Earth pony demanded. “My cousin, Applejack, is friends with a unicorn there, and―”

"Fine!” Trixie interrupted, losing her temper at last. “You want to know? Trixie will tell you. The unicorn’s name is Twilight Sparkle. She is friends with Rainbow Dash, and with your cousin, too, assuming your cousin’s the bumpkin with a stupid hat and apples on her flank. Twilight humiliated me in front of everypony and nearly ruined my career!"

“And you were lyin' when you said you wouldn't use the Wishing Stone to make yourself more powerful than her, weren't you?”

Trixie’s lips moved, but to her surprise, no words emerged. All this time, she really had planned to use the Wishing Stone to make it so that Twilight Sparkle would stand as little chance against her as Trixie had stood against the Ursa Minor back in Ponyville. But that plan had only ever lived inside her head. Now, faced with a demand that she give it the finality of putting it into words, she found her resolve beginning to waver. Would she really be satisfied by crushing Twilight Sparkle so easily after dreaming of revenge for so long? Would she feel any sense of achievement afterwards, or would her humiliation only be replaced by emptiness?

"Well?" Braeburn demanded. Trixie was finding it harder to think clearly. Gilda was out of commission, and she had a feeling that no matter what answer she gave, Braeburn was going to desert her. She was so close, but all at once, everything was starting to slip through her hooves. Through a haze of anger, frustration and exhaustion, Trixie blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

"Of course I am! Why settle for anything less than ultimate magical power if I can have it?"

For an interminable moment, there was silence, as Braeburn and Trixie stared hatefully at each other.

"Then you're on your own," Braeburn said at last. "Twilight Sparkle and her friends helped Appleloosa, and I ain't about to sell them out. Not even if it means..."

But he didn't finish the sentence. His gaze fell to the cave floor. After another tense silence, he looked at Trixie again.

"Thanks for helpin' me get this far. I'll leave the trap I set up at the other entrance, so you’ll be safe tonight."

Trixie watched as Braeburn started to walk away, desperation completely overtaking her. "You'll never get the Wishing Stone without us!" she called after him.

"I don't think you ever planned to let me use it in the first place," Braeburn countered.

"Stop!" Trixie shouted. "Or Trixie will make you stop!"

Braeburn said nothing—didn't even turn to see if Trixie intended to make good on her threat. She began charging energy for a spell, but realized that she didn't even know what she intended to cast. As Braeburn disappeared around the bend, the unicorn hung her head.

At last, Trixie headed back to the camp where Gilda still lay unconscious. Trixie looked at her in disgust as she flopped down on her bedroll.

"Trixie learned what it means to be a real griffon, too," the unicorn said. "It means being a feathering idiot!"

***

A cry of pain shook Trixie from her deep, dreamless sleep. The unicorn was on her hooves, flailing about in the pitch darkness before the sting of the mountain air reminded her where she was. Gilda’s consciousness had returned, and with it a stream of obscenities as loud as they were incoherent.

"Gilda!" Trixie said, trying to keep her voice below a shout. "Be quiet! Remember where we are!"

The griffon's cries ceased, but the tirade of swears continued in a dull murmur. As Trixie's horn began to glow softly with a light spell, she saw that Gilda was on her haunches, clutching at her broken wing.

"Stop that," Trixie ordered her. "Braeburn bandaged you up the best he could, and if you pull it loose, you're be hurting a lot more than you already are."

Gilda's moaning continued, though it had started to sound more like frustration than pain. "Right...now I remember."

"Well, at least we have that," Trixie said sarcastically. "And just so you know, Braeburn is gone."

"What?"

"Our Earth pony left while you were still napping. You were talking in your sleep―about Rainbow Dash. It led to a rather awkward line of questions that I had to field for you."

Gilda groaned again.

"Yes, that about sums it up," Trixie said.

"So...what now?" Gilda asked after a few moments. "I mean...we keep going, right?"

"Of course we keep going," Trixie said. "There's no guarantee that Porter's information was right. Maybe we don't even need an Earth pony."

"If that's true, then you wouldn't need a griffon, either," Gilda said, more than a hint of suspicion in her voice.

"Then you should consider yourself lucky, given your current situation," Trixie replied. "Now go back to sleep. Braeburn's going to try to find the stone on his own, and we're going to beat him to it. Even if Trixie has to drag your carcass the rest of the way up the mountain."

Taking her own advice, Trixie laid back down, but sleep would not return to her until the sky began to lighten with the impending sunrise.

***

As soon as he was out of the cave and back in the biting cold, Braeburn realized how rash his departure had been. However, his conscience wouldn't have let him return, even if his pride would have. He had left with little more than the cloak on his back, and he was unsure whether he would be able to find another cave in which to take shelter. If Trixie's information was accurate, he wouldn't even be able to claim the Wishing Stone for himself. Not for the first time on his journey, hopelessness threatened to overwhelm him.

Twilight Sparkle and her friends had helped Appleloosa through its first crisis, and now he had to choose between protecting the town and protecting them. He resented the cruelty of fate that had put him in the position to make that choice, so much so that he was determined to subvert it. Even if all he knew about what lay ahead of him said that that was impossible, he would find a way.

"Ain't nothin' a unicorn and a griffon can do that an Earth pony can't, if he puts his mind to it," he said aloud, as much to move his rapidly numbing lips as to reassure himself. His words were not a great success at either, but no sooner had he spoken than he caught sight of something ahead of him that, if only slightly, gave his flagging spirits a boost.

There, carved into the mountain, was what appeared to be another cave entrance. To his further relief, it was large enough to easily accommodate him, but not so big that a beast like the yeti could have fit through it. Braeburn wasted no time galloping over to it and squeezing inside.

"Thank Celestia," he mumbled, throwing off his saddlebags and collapsing to the ground. He sat on his haunches, his cloak pulled tight around his shoulders. The cave could not be considered warm by any stretch, but it at least offered some protection from the relentless assault of the wind.

When his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, Braeburn huddled further into his shelter, but quickly realized that it was little more than an oversized crack in the side if the mountain. There was, at most, room for two ponies inside, which made him feel much more optimistic about his chance of lasting through the night than he had just moments before. If he could survive the cold, at least he wouldn't have to worry about monsters.

In the morning, he would continue his climb, on his own. Without Trixie's magic, he would have some difficulty pinpointing the stone's exact location, but he felt safe in assuming that he would eventually get there if he just followed the most difficult path. It had, after all, brought him this far.

***

"That idiot dirt pony," Trixie spat, pulling herself up over another ledge. "When Trixie has supreme magical power, he's going to wish he hadn't run away. But we'll see how much good his wishes do him then!"

"You say that like you had any intention of giving him one of the wishes in the first place," Gilda said, making no move to help as Trixie clambered back to her hooves.

"Don't interrupt Trixie's dreams of conquest!" the unicorn snapped.

"Look,” Gilda said, “I still think Porter's info was probably good. That means we’re gonna need Braeburn's help to get the Wishing stone, whether you like it or not.”

“Nonsense,” Trixie said haughtily, walking past Gilda on the small landing they had reached. Even if Porter was right about the test, what can an Earth pony do that a unicorn and a griffon can't? Are we going to have to plow our way to the stone?”

“Come on, Trixie,” Gilda groaned, “can’t you even pretend to take this seriously?”

Trixie stopped and turned to face Gilda again. “And what are we going to do, Gilda?” She asked. “Tie Braeburn up and force him to help us? We don’t know what we’re walking into, we don’t know if Braeburn will even make it to the stone without my magic guiding him, and we don’t know if you’re going to be of any use with a broken wing. Whether or not I find a way to convince Braeburn that I’m not going to banish Twilight Sparkle and all of her friends to the moon is hardly my most pressing concern right now, so let’s just keep going and hope that we can figure something out if we have to.”

As Trixie started to climb again, she added under her breath, “It’s not like any of my plans have worked yet anyway.”

***

When Braeburn's eyes opened the next morning, the first thing he felt was pure joy at still being alive. He had run out of the cave the day before without his bedroll, but his cloak had kept him warm enough to get through the night, even if it was becoming progressively harder to feel most of his body.

Still, the sun was out, and as he munched on an oat bar from his saddlebags, Braeburn tried to lift his spirits by admiring how the morning sun made the landscape of snow and crystal shimmer until it blended seamlessly with the sky above. He was seeing something that nopony else from Appleloosa was ever likely to see, and he took some solace in that, even if he wasn't sure he'd ever return to tell anypony about it. At once, his mind filled with memories of the desert heat, the satisfying ache of his muscles after a day of apple bucking, drinks with friends at the saloon on weekends. Since he started his northward journey, he had tried to keep specific thoughts of home from his mind, but now, alone at the opposite end of the continent, he could no longer fight them off.

Maybe, he told himself, he never should have tried. He had been afraid that if he thought about Appleloosa as more than an abstract cause to fight for, he would become too discouraged to carry on. Now, with nothing but those memories to propel him into what would, for better or worse, be the last leg of his journey, he decided there was no more harm in embracing them. His meager breakfast finished, he shouldered his saddlebags again and, steeling himself with a deep breath, started back up the mountain.

In the icy drone of the wind and the blinding sparkle of crystal coming from all directions, Braeburn quickly lost track of how long he had been climbing. As the ordeal of the past few days made itself known ever more insistently in his legs and back, he started to feel as if his entire life had been spent trudging against the bitter cold. Only the memories of Appleloosa, which he allowed to occupy an ever greater share of his thoughts as the monotony of the climb continued, reminded him that he had ever known a life outside of the mountains' dizzying reaches. But the cold had long since ceased to feel much different from his memories of the frontier town's heat, and the arduous journey to wherever it was he was going gradually became indistinguishable from the rigors of the settlers' original caravan to Appleloosa. When he heard Sheriff Silverstar's voice, his surprise only lasted for a second before his friend’s presence made perfect sense.

"Hey, kid," the gruff old pony said, his bushy black mustache bouncing along with the words, "you still with us?"

"Wh—y-yeah, I'm right here," Braeburn answered blearily.

"Coulda fooled me. Looked like you were in another world. Got somethin' on your mind?"

"Nah. Nothin' much. Well, nothin' worth talkin' about, anyway."

"Aw, c'mon, kid, we got nothin' but time out here on the trail. Humor me."

Braeburn stared at his hooves and thought about how to say what he was thinking. He hated to offend anypony, but didn't see a way around it in this case.

"It's just...I'm committed to makin' Appleloosa work, but I guess the more I think about it, the less sure I am we need to go way out to the frontier for that. Equestria's got plenty of unsettled land that'd be better for growin' apples. Why do we have'ta trudge all the way out to the desert when we could start up a town somewhere that's a lot more hospitable to us?"

Silverstar was silent for so long that Braeburn began to feel uncomfortable, worrying that his words had been even more offensive than he had feared. When the Sheriff finally spoke, though, his tone was as calm and measured as always.

"I reckon you could look at it that way," he said, "but maybe there’s more to it. Lemme ask you somethin’. Why'd you join up with this little expedition in the first place?"

Braeburn scarcely had to think at all before answering. "I was tired of livin' where everything was so civilized and...well, solved."

"You wanted to challenge yourself," Silverstar said, with a sage nod.

"Yeah. But growin' apples in the middle of the desert ain't exactly the challenge I was lookin' for."

"I don't think that's what anypony on this trail's lookin' for," Silverstar said. "Well, except for Shamrock, but then gardnenin' is his special talent."

"And my special talent is apple farmin'. So shouldn't that be the challenge I'm here for?"

"Not necessarily," Silverstar said. "There's more to a pony than his special talent. Take me. Law enforcement's my special talent, but I don't go home at the end of the day and enforce the law for fun. And even though I know there'll be a lot of work for me to do out on the frontier, it ain't the only reason I came. Hay, it ain't even the main reason."

"What was, then?"

"Don't you worry them pretty golden locks of yours about that, boy," Silverstar said, giving Braeburn a cross look. "We're talkin' about you, here."

"Well, I reckon it'll sound a little funny, but...I wanted to live somewhere that I could give more to society than just apples. I wanted to feel like I actually had a hoof in where things were goin', instead of just taggin' along with everypony else."

"No, that don't sound funny 'tall," Silverstar said. "But if that's the case, there is somethin’ you’re gonna have to do.”

“And what’s that?” Braeburn asked.

“Snap out of it.”

"What?" Braeburn came to a complete stop, but when he turned to where Silverstar should have been, he saw only the icy sparkle of snow all around him.

He was still in the mountains. He had no idea how far he had walked while hallucinating the conversation with Sheriff Silverstar, but given the depth of the snow, he knew he was at a much higher altitude than when he set out that morning. More importantly, he was no longer sure he was going in the direction Trixie had been leading him before they parted ways. Panicked, he whirled back around, but what he saw there froze him where he stood.

At first, Braeburn thought the black stone structure jutting into the sky in the distance, was just another trick of his beleaguered imagination. Even setting aside the obviously imported materials, nopony could even have built even a simple fortification this high in the mountains, let alone a monolithic temple like the one that now stood before him. As he moved closer, and the ancient and ornate carvings on the structure’s facade came into focus, he kept waiting on the mirage to disappear, or to be revealed as nothing more than a pile of rocks. Even as he reached out to touch the stone that might have been older than Equestria itself, he expected his hoof to pass right through the facade.

That never happened. With a satisfying clop, the stone resisted.

“This is your last chance,” Braeburn said. “If you ain’t real, now’s the time to let me know.”

He touched it again. And again. Soon he was knocking on the wall with foalish glee. “Well shave my mane and call me ‘Drafty’!” he said, relieved laughter overtaking his words. “This ain’t an illusion after all!"

The pieces quickly fell into place. This had to be the location of the Wishing Stone, and that meant there had to be a way inside. However, where the entrance should have been, there was only a seam running vertically from the ground to about twice the height of a particularly tall pony. Except for the conspicuous lack of any way to open it, it gave every appearance of being a double door.

Braeburn started to examine the structure more carefully, looking for anything that would cause the doors to part and grant him entry. He traced a hoof over the lines of carvings—which he assumed were magical runes—that ran vertically down each side of the would-be doors. He pushed on the massive stone slabs in various spots, and when that failed, made a complete circuit around the temple looking for any expertly hidden mechanisms. Finally arriving back at his starting point, he began to jump up and down in front of what appeared to be the only possible point of ingress, as if the building hadn’t welcomed him simply because it was unaware of his presence.

Nothing changed, though. The wind whipped around him in a white din, and the doors stood stoic as ever, taunting him with their refusal to share his sense of urgency.

"Come on you lousy rocks!" Braeburn shouted petulantly. "Appleloosa's gonna die if you don't open!"

"Isn't that rather dramatic?" came a voice from behind him. Braeburn recognized it once, and his shoulders slumped as he realized what it meant.

"Trixie," he said resignedly as the unicorn, along with Gilda, came to his side. "Let me guess, it's gonna take all three of us just to get into this thing, ain't it?"

"It would appear that way," Trixie said thoughtfully, looking up and down the line of runes that bordered the doors. "Jumping up and down and yelling at it didn't work, so that only leaves magic."

"So what do we do?" Gilda asked.

"First," Trixie replied, "we get our Earth pony's assurance that he's not going to try to sabotage the whole operation again."

Trixie, and even Gilda, took a step back as Braeburn turned and, with a cry of frustration and anger, bucked the doors as hard as he could. When they still showed no sign of opening, he fixed Trixie with a look of pure disgust.

"I can't give you that," he said. "But I reckon you need me to get through those blasted doors as much as I need you. So I'll do what I have to to get inside. But I ain’t makin’ any promises about what happens after that."

Trixie looked back to the runes, then to Braeburn's defiant expression. With a sigh, she finally answered him. "Fine, then. Just remember, you're the one making this difficult, not Trixie. Now please stand aside for a moment. Getting these doors open is going to require magic."

Braeburn moved from his position in front of the doors, but just enough to give Trixie room to take his place. If she was going to pull some trick, he wanted to see it up close. However, for a long moment, the unicorn did nothing more than continue to study the runes.

"These really are ancient," she said, "which means that the magic they indicate is rather primitive. Or, perhaps 'primal' is a better way of putting it. At any rate, the information Porter gave us appears to be right. This incantation makes use of unicorn, Earth pony, and pegasus magic."

"Hey, look at this!" Gilda interrupted. She was scraping at the ground with her talons, and Braeburn immediately saw why. Underneath the snow, beneath their hooves, was some sort of stone plate that appeared to be connected to the rest of the structure. "Braeburn," she said, "help me get this uncovered!"

Braeburn jumped in immediately, thankful to have anything to contribute after his helplessness in the face of the doors. In seconds, they had cleared enough of the snow to see the plate clearly. Though the runes were meaningless to him, even he could immediately recognize the significance of the other engravings in the stone slab. Three symbols were arranged in a triangle: a moon and stars at the top, nearest the doors; below and to the left, a cloud with rain and lightning coming out of it; and to the right of that, a tree sprouting from the earth. The icons were obviously meant to represent the three kinds of pony magic.

“Of course!” Trixie said, mostly to herself, as she looked down at the engravings. “I don’t know why this never occurred to me! I mean, I knew my part of the test would be focused on magic, but I assumed the other two parts would focus on Earth ponies’ and pegasi’s physical traits.”

“You, uh, wanna fill the rest of us in?” Gilda asked.

Trixie whirled around to face her companions again, beaming triumphantly. “Trixie has solved the mystery! The test, the way we’re going to open these doors and get to the Wishing Stone, is entirely magical. If I’m reading the runes correctly—and really, what are the chances that I’m not—then an alicorn who wanted to enter would use her unicorn magic to channel her Earth pony and pegasus magic into this platform to open the doors.”

“So you’re gonna pull the magic out of us instead,” Gilda said, understanding dawning.

“That’s all well and good,” Braeburn interrupted, “but I thought Gilda was here because she can fly, not because she’s magical.”

“Griffons have some magic in us, too!” Gilda said sharply. “We can walk on clouds and control the weather like pegasi. We just don’t feel the need to build big, showy cloud houses, since they don’t exactly do a great job of keeping your enemies out.”

“Gilda’s magic should be strong enough to open the doors,” Trixie said. “I don’t think the spell is based on having an alicorn’s power. We just need to be able to show the doors that all three types of magic are present.”

“Then let’s get it over with,” Braeburn said.

“Fine with me,” Trixie agreed, any hint of friendliness once again absent from her voice. Braeburn didn’t care that his sourness had spoiled her brief good mood at having unraveled the temple’s puzzle. He was too busy thinking of a way to stop Trixie from rushing for the Wishing Stone the second the door opened.

Trixie took her place on the unicorn magic symbol, and the others followed her lead. “You two just stand still, and try to focus on the magic inside you,” she said. “The more you can bring it to the surface yourselves, the easier it will be for me to direct it into the platform.” Braeburn had to admit that she was showing a different side of herself, one that actually had some appreciation for her craft rather than for the attention it could bring her.

For a moment, as Trixie’s horn began to glow, Braeburn felt nothing. He risked a glance at Gilda, and saw that she was also watching Trixie intently. He almost envied the griffon, who seemed to have no doubt that Trixie was going to share the Wishing Stone’s magic with her. However, any sympathy he might have had for Gilda disappeared the moment he remembered that she wanted to use that magic to control Rainbow Dash’s mind, and force the pegasus to be her friend again.

Braeburn's thoughts were snapped back to the present when he began to feel a strange pull inside of him. Suddenly, the smell of dirt and leaves and fruit was in his nostrils, as if he were back on the orchard in Appleloosa. The snow and stone and crystal were still there before his eyes, but under his hooves was the feeling of sweet, fertile soil. The sensations were so strong that he looked around wildly, convinced that Trixie’s weakness had all been an act, that she was teleporting them to some verdant field far away from the shimmering crystal of the mountains.

The landscape didn’t change, though, and as the stone beneath his hooves began to glow with the same pink light as Trixie’s horn, he realized that her spell was working. She was drawing his Earth pony magic to the surface, taking it into herself and passing it into the stone beneath them. Then the glow extended out from the platform until it touched the bottom of the doors, slowly creeping up, up, until the twin slabs were bathed in pink light, and the grinding of their ancient weight began.

“It’s working!” Gilda cried. “The doors are opening!” But Trixie didn’t respond. The unicorn was lost in magic that was, Braeburn suspected, more powerful than any she had ever performed before.

The grating sound of stone moving across stone continued, until the doors had swung open, back into the structure that they had protected for untold centuries. Within, Braeburn could see nothing but darkness. As suddenly as it had come, the magic receded back into him. His senses were back in the Crystal Mountains, in the snow and the lashing wind. The glow of Trixie’s magic was gone, and the unicorn was swaying like a drunk in front of him. Gilda moved first, but Braeburn wasn’t far behind, and the two of them caught the unicorn as she collapsed.

Trixie was spent. But the doors were open.

***

Trixie had no idea when she had fallen. Once her companions’ magic began to flow into her, she had lost all sense of time and place. When she came to her senses and found the two of them holding her, she had at first mistaken the warmth of their bodies for the continuation of the spell. It was only when she saw that the doors were standing wide open before them that she realized the spell was over, and she had succeeded.

Gilda was the first to notice her stirring. “You ok, Lulamoon?”

“Trixie is...Trixie is exhausted. But she will accept your thanks and praise for the magical feat she just accomplished.”

“Don’t push it,” Braeburn said.

“I gotta admit,” Gilda said, “that was pretty feathering impressive. I mean, my wing’s even feeling a little better.”

Trixie’s mind was still trying to readjust to the mundane world after being in the path of such a powerful wave of magic. She wanted to tell Gilda that the cloud magic she had been channeling was part of the essence of griffons as much as pegasi, and that bringing so much of it to the surface had probably greatly accelerated her body’s natural healing processes. However, she wasn’t sure if that was true, or if the euphoria she was still feeling just made it seem as if magic was everywhere, dictating the course of everything in the world.

“I guess that don’t matter now,” Braeburn said. “I mean, we got the doors open, so...now we just walk in and take the stone?”

“Only one way to find out,” Gilda said.

“Give me a minute,” Trixie said. The sensation that lingered within her after the casting was both invigorating and terrifying, but curiosity made her want to savor it as long as she could. Her limbs felt unsure and tingly, as if she were intoxicated, but her mind was sharper than it had ever been. For the duration of the spell, Trixie Lulamoon had ceased to exist. She had felt her consciousness unravel, only to be rewoven into the fabric of the universe. For a moment, she had to fight back the desperate urge to abandon her mission. It had taken all of her skill to draw the energy out of Gilda and Braeburn, but the rest of the spell was the magical equivalent of dumping a bucket of water on the floor. If that relatively unsophisticated feat had been enough to nullify her sense of self, she was afraid her mind would never be able to endure the vastly more powerful spells her wish would allow her to cast.

With a valiant effort, she put that thought out of her mind, or at least to one side of it. She refused to let the greatest magical triumph of her life be for nothing. “I’m ready,” she finally said. Then, when neither Gilda nor Braeburn released their hold on her, she added “Which means, you two can let me go now.”

Without the support of her companions, Trixie wobbled and very nearly fell, but ultimately managed to remain standing. Almost as if she were learning to walk again, she slowly, carefully made her way through the doors. Magical torches sparked to life along the walls, shedding their soft blue light on the ageless room, which Trixie realized was as much a vault as a temple. She didn’t have to look to know that Gilda and Braeburn were right behind her, but she could tolerate their presence just a bit longer. Her strength would return as soon as she laid eyes on the Wishing Stone. Then, she could finally enact the plan that had been incubating in her mind since she agreed to accept Gilda's help.

“So...where is it?” Gilda asked. “I don’t see anything.”

As soon as they entered, Trixie had noticed a dais at the other end of the room, and was steadily advancing on it. Something had been laid there, but in the low light it was nothing more than an indistinct shape.

“Maybe it’s on that altar,” Braeburn offered, when Trixie failed to reply.

“Be careful,” Trixie finally said. “There has to be more security than just those doors.” She suspected that was true, but also hoped it would prevent the others from attempting to rush ahead of her. Step by agonizing step, they crept closer to the altar until finally the object laying there became clear. It was a simple black stone, possibly obsidian, polished but nowhere near as ornately cut as the amethyst in her dreams.

“Is...is that it?” Gilda asked.

“Wait,” Trixie said. “I’m going to cast one last detect magic spell. If that’s really the Wishing Stone, the feedback should be overwhelming.”

Trixie began to channel the energy into her horn. Her thoughts were so scattered that the act of shaping it into the desired spell took far more concentration than normal. Even if she had not been so focused, though, she wouldn’t have been able to move before the trapdoor swung open beneath her hooves. Almost as soon as she realized that she was falling, she came crashing down on her rump. It was enough to knock the breath out of her and cause a considerable amount of pain, but she knew right away the fall hadn’t been far enough to cause any lasting damage. There was plenty of light in this new chamber, carved directly into the solid crystal of the mountain. She saw immediately that she had been separated from Gilda and Braeburn, but that wasn't the worst of it. Looking up, she could also see that the trapdoor had already closed behind her.

“Gilda! Braeburn!” she shouted. “Can you hear me?”

She waited nearly a minute, but no response came. For all she knew, their own falls had been far less benign, but before she had much time to think about that grim possibility, she noticed the sign at the opposite end of the chamber. Hurrying over to it, her eyes landed on its message, and her heart sank.

The real test starts here.