• Published 29th Jan 2012
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The Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends - psychicscubadiver



Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, accidentally travels to Equestria. What could go wrong?

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Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

Written by: Psychicscubadiver
Edited by: Silentcarto

Disclaimer: I don’t own The Dresden Files or My Little Pony, that is Jim Butcher and Hasbro, respectively. This is a fanfiction only. Comments are appreciated, trolling is not. This takes place before season two in MLP and between books five and six in the Dresden Files.

At last Castle Silverstar is almost done, Trixie thought as she walked down the enormous stone corridor. This one connected the inner keep’s throne room with her bedchambers. It was well past time that she should have taken her rest; she was exhausted. Two hours of non-stop magic had taken their toll, even with the power of Nightmare coursing through her veins. But it was worth the effort. She gave herself an impish smile in a passing mirror and had to fight to contain her joy. Finally, the castle she’d dreamed of as a filly was hers, and nopony could ever take it away.

The Nightmare stirred as they walked through an open door, and a new thought entered her mind. This doorway is unprotected, and it is a critical access point to your sleeping quarters. Should you be attacked in your sleep, all of our preparations will be for nothing. Let us set a snare here.

“Do we have to?” Trixie complained, quite reasonably. Whining was beneath her. “I’ve already set dozens of traps, some of them ridiculously elaborate. Not to mention the spell I have in place to warn me if anypony even nears the quarry. One more trap won’t make the difference between victory or defeat, and I’m utterly exhausted.”

The familiar voice fell silent, and Trixie sauntered past the empty arch. The Nightmare’s second defeat had left it paranoid, Trixie thought with a huff. The description of its time within the Elements of Harmony did sound quite harrowing, but that didn’t excuse it from bothering her over trifles. Though if she stopped to think about it…

If the Nightmare was right, she could be easily defeated just by missing a key point of protection. The thought of losing everything she now had - her castle, a wise ally, and all of this glorious power - chilled her to the bone. But she couldn’t just go back on what she had said. Worry began to creep through her mind as the Nightmare spoke again.

Perhaps, that is somewhat unreasonable. You have worked long and hard on many other details, but still it is worrisome. Might you find it within yourself to do this as a favor? It would be very magnanimous of you.

“Well,” Trixie hesitated. “I suppose the Dark and All-powerful Trixie can spare the time to help her staunchest ally. Besides, it never hurts to be prepared.” For a moment she thought she heard a malicious chuckle echo through the castle, but when she focused on the sound, she realized it was nothing but the wind whistling through the stony halls.

Returning to the arch, she studied it, and the Nightmare reminded her of the castle’s blueprint. There was nothing but solid rock for several yards under this area of the castle, partially for stability, but also to prevent any entry from below. It was unlikely the Diamond Dogs or any other burrowing creature would dare attack her, but such insurance was always welcome. Simple would be best, given her current state. She would make this one a pit trap. A moment’s thought and a wave of fresh power outlined a large square on the floor, then the magic began to sink into the rock. Whatever it touched changed, becoming soft and malleable as clay. With more power Trixie began to pull out the pliable stone, until the pit was seven or eight feet deep. An idle part of her mind began to shape some of the discarded pieces into a wide, flat slab even as she focused and teleported the rest of the stone into the quarry. The rest of the enchanted rock remaining in the pit she formed into spikes, thin and viciously barbed. At the Nightmare’s direction she spaced them just far enough apart to ensure that nopony could land safety. Formless tendrils of mystical energy scraped the walls of the pit smooth and compressed the stone in the spikes until they were as hard as rock even under the power of her shaping spell.

The rest of her mind finished with the slab, and Trixie paused to admire it. The mosaic she’d etched into it was a stunning piece of work, all the more so given the period of time in which she had done it. To the uncultured it might appear as a chaotic mix of lines and shades, but Trixie saw it for the abstract masterpiece it was. She levitated it over the mouth of the pit and carefully fit it into place. It settled snugly, and with a sigh Trixie released the stone shaping spell. The spears in the trap below stiffened suddenly, turning hard as diamond, and the mosaic became simple stone once more.

Now for the tricky bit. Trixie focused on dual enchantments. One turned the stone cover into dust, and the other held the first at bay until anypony other than Trixie crossed through the doorway. Carefully, she set them, holding the first until its trigger was ready. With a burst of will she finished both at once, her horn bathing the hallway in a blaze of blue light. The floor panel flashed with color, but quickly returned to its dull grey, seemingly unchanged. Trixie could feel the enchantment at work though, a tense spring just held back by the power of the second.

Trixie yawned. The process had barely taken a minute, but it had drained her already low reserves. She gazed at her welcoming bed in the distance. It almost seemed to be calling her. But first, she had to cross over the pit. She glanced nervously at the floor.

Go on. Walk across it, the Nightmare prompted. No need to be nervous. You completed the spell flawlessly.

Easy for you to say, Trixie thought sullenly. Hesitantly putting one hoof in front of the other, she held what little magic she had left. If the trap triggered, she could levitate herself to safety. But much to her relief, and the Nightmare’s satisfaction, the spell recognized her and the floor underhoof remained solid.

The last fifty feet felt like a mile, but finally she dragged herself into her enormous canopy bed. Pulling the curtains closed, she relaxed and let herself drift off softly to-

ERNT ERNT ERNT ERNT

“You are bucking kidding me!” Trixie screamed in frustration.

The warning charm continued unabated by her outburst. Its booming, annoying tone echoed throughout her mind. With an angry thought she silenced it. The moment the siren stopped the Nightmare began its own complaining.

Hurry! It urged, and a sense of extreme anxiety came over Trixie. She ignored it, or least tried to. Several somethings have entered the quarry. You must investigate.

With a long-suffering sigh, Trixie pulled herself from the bed, swearing dark oaths about the fate of whatever creature had disturbed her rest. Once upright and refocused, she reached out, concentrating on her subtle web of detection spells. The breakage was from one of the farthest corners of the quarry in the forest just outside its limits. There were multiple creatures, all large enough to set off her sensors.

This was serious. Trixie stopped complaining, and the Nightmare began a rush of paranoid whispers, all speculating on what had gone wrong. The group hadn’t set off the second line yet, so they must be moving slowly. Trixie walked down the hall and up a flight of stairs toward one of her many unfurnished rooms. It would be her study, once the castle was finished, but for the moment it was empty and unlit. Trixie left it darkened and moved carefully to one of its windows.

Focusing on her spells again, she stared intently at the distant forest. Before her transformation, she would’ve been practically blind in the darkness, but now the weak moonlight illuminated her domain more brightly than the noon sun. Even a creature of night had limits, though, and the trespassers were much too distant to make out. A minor spell of far-seeing fixed that, allowing her to view the remote scene.

Trixie cursed quietly, and the Nightmare’s whispers doubled in speed.

“I should have known,” Trixie murmured, still staring at the ponies invading the quarry. “Despite her limited talents, Twilight has always been a thorn in my side. Of course she and her friends would interrupt my well-deserved rest.” She began to plot, considering how to deal with them as quickly and efficiently as possible, but her train of thought was entirely derailed by the appearance of another creature. It was a ridiculously tall biped, completely covered in strange clothing. It carried a stick almost as tall as itself in one long, twig-fingered hand and a glowing crystal hung from the other. Twilight conferred briefly with the bizarre being, both of them staring intently ahead.

What in Equestria is that thing? She wondered. The answer came from a surprising source.

A human? Here? The Nightmare asked in surprise. Its voice fell to a low mutter, too quiet for Trixie to catch more than a few scattered words.

“The Dark and All-powerful Trixie assumes you have some knowledge about that mare’s odd new ally.” She got nothing but a mental nod in response, and the speculative murmuring continued. Fighting down a fresh wave of frustration, Trixie acidly asked, “Would you be so kind as to share it?”

Humans are a violent little race from another realm. They hold an astounding amount of darkness in their hearts, but they can be quite irrational when angered. Volatile and unpredictable. This one’s arrival is very unfortunate – the glowing crystal indicates that he is capable of magic. Depending on his realm of origin, he may be a formidable opponent. We must deal carefully with this one. Given your current state of exhaustion, the best course of action would be to hold a knife to the dragonling’s throat and offer his life in exchange for Twilight’s. Kill her in front of her friends, then return to the castle and rest. They should be enraged enough to attempt a frontal attack. The castle’s traps will kill most of them, and after recovering fully, you can slaughter the survivors at your leisure.

For a moment Trixie was speechless.

An excellent plan, is it not?

“No! It most certainly is not!” Trixie screamed, her horn flickering with power born of her rage. An aura as black as the void surrounded her, and what little light entered the room was overwhelmed. “That is the most cowardly, pathetic plan ever devised. You would have the Dark and All-powerful Trixie hide behind a hostage? She holds a power greater than any those inferior little foals could imagine! They would dare to assault Castle Silverstar? The Dark and All-powerful Trixie shall defeat them here and now in open combat. How is that for a plan?!”

NO!

The Nightmare’s one word reply hit her like a hurricane. The mental sledgehammer disoriented her, and for a moment the air tasted distinctly purple. Waves of vertigo made her stagger, and she fought to hold down her meager dinner even as her head began to clear.

Trixie growled. “Do you think the Dark and All-powerful Trixie is your lackey? You are lucky she even considers you a peer. Without her you’d still be trapped in your prison wasting away, dissolved by the forces of Harmony. Who is in charge here?! Who makes the decisions?! You merely advise.”

The Nightmare fell silent and then the dizziness, along with the pressure of its presence, suddenly faded. It was still actively thinking, but no longer did it in intrude on her consciousness. After a moment it spoke, sounding apologetic, perhaps even remorseful.

Humblest apologies. The intent was not to dictate your actions, but to suggest a safer plan. What sort of partner would want their ally to be hurt?

Trixie was a little surprised by the sudden shift in the Nightmare’s demeanor, but it was overwhelmed by the satisfaction of winning the argument. She had matched wills with one of the most powerful entities in Equestria, and it had backed down. It did, however, deserve an explanation. A reward for bowing to her superior resolve.

“The Dark and All-powerful Trixie understands and is grateful for your concern, but nonetheless, she cannot accept your plan. Such an act, while undoubtedly effective, would be beneath her. When I rise to prominence, bards will sing of my adventures. These actions shall echo down the ages! That is why Twilight and the rest of the Elements of Harmony must be defeated properly. Only a story such as that is worthy.”

But even as she spoke a new thought occurred to her. Was Twilight worthy of that honor? Once she had rivaled Trixie in beauty and power, the perfect nemesis. But now? Now, Twilight was but an insect to the vast strength the Nightmare had provided. The more she thought about it, the more foalish her plan sounded. Why should the Dark and All-powerful Trixie go to Twilight, much less any of her pathetic friends? She had already defeated them before she had gained true power. As the far superior pony, others should come to her.

You are right. Why not let the foals prove themselves in your castle? If they are really worthy of the Dark and All-powerful Trixie’s attention, they should be able to navigate your traps. If not, then they never deserved to face you at all.

“Yes, and imagine the story it will make. Pitting my cleverness against the Elements of Harmony and an inter-dimensional mage. I can envision it now; one by one they’ll fall into my snares until only Twilight is left. She will face me in a duel of magic, one of such power and awe that it will be spoken of for eons. Depending on how well she does, I may not even kill her, just enslave her.” Trixie smiled cruelly at that image. “Yes, I’ll place her under geas to obey me and use her to spy on the Princesses. What a lovely fate for my greatest enemy! Betraying her mentor, ensuring my reign comes to fruition, and spending the rest of her life serving me.”

A brilliant plan mistress. It far outshines the other two.

Trixie clapped her hooves together, pleased by her own cunning, but doubt quickly entered her mind. “But how will I keep track of them? The bards can’t sing of my victory if I don’t know what happened. And the wait will be so boring.”

Here is an idea…

………

I was silent, but dozens of curses flashed through my mind. This was not how I’d planned it. We’d lost our biggest edge, and the worst part was that I didn’t even know how. Now we had an alert enemy, and she seemed a lot more competent than the unicorn Twilight had described to me. I processed all of that in less than a second, but some of the group had quicker reflexes.

“Gotcha!” Rainbow cried diving forward in a technicolor streak.

“Wait!” But I was much too slow. Rainbow went straight through the shadowy figure standing before us; her momentum sent her soaring over the edge of the crumbling cliff.

“Rainbow!” I panicked.

She flipped and braked hard, her wings beating rapidly. A moment later she had returned to the group. “What?”

“…um.” Evidently I still hadn’t quite adjusted to flying ponies. “Nothing,” I muttered.

The shadowy figure stood patiently – unresponsively, even – in spite of Rainbow’s attack. It flickered suddenly, like a faulty TV, and the image refocused. This time with a pair of large, glowing eyes, both of them a solid crimson. It had shrunk and was now a little smaller than any pony in the group, making it look disturbingly child-like. The Creepy List didn’t stop there as it began to speak.

“Hmph. Done playing around? This is only a construct, you foal. It can’t be harmed. True, it’s a pain in the flank to pull back together after it’s disturbed, but that merely annoys me. And ask yourselves: do you really want to annoy the Dark and All-powerful Trixie?”

It was like watching a bad puppet in action. The words and its mouth movements were just barely out of synch. The whole combination was straight out of the uncanny valley, but I’d seen worse. Soulgaze somebody possessed by a Fallen Angel, and nothing else can really compare.

“So.” I addressed the figure examining us. “What do you want?”

The large red eyes widened slightly “Goodness, it can speak? What other tricks have you taught it, Twilight?”

Being the mature adult I am, I ignored that remark and focused on another topic. “Hey, I’m curious. You do know that the whole red-eyed shadow thing is one of the oldest villain clichés in the book, right? I mean, just so you’re aware that you’re completely unoriginal.”

The figure spun toward me. “Unoriginal?” she hissed. “The Dark and All-powerful Trixie is the most creative and inspired unicorn in the land!”

I snorted and crossed my arms. “What land would that be? Bizarro world? I mean, it’s not just the look.” I gestured to her sending. “Your dialogue is straight out of a bad movie and the castle could’ve been taken from a kid’s story. Seriously, I’ve seen Hollywood studios with more originality.”

She ground ebony teeth and glared daggers at me. The rest of the group stifled giggles, and that only enraged her further. Then she stopped, her face becoming thoughtful, and I had the strangest feeling. It was like something was being said just out of my hearing, a persistent murmur that I couldn’t tune in on. It faded as quickly as it had come, and I had to wonder. What the hell was that? But I didn’t have time to ponder. Trixie had lost her thoughtful look. Instead she was giving me an enormous smile. That can’t mean anything good.

“You think you’re clever, don’t you, human?” She knew what I was? “But such jokes must come at a price.” Her mouth grew wider, the smile changing into a disturbing parody that literally stretched from ear to ear.

Way to go Harry, you managed to antagonize an unbalanced warlock with a hostage. Anything else stupid for today?

She wasn’t finished though. “Bow before me and apologize, or I will hurt Twilight’s precious little dragon.” Twilight gasped and Trixie turned to face her.

“Oh, don’t think I forgot, what I promised you in that letter.” The sending purred. “You chose to break one of my rules, so guess what happens?”

I felt my right hand clutch my blasting rod like a vice. I had never wanted to blast something as badly as I did the creature before me. But I could tell she wasn’t bluffing; she was unhinged and looking for a reason to hurt somebody. I couldn’t let that happen to Spike. I swallowed my anger, though it burned like cheap whiskey all the way down. “I’m sorry.”

“Beg your pardon?” Trixie asked, her blood colored eyes practically sparkling.

I tried to shut out all of the pyrokinetic thoughts and gave her a full bow, putting my head almost level with hers. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what? And remember to address me properly.”

A fresh wave of hate washed over me, something so strong it was almost a palpable thing, but I willed my voice to be calm.
“I’m sorry for insulting you, Dark and All-powerful Trixie.”

She giggled like a school girl and clapped her hooves together. “Oh, you were right! This is fun!”

What? Who the hell is she talking to?

“Very well. Apology accepted, but keep in mind who is in control here.” She tossed her mane and turned to regard the rest of the group. Morale had taken an obvious hit from my apology, but all of them still looked determined. Nobody had backed down, but Trixie didn’t seem impressed.

“What do you want, Trixie?” Twilight asked.

“Oh, you know what I want.” Trixie smiled. “But you’re not here for that. You’re here for what you want, namely your scaly assistant. I have him, and despite your disobedience I’m willing to give him to you.” The group stirred with puzzled excitement, Pinkie Pie even broke into a huge smile, but I knew there had to be a catch.

“Well, that’s mighty-” Applejack began.

If you can come and get him.” Trixie challenged. “You must overcome the deadly trials of Castle Silverstar, face down all of its guardians, and finally defeat the Dark and All-powerful Trixie. What will you do, Twilight? Will you risk your friends’ lives, all for one little dragon?” The eerie little bitch was staring into Twilight’s eyes with undisguised glee. The purple unicorn met her stare with one that burned with fury.

“I don’t care what you do or say to me, but nopony hurts my friends. Especially Spike. We’re coming for you, and nothing you put in our way is going to stop us. I don’t enjoy fighting, but after everything you’ve done, beating you is going to make my day.” Her friends cheered her on, their confidence restored, and I broke into a smile of my own.

“Come on everypony! To the castle.” She set off toward a distant staircase at fast march, and the rest of the ponies followed. I hurried to keep up, and the sending followed us, staying with me at the back of the pack.

“You should quit while you’re ahead.” I told the sending. Trixie turned to look at me surprised, and I gave her a smile of own. One with lots of teeth. “You just pissed off a serious powerhouse. If I were you, I’d bow out.”

The insane, ear-to-ear grin returned, and she started to laugh at me. It was a little maniacal and cheesy at first, but then it rose in pitch and dropped the booming tone, slowly taking on a new quality until it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. That wasn’t a human laugh, or a pony’s. An intense chill that had nothing to do with the night wind swept through me. I barely stopped myself from shuddering and kept an eye on the shadow creature that followed us.

She was a study in opposites. Just when I was ready to write her off as another two-bit stage villain, she suddenly acted competent and in control. Split-personality? Demonic influence? Hell, she might just be plain old crazy. Whatever the case, she was playing us somehow. I don’t know how yet, but the walk to the castle was going take some time, even at our brisk pace.

“So,” I said to the evil, kidnapping little bitch. “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself, O Dark and All-powerful Trixie?”

………

Forget dignity; I was about to start begging the damned witch to kill me quickly.

“- but of course even outnumbered five to one, the Dark and All-powerful Trixie wasn’t afraid. Those foalish schoolyard bullies were about to be taught why there are some ponies you should never cross.” I had apparently hit on her favorite topic (can you guess what that was?) and she hadn’t shut up since. If she hadn’t had a hostage, I would have drop kicked that stupid little sending to the moon just to end the noise.

But every cloud, even ones made of mind-numbing nerve gas, has a silver lining. The more time she spent bragging to me, the less time she had to taunt Twilight and the others. They shot her dark glances every few minutes but seemed otherwise content to leave her to me. The conversation was a big dud in terms of getting useful info, but I noticed something interesting. The sending’s mouth ran nonstop and its body language had shifted into exaggerated gestures that I hadn’t seen outside a high school drama club, but its eyes followed me. No matter how Trixie turned her head, the eyes still seemed to watch me. My instincts were pretty reliable, and right now every one of them was screaming that it wasn’t Trixie that was watching me. There was something else behind those red orbs, sharing that body. I shuddered, remembering the Denarians I’d faced last winter, but I doubted this thing was that bad. For one thing, half of us would be dead by now if it were, but mainly I doubted the world could be this peaceful if anything like those nickelheads were running around. It was interesting to see, though, that even a peaceful world like this still had its own demons. In a lot of ways it was almost reassuring that some things held true across dimensions.

I dimly noticed that the prattling monologue had come to an end. Trixie turned to face me, her face synching with her eyes, and I had to say something.

“Uh.. fascinating.” I didn’t quite manage a straight face, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“The Dark and All-powerful Trixie is, isn’t she? You’re such a good listener, it’s almost a shame you’re going to die.”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “Honey, you aren’t the first to tell me that and you sure as hell won’t be the last. I’ve destroyed a loup-garou, killed a noble of the Red Court and brought down one of the lesser queens of the Fae. You’re just another job, and when smoke clears, I’m not gonna be the one on the ground.”

Her eyes narrowed until they looked like two thin wounds. “Maybe I overestimated your abilities as a conversationalist. I hope you’re the first to go.”

I chuckled “Don’t bet on it.”

………

“Take that, you overgrown garden decoration!” I screamed, blowing the head off the bear statue lumbering toward me. The gate hadn’t been hard to get past, but crossing the castle grounds had proven … difficult.

Four gigantic statues, each depicting a different animal, lined the long path to the door. The enchantments in them buzzed like high voltage cables, but even now I could barely sense them. The castle was so infused with magic it was hard to tell where one spell ended and another began. The statues had waited until we were in the center of all four, then they’d come to life. The enormous stone serpent quickly moved to the castle gate, cutting off any retreat, and the other three had charged us. Their weight gave them a ferocious amount of momentum despite their slow speed. The bear reached down and picked up its head, smashing it in back into place with brute force while the other two continued their ponderous charge.

“Hell’s bells,” I muttered as the bear fixed itself. “I call shenanigans.” But my complaints weren’t stopping the tiger and the wolf. I concentrated, reaching deep within myself and with a shout I brought a long, two-foot-tall wall of force up in front of them. Their feet hit it, sending them stumbling. It strained my spell almost to the breaking point, but I clung to it fiercely and the statues finally crashed to the turf. For a human, or a pony, that’s not a big deal. You trip, you pick yourself up, and at worst you have a sprained ankle. The golems, though, were 15 feet at the shoulder, and when you weigh multiple tons, gravity is not a kind mistress. All that mass and energy was converted into impact and I heard stone crack and shatter as they plowed into the ground. “Yeah! Harpoons and tow cables win again!” I cheered.

I glanced at my group. Twilight was watching the statues, mumbling something under her breath, brow furrowed. Pinkie, Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy were gathered around Twilight dividing their attention between Trixie’s sending and the stone guardians, looking wary of both. Rainbow, of course, had already charged into the fray.

“So you think you’re tough, huh? Try some of this!” She yelled, kicking the bear in the face. Give her credit, the stone did splinter a little, but the cracks healed almost as quickly as they’d appeared.

“Everyone!” I yelled, breaking Twilight’s musing and getting Rainbow’s attention. “Run away!” A good leader leads by example and I sure set one, heading for some of the open ground off the path. The snake watched us interestedly, but didn’t move from its post. I turned and was gratified to see the ponies following me. Once we were a decent distance away and no longer surrounded on three sides, I stopped, studying the statues. They were moving slower now, cautious of another wall. Damn, they’re smart, too.

“So, what now?” Applejack asked, worriedly eyeing the approaching statues.

“Well, we’d better not risk another frontal assault. Those statues are dynamite.” I grinned, briefly wishing for a holy hand grenade, but I quickly became serious again. “It looked like you were trying to figure out something, Twilight. Have you got any ideas?”

She nodded. “I recognize the spell Trixie used to animate them and I think I can counter it. Unfortunately, it’s close-range only. I’ll need to be close enough to the statues to touch them.”

I thought for a moment. I could work with that. “Okay, here’s the plan. Pinkie, attract the bear’s attention and lead it away from the other two. Applejack and Rarity will take out the feet and Rainbow will topple it with a blow to the head. The impact will stun it for a moment while it pulls itself back together; that’s when Twilight will take the spell apart. I’ll keep the other two distracted. Everyone got it?” I got a round of quick nods, and Pinkie giggled. “Good, let’s get to it.” I turned to face the golems; they were growing bolder and moving a little faster. I was about to lash out with another force spell, when something tugged at my coat. I looked down in surprise. It was Fluttershy wearing a troubled expression.

“Um… I don’t want to be a bother,” she mumbled, staring at the ground. “But what should I do?”

“Uh…” I tried to think fast. “Keep close to me and make sure nothing sneaks up on us. I could use somebody to watch my back.”

She smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t exactly shocking that she didn’t want to fight. But that wasn’t important right now. I aimed my staff, drew on the plentiful magic of Equestria, and shot a lance of force towards the tiger. It yelped and jumped back, leaving one of its legs behind. It staggered as it moved to repair itself, entirely focused on me.

“Over here!” Pinkie cried shaking her tail at the bear. It gave an angry roar at the indignity and chased after her. The wolf growled at it, but the bear was blind in its rage. Pinkie led it toward the door of the inner keep, laughing at it all the way. The golem had just started to pick up speed when it hit the trap. Applejack popped out from behind one of the statue’s pedestals and kicked it in the ankle with both hooves. The stone cracked, and then shattered, unable to support the bear’s immense weight. Rarity concentrated from a distance, sweat beading on her brow, and a stone the size of a watermelon smashed into its other leg. The bear was off balance, and it toppled towards Applejack, intending to crush her under its weight. I turned my attention from the tiger, drawing in my will to thrust Applejack clear. I knew I wouldn’t make it in time. Rainbow Dash was supposed to have knocked it down! Where the hell was she?

Before I could act, Rainbow flashed out of the skies, moving so fast that a cone of air had formed around her. She plowed into the bear’s shoulder blades, adding all that energy to gravity’s attraction. The bear hit the hard ground with a heavy thud, accompanied by a horrendous shattering noise, and I stopped firing distraction shots at the other two statues long enough to give a short cheer with the rest of the group. The bear was so broken it was difficult to tell what it had been. Twilight trotted over to the pile of formerly mobile rocks, touching one of the largest with her shining horn, and the enchantment animating the stone began to fall apart. Twenty seconds later we were down one statue. I smiled at the tiger and wolf facing me. Lances of well placed force ripped limbs from them, and they stopped once more to repair themselves.

“Don’t rush now, boys.” I said with a smile. “You’ll get your turns.”

The other ponies rejoined me, and I outlined the new plan. “Ok, now Pinkie, Rarity and Applejack are on distraction. Keep the statues in one spot, but don’t get too close and back off entirely when you hear me yell. Rainbow, you carry Twilight. When they’re immobilized, take her in quickly. Keep watching out for sneak attacks, Fluttershy.” The ponies nodded and I started to focus.

I’m not good with earth magic. What I had in mind was as much fire magic as earth, but that didn’t make it any easier. I extended my senses, searching the rock underfoot for weaknesses. Luckily, whatever Trixie had done to raise the castle had left the ground unstable. I focused on the ground underneath the golems, and I built my power. It took two long and agonizing minutes, listening to the roars and scraping stone of the enraged golems. The three ponies were running rings around them and any time they tried to move forward Rarity tricked them into turning back with illusions. I don’t usually rely on the forces of the earth in battle for a good reason, but finally the spell was done.

“Flammamurus!” I cried, forcing all the heat of molten steel into the stone beneath the statues. It let out a whistling rush of steam and liquefied immediately, forcing the ponies who were corralling the statues to jump back from the brand new pool of lava. The heat hadn’t gone far, no more than a couple feet deep, but that was more than enough to envelop the golems up to their shins. They began to struggle, tearing themselves out of the bubbling stone. I didn’t have enough time to charge another force spell, but I’d expected that. I drew back my right fist and shot a quick jab at the wolf, triggering two of my rings. The magic stored within lashed out with the force of a forty pound sledgehammer. The wolf had been lifting its left front leg, so I aimed at the right, smashing it to pieces. Unbalanced, it fell fully into the liquid stone. I gave the tiger the same treatment, using my other three rings to do it, and it fell with a splash. With a modest bit of magic and some murmured quasi-Latin, I pushed the energy out of the stone into the cool, night air. Encouraging the heat to do what it wanted to do anyway was much easier than putting it there in the first place. As the rock around the statues cooled, they were held immobile, straining at the trap. I couldn’t see it from here, but I knew they were already making cracks in the stone. I drew in my breath to shout, but I was late as usual.

Rainbow dropped from the sky, flashed Sir Isaac Newton an obscene gesture with more of her impossible braking, and set Twilight softly on top of the restrained tiger. Her horn glowed like the sun and the tiger stopped struggling. The wolf followed a few seconds later and I let out a sigh amid the ponies’ cheers.

“Um,” a hesitant voice caught my attention. “Could you get Twilight over here, please?”

I turned around “Hell’s bells!” I yelped. I don’t know how something that big could be so quiet, but the serpent was barely ten feet behind me. Before I dropped into panic mode, I noticed two important details. One, the snake was as still as the rock it had come from. Two, Fluttershy had locked eyes with it and apparently had been staring it down for a while. “Whatever you do,” I murmured, “Don’t blink. Blink and we’re dead.”

I turned to yell but my earlier exclamation had already caught Twilight’s attention. Rainbow was carrying her even as she charged her horn with another spell. The snake began to struggle as Twilight neared but Fluttershy stepped further towards it, forcing it to hold still. Twilight pressed her glowing horn to the serpent’s side. A few seconds later it stiffened, as the animating spell dissipated.

After more than a few cheers and some celebratory projectile cupcakes, we stood before the door of the keep. It was locked and didn’t look to be moving any time soon.

“Hey, there’s plenty of windows higher up.” Rainbow said. “I’ll go through one of those and open the door from the inside.” Before anyone could voice a reason for why that was a bad idea, she was up and off, headed for the window at high speed. About fifteen feet away she began to slow, the air around her distorting, stretching as though it was made of elastic. Suddenly, the resilient barrier snapped back and she shot toward the ground, spiraling uncontrollably as Newton responded in kind with a one-finger salute.

“Rainbow!” Applejack cried. I focused on the pegasus bringing my power to bear, but Twilight beat me to the punch. A purple glow surrounded the falling daredevil and she slowed down until she touched down lightly. Anybody else might have been hesitant to try again, but Rainbow was another story.

“Let’s try that again.” She growled, only seconds after landing. She spread her wings and tried to shoot off, but this time Applejack was ready for her.

The cowpony bit down on Rainbow’s tail, and the pegasus stopped cold. “Hold on there, sugarcube!” she said between clenched teeth.

“Aw, c’mon! Let me try it again. I’ll get it this time,” Rainbow said, straining to break free.

“No. We don’t need you breaking that thick head of yours, falling from that height.” The cowpony mumbled around her mouthful of prismatic tail.

“Oh, why don’t you let her try?” Trixie asked her voice dripping with insincere sweetness. “It was rather amusing, after all, and I’d like to see how many times Twilight can catch her.” That made Rainbow try even harder, but Applejack wouldn’t let go.

“Stop.” Twilight commanded, looking cross. “We’ll find another way in. Any thoughts, Mr. Dresden?” I had a few, but better explore our other alternatives first.

“Can you teleport in there?”

She shook her head sadly. “Line-of-sight only, unless I can envision where I’m going.” I’d expected as much, but it’s best to check. I knocked on the door and it echoed faintly; the stone was thick and my pounding hadn’t shifted it in the slightest. I could feel the power in the rock, enchanted to resist impact. An immovable object. I tried thinking of something clever, but I kept coming back to one idea over and over. Well, why not? If it doesn’t work, we can always try something else.

“Everyone stand back. I’m going to try something a little dangerous.” The group moved to obey, and I backed up until I was a good twenty feet from the entrance. I concentrated, drawing in power. The quarry and the forest around it were just as saturated in magic as the meadows I’d stood in earlier. That time I’d concentrated on fire, but here I was aiming for something a little different. The magic built within me as I gathered as much as I could. I kept going, absorbing power until my muscles ached and my nerves screamed. I opened my eyes, seeing the world, through a blue-white haze, and pointed my staff at the door like a loaded gun.

“Forzare!” I bellowed my voice an octave lower than usual. A wild torrent of pure kinetic energy erupted from my staff, and I fought to keep my balance as the recoil shoved me back several steps. The spell streaked across the distance faster than a comet and slammed into the door. Stone creaked in protest but irresistible force won and the door was blown off whatever hinges it had. I marched through the gaping hole in the wall and smiled.

“Knock, knock. Anybody home?”

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