[MLP:FiM] Phantasmare (Trixie-centric, Long) Part 2


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Continued from the previous topic since the previous topic was beginning to lag when loading.


Since she was born, Trixie believed she would achieve greatness, but life had always conspired against her. First, she was forced to drop out of school. Then her reputation was ruined, and next she fell under the influence of a dark magical artifact. Finally, her father was killed in an incident Trixie couldn't even blame anypony for.

Years later, the taint of the Alicorn Amulet is gone, but having felt the power of Princesses once before, Trixie hungers for it yet again. With her will renewed, Trixie is ready to let the dice roll, knowing there will be no third chance. In Phantasia, a mare shall defy destiny.

Sequel to There's No Place Like Home

Table of Contents

Eldest: Manechester
Eldest: The Wall
Eldest: Stonehenge Elderwall
The Living Wind: Canterlot
The Living Wind: Mysterious Magical Maladies
The Living Wind: Windspeaker
Empress: Colt Springs
Empress: Reflections
Empress: Alicorn
Castle: Friendship
Castle: Shadows
Castle: End of an Era
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'Eldest: Manechester'


The advent of the railway had brought prosperity to Equestria, as it shrank the distance between the great cities. Between Canterlot, at the centre of the Equestrian landmass, and Baltimare to the east, a pony once had to trot for several days or run at near-top speed for a full day. With the train, the trip could be made in an afternoon.

When the train was originally built, the Canterlot-Baltimare route had been one of the easiest to construct. Though one of the few mountain ranges in Equestria, the Foal Mountains, were located east of Canterlot, a great plains sprawled south of the range. It was through these plains that the tracks had been laid down. With little change in elevation and few rivers to bypass, it was one of the smoothest rides in the land.

As a consequence, however, several of the smaller villages that once dotted the walking route to Baltimare and then between Baltimare and Fillydelphia to the north fell by the wayside. Though they survived, relying on agriculture and the odd mine, they were no longer visited by tourists. As such, their names fell out of the popular consciousness of ponykind.

Red Wings sighed as the rolling hills they had crossed over gave way to flatter lands. Though he had exalted in his flight shortly after leaving Dodge Junction, he eventually tired out. All the adrenaline in the world could not make up for the fact that he was out of shape when it came to flight. Part of that was from not having been able to fly at all, but his new wing also felt unfamiliar to him at times. The sensation of the phantom wing had not disappeared, making for an odd feeling when it overlapped with the burning aches of the wing that now existed there.

It was not a feeling that he would have traded for what had come before, though. Life as a one-winged pegasus was something he had little desire to return to.

“What is the next town on the map, Noire?” Iceheart asked from beside him.

“Well, let’s see. We already passed Reneigh earlier,” Noire answered. “This map is outdated by a couple of years, but I doubt there has been any new villages founded in the area since then. That would leave us with Manechester in a few hours.”

“It looks like about four hours to sundown,” Red Wings said, taking a look at the sky. “I think that means we’ll have to stop somewhere close by or even in Manechester for the night. Besides, I can feel it. What about you?”

“You mean that premonition, correct?” Iceheart asked. “Yes, it is odd. I cannot fully understand what it is communicating to me, but I can feel that it wants us st to stop soon. I think our journey northward ends in Manechester.”

“I still don’t like it,” Noire scowled. “We’ve been wandering around on our own volition since Trixie and I left Whinnychester. We went to the Crystal Empire and up to your fort, then we went down to Dodge Junction and met Red Wings here all on our own. And now suddenly, we get some sort of gut feeling shared between all four of us that tells us to go north? It practically smells of a trap.”

“Well, that’s true, but I think whatever is doing this to us probably has enough power it could have done something worse than that already,” Red Wings said. He had been nervous early on about being too active in the group’s discussions. He felt like a fourth wheel to the group. Trixie and Noire had been fillyhood friends and had spent some time together in Whinnychester as well. Even though Iceheart was a new addition to the group, she had still spent at least a week more in close contact with them than he. That she had commanded an entire fortress of ponies before leaving, and was over a thousand years old, also intimidated Red Wings.

It didn’t help that as the lone stallion, he as the odd one out in the trio of mares.

Fortunately, the other three didn’t begrudge him for that. It did make for awkward sleeping situations, however, such as the first night they camped out and they realised they needed to get two tents instead of one.

Red Wings shook his thoughts off and continued. He had gotten better about participating in their conversations now. “Whatever it is, if it was something dangerous to us, I think it probably could have hurt us well beforehoof. I think it’s trying to...guide us, maybe?”

“Guide us? To what, exactly?” Noire retorted, punctuating it with a snort.

Red Wings fumbled for an answer for a few seconds, before he finally struck upon one. He was surprised nopony had thought of it in the week they had been walking. “Trixie seems to have a talent to restore ponies in some way, be it spiritually or physically.” He gazed over at his left wing, still having a hard time believing it was actually there. Trixie had, however, also restored his will to live his life again, doing more than simply surviving day to day, and he owned her for that as well. “Maybe whatever entity is pushing us forward knows about something in Manechester that could use our help?”

“That...maybe,” Noire grudgingly admitted. She was antsy now. Red Wings could tell, because she immediately hopped into the air and lightly flapped her wings to stay aloft. He was jealous of her for that. The restoration of his wing didn’t mean he automatically had the stamina to stay in the air perpetually. Trixie had healed his wing, but the muscles that beat his wings had atrophied through years of disuse. 

It would take several weeks at a minimum before he could finally fly on a full-time basis again. His wings itched to be flapped at times, practically on the boundaries of painful, and all Red could offer was cursory flaps that would achieve no lift. Having gone for so long without two wings, he desperately desired to be in the air all the time. Over the years, however, Red Wings had developed the capacity to delay gratification for a greater pay-off. He could hold out doing serious maneuvers for a few months longer, being glad that he was simply able to fly at all.

“What is up with Trixie, anyways?” Iceheart asked, changing the subject. “She has gotten quiet over the last few days.”

Red Wings looked ahead several hundred paces, to where Trixie was walking by her lonesome. It was true. Trixie had been a boisterous pony, a unicorn who he genuinely enjoyed spending time around. Then, suddenly, she had become silent and moody. Red Wings had noticed the mood shift, but he hadn’t offered his opinion up. After all, he had only known Trixie for a few days. He didn’t know what she truly was like. Perhaps this was her default personality, and the outgoing Trixie he had first met was the exception instead of the norm?

“I don’t know,” Noire admitted. “She’s gotten all aloof on me, too. Trix has been practicing her magic, but she hasn’t told me too much about what she’s doing. I’ve seen her create water in some of the dry creek beds we’ve passed by earlier, but I don’t know if that was regular conjuration or if she was using her talent of illusions.”

Red Wing surmised that it was more likely the power of illusions that Trixie was using. He recalled the expression Trixie had once had when he was talking about the river valley in the Badlands, and how water once flowed through there. She had been in deep contemplation at the time, and Red Wings thought he knew what it was now: her wondering if she could do the same as the Changeling Queen of old had done, and bring water to the valley once more. If her power to trick reality into thinking ‘this is the way things must be’ was capable of restoring a wing from its nub, then surely the same could be done to restore water to an arid land.

But he still felt like the odd one out, and so Red Wings decided not to speak up.

“I have noticed Trixie has been getting quieter, but also more contemplative over the last few days,” Iceheart said. “Maybe she already knew what we just realised, and is anticipating that something will occur in Manechester that requires her to perform her magic again? The last two times she did big things with her magic left her exhausted. It may be taking a toll on her such that she dreads doing it a third time.”

“Fourth,” Noire corrected. “She did the same with me before we left her home. Yeah, maybe that’s it. It would be just like Trixie to clam up when she feels the pressure is on her. I know she’ll pull through like the last three times, but I’m not going to let her stay quiet about it!” Still airborne, Noire quickly flapped ahead of the other two, chasing after Trixie, leaving the other two behind.

They were silent for a few moments, before Iceheart said, “Are you alright, Red Wings?”

“Hmm? Huh, oh, yes,” Red Wings said, startled out of his reverie. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Iceheart tilted her head slightly to look at him before she said, “I was worried you might tire out quickly with your wings. I have no doubts you could easily do week-long treks like these on a regular basis, but even if you keep your flying to a minimum, those are muscles that still have not been exercised in a long time.”

Red Wings flushed, and he was thankful his pigmentation prevented others from seeing him blushing. “Yeah, I’m alright. It is tiring, but I’ve been careful not to go for too many minutes straight or too much time in a day, and I’ve been slowly building the amount of time I fly every day. Thanks for asking, though.”

“You are welcome,” Iceheart said. She paused, removing a canteen from her saddlebags to take a quick gulp of water with. “It is good to have you with us.”

Red Swings swallowed. He was uncertain why he was so suddenly shy with even simple words, and all he could settle for was a simple nod.


In her lifetime, Noire had met a few ponies who claimed to have an internal compass. She never got tired of ridiculing them after they got lost, especially when she was on a training mission and the pony in question happened to be leading her squad. Noire herself always relied on an actual compass and a detailed topographical map, two trusted tools of all Royal Guards. 

While Iceheart also had military experience, and more of it, the Crystal Earth pony had been mostly stationed at a single fort, making periodic expeditions out into the northern wastes, but never going outside of a small area. Trixie had traveled to more locations and covered more pure distance than Iceheart and Noire put together, but she had nearly always followed the road, rarely planning out her destination ahead of time outside of large annual events such as The Greatest Outdoor Show in Equestria.

It was for this reason that Noire had taken on the responsibility of looking at the map every night to see where they were going. The premonition that had struck all four of them a week ago in the Badlands had told them to go north, instead of west. The problem had been that they hadn’t know how far north to go, and the precise angle of travel. Because of this, they had opted to walk north, instead of taking the train from Dodge Junction, looping around, and hoping they made landfall near where they needed to go. Noire just hadn’t expected that it would take more than week, in which they had journeyed past Horseshoe Bay, past Baltimare, and to only a day’s walk south of Fillydelphia.

The gut feeling seemed to be subsiding, however, and so Noire suspected they were at last at the end of their long trek. Now she just needed to figure out whether Trixie believed the same.

“Trix, wait up!” Noire called out as she flew ahead, finally touching down besides Trixie. The shortgrass that grew up on the great plains of Equestria always felt ticklish to her hooves after spending a moderate amount of time in the air, but she shrugged off the weird sensation. “We’re almost in a village called Manechester.”

“How long?” Trixie asked gruffly.

Trixie’s tone of voice took Noire off-guard, and she wrinkled her muzzle at it even as she said, “Two hours or so.”


Noire raised an eyebrow. “Are you alright, Trixie? You seem a little off today.”

“I’m fine.”

Alright, that’s definitely out of character for her, Noire thought. She decided to change topics, and said, “This...feeling that’s possessed us. I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but I’ve been talking with Red Wings and Iceheart. It feels like Manechester is where it’s leading us.”

“I see.”

Noire creased her eyebrows, seeing that she was failing at breaking through Trixie’s solid wall of one-word and two-word responses. She flew ahead of Trixie and turned around so that the two were face-to-face, all while continuing to now fly backwards towards Manechester. Noire curled her lips at the expression on Trixie’s face. There had been no malice in Trixie’s words, just apathy. It was the same for Trixie’s expression. “You haven’t really chatted with us very much in the last few days. You’ve been walking ahead of the rest of us , and even when we camp for the night, you’ve been shutting us out.”


The bat pony clenched her throat to stop a frustrated growl from coming out. Instead, she took in a deep breath, and exhaled. Then Noire resorted to reason. “Trixie, you are worrying us. The first few days after we left Dodge Junction, you were normal, but then you seem to have withdrawn in on yourself. It’s a little scary to us, seeing you do this, and we don’t even know if you’ve just decided to clam up a little or if you’re suffering side-effects from using your illusion magic before, or if something happened in the hive. Please, tell us. We’re your friends,” she pleaded.

Trixie blinked. Then she blinked again, only this time, her eyelids fluttered slowly, and then she closed her eyes, and stopped where she was. Even with her eyes closed, she blinked rapidly several times, before her entire body relaxed, tension that Noire hadn’t even noticed in the other pony’s body evaporating. Then Trixie opened her eyes, and there was genuine emotion in them. “I’m sorry, Noire. I’ve just been busy thinking over the last while.”

“That’s alright,” Noire said. “Just, I guess, tell us about these things. There’s no need to carry the weight of the world on your withers. What’s been bothering you?”

“I-no, wait, let’s wait for Iceheart and Red Wings to catch up,” Trixie said, turning around to see where the other two were at. She nodded at seeing the other two were about a minute away.

“OK, that sounds good,” Noire said, dropping down onto the grass once more.

Red Wings and Iceheart hurried their pace as they saw Trixie and Noire had stopped, and the four ponies soon met up.

“Sorry, Noire, Iceheart, Red Wings. I’ve just been a little stressed out lately by this whole thing, about us going north. I don’t really like being led astray by some force that I know nothing about,” Trixie said. “Manechester is out of the way and a small enough village that I don’t think anything bad is going to happen, though I suspect we’ll find something there that I’m able to help out with.” Nopony else was surprised about that, having come to the same conclusion earlier. “I suppose maybe I knew we were getting closer, and the closer we got, the moodier I became.”

“That’s alright, Trixie,” said Red Wings, finally speaking now that he was in Trixie’s presence, instead of in the back with just the two other mares. “You weren’t in pain or anything when you healed me, were you? Is that why you were, erm…” The red-furred pegasus trailed off, trying to think of a word that wouldn’t sound derogatory.

“So introspective?” Trixie asked, filling in a word for Red Wings. “Yes, though it’s not painful. It’s never been painful, but it leaves me exhausted every time I do it. It, erm, give me a second,” she said, and the three other ponies gave her that second and more while Trixie thought. “Unicorn magic can be difficult to learn and understand and use, but just about every spell we use has already been developed by a trailblazer. Even if a spell is difficult, a unicorn knows it’s possible since the spell has already been achieved by some other pony. But not for this. I’m literally pioneering something that I didn’t even think would have been possible six months ago, and every time, I’m pushing it further still.” 

She yawned, covering her mouth with a hoo, eyes bulging in turn before she finally snapped her jaw shut again. “There’s more to what I’m doing than just that, though. There’s a mindset to it. Magic requires concentration on the part of the user to shape it. With what I’ve been doing, I have to actually change my very way of thinking. I ‘know’ that illusions shouldn’t be capable of changing reality itself, that it’s just an illusion. Yet each time I’ve used my illusion magic, for a few moments, I forcibly change my own perception of things to something alien, in order to change how the world should be. Am I even making sense here?”

Her three comrades all had baffled expressions on her face. It was Red Wings who was able to digest her explanation first. Now that he was in Trixie’s presence again, he didn’t hesitate to speak up.

“Sort of, I think,” Red Wings said. “What you’re doing seems impossible even to you, and you have to change how you think the world should work before you actually change how the world should work, or something? Like, if ponies never flew or had magic, we’d always be bound to the ground, and if you came up with a spell that allowed a pony to fly, you’d first have to actually convince yourself that you can fly. Great, now you have me tossing around the faux-philosophy crap too.” He scowled, then added a light-hearted jab to show he wasn’t upset, “Oh, woe is me.”

Trixie giggled. “Yes, something like that. That’s an interesting analogy you use, and it reminds me I haven’t practiced my attempts at levitating myself since we left the Hive. But seriously, it’s been an issue for me. I just worry that I’ve been running more on luck than actual skill so far, and that someday, like today, I might fail, or even worse, suffer a magical backlash.” She sighed, and added, “The first time with the ice up in the North, the magic just slid off the ice. It took the Crystal Heart’s extra power for me to be able to succeed. I’ve been training in it a little bit over the last week, conjuring up small amounts of water in some of the dry creeks we’ve been passing by, but that’s the easy stuff. It’s when I get to the stuff that’s conceptually heavier that worries me. I don’t want to overextend myself and expect to be able to do something, then not be able to.”

The still air suddenly picked up, as a light breeze worked through the plains. Iceheart looked away, feeling a little awkward as everypony had stopped talking once more. Chancing a glance at the position of the sun, she saw it was beginning its inexorable descent to the west. “It is good to have you back, Trixie. However, I believe we should start getting a move on again. If we keep good pace, we should have a few hours of daylight once we arrive in Manechester. That should be sufficient time to look around and, if it does not have its own inn, find a place where we can stay for the night.”

“That sounds like a plan,” Trixie said. All four turned around to continue marching, now as a single unit.


Manechester was quaint and rustic. Those were the words that Trixie chose to describe the village as they came up on it. There were no windmills that dwarfed the other buildings in the village, like in Trixie’s own hometown of Whinnychester. What the community lacked for in buildings that actually reached up from the ground more than a single story high, though, it more than made up for the fields of red that would have been a beacon to any pegasus flying overhead. To the distance, there was a large forest dense with greenery, unusual for its location in the great plains of east Equestria.

“That’s a lot of tomatoes,” Red Wings said.

“I’m sure you would fit right in,” Trixie teased him.

“What’s that supposed to me-hey!” He exclaimed as it finally dawned on him. “There’s more colours of tomatoes than just bright red, you know.”

“Yes, but none that I see here,” Trixie said. “Red, red, and more red. Not a purple or a yellow tomato to be found.”

“I could fly up and check,” Noire offered.

“That’ll be alright,” said Trixie as they cleared a turn in the dirt trail and started to walk downhill at a slight incline. Oh Princesses, does this ever feel like home. She had been away from Whinnychester for a mere few weeks, and already Trixie could feel the nostalgia seeping into her bones. They were even similar in their name suffixes, indicating both village had formed around an Earth pony fort in ancient times. Trixie just hoped that whatever they had come to Manechester for wouldn’t take so long that ennui would replace the nostalgia instead.

“Oh, good. Well, it’ll be nice to finally have a shower after several days on the road,” said Noire.

“I could have set something up if you wanted one,” Trixie said. “It would even have had heated water.”

Noire shrugged. “Too late for that now.”

The four continued to trot along, glad that soon they would no longer have to carry around the supplies in their saddlebags and bags hoisted on their backs. They hadn’t known how long they would need to go across the land on hoof for, and had packaged a lot of food, water and temporary supplies. After whatever needed to be done in Manechester was accomplished, they could head north to the city of Fillydelphia, only a short distance north, then take the train to the West Coast. From Vanhoofer, Trixie and Noire assured Red Wings and Iceheart, they would then go to Colt Springs, a small town home to the most powerful changeling on the continent.

That was to be for later, but Red Wings would still be glad to have a break from lugging around extra weight. Even better would be the chance to stay somewhere for a day or longer, where he could burn off energy flying instead of continuously walking.

“We’re here at last,” he said as they reached Manechester. Red Wings wasn’t actually certain if they were ‘in’ Manechester, though. There was no clear demarcation about where the town began, unlike larger settlements that typically had some sort of walled fortification from days gone by, or even a large sign. Instead, Red Wings decided that they were in Manechester as the trail changed from dirt to cut rocks. “Well, that was anticlimatic.”

“It’s not like we’re just going to find whatever we need to do the moment we come into town,” Noire said as the four continued past yet another field of tomatoes. “I hope we don’t stay too long, because otherwise I have a feeling I’m going to get sick of tomatoes.”

“Let’s see...there’s ketchup, salsa, tomato juice, pasta sauce, pizza sauce, um...tomato soup?”

Noire rolled her eyes. “There’s a lot more that can be done with tomatoes than just that, Trixie. Oh Luna, why am I even defending tomatoes now?”

“Hey, this isn’t any more isolated than Whinnychester was, and you managed to find lots of different vegetables just fine in the marketplace there. It’s not like you’ll be needing to eat tomatoes every meal, or even every day,” Trixie said.

Iceheart and Red Wings traded looks, finding amusement in each other’s eyes at the bickering of the two fillyhood friends.

It didn’t take long for the four to reach the heart of Manechester, as the buildings quickly began to be clustered closer and closer together, and the cut rock path gave way to a smoother road still. Pleasant smells lingered in the air, and the bustle of village life was present as they finally came to a plaza that appeared to be the centre of Manechester.

“Not bad,” Red Wings said, and he noted that he had been wrong in his assumptions earlier: Manechester did have a wall. However, the stone fortification looked like it had not been used in ages: only bits and pieces of the wall remained, with the arch they crossed underneath the only spot that looked to have been repaired in the last decade, doubtlessly to keep it from crumbling on anypony who might be walking underneath at the time. Red wondered how long ago the rest of the wall had been torn down.

Manechester wasn’t anywhere near the smallest settlement he had been to, and it was clear the villagers here took pride in their little hamlet. The plaza itself consisted of a large, paved circle that was probably used for outdoor events, with multiple roads coming off the plaza that reinforced its status as the town hub. To the one side of the plaza was a two-story building that Red Wings suspected was the only building that tall in Manechester, which was probably an inn or the village hall. It was most likely the latter, given there was a podium set up for ponies to speak up from.

In the centre of the plaza was a small pedestal with a statue standing on it, and a small water fountain right in front of the pedestal. Red Wings had to admit that whoever had carved the statue had done an impressive job: the statue, which was of an Earth pony stallion, was incredibly life-like, standing at just slightly larger than what he believed Princess Celestia’s height was. Though his eyes were closed, the stallion had a determined look on his face. Red noted that the position of the statue’s one raised hoof was a little bit odd: instead of being raised out in front of him, the hoof was only at about chest length, and bent inwards at the fetlock joint. Perhaps the statue was originally holding something? Red Wings thought to himself.

The statue wasn’t something he really cared for, however, and so Red Wings looked around a little more. There were a few food stalls open off to one side. With a little bit of perverse delight, he noted that there were in fact tomatoes that weren’t red being sold. Though there was still no obvious inn in sight, multiple ponies were in the plaza, engaging in idle chatter. A few had stopped talking, taking note of the four travelers who had just wandered into town a few hours shy of sunset, carrying heavy loads, with the accumulated dirt and sweat of a week on the road. At least one of them would know where to find a place to stay.

“So, uh, who wants to ask around?” Red Wings asked. He bit his tongue as he did. Normally he would have been unafraid to go and talk to strangers on his own for information, but something about being in a group again after so long, with his wing restored, had made him a little skittish. Red Wings despised it, and he decided to bull over his weakness. “No, never mind, I’ll do it.”

Trixie blinked. “Uh, sure. Just, um, later, I think we need to talk,” she said, lowering her voice to a whisper as she looked around. “I can feel you being a little annoyed, I just want to know what’s got you upset.”

Red Wings gave her a flat stare.

“Uh, you know, Noire asked me the same question. Just paying it forward, heh,” she said, nervously giggling.

The stallion sighed, then chuckled mirthfully. “Sorry, just issues of my own I’m working through. We’ll talk about it later, yeah.” Turning around, he gave Iceheart and Noire a nod as he walked up to the mare closest to them, an Earth pony with a beige coat and blue mane, who broke off a conversation with another mare. “Excuse me?”

“Yes?” The mare asked, her voice a little cool. Red assumed it was simply due to his appearance, and hoped it wasn’t scorn for an outsider.

“We just arrived in Manechester, and were wondering if there is an inn in town. Failing that, do you know anypony who would be willing to rent out a couple of rooms for the night?”

The mare’s face softened. “Oh. Um. Well, if you take road three, all the roads in the plaza here are numbered, road three is that one, it’ll take you to Tomato Cato’s restaurant. It’s the one with the blue roof, but you’ll be able to smell it. He has a few spare rooms in the back he rents out to visitors and the rare tourist.”

“Ah, good. Thank you for the directions, miss,” Red Wings said, trying to be polite. It was a little difficult, considering how he had been more gruff than not the last few years.

The Earth pony mare smiled. “It’s my pleasure!” Seeing the conversation was done, she returned to speaking with her friend.

“We go that way,” Red Wings said as he returned to Trixie, Noire and Iceheart, pointing at one of the roads that came off the plaza hub. “Looks like there’s an inn in town, a hotel and restaurant all in one.”

“Oh, that sounds pleasant,” Iceheart said as the four begin to slowly drift in that direction. “Noire, do you dislike tomatoes?” She asked, making idle conversation.

“No, not at all,” Noire answered. “I just don’t like eating the same food too many days in a row, and given the fields of tomatoes we saw coming in, I’m guessing the variety here might be a little lacking.”

Red Wings winced. “The restaurant is called Tomato Cato’s.”

Noire scowled at that, before looking over to Trixie. “What do you think, Trix?” She asked, nudging the only unicorn in their party by tapping her with a wing.

“Sounds good.”

Noire rolled her eyes at that. “Don’t tell me you’re going to start giving me one-word and two-word answers again. Oh! That smells delicious,” the bat pony said, taking a deep whiff of the smell lingering in the air. “Maybe they’ll have bread bowls with tomatoes and olive oil, I could go for some of that right now.”

“Not mangos?” Red Wings teased, spotting the inn easily as they turned the corner.

“No, not mangos. Not all bat ponies like mangos. I don’t know where that stereotype came from, but you’ll end up with a bar room brawl if you mention that in one of the Canterlot night pubs. It has happened before,” Noire said.

“I’ll keep that in mind if I ever stay in Canterlot overnight,” said Red. “I don’t think we’ll be doing more than passing through it from Fillydelphia, though.”

“I should hope not,” Noire snorted, opening the front door to Tomato Cato’s with her wing, before the four trotted inside one at a time.

“Oh, welcome everypony!” Greeted a unicorn standing behind a bar. The unicorn, a light green in colouration, was holding up a plate with his magic that he was washing. “I’m Cato, the owner and cook here. What can I get for you tonight?”

“We were looking for rooms to stay for an indeterminate period of time,” Iceheart said, taking the lead. “Would you perhaps have a room for three and a room for one?”

Cato wrinkled his eyebrows, and frowned. “Sorry folks, but I only have two rooms available that serve two each, if that’s alright with you.”

“Hmm,” Iceheart said. She took a look around at the restaurant, with only a few tables in the dining area, before taking a look at Red Wings. Recalling the small size of Manechester, Iceheart quickly decided they would not find another hotel in the village, and relented. “That is acceptable. Red Wings, you and I will sleep in the same room, if that is not an issue.”

“No, it’s not,” he said, refraining from rolling his eyes. Considering they weren’t a species that normally wore clothes, he thought the mares had been a little too concerned about their decency at night, but Red wouldn’t begrudge them for it.

“Very well. In that case, what will be the price?” Iceheart asked Cato. “We are uncertain how long we will be staying, but I expect a reduced nightly rate the longer we stay.”

Red Wings startled as he realised what was occurring. He didn’t have a problem with Iceheart dealing with the innkeeper, but why wasn’t Trixie? He opened his mouth, only for his jaw to snap shut as he looked over at Trixie. She had a disinterested look on her face. It was the same expression that she had had over the last few days. Trixie had gotten better just a few hours ago, and had been outgoing as they came into Manechester. Without his even realising, she had suddenly relapsed into whatever this was.

What was going on?

Red resolved to find out. I wish I could have bunked together with her instead of Iceheart. Then I could ask her right away once we get to our rooms. He flushed as he realised what he had just thought, then decided he meant it anyways. Red Wings enjoyed being in Trixie’s presence, but only when Trixie was the mare he had originally met, not this odd, apathetic pony.

Buuuuut, perhaps it should wait until after we’ve had our showers, he decided as Iceheart finally wrapped up her negotiation with ‘Tomato’ Cato. It would be nice to finally get the filth and sweat out of our coats after the week on the road.


An hour and a half later, Red Wings found himself back downstairs in the dining area, looking out the window. The sky was beginning to darken as sunset was only a half-hour away. It seemed tonight was a slow night for Tomato Cato, as he and the proprietor were the only ponies in the front area.

“So where are you folks all from? Well, the Crystal pony is from the Crystal Empire, obviously, but what about the rest of you?” Cato asked, making idle conversation while anticipating a future dinner order from the four ponies who were now letting his spare rooms.

“Iceheart is from the Crystal Empire, yes. Trixie is from north of Fillydelphia in a village called Whinnychester, which I imagine is a lot like this place. Noire’s hometown is for her and her alone to talk about,” Red Wings said. He had learned a lot of the life stories of the three mares while walking with them, having little else to do for seven days but to chat. “I’m from the west coast, though, just southwest of Los Pegasus.”

“Oh? You’ve come a fairly long ways away from home, then,” said Cato.

“Yeah. We met up in Dodge Junction a little while ago, during the cherry-growing season,” Red said. He decided to hedge on how they had met by telling partial truths with irrelevant facts thrown in. If Cato decided that the four ponies had encountered one another while working on cherry orchards, then who was Red Wings to correct him?

“That’s neat. I don’t think you’ll find many farmers needing extra help here, though,” said Cato. “The tomato farms are more year-round here, so we’re usually well-balanced for labour.”

“We’re not here for a job,” said Red Wings, noting out of the corner of his eye Noire walking in, almost dragging Trixie with her. “We’ll be going up to Fillydelphia shortly, but we decided to stay a little while somewhere small before continuing. We got to know one another well in Dodge Junction and decided to stick together.”

“Trixie and I knew each other before then,” Noire said, taking over in the conversation. “Do you make bread bowls, by any chance?”

“Yes, I have a few on hoof, though I’ll have to de-thaw them. Did you want to order a meal now?”

“We’ll wait for Iceheart. Do you know how long she’s going to be, Red?”

“Not too much longer,” Red Wings said. “She was out of the shower by the time I left, so I think she just needed to dry off and groom herself first.”

“Ah,” Noire nodded in acknowledgement, before turning back to Cato. “Sorry, Trixie is just being a little quiet tonight, she’s normally more talkative than this. Trixie, are you hungry?” She asked.


Red Wings frowned, only for his ears to perk up at the sound of the back door opening, followed by the hoof-clops of Iceheart walking in. Cato’s face brightened up instantly, no doubt hoping to milk his customers slash renters for every last bit. Red decided to delay their order for a little bit and instead investigate to find out whatever it was in this town that might need Trixie’s help. “So, Cato, were you born here?”

“Hmm. Oh, yes, sixth-generation born-and-bred,” said Cato. “I lived a few years in Fillydelphia when going to culinary school, but otherwise I’ve been here my full life. It’s a nice, quiet little town, if that’s what you were wondering.”

Noire caught on to what Red Wings was doing, and she said, “I imagine if you learned cooking in the big city, some of your fellow chefs at least would have heard of Manechester, famous for its tomatoes, right?”

Cato snorted in amusement, though he looked a little antsy. Perhaps waiting for us to order still, Red Wings reflected. “Yes, tomatoes are undoubtedly our most famous product, along with the tomato juice and paste we manufacture in town as well. It’s a shame sometimes, but a pony can’t help but love tomatoes when he grows up in Whinnychester. Hay, I did my part, promoting my hometown’s products to my fellow chefs-in-training when I was in school,” he said, puffing out his chest.

“I hope you will not be too offended if we order something other than tomatoes for dinners while we are here,” said Iceheart.

“Oh, pfft, nopony eats tomatoes all the time here. Even the legendary Apple family doesn’t eat apples all the time,” Cato said, as he picked up a glass in his magic to clean with a wash cloth. “But yes, tomatoes are probably the only thing we’re known for. We haven’t had any monsters come out of the Black Forest just west of here for probably, oh, fifty years. That’s probably the last time the newspapers in Baltimare or Fillydelphia even remembered this place existed.”

Iceheart creased her eyebrows, looking for something else to talk about. “Really? No small-town heroes? No famous magician or writer to come from here?”

“Not really.”

“Wait,” Red Wings interjected. “What about that statue? Did the pony who carved that come from here?”

Cato blinked. “What statue?”

Red Wings frowned. “You know...the statue in the plaza? The one of the stallion?”


Three ponies in the room jumped, while the fourth one stood still, only just tilting her head in surprise. Cato, however, stood still, an expression of shock on his face. Nopony moved, finding themselves in an odd stand-off, until Cato finally shook his head, clearing his fugue state. “Oh, right. You wouldn’t know,” he said, before looking down and picking up the shattered glass with his magic.

“Know? Know what?” Noire asked.

Cato paused, before dumping the glass in a garbage bin behind him. Turning around, he sighed, a melancholic look on his face. “You’re outsiders. It’s just...well, that’s…”

“That’s not a statue.”


Well-Known Member
'Eldest: The Wall'

To Red Wings’ consternment, Cato had refused to elaborate on his line about the not-statue. Instead, he took their orders for dinner, removing a few items out of an icebox, then stated he was going to be back in several minutes before rushing out the door.

“What was that about?” He pondered. “That was kind of random.”

“Maybe he was going to go get somepony else?” Noire suggested. “It sounds like there’s some sort of story behind the statue, or whatever it is. Maybe they had a hometown artist who sculpted the statue, only she later went evil and used her statues to take over Manechester?!”

Red Wings just looked at her, and said, “You’re certain you were a military pony? You seem to have far too active an imagination for one.”

“I didn’t used to. I blame it on spending several months around Trixie, eh Trix?,” she asked, nudging said unicorn in the side. “Trixie, seriously, what is it with you these days? You’re in that mood again.”

“I’ll explain later.”

Noire scrunched her nose, and her ears drooped. “Seriously. Fine, but it had better be a good explanation.”

The four sat around after that, waiting for Cato to come back. Red Wings felt himself relaxing in his seat, shifting from a bipedal sitting position into an all-fours position. “Ahhh, I could use a nap just about now,” he said, nuzzling his head against the soft back of the seat.

Suddenly, Iceheart gasped.

“Wh—what is it?” Red asked, springing to attention.

“I think I know what Cato meant about it not being a statue,” Iceheart said, her eyes wide open.

“Why? What did he mean?”

Red Wings didn’t get the opportunity to find out, as Cato came back into the restaurant, slightly out of breath. “I’m back, and I brought company with,” Cato announced, as another pony walked in behind him.

Red Wings’ first impression was huge, and then he wondered how much larger the Earth pony might have been when he was younger. The stallion was undoubtedly attractive as well when he was younger, but liver spots and sagging cheeks marred his white-furred face, tousles of black and white hair hanging in thin, loose strands. A thin, stubby beard hung from his chin. However, age was finding the Earth pony a tough opponent, as his yellow eyes shone with a supreme will and fire that could not be quenched. As it was, the stallion stood larger than anypony else in the room, with nopony else even coming to his withers.

“Good evening, everypony,” said the stallion, and Red was glad that at least his own voice was deeper than the other’s baritone voice. “It is nice to meet you. I am Hadrian.” He held his hoof out.

Red Wings accepted the hoofshake. “I’m Red Wings.”

Noire did likewise, “My name is Noire,” followed by Trixie, and finally Iceheart.

“Ah, a Crystal pony,” Hadrian remarked. “I had heard about the Crystal Empire returning, but you are the first of your kind I have seen in pony.”

“It is alright if you want to look,” Iceheart said, noticing his eyes lingering on her coat before darting away. “I am aware many ponies are intrigued by our crystalline coats.”

Hadrian chuckled. “Thank you kindly, Miss Iceheart, but I would be more interested in hearing about your own past and the Crystal Empire. I am old, and it has been some time since I have last left Manechester. I love to hear the stories of those few who come into Manechester, and I fear if you leave, I will not get a third chance to hear from a pony who lived a thousand years ago.”

“Wait, a third chance? Not a second chance?” Noire asked, having seized on the odd language.

“Your food will be ready in about ten minutes,” Cato suddenly said as he popped out from the back, where the kitchen was located. “Can I get anything for you, Hadrian? Tea? Cider?”

“Just water for me. If I am to tell these travellers about your father’s and my past, then my throat will run dry without some refreshments.”

“Of course,” Cato said, quickly pouring out a glass of water with ice and levitating it over to the table, before finally retreating back into the kitchen.

“Ah, that’s a good lad there. He doesn’t quite take after his grandfather, but then, his generation hasn’t had to deal with the issues mine did.”

“What issues would those be?” Iceheart asked.

“Oh, right. Urh-hem!” Hadrian cleared his throat. “Cato said you wanted to know about the statue, right?”

Red Wings frowned. “Not precisely. We just sort of wanted to know a little bit about the town, mentioned the statue, and then he ran off to fetch you after claiming it wasn’t a statue.”

“Aha!” Hadrian said, stomping the floor with a hoof. “Not a surprise, really. Cato knows I love to tell stories, so he figured he’d grab me. Well, I’m your stallion.”

“So then, how is it not a statue?”

“Hmm, where to start,” Hadrian said, rubbing his chin with a hoof. Despite his age, the Earth pony still seemed to be in amazing shape. Whereas Cato had been slightly panting upon getting back, the elder stallion hadn’t even broken a sweat, and clearly had no mobility issues at his age. “Well, forget about the statue for the moment. I promise you we’ll get to it, but there’s a whole lot of backstory behind it. This story all begins about fifty years ago.”

“Fifty years?” Noire asked, before covering her mouth up with a wing. “Oh, sorry. I’ll try not to interrupt anymore. I just remember that Cato mentioned the last time the village would have made the news was about fifty years ago.”

“Aye, that’d be correct. Anyways, fifty years ago, I was on the cusp of stallionhood. Those were the days,” Hadrian chuckled again, and Noire’s ears twitched in annoyance at his very casual manner of speech. “Well, I say those were the days, but nostalgic as I am, I can’t ignore how dangerous the past was for all of us. Tell me, did any of you see the Black Forest  when coming into Manechester?”

“The forest to the west, I presume,” Noire said. “Yes, we did see it. I found it rather odd that it was there, considering outside of that forest, the terrain is grasslands as far as the eye can see.”

“Yes, well, the Black Forest grew around a magical font of some power, or at least that’s the prevailing theory. Manechester was a lot smaller in those days because of the Black Forest. Back then, many fearsome predators came out of the Black Forest.”

“Oh?” Iceheart asked. She had faced down Windigos, so anything else was tame in comparison. She did, however, recall some of the creatures that lurked in the Everfree when she delivered messages there. Though Iceheart had stuck to the safe passages, she recalled warnings of some of the monsters there.

“Yes. Manticores came out of there on a weekly basis, and every night, you could hear the timberwolves howl. Every so often you’d get a chimera stomping out from one of the swamps too, though we easily chased it back every time. It was after the hydra came out that the town finally decided to put together an active guard.”

Iceheart was startled to realise Hadrian wasn’t really talking to them anymore. The stallion was looking past them, gazing back into the past, reminiscing of days long past.

“It was officially called the Manechester Perimeter Guard, but everypony agreed that it was a terrible name, and we settled on The Wall as our nickname. We were six, and we were the best of friends. There was me, of course; Antonine, who was one of the farmponies around here and who designed the town’s irrigation system; Severan, Cato’s grandfather and the original owner of this place; Anastasia, one of our weather pegasi; Offa, another farmpony; and finally, Stonehenge, our leader.”

Hadrian sniffed, and his eyes were obviously watery. “We weren’t just friends. We were the best of friends. We trained together, we slept together, ate together, laughed together, and bled together.” The elder stallion finally broke off for a moment to pick up his cup of water, taking a sip before putting the drink back down. “Sorry, I get a little emotional every time I talk about this. I got past it a long time, it’s just that talking make remember those times more than I care to.”

“That’s alright. I have some idea of how you feel,” said Iceheart, attempting to reassure Hadrian.

He waved it off. “Anyways, we were a tight-knit group. We trained together, even went up to Fillydelphia to learn from the Royal Guard stationed there in fighting techniques for a while to improve our teamwork. Not a single one of us died staving off the worst the Black Forest had to throw at us, did you know? Severan and Offa were unicorns, Antonine and Anastasia were pegasi, and Stonehenge was an Earth pony. We worked together with our talents and covered for one another’s weaknesses, and within six months the excursions from the Black Forest went from a torrent to a trickle. Then we started going into the Black Forest.”

Iceheart, Noire, and Red Wings all tensed at Hadrian’s last words, expecting the worst.

Instead, Hadrian laughed. “It was exciting! We thought we were going to face dangerous creatures that would shred us apart as soon as we left our backs exposed, but quite honestly, nothing of the sort ever happened. Once we started trampling over every predator in the place, our overconfidence was more dangerous to ourselves than anything else in the forest.”

For the first time in ages, Iceheart found herself twitching with annoyance. He baited us by making us think something bad was going to happen, I know it, he really did!

“Well, it wasn’t just all fighting and more fighting. When we called ourselves The Wall, it wasn’t just a name. You might have seen bits and pieces of it still around today, but there was originally a full-sized stone wall going all around what used to be the entirety of the residential area at the time. Manechester has since outgrown the old wall though, and lots of ponies live out in farmhouses now instead of walking from here to their fields every day. Anontine designed it, and we built that wall with our own hooves, wings and horns, and trained the rest of the watch. If a creature ever came out of the Black Forest, the watchponies would alert us and we would move out to repel the creature.”

“Then one day, the monsters stopped coming out. It seemed like we had finally outlasted the forest. We scoured the Black Forest thoroughly, looking in every nook and cranny, mapping out several caves, trying to ensure there wasn’t a single nest of pests left. We didn’t want anything to come out and bite us in the flanks for being too cocky for our own good. There was a parasprite infestation in Fillydelphia just a few years ago, for example, but they’ve popped up all over Equestria on occasion in the last several centuries, usually breeding in forests before appearing in the open. We made dang certain there wasn’t a single parasprite in the Black Forest.”

By this time, Cato had finally come out, four separate plates hovering in his magical grip. He laid each one of them out, before sitting down on another chair himself. Even if he had likely heard the story before, even the unicorn was engrossed in Hadrian’s story.

Iceheart briefly looked at her fellow ponies’ meals. Noire had ordered a thick tomato soup in a bread bowl, with a layer of melted cheese over top; Red Wings had a pasta of some sort, complete with tomato sauce; and Trixie had gotten a simple lettuce, tomato and carrot salad. Iceheart had gotten herself an assortment of grilled vegetables, with tomatoes as the centre dish. She salivated merely from the scent and sight of the food: it had been difficult to get fresh anything besides berries and fish in the North.

Sheepishly, Iceheart snapped back to attention. For their parts, the four that had come into town had been waiting for the ‘but’ to drop that they sensed was waiting for them at the end of Hadrian’s tale. It finally came.

Hadrian let out long, deep, weary sigh. “We were thorough. We even brought in experts from an anti-monster agency after, and they agreed with us. But we still missed a spot.”

And there it is, Iceheart, Noire, Red Wings and Trixie all simultaneously thought.

“In one part of the Black Forest there’s a grove of trees that can grow so thick they’re wider than six ponies standing in front of one another, from muzzle to tail. We didn’t realise that the trees could rot from the inside out, but one species of creatures managed to dig out a hideaway in a tree. Do you know what type of monster I’m talking about?”

“Cockatrices,” Iceheart instantly answered, having known since before Cato had returned back with Hadrian.

Even as Trixie let out a gasp, Hadrian raised an eyebrow. “You’re good,” he said.

“The Royal Sisters held their court in the Everfree Forest a thousand years ago. I sometimes delivered messages from the Crystal Empire at the time. Though I never ran into one, I was warned about cockatrices and how to flee if I should ever run into one,” explained Iceheart.

“Well, that’s understandable. I think the cockatrices are still extant around the Everfree Forest, but nowhere else in Equestria. But anyways, we missed a cockatrice nest that was growing in our own backyard. Once they had bred out of control, with no other predators around to keep it in check, they came into town.”

“That’s not a statue, then!” Noire said, before she nearly choked on the bit of food stuck in her throat. She beat her hoof against her chest for a second, before grabbing some water and drinking it. “Sorry,” said Noire, a bit red in the face from her choking episode.

“No, it isn’t,” Hadrian confirmed with a nod. “A cockatrice has the upper body of a chicken and the lower body of a snake, for those of you who didn’t know, and its magic is capable of turning to stone anypony it makes eye-to-eye contact with.”

Oh, Red Wings thought as he felt unsettled, suddenly finding it difficult to swallow his food. So that’s what Cato meant by that not being a statue.

“One day, a flock of cockatrices came out of the Black Forest. We were unprepared for it, but we still had a watch on the wall, and we quickly executed our evacuation procedures. We of The Wall, however, went out to stop the cockatrices. We attempted to push them back into the woods for the first few minutes, before we quickly decided to execute them all.”

Hadrian shrugged as he saw a few slack looks, and at least one mouth hanging open. “Don’t give me that look. Ponykind has been taming and pacifying the land for several thousand years. What, did you think monsters only lived in a tiny few spots all across Equestria? Pah, what nonsense. No, we’ve been domesticating those animals we could, and killing anything that was dangerous and which couldn’t be reasoned with. In the case of the cockatrices, when Antonine was first petrified, all bets were off.”

“It was Stonehenge who struck upon the novel solution of blindfolding himself. Well, I say ‘novel’, but really, the rest of us thought it was an insane idea. Most ponies who know about cockatrices just know about their ability to turn somepony to stone, but cockatrices have a poisonous bite capable of knocking out the average equine. They can also wrap their long tail around a pony and constrict him, causing asphyxiation.”

“That’s—that’s horrifying,” said Red Wings.

“It is,” Cato nodded from the side. “Grandfather told me his stories on many occasions, but the cockatrices always struck me as especially terrifying.”

“Well, in the heat of the moment, it wasn’t that bad. I mean, we were definitely horrified when Antonine was turned to stone, right up until we slaughtered the cockatrice that got him, and the effect wore off. When that happened we were more reckless than we had any right to be, thinking it wouldn’t matter as long as we killed all of them.” Hadrian stroked the stubby beard on his chin with his hoof. “Well, we were still careful. I like to think we were a well-knit group, and when Stonehenge blinded himself, the rest of us fell back to support him, telling him when to expect another cockatrice, occasionally beating off the cockatrice that tried to wrap around him, and generally herding away all the chickens towards Stonehenge and away from the village.”

“It was a flawless fight. The only mistake we made was not knowing that the nest had a king.”

Iceheart furled her eyebrows. “A...king?”

“Aye, a king. Well, that’s what we called it, anyways. It was definitely male, and it was three times larger than any of the other cockatrices. We were stunned when we first saw it, coming up the rear. Severan and Offa tried to kill it with spells, and the spells just bounced off its scales. Our formation fell apart there: before, we were able to snipe at the cockatrices from the side while Stonehenge was a wall unto himself, but we couldn’t stop the king from getting in close.”

Hadrian stopped talking to take another sip of water. Thunk! Went the cup as he slammed it back down on the table. The elder stallion took a deep sigh, before his eyes stared off into the distance.

Nopony said anything for several awkward seconds, waiting for Hadrian to resume. In the end, it was Cato who spoke up instead. “He doesn’t really like this part very much. Grandfather and all the rest feel they failed Stonehenge.”

“We did,” Hadrian said, his voice much lower. “I was the first one to realise the danger the King Cockatrice posed, and stormed ahead of everypony else to fight it. After all, I was talented with two hooves and a hammer. I thought I could damage it, but it tossed me aside like a ragdoll. Severan tried to hold the damn chicken with his magic, and the backlash left him reeling in pain. Antonine and Anastasia tried to spear it from above with dive strikes, and both suffered torn wings for the result. It took us until after the fight to figure it out, but we think the bastard was absorbing magical power from the slaughter of the rest of his flock, somehow.”

“But you did defeat it,” Red Wings said. They had to have done so, or else Manechester would not be standing today.

“Aye, we did. I make it sound like some grand battle, but all that really happened was that Stonehenge tore his blindfold off to chase the king down. Offa gave him an opening to grab it by the neck, and he wringed the life out of that monster. The king cockatrice wrapped its tail around Stonehenge and tried to kill him in turn. Stonehenge outlasted the bird. It ran out of air first.”

“But...he still got petrified? No, how’s that even possible?,” Noire asked. “I remember the statue now. His eyes were closed!”

“The king cockatrice was probably doped up on lots of magic,” Cato said, as he took the four empty plates from the table and stacked them up one on top of another on the bar counter. “Even though Stonehenge had his eyes closed, the king cockatrice’s petrifaction magic was powerful enough that it still affected Stonehenge through his eyelids. Hadrian’s choice of words is correct: the cockatrice ran out of air first, because it didn’t realise that Stonehenge had it in a death grip. Once Stonehenge was fully petrified, no amount of constriction was going to make him run out of air.”

“So that’s why the statue, er, not-statue I guess had such an odd positioning,” Red Wings realised. “I had wondered why its one leg was up in the air like that: he was holding something in front of him, attempting to choke it. But wait, you said before that your one pony, um, Antonine I think you said his name was, was briefly turned to a statue before reverting. Shouldn’t the same have happened to Stonehenge?”

“That’s where it all became one cruel prank,” Hadrian said. “I don’t really know how intelligent the king cockatrice was, or if it was operating entirely on primal instinct, but it got the last laugh on us. All the magic it had absorbed from the death of its flock, it put to good use in its last moments. Stonehenge didn’t revert back after the chicken suffocated, nor after it decomposed in his grasp.”

“Do you know for how long?” Iceheart asked.

“Eh? How long what?”

“How long the magic is supposed to last,” the Crystal Earth pony replied. “Up in the north, when Windigos die, they leave behind magic-infused remains. The remains can last for hundreds if not thousands of years, causing snowstorm and cold weather in the immediate area, but they eventually lose their magic. I assume the petrification should be the same, in which case I was wondering if you know how long it lasts.”

“Oh. Interesting. I did not know that. I hope you’ll forgive an old stallion his curiosity, but I’d love to hear more about that later on. Oh, but maybe wait until tomorrow night, Antonine is returning from visiting grandfillies in Baltimare tomorrow, and Offa should be free as well.” Hadrian broke off, and grimaced, before he said, “Right, the petrification. Well, you’ve heard our town became briefly famous across Equestria fifty years ago and made the news. The cockatrice attack was part of that, of course, but it was also because we journeyed to Canterlot and asked Princess Celestia to come and restore Stonehenge to normal.”

Noire’s head jerked up in surprise at that. The Princess came out all the way here? Well no wait, he didn’t say she did, just let him finish the story.

Hadrian laid his head back against the seat, a small smile on his face. “The Princess received us most graciously in Canterlot. To our surprise, when she heard our request, she immediately agreed to come to Manechester, and moved up much of her schedule to do so. It seems Princess Celestia is more than willing to help ponies who have done their darndest to keep other ponies safe.”

“She does do that,” Noire whispered. Having heard many impressive stories about Princess Celestia, here she was, learning of another tale about the Alicorn of the Sun.

“Let me tell you, coming back was a lot quicker than getting there! Even with the train from Fillydelphia, it still took us two days to get to Canterlot. As special guests of her majesty, it took us only a few hours to get back on her royal pegasus carriage, and she regaled us with many tales of her exploits on the way back after we explained a little of our own stories. It’s a little bit of a shame, too, but the Princess coming to town was what made the news in Baltimare, Canterlot and Fillydelphia, not the tale of The Wall protecting a town against a cockatrice flock gone mad.” Hadrian sighed, before he tilted his head back down, facing forward with a grimmer expression. “Unfortunately, undoing the petrification spell was beyond her ability. According to Princess Celestia, it would take at least a century for enough magic to wear off before she could purify Stonehenge. That chicken knew what it was doing, with a half-life greater than any of our lifetimes.”

“So when he is restored, none of you will be around anymore,” Iceheart said.

“Aye, I imagine you Crystal ponies understand a little bit of that. Severan and Anastasia have already passed on, each in the last few years. It hurts, but we put Stonehenge in the plaza so we’re able to see him every day. Even our children won’t be around when he comes back to life, but hopefully some of our grandchildren will, like Cato here,” Hadrian said, pointing at the aforementioned unicorn.

“Grandfather Severan told me enough stories that I would much like to meet Stonehenge myself,” Cato murmured as he retreated behind the bar counter, and began to wash the dirty dishes. “He was an impressive stallion.”

“I hope you get to meet him, too,” Hadrian mumbled. “Stonehenge was my brother.”

Wisely, nopony was so callous to ask him if he meant his literal brother or metaphorical brother-in-arms.

Hadrian chanced a look out the window. “Oh, silly me, it’s getting dark out, I should get going. Thanks for listening to me, everypony, even if it was because Cato wanted to impress you all with a story over your dinner.”

“Hey!” Cato whined.

The old pony ignored him. “If you’re still here tomorrow, I’ll stop by again. I would love to hear some more about the Crystal Empire, too, Miss Iceheart."

“It would be my pleasure,” Iceheart replied.

“Good then! In that case, toodles,” Hadrian said. He stood up, wiping off his coat with a hoof despite not eating a crumb, and then walked out of the restaurant.

“Well. Wow,” was all Noire had to say in the wake of the story they had just been told.

“Yes, that’s a common reaction when ponies hear about the tragic tale of Stonehenge of The Wall,” said Cato, who had moved on from the plates to the glasses, which he was now washing out and polishing to a shine. “The rest of The Wall, with some help from Canterlot, combed through the Black Forest for a second time after that to make sure there were no more nasty surprises. They didn’t find any. The Wall disbanded, and the wall, the physical stone wall that is, was disassembled bit by bit over the years. Now we just leave a few pieces up as a historical relic.”

“So it really wasn’t a statue after all,” Red Wings mused.

“No, it is not. The Wall fought hard to put Stonehenge out in the plaza, but after the first few weeks, any resistance to the motion crumbled. The petrification magic works in weird ways, so that he’s indestructible while he’s been turned to stone, so it’s not like we even have to worry about somepony accidentally breaking it, unlike a certain statue. Ah, sorry, that might sound a little callous,” Cato apologised. “We got a little detached about it over the years. Oh, would you like some dessert, maybe some tea or coffee?”

“Wha—oh, no, that will be fine,” Noire said, looking over at Trixie, who had been quiet for nearly the entire night. “I think we’ll be going out for a little walk first, actually, before we come back.”

Trixie actually took note of Noire’s words, and she nodded. “Yes, I think we will be doing that,” Trixie said. Noire frowned, feeling weirded out by Trixie’s monotone.

“Going to head back to the plaza?” Cato asked, and then smirked when he saw some surprised faces. “I’ve seen it before, ponies going out to take a look at Stonehenge once they hear the truth about what the so-called statue truly is. Don’t worry, I’ll leave the place open until you come back in.”

“Very well. Thank you for dinner, Cato. It was an excellent meal,” Iceheart said as she rose from the table. She gave Cato a brief curtsy, before leading her three friends out of the restaurant.


“I think we found what this premonition or feeling or whatever it is was directing us towards,” Noire remarked as soon as they got outside.

“Yes, it would seem so,” Trixie agreed.

Iceheart frowned as she sidled up next to the blue-coated unicorn. “Are you alright, Trixie? I would have thought you to be more enthusiastic than that. You’re not worried about collapsing from exhaustion again, are you?”


Red Wings took a few seconds to think it over, before deciding to throw caution to the wind. So soon after swearing his loyalty to Trixie, he didn’t want to press her. However, she had been acting odd, and it would be better if all three of them showed their concerns about her instead of just two. “Is something else bothering you, Trixie?” He asked, as the four ponies rounded the curve and ended up at the plaza.

“Nothing’s wrong,” said Trixie as they came up to the petrified form of the Earth pony called Stonehenge. The moon was beginning to crawl out of its hideaway on the other side of the world. It cast its moonlight on Stonehenge from behind, resulting in a long shadow that stretched across the pedestal, pond and plaza proper.

Now that Red Wings knew the true story behind the supposed statue, Stonehenge’s appearance looked more determined than ever. Red Wings couldn’t help but be inspired, feeling like Stonehenge’s acceptance of his fate was what Red himself should aspire to were he to find himself in a similar situation.

“Well, if you’re not up for it…” Red Wings trailed off, seeing the look on Trixie’s face. 

“I’m up for it,” Trixie barked, startling the other three with the impatience in her voice. “Stand back. I’m going to try some magic here.”

Red Wings was a little bit nervous about letting a mare who obviously wasn’t quite in the right frame of mind perform magic, but he was conflicted. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then opened his eyes and backed away. In the side of his eyes, he could see both Noire and Iceheart giving Trixie some space as well.

The plaza lit up at once as Trixie’s horn glowed an intense violet, the same shade as her eyes. Noire felt a brief moment of sadness as she recalled the lovely green shade that Trixie’s magic had once been, before it changed. The magic grew in intensity until it was blazing like a miniature sun, before it suddenly dimmed all at once, and a purple glow surrounded Trixie’s body instead. Noire backed away some more as Trixie’s hooves began to lift off from the ground. The last time Trixie had used this type of magic, the unicorn had also unconsciously self-levitated, and Noire didn’t dare stay too close, suddenly all too aware of the possibility of a magical backlash now.

Noire, Iceheart and Red Wings all stood there for several minutes as the glow around Trixie got brighter and brighter, to the point each had to lift a leg up to shield their eyes against the bright magic. None of them dared speak a word in case they distracted Trixie.

I hope whatever you’re doing, you finish soon, Red Wings thought as he looked around, trying to see if anypony was coming. While the town was peaceful, a bright magic light coming from the plaza in the early night hours would certainly seem out of place. They weren’t precisely doing anything illegal, but if somepony was to come investigate, Trixie’s magic would look suspicious.

It felt a little weird, being on the outside of whatever Trixie was doing. Before, in the Badlands, Red Wings had felt the magic peripherally affecting him when Trixie was casting. It had been an odd sensation, something between an itch and being ticklish, only for his body to suddenly have another wing. His left wing hadn’t regenerated out of his body, either. One moment, it had merely been a nub. The next moment, his wing was fully restored.

Suddenly, the bright light disappeared, and the magic around Trixie fizzled out, with a soft thump as she landed back on her hooves. “Ooooh, I don’t feel so good,” Trixie said. She attempted to get back up, only to sway on her hooves, and nearly tripped over into the petrified form of Stonehenge.

“C’mon, Trix, we’ll help you get back to the inn. Red, can you help me?” Noire asked as she moved next to Trixie. She had one wing out, attempting to use a joint-pegasus lift, a technique that involved two or four pegasi carrying a pony underneath outstretched wings.

“N—no! I can do this!” Trixie exclaimed as she struggled back up, passion in her eyes for the first time in hours. “I felt something, I swear I felt something!” Trixie started casting magic again, her horn once more lighting up. For a few seconds, it looked like Trixie was going to do something. Then the light dancing up and down her magic sparkled out, almost like an electrical short-circuit, and Trixie visibly wilted.

“Curses!” She shouted, stomping her hoof on the ground. “Why is this so hard? It should have worked!”

“Trixie,” Iceheart suddenly spoke up, walking around and in front of the statue, blocking Trixie’s view of it. “I have mostly refrained so far today, assuming you were simply a little under the weather, or that the stress of this might be getting to you. I let Noire do most of the questioning and comforting. Now, however, now I know something is wrong, so please Trixie, stop this foolishness and tell us what is wrong with you.

Trixie shivered underneath Iceheart’s sudden laser focus. Iceheart softened her gaze upon seeing Trixie looking so defeated, but didn’t let up.

“Al—alright, everypony. I’ll tell you. I honestly should have told you before. I was just scared you would have disapproved. Let’s just, um, go back to the hotel first, please?” Trixie attempted to take a step forward, only to feel greatly exhausted. She looked sheepish as she said, “Er, I think I’ll take that wing lift.”

Red Wings and Noire traded eye rolls, even as they both looked a little bit grim. What could Trixie have wanted to keep secret from them?


It had been a little bit difficult for Red Wings and Noire to get Trixie back to the restaurant slash inn and into her bedroom, having to drag her through the front area instead of conveniently flying her through an open window. The unicorn had been mortified when they explained it off to Cato as Trixie having been a little tipsy, especially when Red had smirked and coined the nickname ‘Tipsy Trixie’.

But they finally managed to get her into her room and onto her bed. Noire sat down on the bed opposite, while Red Wings and Iceheart took seats on two chairs in the room. “Alright, Trixie, spill,” Noire commanded.

“OK, um, where to begin…” Trixie trailed off.

“From the beginning,” Noire said. It was clear the bat pony was not willing to let Trixie ‘um’ and ‘er’ her audience into exhaustion.

“Yes, the beginning, that makes sense,” Trixie said, nodding furtively. “It all started in the changeling hive, when I was reading in the library. I had an epiphany: a Changeling could change. I healed Red Wings through magic that ‘changed’ him, but it was only ever a physical illusion. However, at one point in the Hive, when I was running on fumes, I considered the other half of the equation: could I change myself, not my body, but my mind?”

Noire’s eyes widened. She clued in quickly about what Trixie was saying. “Oh, Trixie,” Noire said, sounding sad.

“I’ve never been the nicest mare in my life, and I’ve never been the hardest-working mare, either,” Trixie said, and Noire could feel more than a tinge of self-pity in her friend’s words. “I pulled my weight on the farms of Whinnychester over the years, and I studied, but there was always a part of me that I despised. I thought I was too carefree, too easy-going, that I should stop taking so much delight in my own whimsy. There was a little bit of self-loathing at myself too, for being forced to drop out, especially when I was in the same generation as Miss Perfect Purple Princess.” Trixie punctuated that last remark with a sneer.

“What did you do?” Iceheart asked. She said it in a gentle, non-condescending tone, genuinely wishing to help Trixie, but also unwilling to let Trixie get off-track.

“Right, that.” Trixie sighed. “After I healed Red Wings, in those same few moments, I considered the possibility of turning the spell inwards on myself. The ability to trick reality itself into thinking ‘this is the way things should be’...I was proud of myself for the paradigm shift in my thinking that allowed me to pull it off. I mean, I built in safeguards so it wasn’t permanent, I could regress any time I wished, like I did earlier today, but it just wasn’t enough.” 

Trixie seemed completely oblivious to the looks of horror on the other ponies’ faces, unaware of how much what she was talking about sounded like brainwashing. Nopony could stomach the idea of mind control, even if it was something Trixie had performed merely on herself for a misguided reason. “I tried my magic again with Stonehenge. I tried extending the concept of what I could do, to make the world believe that the cockatrice magic that had petrified him had finally evaporated. I couldn’t,” Trixie said, choking down a sob. Despite her best efforts, tears were flowing down the unicorn’s face.

Red Wings traded looks with Noire and Iceheart. There wasn’t a precise consensus for how to respond in their brief verbal glances, but he could tell all three of them agreed on one point: it needed to be made clear to Trixie just how foolish the endeavour of changing her mental being was.

“Trixie,” Iceheart went first. Trixie blinked through her tears. “First, please understand, we are not angry at you. We are concerned, and a little bit disappointed that you did not run this cockbrained idea of yours past us. But we are not angry.”

Red Wings’ eyes widened at how forceful Iceheart was. The Crystal pony was still being delicate in her own way, impressing that they weren’t angry, but Iceheart wasn’t holding back her tongue-lashing either.

“You believe that you are flawed in some way, Trixie. It is good to work towards being a better pony, and you have your moments of vanity. However, you are not a bad pony. Would a bad pony have done what she did to help Noire, myself, and Red Wings? Each of us had a problem we were consigned to living with for the rest of our life, Trixie, and you solved every one of them. I enjoy being able to travel and explore Equestria and the rest of this brave new world in this strange future the Crystal Empire found itself in. But I also enjoy going around places with you, Trixie. You were the one who designed and pioneered the very system of magic that has gotten you this far. Trying to change yourself through such artificial means, however? I cannot approve of it. I would miss the Trixie that I got to know.”

Red Wings wasn’t sure he had heard a more devastating statement in his life. Iceheart seemed to have dug deep, however, as Trixie started crying.

“I—I’m sorry, Iceheart. I—I really should have kn-known better,” Trixie managed to choke out between sobs.

“Hush, Trixie,” Noire said, climbing onto Trixie’s bed and grabbing the other pony, wrapping Trixie up with her two wings in a tight hug. “It’ll be alright. We’re your friends, and we’re all here for you. You were alone for so long, weren’t you?” Noire whispered. “We’re not just going to abandon you or anything, that would be foolish. No harm was done or anything.”

They stayed that way for some time.


“Would it be possible for me to speak with Trixie a bit?” Red Wings asked, before adding the qualifying word, “Alone, that is.”

Noire frowned as she looked up at him. Seeing a troubled look on the pegasus’ face, she looked back over to Trixie. “What do you think, Trix?”

Trixie sniffed, wiping some tears off her face. “I don’t have a problem with it.”

“Very well. Iceheart, let’s go to your room, then,” Noire said, unwrapping her wings from around Trixie and hopping off the bed. As Iceheart lead her out, Noire said to Red Wings, “Come grab me when you’re done, please. I think it’s been a trying day already, and after this, I just want to get to sleep.”

“Will do.”

As Noire and Iceheart left, Red Wings turned around. Trixie was beginning to compose herself, but she still seemed a little skittish about what he had to say.

“I’ve only known you for about two weeks,” Red stated. “We first met in Dodge Junction, spent less than a day out in the Badlands, then talked to one another off-and-on while living in the Hive. When you used your magic to do your, I guess, personality shift, I did notice. I didn’t say much, however, since I couldn’t have been sure that wasn’t who you were, and that maybe your earlier outgoing self was rare for you.”

Trixie said nothing, but she showed interest in what Red Wings was saying.

“I’m, er, not too good with words, and I know I’m stumbling over them, being tongue-tied. Public speaking skills hasn’t really been a requirement for me ever.” Red Wings sighed. Why am I wasting time on this? That isn’t important. Steeling himself, he said, “You saved my life, Trixie. I wasn’t going to kill myself or anything, but life as a one-winged pegasus was lonely for me. With time, I probably would have moved on from Dodge Junction and gone somewhere else, picking myself up what little life I had established there and tossing it aside. Baltimare was a no-go zone for me thanks to my incident with the guard there.”

Red laughed at that thought. “And then we went through Baltimare for supplies on coming up here! I was terrified, but merely being around you gave me strength to go into the city. Nopony recognised me, and even if they had, I had two wings. There was no way they could get me on that, heh.” It was nervous laughter, but Red let himself laugh anyways. It was better than keeping his nerves inside. 

“But, you know Trixie...I grew to like you, even if you were a little insensitive at times. You took some hard knocks early in life from what you’ve told me, and you fell down for a few years, but you got right back up and powered through it.” Red Wings looked longingly to his side, where his left wing was tucked in with nary a scar. “I owe you, and I wasn’t kidding about being loyal to you forever. Well, if you turn evil on us and decide to become a madmare tyrant, that promise of fealty is revoked, but I mean, aside from that. You saved me, Trixie. I can’t repeat that enough. You did something that was thought impossible, all on your own. That was you, without any magic that induced a personality change to become more ‘serious’. From what Noire tells me, you were the one with the strength of will to break free from your depression, to leave Whinnychester and journey Equestria. You’re the one who’s managed to drag the rest of us this far.”

“So maybe you’ve finally met your match here? Princess Celestia couldn’t restore Stonehenge, and she said it’ll be at least another fifty years before it’s possible? Well, it can’t hurt to try, because the possibility is still there. I don’t mean what you did out there just earlier. I refuse to believe you could have ever healed my body when you were in a state of mind like that. I think only you, the real Trixie, could have done that. So, um, Trixie, please, try, try again. I urge you to make a second attempt, but this time with a clear mind. I won’t be disappointed if you fail, but I believe you can do it. So, um, believe in the me that believes in you.” Red Wings took in a deep breath, then exhaled. He felt as if he had poured his heart out to Trixie. Now he just needed to wait for her response.

Trixie was silent for several seconds. Then she raised her head up, and said, “You stole that out of a comic book.”

Red Wings laughed nervously. “I did, so I did. The drill that will pierce the heavens, and all that.”

Trixie chuckled as well. “I read a few comics back in the day. I didn’t find them entertaining on my own, but I loved to use material from them for the plays I sometimes put on. I thought that sounded familiar.” Slowly, the unicorn rose up from her sitting position, before hopping off her bed and onto the floor. “You’re right, though. It was a stupid idea to ever try turning my illusion magic inwards,” Trixie admitted. “I thought I could pull off something that would deceive the world, but all I did was deceive myself.”

“So you’re going to try again?” Red Wings asked.

“Yes, but not tonight, Red,” Trixie said, looking out the window at the moon. “It’s too late for that, and I’m tired. I feel motivated right now, but it needs to be more than that. I have to be in the right state of mind first, and getting there requires a little bit of philosophising to myself as well. The statue’s magic feels a little bit different than I’m used to, almost like the Windigo ice I encountered several weeks ago, and I also have to account for that. I need some sleep before I do all that.”

“That’s good to hear, then."

“Yes, it is. Really, thank you though. That was sweet of you. I needed that,” said Trixie. Her eyes shifted left and right for a moment, before she darted forward and kissed Red on the cheek.

“Wh—wha?” Was all Red Wings could muster up in response, dazed by the sudden surprise kiss, chaste as it was.

“Pity, I forgot your coat is the perfect colour to disguise a blush,” Trixie said, a mischievous glint in her eyes. “Come on, let’s go talk to Iceheart and Noire, they’ll want to hear about this.”

As she turned around, Red Wings followed on instinct. That turned out a little better than I expected, he thought.


Well-Known Member
'Eldest: Stonehenge Elderwall'


Trixie had a habit of rolling around in her bed during the night, and it only got worse when she was on an unfamiliar mattress. As luck would have it, however, she had turned into such a position that when the first light of day broke through the flimsy curtain, it fell over her eyelid.

“Nngh,” Trixie groaned, tightening her eyelid before rolling over, burying her head back into her pillow. After a week walking from Dodge Junction all the way up to Manechester, she was greedy for sleep in a nice, warm bed, and Trixie would not be denied.

It helped that in her semi-conscious state of half-sleeping, half-awake, the things that pained Trixie could be buried deep.

Trixie’s lips curled up and she wrinkled her snout, trying to repress the whimper that threatened to come out. She hadn’t been entirely honest the night before. Yes, Trixie had cast a spell upon herself to focus her state of mind to become more serious, more devoted to her practice, and less whimsical. However, there had an extra benefit that Trixie had left out.

The scars left behind by the Alicorn Amulet, and the trauma from the Ursa Minor incident still remained with her. For a few glorious days, even as Trixie slept in a tent on hard earth, wind whipping away at the canvas, she hadn’t once dreamed of those two things. But now, the Alicorn Amulet haunted her still.

It had been good while it lasted.

She grumbled when she realised she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep again instantly. Turning around, she opened her eyes and faced the curtain. Trixie cast a spell, dragging a spare blanket that had been set to the side, and hanging it over the lone window. Satisfied as the room fell into a pitch darkness again, Trixie rolled over back into her original sleeping position.

Let’s see, what can I think about? Trixie thought. A marvelous method for getting back to sleep over the years that she had discovered was to think about things, typically boring things, that still needed to have some thought given to. It didn’t take too long for Trixie to think of something: the magic that had petrified Stonehenge.

There had been something odd about it. It didn’t work the way normal magic should. Of course, Trixie had never actually encountered a cockatrice statue before, so she had no baseline to compare this one to. However, compared to other magic, it felt off. Even just inspecting the statue with a magical scan had been difficult. Where her magic had bounced off the Windigo ice, creating a tingle in her horn, here, her magic seemed to simply turn inert as soon as it came within the field of the statue. Both effects were so wildly beyond Trixie’s normal understanding of magic that it left her troubled.

But she had defeated the Windigo ice. Though it had required the help of the Crystal Heart, Trixie was also fighting against the magical residues of multiple Windigo remains. Compared to that, the magic of a single cockatrice was nothing.

But that was just it: it was more than one cockatrice that had fueled the spell. Trixie felt a little uneasy about the idea that somehow, all the cockatrices that had been slaughtered before their king had powered its own magic to the point it could paralyse a pony with his eyes closed, and leave a petrifaction spell that required a century before the most powerful pony in the land could even think about undoing it. Trixie always felt a little trepidation every time her mind wandered back to that fact. Princess Celestia herself couldn’t even do it.

Nay, forget Princess Celestia, there was that other one, the Princess of Magic. Could she do it?

Trixie grit her teeth, wishing she could fall asleep now. It had been a blissful few days, even if she knew better now that her spell had been a bad idea. Trixie didn’t want to think about her, but her mind was Trixie’s worst enemy, constantly seeking ways to turn her train of thought onto the perfect pony princess, she who had saved the realm so many times they may as well rename the land after her.

OK, think about something else, Trixie. Back to the statue. Right, the statue. It wasn’t just the magic of the statue. Trixie wasn’t foolish. She could see that every time she was using her illusion magic on something big, she was extending her idea and concept of what illusion magic could actually do. The first time, with New Moon, Trixie had cast a spell that merely created a visual illusion, somehow altering New Moon’s Cutie Mark too as the bat pony had taken on the name of Noire. That had been done with the aid of the magic of the Black Moon.

With the Windigo fossilised remains, it was the first time Trixie had reached beyond the common conceit of illusions as fooling the physical senses of others, and into the idea of tricking the world itself into thinking that this was the way such-and-such should be. It was still such a heady concept that it left Trixie wobbly on her hooves when she tried to think too much about it. It was no wonder she always had a fainting spell of some sort since the first time with the Windigos. Forcing her mind to change its own understanding of how things should be, just so it could trick the fabric of reality into also believing that this was how things must be, was frankly exhausting on its own, even before Trixie brought her magic into play.

Back on track, Trixie, she prodded herself. Right, so that was the first time that had happened, where she had changed how reality interpreted things should be, and said ‘There is no windigo ice here’, and reality had obeyed. Even then, she had needed the aid of the Crystal Heart to neutralise most of the windigo ice’s magic even temporarily, as well as her own magical stores, her changeling energy, and much of Noire’s magic as well. All she needed to do was focus on the Windigo ice as a physical object, not as a physical object infused with Windigo magic.

Then Red Wings was next, Trixie thought, remembering the uniformly red Pegasus and the joyful look on his face. It had been that expression Trixie always looked to inspire in the faces of fillies and colts, but Trixie knew she would never be able to see something like that in one of their faces. No pony merely watching a show could match the joy of a pegasus who had his wing restored, and Trixie was certain she would never go wanting for that small part of her she had inherited from her father that could store emotional energy.

But Red Wings’ wing had been one step above merely being a physical object. It was an organic thing, a complex body part, which made it so much more dangerous and complicated to reject how reality was and assert this was how reality was to be. It was also the first big thing Trixie had done that had been unassisted by any power source. It was so much more than a simple rock being turned into a marble, or small pools of water being conjured from nowhere.

Trixie wasn’t sure what that premonition was that had led her from Dodge Junction to Manechester, instead of going west to Colt Springs, but she was thankful for it now. She had found another roadblock in her journey. Though the unicorn despised being used, she also knew that every little way she could improve the magic she was pioneering from scratch would help Trixie when she met the changeling above all other changelings.

But that’s also the problem, thought Trixie’s darker side, the one that nagged at her and sometimes told her she should go find another magical artifact to abuse. You aren’t sure if you can surpass the obstacle in front of you this time.

And Trixie wasn’t. Because there was a clear trajectory in what she was doing. First, something that merely fooled the senses of others, anchoring it in magic to make Noire’s new form permanent. Next, something that erased a physical object. Afterwards, creating an organic form out of scratch, and attaching it to a still-living pony, with no side-effects in the process. And now, she had to reach beyond the physical plane, and into the realm of magic. The metaphysics of understanding how to square a magical curse with her power to fool the world was giving her a headache, and she had just barely begun.

First, Trixie would have to figure out how to get her magic merely to be able to interact with the statue, and not lose its potency. Then she would have to relay, through the framework of her illusion magic so powerful it could trick all of creation, a thought. And Trixie still didn’t know what that thought would be. Should it be something like ‘The petrifaction magic never took hold’? It could backfire on her, and reality might spite her by aging Stonehenge fifty years in a second, thinking that if the petrifaction magic had never took hold, then so his age should never have been frozen either.

No. Right now, the best idea she had was ‘The petrification magic has finally worn off’. It was getting there, and Trixie making herself believe it before making existence itself believe it in turn, that was going to be difficult.

With that thought about trying to mash metaphysics and thaumaturgy together to come up with a bastardised hybrid that had been left out in the sun too long to bake, Trixie finally fell asleep.


The key to everything was Red Wings.

It wasn’t that his case held some special philosophical significance that Trixie could derive from. Really, she had to start fresh with her latest case.

Rather, it was because even with the muted senses of a changeling that she had inherited from her father, she was practically on cloud nine just from feeling him.

Quite honestly, it was intoxicating, and she could see Noire was the same. “Why aren’t you up there, flying along with him?” Trixie asked Noire, standing next to her.

“Are you kidding me? How could I take away from a moment as happy as that?” Noire asked, casually deflecting the implication she’d be flying like a drunk if she were.

“I assume that means Red Wings is in a very good mood right now?,” asked Iceheart.

It was a beautiful morning out, with just a little bit of a chill from the morning dew. Trixie had trudged out after getting up, following the road down to where she knew her friends to be, just outside another one of Manechester’s few remaining gates. Ponies and the odd donkey were out and about already, picking tomatoes, sorting tomatoes into crates, and loading up tomatoes into crates to be taken up to the nearest train station.

The four weren’t anywhere close to running low on their funds, and Trixie and Noire had in fact gotten a minor top-up from the changeling hive in the Badlands while visiting. However, Trixie was certain if they absolutely needed, they could acquire additional funds by working for a few days on the tomato orchards around Manechester.

For now, however, she was determined to have some relaxation time, and it was for that that they had found a small meadow outside of Manchester’s decrepit walls where a few other younger ponies were already frolicking. While Noire and Iceheart seemed content to just sit down on their haunches and laze around, Red Wings had taken to flying.

Even after a week, the euphoria the red pegasus felt was stunning. Trixie closed her eyes, feeling a few tears of joy leaking out. I did good there, she admitted to herself. She watched as Red flew through the sky, gliding along the warm thermals, occasionally doing a trick such as a loop-de-loop or diving and then reversing his dive. Red Wings had said it would be weeks at a minimum before his wingpower would be back up to what he once had. Right now, however, his mere joy was enough to lift Trixie’s own spirits. Even some of the Manechesterites, unaware of Red Wings’ backstory, seemed to be delighted by the stallion’s pure joy, infectious as it was.

“So what are you doing, then?,” asked Trixie. “I took the opportunity to sleep in for the first time in nopony knows how long, but you two got out here earlier than I did.”

“Noire asked me to teach her a little bit of what I knew about Earth pony magic,” said Iceheart. “Honestly, I did not acquire much that I could help her out with. My resistance to cold was my own in-born trait, refined through several expeditions into the frozen wastes, and my experience with fighting Windigos is not something that can easily be adapted to other purposes.”

“But you still learned things,” Noire insisted.

Iceheart conceded the point with a nod of her head, and said, “Yes, I did. Earth ponies are intrinsically linked to the very earth itself. Even when there are several hooflengths of ice between our hooves and the land, that connection was always there, calling to us.”

Trixie listened to the Crystal pony, interested as well in what she had to say. Trixie had never really bothered delving into the magic of the other two pony tribes, even if she was able to make a passing impression of their magic by proxy of the changeling traits she had inherited. Even Noire had not bothered to diversify until just recently, settling for the weather manipulation magic inherent in all pegasi and bat ponies. Now, however, Trixie had little else to do, not wanting to currently think about the petrified Earth pony waiting for her back in Manechester’s plaza.

“It may be a little odd ponies such as you two, who can summon gusts with your wings or levitate objects with your horn, and I realise I am barely scraping the surface of what is possible with your magic,” Iceheart continued, tongue fully in cheek, “But Earth ponies can also ‘ground’ magic, for lack of a better term. It is why we rarely get magical sicknesses: the magic foreign to our body is dispersed by our connection to the earth.” Iceheart paused, and added, “It is the same for curses and magical attacks. Of course, Sombra figured out the weakness every Earth pony shares: if we lose our connection to the earth, it no longer works. He permeated the land of the Crystal Empire with his dark magic before brainwashing most of the citizenry.”

Trixie and Noire both shuddered at how nonchalantly Iceheart mentioned the former king’s evil deeds.

“I do not know how much of it is known in Equestria today, thanks to the passing of time, but before we went into stasis, there were a number of pagans in the Crystal Empire who believed in Mother Earth as being her own sentient entity. Of course, they also believed Mother Earth favoured her Earth ponies, closest to the land. I do not put much stock in it, given how we were fighting Windigos,” Iceheart said. “But it is a fact that the Earth pony segment of our population turned out the greatest number of those resistant to the cold, and I presume it is that same connection to the land that helped us.”

“But how much of it is a passive ability, and how much of it is an active skill?” Noire asked.

Iceheart furled her eyebrows. “It is mostly a passive ability, but it is not as if it can be trained. Many of the superequine feats that you sometimes hear about Earth ponies is from those rare few who trained themselves, such as say, perhaps a mare who can throw a giant rock several hundred feet, or grind the same rock to dust with her same hooves. Even my ability to tolerate the cold grew with practice and understanding my body and magic. I once had to bulk up with many layers of clothing. Granted, it was even colder during the days the Windigos were around than it was when you came to the fortress, but still, over time I was able to strip off a few layers for greater mobility.”

“Go back to that part about grounding magic,” said Trixie. “Could you improve your passive talent in that area to basically dissipate any magic thrown at you in a battle?”

“Yes. Yes you could,” said Iceheart, looking up at the sky, her eyes tracking Red Wings, who was now flying upside down. “I would love to see how the Hearth’s Warming Eve tale has changed over the years, but...during the time of the Three Tribes, the Earth ponies were treated horribly, from what I understand, though the Crystal Empire was an entity unto itself even then. However, legends abound of a hoofful of Earth ponies who broke free of the yoke of tyranny of the other races. They learned their own race’s magic, and were able to shrug off lightning bolts and magical attacks alike. However, all they were able to do was merely keep the unicorns and pegasi from enslaving the Earth ponies, not put the three tribes on even hoofing.”

Trixie patted her hooves around nervously. It was never nice being reminded of what utter jerks her ancestors had been. Maybe they didn’t see any option, but to Trixie’s modern-day sensibilities, the unicorns that were many generations beyond her grandparents were not paragons of virtues to emulate.

“Well, I want to learn, anyways,” Noire insisted. “Whatever I can."

Trixie frowned. Iceheart’s lecture had given her an idea. Trixie was able to emulate what Earth ponies could do, though only to a small degree, restricted by her changeling heritage being the lesser part of what and who Trixie was. Nevertheless, the idea of grounding negative magic was an inspiration to her.

Perhaps she had been tackling the issue of Stonehenge the wrong way?


Trixie found Stonehenge again. It was all too easy, given the Earth pony hadn’t moved a hoofstep in fifty years.

“Who were you truly, Stonehenge?” Trixie whispered to herself. The other ponies in the square regarded her curiously, before moving on. No doubt many other ponies had talked to the not-statue over the years (and though Trixie was certain petrified ponies had no awareness of the world while turned to stone, even a pony talking nonsense to them would be a helpful distraction if that were not the case), and Trixie would just have been one of many.

In Trixie’s case, however, she wasn’t talking at the statue, but to the statue. “How many ponies who knew you forgot your voice over the years, your eyes, the way you could smile, frown, or look confused? How many ponies could soon only remember you by the look you have right now, the look of determination at killing a monstrous cockatrice? Were you scared? No, that’s a silly question. Of course you were scared. But you went out there and fought anyways, and you lead your friends into battle. I wonder what you left behind? Parents? Siblings? A wife? Foals?”

“No foals or no wife, thankfully, or else that would have made Stonehenge’s story more depressing,” a soft voice said from behind her, and Trixie nearly jumped. She swung around to face the new pony, an old mare with a dark green coat and a tail with alternating lime-green and lemon-yellow stripes. “He flirted with a mare his own age from time to time, and while she never quite moved on, she did find love again later on.”

Trixie spotted the mare’s horn, and the spots of dirt and tomato juice that clung to her legs. “Sorry, but might you be Offa?” Trixie asked.

The elder unicorn blinked, then smiled. “Yes, that’s me. I overheard what you said about Stonehenge. I take it somepony already told you about The Wall?”

“Yes. Me and some friends of mine came into Manechester yesterday, and we’re staying at Tomato Cato’s place. He had Hadrian come over and tell us about The Wall’s formation and your fight against the cockatrices.”

Offa shook her head, making an audible ‘tsk-tssking’ sound. “Of course he would. Cato misses his grandfather. I think he hopes we’ll have some new story about his grandfather every time he has us over at his restaurant, even though we exhausted all our tales a long time ago.”

Trixie had nothing to say for that, so she fumbled around, looking for a new topic to speak about, now that she had one of the mares who had fought so long ago standing right in front of here. “I’m surprised they took the wall down,” she said.

“It didn’t go without a fight,” Offa replied. “But after the agency from Canterlot helped us go through the forest and use every last spell they knew to make certain the place was monster-free, and the lack of monster attacks for several years following that, the wall came. The stones were used to build the plaza and a few stone houses, but we managed to keep the gates preserved at the least. The cities have all sorts of old relics that ponies there love to brag about, and we felt that at least some small part of the wall should remain.” Green eyes settled upon the statue with a hint of longing, and with a startle, Trixie realised which mare it was who had moved on in her feelings for Stonehenge. “I’ve always wondered what will last longer, the gates, or Stonehenge standing here in the plaza?”

Trixie chose not to say anything.

“But that’s just an old mare talking, one who still shows up to work every day to help pick tomatoes, wondering where life went. It used to be Stonehenge was the eldest of us. Then one day I woke up and realised I was older than he was when he was turned to stone. It may not have been the day The Wall officially disbanded, but it was the day we finally all went out separate ways,” Offa whispered that last part.

Those words struck Trixie. She had only known Iceheart and Red Wings for a short period of time, and suddenly, Trixie found she couldn’t bear to be separated from them. It would be a cruel thing for Trixie to be taken this world early, as if she was a marionette on strings, leaving her friends with a massive hole in their hearts.

“I’ve seen your ilk here, before,” Offa suddenly said. “Many a unicorn has thought she had a novel idea that might work and end the spell early. You’ve felt it, haven’t you? The magic just goes dead as soon as it touches Stonehenge.”

“It becomes inert,” Trixie offered as an alternate word.

“Yes, that’s a good word, it becomes inert, I like it,” Offa agreed. “I spent many of those dark first days trying to find something to heal Stonehenge. When we went and actually got Princess Celestia to come here, I had my hopes up, thinking the ruler of our nation, who has been around for thousands of years, could fix it. When she couldn’t, I raged for many days. I owe Anastasia more than I was ever able to pay her back during her lifetime for putting up with me during that time periods. Nowadays, we hold vigils by her and Severan’s graves, and by Stonehenge,” she said fondly.

Trixie again said nothing, even when offered the chance to speak up.

“Well, there’s no harm in trying whatever hare-brained idea you might have,” Offa continued. “I like to believe that every time someone uses magic of some sort on the statue, it dissipates away a little bit of the cockatrice magic.”

Trixie’s eyes widened at that word. Dissipate? Yes, Iceheart did say the same thing, didn’t she?

“The magical half-life of the spell is simply too long, though.” Offa sighed. “Had I been younger, I would have gone to the School for Gifted Unicorns, and tried to find a solution, even if it took me an entire lifetime. Alas, I was too old, and so I stayed home, took over the family orchard, found another stallion, and raised my own family.” She looked up at Stonehenge’s petrified form, looking at his closed eyelids. “It’s selfish of me, but I still wonder what might have been. I remember his voice, even now. It was deep, the deepest voice I’ve ever heard in a stallion, but it never scared me, he was always in good humour, even when we went hunting. It’s his eyes that I remember most, though. You would think he and Hadrian truly were brothers. It was eerie how close their eyes were, both that piercing yellow.”

Offa turned around, smiling at Trixie. “Thank you for listening to me, anyways. I’m getting older every day, and I feel the need to talk more and more about back then. The dwindling amount of time we old folks have does something strange to us. It gets more and more urgent for us to tell our stories, even if we’ve already told them many times before.”

“It was no problem at all,” Trixie said, genuinely appreciating what the other mare had told her. “I, um, I used to travel between many small villages, coming from a town like this, except it grew wheat instead of tomatoes. I put on magic shows, but I also told stories, many of them, be they fables, stories from other land, or even skits I came up with on my own. I know the value of a village wanting to have its own story to tell.”

“That’s nice,” Offa said, sounding suddenly disinterested. “Will you be in Manechester long?”

“Probably for at least a few more days,” said Trixie. “I am here with friends of mine, and it will be when we have a general consensus to move on and travel some more.”

“I see. It was nice to meet you, ah…”

“My name is Trixie Lulamoon,” Trixie supplied.

“Ah, it was nice to meet you, Miss Lulamoon. I was going to go see my grandfoals before I got distracted. I can’t leave them waiting any longer.”

With that, Offa left the square. Trixie wrinkled her nose. The elder mare had seemed pleasant for most of the conversation, before suddenly growing standoffish at the end. Trixie wondered if that had anything to do with what she had said about being a storyteller and magician.

No, that wasn’t it, she thought. It felt more like she was jealous of me for escaping the village I grew up in. It wasn’t a surprise, truly. Trixie had met more than one filly who desperately desired to get out of her backwater ponydunk town, and she knew some never would. In Offa’s case, having to daily see the petrified form of a stallion she had once loved, never changing, might have embittered her even more.

Trixie couldn’t fix that. That was out of her purview, and no amount of magic could solve it. She could try something to affect the mind, but the mere idea of trying it on somepony other than herself left Trixie’s stomach roiling in revulsion.

Instead, Trixie turned to look at Stonehenge again. She noticed new details every time she looked at the statue. For example, his eyes weren’t just close: they had been shut tight, with the skin around his muzzle slightly stretched in a frown, no doubt trying to keep his eyes protected from the cockatrice’s petrifying stare. The slightest hint of teeth could be seen in between lips. There was faint scarring on the frog of his upraised hoof, perhaps developed from fighting monsters, or maybe just an accident while working on a farm. The more Trixie looked, the more she wondered how she could ever have mistaken this for a statue.

“They’re all wrong, you know. Hadrian is wrong, Offa is wrong, yes, even Princess Celestia was wrong. You won’t have to wait another fifty years. I’ll find a way to get you out,” Trixie whispered, before finally turning around and heading back to the inn.


“Hoho, did you really have to go rescue your soldier out of a snow drift?” Hadrian asked, chortling as he slammed back a shot of whiskey.

“Yes. He was overconfident, so the others made certain the rookie did not forget it for many months after,” Iceheart said. The mischievous look on her face was so rare to her that both Trixie and Noire made note of it.

“But at least he caught the fish!” Hadrian laughed, slamming the floor hard with a hoof.

“Yes, yes he did!” Iceheart said heartily. It had been quite a long while since the last time she had been able to let loose. She had never really been a very outgoing pony to begin with, and when leading two hundred ponies in a post where very day brought the potential of death with it, Iceheart had become even more restrained. Here, several hundred kilometres away from home, with friends who were not also her subordinates, Iceheart had found the opportunity to trade war stories of a sort with another old soul.

Well, I am not really an old soul, but I think being stuck in stasis for a thousand years counts, Iceheart thought. She had held back on the alcohol, sticking to a single shot just to be polite. Hadrian, however, had downed them at a startling frequency.

“That reminds me of when Severan went fishing one day,” Hadrian recounted with fondness, stroking his beard. Cato could be heard in the background groaning, leaving Iceheart little doubt it was an embarrassing story. “I don’t really remember most of it, but he fell in the water, and when he came back up, he had speared a fish right on his horn!”

The wizened stallion laughed out loud again. Iceheart’s own chuckle was more restrained, and she decided not to encourage him anymore for the night. It was clear Hadrian was near or even past his limits. Any more, and somepony would have to drag the Earth pony home.

“Ah, I remember when Stonehenge saw it,” Hadrian suddenly continued, sobering up at the mention of his friend and brother lost to stone. “He coined a new nickname right there for Severan, ‘spearhead’. It didn’t stick, maybe because we were worried Severan might gore us one day, but we got a few good days of mileage out of it. Ah, good times, good times,” Hadrian said, relaxing against his seat.

Iceheart found herself floundering, lost in the sudden emotional whiplash in the restaurant, much like how she imagined Severan himself had once floundered in the water of the fishing pond. Iceheart decided to take the opening Hadrian had offered her, fishing for more information about Stonehenge. “What was Stonehenge really like?” She asked.

Up on the bar counter, Trixie’s ears perked up, having been engaged in small talk with Red Wings. Noire had retired to bed early that night, having been tired out from practicing Earth pony magic with Iceheart.

“Oh, him,” Hadrian sighed. “Stonehenge, he was, well, he wasn’t a saint. Time has coloured some of my memories. He could occasionally be a jerk, and he played mean-spirited pranks sometimes. But that doesn’t detract from the Stonehenge I remember. We all looked up to him as our leader. It was more than him just being the eldest of the group: he had a unique charisma and drive that lifted the rest of us up. Even after he was gone, it took a long time for the rest of us to fall apart. Then, of course, we made up again in our old age,” he added with a smirk.

“I’ll say. So this is where you were hiding out Hadrian, at the good ol’ water hole.”

Iceheart raised an eyebrow at the entrance of the two newcomers. She identified the one mare with green coat and lemon-lime mane as being Offa, having been told about her by Trixie earlier. The other pony was new to her, however. Though he was old and had a little bit of a limp, the pegasus still carried himself well. 

“I’m Antonine, and this if Offa,” the pegasus said, introducing both himself and his companion. Iceheart’s gaze lingered on him for a few seconds, before she finally clued in why he seemed so familiar. With his golden-brown coat, mane with grey and darker grey stripes, and purple eyes, he could have passed for the hero of those adventure books Iceheart had seen many ponies reading on the train, if Antonine were forty years younger and a mare.

“Hah! The old water hole was the stuff of legends, my friend,” Hadrian declared. “Calling a bar and restaurant a water hole just doesn’t seem to fit.”

“Good evening. I am Iceheart. Over at the counter are my friends Trixie and Red Wings,” Iceheart said. She didn’t think she needed to specify who was Trixie and who was Red Wings, given only one of them had wings and was red.

“Nice to meet you, Iceheart. Hadrian, why didn’t you tell me you found a Crystal pony?!” Antonine asked, grabbing the other stallion in a headlock and giving him a noogie with his free hoof.

“Ack, no touch, no touch Ant!” Hadrian squawked, pushing the golden-furred pegasus off him. “They didn’t even come in until yesterday afternoon, and it was me Cato grabbed to tell them a story, not you.”

“Honestly, I would have thought you’d have stopped roughhousing by now, but it seems colts never grow up,” Offa said, rolling her eyes. However, the smile on her lips betrayed her thoughts.

“Well, we’re here now, so maybe we can tell more stories. I’m certain my daughter will be impressed I got to meet a Crystal pony before she did. That’ll teach her to traipse across the south looking into old ruins,” Antonine gloated, sitting down

“If she ever returns, you mean,” Hadrian snarked from beside Antonine.

“Oh come now, she returns once a year,” Antonine groused. “Granted, she spends most of her time sitting in her room typing, but I can still pull her out and get her to give me the unadulterated tale. Maybe next time she’s home we can finally convince her to write about us instead!”

“Knowing our luck, we’ll be in the fiction section,” Offa said, sitting in next to Iceheart in the booth. “Cato, I’ll take an order of hay fries, and be generous with the mayonnaise!”

“Ah, yes auntie,” said Cato, scampering into the back where the kitchen was.

“Auntie?” Iceheart asked.

“Oh, I’m not his actual auntie,” Offa said. “However, we were all the best of friends back in the day, so there were many occasions where we foalsat one another’s brats, and for Cato, calling the rest of his uncles or aunts stuck.”

“It should be great-aunt, though,” Hadrian pointed out.

Offa scowled. “Now you’re just making me feel old.”

“But you are old!” Antonine said in jest.

Iceheart watched as the three bickered in good humour with one another. She couldn’t help but be envious of them. We had the looming threat of Windigos to the north and the Witch King sitting on the Crystal Throne to the south, and I was their leader. Truly, Trixie coming along was the best thing to ever happen to me.

“By the way, Hadrian, you and the lass were talking about Stonehenge right before we came in, right?” Antonine asked.

It took a few seconds, but Hadrian eventually nodded. Nopony at the table missed his eyes watering up.

“I miss Stonehenge,” said Antonine. “I still feel like it’s my fault, y’know? If I hadn’t gotten petrified and then reverted to normal after you guys killed the chicken who did it, Stonehenge might not have gotten overconfident.”

“Oh, Antonine…” Offa said, but was unable to stop Antonine from continuing to pour his feelings out.

“I know, I know, I’ve said it a hundred times, and I’ve heard it a hundred times, it’s not my fault. None of us could have known, especially not Stonehenge. But it still gets me, thinking about what it must be like from Stonehenge’s perspective. He choked the king to its death, thinking that even if he was petrified, he would be right as rain again in a few seconds. He wouldn’t have known he’d be stuck there for a hundred, two hundred, three hundred years.” Iceheart was startled to see the boisterous, lively Antonine suddenly sag in his seat, his long face setting the mood.

“You’re right, he wouldn’t have known,” said Hadrian. “None of us would have known. If he hadn’t stepped up and choked that damned chicken, I would’ve done so. Yes, it would be heartbreaking to suddenly find myself off in the distant future, all the friends I grew up with and knew all dead, but I wouldn’t have regretted it either. Anything to stop that chicken from getting into Manechester, and wiping all of us out.”

The three elders shared a sigh. Hadrian took out two more shot glasses, and shared a third each with the other two.

“To Stonehenge’s memory!” Hadrian proposed.

“To Stonehenge’s memory!” The other two concurred.

As one, they tilted their heads back, downing their drinks.

Iceheart thought it was one of the saddest things she ever saw.


“Hmm? What? Oh, sure, I suppose I’ve had enough drinks tonight,” Hadrian said, turning around to face Trixie, who had just spoken.

“Not that. I mean, enough of this, this sadness,” Trixie said, pressing a hoof against her forehead, seemingly staving off a migraine. “It’s like you ponies were beat down once, and you gave up hoping long ago. Is this what I’ll be like if I fail even one more time, this time with others depending on me?”

“Hold your tongue,” Offa said sharply. “You said you travelled as a showmare when you were younger, right? Maybe you saw some sob stories that you solved, and you felt good about it. Well, it’s good of you to have helped others, but that doesn’t give you the right to judge us—”

“No!” Trixie shouted, and Cato quickly came out from the back side. Trixie hopped off her bar stool, and stood up on her hind hooves. “I won’t let myself fail tonight. I won’t lose hope, not like I did the last two times I fell down! Come, we’re going to go see Stonehenge!” With that declaration, Trixie fell back onto all fours, before leaving the restaurant. Red Wings looked baffled, jaw hanging open slightly, but the pegasus flapped his wings and was quick to fly out right after Trixie.

“What does she think she’s doing?” Antonine asked, his hooves trembling. “No, she’s just another showoff. She’ll fail like all the rest,” he said, but that didn’t stop him from jumping off his seat and heading out as well.

Offa’s eyes were wide, still stunned from Trixie cutting her off, but she moved as fast as a mare a third her age in following Antonine.

Hadrian looked at his empty shotglass. Then he looked back up at Iceheart. “Your friend has got a big heart, Miss Iceheart. You should come with to help her pick up the pieces when her heart breaks. From what Trixie said, when her heart breaks again.” Hadrian wobbled a bit as he got out, clearly still inebriated, but he made a good show of striding out with a calm posture.

Iceheart briefly thought about grabbing Noire, then decided to let the bat pony sleep. Instead, she faced Cato, who seemed to be uncertain about what to do. “You should hold the hay fries,” she advised. “You might just be seeing a new, old face in town.”

With that, Iceheart got up, leaving the restaurant. As she opened the door and took a step outside, Iceheart let the cool night air wash over her, before following the audible commotion taking place in the plaza. I hope for all of us that you can pull this off, Trixie. But after seeing what you did both for me and Red Wings, I believe you can do this.


I can’t believe I actually said that.

In truth, Trixie had been bluffing just a bit. Even as she made long strides along the short walkway connecting Tomato Cato’s restaurant to the village plaza, Trixie wasn’t one hundred percent confident she could do this. Granted, she hadn’t been sure about the last three times she had pulled off a major spell, but she was less sure about this than she had been with Red Wings or Noire. Trixie would still rate her confidence level above when she had encountered the Windigo ice, however, and that was good enough for her.

However, once the distance between her and the pedestal in the plaza centre shrank to nothing and Trixie found herself standing in front of Stonehenge, she found herself doubting.

“Bit for your thoughts?”

“I’m not certain I can do this,” Trixie admitted to Red Wings, and she suddenly wanted to go back to the pleasant, intimate one-on-one conversation she was having with him back in the bar.

Suddenly, something touched her. Trixie jerked at the contact, only to relax when she saw it was Red’s left wing, the one she had restored to him completely in form and function. She accepted the wing hug, blushing slightly as he held her close to him, enough that she could hear the thumping of his heartbeat through his chest.

“Well, I believe in you. You did restore my wing,” Red Wings said. He looked around for a few seconds, trying to find something extra to say, before adding, “And if you fall down again, then this time, I’ll be around to help you back up. You won’t have to pull yourself up like with the Ursa, or stay down for years after the Alicorn Amulet.”

A chill swept through Trixie, and she closed her eyes. It was a good chill, a warming chill. Yet she felt so weary now, so tired. How long had she been doing this, fighting the good fight, with insurmountable obstacles at every hoofstep? First an inadvertent change in her magical aura, then a star bear, then a dark magical amulet, followed by her father’s death?

No. She had friends now. They had said as much themselves. This time, if she stumbled, Trixie would get right back up.

There was an annoying buzz in her ears, of the other ponies who had come out to play. Trixie ignored them.

The living wind howled.

Trixie cast.


Through her conversations through the day, Trixie had thought she had an excellent idea on how to finally end the curse of the cockatrice that was affecting Stonehenge. However, with a little bit of thought, Trixie realised how dangerous the potential option was.

It was foal’s play to think of grounding out the petrification magic, except it came with at least two ways Trixie thought it could backfire. The first thing she could do was to somehow nudge time itself, making the world ‘think’ that enough time had passed for Stonehenge to finally be free from his stone imprisonment. However, Trixie was unable to fully hold the metaphysical idea in her head to do so. It hurt her to try contemplating and understanding it. Additionally, even if she succeeded, Trixie had to get the timing of how much time needed to pass down pat. It would not do good if she overshot, freeing Stonehenge, but in the process aging him another hundred years in a split-second and leaving him four hooves deep in the grave. If she erred really badly, she might age the entire world.

The other possibility would be to ‘speed up’ the right at which the earth underneath Stonehenge’s three hooves could absorb, dissipate and ground the cockatrice magic. However, that was not without potentially fatal consequences, either. Much like the issue of the precise right amount of time, Trixie risked turning the area into a localised magical black hole that would suck in any magic it could get. Trixie had heard of what Tirek had done: a magical black hole might be able to grow in area so long as it consumed more magic, eventually sucking up all the magic in Equestria, it could not be reasoned with, and nothing could destroy it and force it to give back all the magic it had taken.

So that option was out. Even if Trixie had seen the faintest hope going down that road, she suspected whatever entity had pressed her to come to Manechester wanted her to grow her powers, not to merely find a novel solution that involved little flexing of Trixie’s illusions.

Nay, she would have to confront magic itself. This was going to be phenomenally more difficult than before. Then, Trixie had used magic to alter something on a physical level. Now, she had to use magic to fight magic itself.

She mentally snarled at that. She bet that if that perfect princess who was the Princess of Magic itself were here, she would have figured something out in an instant. Well, Trixie wasn’t her, and she wasn’t Princess Celesta either. But Trixie was Trixie, and she didn’t want to be the Trixie that had finally met her match. She wanted to be the Trixie that had taken on magic and won.

Hadn’t her father’s motto once been ‘Who dares, wins’, the same mentality that had lead him to meet her mother, ultimately resulting in Trixie’s own birth? She would be ashamed not to emulate her father, here and now.

For once, her experience with the Alicorn Amulet was going to help her. Trixie wished to forget the whole incident entirely: more than to just put it behind her, but to vaporise her memories altogether. Every day, when she woke up and took a shower, there was always that last niggling bit of grease on her soul Trixie couldn’t quite reach. Now, however, she was going to put those memories to good use. During her time with the Amulet, Trixie had felt detached from her body, her magical power so great that it felt like her mortal form was merely a shell, a vessel for a great power.

Trixie channeled that feeling, faded as it was from several years of time, and focused. Magic was a wonderful tool, yet an irrational one, interacting with the real world at not quite a right angle. Studies had been made, and yet new magic was still being made to this day. Trixie brushed aside the knowledge of a mare who had made her kingdom in the study of friendship. Trixie had her own friends now, and with them she had the will she needed.

There was to be no tricking the world into ending Stonehenge’s sentence through a clever alternative. Though the mental concept to hold was much more complicated and prone to failure, Trixie knew she would have to straight-up trick both the world, and magic itself, into believing that Stonehenge’s time as a statue was up.

Trixie pushed, and magic pushed back.

Trixie pushed harder, and magic lost.

The living wind subsided.


Trixie was certain she hadn’t fainted, and wondered if she was getting stronger. After all, this had been more arduous than the time with Red Wings, and yet she had merely gone into a fugue state this time. She was rapidly climbing out of it, not satisfied to sit in a hole and wait for somepony to pull her out.

“It...it can’t be,” she heard somepony speaking.

Then she heard another voice. Offa hadn’t been wrong. It really was the deepest voice she had ever heard in a stallion.

“Severan, is it dead?” The stallion asked.

“My Celestia,” Antonine whispered.

“I heard you, Anton. Did I kill it?” The stallion grew impatient when no answer came, and he growled, “Speak, Anton! Don’t tell me being petrified gave you a knock to the head too!”

Trixie managed to open her eyes.

It didn’t take her long to realise that, outside of his eye colour, nobody had ever actually mentioned Stonehenge’s colours. The moonlight didn’t dim his slate-grey coat one bit, almost precisely matching Noire’s colouring when she was New Moon. Where Stonehenge and Hadrian might have been brothers for having the same yellow eye colour, so Stonehenge and Antonine could have been brothers for having the same mane colour, with strands of alternating grey. The pony formerly lost to time still hadn’t opened his eyes, but Trixie imagined he had struck an imposing figure when he was younger. He really was larger than even Princess Celestia.

“Anton, I swear on our ancestor’s names, if that cockatrice didn’t paralyse me, I’d be choking you right now. I can’t see yet, so tell me: Is it dead or not?”

“It’s dead, Stonehenge,” Anton said quietly. “There’s something else you should know, too.” Trixie had to admire the pegasus. Even in what seemed to be an impossible situation, he still managed to recover in about a minute.

“What? Did one of them get away? I thought you said we got all the rest of them!”

“We did, Stonehenge, we did. It’s just, that cockatrice was a lot stronger than the other ones. When I was petrified, I changed back to normal within seconds. For you, it was far longer.”

Trixie felt the world suddenly swoon under her hooves. Oh no, she thought. Her eyelids protested being open one second longer, and she fought to stay awake and hear what was happening.

“Ha! So what, was I out for a whole day?” Stonehenge asked. Trixie tried frowning at the cockiness she could hear in his voice, but she was just so tired…

“No, Stonehenge. It was longer than that.”

“What then, a week?...A month? Did I miss the harvest? Please tell me it was that?” Now the uncertainty and nervousness was audible, odd in such a deep, booming voice. “A year?”

It ended up being Offa who broke the news. “Fifty years, Stonehenge. It’s been fifty years.”

Trixie swore she heard an anguished cry, but she wasn’t able to hear any more of it, as she finally flopped over.


Well-Known Member
There was a mirror right beside her. She thought there was something off about it, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what. It was a little fancier than the ones her family had owned, with a circular frame taller than most ponies with gold embossing of intricate patterns, but it was still a mirror nonetheless. She could see bits and pieces of her reflection from the side of her eyes, but wanted to see all of it.

With a few quick steps, she had walked in front of the mirror, and looked herself over. Violet eyes peered back at her, curious at her appearance. Her blue coat practically shined with luster today, and her mane shone in the light coming from somewhere, never quite able to fit in the spectrum between moonlight white and pale silver. She curled her lips up, and was delighted at how pretty her smile was. It was this look that had driven Einkorn mad in the past.

How odd. There was something hanging around her neck. She didn’t remember putting it on. There was a shiny red gem set in a triangular arrangement, with a unicorn head coming out of the top of the gem and, oddly, two red wings to the side. Red wings? Why did that sound so familiar.

She shook her head. Looking down at her own self, she reached her hoof up to look at the real necklace, and—

A sudden movement caught her attention, and she jerked her eyes back up to the mirror. Her reflection was suddenly smirking at her, red eyes gleaming with malice, and suddenly—

Hello, Trixie!”


Trixie felt like she was falling, only to impact a bed. She took in a deep breath, her automatic breathing response having a misfire as her body went from sleeping to awake. Trixie brought a hoof up to her forehead, wiping a thin trail of sweat off. Hypnic jerks were never a pleasant way to wake up. This time, however, she thought it was a good thing. She had been having some sort of nightmare, though she couldn't remember much but for a brief glimpse of red.

“Oh, you’re awake,” Noire said from beside her, sitting in a chair, reading a Daring Do book.

“How long was I out for?” Trixie asked. She tried lifting her head up. It was a futile act, and she dropped her head back down.

“Only a couple of hours. We were worried that maybe you finally pushed yourself too far with this one, but it seems that’s not the case.”

Trixie yawned. “Oh, I guess that means Iceheart or Red woke you up.”

Noire shrugged. “Me and the rest of the town. I think you were probably the only pony who hasn’t been up for the last few hours. You caused quite a stir.”

The unicorn blinked, before bits and pieces of what she had done before earlier falling unconscious returned to her. “I did it, didn’t I?” Trixie whispered.

“You did,” Noire confirmed. “I saw Stonehenge earlier, when Red came to grab me and Cato to come out to the plaza.”

“What was he like?”

“I can’t really say. He was still stunned. Finding out you’ve been a statue for fifty years will do that to a pony. Of course, it seems he was bit by the cockatrice before he was petrified, and he was still barely able to move, aside from talking. They took him to the clinic. Dragged him, more like it.”

Trixie let out a weak laugh at that. “He is enormous, isn’t he?”

Noire nodded. “They weren’t kidding when they said he was huge, bigger than even Princess Celestia. There have been a couple of Earth ponies like that in the Royal Guard from time to time, but it always feels intimidating to meet a stallion like that, even if he’s on the ground and unable to move most of his body.”

Trixie closed her eyes. “What did Hadrian, Offa, and Antonine have to say?”

“Oh, those three.” Trixie couldn’t see Noire’s face, having closed her eyes, but she could imagine the bat pony frowning anyways. “Well, that was the first time I met Offa and Antonine, so I can’t really say what they’re normally like, but I don’t think Offa is normally a babbling mess.”

Trixie groaned. “I just realised I screwed up. I shouldn’t have done that in front of a crowd. Every time before, I only did it in front of one pony who wasn’t already aware of what I could do.”

Noire clicked her teeth. “Well, you can thank Iceheart and Red Wings for being on the ball enough to damage control. Red had Cato help him bring you back here when Red came to wake me up as well, and he told Cato all that happened was you had developed a spell that neutralised the cockatrice magic. He and Iceheart managed to keep that story straight, and him and Iceheart are still at the clinic, minimising your role in the story. As far as I know, the intend for only Cato and those three old ponies to know you were the one who de-petrified Stonehenge.”

“That’s good,” Trixie said, rolling over in her bed to face Noire. Opening her eyes, she said, “So, what? Do we go visit Stonehenge right now?”

“No, we don’t,” Red Wings said as he strode into the room, Iceheart right behind him. “The bite of an average cockatrice is supposed to knock out an average pony, so you would think the bite of a king cockatrice would knock anypony out, no matter if they’re as large and physically fit as Stonehenge is.”

“The nurse believes the poison may have lost its potency over the years,” Iceheart added.

Red snorted, showing what he thought of that theory. “Regardless, he was still awake when he left, though he seemed to still be a wreck. Maybe it’s cruel of me to to say it, but it may actually be a good thing he was left paralysed for however long. At least there was a little bit of lead-in to breaking the news to him, instead of him just instantly seeing his three friends, only much older than before, and a few other strange ponies, at a different time of day, during a different time of year, in a different location than where he took his last stand at.”

“Yes. It may be cruel to say, but it is also true,” said Iceheart. “I have seen many a pony under my command panic at small things. I cannot imagine how he would have thrashed about if he were still possessed of full control over his body, being a danger to himself and others. At least he will have time to understand the situation. Offa, Antonine, and Hadrian are maintaining a vigil around his bed. When we left, they were telling him many of the things that had happened over the years.”

“Oh, good. At least I didn’t screw that up,” Trixie said, sighing. She adjusted her position on the bed so she could see all three of the other ponies.

Red Wings frowned. “What do you mean, ‘screw that up’?”

“Oh, Trixie just thinks she ruined everything because she did her little magic show in front of three other ponies tonight. You know, beating herself up as usual, just like she was doing yesterday,” Noire said, making sure to lay it on thick.

The red-furred pegasus shook his head. “Trixie, I won’t lie, it’s been a hectic few hours, so maybe I sound a little annoyed. Trust me, I’m not. I can’t claim to even fathom what your magic is capable of, but so far, all you’ve done with it is good. You’ve heard Hadrian, Offa and Antonine talk. There was a hole in their hearts that’s been there for fifty years. No matter what they did, they couldn’t fill it, and then you came in and filled it in for them. Hadrian looked like he was in pain, having to tell Stonehenge about the two other ponies in The Wall having passed on, but except for then, I could tell he was overjoyed to have somepony back he thought he’d never see again.”

“Like a cliched ‘back from the dead’ story, except for real this time,” Noire said.

Iceheart cocked her head, seeing the book in Noire’s hooves. “Where did you find that book, anyways? It appears to be a popular series.”

“Oh, this? It was here in the room, I guess Cato leaves travellers some reading material—no, we’re getting off-track here. Ignoring Trix’s guilt-trip, what now?”

“Pardon?” Iceheart asked.

“She means, what do we do next?” Trixie asked, sidling up her back onto the pillow to lift her head up a little higher. “It’s sudden, I know, but Stonehenge has now been healed. Do we just leave town and finally head west to Colt Springs?”

“No, I don’t think so,” said Red Wings. “There’s still the matter of whatever was able to induce in us the feeling that we had to go north from Dodge Junction back then, instead of west.” He frowned. “Besides, I would have thought you would want closure first.”

“What do you mean?”

“He means that every time before you’ve done something big with your illusion spells, you’ve always informed the pony you’ve helped out about it before, and given them time to get used to the idea,” said Noire. “That, and spent a significant amount of time with us afterwards, getting to see how our lives changed. It’s different, this time, since Stonehenge was a statue. Sure, you saw him for however long before you fainted, but do you really want to pack up and leave town before really even talking to him?”

Trixie frowned. “When you put it that way…”

“If you’re feeling better in the morning, you can go visit then,” said Red Wings. “I don’t think those four will be getting any sleep tonight. I felt rude interrupting their reunion just answering some of their questions. I don’t really want to go see them until they’ve had their time together alone.”

Trixie chuckled at that. “Yes, and give me some time to feel like getting out of bed, too.”

“Very well. If that is settled, Red and I shall be retiring for the night as well,” said Iceheart. As she turned to leave, the Crystal pony added, “Oh, and Trixie? Please, really do stop feeling guilty. You did a great thing tonight. Ponies may have had wounds scabbed over by time freshly opened, but this time they will heal properly.”

It took Trixie several seconds to understand the metaphor, but when she did, she felt warm. “Thanks, Iceheart.” She gave the former commander of the North a nod of gratitude

Iceheart nodded back, before finally leaving the room. Red Wings followed, closing the door behind him.

Noire got up, and put her book away on the desk nearby. “Goodnight, Trixie,” Noire said as she extinguished the lights.

“Goodnight, Noire,” Trixie responded, trying to find the perfect position to fall asleep in.

However, sleep wouldn’t come to Trixie so easily. “Hey, Trixie,” said Noire from the other bed. “Do you remember when we were fillies and sleeping in the same room like this, when mother and father would turn off all the nights? We’d talk to one another, feeling naughty because we were cheating the reason behind the lights-out time, until we fell asleep?”

Trixie shifted uneasily. Nostalgia flooded her, of a time when she was just a filly going to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. It was a simpler time, when Trixie was able to run around Canterlot gaily on her days off with Noire, when both her parents and Noire’s own father were still alive. Now, she couldn’t imagine even sleeping in that same bed, Canterlot having all been barred off from her on the chance somepony there recognised Bellatrix Midsummer, and thought her magical aura seemed off. 

But Trixie did remember those many nights she and New Moon had spent talking, before New Moon had become a guard, and the guard then became Noire. “Yeah, I do remember. What did you want to talk about?”

“Hmmm…” Noire trailed off, before she said, “What did you think of the train ride when we were coming south from the Crystal Empire? The Smoky Mountains looked gorgeous.”

So it’s going to be that kind of chit-chat? Well, that’s alright for me. I’m not really up for heavy talk. Trixie was glad Noire had made that decision. Trixie really didn’t want to think about more difficult things, like what to do now that Stonehenge was free.

The two fillyhood friends made small talk, and in no time Trixie suddenly drifted off to sleep. Her dreamless sleep was much more pleasant this time.


It took some effort getting out of bed that morning, but Trixie was able to manage. After a quick breakfast, deflecting Cato’s questions as she was eating, Iceheart took Trixie over to Manechester’s clinic. As the two walked through town, Trixie could sense there was a distinct buzz in Manechester this morning: it seemed news had spread fast, and just about everypony already knew the prodigal son had returned home.

However, just as they made it into the clinic, they were stopped in their tracks.

“I had never thought to have hope of seeing Stonehenge again in my lifetime, of hearing his voice, of anything but for passing his statue day after day, and eventually having my rest held in front of him,” said Offa. The green unicorn mare sounded so tired. For once, Trixie truly realised Offa was old, a pony whose best years had been long ago. “Last night was the first time in a decade I stayed up all night, not since the birth of my last grandfilly.”

“Offa, I—”

“No, it’s alright,” Offa said, interrupting Trixie. Trixie could see the elder pony’s eyes were bloodshot, and the fur of her cheeks had visible tear streaks. “I had fooled myself into thinking that it was a good thing that we would never see Stonehenge again. We would never have to break the news to him that he had lost out on so much time, especially when Anastasia, then Severan had passed. I was a coward to think that.”

There were more than a few ponies in the clinic lobby, some who it seemed had been waiting for a glimpse of Stonehenge whenever he left his room. They were all now listening to the thoughts of an old mare. “We talked for so many hours. It was when I realised all the little things he had missed out on, the birth of his many honorary nieces and nephews, marriages, deaths, that I finally knew I was wrong. If Stonehenge had finally been freed as the Princess predicted, in fifty more years or even longer, there wouldn’t have been a single pony he once knew left. We’ve been slowly leaving mementos and diaries for him, but trinkets can’t make up for the real pony.”

Both Trixie and Iceheart let the mare ramble, sensing Offa needed to get this out.

“The sad thing is, I can tell Stonehenge can’t remain in Manechester. Or won’t, rather. This may be his home, but we’ve all grown up even as he was turned to stone. I could already see him hurting, just as we too are hurting. Stonehenge was born a free soul, and if we try to keep him here, we’ll all suffer for it. He might stay a week, a month, even a year, catching up and attempting to re-connect with us. Eventually, he’ll leave to get away from all the pain.”

Offa let out a sniff, then looked back up. “However, now that it’s been done, I would never choose the alternative. I’m glad I got to see Stonehenge again before I died. Go on, Trixie and Iceheart, you can head in and meet him. Hadrian and Antonine won’t stop you either.”

Trixie looked at Offa. The mare tasted of an intense blend of melancholy, happiness and love. Trixie briefly let it wash over her. This is what I set out to do, after all. I gave Offa a chance to have a last glimpse at her former love. Maybe I’ve re-opened fresh wounds, but now they can fully and properly heal.

Trixie gave a wordless nod, before turning around to head deeper into the clinic, Iceheart following behind her.


 “—and then Severan said, that’s no pink party pony, that’s a platypus!”

Trixie wrinkled her nose, hoof just shy of opening the door leading into Stonehenge’s room. The pony who had been a statue just the night before seemed to have recovered, given his deep, booming laugh at Hadrian’s tale. However, she could tell that inside laid a mix of emotions that could potentially turn toxic: sadness, anger, regret, joy and hope all swirling around, more turbulent than a tornado. Never before had Trixie’s changeling heritage seemed such a double-edged sword.

She gathered her strength about her, however, and pushed the door open.

“And then, and then—oh, hello Miss Trixie, Miss Iceheart,” said Hadrian, noticing the two mares coming in. “Well, no more stallion-only jokes for us, it was nice while it lasted.”

For the second time in as many minutes, Trixie wrinkled her nose, this time as a result of Hadrian’s last comment.

“It is good to see you again, Hadrian,” Iceheart greeted back. “Would I be correct in assuming you all have been up all night?”

“Yes, you would be correct,” said Antonine. “I think Offa already checked out, but knowing her, she probably found someplace in the clinic to catch a wink before coming back.”

“She did. She was sleeping in the lobby, though we briefly chatted when we came in,” said Iceheart.

Trixie looked over to the bed. Two beds, rather: Stonehenge was so big that somepony had had to jivvy two beds together so Stonehenge could fit on it. The large slate-furred stallion looked to be in good spirits, with a smile on his muzzle. His eyes were still shut tight, but most of the paralysis appeared to have worn off, given he was freely moving his limbs.

In all, he looked good for a stallion who hadn’t had a crumb of good, a sip of water, a shower or a sleep in fifty years.

“Good morning to all of you,” Trixie said in a pleasant tone, trying to nudge the emotional mix in the room. “It is nice to meet you as well, Stonehenge.”

“You must be Trixie, then,” Stonehenge said, turning his head to face the direction of the voice. “I already heard Iceheart a few times last night, and that wasn’t her voice. Tell me Hadrian, Antonine, what does she look like?”

Antonine frowned. “Aren’t you able to open your eyes by now?”

“Please, just tell me.”

“Very well,” Antonine said, sighing, looking over to Trixie. He clicked his tongue for a few seconds, then said, “She is a unicorn of average height. She has a blue coat, somewhere between the colour of the sky and the cornflowers that used to grow by our home. Her mane is a very light blue, and her Cutie Mark is a wand crossed over a crescent moon. Oh, shoot. We haven’t even told you about Nightmare Moon yet.”

“Nightmare Moon, Schnightmare Schmoon. Hey, when did we get a clinic anyways?”

“After the fight with the cockatrices, Manechester practically exploded in population,” said Hadrian from the other side of Stonehenge. “Ponies started building homes outside the wall, and we expanded our fields. The town tripled in size over twenty-five years, and the clinic was built about, oh, thirty-five years ago?”

“Hah, at least there’ll be more free mares available,” Stonehenge said, then his lips curled down. “So, Offa got married?”

“Yes. Widowed three years ago, four foals, nine grandfoals.” Everypony in the room knew Antonine was being bland and sterile on purpose.

Stonehenge sighed. “I really have missed out, haven’t I?”

“You were originally supposed to be petrified for at least a hundred years,” Hadrian said. “That damned chicken got the best of us in the end.” Hadrian looked up at the ceiling, a lost look on his face. It didn’t last, however, as he tilted his head back down and said, “I am curious though, Miss Trixie: how did you do it?”

Trixie fidgeted at being put under the spotlight suddenly, but she had had a few hours to come up with a cover story. “I am on the higher end of unicorns for magical power. I may not be as powerful as Princess Celestia is, but it has been fifty years. Enough of the cockatrice’s magic has faded away that it seems it was possible that I could dispel the petrification on my own, though of course I was magically exhausted after.”

Antonine and Hadrian both frowned, and Trixie bit her tongue to her any outward facial expression that might betray her story.

“She’s not telling the truth, or at least, not the whole truth,” Stonehenge pronounced from his bed. “Give her some slack though, guys. Whether she was using just raw magic or some special spell or even a magical artifact from one of your daughter’s adventures that she’s not telling us about, Trixie did save me.”

“They’re not adventures, they’re stories, you can’t go around telling ponies otherwise,” Antonine reprimanded Stonehenge. “But yes, I suppose you’re right. Miss Trixie, I apologise. If you don’t want to tell us, then we won’t prod. Now, what can we do for you today?”

“I came to see and talk to Stonehenge,” Trixie said.

“Ah, yes, that would explain it. Well, d’uh,” Hadrian said, smacking himself with his hoof.

“It is good to meet you too, Miss Trixie. I owe you greatly for freeing me,” said Stonehenge. His voice was always disconcerting with how deep it was. Red Wings’ voice had been on the deeper side, with a little bit of a scratchy quality, but it didn’t even begin to compare to Stonehenge. “I have a question for you, though. Are you single?” He asked. The stallion attempted to waggle his eyebrows, but it came out odd with his eyes still shut tight.

“Stonehenge,” Antonine warned.

“Can’t even let me have some fun, can you?” Stonehenge groused. “But in all honesty, I really am thankful, Miss Trixie. I can’t say I have a bunch of earthly riches to give you. Even as I captained The Wall, I was still a simple farmer, and I don’t even know if I own any land still.”

“It passed over to me, actually, after your parents died,” said Hadrian. “They had no other foals, and I was your closest relation as your cousin. My will was written for my own descendents to continue farming your plot, but that it would be turned over to you when you returned. Ah, I guess that I’ll have to rewrite it. Another thing to do now.”

“Oof.” Stonehenge looked like he had been sucker-punched. “Don’t tell me how ma and pa died. I’d like to imagine they were able to move on, knowing that I wasn’t dead, just petrified, and they died in one another’s arms after several more years of happy marriage.”

Trixie ground her teeth together. Stonehenge was coping, but she knew sooner or later the dam would burst. All Trixie could do was to attempt to spring a hole in that dam, so when the inevitable occurred, there would be less pent-up emotion to flood the stallion with. She wasn’t as good with words as she hoped, even after making inspiring speeches in the past, so Trixie decided to approach the problem of helping Stonehenge let his emotions loose from a different angle. “Stonehenge, why are your eyes shut? You don’t seem to be paralysed anymore.”

The emotions in the room, then in a flux, suddenly stilled. “You know, that’s a good question,” Antonine said, looking over at Stonehenge. “You haven’t opened your eyes once, but you’ve had them squeezed shut the whole time. Did the poison do something to your eyes.”

“...no,” Stonehenge said. He was quiet for the first time Trixie had heard him. A stallion with such a deep voice whispering didn’t sound right.

“Then what?” Antonine asked.

“I’m afraid,” Stonehenge admitted. “Afraid that when I open my eyes, I’ll see you two, except you’ll be so much older than I remember. Even your voices sound off now. I want to hang onto my memories of how you guys looked as long as I can.”

Antonine and Hadrian traded glances. Then Hadrian spoke. “Stonehenge. We appreciate the sentiment, and we don’t want to push you. To be honest, we don’t understand what you’re going through, at all, but we are on the other side of this situation. I don’t want to force you to open your eyes. All I can ask you is to try to accept that everything is what it is, even if it’s more painful than anything else you’ve done. We can’t go back in time to that day fifty years ago.”

Trixie backed away. She shuddered as she felt Stonehenge’s emotions cycling several times a second. It was worse than any time she had ever been to a funeral. Trixie had tried to help the three stallions heal, but she had set off a confluence of feelings she didn’t want to be in the middle of.

Stonehenge opened his eyes.

Trixie recoiled. Offa had been right: he and Hadrian really did have the same yellow eyes.

The yellow-eyed stallion looked around, like a foal seeing something new for the first time, before his eyes locked on Hadrian. Stonehenge sat as still as the statue he had been, taking in the sight of a cousin who had grown fifty years in a day. Finally, he spoke. “Brother, is that you? You have grown so...since the last time I left town, intending to return home that same day.”

Then he broke down, sobbing. Hadrian and Antonine moved in quickly, wrapping their limbs around him in a hug of brotherly love. After fifty years, the three brothers had reunited.

Trixie trembled from the side. She needed to leave, now.

She felt Iceheart lead her out of the room. “Do not worry, I will handle this,” said Iceheart, moving her away from the source of the overwhelming emotions. “Head back to the inn. I’m not affected on a magical level like I suspect you are being right now.” Within moments, Trixie was in the lobby again. Offa rose up to speak to her, only to be silenced by Iceheart waving a hoof. “Go see them, Offa,” said Iceheart. “They are having an emotional moment, and I suspect Stonehenge would do well to have you there as well.”

Offa nodded, before leaving to see Stonehenge. Finally, Iceheart managed to get Trixie out of the clinic.

“Th—thanks, Iceheart,” Trixie said. “I—I needed that.”

“You can tell better than I can. Do you think they will be alright?” Iceheart asked.

Trixie stood outdoors for a few minutes, taking in a breath of the crisp morning air. The living wind that swept through Manechester helped to lift her spirits, but it wasn’t enough. Then she thought over Iceheart’s questions.

“It’ll be OK,” Trixie pronounced. “They’ve been thrust into something they never expected to happen. It’ll take time for them to work through everything, but they’ll heal, every one of them. What Hadrian told us two nights ago, about The Wall, wasn’t just a story. It was strength of will and heart that formed The Wall, and it’ll be that same will and heart that see the four of them through this.”

Iceheart bowed her head in acknowledgement of Trixie’s words. “I see. I am glad, then. I know what it is like to be displaced from time, except nearly all the ponies I knew were in stasis with me. I cannot imagine what Stonehenge must be feeling like, to be the single odd pony out.” Iceheart raised her head back up. “I will convey your words to them, as well as my own. Take care, Trixie.”

With that, Iceheart returned into the clinic. Trixie watched the purple form of the Crystal pony disappear through the door, before turning around to walk back to the restaurant and inn.

What she didn’t tell Iceheart was that the scene in the clinic room was one of the saddest, yet happiest things Trixie had ever seen.


A week passed like the blink of an eye. Trixie found herself suddenly famous in town: despite her and her friends’ attempts to keep it on a down-low, word had spread quickly about precisely which pony had healed Stonehenge. Once, Trixie would have reveled in the praise she received from others. After the incident with the Ursa Minor and then the nightmare with the Amulet, however, she was more skittish, and had retreated to Tomato Cato’s restaurant and inn.

During breakfast one morning, Trixie’s hermitage came to an end. It started with the door being opened.

Stonehenge strode in, his height and grey colouring unmistakable. He looked around for a few seconds, then spotted Trixie, chatting with her three friends over toast and coffee. As Stonehenge moved towards them, making the floor rumble with every hoofstep, Offa, Antonine, and Hadrian all followed in behind him.

The four Manechesterites settled down in chairs of their own, facing the four travellers. Trixie decided to break the ice. “Good morning, everypony. What brings you here today?”

“We have been talking with Stonehenge over the last week,” said Antonine. “Much as we would love for Stonehenge to stay in Manechester, he can’t. He simply can’t. Time is a terrible thing, and it has separated us. It would hurt if we saw Stonehenge every day, and Stonehenge saw us every day.”

“At least your daughter doesn’t write that kind of philosophical crap into her books,” Hadrian teased.

“Shut up, Hadrian.”

“If those colts would stop being colts for five seconds,” Offa threatened, instantly shutting Hadrian and Antonine up. Satisfied, she turned back to face Trixie’s group. “We’ve talked, and come to an agreement with Stonehenge. There’s simply no way we can be as close as we were when we were The Wall. We had a lot of frank and heartfelt discussion about this, and we came up with an idea.”

“You four are travellers, adventurers of a sort, right?” Stonehenge asked, taking over from Offa. “Wherever you go after this, I would like to go with you.”

So that’s what this is about, Trixie thought. I’m not really surprised, though. Every time I fix somepony’s problem, she or he has always tagged along with me. This is just a running trend, really. “OK,” Trixie said. Then, realising she sounded too blase, she added, “We’re not fussed to have you along, Stonehenge, really. It was just me and Noire to start, then we sort of spontaneously added Iceheart and Red Wings during our journey.”

“Excellent. I would love to travel with you,” said Stonehenge. “If you do anything more like what you did here in Manechester, it should be a fun journey, too.”

“Excuse me,” Noire spoke up. “Not to sound callous or anything, but are you really fine with just packing up and leaving?”

Stonehenge shrugged, taking a look to his left and right at his three friends. “It’s not like I’ll stay away forever or anything. I’ll come back to Manechester every so often to catch up with them. I just happen to agree with them, though: if I stayed here, I think we would eventually come to blows. Time apart between reunions seems the best option.”

“Hopefully you come back more often than my daughter,” Antonine grumbled.

“Well,” Noire said, “What if one of you die before Stonehenge returns?”

Stonehenge frowned, and he said, “OK, now that was callous.” Noire winced as she realised how unsensitive her remark was. “But it’s a fair question. It’s, well, it’s a work in progress for me. Anton, Hadrian and Offa are the same ponies I knew, and yet they aren’t. The connection is there, but we all feel detached. It’s like I’m visiting my grandparents, even though I remember them being the same age as I was. We simply don’t share the same life experiences anymore. I can’t connect with ponies in this town my own age, either, because they know who I am, and what I was.”

“That sounds reasonable. You need a clean break, in other words,” Red Wings summarised. “I had a similar situation as yours: not the same, of course, but similar. Well, in all honesty, we weren’t intending to stay more than a few days,” the pegasus stated. It wasn’t the entire truth, but it was a partial one. The four were going to stick around until they could find the problem in Manechester that the unknown premonition had pushed them to, then leave. Upon resolving Stonehenge’s petrification, however, they had decided to stay and see how things play out. “Unless you have some other pressing issue, we’ll be leaving tomorrow.”

“That works for me,” Stonehenge said.

“Stonehenge, one last thing,” Hadrian suddenly said from next to him.

“What is it?”

“Offa, Antonine and me were talking the other day. We can’t really come along with you, nor would we want to, but we hoped to at least give you something to remember us by. Offa, please?”

“Yes,” Offa said, before suddenly taking something out of the saddlebag she had brought with her. Using her levitation magic, she dropped that something on the table for all to see.

Trixie eyed it. It was a silver necklace, large enough to fit around Stonehenge’s neck. There was a small locket attached to the necklace, with six symbols engraved into the clasp: two hooves, two horns, and two wings.

“This is—” Stonehenge stopped, as he opened the locket.

“Yes, the symbol of The Wall, and a picture of all six of us, shortly before we fell apart,” Hadrian said. “You don’t have to take it with you, if you don’t wish to.”

“No, I’ll take it with me,” Stonehenge said, putting the necklace around his neck. Trixie could see tears coming out of his eyes. “It sounds mean of me to say, but I’ll always remember and treasure what we were.”

“No offense taken,” said Antonine. “One last thing…”

“What is it?” Stonehenge asked gruffly.

“It’s just something Offa and I remembered last night,” said the golden-furred pegasus. “After we defeated the cockatrices and the Princess came to Manechester, she knighted each of us for our service and gave us titles. They weren’t really worth much,” Antonine shrugged. “I mean, being ‘Antonine Braveheart, Duke of Manechester’ doesn’t exactly get me much anywhere. They were more ceremonial than anything. But the Princess also gave you a title.”

Stonehenge furled his eyebrows. “What was it?”

“Elderwall,” Hadrian pronounced. “You were the eldest of all of us when you fought the king cockatrice, and leader of The Wall. We thus combined the two for your title, Stonehenge Elderwall, Duke of Manechester.”

“Stonehenge Elderwall,” Stonehenge said, rolling the words on his tongue, ignoring the noble part of his title. “Not bad. I like it.”

“If that’s settled, you’ll want to go home and pack. Well, er, sorry, I don’t even know if you have a home, aaaaaaand I’m just digging myself a deeper hole here,” said Noire. The bat pony had started talking at a normal volume, only to slowly get quieter as she continued, eventually capping in a whisper as she felt embarrassed.

“What Noire means is to pack some supplies. If you do not have any, then Offa, Antonine, Hadrian, please help Stonehenge. Otherwise, we can simply pick some up in Fillydelphia,” Iceheart said, smoothly moving in to spare Noire any more embarrassment. “It is our intent to take the train from Fillydelphia west to Vanhoover, then travel south to one of the coastal towns.”

The three elders traded glances.

“Actually, you may want to hold off on doing that,” said Offa.

“What do you mean?” Red Wings asked.

“Well, it’s not something you have to do,” said Antonine. “It’s just that when Princess Celestia came here fifty years ago, she expressed a good deal of interest in Stonehenge, impressed by his bravery and strength.”

“Aw, shucks, she shouldn’t have,” said Stonehenge. He made an attempt at humility, but it was obvious to all the stallion was glowing upon hearing he had left such a positive impression on the Princess.

“Yes Stonehenge, you did,” Antonine said, a little testy at being interrupted. “Before you go to Vanhoover, however, perhaps you should stop off in Canterlot and visit Princess Celestia at her court. I’m sure she would be glad to know Stonehenge has been released more than fifty years ahead of what the Princess estimated was possible.”

Canterlot?!” Two voices rang out at the same time.

Trixie sank in her seat, as she was sure Noire was doing beside her. Canterlot, the centre of Equestria, home to the Royal Sisters. Canterlot, the city that had once been her home for a year when she was younger. Canterlot, the city where the changeling invasion occurred, leading to a series of circumstances that had eventually resulted in her father’s death. Canterlot, where there might be a pony who recognised that unicorn mare as Bellatrix Lulamoon, a filly she had attended school with before she dropped out, and oh, wasn’t her magic green? Canterlot, home to the Royal Guard, who had little love lost for bat pony soldiers who had gone AWOL. That Canterlot.

There wasn’t any question of dodging out on it, either. Trixie had known she would eventually have to return to the city where the long chain of heartbreaks that she experienced in her life had first started, if only to have some sort of healing process. It looked like Trixie would be returning to Canterlot, the city where her education in magic had all began, sooner than she had expected.

The living wind howled.


Well-Known Member
'The Living Wind: Canterlot'


Stonehenge had been very good friends with his gang of fellow travelers who would eventually become The Wall, a unit of ponies who defended Manechester from monster attacks. While Hadrian was his cousin, Stonehenge felt, at a basic level, more intimately connected with Antonine, the golden-furred pegasus.

After all, it was Antonine who had ended up designing much of Manechester’s thoroughfares and defenses, even after Stonehenge had been turned to stone. It was Stonehenge building one of Antonine’s elementary stonework designs when they were colts that gave Stonehenge his Cutie Mark.

He looked at the mark on his thighs, a number of tall stones arranged in a circular fashion. Through math and astronomy, the circle of stones was aligned to the sunrise of the Summer Sun Celebration and sunset of the Winter Moon Celebration. In later life, he and Antonine had led the charge to build and fortify the wall around Manechester. The Wall and the wall had both done its jobs, and so both had been disbanded.

Stonehenge still missed the feeling of rocks and stones in his hooves, as he interlocked them in place, filling mortar in the spaces between. He wondered how much this age, fifty years in the future, still needed ponies like him who could build with stone and brick.

“Bit for your thoughts?,” Noire asked from beside him.

The stallion continued looking out the windows as the train zipped by, the countryside changing from the great plains that he was used to to the Foal Mountains that indicated they were getting closer to Canterlot. “I see Cavalcade Castle is still there,” Stonehenge commented, having seen the small fort as the train rolled by it. “Well, I can’t say I really expected otherwise. Castles are supposed to last for centuries unless attacked,” he snorted.

“Feeling lost, still?” asked Noire.

“Yes, and I do not believe it will ever go away. However, I have hopes for the future, seeing Miss Iceheart. She and I are kindred souls.”

“But I was displaced with the rest of my countryponies,” Iceheart said in the seat opposite them. “You were on your own.”

“Please, Miss Iceheart,” said Stonehenge. He still was not quite familiar with his new fellow travellers to yet drop the formalities, but he was trying. “I do not see another Crystal pony around here. You left the Crystal Empire with Miss Noire and Miss Trixie, two ponies who were new to you as much as they are to me. You are as much among unfamiliar faces as I am, except everything is a thousand years out of date, as opposed to still being within what would have been my mortal lifetime for me.”

It was fortunate that the five, once four, had splurged for a private cabin. The things they talked about would have attracted curious eavesdroppers. It would have made it more difficult to fill Stonehenge in on things like why Trixie and Noire were reluctant to return to Canterlot, or why Red Wings had left his own hometown. Even innocuous information, such as what Iceheart had done in the Crystal Empire before and after its stasis, would have had extra ears listening in.

“I suppose,” said Iceheart. The purple-furred mare wasn’t really invested in the argument.

“One of my colthood dreams was to own a castle much like the Cavalcade Castle,” Stonehenge said suddenly. “On a clear day, a pony could just make the outline of the Royal Palace of Canterlot from home. Of course, it was a foolish ambition. What need would Manechester have of a castle that just a wall could not fulfill? Besides, when the monster population started dwindling, it was even less necessary.”

“Dreams are a good thing to have,” said Noire. “Both dreams and ambitions.”

“What was yours?”

Noire sighed, looking out the window with Stonehenge, a small smile on her face. “I wanted to join the Royal Guard, and I made it in. Then that dream crashed and burned.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I spoke poorly.”

“It’s alright,” said Noire. “I was angry and bitter for the first few weeks after running away. My father had just died, after all, and whenever I could finally forget about that, I would also remember I was AWOL. Time heals a lot of wounds, and what time doesn’t, Trixie has shown herself to be capable of a lot of what’s left.” The bat pony smirked at that comment.

Stonehenge and Noire looked over to the third seat in the cabin, where Trixie was sprawled out with a blanket on top of her, snoozing peacefully. “It’ll be weird being in Canterlot again, honestly,” said Noire. “This has been the longest time I’ve been away from home in my life, actually. Even going on tours was only a few months, but it’s been about, let’s see, how long has it been?” Noire counted off with her hooves. “Seven months since I left Canterlot. Time flies.”

“You aren’t worried about returning to Canterlot?,” asked Stonehenge.

Noire frowned as she turned to face Stonehenge, then shook her head. “Trixie’s spell was perfect, I think. I didn’t originally look like this,” she said, gesturing at her marble-blue coat and dark-blue mane and hair. “I actually used to be about the same colour as your coat is, and I had a different Cutie Mark. Don’t ask me how that happened, but it did. But I doubt anypony will be able to figure out it’s me, given my colours, Cutie Mark, and even height and voice are different. Hmm, I suppose I’d like to go visit my mother, though it may be tricky to convince her I’m me.”

She looked over to Trixie again. “I think it’ll be Trixie who will have a more difficult time of it, though. She hasn’t been to Canterlot since she was a filly, and she left heartbroken. I hope she doesn’t have a tough time being here again.”

“Well, hopefully you can show me around,” said Stonehenge, sensing the mood was getting a little too sad in the cabin. “I have not ever been to Canterlot.”

“I haven’t,” said Red Wings. The red-coated pegasus had been awake, sitting next to Iceheart the whole time, but hadn’t said a word in some time.

Iceheart chimed in, saying, “Neither have I. I did see it from afar when we were travelling to Dodge Junction, but that does not count.”

“Huh. Wow. I guess I’ll have to take you for a tour, then,” said Noire. “We’ll go visit Celestia’s court when we get into Canterlot and see if we can get an audience, and then walk around after.”

Stonehenge yawned. “That would be a mighty kind thing of you to do. The biggest city I have ever been to was Fillydelphia, and when I last visited, it was half the size that it was when we visited last night.”

Noire held her tongue. She wasn’t going to say something selfish like hoping Stonehenge would get over his losing fifty years already. Noire knew it was something that was going to take Stonehenge a long time to come to grips with. She just wished he would stop slipping it into every other sentence.

Instead, Noire opted to look back out the window, watching the rising sun. Within hours, they would be back in Canterlot, the capital of Equestria.

Canterlot, where Noire had been born, raised, and then ran away from.


“Huh. So we’re finally here,” Red Wings commented as he stepped out of the train and onto the platform, being the last of the five to do so. Looking up at the sky, he said, “And it’s not even noon yet.”

“The Princess holds an open court after lunch for a few hours most days,” said Noire. “It’s not quite first-come-first-serve, but that is usually how it goes. I think we will have an in, however, considering Stonehenge’s history.”

“Do we even want to go to the court, though?” Trixie asked as they all sidled off to a less-populated section of the train station. “I would be just as glad not to go, and in your case, I wouldn’t, either.”

“I’m not,” said Noire. “Red Wings and I are going to the Museum of Pegasus History.”

“Ah. It seems I missed out on a lot while I was asleep,” said Trixie. Her stomach rumbled, and she blushed. “Perhaps we should get lunch, first?”

“Certainly,” Noire said before sighing. “I suppose I should avoid my favorite places, just in case I somehow trip up and somepony who knows me gets suspicious. Well, I do know this one diner down one of Canterlot’s back alleys. It’s moderately priced, lots of eating space in-doors, and despite the name, Donut Joe’s serves regular food as well.”

“I have no issue with that,” said Iceheart. “Does anypony else?” Seeing no objections, she said to Noire, “Very well, lead the way.”

Trixie was torn as they left the platform. Canterlot was a city with a history a thousand years rich, with its grand spires melded into a dozen different architectural history, all set against the unchanging Royal Palace and the lone mountain that had never been officially named, but often referred to as Mount Canterhorn after the city itself. The city had been through many growing pains, as evidenced by the winding roads they walked down, changing from a yellow brick road to a red stone road with a single turn. The streets were often busy, with carriages going this way and that, and the average pony fighting to make headway, all while pegasus guardsponies patrolled above.

When Trixie had last been in Canterlot, it was to go to school here, and it had only ever been about a year. Then, she had avoided the main streets, feeling heady from the emotions of the masses, her inherited, if diluted changeling senses working against her. Now, Trixie still felt a little overwhelmed, but she was much better at keeping herself upright and continuing to walk.

It was trotting into the food district that did it for her, as a hundred separate smells wafted their way into her nostrils, all culminating in one single scent that left her olfactory nerves reeling with delight. This was home, once, Trixie thought with nostalgia. But it’ll never be home again.


“Well, it wasn’t Tomato Cato’s, but it was still good,” Iceheart said as they left the diner, praising the food she had just eaten.

“I am envious, honestly,” Stonehenge said, eyes quickly darting between windows as he, Iceheart and Trixie walked through the alleys of Canterlot towards the castle, Red Wings and Noire having split-up after lunch. “I remember things like candy and pastries being a luxury when I was young and visiting Fillydelphia. Now, there is an entire alley full of those things.”

“Irrigation and railways,” Trixie said. “Earth ponies and unicorns made breakthroughs in irrigation systems so farming towns don’t need as much pegasus labour, and the rail system has nearly doubled in the last half-century, with raw horsepower converted to steam engines. Life wasn’t precisely hard before in most places, outside of pioneer towns, but things have certainly gotten easier over the years.”

“But still not fully perfect,” said Iceheart quietly from the other side of Stonehenge, who was in-between the two mares. Though it was the stallion’s first time in Canterlot, it was all too easy to see how to get to the castle, given its prominence at the back end of the city. “If things were perfect, then Trixie would be out of a job.”

“I don’t really consider it a job,” Trixie said, not certain if Iceheart’s comment was in jest or serious. It was difficult for her to read the Crystal Earth pony sometimes. “It’s not as if I’ve been seeking out ponies with problems, I’ve just sort of somehow kept stumbling into them. The closest I got with was you, and that was more to find out about the Windigos and your experiences of fighting them.”

“It was a boon that you came, nevertheless,” Iceheart said.

“Yes, it was. You’re one of my friends now,” Trixie agreed.

Stonehenge cleared his throat. “I would much love to hear some of your stories later, Iceheart, if they are not too painful to share.”

“Not really,” said Iceheart, as the trio continued making their way through busy streets, slowly but surely making it closer to Canterlot Castle, home to the Royal Sisters. “Not painful, that is. There were deaths among those I commanded, to be sure, but none since we reappeared. Three years of time has been enough to dull my memories of before the stasis.”

Trixie frowned at that. Even as she had helped clip the chain that held Iceheart down, the purple-furred mare was still her own pony, with her own psychological issues. It just pained Trixie that there was nothing she could do to help Iceheart with that as well.

Finally, they made it to the castle. Canterlot Castle wasn’t quite what Trixie had ever expected. Instead of an immediate ‘door’ leading into the castle, it was much like a city unto itself, where you couldn’t quite tell where the city began. Was it to be at the first layer of battlements and ramparts surrounding the castle, more ceremonial than functional? Perhaps the large garden and foyer past that? 

Maybe it begins where the guards first start stopping you, Trixie decided as two stallions finally halted their progress. They both had white coats, undoubtedly a result of the enchanted armor that was an open secret in Equestria.

“What is your purpose here today, citizen?,” asked the one guardspony. He spoke formally instead of abrasively, but it was an interrogation nonetheless.

“We are here to seek an audience in the Court of the Sun today,” said Iceheart. They had decided Trixie was to mostly stay quiet here unless asked. While the unicorn could have easily taken the lead, it was more noticeable if Iceheart, a Crystal pony, was in the lead.

The stallions traded glances, before the other guardspony pointed a hoof away from the door they were at. “Head down there, and inside the next door. A court scribe will record what you are here for. We cannot guarantee that you will receive an audience with the Princess.”

Iceheart gave a brief curtsy. “Thank you for your help, gentleponies,” she said, before walking away, Trixie and Stonehenge right behind her.

“They didn’t even comment on your coat,” Trixie said.

“It is a surprise,” Iceheart admitted, having been privy to multiple curious looks as well as the odd undesired catcall travelling between Dodge Junction and Manechester. “If we had come down a few years ago, we would probably have been more eye-catching to others, but by now, most here have likely seen crystalline coats on multiple occasions.”

“Instead, I seem to be the one attracting the most attention,” said Stonehenge, as the three finally came to the castle door the guard earlier referred to, and entered.

“I’m sure you’d love to think it’s because of your good looks,” Trixie teased him. “But really, you are large. I’m pretty sure you’re larger than Princess Celestia.”

“He is larger than Princess Celestia,” said a dry voice. Trixie looked over to see a far smaller unicorn stallion, wearing a dress shirt, levitating a clipboard and pen. “I’ve worked with the Princess enough to tell. Now, I assume you are here to get an audience with the Princess, is that correct?”

“That is correct,” Iceheart said.

“OK, three ponies,” the scribe mumbled as he jotted down a detail onto his clipboard. “Purpose of your audience?”

“I am Stonehenge Elderwall. Fifty years ago, Princess Celestia came to my village, Manechester, a tomato-growing village south of Fillydelphia,” Stonehenge said. The scribe startled at Stonehenge’s deep, booming voice, but continued listening. “She visited after a flock of cockatrices invaded, and was exterminated. In the process, however, I was turned to stone. Princess Celestia was unable to heal me at the time.” Stonehenge paused, closing his eyes as it pained him to speak. “The magic has worn off finally. I have come to offer her my thanks for making the attempt, and to inform the Princess that I am now free.”

The scribe looked up in shock.

“It does sound a fantastical story, I know,” said Stonehenge. “However, it is also the truth.”

The unicorn scribe frowned, narrowing purple eyes as he jotted the notes down. “Well, that’s certainly the most interesting story I’ve heard in three or four years, since the incident with the pink party pony and the platypus—ahem, sorry. I have here Stonehenge, Earth pony stallion from Manechester, grey coat and mane, yellow eyes, unusually large size at greater than Princess Celestia, Cutie Mark of a circle of unevenly-sized stones…” The scribe rambled on, apparently dedicated to the minutiae of his forms. Finally, he whipped his head around to the two mares. “And you two mares are?”

“I am Iceheart, from the Crystal Empire,” Iceheart introduced herself.

Trixie bit her lip, but decided it was better to use her nickname. “Trixie Lulamoon, from Whinnychester,” she stated.

“Good, good,” the scribe nodded as he wrote down their names, hometowns, and identifying physical characteristics. “We take pride in being exact in our records, if you were wondering why we went to the extent of recording your colours as well.” Finally, he stopped writing, and looked back up at the trio that had walked in. “Nominally, audiences are on a first-come-first-serve basis.  However, if what you have told me is true, I am certain Princess Celestia will expedite you. If that is the truth,” he warned. “Please, take a seat, and if Celestia decides upon receiving you, you will be called.” With that, he walked off.

Stonehenge, Trixie, and Iceheart looked for some seats. Though the chambers were relatively empty, making them believe they would have gotten in during the day anyways, the tough part was finding a seat large enough for Stonehenge to fit.

“Oh! Ah, sorry, sorry,” said a green-coated pegasus mare, blushing as she got out of a particularly large seat. “I guess you’ll need this more than I do, heh?” She asked, looking between Stonehenge and the other, smaller seats.

“Thank you very much, I appreciate it,” Stonehenge said, giving her a smile as he took the seat. The pegasus mare blushed even more, though Trixie wasn’t sure how much of that could be chalked up to Stonehenge’s smile, which she did have to admit was attractive, or his incredibly deep voice. Regardless, she and Iceheart quickly sidled up in seats next to Stonehenge.

Some of the other ponies in the room started chattering. Trixie scrunched her nose, uncertain whether they had overheard Stonehenge talking about himself earlier, or just returning to their own conversations. Trixie didn’t want to attract any attention, and she felt like they were now the centre of attention.

Oh, why did I even agree to come here to the castle? Trixie bemoaned her decision. She thought about a topic to discuss that she wouldn’t mind others overhearing. To Trixie’s consternation, she was unable to think of anything.

“How was your lunch, Trixie?” Iceheart asked. “You looked like you enjoyed it.”

“I did, yes. It has been awhile since I have had something that satisfyingly greasy. Tomato Cato’s served some good food, but even his hay fries were too healthy,” Trixie said. She had ordered a hayburger, hay fries and hayshake all-in-one meal at Donut Joe’s. It had left her feeling a little tired as she got up from the table, but it had been worth it.

Trixie blinked, as she tried to recall when the last time she had eaten something so fattening had been. Was it in Manechester? No, she just said Cato didn’t cook anything that heavy. Dodge Junction? The cherry dishes had been splendid, but they were still mostly light. The train food wasn’t very fulfilling, and she had barely spent any time in the Crystal Empire. And there was only a single restaurant in Whinnychester, that Trixie had never gone to.

Oh. It was when I was in Coltgary for the Greatest Outdoor Show in Equestria, wasn’t it? That was...a little over two years ago, wasn’t it? Yes, so it was.

“Is something the matter, Miss Trixie?” Stoneheart asked.

“Oh, no, not really,” Trixie said, waving her hoof. “Just realising that it was about two-and-a-half years since I ate something that heavy, is all.” She smirked, the unicorn mare adopting a cheshire grin. “You certainly seemed to enjoy your sweets, however.”

“I regret nothing. After all, it’s been about fifty years since I last had some sweets,” Stonehenge said, to a devastating effect.


“But yes, it was good. Sugar was not something that we grew in Manechester, nor did the traders bring much in, so it was a rare treat for me when growing up,” Stonehenge said fondly. “So I indulged when I saw the chance.”

Iceheart and Trixie both shared a small shiver at that. Stonehenge had practically wolfed down his platter of crepes, with whipped cream, blueberries and strawberries slathered all over, topped off with custard, chocolate sauce, sliced bananas and cherries. Trixie would have had to be towing her wagon around again to even think of eating that much food in one sitting. Stonehenge’s size allowed him to devour large portions of food without too much worry to accumulating extra weight in turn.

“Well, I grew up in a wheat-growing town,” Trixie said. “So of course there was lots of bread in the ovens every night, but sugar was practically mandatory for many of the other baked goods, and some of the farms grow sugar beets on the side.”

“All this talk about food is making me hungry again,” Iceheart commented.

“Unfortunately, I’m not really willing to lose our place in line,” said Trixie. “I suppose we can grab a snack again—”

“Trixie, I was just making small talk,” said Iceheart with a small smile.

“Ah. Alright,” said Trixie, falling silent again. She hemmed and hawwed for a new topic, and soon zoomed in on one. “Say, did you ever actually get around to reading any of the Daring Do books?”

“I read a couple of them while in Manechester, yes,” Iceheart said, ignorant of Stonehenge’s knowing look, “Daring Do and the Sapphire Stone, and Daring Do and the Eternal Flower. Many of the references were lost on me, though.” Having not caught up on a thousand years of history and geography, Iceheart mentally added.

“That’s to be expected, I suppose,” said Trixie. “One of these days we will have to sit down with you and go over some of the history books, again. Did Equestria not try to fill in the Crystal ponies in on all that happened in the thousand years you were gone?”

“They did, but they only really reached out to the ponies in the city proper. Either they did not think to include us, or they could not find anypony willing to come up north and tell us,” said Iceheart. “Given they would have had to walk through bitter cold for most of a day each way instead of taking a train, it would not surprise me.”

Stonehenge frowned. “You know, sorry if I hit a nerve Miss Iceheart, but what was the stasis like? Me being petrified was, still is, a little confusing. One moment, I was feeling a little bit panicked as I realised I was turning to stone, but was resolved to kill the cockatrice.” Stonehenge lowered his voice near the end, well aware of how skittish the other ponies in the room might get if they overheard him talking about killing something, regardless of if it was a monster or not. “Then the next moment, I was no longer in stone, and I could not feel the cockatrice around my hoof, and I was standing on top of stone, instead of grass.”

Iceheart raised an eyebrow. “That’s a little bit different from what happened to us. We had several seconds of forewarning before we disappeared, our fortress and all. We were peripherally aware of the passage of time, like a long, dreamless sleep.” She frowned, then added, “But that was for those of us who were out in the fortress. I am uncertain how it was for those in the city proper, under Sombra’s mind-control magic.”

Stonehenge looked like he was going to reply, only to be interrupted.

“Stonehenge Elderwall, Trixie Lulamoon, and Iceheart?”

The three looked up. It was a female unicorn who had called them: she had a grey coat so light it could be mistaken for white at a distance, with a plain brown mane and tail that were both tied up in knots, giving the impression of a prim secretary. “I am Raven, one of the Princess’ aides,” the mare introduced herself. “Please, come with me.”

“It seems we will not have to wait long. Lead the way, Miss Raven,” Stonehenge said, standing up.

Raven was momentarily awed by Stonehenge’s size, before she let out a slight cough, turning around and walking away. Trixie, Stonehenge and Iceheart followed behind her.

They were led through a few long, winding corridors. Trixie broke off her gaze when she realised she had been looking at Raven’s Cutie Mark, a pen and inkwell, for several seconds, and took a look at her surroundings instead. The castle was more resplendent and opulent than even the School for Gifted Unicorns had ever been, with paintings and tapestries hanging on every wall, stained glass windows with golden frames, polished marble floors and a literal red carpet that never seemed to end. Trixie wondered how many ponies had to be deployed every day to keep the place clean.

In quick order, however, Raven stopped, and Trixie realised they had come to an especially ornate set of partially-open golden doors, five times the height of an average pony. A carver more talented than even Trixie’s own father had engraved scenes of something into the door. Trixie didn’t get the chance to figure out what the scenes were as Raven quietly poked her head through the door, only to pull back out and say, “The Princess is available right now. I don’t think I need to tell you, but be courteous, polite, and on your best behavior!”

With that, Raven’s horn was alight, and she used her magic to push open the doors. Walking at a quick pace up to Princess Celestia, sitting on her throne at the end of another long red carpet, the two quickly conversed before the Princess turned to face the doors. “Come in, my little ponies,” said the Princess.

Trixie, Iceheart and Stonehenge walked in, Stonehenge in the centre, Trixie flanking him on his left. Trixie briefly took a look around, seeing a scattering of guardsponies, including one on either side of Celestia, and another unicorn attendant. At last, the three stopped shortly in front of the throne. As planned, Trixie and Iceheart each offered the Princess a curtsy, and Stonehenge a short bow.

“Hmm, interesting,” said Princess Celestia. Then, to everypony’s surprise, she got up. The Alicorn of the Sun then walked down from her throne in long strides, up until she stood right in front of Stonehenge, and peered at him.

The stallion fidgeted, uncertain why the Princess had singled him out.

“When I had visited fifty years ago, I was uncertain. You were in a crouched position, as I recall. But your friends spoke true, it seems. You are taller than me,” Celestia said.

There was a brief murmuring in the room as the guards and attendants suddenly realised Celestia was right. Although it was close, Stonehenge came in about five centimetres higher, though he would be the shorter one if Celestia’s horn was counted.

“My father was tall, but not unusually so,” Stonehenge murmured. “They were surprised to see me as large as I got.”

“It is uncommon, yes,” Celestia agreed. “You are not, however, the first stallion I have seen that is taller than I am, though they have always been stallions, never mares. One probably comes along every half-century or so, usually with a horse for a parent instead of a pony. Since yours was the case fifty years ago, I suppose that makes us overdue for another giant to show up. I am surprised, however, to see you here so soon. I am certain I had predicted one hundred years before it would be worthwhile trying to free you.”

This was where Trixie got leery, even though they had planned this out beforehoof. As planned, Stonehenge put the spotlight on her. “Miss Trixie here to my left came to town along with Miss Iceheart, and devised a countermeasure to free me early.”

“Oh?” Princess Celestia asked, turning her attention to Trixie. “Your name seems familiar, but I cannot recall from where. Did you attend my School for Gifted Unicorns, maybe?”

“I did, when I was younger, yes. I dropped out after about a year. At the time, my mother was growing ill,” said Trixie. It was two separate truths stated together to sound like they were linked. Trixie was no saboteur against the Crown, having grown up under the aegis of Princess Celestia her entire life, and had no desire to flat-out lie to her.

“I would have expected a graduate to free Stonehenge, but even a year would have given you a grounding in magical theory. How did you do it? I thought it would be another fifty years, after all, and that was with my power,” said Celestia. The unicorn attendant who had already been in the room was jotting down notes on his clipboard behind her, doubtlessly taking down the minutes of this audience.

“Part of it may simply have been where Stonehenge was placed as a statue, Your Majesty,” Trixie said, feeling a little awkward that she was talking about the stallion next to her, yet spoke as if Stonehenge as a statue was a separate entity altogether. “He was placed in the middle of Manechester’s village plaza. I believe that due to the sheer number of ponies that walked around there on a daily basis, the residual magic they left behind grounded some of the petrification magic the cockatrice had originally cast on him. From there, it simply took me multiple attempts at dispelling the petrification. I felt that I was getting closer with each attempt. The cockatrice magic may have been wearing down with each try as well, though the successful cast left me exhausted for nearly a full day.”

More truths that deceived through truthiness, where ‘multiple’ attempts meant two, including Trixie’s first try when she wasn’t quite herself, and ‘may have been’, when Trixie was almost certainly, but not one hundred percent confident that throwing raw magic at the statue would not run out the petrification magic quicker.

Even worse was the gleam in Celestia’s eyes that suggested the Princess knew as well that Trixie wasn’t telling the full truth.

“Well, I am glad that you helped Stonehenge out, Trixie Lulamoon,” said Celestia. “It saddened me that I could not heal Stonehenge after his years of service in defending his home, so it makes me happy to know he has returned to use ahead of what I thought possible. Speaking of which, I recall that I gave you a title, did I not, Stonehenge?”

“Stonehenge Elderwall, Duke of Manechester,” Stonehenge said, bowing again and bringing his hoof up to his chest in a gesture of respect. “It is much appreciated, Your Majesty.”

“So I did, so I did,” Celestia said, nodding. “While the title is mostly honorary, given your fief is split between five others or any offspring who will have inherited it, and Manechester is still tiny, you are still considered nobility. If you wish to attend any of Canterlot’s events in the future, I am certain my nephew the Prince, or other ponies such as Mr. Fancy Pants would be glad to invite you.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty.”

“And Iceheart, I believe? You are a long ways from home,” Celestia said, facing Iceheart. The Crystal mare stood slightly more rigid, but otherwise didn’t shift her pose. “I assume you have been travelling Equestria?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” said Iceheart. “I met Trixie about a month ago, and decided to leave the Empire with her to head south and explore Equestria. It has been a treat.”

Celestia suddenly frowned. “Have we met before? I know I have met a few Crystal ponies before King Sombra took over.”

“Yes, we have. It was a thousand years ago, before we went into stasis. At one point, I was a courier, and I delivered a few messages to the castle in the Everfree Forest.”

The Princess looked nostalgic. “Oh, that castle. We moved after certain events, but I remember it often. It was where I spent many of my younger days at. I suppose it must be strange to you, having met me only a few years ago from your perspective, and me now being so much older?”

Iceheart grimaced. “I apologise, Your Majesty, but the way you worded that question, it would be difficult for me to answer with any tact.”

Celestia laughed gaily. “I suppose it would be. No mare likes to talk about her age, doubly so for me.”

The unicorn scribe behind Celestia suddenly cleared his throat, and said, “Princess, you have a meeting in fifteen minutes with the minotaurs.”

“Oh! I am sorry, Iceheart. I would have loved to speak with you longer, since the Crystal Ponies make up most of the few who remember the times from a thousand years ago,” Celestia said with a forlorn face. “If you three come back another day, when I am less busy, I will be certain to clear time with an audience for you.”

“We are thankful just for your time today, Your Majesty,” Stonehenge said.

“Oh please, there is no need to say ‘Your Majesty’ every time,” Celestia said, smiling. “But I would be glad to talk to you three again. But before you depart, Trixie Lulamoon, could I ask you to do a task for me?”

“A task, Your Maj—,er, a task?” Trixie asked.

“Yes.  Stonehenge’s case was not the only time a pony came down with a magical illness of some sort. With Stonehenge, it was a curse which only time could apparently weaken. However, in Canterlot, there is a special hospital, the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies,” Celestia explained. “Ponies with acute or chronical magical diseases are housed there, in the hopes that someday we can find a way to treat them. Would you please be able to go there? Though I do not think whatever you did for Stonehenge can be currently adapted for any of the ponies there, I am certain the doctors at the Centre would hear you out.”

Trixie furled her eyebrows. This was something unexpected, but she could adapt. It was only a side-stop for her. Not much bad could come out of it. “I will go, then, Princess. I cannot guarantee it can be replicated to help any other pony out, but I will at least try.”

“Thank you. That is all I ask for. I have only ever asked that my little ponies be able to help themselves as much as I have. You have already helped one who helped many others,” Princess Celestia said, looking from Trixie to Stonehenge. Trixie felt faint at seeing the smile on the Solar Alicorn’s face. So this is the smile that has driven suitors to fight one another for her hoof, Trixie thought.

Princess Celestia turned around, returning to her throne. “Raven, can you please escort these three back out?”

“Of course, Princess,” said Raven. It was a testament to her closeness with the Princess that she did not offer any departing bow or curtsy, instead walking down the long curtain. The grey-coated mare indicated to Stonehenge, Trixie and Iceheart to follow her, and she lead them out of the castle, this time through the main gates that the trio had been barred from earlier.

“Do you know where the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies is?” Raven asked. At three separate shakes of the head, she nodded. “I thought not.” Raven then proceeded to give them exact directions, noting landmarks to use as references and pointing out spots where they might trip up by accident. With a brief nod of her head, the royal aide returned back indoors.

“Trixie, do you intend to go?” Iceheart asked.

Trixie nodded, fire in her belly. “I will. It would be remiss of me to not at least see if there is somepony I can help. Besides, if I do find somepony who I can cure with my magic, no doubt he or she will join us as befits the trend.”

“Perhaps we should go seek out Red Wings and Noire, first?,” Stonehenge suggested. “While I am not as paranoid as you are about the possibility of being ‘discovered’ and then scorned for your talents, it would be ideal to have them on hoof if we have to escape the city for some reason, instead of leaving them stranded.”

“Yes, it would. As I recall, they were going to loiter around the Museum of Pegasus History for a while after they were done their tour. In that case, let us go find them.”


It didn’t take them long to find Noire and Red Wings over in the historical district where many of the museums were located.

“That was fast,” said Noire. “At least, I assume you got in, since Celestia’s court usually lasts longer than that. If you hadn’t, otherwise you would have been staying until the end.”

“Her court was cut short today due to a meeting, but we did get in to see her,” Iceheart informed the two winged ponies of their group.

“How did it go, then?,” Red Wings asked, using his wing to scratch an itch on his neck. A figurine that Trixie recognised as being of General Firefly hung around his neck. He had obviously purchased himself a souvenir from the history.

“It went well. The Princess met with us and we chatted for a few minutes, and she told us we could come back at a later time when she was less busy to talk some more. However, she also asked us to go to a clinic with ponies who have magical illnesses and ask us to talk to the doctors there. Princess Celestia was hoping that what I used to help Stonehenge might be adapted to help another pony.”

“Are you?” Red Wings asked.

Trixie shook her head. “No, my talent is something I do not intend to just reveal to others. All they will know is that I merely ‘grounded’ the cockatrice magic. However, I will go and assess if there are any ponies I could potentially save, albeit sneaking under the doctor’s noses.”

“You’re a good pony, Trixie,” said Noire. “Fortunately, I know where the Centre is, I assume you’re talking about the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies?”

“The one and the same,” said Iceheart.

“Sure, in that case, let’s go.”


Trixie wasn’t certain what to think of the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies. Actually, she was outright baffled. The tower the Centre occupied looked like it was out of a new-age architect’s wet dream, despite being centuries old: the tower’s external walls curved around like a spiral or a screw, every rotation of the wall being higher than the previous location. Furthermore, the individual stones also had been inset at a concave angle. It was like a pony had discovered the art of rope making, where several strings were braided together to create a stronger piece, and instead of creating rope, decided to use the look as the model for a building. A smaller, dormitory-style building extended from the backside of the tower, larger in area than the tower but only a few stories high.

Also, it was pink. Barring the pointed cone roof and the windows, every last centimetre of it was pink.

“Did Princess Cadance approve of this tower?,” Red Wings asked. “I knew the mare loved pink, but I didn’t think anypony loved it that much.”

“No, it’s older than Princess Cadance is. Every time it’s due for a repaint, there’s always an argument between traditionalists about keeping it pink and everypony else who agrees it’s an eyesore, and somehow the traditionalists keep winning,” said Noire.

“Well, there could be a reason for it,” Trixie pointed out. “For a centre that treats ponies with magical illnesses, they want as little residual magic as possible. The spiral design of the tower helps that, so maybe the pink colour also has that effect?”

“Do you really believe that, Miss Trixie?” Stonehenge asked.

Trixie hung her head in defeat. “No.”

“If we are all done talking about the tower’s design, then can we head inside?” Iceheart asked, always the pony least likely to indulge in humour.

“Yes, let’s,” Trixie agreed, finally putting her hoof forward.

The group entered the main door at the base of the tower. Trixie was mildly surprised that the lobby was quiet, with only a single receptionist pony working in front of a desk. Then again, this isn’t really a hospital, complete with emergency wards. From the sounds of it, this is a long-term housing clinic too.

Trixie walked up to the receptionist. “Good afternoon, my name is Trixie, and I am here for—”

The receptionist cut her off. “Trixie? Good to meet you. Down the hall and to your left, take the elevator up to the fifth floor. Room 512.”

Trixie blinked. “Um, OK. Thank you.” Turning around, she motioned with her hoof towards the hall the receptionist had mentioned.

As the five banded together again, walking towards the hall, Iceheart said, “That was remarkably fast. We only took a few minutes to pick up Red Wings and Noire, and a messenger from the Palace already got here, and somepony already arranged a meeting space for you?”

Noire pressed the button to go up, the elevator door opening instantly. “It is odd,” Trixie said as she stepped into the elevator. “Perhaps they sent a letter by teleportation? That would have made it a lot quicker.”

“There is some teleportation mail that goes on,” Noire said as she stepped in, being the last pony to do so, and pressed the button to send the elevator to go up to the fifth floor. “Not lots, but some.”

Trixie suddenly had an odd feeling, but brushed it aside. They had gotten this far, after all. Trixie would just feed the doctor or whoever she was going to speak with some babble about what she did to the petrified Stonehenge, then try to wheedle him or  her into a tour.

The elevator opened out onto the fifth floor, and the five stepped out. Quickly looking at the room number plates conveniently hanging on the wall, they went right, and in under a minute. Room 512 had an unimposing door, with a simple marker indicating it was indeed Room 512. Trixie wondered if perhaps there was a patient of interest in this room specifically that she had been directed here. Raising her hoof, she knocked.

“Come in,” came a male voice.

Trixie opened the door, and went inside the room. Thankfully, it was spacious enough that the other four ponies trailing behind were able to follow Trixie into the area with plenty of breathing room to spare.

A single pony was looking out the large window, which faced the Palace of the Royal Sisters and Mount Canterhorn. However, the most significant detail about him was that he was in a wheelchair, sitting on his croup and with his back again the chair in a bipedal-like position. “Thank you for coming today,” he spoke, finally turning around, revealing himself to be a unicorn.

His eyes, Trixie thought. From muzzle to tail, the stallion was a chalk-white, with his mane and tail only a bare tint darker than his coat. Trixie would have thought him to be an albino, but his eyes were a soft shade of blue, as bright as the morning sky itself. Then he spoke again.

“My name is Windspeaker, and I am the Living Wind.”


Well-Known Member
'The Living Wind: Mysterious Magical Maladies'


“The Living Wind? What is that?,” Iceheart asked.

Windspeaker leaned back in his chair, loudly exhaling. He brought one hoof up to his chest. Nopony missed how his hoof trembled as he moved it. “The Living Wind. Where to begin? I’ve considered that question so many times, and I’m still at a loss how to proceed. Hmm...how about the classical systems of magic unicorns once believed in? In the West, unicorns believed magic could be split up into four elements: earth, fire, wind and water. In the East, it was a five element system: wood, fire, earth, metal and water.”

“Both systems of which were disproved long ago,” Trixie said, shaking off the cobwebs that had grown over her memories of long-ago lectures as a filly. “Though it’s not a perfect model, the reigning system today is of a unified magical system, with ponies and other races learning how to manipulate the same magic in different ways, pioneering and forming new disciplines and subdisciplines over time.”

“Yes, yes,” Windspeaker nodded in concession. He looked around the room, assessing how well the others understood what had just been discussed. “Magic is magic, but magic is not all-pervasive. If you could describe creation, then philosophers would say this physical world exists, intertwined with magic, but still its own separate entity. Now, the Living Wind.” Windspeaker brought his front hooves up, leaning his chin against them. He quickly withdrew his hooves, as they were clearly unable to support the weight of his head. 

He looked down at the floor. “Have you ever listened to the Wind, ever truly heard it howl? It's beautiful.” Windspeaker then looked back up, facing the five ponies opposite him. “No, of course you haven’t. Nopony else has, but for me.”

Noire scrunched her nose, uncertain whether she was being insulted or not.

“Now, the Living Wind. The Living Wind. If I were to attempt to describe it, it’s impossible to fully express it, but I guess you could say it’s something that intersects the physical realm and the magical realm. Not like us, not like us ponies. We exist physically, but can draw on magic.” Windspeaker winced, squeezing his eyes shut. His tongue flicked out, before he pressed the tip of it between his teeth. Slowly, he scraped his tongue with his teeth, pulling it inwards multiple times.

Trixie was simultaneously fascinated and horrified, unable to look away. Is that an extreme nervous tic, or is he in pain?, she thought.

“Argh,” Windspeaker let out a grunt, bringing a hoof up to press against the side of his head. He shook his head before looking back up, blue eyes once more exposed. “The Living Wind, we, I, we, we ponies refer to ourselves as sapient. We call other races with thinking and reasoning skills sapient. We refer to animals who lack those higher-level, abstract intelligences sentient, for they can still feel. What if I were to tell you the very wind itself, the magical wind all around us, is sentient?”

“Hogwash,” Red Wings said, more out of reflex than anything.

Trixie dissented from Red Wings’ opinion. “Even a few months ago I would have thought it impossible,” she said. “But I’ve had my eyes opened to the fact that there’s a lot more to magic than any of us ever might know. So, you’re saying magic is sentient then? There’s been a few ponies out there who claim that to be the case, citing the existence of the Elements of Harmony as a proof, but it’s so far been unproveable.”

Windspeaker shook his head. “No, not magic itself, but the wind, the Living Wind. We, the wind, is capable of empathy. Argh, I rehearsed this meeting so many times, but I still can’t explain it.”

Iceheart wrinkled her nose. “Wait, what? You rehearsed this meeting? But how?”

“Y-yes, I did,” Windspeaker admitted. “Everywhere on this planet that air moves in currents, creating wind, almost everywhere is the domain of the Living Wind. When I was born, I was weak in form and magic. My powers go little further than levitation. What I lack in strength of body and magic, however, I make up for being the only pony alive with a close connection to the Living Wind.”

“A connection? To the wind itself?” Trixie asked, trailing off as she suddenly realised the total ramifications of Windspeaker’s statement.

Windspeaker nodded. “Yes. I was born linked with the Living Wind. We grew up with it, I am the Living Wind, so much that sometimes it is difficult to remember that I am a pony, not the wind, a pony who can control the wind, not the wind who has a puppet for a pony.” He continued, even as Trixie felt herself reeling, having to put a hoof against a table to not stumble over. “I, I cannot be everywhere, the world is too wide for me to hear everything at once. Creatures of extreme might or divine status are off-limits for me. I cannot eavesdrop in on the conversations of Princess Celestia or Luna, and I cannot see entities like Tirek coming before they strike. 

Then he looked over at Iceheart, looking straight into her blue eyes with his own blue eyes. Iceheart looked back, curious why the unicorn had singled her out, but unafraid. “But the Living Wind will take notice, and so will I, when a block of windigo ice disappears, changing the pattern of the wind in the world.” Next, he looked over to Red Wings, whose red eyes were unflinching. “Or when a pegasus, wing previously clipped, returns to the skies in an unheard-of feat, flying on the wind.” Red Wings jerked back in surprise.

Trixie’s heart skipped a beat as she suddenly honed in on the obvious question. Why was somepony with a skill like this in a hospital of all things? “So why are you in the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies? Is it connected to this, the Living Wind?”

Windspeaker chewed on his tongue, the nervous tic obvious to all else. Then he said, “Yes. For me, the wind isn’t about magical strength, it’s about my very being. I’ve been frail since I was born, but in the last few years my health has taken a turn for the worse. The doctors can’t even tell why it is. All that they know is that it’s magically-related, which is why they chucked me in here.” He chuckled, bitterness leaking into his laugh. “Of course, I know exactly what it is.”

“Then why do you not tell them?,” Iceheart asked, taking control of the questioning. All the others fell in line behind her. Iceheart, while not the nicest pony, had shown herself to be the most composed throughout their adventures. When dealing with Windspeaker, a pony who had shown himself to be erratic in the few minutes since they had met, it was her deft hoof everypony else trusted.

“It’s simple. They can’t cure it. Nopony can,” said Windspeaker. He closed his eyes again and continued speaking even as he was blind to the world, “The Living Wind is both a boon and a curse to me. I can communicate with the Living Wind, and she, I call her she, back with me. The Wind is a gentle thing, playful. But we are linked at such a level it is impossible to separate us.” The white-furred unicorn looked and sounded forlorn now. “Thanks to our communion, my very body is fading away. It may be slow, but eventually one day, I will disappear and my consciousness will be subsumed into the Living Wind.” 

The words landed in the room with a thud. Everypony there hoped that Windspeaker would drop the other horseshoe, and reveal that his fate was to be a happy one. As the seconds passed, it dawned upon them with horror that it was not to be.

Iceheart narrowed her eyes. “Yet you are telling us this all now, so there must be something you are leaving out.”

Windspeaker let out a chuckle. It was the laugh of a broken pony. “Oh, do not get me wrong. I will not regret being subsumed into the Living Wind. I just do not want it to be like this, not when I have barely lived past my twenty-secondth winter, and have been confined to this room for the last few years. Both myself and the Living Wind wish for me to live a long, fruitful life before I finally join her. Trixie,” Windspeaker said, turning to face the other unicorn in the room, who jerked back in surprise at being singled out, “The Living Wind advised me that your magic could possibly, just might be able to sever the link between us that is causing me to fade away.”

Trixie flinched. She was still struggling to process everything Windspeaker had just told them. When she had come to the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies, this was not what she had expected to hear. Speaking of which, how had Windspeaker known they would be here? “Something seems odd. How did you even know we were coming? This seems a little too perfect that we would come here, to your room.”

“Like I told you, the Living Wind told me,” said Windspeaker. “That Princess Celestia sent you here was happy circumstance, and I asked the receptionist to look out for the five of you and send you up here when you arrived, instead of going to go see one of the doctors. Yours is not a talent that can help the other ponies here, however, just so you know,” he warned.

Stonehenge spoke for the first time since coming in. “That us being directed here by the Princess was circumstance, you say. That implies there are other things we have done that were not.”

Trixie frowned. Stonehenge had a point.

“Y-yes, that is true,” Windspeaker conceded. “Trixie, after you healed Red Wings, I was so happy. Here was a pony who might be able to help me. However, though we do not understand the scope of your power and how it works, the Living Wind advised me that you still were not at the point you could help. So it was then I nudged you north, towards Manechester, where you would find something that might help you develop your ability yet further,” he said, taking an aside glance at Stonehenge.

“Wait, that was you? You were the one who gave us that feeling we had to go north?,” Red Wings asked.

Windspeaker nodded and said, “Yes. I make no apologies for it. You may have had to delay your visit to Colt Springs and the strongest changeling alive for a few weeks, but would you rather Stonehenge continue to be a statue in the middle of a courtyard for another five decades?”

Red Wings fell silent, the question stinging. Of course he wouldn’t. Had it not been for Windspeaker’s intervention, they wouldn’t even have known Stonehenge existed, instead going straight west.

All eyes turned to Trixie, who squirmed slightly under the collective gaze, but then steeled her back and stood up straight. “I cannot say I like the feeling of being manipulated, but in your circumstances, I can all too easily understand. I felt depressed once, thinking there was no way out, and when Noire showed up and broke the status quo for me, I eventually found a way out.” Trixie swallowed. “I would have done almost anything to seize that light at the end of the tunnel, and we did find Stonehenge in the process. But how far did it go? You sent us to Manechester, then brought us to Canterlot, and finally here?”

“N-no, actually, the rest of that was luck,” Windspeaker said, his front hooves shaking again as he tried to speak. “The elder ponies in Manechester requested you head to Canterlot, and you chose to come here. The Princess mentioned the Centre, and you chose to come here. All I had to do was ask the receptionist to send you up here when you came, instead of you asking to see the doctors.”

“Yes, I had forgotten about that in the last few minutes,” said Trixie. “I had come to this hospital to see if there were others I could help with my magic, on the sly.”

Windspeaker shook his head. “Like I-I said, we are pretty sure there are not any. Many of the cases in this building are those that baffle the doctors entirely, and who use of magic on may affect adversely. Others have magical diseases that have mentally twisted them, and so far as I know, your magic can do nothing about that, not without its own problems given your trial run. At least with me, I know what my problem is, and I also know the solution. But I didn’t think that solution was possible until now.”

“I’m not certain I can honestly help you,” Trixie admitted. “I’ve come so far in developing my magic, but what you describe seems as a level higher than the magic I’ve overcome before.”

“Wouldn’t it be like dispelling the curse of the cockatrice king?” Stonehenge asked, curious.

Trixie shook her head. “Not really. Long ago, well, only a month ago, it feels longer than that now...anyways, when I was out on the ice flats where the fossilised Windigo remains were, that was passive magic. The Windigos had died off long ago. This sounds like active magic. More than just that; this Living Wind sounds like it’s intertwined with the world itself.”

“T-true,” Windspeaker said. “It w-was why we hoped you might be able to h-help me, though. Your power is one we haven’t seen before, the power to reject how the world is supposed to be and change it.” Windspeaker’s voice was steadily getting shakier as he spoke, much like his body and limbs.

Trixie frowned. “I can try. I can’t guarantee it, however. This would be fundamentally more difficult than anything else.”

“But you succeeded in everything you’ve attempted before,” said Windspeaker.

That is true, but what I said also still stands, Trixie thought, before she briefly shook her head to clear her mind of her troubled thoughts. “Casting here would also be an issue. Any other pony who can sense magic being used will come up here to see what’s happening, and I would rather not expose my talents just yet.”

“Good point,” Windspeaker said. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Then the room shifted.

It was difficult for Trixie to say she could feel it, for such a word implied a sense. But whatever it was, it was as if the room had been tilted on an axis, at an angle of just a few degrees, yet sufficient enough to leave her disoriented. Around her, the others all stumbled, succumbing to the same weird phenomena that had just occurred.

“The Living Wind is not all-powerful, not by a long shot. However, I am more than able to mask a small room this size against eavesdropping, which includes any magical sensors,” Windspeaker said, explaining what had just occurred.

Trixie found her way back to her hooves again, though the grease in her stomach made a short, aborted attempt to lurch its way back up. “That wasn’t like any magical spell against eavesdropping I’ve felt before,” she said.

“That’s because it wasn’t magic,” said Windspeaker, his blue eyes now open again to the world. “Or at least, not solely magic. As I said, the Living Wind intersects both our physical realm and magic. My magic is a weak, feeble thing, but with the Living Wind I am capable of many things other unicorns can do.”

Trixie wrinkled her snout. Every time Windspeaker spoke, Trixie found herself both more impressed and more discomfited than before. Such a power as Windspeaker described it was amazing, but at the same time it intimidated her. Even from his wheelchair, Windspeaker could have done great things, be they beneficial or terrible.

Most of all, how was she to have a chance of breaking Windspeaker of the curse that was robbing him of life, when he was as intertwined with the Living Wind as he said he was?

“Give me a bit of room, please,” Trixie said to her friends standing on either side of her. All four complied, leaving Trixie and Windspeaker with a few feet clear to either side of them. Closing her eyes, Trixie meditated, forming the image of Windspeaker in her mind’s eye even as her eyelids filtered out most of the sunlight.

Then she cast.


Her unconscious mind recoiled at what she wandered into, and created a visual interpretation of it instead for her to cope with. The stream of magic in front of her went from top to bottom in a coiled helix, tinged the pink of her own magical aura. A second helix sat right next to the first helix, offset so it was close but never quite touched the first. This was a white, not so much the absence of colour, but a white with the presence of all colours mixed in.

The Living Wind was something even her mind couldn’t put an image to, but she just knew that it bound the double helix together in a beautiful twine, all while resisting any effort to separate them. Trying to analyse it was like a jigsaw held in a three-dimensional puzzle in a Rubik’s cube: there was a key, a way to fit it all together, but the sheer complexity of all its parts was too much for her feeble mind to comprehend. All three entities all came and met together in one small being, much like her own form, that was being torn apart by the powers three.

Not for the first time, she felt insignificant. Many a youthful night had been spent gazing into the cosmos, feeling out of place, like she was one pale blue dot compared to the rest of existence. This, however, was something altogether different. Instead of sizing herself up against the night sky, she was gazing out onto the breadth of two of the facets of all creation, and a force that intersected upon them both. To that, she was less than an ant, let alone a mare.

A mare who had defied phantasia before, however, and brought joy and healing everywhere she had gone. She exerted her will, poking and prodding at the strings of her mental vision. The double helix was like the ethereal chords of a musical universe, and as she plucked each chord, the reverberation reflected upon herself, her very being and anima. There was beauty in the world, and there was ugliness. There was hope, and there was despair.

Through it all, she had persevered, and she would not give up. The third force there, the Living Wind, seemed to ever so gently ease her task, much like the aid of the Crystal Heart and the black moon before it. She would need it, for imposing her will was becoming an ordeal. To first reject reality and substitute her own, she first needed to comprehend the way things currently were. The totality of what she saw was overwhelming, however. 

This time, however, for the first time ever, reality and magic pushed back. The more she attempted to exert the way she wanted things to be, the more magical chords tensed, then snapped back.

It scared her as she reeled under the backlash. For the first time, she felt like it might not be the rest of the world that was changed, but her, and not in a desirable way.

She fled with her metaphorical tail tucked in between her haunches. 


“I am sorry, but I cannot do it,” Trixie apologised, eyes readjusting to the moderate glare of the room’s lighting. She could feel drops of sweat stinging her eyes. “Whatever the Living Wind is, it is something even beyond me. The way it binds magic and our prime world together is difficult for me to even comprehend in the first place, yet alone actually force my own vision unto.”

Windspeaker sighed. It was a weary sigh. Trixie thought nobody should sound as tired as Windspeaker did. “It’ll be alright, but thank you,” the other unicorn said, but the disappointment was unmistakeable. “You’ve had times in the past where you failed at first, but upon a second try you succeeded, correct? Come back when you feel confident. It is not as if I am leaving, and the Living Wind will tell me when you return.”

Trixie bit her tongue. Given Windspeaker’s story, she did not want to tell him it was a matter of if, not when as he so optimistically believed.

However, Windspeaker was not done, and he turned to Noire. “New Moon, you do not have to worry about visiting your mother. The guards stopped attempting to find you months ago. If something goes awry, the Living Wind will let you know to leave.”

Noire was stunned as the white-furred unicorn suddenly used her old name, and staggered back as the full meaning of his words hit her. I can go home, she thought. Noire suddenly felt sad, her emotion intense enough that she could see Trixie wince at the emotional feedback the other daughter of a changeling felt. Home, to where my father died.

It was a homecoming that Noire had never hoped to see, yet if she took Windspeaker’s words in good faith, it could happen today still. Noire banished what little she could of her melancholy, and steadied herself. She was going to go home, where she could at least meet her mother and begin to heal wounds that had merely scabbed over instead of being fully treated. Only then could Noire once again feel free to fly without a weight pulling her down.

Iceheart broke the mood in the room. “In that case, I will meet up with the four of you later.”

“Wait, what?” Red Wings asked.

Iceheart turned her face, regarding the mystified Windspeaker with an empathetic look. “I do not need to meet Noire’s mother myself. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we have a few days in Canterlot here, so I can wander the city to my heart’s delight later. But I believe there is at least one pony here who could use some company for a little while longer.”

It took Windspeaker a few seconds to decipher Iceheart’s words, but his eyes widened when he did. “Th-that’s…”

“It would be remiss of me not to offer my companionship, at least for a little longer. You hide it well, but we can all tell how devastated you are that Trixie was unable to help you,” Iceheart said. “Even if it is not a cure, I would spend a little more time with you. Do not think I am taking pity on you. Rather, having led my ponies in the North, I know how much every pony needs another pony to talk with, and while the Living Wind sounds fascinating, I doubt she is the best conversation partner.”

Windspeaker bowed his head. “Thank you.”

“You are welcome,” the purple-furred Crystal pony said, moving over to one of the room’s few chairs. Hopping onto, she turned around and sat down. “Go get your rooms and do whatever else you need to do, everypony. Come back later, please.”

“Is there anything we should tell the receptionist?,” Noire asked.

“Just tell her one of you is staying behind. She won’t bother you over it,” said Windspeaker. “It was nice to see all of you. I hope to see you again later.”

“Y—yeah,” said Trixie. She felt a lump in her throat. She never liked leaving a pony behind that she could have helped. Defeat had stung her twice before, and it wasn’t getting any easier with the third one.

The ponies went through a few more goodbye greetings, though it was blessedly short since they would come back in the evening for Iceheart. Then Trixie turned the room, and left, hoping Noire would stay silent about the shame Trixie felt.


“What did you think?” Trixie asked Red Wings as they left the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies. Noire and Stonehenge ambled on beside her, but she knew they would be splitting off in a few blocks.

Red Wings shrugged. “About Windspeaker, you mean? Honestly, the concept sounds a little fantastical, truly. But I think I remember something odd about the wind, both during that time in the Badlands, and again in Manechester.”

Trixie frowned. There had been one more time even before the Badlands. A part of her had noticed an odd shift in the wind there, but she had forgotten about it when the winds all subsided after the Windigo fossils disappeared. Had the Living Wind been there, even then?

Red Wings continued, saying, “Well, if he’s being truthful, then Windspeaker can hear us right now. The fact he knew practically everything about us and we haven’t been stopped by guards yet or anything means we should at least take him at good faith.”

“The Living Wind is real, alright. What I saw in that brief moment when I tried to help him was something I can’t quite express in words, but it was far too real for Windspeaker to have been anything but truthful.”

Stonehenge looked thoughtful. “So do you believe you will be able to truly help him?”

She bit her lip, pressing hard against it with her teeth. “I truly don’t know. Windspeaker was right, though. Twice before I used my magic and failed, but each time, I bounced back and managed. This time, however, it feels impossible.”

“You cannot be too pessimistic about it,” Stonehenge said, only for the four to turn the corner.

Trixie stopped. A few hoofsteps later, the other three ponies also stopped, turning back to face her.

“What is the matter, Trixie?” Noire asked.

The lone unicorn narrowed her eyes, raising her snout to look off into the distance. “It’s been so long, hasn’t it?”

“What has been so lon—oh,” Noire said, as she turned to see what Trixie was peering at.  

Red Wings and Stonehenge also craned their heads to chance a glance. “That is a large building, but what is it, precisely?” Stonehenge asked.

“Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns,” Trixie said blithely. “I went there when I was younger, only to have to drop out after only a year. I told you before, didn’t I? I left Canterlot only a few days later, claiming to be sick and having issues at home, and I never returned, until now.”

“Oh, Trixie,” Red Wings said, his tone of voice clearly empathetic.

“What I’ve done over these last few months was clearly something I never would have learned in Canterlot, and very possibly might never have achieved after graduation if I had finished my schooling here. I’ve fantasised many a night about what my life would have been like if time’s spinning gears had rotated the other way, but I’m not fooling myself.” Trixie sighed, still gazing longingly at the campus building for Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and said, “I’ve singlehoofedly pioneered a niche field to an extend that nopony would have even dreamed possible before. But what I saw in that room intimidates me. I think I have finally hit the end of the road.”

And isn’t that a shame? After all, I did something Princess Celestia herself was unable to do by undoing the petrifaction on Stonehenge a half-century before her earliest estimate. Surely, I thought, that might mean...but is this my limit?

“That doesn’t sound like you, Trixie,” Noire said, even as she nudged the group to the side to allow others to walk by along the road, finding a quieter place to converse. “I’ve never heard you be this self-defeatist before.”

Trixie sagged against the wall. “I just don’t know anymore, Noire.”

Noire scrunched her nose. “Well, there’s no way you can go to Colt Springs with that attitude. Where’s the Trixie I met for the first time again when I came to Whinnychester? Where’s the Trixie who spent years studying theory and practicing magic from her parent’s old place, learning how to teleport after long last? The Trixie that...the Trixie that...that saved me,” said the batpony. Noire snorted and pawed the ground, but the fire wasn’t quite in her anymore.

“She is right, Trixie,” Stonehenge said, his deep voice once again rumbling. “I cannot fathom precisely how it is your talent works, but you have done something very real in helping all of us here. I do not care to think of what it would have been like for me to be free again, only to find everypony I knew was dead and gone for two generations already. Do not beat yourself up until you are certain you can go no further. Until then, you need to try. If what Windspeaker says is true and you can assist him, then it would be a great deed.”

Red Wings said nothing. He had given Trixie his praises many a night since he had regained his left wing. Exhorting her now to continue on was not necessary.

Trixie sighed, looking back up at the other three, and cracked a small smile. “You’re right, all of you are right. Separating Windspeaker from his curse felt impossible, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Hehe,” she giggled.

“Is something funny?” Noire asked.

“Oh, not really. I shouldn’t be making light of Windspeaker’s situation, but I just thought to myself, if I can cure his condition, then self-levitation should be a breeze in comparison.”

“I suppose that is amusing,” Noire admitted. “Well, if you are alright now, Stonehenge and I will take our leave.”

“That is fine. Red and I will get our hotel rooms set up and paid for,” said Trixie. She refrained from wincing at the cost of a hotel room in Canterlot for several nights. The elders of Manechester had sent them off with plenty of spare bits, but Trixie was frugal to the last, having once been a nomadic performer who ate the grass off the side of the roads. “One of us will have to tell Iceheart our room numbers.”

“Windspeaker could tell her,” Red Wings murmured.

Trixie bowed her head slightly, still having issue with the fact a unicorn could eavesdrop on them over long distances through something that was as alien to her as the Living Wind. “Yes, he could.”

Noire and Stonehenge traded nods with Red Wings and Trixie, and the batpony and Earth pony were off on their own way. That left Trixie alone with the red pegasus.

“So, you know where to go?” Red Wings asked.

“Ah, right. Yes, follow me,” Trixie said, moving her hooves again in the opposite direction of the two that had just left.

Red caught up to walk beside her, matching Trixie’s hurried pace. “So we check in, get ourselves two rooms, one for me and Stonehenge, one for the mares. What then?”

“I don’t know. I expect Noire to be at least a few hours, and maybe longer if she stays for dinner. As for Iceheart, well, she’s the type of pony who works well in small settings. I got the impression she intended to stay there for a while, so perhaps we can return right before visiting hours end tonight to pick her up?”

Red Wings grunted. “That sounds like a good idea.”

“I’m always full of good ideas, aren’t I?” Trixie asked, not passing up on the chance to gloat.

“What about the time you showed up with more salt licks in your saddlebag than you needed for crossing the Badlands?”
“A mare has her needs!” Trixie said, abashed.

Red Wings let out a chuckle. Even if it seemed Trixie had gotten into a funk again, she was still in good enough spirits to take his teasing like the usual Trixie.


To say Canterlot had suburbia was to be incorrect. But for the Royal Family and the richest nobles, a thousand years of history had grinded wasteful uses of land into the dust, and the prevailing trend was to build upwards, resulting in rows upon rows of many-coloured terrace houses along every street of the capital.

However, there were distinct neighborhoods, each with their own character and charm. Noire noticed that Stonehenge held himself well, even as the tribal make-up of those walking around shifted from a unicorn-plurality to a batpony-majority. The deeper they went into the district Noire had once called home, the more Stonehenge was the odd pony out.

It was his size, Noire decided. Stonehenge might have felt intimidated being surrounded by so many batponies, but his massive frame meant he would always physically tower over others. That alone meant few others were likely to mess him, even if this was Canterlot, where rough-and-tumble behavior was simply unheard of.

Fortunately, the other batponies wandering and flying around barely blinked at Stonehenge’s presence, given he was being escorted around by Noire, herself a batpony. Though Noire no longer resembled that mare of old, New Moon, she still fit right into the tribal make-up here.

“Just another couple of blocks,” Noire said, taking to the air and lightly flapping her wings. Even hovering above a few hoof-lengths above the ground, she still didn’t come to eye-level with Stonehenge.

“So this is where you grew up?” Stonehenge asked in a quiet whisper, looking around at the blocks of houses. The paint was faded on many walls, but it was otherwise an alright place. There are more ponies living in the last few streets than in all of Manechester, Stonehenge mused, feeling the proverbial fish out of water. The oddest thing to him wasn’t the rows and rows of terrace houses, however. It was the smooth paving of the roads, worn down by wind and water, but not by the many hoofsteps of others. It was clear most residents here flew around, with the walkway more an ornament than anything else.

“Yes, it is. Except for when we went on tours, I spent my entire life here. It’s good to be home.”

Stonehenge thought Noire’s sigh wistful. He knew something of that feeling of longing and loss.

The two were silent for the last few blocks, until Noire finally came up to a house. Stonehenge noted with a keen eye that whereas the house on either side had a small fence and a gate with pointed spikes, Noire’s house did not. His stomach curdled, having heard about her father’s last moments and the freak accident that led up to it.

Noire seemed to have noticed as well, her shoulders shaking. Nonetheless, she moved forward, and knocked on the door.

The two stood there for a few seconds. Just as Noire wondered whether to knock again, she heard movement from inside. Soon, the door opened.

“Oh? Can I help you with something?”

Noire blinked away her tears. Though it had seemed like a lifetime, it had really only been about half a year since last she had seen her mother, Frigor. In that time, however, her mother had gotten so old. Had she always looked that worn down? Her father’s death must have affected her mother more than Noire had thought.

Nevertheless, she had rehearsed this in her head, coming up with the magic words to prove to her mother who Noire was. Instead of saying it outright, she first had to prove her own identity. “Incognito left from the Badlands, first working in Dodge Junction for a short while, then in Baltimare. After a short layover in Weston-Mare, he came to Canterlot, working at a clock shop, where he developed a fascination with his lifelong hobby. Meeting a mare he fell in love with, he ditched both his job and his pegasus form to become a batpony, eventually joining the Royal Guard. Their daughter was a pony in every way, except she had inherited changeling magic on a limited basis.”

The other mare was stunned. Frigor’s eyes widened as she seemed to clue in just who she had greeted. Quickly, her eyes darted left and right. Noire just confirmed the elder batpony’s suspicions.

“Hello, mother.”


“That was remarkably painless,” Red Wings remarked as the two left the hotel, having dropped off their saddlebags.

“Canterlot is a big city and our capital, so there’s always lots of ponies coming in for a few days. But Canterlot also has many, many functions going on throughout the year, so the hotels were built up to accommodate those peak periods,” Trixie explained. “It’s a slower peak for the next week, so any hotel would be glad to take our bits.”

Of course, it wasn’t often that she had to actually rent a hotel room. Her time in the Crystal Empire and then in Manechester were the exception. Even when she was travelling, Trixie had usually slept in her own wagon.

It was rather fortunate that the two had gotten their rooms quickly arranged. Looking up at the sun, Trixie noted it was getting to be rather late in the day. It felt like she had only just had lunch, but between her meeting with Celestia, finding Red Wings and Noire, and then their encounter with Windspeaker, time had flown away on her, like a pegasus in a hurry. Already, the blue sky had given way to shades of pink, orange and yellow off in the horizon.

Trixie gulped. Sunsets had been tainted for her, ever since the day she had returned to a pretty Winchester sunset, only to find out about the death of her father. 

The two walked. Neither had any particular destination in mind, instead taking joy in walking alongside one another, taking in the sights of Canterlot’s architecture, which seemed to morph every few blocks as the newer outskirts of the city turned towards its older core. They had time to kill, and Trixie, though she had thoughts of magic and levitation on her mind, desired a peaceful night. The clip-clop of their hooves melded together with the other ponies filtering in and out of the core.

Before Trixie knew it, she and Red Wings found themselves in the Canterlot Commons, the large square at the centre of the city, just outside the palace grounds proper. From what she remembered, it was a popular place for ponies to casually hang out at every part of the day. She and Noire had spent a few afternoons there as fillies, playing in the park and splash pools.

She closed her eyes.



Perhaps it had been a good thing she had come to Canterlot. Even now, she could feel the pent-up resentment and regrets that consumed a part of her. Over the last few days, Trixie had done some self-reflection. Every place I went to, there was always a pony who needed healing of some sort, and I provided it for them.

Didn’t I need some healing of my own?

Trixie looked over to Red Wings, who appeared content to wait for her. While it had only been a short time since she had met any of the ponies in her party besides Noire, they were now close friends. In the pegasus’ case, Trixie had felt a spark develop, and she knew he reciprocated. How much of that was idol worship, Trixie didn’t know, but she was certain there was also something genuine. The bits and pieces of changeling magic she had inherited from her father had come in use on many occasions.

“Let’s head over there,” Trixie suggested, pointing a hoof off to a copse of trees sitting next to one of the Commons’ fountains.

Red wrinkled his snout, as if he had been thinking about doing something else to do, but he didn’t resist. “Sure, let’s go—eep!”

The pegasus let out a startled squeak as Trixie grabbed his hoof in her own hoof, and led him over to the copse. She smirked, feeling the warm tinge of embarrassment that washed through Red Wings. Well, that was another useful benefit, one Trixie hadn’t abused in a long time, but delightful nevertheless.

Red Wings had been a nervous wreck for a few moments in Trixie’s hoofgrip, but he calmed down by the time they made it over to the copse. The two sat down against a tree, and Trixie leaned against Red Wings, the stallion’s body providing a nice source of heat in the cool afternoon. A soft breeze washed through the copse. Trixie didn’t even care anymore about the wind. 

One day soon, she would journey to Colt Springs to discover and potentially train what she had inherited from her father, Wooden Chisel. Maybe under the greatest of changelings, the blemish on her spirit the Alicorn Amulet had left could at last be purged. From there, perhaps the odd, errant thoughts Trixie had had over the months and years about a greater destiny than what life had dealt her would coalesce. 

For now, Trixie would sit here wordlessly, looking at the sunset, hoof in hoof with Red Wings.

Suddenly, there was a stirring of excitement in the crowd. “Hmm? What’s going on?” Red Wings asked, breaking the silence. Ponies suddenly were pouring into the Commons. Above them, multiple pegasi were flying around, some marked in the garb and colours of the Royal Guard.

“I don’t know,” Trixie admitted.

“Hang on then, I’ll go check,” Red Wings said. He didn’t want to break physical contact, but something had happened, and curiosity won out. Stumbling up onto his hooves, he flapped his wings, taking into the air to talk to one of the Royal Guard pegasi, who was hovering in the air.

Trixie watched as she conversed. There was no chance from that distance to be able to eavesdrop on their conversation. But the Living Wind could, couldn’t it? She thought. It’s an open area, and what few limits Windspeaker said it has, and that I saw, don’t apply here. Windspeaker could have been so many things in life if his body was stronger. He could have been Equestria’s greatest spymaster, a businesspony who knew things he shouldn’t have, or a powerful sorcerer who used undetectable magic.

And instead he was relegated to a lone room in a long-term clinic, with nothing to keep him company but for what was only a semi-intelligent force of nature. He had been as lonely as Trixie was in the depths of her life, but at least she had a mother and father who knew her secrets before they passed. For Windspeaker, he had grown up his entire life with nopony who could truly empathise with his situation.

A cool breeze washed over Trixie again. She was filled with determination. I have to help Windspeaker.

Red Wings returned, breaking Trixie out of her reverie. “You just had a normal conversation with the Princess earlier, correct?”

What an odd question, Trixie thought. “Well, as normal as it could be under the circumstances. Why?”

He frowned. “It seemed the Princess has ‘unexpectedly’ decided to do a live lowering of the sun and raising of the moon with her sister tonight.”

Trixie raised her eyebrows. That was unusual. When Trixie had been a filly, Princess Celestia rarely did a live showing of the rotation of the celestial bodies. The only date it was guaranteed was on the Summer Sun Celebration, and throughout the year and a bit Trixie had been in Canterlot, there were only a sporadic few dates Celestia raised the sun live, unlikely to be repeated the next year.

“Then I guess we will be in for a treat,” Trixie said as she got up to her hooves. She bit her tongue. Trixie felt as if she was forgetting something.

The two made their way up towards the centre of the Commons, Red Wings leading Trixie as they walked, elbowing other ponies aside gently to get in closer. “Is here good?” Red asked as they finally got near the edge of the inner square, where a large pedestal was set in the centre of the plaza.

Trixie bit her lip. She was forgetting something, but what? “Yes, that is go—”

The excitement of the ponies continuing to pour in washed over her. A migraine was beginning to form, and it wasn’t from the loud chatter of the crowd. Trixie’s eyes widened as she finally recalled why going into crowds such as this was such a bad idea. “No, we have to leave.”

“P—pardon?,” Red Wings asked, confused and also a little bit hurt. Trixie didn’t have time to explain, however, as she grabbed his hoof again, and started to move out of the crowd.

“Pardon. Sorry. Excuse me. Coming through,” Trixie said, trying to escape the massive influx of ponies crowding in. Where are they all coming from?! Trixie thought to herself in astonishment. She and Red had only learned a few moments ago about Celestia and Luna coming out for a ceremonial raising and lowering. 

It was no good. She was trying to exit, and everyone else was trying to get in. Trixie was like a lone grain of sand pushing against a wave, and she could feel the tsunami of excitement washing over her. Her headache worsened. 

An idea seized her. It would look bad to do it out in a large crowd like this, but she had to get away now. “I’m going to teleport. I’m taking you with me,” Trixie said.

Red Wings was baffled. “Wait, w—”

Trixie cast, and then he was no longer in the crowd. He recognised the area where they had been teleported to, however, as being just outside the Commons. Other ponies scattered around him and Trixie in surprise at the suddenly-appearing duo.

“Trixie, what was that about? Trixie? Trixie!” Red Wings hollered, as the mare suddenly collapsed, falling to the street. He panicked. What just happened? Why did Trixie collapse all of a sudden?

And then the living wind howled, and Red Wings listened.


Well-Known Member
'The Living Wind: Windspeaker'


There was no gradual awakening for Trixie. One moment, she was asleep. The next moment, she was awake.

Trixie attempted to flutter her eyes, only to find rheum had crusted around her eyes, forming a yucky gunk that resisted her attempts to dislodge it. She flared her nostrils, and rubbed eyes to finally free them up.

She immediately decided she should have left her eyes be. Though it appeared to be dark out, the lights in the room she was in were still on. Trixie was feeling an ache in her shoulders, likely from bad posture in her sleeping position. She also had a killer headache.

Then she wrinkled her eyebrow, remembering just what had happened right before she had collapsed outdoors earlier. She stiffened.

“You are in friendly hooves, Trixie,” said a voice from beside her.

It took Trixie a second to identify the voice, before her body relaxed, relieved. “Where are we? Oh, the hotel room. Who brought me back?” She asked Iceheart, the pony sitting beside her.

“Red Wings brought you back,” Noire said, sitting over on the far bed. “Fortunately, there were actually a few ponies to help clear you out of the Commons, given most of them were going towards the Commons for the show.”

“They all bought the line that you were suffering from stress and exhaustion. I was with Windspeaker still when you collapsed, but from what he tells me, nopony suspects otherwise,” said Iceheart.

Trixie was about to comment on Iceheart’s words, suspecting how Windspeaker knew that. Noire, however, cut her off before she could speak. “You had an emotion overload, didn’t you, Trixie?,” asked the batpony.

“Yes. Yes I did. I have not had something like that since fillyhood,” Trixie said, feeling hot with embarrassment. She had thought she would no longer be paralysed by being in large crowds radiating lots of emotions. After all, Trixie had plied a trade for many years where her goal was to get ponies excited, happy and entertained, and never once had she suffered a bout of overload. 

But that was a few years ago. I managed to desensitise myself over time as well, but being out of the magician act for so long, my tolerance for emotional energy has decreased, hasn’t it? Foolish, Trixie, that was foolish of you! There was no doubt about it now. Trixie had to head to Colt Springs to tackle this drawback of her heritage and, with Noire, see if she could conquer it for once and for all.

There was a light knock on the door. “Come in,” said Noire.

Stonehenge and Red Wings came in, quietly closing the door behind them.

“Is she alright?” Red Wings asked.

“I’m alright,” said Trixie, her nose twitching at how the question was directed at the other mares, as if she herself could not determine her own condition. Shemerely had an energy overload. She was not so frail as needing to be doted on like an infirm!

Red Wings sighed in relief. “That is good to know. I was close to a panic when you collapsed, but I was able to get you out of there, with the help of a few other ponies.”

“I’m alright, OK?” Trixie repeated herself. “I have a bit of a headache, but that should clear up overnight.” Her migraine suddenly flared up, and Trixie bit her tongue to keep from crying out. She squeezed her eyes shut, but they were already watering up.

“If you say so.” Red Wings frowned. “There’s something as well that you should know, Trixie. Windspeaker...he helped me get you out of there.”

Trixie snapped her head up at that remark. “What? What do you mean?”

“The Living Wind,” Iceheart said. “He is capable of eavesdropping with it, he was able to nudge us to Manechester once, but it appears Windspeaker is also able to communicate through the wind. It appears to be a versatile tool. Windspeaker told Red Wings the route out of the Commons with the fewest ponies. He also kept me updated while I was talking to him, and even knew our room numbers.”

As if I needed to be reminded of how powerful a force completely out of my understanding and reckoning and control is. What next, that destiny is a tangible force, that it’s been futile since the day I was born for me to struggle for greatness? Trixie kept her distaste hidden. She had recognised Windspeaker as kinship, a fellow spirit in suffering. It would not do to think badly of him. After all, the other unicorn was not the only pony with a great power that he was hiding from the world.

“I’ll have to thank him tomorrow, then,” Trixie mused aloud, before she sought to change the conversation. Looking over at Noire, she knew exactly what topic to shift to. “So how did your visit to your mother go, Noire?”

“Oh. That,” Noire said, lowering her head with a sad smile on her face. Trixie could feel the subtle brew of emotions from Noire, and knew there weren’t going to be any surprises. It was precisely how Trixie thought the homecoming might be: some joy, mixed with some melancholy and feeling of loss.

“It went as well as could have been expected,” Noire said, turning to face Stonehenge. “We got there, and she opened the door. I didn’t flat-out tell her I was New Moon, of course. I proved it with a few things, led her into the idea first, and then...”


“Hello, mother.”

Noire could tell her mother was uncertain, even without the ability to sense emotions she had inherited from her father. Frigor didn’t let her own confusion affect her, however, as the elder bat pony mare outwardly mellowed out and smiled. “Oh, come in then, both of you!”

Stonehenge and Noire awkwardly shuffled inside, the former having to maneuver to get his bulk through the door frame. Frigor didn’t stop there, however, as she led them through the front entrance, past a corridor, and then into another room.

“This isn’t the kitchen or the living area,” Noire said, uncertain as to why they were in the tea parlour.

“It isn’t,” Frigor agreed. “But this is the only room in the house big enough for all three of us that also doesn’t have windows, and I don’t want the neighbors to see your transforming. Now, how did you do it? I thought you weren’t able to transform, just like any other pony with a changeling father.”

It took Noire a second to realise what her mother meant. Oh! I hadn’t considered that, she thought. In retrospect, that Trixie had cast a spell to anchor and permanently change her appearance sounded more fantastical than the idea that Noire had achieved a feat any normal changeling could.

“Trixie helped me,” she said, before Noire flared her nostrils as she realised how misleading that sounded. “Not how to transform, though. Rather, she cast an illusion to change my colours, and even my Cutie Mark.”

Frigor raised her eyebrows, and Noire could taste the distrust from her. It appeared she would have to convince her mother some more.

“When I was seven, I had an obsession with marrying Prince Blueblood and becoming Princess New Moon,” Noire said, ears flattening as she confessed a mortifying part of her life. “I even had this ugly pink thing at the boutique that I had already picked out in my head to be wearing for the perfect day.”

The distrust faded away. Simultaneously, however, Noire could feel the mirth radiating from Stonehenge. “Pink doesn’t seem to fit you.”

“It didn’t fit my old colours, either,” said Noire, glad that Stonehenge was not of this age and didn’t know what Blueblood was like. Then she might really have been in for a ribbing.

“It’s you then, isn’t it? Oh, New Moon,” her mother bawled, and then leapt forward, pulling Noire inwards with a giant hug.

Noire hugged her mother back. It had been so many months since she had been home. She had no words to speak, merely tears to shed and a motherly embrace to seek comfort in.

Mother and daughter stayed like that for several minutes. Stonehenge stood off to the side, wordless. He knew this was a moment not to interrupt.

It was later that Frigor brought in a pot of water, moderately hot but not boiling — the mare was one of those tea traditionalists who insisted on a precise temperature of water for sipping tea — and the three found themselves sitting down at the table in the tea parlour.

“Where to begin?” Frigor asked, looking clueless what to talk about first.

Noire had a better idea, having actually had an hour to anticipate speaking to her mother again. “How about what happened right after I ran away?”

Frigor sighed. She sounded exhausted. “Where to begin?” She asked for the second time in as many minutes. “Well, the guards came and cordoned the area, and immediately began searching the house. They asked me questions about if Cognito had been behaving strangely the last little while. They thought he had been replaced by a changeling right before the changeling’s death, and that the real Cognito had been kidnapped with nopony the wiser.” Her blue eyes looked off into the distance, haunted. “When they realised you had disappeared, that changed things. You were spotted flying from the city.”

Stonehenge frowned, taking a sip of his tea. “They assumed Noire, sorry, New Moon had also been replaced and that the other changeling was fleeing to avoid being captured?”

Frigor nodded. “Yes, that was their deduction. They shut the city down for a few hours, and started a ponyhunt right after. You made it to Whinnychester safe and sound then, Moon?”

“Yes. I flew all day and night and I was exhausted by the time I got there, but I did. Trixie offered me sanctuary.”

“I see,” said Frigor, bowing her head. “Is she in Canterlot now, or is it just you and, erm…”

“I am Stonehenge,” Stonehenge introduced himself. “I am not from Whinnychester, but I am from a community much like it, Manechester, to the east of here.”

“It’s good to meet you then, Stonehenge.”

“Trixie is here in Canterlot,” said Noire. “Her and a few other ponies we’ve met and made friends with. We split up right before coming here, and Stonehenge came with me.” Oh, yes. I suppose while I’ve been busy traveling with Trixie, mother has been here all by herself. It made her feel guilty.

As if her mother knew exactly what Noire was thinking, Frigor smiled and said, “That’s good. You will have to bring them over and introduce them to me. It sounds like you have been on an adventure, then.”

Noire wrinkled her snout. “I’d love to tell you all about them, but first, how have you been, mother? No, please don’t give me the boilerplate response. I want to know how you’re truly doing.”

Frigor reclined back in her seat. She took a sip of her tea. Then she slammed the empty cup down on the table, startling both Noire and Stonehenge. It wasn’t out of anger or rage. It was as if Frigor lacked even the willpower to hold her hoof up, and let it drop on its own. She took a breath, then closed her eyes. “I was hoping to be able to take your father and bury him back home in Marequelon. Instead, I had to disavow him and let the guards take his body away.”

Noire’s throat clenched instinctively. Just like Trixie’s father. Neither of us ever got a chance to see our fathers off properly. It had hit home for Noire several months ago that she would never see her father again, but that Cogs’ body was taken away and not even given a proper burial reignited the sharp pain in her heart.

What was worse was the choice her mother had to make. Either Frigor would have to admit she had loved and married a changeling, and be ostracised, so that she could at least have his body to marry, or she would have to claim her husband had been impersonated by a changeling and not receive his body. It was a choice with two heart-breaking options.

“Oh, mom,” Noire said, squeezing her eyes shut. She sniffed, wiping the mucus that threatened to leak from her nose. She took a sip of her tea, hoping it could at least unclog her throat.

“It wasn’t a choice that I wanted to make, but I did. And you know what? I think it was the right choice. If nothing else, if you want to reappear again as New Moon, you won’t have that sword of Damarecles hanging over your head.”

“Sorry for interrupting, but what do you mean by that?” Stonehenge asked.

Noire sniffed again, and explained her mother’s logic. “Very few ponies even know that changelings and ponies can reproduce, though only with female ponies and male changelings. If my mother took the first path, then that would become maybe general knowledge. However, I would also become known as the daughter of a changeling. You weren’t around for it, but after the wedding there was a lot anti-changeling hysteria, which flared up every time a few changelings were discovered hiding around in Equestria, taking the forms of ponies. It didn’t matter if the changeling had been living as a pony for several decades: everypony assumed he or she had just kidnapped a pony only recently and taken his or her form. Even if the Guard couldn’t find something to stick me with, they would have no doubt made my life a living hell until I had put in enough time for an honourable discharge.”

“Oh,” said Stonehenge. The Earth pony stayed silent after that. It was impressive how small Stonehenge could look.

Frigor looked at her daughter, peering closely into Noire’s eyes. Noire fidgeted under her mother’s gaze, but held her head straight forward, answering look for look.

“You’ve grown,” Frigor said. “No, not like that, but you’ve changed. I felt troubled when I was younger over packing everything up and moving to the mainland, eventually landing in Canterlot. You went on tours with your company, but you were never independent. You were always just another cog in the machine, as Cogs would describe himself. But not this time, was it?”

“No, most certainly not,” Noire shook her head. She looked over at Stonehenge. “Stonehenge didn’t join us until we were four ponies deep, but where to begin. Ah, I suppose it would start off with the magic Trixie has been studying for the last few years…”


“It was a conversation we both needed,” said Noire. She turned to Stonehenge. “Thank you for coming along again. I needed a third pony there.”

“Not a problem,” the grey Earth pony said.

“Well, at least your mother is safe. Thank goodness,” Trixie exhaled, relieved. While she had not known Frigor or Cognito as well as she had Noire, who Trixie had spent much time with as a filly, she still had memories of the older mare. That was one less thing to weigh down on their merry troupe of ponies.

Trixie rolled over in her bed, pushing herself off the mattress. Her head flared up as she did, but Trixie pushed through the pain. Walking over to the window, she threw the curtain open with her mouth, fumbling a bit due to how rare she used her teeth for something other than chewing food.

“Canterlot is beautiful at night,” Iceheart said.

“Yes, it is,” Noire replied. “For all that Canterlot has odd design choices, I loved flying over the city at night. The warm thermals that would lift me up without any active flapping, the pleasant glows of the streetlights at night, and the wonderful smell of food from the bakeries...it always brought my spirits up.”

Trixie looked out at the streets, watching ponies go about their business. Some were walking at a languid pace. Others trotted, some cantered, and a few galloped. She wondered about all the stories they might have to tell. Some were boring than others, but there wasn’t a one who Trixie couldn’t empathise with if they were struggling and in dire circumstances.

Hers was a gift that Trixie had developed out of an inherent skill in illusions, but it had grown into something more than she had ever dreamed of. For Trixie, there was no question. She had to return to the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies the next day, and again attempt to help Windspeaker.

First, though…”By the way, does anypony know why Princess Celestia and Princess Luna held an impromptu lowering-and-raising ceremony tonight?,” Trixie asked.

Iceheart shook her head. “No. Though they made the decision, whatever their rationale was, they did not tell the guards.”

Red Wings frowned. “Is that what Windspeaker told you?”

The Crystal pony acknowledged his question with an affirmative nod.

“We’ll go back tomorrow,” Trixie said suddenly. “Back to the Centre.”

“Are you certain, Trixie?” Red Wings asked. “You did have that episode earlier today.”

Trixie bit her tongue, as much to hide her headache that continued to flare up as she did not to let out a scathing remark. “It is just a migraine. A good night’s sleep, and I will be fine.”

“Speaking of which, I would prefer the three of you do not come tomorrow,” Iceheart suddenly said, looking at Noire, Stonehenge, and Red Wings.

“Huh? Why not?” Noire asked.

“Windspeaker’s room is not that large,” said Iceheart as if it explained everything.

Which it did. “I can’t see a problem with that,” Red Wings said. Finding no issue with Iceheart’s logic, the other two assented to Iceheart’s request as well.

The five continued to chat and banter some more, sharing some food and drinks that Stonehenge and Noire had picked up on their way back from the batpony district. Each of them suspected they were unlikely to have peaceful, relaxing nights like this very often in the future.


It was unsettlingly quiet out as Iceheart led Trixie along the cobbled roads of Canterlot. The morning rush of ponies going to work had just finished, leaving only the occasional housemare walking around to go shopping in the residential areas. It was a cool day, uncharacteristic for the season, though Trixie expected it to warm up as the sun continued its inexorable rise.

“Are you truly alright, Trixie?” Iceheart asked.

Trixie grit her teeth. She had already been asked that multiple times the night before. She was not a frail wallflower. Iceheart’s voice rarely varied in its tone. Just now, it bothered Trixie to hear a well-meaning question in that tone. “I am fine, thank you for asking,” said Trixie. “My headache has faded away, and that is really all it was.”

“Very well.”

There was a spring to Iceheart’s step today, Trixie noticed. The Crystal pony normally walked at an even trot, but today, she seemed excited. What happened in that room yesterday when she was speaking to Windspeaker? Trixie thought to herself. Hmmm...I went with Red Wings, Iceheart stayed behind with Windspeaker, and Stonehenge went with Noire. Ah, it doesn’t matter, so long as it doesn’t split us up. They had all been together only such a short time, but it would make Trixie sad if she had to say goodbye to Iceheart, Red Wings or Stonehenge. Noire would hurt the most. For being a friend from fillyhood that Trixie had not seen in over a decade, they had reconnected well.

If they stayed together, and found even more personal bonds with one another, Trixie would be happy. She could never have predicted the turn of events life had taken her since that winter night in Whinnychester long ago, when a bat pony had flown through her window, but it had been worth it.

“Have you enjoyed going through Equestria with us?” Trixie suddenly asked Iceheart.

That gave the Crystal pony pause, and she actually stopped. Iceheart greeted Trixie with a smile. “It has been a wonderful time going with you Trixie. I was merely glad to have finally been able to leave the fortress, but it was not until the last few days that I realised how I needed to depart the north altogether. What were you thinking about?”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m floating on air, like I’m weightless. Not like self-levitation, but that I’m truly weightless,” Trixie admitted, scrunching her nose up at how she was fumbling her words. “When I was younger, there was a period where I felt like life had it out for me. I learned, I studied, I practised, first in school then under a mentor for the stage. I started my own show, going on the road to small towns and putting on performances. And every time I started to get my life going, disaster would strike.”

“You’re worried still, then? About, what? That we will eventually not travel together any more?”

“Yes,” said Trixie. “It’s been a month since Noire and I met you, and even less for Red Wings and Stonehenge. We have so much more time in the world, all of us, and I don’t want to spend so little of it in the time of such good friends. You know, when I confined myself to Whinnychester, I bought books and studied, and practiced and honed my magic further. But even with all that, I’m not sure I would have ever left Whinnychester again on my own. When I was younger, I felt like I was going to be great. In my search for greatness, I fought the world many times. Eventually, the world won.”

Iceheart stayed silent. The purple-coated mare knew a good spiritually-cleansing rant when she saw one.

“You know, it’s funny, now that I think about it. In a sense, my magic is all about defying the way things are, and instead making them the way I think they should be.” Trixie sighed wistfully, looking off at the distant tower of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. “I guess it’s my little revenge against life having battered me down. Now that things are going good for me again, I want to spend as much time as possible together with those I consider my friends.” The unicorn mare started walking again, moving towards the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies.

“Some are unfortunate to have less time than others,” Iceheart remarked.

Trixie nodded. “Yes, like Windspeaker. I will put forward my best effort, Iceheart, but I cannot make guarantees.”

“It would mean a lot if you could. Not make guarantees, that is, I mean actually healing him.”

“As it were.” Trixie sighed. “You know, I never expected to return to Canterlot, but here we are. It won’t last, though. Soon, we’ll be heading west to Colt Springs. Perhaps Noire and I knew we would eventually head there, even before we left Whinnychester, but every stop we made helped us to delay going there. No more. We’ll go, and Noire and I will learn what we can,” Trixie resolved.

“And then what?” Iceheart asked, bringing her friend back down to earth.

“I don’t honestly know,” said Trixie. “Perhaps when this is all over, I will become a healer. My powers were capable of restoring an amputated wing and ending a petrification curse. Who knows what else they may be capable of?” 

Perhaps preventing a pony from being subsumed into the Living Wind at the prime of his life was the unsaid thought in both ponies’ heads.

“I will come with you to Colt Springs,” Iceheart said bluntly. “You have been a fun pony to wander across Equestria with, Trixie. Besides, I suspect you will need the moral support.”

Trixie couldn’t deny that. She shut her muzzle up as they finally walked into the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies. There were a few ponies sitting in the lobby, and she did not want an eavesdropping pony to take interest in what she and Iceheart were discussing. Instead, the two took the elevator up to the fifth floor.

At last, they came up to Room 512. Iceheart went to knock, only for Windspeaker to call out from the other side of the door, “You can come in.”

Iceheart and Trixie walked in, closing the door behind them. Without Red Wings, Noire or Stonehenge there, the area seemed far more spacious. With a start, Trixie noticed the room was sanitised, with few personal effects. Was he listening in on us as we walked here, or were there other things holding his attention? Trixie thought.

“Welcome back,” said Windspeaker. He looked hopeful.

“The others stayed behind, at our request,” Iceheart explained. “We felt that just the three of us would be sufficient for Trixie’s second attempt.”

“Thank you then, both for coming and for the other three staying behind. While I do not mind visitors, it was getting a little crowded yesterday.”

“I thought the same,” said Trixie. Using her horn, she levitated a chair over, sitting it down in front of Windspeaker’s wheelchair. Sitting down on all fours, she faced the other unicorn. “Before we start today, I am curious. When I made my attempt yesterday, did you feel funny at any point?”

“Whatever it was you did, you were only in the trance for a minute. I did have the most curious sensation, but it feels impossible to describe. If I had to say, it felt like I was underwater. I wasn’t drowning or anything, but every second, I felt like I was paddling and climbing, getting closer and closer to breaking the surface of the water,” Windspeaker said, clearly struggling with the metaphor. “I never did break the surface, but I felt more buoyant than I ever have in my life.”

Trixie regarded Windspeaker closely. She realised why his blue eyes had surprised her before. They were much the same shade as her father’s.

She closed her own eyes, so she wouldn’t have to see his. “I see. The both of you, unless it is absolutely vital, please do not interrupt me.” Trixie swallowed. “More than ever before, I will need complete concentration for this.”

“Very well, Trixie,” said Iceheart.

“Go ahead,” said Windspeaker.

Trixie took a few short breaths, cycling out the air in her lungs. Then, comfortable in her seat, she cast.

A stallion had once told her that the Living Wind was playful. He had been all too truthful. She had been intimate with the Living Wind only once before, and already it welcomed her back like an old friend. Even in this odd realm where her mind interfaced with the powers that dictated creation, it was like she belonged there.

The physical world and the magic that interacted with it were parallel yet interacting forces, but they were merely there. The Living Wind, however, beckoned her.

Having seen it once before, she was no longer surprised to see how the three powers came together, intertwined in a small mote of dust with a magical aura much like her own. The insignificant dust mote was feeble, being torn apart by the complex chains of the world. He had said something about only a few years left, hadn’t he? She could all too easily see the truth.

The Living Wind looked as if it was trying to partially extract itself from the stallion. She looked. Even now, her mind was too feeble to truly comprehend all she saw, but she could see it. The Living Wind had no way to remove itself from the stallion without killing him. It was like one of three twines of rope wound together into a coil, and that coil defined the stallion’s identity. The other two twines were unsympathetic: what difference did it make if a dust mote died?

She knew all too well the chain reaction the passing of a single mote of dust could do. It was more significant than the massive reverberations the three coiled twines went through whenever one of them was plucked and released. She had to do this, for the other pony’s sake.

With some mental acuity, she continued to poke at the way everything fit together. Slowly, comprehension dawned on her as she deciphered the riddle, solving the Rubik’s cube, putting together the three-dimensional puzzle and assembling the jigsaw. The key she had wasn’t perfect, but it could work.

It was like she had flipped a light switch. Suddenly, she saw how everything came together. There was a way to unwind the strings that bound the Living Wind, the force of magic and the realm of creation all together in one hank of yarn in a lone mote, no, Windspeaker.

She began tugging at the strings, trying to unweave the nasty weave that was killing Windspeaker. It was dangerous work. Death lurked around every untangling motion she made. It was as if she was trying to pull out individual stalks of straw from a haystack without disturbing the rest of the pile, except the stakes were far greater.

Cracks began to form in her concentration, and she backed off as she felt the fatigue of her physical body leaking through. If she treaded any further, the backlash from one wrong move might now maim her, if not outright kill her.

Time to admit defeat. She was a coward. Perhaps what she had done would give Windspeaker a few more years. That was a moral victory she would take.

In the odd ethereal abstract of her magical spell, she turned to flee once again, only to stop.

“Hello,” said the other pony.

She felt as if she should recognise the other. The unicorn had a blue coat the colour of the morning sky, with a mane a few tints away from white. What sent shivers down her spine was the other’s red eyes. Red eyes were uncommon in ponies, but this mare’s eyes were full of gleeful malice.

“Don’t you recognise me?”

She could feel the walls she had built through years of meditation groaning under the weight of ages. The mare’s tone of voice was too much. There was a hint of ill will there, behind the fangs and the forked tongue. More than that, however, the other’s mere words left her unsettled, as if the answer was at the front of her mind, but she couldn’t remember.

The other mare’s wide smile faded, but the manic light of her haunting red eyes burned even stronger. “I suppose you don’t. After all, you’ve tried your hardest to forget me. You’ve done a good job, actually!,” she said in a sing-song voice. “But I’ll never let you go,” she hissed, her voice suddenly deepening as green purple vapour leaked out her eyes, and a red outline of an amulet appeared around the other’s neck.

She recoiled. She knew exactly what it was. But how? Had she done something by accident when working on Windspeaker’s dilemma earlier to summon up the vestiges of the Alicorn Amulet’s taint? She grit her teeth. If only she could remember, but she couldn’t even recall her own name. It was at the tip of her tongue, yet the word danced around like a mischievous faerie, refusing to be captured.

“Oh-hohoho, you and I will have so much fun,” the tainted one told her. To her horror, the tainted mare’s coat began to fade, losing its azure luster.

She lowered her head. Then she raised it back up, staring the other in her mirthful red eyes. There was no other way to leave but to exorcise this apparation that had possessed her for long enough. The power of illusions wouldn’t help here, but then, somehow she knew it was never going to be like that.

“Leave,” Trixie ordered her phantom. “I'm working. Never return.”

Her doppelganger recoiled. The other Trixie’s form was beginning to fade even more, to the point of becoming see-through, but those powerful red eyes were shining as bright as always. “Hmmph. So you finally remembered yourself? No matter. I'll leave you be, since you're working on this stallion right now," she snorted. "But I’ll be back, and again and again, until one of us wins this dance of ours.”

“I’ll defeat you next time,” Trixie promised.

Her spectre gave her a mocking laugh. “So you say. The loud words of a foolish foal who can’t even help a pony, and chooses to flee instead.” The other Trixie sniffed obnoxiously, before whipping her head around, covering her face up with her mane.

Then she was gone.

Trixie had few ways to emote, not really having a physical body to work with, going more off of abstract symbolism her mind had best interpreted as a shadowy form of herself. That had been unexpected.

The other Trixie was wrong. Trixie, herself that was, had nothing to be ashamed of. She had gotten here so far by pioneering an entirely new subdiscipline of illusions, the power to change not just how others perceived things with their senses, but the capacity to actually alter the very world itself. In the process, Trixie had helped so many already.

But then, the other Trixie had also been right. She was running away from Windspeaker’s troubles. It just didn’t sit right with Trixie. She knew herself. If she stopped trying now, it would be a guilt that would eat away at her for the rest of her life. It was, after all, how the taint from the Alicorn Amulet still resided in her.

Trixie turned back around.

There was a maxim another stallion had once told her, and which she had taken to heart before. Her father was long gone, but his spirit still lived on in her inheritance, both the magic that had helped her to get this far, and the beliefs of Wooden Chisel that his daughter had taken to heart.

Who dares, wins.

Trixie clamped down on the gusto that filled her. It was going to be a delicate job now. Wetting her lips, she focused, manipulating the strings of life-force that fed Windspeaker.

Quickly, she reached the point of no return. It was the moment where, if Trixie went any further and slipped up, the backlash was certain to be harmful. She pressed forward.

To reject the way things were and impress upon the world the way things should be was always something that was more than just magic. To Trixie, it required her to sharpen her mind, for her to truly believe it herself. She had believed that Noire should have a different coat colour and Cutie Mark. She had believed that the windigo fossils on the ice flats had dissolved a long time ago, that Red Wings had two wings, that the magic had worn out on Stonehenge’s petrification spell.

This was more daunting than anything else. Trixie had to be exact in how she believed the unity of forces within Windspeaker worked. Instead of doing it all at once, she was working piecemeal, altering her state of mind every few loops of the twines to believe this slightly different state was the way everything should work, and her magic did the rest. It was simply too complicated to do it all at once, even with the key she had unravelled. With every change, Windspeaker’s life expectancy increased.

Trixie swallowed. Her work was getting more and more delicate as everything resisted being altered. Magic and physical existence remembered how they should be, even though that shouldn't happen, and they wanted to spring back into place. The taut tension within them threatened to snap back at any moment. It was only the totality of Trixie’s will and the experience she had accumulated up to this point that let her continue.

She undid the last knot. The three twines, coiled together, fell apart.

The dust mote, cracking apart at its edges, reconstituted itself.

‘Hello, Trixie.’


She blinked.

‘It’s been some time, has it not?’

Trixie recognised that voice.

“F-father?,” she asked.

Standing in front of her was a male unicorn. His coat was as dark as a night untainted by the stars or the moon, with blue eyes much the same shade as her coat. Though not enormous, he was taller than most, with Trixie only just coming up to his withers.

Then if she tilted her head, she saw something completely different, of a changeling, one of ponykind’s most feared enemies. Either form was familiar to her, but Trixie wondered why she was somehow seeing both aliases of her father at once. Cicada was born a changeling, but Wooden Chisel had spent so long in pony society that they were at once two halves.

No, more importantly, why was she seeing her father?

“What are you?” Trixie asked.

‘Ah, that’s the correct question,’ Wooden Chisel said, solidifying in his pony form. ‘Asking who I am would have been incorrect. What I am is the better question. You could say I’m a memory of the one who was Wooden Chisel, but that would fail to describe the truth.’

“I don’t understand. I was healing Windspeaker just earlier.” Trixie frowned. “Am I...dead?”

Wooden Chisel shook his head. ‘Hardly. You are still alive. When we finish this conversation, you will return to your body with nary a scratch. No. Think about what you have done on your journey, Trixie.’

Trixie scrunched her nose, feeling moments away from a breakdown. Why was she seeing her father? She was in no mood to be strung along right now, and yet she felt like bursting into tears, hearing Wooden Chisel’s voice, seeing him in something other than a fever dream for the first time in five years.

‘Every pony you’ve met, you’ve progressively advanced your spellcraft to help. You stopped imitating the illusion spells of changelings long ago, Trixie. We could heal our own forms, but never could we have impressed our will on the reality of other things, changing inanimate objects, regrowing body parts, or ending curses through phantasmal magic. At some point, you would wander across a force that wasn’t just magical or physical, but divine.’

Wooden Chisel’s words bothered Trixie. She knew she should be focusing on his last few words, but instead she focused on his middle sentences. “Regrowing wings, ending curses...wait, you’ve been watching me? Either you’re really my father, and this is the afterlife, or you’re not my father and just in my head.”

‘This is not the afterlife. You can think of it as something like an in-between, between the world of the living and that of the dead. Not that you are dying or anything,’ Wooden Chisel clarified. ‘But you can this the ethereal realm, the aether if you will. Perhaps you could even call it phantasia. It is responsible for some of the unexplained phenomenon in the real world. We dead occasionally cycle in and out of here, but the living are unable to touch it. Unless of course, they beat back a force with roots in this realm from killing a young stallion prematurely.’

Trixie narrowed her eyes. “So the Living Wind really wasn’t something fully of our world, then?”

‘No, it was not. You can call it divine influence, or a semi-spiritual force, or an ethereal power. But it is mostly entrenched in the living world, to be clear. The more I speculate on it, the more I believe that there are other entities out there that infringe upon here. The mechanism by which we changelings absorbed love, for one. The powers of some of those locked away in Tartarus, for another. Even the alicorn princesses, I believe, are more than simply beings with the power of all three tribes and long lifespans.’

“That...puts a crimp in one of my plans then, maybe,” Trixie admitted.

‘Yes, I think I know. You have hidden it well, Trixie, but I can tell. It was on your own initiative that we enrolled you into the School for Gifted Unicorns, after all.’

“You don’t think less of me for it?”

Wooden Chisel shook his head. ‘Had I heard about it before I died, I would have been disappointed about the Alicorn Amulet, but I would have welcomed you home in open hooves.’

Trixie squeezed her eyes shut. “I wanted to, I really wanted to. But I—I was ashamed of myself,” she said, bursting into tears.

The changeling turned pony took his daughter into his hooves, hugging her close.

The mare bawled into her father’s embrace, the warm, jet-black coat as familiar to her as his harder changeling chitin. It had been years since she had done this, not since her mother died. It would have been humiliating were any others around. Now, however, it was liberating. At least, Trixie felt that not her body, but her soul was beginning to heal from its torn wounds. Had her double been there at that moment, she would have faced herself.

“Oh, father,” Trixie kept hugging him, afraid to let go. “I don’t know what to say.”

‘I do,’ said Wooden Chisel. ‘You’ll go back, and wonder if this was a hallucination, or the real thing. You might think it the former, so that you can torture yourself over having not returned home before I died. If it’s the real thing, then I’ve forgiven you. If it’s merely something you conjured up in your head, then I’m a figment of your imagination, yes, but it also means that you’ve forgiven yourself.’

Trixie snorted, though it was short-lived. She felt as if her nose should be runny, but accepted that in this realm, she was likely some sort of quasi-spirit instead of there in her real body. “You sound as logical as I ever remember you.”

‘Your mother is up there, as well.’

She froze.

‘In death, all things reunite,’ Wooden Chisel said. ‘So it was that September and I were one once more. She is as sweet as I remember her being.’

“I...I would much like to see her again.”

Wooden Chisel shook his head. ‘It is not possible, not at this time. The aether is unpredictable like that. Even though no time passes in the realm below, you still have a time limit for how long you may stay here.’

Trixie’s heart sank, as her hopes of seeing her mother again was dashed, and her reunion with her father was also to be cut short. “Then...for however long I have left, I’d like to stay like this,” Trixie said, referring to her hugging her father.

‘I would very much like that,’ Wooden Chisel said, smiling.

The two were silent for several seconds, until Wooden Chisel said, ‘You go to see her next.’ It wasn’t a question.


‘She is powerful, perhaps the strongest changeling ever born. She needed every ounce of that strength to survive the windigos, Discord’s era, and a thousand years of hiding from the world. She, like Chrysalis, will see the opportunity to be had in helping you, but do not let your guard down.’

Trixie looked up, resolve in her purple eyes. She found her father’s blue eyes, eyes which she had been reminded of only a short time before. “I will, father.”

‘Good,’ Wooden Chisel said, his eyes shining with pride. ‘You will be great, my little Bella. Only those who dare can win. So long as you keep going forward, only death can stop you, and I expect not to see you up there for many, many years to come. ’

They stayed like that, in an embrace of father and daughter, for what time they had left.

Then it ended.


“It is done,” she said, blinking.

“It is?!,” exclaimed a mare from beside her.

Trixie was slow to exit the zoned-out state she had been in, but each consecutive blink of her eyes saw her emerge more into the waking world. At last, she remembered who she was. Bellatrix Midsummer, Trixie Lulamoon, a wandering showmare, a budding magician who specialised in magic. Always before had the use of her illusionary magic resulted in some loss of self-identity, but that was the strongest it had ever been.

Even as she remembered the good she had done, even as she remembered meeting her father, Trixie shivered. That had been close. Her phantom doppelganger showing up had stopped her slide down into forgetfulness. Was she to one day become so engrossed in changing the world that she would forget her own self?

No, even more than that...father? I’m glad I got to meet you again, but I wish it had been longer. I wish I had had all the time in the world.

“It is,” Windspeaker confirmed, his eyes staring off into the distance. “The wind is finally at peace. She still beckons to me, but not longer is her tug an irresistible pull. I will still join with the Living Wind the day I die, but that day may now be decades into the future, not mere years.”

There was a brief tinge of jealousy from Iceheart, but it was drowned in the Crystal pony’s happiness. Trixie smiled at that as she sat back down into the chair she had taken before casting. She was tired, but not so tired as to collapse, like the last two times she had cast her magic and succeeded. Was it because the Living Wind helped me again, like the Crystal Heart did on the ice flats, or the Black Moon in Whinnychester? Or am I truly growing stronger now, not just in the extent of what I can change, but also by not tiring me out as much?

She had to go to Colt Springs. It was there that Trixie hoped she could find something that would let her surpass her limits as a unicorn, even if it meant having to meet her. Chrysalis had been terrifying only in part, and she was subordinate in spirit to the changeling that sat upon the throne on the west coast.

Windspeaker stood up.

The white-coated stallion furled his eyebrows as he dropped down onto his front hooves. “Well, I will not be standing on two hooves any time soon,” Windspeaker said, and Trixie could feel the brief concern from Iceheart. He trotted around a few steps. “Fortunately, sitting in a wheelchair has not so debilitated me that I cannot walk on all fours, though it will take many days before I am not winded, pardon the unintentional pun, by walking a short distance.”

“You can walk?!” Trixie asked, baffled.

“I have never lost the capacity to walk. A few months ago, however, the muscle atrophy was enough that it tired me out, and I chose to not risk hurting myself,” said Windspeaker. He lifted a hoof, and flexed the muscles of his foreleg.

He looks so thin, Trixie thought. Only now that he was out of his chair did she realise just how reedy Windspeaker was. Even the most shut-in unicorn could have pinned down Windspeaker. “So, now what?”

“Now he comes with us,” said Iceheart.

“Ah. I should have seen that coming,” Trixie admitted. It had been a running trend that her merry band of ponies gained another hanger-on at every stop they had made along their journey. Windspeaker would not be the odd one out. “So how long do we need to stay in Canterlot for? A few weeks? I assume that would be enough time for you to be discharged and build up your stamina.”

“Actually, I was thinking we leave tomorrow,” said Windspeaker, as he strode past her to the door.


Iceheart regarded Windspeaker cooly. “You are certain you will not be a burden?” It seemed she was wary of him departing right now.

Windspeaker shook his head. “I am reasonably aware of my own limits. Besides, where we are going next, I am certain it would not matter if I was in physical shape or not.”

“No, seriously?” Trixie asked. “You’re just going to walk out the building right now and depart Canterlot tomorrow, just like that? Do you not have family or friends or anything to say goodbye to?”

The other unicorn paused. Then he narrowed his blue eyes. “I didn’t make very many friends when I was younger. I was always distant, thanks to the Living Wind, and I knew what ponies would say behind others’ backs. My parents and sister do not live in Canterlot either, so I will send them mail instead. But. But, there is one pony I should say goodbye to.”


Chocolate Chip never thought too much about the path she had taken in life. With a name like  hers, she might have gone into baking, but instead, she had taken to working at the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies. She enjoyed working with the fillies and colts here, even if it broke her heart to see them suffer, and the good doctors unable to heal them.

There were adult patients too. It would be remiss of her to admit to favouritism, but Chocolate Chip did indeed have favourites. Rubedo on the third floor was a sweetheart, passionate about his writing even as eyesight was shot. Sand Storm on the seventh floor had his odd disease with parts of his body temporarily turning to sand, but he had taken it in stride. Then there was Windspeaker. Even as the unicorn’s body was slowly wasting away, unlikely to reach even his late twenties, the stallion was forever stoic.

She hummed out a little ditty as she wheeled the cart down the train, full of meals for those able to eat on their own. Water vapour hissed from a dinner tray whose top had been bumped off. Moving around, she gripped the plastic lid with her wings, pushing it back into place. A spicy smell wafted into her nose. Immediately, Chocolate turned her head around, and let a soft sneeze into her feathers. She would have to wash her feathers when next she got back to the kitchen. Hygiene was important in a clinic, after all.

“Good morning, Chocolate Chip.”

“Oh, good morning, Windspeaker. You felt well enough to leave the room?” Chocolate Chip asked. She turned around to face him, only to receive a pleasant surprise. “Oh. It’s not often I see you actually walking.” In actual fact, Chocolate Chip couldn’t recall the last time Windspeaker had been out on all four hooves. She had seen it a few times, but it had surely been years.

“Yes, I am,” Windspeaker said, sound like he was in a good mood. “More than that, really. Thank you for all your hard work, Chocolate. You were my favourite caretaker while I was here.”

“Aw, you’ll embarrass me,” Chocolate Chip said, certain she was blushing through her tan coat. Then her mind caught up as it rigorously parsed through Windspeaker’s words. “Wait, was your favourite?”

Windspeaker nodded. “Yes. My time here is finished at the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies.”

Chocolate’s mouth hung open, the pegasus incapable of forming coherent noises.

“The magical illness that afflicted me was a one-off, and it has finally gone away,” Windspeaker said, as he walked past her. “A healer came and cured me of it. It is unfortunate that I am the only pony here who she was capable of saving, but I am forever grateful to her, much as I am to you. Continue to do what you have done. You have made my stay here more pleasant.”

It took Chocolate Chips a few more seconds to finally get past her stuttering stage, and she snapped around. Windspeaker was gone.

“Windspeaker!,” she called out, and dashed around the corner. The stallion was not in sight. Chocolate Chip furled her brows. She would have to let the doctors and the administrators know about this. Windspeaker’s method of checking out was most unorthodox, and what had that been about being cured?


“You succeeded,” was all Stonehenge had to say as Trixie walked into the room, with Windspeaker and Iceheart behind her. “It is a good thing Red Wings and I have a spare bed in our room.”

Iceheart snorted at the understatement.

“After seeing what she did with my wing,” Red Wings said, flexing his left wing for emphasis, “And with Stonehenge, I’m not surprised anymore. We all thought it was just a matter of time.”

“Thank you, then, for believing in me,” Trixie said. She lowered her head, her teeth feeling heavyset in her jaw. “But it’s beginning to take more and more out of me to do it. I’ve helped all of along the way, and you’ve helped me in turn. I’ve never had quite good friends like all of you.”

“It is nothing,” said Stonehenge. “Even if it has only been a few weeks, the four of you already feel kindred to me, as much as the Wall did.” He turned to face Windspeaker. Stonehenge’s hulking body was a striking disparate next to the starved Windspeaker. Stonehenge resolved to make sure the unicorn was well-fed over the next while. If he had been healed, then Windspeaker would surely be able to recover some physical strength. “Well, you are the odd one out, if I am correct in assuming you are joining us.”

“I am,” Windspeaker said. He leaned back against a wall, sitting down on his haunches. “I have spent a few years cooped up in the Centre, and if nothing else, your journey has been interesting so far.”

Noire was scathing in her assessment. “You want to come with us just because we’re interesting?”

“Hardly. If it were just that, I have the Living Wind for that,” said Windspeaker. “But as I said, I wish to leave, and it is not just the Centre but all of Canterlot that feels restricting. But even more, I have the feeling that you, Trixie, will soon be at the epicentre of something great, and I feel like I need to be there to help you in it, much as you helped me.”

Trixie said nothing. Her father had told her as much only a short time before.

“I spoke with him for several hours yesterday. I will vouch for him,” said Iceheart.

Noire turned to Iceheart. “It’s not that I distrust him or anything, though I will take your word on it, Iceheart. It’s just, well, where we were intending to head next before we came to Canterlot is a place that ponies shouldn’t just go for entertainment.” The batpony frowned, and considered her next words. “Not that I’m saying it’s outright physically dangerous, not when Trixie and I have a legitimate reason to head there. But it’s still not someplace to just go, like it’ll be a little vacation.” Her little rant finished, Noire turned to face Windspeaker.

“So now...unless the Living Wind tells you of something else Windspeaker, now we go to Colt Springs, to meet her.”

Red Wings frowned. “You know, even though I was able to visit the changeling hive in the Badlands twice before, I still have no idea who you are talking about. I mean, I get that she must be a changeling, but I don’t even have a name, let alone who or what she is all about.”

“I don’t blame them for not talking much about her,” said Windspeaker. “She’s a powerful changeling. She’s been around since even before the age of Discord, during the time of the Windigos. She’s one of those divine enough that the Living Wind can’t touch her, so all I have to go off is reputation and what little those in the know speak about her away from her hive.”

Windspeaker looked off to the west, where the sun was setting. “Even I don’t know her name, just her title.”

Noire trembled. “My father used to tell me stories about her. He said that all changeling queens look up to her, for being the one that survived history. She isn’t hostile to ponies, and we have an in of sorts. But we’ll still be walking into hostile territory when we go to meet her…”

“...the Empress of all Changelings.”


Well-Known Member
'Empress: Colt Springs'


Noire thought she would be sick.

As a bat pony, there had occasionally been rumours spun around about her, specifically on her diet. The fangs helped her to digest meat, or so the grapevine went. True, she ate fish, but a lot of ponies ate fish. It wasn’t as if her diet was any different from most.

Maybe if Noire ate meat, she’d be able to stomach the sight of three stallions practically tearing into their food a little easier.

“Where does it all go?,” she whimpered as the mountain of food in front of her was slowly strip-mined, layer after layer taken from the top, until the plates were finally empty.

“I need food,” Windspeaker said, briefly pausing from his meal to answer Noire. “I sat in that wheelchair for quite some time. They made good food, but it’s always so healthy, and the portions are always so small. I haven’t had grease in years.”

“It is not what I normally eat, but what you have seen me eat before is not normally the amount I have. If I were as active as I was before, I would need to eat more still,” Stonehenge added as he finished a vegetable roll. He looked over at Windspeaker, and lightly prodded the white-coated unicorn in the ribs. “Windspeaker is correct in saying he needs to build up some mass again, so do not be too harsh on him.”

Noire just let out a little whine as Stonehenge returned to cramming more food down his gullet. She couldn’t imagine eating that much food, even when she was in basic training and had increased calorie requirements.

“Trixie thinks she’s had enough food,” Trixie groaned from beside Noire. She patted her stomach, feeling bloated. If there had been an eating competition between the mares and the stallions, it was clear which side would be winning right now.

“Enough to make you speak in the third-pony again,” Red Wings teased her.

“Yes, well, I don’t think we’ll be as well-fed where we’re going next,” Trixie said, deflecting Red Wings’ comment on her illeism. Rather than put up with another teasing remark, she looked out the window at the ocean side.

The train ride to Vanhoover had been a short one, as there were multiple connections from Canterlot to the west coast every day, and the six had taken an express route with no stops in between. Upon arriving in the coastal city, they had walked around with what little luggage they had picked up in Canterlot, and acquired a few camping knick-knacks for the travel south to Colt Springs. They had mostly roughed it when travelling north from the Badlands to Manechester with a couple of tents, but with two more members, one of them physically frail, they would need more supplies than the party had owned before.

With the train getting in later in the day, the six had decided to stay overnight and checked into a hotel. Having outfitted their camping needs, there was a little bit of time to take a tour around Vanhoover. Even Trixie had not been to Vanhoover, so it was a new experience for all of them. It also gave the fledgling Windspeaker a chance to move around and get some exercise before going through the more arduous journey of heading south along the plains towards Colt Springs.

The normal bustle of a major pony metropolis was subdued that day, courtesy to it being the middle of the work week. As a result, the six ponies that had started with a band of two on that fateful night in Whinnychester had been able to muscle through the crowds with ease, taking some of Vanhoover’s more famous tourist stops. Then Red Wings had gotten hungry, and they found themselves at an all-you-can-eat place.

“Hmm. Random thought, sorry. Iceheart, it looks like your coat is beginning to lose its luster,” Noire said, unwilling to talk any more about food.

Iceheart blinked, before looking down at her fur. “So it is.”

The others turned to survey the Crystal pony. Windspeaker had the least amount of reference, having known Iceheart for only a matter of a few days, but the change was most obvious to Trixie and Noire, who had left the frozen hinterlands of the north with the former commander. Where before Iceheart’s purple coat had possessed a radiant sheen, now it was beginning to dull. Indeed, her appearance was now beginning to seem blase, especially compared to the stallions of the group: Red Wings, with his uniform red fur from head to hoof to tail, including even his eyes; Windspeaker, with his chalk-white colouration; and Stonehenge, with his immense size that even beat out an alicorn.

“It’s been about a month now since we left the North, hasn’t it?” Trixie asked. “You said it could start to dull after a month if I recall.”

It hit Trixie just how much of a month that it had been. It was strange to think that one could isolate such an enormous world-changing series of events for her into a mere three months, starting with the night New Moon had swooped through her open window.

“Actually, I am more curious about how you seemed to shrug that off just now,” said Stonehenge. “I would you thought you to possess more affection about your coat than that.”

Iceheart shrugged again. “I suppose I was mentally prepared for it. Whenever I left to go deliver a message to Equestria, I would always think, ‘This is the time I shall lose my coat’, though I never did. When Sombra first banished me to the frozen wastes of the north, I thought I would lose it due to lack of exposure to the Crystal Heart, not realising its influence reached far. This time, it merely actually happened.”

“That’s...a little, sad? I guess?” Trixie asked, fumbling around for words. “I would have thought it more fundamental to you.”

The other mare shrugged. “I am still a Crystal pony, even if it is only as an identity now. Compared to having to leave behind an entire era and all the history we lost, it feels relatively trivial to me. I am certain Red has had greater crises about his identity and self-worth.”

“Probably,” said Red Wings. “Some days I still wake up and forget I have two wings again.” His line effectively nipped that conversation in the bud.

Trixie bit her lip. She wondered how Iceheart and Red Wings could talk about their changes so casually. Even if one was from a superficial appearance and the other was a positive improvement, Trixie didn’t think she could brush it off that easily. An idea had been forming in her head, a wondrous idea, an ambitious idea, an impossible idea, but to do it would be leaving a part of her identity behind. Trixie did not think she would ever be able to stop thinking of herself as a unicorn in this lifetime, no matter what might happen in the future.

The banter continued, with Windspeaker easily sliding into the group as the sixth pony present, but Trixie wondered how long it could continue.


Windspeaker let out a loud yawn, covering his mouth at the last second.

“It’s a dangerous job, guarding all the food,” Noire teased him as she flew beside him.

Windspeaker wisely chose not to rise to her bait. Instead, he changed his sitting position in the cart.

It was a little embarrassing for the unicorn, but he simply was unable to walk long distances. The group had anticipated this, and rented a cheap cart, stocking it up with their camping equipment and goods as they trotted from Vanhoover down to Colt Springs. Stonehenge may have been a fighter in his day, but he had also been a manual labourer, one who came from fine drafthorse breed. It was he who hoisted the cart behind him most of the time. Occasionally, the Earth pony traded out with Trixie, who had moved a wagon long distances before her retirement as a showmare.

Occasionally, Trixie would float alongside the wagon. Her bursts of self-levitation were short and brief, but they were a breakthrough in something she hadn’t consciously been able to achieve before. The magician found it funny in a depressing way that even though Trixie was pioneering an extreme specialisation of magic that she was certain nopony else had ever achieved, she still struggled to get a merely advanced spell such as self-levitation down.

Fortunately, the roads were good, with one long stretch of paved passageway from Vanhoover all the way down to Las Pegasus. The six passed by many ponies going the other way, and overtook and were passed by many more going down to Las Pegasus. At night, they would move away from the road and onto the beaten path, setting up camp. Though Equestria was a safe land, it was not too unusual for many ponies to set up a watch at night: however, the Living Wind was versatile, and Windspeaker promised it would wake them all up if it sensed any danger coming their way.

The nights were always night and moderately cool, with soft winds sweeping through their camp. The six shared stories, both real and fictional, over the bonfire that they always built. Through the senses they had inherited from their changeling fathers to be able to feel the emotions of others, Trixie and Noire both knew that their group was growing ever closer together. Somehow, the addition of Windspeaker made it feel ‘complete’.

Trixie hoped it would never end.

Slowly, the distance between their travelling caravan and the town of Colt Springs narrowed. Colt Springs was a small tourist town located on the West Coast, south of Vanhoover and north of Las Pegasus. Eventually, they departed the main road between the two major West Coast cities, and went onto a smaller side road that lead to Colt Springs, winding in around the side of a mountain before finally reaching the village itself.

The six ponies smelled the salt in the air before they got close to Colt Springs. The odor drifted a long way from the ocean, causing a few of them to turn their nose up. However, as they got closer, each of them managed to catch a glimpse of white.

The buildings took on more detail as the band continued to approach Colt Springs. Only Trixie and Red Wings had ever visited the west coast, the former while in her function as a showmare and the latter while wandering away from his former hometown. As a result, they were unsurprised to see a sea of white sprawled out before an ocean of blue. For the other four, however, it was their first time to observe a tropical, coastal town such as Colt Springs. Manehatten and Baltimare might have been coastal, but they were not located in anywhere near as nice a climate zone as Colt Springs was.

It showed in the houses, which were almost universally white-washed with blue roofs. Trixie knew it had something to do about keeping the insides cool during all times of the year. It complemented the sunny day perfectly.

With the buildings came the sight of the ocean, a blue-green that was pleasant to the eyes. The sound of waves washing upon the land drifted on the soft sea breeze, beckoning visitors and tourists ever closer. The entire visual effect was something that could drive painters to tears trying to capture it on a mere, still canvas.

Colt Springs was renowned for its waters, being squished in between the ocean on one side and natural springs on the other. It laid at the end of a short mountain range, with a few caves that even had indoor hot springs. Of course, Trixie knew the true secret of Colt Springs: much like the hive in the Badlands, the deep, interior caverns of Colt Springs was home to another changeling hive, if one only knew where to find the hidden tunnels that lurked within the deep. Unlike the Badlands hive, however, the Colt Springs hive was home to the single most powerful changeling on the continent, the Empress of all Changelings: she who had been there when the Windigos had been vanquished.

Somewhere, deep within the mountains, Trixie would find the answers that Queen Chrysalis had directed her to seek.


Colt Springs hadn’t always been named that way, undergoing several name changes over the year, briefly renamed as Weston-super-Mare before finally becoming Colt Springs. Despite its tourist trap veneer, it was still very much an older settlement. The cobblestone road that marked the last stretch of the distance before the outback turned into the outskirts of town was in good shape, but its upkeep couldn’t hide its age. Colt Springs was a town with history.

Very few ponies knew of its true history, of course. The story of Colt Springs was the story of the changelings, and how they came to Equestria.

Even Trixie didn’t know much, however. Her father had told her bits and pieces during his oral histories on the changelings, and where they had come from. Supposedly, the Empress of All Changelings, after surviving the era of the Windigos, had come south with the three pony tribes to what was now Equestria. Even as she continued to hide her true race, the Empress had hunted for a place to call home, eventually settling upon Colt Springs, where there was a labyrinth of rolling hills surrounded by mountains. It was there that Equestria’s first changeling hive was created, and thus its oldest.

That it hadn’t moved since made sense. If anything, the pop fiction Trixie had read gave her the idea that a villain’s lair should be deep underwater, or in a volcanic lair beyond the mountains of doom. Of course, the changelings were hardly villains to Trixie, but the point still stood: nopony would expect a large changeling hive to have been established in what had since become a tourist village.

The transition from countryside to town was much like any other location Trixie had visited: larger houses spread apart set on larger acreages, some of them with attached farms, with a half-way house where they dropped their cart off, slowly giving way to several houses built closer together, and finally turning into the town proper. Before the six ponies knew it, they were surrounded by two and three-story houses, with the rolling hills that Colt Springs was built on descending at a sharp angle to the ocean below. The cobblestone had been changed out for white stone, which was pervasive in both the buildings and the ground. White prevented the build-up of heat, and so it was what the majority of Colt Springs used.

“On a clear day, you can see forever,” Stonehenge mumbled as he saw the west coast of Equestria for the first time in his life. It wasn’t really anything different from the east coast that he saw when Stonehenge occasionally visited Manehatten, except that the sun was over the water in the afternoon instead of the morning. However, the sight was far more riveting than it had been in Manehatten.

The six stood there for a little while. The sunlight beating down on them and the warm tropical breeze washing over their coats dulled their sense of priority. The Empress could wait. For now, they deserved a break.

Nopony spoke for the longest time. Trixie thought it to be perfect. Was their group not now complete? It felt so. She could not imagine a life without the five dear friends she had met since this adventure of hers started, on that lonely night in Whinnychester.

Finally, Red Wings broke the silence. “We’re here. Now what?,” asked the red-furred pegasus. “I’m beginning to realise Queen Chrysalis never said anything than to come out west. Not even who to meet or anything aside from just seeing the Empress, but I doubt we’ll just be able to walk up to her and ask.”

“Over a third of this town are changelings in disguise,” Windspeaker revealed. By this point in time, nopony needed to ask how he knew the things he did. Windspeaker just did, courtesy of the Living Wind. “Though the mayor in town is not, she is well-aware of what this place is, and is one of the lines of communication from the town to the hive. We should talk to her to gain access to the Colt Springs hive.”

“Then where should we head, Windy?” Iceheart asked.

Windspeaker looked around and nodded towards a cobblestone road that had been upkept well, one of maybe that all winded downhill. “This way,” he said, trotting off. Iceheart quickly followed behind him, leaving four other ponies confused. Windy? Even for Trixie and Noire, who had journeyed with Iceheart the longest, that was the most casual term of endearment they had ever heard Iceheart use.

Trixie grinned a modest smile before pacing after the two. It seemed that every day that passed was bringing their odd sextet closer and closer.

In a way, having Windspeaker around was a boon that the other five could never stop appreciating. With the Living Wind at his side, Windspeaker was an unspoken master of surveillance. Whenever they needed information, he had it ready at his hooftips. Knowing the shortest route to the mayor’s office was just one of the small things that made their lives easier, even if they were to bypass potential tourist sites as a result.

Even still, it was a nice walk. The sound of waves in the distance was light but audible, and the daylight warmed them up nicely. If they hadn’t been here for business, and the ambition in her heart hadn’t been burning with a reignited fiery passion, Trixie would have figured Colt Springs for the perfect spot to wrap up their journey and stay. Kitschy as it might seem, the town of blue roofs had charm. No longer facing them from above, instead trotting past them from below, they took on a different form: the roofs blended together with the cloudless sky, creating a vivid and dizzying effect.

Along the way, they walked by several ponies and the odd donkey. To Trixie’s senses, many of them felt hurried, yet there were a few ponies who instead seemed suspicious of the group of six. Trixie had no surefire way to identify a changeling in this town, but she at least expected the average changeling would be more paranoid than the average pony, when a hive was so close by.

At long last, the slow decline in the road tapered off, and they found themselves walking on a flat road. The mayor’s office was obvious as Trixie spotted it: a large house sitting behind a medum-sized gate, with two ponies acting as guards casually playing cards with one another. Neither seemed to have a care in the world. With the nice day and the unimportance of a town like Colt Springs to the pony eye, Trixie could not blame them.

To Trixie’s surprise, Noire took front. “Good afternoon,” she said, greeting the two guards.

The lime green-coated stallion on the left sat up, mildly surprised as if he had not expected anypony to visit. “Good day,” he greeted back. “What can we do for you?”

“We are new to town,” Noire said. “My father recommended when I visit here that I should visit the mayor here, however. Even if I have a number of friends with me, it is still advice I’ll follow.”

“Your father, eh?,” asked the yellow-coated mare on the right. “What’s his name?”


The two pony guards suddenly jumped, trading suspicious looks. Trixie deduced why quickly, and had to commend Noire for her cleverness. ‘Incognito’ was not really a pony name. It wasn’t exactly like it would be unique among ponies, but it would still be a very rare name.

Among changelings, however, it was a common name. Any changeling, or any pony with exposure to changeling culture, would quickly have her or his attention aroused.

The mare frowned. “Who are you, exactly?” Her tone of voice was slower than it had been earlier.

Iceheart stepped forward, making sure not to walk too sudden to surprise the suddenly-skittish guardsponies. “Friends, of a sort, who wish to visit an elder. Even in my case, as a Crystal pony who was stuck in the stasis of the empire for a thousand years, I suppose she still qualifies as my elder. Still, having stood guard against the Windigos, I hope she may appreciate a kindred spirit.”

Now there was no mistaking the hints Iceheart and Noire were dropping, having escalated from subtle to blatant. The stallion narrowed his eyes. “Sunflower, I’ll go talk to the mayor. She’ll want to know some guests are inquiring about the Queen Mother.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on them,” said the mare named Sunflower. She looked the six over. “You’re not ordinary ponies, you six. Are any of you…?” Her question trailed off, but it was obvious what she asked.

“No,” Trixie said, finally taking the lead. “However, my father was, as well as hers,” said the unicorn, gesturing to Noire.

The stallion jerked as he picked up on the implication, halting his movement away from the gate. Trixie wracked her brains, trying to remember if any of the ‘aunts and uncles’ she had ever had to write letters to of her father’s death had been from Colt Springs. She didn’t remember clearly, but Trixie did not think so. Regardless, it appeared the stallion knew exactly what Trixie meant. She still didn’t know exactly what species the stallion truly was, making his intense eyes all the more intimidating.

Well, Trixie had journeyed long and far and tapped into the essence of magic to get this far. A mere stallion glaring hard at her, whether he was a pony or a changeling, did little to frighten her.

The two guards traded looks. The mare nodded at the stallion. “I’ll go check with the mayor instead of you, Gale. I’ll be right back.”

“Don’t dilly-dally too long,” the stallion, Gale muttered as Sunflower quickly rushed into the manor. Trixie caught a quick glimpse of the inside of the house, noting it was fine marble. Gale kept his focus on Trixie and Noire, as he turned to face back towards them. “So only two of you were so born...but then, why are there six of you? Do you think we simply grant entrance to anypony who wants it?”

Noire gestured to Iceheart. “She fought against the Windigos before being sealed in time with the Crystal Empire’s stasis. That should merit her entrance. The Badlands Queen at the least was glad to receive her.”

Gale’s eyes widened, and for once in her life, Trixie could see the truth in the idiom ‘hair rising up on one’s back’ as his coat did just that. “Is that where your fathers came from, then?” There was hostility in his voice.

Trixie was uncertain as to what the politics were between the Colt Springs hive and the Badlands hive. Chrysalis had never said a word. The best guess Trixie could make was outfall over the Canterlot invasion, when Chrysalis had exposed changelingkind to ponies. However, there was no point in dancing around words. “They were,” Trixie said.

“Hmm. So there is still love in the world.”

Trixie blinked. She was uncertain how to interpret Gale’s words. “We asked the queen of our fathers what it meant for us to be born of two separate species. She sent us here instead.”

Gale snorted. “Perhaps the only wise action she’s made in the last decade, then.”

Noire narrowed her eyes. She was unsure of what Gale meant, but Noire assumed there was little love lost between Colt Springs and the Badlands. Chrysalis revealing the changeling race to ponykind had probably not impressed any changeling Queen. Bad blood was certain to result.

However, it was now certain to the batpony: Gale was a changeling-cum-pony.

Gale’s last line left the ponies and the stallion in an uneasy silence. A few minutes passed, before Sunflower finally came out, visibly panting. “Gros gives them permission to come in.”

The lime-green stallion frowned. “Is she certain?”

“You don’t trust her?”

Gale shook his head. “No, not that. If she is willing to see them, then I will allow them to pass.”

Sunflower nodded. “Of course.” She turned to face the six. “Follow me, please.” Turning around, the soft brown-coated mare walked towards the household only just large enough to call a manor.

Trixie traded glances with Noire and Iceheart. It was easy to deduce which of the guards was a changeling and which was not by the way Sunflower had deferred to Gale. Still, it feels weird to see a pony obeying a changeling and acting timid in front of him, in Equestria, Trixie thought. Colt Springs truly was a secluded place for that to happen.

Nevertheless, they had not come all this way to Colt Springs only to cower at entering a mere mayor’s house, not when the more intimidating task of seeing the Empress was yet ahead. Trixie cantered after Sunflower, and the rest fell in behind her. It made for an odd scene, nearly always going around in an entourage of six, making it inconvenient in moments like this. However, for when Trixie and Noire met the Empress, she felt that it would be best to have additional ponies around, merely for the moral support.

Entering the house, Trixie saw that it was more marble. The front entrance was right out of a stereotype of a fancy county manor from two centuries ago. Two large, curved staircases on either side of the room with extravagantly carved hoof railings led up to a second room, multiple chandeliers hung from the roof, and the walls were dotted with paintings. Several decorative ornaments were scattered around the room, a vase here, a bust there. Though the marble floor was still obvious, a red carpet led from the entrance up to the door in-between the two stairs.

Instead of continuing through the main, large door, however, Sunflour dovetailed left, taking Trixie and her friends into a side door.

“Oh, hello! Welcome to Colt Springs, travelers! I am Mayor Gros Michel,” greeted a mare behind a desk with a mane and colt that were both a radiant yellow, several shades more brilliant than Sunflower’s was. The mayor practically beamed at them, sparkling white teeth matching her lustrous fur, blue eyes shining with enthusiasm. “You can call me Michel for short, though, I know Mayor Gros Michel can be a mouthful to say over and over again!”

Trixie could tell, could feel the mayor for what she was really feeling. Gros Michel was exuberant on the outside, but it was all fake. Instead, the mayor was giving off short bursts of a moody fear and trepidation. Trixie could understand all too easily why. After all, it wouldn’t have been every day a group of six ponies turned up on Michel’s doorstep looking for the Empress of All Changelings.

She opened her mouth to respond, only for Windspeaker to suddenly step forward. “We wish to see the Empress,” he spoke bluntly.

Trixie found herself slack-jawed at Windspeaker’s sudden forwardness. The unicorn she had met only a short while ago in Canterlot had always seemed mild-mannered, only showing a great amount of emotion when he thought she could help heal him of his illness, and then when Trixie had actually succeeded. For Windspeaker to suddenly speak out in front of everypony else showed he was finally gaining the confidence Trixie thought he lacked.

The fear she could sense from Gros Michel suddenly vanished, leaving Trixie stunned at the mare mayor’s sudden mood swings. Instead, Michel now reeked of suspicion. “Who are you all, really?,” she asked, standing up. Trixie idly noticed the mare had a stalk of bananas as her Cutie Mark, now that she could see her thighs. “You can’t be from any of the hives, or else you would—no, never mind that.”

“She and I had changeling fathers,” Noire said, pointing at Trixie. “We did not grow up in our fathers’ hive, but we recently visited it. Queen Chrysalis of the Badlands Hive recommended we come here to find out more on what sets us apart from other ponies, what qualities we have by being hybrids.”

The suspicion held strong. “Chrysalis sent you? What mischief is she planning now?”

“Please,” Trixie said, attempting to try to get on Michel’s good side. “I have been living in a rural settlement for most of the last few years, but I have been practicing my magic in the meantime. I have a little bit of talent with illusions, and I was curious if it was related to my father being a changeling, and his transformation abilities. We also wanted to understand how we can use the little bit of magic of the other tribes we weren’t born into better.” Trixie motioned to Iceheart. “Iceheart here is one of the Crystal Ponies who was stuck in stasis. It’s not obvious anymore since her crystal coast sheen has faded, of course, but she is. She was at one of the Crystal Empire’s forward bases when the Windigos were around. Queen Chrysalis said the Empress might also be interested in seeing her, too.”

Suddenly, Michel’s suspicion abated, replaced by a smug feeling of satisfaction. “Ah. I think I see now. Sunflower.”

“Y-yes, mayor?” Sunflower asked from behind Stonehenge.

“Please bring him here.”

“Ah! Of course, mayor!”

With quick hooves, Sunflower suddenly dashed out of the room, and was off.

Gros Michel watched with a fond expression as the younger mare left. “She’s a good filly,” Michel commented.

“I...guess?” Stonehenge part-asked, part-commented. He had felt a little awkward as Sunflower had been pushed up against him, owing to the tight confines of the office when there were seven ponies crowded in there in front of the desk.

“She is. Sunflower is my daughter, but she’s a consummate professional on the job, always making sure to call me mayor while she’s working as my assistant.”

“Ah,” Stonehenge nodded, understanding. The family resemblance was there.

Michel eyed up Trixie and Noire. “So, your fathers were changelings, and your mothers were ponies, right?”

Noire and Trixie glanced at one another, before looking back, nodding. Neither of them were certain if the mayor was merely making idle conversation, or if they were still playing verbal warfare. It was a delicate situation, and neither mare wanted to stumble through it unaware.

“Then you’ll understand why it’s a good thing Sunflower is a filly instead of a colt. The way she keeps eying up that Gale fellow after I keep scheduling them together, well, if it was the other way around, they could do all sorts of the other sort of consummate and I would never get to see a grandfoal.”

It took Trixie a few seconds to understand what Michel was trying to say. Behind her, Red Wings suddenly snorted, as if he was desperately trying hard not to laugh. Realisation dawned on Trixie as soon as Red Wings let out a bark of laughter, and she reddened at the lewd implications of Michel’s words. “You’re trying to set up—”

“Listen,” Gros Michel suddenly interrupted Trixie. “You’re here to see the Queen Mother, right? The Empress, I mean.”

“Yes, we are,” Iceheart quickly interjected. “Is the Queen Mother another name for her, then?”

Michel rolled her eyes. “You really don’t know very much, then. I guess you truly aren’t changelings, then. Otherwise Chrysalis might have cared to give you more than the bare minimum.”

“I’m sorry?” Iceheart asked, uncertain if she had offended Michel.

“That’s alright. It’s been awhile since the Queen Mother has seen any visitors. I have to make certain any who do don’t have hostile intentions towards her. I’m the pony here they trust the most,” Michel said. Though she didn’t puff up her chest, the pride was obvious in her voice. “I was wondering if you were here to see the Queen instead, but when you said you were hybrids, I at least understood why you wished to see the Queen Mother.”

“Wait, the Queen? Er, the Queen Mother? What’s the difference?” Windspeaker asked. He did not know any of this. He wished he had spent more time trying to understand the changelings and changeling culture while he was younger, but he had never expected to have to actually make a journey out to the ancestral home of the changelings.

The mayor rolled her eyes again, and snorted. “You really do know very little out here. The Queen Mother passed control of the hive down to her daughter many years ago. Her daughter is the Queen now. Were it not for her title of Empress, the Queen Mother would have been left without a real title upon abdicating her rulership of the hive here.” Michel raised her eyebrows at the looks of surprise on everypony else’s faces. “Did you really not know anything about her before coming here?”

“Well…” Stonehenge trailed off, before picking up his train of thought again, “We did know a few things…”


“So, who is this ‘Empress’, exactly?”

It was a question that Trixie and Noire had expected for several days, after Trixie’s revelation of the Empress’ title and the bit of her outliving the Windigos. To the others’ credit, they had the discretion to wait until well after the six had left Canterlot, travelled by train to Vanhoover, and then left the coastal metropolis.

Instead, the question had been asked the first night out of Vanhoover, after settling down for the night. Iceheart had finally grown curious and decided it was better to ask now than to wait until they were in the belly of the beast to learn more about the Empress.

“The Empress...well, um,” Noire struggled to come up with an adequate explanation. “She’s not really an empress, not the way you would envision her with that name. It’s an honourary title that she was given over time by her daughters. She only rules over her own hive, but nearly every changeling in Equestria, certainly every Queen is descended from the Empress. At a conference many years ago, the other Queens came together and bestowed unto her the title of Empress of the Changelings.”

“It’d be like if Celestia and Luna actually gave birth to every noble line in Equestria,” Trixie added. Somehow, such an idea seemed anathema to her. Perhaps it was because despite being born of both pony and changeling, Trixie herself was a pony, who had grown up knowing a pony ruler. She had no connection to the Empress, except as her father’s ancestor by several generations. What might be blase to hear about the Empress was far more radical if Trixie imagined Princess Celestia to do it. “And then the nobles came and elevated them up to a higher title, but in practice they ruled perhaps just Canterlot.”

Iceheart nodded as she understood what Noire and Trixie had just told her. “So in essence, the Empress truly could be said to be the ancestor of all Changelings, then.”

“On this continent,” Noire corrected her. “She apparently came from another continent with a few others to help fight the Windigos, but she is the only one who survived those days that you would know well. There may be a few changelings unrelated to her who came over later, but still nearly every changeling can trace his or her heritage back to her. If we go off the other hybrids who have a changeling father who have lived over the age, I expect many ponies could even call her their many greats-grandmother, if only they knew they had a changeling in the family tree.”

There was a brief few moments of digesting that information as Windspeaker, Stonehenge and Red Wings considered that. Iceheart knew it was unlikely for her, as the changelings had purportedly only come over to this continent during the time of the Windigos, likely not that far removed from when Iceheart had been born.

“Why Colt Springs, then?” Iceheart asked. “I would have expected her to be living close to Canterlot, or anywhere else really where ponies would have settled in Equestria’s early history. Why settle an out-of-the-way village far from Canterlot?”

“That might be easier for me to answer,” Windspeaker suddenly said, interrupting the mares. “Colt Springs exists as a tourist town. That much is legitimate, and many of its permanent residents are ponies, including some whose families have been here for generations. However, much of it is a front for the hive to conduct trade with Equestria, even if Equestria does not realise it. For all their ability to gain energy from emotions, changelings still need to eat things with actual substance, so more food disappears into Colt Springs than a town of its size could possible consume. The same holds with both other essentials, and luxury goods. Meanwhile, a great deal of the hive’s specialised goods are exported out: mushrooms, minerals, and root vegetables. Many of Equestria’s greatest architectural engineers are secretly changelings, who receive a foalhood’s training in reinforcing underground caverns, and some of them will choose to send money back home. Colt Springs is no different in that aspect either. These things would have been noticed quick in Canterlot, or Manehatten, or Vanhoover, or any other place where ponies pay attention to things. A town out of the way that few pay attention to is the perfect place to hide out.”

Trixie raised her eyebrows. She was genuinely impressed. “The Living Wind is something any spymaster would envy.

Windspeaker turned away, his white coat colouring slightly. “It is not all-powerful. It can’t read very well underground, considering how the wind has a tough time indoors, and I can only learn what I ask the Living Wind to tell me. It is not as if I try to eavesdrop in on personal conversations, either. Confined to my bed, however, I took great joy in learning about the world around me.”

The white-furred unicorn frowned, peering around the great plains that surrounded them. In the morning, as the sun rose, the mountains to the west that dotted the coast and spawned the patches of beachfront that hugged the water could be seen off in the far distance. For now, however, the land was flat as the eye could see in the waning daylight.

“It’s odd, though,” Windspeaker continued. “That I should know almost nothing about the Empress, that is. She seems to be one of those entities that the Living Wind cannot directly touch, but it should at least be able to sense whenever she leaves her hive. To my knowledge, she hasn’t left since before I was born.”

Noire frowned. “That doesn’t seem right. My father was of the Badlands Hive, but he was well-acquainted with changelings from other hives. The Queens do leave their hives. Some are more secluded than others, but I don’t think that any would go so far as to stay underground or inside a mountain for twenty-two years. Changelings aren’t designed to stay inside for that long. They simply need sunlight from time to time.”

“All this I know and more,” Windspeaker said.

“Perhaps she cannot?” Stonehenge suddenly asked. He had been feeling left out of the conversation, not knowing much of the changelings like Noire and Trixie did, or being in the loop with a grand source of knowledge, like Windspeaker was. Having seen a spot to enter the conversation, he took it. “Ah, like me, I suppose. I was unable to move for fifty years, after all.”

“I doubt it,” Trixie said, dismissing his suggestion. “It’s not that it’s a bad idea, it’s just that, well, she’s the Empress. My father only spoke of her in very brief words, but I had the sense that she was a Very Important Changeling. Admittedly, I had thought she was just a fairy-tale father had made up, but Colt Springs was still the ancestral home of the changelings. If she were to be petrified, or to have died, even my father out in our ponydunk village would have known. Besides, Queen Chrysalis did send us out here.”

“I see,” Stonehenge said, figuratively retreating from the discussion with his tail between his legs.

Iceheart was the next to make a suggestion. “Politics, maybe. I could have left at any time from my fortress had I desired, but politics and fear had stayed my hoof. If this Empress is as great as you state, leaving her home may bring consequences. How many Queens are there in Equestria?”

“Thirteen,” Red Wings said. It was one of the very rare pieces of information he was privy to as a sort-of friend to the changelings of the Badlands.

“Thirteen, then. It may be the Queens are politically matched against one another and are in a delicate stalemate, and if the Empress were to come out it may upset the status quo in a poor way.”

Trixie nodded. She wasn’t certain of Iceheart’s idea, but it had merit. “That could be. I can believe it.”

“Do you think Chrysalis sending us here was to force the Empress’ hoof on something, then?” Noire asked, her paranoia suddenly spiked.

“I can’t say for sure,” said Windspeaker. “They’re all powerful enough that the Living Wind is ineffective on them. It is not as if I took an interest in changeling politics beforehoof, either. While the Living Wind is able to hear and see nearly everything, I first have to take an interest in it to know what the Living Wind does.”

“I’m surprised you never reported anything to the authorities, then,” Red Wings mused.

Windspeaker responded, “I have in fact reported more than a few things in the past, but always through anonymous notes. They were the lower, more personal, laypony things, however. Helping a mother find her lost filly, tipping the police off to the perpetrator of a crime, bringing closure to a tale of love lost. I spent many years unable to move around quickly, and then many more mostly confined to beds.”

“But not the big stuff?” Red Wings asked, feeling around to make sure he did not intrude on something too personal.

The unicorn stallion huffed, the first sign of impatience he had shown thus far. “I had to reconcile my ability with society at large for my entire life. I could have made a larger difference, but, well, I was still struggling with understanding my own self at the time. By the time I had reasonably gotten to grips with my connection to the wind, I was already crippled, and I made the choice to let the world pass me by and become a neutral observer, merely looking on in curiosity.” Windspeaker gave a sidelong look at Trixie. “Well, until a potential cure finally came along.”

“You are getting off-topic,” Stonehenge said, drawing everypony’s attentions again. “What of the changelings and their relations to one another?”

Windspeaker crossed his front limbs in front of his torso. “Again, I can’t really tell you that much. I never really listened in on them much. I know the hives have skirmished with one another in the past, but their common relation always prevents things from going too far. Colt Springs seems to mediate some of the conflicts that have broken out, but never have they partaken in their own war.”

“Which makes sense, then,” said Stonehenge. “If each of the Queens calls the Empress her mother, they would never kill their mother, would they? Or attack her hive? Sorry, I am just guessing here, I don’t actually know that much still about the changelings.”

“No, I think you’re right,” said Noire. “I don’t think all the Queens are directly the Empress’ daughters. I think a few of them may be granddaughters, or perhaps even great-granddaughters, but they would only be a few generations removed at most. I don’t think even Queen Chrysalis would ignore her mother, no matter how old she might be.”

Red Wings hummed. “You know, it feels weird to me when I realise that I’m actually the one who has had the most amount of contact in the past with a changeling Queen. Ah, sorry, I’m going off on a tangent. Well, no, I guess it is relevant. Even though I’ve met Chrysalis a few times, and changelings many more, I can’t even begin to guess at what the play is between all of them.”

Noire grit her teeth. “I don’t really know much either. Father never really said.”

“Well, it is good that we discussed it,” Iceheart said, drawing the conversation back towards her initial set of questions. Noire marveled at how Iceheart always seemed the most level-headed of the group. The batpony was glad the other mare had joined them after that fateful day on the hinterlands of the North. “At the least, we should be able to trot into the Colt Springs hive with some idea of what to expect, which is better than what I had earlier.”

Noire conceded the point. “Yes. I do not think it will be too much. Queen Chrysalis would not have recommended we come here if we were going to be ensnared and kept in the hive. We’re only asking for information. Besides, between Trixie and Windspeaker’s abilities, I am certain we could break out if the worst were to happen.”

There was a general chorus of agreements at that.

Trixie bit her tongue at Noire’s words. Initially, Trixie and Noire were to come to Colt Springs to ask the Empress for information on pony-changeling hybrid offspring. However, in the last few weeks, Trixie realised there was something else she wanted to ask the Empress, something that only she might know. The question was still a secret Trixie kept close to her heart. She did not lack courage to risk erasure of her life and magic when healing Windspeaker, yet Trixie was unable to even confide in her friends the new goal she had. Would she ever be able to ask the Empress when Trixie could not even trust her friends with her new ambition?


“Greetings to all of you.”

Sunflower had just returned, bringing a stallion in tow.

Red Wings looked over the new unicorn with a sharp eye. From head to hoof, the newcomer was quintessentially a pony, with yellow fur not unlike the flaxen colour of a field of wheat in full bloom, and a mane and tail with dichromatic stripes of a darker gold and muddy brown. However, Red Wings had spent a great deal of time in a place where changelings pretended to be ponies, and he was able to notice the little things. The unicorn stood too tall and stout for such a relaxed place as Colt Springs, and his blue eyes were far too focused on Trixie. Anypony who was truly a pony here would be slouching, and acting in a far more casual manner.

There was no doubt to Red Wings. This stallion was a changeling.

“Hello,” Red Wings greeted back, feigning a friendly manner. However, both of them knew what Red Wings’ true feelings were: a sharp spike of suspicion. “I’m Red Wings. How do you do?”

“You may call me Larynx. I am the Voice of the Empress.”

The other ponies, who had eyed the flaxen-coated pony with interest but had kept talking to the mayor, finally turned to face the changeling who called himself Larynx. The capital V in the title he had just dropped was obvious. This was an important changeling in the Colt Springs hive.

“Are you here to take us to the hive, then?” Iceheart questioned him.

“I am.”

Curt and to the point, Red Wings thought. Larynx was a changeling unto a changeling. He asked, “I have been to the Badlands Hive before. When I went there, I was always drugged beforehoof and taken to the Hive so I would not know where it is located. Are we to do the same here?”

“No. I will guide you.”

Red’s nose twitched with slight annoyance, but he kept calm. “In that case, is there any other protocol we should be aware of before meeting the Empress?”

“Do not attack or otherwise harm the Empress. You will be treated as guests of the Hive, but if any of you should attempt to harm the Empress, that privilege will be revoked.”

Red Wings pursed his lips. “I have no issue, then.” Attacking her? Why would we even do that? Well, he couldn’t blame Larynx for thinking it a possibility. Even a few years later, there were still sore feelings from many ponies against the changelings, no matter that they had not reappeared en masse since.

“I have no issue, either,” Stonehenge intoned. The others echoed the sentiment.

“Very well. Follow me, then.”

With that short statement, Larynx turned, and left the office. Red Wings and Trixie found themselves marching in lockstep side by side, and Red Wings felt himself heat up a little at the close contact to the unicorn, before forcing it down. It was dangerous, crushing on a mare who could tell his feelings to some extent with her own empathic senses inherited from her father. However, in front of what was likely a changeling, and going into a changeling hive, Red Wings needed to stay as calm and composed as he could. Idly, he noted that the mayor and Sunflower stayed behind in the office. It made sense to him: where they were going was somewhere ponies wouldn’t just casually visit.

Instead of going outside, to the ponies’ surprise, Larynx instead went through another door in the manor, taking them through a hallway. He repeated the action through a few more doors, the exquisite architectural tastes of the manor getting less lavish as they got further away from the front entrance, until they finally went down a set of stairs.

There was no knob to the door, nor even a keyhole. Instead, Larynx bowed his head to the door. With a quick burst of magic, he hissed, “Open.”

Windspeaker jumped a bit at Larynx’ hiss. He had found the potential changeling’s manner unnerving, but after hearing his monotone voice for so long, the hiss was surprising. His surprise was abated by the door opening. Ah. Some sort of mechanism to stop intruders from getting in without the right magical signature, then.

However, to all of their surprise, what laid behind the wall was not another hallway, but a cavern. It was then that Windspeaker finally deduced the truth of this manor being the mayor’s office. It’s not that the mayor lives here by happenstance. This manor is the entrance to the hive itself!

The stallion bit his tongue in apprehension. If the entrance was that easy to locate, however, there had to be something more to it. Still, as Larynx walked through the door, giving no indication of stopping or waiting for the ponies to get over their surprise, Windspeaker decided to give pursuit. After all, Red Wings and Trixie had not slowed down ahead of them, and with his own still weak body, he could not afford to lose a single moment.

As he stepped past the door, Windspeaker instantly felt the climate change considerably, going from the cool air of the manor basement to a warmer, more damp environment. He gave a quick glance down the tunnel, pausing for a moment. Bioluminescent moss coated the passage, giving it an eery green glow. He cursed to himself as he looked down at the ground, seeing the many rocks. Windspeaker would have to be careful about where he walked, not wishing to risk injury to his atrophied form.

The group of six quickly walked through the entrance caverns, following the flaxen-coated pony. However, it didn’t take long for them to catch on to the hive’s defense mechanism against an invasion. Past the obscurity of the hive’s location, and its operational security, the way to the hive itself was a labyrinth. Larynx came to a three-way split in the path after about a minute, and didn’t hesitate to take the right path. Trixie, Stonehenge, Red Wings, Iceheart, Noire and Windspeaker, having no other choice, followed the Voice of the Empress down the right-hoof path.

Larynx himself seemed hesitant to change back to his true form, even after a few minutes in the winding passageway. For a few seconds, Trixie wondered if he was perhaps truly a pony instead, before she dismissed the notion. Even if he were perhaps a hybrid instead, Queens were too proud. They would never have a pony as their voice or right hoof.

Sure enough, after going past enough forks in the labyrinth that Trixie was certain she would not be able to ge back to the manor or find the hive in the first place, Larynx was suddenly engulfed in a green flame, and a black carapace replaced the straw-like coat. To Trixie’s surprise, the changeling had a mane, flaxen-coloured like his pony form had been. Very few changelings other than Queens had manes that were more than bits of stubble. For Larynx to have one meant he was a figure of importance, power, or both.

He did say he was the ‘Voice’ of the Empress, Trixie mused.

There was no sudden outburst of surprise. Everypony had expected Larynx to be a changeling, so his transformation was just the final proof. Instead, the seven equines continued to walk through many more twists and turns, leaving Trixie to muse whether this had truly been a hive built by the changelings, or if it had instead been a home of a herd of minotaurs first. Minotaurs were notorious for their love of mazes, after all, and the labyrinthine design of the Colt Springs hive would have suited the minotaur sense perfectly.

Suddenly, Larynx stopped.

Trixie took a few steps before she had the wherewithal to brake and not move another hoof forward. “Are we here?,” she asked, mustering up the energy to ask. Trixie wasn’t quiet out of breath yet, but she was glad for the stop.

“Not yet. Your companion needs rest.”

The unicorn mare knew which pony Larynx was talking about. Looking over to Windspeaker, Trixie was unsurprised to see Iceheart dabbing away at his forehead, wiping away a spot of sweat.

“Are you alright?,” Iceheart asked the stallion gently.

Windspeaker nodded, though he kept his eyes closed to stop the sweat from getting in his eyes. “Yes, I am. I just need to take a few minutes breather, thank you for asking, Iceheart. I am not used to the dampness and heat or even the exercise. At least if I were outside, the cool breeze would feel good on my coat.” Left unspoken was the fact that outdoors, Windspeaker alone could control the wind. Though the ponies knew that for a fact, Larynx did not. Windspeaker felt somewhat crippled. Though the wind could still be utilised down here, it was nowhere near as powerful as it was outdoors.

Larynx gave no indication of understanding the subtext of the conversation between Icehart and Windspeaker, nor did he attempt to make any small talk with the other four while they stretched and sat down to get a few minutes rest. Instead, his blue eyes continued to watch, never moving, only blinking. After several minutes had passed, he finally turned around and continued to walk.

“Let us continue.”

The ponies ambled on behind Larynx again, a little feeling of despair settling in. Though none of them thought they were walking into a trap, they were ponies. They were used to being outside, with a desire for the open meadow and the warm, welcoming sun. Being so far underground, especially in such narrow confines, was uncomfortable for them. At least for the four who had been to the Badlands Hive, the tunnels there had been wider, with many large, open rooms that had more natural lighting than the moss.

Instead, Trixie found herself focusing on minute, trivial things to distract from her boredom. She looked at the hoof outlines left in the dirt of the path by changelings past, strained her ears for the light ‘ploop!’ of water dripping off the roofs, and let her mind wander. Trixie thought about the day she had put on the Alicorn Amulet, when her life had gone even more downhill than it had at that point. To her surprise, Trixie realised it had been nearly four years since that fateful night. Where has the time gone?, she wondered.

“We are here.”

Startled, Trixie looked up. A medium-sized door greeted her sight, embedded into the heavy stone wall. The metal door looked positively ancient, half-rusted as if it was about to fall apart at any moment. Do they not get any visitors around here? I would not have expected them to keep something as corroded as this is for the Empress.

“Is there anything else, then? Or do we just go in?,” Stonehenge inquired.

The changeling ignored Stonehenge. Instead, Larynx cast magic again, opening the door. With a whine and a squeal on the hinges that caused the ponies to jump before putting their hooves over their ears, the two halves of the doors swung inward.

It revealed a moderately large chamber well-lit with torches of green flames. Compared to the irregular walkways in the caverns, the floor in here was smoothed out, with tiles built in for the first flat surface the ponies had seen in some time. There was little for decoration, with a single carpet rolling down the middle of the room. Twelve changelings stood guard around the carpet, six on either side in rigid formation. With the opening of the door, all twelve had turned to face them, observing the ponies with stone-faced gazes.

Trixie raised her eyes. There was a dais at the end of the carpet, and a single throne sat upon the dais. She squinted. The figure on the throne was obscure even in the better lighting of what might have been the throne room. Is that the Empress? Trixie’s heart beat faster as she realised she was potentially mere seconds away from meeting a changeling she had once thought to be a fairy tale.

Larynx moved ahead. The ponies followed behind him, before the flaxen-maned changeling suddenly turned around, stopping them only as soon as they had stepped onto the carpet.

“Do not walk any further. Stay here, and only come forward when I say so. I am the Voice of the Empress. For now, she will talk through me and me alone. Only if you are given permission may you be allowed to speak directly with her.”

The changeling’s blue eyes were ever more piercing than before, and for once Trixie thought she was able to see a hint of emotion in them, to feel something more than muted deadness in Larynx. Protectiveness, with just a bit of fondness, the mare decided. It wasn’t an odd thing if he was the Empress’ ‘Voice’. Still, his implied threat wasn’t one to take lightly, not that Trixie had any intent of challenging Larynx. The twelve changeling guards that stood behind him, each looking ready to fight at a moment’s notice, only helped to reinforce it.

Larynx turned around, and walked up to the dais. He stopped short of the stairs leading onto the dais, and fell onto three knees, keeping his left front limb up. “Mother,” he said.

The figure didn’t move.

“Mother,” Larynx repeated himself, a little louder this time.

This time, the figure stirred. Trixie raised her eyebrows in confusion. As the Empress shuffled, Trixie was able to see her colouration. Oddly, instead of being the pure jet-black with a coloured mane all Queens Trixie knew of had, the Empress seemed to be black-and-grey, and even the black parts lacked the normal shine of a changeling’s carapace.

“Mother,” Larynx said yet again slightly louder.

“Mmph. Is, is that you, Larynx?”

“It is I.”

“What business do you have today? Is it time for feeding again?”

“I have brought six ponies today who wished to see you. Two of them are half-breeds.”


The figure on the throne suddenly moved again, but it was not a quick motion. Instead, the Empress slowly readjusted her throne, turning around to face Larynx. Sluggishly, the Empress raised her head, such so that the ponies could finally see her face for the first time.

Trixie gasped as at last the oddities in the revelations Windspeaker had made about the Empress not leaving the hive in ages were explained, or the fact that there was a separate Queen in this Hive, the clues all coming together too easily. The Empress didn’t have a unique colouration of her carapace. Instead, like what happened to some of the truly oldest ponies, her carapace was beginning to lose its colour, with splotches of grey all over the place and cracks galore. The same was true for what must have once been a mane as rich with colour as Larynx’ was, now nearly pure white with only little bits of straw. Even the Empress’ eyes were abnormal, with one blue eye, and one a milky white.

Celestia and Luna had lived through the era of the Windigos and continued ruling. Like them, the Empress had lived through the era. However, unlike the two alicorn princesses, the Empress had grown old.


Well-Known Member
'Empress: Reflections'


“Mmm...what did you say again they were, Larynx?”

The Empress spoke in a halting manner, her voice cracking up every few words. One eye looked at the ponies, but the other eye was lost, blinded perhaps only the Empress herself knew how long ago. She did not even attempt to move from her sitting position, her wizened form so frail the Empress perhaps could not even do that.

“Two of them are half-breeds, Mother.”

“...I cannot see very well, but there appear to be more than two of them.”

“One of them is a Crystal Pony who was imprisoned with the rest of the Crystal Empire. She claims to have been on the front lines of guarding the Empire against the Windigos.”

There was a sudden hiss from the Empress, before she started coughing. It was the loudest noise the ponies had heard from the Empress thus far, as she continued coughing and hacking so far that many of them legitimately feared she would perish that moment. Fortunately, the moment passed, and the Empress softly growled as she at least stood up, just a little bit. “Windigos. The day they vanished from this world was the greatest day of my life.”

“Mother, please.”

The sudden fire that had inflated the Empress was extinguished, and the changeling crone slumped forward in her seat. “If she is, I am thrilled to receive her into the hive. Any who fought the Windigos will always find kindred heart here.”

Trixie furrowed her eyebrows. The Empress’ manner of speech was odd and difficult to keep up with. Even Iceheart already spoke close to the common vernacular of the day, and she had not lived through the thousand years between like the Empress had.

“Then there are three others, stallions all. I believe they are merely friends, perhaps mates, to the three of interest here.”


Then the Empress lifted her head up again. She looked over the six ponies that were assembled at the end of the chamber. Trixie was uncertain if she could even see that far with any accuracy, but the Empress, aged as she was, was still a changeling: doubtless she could feel six distinct separate life forms.

“Larynx, bring the half-breeds forward.”

“Of course, Mother.”

The male changeling turned around, tossing his windswept mane back behind his back, before making the several steps to return to where the sextet had stopped at. He looked at Trixie and Noire.

“Mother wishes to see you two.”

Noire’s nose twitched. Larynx’ was merely stating the obvious, but they had to go through this ceremony and pomp of him restating what they had just heard the Empress say.

Nevertheless, Trixie and Noire pursued Larynx at a measured canter down the carpet, feeling the menacing gazes of the changeling guards who simultaneously kept an eye on both the two mares and the remaining four ponies stationed at the entrance to the throne room. The dozen guards had spoken naught a single word between them since the ponies had entered, but their intentions were easy to measure.

Larynx brought them just shy of the dais, before stopping, and bowing.

“Mother, I have returned.”

“So I see. I shall speak directly,” said the Empress.

Those seemed to be the words for Larynx to be dismissed, as he rose up, and walked aside, joining the twelve guardlings. In so doing, he left Trixie and Noire exposed to the view of the Empress.

The Empress tilted her head up slightly, her one blue eye looking forward, while her other, milky-white eye gazed off into the distance. Trixie lightly bit her lip, feeling a little unnerved by the near glow of the Empress’ eye, so unlike any changeling or pony or any other species she had ever met before.

“Your fathers were changelings, then,” the Empress said in a soft voice. “Where were they from?” It was the longest the Empress had spoken without descending into a stream of coughs.

For the first time, Trixie spoke directly to the Empress. “Her father and mine both came from Queen Chrysalis’ hive in the southern Badlands. We were not actually raised there ourselves, but we recently visited it. When we inquired about what it meant for us to be hybrids, Queen Chrysalis recommended we come here instead.”

“Chrysalis, ah, that foolish daughter of mine…” The Empress trailed off. Her words were harsh, but the fondness for one of her daughter Queens was clear. Her lone good eye looked over both Trixie and Noire again. “A unicorn and a bat-pegasus, interesting. You have taken to attempting magic of the other tribes…?”

It wasn’t just the Empress’ manner of speech that was difficult for Trixie to follow. It was also the halting way in which she delivered it, with many pauses, interspersed between multiple coughs. It took Trixie several moments to digest what was being said. In that time, Noire spoke first. “Yes. Although I have rarely attempted what my Earth pony cousins can do, I have used a few spells. Nothing advanced, only simple things like a warming spell. But I would like to know and use more, and be able to emulate the Earth ponies aside.”

“Hmm…” The Empress paused again. “And I imagine it is the same for the mare beside you.”

“It is,” Trixie confided. “In the past, as I walked the land, I enjoyed the abilities of pegasus magic to help protect me against the weather extremes, and the way the Earth ponies can feel the vitality of the land underneath their hooves. We came here to understand more about our own abilities and how we can extend them.”

And in her heart of hearts, Trixie had another unexpressed wish. She wanted to know how to use Earth Pony and Pegasus magic, because she desired to evolve into a form that could use all three tribal powers with ease. But here and now, after even being unable to explain it to her friends, there was no way Trixie could tell the Empress that.

The Empress remained silent after Trixie’s comments, and her eyes fell closed, revealing still more scars over her decrepit form. The Empress’ body told of many days of strife. Minutes passed, and the Empress did not move, her form still. Trixie had a sudden worry as before that the Empress had just perished, but the slight movement of the old crone’s chest told otherwise.

Then she spoke again. “Hmm...both of you feel troubled, but you, the blue one...you seem more worried and uneasy than your companion. Why?”

Trixie felt her mouth turn dry as the ancestral changeling focused on her. She dared not lie to the mare before her, so Trixie fumbled for a half-truth. “I was not the one who initially pushed to come here, but...throughout my lifetime, I have had some talent with my magic in creating illusions as well. I also wondered if it was because of my father being a changeling that I had that gift. Not to shapeshift, but something along those lines.”

“Hmm...I suppose one wishes to know what makes her whole, what is her own, and what is her parents. Yes. The two of you are half-breeds. I can sense it, that subtle empathic overlap that all half-breeds have.”

“Er?” Noire made to ask a question, only to cut herself off.

Fortunately, the Empress seemed all too happy to explain, as slow and halting as it was. Still, Trixie had to strain to hear her at times. “Changelings can feel one another to a degree, but we cannot feel ponies. Yes, we feel the emotions of ponies, but we are not truly ‘in sync’ with them. You half-breeds are not changelings, but you exist just at the edge of my senses.”

Trixie and Noire were uncertain if they were to answer that.

“Well...I know what there is to know about you half-breeds, yes. However, before that...you, the blue one.”

“Yes?,” Trixie asked, a little nervous at being singled out once more.

“Have you ever used dark magic?”

Trixie recoiled at the unexpected question.

However, it wasn’t one she could dodge, either. “Yes. When I was younger, more foolish, and in a bad place...I went and purchased a dark magical artifact. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I put it on, but I didn’t,” Trixie said, swallowing down a large lump in her throat. “My actions weren’t my own at the time, but I won’t absolve myself of the guilt of seeking it out in the first place. I am just fortunate that I was saved before I fell too far.”

The Empress sat up.

It wasn’t a very large motion. The old changeling was barely able to sit up, but up she went, moving her head up several centimetres. Rasping with every breath, Trixie was reminded of a filly when she felt uncomfortable upon talking to very old ponies with wrinkly skin, cataracts and the like. The Empress was the only truly old changeling Trixie had ever seen, and the splotchy grey that predominated here carapace made her seem creepy. Trixie knew she was merely old, but it was hard to shut down that filly impulse.

“I see,” said the Empress. "I thought I could feel...a strange, taint, on you." She exhaled, and closed her eyes again. A few minutes passed, and Trixie felt her impatience growing at the Empress’ long lulls in conversation. Fortunately, the Empress soon spoke once more, though she kept her eyes closed. “There is...a place, where all changelings who wish to become Queens must first go.”


It was the first time that Trixie could remember Larynx speaking up out of turn.

“It is...a sacred place, for us changelings. Perhaps so sacred that many of my daughters would feel faint at the idea of a pony going down there.”

“Mother, you don’t mean? But the Queens would never—”

“Pah, let them!,” said the Empress, remarkably not descending into a heaving fit again. “I am the one who found it and started making them use it. Let me be the only changeling alive to say that just this once, a pony will be allowed in. They have already come all this way, what is one more step?”

Larynx, suitably chastened by the Empress’ outburst, walked back onto the carpet, standing in between the Empress and the two mares. Facing the Empress, he once more bowed.

“Shall I escort her, then?”

“Of course. Do not worry about me, my Voice,” said the Empress, looking over Noire and the four ponies further back. “I sense no ill will from these ponies. Perhaps while she is gone, I would speak with the Crystal pony.”

Iceheart strode in front of the three stallions around her, presenting herself serenely. She sensed she had an odd conversation ahead of her.

“Very well.”

Larynx turned around to face Trixie. With his hoof, he made a come hither motion.

“Come with me, pony mare.”

Trixie found herself a little annoyed at how Larynx continued to refer to her by her species or her gender. She realised he had not even inquired their names since he had first appeared upstairs in the mayor’s manor. Still, Trixie supposed the changeling didn’t care for names. Larynx was very aloof, after all.

She hopscotched after the flaxen-maned stallion changeling as he took her behind the Empress’ dais, feeling the continuously stony glares of the changeling guards behind her. To Trixie’s surprise, there was a single door at the back of the room, which Larynx swiftly opened with magic. Walking in behind Larynx, she saw that the hallway she had just entered was made with bricks of sandstone, a sharp contrast to the untreated tunnels before her. Instead of green-glowing moss, there were actual torches up on the walls, everlasting torches that would never go out so long as there was magic to keep them lit.

The two walked for a few minutes without words, leaving Trixie to wonder just how long the cave system underneath and behind Colt Springs went. The brief thought about this being a former minotaur labyrinth once more flitted through her mind, before Trixie decided the changelings must have done a lot of work over the years. She had not even seen the Hive proper, where all the changelings and the governing queen were, but merely a small subsection that appeared to be the Empress’ home since she retired. Already, the amount of work that would have been required to do all this digging was mind-boggling.

Suddenly, Larynx stopped, and Trixie stopped behind him. Looking ahead of her, Trixie could see that the sandstone walls and floor gave way to raw stone again. Larynx turned around, and looked back.

“This is a sacred site among changelings, pony. Every changeling Queen must visit it once in her lifetime to cleanse herself in a ritual. Feel honoured that the Empress is willing to let you in. Do not abuse her trust. When you are finished, return.”

Larynx’ blue eyes were as piercing as always, but for once, they had a little bit of emotion to them. What it was, Trixie could not tell. The changeling walked past her, limbs astride, before he started heading back in the direction of the throne room.

In so doing, Trixie was left all alone. Looking at the tunnel before her, Trixie swallowed.


Trixie took a step forward.

The tunnel system that had seemed merely narrow before was terrifying now that Trixie was on her own, instead of with her friends. The glow of the green moss seemed just that less inviting now. Instead, the dim lighting was more oppressive than ever before. The silence of the tunnel was unnerving. This far down, in this area that was supposedly sacred to the changeling race, Trixie was uncertain if even Windspeaker could hear her through the Living Wind.

Despite this, Trixie took her step, and then another. To win, she first needed to dare. Trixie had dared a lot in the last few months, and that daring had brought her all the way from her home in Whinnychester to the hive of the Empress at the other end of the continent. She was an adult mare. Though she might still scare, Trixie was quite capable of overcoming her childish fears.

Journeying on her lonesome, Trixie noted a few oddities. Unlike the previous tunnel that Larynx had taken them through, this was just a single, straightforward path. The hoofpath was smoother and more treaded, as if somepony had taken care to flatten the road out. The tunnel seemed to constantly be going down and down, and the temperature continued to increase. It was a dark world, and Trixie was left with nothing but her thoughts.

Not for the first time, Trixie wondered about the twists that her life had taken. If her upbringing and adult life were to be made a story, Trixie would have called it unrealistic. Being born the filly of a pony and a changeling, having to forcibly exit her schooling in Canterlot out of paranoid fear, going on to tour the world as a showmare until inevitably losing her career, working on a rock farm, and then slipping a dark magic artifact around her neck already was stretching it. Since Trixie broke her self-enforced hermitage in Whinnychester, however, things had gotten even weirder.

That’s right, none of us are really normal, are we? Trixie thought. Red Wings was the closest to being a regular pony, as freak accidents of that ilk did occasionally occur. However, he had taken to being a guide through the Badlands to link up interested ponies with a changeling hive. From there, it got to more and more unusual; Iceheart, the northern commander frozen in time; Stonehenge, a pony petrified by a cockatrice king for many decades; Noire, another offspring of changeling and pony; and Windspeaker, a magically-weak unicorn who nevertheless was connected to the essence of the world.

Trixie wondered if there had been some element of ‘destiny’ in play there. She remembered those words she had spoken back to Red Wings in the hive. Trixie would hate the idea of destiny if it existed, because it would mean she had been destined to lose her career and be self-exiled for two years from the rest of Equestria, feeling itchy hooves over her unfulfilled wanderlust.

The mare supposed she would only approve of destiny if it was brought her together with her five amazing friends. That was not something she would trade for the world, not even for the career that had offered her the capacity to travel so many places, and see so many sights.

Gradually, the tunnel began to widen, expanding in its diameter. Trixie swore she began to see something other than still more luminescent green moss and stone, and hear something other than her four hooves constantly trodding on the path underneath. It took her a few minutes to dismiss it as being a mere trick of her mind, as she suddenly did see light at the end of the literal tunnel. Remaining graceful, Trixie walked forward, allowing her eyes to adjust to the increasing intensity of light.

At last, Trixie got to the mouth of the cave, and let out a gasp at what awaited her. A large cavern sat beneath her. Water gushed from a far-off waterfall that must have been fed by an underground waterway, etching a tiny stream that terminated at the centre of the bottom of the chamber, creating a pool perhaps thirty hoof-steps across. The room was lit by an ethereal magical source that could not be seen, casting the area in natural lighting instead of the green Trixie had gotten used to coming down. Flowers of every shade of the colour spectrum dotted the ground. Despite how far underneath the earth Trixie thought she must be right now, there was still the softest hint of a breeze, though the mare attributed it to standing next to the tunnel, rather than the actual Living Wind being down here.

There was no doubt about it. This was an area where a mysterious magical had welled up, creating some sort of magic sink.

Was this why the Empress settled here? Was it because she discovered this chamber that she decided to settle in Colt Springs? It was a tantalising thought. The Empress had said every changeling who desired to become a Queen would have to make a journey down here first. There was something about this cave that marked it as the centrepiece of a changeling ritual, and Trixie felt certain she was the first pony to ever lay eyes upon it.

Trixie supposed she should have felt honoured. However, the Empress had not said anything about this cave other than it being a required pilgrimage for Queens-to-be. As the first pilgrimare here, Trixie could not help feeling uneasy instead with the lack of foreknowledge about this place.

“Well, Trixie, you should stop thinking,” Trixie said to herself, for once using the third-pony without actually talking to somepony else. “You aren’t going to find out the secrets of this place by standing here.” It was tough to break away, though. Mere hours ago, she had been on the surface, taking in the warm sunshine and saline breeze. After many hours of walking through tunnels, an ephemeral beauty such as this was precisely what Trixie needed.

With a reluctant last look, Trixie walked down a curved slope that went down from the exit from the tunnel, taking her down to the bottom of the chamber, perhaps fifteen pony-lengths down. The path she had to follow was clearly marked once she got to the ground: there was a straight path of earth where no flowers grew, making it obvious where Trixie had to go. Walking through the barren patches, Trixie found herself at the pool of water.

“How odd. What is this place?” Trixie asked aloud. There was a hint of a memory from many years ago about a pool of water, but the memory was vague, as if it was from a cloudy time of her life.

She peered over the surface of the pond. The water was clear enough that she could see the sand underneath, though as she looked further ahead, the depth of the water got enough that she could only see the bed bottom a few hoof-steps out. Instead, Trixie took to looking at her reflection.

“Hey, you,” Trixie said to her other self, feeling amused. “A few years ago, I might have praised how good-looking and sexy you are. I suppose I was more than a little narcissistic back then. At least that’s one of my qualities that I don’t regret losing.” Then she took a more serious look at herself.

Is this what I really look like? Though she had not realised it before, Trixie now understood with a sudden shock that she was slowly becoming detached from her self-identity. An azure-coated mare with a mane of blue only a few tints off of shock-white looked back at her. Violet eyes stared back lazily, as if the pony had little care in the world at this moment. Trixie supposed there was some truth to that. In between all the times that she had furthered her understanding of the phantasmal magic of illusions, Trixie had had to dissociate her very being from her identity as a pony, as a mare, as a unicorn, as a braggart who had fallen from grace only to paw her way back up. Every time Trixie invoked the magic that could change the world, she had had to lose herself. Even if it was only temporary, it had left an effect on her that only now Trixie was seeing.

Perhaps this is what I need, the time to relax and self-reflect? I have not had much of that on the road. My friends are dear to me, but I have not had a single moment alone. Trixie giggled at the thought, thinking especially about Red Wings and his obvious crush that she had returned at a few moments. It was a hearty laugh, a girlish giggle. It was a noise Trixie could not remember when she had last made. It felt good.

Curious, Trixie put one hoof forward, and dipped it into the pool. The water was cool to the touch, but there seemed to be nothing about it. The ripples from her hoof spread outward, distorting her image in an amusing way. Trixie felt as if she was at peace here.

“Huh?” Trixie frowned. Oddly, even though the pool had stopped rippling, her image still seemed distorted.

Suddenly, the Trixie in the pool water looked directly back up at her.

Trixie yelped, and fell backwards onto her dock. Her nose twitched in the instant of pain, but she gasped as she looked forward to the pool again. A figure was coming out of the water. Within a few moments, it was obvious what the figure was. It was Trixie herself.

“Hello, Trixie,” said the other Trixie. “Do you know who I am?”

Trixie scampered onto her hooves with a jolt as she finally remembered why the pool of water had seemed to tickle a memory in her. Four years ago, when she had gone to Ponyville with delusion aspirations to banishing that mare from the town forever and ever, Trixie had overheard some of the ponies talking in their downtime. Before Trixie had taken over Ponyville, there had been another incident a mere few weeks ago, where that annoying pink pony had found a mysterious pool that created dozens of magical clones of her that went on a rampage. It was no wonder Trixie had not remembered until now: her entire time wearing the Alicorn Amulet was still under a heavy fog.

“You’re me,” Trixie whispered. “Or at least, a clone of me.” She wished she had looked into the ‘Mirror Pool’ occurrence rather than being content with hearsay. Trixie knew nothing other than the surface details.

“Well, at least you have that right. I wonder if you will continue to believe that soon, however.”

Trixie had nothing to say to that assessment. Her mind was racing, trying to figure out what this pool was truly used for if each changeling Queen had to visit it before taking the title.

“I see you’re quiet. No doubt you’re already trying to think things through. Tell me, whatever happened to the Trixie of old, the brash Trixie, the fiery one, the one who took on all challengers to prove the neigh-sayers wrong?”

“Wh—what are you trying to get at?” Trixie asked, genuinely befuddled. She had been expecting her clone to be a single-dimensional copy of herself fixated on a single thing, much like how the pink pony’s clones had all been obsessed with the concept of fun. What Trixie had not expected was for her clone to ask her a question.

“You disappoint me, Trixie. It used to be you would have a snappy one-liner to return to any pony who dared say something like that to you. Maybe you have lost some of your vim over the years?”

Trixie growled. She had been expecting one thing, only for something else to happen. However, she wasn’t even given a chance to think things over, as her clone continued to talk.

“Or maybe you’ve simply become docile? Red Wings is a healthy pegasus, after all. Maybe if the Empress gives you what you want, you’ll return to Whinnychester, or maybe settle somewhere else. Become a simply housemare, and birth him a few foals. I’m sure you could spend the rest of your days in domestic bliss, basking in husbandly affection and filial fawning. It wouldn’t be a bad denouement to your life, but certainly nothing that could be associated with ‘The Great and Powerful Trixie’.” The other Trixie’s tone had suddenly become nasty, and she punctuated her last remark with a sneer.

Trixie found herself slackjawed.

“Do you know who I am, now, Bellatrix Midsummer, Bella, Trixie Lulamoon, or whatever other name you care to go by?,” asked the other mare.

She did.

“You’re me,” Trixie answered, this time more hesitantly. “But not quite, you’re, somehow, you’re me that went wrong. You’re all the deeper, darker parts of me. The insecurities I still have, the tempting thoughts that could lead me astray, the shadows of my mind.”

The other Trixie, the alternate Trixie, laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant laugh, but neither was it malicious. It was just mean. The alternate Trixie, and Trixie mentally labeled her Altrix in her mind, reared up on her hind hooves to kick her front out in a nasty chortle before coming back down. “The shadows of your mind? Oh, you’re so precious, Trixie. You’re not wrong, but coming up with such poetic bunk is far beneath you. Where is the mare who was a performer, a storyteller, and a magician all in one?”

“I never disappeared,” Trixie said, weakly defending herself. Of the things she had expected walking down here, Trixie had never expected to have to face a verbal barrage from herself.

Altrix sneered again. “Mere words which you use to comfort yourself. How is it that even now, when you have come all this way, you still act so feebly? The old Trixie would have lashed out when she felt attacked.”

“Well, I don’t fight back against bullies who try to hurt me with words, anymore,” Trixie responded, working herself back up into a position of strength. “Even if that bully is myself.”

“Twilight Sparkle.”

Trixie flinched.

“Twilight Sparkle, Twilight Sparkle, Twilight Sparkle, Twilight Sparkle,” the alternate Trixie, Altrix repeated. Altrix suddenly pushed forward from her position in front of the water, and found room and then some to advance as Trixie backed away, before she cackled. “Oh, how rich! You can’t even tolerate hearing her name spoken out loud! How pathetic!”

“No I’m not!” Trixie said, defending herself even as she felt the bitter taste of the lie on tongue.

“Oh, please. Lying to me won’t work. I am you, after all! I know everything about you, Trixie,” said Altrix, malice coating her words. “I know how even now you dream about becoming an alicorn.”

Trixie jumped. Altrix had just verbally stated an ambition that Trixie had not allowed herself to more than merely think, and never at the surface, but only within her heart of hearts.

Altrix sneered. “As if that would ever happen. You think you’ve gotten strong, travelling around the world and using magic? I know what lurks underneath the surface. Deep down, you’re still a little filly, scared you’re playing with fireworks instead of firecrackers, that the next move you make might blow off a hoof. That this whole affair will end in nothing more than hurt and pain, and that you’ll need to retreat to Whinnychester, and this time never leave again.”

Trixie clenched her teeth. She made to rebut, but felt her throat clench. The feeling was enough to send her down onto one knee.

“But this isn’t the first time you’ve dreamed about grasping at the power of the alicorns, is it, Trixie?” Altrix’ cruel words suddenly dropped into a whisper. “No, that’s why you went searching for the Alicorn Amulet. You dreamed of becoming as strong as an alicorn, and damned be anypony who stood in the way.” Instead of harsh stings, the mirror pool clone’s words had now become barbs, expertly placed to cut deep and be impossible to tear loose without leaving deep gouges in Trixie’s soul. “Twilight Sparkle is an alicorn, a pony who has the ability to commune with the earth, channel the ether through a horn, and soar upon the currents of the wind. To become an alicorn would be to stand level with her, wing to wing. Yet you cannot even say her name.”

Trixie fell onto the ground. Her doppelganger’s words were cruel. They were also true.

“Tw—...Tw—...Twi—” Trixie attempted to speak the two words that she had not even been able to think, but her mouth was unable to form them.

Altrix laughed again. “Oh, how pathetic. You once thought yourself equal with Twilight Sparkle, only for her to become an alicorn, and a princess besides. To think, you have pioneered the arts of illusions to a level that shouldn’t be possible, yet still you cannot speak those two measly words. You truly are pathetic. Tell me, Trixie, do you know who I am now?”

Trixie looked up from the ground, so soft and inviting. She wished she were a Diamond Dog now, so she could dig and burrow herself deep in the earth, escaping this clone of hers. Instead, Trixie felt her eyes burning with hot tears. Now she at last understood why each changeling Queen had to come down here before wearing a crown. “You…”

“I’m you, that much is true. I am your reflection, Trixie, one who is meant to shine all your worst flaws back at you. You cannot escape with a simple magic trick here. What is an illusion? Something that fools, deceives, tricks. You can trick others, but you can’t trick yourself!”

They were mere words. Altrix had not done one single thing to threaten physical harm except for walking towards Trixie earlier, and even that had not been to intimidate, but to prove Trixie wrong. Trixie had gone into this mess unprepared, but what was more, Altrix was correct. Trixie had to be unprepared for this. Had she known about this pool and the reflection of herself that would appear, Trixie would have already been mentally creating barriers to protect against the verbal onslaught of her doppelganger.

“You’re...cruel,” was all Trixie could muster, bowing her head.

“Am I truly, Trixie?,” asked Altrix, and Trixie was unsure if it was meant to be rhetorical. “You aspire to sit upon a mantle on which goddesses stand, on a foolish belief that your illusions will take you that far. Even if perhaps the power of your new magic was something that could allow you to ascend, you would be set upon by new challenges, and new tasks. When threats start to come to you, instead of you wandering around and finding more ponies with sob stories that you try to heal, will you be able to handle it the way you are, as a broken mare? Or will you crumple to the ground, just the way you are, all because you were unwilling to face yourself?”

Trixie raised her head again, looking up at her clone standing above her. For the first time, Altrix had given her encouraging words. She isn’t here to hurt me. She’s here to help me heal, Trixie realised. The Empress had known what she was doing when she had sent Trixie to come down here.

“I...I’ve had many setbacks, in my life,” Trixie admitted.

“Face your fears, then, Trixie. Face yourself,” Altrix encouraged.

“My—my mother. She was the brightest star in my life. She was my everything,” said Trixie. “All my days were pleasant when she was around, even the day I had to leave school. I remember that clearly still. When I got home to Whinnychester, I cried so hard, but she comforted me. Mother kept me in her embrace for nearly a full day, but never once complained as I kept crying. Being wrapped up in her hooves reminded me that I still had my family. Losing her was the toughest day of my life, even more than my father.”

“And what of your father?,” Altrix pressed.

“He...I suppose I know what it’s like to have a normal father,” Trixie said, struggling to express herself. “He was like any other stallion doting on his filly. He taught me things, he took me places, he comforted me at my low points. When my mother died of sickness, he helped me stay myself, from falling into a depressive funk. All the things you would expect…”

“Yet you and him had a relationship in a way unlike other ponies,” Altrix stated.

Trixie nodded. “Yes. No matter how much he lived a pony, he was still born a changeling. He had little eccentricities, he was paranoid. He told me many stories about the hive, about changeling history, about how he left and eventually found his way to Whinnychester, falling in love with my mother on the way. There was a whole side of him that I enjoyed knowing, even though I could never share it with others.”

“Do you resent him?”

Trixie froze up at the question. “What?”

Altrix repeated herself, “I said, do you resent him? It was due to his heritage that you once had to leave the School for Gifted Unicorns, upsetting your young life and all of your future goals in one fell swoop.”

“That’s…” Trixie trailed off, swallowing. It was the toughest question that had ever been put to her. Her father had asked her many times about it, but she had always said she forgave him. Here, however, when facing her reflection, nothing but the truth could be had. “Yes. I resented him. Even to this day, I think I still do. I had dreams and ambitions then. I wanted to be a powerful mage when I grew up, and even entertained thoughts of becoming Princess Celestia’s personal student. Yes, to this day, I still dislike that it happened. I suppose I would have never met four out of my five friends if not for the odd twist that my life took, but it still hurts. I can’t use that as an excuse.”

“As you will. You must confront truths like that, Trixie, even if they are painful.”

Trixie’s heart panged. She thought about how she had just recently met her father in that strange, heavenly realm. Had her father just seen this moment where she confessed her resentment for him? Trixie hoped not, but if all truths were laid bare, and the spirit was eternal up above, eventually he would find out.

“And when did you begin to think about becoming an alicorn?”

Trixie paused. She had to think about it, surprised by the sudden dovetail in questioning from asking about her parents to her ambition. “Perhaps I had delusions of it when I put the Amulet on...but I think it all started again, this time as a serious thought, when I brought Stonehenge out of his petrifaction.”

Altrix regarded her cooly. “Why then?”

“Because of what the elders said. Princess Celestia herself was unable to dissolve the effects of the spell, and said it would take at least a century before she could. It took me fifty years.”

Altrix glowered. “So you think you should become an alicorn because you happened to be able to do something Celestia was not? I think she is probably unable to juggle six different objects at once, yet I do not think there are jugglers out there who aspire to alicornhood.”

Trixie bit her lip. “It was more a thought than a real substantive idea at the time,” she said. “However, when I encountered Windspeaker and ran into the Living Wind and its ethereal nature, I was inspired. This was magic, and I would be remiss not to try going as far as I could. But I do not want to be like her, and ascend through creating a new magical spell.”

Altrix frowned. “What would you do, then?”

“I want to ascend through my own power,” said Trixie. “Not through creating a spell that makes me ascend, but by ascending myself through my spell. If an illusion is capable of tricking the world into dissolving magical ice, of healing a lost wing, of destroying a petrification spell, and of separating the twining of soul and magical force, then...then I should be able to fool the world itself into believing I too am an alicorn.”

Her opposite’s frown deepened even further. “You are toying with dangerous magic, Trixie. You know all too well the alicorns are on a tier of their own. They may exist on this physical world, but a part of each of them also inhabits the divine realm above. You still did not answer my question, too. Why should you become an alicorn?”

“Because I…” Trixie trailed off. The truth was she didn’t truly have that good a reason, merely a smattering of weaker reasons. “My father’s personal motto was ‘Who Dares, Wins’. Thus far, I have dared, and I have won. I have pioneered my skill further and further with every place I have gone to. To go further is merely the next logical step. And I, I...I once thought of myself as being equal to that mare. Since she became a Princess, I am now far behind. I want to catch up. Not to prove something to her, not anymore, but to me. I want to overcome my past.”

“Hmm. Is that your answer, then?”

“It is,” Trixie said, nodding.

Altrix titled her head down, closing her eyes. “I see.” She kept that position for several seconds, before she suddenly started laughing again. “Hohoho.”

“What is funny about that?” Trixie asked, feeling a little hurt. She had thought Altrix had finished with her shock-and-awe phase, and was genuinely trying to help Trixie out now. Instead, that laugh had sounded mean again. No, more than that, it sounded more malicious than anything Altrix had said thus far.

“Oh, you. I knew you couldn’t resist the temptation of power again,” Altrix said as she raised her head back up, only to open her eyes.

Trixie gasped, taking a reflexive step backwards.

Altrix’ eyes were glowing red.

“Hello, Trixie.”

Trixie felt herself trembling again. She remembered. It was the same vision that had haunted her for so long, fading away in the years after the Alicorn Amulet only to pop up again at times and give her the nastiest nightmares. The last time she had confronted this mare, it had been in Room 512 at the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies, halfway through her ordeal of healing Windspeaker.

It was Trixie herself, but a part of her that she had been only barely able to acknowledge to what had been Altrix. It was the taint that still existed on her, the Alicorn Amulet calling out to her with its seductive power. It was Trixie at her worst, the Trixie that had fallen into darkness. It was the bit of her that had never been able to heal, even through years of peace and quiet and months of making friends and finding her place in the world.

“Why so quiet? I thought you would have enjoyed seeing me again! I know I missed you,” the red-eyed Altrix gushed. “I told you last time that I would never let you go, didn’t I?”

Trixie remembered all too well. “And I told you to leave and never return.”

Altrix sneered. This time, there was true malice in the gesture. “Tough words. After all, didn’t you just tell me that I am you? Maybe the parts you don’t want to admit, but...trust me, Trixie. I know you, I am you. You want, need, thirst for power. Even when you saw the Alicorn Amulet, that was the truth. Were the shopkeeper not there, you were mere moments from stealing it.”

Trixie frowned. She remembered that moment all too keenly, it being one of the last clear memories before the fog that inhibited her time with the Amulet. She had brought money with her...but one sight of the artifact had driven her rationality away. Had the shopkeeper not appeared at that moment, Trixie would have succumbed to her baser urges and stolen it right there instead of paying for it. As it was, it only delayed the inevitable by mere minutes. It had left Trixie gnawing on her hoof more than once, thinking about how things could have changed had the shopkeeper been just a little less greedy and had turned her away that night. Likely Trixie would have just returned later and stolen the Alicorn Amulet outright, but it was always nice to think of what could have been.

“That was a long time ago. I’ve matured since, and had time to come to terms with my past self. I wasn’t always the nicest mare back then, and even now I still have my moments. I’m trying. I won’t go back to the way I was,” said Trixie.

“O-ho-ho! What wonderful lies you spin to deceive yourself. Didn’t I just tell you you can’t lie to yourself?” Altrix cackled, her laughter so high-pitched it hurt Trixie’s ears. “You say you’ve matured, yet still you are here, looking for more power, more power, without even a noble reason for it.”

“I will never put the Alicorn Amulet back on,” Trixie defended herself. In truth, she wasn’t certain who this shadow of hers was. Was it Altrix, the gestalt of the pool, not liking Trixie’s answer and attempting to scare her straight? Was it the phantom that haunted her mind possessing Altrix’ form instead and materialising in the real world instead of staying confined to her psyche? Or was it a curse left behind by the Alicorn Amulet that simply would not go away?

Altrix barked. “Hah! What little does the Amulet even matter at this point? You used it for power, though it used you instead. But you don’t even need the Amulet to want more, do you? Instead, you want to become an actual alicorn this time, and for what? Petty reasons such as beating Twilight Sparkle, or proving all the neighsayers wrong?” Altrix leaned in, and it took all of Trixie’s strength of will not to recoil from the glowing red eyes. “I like it, Trix. Become an alicorn, and show all the lesser folk the true might of the Great and Powerful Trixie!”

Trixie grit her teeth. She knew how to overcome her demon. It was to face herself. But while the first Altrix had been understanding and warm after her initial outburst, this was an Altrix that had haunted Trixie for nearly four full years.

But Altrix had primed her for this. Perhaps the creation of the pool was merely a neutral party, or perhaps it was something that perfectly reflected every changeling that had come down here, and then Trixie. One thing was absolutely certain in her mind, however: had her clone led out with Trixie’s personal demon first, and then broken down her sense of self like Altrix had earlier, Trixie would not have walked away from this. She truly would have fallen apart. Instead, with some of her worst issues made raw and exposed, the red-eyed Trixie had little to batter her with.

“Yes. I think you’re right,” Trixie admitted.

“Good, then! Take what is yours by right! Show the world the true Trixie! You should never have been ashamed to hide your heritage! Revel in the power of all three tribes as your father sired unto you, but this time as an alicorn! Make all who have trampled you pay—”

“Shut up,” said Trixie.

She didn’t tell her red-eyed self to shut up in a huff, or beg her to quiet down so Trixie wouldn’t hear more painful words. Instead, Trixie told the other to stuff it because she was tired of hearing her talk.

Altrix recoiled, hissing in surprise at Trixie’s words.

“Every time you’ve come, it’s been the same spiel. Take the power again, run amok and cause blood and gore, fire and brimstone, yadayadayada. I’m simply exhausted of it. You sound more like a street vendor hawking her wares than a demonic opposite trying to corrupt me.”

“You dare? You dare mock me?!,” Altrix asked, the pupils of her eyes widening with rage.

Trixie shook her head. “I don’t mock you. I accept that this is a part of me. The Alicorn Amulet made me irrational, and it twisted my thoughts grotesquely until I did its every bidding, but underneath, it was me that was willing to go along with it. I was the one who wanted to banish that mare, I was the one who encased Ponyville in a dome, and I am the one who continues to feel its taint. But no more.”

“You—you!” Altrix sputtered. With a start, Trixie realised Altrix’ fur was beginning to lose its colour, decreasing in shade from Trixie’s own azure to the white that she had seen before in her vision while healing Windspeaker. “No! You can’t! You must take what is yours, and conquer and destroy!”

Trixie made to say something, only for an idea to form in her mind. “You’re right. I’ll take what is mine.”

Altrix’ head jerked back up, an excited frenzy in her glowing red eyes. “You will?!” she asked. Trixie found herself disturbed at how bubbly the mare could sound while talking about destruction. Despite the red eyes and shock-white coat, this was still Trixie herself in a sense.


With that word, Trixie swept forward, and hugged Altrix.

“Wh-what are you doing?! Unhoof me!” Altrix demanded.

“I told you,” Trixie said, “I’m taking what is mine. You are a part of me, no matter how much I may wish to reject it. I am accepting that as truth.”

“No,” Altrix whispered, her white-coated frame trembling underneath Trixie’s ministrations, as the azure mare hugged her tighter and tighter.

“I’ve decided. I’ve gotten this far by helping each of the five ponies I’ve met and befriended upon this journey. I’ve been able to heal each of them in turn. When I become an alicorn, I want to continue and become a true healer, of ponies, of changelings, of any other who needs or wants it. And when I have the power...I’ll heal you, too, my other self.”

Altrix froze in her grip.

No words were exchanged for several seconds, as Altrix relaxed, her tense frame sagging in Trixie’s hooves. “Is that your final answer, then?” Altrix asked, eyes closed.

“Yes, it is,” Trixie affirmed.

“I see.”

Her doppelganger’s fur suddenly started gaining colour again, losing its creepy whiteness and turning blue again. At last, Altrix opened her eyes, now a deep violet once more.

“It is still not a good enough answer, Trixie. But it is better than what it was before. You must continue to fight your demons, and that will require more soul-searching. Becoming an alicorn is a hefty thing. Even beyond the mere task of ascension, ponies put great duties on the shoulders of alicorns. Merely being a healer may not be enough, but I cannot help you past this.”

“Thank you for all your help, Altrix,” Trixie said, genuinely meaning it.

Altrix chuckled, and tilted her head up towards the ceiling, looking at something that was not in this room, or perhaps even of this world. “Altrix, huh? I see what you did there. I suppose you needed something to mentally separate yourself and I, and what better than a name such as that.”

“Still, thank you again for all your help,” said Trixie. In response, her other half snapped her head back down, looking hard at Trixie.

“This place is not one that will fix you, Trixie. It shall not make you whole,” Altrix warned. “This Pool of Reflections merely turns your reflection back at you, and forces you to face what you are. Were you of a lesser strength of will, you would have left this room even more of a broken mare than when you arrived. All I can do is help you begin to help yourself. When you leave, your journey has only begun. Now that you are aware of your weaknesses, you can never stop attempting to better yourself. Only then shall you become as great and powerful as you once proclaimed to be.”

“I’ll continue to face myself,” Trixie promised.

Her doppelganger nodded. “I cannot hold you to that. You must hold yourself to it. Never lose sight of what makes you, you. Farewell, Trixie.” Altrix turned around, and walked away from Trixie, and back towards the pool. The clone pony stopped for a moment once reaching the edge of the water. She sighed, then took a step forward into the pool. Instead of beginning to float, every step she took brought her deeper and deeper until even her horn disappeared underneath the surface.

Altrix was gone.

Trixie looked at the pool. The Pool of Reflections, huh? If the pool near Ponyville was the Mirror Pool, capable of creating clones of a pony, then this pool was capable of showing one’s reflection, no matter how dirty or gunky parts of it may be. Trixie wondered how the Empress had discovered this pool, or how it had been created in the first place. It was a mysterious entity that was so far removed from Trixie’s own understandings that she thought she would need another lifetime to study it.

The water continued rippling for a few seconds. Then it subsided, turning into an undisturbed surface. Trixie entertained touching the water again for a few seconds, before deciding against it. She had come and done what the Empress had wanted of her. Instead, Trixie turned around, and stood up. She craned her head up to look past the stalactite-dotted ceiling of the cavern, and to the heavens above.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

The words died off after a brief echo. Being able to say those words felt liberating. There was still work to be done, Trixie knew. Becoming an alicorn was no easy feat. If it was, there would have been more than a hoofful of them in Equestria’s history.

Trixie had the power of illusions to help her attain apotheosis. Now, however, it was time to confront the Empress for the other half of the potential puzzle: how to utilise the pools of magic that gave Trixie the ability to use pegasus and Earth pony powers.

“It’s time,” Trixie said, determined. Feeling her eyes full of vim, she took off up the curved slope going around the side of the room, returning back to the Empress’ throne rooms, where the changelings and her friends all were.


Well-Known Member
'Empress: Alicorn'


Trixie made the return through the cavern, and then through the long sandstone corridor. All the way there, she felt as if her body was light, lighter than even the few times she was briefly able to hover while self-levitating. The experience she had just went through had been heavy, but having gone through it, Trixie now felt transient. Throughout the walk, she was floating on the world underneath her hooves.

In no time at all, she returned to the throne room.

An odd sight greeted her: unlike before, where most of her companions had been seated at the back of the room, with only Noire beside her close to the Empress, all five of her fellow ponies were now sitting around in a semi-circle close to the Empress, with Iceheart at the centre. It seemed that in the time since Trixie had gone on her trip for self-discovery that her friends had been engaged by the Empress to sit for a chat.

The Empress was the first to notice Trixie, though she did not turn in her seat. “I see you have returned. How was your journey?”

“I found myself...at peace,” Trixie said vaguely. As the Empress would have known what the Pool of Reflections was about, she expected that to be a decisive enough statement.

A soft hum was what Trixie got in return as she trotted around to the front of the dais to face her friends. “Trixie!” came the uniform cry from her friends, each with varying degrees of happiness to see her back again, and a little bit of affection from the red-furred pegasus among their numbers.

“What happened back there, Trixie?,” Stonehenge rumbled in his deep voice.

“I—hmm...may I?” Trixie asked, looking back at the Empress.

“You may,” said the Empress, right before she descended into another coughing fit.

“Mother. I think it is time for your feeding.”

Larynx stepped forward again, having stood as solid and stone-faced as the changeling guards. Trixie noted uneasily that except for rotating on guard whenever she or Noire had moved around, they were in the exact same position as when she had first entered this room several hours ago. They were true professionals.

Trixie opened her mouth to explain what had happened down there, only to break off as Larynx moved forward towards the Empress and pressed his mouth against hers. Intuitively, Trixie knew what it was. Her father had very occasionally shared his love energy with her mother, turning it physical and sharing it via a kiss. There was another method for changelings to transfer energy, one that required no contact and was entirely platonic, but her father had been entirely romantic.

However, this was no romance. Instead, Larynx was feeding the Empress.

The effects were quick. Some of the splotches on the Empress’ carapace became less noticeable, and the black parts started to shine. Her hair was just a little brighter, and she perked up, slightly more energetic than she had been. Even her breathing became steadier, more moderated.

As Larynx moved away, the Empress answered the unspoken question. “Long have I lived, ever since the time of the Windigos. I have survived the reign of Discord. I have watched your pony kingdoms rise and fall and rise again, and I can truthfully call your pony princesses my juniors. But it has cost me. Though the mind remembers, the body cannot keep up. My daughter Queens may go through trials, but they are nonetheless cruel. Why else would they give unto me the title of Empress and keep me alive when I, a cripple, cannot even feed anymore, requiring my Voice to sustain me? Even my eyesight and hearing have steadily declined these last few years. Soon, I will be confined to merely my tongue, which has yet to fail me, but even then I need a Voice. I faced the Windigos, yet I am not allowed to face death.”

Trixie clenched her teeth. Somehow, it hadn’t hit home until that moment just how truly old the Empress was. Sure, she had lived over a thousand years, but Trixie had not even heard the Empress talk much of her past. However, seeing her be fed by another, like a common foal instead of a mare, was more decisive than the Empress’ mere appearance. The older crone was less a changeling than she was a husk that continued to be inhabited by an old soul.

“But enough of that. Yes. You may tell your friends what happened down there.”

The unicorn mare sighed. She wanted so desperately to ask the Empress now for the secrets of what the hybrids could do, as she had promised, but the elder was right. Instead, Trixie turned back to face her five friends, who had clustered together after being sprawled out. “Again, what happened, Trixie?,” Stonehenge asked, his golden-yellow eyes showing both concern and curiosity.

“It was...a mysterious thing,” Trixie began. She swallowed as she figured out a way to explain the truth of what had occurred. “There is a pool down there, perhaps big enough to be called a pond, but a pool nonetheless. When you approach it, your reflection in the water takes a physical form.”

“It what?” Red Wings asked in a surprised outburst.

“It takes physical form,” Trixie repeated herself. “The other me, I called her ‘Altrix’, she said that it was the ‘Pool of Reflections’. I think it was less a pool and more a magical artifact, maybe an ether sink, or a connection of leylines perhaps, but the pool had...gained sentience after a sort? Altrix said the pool, it turns your reflection back at you. It makes you face yourself, all that you are, both your good qualities and your bad.”

“Trixie...the Amulet?” Noire asked, attempting to tiptoe around the sensitive subject.

Trixie nodded. “Yes, the Amulet. Even four years later, I still feel a taint on my soul from those days. It’s no longer as potent as it was, but there is still some of it clinging to me. Like, the best way I can describe it as really is grease that you can’t get out of your fur, no matter what. Altrix, the pool, they forced into the open all the nasty truths and secrets that I’ve been hiding from for my whole life.”

Stonehenge shuddered. “That sounds like it was an awful experience.”

She answered his shudder with her own shiver. “It was,” Trixie admitted. “Yet, it was also...liberating? I needed it. It was cleansing. It was deeply personal, and Altrix didn’t care to go easy on me. Easy wasn’t what I needed. If she had gone easy on me, I would never have achieved the epiphany I needed. Every excuse I came up with, she threw right back in my face and trampled it until I was stripped of the layers of lies I’ve built to protect myself over the years. It...it...it hurts. I don’t think we’re meant to be called out that way. We build up lies that we tell ourselves so all our failings, our shortcomings don't keep us awake at night. Altrix used it to hurt, before she used it to make me heal. But it’s still painful, thinking about what she did.”

“I see,” said Stonehenge. It was clear that the subject of what had happened down at the Pool of Reflections, while profound, was deep enough that pressing Trixie would be like attempting to soothe a wildcat with no mind but for its own pain.

“I can see why the changeling Queens go down there, to a one, before they are allowed to rule, though,” said Trixie. “I...do not quite like Queen Chrysalis, but she must have gone down there. She would have been required to face herself, too.”

“Yes. All of my daughters and granddaughters who wish to take over a hive must come here and go down to the Pool of Reflection,” the Empress added from behind her. “Not all of them come out for the better. Those who are able to adjust are those who are fit to rule. Those who cannot may return down there, but only a few have persevered through their first thrashing and worked up the courage to go a second time.”

“Perhaps those few have the greatest strength of will,” Trixie murmured. She couldn’t imagine going to see her shadow once more, so shortly after having already been metaphorically skinned.

“Would it be worth each of us going down there as well, then? I know I still have my own hang-ups from Sombra’s reign,” Iceheart said.

“No!,” Trixie barked, before backing off, pressing a hoof against her chest and letting her heart rate slow down after the sudden spike. Taking a few breaths, she said, “Well, maybe. If the Empress is willing.” Trixie said this with her back still to the Empress.

“Not all ponies would require it. After all, not every pony seeks to become an alicorn.”

Trixie spun around so quick she could have sworn she broke her neck. “Wha—how did you—”

The Empress cut her off. “It is a foolish sentiment, but an ambitious one. However, I already fought one monster in my day. I would not set upon this world another one in the form of a broken mare with too much power.”

“How, how did you…?”

“Wait, what? What is she talking about, Trixie?” Red Wings asked, taken off-guard by the way the conversation had suddenly gone. Trixie wants to become an alicorn? What is the Empress talking about? Wait, she’s not denying it. She...really?

Trixie narrowed her eyes. “The Pool of Reflections, were you—”

“Spying? Of course not. I would never spy on a ritual as sacred as confronting oneself down there. But I have ways of knowing,” said the Empress, cooly regarding Trixie before casting her gaze over the rest of the ponies. “What your pony friend has kept secret for so long is her burning desire to become an alicorn.”

“Are you serious? Oh gosh, you are,” said Windspeaker. Trixie felt fortunate that he did not feel hurt, merely shocked.

The other ponies attempted to chime in, but the Empress cut them off, her voice suddenly strong and her form no longer weak as she managed to stand up on her front two hooves for the first time. “Yes. Your friend Trixie kept it hidden well. Never once did she voice it out loud, or write it down. If she had, no doubt the Living Wind would have told you.”

“Bwah?!” Windspeaker himself was taken by surprise. “How do you know about the Living Wind?”

The Empress sniffed. “I never did, right until you walked into my cave. Such an interesting aspect of the forces of creation. I am glad to know that I am nearing the end of my lifespan yet can still learn new things. It is a good thing the Living Wind cannot read me. I did not take to secluding myself to Colt Springs only for a pony with an ability of freak birth to be able to eavesdrop on me.”

Windspeaker never told her about the Living Wind while I was down there? Trixie thought. Then how does she know about it? Wait. I thought it was just silly fantasy, but could she

“It really is just silly fantasy. I am no more a mind-reader than your pegasus colt still has one wing.”

“Urk.” Red Wing reeled as the Empress casually mentioned her knowledge of his past deformity. Aside from Iceheart, none of them had talked freely of their histories to the changeling. How does she know these things so easily?

The ponies had stood up, warily backing away as the Empress suddenly revealed profound knowledge of all of them. The Empress laughed. It was a light, jovial thing. “You think I am attempting to divide and conquer the six of you. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

“Then—explain!” Noire demanded, though she kept a close eye on Trixie at the same time from her periphery view.

“For a thousand years and more, I have travelled the world, and settled here in Colt Springs,” said the Empress. “In that time, I met countless ponies, gryphons, minotaurs, donkeys, and a hundred other species. Changelings are the ultimate empaths, able to sense the emotions of others, but I have lived longer than any other.” Sensing she had an enraptured audience, the Empress continued. “It would only make sense that, with time, I would become more experienced. I began to differentiate between platonic love, romantic love, familial love, the love of a crush, and the thousand other varieties of love. I could tell the hundred strains of joy, and the many shades of anger. Before I knew it, I could tell what creatures were thinking, not just feeling, based on the unique confluence of emotions that each of them had.”

She turned on Stonehenge. “You regret the fifty years that you have lost while in stone. The potential love you had at the time has since aged and passed, all without a chance to confess. Your parents are gone, and so are most of those you called friends. The world has passed you by, and you decided to leave to have a chance to get to grips with it, but you fear that what you really have done is to run away from what was once a home, but which now hurts you every second you were staying there.”

Stonehenge sputtered and choked. His large size was of no use in protecting him against the Empress’ accusations. That they were all too true rocked him to the core, and for the first time in years he felt like a colt being reprimanded by his dam again.

The Empress turned on Red Wings next. “You feel bitter at all those who used to be your friends, but you wonder if it was they who forsook you when you lost your wing, or if it was you who forsook them. You felt like a pathetic mongrel as you wandered from town to town, getting drunk far too many nights to count so you could forget the pain, and eventually having to be on the run from the law on top of that. Even as you regained your wing, you wonder if your new friends would forsake you too if somehow you lost your wing again and could not get it back. Even if you could explain the regrown wing, you feel too much shame to be able to return home and reunite with family, friends and neighbors alike.”

This time the pegasus felt his world shatter. Red-furred ears drooping as low as they could go, Red Wings couldn’t offer anything more up in defense than a soft, instinctive growl. A phantom pain emanated from his left wing, and Red folded it over his head partly to reassure himself it was still there, and partly to hide himself from the Empress’ words.

“You are actually a well-adjusted one,” the Empress said as she spun to face Iceheart next. “But you still have your fears and hang-ups. You wonder how much good you might have been able to do if you had fought King Sombra, even though you know you would have been outclassed. You feel you are a coward, allowing yourself to be effectively exiled into a fortress away from the Crystal Empire, all while leaving your sister and former friends behind to be enslaved by the Witch King. Even Sombra’s corruption as a colt is something you think you could have prevented, no matter that he was just one of a thousand faces in the background to you before his fall from grace and rise to power. You look at me especially as a face of fellow resistance against the Windigos and think you could have, should have been able to do better.”

Iceheart took the harsh remarks on the snout remarkably well. The purple-furred mare merely bowed her head. Though the effect was less than the two stallions beside her, Iceheart still felt her heart stir in turmoil. It took all her control to keep the hot tears in her eyes unshed.

“You scold yourself every day for not being more proactive with the Living Wind,” the Empress next said to Windspeaker. “Every time you know about injustice being done through the wind’s currents, you tell yourself ‘I could have done something to prevent this, I could be doing something still to prevent it’. Yet very rarely have you acted, only doing so when it involves minimum effort, wishing only to enjoy as best you can the rest of your days in this world before you fade away into the wind. You despise your timidity, and were it not for the appearance of a cure you would have gone to the grave hating this world for bringing you into it with such a curse, hating even the Living Wind that was your only companion for so long.”

Windspeaker trembled, his blue eyes losing focus as he zoned in and out of the world around him. It was a decisive takedown of his entire life. It was clear to him that the Empress of All Changelings deserved both title and reputation, if she was able to read him so thoroughly in a mere few hours. Even the rage he felt in his heart would be easily deciphered by her, if the Empress’ words about being so great an empath that she could effectively read minds was true.

“As for you.” Finally, the Empress turned to Noire. The batpony pre-emptively had her ears up against her head and her wings tucked in, already expecting harsh words. “You have felt that you were too passive your entire life, always reacting, never acting. You are not even certain that you truly wanted to be a guard, but were just following in your father’s hoofsteps. You believe you always took what your father was for granted, and only now that he is dead do you want to harness your heritage to pay tribute to his memory. You hate the way you ran away from home, and how you hid away far away from Canterlot for several months. Even when you returned, you slunk in under cover of darkness as another pony entirely. You never asked your mother tough questions when you did, because you were scared that she would hate you.”

Even though Noire had braced herself, it was not enough. Midway through the Empress’ words, she had already started sobbing. It had not helped that she was the last of the five that the Empress had turned on. Because Noire herself could sense emotions, she was already primed by the catatonic reactions of her four pony friends.

It was havoc. It was as if the Empress had become the Pool of Reflections herself, tearing each of the ponies apart in a methodical manner, exposing them more than they had been willing to open up to one another.

At the centre of all it was Trixie. The psychic assault on her five friends was magnified by the fact that they were her friends, and all the emotional training in the world could not deaden her empathic sense to this.

“Stop! Please, stop! Why are you doing this?!” Trixie pleaded, but she was unable to do more than that. She had her hooves around her head, instinctively trying to block off her ears from all the noise, but there was no noise, it was all empathic signal that no amount of blocking her ears would ever prevent. The emotional anguish continued to cascade, building up like a waterfall of sorrow created by tearing down the mental dams created by five ponies over their lifetimes. It was like a migraine to her, but even worse. For the first time, Trixie truly began to detest the gift she had inherited from her father.

The Empress looked on, not showing a hint of apology on her hard expression. “So you truly are a daughter of a changeling.”

Trixie was unable to reply to that, sobbing from the pain. Hot tears were dripping out from her eyes, blinding her. Once more, she was down on the ground, her limbs having given out at some point.

“Many centuries ago, I gave a blessing to one of my many sons who loved a pony mare to go and woo, then finally wed her. To my surprise, they managed to have a foal. I thought it was impossible,” the Empress said. Her words were so soft Trixie nearly missed them underneath all her own noise. “When I investigated, I found it was not to be a one-off, as the couple had two more foals. However, at the time, I was also dismayed to find that it would take a great deal of energy for conception, more than would be practical for our races to ever truly interbreed. That none of my daughters could reproduce with a pony without using still more of their hive’s power nixed that idea in the bud. Only if we went out into the open and received love and generosity from all ponies could it ever be possible.”

“But the existence of you half-breeds always lingered at the back of my mind. Several of you were born every generation. When I tracked their descendents down the ages, I saw a few interesting things. Ponies who would occasionally be able to use magic from a tribe not their own, which every new crop of half-breeds refined until the methods your fathers taught to you to use it were tried-and-true. Nearly all were strong empaths, many who would often go into healing professions as a result of their sympathy for others in pain.”

By now, Trixie was beginning to gain some normalcy over herself. It helped that the Empress had stopped talking her friends down. While she was the Pool of Reflections writ large in a changeling, being as savage and cruel as Altrix ever had been, she was far more brief in it than the ordeal the Pool had been. Though the initial onslaught had been rough, the Empress had quickly backed off. With her friends getting over the mental trauma, short as it had been, Trixie was in turn able to listen to what the Empress was saying.

“But what always struck me was that many ponies would eventually suffer in their old age,” revealed the Empress. “Ponies are not changelings. They cannot feel emotions over a lifetime without suffering from it, because they were never born with the mental conditioning we were. Most only showed small effects of this exposure rotting away at their minds, but some of your ilk were eventually deeply disturbed.” She paused, taking a deep breath, before finally the Empress sat back down, curling up on her throne. “It is good to see the both of you are not that strongly affected.”

Trixie nearly sputtered. Her mind rushed to a conclusion. “This was a test?!” She asked, feeling undignified. Everything that the Empress had just put her friends though was all merely to test Trixie and Noire’s empathic reactions? “You put my friends through all this just for a test?!

“It would be no worse than if they were to go down to the Pool of Reflections.”

The unicorn grit her teeth even more. Trixie felt the pain from the splitting headache she had just suffered, that was still there but lessening, metamorphose into a growing anger. She wanted to throw an outburst, but curiosity won out over anger. “Why?” Trixie asked firmly, pawing the ground with her hoof as she got up.

“I told you before. I will not unleash a pony out into the world with too much power and too little wholeness of will and spirit.”

Trixie bit her lip. “I would never—”

“Yet again you deny a truth. You picked up the Alicorn Amulet once already. Who is to say you will not similarly fall temptation again? You may think you have morals, but I have seen all too easily how that can be overridden by temptations and corruption. You can ask your friend Iceheart about King Sombra.”

This time, Trixie bit her tongue instead of her lip. She realised what the issue was. The Empress was being hyperlogical. But she either did not consider the ramifications of the hurt she had committed, or she had and simply did not care.

“The ends justified the means.”

There she goes again, doing that, Trixie thought, her muzzle scrunching up in anger and annoyance. An extreme talent for being able to interpret the thoughts of others through their emotions. How many years did she have to practice that for?

“Over fifteen hundred.”

Arrgh, and again. No wonder she compares herself to the Pool of Reflections, she’s both as nasty and as good as Altrix was. Wait. The Pool of Reflections. Something about that isn’t...she’s smiling. Why? No. If she’s been effectively able to read our minds since we first got here, she’s probably been manipulating us ever since we first got here. But...wait, she sent me down to the Pool of Reflections first.

“You wanted me to go down to the Pool and face myself first, didn’t you?” Trixie accused the Empress, and she knew she was right when the Empress hadn’t cut her off in mid-thought. “You could have simply torn into me when we first came in. Maybe you would have had to wait a few minutes to do whatever it is you do however it is you do it, but I would have been susceptible to it. Instead, you let me go down there. When I came back up, anything words you said to me personally would have been ineffective when my clone already did it.”

The Empress reared her head back and laughed. It was an oddly peaceful laugh, one that didn’t send her off in a coughing fit. “How right you are, my little pony.”

I knew it! Trixie thought in satisfaction. It was the first victory of any sort since the Empress had caught her off-guard in this mental battle. Wait, what is she...doing…?

“Mother! What are you—”

“Away, Larynx,” said the Empress as she lifted a hoof, dangling it precociously over the edge of her dais. Timidly, awkwardly, she lowered the hoof until it made contact with the first stair coming down from the stone dais. With a halting breath, she lifted her other front limb, and moved it down the next step.

It was one of the most pitiful sights Trixie had ever seen. The Empress had just put on a display of dominance, cowing all six of them into submission with mere words. Now, it was the reverse as she attempted to move on her own. Trixie had known it before, but seeing the old crone attempt to move, it was sad to know that potentially the sharpest mind the mare had ever seen in her short lifetime was in a body that was just so fragile. Already, the shine in the Empress' carapace that had been brought about briefly from her feeding was beginning to dull. Her lack of depth perception from having only one working eye was useful with every step she made. The changeling’s torso was so skinny, and her tail had been cropped off to a nub. Even the holes in her limbs, trademark to the changeling race, looked as if they were wasted away.

After several minutes, the Empress made her way down the few short steps of the dais, and then walked up to Trixie. Perhaps she had been as tall as Queen Chrysalis was when she was older, but now the Empress was just a touch shorter than Trixie herself. Nonetheless, she did not look up, forcing Trixie to look down to meet her eyes. Even now, the former leader of the changelings had her pride.

“I am Anfang. I am the progenitor of the changelings.”

“Anfang.” Trixie rolled the name around on her tongue. It was not a changeling name that she knew of. Then again, Trixie doubted any changeling would name his or her offspring the same name as the Empress. Still, Anfang had been courteous to at last give her name, so she would do the same. Giving a slight curtsy, she said, “I am Trixie Lulamoon. My birth name is Bellatrix Midsummer, but that is not who I am.”

“Greetings, Trixie, daughter of Wooden Chisel and September.” Anfang rose a hoof, and it took Trixie a moment to realise what it meant.

They shook hooves.

“You’ve always wanted ponies and changelings to be able to co-exist peacefully, haven’t you, Anfang?”

“I am the Empress of All Changelings,” said Anfang as she lowered her hoof. “My daughters may have given that title to me to mock my fall from grace as my body declined to this decrepit husk you see now, but I accord my new title a great deal of respect. It means that I am responsible for all changelings, not just the ones who live in the hive underneath Colt Springs. For many years, I have been concerned about my race’s future as we become further and further secluded from the hearts of others, especially after my foolish daughter Chrysalis’ actions in invading Canterlot. When you entered the hive and came here, Trixie, you delivered unto me the greatest gift I could possibly have received, if only you could survive the trial of the Pool of Reflections. When you did, I knew you were the pony I needed. Become an alicorn, and with your strength and wisdom, you can bridge the great chasm that has opened up between my people and all other races, but especially the ponies.”

Trixie’s eyes widened. “Then—”

“All of this was a test, yes. But it was not guaranteed to be a success. More than the risk of you becoming another King Sombra, you are the daughter of a changeling and a pony. Were you to change into a tyrant like him and ponies found out of your heritage, my race would be even more ostracised than it was before. Any half-breeds such as you would be hunted to extinction by those who are driven by fear more than rationality.”

Trixie swallowed back an enormous lump that had formed in her throat at that thought. If she had failed...Trixie hated to think about the possibility of others like her being killed merely for what they were. Changelings like her father proved that ponies and changelings could live together, but one moment of giving into temptation could have torn that potential future asunder forever.

“Your reflection told you that merely being a healer of others would not be enough of a reason to become an alicorn. I cannot disagree. Even I, who have lived ages, am not of the same divine status as an alicorn. But if you become one and use the chance to heal not just others, but the relations between two entire races, that will be enough.”

Closing her eyes, Trixie briefly meditated, breathing in and out. I never had a chance to fight, did I? Ever since I came in, both Altrix and the Empress have helped to guide me so far.

“We have,” said the Empress, smiling.

“Then I’ll do it,” Trixie said, at last committing to her decision, ending the conflict that had been stirring in her heart for several weeks. “I will become an alicorn, and use my new status to bring us all together. Not just changelings and ponies, but changelings and every other race.”

“A noble sentiment, then,” said Anfang, before she frowned. “But the Alicorns are not just merely a step above a unicorn, a pegasus, or an Earth pony. They are partially divine. No matter how great your magic is, a mere illusion cannot capture something of the divine on its own. To emulate the divine, you must first understand it. As I interpret your powers, you will never be able to ascend on your own. There is a limit to what magic can by itself. You must have an alicorn right in front of you to be able to.”

Trixie felt like she had just been slugged in the barrel, letting out a visible ‘oof’. “Right in front of me? You mean, I have to actually be next to one of the Princesses to ascend?”

“Your true skill only shines when you are in great conflict. Only when you have been driven to help another pony have you been able to advance in leaps and bounds. So will it be the same. You cannot merely walk up to a Princess and use your magic. You could ask them for help, and do it on peaceful terms, but I know them. They cannot abide a pony that they have not had their hooves on for their entire lives ascending. Even if there are two new Princesses that I have never met, I know they would not be where they are without the sisters coaxing them into it, and slowly bringing them into the ideal of absolute stability. It would be doubly so impossible were they to find out you had a changeling father. No. You must somehow get an alicorn to fight you. Only when their divine presence is in front of you can you copy their sheer being and trick existence into believing you are the same as she. It will take you coming to blows with an alicorn merely once...no, maybe two times, to become one yourself if you execute your magic perfectly.”

“Twice?!” Trixie yelped. “No, even once would already be enough. How could I possibly face any of them? I might have learned how to make the field of magic I specialised in do things I never imagined possible, but I am no battle mage. The most I’ve ever fought in my life with magic was when I,” she paused to swallow, before continuing, “When I wore the Alicorn Amulet.”

Anfang looked at her for the first time with concern. “Your path is fraught with hazards, pony of the crescent moon and wand. I cannot be certain if merely once will be enough, so you should make certain to have a fallback plan, though the Princesses will be aware of you as a threat to their hegemon after your first attempt. I am no alicorn myself, after all. Though I am strong, old, and wise, I am no more celestial a being then the worms that crawl in the dirt. Still, the longer you can prolong your first conflict, the better a chance you have of ascension.”

“That doesn’t answer my question!,” protested Trixie. “I am no fighter, no matter how much magic I have learned.”

“We will help you,” Anfang said, reassuring the younger mare. “My daughter, the Queen of this Hive, listens to me in most things, the only one of my many children along with Larynx who have made sure to provide for me even as I grew old. You may not be strong now, but you may remain here in Colt Springs, both on the surface and in the Hive, so long as you require. I have a thousand years of knowledge of what the true abilities of half-breeds, hybrids, can become. It will not be a lifetime of training, but I am certain between tailoring your illusions to help in battle and what we can teach you, it will be enough.”

Trixie bowed her head. She still wasn’t certain.

“But enough of that. While I hope you will do a marvelous job, that is all in the future. For now, you should talk to your friends.”

Her heart thumped, as Trixie turned around and faced her five dearest comrades, the ponies she had met and gathered in her journey leaving from Whinnychester and eventually coming here to Colt Springs. They all had varying emotions on their face, but to a one, none of them felt angry towards her. Her heart thumped some more, but this time Trixie was happy, instead of nervous.

She turned back to face Anfang. “What about them, then? If I am to face an alicorn, I would not want them to be left behind if they will join me.”

“We will provide them with training, too. Though we are not ponies, many of my sons and daughters have spent years among the ponies, learning their secrets and skills. Three of you are already experienced in battle. Between the six of you, and your many talents, I am certain you can find a way.”

Trixie bowed her head again, accepting the Empress of All Changelings’ words. It felt like their conversation was almost at an end. Then, she had a thought.

She looked up to Anfang to see if the elder mare would interrupt her and answer her or deny her question before Trixie could even ask it, but Anfang merely nodded. Trixie breathed in, then said, “The way you talked earlier about granting your son permission to love a pony mare, and the way you seem to want for ponies and changelings to be able to live together...did you ever love a stallion, Anfang?”

Anfang held her head low as well, a soft smile on her face, eyes closed. Then she raised her head back up, opening her one good eye. The peaceful, content expression remained. “Of course. Who do you think Colt Springs was named after?”

Trixie nearly jumped at that answer. It was unexpected, yet it felt so true.

You truly are full of surprises, aren’t you, Anfang? Trixie thought to herself as the Empress turned around to move up. But one thing still bothered Trixie. With my power, couldn’t I—


Trixie let out a small ‘eep’, flushing. Being reprimanded felt like she had been caught with a hoof in the cookie jar when she had just been a filly.

“Time is a force to be respected. Even if you usurp the heavens, I would still not ask you to conquer time for me,” said Anfang, her back to Trixie. “I may be old, but that is the normal consequence of all living things. Even those who claim immortality, such as the sisters, must die someday. Besides, were I to be made young once more by the power of your illusion, I would fear my own potential. If already I can effectively read the minds of any who come before me, I would not be able to trust myself going back out into the world. There will be others, no doubt, who will plead with you to do the same for them in the future. You will have to think carefully before renewing one’s youth other than perhaps your own. What is old cannot be made anew, even if the flesh appears to be so. Make your father proud.”

With that, the Empress at last crawled back onto her dais. It was an epic struggle for her, perhaps even more than coming down, but the Empress was a strange creature of pride and wisdom. Trixie considered herself blessed to have met Anfang, even if she had been cruel with the way she had torn into her friends. But what did she mean about making my father proud? Does she even know about that…?

My friends, right, Trixie remembered as her train of thought changed tracks. For however long she continued to stay in Colt Springs, Trixie was certain she would continue hearing Anfang’s wisdom. However, there were still five others that she would have to talk with and convince.

Turning around, Trixie walked back towards her five friends.

“So you want to become an alicorn,” Red Wings stated, wasting no time.

“Yes,” Trixie confirmed.

Iceheart narrowed her eyes. “But why?”

“It…” Trixie struggled to answer to her friend. In front of the Pool of Reflections and in front of Anfang, she had been able to reply, but to Iceheart, it was an entirely different thing. “It is many things. I want to continue helping others, but I remember those other patients at the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies that I could not. As the Empress says, I would be able to finally help my father's people get along with my mother's people. And, well..."

“Trixie,” Iceheart said in a warning tone, cutting Trixie off before she could gather her wits and carry on. “I grew up in the Crystal Empire with a colt named Sombra, and was witness to his fall into darkness. I watched as King Sombra took over, and was powerless to stop him. I will not stand for another tyrant to rise, one that I know I may actually be able to prevent.”

“Iceheart,” Windspeaker tried to say, only to be interrupted as well.

“No. I cannot help but feel this whole affair is foolishness. I heard what you and the Empress talked about, but I am unconvinced. You can heal individuals well enough as it is now, just as you managed with Windspeaker. Why can you not build up a reputation as a grand magician capable of healing any injury, then reveal yourself as a magical hybrid? Perhaps you may have to lie a little in the process, but I am certain ponies would be better able to accept changelings if they see what the offspring of one is capable of with her magic.”

Trixie sucked in her breath. It appeared one of her friends was resolute to hound Trixie about her desire. This was why she had not revealed it sooner, but now, Trixie had no choice but to answer.

Stonehenge spoke before Trixie could stand up before up for herself. “Iceheart, I do not think Trixie would simply rashly decide she wants to become an alicorn. She has a noble heart. If her conviction is strong, then surely she—”

“Quiet, Stonehenge,” Iceheart reprimanded the large stallion, making him clench his teeth and narrow his golden eyes. “I will not mock you for your accomplishments, for they are great ones. But you never lived under King Sombra like I have. None of you have. I would be remiss to simply stand by and watch as Trixie loses herself to several subsequent choices and always going ‘it is for the greatest good’, while it is never enough to whet her own appetite.”

“Y-you truly think so little of me?,” Trixie asked, ears splayed back as she thought she was seeing one of her friends turn on her.

Iceheart snorted. “Think little of you? Hardly. I have journeyed with you, Trixie. I know your heart almost as well as my own. It is for your heart that I express my concern. I cannot stop you wholesale from committing folly, but I can discourage you from doing so.”

“Oh,” said Trixie, feeling better with that answer. “But no, I do not think of it as folly. Deep down, perhaps I do want power. Altrix, my reflection that is, the clone that greeted me down there at the Pool of Reflections, she...she laid my life bare to me. But she also made me realise something.”

“What is that?” Iceheart sharply asked.

“The first time I thought about it was when I cured Stonehenge of his petrification,” Trixie replied, taking a brief nod at the grey-furred stallion in question. His eyes widened in surprise at finding out his time as a statue was the genesis for her ambition. “I thought it was more of, ‘This is something I was able to do that Princess Celestia could not, and did not think she could do at this point in time’. That I was somehow better than her in at least one marginal way. But I was looking at it the wrong way then. I have achieved greatness in attempting to solve a problem that each pony I have met on the road has had. Were I to become an alicorn, there is perhaps no illness I cannot heal.”

“So you say,” Iceheart said, still regarding her cooly. Frowning, she stared at Windspeaker and Stonehenge. “I assume neither of you truly have an issue with what Trixie has said, do you?”

“Well…” Windspeaker fidgeted under his glare, feeling for once like the protagonist of many of the stories he had read where a colt was torn between two fillies, or a filly torn between two colts. He worked up his courage, and said, “Yes. I am a little bit upset Trixie did not confide in us, but if I did not know even through the wind, then it must have been something she has really been quiet about, if she did not even mention it to herself in private.”

Trixie felt a little bit disturbed at that. Had she talked in her sleep even once, Windspeaker would have known about it.

“My feelings are the same as Windspeaker’s,” Stonehenge intoned. “Well, minus the part about having the Living Wind to know almost everything about anypony.”

Windspeaker just let out a huff at the teasing.

“I won’t even ask you, Red, no offense,” Iceheart said. It was a taciturn dismissal, but everypony knew about his crush by now.

“None taken,” Red Wings answered. He had been focused on keeping his wings tight to his side. Had he not, Red Wings suspected they might have flown open as part of a fight-or-flight reflex. Iceheart was playing hardball, and though he wished to defend Trixie, he knew Iceheart was right. This was not a conversation he could reasonably be asked to take part in due to his bias.

“Then what about you, Noire?,” Iceheart asked, turning to the last of the group.

“Erm, um,” stuttered the batpony. Noire had realised Iceheart would eventually question her, but still felt herself wilt under the Crystal pony’s tough look. Even though she had been a soldier herself, Noire would easily admit her career as a guardspony had been nothing in comparison to Iceheart’s.

Noire scrunched her nose in intense concentration. “I spent several months with Trixie in Whinnychester before she helped me gain a second skin,” Noire began, then squeezed her eyelids shut as she realised how morbid that description sounded. “Er, a new appearance. I’ve know Trixie to be lazy, and selfish, and sometimes just a total slob.”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence,” said Trixie, inciting snorts from the stallions. Still, Trixie's own heart was tense at Noire’s words and Iceheart’s resoluteness.

“Sorry, sorry! But, um. Throughout that whole time, while Trixie was attempting to better her magic, she never once was truly concerned with getting power. Trixie had a hang-up about leaving town following learning of Wooden Chisel’s death, but she managed to help herself at the same time she helped me out. Trixie just isn’t the sort of pony to really think about things like getting stronger for getting stronger’s sake. We chatted into the wee hours of the morning many nights, sitting by her fireplace, up until and past when the last embers died out. I know of the Alicorn Amulet event. I also know it was when she fell into the lowest point in her life, after working on a rock farm for many months, that Trixie finally snapped and went and put the stupid thing on. So long as even one of us remains her friend, I know Trixie will never fall like that again.”

It was a speech from the heart, and Noire exhaled deeply after finishing. The marble-coloured batpony put a hoof up against her chest, no doubt to feel her own rapid heartbeat. Trixie found herself speechless at Noire’s words. She hung her head. Though Trixie smiled, she could feel tears welling up. Noire’s were simple words, but they had been beautiful words. Thank you, Noire, New Moon. I wonder what you think of all this, Anfang?

“Very well,” Iceheart said at last, assenting to the rest of the group. It seemed that Noire’s words had been enough to convince her as well. She turned to face Trixie again, blue eyes meeting violet. “I trust you with my life, Trixie. You are more charismatic than I. I have led a thousand. You lead merely five, but our loyalty to you I think is absolute. It is still not something I like the notion of, you becoming an alicorn, but so long as you are willing to confide to us in the future and listen to me, not just hear me out but truly listen, I will follow you down whatever foolish road you wish to take us. Even if it is into Tartarus itself.”

“Iceheart…” Trixie bowed her head. “Thank you very much. Thank you so, so much.”

“You can thank me by never letting your heart turn as dark as Sombra’s did.”

Slowly, each pony looked one another in the eyes. What had started as a fellowship of two in the rural village of Whinnychester had added on one pony after another, until suddenly they felt complete, like a whole group. They had just gotten past a moment that could have fractured them whole. Trixie, Noire, Iceheart, Red Wings, Stonehenge and Windspeaker all knew that they could have just been irreparably separated. Even the loss of just one of them would have been like the loss of all of them. Instead, they had pulled through. Right now, their camaraderie had never been stronger.

The six put their hooves together. They shook hooves.

When they at last broke apart their hoofshake, Trixie turned back to face the Empress, once more sitting on her dais. Colt Springs was a pleasant enough place to live, but Trixie knew the next while was going to be long and arduous as the six prepared for their showdown. They would have to spend many nights talking to one another about the holes in their hearts the Empress had exposed with her powerful psychic assaults, reconciling their regrets with the present. Though they still needed the training to fight a battle, in her heart of hearts, Trixie knew both she and her friends were all ready. Was this what Princess Twilight Sparkle felt when she first activated the Elements of Harmony with her dearest friends? Trixie wondered.

“Anfang, we’re ready.”


It was a different group of ponies who left Colt Springs six months later than when they had arrived.

“To ascend, I must force Princess Twilight Sparkle into a confrontation,” Trixie said as she floated along the ground under perpetual self-levitation, reiterating the plan they had developed and rehashed many times in the half-year since the Empress had first hosted them. There was no question about which alicorn Princess that Trixie would face off against. Trixie didn’t believe in destiny, but it was only fitting that she would fight the one who had been responsible for two of three major upheavals in Trixie’s life. “It won’t be any little incident that will get her to fight me, but I can’t just ask her to duel me. I won’t commit anything immoral to get her to come to me.”

“For that, you need the Alicorn Amulet,” Red Wings said, reaffirming their plan. He had since gotten used to flying again, reducing the little bit of flab around his primaries that had resulted from being ground-bound for so long. A changeling therapist had broken him of his psychological inhibitions from sharp turns, developed over years of simply not having a left wing and losing the instinct to use it.

“Indeed. If there’s one thing I know the guard treats seriously, it will be the pursuit of those who seek out dark magic artifacts. If you steal the Alicorn Amulet back from the zebra who lives in the Everfree, and she passes it on, there will be an army on you soon enough. From what I know of Princess Twilight, both of her history with you and the Amulet and the Everfree being so close to her own castle, she shall surely join the chase as well,” agreed Noire. Having been a former guard who had kept up her exercise, her appearance had changed little since first coming to Colt Springs. However, though she looked a batpony with a wiry frame and velvety wings, Noire now possessed many tricks than just mere flight. Learning both Earth pony and unicorn magic, she could throw a spell followed by summoning a rock with her hooves followed by flapping her wings and sending out a compressed burst of air meant to bludgeon. Nopony would be able to see all her tricks. Noire had gone a long way from asking Trixie for help with magic that normally only unicorns could use, all the way in back in Whinnychester.

“We will need to hide out in the Everfree Forest afterwards, at the Castle of the Two Sisters. We have lots of time to make it our home and scout out to learn the area before the Amulet is stolen. When the Princess falls upon us with Equestria’s finest, they will fall into a trap months in the making,” said Windspeaker. The months had been fine to him. Gone was the scrawny unicorn who had barely been able to walk out of Room 512 at the Centre for Mysterious Magical Maladies. In its place was a strong stallion of stout stature, confident in both his mind and body. Though Windspeaker’s normal magic was still below par for a unicorn, he had made leaps and gains, and he had become more familiar with the capabilities of his lifelong companion. “The Living Wind tells me that the Castle is a safe place for us to go. Perhaps we can fix it up a little when we are there for the battle that shall come.”

“Hmm, the Castle of the Two Sisters. It has been a thousand years since I have seen it. I fear that it will have become decrepit and run-down since. The image I still have in my head is of a radiant and shining fortress that brought hopes to the hearts of ponies both close and afar.” Iceheart tilted her head curiously. “Perhaps it shall do that again when it becomes the birthplace of a new Princess.” Iceheart had changed little since she first entered Colt Springs, her budding romance with Windspeaker aside. She was still a fighter through and through, and had merely refined her technique. Though she had agreed to Trixie’s plan initially, Iceheart had at last fully warmed up to it in the last few months, bonding more thoroughly with everypony else.

Stonehenge brought up the rear. “It feels weird. I would have never thought I was in history in the making when I fought as part of The Wall, yet I became a permanent fixture of the town’s character for fifty years. Now I find myself thrust into another conflict, this time a rebellion against my entire nation. Well, maybe a rebellion is too strong of a word. Truly, were it not for how blasphemous it still seems, this would merely be us helping a friend reach her fullest potential. Do not regret the path you have taken, Trixie. We are your friends, as I have said. It would be remiss of me to shirk my own choices and walk away now.” The enormous stallion had somehow managed to grow another hoof-length while in training, as he engaged in mock battles with several of the changeling guards at once on a daily basis. Through meditation and careful cultivation of his own magic, Stonehenge’s body had become even more of a literal wall.

Trixie smiled at her dearest friends and the words of support they had given her. Then she smirked. She let the haughty arrogance that had once been her downfall come back up to the front, but her words were all in jest. “The Great and Powerful Trixie will put on the greatest show Equestria has ever seen. It would not do for her act to be brought by a subpar group of performers. Come, ponies! We challenge this staid society before us, to show them that they need not fear aspiring to break their limits! We will bring ponies and changelings back together, and reconcile them for once and forever. It may yet end in ruin, but who dares, wins! Let us march, my little ponies!”

There was a great challenge in front of the six ponies who had been brought together by a single mare daring to wander out into the world and pioneer her power to an unheard-of extreme. They would all answer that challenge with gusto.

The Living Wind howled.


Well-Known Member
'Castle: Friendship'


A ribbon of green wound through the dark sky, its majesty left undenied by the canopy of the Evergreen Forest. The stars beyond dotted the rest of the darkness, reminding Trixie rather much of the star bear she had once encountered in Ponyville in a time past that was now ancient. She was finally over that incident now, and thus could appreciate the beauty of a million billion stars twinkling in unison.

“The aurora is nice tonight, isn’t it, Red?”

Red Wings nodded from beside her. “Yeah.” He seemed oddly contemplative. Trixie was content to let him think, but the red-furred pegasus spoke up again. “When I was younger...when I was a colt, before I lost a wing, I would occasionally get to see an aurora. It didn’t happen very often where I lived down south.”


“Every time I always saw one though, I always thought that one day I could just take a running leap, fly as high as I could, and touch the lights in the sky.” Red Wings sighed, sounding whimsical. “It didn’t work, obviously. When I tried it once, I quickly learned how cold it got when you went too high up, and had to ground myself. Then when I grew up I learned the boring stuff about how the aurora worked, but especially that it was even farther away than the sun and the moon.”

“The sun and the moon aren’t that far away,” Trixie said.

“But far enough away that you would never be able to touch them with your hoof. Well, unless you’re Nightmare Moon I suppose, but that’s cheating to count her.”

After leaving Colt Springs, the six had detoured down south to visit Las Pegasus, grabbing a few supplies. Though there were few limitations to what Trixie’s power over the forces of creation could do, the idea of eating food conjured out of nothing was unappealing. That, and the want for several other things made by craftspony hooves warranted the side-trip. Following that, it was off in a nor’easterly direction towards the centre of Equestria. The Everfree Forest, sprawled out over a large mass of land to the west of both Ponyville and Canterlot, beckoned them.

It was mid-afternoon when they entered the Everfree from the west, intending to make it to the Castle of the Two Sisters by early evening. Under other circumstances, six ponies going through the Everfree Forest would have been best off going in the morning, if not going around it altogether. After all, maximising the daylight hours possible was most advisable when heading into the dense treetops of the forest. However, most ponies had not just spend six months of training under multiple changelings with training in battles and skirmishing. Most ponies also did not have the Living Wind with them to help detect potential threats in the Everfree well in advance, or to scope out the easiest path through. By now, the sun had fallen, and the moon had arose in the sky, dancing with the aurora.

It was with his head held high that Windspeaker was leading them all through the forest, confident stride after confident stride taking the ponies closer and closer to the Castle. Each of them was an invaluable part of the team, and though Windspeaker had suffered in building up physical mass on his once-lanky frame, the unicorn was glad he would not have to stay in the back lines when their inevitable confrontation with Equestria came to pass.

Despite all the rumours and hearsay about the Everfree, however, Trixie found the place oddly gentle. There was always sound, whether it was the chirping of birdsong, the distance rumbling of running water, or the braying of a wild animal. It wasn’t quite like the Equestria of the tame and passive that Trixie knew, but it was something with charm and rusticness of its own.

“How odd,” Iceheart said, taking a look around. “A thousand years has passed, and yet this place seems no different.”

“You did say you used to come here before, didn’t you?” Noire asked, sweeping her gaze around for any potential threats. The batpony didn’t wish to rely on the Living Wind too much, seeing it as a crux in the making. “I’ve had to come through here several times on tour, but that always was with at least a dozen other ponies at a time.”

“Yes. I couriered messages to the Castle for the former rulers of the Crystal Empire before King Sombra rose to power. Though I had to watch out for a few of the monsters that I was told wandered through the forest, I never had any true worry. It seems so quiet now. I wonder why it is that ponies now seem to ascribe so much nebulousness to this place,” Iceheart opined.

“Ponies have grown more timid, I think,” Noire said. “The last thousand years has been an era largely of peace. Maybe our ancestors had to be vicious and vile to survive, but most of us today haven’t.”

“Even me and my friends were docile once, waking up with the sun and farming until nightfall,” Stonehenge mused as he brought the rear of the sextet. “In a village with a hundred able bodies, twenty joined The Wall, and a mere six formed its core. But when the monsters appeared from the Black Forest, we answered the calling without hesitation.”

“Which is good. We might be peaceful, but there are those of us who will fight back when our backs are pressed against the wall,” said Noire. “Like Red Wings.”

“Hey!” Red Wings retorted in indignity, eliciting several laughs. He blushed, though it was barely visible through his red coat. “Well, I’m still honestly not certain myself how I managed to beat up two guards. All I could see was my freedom to wander being slammed shut, and then the rest was a blur.”

“You do possess a degree of wanderlust, don’t you?” Windspeaker asked, empathising with the other stallion. “Spending six months in Colt Springs must have been tough.”

“Yeah. Me and Trixie both,” Red Wings concurred, eying her up from the periphery of his sight. “I’m just glad we weren’t stuck down there the entire time and could come up to the surface and stay there. Otherwise I really might have been driven stir-crazy.”

Having a few beach episodes certainly helped Red Wings. Though he only had one eyes for one mare, he had to admit seeing her playing in the water had lifted his spirits more than once in the six months that they had worked under the hard changeling trainers. He was certain Trixie had noticed and flashed him a few curves during those nice days off.

“I spent two years in Whinnychester. Though I was feeling a little claustrophobic near the end in Colt Springs, it’s not like I haven’t been stuck in one place for several months before in recent times. But yes, it was tough. It is good to finally hit the road again and explore once more.”

“It took you a little while to get over that mental wall of yours, didn’t it?”

“Yeah, it did,” Trixie replied to Noire. She wanted to say thank you to her batpony friend, but Trixie held her tongue. It wasn’t on Noire’s own initiative that the other mare had come to Whinnychester. In a way, it was the death of Noire’s father that had set this whole adventure in motion, and it would be tactless for Trixie to say ‘thank you’ for that.

Noire seemed to know what was going through Trixie’s mind, and passed her fillyhood friend an appreciate smile.

“Fillies, gentlecolts, we’re almost there,” Windspeaker announced. “It should only be a few more minutes and we’ll finally be able to see the castle.” He was doing an excellent job as their guide. They had not run into a single mishaps thus far in the Everfree.

Good thing for that. I may be over the Ursa Minor incident, but I certainly don’t want to see any of them or Ursa Majors! Trixie thought.

After making their way through a particularly dense underbrush, four out of six of them jumped over a small stream while Noire and Red Wings flapped their way over. None of them looked particularly clean. Iceheart was missing a small tuft of her purple fur on her withers where a sharp vine had gotten caught on her coat. Stonehenge, being as tall as he was, had a cut on his ear from the same thing. Red Wings had stubbed his frog against a particularly sharp rock, leaving him hopping for a few seconds and his hoof burning for several minutes after. Windspeaker, though he had avoided any harm, had started out with a white coat: every little bit of dirt that got into his fur or greenery that had rubbed up against him had left little specks of colour, making him look a mish-mash of white, brown and green. Trixie and Noire weren’t any better.

The only thing that helped was that the actual journey was not physically tough. Any rugged climbing up hills or through particularly muggy areas was mitigated by the fact the six ponies had just spent a half-year in more gruelling conditions than that. A mere uphill walk was not going to make anypony break out in a sweat.

At last, Windspeaker rounded a river bend into a small clearing, and stopped. “We’re here,” he announced.

Iceheart was right behind him, followed by both Red Wings and Trixie, then Noire and Stonehenge from the rear. As they rounded up into the grassy meadow with Windspeaker, they appreciated the site of the fortress castle that had once been inhabited by the two royal alicorn sisters, having approached the building from the back side.

Although it was dark out, and had been for some time, the light show in the sky easily managed to illuminate the castle's stone walls.

“So it really is as run down as I was expecting,” Iceheart noted. Though the foundation was still secure, the ramparts on the top of the castle had not aged well, with the stone railings having crumbled, making the roof an obvious hazard. Many of the windows had no glass to speak of. Time, wind and water had beaten away at the back, wearing what were once arrowholes into larger gaping maws. The ground around the castle was littered with stone blocks and other assorted materials that had fallen off the castle. It was quite sad what had happened to what had once been a shining beacon of light in Iceheart’s day.

Trixie scrunched her muzzle. The romantic in her was screaming out in anguish. Had she not told a thousand tales on the road in her role as a showmare, of castles and fortresses and palaces and observatories and many other grand, majestic buildings? To see the star of many an old faerie tale be relegated to a decrepit state was shattering to that romanticism of hers.

Always like the alicorns to play with a toy and then leave it, Trixie thought, before she scolded herself. No, they are reasonable beings, ponies just as much as I am. I cannot begrudge Princess Celestia for wanting to move out after having to banish her sister to the moon. Better to live somewhere else than fix up and have to continue living at the site of my greatest shame.

There was work to be done. Still, Trixie had no intention of doing much work today. “So, camp-out, anypony?”


In the end, they had chosen to camp out in the main throne room of the castle, where the two old thrones were, and the master organ on top of the stairs. There was enough stone that had fallen from the walls and ceiling over the ages to build a makeshift firepit. With some wood that had been quickly gathered from outdoors, Noire was able to coax out a fire, using a spell of flame to preheat the wood to the point it finally lit on its own. Though there was no natural exhaust stack for the smoke to leave through, the room was large enough for the smoke to rise and not bother their eyes, and several open or broken windows provided enough ventilation to keep the smoke from concentrating.

It was a surreal scene. Six ponies had travelled a long way, and now, inside of the ruins of the Castle of the Two Sisters, sat around a temporary fire. Night had only just begin when Trixie and Red Wings had observed the aurora earlier, meaning they still had many more hours to wait out until the day. Although Trixie, Noire and Windspeaker had taken to lighting the lanterns in the great throne room, they had gathered next to the fire. The crackling noise of the fire and the occasional sparks flying off its untameable tendrils were all the ambience they needed.

Trixie found herself at peace, lying her head up against Red Wing’s barrel. Theirs still wasn’t a full-blown relationship, but six months had led to a lot of talks. The pegasus was certainly more than a mere friend now, and the steady thump of his heartbeat was something reassuring.

Across from her, Windspeaker and Iceheart were similarly paired together. Iceheart was sprawled out over the floor, eyes closed in a serene rest, while Windspeaker held a limb around her own barrel. Though Stonehenge and Noire still didn’t scream a couple, being the two remaining ponies left in their group had brought the large stallion and the wiry batpony together in their own way.

“Tomorrow, we clean up, don’t we?” Windspeaker asked. His nose twitched as he looked around the great chamber.

“You mean I clean up,” Trixie corrected. A talented unicorn could sweep up all the debris in mere seconds. It was the finer repair work that would be more time-consuming, as gouged flooring, rotting stairs and shattered windows dotted the palace. An earth pony or a pegasus would have to have materials to be able to fix these things. A unicorn with the correct spellwork might be able to reconstitute the broken fragments into a whole piece. Trixie, with her power of illusion to reject the current framework of the world, would be able to make anew anything that was falling apart.

“If that is how you see it, then yes,” Windspeaker said, shifting in his position laying down. Trixie decided to drop the subject. The other unicorn had a hang-up about always wanting to be useful. Though Windspeaker had been helpful with getting through the Forest, not being able to contribute as much inside the castle itself was making him antsy.

“Tomorrow, huh?” Red Wings asked softly, his wings gently fluttering. A few of his feathers lightly ruffled Trixie’s muzzle, and she had to hold in a sneeze. “You know...I wonder how my friends and family are doing in Steeds right now.”

“Would you like me to tell you?” Windspeaker asked, entirely unironically.

Red Wings shook his head no. “No, that was more rhetorical than anything else. I suppose I would like to go back to visit them. Just, well…” He trailed off, looking at his left wing, the one that was partially wrapped around Trixie. “It’d be a little bit awkward to explain this. Once all this is done and over with, I suppose I could return home for a bit. If a pony can turn herself into an alicorn, healing a wing doesn’t seem so preposterous anymore, does it?”

“I suppose it doesn’t,” Windspeaker agreed.

“Perhaps you’ll have to take me with you when you do,” Trixie murmured. “I would much like to meet your parents.”

It was fortunate everypony already knew of the fate of Trixie’s own parents, as Red Wings dodged asking what would have been an awkward question.

“I don’t think it’ll be right away, though,” the red-eyed pegasus continued. “I mean, I’ve gotten over it, thanks to you, Trix. But still, I felt so awkward at home before I ran away after my accident. Maybe it really was me more than them, but I felt like such an outcast at times.”

“An outcast?” Iceheart suddenly spoke up, her snout still lying against the floor, ears hanging low, eyes closed as before. “Yes. I can appreciate that feeling of being ostracised. You should return when you have the chance. Settle your accounts if you think you cannot stay, but simply do it. Otherwise, you will beat yourself up with regrets later in life.”

The conversation grew quiet again. Though each of them had had rough points in their life, Iceheart’s was perhaps the worst with King Sombra.

Stonehenge was the first to revive the chat. “That makes me think. Aren’t we all outcasts, after a fashion?”

“What do you mean?” Trixie asked, curious to know what Stonehenge meant.

“Hmm, well, let me see. Ah, Iceheart was not much liked by the other ponies of the Empire for getting out of Sombra’s enslavement. Red Wings was more a social outcast, due to the loss of his wing. Not many would feel comfortable associating with somepony with such an obvious disability. I cannot really call myself an outcast, but being displaced by fifty years...it hurt. Hadrian, Antonine and Offa were right, I could not remain there for the rest of my life in Manechester. Windspeaker is not really an outcast from anything, but he had a secret magic that sets him out from every pony alive, that he could never talk to anypony about. You and Noire both have changeling fathers, which would at the very least be a social stigma if it were known, and I suppose Noire is still a runaway herself.” The large stallion had started haltingly, but picked up speed as he went on.

Trixie blinked. That...wasn’t a bad assessment, she mentally conceded. She said as much verbally.

“Being able to talk about the Living Wind was liberating,” Windspeaker admitted. “My parents know bits and pieces of it from when I was young and didn’t realise not everypony was connected to the wind. They brushed it off as a young colt’s imaginary friend. You five were the first who I ever revealed its true existence to...and I suppose the Empress was able to find out so easily.” The white-coated unicorn shuddered. Even now, the stallion felt a little sensitive to how the Empress had been able to read him, when usually it was Windspeaker who could know everything there was about a pony.

“I never did truly fit in as well as I would have liked in the corps,” said Noire. “Not that they were mean or anything, just that I felt out of place. I had drinks with them after work and got along with them in the barracks, but nothing like you mares and stallions. And certainly, I could never tell them what my father truly was.”

“Hmmm...so our hearts are alike in yet another manner, it would seem,” Iceheart remarked.

There were murmurs of agreement. This was the first night in a long time they had been able to talk freely like this, away from the Colt Springs and the Hive, outside of Las Pegasus, off the main highways that travelled through western Equestria, and all by themselves. There was an unspoken feeling that this would be able to last at least until they went forward with the plan to retrieve the Alicorn Amulet. Each hoped it would be able to continue past that moment.

Trixie let her head droop forward until she felt her horn press against the stone floor. It was cold. Though the fire heated the air, it was not enough to warm the floor around her. Trixie knew she could change that in a few moments, but she let it pass. Though the unicorn had come a long way in mastering her arcane talents, tonight, Trixie merely wished to sit among friends and while away the night.

There was still something she needed to bring up, and Trixie hated to do so, for it could yet again spark an argument. “Do you remember, everypony,” Trixie started as she lifted her horn off the floor, tilting her head up and getting their attention, “The first day we met Anfang?”

“How could we not,” Red Wings muttered. “I still can’t forgive the way she went about to teach us a lesson.”

“Yes, and I cannot disagree,” Trixie hurriedly said, only to move the topic along. “But near the end of our meeting, she refused the offer I was thinking. Do you remember that?”

Stonehenge blinked. “You are talking...of the offer to make her young again?”

“Yes,” said Trixie. “I was just thinking of it earlier. My power ideally holds no limits to what changes it can make to a pony’s body. It already cured Red Wings of his lost wing and severed the connection between Windspeaker and the Living Wind that would have caused him to die soon. I know it would be within the limits of my illusions to renew one’s youth.”

“You would have us be immortal?” Iceheart asked.

“No, not immortal,” Trixie rushed to defend herself. “Merely live for a long time. I think each of us would get tired eventually of living, and choose to pass away and go on to the endless pastures. Even if I became an alicorn, I too would meet my end.” There had been a couple of alicorns recorded in the histories of the past. Though they were not immortal as Princess Celestia and Luna were, they had lived longer than average. “Still, it would be lonely. I want to spend as much time as I can with all of you, my closest friends.”

Trixie swallowed a lump. She supposed even in the afterlife, they would still be able to meet. But her father had never explained just how the world of the dead would work. Trixie felt guilty, as if she were trying to suppress a natural force for her own selfishness. But Trixie had not lied: she really did want to spend forever with the five ponies gathered around the firepit.

“To live a long time, huh,” said Red Wings, feeling torn about it. On the one hoof, time felt something even more sacred than one’s species. In the case of alicornisation, at least two ponies in living memory had done it. There was a precedent for a third to do it, in order to surpass her limits. There was no precedent for artificially living. Still, the idea was intoxicating, if it meant he had more time to spend with Trixie.

Red Wings wouldn’t make his mind up right away. Instead, he leaned over and gave the blue-furred mare’s ear a nip, before rolling over onto his back, exposing his stomach to the warm air from the fireplace and the cool breeze coming in through a broken window.

“Hey!” Trixie squawked, rubbing her ear where she had just been nipped.

“Relax, Trix,” said Red Wings. “It’s not something to discuss about tonight. Sure, you brought it up, and I’ll sleep on it, certainly. I don’t want to think about things like aging and dying tonight though. I’d rather enjoy what I have, and if it means a pretty mare sitting next to me I’ll take it.

Trixie let out a sharp ‘hmmph’. “And I have to take having a great big red lump next to me.”

“Oh, how ye wound me with your words. Avast, you have keeled me body!”

“Amusing as this is,” Stonehenge interrupted, “I agree with Red Wings, Trixie. There is merit to your idea, but it is not without ethics for each of us to think over. I cannot say yes or no right away. I am certain Iceheart will especially have words to say about it, as the Witch King also sought immortality.”

“I do,” Iceheart muttered.

“So yes, your idea is out in the open now. Not tonight, though. I am content now. I will not trouble myself thinking about and debating it.”

Trixie deflated. It wasn’t a repudiation, and none of them seemed hostile to the idea of turning young again for decades or centuries more than biology would have allowed them. Still, she didn’t like putting it on the backburner. It gave her paranoia too much time to entertain possibilities of the others rejecting her and choosing to die after a regular lifetime, leaving Trixie all alone.

“Yes. We’ll talk about it later, then,” said Trixie. She forced herself to cheer up and not fall into the doldrums. Even if they all chose to die without renewing their youth, Trixie would still be satisfied with the many decades she knew she had with all of them.

The place fell into silence again, only the crackling of the fire and the soft breeze whooshing through the windows making noise. Occasionally, crickets could be heard off in the distance. Noire or Stonehenge would get up every so often to feed more wood into the fire.

Just as she was about to drift off to sleep in Red Wing’s embrace, Trixie frowned.

She stood up from the firepit. A few pairs of eyes followed her, before drifting back to the fire, assuming Trixie needed to stretch.

Trixie didn't need to stretch.

"Who are you?" she asked.

Those three words were enough to wake the remaining five ponies up from their relaxed state. Alert, Windspeaker cast his eyes and his elemental sense around the castle. He frowned. "What are you talking about, Trixie? There's nopony or nobody else here."

Trixie opened her mouth to refute him, only to be cut off.


All six ponies tensed up as a voice unfamiliar to them laughed, the creepy sound almost seeming to echo in the large space.

"How amusing. The Living Wind cannot detect me, yet you, a half-trained mutt, can. Oh, I'm going to enjoy this far more than I should."

Each of the three stallions and three mares stood up, taking a formation around the campfire as they had rehearsed a hundred times. Though they did not even know if the unseen feminine voice was a threat, the sheer obnoxiousness of its words were no show of goodwill.

“Where is she?” Trixie asked, muttering to herself more than out loud. For a brief second, she wondered if the voice was hiding itself through an illusion much like Trixie herself could. With that thought in mind, Trixie attempted to dispel any potential spells in the area, only to stop.

There was music playing. What was more, it sounded like it was from a keyboard-style instrument, almost like a piano, or an—

“Up there!” Red Wings said, pointing his hoof up the stairs. Everypony else quickly followed the direction of his hoof, to where the organ was located.

Sitting at the organ, playing an oddly haunting tune, was a figure wearing a brown cloak. Candles lit with green flames on either side cast it in a sinister light. Despite having been discovered, whoever it was continued to play. The music felt majestic, but it inspired simultaneous awe and foreboding in the six ponies who were witness to it.

Led by Red Wings, the six ponies crept up to the bottom of the stairs, wondering to a one just who this mysterious figure was, be it pony or otherwise. Finally, Stonehenge asked the obvious question. “Who are you?” His deep, loud voice reverberated, but even it was not enough to overcome the music.

“Who am I?” The figure asked rhetorically, continuing to play on. The words it spoke were soft enough to identify it as almost certainly female. “An interesting question. I suppose you could call me an old mare’s tale…” She said cryptically, trailing off.


Trixie didn’t even feel herself move, but move her hooves did, ducking away from her previous position. A second later, she saw what Iceheart’s warning had been for. Something dark had slithered across the floor before jumping up shy of where Trixie’s position had just been, making an attempt at swatting her. It wasn’t just Trixie, either: similar dark slithering objects, almost like tentacles, had attempted to attack all six of them. They hadn’t succeeded, but had Iceheart not warned them in time, at least one of them might have.

No, not tentacles. They’re almost…

“Well,” said the cloaked figure, abruptly stopping the music. The silence was short-lived as she suddenly slammed her front appendages into the organ keys, creating a long moment’s worth of loud, chaotic sounds that jumbled together. The ponies gathered around all winced at the high-pitched cacophony, not liking it one bit. “I’m a little bit surprised, not disappointed mind you, but surprised that none of you fell for that.”

Then the figure at last turned around that. Trixie’s breath caught in her lungs. Though she could not see the other figure’s face, she could see two glowing eyes the colour of gold. They glowed not like the Empress’ single eye or Altrix’ red eyes, but with a wild fervour that almost seemed to take on a manic life of its own. Strangest of all, they almost seemed to rotate in place. “Though I am disappointed you didn’t bring four more of you, even if you were able to succeed in bringing all five that you could have. I would have appreciated reciting Ten Little Ponies. It wouldn’t do for me to start almost half-way through.”

Trixie’s eyes widened. Thus far, the figure had attacked them once, and had appeared out of nowhere, but now she was talking about a poem in a manner that implied more than just malice. “Who are you?!” Trixie asked again, biting her tongue to chase back the fear that was creeping up.

“Oh, really? You still don’t—”

“I know who you are!” Noire suddenly declared, piping up, her brown eyes defiant. “I thought you were just, just an old mare’s tale, but you’re really not, are you? You’re the Pony of Shadows!”

Noire’s declaration managed to silence the figure under the cloak for a brief moment. In that time, Trixie’s head snapped back. She knew the tale Noire was talking of. Supposedly, when Princess Luna was banished to the moon for a thousand years as Nightmare Moon, not all of her evil magic was banished with her. Some of it remained behind, coalescing and forming a phantom pony, who would sometimes appear in…

The Castle of the Two Sisters in the Everfree Forest, Trixie thought as her eyes widened. The very same place they were now.


The Pony of Shadows, now so identified, threw her head back and laughed. “Ah, how long I have waited for some foolish mongrel to be able to see me for what I truly am! Truly, it’s been so long. Glory be, perhaps you can finally make me alive tonight!”

“Enough,” Stonehenge shouted, rebalancing his body to prepare himself for fighting or fleeing again at a moment’s notice. “Why did you attack us? What are your motives?!”

The Pony of Shadows sneered. The six may not have been able to see her face past her rotating golden eyes, but it was obvious that the Pony of Shadows was sneering. “I would have thought it obvious. Or do I need to be less subtle? But no, I suppose I’ve been rude. After all, I’ve failed to answer one of your questions so far, one you’ve even asked twice.”

"I'm the Pony of Shadows. But you, my little ponies..."

The Pony of Shadows suddenly tossed off her cloak, the garment flying through the air for a long second before making a soft thud against the floor. It took Trixie a second to break away from the mysterious mare's hypnotic golden eyes, and look at the rest of her face. Had Trixie walked past this pony in the past on the road, she was unlikely to have given the other mare a second glance. Her purple coat was a shade off from a unicorn Trixie had met in the past, and her mane was a slightly richer shade of violet.

Trixie's eyes wandered, only for her body to lock up. She thought the Pony of Shadows had been a unicorn, and sure enough, she had a horn. But what the old pony's tale had hidden with her cloak, and the purple mare didn't reveal her hoof until now about, was the set of wings at her side.

The Pony of Shadows was an alicorn.

"You can call me Deinos."


Well-Known Member
'Castle: Shadows'


“But you, my little ponies...you can call me Deinos.”

It took the six ponies gathered around the stage a few seconds to break out of their stunned state. In Equestria, ponies generally worshipped alicorns, even as the number had increased from one, to two, to three, and finally to four alicorns in the last few decades. Each of them had been immersed in that culture. Even if they were ponies with irregular backgrounds that prevented them from obseiant worship, they still generally respected the alicorns.

Now here was a fifth alicorn. Unlike the quality of noblesse oblige that ponies imagined alicorns to radiate, this Deinos had just attempted to attack them, with the obvious intent of killing them. Ten Little Ponies was a nursery rhyme that had endured in popular culture for many centuries, old enough that even Iceheart knew it. The malice the purple alicorn had mentioned wishing to recite it with made her intention obvious.

Windspeaker sucked in a deep breath of air. “An alicorn?” he asked aloud, stunned. Still, it was only the second-most surprising thing in the last few minutes for him. The most surprising thing was that the Living Wind had not detected the so-called Pony of Shadows. That does make sense why Trixie knew she was there before I did. The Living Wind cannot detect alicorns!

To Windspeaker, it spoke of another issue. But where did she come from? I thought there were only four alicorns in Equestria! The Living Wind was similarly agitated. It vibrated with what passed for surprise.

This alicorn obviously wasn’t a princess, however. Princesses didn’t attempt casual murder to start a conversation.

The unicorn was abruptly taken out of his thoughts as his warning sense went off. Looking down, Windspeaker saw the shadowy silhouettes at Deinos’ hooves suddenly coalesce and gather into one large mass, before swinging like a bludgeon at them across the floor. Yelping, Windspeaker jumped off the stairs to the side, keeping one eye on the shadow and one eye on the ground. There were still too many chunks of stone and mortar laying around, remnants of the battle that had occurred here a thousand years ago, and Windspeaker silently wished they really had cleaned up earlier. The stallion was lucky that he had not been hit by the shadow taken corporeal form.

The railing of the stairwell where Windspeaker had just been standing was not so fortunate. The shadow smacked the stone railing, breaking off an entire section and sending small splinters of rock flying. Windspeaker quickly used his magic to conjure a shield, protecting both himself and Red Wings, who stood next to him, from the shrapnel. With a quick peripheral glance, he was comforted to see the other four were also safe, having dodged or blocked the shadow and the follow-up storm of stones with their own methods.

No wonder she is the Pony of ‘Shadows’. That’s dangerous. I’ve never ever seen magic capable of manipulating shadows like that!

Well, it was true Windspeaker had never seen anypony capable of such. Through the Wind, he had at least heard of a rare few. Typically, they used a weak form of elemental manipulation, controlling shadows like they might fire or water. But what those other beings did, ponies and gryphons and zebras alike, was mainly used for parlour tricks, such as causing someone’s shadow to move around and grow and shrink.

In just the brief, fleeting moment that Deinos’ silhouettes had moved, Windspeaker knew her shadow magic was far more advanced than the elementalists he had heard about. Windspeaker himself was a precedent for how much control of an element a pony could possess. Unlike her, however, Windspeaker had never contemplated killing another pony like Deinos had just now attempted.

“Oh-hohohoho, at least you all survived this much!” Deinos cackled. Hers was a disturbing laugh: it was a deep one, her chest visibly shaking in mad glee. That the purple-furred alicorn had just attempted equicide made it even worse. “It’s good you stayed with that changeling witch for six months. I would have been disappointed if the show ended before it even had begun. I want to have some fun tonight!”

Suddenly, one of Deinos’ shadows moved right in front of her, just in time for a blue bolt of magic to strike it, dying out in an instant against the corporeal shield. Deinos blinked. As they spun around in their sockets, her golden eyes shone with malice. “Ooooh, my. So you actually did learn how to manifest magic like that? Yes, yes, I’m so glad you stayed that six months. The future where you came here immediately would have been so boring. Here, let me show you how it’s done.”

Noire grit her teeth. With her opponent’s warning, Noire instantly kicked off her hooves and swept through the air, just in time to avoid another silhouette strike. Though she had learned how to cast spells like a unicorn, she still required too much focus for the more powerful stuff. If Noire had to focus, it meant she wasn’t moving. Deinos had only acted a few times so far, but those moments she had was proof of the new pony’s potential lethality.

Suddenly, the batpony had a premonition of danger. Ignoring her earlier instincts to always be moving, she sat down and cast. Quickly, Noire put up a shield in front of her. The magic was nearly transparent in form, merely distorting the air like a fire giving off heat would create a haze-like effect. It came up just in time to block the Pony of Shadow’s own electric javelin strike. The ethereal shield shattered near instantly, the electricity continuing on. Fortunately, Noire had moved out of the way in the tenth of a second her magic had given her.

A sizzling smell of ozone permeated the air. It terrified Noire. She knew that if she had only attempted to dodge Deinos’ counterattack, she would have been a freshly-skewered batpony. The javelin had slowed down enough thanks only to her sudden use of magic. Noire felt her stomach doing flip-flops at the sudden brush with death. That nauseating stench of electricity and ozone in the air reminded Noire of too many bad memories in training and on patrol, and only those same experiences kept her focused on the impromptu fight and not on gagging.

Deinos would have surely taken advantage of Noire’s brief disorientation. However, the purple alicorn suddenly jumped in the air and spun with a flicker of her wings, and the shadows that surrounded her split into three separate tendrils. The tendrils intercepted a two-coloured bolt of magic and a large rock. The third tendril seemed to have done nothing at first, only for a high-pitched whistle to screech throughout the great chamber.

“Using your wings to shape the air and send an invisible razor-sharp slash at supersonic speeds, impressive,” Deinos said. As she appraised Red Wings, her golden eyes started to rotate even faster. The red pegasus growled. While Deinos had attacked Noire, Trixie and Windspeaker had combined their magic to send a joint magical beam at the Pony of Shadows. Stonehenge had settled for brute force, and picked up a large rock to throw at Deinos. Red Wings had snuck in his own attack behind the other three. Being both invisible and moving faster than sound, he had hoped it would get past the apparently formidable barrier of shadows.

Either Deinos had somehow seen the slight flicker of his wing out of the corner of his eye, or the shadows themselves moved on their own to protect their master. Either possibility spoke more and more of how terrifying she was. Despite instinct and experience developed from years of roughing it, Red Wings still hadn’t fully actualised that there was an alicorn right now trying to kill them. He snorted and shook his head. The changelings had trained him for six months so that he would be in a better position to help Trixie, his marefriend, become an alicorn. Red Wings had expected to use his new fighting skills against fellow Equestrians who would view her potential apotheosis as heresy. He hadn’t expected this.

Deinos clicked her tongue, and sighed. Her golden eyes danced with a feral glee. “Well, it’s impressive, but it still won’t be enough. Come now, foals, show me what you’re capab—”

There was a bang! sound, then none could see as an intense white light flooded the room, as if the heavens had just called down a lightning strike into the decrepit insides of the Castle of the Two Pony Sisters. Deinos stumbled, her rear hooves taking a step back to stabilise her. “Urgh!” she cried, as she was hit hard by a feeling not quite like pain but an intense discomfort verging on pain. Vaguely, she could feel tears welling up at her eyes.

Trixie tried to breathe in relief, only for the breath to get caught in her throat. As the one who had first noticed Deinos, she was ever slightly mentally ahead of all her friends. Even if Trixie had been stunned by Deinos’ revelation of being an alicorn, Trixie still had to pull the weight when it came to the mortal danger they had all been suddenly thrust into. Under pressure, she had remembered the flash bombs she still carried. It had been years since Trixie had performed as a showmare, instead refining her talents in her actual magic, but one could not take the showmare out of the pony. To this day, she still carried her flash bombs around, as a secular alternative in a pinch to using magic.

Just seconds earlier, Trixie had made a signal to Windspeaker and Noire, the other two ponies in the room capable of using magic. With coordination borne from rehearsing fights for six months, the two unicorns and one magic-wielding batpony cast a thick protective film over their own eyes and those of Red Wings, Stonehenge, and Iceheart in the split-second before the flash bang went off. To Trixie’s relief, Deinos’ protective shadows didn’t appear able to protect her from a sudden light show. However, she was uncertain if it was a trick that would work twice.

The six didn’t waste time, as they regrouped back towards the door leading into the throne room, facing towards Deinos who still stood at the foot of the stairs. Their hearts were harmonised as one. Once again, each of them launched their own separate long-range attack against the mad pony, who had her head down towards the floor, rubbing her eyes with a hoof.

As their hearts were as one in that moment, so did their hearts sink as one as the shadows suddenly moved around again to block the six separate strikes.

“So your shadows are able to act independently,” Stonehenge said, gritting his teeth. Twice now he had picked up a large rock and tossed it at Deinos. Twice now, a part of her shadow had split off to intercept the rock, grinding it into fine dust as the entities collided. Stonehenge found himself at a loss. He had once led a group of ponies to defend the walls of Manehatten against roving bands of monsters, and commanded a core group of five other ponies to strike back and raid the nearby forest. As the undoubted leader of The Wall, Stonehenge had accumulated much practical experience in skirmishes against beings with esoteric talents. Though he was working with a different group of five ponies, he had quickly acclimated to their own abilities after six months in Colt Springs. Yet he was already feeling overwhelmed by a single pony. Stonehenge grimaced. He coiled his back legs, ready to make a move at a moment’s notice.

“Oh? I was found out so quick? Hohohoho,” Deinos cackled as she looked up, once more able to see. It was clear that her alicorn biology wasn’t for show. An intense flash of light that would have taken normal ponies minutes to recover from had only fazed her for a few seconds. Those few seconds were enough for a single solid hit, only for Deinos’ shadows to get in the way once more. “I was not called the Pony of Shadows for nothing, you know!”

“Why are you doing this?” Iceheart suddenly spoke up. They had asked Deinos questions earlier, before she had tossed her cloak aside and engaged in a brief-but-intense skirmish. However, Iceheart was not asking the question in hopes of finding a common ground with the mad alicorn. She could feel Deinos’ intent to kill. Instead, she was attempting to sound out the other pony and get a greater feel of her capabilities.

“Hohohoho,” Deinos laughed again. Her laughs were never pleasant. They erupted from the belly instead of the throat, and were full of mocking. “Why, you ask?” Suddenly, some of the shadows that guarded Deinos retreated and converged around her, forming a solid congealed mass once more. The mass moved under Deinos’ hooves, then suddenly sprouted out of the ground like a geyser. It lifted the purple-coated alicorn up until solidifying into a cylinder-shaped pillar several dozens of hooflengths in height, leaving Deinos physically towering above all others.

Deinos flared her wings out, revealing a wide wingspan with taut muscle. For the first time in the fight, she was finally standing still long enough to really take a good look at, and the moonlight made her looks clearer. Her coat was a darker purple, resembling the shade of lighter-coloured eggplants, with a vibrant violet mane. Deinos was tall. She wasn’t as tall as Princess Celestia was, let alone Stonehenge, but most other ponies would have to look up to meet her haunting golden eyes. Where Princess Celestia was lanky, with long legs and a thin torso, Deinos was more well-built, with a large barrel. Obvious muscles poked out of her body. Even if she were to somehow lose her shadows, her horn, and her wings, Deinos would still have been a physical threat.

“Surely not all ponies are so innocent that none of you squished the ants under your hooves when you were foals? Like bugs caught in a spider’s web, it’s the same principle.”

Trixie immediately felt her throat lurch. There were fictional books written for adult ponies that were far darker than what life was like in Equestria. In those books, there were immoral characters who would hurt and maim and murder with little care. The most lacking in compassion even had the attitude that life was cheap. It was a sickening ideology, and those characters were always clearly the bad guy.

To hear a pony express those sentiments in the real world made Trixie feel ill.

But Trixie braved her way past it. Deinos’ sudden appearance had taken them by surprise, along with her initial attack. Trixie had clued in before anypony else that Deinos was there, however. She was the fleetest of hoof in adjusting to the flow of the battle, and now that Deinos had her shadows tied up in the pillar supporting her, Trixie saw an opportunity. She didn’t think it likely to work, but it was one she had to take.

“Sitting so far below me, you ponies are mu—” Deinos continued to monologue, only to be interrupted as a part of the pillar suddenly disintegrated, gaseous shadow suddenly rising up and solidifying in front of her.

Ping! Trixie’s attack had just hit the newly-reformed shadow shield. The female unicorn had sent a shot of concentrated air, so delicately forged that it was completely invisible. Trixie had even cast the spell while suppressing the luminescent glow of her horn so Deinos could not see her using magic.

Deinos snarled at the interruption. “How rude. That do—”

Suddenly, the alicorn jumped. The pillar vaporised as she did, and the shadows curled around her body once more. Long tendrils shot out again, and started wrapping across the columns and beams of the throne room. More shadows split into tiny tendrils that swayed back and forth. To the horrified awe of the six, Deinos began to swing around the room, using the strands of shadows like tree vines from a pulp novel to maneuver her way around the room at such high speeds that they would be unable to attack her with any accuracy.

But just as soon as Deinos was swinging around, she came to a stop. The alicorn wasn’t any less terrifying, however. The shadows that connected Deinos to every part of the room had once more come together and coalesced into a mass, then began to subdivide into smaller sections. This time, the shadows created a web between two large pillars strung up across the stairs leading up to the thrones. To add to the effect, Deinos had sprouted four extra limbs from her barrel. With a menacing hiss, she quickly used all eight of her limbs to crawl across the spider’s web to the centre. Then she turned around, hanging upside down with a final shadow tendril connecting from her belly to the web. Deinos gave off the sinister image of an arachnid pony, ready to devour her prey.

It was clear that Deinos knew how to strike fear into the hearts of ponies. And she was succeeding.

“The Living Wind, was it?” Deinos said, focusing on Windspeaker. She was obviously furious earlier, but it seemed she had calmed down in the last several seconds. “It is an odd gift that you have. The ability to manipulate the wind to its most primal level. If I were not an alicorn, I might have to actually fear such techniques you used on me.”

Windspeaker bit his tongue. The Living Wind was in a chaotic howl. If he had to describe it, he would say it was actually angry. Windspeaker had never felt the Living Wind like this before, and it was an unpleasant sensation. He was frantically trying to calm it down. The white-furred unicorn needed to be fully in sync with the Living Wind if he wanted to continue the fight against Deinos. Truth be told, however, Windspeaker knew that Deinos was mocking him. What he had just attempted was a variation on Red Wings’ earlier razor-sharp air blade, only Windspeaker had broken it up into multiple smaller shots, each cut of air perhaps the width of a tooth. He knew Deinos could have blocked every strike with her shadows. Instead, the purple equine had chosen to swing around the great chamber with her shadows and then play the role of a spider. Windspeaker hated it, but he had felt cowed by her intimidation. It didn’t look good for him and his friends.

“Still, it is certainly interesting,” Deinos continued. “There was nothing like it, or at least no pony who could tap into it, when I was born a thousand years ago.”

There was a mass intake of breath. The six ponies who were ready to move out again into a new formation suddenly paused. Iceheart was the first to speak. “You are over a thousand years old?” she asked, surprised.

Deinos clicked her front four limbs together, deepening the disturbing image of a spider. One could almost expect her to show off fangs next. “Of course, of course!” said Deinos, clearly enthusiastic about having suddenly dropped such a startling revelation. Her golden eyes were rotating in glee. “Haven’t you heard the legend of the Pony of Shadows? I am said to be a part of Nightmare Moon’s magic, so of course I am that old. But dark magic alone cannot create life, and I am a living, breathing, pony. My birth wasn’t that far from here. A thousand years ago, Princess Luna became Nightmare Moon, and then Nightmare Moon gave unto me true life.”

“Nightmare Moon was your mother?!” Noire asked, her voice almost lowering into a screech at the end. As a batpony, she was fond of the Matriarch of the Night. To find that Luna had given birth to such a monstrosity as Deinos, even if it was when she had turned evil, was like a slap to the face. “But no, wait. Nightmare Moon was only around for a matter of days. How could she have given birth to you in that time period?”

“Oh, no. Nightmare Moon was my father. Discord was my mother.”

“Are you screwing with us?” Stonehenge suddenly asked. He had tired of being ridiculed and mocked by the Pony of Shadows through the entire battle. The giant Earth pony could tell Deinos was once more belittling them by telling such a preposterous story. “Nightmare Moon did not appear until well after Discord was sealed, and she was a mare. How could she have sired you?”

Deinos threw her head back again, and laughed. “Ohohohoho! Very interesting. True enough, Nightmare Moon was a mare. But I never said I was made like you ponies were.”

Suddenly, Deinos flipped back around, hooves towards the floor. The shadows that made up her four extra limbs and the string attaching her to the spider web all flowed back into a small mass around the top of her withers, and the alicorn opened up her wings, gliding to the floor. Deinos shook her head, throwing her mane around, and the spider web itself disappeared, the rest of the shadows joining its brethren at her back. “A mere few years ago, your beloved Princesses were captured by an overgrowth of plants that originated from the Everfree Forest. It turned out those plants were plunderseeds, a life form capable of leeching energy from anything it touched, even the Tree of Harmony itself. A thousand years ago, before Discord was sealed into stone by the Princesses wielding the Elements of Harmony, he spread the plunderseeds across this land. They were in dormancy, to stay inactive until the Tree of Harmony had weakened after enough time.”

Deinos looked up at the ceiling, where small holes allowed glimpses of moonlight through. There was sheer, unbridled joy on her face. For the first time, there was no malice in her voice, which made the madmare even scarier. “Those plunderseeds are my siblings. I first came into this world as a plunderseed.” Deinos looked back down at the six ponies who had fought her in the last several minutes, coming off the worse for it. She sneered at them. To a one, they had their mouths open, enraptured in horror and awe.

“When Princess Luna became the Nightmare, she became a caster of such dark and foul magic that it was even capable of contaminating the land. Princess Celestia thought the Elements of Harmony had been able to purify all of the evil spread into the air and water and soil. But she was wrong, oh so wrong. Some of Nightmare Moon’s magic touched even me, and so I became thus, this body given to me by my mother, and this magic given to me by my father. The shadows have been my protector since I was truly reborn. It took me several centuries before I was able to assume this as my true form. I slipped up in my early years, and so ponies came to spread the story of the Pony of Shadows. But I am more than a story.”

Trixie trembled under Deinos’ gaze. To her, the alicorn’s story sounded ridiculous. And yet, it felt like there was some truth to it. Hadn’t so many beings awoken from deep slumber all at once in the last few years? Nightmare Moon had returned from her imprisonment on the moon. Discord had broken free from a statue. King Sombra had returned along with the Crystal Empire. The aforementioned plunderseeds had taken over the Everfree Forest. Lord Tirek had escaped Tartarus and rampaged across the land. Begrudgingly, though she could not think of the changelings as villains, Trixie admitted that Queen Chrysalis had suddenly become active, after more than a century of staying low. What was one more tyrant?

What scared Trixie was that it was her and her friends that were the ones to face off against this monster, this Deinos, the Pony of Shadows of old maids’ tales past.

“My siblings may have been purged by the Tree of Harmony, yet I still live. Hmm, speaking of the Tree of Harmony, I suppose I need to get my revenge on it. Harmony is what defeated my mother and father, so I cannot allow it to live. Once I have killed you mongrels, I will lure the six ponies who once wielded the Elements of Harmony into this castle. With their deaths, the Tree of Harmony shall be weakened by proxy, and I can destroy it with ease. From there, I can finally walk out of this castle and purge this world. Oh...I will have to create some doppelgangers of the six of you. It may be easier to trick them into this castle using your forms.”

Those words suddenly made something snap in Trixie. She remembered what Anfang had said so many months ago.

You must somehow get an alicorn to fight you...It will take you coming to blows with an alicorn merely once...no, maybe two times, to become one yourself.

Trixie looked back up at Deinos. The unicorn inhaled, then exhaled. In came the cool calm of the night air, before it had been disrupted by their fight. Out went all the worries that had accumulated in Trixie, not just over the battle thus far, but from the last six months. She knew what she had to do. With another signal of her hoof and eyes to her friends, they suddenly started switching around and pairing off.

The move was obvious to Deinos, who smirked. “Oh? Are you going to try again? Hah! Give it your best shot. Harmony is the only force in this world possible capable of defeating me, and you, my little ponies, are not Harmony!”

The other ponies paid her no attention, quickly getting together with their partner. Using self-levitation, Trixie flew over several rocks and stones, the debris added to from chunks of the floor and ceiling damaged and broken apart from their skirmish thus far. She found herself next to Red Wings. Opposite Trixie and Red Wings, at equal angles apart to form a perfect triangle, were Noire and Stonehenge, and Windspeaker and Iceheart. From this angle, they could adjust their attacks if Deinos attempted to dodge, and the six would also avoid accidental friendly fire against one another.

Deinos’ shadows rotated around her, staying on the defensive instead of moving out to strike again. Unbidden, the shadows suddenly began to slow down, before coming to a stop. For the first time the six friends had seen them, the shadows were completely passive and motionless. “Well well, give it your best. I’ll give you a single shot without my shadows. You still won’t be able to do anything, but at least I’ll get some more entertainment!” Deinos boasted.

Trixie clenched her teeth together. Thus far through the fight, they had been constantly put on the back hoof. For once, she wanted to get a strike in on Deinos, something that would more than just stun her for a few seconds like the flash bomb did. For the first time in many years, since the death of her father, Trixie wanted to hurt somepony. Trixie recognised she was falling out of the desirable state that Anfang had spoken of, but she was beginning to not care. She traded looks with Red Wings, violet eyes meeting red, and then cast her magic.

Red Wings hopped off his back legs and used his wings to sweep around to Trixie’s back side. The avian pony summoned his own internal pegasus magic he had learned how to manipulate after many months with the changelings, and guided it to his wings. Red Wings took a deep breath, and as he exhaled, the red stallion flapped his wings as hard as he could, sending out an enormous gust of air. Its strength was so great that Red Wings fell to the floor, his wings unable to stabilise under the recoil. The gust of air quickly took shape as it moved along the arc of travel Red Wings had sent it. With the Living Wind to guide it, a horizontal, spiralling wind tunnel formed.

Then Trixie added fire to the wind tunnel.

The wind tunnel suddenly roared as it lit with cackling flames, and both ponies could feel it pulling in the surrounding air to fuel itself and grow larger and larger. In turn, it spit out heat, causing the area to increase several degrees in seconds. The flamestorm was like a monster that had broken free from its restraints, with little care for who or what it injured. It was only from months of gruelling practice that Trixie and Red Wings felt capable to aim it at something, without getting caught in the backlash. And it was aimed directly at Deinos.

“Oh my...this truly is interesting,” Deinos said as the flamestorm quickly came upon her. To the other side of her was a second attack, a pile of rocks grinded down by Stonehenge into sharp pebbles and launched into a tornado by Noire. Behind her was an incoming enormous spear of ice, forged by Windspeaker using the Living Wind to concentrate moisture in the air and remove heat, and thrown by Iceheart, able to tolerate the extreme cold of the lance. All three attacks were timed perfectly to strike Deinos at the same time. The alicorn had no time left to dodge.


A heat wave suddenly rippled out from the epicentre of the combined attacks. Trixie had already started to move away as soon as she saw all three attacks would be true, grabbing Red Wings and teleporting a skip away to the end of the chamber. Despite the distance she had gained, the heat was still oppressing, with the air sizzling to the point that it hurt to even breathe.


A split-second later, there was a loud hiss as the ice lance vaporised under the heat wave. The ice sublimated straight into water vapour, clouding up even a chamber as great as the throne room. Trixie immediately threw up a magical shield, as she knew what was coming next. Even as the room fogged up, blocking all visibility, tiny granular matter sprayed all over, pelting her shield. It was the remnants of the rocks Stonehenge and Noire had launched in a tornado attack at Deinos.

Though Trixie and Red Wings’ flamestorm might be expected to neutralise the lance forged of ice, each strike was intended to hit its target before contacting each other. From her sides, Deinos would have been hit by a tornado of rocks and a storm of flames. From behind, she would have been cut down by a lance that would have caused an ice burn due to its extremely cold temperature. Once all three attacks converged, the heat wave would turn outwards, completely freed from any control. The heat would turn the ice into vapour, clouding the room, and hiding the rocks that would be broken down even further into tiny shrapnel. Despite the contradictory nature of the attacks, the magic infused into each salvo was able to create a truly devastating combination attack. Even if Deinos had used her shadows at the last moment, they would have had to guard her in an impenetrable sphere to stop any injury.

“Is she done for?” Trixie asked as she felt the tiny impacts on her shield finally die down. Waiting a few more seconds, she lowered the translucent purple-tinted dome.

“I doubt it,” Red Wings said. “She’s an alicorn. I’ve heard from the changelings that even Princess Cadance can take a punishment, even though she’s barely ever fought a battle. Even if Deinos thought she was in danger, I’m certain she would use those freaky shadows of hers.” Red Wings inhaled, then let out a long breath. “Those shadows are a weird ability. I’ve heard about a lot of strange techniques wandering around or from my contacts in the changeling hive, but this is something far away from anything I know. It’s like you or Windspeaker, but those shadows...it’s like they are a part of her. The way they respond to her and guard her, I think she has even finer control of them than Windspeaker does of the wind.”

A breeze suddenly swept in through the windows as well as the holes in the walls and ceiling, flushing out the fog. A pleasant chill washed through Trixie. Even if Deinos as an alicorn was somehow above the Living Wind, the mystical force that permeated all the world’s air was still on their side. With the fog went away the intolerable humidity and heat. As the fog continued to be pushed outdoors, clearing Trixie’s line of sight towards the epicentre of their attacks, she could see her and Red Wings’ joint flamestorm had gouged a clear trench in the stone floor. Even now, there were glowing red hot spots. Slowly, the fog dispersed.

In the centre of the room, a pair of golden eyes suddenly appeared, spinning wildly.

“You—what?” Trixie cried out in surprise. Deinos was clearly there, right where she had been standing prior to the combination attack, standing on top of a single section of floor that was intact, with a large circular section of floor around her gone. But the golden eyes that had originally been the only part of the Pony of Shadows that could be seen before she threw off her cloak earlier were once more the only visible body part. Rotating ever swiftly, Deinos’ golden eyes were set into a spherical mass of shadows.

“Surprised? Hohohoho.” Noise came out of the black ball, before wispy vapours of the shadows broke off, coming together and reforming around the golden eyes. Within seconds, the shadows solidified and gained colour, turning into the alicorn Deinos. “You must have practiced that attack. I can see how much damage it would do against any other alicorn,” Deinos said, rotating her shoulder cuffs as she looked around. She let out a whinny and a snort. “But, well...unlike any other alicorn, I can avoid attacks like that by turning into shadows. Neigh, I AM the shadows!”

Trixie staggered back. A tiny part of her was skeptical of Deinos’ proclamation. It was possible that Deinos had indeed dodged the attacks while Trixie and her friends were unable to see her, and then bluffed them by hiding herself in the shadows afterwards. However, the rest of Trixie doubted that Deinos was bluffing her. That Deinos herself could turn into shadows, not just wield them, and dodge both physical and magical attacks, appeared to be the utter truth.

In that event, how are we supposed to hit her at all?

Trixie felt like she had come a long way from the lowest point in her life, ever since that fateful day in Whinnychester when she had learned of her father’s death. She didn’t want her road to end here, perishing at the hands of this megalomaniacal madmare that spoke of destroying Equestria, but Trixie was now fumbling in the literal shadows, grasping out desperately for a way to win.

Suddenly, a thought popped up in her head.

Deinos has her shadows. Why...why can’t I do what I’m good at?

“That’s...huff...ridiculous!” Windspeaker cried out, on the other end of the chamber, close to the stairs that would lead up to the giant organ. He was panting hard, having to summon the Living Wind as well as using his own magic to forge the lance of ice, then teleporting himself and Iceheart away thereafter before finally casting a shield. Even after six months of training, Windspeaker was still lacking in stamina after years of staying in the hospital. The effort had greatly fatigued him. “Why are...huff...you like this? A plunderseed born from...huff...dark magic? I don’t believe that!”

“Hmmm? Says the pony who is able to commune with the very wind itself,” Deinos said, turning her gaze on him. “Such an ability is wasted on a mongrel like you. I would seize it myself if I could, but the Fates Three didn’t see fit to give me the capability to do that. Perhaps they were afraid I would slip out of their web if I could. Oh well.” Deinos snorted again, flapping her large wings out several times, kicking up dust and tiny pebbles from around her. “Well, I suppose that was a warm-up. It could have been worse, I suppose. Only one of you might have come here. It’s certainly been better than those few who have been lured into here in the past. I never did figure out why I was supposed to let that one pony go to spread the tale of the Pony of Shadows.”

Deinos’ words were weird. She was saying things that made no sense to Trixie. However, Trixie had little attention to decipher them, as she was busy pulling Red Wings around the chamber, maneuvering over to Windspeaker and Iceheart. Opposite Trixie was Noire and Stonehenge, also moving to converge in the same location. Unlike the flamestorm and the rock tornado, the ice lance had done little damage to the floor as it was let loose on Deinos, leaving it the most stable part remaining of the hall.

“Ah?” Deinos raised her eyebrows, golden eyes once more spinning in obvious anticipation. “You foals still have some fight left in you? Good, good. Make it count. I may have been waiting one thousand years, but waiting several months more for those other foals to show will be so boring.”

I’m tired of her, Trixie thought. I’m tired of her babbling. Tired of her shadows. Tired of her mocking us. Just once, I want to knock her off haughty throne. Will it be different this time? It must be. I’ll show her the might of The Great and Powerful Trixie!

The six ponies who had journeyed to the castle together assembled at last. It had only been a few minutes since they were split apart, but those few minutes had felt like a lifetime in front of the relentless onslaught of the tyrannical alicorn that stood before them. Trixie’s friends had come with her intending to fight a kingdom. Instead, they had stumbled upon a far more visceral threat than Princesses intending to shut down a potential ascension. Already, they were tired. Trixie could see splatters of blood on each of them, sans Red Wings, whose coat hid the blood. Some of it was from Deinos’ attacks, and some from the backlash of their own. Each pony was still gasping for air after the last attack. Trixie felt sweat matting her own forehead, threatening to sting her eyes.

Trixie’s protective instincts flared. There may have been no escaping Deinos, but Trixie would not have signalled the next attack to attempt if she hadn’t seem a potential way to hit Deinos.

Each of them quickly fell into formation. Trixie took the centre of the formation, while Noire and Red Wings flanked her at either side. Iceheart stood in front, forming the arrowpoint, while Stonehenge and Windspeaker stood at the rear. Trixie felt Windspeaker may have fit better in her position in this formation, thanks to the Living Wind, but it had been designed to be the team’s ultimate attack. If it was to be deployed against a foe who warranted such a powerful attack, she was the only with the magic and the stamina to execute it. As the heart of the six, it was her duty as well. It was Trixie, after all, who was the one seeking apotheosis.

Trixie had hoped to never deploy this against any of the Equestria Princesses, or whatever other imposing allies they may have been able to call upon. Trixie still didn’t. At least if they had to, it would get a trial run in a real fight first.

“Hmmm? How interesting. I wish I could know the little details, but alas. Come now, show me what you’ve got! Just don’t be surprised when you fail. After all, nothing can pierce through my shadows!” Deinos boasted, flapping her wings to achieve lift, hovering over the single remaining section of floor in the damaged area of the throne room around her. The shadows that had guarded her through the entire battle sprouted out of her back once more, with four extra limbs appearing to once more make the alicorn a spider-pony hybrid. Deinos’ eyes were spinning with so much verve that to look at them was as if to stare into a kaleidoscope, the gold of her glowing pupils still so haunting in its vividness.

“Everypony, listen to me,” Trixie spoke to her friends, trying to muster up their courage. She could taste bits and pieces of despair in the air on her tongue. It was a horrible feeling, and she knew if they didn’t succeed with this next strike, everypony’s morale would plummet. Trixie had to rally their spirits. “Deinos is tough, yes. She’s an alicorn, yes. But we knew we might have to fight alicorns before. We didn’t expect to fight this alicorn, but an alicorn Deinos is nonetheless. We planned on how to fight and defeat the Princesses if we had to, so she can be beaten as well. Notice how she’s been saying how her shadows are invincible, and she turned into shadows herself when we attacked her before? It’s because Deinos herself is vulnerable. Between the six of us together, I know we can beat her shadows this time and expose her for what she is!”

The speech worked. Trixie could feel the wariness and despair diminish. It was still there, under the surface, but it was much repressed. Trixie exhaled, relieved. Truth be told, she knew this was likely their last chance. If this failed, Trixie had a few more ideas, but they were all unlikely to succeed.

Deinos reared up on her hind legs while in mid-air, kicking her front legs out, and threw her head back. She laughed. It was slow at first, a soft chuckle, but then it built up into a crescendo. “Hohohoho!” She cackled, letting out that same belly-deep laugh that had rattled the six before. “Amusing, amusing. You ponies are all so amusing! If only you weren’t destined to die here today, I would have kept you around as my jesters! Very well,” said Deinos, bringing her front legs down, but still hovering in the air. “Show me what you have got. Make it count.”

Trixie didn’t need the tyrannical alicorn to tell her what to do. Slowly, she started to cast her magic. Behind her, she felt Windspeaker’s magic activate as well, and beside her, Noire’s own magic began to be unleashed as well. The cool, gentle caress of the Living Wind brushed Trixie’s horn, and she felt it give her control of the immediate surroundings.

Suddenly, the world became more vibrant. The colours became richer in the moonlight, with every grey, blue, and purple suddenly coming in a thousand shades, helping to differentiate the shade of Deinos’ coat ever slightly more from Princess Twilight Sparkle’s. Trixie could feel every little current of air, from the breezes coming in through the holes of the castle, to the lift and drafts created by the subtle beats of Deinos’ wings, to each pony’s wispy inhalation and exhalation. Her sense of sound, too, was magnified a hundredfold, as she could still hear the faintest echoes of Deinos’ earlier mad laughter through the castle. Even the magic glow on Trixie’s horn generated sound, a pleasant buzz that always chased away any doldrums Trixie had.

Trixie swallowed, unused to this sensation, having only felt it a few times before in practice. This is what Windspeaker could feel all the time, if he were to give himself over completely to the Living Wind. As the pony who had helped heal Windspeaker of the Gordian knot that bound his life force to the Living Wind, Trixie was the only other one who was capable of being in touch with the Living Wind to this degree, yet she still had less than a thousandth of the control Windspeaker did. Iceheart was the only other pony who could even utilise the Living Wind.

She shook her head, chasing away those errant thoughts. Instead, Trixie paid more attention to Deinos. To Trixie’s disturbance, Deinos’ shadows generated absolutely no noise. Even the alicorn’s body seemed to be faint to the Living Wind. That was unsurprising, given that alicorns were supposedly a higher existence than the Living Wind. Somehow, only Deinos’ ever-present golden eyes made more noise than the rest of her body. It took a great deal of willpower for Trixie not to look up and get trapped staring at that hypnotic gaze. Trixie had never met Discord, but she had heard he had golden pupils. She wondered if Deinos had inherited this from him.

Trixie felt to her side and her rear, and quickly, Noire’s magic and Windspeaker’s magic joined together with her own, guided by the Living Wind. Quickly, it subsumed the magic that Stonehenge had gathered beneath his hooves, channeling his own more subtle Earth pony magic. Finally, Red Wings’ internal pegasus magic easily joined, his wings giving him an easy connection with the Living Wind. The magic of four other ponies joined Trixie’s, and the pink glow of her horn grew ever brighter, threatening to illuminate every last dim corner of the castle.

“Oh? How interesting. Perhaps they’ll make a good impression,” Trixie heard Deinos murmur, but the azure unicorn paid it no heed. Instead, Trixie continued to build up more magic. In any other fight, Trixie would have executed this technique right away, but because Deinos was cockily allowing her the time to build up more magic, Trixie would take the opportunity. She strained, calling up more and more magic still. With a delicate hoof, Trixie balanced the magic out, making it equal parts unicorn magic and pegasus magic, and calculated exactly how much of a deficit of Earth pony magic she should have.

Trixie suddenly reared up on her hooves, and let out a whinny. It was a wild, primal whinny, one she hadn’t let out since the days she had wandered freely among Equestria as a travelling showmare. It was the whimsical cry of freedom, a call to hooves to all adventurers possessed with wanderlust. It was the epitome of what Trixie was.

Then Trixie slammed down on her front hooves, her horn pointed forward. A large pink ball of magic leapt from her horn, shooting straight into Iceheart. The former commander was stoic even as her body convulsed with concentrated magic, the spell working its way from dock to chest. The magic transformed, absorbing Iceheart’s own power, before a bluish-white mass of energy suddenly leapt out of her. Under Trixie’s enhanced eyes, it was beautiful enough to bring tears to her eyes, as the beam suddenly descended upon Deinos.

Deinos floated in mid-air there, watching the beam as it encroached upon her. Shadows suddenly moved in front of her, forming a solid black wall that completely blocked vision of the madmare from in front. It was the strongest barrier Deinos had created with her shadows thus far, and all present held their breath, waiting to see which was stronger — the energy beam cast from the magic of six friends, or the mass of shadows.

Then the beam struck the shield, and Deinos screamed.

A purple blur flew backwards from Deinos’ position, instantly slamming into a pillar, only to smash the pillar in half, as Deinos continued her trajectory away from the centre of the throne room, and breaking out a wall into the outdoors. More moonlight trickled in through the hole that had been created by Deinos’ unceremonious exit. Even though the alicorn had already gone outdoors, a piercing screech could still be heard, cutting through the still outdoor air.

Trixie let out a large gasp of air, then quickly breathed in again, unaware she had been holding her breath. That wasn’t a cry of surprise Trixie heard. It was obvious Deinos was hurt.

“We...we got her,” Stonehenge said, echoing everypony’s thoughts. He, too, sagged in relief.

“No,” Iceheart said, standing up even as Deinos’ voice became fainter. She didn’t allow her body to falter, even though the other five knew she was exhausted, having channeled the magical power of five other ponies. The Crystal Earth pony once more showed why she had been chosen as a commander of a fort in the Frozen North, as Iceheart was the picture of poise. “She was hurt, but I can tell. That wasn’t enough to put her down. She’ll be back. Quickly, everypony. We need to intercept her.”

A wave of exhaustion swept through Trixie’s body. She desperately wanted to just flop to the ground, and roll over onto her back and fall asleep to the sight of the stars through the holes in the castle roof. Trixie knew that Iceheart was correct, however. With legs made of lead, she quickly reassembled herself, moving into another formation that could counterattack against both a magical attack or a close-quarters melee strike.

Deinos’ voice stopped getting fainter, and suddenly began to get louder and louder. Within seconds, the equine blew back through the wall she had just been hurled through. It was clear Deinos was out-of-sorts, as she charged straight through the brick masonry, sending more stones flying. The wall didn’t slow her down in the slightest as she charged through. The six quickly stood on guard, ready to turn Deinos’ next attack back upon her.

Suddenly, Deinos stopped, floating right above the small patch of ground that she had been standing on before, a single pillar of floor left with a circular trench around it. The alicorn lowered herself down, letting her hooves touch the stone. Deinos’ sudden stop allowed Trixie to observe the other pony’s state. Dust and plaster coated Deinos, giving her a layer of grey colouring. Her mane was frazzled, with many strands of hair standing up. Blood matted her fur in a dozen spots, though they were all practically nicks. The body of an alicorn was truly a formidable one, taking only small cuts from such a large impact.

What was more important was the changes in Deinos’ temperament. Trixie could see her wings tremoring. Most tellingly, the shadows around Deinos’ were agitated, moving randomly in every which way. Whether the shadows were moving around on their own or if Deinos’ mood was affecting them, Trixie couldn’t tell. She wondered if it was a good thing that they were moving like that. The shadows might be more chaotic now, but that could make them more dangerous than before. Oddly, Deinos’ golden eyes, which always seemed to be rotating to some degree, had slowed down, almost at a complete stop.

“How? H-how did yo—” Deinos stammered angrily before she stopped. Her voice had cracked after having been hit by the magical beam, potentially from when she had screeched out in pain. She let out a ‘urgh-hem’ to clear her throat, before speaking again. “No. I get it. You took advantage of how my shadows work. They can act on its own, or I can control them. I forgot you were able to cast illusions, you sneaky little bitch. You never once used one since you came in. You used one to make me think my shadows already had formed a shield around me, so I kept the rest of my shadows on reserve. But that was just it, wasn’t it? You tricked me. None of my shadows were protecting me yet, so all of my shadows were under control, and I kept them to the side. If I had let them do its own thing from the start, it would have instinctively known the shadows up there were not real and gone up to actually defend me. Clever, clever.”

Trixie felt herself become disoriented. She had hoped Deinos hadn’t seen through the illusion, but she had. It meant Trixie wouldn’t be able to use it again. All she could hope for was that their attack could even pierce through a real shadow shield and injure Deinos again.

Deinos flapped her wings, shaking off the layer of dust that had settled into her coat. She let out a brief cough, then spat out a dollop of blood onto the ground. “But what was that attack? It felt so...oh. I see.” For once, Deinos focused her gaze on Trixie, and Trixie stood her ground. She had just injured an alicorn, a metaphorical goddess among ponies. She would not be cowed. “You balanced each aspect of your magic, unicorn, earth pony, and pegasus, attempting to harmonise it to perfection. The magic you inherited as a changeling-pony hybrid could be used to offset it if any part got too powerful. You could have cast the magic directly, but instead, you sent it through her as a focus point,” Deinos said, motioning at Iceheart. “As a pony who lived in the Crystal Empire for so many years, her body has taken on some qualities of the Crystal Heart, like being able to refract magic sent through her body as a medium. Then, combined with her ability to tolerate the cold, using the Living Wind as a guide, you bent it towards an ice magic aspect. You were incorrect in calculating how to balance how much Earth pony magic she would contribute to the spell, leaving it unbalanced. But every touch closer you got, the stronger the spell would get. Perhaps you were hoping even if my shadows had intercepted the spell, it would be antithetical to my powers, since I had said before only Harmony could defeat me. It may be a faux-Harmony, but it was close enough. Now.” Deinos smirked, having laid out exactly how the magic spell worked. “Did I make any mistakes there?”

This time, Trixie’s heart truly shook. Deinos had perfectly analysed the spell. When Trixie and her friends had been developing this unnamed spell, they had indeed found that Iceheart made the perfect vessel to focus the spell through. The core of the spell was also modelled after the Harmony that had bound Equestria for over a thousand years. It wasn’t a spell that could be replicated by any other. Only six ponies such as them who had come together and travelled could pool their bonds together and unleash such a devastating attack. Yet the wretched madmare had a preternatural talent at shrugging off every attempt they had made tonight.

Still, Deinos had been totally correct in her observations, and that included that the spell that had been cast was indeed imperfect. Trixie had been off in her calculations on balancing out the magical powers before it was sent through Iceheart. She had never once gotten it perfect in practice, either, but she had come close. From her trial runs, Trixie knew something Deinos did not: though the balance of Earth pony magic may have only been marginally off, correcting it did not lead to a linear increase in the spell. Instead, it became exponentially more powerful.

Trixie resolved her will. There was a chance. Even if Deinos couldn’t be fooled by Trixie’s illusions anymore and would always have her shadows up, Trixie felt the rondo of six friends would be able to overpower the shadows. Under a perfect application of the spell, would even the Pony of Shadows be able to get back up?

Her reverie was interrupted by Deinos again laughing. For once, it didn’t sound menacing. It actually sounded pleasant, the sort of soft laughter Trixie thought Deinos could have made if she was a normal pony and not a bloodthirsty predator. “You truly impress me, my little ponies. You have achieved the limits of what your destiny has allowed you. I hope you have a better go of it the next time around.”

Suddenly, Trixie was struck with a thought. Throughout the entire fight, Deinos had said strange things that made little sense. But just a minute ago, the alicorn had deduced something using knowledge she couldn’t possibly have had.

She made to speak, only for Red Wings to beat her to the punch. “What are you talking about?” the red pegasus asked, frustration evident in his voice. “You’ve been babbling nonsense all night. You’ve mentioned a ‘they’ or a ‘them’ several times. Who is this other pony or ponies you’re talking about? And what’s this about destiny?”

Deinos chuckled. Her golden eyes, which had been rotating slowly ever since she had flown back into the throne room, began to speed up. “Ah, you ignorant, naive foals. I’ve been waiting to hear that question for—”

“How did you know I can use illusions?” Trixie asked.

Deinos stopped talking.

“I’ve thought about what we said when we came in earlier. Maybe you could have pieced together what the Living Wind was from what we said earlier, since you somehow knew what it was. And you could have figured out that I was able to use illusions, but only after I actually used one. But no. You said you forgot that I could use illusions. Yet you have never left this castle since you were born. You said it yourself,” said Trixie, at last trapping Deinos in her own words. “Maybe your shadows could act like the Living Wind, and eavesdrop from afar, but then there were little things that you should have known about us but didn’t.”

“Finally. Finally!” Deinos yelled. “Finally you ask the right questions!” She started to paw at the small spot of floor in front of her, then started pacing back and forth on the little pillar that remained. Deinos seemed agitated. As quickly as she started pacing, Deinos stopped, facing Trixie and her friends again. “Where to start…? Ah, I know. I said that I was born a plunderseed, and Nightmare Moon’s magic made me more.” She looked up at the ceiling, looking out a particularly large hole to the starscape above, mirroring the same action Deinos had done when she had earlier talked about her birth. “That is the story the world will know about my origins, as the offspring of two earlier menaces that had returned after a thousand-year imprisonment. It is the legend they will tell in yet another thousand years, when I have etched my place in history. In truth, like your little wind user was saying, that story...is a lie.”

“Wait, wh—” Trixie, and indeed everypony else started, only to be cut off by Deinos, who continued to speak.

“Haven’t you ever wondered how it is that this planet was at peace for so long, for nearly a thousand years, only for so much to happen in a mere few years?” Deinos asked, looking back down at the six friends. “Nightmare Moon returned from the moon. Discord broke free from petrification. The changelings, secluded away for so long, attempted a daring invasion and occupation of Canterlot. The Crystal Empire returned from its enforced stasis, with King Sombra in tow. The plunderseeds grew to life, leeching away at the Tree of Harmony. Lord Tirek escaped from Tartarus and ravaged Equestria. Threats have popped up in other lands, with some spilling over into this realm.”

Trixie was startled. She had just been thinking mere minutes ago about the same things Deinos was now voicing. The unicorn felt a chill down her spine. Trixie was suddenly wary of Deinos’ next words. Deinos had seized control of the conversation, and Trixie was unable to slip the reins she was being led by.

Deinos looked back up again, but this time, her gaze didn’t seem to linger upon the stars. Instead, it seemed to pierce the stars, finding something beyond. “In this world, there are gods. Not like your feeble pony princesses, but actual gods, as far above your princesses as they are above, say, ants. Entities the likes of which the concept of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience were created for us mere mortals to be able to fathom their existence. Hehehe,” Deinos laughed, looking back down. Her muzzle was wide open. To Trixie’s horror, she could see the Pony of Shadows really had fangs. “It is the job of the gods to watch over the cosmos until the end of existence, in order that they may eventually sort the souls of those in the lower domain.”

Deinos’ words hit the six like a sledgehammer. At first, they were slow in comprehending what she was speaking of, as it was so unexpected. Once they did, the implications floored them.

“In that pantheon of immortal deities there exist three sisters known as the Mœræ siblings. Together, by hoof, claw, and paw, they spin the very essence of the universe onto their spinning wheel, measuring out the individual threads, and cutting them off. It is they who determine the machinations of common equines such as you. Why, you could even call this destiny,” Deinos cackled, before letting out a wild neigh.

Her neigh quickly died down, but utter silence greeted it. Deinos surveyed her opponents. All she found were slack-jawed expressions with muzzles hanging open. She had truly delivered a stunning revelation. Deinos’ golden eyes began to spin even faster. What expression could be read from those accursed eyes showed a giddy glee, as she continued. “I am an agent of the Mœræ, sent back to this world to plunge it into fire and brimstone and start history all over again. A thousand years ago, they placed me here in the aftermath of the battle between the two sisters that tore this castle asunder. Intruders have come and gone over the years. Many are those that I did not interfere with. Some I killed for my own ends. Under the order of the Fates Three, there were a rare few I let escape my hooves so that they could spread the legend of the Pony of Shadows living in the Castle of the Two Sisters. I never understood why I was supposed to do that. Maybe they desire for every great threat to this world to have been seen ahead of time, if not understood? Perhaps that is why they allow a select few the gift of prophecy.”

At last, Deinos stopped talking.

Trixie struggled to even understand what Deinos was saying. The alicorn had just dumped cold water on them with information that fundamentally redefined how they were to view the world, absolutely obliterating their current theological understanding. What was more, Deinos was saying everything in a cryptic manner, and coupled with the alicorn’s somewhat archaic speech patterns, Trixie had no idea what she said was true and what was false. Her story of being an agent of gods sounded even more absurd than being birthed from a plunderseed. An immortal pantheon of deities? That was in the realm of possible, but what she said about destiny was...

“This is insanity!” Stonehenge roared, stomping his hoof on the floor. “Gods above us? OK, I am no disbeliever in an even higher power, but for our lives to be preordained, for them to control our every action? No, I cannot believe that! We are our own ponies!” The large stallion was unknowingly echoing Trixie’s own thoughts.

Red Wings took over right as soon as Stonehenge finished. He was similarly agitated. “You’re saying that gods exist, and that they want to destroy this world? That makes no sense! Why would they want to do that? What is more, what just god or goddess would employ a pony such as you? You have attempted to kill us ever since you showed yourself!” The questions spilled out like mad, as the red pegasus was in a frenzy. He had recalled a conversation he had once long ago with Trixie, about hating the notion of destiny if it meant losing his wing had been foretold.

“Ohohohohoho!” Deinos reared up on her back hooves for a few seconds, cackling uncontrollably, before slamming her hooves back into the ground. What was more, Deinos no longer looked frazzled, nor were her shadows pulsating and moving at random. The injuries she had received from before had since regenerated. “Just? Just?! Whoever said the gods were just! All of creation is a model to sort out souls by how exemplary their actions and morals are in life! They would have me plunge this world into a fiery cataclysm, and bring all of society back to its prehistoric days, just so they could see how our frayed threads would perform under harsher circumstances! The gods do not want us to advance into a utopia of everlasting peace, for they could never determine our strength of will then! Well...I suppose you are right, in a sense. If they were just and righteous, then they could have chosen any pony, but instead they chose me and my sisters!”

“Your sisters?” Noire unwittingly asked, before her eyes widened. Noire knew she was letting Deinos continue to control the conversation. Her mislip of the tongue would be costly.

“Yes,” said Deinos, before she did something strange. She let out a wistful sigh. From the bloodthirsty alicorn who had attacked and mocked them ever since her appearance, it was an odd sound. How could they juxtapose Deinos, the Pony of Shadows, with Deinos, the pony who suddenly appeared melancholic? Following the mood, even Deinos’ golden eyes began to decelerate, coming to a slow crawl. “Me and my sisters were born many, many years ago, in the city-state of Thrace. You would not know of it. Thrace is a land long since forgotten by history. It is a tale that is no longer relevant, but we became soldiers in the army of Thrace, serving under our lord-commander Diomedes. Under him, the four of us became the fearless Mares of Diomedes.”

Like she had several times before, Deinos once more looked up at the sky. This time, with the knowledge of true gods that the madmare served, the action became far more meaningful to the six opposite her. “We sisters even each gained our own individual epithets. Podargos the Swift, the eldest. Xanthos the Yellow, the second-youngest. Lampon the Bright, the youngest. And I, Deinos the Wondrous, the second-eldest.” Deinos looked back down again, smirking. “You know, our language pre-dated even old Equestrian. My appellation the Wondrous can be translated two different ways. I’m quite smitten with the second option: I, Deinos the Terrible.”

A soft tinge of malice had infiltrated Deinos’ tone of voice at the end, as she once more cut a sinister figure. Deinos’ implication was all too obvious. Still, she continued talking to a captive audience. “We were the best. With our many successes, us sisters held our heads up higher and higher with pride. Then one day, in our pride and folly, we committed a sin so great that even the gods, normally passive in their realm of Phantasia, were compelled to act. The souls of us mortals are supposed to live and live again, being returned to the great spinning wheel of the Mœræ until the end of creation, so that they can judge us from many lifetimes instead of a mere one. Instead, they plucked our four threads out of the cycle of reincarnation as punishment.”

Deinos sniffed, her voice breaking up for the second time in the evening. Trixie was startled to see a more equine side of the Pony of Shadows. However, she had no empathy for Deinos. The alicorn had not done a single thing to afford her any pity, especially not after Deinos mentioned committing a great sin. “Over thousands and thousands of years, each of us had to serve many penaces. My sisters sinned in a lesser severity than I did, and have already been released, passing on to the great pastures beyond. For them, there is no further chance. At least they have finally been freed from their serfhood. As for me, here I sit, bored, waiting a thousand monotonous years before finally I am allowed to act.”

“What—” Windspeaker swallowed the question on his lips. He wasn’t even sure what to do anymore, still staggered and trying to absorb everything Deinos had just said. Windspeaker was no fool, and he knew that Deinos was taking far too much pleasure in her storytelling. She wanted them to ask questions, so that she could lay on even more truths of how the world worked, and again overturn their beliefs. Deinos had been since the very first time she had off-hoofedly mentioned she was born over a thousand years ago. However, Deinos had completely figured out their spell from earlier, and they had no trump cards left. While he was already beginning to feel his perception slip from Deinos’ mind-boggling words, at least when she was speaking, Deinos wasn’t trying to kill them. So Windspeaker made the decision to ask. “What was the sin your sisters committed? What could have been so terrible that these gods would punish you?”

Deinos grinned. This time, it wasn’t a mere twist of the lips. Instead, she curled her lips back, showing off her entire row of her teeth. Windspeaker had seen it once already, but he shuddered at the look of the several fangs in her row of teeth. Normal ponies didn’t have those. “The Mœræ found some sort of cruel irony to grant me these fangs of mine with my alicorn body. Our sin was eating meat.”

“Eating meat?!” Noire squawked out in a wild surprise. “What god would condemn you to an eternal punishment for eating meat?!” While eating meat was taboo to most ponies, excepting fish, Noire could not fathom how it was such a blasphemous sin as Deinos was describing.

“Oh, that,” Deinos said with a mischievous glint in her golden eyes. The alicorn smacked her lips, a disturbing noise not unlike the sound of metal screeching against metal. “Equine flesh is so, so good. Nothing stimulates the sense when their heartsblood still pumps and gives it that fresh, juicy flavour.”

It took Noire a few seconds to understand Deinos’ words. Then, Noire stumbled, feeling nauseous. “Oh,” she whimpered, her stomach suddenly doing flip-flops.

“You—you ate other ponies?” Trixie asked, horrified. She felt light-headed, barely able to stay on her hooves. Trixie found it difficult to breathe, as there was an enormous lump in her throat that she could not swallow away. A violent storm churned her stomach as Trixie felt the urge to vomit.

“We did. Interrogations went very quickly. Nothing quite scares a war-stallion like feeling his enemy take a bite out of his flesh.” Deinos said. To everypony else’s continued disturbance, she licked her teeth and lips in what could have passed for a sultry motion, if only they could get rid of the mental image of blood soaking her muzzle. “Or of course, when you slice part of his flesh away, and cook it. Mmmm, the sizzle it makes when you drop it into a hot pan and fry it in oil, or the tenderness when you boil it for hours, or the smell when you cook it over a fire, fresh blood dripping out, or—”

“Stop! Just stop!” Windspeaker shouted. The unicorn was the first to finally lose control of his stomach, as he stumbled a few steps away, and retched out onto the floor. He thanked providence that they had not eaten around the fire earlier, or Windspeaker would have deposited more than a few small chunks of food and stomach acid.

“So soft-hearted you ponies are. Peace has addled your senses,” Deinos said scornfully. “Several thousand years has turned great equinity into a weak breed. Really, the same goes for all species.”

“Even the Witch King Sombra didn’t eat other ponies, and he was every inch a monster!” Iceheart said. Her purple fur had paled. Even Iceheart was affected by Deinos’ words.

“Hmm, lucky him. Cannibalism, or even the devouring of other sapient species, is rare, at least to the extent we four did to be punished. But the rot goes deep for the weakness. You ponies are weak. Your society is weak. This world is weak. Regular ponies are no longer capable of fighting, and rely instead on mystical forces they know little of to save them. No more. Hohohohoho. The gods may have considered this a punishment for my meat-eating ways, but I wonder. After all, destiny brought you all into this castle.”

The six ponies opposite Deinos all took a step back. The implication of what she meant by that could not be missed, not after talking at length about eating the flesh of others.

Unbidden, Trixie remembered a conversation from a long time ago.

"Of course, if destiny does exist, I suppose I'd like it in a physical form in front of me right now so I could buck it in the face."

"You wouldn't like being able to blame your actions against Pri—uh, her on destiny?"

"Absolutely I would, but it'd also mean that my bad luck throughout my life was also a result of destiny. More specifically, destiny deciding that every time I get a good thing going, that I would need something disastrous to set me back a few more years. The same would go for the loss of your wing."

"Oh. Oh. Yeah, that would do it. I'd be angry at destiny too in that event."

Just a few seconds ago, Trixie had stepped back, intimidated by Deinos. Now she took a step forward. “You speak of destiny like it’s the be-all end-all. I refuse to believe that the edict of gods above is responsible for our entire lives. I...I struggled, I fought tooth-and-hoof for so many days, months, years, to get where I am. I am my own mare. My accomplishments are my own! I will not let you take that away from me!”

“It’s interesting you say that, actually,” Deinos said, turning on Trixie. “For even though you do not realise it, today is your finest hour.”

“My what?” Trixie asked, confused.

Deinos swept a hoof out, taking in all six ponies that were lined up at the base of the stairs leading up to the organ Deinos herself had been playing earlier. “Take a look around you. There are six of you. I said it before, did I not? You were destined to come here. Your friends, on the other hoof, only had the possibility. You foals are thinking of destiny as ‘the Mœræ control your every action’, but then what would the point of creation be if our every action were already decided? The gods would rather languish in Phantasia if that were the case. Neigh. Certain things are set in stone, such as your appearance here today, but only yours and yours alone. In between these hard points, your actions and decisions are yours. You could have failed to break your sister out of her morass in Whinnychester, and left without her.”

“Perhaps you would have adventured to the frozen north next, where you would attempt and be unsuccessful at destroying the remains of the Windigos, dashing the hopes of the local fortress commander. Then you would have travelled to southern Equestria, visiting the changeling hive your father hailed from. There, you would have met a one-winged pegasus, and the two of you would depart ways after. Maybe at least one of those times, you would have succeeded, in which case the Living Wind would have guided you to Manechester, and then potentially thereafter you would have gone to Canterlot. But if after visiting the hive, you hadn’t once advanced in your magic or gained any new friends, you would have gone directly to Colt Springs. You would eventually surpass that old husk’s trials, and then you would come to this castle as a broken mare, with little to show for your talent with illusions. Perhaps you wouldn’t even know how to teleport. There, well, then I would appear.”

“But that didn’t happen. You improved your magic and made a new friend every step of the way. You could perhaps consider that your ‘soft’ destiny, the parts of your life that you had your own control over, and you did the absolute best that was possible. It is these in-between moments that truly count. Each thread, each soul, will be forever reincarnated. At the very end of creation, every soul will finally be sorted for its accomplishments through all its lives. The worst souls, even the truly damned like me and my sisters, will not be punished, but the best will be rewarded, perhaps even given a chance to step into Phantasia. Good job. To come as far as you did, you have uplifted yourself and your friends. It isn’t enough to come out on top, of course. But maybe in your next life, and the life thereafter, you will continue to perform enough deeds that your soul will separate itself and rise to the top.”

It was an overwhelming deluge of information that slammed into Trixie like the Friendship Express. I could have come here without ever meeting anypony except for Noire and Red Wings, and failing to even connect with them? Trixie thought, looking around at her five greatest friends. I could have been a broken mare? Deinos’ words were suspicious, but Trixie had to give them credence. She could easily see it happening. After the break-up with the Alicorn Amulet, Trixie had often gone through the motions of day-to-day living on autopilot. Finding out about the death of her father compounded Trixie’s woe. It had taken Trixie years to rebuild herself into something approaching normalcy. If not for her own strength of will, she may truly have done as Deinos said, and walked into this castle one day by herself, with fool notions of becoming something more.

Trixie had come such a long way. She had turned a happenstance powerful talent in conjuring illusions into something that defied the imaginations. Trixie had healed some ponies of their ills, and broken others of toxic bonds to family, duty, or magic that would eventually have subsumed them. Trixie wanted to continue to feel that joy she experienced every time her illusions helped a pony. Trixie wished to fulfill the pledge she had made to Anfang, progenitor of changelings, to bring together the pony and changeling race.

And so Trixie could not be stopped here by a mere mad alicorn. At last, Trixie had achieve complete self-absolution of all her earlier sins in life. That encounter with Altrix in the Pool of Reflections below the Colt Springs hive had helped heal her, but in this moment, Trixie finally felt her past and present were as one. Trixie felt a keen serenity, a self-actualisation. This moment in time was one where she could face Deinos and use her status as an alicorn to fool Trixie herself into ascension.

“That is relieving to know,” Trixie admitted, glad that at least destiny was not all-pervasive, and she had some control. “But I will not, cannot stop there. I, we, will defeat you, Deinos.”

There was an eerie silence. Then Deinos snorted. “You truly do not get it, do you, you utter foal?”

“Get what?” Trixie demanded. “So what if you’re supported by the gods? So what if you’re an alicorn? I’ve said before that if destiny appears in front of me, I’ll buck destiny in the face. I once travelled as the Great and Powerful Trixie. It would be Trixie’s greatest ever show to do just that!” Deinos’ speech may have been meant to break Trixie, but Trixie had trudged on through ice and sand, and struggled against stone and wind. Trixie had the power of her illusions, sharpened and then refined through the course of most of a year. Anfang’s words once more rung through Trixie’s head. To become an alicorn, Trixie had to fight one.

Deinos shook her head. Her golden eyes suddenly spun faster than ever. “‘Great and Powerful’? Discard that title. It doesn’t suit you anymore. I said it before. After today, I shall lure the six ponies who once held the Elements of Harmony into this castle and devour them. With their deaths, I will go out into the world, and cause a cataclysm that shall set everything back ten thousand years. They will know me as being the bastard spawn of Discord and Nightmare Moon, a force of anti-Harmony. Why would I have told you everything about the gods above and my true story if you had a chance to win?”

There it was. The thing Trixie had been ignoring this entire time. Deinos had spoken at great lengths of destiny and her own role as an agent of the goddesses that controlled it, but she was supposed to have a different background. There was only one reason why she would have broken away from the masquerade. Time slowed to a crawl as Trixie watched Deinos open her mouth again, ready to deliver the denouement.

“You were destined to come here today. My little pony, you were destined to die here today.”

Suddenly, Deinos moved.

There was almost no time to react. Even if Trixie was able to move, she would have never been able to dodge. Deinos hadn’t leapt, or jumped, or flown like a normal pony or even an alicorn may have. It was the pounce of a predator, with a smooth, ethereal grace only a mortal touched by a goddess could possibly possess. But that wasn’t why Trixie would never have been able to dodge. It was because this wasn’t a physical attack, or a magical one. It was an empyreal assault. At that moment, Trixie finally internalised and truly believed Deinos’ words, for the essence of the empyrean force that locked her down didn’t paralyse her body or her magic, but her very soul.

Out of the corner of her eye, a flash of red could be seen moving towards her, trying to intercept the impending attack. “Trixie!”

Then Deinos reached Trixie. There was no pain. There was no blood. Indeed, Trixie didn’t feel anything but for a deep cold, as Deinos melded through her body, like a ghost, before exiting her out the other side.


Trixie collapsed to the floor.

“Trixie! TRIXIE!”

“And then there were five.”

With that, Trixie died.


‘Hello, Trixie.’


Well-Known Member
'Castle: End of an Era'


‘Hello, Trixie.’

She remembered this place. It was a land without definition. There was no scenery, there was no background. There was no white or black or grey or any of a myriad of colours for her eyes to lay upon. It just was. Only the souls of the dead had presence here.

‘Hello father,' Trixie greeted.

Only to realise there was another pony here.

‘M-mother?!’ Trixie asked, shook.

It had been so long since Trixie had seen her mother, but she recognised the mare at a moment’s look. September Midsummer was larger-than-life in Trixie’s fillyhood memories. The passing of the years only made the heart grow fonder.

‘Hello, Trixie,’ September said. She smiled, and Trixie felt herself weak-kneed as the memories flooded in. A warm spring afternoon, playing in the front yard with her mother, whose vibrant oranges and yellows mirrored the sunset itself. A chilly winter morning, having an impromptu snowball fight with the neighboring foals, her mother bringing her hot chocolate after Trixie was wet soaked. A late fall evening as the sun had gone down, curling up with both her mother and father in front of a roaring fireplace.

The pride in September’s green eyes as she saw Trixie off on the caravan that would take her to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. The reassuring forelimbs that had held Trixie in hugs non-stop for weeks after Trixie returned home, having to drop out to hide the mystery of her changing magical aura colour. The fond smile September had always given her own and only daughter even as she was on her deathbed.

The funeral at which Trixie, still too young to be called a mare, having not yet even gotten her Cutie Mark, had grieved for days and nights on end. The heartbreak that lingered with Trixie even as she grew up into marehood, only temporarily reprieved by her ability to conjure a phantasmal spectre of September, and finally only beginning to truly heal at the Mysterious Magical Maladies in Canterlot when Wooden Chisel had hinted at her presence in the endless rolling field of the great pastures beyond.

‘Oh, mama,’ Trixie bawled, and before she knew it, her mother’s forelimbs were wrapped around her. The sensation was clearly different than Trixie remembered, having still been a filly when her mother last hugged her. Now, her mother was a few inches shorter at the withers, and had to reach up to hug Trixie around the neck. But the love that could be felt in the gesture was still the same, the love of a mother for her daughter.

‘There, there, my little Trixie,’ September cooed, embracing Trixie tightly. Suddenly, Wooden Chisel joined the hug, wrapping a hoof around daughter and wife both. For the first time in many years, the father, mother, and daughter had been reunited. Wooden Chisel could no longer sense emotions, but years of experience helped him understand everypony all around needed a good crying session.

The moment ended. Trixie reluctantly backed out of the family hug. She sniffled, and wiped the tears away from her eyes before they could dry out in the hair of her cheeks. ‘Mother...father…’ Trixie trailed off, unable to find words. However, they came quickly, as the mare recalled what she had just been doing earlier.

‘I’m dead, aren’t I?’ Trixie asked. It was obvious. She could still remember Deinos’ last strike against her, possessed of a mystical energy that went through her body and seized her soul. When Trixie was last in this realm, there was a difference of ‘realness’ between her and her father. Now that difference had shrivelled up.

‘Yes, you are.’

Trixie sighed, and sat down on her haunches. There was no discernible floor in this world of infinite nothingness, but sitting down she nonetheless did. ‘Well, it was a good effort. I practically pioneered a new field of magic and made some great friends and challenged a goddess.’ Trixie’s bitterness at her end was obvious in her tone of voice.

‘You sound disappointed,’ said September.

‘No. Not disappointed. Well, yes. Disappointed. Disappointed in myself,’ Trixie admitted. ‘I failed. My magical abilities and the idea behind it will disappear with nopony to know about it except for a few changelings who can never replicate it. But no, I mean, I failed my friends. Deinos...she’s still down there. I was the core. I know them, everypony except for maybe Windspeaker is disciplined enough to keep fighting. But I know Deinos won’t let them live. I wish I could have continued to help them fight back. But destiny truly is a fickle mistress.’

‘It is,’ Wooden Chisel agreed. The last time Trixie had met her father, there had been an odd flicker between his true changeling body and his assumed pony identity. Now he stood tall as a unicorn, with a black coat and grey mane. Around his wife, it was obvious what his self-identity now was. ‘When we last met, there were many things I could not have told you. For you to brush the astral realm was something amazing, but you would never be allowed to know the true secrets of the dead. We have watched as you fought Deinos. What she says about the purpose of existence is true. Our lives are a test for all of us, to see the potential of our souls. The three sisters weave a web that sprawls across all creation to assess the gestalt of our lives at the very end.’

September agreed. ‘What we know now allows us to know you did the very best you possible could, Trixie. To be honest, in life, I was always miserable that you were never able to find any true friends. Oh, you had the fillies and colts in Whinnychester that you played with, but I could tell you wanted something more. Even as you returned from Canterlot, you yearned to break free of our idle little village. It made me happy you were able to find five companions you could call your best friends forever, one of them perhaps something more.’

Trixie swallowed. She recalled Deinos’ words about her five friends. In an alternate world, Trixie might have come to the Castle of the Two Pony Sisters with no friends at all. To get to that point, it would almost certainly have meant Trixie’s illusions would not have progressed one iota since she left Whinnychester. In that time, perhaps she may even have welcomed Deinos’ appearance.

She was possessed with ennui. ‘So, what now?’

‘We return to the pastures, and we wait,’ said Wooden Chisel. ‘Eventually, one of us will be spun back out into the world. Our reincarnation does not mean we disappear entirely. Our memories still remain, and when we once more perish on the mortal yolk, we will gain yet another life up here. September and I came down to limbo to greet you, but we are not the real September Midsummer and Wooden Chisel, only fragments. Shades, as I told you when we last met. I only remember my life as Cognito the changeling and Wooden Chisel the pony.’ A frown appeared on the black-furred stallion’s face. He was struggling to remember things. ‘There are bits and pieces of previous lives that I can barely make sense of. I think in my last life...I may have been a yak?’

‘I was definitely a gryphon,’ September said. ‘Trixie, you too will gain memories of your past life when we go. It will be strange, and it will be weird. It may be that one of your lives will dominate your memories, and you will go by that identity, instead of Trixie the unicorn mare from Whinnychester, daughter of September Midsummer and Wooden Chisel. Know that we will always love you.’

Trixie sniffed. 'I love you too, mom, dad.' There would be time for more heartfelt reunions. Trixie shuffled about on her hooves, looking at the ground. 'I just hate this feeling of leaving things undone. I know my friends will be coming up soon, but I am disappointed that this is how it is all to end.'

Wooden Chisel and September Midsummer traded looks, then looked at Trixie. Then Wooden Chisel, the changeling-cum-pony, said six words that changed everything.

‘Would you like to go back?’

‘Of course I would!’ Trixie said, her voice rising as much as limbo would allow. ‘My friends are back there fighting Deinos! I cannot let her win!’

‘But destiny is in her favour,’ said September. ‘You were fated to die today, Trixie. There is no getting past that.’

‘I would figure something out. There has to be something. She was rattled when we threw our combined magic at her. No, not rattled. Deinos was scared. I was unable to synchronise the magic to perfection. If I was able to do it successfully next time, I think we could win.’ Trixie let out a huff. ‘But no, that’s not the issue. I’m dead. That’s it. Maybe my friends can pull something out. I have faith in them to stand up against Deinos until every last hoof is in the grave. But I cannot help them from beyond.’

‘There is a way.’

Trixie jerked, looking up at her father, who had just spoken. ‘No, there can’t be,’ were her first words, immediately spoken on reflex. ‘That’s utter nonsense. Ponies can’t just come back from the dead. No power or magic has ever resurrected a pony. Maybe the gods can, after all, Deinos apparently has memories of several lives in the living world. But they wouldn’t help me, would they? I was supposed to die today.’

Wooden Chisel shook his head. ‘No, they would not. But it is not the gods who would resurrect you. Think, my little Bella. There is something special about you. You, and you alone, have a quality that no pony else ever has. If you can understand it, truly and completely realise its potential, you alone can return.’

‘Woody speaks correctly,’ September said, rubbing up against her husband the faux-unicorn. She set her head against his neck, leaning in on him. Wooden Chisel reciprocated the action. In death, the two lovers were well at peace. ‘Think, my daughter. Live up to your name, little Trixie.’

The younger mare stood there, slackjawed. Trixie could not understand what her parents were talking about. But the two of them seemed confident, so she thought on it. Something special about her? Living up to her name?

Epiphany struck Trixie in that moment, her mind alight and blazing with possibility as if it had been possessed by a thousand fireflies. She jumped up back onto all four. Trixie at last understood what her parents were saying. It felt a fool notion, but then, Trixie had been filled with foolish notions ever since she began her journey. What was one more impossible feat to accomplish on her road to greatness?

‘I...see now,” Trixie said, breathing steady. ‘So...I guess that means it is time for me to go now.”

‘Not quite,’ Wooden Chisel responded. ‘Time moves differently in limbo. You do not need to return this instant. You are right though, there is not much time left. But enough for us to say a few final words.’

Trixie struggled. The situation was still too odd to comprehend, but she followed along. “Mother, father. I missed both of you very much. Even though I got to talk to you again, father, it was too short.’

‘And we missed you,’ September affirmed. ‘This is for your benefit, Trixie. Please remember that we are only shades of the real Wooden Chisel and September Midsummer. When you truly depart to the endless rolling fields of the great pastures beyond, we will fully meet. Even if we are reincarnated back into the lower domain by then, a part of us will still remain, and we still be real. But for now, we are enough of the true thing to know how they would respond. And although I said it before, it bears repeating. I am proud of you, Trixie.’

Trixie stood strong. There were definitely not tears rolling down her cheeks, and she most certainly was not letting out a coughing sob.

‘You have the ambition to become an alicorn. Do not be ashamed of your desire anymore, Trixie. Maybe you have some selfish purposes for it as well, but that is alright. You are indeed only equine. Even the Princesses are still only equine, as divine as being an alicorn may be. I loved your father for every bit of what he was. It made me sad to see the changelings and ponies driven further apart since my lifetime. I know you can help reconcile them, my daughter Trixie, and if the best way to do that is an alicorn, go for it. If your feel you can help heal others of wounds or pains as an alicorn, go for it,’ September encouraged.

‘Oh. There is one other thing,’ said Wooden Chisel. ‘There is that stallion of yours. Red Wings, is it?’

The tears cleared up instantly. Trixie thought her blue fur might become as red as the aforementioned Red Wings. “Y-yessss…’ she said, trailing off.

September took over again. ‘We both approve. He is a healthy young stallion. The affection you show one another is genuine. It reminds me of the two of us, really. If you continue to pursue your relationship, the two of you may have ups and downs. But true love is a beautiful thing, Trixie. Don’t let him get slack. Call out his flaws. But embrace his good side and encourage him the way he has encouraged you.’

Trixie turned her head to face away from her parents. She felt her cheeks becoming heated. ‘I, I will, mother.”

‘Besides,’ September added. ‘At that very last moment, when Deinos killed you, Red Wings was rushing to throw himself in the way. The best partners are those who sacrifice for one another. He is a fool stallion, of course, and fool stallions are wont to get hot-headed sometimes, so you will have to drill it into his fool stallion head not to sacrifice to the point of self-destruction.’ Wooden Chisel, next to her, stayed silent on his wife’s continuous slurring of stallions as being foolish. ‘Maybe you will fall out of love someday, but with the affection and goodwill you two have shown, you can still continue to be good friends. But know that we are both rooting for you to forever be true to one another.’

‘Remember, Bella,’ said Wooden Chisel. ‘Who dares, wins. And you dare. You dare to defy Deinos the Terrible, and you dare to defy even the gods. You will win, for you too shall become great.’

Trixie jerked at her father’s words, before she calmed down. Yes. Hadn’t she left Whinnychester once upon a time to break the rut she had found herself in? All along the way, she had developed her magic of illusions until it became so specialised it had challenged every the very nature of things. She had gathered a tight fellowship along the way, one which had spent six months together in Colt Springs to train up so they could support Trixie in her faint chance of grasping alicornhood. She would not disappoint them. At last, she felt that tenuous state of self-actualisation sink in again.

“Mother, father, thank you for everything,” Trixie said, wiping her eyes one last time. “I...will take your words to heart. And do not worry. I don’t intend to come back here, not for a very long time. I will win!”


“You—really—are—persistent!” Deinos roared. The madmare tried to string together a comprehensible set of words, but Deinos found herself having to constantly teleport every time she spoke. “I—you—stop it!” she shouted, turning into shadow completely and becoming completely impermeable, avoiding the last attack that was launched at her instead of teleporting.

The reason Deinos found herself flustered was the red-furred pegasus opposite her, who took the opportunity to rest as Deinos had gone incorporeal. Red Wings was panting heavily as he sank down onto the ground. If he was not already red, Red Wings would have been red with exertion by now.

“Ah, that’s better,” said Deinos, finally unperturbed by attacks. As a shadow, she had no real mouth, so the noise came out deeper than her regular suave, medium-pitch. “You really don’t know when to give up? I should be happy about this. I wanted entertainment, after all. I wanted a battle. And you’ve been providing it to me.” It was true. Deinos had expected the rest of this motley crew of fools to fall apart after their ringleader’s death. Instead, Red Wings had gone absolutely berserk. However, unlike Deinos’ expectation of him launching a suicidal attack, he had rallied to raise everypony’s morale, before pressing the offensive.

Before, when there were six, they had been too conservative in their attacks. Now there were five, but Deinos found herself on her back hooves more often than not. She wasn’t sure if she was suffering from some lingering aftereffects from that attack earlier that came close to imitating Harmony, or if Deinos just had underestimated their capabilities. While her power over the shadows was great, Deinos only had so many shadows. The accursed Red Wings was suddenly everywhere at once, attempting to hit her from in front, from her sides, from her rear, from above, and even from below when she was flying. She might have been able to injure Red Wings, but the other four ponies had done a splendid job tying down her shadows such that they were constantly on the move, splitting apart and melding together to block attacks. Even more, small nicks were repeatedly appearing on her coat. If Deinos had not been an alicorn with a superb regenerative ability, they might have actually started to add up.

“Won’t...give...up…” Red Wings said. He was panting heavily. His chest was quickly rising and falling as he gasped for air. Sweat freely dripped down all across his body. His eyes stung from the salty substance coming down from his forehead, but it was no matter. After all, the tears washed the sweat away, and the pain in his heart was greater than the irritant in his eyes.

“Won’t give up? Bah, you’ll kill yourself before I can kill you,” said Deinos, dissatisfied. Events as the Mœræ had dictated said that she would kill all who came here today. It could have been anywhere from a single pony to as many as six, and providence had brought six for her to devour. After Deinos won today, her magical power would increase even further. With it, her power over shadows would become even more unparalleled, and Deinos would finally gain an immunity against Harmony. Why she couldn’t be immune in the first place, she didn’t get. All she knew was that the Mœræ liked a logical proceeding, and a creature supposedly born from a plunderseed and dark magic should be originally weak to Harmony when both her parents had been imprisoned for a thousand years by that same force.

But first Deinos had to win today. Until then, her shadows were still imperfect. The five opposite her had become like cockroaches. “Well, I have to commend you. You made me frustrated enough to just turn myself into shadows. I don’t like doing that. I would rather give you a sporting chance. You made me feel pain, earlier. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that. Hehe, just thinking about that is getting me so turned on. I will truly have a feast tonight!” Deinos was beginning to feel the bloodthirst settle in again. Her eyes sped up their rotation as a red haze settled over her vision. It had been so long since she had experienced that euphoric state. The Mœræ had come up with a fitting punishment, leaving her to rot in a decrepit castle for a thousand years. Though a great deal of slaughter, meat-eating, and general mayhem was finally soon to come, a millennia of monotony was too long for Deinos to suffer before she could cut loose.

Across from her, the band of five who continued to oppose Deinos had since regrouped. Windspeaker and Noire stood up front. Noire had since recovered an iron spear from one of the statues dotting the walls of the throne room, and was wielding it in her front hooves. They were as stone guardians, calm, steady, and unflinching. Though they were both exhausted, the two were ready to intercept any attack that came their way. Most of all, Windspeaker and Noire each knew they had to protect Red Wings and give him time to recover. They could not afford to lose another member of their party. They still had a chance to win. It was a minor one, but it was still there. They had been savvy enough to realise one small loophole in Deinos’ words: only Trixie had been fully fated to arrive at the Castle of the Two Pony Sisters that day. Only Trixie was fully fated to die that day. If destiny as Deinos preached it was loose enough that they may have been in Canterlot and Whinnychester still, Windspeaker and Noire thought it may be loose enough to slip the noose that Deinos was attempting to tighten around them. Maybe Deinos hadn't been precise enough with her words and they were all meant to die, but there was still a glimpse of hope until then.

But they could not abandon Red Wings. They could never abandon Red Wings.

“Can you not abandon your masters and strike out on their own?” Windspeaker suddenly asked, seeking to make small talk to buy time for Red Wings to recover.

“Oh? Moi? Abandon the Fates Three?” Deinos asked with mock surprise. If it weren’t for her eyes already spinning, Windspeaker would have expected Deinos to roll them just now. “Preposterous. The gods will humour those who are able to surprise them, but as one of their actual servants...hohoho, a foalish foal such as you could never comprehend just how foalish you are! You think I could just throw this battle and walk away? Never! Besides, they threw me a piece of meat for once. This is the very last role I must fulfill before I can finally rejoin my sisters. It is only fitting that I will finally be satiated with the blood of sapients before I meet the makers. Enough of that, stop delaying me. If you want to talk about spinsters so much, try this on for size!” Deinos said, sneering.

Some of the shadows that had been guarding Deinos came together once more, forming a large mass on the ground. The mass then began to elongate to take a three-dimensional form, before fully reshaping itself. A large spider stood in front of Deinos, standing even higher than the already-tall alicorn. There was no colour to the spider: as a creation of shadows, it was pure black, sucking in all light around it. Despite its uniform blackness, there were eight obvious eyes on its head, increasing its creepiness. The spider clicked its teeth together, before suddenly pouncing on its prey.

Noire was the first to intercept the spider. She retracted her wings in to her body and quickly rolled underneath the spider, attempting to pierce its underside with her spear. The spider continued to move through the air, but two of its legs came around to block Noire’s strike.

Cling! came a high-pitched noise. Noire grunted as spear met shadows, an uncomfortable vibration shaking the batpony’s body. As an otherworldly power gifted to the Pony of Shadows, they were something else. The shadow was like metal as it followed up its block with a counterattack, which Noire in turn stopped with her own thrust.

By that time, the spider had finally soared past Noire, at which point Windspeaker stepped up. His horn was ablaze with a blue aura, conjuring ethereal blue dots of light. Windspeaker propelled the blue dots forward, and they impacted the shadowbeast. The arachnid was repelled by the projectiles, staggering back several steps. It quickly found itself on the defensive, doubly so when Stonehenge got a running start, climbing up several hoofsteps onto a nearby telamon column before backflipping, swinging with a backhoof kick towards the spider. Several appendages came ahead to block Stonehenge, but his momentum was great enough to push the spider sprawling again.

Iceheart met the arachnid in its path of retreat. Her hoofs flew out at top speed, each strike meant to cripple and incapacitate. Against a foe like the golem forged of shadows, there was no way for Iceheart to truly wound it, for it had no organs, no joints, no eyes made of flesh, no real weak points. However, if the shadows could be damaged by brute strength, Iceheart was aiming to prove it. The spider’s limbs tried to stop her, only for several of them to be occupied by Noire joining in again and using her spear to slash the shadowbeast once more. Stonehenge quickly entered the bray once more, substituting Iceheart’s agility for pure strength. Windspeaker stood off to the front, using the Living Wind to help intuitively coordinate his three companions so they overlapped each other without throwing one another off their balance. Occasionally, he snuck in another magical attack at the arachnid when it looked vulnerable.

The four were in a flurry of motion that would have appeared beautiful to a neutral observer as they worked off one another smoothly, six months of training together helping each of the ponies find a niche in battle. However, each of them quickly realised that no matter how many strikes they got in against the shadowbeast, it wasn’t actually doing anything. Deinos’ conjuration was made of shadows. Those same shadows had been invulnerable throughout the entire battle. Only a perfectly-harmonised magical attack might have been able to actually damage it, and they were now missing one of the two most pivotal members of their party required for the spell. Deinos was still just continuing to humour them, allowing the remaining five to expend the rest of their energy before killing them and eating their flesh.

Slowly, despair sank into Windspeaker’s heart. He used the Living Wind, drawing on its deep sea of ethereal calm to chase off his own emotion. A lifetime of sitting in bed and communing with the Living Wind gave him an appreciation for unorthodox tactics. Frantically, Windspeaker tried to think of something, anything that he could do.


Windspeaker didn’t even think before he moved, his body recognising the voice as a friendly one. The other three fighters did the same. A split second after he did, Windspeaker winced, and he covered his ears with the Living Wind’s forewarning as the air suddenly screeched. Two blades of air, razor-sharp enough to the point they were visible, quickly passed through the air, and struck the spider on either side of its head.

The moment hung in the air, as if time had frozen. Windspeaker saw Red Wings standing up again, both his wings outstretched. The red pegasus looked like he was on his last legs, barely able to stand up, with blood dripping from all over his body and pebbles and plaster dusting his coat. Still, Red Wings struck the most profound pose Windspeaker had even seen in the stallion, looking for all the world as if he was truly going to defy the heavens and seize the day. The red pegasus had summoned a blast of air from each wing, with an edge fine enough to cut the air itself, and the shadowbeast was Red Wings’ target.

Then the moment passed.

There was another screech. This time, it wasn’t from the air. Instead, it was the spider, cooing a sad rhapsody of defeat. Suddenly, its body fell apart into three sections, with four legs each on the two sides and a middle section, all flopping to the floor. Where Windspeaker, Stonehenge, Iceheart, and Noire had all struggled to inflict lasting damage against the arachnid, Red Wings had just split it in three.

Then the sections suddenly stood back up, before they melded together into a single lump once more. The shadows returned across the room to Deinos.

“Impressive, truly impressive,” said Deinos. However, she looked unperturbed. “Those shadows should have been able to stand up to anything. How long did you ponies train for in that old husk’s hive? Your coordination is impeccable, even with one of you gone. I really wish I could fight you all night.” The praise in Deinos’ voice was legitimate, a rare phenomenon from the vile, pugnacious alicorn. Her golden eyes were rotating even more frantically than ever before.

Stonehenge found he despised those golden eyes of hers, always spinning.

“Six months,” said Red Wings. His breathing had steadied out, and he looked like he was back in full fighting form, despite having just summoned one of his most intensive attacks. Despite standing tall, everypony else in the room knew he was on his last legs. “We trained together for six months. You won’t win, Deinos. We came too far to be stopped.”

“Oh, please,” Deinos mocked. She was quickly losing patience for playing word games. “Did losing your marefriend really hurt that much? It’s not like you’re going to miss her for long. Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes tops. I’ll help you reunite with her soon enough.”

“Her name is Trixie!” Red Wings growled, a guttural roar working its way up his throat. “Call her that! Call her that!”

“Pfft.” Deinos blew a raspberry back. “What point is there in getting to know the name of ants who will soon be squashed? I have more important things to do, like figuring out how to cook tonight. All of you look too fit. Lean and full of muscle, not enough fat. It’ll take a lot of boiling to tenderise the muscles down.” Deinos ignored the habitual revulsion on the other ponies’ faces at her repeated mentions of her cannibalism, and instead summoned the mass of shadows to her side.

“Truly, the fact you came this far, and even managed to batter my poor, poor, pwecious spider shows the potential of your souls. Perhaps you will even leapfrog your way up with this lifetime. Enough talk!” Deinos said suddenly. “I’ve given you foals multiple chances to prance around and play heroes. It’s time to end this. Feel blessed, my little ponies, for today you shall witness the end of an era!”

The shadows started to rotate around Deinos at breakneck speed. They were moving so fast that trying to track any part of it would cause an individual to become dizzy, much like looking at the blades of a moving fan. The three stallions and two mares that had fought Deinos and struggled for so long were put on their guard, sensing from Deinos’ words that she meant to inflict fatal strikes again.

Suddenly, the throne room plunged into absolute darkness, the moonlight no longer penetrating the holes in the castle walls and roof. Then it lit the room up again, as if it had just flickered. In that brief second the room was pitch black, Deinos had moved. The remaining cadre of ponies felt their bodies seized by the same empyreal force Trixie had been earlier locked down by, unable to move.

Deinos gloated to herself as she pounced towards the five fleshy bodies that awaited her fangs. She had waited a thousand years for this moment. A tendril of her shadow floated out ahead of her, ready to inflict misery at Deinos’ command. Truly, life was great.

Suddenly, the tendril of shadow disappeared.

Deinos found herself stunned as she continued through the air by her forward momentum. The shadowy appendage she had just sent out hadn’t merged back into Deinos’ mass of shadows. It had just vanished.

The madmare didn’t have a second moment to dwell on what had just happened, as her vision was suddenly filled by something that she only had time enough to identify as being blue.

Then there was pain.

Both pain and disorientation blended in as Deinos suddenly found herself looking at the ceiling, spotting the stars and the moon through the holes in the roof, soaring through the room for the second time that night. Then the moment ended as she hit solid floor. Pain overwhelmed disorientation, as her back skidded through the stones, friction tearing off parts of her skin. Before Deinos could even comprehend what was happening, she hit a rock, and her body flipped over into the air, finally hitting a stone statue pillar. The telamon, a column with a carving of a nondescript Earth pony, had lasted a thousand years holding up the roof, up until Deinos had crashed into it. Deinos had hit it head-first as well, and her horn was afire, sending her to tears for the first time in over a thousand years.

Finally, her momentum stalled out by the impromptu obstacle, Deinos flopped over onto the floor. The alicorn grit her teeth. Pain was immaterial. Surprise was taking over. What had just happened? Rolling over, Deinos stood up, only to be greeted with the most shocking sight she had ever seen in her many lives.

“Miss me?” Trixie asked, blowing on the hoof that she had just bucked right into Deinos’ face.

Deinos flinched, her battered horn giving her a raging headache. “Y-you?! Y-you’re supposed to be dead! You’re supposed to be dead! You’re supposed to be dead! I killed you!

“Trixie? That—” Red Wings’ words were choked off by his sobbing. A strange combination of disbelief and relief filled the stallion, turning him into a blubbering mess. Similar scenes could be seen with Windspeaker, Iceheart, Noire, and Stonehenge to a one.

“There, there, Red,” Trixie said, booping him on the nose before wrapping her arm around his neck and hugging the stallion close for a moment. “It’s alright. I’m here now. Death was but a temporary setback for the Grrrreat and Powerrrrful Trrrrixie! Heheh, maybe not appropriate now, is it?” she asked sheepishly. She turned to face the other four. “I’m back now, everypony.”

“Impossible!” Deinos screeched, still disbelieving herself. “I killed you! I pushed your soul out of your body! You can’t be alive!”

“Deinos, Deinos, Deinos,” Trixie said, clicking her tongue as she turned to face the frenzied alicorn. “You know my history. My illusions were able to fool reality into thinking the way things should be is what I wanted. I was the one who vanished Windigo fossils from this world. I was the one who restored a pegasus’ shorn wing. I was the one who dissolved a well of petrification magic. I was the one who unbound a unicorn’s soul from the Living Wind. When you think about it, isn’t it obvious? I am capable of even deceiving death itself!”

The implication of Trixie’s final statement blew everyone away. Deinos unwillingly took a step back. For the first time in several thousand years, Deinos found herself scared. “Th-th—blasphemy, blasphemy!” she shouted. “Utter heresy! You’re meddling with the domain of the gods!”

“Oh? Should I be worried?” Trixie asked nonchalantly, enjoying Deinos’ panic. “After all, I was already defying the gods by fighting you earlier, right? What’s one more thing like tricking death?”

With that, Trixie took the opportunity to turn around and face the others, her back towards Deinos. “Hello, everypony.”

“Trixie? Is that really you?” Iceheart asked, completely perturbed. For once, the Crystal Earth pony was shaken, her face visibly pale under her purple coat. The night had brought far too many surprises.

“Deceived...death itself? Is such a thing even possible?” Stonehenge asked, attempting to wrap his head around the concept and utterly failing. Then again, if anypony could actually conceive and believe themselves capable of deceiving death, it would be Trixie, Stonehenge admitted. He knew of how Trixie’s illusionary talent worked, and how it required the unicorn to believe something and force that perception onto reality. Still, to overwrite her death with the idea that she was alive was too surreal for Stonehenge.

Trixie flicked her mane back behind her head. She said, “I find myself to be surprised too, honestly. It is never something I would have thought of, until fate itself forced my hoof. But, well, here I am.”

Deinos blinked as she found herself suddenly ignored. She found herself rapidly breathing. Anger filled her senses, as a red haze blanketed her vision. The pain from her earlier impact against the column was vanquished, as rage set in instead. The unicorn before her had just embarrassed Deinos in a way she never had been before, not even when she had been a mere mortal mare fighting alongside her sisters as the Mares of Diomedes. “Your body. It was perfectly intact. Destiny says you’re supposed to die today. I just have to kill you again. This time, I’ll make sure to chop you up into pieces so you don’t have a body to return to,” Deinos said, clearly unhinged.

Swiftly, Deinos summoned a large rod-like tendril out of her shadows. Mirroring the opening move of the battle, she intended to bludgeon Trixie, who had turned around in response to Deinos’ threat. As Deinos sent the instrument of death down at the blue unicorn, there was a niggling thought that she was forgetting something.

The alicorn remembered instantly what she was forgetting when the tendril of shadow sent out disappeared.

“H-how?” Deinos said, confused and once more scared. Her shadow just disappearing like that was not a phenomenon Deinos had ever seen.

“Oh, that? Why, whatever are you talking about?” Trixie gloated in a sing-song voice. “Was there something there? Trixie simply didn’t believe it existed, so it didn’t.”

Deinos swallowed as she examined her shadows. The alicorn had been with her shadows given to her by the gods for a thousand years. They had kept her warm in the drafty winter. They had curled up around her when she slept, acting as her pillow and blanket. The shadows and Deinos were companions for so long, they had become one and the same. Deinos could tell that the amount of shadows in her possession was not right. As Trixie was vanishing the shadow appendages, the mass of her shadows was decreasing.

An unsettling thought forced its way into Deinos’ mind. She could turn into shadows herself. Could. But if she did, then would Trixie be able to make her disappear entirely as well? Deinos very rarely felt her golden eyes, always spinning in their sockets. But now, she could feel them, as they continued to spin harder and harder, faster and faster, as if they were trying to build up enough speed to escape their sockets.

“I see you’ve realised it,” said Trixie. “You’ve lorded over us all night with your shadows! They were what stopped us every time, and when it looked like you might get hit, you became a phantom yourself. Red Wings, Noire, everypony,” Trixie added, looking behind her. “How do you feel? I only returned at the tail end there, when Red Wings cut that shadowbeast in three, and waited around to sneak attack her. Do you all feel up to one last tussle?”

Noire grinned, showing off her teeth. She swung her spear around in anticipation, feeling her blood pumping again. “I was born ready.”

Iceheart had regained her bearings. Nerves steady, she stepped forward. “It would be an honour, Trixie, to fight with you one more time.”

Red Wings stood up, flexing his wings. As he did, the world swayed overhead. Red Wings gritted his teeth, then bit his tongue to combat his disorientation. The stallion was exhausted, especially after his wind slicing technique. But Red Wings felt it in his bones, that this would be their last parley. He could rest afterwards, whether it be in this world or in the great pasture beyond. “Let’s, Trix.”

Stonehenge flexed an arm, then slammed it into the floor, cracking a stone. “This stallion will have to wait a while longer to sleep, it would seem,” he mused.

Windspeaker found himself in a state of zen. The Living Wind howled, but he was as calm as could be. Slowly, he grappled the Living Wind into submission, finally achieving oneness. He was startled to find that for once, Windspeaker could actually feel Deinos’ shadows directly. The white unicorn smirked. It would seem Trixie had truly gained something in the time she was dead to rob Deinos’ shadows of their pure divinity. “The Living Wind and I are both chomping at the bits,” he reported.

Trixie smiled, glad to see her friends’ spirits were all back up. Her smile soon slipped back into a hard glare, as she once more faced the madmare before her. Trixie fumbled about for a second for a suitably epic line, before she finally said, “Here I come, Deinos, Pony of Shadows! Do you have enough shadows in your possession?”

Deinos lurched backwards. She realised what she had done, then moved forward again. Deinos snarled, her spinning golden eyes defiant. “You think you’re so great, my little pony?! I have sat here a thousand years! My name will stand for ten thousand more! You throw your petty little talents in the face of literal GODS! I will end you where you stand!”

Trixie shook her head, not willing to lose the battle of words. "You were right, Deinos. It's the end of an era, but it's not our end. Neigh, it's the end of your era of terror!"

She wanted to add on one last line. Trixie hesitated, but then words that had been spoken to her mere minutes ago reassured Trixie of her purpose.

‘For you too shall become great’

With that, Trixie cast a spell, once more restarting their great battle.

"For I am the Great and Powerful Trixie!"


Well-Known Member


Trixie let loose her spell. Her horn emitted a red laser, flying straight and true through the air.

A magic shield formed in front of Deinos, mostly translucent with a purple haze. The purple alicorn reared up on her hind legs before coming back down, stomping the floor in front of her and shattering the stone under her hooves. It was clear Deinos was back in a fighting mood. “You think you have a chance? The Mœræ granted unto me the form of an alicorn. Even if you have somehow rendered my shadows helpless, I am still more than you foals ever will be!”

Deinos’ counterattack was as quick as a flying pegasus. Trixie had barely blinked before a spider web-like magical net flew through the air, rapidly growing in size as it approached her. She briefly waited, then teleported out just before the net would have ensnared Trixie. Quickly, Trixie looked back at Deinos, only to see the other pony was gone. Looking around, Trixie saw the alicorn flying through the air. Deinos had launched a second net right after her first, aiming it at Iceheart. Iceheart had jumped but failed to dodge entirely, and the net had wrapped around Iceheart’s leg, leaving the Crystal pony unable to flex her fetlock or bend her limb at the knee. It left Iceheart exposed to Deinos, who was on a trajectory to ram right into her.

Stonehenge, who was closest to Iceheart, attempted to intercept Deinos. He was just a little late, as Deinos struck Iceheart with a shoulder check, knocking both of them over. There was a mess of purple limbs as the two hit the ground. Quickly, every other pony moved to try and pull them apart. Trixie gasped as she saw what Deinos was doing. The Pony of Shadows had ignored trying to hit Iceheart with her hooves or her magic, and was instead lunging for Iceheart’s neck, her mouth wide open, baring her fangs. Deinos was close to chomping down, only for Stonehenge to finally make it over.

The grey stallion sent a quick punch at Deinos, but his punch fell on empty air as the alicorn suddenly vanished. Quickly, Stonehenge backed away from Iceheart. He rested his weight onto his front hooves, the easier to buck behind him if Deinos had appeared behind him. With trepidation, he scanned the area around him, relying on Noire and Red Wings in front of him to warn Stonehenge if the madmare was indeed behind him.

“Above you!” Stonehenge suddenly barked, as it was him who instead had to provide the warning.

Red Wings was slightly hovering above the ground at the time Stonehenge yelled. It was enough for the red pegasus to dip his wings and spin over in the air out of the way. Noire wasn’t so lucky. Even though she had jumped to the side, Deinos fell from the air with a wild abandon, and clipped Noire on her withers with a hoof. The bat pony hissed out loud. Deinos turned around, moving to hit Noire again, only to once more teleport.

Deinos reappeared in front of Windspeaker. “Annoying colt with that wind of yours,” Deinos said as her horn lit up. For once, she was curt, not waiting to send her own magical beam at Windspeaker.

The colt in question yelped, and Windspeaker backpedalled, before he too teleported. Windspeaker only moved a short distance, and judged his position incorrectly, finding himself six inches above the ground instead of on the floor proper. He was only in the air briefly before landing, but Windspeaker instinctively took a step forward as he did. He gasped, holding a hoof to his barrel, his heart pounding in his chest. Windspeaker wasn’t as talented as Trixie was at teleportation, only learning it alongside Noire in the hive, and so he had been slow to react to Deinos’ spell. If he had been just a fraction of a second slower, he would have been struck and injured.

Deinos sneered as she turned around, sensing where Windspeaker had gone. She didn’t say a word. Instead, she was gone yet again, leaving behind the slight sound of air rushing in to fill the vacuum where her body had once been.

Quickly, Deinos reappeared up in the air above Stonehenge. Her wings flapped open as she glided down to the stallion, who had little time to react. Another ball of magic gathered up on her horn, as Deinos intended to skewer the Earth pony. Stonehenge threw his forelimbs up in front of him, hoping to mitigate whatever spell Deinos had in mind.

However, Deinos never made it to him, as she blipped out of existence once again. Stonehenge swore he had heard the sound of not one but two teleports in rapid sequence. Paranoid, he dashed ahead several feet before looking behind him. There was the same rush of air that indicated a teleportation to Stonehenge’s left, and he looked over, only to see Trixie disappear as soon as he caught sight of her. Turning around, Stonehenge saw Deinos and Trixie facing off against one another.

“Annoying ant, tracking where I’m teleporting,” Deinos said, scowling.

“The Great and Powerful Trixie is a mare of many talents,” Trixie said, grooming her mane with a hoof.

“If you say so,” Deinos mocked the other mare, before suddenly disappearing again. Trixie’s form blinked out a split second later, only to reappear back with Deinos, but opposite the positions they were originally in. “So you truly are determined to pursue me. I could just do this until you are tired out, but that would not be fun. How’s about this!” Deinos shouted, and her horn glowed an eerie gold colour.

Trixie yelped as she saw a rock come her way. Instinctively, she teleported out of the way, then mentally kicked herself a second later for not using a shield. Then she looked around, and saw there were several rocks flying towards each of her friends. “Red! Iceheart! Stonehenge!” Trixie shouted, casting shields in front of them to stop the stones and rocks Deinos was launching. Windspeaker and Noire were quick on the ball, and able to use their own magic to stop the projectiles.

It was just enough time for Deinos to set-up for her next attack. The Pony of Shadows hopped into the air, letting her wings spread and gaining height. Deinos cackled. “You foals!” Suddenly, more debris lifted off the ground. Whether it was stones large and small, mortar, brick, or any other material littered around the room from the castle’s thousand year decay, it all suddenly rushed together in front of Deinos.

Then the madmare alicorn flapped her wings, and she sent a tornado from the tips of her feathers.

“What the—” Red Wings backed up, startled. He could create a tornado himself if he wanted to, but he could not have done it so effortlessly as Deinos had. Red Wings had broken up tornadoes most of his life, not made them. What was more terrifying was the tornado picking up all the mass Deinos had telekinetically picked up off the floor. At the quick speeds exerted by the tornado, anything it did a flyby of would be pulled in and severely injured if not outright killed once struck by another object. Even were Red Wings and everypony else to avoid the tornado, it could also spit something out of its vortex at high speeds.

“Shield!” Trixie shouted, her horn alight in a pink glow as a transparent dome formed in front of the six ponies. Given the pervasiveness of the tornado and debris, there was no safe space to teleport to for her or anypony else. Windspeaker joined her, his own horn radiating a vivid blue light as he reinforced the shield barrier. Noire was last to react, having to summon the magic from inside of her body and shape it more carefully, instead of having a handy horn to rely on. Her magical glow was a lilac purple that surrounded her body, and it joined Windspeaker’s power in reinforcing Trixie’s original shield spell.

It was just in time, as the tornado of solid matter smashed into the shield. The two unicorns and one bat pony all reeled as the impact of the tornado on their spell hit them with magical backlash, but the shield held strong. Rocks and stones grinded down to fine dust, and softer matter completely disintegrated, before at last the tornado itself fizzled out against the shield, its eye weakened and tearing up.

Trixie took a deep breath, relieved. It didn’t last long.

Trixie yelped as she spotted a flash of light to her periphery, and there Deinos was, the alicorn having teleported right to Trixie’s side. Deinos launched a spell at Trixie that radiated a mustard-yellow colour, and Trixie responded by teleporting away from the spell, mindful there was nopony behind her who would accidentally get struck.

“Eep!” Windspeaker squeaked, jumping back in fright as Deinos teleported in front of him next. This time, the alicorn attempted to sideswipe her opponent with a straight up punch. Windspeaker leaned back until he nearly fell over backwards to initially avoid the hit, before the stallion suppressed instinct and teleported away.

Noire squawked as she suddenly found herself facing down a magical red blade. Thinking on her hooves, Noire rolled over to her left, and the blade cut the ground where she once stood, letting out a disturbing sizzling sound that left little to the imagination as to how the same blade would have hurt Noire. She had to take a second, being far less practiced than Trixie or even Windspeaker was, but Noire was able to teleport away right before the blade struck her.

“This is—” Windspeaker attempted to say something from his new spot in front of the stairs leading up to the organ, only to teleport yet again as Deinos appeared in front of him.

“Deinos! You—” Trixie teleported in front of Deinos, only to find Deinos was already gone. Trixie blinked, turned her head to visually confirm where her magic sense had told her Deinos had gone, then teleported again.

“Not ag—” Windspeaker was forced to teleport once more as Deinos had stalked him over near the periphery of the crater from the earlier trio of attacks that had been the group’s first serious strike upon her.

Trixie teleported in front of Deinos, only for Deinos to disappear. Trixie wrinkled her nose before her eyes widened, and she teleported six feet to the left, away from the crater, to see Deinos hitting where Trixie had formerly stood. That was close, Trixie thought, having nearly been ambushed by a teleport. Any further thinking on her part was cut short as she teleported again to intercept Deinos’ attack on Noire, only for all three to end up teleporting within a split-second of each other, with Noire moving first to avoid potential death.

To the side, Red Wings, Stonehenge, and Iceheart consolidated their position, being the three ponies there unable to teleport. The two Earth ponies stood back-to-back to cover most potential angles, while Red Wings hovered above the two. Were Deinos to break away from attacking Windspeaker, Noire, or Trixie, and move towards them, she would not be able to ambush the three non-teleporters. Stonehenge, who was facing the action, found himself getting dizzy as he attempted to follow four separate ponies constantly blinking in and out.

Noire attempted a counterattack, being within quick flying distance of Deinos the next time she teleported away from Trixie stalking her. Deinos caught her sneak attack and returned fire with a volley of sharp icicles that would have skewered the bat pony, only for Noire to teleport away in the nick of time. Deinos was forced to teleport again herself as Trixie had taken advantage of Deinos’ distraction to conjure a fireball. Windspeaker stood still and sent a razor-sharp blade right at Deinos once she flickered back into existence, using the Living Wind to quickly track down her position, only to have to immediately teleport again himself as Deinos teleported right in front of his face.

Enough. This is getting ridiculous, Deinos thought to herself. Unfortunately, she had failed to kill any of the three ponies in her first few strikes. It was clear Windspeaker and Noire were rusty and slow to teleport at once, but they were flickering in and out of existence as quickly as Trixie after a few seconds. The fear of death was a large motivation. As an alicorn, Deinos had deep magical reserves. She was certain she could tire the other ponies out if they kept at this game, but Deinos was getting impatient, her bloodlust building up to a crescendo. She had barely even bloodied anypony yet tonight! She had only killed one pony either, and that had been negated in something Deinos still could not fathom.

Deinos quickly resolved herself. She teleported in front of Trixie and feinted an attack. As soon as Trixie had reacted by teleporting away, Deinos teleported into the air in front of Red Wings. Her magic at the ready, Deinos’ conjured blade swung down at the hovering pegasus. Time stood still as Deinos soaked in the frightened, scared look in Red Wings’ eyes, his pupils dilating wide.

Then her sword swung down on Red Wings, and he burst into a bunch of smoke.

“Wh—” Deinos was unable to finish her sound of surprise before a heavy force hammered her in her withers, sending her several feet down into the floor. The sudden impact caused Deinos’ jaw to slam shut, ramming her upper and lower set of teeth together. A brief moment of pain disoriented her, before natural alicorn biology kicked in and the pain was washed away. Deinos grunted, dissatisfied, before teleporting away just before another magic attack would have hit her on the ground.

“Enough,” Deinos snarled as she picked herself off the ground from her new spot. She shook her mane to get some of the dust and plaster out of her hair, before looking over to where the three non-magical ponies had been, and saw the red pegasus moving away. Ah, so that’s how it was. An illusion. And he laid in wait to hit me from above.

Suddenly, Deinos froze. There was a familiar taste of iron in her mouth. She stuck her tongue out, and rolled her eyeballs to look at her tongue.

Blood. There was blood on her tongue.

A haze washed over Deinos’ vision, as her wrath was provoked. Blood. That pony had drawn her blood! He would pay!

Deinos growled. She didn’t even teleport this time. She instead leapt off the ground and flew right at Red Wings. Red Wings shouted in distress and attempted to dodge, but his effort was futile as Deinos slammed into him with the momentum of a fully-grown pony, sending him soaring back. Deinos pursued Red Wings as he attempted to flap his wings and gain control of his form before he hit a wall, and was quickly upon him. Just as Deinos was about to physically accost Red Wings, however, the pegasus said, “Gotcha,” and wrapped his left wing around her horn, and squeezed.

“Y-you!” Deinos squealed in surprise. How dare this stallion touch my horn! If I could use my shadows I would have already flayed the flesh off his bones. I’ll tear him apart! Deinos was quick to react. Instead of using her magic to knock Red Wings off of her horn, Deinos instead thrust her head up.

“AAAARGH!” Red Wings shouted. Blood sprayed out of his wing from the fleshy area which Deinos had just impaled, in between the radius and ulna bones. Red Wings attempted to pull his wing away from Deinos, but the mare held his wing down, trying to increase the size of the wound she had just inflicted. Deinos quickly licked at the blood, slurping it down. She was excited by the vibrant red blood getting everywhere.

Deinos suddenly jerked, and looked to her right. There, Stonehenge had pounced on her wing, grabbing it near her shoulder where her large humerus bone jutted out. The sensation tore her away from her bloodlust long enough to realise what Stonehenge intended to do.

“Don’t you da—” Deinos warned, only to scream as Stonehenge bent her humerus bone. “GRAAAAAGH!” Deinos bucked her back legs in a mad frenzy, before throwing Red Wings off, his wing sliding off her horn. With one pony out of the way, Deinos crouched and rolled her body around counterclockwise, catching a brief look at Stonehenge’s surprised look when the large stallion was pulled along with her wing, briefly floating in the air above Deinos, before momentum carried Stonehenge away, his grip on her wing loosened by Deinos’ maneuver.

Quickly, Deinos teleported away before another one of her adversaries could reach her, and landed in a spot further back. However, her grasp at temporary respite was thwarted by Trixie teleporting right in beside her.

“STOP IT!” Deinos growled, before teleporting back closer to the rest of the party. Try this on for size, Deinos thought as her horn lit up. This time, Deinos did away with the fancy magical spells she knew, and simply charged up a lot of magic all at once, pushing beyond the barrier that separated unicorn and alicorn powers. A larger fireball sat at the tip of her horn. Deinos flung it, then teleported back up to the organ she had been playing earlier.

The madmare watched as Trixie fell back to put up a magic shield against the fireball, and Deinos gloated as the fireball broke through Trixie’s shield, only to fizzle out on a second barrier Windspeaker had put up. To the ponies’ surprise, the fireball dumped out an enormous amount of heat in its death throes, and everypony still standing fell over as the heat wave radiated out with a push.

“Good, good,” Deinos muttered to herself as her body started to regenerate. The bite to her tongue was healed in an instant. The light fracture from when Red Wings had smashed into her withers was next. The ache around her wing joints where Stonehenge had roughly bent it was just a little longer. Those foals are pushing me too far. If not for that strange ability to vanish my shadows, I would have—wait, what is she doing?

Across the room, Trixie had picked herself up off the floor after being bowled over by the heat wave. She quickly assessed the situation, seeing Deinos licking her wounds far away. Turning around, Trixie grimaced as she spotted Red Wing’s punctured wing. Trixie stepped up to him and whispered a few words of reassurance, then cast her magic.

“What the?!” Deinos squawked as suddenly Red Wings’ wing was as good as new. The wound was completely gone, as if it had never been there. Yet the fresh blood still dripping down Deinos’ horn proved she had indeed impaled his wing. Deinos was briefly puzzled, before she remembered what she knew of the six ponies’ journey before they came to this castle. She healed that wing before! Of course she could do it again! Diomedes damned unicorn!

Any further introspection was cut off as suddenly Noire teleported, and Deinos sensed the bat pony was right behind her. Quickly turning, Deinos saw Noire swooping in at her. Deinos decided to take the hit, and shot out a vicious sharp cut of air that would bisect Noire in mid-air. She then tensed and got ready for the two halves of the bat pony to hit her, only to blink as the air cutter went straight through Noire, and Noire went straight through Deinos.

Another accursed illusion! Deinos thought. Quickly realising she had her back turned around to five other ponies, she turned around, only to swiftly jump out of the way as a lance-shaped projectile forged out of ice came right at her. “GURGH!” Deinos grunted as the lance clipped her on her outstretched wing, throwing her dodging motion off-kilter as she flapped awkwardly with her opposite wing before landing on the ground. Mindful of the fact that she had indeed sensed Noire’s presence behind her, even if it was an illusion that had swooped in at Deinos, the alicorn quickly teleported elsewhere.

“Enough,” Deinos said quietly, before repeating herself at a louder pitch, “ENOUGH! ENOUGH!” Deinos used her magic to grab all five of the ponies in front of her in her telekinetic grip. Looking around, she finally found Noire, stalking around her backside, and grabbed her too, flinging her back into the group. “I should have done this a long time ago, hohoho,” Deinos said, feeling her golden eyes in her socket rotating ever quicker.

The six ponies struggled to break free out of Deinos’ telekinetic grasp, but Deinos was finally showing the prerogative of an alicorn, her magic holding each of them down through pure force. Trixie and Windspeaker tried to use their magic, but Deinos squashed down on them with extra brutality, rendering their horn-casting ineffective. Even the Living Wind was nullified, as Deinos’ might was so great she even stopped the air currents inside the room. She kept her shadows at her side nonetheless, afraid Trixie might somehow break free and vanish them if Deinos were to use them.

“At last, my victory is neigh...nigh,” Deinos corrected herself, as she trotted towards the six ponies. To a one, they were showing expressions of strain on their faces, bones almost popping out of their necks, as they attempted to break free of the telekinesis. Hmm, those necks… “Eeenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe, so many options to choose from,” Deinos said in a singsong voice. “And then there were six...I know, let’s go with you.”

And then Deinos pounced out, her fangs sinking into the nape of Iceheart’s neck.

Iceheart howled and jerked, but was unable to break free under the telekinesis, and Deinos quickly pinned her down under her wings and forelimbs, knocking the two purple ponies down to the floor. Despite her continuing struggles, Iceheart was still unable to move, yet Deinos punctured her fangs further into Iceheart’s skin.

A growing mass of red could be seen around Iceheart’s neck as Deinos retracted her fangs, opting to lick the freely flowing blood instead. Euphoria washed through the alicorn. “Ah, yessss!” Deinos moaned in sweet ecstasy as she licked more blood, her senses heightened by the metallic tang on her tongue. She had briefly sampled from Red Wings’ wing earlier, but it had been brief. “Oh, yessss, so long have I waited to taste pony blood again.”

Opposite from her, Windspeaker felt his stomach flip-flop as he saw the streak of red running down Iceheart’s neck. Though Deinos hadn’t punctured the jugular, Windspeaker was certain that amount of blood leaving wasn’t good. He strained once again to break free of Deinos’ telekinesis, but found his body lacking. Even with six months of beefing up, Windspeaker was still physically the most frail of the group, even next to the mares. The magic that held Windspeaker in place even was pressing down on his horn, rendering his magic inert. He had resorted to the Living Wind, but even that had been quelled by Deinos’ magic stilling the air inside the castle.

But not everywhere, Windspeaker thought. He had laid on a bed for years as his body had gotten progressively weaker, but in turn, Windspeaker had nothing in the world but time to think. Windspeaker was not out of ideas just yet. A storm was coming. A possibility had formed in his mind.

“Ahh!” Iceheart screamed out again as Deinos brought a hoof down on her body, getting a thrill out of causing pain. Windspeaker’s heart lurched, but he focused. Deinos’ telekinetic grip was great, but it was not all-pervasive.

Suddenly, the wind swept through a window near where the fireball attack had hit the ponies earlier. Windspeaker had chosen that area because the air was still hot there, far warmer than other spots of the room. Wind was caused by air differential, and so it was the strongest there. Shaping the air with his control over the Living Wind, Windspeaker created a mass, and pushed.

“Ahhh, yes!” Deinos said with glee, licking the blood around her muzzle. She looked around on Iceheart’s body for another spot to puncture before this pony’s warm body went cold. “Where should I—oof!” Suddenly, Deinos went sprawling as something hit her, followed by a sharp hit to her head. The next couple of seconds were rough-and-tumble for her, but Deinos spotted a lot of white in her vision.

Despite Windspeaker’s ambush and quick punch, Deinos was quick to grapple with him and slam him against the floor. Windspeaker struggled, and used the Living Wind to throw a cut at Deinos, only for a quick shield to block them. Deinos let out an animalistic howl as she socked Windspeaker right in the muzzle.

Windspeaker cried out in pain as his nose started to leak blood, but Deinos wasn’t finished with their scuffle. She quickly yanked Windspeaker’s head around, and then bit down on his ear. Windspeaker recoiled as Deinos teeth sank in, and tried to pull away, only for Deinos’ grip around his lobe to increase. Windspeaker tried to kick at Deinos around her rear next, only for Deinos to suddenly tear his ear right off.

“RAGGH!” Windspeaker spasmed, before the adrenaline that coursed through his body finally allowed him to push Deinos off his body, right into the path of Red Wings, freed from her telekinesis as Deinos had gotten too distracted to keep it up. Windspeaker took the brief respite to look down at his coat. His fur, always pristine white, had been dirtied brown throughout their fight from the rocks and plaster littered across the castle. Now, it was quickly getting stained red from the blood dribbling from his nose and pouring out from the stump of his ear.

Deinos, meanwhile, was unable to keep her battle trophy for long, the white ear in her mouth falling out as Red Wings returned the favour for Windspeaker, bucking the alicorn right in the jaw with his rear hoof. Deinos hung in the air for a second, surprised by the sudden turnabout, before hitting the ground.

Keeping her wits together, Deinos teleported away before anypony else could get her, moving into one of the rafters of the throne room where she hung upside down. There was a feeling of fire in her jaw, and Deinos could feel her jaw swelling. She opened her mouth, and spat out a wad of blood. Though her jaw was beginning to turn numb to sensation, Deinos could still feel pressure, and there was an odd pressure on her tongue. She wiggled her tongue around it, only for one of her fangs to suddenly fall out.

Deinos stared at the fang falling to the ground, quickly becoming a speck in her sight. One of my fangs, she thought. Even as she hung from the rafters, stunned, a new fang regenerated in her mouth, replacing her old one. That didn’t matter. Losing a fang was even more humiliating than merely bleeding. They broke one of my fangs.

Ploys and machinations no longer mattered to Deinos. Instead, her body throbbed with a need to kill.

Quickly, Deinos teleported back into the centre of the room. With a deep, angry breath, Deinos flared all the magic in her body in one fell burst to show off and intimidate the other ponies. Her magical power was so great her horn was incapable of channeling it all. It instead radiated out her skin as a fiery red light, the raw magic actually exerting a buoyancy against the air that even lifted her off the ground. Deinos spread her wings to complete the image. “I should have just done this from the beginning! No more toying with my food! I’m just going to blow this room up! None of you ponies have the regeneration I have. I hope you enjoy your last moments as your burned skin falls off, my little po—”

Deinos suddenly stopped her cruel words, and some of her magic fizzled out. “Eh?” she asked aloud, as she sensed something off. The alicorn tilted her head sideways, confused, until a look of comprehension flickered in her rotating golden eyes. An illusion! I’m underneath another illusion!

She wouldn’t stand for it this time. With a grunt, Deinos zapped the air around her with some lightning magic. Deinos believed she alone in this modern age was able to disrupt an illusion using electricity of all things. Modern magic had evolved in a different direction than the old age in the city-state of Thrace, when the highest patron deity of the ponies was known for his command over the storms, and lightning and thunder were regarded as elements of purification.

However, something unexpected happened. As Deinos tore the illusion apart, the illusion struck back at her. “Ow!” Deinos instinctively said, rubbing her hoof against her horn as she felt the jolt shock her. That must have been a powerful illusion. I’ve never felt a backlash like that before from shorting out a spell. Deinos scrunched her nose as she felt something was off. She attempted to bite her tongue, only to find her jaw had suddenly gone numb. It had been a large enough backlash to even temporarily paralyse Deinos.

Paranoia possessed the madmare. Sluggishly, she turned her head to regard her opponents and see what the illusion had hid. When she saw the six ponies opposite her, if Deinos’ heart had not already been hammering away from the electric jolt, it would have surely sped up in fright.

Trixie and her friends were lined up in a formation. They were lined up in the same formation that they had used to fling the faux-Harmony magic at Deinos earlier. They were casting the magic right now!

“Whurgh? Nuuuu!” Deinos attempted to flee, but the electricity had disrupted the synapses to her limbs as well. No matter how powerful her body was, it was still taking precious seconds to recover, and Deinos could see the magic travelling into the purple pony with the Crystal Heart as her Cutie Mark. To Deinos’ agony, she could feel the magic this time was balanced just a touch more perfectly than the last time.

Suddenly, Deinos felt her wings clear up from their paralysis. Deinos, panicked, flapped her wings to fly, only to find her body unable to clear the ground and move into the air. She flapped even harder, but still the rest of her body would not move. Deinos jerked up, looking back over at the ponies, honing in on the white-furred stallion. He’s stopped all the air currents! The same thing that she had done to him earlier to stop him using the Living Wind, Windspeaker had reversed upon Deinos to stop her from flying away.

Frantically, Deinos tried to move, her head having been able to jerk slightly earlier. But she was barely able to move. Meanwhile, her spinning golden eyes were focused on the sight of the blue-white beam that was emitted from Iceheart. Time slowed, and the resolve Deinos had built in her heart over a thousand years dissolved away as the blue-white energy got bigger and bigger, honing in on her.

There was a flash of black in the periphery of Deinos’ vision. Too late, she realised what it was.

No!” Deinos cried out. She attempted to tug on her shadows and pull them back, but for the first time a thousand years, the shadows disobeyed her beck and call. The mass of shadows that had lain dormant at Deinos’ side ever since Trixie’s return from the dead moved on their own, forming a black shield in front of Deinos.

The shadows intercepted the blue-white beam. Then there was a high-pitched noise, like the sound of breaking glass. Then the shadows withered away, ground to nothingness under the harmonious aspect of the magic beam that had been cast by the six.

Despite the destruction of the mass of shadows, its sacrifice had not been futile. The blue-white magic beam had been diminished in intensity, and was thrown off-angle. Deinos was still barely able to move, but she avoided a potential fatal injury as the attack deflected off the shadows and sliced her right flank around the midsection before it continued to move on, fizzling out as it hit a stone wall. The spell had been designed to imitate the force of Harmony, being an expression of six ponies’s friendship as they had journeyed around Equestria. It had no practical use against non-organic substances.

Deinos just stood there for a few moments, catatonic. Her dead-eyed gaze was focused on where her shadows had been.

“GRARRGH!” Deinos cried, then finally moved her body, free at last. There was a burning pain in her right side, but she ignored it. The Pony of Shadows could no longer be called such, now that she had lost her companion of a thousand years. Instantly, she teleported.

Trixie squeaked and ducked as Deinos appeared in front of her, the alicorn frantically flinging magic around. Deinos’ attack came in rapidfire, as she summoned three fireballs and a cutting blade at once, thrusting them at Trixie, before teleporting away. Trixie summoned up a barrier to block the attacks, before running over to aid Stonehenge, who had gotten sideswiped with a storm of thorn-like dart projectiles from the alicorn in between teleportations. There wasn’t as much debris for Stonehenge to guard himself with, and so he had thrown his forelegs up to block the darts. Said forelegs were a mess of bloody gashes, with blood dripping through his grey fur everywhere.

It took Trixie a couple of seconds to get herself in the state of mind to cast the illusion that would heal Stonehenge. Once she did, she turned back around, and grimaced at the state of the field. Noire had been knocked back into a wall so hard that she was visibly dazed, holding her head in between her hooves. Iceheart stood guard in front of the bat pony, protecting her from a follow-up attack. At the same time, Iceheart also had a hoof pressed up against her neck, stanching the bleeding from Deinos' earlier puncturing of the skin. Though Noire had briefly tried to heal the wound, Iceheart had to leave the blood running as the six lined up for a perfect chance at using the Harmony-like beam again.

Deinos was frantically fighting both Windspeaker and Red Wings in what was a messy melee. Deinos would try to summon tornadoes and shoot air blades at the other two, only for them to fade out as Windspeaker used the Living Wind to shut down her mode of attack. Red Wings was leading the return offensive, shooting his own blades at Deinos, and occasionally throwing a tiny rock he had picked up. The mare would occasionally move in at Red Wings, or move in between him and Windspeaker, dodging Red Wings’ attacks so they would become friendly fire aimed at Windspeaker. All three of the ponies were visibly bleeding, with Windspeaker’s torn ear still gushing out blood, the cut to Deinos’ midsection flowing freely, and a dozen cuts and slashes on Red Wings spraying drops of blood into the air every time he jerked around in a sudden flying motion.

Trixie blinked. Wasn’t there something off about that scene? With a jerk, Trixie realised what it was. Her wound! It isn’t healing!

Indeed, it wasn’t. Where all of Deinos’ injuries had before regenerated, now the cut to her midsection was continuing to flow freely, given no chance to clot up as the alicorn was frantically fighting. Trixie took a few seconds to mull it over. It was easy to deduce that the magical beam the six had cast was somehow able to disrupt Deinos’ regeneration. So is it just that one wound that won’t stop bleeding, or will she be unable to heal any further injuries? Trixie wondered.

Trixie found the opportunity to put her budding thesis into action as Deinos suddenly doubled back and slammed into Windspeaker, sending him into the air with a sickening crunch. Trixie slowed Windspeaker’s momentum down gradually using her magic before slowing him down, while Stonehenge entered the fray to assist Red Wings. Trixie looked Windspeaker over for a few moments. The other unicorn’s irises were spaced out and he was briefly foaming at the mouth. Regardless, Windspeaker still seemed to be semi-conscious and aware of the situation he was in, however, and he quickly blinked, his eyes coming back into focus.

“‘m fine,” Windspeaker mumbled, before spitting out a large wad of blood. “No, realllly,” he added, his speech obviously slurred.

“Head over to Iceheart,” Trixie said, pointing him at Iceheart, who was still watching over the disoriented Noire. “I’ll help Red Wings and Stonehenge out again.”

Trixie gave Windspeaker no chance to respond, quickly teleporting away from the white-furred stallion and into the pitch of battle, sending a red-coloured magical spell at Deinos. The alicorn snarled, and summoned a mirror to reflect the attack towards Stonehenge. Stonehenge held his arms up to block the attack, having seen Trixie’s spell in training a hundred times. Unlike Deinos’ dart projectile attacks from earlier, Stonehenge knew Trixie’s spell merely had a bludgeoning effect, and he would rather take the brute force head on than give Deinos an opening for a follow-up strike.

Deinos flew down at Stonehenge, intending to make said follow-up strike, only to be startled as Stonehenge blocked the reflected spell instead. Deinos quickly flapped her wings to back up at the last second, but Stonehenge lashed out and managed to tap her cheek, throwing her backwards momentum off. By now, Stonehenge’s hooves had been cracked in a hundred spots, and the rough, abraded keratin had many sharp spots. A jagged edge of his hoof cut Deinos’ cheek open. Deinos quickly teleported, only to suddenly reappear in front of Stonehenge, suddenly conjuring a lance in front of her and stabbing.

The large stallion hadn’t expected her to fake a retreat, and made an awkward dodge, but still got his side sliced open for his troubles, echoing Deinos’ own earlier injury. Stonehenge attempted to parry Deinos’ next thrust, only for the alicorn to turn around and buck him in the chest with her hind legs, causing him to collapse into the ground. Turning around also allowed Deinos to see Red Wings and Trixie again. Deinos was able to stop Red Wings’ razor blades, but was too late to stop Trixie’s red bludgeoning spell again, and took a strike right to the head.

“Oof,” Deinos said, stumbling backwards, and tumbling over Stonehenge’s form. She shook her head, and quickly teleported again. As soon as Deinos landed, she scolded herself for being so quick on the draw. These ponies are too soft-hearted. There’s no way they would have sent anything close to lethal at me if it meant they might hit their friend.

Quickly, Deinos spun around and executed a fast grapple on Iceheart. The crystal pony had broken away from guarding Noire and Windspeaker and attempted to sneak up on Deinos, only for the madmare to grab her with her forehooves. Deinos in turn threw Iceheart into the air at Red Wings. The pegasus screeched in surprise as he was knocked over by the impact, and scrambled to recover and lower both himself and Iceheart.

Deinos took a step forward, only to take a gasp as she finally felt the sharp pain in her side. Looking over, she gasped as she saw the wound from the magical beam cut still there, bleeding without pause. Deinos put her hoof up to her cheek, feeling the warm blood oozing from Stonehenge’s cut as well. My wounds aren’t healing, Deinos realised with trepidation. When they destroyed my shadows, they also cut off my ability to heal.

That scared Deinos more than anything else, even more than Trixie’s ability to return from the grave. Deinos’ ability to regenerate wounds wasn’t something that she had because she was an alicorn. It was a trait of her body granted by her direct link to the heavens, and the Mœræ she served. For that magical beam to have cut off Deinos’ divinity was unfathomable. Without it, I can actually die! I’m already dying! My wounds refuse to heal! Deinos had never learned a healing spell, having always relied on her empyrean status to heal automatically, and so long as the battle continued, her body would continue to lose blood. She couldn’t afford a battle of attrition, not when her foes had ponies that could use healing spells.

Deinos decided right there she had to focus on and eliminate their leader, the only pony who could do more than just heal, but also retroactively erase injuries. Even if Trixie had somehow revived herself once, Deinos would kill her again. “Now, where is that pesky mare,” Deinos muttered, before turning around to spot Trixie. Eh? What is she doing?

Trixie just stood there, eyes slightly out of focus. Although Deinos had been deep in thought for only a couple of seconds, it was still a couple of seconds that she was open to attack. Yet Trixie hadn’t moved. It was almost as if she was in a trance. Then it clicked. There was a wild look in Deinos’ eyes, as she at last seemed to understand what Trixie was doing. “Y-you mongrel, you mortal mutt! You dare to attempt your ascension on me, on me?!” The ancient pony seemed frantic, the outrage suddenly injecting one last hint of crazed life in her weakening frame.

In a panic, Deinos flew straight at Trixie, letting out a screech not unlike a bird of prey’s hunting cry. However, even a bird of prey could be wounded, and Deinos’ own hunting cry revealed hints of weakness. Trixie quickly broke out of her trance, meeting Deinos blow for blow, as the two rapidly traded multiple spells within a split-second before Trixie finally teleported away, causing Deinos to overreach and stumble.

Trixie landed further back, standing next to Red Wings, who had finally gotten up after being bowled over by Iceheart. Their own side had been wounded and savaged, with Noire, Iceheart, Stonehenge, and Windspeaker all in varying states of injury. Red Wings and Trixie both were also lightly hurt, but were in far better shape. Trixie had come to the same conclusion Deinos had: if the battle continued on much longer, the side with six ponies would be the victor.

“Youuuu…” Deinos murmured, standing up and turning around, sheer vitriol infecting her voice. “I am a goddess sent down from the heavens with a mandate to burn everything. And you dare to become an alicorn based off my presence?!”

To Trixie, she could almost understand Deinos’ indignation. To go from being assured victory at the start of the battle, thanks to her status as an alicorn, her magic, and the literal force of destiny behind her side, to beginning to lose and now dying? If immortals were not immune to their pride growing as they aged, then Deinos must have been truly proud.

“DIE!” Deinos shouted, jumping forth at Trixie and Red Wings. Red Wings flapped his wings to send out several sharp blades of air at Deinos before him and Trixie split apart. Deinos, in her unsteady state of mind, disregarded her inability to heal, blocking with her torso and gaining several cuts to the side of her body opposite her originally slashed midsection. Her kamikaze run succeeded, however, as she managed to slam into Red Wings with a full-body strike, stomping the pegasus stallion into the ground and following it up with a vicious projectile, once more crippling Red Wings’ left wing.

Deinos broke out of her frenzy just quickly enough to remember Trixie was still around, mostly uninjured. She wouldn’t try to perform her ascension a second time, would she? Not while I’m maiming her coltfriend and she’s the last of them still healthy. Deinos jerked up, looking around the room to make sure Trixie wasn’t healing anypony else. She didn’t see Trixie healing any of the other four downed ponies, but she didn’t see Trixie either.

Suddenly, Deinos flapped her wings and flew up, as she avoided yet another bludgeoning spell. Looking over, she spotted where Trixie was, self-levitating behind one of the columns that still stood in the great throne room. “Now I’ve got you,” Deinos growled, clenching her fangs together so tight they were even puncturing her gums. Quickly, she flew up to the columns. Trixie panicked at her attack failing and being discovered, and flew away under her magic, only for Deinos to pursue.

Deinos lit a spell up in her horn, and cast it, with Trixie quickly casting a barrier in front of her. However, Deinos cancelled the spell as soon as she conjured it, and quickly accelerated right into Trixie. Magical barriers were usually only good for blocking other magical spells, and Deinos powered right through the protective dome, her horn impaling Trixie in the barrel.

Or at least, she would have impaled Trixie in the barrel, except there was absolutely no resistance to the blue mare’s form whatsoever, and Deinos went right through Trixie’s shape and out the other side.

Another blasted illusion! Deinos cursed herself at being tricked so easily, and quickly zapped the air around her to cancel out the illusion.

The air shifted, only for Deinos to spot a dark yellow beam travelling through the air, aimed at her own chest. Deinos yelped, and moved to dodge. In her sudden hysteria, however, Deinos had a split-second of confusion, and lurched the wrong way, moving down when she should have moved up. The yellow beam striking her in the face was the last thing Deinos would ever see.

Everypony in the room shuddered as the proud Pony of Shadow screeched in sudden pain, with a disturbing spray of blood shooting from her eyes. Her body jerked and her wings flapped in a mad frenzy, but Deinos quickly lost control of herself, finally surrendering to gravity as she hit the floor, making a loud tremor and causing the room to shake one last time.

Trixie landed on the floor, disbelieving what had just occurred. She had aimed for Deinos’ body, only for the alicorn to make a bad dodge and take the strike to her muzzle and eyes instead. Trixie quickly cast anti-illusion cantrips of her own, thinking for a mad second that Deinos had fooled Trixie at her own game and was lurking in the shadows, hiding behind her own illusion. It was not to be, however. The Deinos that was on the floor, dying, was the true Deinos.

“You!” Deinos suddenly flipped herself over on the floor, her body soaked in red.

“Ah!” Trixie jumped back, startled, her heartbeat rate suddenly spiking. Without thinking, Trixie grabbed a nearby rock in her telekinetic grip, and threw it at Deinos, striking the alicorn right in the horn.

The shot to the horn finally did the trick. With her second wind averted, Deinos flopped back onto the floor, muzzle and barrel looking up.

At first, the world was quiet. After a few seconds where nopony dared move or even breathe, there was the sound of hooves clopping against the stone floor of the throne room. Their trot was uneven, as ponies had to walk around or over endless pieces of stone or crevices in the floor. But at last, six ponies had gathered around the dying purple alicorn.

Deinos, Pony of Shadows, second-eldest of the four Mares of Diomedes, had been defeated.


Deinos laid on the floor, thick puddles of red beginning to coagulate around her. "I see it now," she said, her blinded eyes looking towards the heavens. "The six of you were supposed to die here today, as the Mœræ decreed. You didn't just outwit death. No. If your power of illusions is the ability to fool those around you, then you didn't just trick this mortal world of yours. You deceived destiny itself, and we who weave it."

Trixie just stood there, gazing at Deinos. She was willing to let the villain have one last monologue, but at the slightest glimpse of a suicide attack, Trixie would end the Mare of Diomedes forever.

“A pony who usurps her own destiny and lives past her preordained death...the gods will love that. You are a rare specimen. They would rather let this world continue on and let you play out your new life than to burn everything down and start all over again. Haha, even if I die early and fail to complete the several centuries of servitude I still had, they shall let me off this once. To think that this is how I, the Mœræ’s hitmare, will meet my end.”

Deinos chuckled. "Six months. That's when I would have lured those six ponies who wield the Elements of Harmony into this castle. I would have trapped them and sent them to the afterlife to reap their good fortune and karma and improve their standing for their next time in the cycle. Thereafter, I would have left this castle and plunged it into a world of famine, pestilence, war, and death. That will no longer happen, but those six months are important. If you want to trick that other princess into engaging with you, wait six months. She was destined to come here then anyways, regardless of if she meets you or me."

The alicorn then choked, coughing out a fresh glob of blood. The fine crimson spray stained her purple muzzle. "I have...a last request, of a sort."

Trixie frowned. "Do you take me for a fool, even now?"

The dying alicorn laughed softly, seeming to understand the limits of her body as it was fading out. "Not what you think. No. I told you before, didn't I? I was destined to leave this castle after today and bring blood and fire to the entire world. After many years, I would be slain, but not before resetting everything back to the beginning, to when you foals could do naught but bicker with those unlike you. A thousand years from now, the Friendship Castle, the Crystal Empire and Canterlot would be nothing more than ruins that archaeologists would have to do years of research to locate. But ponies would whisper of the boogeymare in the night, like those today mention the Windigos. I would have been given the name of Phantasmare, after my phantasmal power over the fantastic shadows."

Deinos lifted her head, her mutilated eyes still managing to somehow find Trixie. "But the title of ‘Phantasmare’ can be repurposed long before it would have been used. It can refer to a mare who walks in her own shadows, tricking and deceiving even the very heavens in her phantasmal grace, creating an endless phantasia. Take it. Use it as your own."

Trixie gazed at her, disinterested.

"Rejoice, Bellatrix Midsummer, Trixie Lulamoon," Deinos said in response to Trixie’s silence. It was the first time Deinos had called any of them by name. It would be the last. "When tomorrow you wake, it shall be your very first day as the free mare you always envisioned yourself as being. You've slipped the strings we weave, after all." The fallen mare's voice trailed off into a whisper. "Just like you helped me to slip my own. This time my death shall be eternal."

Now that Deinos was laying down, for the first time, Trixie realised the alicorn had a Cutie Mark. It was a spindle of yarn being threaded onto a loom, with the end cut off.

"Podargos, Lampon, Xanthos, I see you, my sisters."

Deinos' odd golden eyes had continued spinning even as they were blinded. Now, they began to slow down, finally coming to a complete stop. The haunting ethereal glow left Deinos’ eyes, their golden shine becoming a dulled yellow. Her eyelids closed for the very last time, as Deinos took her final breath. Then Deinos the Wondrous passed on, never to be reborn into this world again. The four Mares of Diomedes would at last be reunited.

The six ponies gathered around Deinos stood silent for a minute. Even though she had been a bloodthirsty cannibalistic madmare set on slaughtering them, the fight with Deinos had somehow felt very personal to each of them. It would only behoove them to pay her a last respect.

“Look,” Iceheart said, and the other ponies jumped as three murky silhouettes began to form around Deinos. The silhouettes gained some clarity, enough to identify them as ponies, and the three beings looked down at Deinos. One of the ponies was a brilliant green, so bright as to almost shine. Another was a sky-blue, close in shade to Trixie’s own coat, evoking a feeling of swiftness. The third was a golden-yellow of such a rich shade that none could forget her.

Trixie started as she realised the identities of the three ponies, as Deinos had mentioned them what felt like a long time ago. She was given little cause to worry, however, as the three ponies stretched their hooves out to each touch the late madmare. Deinos’ body began to disappear, until there was nothing left of her but the outline of a pony in the drying pool of blood. With her disappearance, the other three mares also vanished.

Once more, the world was silent. The scene that had just occurred was something that none of those present would discuss to their dying days, not even with one another.

Trixie raised her head.

There were many things to consider for the future. Trixie self-consciously understood she was currently unwell. She was shell-shocked from the battle, her temporary death, and the things that Deinos had revealed to her. Trixie had also just committed deicide after a fashion, as Deinos straddled a thin line between mortal pony and goddess. Trixie would have to work through both the personal ramifications of having killed for the first time and the theological ramifications of her destiny up to now having been foretold. Then she and her friends would have to discuss what to do for the future, now that they had been unyoked from their fates.

Deinos was correct about one thing. Trixie wasn't Great and Powerful, even as she had boasted about it upon her return from death. She had faked being as such for so long, but it was time to finally shed that label. Trixie would have to achieve greatness on her own.

Trixie caught something in the periphery of her eyes. Wandering over, she found a brown cloak. She remembered it. It was the cloak Deinos had worn when she first revealed herself, being tossing it aside. Was that really only an hour ago that Deinos appeared? That battle, my death, meeting my parents, returning to this world, and then fighting her once more...that was a lifetime ago. Trixie picked the cloak up. When the blood washed out of the room, this cloak would be the last physical remainder of Deinos to ever exist in this world. Folding up the cloak with her magic, Trixie laid the cloak to the side.

A chilly breeze swept through the room. Looking over at a broken window, Trixie looked at the shattered glass on the floor. An ephemeral glow swept through her eyes. Trixie knew the window was whole and had never been shattered, and there was no glass on the floor. A moment later, the window was whole, the first repair in the throne room from the castle’s last great battle.

Trixie looked over to her friends, still huddled around where Deinos’ body had been: Noire; Iceheart; Red Wings; Stonehenge; and Windspeaker. Each of them looked exhausted. Bloodied wounds stained all their coats. Iceheart's neck was still leaking drips of blood, and her hoof never left the skin. Red Wings’ left wing had once more been injured, bent at an odd angle. Windspeaker was the worst of them all. His torn ear and bloodied snout were still dribbling blood, dyeing his white coat a messy, grimy blend of pink, red, and brown. They were undoubtedly suffering the same things she was, yet to a one, they all looked resolute.

So was Trixie. She had not become an alicorn from this battle, but the Changeling Empress Anfang had said it would require fighting an alicorn twice at the most. There was still a chance, one which the madmare had hinted at before she perished. There would be many challenging days ahead, but already, the worst of them had been thrown at her, and Trixie had surpassed it. She would continue to overcome any future endeavors, each of them less difficult than overcoming the heavens themselves.

She was Phantasmare.